But that was not to be thought of now, when they sat in the state-equipage with Mrs General on the coach-box. And as to supper! If Mr Dorrit had wanted supper, there was an Italian cook and there was a Swiss confectioner, who must have put on caps as high as the Pope's Mitre, and have performed the mysteries of Alchemists in a copper- saucepaned laboratory below, before he could have got it.
He was sententious and didactic that night. If he had been simply loving, he would have done Little Dorrit more good; but she accepted him as he was--when had she not accepted him as he was !-- and made the most and best of him. Mrs General at length retired. Her retirement for the night was always her frostiest ceremony, as if she felt it necessary that the human imagination should be chilled into stone to prevent its following her. When she had gone through her rigid preliminaries, amounting to a sort of genteel platoon-exercise, she withdrew. Little Dorrit then put her arm round her father's neck, to bid him good night.
'Amy, my dear,' said Mr Dorrit, taking her by the hand, 'this is the close of a day, that has--ha--greatly impressed and gratified me.' 'A little tired you, dear, too?'
'No,' said Mr Dorrit, 'no: I am not sensible of fatigue when it arises from an occasion so--hum--replete with gratification of the purest kind.'
Little Dorrit was glad to find him in such heart, and smiled from her own heart.
'My dear,' he continued, 'this is an occasion--ha--teeming with a good example. With a good example, my favourite and attached child --hum--to you.'
Little Dorrit, fluttered by his words, did not know what to say, though he stopped as if he expected her to say something.
'Amy,' he resumed; 'your dear sister, our Fanny, has contracted ha hum--a marriage, eminently calculated to extend the basis of our-- ha--connection, and to--hum--consolidate our social relations. My love, I trust that the time is not far distant when some--ha-- eligible partner may be found for you.'
'Oh no! Let me stay with you. I beg and pray that I may stay with you! I want nothing but to stay and take care of you!' She said it like one in sudden alarm.
'Nay, Amy, Amy,' said Mr Dorrit. 'This is weak and foolish, weak and foolish. You have a--ha--responsibility imposed upon you by your position. It is to develop that position, and be--hum -- worthy of that position. As to taking care of me; I can--ha--take care of myself. Or,' he added after a moment, 'if I should need to be taken care of, I--hum--can, with the--ha--blessing of Providence, be taken care of, I--ha hum--I cannot, my dear child, think of engrossing, and--ha--as it were, sacrificing you.'
O what a time of day at which to begin that profession of self- denial; at which to make it, with an air of taking credit for it; at which to believe it, if such a thing could be!
'Don't speak, Amy. I positively say I cannot do it. I--ha--must not do it. My--hum--conscience would not allow it. I therefore, my love, take the opportunity afforded by this gratifying and impressive occasion of--ha--solemnly remarking, that it is now a cherished wish and purpose of mine to see you--ha--eligibly (I repeat eligibly) married.'
'Oh no, dear! Pray!'
'Amy,' said Mr Dorrit, 'I am well persuaded that if the topic were referred to any person of superior social knowledge, of superior delicacy and sense--let us say, for instance, to--ha--Mrs General-- that there would not be two opinions as to the--hum--affectionate character and propriety of my sentiments. But, as I know your loving and dutiful nature from--hum--from experience, I am quite satisfied that it is necessary to say no more. I have--hum--no husband to propose at present, my dear: I have not even one in view. I merely wish that we should--ha--understand each other. Hum. Good night, my dear and sole remaining daughter. Good night.
God bless you!'
If the thought ever entered Little Dorrit's head that night, that he could give her up lightly now in his prosperity, and when he had it in his mind to replace her with a second wife, she drove it away.