Has he had any illness since I have been gone?' 'No, father.'
'You--ha--see a great change in him, Amy?'
'I have not observed it, dear.'
'Greatly broken,' said Mr Dorrit. 'Greatly broken. My poor, affectionate, failing Frederick! Ha. Even taking into account what he was before, he is--hum--sadly broken!'
His supper, which was brought to him there, and spread upon the little table where he had seen her working, diverted his attention.
She sat at his side as in the days that were gone, for the first time since those days ended. They were alone, and she helped him to his meat and poured out his drink for him, as she had been used to do in the prison. All this happened now, for the first time since their accession to wealth. She was afraid to look at him much, after the offence he had taken; but she noticed two occasions in the course of his meal, when he all of a sudden looked at her, and looked about him, as if the association were so strong that he needed assurance from his sense of sight that they were not in the old prison-room. Both times, he put his hand to his head as if he missed his old black cap--though it had been ignominiously given away in the Marshalsea, and had never got free to that hour, but still hovered about the yards on the head of his successor.
He took very little supper, but was a long time over it, and often reverted to his brother's declining state. Though he expressed the greatest pity for him, he was almost bitter upon him. He said that poor Frederick--ha hum--drivelled. There was no other word to express it; drivelled. Poor fellow! It was melancholy to reflect what Amy must have undergone from the excessive tediousness of his Society--wandering and babbling on, poor dear estimable creature, wandering and babbling on--if it had not been for the relief she had had in Mrs General. Extremely sorry, he then repeated with his former satisfaction, that that--ha--superior woman was poorly.
Little Dorrit, in her watchful love, would have remembered the lightest thing he said or did that night, though she had had no subsequent reason to recall that night. She always remembered that, when he looked about him under the strong influence of the old association, he tried to keep it out of her mind, and perhaps out of his own too, by immediately expatiating on the great riches and great company that had encompassed him in his absence, and on the lofty position he and his family had to sustain. Nor did she fail to recall that there were two under-currents, side by side, pervading all his discourse and all his manner; one showing her how well he had got on without her, and how independent he was of her; the other, in a fitful and unintelligible way almost complaining of her, as if it had been possible that she had neglected him while he was away.
His telling her of the glorious state that Mr Merdle kept, and of the court that bowed before him, naturally brought him to Mrs Merdle. So naturally indeed, that although there was an unusual want of sequence in the greater part of his remarks, he passed to her at once, and asked how she was.
'She is very well. She is going away next week.'
'Home?' asked Mr Dorrit.
'After a few weeks' stay upon the road.'
'She will be a vast loss here,' said Mr Dorrit. 'A vast--ha-- acquisition at home. To Fanny, and to--hum--the rest of the--ha-- great world.'
Little Dorrit thought of the competition that was to be entered upon, and assented very softly.
'Mrs Merdle is going to have a great farewell Assembly, dear, and a dinner before it. She has been expressing her anxiety that you should return in time. She has invited both you and me to her dinner.'
'She is--ha--very kind. When is the day?'
'The day after to-morrow.'
'Write round in the morning, and say that I have returned, and shall--hum--be delighted.'
'May I walk with you up the stairs to your room, dear?'
'No!' he answered, looking angrily round; for he was moving away, as if forgetful of leave-taking.