The continued kindness of her sister was this comfort to Little Dorrit. It was nothing to her that the kindness took the form of tolerant patronage; she was used to that. It was nothing to her that it kept her in a tributary position, and showed her in attendance on the flaming car in which Miss Fanny sat on an elevated seat, exacting homage; she sought no better place. Always admiring Fanny's beauty, and grace, and readiness, and not now asking herself how much of her disposition to be strongly attached to Fanny was due to her own heart, and how much to Fanny's, she gave her all the sisterly fondness her great heart contained.
The wholesale amount of Prunes and Prism which Mrs General infused into the family life, combined with the perpetual plunges made by Fanny into society, left but a very small residue of any natural deposit at the bottom of the mixture. This rendered confidences with Fanny doubly precious to Little Dorrit, and heightened the relief they afforded her.
'Amy,' said Fanny to her one night when they were alone, after a day so tiring that Little Dorrit was quite worn out, though Fanny would have taken another dip into society with the greatest pleasure in life, 'I am going to put something into your little head. You won't guess what it is, I suspect.'
'I don't think that's likely, dear,' said Little Dorrit.
'Come, I'll give you a clue, child,' said Fanny. 'Mrs General.'
Prunes and Prism, in a thousand combinations, having been wearily in the ascendant all day--everything having been surface and varnish and show without substance--Little Dorrit looked as if she had hoped that Mrs General was safely tucked up in bed for some hours.
'Now, can you guess, Amy?' said Fanny.
'No, dear. Unless I have done anything,' said Little Dorrit, rather alarmed, and meaning anything calculated to crack varnish and ruffle surface.
Fanny was so very much amused by the misgiving, that she took up her favourite fan (being then seated at her dressing-table with her armoury of cruel instruments about her, most of them reeking from the heart of Sparkler), and tapped her sister frequently on the nose with it, laughing all the time.
'Oh, our Amy, our Amy!' said Fanny. 'What a timid little goose our Amy is! But this is nothing to laugh at. On the contrary, I am very cross, my dear.'
'As it is not with me, Fanny, I don't mind,' returned her sister, smiling.
'Ah! But I do mind,' said Fanny, 'and so will you, Pet, when I enlighten you. Amy, has it never struck you that somebody is monstrously polite to Mrs General?'
'Everybody is polite to Mrs General,' said Little Dorrit. 'Because--'
'Because she freezes them into it?' interrupted Fanny. 'I don't mean that; quite different from that. Come! Has it never struck you, Amy, that Pa is monstrously polite to Mrs General.'
Amy, murmuring 'No,' looked quite confounded. 'No; I dare say not. But he is,' said Fanny. 'He is, Amy. And remember my words. Mrs General has designs on Pa!'
'Dear Fanny, do you think it possible that Mrs General has designs on any one?'
'Do I think it possible?' retorted Fanny. 'My love, I know it. I tell you she has designs on Pa. And more than that, I tell you Pa considers her such a wonder, such a paragon of accomplishment, and such an acquisition to our family, that he is ready to get himself into a state of perfect infatuation with her at any moment. And that opens a pretty picture of things, I hope? Think of me with Mrs General for a Mama!'
Little Dorrit did not reply, 'Think of me with Mrs General for a Mama;' but she looked anxious, and seriously inquired what had led Fanny to these conclusions.
'Lord, my darling,' said Fanny, tartly. 'You might as well ask me how I know when a man is struck with myself! But, of course I do know. It happens pretty often: but I always know it. I know this in much the same way, I suppose. At all events, I know it.'
'You never heard Papa say anything?'
'Say anything?' repeated Fanny. 'My dearest, darling child, what necessity has he had, yet awhile, to say anything?'
'And you have never heard Mrs General say anything?' 'My goodness me, Amy,' returned Fanny, 'is she the sort of woman to say anything? Isn't it perfectly plain and clear that she has nothing to do at present but to hold herself upright, keep her aggravating gloves on, and go sweeping about? Say anything! If she had the ace of trumps in her hand at whist, she wouldn't say anything, child.