And as on his return--when Mr Dorrit eyed him again--he announced Miss Amy as if she had come to a funeral, he left a vague impression on Mr Dorrit's mind that he was a well- conducted young fellow, who had been brought up in the study of his Catechism by a widowed mother.
'Amy,' said Mr Dorrit, 'you have just now been the subject of some conversation between myself and Mrs General. We agree that you scarcely seem at home here. Ha--how is this?'
'I think, father, I require a little time.'
'Papa is a preferable mode of address,' observed Mrs General. 'Father is rather vulgar, my dear. The word Papa, besides, gives a pretty form to the lips. Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism are all very good words for the lips: especially prunes and prism. You will find it serviceable, in the formation of a demeanour, if you sometimes say to yourself in company--on entering a room, for instance--Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, prunes and prism.'
'Pray, my child,' said Mr Dorrit, 'attend to the--hum--precepts of Mrs General.'
Poor Little Dorrit, with a rather forlorn glance at that eminent varnisher, promised to try.
'You say, Amy,' pursued Mr Dorrit, 'that you think you require time. Time for what?'
'To become accustomed to the novelty of my life, was all I meant,' said Little Dorrit, with her loving eyes upon her father; whom she had very nearly addressed as poultry, if not prunes and prism too, in her desire to submit herself to Mrs General and please him.
Mr Dorrit frowned, and looked anything but pleased. 'Amy,' he returned, 'it appears to me, I must say, that you have had abundance of time for that. Ha--you surprise me. You disappoint me. Fanny has conquered any such little difficulties, and--hum-- why not you?'
'I hope I shall do better soon,' said Little Dorrit.
'I hope so,' returned her father. 'I--ha--I most devoutly hope so, Amy. I sent for you, in order that I might say--hum--impressively say, in the presence of Mrs General, to whom we are all so much indebted for obligingly being present among us, on--ha--on this or any other occasion,' Mrs General shut her eyes, 'that I--ha hum--am not pleased with you. You make Mrs General's a thankless task. You--ha--embarrass me very much. You have always (as I have informed Mrs General) been my favourite child; I have always made you a--hum--a friend and companion; in return, I beg--I--ha--I do beg, that you accommodate yourself better to --hum--circumstances, and dutifully do what becomes your--your station.'
Mr Dorrit was even a little more fragmentary than usual, being excited on the subject and anxious to make himself particularly emphatic.
'I do beg,' he repeated, 'that this may be attended to, and that you will seriously take pains and try to conduct yourself in a manner both becoming your position as--ha--Miss Amy Dorrit, and satisfactory to myself and Mrs General.'
That lady shut her eyes again, on being again referred to; then, slowly opening them and rising, added these words: 'If Miss Amy Dorrit will direct her own attention to, and will accept of my poor assistance in, the formation of a surface, Mr. Dorrit will have no further cause of anxiety. May I take this opportunity of remarking, as an instance in point, that it is scarcely delicate to look at vagrants with the attention which I have seen bestowed upon them by a very dear young friend of mine? They should not be looked at. Nothing disagreeable should ever be looked at. Apart from such a habit standing in the way of that graceful equanimity of surface which is so expressive of good breeding, it hardly seems compatible with refinement of mind. A truly refined mind will seem to be ignorant of the existence of anything that is not perfectly proper, placid, and pleasant.' Having delivered this exalted sentiment, Mrs General made a sweeping obeisance, and retired with an expression of mouth indicative of Prunes and Prism.
Little Dorrit, whether speaking or silent, had preserved her quiet earnestness and her loving look.