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Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 12)


'Ah!' said the old lady, after a short pause: 'it's all very fine, Idare say; but I can't hear him.'

'Grandma's rather put out now,' said Miss Isabella Wardle, ina low tone; 'but she'll talk to you presently.'

Mr. Pickwick nodded his readiness to humour the infirmitiesof age, and entered into a general conversation with the othermembers of the circle.

'Delightful situation this,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Delightful!' echoed Messrs. Snodgrass, Tupman, and Winkle.

'Well, I think it is,' said Mr. Wardle.

'There ain't a better spot o' ground in all Kent, sir,' said thehard-headed man with the pippin--face; 'there ain't indeed, sir--I'm sure there ain't, Sir.' The hard-headed man looked triumphantlyround, as if he had been very much contradicted by somebody,but had got the better of him at last.

'There ain't a better spot o' ground in all Kent,' said thehard-headed man again, after a pause.

''Cept Mullins's Meadows,' observed the fat man solemnly.'Mullins's Meadows!' ejaculated the other, with profound contempt.

'Ah, Mullins's Meadows,' repeated the fat man.

'Reg'lar good land that,' interposed another fat man.

'And so it is, sure-ly,' said a third fat man.

'Everybody knows that,' said the corpulent host.

The hard-headed man looked dubiously round, but findinghimself in a minority, assumed a compassionate air and said no more.'What are they talking about?' inquired the old lady of one ofher granddaughters, in a very audible voice; for, like many deafpeople, she never seemed to calculate on the possibility of otherpersons hearing what she said herself.

'About the land, grandma.'

'What about the land?--Nothing the matter, is there?'

'No, no. Mr. Miller was saying our land was better thanMullins's Meadows.'

'How should he know anything about it?'inquired the old ladyindignantly. 'Miller's a conceited coxcomb, and you may tell himI said so.' Saying which, the old lady, quite unconscious that shehad spoken above a whisper, drew herself up, and lookedcarving-knives at the hard-headed delinquent.

'Come, come,' said the bustling host, with a natural anxiety tochange the conversation, 'what say you to a rubber, Mr. Pickwick?'

'I should like it of all things,' replied that gentleman; 'but praydon't make up one on my account.'

'Oh, I assure you, mother's very fond of a rubber,' said Mr.Wardle; 'ain't you, mother?'

The old lady, who was much less deaf on this subject than onany other, replied in the affirmative.

'Joe, Joe!' said the gentleman; 'Joe--damn that--oh, here heis; put out the card--tables.'

The lethargic youth contrived without any additional rousingto set out two card-tables; the one for Pope Joan, and the otherfor whist. The whist-players were Mr. Pickwick and the old lady,Mr. Miller and the fat gentleman. The round game comprised therest of the company.

The rubber was conducted with all that gravity of deportmentand sedateness of demeanour which befit the pursuit entitled'whist'--a solemn observance, to which, as it appears to us, thetitle of 'game' has been very irreverently and ignominiouslyapplied. The round-game table, on the other hand, was soboisterously merry as materially to interrupt the contemplationsof Mr. Miller, who, not being quite so much absorbed as heought to have been, contrived to commit various high crimes andmisdemeanours, which excited the wrath of the fat gentleman toa very great extent, and called forth the good-humour of the oldlady in a proportionate degree.

'There!' said the criminal Miller triumphantly, as he took upthe odd trick at the conclusion of a hand; 'that could not havebeen played better, I flatter myself; impossible to have madeanother trick!'

'Miller ought to have trumped the diamond, oughtn't he, Sir?'said the old lady.

Mr. Pickwick nodded assent.

'Ought I, though?' said the unfortunate, with a doubtful appealto his partner.

'You ought, Sir,' said the fat gentleman, in an awful voice.

'Very sorry,' said the crestfallen Miller.

'Much use that,' growled the fat gentleman.

'Two by honours--makes us eight,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Another hand. 'Can you one?' inquired the old lady.

'I can,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'Double, single, and the rub.'

'Never was such luck,' said Mr. Miller.

'Never was such cards,' said the fat gentleman.

A solemn silence; Mr. Pickwick humorous, the old lady serious,the fat gentleman captious, and Mr. Miller timorous.

'Another double,' said the old lady, triumphantly making amemorandum of the circumstance, by placing one sixpence and abattered halfpenny under the candlestick.

'A double, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Quite aware of the fact, Sir,' replied the fat gentleman sharply.

Another game, with a similar result, was followed by a revokefrom the unlucky Miller; on which the fat gentleman burst into astate of high personal excitement which lasted until theconclusion of the game, when he retired into a corner, and remainedperfectly mute for one hour and twenty-seven minutes; at the endof which time he emerged from his retirement, and offeredMr. Pickwick a pinch of snuff with the air of a man who hadmade up his mind to a Christian forgiveness of injuries sustained.The old lady's hearing decidedly improved and the unluckyMiller felt as much out of his element as a dolphin in a sentry-box.

Meanwhile the round game proceeded right merrily. IsabellaWardle and Mr. Trundle 'went partners,' and Emily Wardle andMr. Snodgrass did the same; and even Mr. Tupman and thespinster aunt established a joint-stock company of fish andflattery. Old Mr. Wardle was in the very height of his jollity; andhe was so funny in his management of the board, and the oldladies were so sharp after their winnings, that the whole table wasin a perpetual roar of merriment and laughter. There was one oldlady who always had about half a dozen cards to pay for, atwhich everybody laughed, regularly every round; and when theold lady looked cross at having to pay, they laughed louder thanever; on which the old lady's face gradually brightened up, till atlast she laughed louder than any of them, Then, when the spinsteraunt got 'matrimony,' the young ladies laughed afresh, and theSpinster aunt seemed disposed to be pettish; till, feeling Mr.Tupman squeezing her hand under the table, she brightened uptoo, and looked rather knowing, as if matrimony in reality werenot quite so far off as some people thought for; whereuponeverybody laughed again, and especially old Mr. Wardle, whoenjoyed a joke as much as the youngest. As to Mr. Snodgrass, hedid nothing but whisper poetical sentiments into his partner'sear, which made one old gentleman facetiously sly, aboutpartnerships at cards and partnerships for life, and caused theaforesaid old gentleman to make some remarks thereupon,accompanied with divers winks and chuckles, which made thecompany very merry and the old gentleman's wife especially so.And Mr. Winkle came out with jokes which are very well knownin town, but are not all known in the country; and as everybodylaughed at them very heartily, and said they were very capital,Mr. Winkle was in a state of great honour and glory. And thebenevolent clergyman looked pleasantly on; for the happy faceswhich surrounded the table made the good old man feel happytoo; and though the merriment was rather boisterous, still itcame from the heart and not from the lips; and this is the rightsort of merriment, after all.

The evening glided swiftly away, in these cheerful recreations;and when the substantial though homely supper had beendespatched, and the little party formed a social circle round thefire, Mr. Pickwick thought he had never felt so happy in his life,and at no time so much disposed to enjoy, and make the most of,the passing moment.

'Now this,' said the hospitable host, who was sitting in greatstate next the old lady's arm-chair, with her hand fast clasped inhis--'this is just what I like--the happiest moments of my lifehave been passed at this old fireside; and I am so attached to it,that I keep up a blazing fire here every evening, until it actuallygrows too hot to bear it. Why, my poor old mother, here, usedto sit before this fireplace upon that little stool when she was agirl; didn't you, mother?'

The tear which starts unbidden to the eye when the recollectionof old times and the happiness of many years ago is suddenlyrecalled, stole down the old lady's face as she shook her head witha melancholy smile.

'You must excuse my talking about this old place, Mr. Pickwick,'resumed the host, after a short pause, 'for I love it dearly,and know no other--the old houses and fields seem like livingfriends to me; and so does our little church with the ivy, aboutwhich, by the bye, our excellent friend there made a song whenhe first came amongst us. Mr. Snodgrass, have you anything inyour glass?'

'Plenty, thank you,' replied that gentleman, whose poeticcuriosity had been greatly excited by the last observation of hisentertainer. 'I beg your pardon, but you were talking about thesong of the Ivy.'

'You must ask our friend opposite about that,' said the hostknowingly, indicating the clergyman by a nod of his head.

'May I say that I should like to hear you repeat it, sir?' saidMr. Snodgrass.

'Why, really,' replied the clergyman, 'it's a very slight affair;and the only excuse I have for having ever perpetrated it is, thatI was a young man at the time. Such as it is, however, you shallhear it, if you wish.'

A murmur of curiosity was of course the reply; and the oldgentleman proceeded to recite, with the aid of sundry promptingsfrom his wife, the lines in question. 'I call them,' said he,

THE IVY GREEN

Oh, a dainty plant is the Ivy green,That creepeth o'er ruins old!Of right choice food are his meals, I ween,In his cell so lone and cold.The wall must be crumbled, the stone decayed,To pleasure his dainty whim;And the mouldering dust that years have made,Is a merry meal for him.Creeping where no life is seen,A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

Fast he stealeth on, though he wears no wings,And a staunch old heart has he.How closely he twineth, how tight he clingsTo his friend the huge Oak Tree!And slily he traileth along the ground,And his leaves he gently waves,As he joyously hugs and crawleth roundThe rich mould of dead men's graves.Creeping where grim death has been,A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

Whole ages have fled and their works decayed,And nations have scattered been;But the stout old Ivy shall never fade,From its hale and hearty green.The brave old plant in its lonely days,Shall fatten upon the past;For the stateliest building man can raise,Is the Ivy's food at last.Creeping on where time has been,A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

While the old gentleman repeated these lines a second time, toenable Mr. Snodgrass to note them down, Mr. Pickwick perusedthe lineaments of his face with an expression of great interest.The old gentleman having concluded his dictation, and Mr.Snodgrass having returned his note-book to his pocket, Mr.Pickwick said--

'Excuse me, sir, for making the remark on so short anacquaintance; but a gentleman like yourself cannot fail, I shouldthink, to have observed many scenes and incidents worthrecording, in the course of your experience as a minister of theGospel.'

'I have witnessed some certainly,' replied the old gentleman,'but the incidents and characters have been of a homely andordinary nature, my sphere of action being so very limited.'

'You did make some notes, I think, about John Edmunds, didyou not?' inquired Mr. Wardle, who appeared very desirous todraw his friend out, for the edification of his new visitors.

The old gentleman slightly nodded his head in token of assent,and was proceeding to change the subject, when Mr. Pickwicksaid--

'I beg your pardon, sir, but pray, if I may venture to inquire,who was John Edmunds?'

'The very thing I was about to ask,' said Mr. Snodgrass eagerly.

'You are fairly in for it,' said the jolly host. 'You must satisfythe curiosity of these gentlemen, sooner or later; so you hadbetter take advantage of this favourable opportunity, and do soat once.'

The old gentleman smiled good-humouredly as he drew hischair forward--the remainder of the party drew their chairscloser together, especially Mr. Tupman and the spinster aunt,who were possibly rather hard of hearing; and the old lady'sear-trumpet having been duly adjusted, and Mr. Miller (who hadfallen asleep during the recital of the verses) roused from hisslumbers by an admonitory pinch, administered beneath thetable by his ex-partner the solemn fat man, the old gentleman,without further preface, commenced the following tale, to whichwe have taken the liberty of prefixing the title of

THE CONVICT'S RETURN

'When I first settled in this village,' said the old gentleman,'which is now just five-and-twenty years ago, the most notoriousperson among my parishioners was a man of the name ofEdmunds, who leased a small farm near this spot. He was amorose, savage-hearted, bad man; idle and dissolute in hishabits; cruel and ferocious in his disposition. Beyond the fewlazy and reckless vagabonds with whom he sauntered away histime in the fields, or sotted in the ale-house, he had not a singlefriend or acquaintance; no one cared to speak to the man whommany feared, and every one detested--and Edmunds wasshunned by all.

'This man had a wife and one son, who, when I first came here,was about twelve years old. Of the acuteness of that woman'ssufferings, of the gentle and enduring manner in which she borethem, of the agony of solicitude with which she reared that boy,no one can form an adequate conception. Heaven forgive me thesupposition, if it be an uncharitable one, but I do firmly and inmy soul believe, that the man systematically tried for many yearsto break her heart; but she bore it all for her child's sake, and,however strange it may seem to many, for his father's too; forbrute as he was, and cruelly as he had treated her, she had lovedhim once; and the recollection of what he had been to her,awakened feelings of forbearance and meekness under sufferingin her bosom, to which all God's creatures, but women, are strangers.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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