'Ha. Really I am glad to find--hum--any one to receive me at last. I appear to have been--ha--so little expected, that upon my word I began--ha hum--to think it might be right to offer an apology for--ha--taking the liberty of coming back at all.'
'It was so late, my dear William,' said his brother, 'that we had given you up for to-night.'
'I am stronger than you, dear Frederick,' returned his brother with an elaboration of fraternity in which there was severity; 'and I hope I can travel without detriment at--ha--any hour I choose.'
'Surely, surely,' returned the other, with a misgiving that he had given offence. 'Surely, William.'
'Thank you, Amy,' pursued Mr Dorrit, as she helped him to put off his wrappers. 'I can do it without assistance. I--ha--need not trouble you, Amy. Could I have a morsel of bread and a glass of wine, or--hum--would it cause too much inconvenience?'
'Dear father, you shall have supper in a very few minutes.'
'Thank you, my love,' said Mr Dorrit, with a reproachful frost upon him; 'I--ha--am afraid I am causing inconvenience. Hum. Mrs General pretty well?'
'Mrs General complained of a headache, and of being fatigued; and so, when we gave you up, she went to bed, dear.'
Perhaps Mr Dorrit thought that Mrs General had done well in being overcome by the disappointment of his not arriving. At any rate, his face relaxed, and he said with obvious satisfaction, 'Extremely sorry to hear that Mrs General is not well.'
During this short dialogue, his daughter had been observant of him, with something more than her usual interest. It would seem as though he had a changed or worn appearance in her eyes, and he perceived and resented it; for he said with renewed peevishness, when he had divested himself of his travelling-cloak, and had come to the fire: 'Amy, what are you looking at? What do you see in me that causes you to--ha--concentrate your solicitude on me in that--hum--very particular manner?'
'I did not know it, father; I beg your pardon. It gladdens my eyes to see you again; that's all.'
'Don't say that's all, because--ha--that's not all. You--hum--you think,' said Mr Dorrit, with an accusatory emphasis, 'that I am not looking well.' 'I thought you looked a little tired, love.'
'Then you are mistaken,' said Mr Dorrit. 'Ha, I am not tired. Ha, hum. I am very much fresher than I was when I went away.'
He was so inclined to be angry that she said nothing more in her justification, but remained quietly beside him embracing his arm. As he stood thus, with his brother on the other side, he fell into a heavy doze, of not a minute's duration, and awoke with a start.
'Frederick,' he said, turning to his brother: 'I recommend you to go to bed immediately.'
'No, William. I'll wait and see you sup.'
'Frederick,' he retorted, 'I beg you to go to bed. I--ha--make it a personal request that you go to bed. You ought to have been in bed long ago. You are very feeble.'
'Hah!' said the old man, who had no wish but to please him. 'Well, well, well! I dare say I am.'
'My dear Frederick,' returned Mr Dorrit, with an astonishing superiority to his brother's failing powers, 'there can be no doubt of it. It is painful to me to see you so weak. Ha. It distresses me. Hum. I don't find you looking at all well. You are not fit for this sort of thing. You should be more careful, you should be very careful.'
'Shall I go to bed?' asked Frederick.
'Dear Frederick,' said Mr Dorrit, 'do, I adjure you! Good night, brother. I hope you will be stronger to-morrow. I am not at all pleased with your looks. Good night, dear fellow.' After dismissing his brother in this gracious way, he fell into a doze again before the old man was well out of the room: and he would have stumbled forward upon the logs, but for his daughter's restraining hold.
'Your uncle wanders very much, Amy,' he said, when he was thus roused. 'He is less--ha--coherent, and his conversation is more-- hum--broken, than I have--ha, hum--ever known.