Little Dorrit HTML version
Little Dorrit's Lover
Little Dorrit had not attained her twenty-second birthday without finding a lover.
Even in the shallow Marshalsea, the ever young Archer shot off a few featherless
arrows now and then from a mouldy bow, and winged a Collegian or two.
Little Dorrit's lover, however, was not a Collegian. He was the sentimental son of
a turnkey. His father hoped, in the fulness of time, to leave him the inheritance of
an unstained key; and had from his early youth familiarised him with the duties of
his office, and with an ambition to retain the prison-lock in the family. While the
succession was yet in abeyance, he assisted his mother in the conduct of a snug
tobacco business round the corner of Horsemonger Lane (his father being a non-
resident turnkey), which could usually command a neat connection within the
Years agone, when the object of his affections was wont to sit in her little arm-
chair by the high Lodge-fender, Young John (family name, Chivery), a year older
than herself, had eyed her with admiring wonder. When he had played with her in
the yard, his favourite game had been to counterfeit locking her up in corners,
and to counterfeit letting her out for real kisses. When he grew tall enough to
peep through the keyhole of the great lock of the main door, he had divers times
set down his father's dinner, or supper, to get on as it might on the outer side
thereof, while he stood taking cold in one eye by dint of peeping at her through
that airy perspective.
If Young John had ever slackened in his truth in the less penetrable days of his
boyhood, when youth is prone to wear its boots unlaced and is happily
unconscious of digestive organs, he had soon strung it up again and screwed it
tight. At nineteen, his hand had inscribed in chalk on that part of the wall which
fronted her lodgings, on the occasion of her birthday, 'Welcome sweet nursling of
the Fairies!' At twenty-three, the same hand falteringly presented cigars on
Sundays to the Father of the Marshalsea, and Father of the queen of his soul.
Young John was small of stature, with rather weak legs and very weak light hair.
One of his eyes (perhaps the eye that used to peep through the keyhole) was
also weak, and looked larger than the other, as if it couldn't collect itself. Young
John was gentle likewise. But he was great of soul. Poetical, expansive, faithful.
Though too humble before the ruler of his heart to be sanguine, Young John had
considered the object of his attachment in all its lights and shades. Following it
out to blissful results, he had descried, without self-commendation, a fitness in it.
Say things prospered, and they were united. She, the child of the Marshalsea;
he, the lock-keeper. There was a fitness in that. Say he became a resident
turnkey. She would officially succeed to the chamber she had rented so long.
There was a beautiful propriety in that. It looked over the wall, if you stood on tip-
toe; and, with a trellis-work of scarlet beans and a canary or so, would become a
very Arbour. There was a charming idea in that. Then, being all in all to one
another, there was even an appropriate grace in the lock. With the world shut out
(except that part of it which would be shut in); with its troubles and disturbances
only known to them by hearsay, as they would be described by the pilgrims