'You may not, Amy. I want no help. I am your father, not your infirm uncle!' He checked himself, as abruptly as he had broken into this reply, and said, 'You have not kissed me, Amy. Good night, my dear! We must marry--ha--we must marry YOU, now.' With that he went, more slowly and more tired, up the staircase to his rooms, and, almost as soon as he got there, dismissed his valet. His next care was to look about him for his Paris purchases, and, after opening their cases and carefully surveying them, to put them away under lock and key. After that, what with dozing and what with castle-building, he lost himself for a long time, so that there was a touch of morning on the eastward rim of the desolate Campagna when he crept to bed.
Mrs General sent up her compliments in good time next day, and hoped he had rested well after this fatiguing journey. He sent down his compliments, and begged to inform Mrs General that he had rested very well indeed, and was in high condition. Nevertheless, he did not come forth from his own rooms until late in the afternoon; and, although he then caused himself to be magnificently arrayed for a drive with Mrs General and his daughter, his appearance was scarcely up to his description of himself. As the family had no visitors that day, its four members dined alone together. He conducted Mrs General to the seat at his right hand with immense ceremony; and Little Dorrit could not but notice as she followed with her uncle, both that he was again elaborately dressed, and that his manner towards Mrs General was very particular. The perfect formation of that accomplished lady's surface rendered it difficult to displace an atom of its genteel glaze, but Little Dorrit thought she descried a slight thaw of triumph in a corner of her frosty eye.
Notwithstanding what may be called in these pages the Pruney and Prismatic nature of the family banquet, Mr Dorrit several times fell asleep while it was in progress. His fits of dozing were as sudden as they had been overnight, and were as short and profound. When the first of these slumberings seized him, Mrs General looked almost amazed: but, on each recurrence of the symptoms, she told her polite beads, Papa, Potatoes, Poultry, Prunes, and Prism; and, by dint of going through that infallible performance very slowly, appeared to finish her rosary at about the same time as Mr Dorrit started from his sleep.
He was again painfully aware of a somnolent tendency in Frederick (which had no existence out of his own imagination), and after dinner, when Frederick had withdrawn, privately apologised to Mrs General for the poor man. 'The most estimable and affectionate of brothers,' he said, 'but--ha, hum--broken up altogether. Unhappily, declining fast.'
'Mr Frederick, sir,' quoth Mrs General, 'is habitually absent and drooping, but let us hope it is not so bad as that.'
Mr Dorrit, however, was determined not to let him off. 'Fast declining, madam. A wreck. A ruin. Mouldering away before our eyes. Hum. Good Frederick!'
'You left Mrs Sparkler quite well and happy, I trust?' said Mrs General, after heaving a cool sigh for Frederick.
'Surrounded,' replied Mr Dorrit, 'by--ha--all that can charm the taste, and--hum--elevate the mind. Happy, my dear madam, in a--hum--husband.'
Mrs General was a little fluttered; seeming delicately to put the word away with her gloves, as if there were no knowing what it might lead to.
'Fanny,' Mr Dorrit continued. 'Fanny, Mrs General, has high qualities. Ha. Ambition--hum--purpose, consciousness of--ha-- position, determination to support that position--ha, hum--grace, beauty, and native nobility.'
'No doubt,' said Mrs General (with a little extra stiffness).
'Combined with these qualities, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'Fanny has--ha--manifested one blemish which has made me--hum--made me uneasy, and--ha--I must add, angry; but which I trust may now be considered at an end, even as to herself, and which is undoubtedly at an end as to--ha--others.'
'To what, Mr Dorrit,' returned Mrs General, with her gloves again somewhat excited, 'can you allude? I am at a loss to--'
'Do not say that, my dear madam,' interrupted Mr Dorrit.