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Mr Dorrit, on being informed by his elder daughter that she had accepted matrimonial overtures from Mr Sparkler, to whom she had plighted her troth, received the communication at once with great dignity and with a large display of parental pride; his dignity dilating with the widened prospect of advantageous ground from which to make acquaintances, and his parental pride being developed by Miss Fanny's ready sympathy with that great object of his existence. He gave her to understand that her noble ambition found harmonious echoes in his heart; and bestowed his 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 honour to propose was highly congenial to his feelings; both as being in unison with the spontaneous affections of his daughter Fanny, and as opening a family connection of a gratifying nature with Mr Merdle, the master spirit of the age. Mrs Merdle also, as a leading lady rich in distinction, elegance, grace, and beauty, he mentioned in very laudatory terms. He felt it his duty to remark (he was sure a gentleman of Mr Sparkler's fine sense would interpret him with all delicacy), that he could not consider this proposal definitely determined on, until he should have had the privilege of holding some correspondence with Mr Merdle; and of ascertaining it to be so far accordant with the views of that eminent gentleman as that his (Mr Dorrit's) daughter would be received on that footing which her station in life and her dowry and expectations warranted him in requiring that she should maintain in what he trusted he might be allowed, without the appearance of being mercenary, to call the Eye of the Great World. While saying this, which his character as a gentleman of some little station, and his character as a father, equally demanded of him, he would not be so diplomatic as to conceal that the proposal remained in hopeful abeyance and under conditional acceptance, and that he thanked Mr Sparkler for the compliment rendered to himself and to his family. He concluded with some further and more general observations on the--ha--character of an independent gentleman, and the--hum--character of a possibly too partial and admiring parent. To sum the whole up shortly, he received Mr Sparkler's offer very much as he would have received three or four half-crowns from him in the days that were gone.
Mr Sparkler, finding himself stunned by the words thus heaped upon his inoffensive head, made a brief though pertinent rejoinder; the same being neither more nor less than that he had long perceived Miss Fanny to have no nonsense about her, and that he had no doubt of its being all right with his Governor. At that point the object of his affections shut him up like a box with a spring lid, and sent him away.
Proceeding shortly afterwards to pay his respects to the Bosom, Mr Dorrit was received by it with great consideration. Mrs Merdle had heard of this affair from Edmund. She had been surprised at first, because she had not thought Edmund a marrying man. Society had not thought Edmund a marrying man. Still, of course she had seen, as a woman (we women did instinctively see these things, Mr Dorrit!), that Edmund had been immensely captivated by Miss Dorrit, and she had openly said that Mr Dorrit had much to answer for in bringing so charming a girl abroad to turn the heads of his countrymen.
'Have I the honour to conclude, madam,' said Mr Dorrit, 'that the direction which Mr Sparkler's affections have taken, is--ha- approved of by you?'
'I assure you, Mr Dorrit,' returned the lady, 'that, personally, I am charmed.'
That was very gratifying to Mr Dorrit.
'Personally,' repeated Mrs Merdle, 'charmed.'
This casual repetition of the word 'personally,' moved Mr Dorrit to express his hope that Mr Merdle's approval, too, would not be wanting?
'I cannot,' said Mrs Merdle, 'take upon myself to answer positively for Mr Merdle; gentlemen, especially gentlemen who are what Society calls capitalists, having their own ideas of these matters. But I should think--merely giving an opinion, Mr Dorrit--I should think Mr Merdle would be upon the whole,' here she held a review of herself before adding at her leisure, 'quite charmed.'
At the mention of gentlemen whom Society called capitalists, Mr Dorrit had coughed, as if some internal demur were breaking out of him. Mrs Merdle had observed it, and went on to take up the cue.
'Though, indeed, Mr Dorrit, it is scarcely necessary for me to make that remark, except in the mere openness of saying what is uppermost to one whom I so highly regard, and with whom I hope I may have the pleasure of being brought into still more agreeable relations. For one cannot but see the great probability of your considering such things from Mr Merdle's own point of view, except indeed that circumstances have made it Mr Merdle's accidental fortune, or misfortune, to be engaged in business transactions, and that they, however vast, may a little cramp his 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 that tendency.'
This skilful see-saw of Mr Dorrit and Mrs Merdle, so that each of them sent the other up, and each of them sent the other down, and neither had the advantage, acted as a sedative on Mr Dorrit's cough. He remarked with his utmost politeness, that he must beg to protest against its being supposed, even by Mrs Merdle, the accomplished and graceful (to which compliment she bent herself), that such enterprises as Mr Merdle's, apart as they were from the puny undertakings of the rest of men, had any lower tendency than to enlarge and expand the genius in which they were conceived. 'You are generosity itself,' said Mrs Merdle in return, smiling her best smile; 'let us hope so. But I confess I am almost 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 it was not for Mrs Merdle, who ruled all hearts at her supreme pleasure, to have anything to do with it. Mrs Merdle laughed, and conveyed to Mr Dorrit an idea that the Bosom flushed-- which was one of her best effects.
'I say so much,' she then explained, 'merely because Mr Merdle has always taken the greatest interest in Edmund, and has always expressed the strongest desire to advance his prospects. Edmund's public position, I think you know. His private position rests solely with Mr Merdle. In my foolish incapacity for business, I assure you I know no more.'
Mr Dorrit again expressed, in his own way, the sentiment that business was below the ken of enslavers and enchantresses. He then mentioned his intention, as a gentleman and a parent, of writing to Mr Merdle. Mrs Merdle concurred with all her heart--or with all her art, which was exactly the same thing--and herself despatched a preparatory letter by the next post to the eighth wonder of the world.
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Little Dorrit -- by Charles Dickens