Mrs General, replying to the envoy, as she set down her empty coffee-cup, that she was willing at once to proceed to Mr Dorrit's apartment, and spare him the trouble of coming to her (which, in his gallantry, he had proposed), the envoy threw open the door, and escorted Mrs General to the presence. It was quite a walk, by mysterious staircases and corridors, from Mrs General's apartment, --hoodwinked by a narrow side street with a low gloomy bridge in it, and dungeon-like opposite tenements, their walls besmeared with a thousand downward stains and streaks, as if every crazy aperture in them had been weeping tears of rust into the Adriatic for centuries--to Mr Dorrit's apartment: with a whole English house- front of window, a prospect of beautiful church-domes rising into the blue sky sheer out of the water which reflected them, and a hushed murmur of the Grand Canal laving the doorways below, where his gondolas and gondoliers attended his pleasure, drowsily swinging in a little forest of piles.
Mr Dorrit, in a resplendent dressing-gown and cap--the dormant grub that had so long bided its time among the Collegians had burst into a rare butterfly--rose to receive Mrs General. A chair to Mrs General. An easier chair, sir; what are you doing, what are you about, what do you mean? Now, leave us!
'Mrs General,' said Mr Dorrit, 'I took the liberty--'
'By no means,' Mrs General interposed. 'I was quite at your disposition. I had had my coffee.'
'--I took the liberty,' said Mr Dorrit again, with the magnificent placidity of one who was above correction, 'to solicit the favour of a little private conversation with you, because I feel rather worried respecting my--ha--my younger daughter. You will have observed a great difference of temperament, madam, between my two daughters?'
Said Mrs General in response, crossing her gloved hands (she was never without gloves, and they never creased and always fitted), 'There is a great difference.'
'May I ask to be favoured with your view of it?' said Mr Dorrit, with a deference not incompatible with majestic serenity.
'Fanny,' returned Mrs General, 'has force of character and self- reliance. Amy, none.'
None? O Mrs General, ask the Marshalsea stones and bars. O Mrs General, ask the milliner who taught her to work, and the dancing- master who taught her sister to dance. O Mrs General, Mrs General, ask me, her father, what I owe her; and hear my testimony touching the life of this slighted little creature from her childhood up!
No such adjuration entered Mr. Dorrit's head. He looked at Mrs General, seated in her usual erect attitude on her coach-box behind the proprieties, and he said in a thoughtful manner, 'True, madam.'
'I would not,' said Mrs General, 'be understood to say, observe, that there is nothing to improve in Fanny. But there is material there--perhaps, indeed, a little too much.'
'Will you be kind enough, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'to be--ha--more explicit? I do not quite understand my elder daughter's having-- hum--too much material. What material?'
'Fanny,' returned Mrs General, 'at present forms too many opinions.
Perfect breeding forms none, and is never demonstrative.'
Lest he himself should be found deficient in perfect breeding, Mr Dorrit hastened to reply, 'Unquestionably, madam, you are right.' Mrs General returned, in her emotionless and expressionless manner, 'I believe so.'
'But you are aware, my dear madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'that my daughters had the misfortune to lose their lamented mother when they were very young; and that, in consequence of my not having been until lately the recognised heir to my property, they have lived with me as a comparatively poor, though always proud, gentleman, in--ha hum--retirement!'
'I do not,' said Mrs General, 'lose sight of the circumstance.' 'Madam,'pursued Mr Dorrit, 'of my daughter Fanny, under her present guidance and with such an example constantly before her--'
(Mrs General shut her eyes.)
--'I have no misgivings.