‘Oh! Never mind, Pa,’ replied Miss Fanny, ‘it’s no great matter. Amy will understand me. She knew, or knew of, this Mrs Gowan before yesterday, and she may as well admit that she did.’

‘My child,’ said Mr Dorrit, turning to his younger daughter, ‘has your sister—any—ha—authority for this curious statement?’

‘However meek we are,’ Miss Fanny struck in before she could answer, ‘we don’t go creeping into people’s rooms on the tops of cold mountains, and sitting perishing in the frost with people, unless we know something about them beforehand. It’s not very hard to divine whose friend Mrs Gowan is.’

‘Whose friend?’ inquired her father.

‘Pa, I am sorry to say,’ returned Miss Fanny, who had by this time succeeded in goading herself into a state of much ill-usage and grievance, which she was often at great pains to do: ‘that I believe her to be a friend of that very objectionable and unpleasant person, who, with a total absence of all delicacy, which our experience might have led us to expect from him, insulted us and outraged our feelings in so public and wilful a manner on an occasion to which it is understood among us that we will not more pointedly allude.’

‘Amy, my child,’ said Mr Dorrit, tempering a bland severity with a dignified affection, ‘is this the case?’

Little Dorrit mildly answered, yes it was.

‘Yes it is!’ cried Miss Fanny. ‘Of course! I said so! And now, Pa, I do declare once for all’—this young lady was in the habit of declaring the same thing once for all every day of her life, and even several times in a day—’that this is shameful! I do declare once for all that it ought to be put a stop to. Is it not enough that we have gone through what is only known to ourselves, but are we to have it thrown in our faces, perseveringly and systematically, by the very person who should spare our feelings most? Are we to be exposed to this unnatural conduct every moment of our lives? Are we never to be permitted to forget? I say again, it is absolutely infamous!’

‘Well, Amy,’ observed her brother, shaking his head, ‘you know I stand by you whenever I can, and on most occasions. But I must say, that, upon my soul, I do consider it rather an unaccountable mode of showing your sisterly affection, that you should back up a man who treated me in the most ungentlemanly way in which one man can treat another. And who,’ he added convincingly, must be a low-minded thief, you know, or he never could have conducted himself as he did.’

‘And see,’ said Miss Fanny, ‘see what is involved in this! Can we ever hope to be respected by our servants? Never. Here are our two women, and Pa’s valet, and a footman, and a courier, and all sorts of dependents, and yet in the midst of these, we are to have one of ourselves rushing about with tumblers of cold water, like a menial! Why, a policeman,’ said Miss Fanny, ‘if a beggar had a fit in the street, could but go plunging about with tumblers, as this very Amy did in this very room before our very eyes last night!’

‘I don’t so much mind that, once in a way,’ remarked Mr Edward; ‘but your Clennam, as he thinks proper to call himself, is another thing.’ ‘He is part of the same thing,’ returned Miss Fanny, ‘and of a piece with all the rest. He obtruded himself upon us in the first instance. We never wanted him. I always showed him, for one, that I could have dispensed with his company with the greatest pleasure.

He then commits that gross outrage upon our feelings, which he never could or would have committed but for the delight he took in exposing us; and then we are to be demeaned for the service of his friends! Why, I don’t wonder at this Mr Gowan’s conduct towards you. What else was to be expected when he was enjoying our past misfortunes—gloating over them at the moment!’ ‘Father—Edward—no indeed!’ pleaded Little Dorrit. ‘Neither Mr nor Mrs Gowan had ever heard our name. They were, and they are, quite ignorant of our history.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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