If you were not an ornament to Society, and if I was not a benefactor to Society, you and I would never have come together. When I say a benefactor to it, I mean a person who provides it with all sorts of expensive things to eat and drink and look at. But, to tell me that I am not fit for it after all I have done for it--after all I have done for it,' repeated Mr Merdle, with a wild emphasis that made his wife lift up her eyelids, 'after all--all!--to tell me I have no right to mix with it after all, is a pretty reward.'
'I say,' answered Mrs Merdle composedly, 'that you ought to make yourself fit for it by being more degage, and less preoccupied. There is a positive vulgarity in carrying your business affairs about with you as you do.' 'How do I carry them about, Mrs Merdle?' asked Mr Merdle.
'How do you carry them about?' said Mrs Merdle. 'Look at yourself in the glass.'
Mr Merdle involuntarily turned his eyes in the direction of the nearest mirror, and asked, with a slow determination of his turbid blood to his temples, whether a man was to be called to account for his digestion?
'You have a physician,' said Mrs Merdle.
'He does me no good,' said Mr Merdle.
Mrs Merdle changed her ground.
'Besides,' said she, 'your digestion is nonsense. I don't speak of your digestion. I speak of your manner.' 'Mrs Merdle,' returned her husband, 'I look to you for that. You supply manner, and I supply money.'
'I don't expect you,' said Mrs Merdle, reposing easily among her cushions, 'to captivate people. I don't want you to take any trouble upon yourself, or to try to be fascinating. I simply request you to care about nothing--or seem to care about nothing-- as everybody else does.'
'Do I ever say I care about anything?' asked Mr Merdle.
'Say? No! Nobody would attend to you if you did. But you show it.'
'Show what? What do I show?' demanded Mr Merdle hurriedly.
'I have already told you. You show that you carry your business cares an projects about, instead of leaving them in the City, or wherever else they belong to,' said Mrs Merdle. 'Or seeming to. Seeming would be quite enough: I ask no more. Whereas you couldn't be more occupied with your day's calculations and combinations than you habitually show yourself to be, if you were a carpenter.'
'A carpenter!' repeated Mr Merdle, checking something like a groan.
'I shouldn't so much mind being a carpenter, Mrs Merdle.'
'And my complaint is,' pursued the lady, disregarding the low remark, 'that it is not the tone of Society, and that you ought to correct it, Mr Merdle. If you have any doubt of my judgment, ask even Edmund Sparkler.' The door of the room had opened, and Mrs Merdle now surveyed the head of her son through her glass. 'Edmund; we want you here.'
Mr Sparkler, who had merely put in his head and looked round the room without entering (as if he were searching the house for that young lady with no nonsense about her), upon this followed up his head with his body, and stood before them. To whom, in a few easy words adapted to his capacity, Mrs Merdle stated the question at issue.
The young gentleman, after anxiously feeling his shirt-collar as if it were his pulse and he were hypochondriacal, observed, 'That he had heard it noticed by fellers.'
'Edmund Sparkler has heard it noticed,' said Mrs Merdle, with languid triumph. 'Why, no doubt everybody has heard it noticed!' Which in truth was no unreasonable inference; seeing that Mr Sparkler would probably be the last person, in any assemblage of the human species, to receive an impression from anything that passed in his presence.
'And Edmund Sparkler will tell you, I dare say,' said Mrs Merdle, waving her favourite hand towards her husband, 'how he has heard it noticed.' 'I couldn't,' said Mr Sparkler, after feeling his pulse as before, 'couldn't undertake to say what led to it--'cause memory desperate loose. But being in company with the brother of a doosed fine gal--well educated too--with no biggodd nonsense about her--at the period alluded to--'
'There! Never mind the sister,' remarked Mrs Merdle, a little impatiently.