He inquired particularly after Mr Merdle. Mr Sparkler said, or rather twitched out of himself in small pieces by the shirt-collar, that Mrs Merdle having completely used up her place in the country, and also her house at Brighton, and being, of course, unable, don't you see, to remain in London when there wasn't a soul there, and not feeling herself this year quite up to visiting about at people's places, had resolved to have a touch at Rome, where a woman like herself, with a proverbially fine appearance, and with no nonsense about her, couldn't fail to be a great acquisition. As to Mr Merdle, he was so much wanted by the men in the City and the rest of those places, and was such a doosed extraordinary phenomenon in Buying and Banking and that, that Mr Sparkler doubted if the monetary system of the country would be able to spare him; though that his work was occasionally one too many for him, and that he would be all the better for a temporary shy at an entirely new scene and climate, Mr Sparkler did not conceal. As to himself, Mr Sparkler conveyed to the Dorrit family that he was going, on rather particular business, wherever they were going.
This immense conversational achievement required time, but was effected. Being effected, Mr Dorrit expressed his hope that Mr Sparkler would shortly dine with them. Mr Sparkler received the idea so kindly that Mr Dorrit asked what he was going to do that day, for instance? As he was going to do nothing that day (his usual occupation, and one for which he was particularly qualified), he was secured without postponement; being further bound over to accompany the ladies to the Opera in the evening.
At dinner-time Mr Sparkler rose out of the sea, like Venus's son taking after his mother, and made a splendid appearance ascending the great staircase. If Fanny had been charming in the morning, she was now thrice charming, very becomingly dressed in her most suitable colours, and with an air of negligence upon her that doubled Mr Sparkler's fetters, and riveted them.
'I hear you are acquainted, Mr Sparkler,' said his host at dinner, 'with--ha--Mr Gowan. Mr Henry Gowan?'
'Perfectly, sir,' returned Mr Sparkler. 'His mother and my mother are cronies in fact.'
'If I had thought of it, Amy,' said Mr Dorrit, with a patronage as magnificent as that of Lord Decimus himself, 'you should have despatched a note to them, asking them to dine to-day. Some of our people could have--ha--fetched them, and taken them home. We could have spared a--hum--gondola for that purpose. I am sorry to have forgotten this. Pray remind me of them to-morrow.'
Little Dorrit was not without doubts how Mr Henry Gowan might take their patronage; but she promised not to fail in the reminder.
'Pray, does Mr Henry Gowan paint--ha--Portraits?' inquired Mr Dorrit.
Mr Sparkler opined that he painted anything, if he could get the job.
'He has no particular walk?' said Mr Dorrit.
Mr Sparkler, stimulated by Love to brilliancy, replied that for a particular walk a man ought to have a particular pair of shoes; as, for example, shooting, shooting-shoes; cricket, cricket-shoes. Whereas, he believed that Henry Gowan had no particular pair of shoes.
'No speciality?' said Mr Dorrit.
This being a very long word for Mr Sparkler, and his mind being exhausted by his late effort, he replied, 'No, thank you. I seldom take it.'
'Well!' said Mr Dorrit. 'It would be very agreeable to me to present a gentleman so connected, with some--ha--Testimonial of my desire to further his interests, and develop the--hum--germs of his genius. I think I must engage Mr Gowan to paint my picture. If the result should be--ha--mutually satisfactory, I might afterwards engage him to try his hand upon my family.'
The exquisitely bold and original thought presented itself to Mr Sparkler, that there was an opening here for saying there were some of the family (emphasising 'some' in a marked manner) to whom no painter could render justice. But, for want of a form of words in which to express the idea, it returned to the skies.