‘I would not,’ said Mrs General, ‘be understood to say, observe, that there is nothing to improve in Fanny. But there is material there—perhaps, indeed, a little too much.’

‘Will you be kind enough, madam,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘to be—ha—more explicit? I do not quite understand my elder daughter’s having— hum—too much material. What material?’

‘Fanny,’ returned Mrs General, ‘at present forms too many opinions.

Perfect breeding forms none, and is never demonstrative.’

Lest he himself should be found deficient in perfect breeding, Mr Dorrit hastened to reply, ‘Unquestionably, madam, you are right.’ Mrs General returned, in her emotionless and expressionless manner, ‘I believe so.’

‘But you are aware, my dear madam,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘that my daughters had the misfortune to lose their lamented mother when they were very young; and that, in consequence of my not having been until lately the recognised heir to my property, they have lived with me as a comparatively poor, though always proud, gentleman, in—ha hum—retirement!’

‘I do not,’ said Mrs General, ‘lose sight of the circumstance.’ ‘Madam,’pursued Mr Dorrit, ‘of my daughter Fanny, under her present guidance and with such an example constantly before her—’

(Mrs General shut her eyes.)

‘—I have no misgivings. There is adaptability of character in Fanny. But my younger daughter, Mrs General, rather worries and vexes my thoughts. I must inform you that she has always been my favourite.’

‘There is no accounting,’ said Mrs General, ‘for these partialities.’

‘Ha—no,’ assented Mr Dorrit. ‘No. Now, madam, I am troubled by noticing that Amy is not, so to speak, one of ourselves. She does not Care to go about with us; she is lost in the society we have here; our tastes are evidently not her tastes. Which,’ said Mr Dorrit, summing up with judicial gravity, ‘is to say, in other words, that there is something wrong in—ha—Amy.’

‘May we incline to the supposition,’ said Mrs General, with a little touch of varnish, ‘that something is referable to the novelty of the position?’

‘Excuse me, madam,’ observed Mr Dorrit, rather quickly. ‘The daughter of a gentleman, though—ha—himself at one time comparatively far from affluent—comparatively—and herself reared in—hum—retirement, need not of necessity find this position so very novel.’

‘True,’ said Mrs General, ‘true.’

‘Therefore, madam,’ said Mr Dorrit, ‘I took the liberty’ (he laid an emphasis on the phrase and repeated it, as though he stipulated, with urbane firmness, that he must not be contradicted again), ‘I took the liberty of requesting this interview, in order that I might mention the topic to you, and inquire how you would advise me?’

‘Mr Dorrit,’ returned Mrs General, ‘I have conversed with Amy several times since we have been residing here, on the general subject of the formation of a demeanour. She has expressed herself to me as wondering exceedingly at Venice. I have mentioned to her that it is better not to wonder. I have pointed out to her that the celebrated Mr Eustace, the classical tourist, did not think much of it; and that he compared the Rialto, greatly to its disadvantage, with Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges. I need not add, after what you have said, that I have not yet found my arguments successful. You do me the honour to ask me what to advise. It always appears to me (if this should prove to be a baseless assumption, I shall be pardoned), that Mr Dorrit has been accustomed to exercise influence over the minds of others.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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