'I hadn't,' John declared, 'no, I hadn't, and I never had the audaciousness to think, I am sure, that all was anything but lost. I hadn't, no, why should I say I hadn't if I ever had, any hope that it was possible to be so blest, not after the words that passed, not even if barriers insurmountable had not been raised! But is that a reason why I am to have no memory, why I am to have no thoughts, why I am to have no sacred spots, nor anything?'
'What can you mean?' cried Arthur.
'It's all very well to trample on it, sir,' John went on, scouring a very prairie of wild words, 'if a person can make up his mind to be guilty of the action. It's all very well to trample on it, but it's there. It may be that it couldn't be trampled upon if it wasn't there. But that doesn't make it gentlemanly, that doesn't make it honourable, that doesn't justify throwing a person back upon himself after he has struggled and strived out of himself like a butterfly. The world may sneer at a turnkey, but he's a man-- when he isn't a woman, which among female criminals he's expected to be.'
Ridiculous as the incoherence of his talk was, there was yet a truthfulness in Young john's simple, sentimental character, and a sense of being wounded in some very tender respect, expressed in his burning face and in the agitation of his voice and manner, which Arthur must have been cruel to disregard. He turned his thoughts back to the starting-point of this unknown injury; and in the meantime Young John, having rolled his green packet pretty round, cut it carefully into three pieces, and laid it on a plate as if it were some particular delicacy.
'It seems to me just possible,' said Arthur, when he had retraced the conversation to the water-cresses and back again, 'that you have made some reference to Miss Dorrit.'
'It is just possible, sir,' returned John Chivery.
'I don't understand it. I hope I may not be so unlucky as to make you think I mean to offend you again, for I never have meant to offend you yet, when I say I don't understand it.'
'Sir,' said Young John, 'will you have the perfidy to deny that you know and long have known that I felt towards Miss Dorrit, call it not the presumption of love, but adoration and sacrifice ?'
'Indeed, John, I will not have any perfidy if I know it; why you should suspect me of it I am at a loss to think. Did you ever hear from Mrs Chivery, your mother, that I went to see her once?'
'No, sir,' returned John, shortly. 'Never heard of such a thing.'
'But I did. Can you imagine why?'
'No, sir,' returned John, shortly. 'I can't imagine why.'
'I will tell you. I was solicitous to promote Miss Dorrit's happiness; and if I could have supposed that Miss Dorrit returned your affection--'
Poor John Chivery turned crimson to the tips of his ears. 'Miss Dorrit never did, sir. I wish to be honourable and true, so far as in my humble way I can, and I would scorn to pretend for a moment that she ever did, or that she ever led me to believe she did; no, nor even that it was ever to be expected in any cool reason that she would or could. She was far above me in all respects at all times. As likewise,' added John, 'similarly was her gen-teel family.' His chivalrous feeling towards all that belonged to her made him so very respectable, in spite of his small stature and his rather weak legs, and his very weak hair, and his poetical temperament, that a Goliath might have sat in his place demanding less consideration at Arthur's hands.
'You speak, john,' he said, with cordial admiration, 'like a Man.'
'Well, sir,' returned John, brushing his hand across his eyes,
'then I wish you'd do the same.'
He was quick with this unexpected retort, and it again made Arthur regard him with a wondering expression of face.
'Leastways,' said John, stretching his hand across the tea-tray, 'if too strong a remark, withdrawn! But, why not, why not? When I say to you, Mr Clennam, take care of yourself for some one else's sake, why not be open, though a turnkey? Why did I get you the room which I knew you'd like best? Why did I carry up your things?
Not that I found 'em heavy; I don't mention 'em on that accounts; far from it.