In his epistolary communication, as in his dialogues and discourses on the great question to which it related, Mr Dorrit surrounded the subject with flourishes, as writing-masters embellish copy-books and ciphering-books: where the titles of the elementary rules of arithmetic diverge into swans, eagles, griffins, and other calligraphic recreations, and where the capital letters go out of their minds and bodies into ecstasies of pen and ink. Nevertheless, he did render the purport of his letter sufficiently clear, to enable Mr Merdle to make a decent pretence of having learnt it from that source. Mr Merdle replied to it accordingly. Mr Dorrit replied to Mr Merdle; Mr Merdle replied to Mr Dorrit; and it was soon announced that the corresponding powers had come to a satisfactory understanding.
Now, and not before, Miss Fanny burst upon the scene, completely arrayed for her new part. Now and not before, she wholly absorbed Mr Sparkler in her light, and shone for both, and twenty more. No longer feeling that want of a defined place and character which had caused her so much trouble, this fair ship began to steer steadily on a shaped course, and to swim with a weight and balance that developed her sailing qualities.
'The preliminaries being so satisfactorily arranged, I think I will now, my dear,' said Mr Dorrit, 'announce--ha--formally, to Mrs General--'
'Papa,' returned Fanny, taking him up short upon that name, 'I don't see what Mrs General has got to do with it.'
'My dear,' said Mr Dorrit, 'it will be an act of courtesy to--hum-- a lady, well bred and refined--'
'Oh! I am sick of Mrs General's good breeding and refinement, papa,' said Fanny. 'I am tired of Mrs General.'
'Tired,' repeated Mr Dorrit in reproachful astonishment, 'of--ha-- Mrs General.'
'Quite disgusted with her, papa,' said Fanny. 'I really don't see what she has to do with my marriage. Let her keep to her own matrimonial projects--if she has any.'
'Fanny,' returned Mr Dorrit, with a grave and weighty slowness upon him, contrasting strongly with his daughter's levity: 'I beg the favour of your explaining--ha--what it is you mean.' 'I mean, papa,' said Fanny, 'that if Mrs General should happen to have any matrimonial projects of her own, I dare say they are quite enough to occupy her spare time. And that if she has not, so much the better; but still I don't wish to have the honour of making announcements to her.'
'Permit me to ask you, Fanny,' said Mr Dorrit, 'why not?'
'Because she can find my engagement out for herself, papa,' retorted Fanny. 'She is watchful enough, I dare say. I think I have seen her so. Let her find it out for herself. If she should not find it out for herself, she will know it when I am married. And I hope you will not consider me wanting in affection for you, papa, if I say it strikes me that will be quite enough for Mrs General.'
'Fanny,' returned Mr Dorrit, 'I am amazed, I am displeased by this--hum--this capricious and unintelligible display of animosity towards--ha--Mrs General.'
'Do not, if you please, papa,' urged Fanny, 'call it animosity, because I assure you I do not consider Mrs General worth my animosity.'
At this, Mr Dorrit rose from his chair with a fixed look of severe reproof, and remained standing in his dignity before his daughter. His daughter, turning the bracelet on her arm, and now looking at him, and now looking from him, said, 'Very well, papa. I am truly sorry if you don't like it; but I can't help it. I am not a child, and I am not Amy, and I must speak.'
'Fanny,' gasped Mr Dorrit, after a majestic silence, 'if I request you to remain here, while I formally announce to Mrs General, as an exemplary lady, who is--hum--a trusted member of this family, the-- ha--the change that is contemplated among us; if I--ha--not only request it, but--hum--insist upon it--'
'Oh, papa,' Fanny broke in with pointed significance, 'if you make so much of it as that, I have in duty nothing to do but comply. I hope I may have my thoughts upon the subject, however, for I really cannot help it under the circumstances.'So, Fanny sat down with a meekness which, in the junction of extremes, became defiance; and her father, either not deigning to answer, or not knowing what to answer, summoned Mr Tinkler into his presence.