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Little Dorrit

7. The Child of the Marshalsea
The baby whose first draught of air had been tinctured with Doctor Haggage's
brandy, was handed down among the generations of collegians, like the tradition
of their common parent. In the earlier stages of her existence, she was handed
down in a literal and prosaic sense; it being almost a part of the entrance footing
of every new collegian to nurse the child who had been born in the college.
'By rights,' remarked the turnkey when she was first shown to him, 'I ought to be
her godfather.'
The debtor irresolutely thought of it for a minute, and said, 'Perhaps you wouldn't
object to really being her godfather?'
'Oh! _I_ don't object,' replied the turnkey, 'if you don't.'
Thus it came to pass that she was christened one Sunday afternoon, when the
turnkey, being relieved, was off the lock; and that the turnkey went up to the font
of Saint George's Church, and promised and vowed and renounced on her
behalf, as he himself related when he came back, 'like a good 'un.'
This invested the turnkey with a new proprietary share in the child, over and
above his former official one. When she began to walk and talk, he became fond
of her; bought a little arm-chair and stood it by the high fender of the lodge fire-
place; liked to have her company when he was on the lock; and used to bribe her
with cheap toys to come and talk to him. The child, for her part, soon grew so
fond of the turnkey that she would come climbing up the lodge-steps of her own
accord at all hours of the day. When she fell asleep in the little armchair by the
high fender, the turnkey would cover her with his pocket-handkerchief; and when
she sat in it dressing and undressing a doll which soon came to be unlike dolls
on the other side of the lock, and to bear a horrible family resemblance to Mrs
Bangham--he would contemplate her from the top of his stool with exceeding
gentleness. Witnessing these things, the collegians would express an opinion
that the turnkey, who was a bachelor, had been cut out by nature for a family
man. But the turnkey thanked them, and said, 'No, on the whole it was enough to
see other people's children there.' At what period of her early life the little
creature began to perceive that it was not the habit of all the world to live locked
up in narrow yards surrounded by high walls with spikes at the top, would be a
difficult question to settle. But she was a very, very little creature indeed, when
she had somehow gained the knowledge that her clasp of her father's hand was
to be always loosened at the door which the great key opened; and that while her
own light steps were free to pass beyond it, his feet must never cross that line. A
pitiful and plaintive look, with which she had begun to regard him when she was
still extremely young, was perhaps a part of this discovery.
With a pitiful and plaintive look for everything, indeed, but with something in it for
only him that was like protection, this Child of the Marshalsea and the child of the
Father of the Marshalsea, sat by her friend the turnkey in the lodge, kept the
family room, or wandered about the prison-yard, for the first eight years of her
life. With a pitiful and plaintive look for her wayward sister; for her idle brother; for
the high blank walls; for the faded crowd they shut in; for the games of the prison
 
 
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