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Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit

Little Dorrit/53

CHAPTER 15. No just Cause or Impediment why these Two Personsshould not be joined together

Mr Dorrit, on being informed by his elder daughter that she had acceptedmatrimonial overtures from Mr Sparkler, to whom she had plighted hertroth, received the communication at once with great dignity and with alarge display of parental pride; his dignity dilating with the widenedprospect of advantageous ground from which to make acquaintances, andhis parental pride being developed by Miss Fanny's ready sympathy withthat great object of his existence. He gave her to understand that hernoble ambition found harmonious echoes in his heart; and bestowedhis blessing on her, as a child brimful of duty and good principle,self-devoted to the aggrandisement of the family name.

To Mr Sparkler, when Miss Fanny permitted him to appear, Mr Dorrit said,he would not disguise that the alliance Mr Sparkler did him the honourto propose was highly congenial to his feelings; both as being in unisonwith the spontaneous affections of his daughter Fanny, and as openinga family connection of a gratifying nature with Mr Merdle, themaster spirit of the age. Mrs Merdle also, as a leading lady rich indistinction, elegance, grace, and beauty, he mentioned in very laudatoryterms. He felt it his duty to remark (he was sure a gentleman of MrSparkler's fine sense would interpret him with all delicacy), that hecould not consider this proposal definitely determined on, until heshould have had the privilege of holding some correspondence with MrMerdle; and of ascertaining it to be so far accordant with the viewsof that eminent gentleman as that his (Mr Dorrit's) daughter would bereceived on that footing which her station in life and her dowry andexpectations warranted him in requiring that she should maintain inwhat he trusted he might be allowed, without the appearance of beingmercenary, to call the Eye of the Great World. While saying this, whichhis character as a gentleman of some little station, and his characteras a father, equally demanded of him, he would not be so diplomaticas to conceal that the proposal remained in hopeful abeyance andunder conditional acceptance, and that he thanked Mr Sparkler for thecompliment rendered to himself and to his family. He concluded withsome further and more general observations on the--ha--character of anindependent gentleman, and the--hum--character of a possibly toopartial and admiring parent. To sum the whole up shortly, he receivedMr Sparkler's offer very much as he would have received three or fourhalf-crowns from him in the days that were gone.

Mr Sparkler, finding himself stunned by the words thus heaped upon hisinoffensive head, made a brief though pertinent rejoinder; the samebeing neither more nor less than that he had long perceived Miss Fannyto have no nonsense about her, and that he had no doubt of its being allright with his Governor. At that point the object of his affections shuthim up like a box with a spring lid, and sent him away.

Proceeding shortly afterwards to pay his respects to the Bosom, MrDorrit was received by it with great consideration. Mrs Merdle had heardof this affair from Edmund. She had been surprised at first, because shehad not thought Edmund a marrying man. Society had not thought Edmunda marrying man. Still, of course she had seen, as a woman (we womendid instinctively see these things, Mr Dorrit!), that Edmund had beenimmensely captivated by Miss Dorrit, and she had openly said that MrDorrit had much to answer for in bringing so charming a girl abroad toturn the heads of his countrymen.

'Have I the honour to conclude, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'that thedirection which Mr Sparkler's affections have taken, is--ha-approved ofby you?'

'I assure you, Mr Dorrit,' returned the lady, 'that, personally, I amcharmed.'

That was very gratifying to Mr Dorrit.

'Personally,' repeated Mrs Merdle, 'charmed.'

This casual repetition of the word 'personally,' moved Mr Dorrit toexpress his hope that Mr Merdle's approval, too, would not be wanting?

'I cannot,' said Mrs Merdle, 'take upon myself to answer positively forMr Merdle; gentlemen, especially gentlemen who are what Society callscapitalists, having their own ideas of these matters. But I shouldthink--merely giving an opinion, Mr Dorrit--I should think Mr Merdlewould be upon the whole,' here she held a review of herself beforeadding at her leisure, 'quite charmed.'

At the mention of gentlemen whom Society called capitalists, Mr Dorrithad coughed, as if some internal demur were breaking out of him. MrsMerdle had observed it, and went on to take up the cue.

'Though, indeed, Mr Dorrit, it is scarcely necessary for me to make thatremark, except in the mere openness of saying what is uppermost to onewhom I so highly regard, and with whom I hope I may have the pleasureof being brought into still more agreeable relations. For one cannotbut see the great probability of your considering such things from MrMerdle's own point of view, except indeed that circumstances have madeit Mr Merdle's accidental fortune, or misfortune, to be engaged inbusiness transactions, and that they, however vast, may a little cramphis horizons. I am a very child as to having any notion of business,'said Mrs Merdle; 'but I am afraid, Mr Dorrit, it may have thattendency.'

This skilful see-saw of Mr Dorrit and Mrs Merdle, so that each of themsent the other up, and each of them sent the other down, and neitherhad the advantage, acted as a sedative on Mr Dorrit's cough. He remarkedwith his utmost politeness, that he must beg to protest against itsbeing supposed, even by Mrs Merdle, the accomplished and graceful(to which compliment she bent herself), that such enterprises as MrMerdle's, apart as they were from the puny undertakings of the rest ofmen, had any lower tendency than to enlarge and expand the genius inwhich they were conceived. 'You are generosity itself,' said Mrs Merdlein return, smiling her best smile; 'let us hope so. But I confess I amalmost superstitious in my ideas about business.'

Mr Dorrit threw in another compliment here, to the effect that business,like the time which was precious in it, was made for slaves; and that itwas not for Mrs Merdle, who ruled all hearts at her supreme pleasure,to have anything to do with it. Mrs Merdle laughed, and conveyed toMr Dorrit an idea that the Bosom flushed--which was one of her besteffects.

'I say so much,' she then explained, 'merely because Mr Merdle hasalways taken the greatest interest in Edmund, and has always expressedthe strongest desire to advance his prospects. Edmund's public position,I think you know. His private position rests solely with Mr Merdle. Inmy foolish incapacity for business, I assure you I know no more.'

Mr Dorrit again expressed, in his own way, the sentiment that businesswas below the ken of enslavers and enchantresses. He then mentioned hisintention, as a gentleman and a parent, of writing to Mr Merdle. MrsMerdle concurred with all her heart--or with all her art, which wasexactly the same thing--and herself despatched a preparatory letter bythe next post to the eighth wonder of the world.

In his epistolary communication, as in his dialogues and discourses onthe great question to which it related, Mr Dorrit surrounded thesubject with flourishes, as writing-masters embellish copy-books andciphering-books: where the titles of the elementary rules ofarithmetic diverge into swans, eagles, griffins, and other calligraphicrecreations, and where the capital letters go out of their minds andbodies into ecstasies of pen and ink. Nevertheless, he did render thepurport of his letter sufficiently clear, to enable Mr Merdle to make adecent pretence of having learnt it from that source. Mr Merdle repliedto it accordingly. Mr Dorrit replied to Mr Merdle; Mr Merdle replied toMr Dorrit; and it was soon announced that the corresponding powers hadcome to a satisfactory understanding.

Now, and not before, Miss Fanny burst upon the scene, completely arrayedfor her new part. Now and not before, she wholly absorbed Mr Sparkler inher light, and shone for both, and twenty more. No longer feeling thatwant of a defined place and character which had caused her so muchtrouble, this fair ship began to steer steadily on a shaped course, andto 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 seewhat Mrs General has got to do with it.'

'My dear,' said Mr Dorrit, 'it will be an act of courtesy to--hum--alady, 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--MrsGeneral.'

'Quite disgusted with her, papa,' said Fanny. 'I really don't see whatshe has to do with my marriage. Let her keep to her own matrimonialprojects--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 ofyour explaining--ha--what it is you mean.'

'I mean, papa,' said Fanny, 'that if Mrs General should happen to haveany matrimonial projects of her own, I dare say they are quite enough tooccupy her spare time. And that if she has not, so much the better; butstill 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,' retortedFanny. 'She is watchful enough, I dare say. I think I have seen herso. Let her find it out for herself. If she should not find it out forherself, she will know it when I am married. And I hope you will notconsider me wanting in affection for you, papa, if I say it strikes methat will be quite enough for Mrs General.'

'Fanny,' returned Mr Dorrit, 'I am amazed, I am displeased bythis--hum--this capricious and unintelligible display of animositytowards--ha--Mrs General.'

'Do not, if you please, papa,' urged Fanny, 'call it animosity, becauseI assure you I do not consider Mrs General worth my animosity.'

At this, Mr Dorrit rose from his chair with a fixed look of severereproof, and remained standing in his dignity before his daughter. Hisdaughter, turning the bracelet on her arm, and now looking at him, andnow looking from him, said, 'Very well, papa. I am truly sorry if youdon'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 requestyou to remain here, while I formally announce to Mrs General, asan exemplary lady, who is--hum--a trusted member of this family,the--ha--the change that is contemplated among us; if I--ha--not onlyrequest it, but--hum--insist upon it--'

'Oh, papa,' Fanny broke in with pointed significance, 'if you make somuch of it as that, I have in duty nothing to do but comply. I hope Imay have my thoughts upon the subject, however, for I really cannot helpit under the circumstances.' So, Fanny sat down with a meekness which,in the junction of extremes, became defiance; and her father, either notdeigning to answer, or not knowing what to answer, summoned Mr Tinklerinto his presence.

'Mrs General.'

Mr Tinkler, unused to receive such short orders in connection with thefair varnisher, paused. Mr Dorrit, seeing the whole Marshalsea and allits testimonials in the pause, instantly flew at him with, 'How dareyou, sir? What do you mean?'

'I beg your pardon, sir,' pleaded Mr Tinkler, 'I was wishful to know--'

'You wished to know nothing, sir,' cried Mr Dorrit, highly flushed.'Don't tell me you did. Ha. You didn't. You are guilty of mockery, sir.'

'I assure you, sir--' Mr Tinkler began.

'Don't assure me!' said Mr Dorrit. 'I will not be assured by adomestic. You are guilty of mockery. You shall leave me--hum--the wholeestablishment shall leave me. What are you waiting for?'

'Only for my orders, sir.'

'It's false,' said Mr Dorrit, 'you have your orders. Ha--hum. Mycompliments to Mrs General, and I beg the favour of her coming to me, ifquite convenient, for a few minutes. Those are your orders.'

In his execution of this mission, Mr Tinkler perhaps expressed that MrDorrit was in a raging fume. However that was, Mrs General's skirts werevery speedily heard outside, coming along--one might almost have saidbouncing along--with unusual expedition. Albeit, they settled down atthe door and swept into the room with their customary coolness.

'Mrs General,' said Mr Dorrit, 'take a chair.'

Mrs General, with a graceful curve of acknowledgment, descended into thechair which Mr Dorrit offered.

'Madam,' pursued that gentleman, 'as you have had the kindness toundertake the--hum--formation of my daughters, and as I am persuadedthat nothing nearly affecting them can--ha--be indifferent to you--'

'Wholly impossible,' said Mrs General in the calmest of ways.

'--I therefore wish to announce to you, madam, that my daughter nowpresent--'

Mrs General made a slight inclination of her head to Fanny, who madea very low inclination of her head to Mrs General, and came loftilyupright again.

'--That my daughter Fanny is--ha--contracted to be married to MrSparkler, with whom you are acquainted. Hence, madam, you will berelieved of half your difficult charge--ha--difficult charge.' MrDorrit repeated it with his angry eye on Fanny. 'But not, I hope, tothe--hum--diminution of any other portion, direct or indirect, of thefooting you have at present the kindness to occupy in my family.'

'Mr Dorrit,' returned Mrs General, with her gloved hands resting onone another in exemplary repose, 'is ever considerate, and ever but tooappreciative of my friendly services.'

(Miss Fanny coughed, as much as to say, 'You are right.')

'Miss Dorrit has no doubt exercised the soundest discretion of whichthe circumstances admitted, and I trust will allow me to offer her mysincere congratulations. When free from the trammels of passion,' MrsGeneral closed her eyes at the word, as if she could not utter it, andsee anybody; 'when occurring with the approbation of near relatives;and when cementing the proud structure of a family edifice; these areusually auspicious events. I trust Miss Dorrit will allow me to offerher my best congratulations.'

Here Mrs General stopped, and added internally, for the setting of herface, 'Papa, potatoes, poultry, Prunes, and prism.'

'Mr Dorrit,' she superadded aloud, 'is ever most obliging; and forthe attention, and I will add distinction, of having this confidenceimparted to me by himself and Miss Dorrit at this early time, I beg tooffer the tribute of my thanks. My thanks, and my congratulations, areequally the meed of Mr Dorrit and of Miss Dorrit.'

'To me,' observed Miss Fanny, 'they are excessivelygratifying--inexpressibly so. The relief of finding that you have noobjection to make, Mrs General, quite takes a load off my mind, I amsure. I hardly know what I should have done,' said Fanny, 'if you hadinterposed any objection, Mrs General.'

Mrs General changed her gloves, as to the right glove being uppermostand the left undermost, with a Prunes and Prism smile.

'To preserve your approbation, Mrs General,' said Fanny, returning thesmile with one in which there was no trace of those ingredients, 'willof course be the highest object of my married life; to lose it, would ofcourse be perfect wretchedness. I am sure your great kindness willnot object, and I hope papa will not object, to my correcting asmall mistake you have made, however. The best of us are so liable tomistakes, that even you, Mrs General, have fallen into a little error.The attention and distinction you have so impressively mentioned, MrsGeneral, as attaching to this confidence, are, I have no doubt, of themost complimentary and gratifying description; but they don't at allproceed from me. The merit of having consulted you on the subject wouldhave been so great in me, that I feel I must not lay claim to it when itreally is not mine. It is wholly papa's. I am deeply obliged to you foryour encouragement and patronage, but it was papa who asked for it.I have to thank you, Mrs General, for relieving my breast of a greatweight by so handsomely giving your consent to my engagement, but youhave really nothing to thank me for. I hope you will always approve ofmy proceedings after I have left home and that my sister also may longremain the favoured object of your condescension, Mrs General.'

With this address, which was delivered in her politest manner, Fannyleft the room with an elegant and cheerful air--to tear up-stairs witha flushed face as soon as she was out of hearing, pounce in upon hersister, call her a little Dormouse, shake her for the better opening ofher eyes, tell her what had passed below, and ask her what she thoughtof Pa now?

Towards Mrs Merdle, the young lady comported herself with greatindependence and self-possession; but not as yet with any more decidedopening of hostilities. Occasionally they had a slight skirmish, as whenFanny considered herself patted on the back by that lady, or as when MrsMerdle looked particularly young and well; but Mrs Merdle always soonterminated those passages of arms by sinking among her cushions with thegracefullest indifference, and finding her attention otherwise engaged.Society (for that mysterious creature sat upon the Seven Hills too)found Miss Fanny vastly improved by her engagement. She was much moreaccessible, much more free and engaging, much less exacting; insomuchthat she now entertained a host of followers and admirers, to the bitterindignation of ladies with daughters to marry, who were to be regardedas Having revolted from Society on the Miss Dorrit grievance, anderected a rebellious standard. Enjoying the flutter she caused. MissDorrit not only haughtily moved through it in her own proper person, buthaughtily, even Ostentatiously, led Mr Sparkler through it too: seemingto say to them all, 'If I think proper to march among you in triumphalprocession attended by this weak captive in bonds, rather than astronger one, that is my business. Enough that I choose to do it!' MrSparkler for his part, questioned nothing; but went wherever he wastaken, did whatever he was told, felt that for his bride-elect to bedistinguished was for him to be distinguished on the easiest terms, andwas truly grateful for being so openly acknowledged.

The winter passing on towards the spring while this condition of affairsprevailed, it became necessary for Mr Sparkler to repair to England, andtake his appointed part in the expression and direction of its genius,learning, commerce, spirit, and sense. The land of Shakespeare, Milton,Bacon, Newton, Watt, the land of a host of past and present abstractphilosophers, natural philosophers, and subduers of Nature and Art intheir myriad forms, called to Mr Sparkler to come and take care of it,lest it should perish. Mr Sparkler, unable to resist the agonised cryfrom the depths of his country's soul, declared that he must go.

It followed that the question was rendered pressing when, where, andhow Mr Sparkler should be married to the foremost girl in all this worldwith no nonsense about her. Its solution, after some little mystery andsecrecy, Miss Fanny herself announced to her sister.

'Now, my child,' said she, seeking her out one day, 'I am going to tellyou something. It is only this moment broached; and naturally I hurry toyou the moment it _is_ broached.'

'Your marriage, Fanny?'

'My precious child,' said Fanny, 'don't anticipate me. Let me impart myconfidence to you, you flurried little thing, in my own way. As to yourguess, if I answered it literally, I should answer no. For really it isnot my marriage that is in question, half as much as it is Edmund's.'

Little Dorrit looked, and perhaps not altogether without cause, somewhatat a loss to understand this fine distinction.

'I am in no difficulty,' exclaimed Fanny, 'and in no hurry. I am notwanted at any public office, or to give any vote anywhere else.But Edmund is. And Edmund is deeply dejected at the idea of going awayby himself, and, indeed, I don't like that he should be trusted byhimself. For, if it's possible--and it generally is--to do a foolishthing, he is sure to do it.'

As she concluded this impartial summary of the reliance that might besafely placed upon her future husband, she took off, with an air ofbusiness, the bonnet she wore, and dangled it by its strings upon theground.

'It is far more Edmund's question, therefore, than mine. However, weneed say no more about that. That is self-evident on the face of it.Well, my dearest Amy! The point arising, is he to go by himself, or ishe not to go by himself, this other point arises, are we to be marriedhere and shortly, or are we to be married at home months hence?'

'I see I am going to lose you, Fanny.'

'What a little thing you are,' cried Fanny, half tolerant and halfimpatient, 'for anticipating one! Pray, my darling, hear me out. Thatwoman,' she spoke of Mrs Merdle, of course, 'remains here until afterEaster; so, in the case of my being married here and going to Londonwith Edmund, I should have the start of her. That is something. Further,Amy. That woman being out of the way, I don't know that I greatly objectto Mr Merdle's proposal to Pa that Edmund and I should take up our abodein that house--_you_ know--where you once went with a dancer, my dear,until our own house can be chosen and fitted up. Further still, Amy.Papa having always intended to go to town himself, in the spring,--yousee, if Edmund and I were married here, we might go off to Florence,where papa might join us, and we might all three travel home together.Mr Merdle has entreated Pa to stay with him in that same mansion I havementioned, and I suppose he will. But he is master of his own actions;and upon that point (which is not at all material) I can't speakpositively.'

The difference between papa's being master of his own actions and MrSparkler's being nothing of the sort, was forcibly expressed by Fanny inher manner of stating the case. Not that her sister noticed it; for shewas divided between regret at the coming separation, and a lingeringwish that she had been included in the plans for visiting England.

'And these are the arrangements, Fanny dear?'

'Arrangements!' repeated Fanny. 'Now, really, child, you are a littletrying. You know I particularly guarded myself against laying my wordsopen to any such construction. What I said was, that certain questionspresent themselves; and these are the questions.'

Little Dorrit's thoughtful eyes met hers, tenderly and quietly.

'Now, my own sweet girl,' said Fanny, weighing her bonnet by the stringswith considerable impatience, 'it's no use staring. A little owl couldstare. I look to you for advice, Amy. What do you advise me to do?'

'Do you think,' asked Little Dorrit, persuasively, after a shorthesitation, 'do you think, Fanny, that if you were to put it off for afew months, it might be, considering all things, best?'

'No, little Tortoise,' retorted Fanny, with exceeding sharpness. 'Idon't think anything of the kind.'

Here, she threw her bonnet from her altogether, and flounced into achair. But, becoming affectionate almost immediately, she flounced outof it again, and kneeled down on the floor to take her sister, chair andall, in her arms.

'Don't suppose I am hasty or unkind, darling, because I really am not.But you are such a little oddity! You make one bite your head off,when one wants to be soothing beyond everything. Didn't I tell you, youdearest baby, that Edmund can't be trusted by himself? And don't youknow that he can't?'

'Yes, yes, Fanny. You said so, I know.'

'And you know it, I know,' retorted Fanny. 'Well, my precious child! Ifhe is not to be trusted by himself, it follows, I suppose, that I shouldgo with him?'

'It--seems so, love,' said Little Dorrit.

'Therefore, having heard the arrangements that are feasible to carryout that object, am I to understand, dearest Amy, that on the whole youadvise me to make them?'

'It--seems so, love,' said Little Dorrit again.

'Very well,' cried Fanny with an air of resignation, 'then I suppose itmust be done! I came to you, my sweet, the moment I saw the doubt, andthe necessity of deciding. I have now decided. So let it be.'

After yielding herself up, in this pattern manner, to sisterly adviceand the force of circumstances, Fanny became quite benignant: as onewho had laid her own inclinations at the feet of her dearest friend, andfelt a glow of conscience in having made the sacrifice. 'After all, myAmy,' she said to her sister, 'you are the best of small creatures, andfull of good sense; and I don't know what I shall ever do without you!'

With which words she folded her in a closer embrace, and a really fondone.

'Not that I contemplate doing without You, Amy, by any means, for I hopewe shall ever be next to inseparable. And now, my pet, I am goingto give you a word of advice. When you are left alone here with MrsGeneral--'

'I am to be left alone here with Mrs General?' said Little Dorrit,quietly.

'Why, of course, my precious, till papa comes back! Unless you callEdward company, which he certainly is not, even when he is here, andstill more certainly is not when he is away at Naples or in Sicily. Iwas going to say--but you are such a beloved little Marplot for puttingone out--when you are left alone here with Mrs General, Amy, don't youlet her slide into any sort of artful understanding with you that she islooking after Pa, or that Pa is looking after her. She will if she can.I know her sly manner of feeling her way with those gloves of hers. Butdon't you comprehend her on any account. And if Pa should tell you whenhe comes back, that he has it in contemplation to make Mrs General yourmama (which is not the less likely because I am going away), my adviceto you is, that you say at once, ”Papa, I beg to object most strongly.Fanny cautioned me about this, and she objected, and I object.” I don'tmean to say that any objection from you, Amy, is likely to be of thesmallest effect, or that I think you likely to make it with any degreeof firmness. But there is a principle involved--a filial principle--andI implore you not to submit to be mother-in-lawed by Mrs General,without asserting it in making every one about you as uncomfortable aspossible. I don't expect you to stand by it--indeed, I know you won't,Pa being concerned--but I wish to rouse you to a sense of duty. As toany help from me, or as to any opposition that I can offer to such amatch, you shall not be left in the lurch, my love. Whatever weightI may derive from my position as a married girl not wholly devoid ofattractions--used, as that position always shall be, to oppose thatwoman--I will bring to bear, you May depend upon it, on the head andfalse hair (for I am confident it's not all real, ugly as it is andunlikely as it appears that any One in their Senses would go to theexpense of buying it) of Mrs General!'

Little Dorrit received this counsel without venturing to oppose it butwithout giving Fanny any reason to believe that she intended to act uponit. Having now, as it were, formally wound up her single life andarranged her worldly affairs, Fanny proceeded with characteristic ardourto prepare for the serious change in her condition.

The preparation consisted in the despatch of her maid to Paris under theprotection of the Courier, for the purchase of that outfit for a brideon which it would be extremely low, in the present narrative, to bestowan English name, but to which (on a vulgar principle it observesof adhering to the language in which it professes to be written) itdeclines to give a French one. The rich and beautiful wardrobe purchasedby these agents, in the course of a few weeks made its way through theintervening country, bristling with custom-houses, garrisoned by animmense army of shabby mendicants in uniform who incessantly repeatedthe Beggar's Petition over it, as if every individual warrior among themwere the ancient Belisarius: and of whom there were so many Legions,that unless the Courier had expended just one bushel and a half ofsilver money relieving their distresses, they would have worn thewardrobe out before it got to Rome, by turning it over and over. Throughall such dangers, however, it was triumphantly brought, inch by inch,and arrived at its journey's end in fine condition.

There it was exhibited to select companies of female viewers, in whosegentle bosoms it awakened implacable feelings. Concurrently, activepreparations were made for the day on which some of its treasures wereto be publicly displayed. Cards of breakfast-invitation were sent outto half the English in the city of Romulus; the other half madearrangements to be under arms, as criticising volunteers, at variousouter points of the solemnity. The most high and illustrious EnglishSignor Edgardo Dorrit, came post through the deep mud and ruts (fromforming a surface under the improving Neapolitan nobility), to gracethe occasion. The best hotel and all its culinary myrmidons, were set towork to prepare the feast. The drafts of Mr Dorrit almost constituted arun on the Torlonia Bank. The British Consul hadn't had such a marriagein the whole of his Consularity.

The day came, and the She-Wolf in the Capitol might have snarled withenvy to see how the Island Savages contrived these things now-a-days.The murderous-headed statues of the wicked Emperors of the Soldiery,whom sculptors had not been able to flatter out of their villainoushideousness, might have come off their pedestals to run away with theBride. The choked old fountain, where erst the gladiators washed, mighthave leaped into life again to honour the ceremony. The Temple ofVesta might have sprung up anew from its ruins, expressly to lend itscountenance to the occasion. Might have done; but did not. Like sentientthings--even like the lords and ladies of creation sometimes--mighthave done much, but did nothing. The celebration went off with admirablepomp; monks in black robes, white robes, and russet robes stopped tolook after the carriages; wandering peasants in fleeces of sheep, beggedand piped under the house-windows; the English volunteers defiled; theday wore on to the hour of vespers; the festival wore away; the thousandchurches rang their bells without any reference to it; and St Peterdenied that he had anything to do with it.

But by that time the Bride was near the end of the first day's journeytowards Florence. It was the peculiarity of the nuptials that theywere all Bride. Nobody noticed the Bridegroom. Nobody noticed the firstBridesmaid. Few could have seen Little Dorrit (who held that post) forthe glare, even supposing many to have sought her. So, the Bride hadmounted into her handsome chariot, incidentally accompanied by theBridegroom; and after rolling for a few minutes smoothly over a fairpavement, had begun to jolt through a Slough of Despond, and through along, long avenue of wrack and ruin. Other nuptial carriages are said tohave gone the same road, before and since.

If Little Dorrit found herself left a little lonely and a little lowthat night, nothing would have done so much against her feeling ofdepression as the being able to sit at work by her father, as in the oldtime, and help him to his supper and his rest. But that was not to bethought of now, when they sat in the state-equipage with Mrs General onthe coach-box. And as to supper! If Mr Dorrit had wanted supper, therewas an Italian cook and there was a Swiss confectioner, who musthave put on caps as high as the Pope's Mitre, and have performed themysteries of Alchemists in a copper-saucepaned laboratory below, beforehe could have got it.

He was sententious and didactic that night. If he had been simplyloving, he would have done Little Dorrit more good; but she accepted himas he was--when had she not accepted him as he was!--and made the mostand best of him. Mrs General at length retired. Her retirement for thenight was always her frostiest ceremony, as if she felt it necessarythat the human imagination should be chilled into stone to preventits following her. When she had gone through her rigid preliminaries,amounting to a sort of genteel platoon-exercise, she withdrew. LittleDorrit 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 theclose 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 arisesfrom an occasion so--hum--replete with gratification of the purestkind.'

Little Dorrit was glad to find him in such heart, and smiled from herown heart.

'My dear,' he continued, 'this is an occasion--ha--teeming with a goodexample. With a good example, my favourite and attached child--hum--toyou.'

Little Dorrit, fluttered by his words, did not know what to say, thoughhe stopped as if he expected her to say something.

'Amy,' he resumed; 'your dear sister, our Fanny, has contractedha hum--a marriage, eminently calculated to extend the basis ofour--ha--connection, and to--hum--consolidate our social relations. Mylove, I trust that the time is not far distant when some--ha--eligiblepartner may be found for you.'

'Oh no! Let me stay with you. I beg and pray that I may stay with you! Iwant 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, weakand foolish. You have a--ha--responsibility imposed upon you by yourposition. It is to develop that position, and be--hum--worthy of thatposition. 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 itwere, 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 tobelieve it, if such a thing could be!

'Don't speak, Amy. I positively say I cannot do it. I--ha--must not doit. My--hum--conscience would not allow it. I therefore, my love, takethe opportunity afforded by this gratifying and impressive occasionof--ha--solemnly remarking, that it is now a cherished wish and purposeof 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 werereferred to any person of superior social knowledge, of superiordelicacy and sense--let us say, for instance, to--ha--Mrs General--thatthere would not be two opinions as to the--hum--affectionate characterand propriety of my sentiments. But, as I know your loving and dutifulnature from--hum--from experience, I am quite satisfied that it isnecessary to say no more. I have--hum--no husband to propose atpresent, my dear: I have not even one in view. I merely wish that weshould--ha--understand each other. Hum. Good night, my dear and soleremaining daughter. Good night. God bless you!'

If the thought ever entered Little Dorrit's head that night, that hecould give her up lightly now in his prosperity, and when he had it inhis mind to replace her with a second wife, she drove it away. Faithfulto him still, as in the worst times through which she had borne himsingle-handed, she drove the thought away; and entertained no harderreflection, in her tearful unrest, than that he now saw everythingthrough their wealth, and through the care he always had upon him thatthey should continue rich, and grow richer.

They sat in their equipage of state, with Mrs General on the box, forthree weeks longer, and then he started for Florence to join Fanny.Little Dorrit would have been glad to bear him company so far, only forthe sake of her own love, and then to have turned back alone, thinkingof dear England. But, though the Courier had gone on with the Bride, theValet was next in the line; and the succession would not have come toher, as long as any one could be got for money.

Mrs General took life easily--as easily, that is, as she couldtake anything--when the Roman establishment remained in their soleoccupation; and Little Dorrit would often ride out in a hired carriagethat was left them, and alight alone and wander among the ruins of oldRome. The ruins of the vast old Amphitheatre, of the old Temples, of theold commemorative Arches, of the old trodden highways, of the oldtombs, besides being what they were, to her were ruins of the oldMarshalsea--ruins of her own old life--ruins of the faces and formsthat of old peopled it--ruins of its loves, hopes, cares, and joys. Tworuined spheres of action and suffering were before the solitary girloften sitting on some broken fragment; and in the lonely places, underthe blue sky, she saw them both together.

Up, then, would come Mrs General; taking all the colour out ofeverything, as Nature and Art had taken it out of herself; writingPrunes and Prism, in Mr Eustace's text, wherever she could lay a hand;looking everywhere for Mr Eustace and company, and seeing nothing else;scratching up the driest little bones of antiquity, and bolting themwhole without any human visitings--like a Ghoule in gloves.