‘O Lord!’ gasped Young John.
‘But perhaps you will let me, instead, say something to you. I want to say it earnestly, and with as plain a meaning as it is possible to express. When you think of us, John–I mean my brother, and sister, and me–don’t think of us as being any different from the rest; for, whatever we once were (which I hardly know) we ceased to be long ago, and never can be any more. It will be much better for you, and much better for others, if you will do that instead of what you are doing now.’
Young John dolefully protested that he would try to bear it in mind, and would be heartily glad to do anything she wished.
‘As to me,’ said Little Dorrit, ‘think as little of me as you can; the less, the better. When you think of me at all, John, let it only be as the child you have seen grow up in the prison with one set of duties always occupying her; as a weak, retired, contented, unprotected girl. I particularly want you to remember, that when I come outside the gate, I am unprotected and solitary.’
He would try to do anything she wished. But why did Miss Amy so much want him to remember that?
‘Because,’ returned Little Dorrit, ‘I know I can then quite trust you not to forget to-day, and not to say any more to me. You are so generous that I know I can trust to you for that; and I do and I always will. I am going to show you, at once, that I fully trust you. I like this place where we are speaking better than any place I know;’ her slight colour had faded, but her lover thought he saw it coming back just then; ‘and I may be often here. I know it is only necessary for me to tell you so, to be quite sure that you will never come here again in search of me. And I am–quite sure!’
She might rely upon it, said Young John. He was a miserable wretch, but her word was more than a law for him.
‘And good-bye, John,’ said Little Dorrit. ‘And I hope you will have a good wife one day, and be a happy man. I am sure you will deserve to be happy, and you will be, John.’
As she held out her hand to him with these words, the heart that was under the waistcoat of sprigs–mere slop-work, if the truth must be known–swelled to the size of the heart of a gentleman; and the poor common little fellow, having no room to hold it, burst into tears.
‘Oh, don’t cry,’ said Little Dorrit piteously. ‘Don’t, don’t! Good-bye, John. God bless you!’
‘Good-bye, Miss Amy. Good-bye!’
And so he left her: first observing that she sat down on the corner of a seat, and not only rested her little hand upon the rough wall, but laid her face against it too, as if her head were heavy, and her mind were sad.
It was an affecting illustration of the fallacy of human projects, to behold her lover, with the great hat pulled over his eyes, the velvet collar turned up as if it rained, the plum-coloured coat buttoned to conceal the silken waistcoat of golden sprigs, and the little direction-post pointing inexorably home, creeping along by the worst back-streets, and composing, as he went, the following new inscription for a tombstone in St George’s Churchyard:
‘Here lie the mortal remains Of JOHN CHIVERY, Never anything worth mentioning, Who died about the end of the year one thousand eight hundred and twenty-six, Of a broken heart, Requesting with his last breath that the word AMY might be inscribed over his ashes, which was accordingly directed to be done, By his afflicted Parents.’
CHAPTER 19. The Father of the Marshalsea in two or three Relations
The brothers William and Frederick Dorrit, walking up and down the College-yard–of course on the aristocratic or Pump side, for the Father made it a point of his state to be chary of going among his children on the Poor side, except on Sunday mornings, Christmas Days, and other occasions of ceremony, in the observance whereof he was very punctual, and at which times he laid his hand upon the heads of their infants, and blessed those young insolvents with a benignity that was highly edifying–the brothers, walking up and down the College-yard together, were a memorable sight. Frederick the free, was so humbled, bowed, withered, and faded; William the bond, was so courtly, condescending, and benevolently conscious of a position; that in this regard only, if in no other, the brothers were a spectacle to wonder at.
They walked up and down the yard on the evening of Little Dorrit’s Sunday interview with her lover on the Iron Bridge. The cares of state were over for that day, the Drawing Room had been well attended, several new presentations had taken place, the three-and-sixpence accidentally left on the table had accidentally increased to twelve shillings, and the Father of the Marshalsea refreshed himself with a whiff of cigar. As he walked up and down, affably accommodating his step to the shuffle of his brother, not proud in his superiority, but considerate of that poor creature, bearing with him, and breathing toleration of his infirmities in every little puff of smoke that issued from his lips and aspired to get over the spiked wall, he was a sight to wonder at.
His brother Frederick of the dim eye, palsied hand, bent form, and groping mind, submissively shuffled at his side, accepting his patronage as he accepted every incident of the labyrinthian world in which he had got lost. He held the usual screwed bit of whitey-brown paper in his hand, from which he ever and again unscrewed a spare pinch of snuff. That falteringly taken, he would glance at his brother not unadmiringly, put his hands behind him, and shuffle on so at his side until he took another pinch, or stood still to look about him–perchance suddenly missing his clarionet.
The College visitors were melting away as the shades of night drew on, but the yard was still pretty full, the Collegians being mostly out, seeing their friends to the Lodge. As the brothers paced the yard, William the bond looked about him to receive salutes, returned them by graciously lifting off his hat, and, with an engaging air, prevented Frederick the free from running against the company, or being jostled against the wall. The Collegians as a body were not easily impressible, but even they, according to their various ways of wondering, appeared to find in the two brothers a sight to wonder at.
‘You are a little low this evening, Frederick,’ said the Father of the Marshalsea. ‘Anything the matter?’
‘The matter?’ He stared for a moment, and then dropped his head and eyes again. ‘No, William, no. Nothing is the matter.’
‘If you could be persuaded to smarten yourself up a little, Frederick–’
‘Aye, aye!’ said the old man hurriedly. ‘But I can’t be. I can’t be. Don’t talk so. That’s all over.’
The Father of the Marshalsea glanced at a passing Collegian with whom he was on friendly terms, as who should say, ‘An enfeebled old man, this; but he is my brother, sir, my brother, and the voice of Nature is potent!’ and steered his brother clear of the handle of the pump by the threadbare sleeve. Nothing would have been wanting to the perfection of his character as a fraternal guide, philosopher and friend, if he had only steered his brother clear of ruin, instead of bringing it upon him.
‘I think, William,’ said the object of his affectionate consideration, ‘that I am tired, and will go home to bed.’
‘My dear Frederick,’ returned the other, ‘don’t let me detain you; don’t sacrifice your inclination to me.’
‘Late hours, and a heated atmosphere, and years, I suppose,’ said Frederick, ‘weaken me.’
‘My dear Frederick,’ returned the Father of the Marshalsea, ‘do you think you are sufficiently careful of yourself? Do you think your habits are as precise and methodical as–shall I say as mine are? Not to revert again to that little eccentricity which I mentioned just now, I doubt if you take air and exercise enough, Frederick. Here is the parade, always at your service. Why not use it more regularly than you do?’
‘Hah!’ sighed the other. ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes.’
‘But it is of no use saying yes, yes, my dear Frederick,’ the Father of the Marshalsea in his mild wisdom persisted, ‘unless you act on that assent. Consider my case, Frederick. I am a kind of example. Necessity and time have taught me what to do. At certain stated hours of the day, you will find me on the parade, in my room, in the Lodge, reading the paper, receiving company, eating and drinking. I have impressed upon Amy during many years, that I must have my meals (for instance) punctually. Amy has grown up in a sense of the importance of these arrangements, and you know what a good girl she is.’