It had not been clouded, except for a passing moment, until now. But now that she was left alone with him the fingers of her lightly folded hands were agitated, and there was repressed emotion in her face.
Not for herself. She might feel a little wounded, but her care was not for herself. Her thoughts still turned, as they always had turned, to him. A faint misgiving, which had hung about her since their accession to fortune, that even now she could never see him as he used to be before the prison days, had gradually begun to assume form in her mind. She felt that, in what he had just now said to her and in his whole bearing towards her, there was the well-known shadow of the Marshalsea wall. It took a new shape, but it was the old sad shadow. She began with sorrowful unwillingness to acknowledge to herself that she was not strong enough to keep off the fear that no space in the life of man could overcome that quarter of a century behind the prison bars. She had no blame to bestow upon him, therefore: nothing to reproach him with, no emotions in her faithful heart but great compassion and unbounded tenderness.
This is why it was, that, even as he sat before her on his sofa, in the brilliant light of a bright Italian day, the wonderful city without and the splendours of an old palace within, she saw him at the moment in the long-familiar gloom of his Marshalsea lodging, and wished to take her seat beside him, and comfort him, and be again full of confidence with him, and of usefulness to him. If he divined what was in her thoughts, his own were not in tune with it.
After some uneasy moving in his seat, he got up and walked about, looking very much dissatisfied.
'Is there anything else you wish to say to me, dear father?'
'No, no. Nothing else.'
'I am sorry you have not been pleased with me, dear. I hope you will not think of me with displeasure now. I am going to try, more than ever, to adapt myself as you wish to what surrounds me --for indeed I have tried all along, though I have failed, I know.'
'Amy,' he returned, turning short upon her. 'You--ha--habitually hurt me.'
'Hurt you, father! I!'
'There is a--hum--a topic,' said Mr Dorrit, looking all about the ceiling of the room, and never at the attentive, uncomplainingly shocked face, 'a painful topic, a series of events which I wish -- ha--altogether to obliterate. This is understood by your sister, who has already remonstrated with you in my presence; it is understood by your brother; it is understood by--ha hum--by every one of delicacy and sensitiveness except yourself--ha--I am sorry to say, except yourself. You, Amy--hum--you alone and only you -- constantly revive the topic, though not in words.'
She laid her hand on his arm. She did nothing more. She gently touched him. The trembling hand may have said, with some expression, 'Think of me, think how I have worked, think of my many cares!' But she said not a syllable herself.
There was a reproach in the touch so addressed to him that she had not foreseen, or she would have withheld her hand. He began to justify himself in a heated, stumbling, angry manner, which made nothing of it.
'I was there all those years. I was--ha--universally acknowledged as the head of the place. I--hum--I caused you to be respected there, Amy. I--ha hum--I gave my family a position there. I deserve a return. I claim a return. I say, sweep it off the face of the earth and begin afresh. Is that much? I ask, is that much?' He did not once look at her, as he rambled on in this way; but gesticulated at, and appealed to, the empty air.
'I have suffered. Probably I know how much I have suffered better than any one--ha--I say than any one! If I can put that aside, if I can eradicate the marks of what I have endured, and can emerge before the world--a--ha--gentleman unspoiled, unspotted --is it a great deal to expect--I say again, is it a great deal to expect-- that my children should--hum--do the same and sweep that accursed experience off the face of the earth?'
In spite of his flustered state, he made all these exclamations in a carefully suppressed voice, lest the valet should overhear anything.