Fanny, my dear, you are acquainted with Mr Clennam.' Fanny acknowledged him haughtily; the position she tacitly took up in all such cases being that there was a vast conspiracy to insult the family by not understanding it, or sufficiently deferring to it, and here was one of the conspirators.
'This, Mr Clennam, you must know, is an old pensioner of mine, Old Nandy, a very faithful old man.' (He always spoke of him as an object of great antiquity, but he was two or three years younger than himself.) 'Let me see. You know Plornish, I think? I think my daughter Amy has mentioned to me that you know poor Plornish?'
'O yes!' said Arthur Clennam.
'Well, sir, this is Mrs Plornish's father.'
'Indeed? I am glad to see him.'
'You would be more glad if you knew his many good qualities, Mr Clennam.'
'I hope I shall come to know them through knowing him,' said Arthur, secretly pitying the bowed and submissive figure.
'It is a holiday with him, and he comes to see his old friends, who are always glad to see him,' observed the Father of the Marshalsea.
Then he added behind his hand, ('Union, poor old fellow. Out for the day.')
By this time Maggy, quietly assisted by her Little Mother, had spread the board, and the repast was ready. It being hot weather and the prison very close, the window was as wide open as it could be pushed. 'If Maggy will spread that newspaper on the window- sill, my dear,' remarked the Father complacently and in a half whisper to Little Dorrit, 'my old pensioner can have his tea there, while we are having ours.'
So, with a gulf between him and the good company of about a foot in width, standard measure, Mrs Plornish's father was handsomely regaled. Clennam had never seen anything like his magnanimous protection by that other Father, he of the Marshalsea; and was lost in the contemplation of its many wonders.
The most striking of these was perhaps the relishing manner in which he remarked on the pensioner's infirmities and failings, as if he were a gracious Keeper making a running commentary on the decline of the harmless animal he exhibited.
'Not ready for more ham yet, Nandy? Why, how slow you are! (His last teeth,' he explained to the company, 'are going, poor old boy.')
At another time, he said, 'No shrimps, Nandy?' and on his not instantly replying, observed, ('His hearing is becoming very defective. He'll be deaf directly.')
At another time he asked him, 'Do you walk much, Nandy, about the yard within the walls of that place of yours?'
'No, sir; no. I haven't any great liking for that.'
'No, to be sure,' he assented. 'Very natural.' Then he privately informed the circle ('Legs going.')
Once he asked the pensioner, in that general clemency which asked him anything to keep him afloat, how old his younger grandchild was?
'John Edward,' said the pensioner, slowly laying down his knife and fork to consider. 'How old, sir? Let me think now.'
The Father of the Marshalsea tapped his forehead ('Memory weak.')
'John Edward, sir? Well, I really forget. I couldn't say at this minute, sir, whether it's two and two months, or whether it's two and five months. It's one or the other.'
'Don't distress yourself by worrying your mind about it,' he returned, with infinite forbearance. ('Faculties evidently decaying--old man rusts in the life he leads!')
The more of these discoveries that he persuaded himself he made in the pensioner, the better he appeared to like him; and when he got out of his chair after tea to bid the pensioner good-bye, on his intimating that he feared, honoured sir, his time was running out, he made himself look as erect and strong as possible.
'We don't call this a shilling, Nandy, you know,' he said, putting one in his hand. 'We call it tobacco.'
'Honoured sir, I thank you. It shall buy tobacco. My thanks and duty to Miss Amy and Miss Fanny. I wish you good night, Mr Clennam.'
'And mind you don't forget us, you know, Nandy,' said the Father. 'You must come again, mind, whenever you have an afternoon.