Miss Amy, I know very well that your high-souled brother, and likewise your spirited sister, spurn me from a height. What I have to do is to respect them, to wish to be admitted to their friendship, to look up at the eminence on which they are placed from my lowlier station--for, whether viewed as tobacco or viewed as the lock, I well know it is lowly--and ever wish them well and happy.'
There really was a genuineness in the poor fellow, and a contrast between the hardness of his hat and the softness of his heart (albeit, perhaps, of his head, too), that was moving. Little Dorrit entreated him to disparage neither himself nor his station, and, above all things, to divest himself of any idea that she supposed hers to be superior. This gave him a little comfort.
'Miss Amy,' he then stammered, 'I have had for a long time --ages they seem to me--Revolving ages--a heart-cherished wish to say something to you. May I say it?'
Little Dorrit involuntarily started from his side again, with the faintest shadow of her former look; conquering that, she went on at great speed half across the Bridge without replying!
'May I--Miss Amy, I but ask the question humbly--may I say it? I have been so unlucky already in giving you pain without having any such intentions, before the holy Heavens! that there is no fear of my saying it unless I have your leave. I can be miserable alone, I can be cut up by myself, why should I also make miserable and cut up one that I would fling myself off that parapet to give half a moment's joy to! Not that that's much to do, for I'd do it for twopence.'
The mournfulness of his spirits, and the gorgeousness of his appearance, might have made him ridiculous, but that his delicacy made him respectable. Little Dorrit learnt from it what to do.
'If you please, John Chivery,' she returned, trembling, but in a quiet way, 'since you are so considerate as to ask me whether you shall say any more--if you please, no.'
'Never, Miss Amy?'
'No, if you please. Never.'
'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.