Charles Dickens >> The Pickwick Papers (page 22)


A night of quiet and repose in the profound silence of DingleyDell, and an hour's breathing of its fresh and fragrant airon the ensuing morning, completely recovered Mr. Pickwickfrom the effects of his late fatigue of body and anxiety of mind.That illustrious man had been separated from his friends andfol lowers for two whole days; and it was with a degree of pleasureand delight, which no common imagination can adequatelyconceive, that he stepped forward to greet Mr. Winkle and Mr.Snodgrass, as he encountered those gentlemen on his return fromhis early walk. The pleasure was mutual; for who could ever gazeon Mr. Pickwick's beaming face without experiencing thesensation? But still a cloud seemed to hang over his companionswhich that great man could not but be sensible of, and was whollyat a loss to account for. There was a mysterious air about themboth, as unusual as it was alarming.

'And how,' said Mr. Pickwick, when he had grasped hisfollowers by the hand, and exchanged warm salutations ofwelcome--'how is Tupman?'

Mr. Winkle, to whom the question was more peculiarlyaddressed, made no reply. He turned away his head, and appearedabsorbed in melancholy reflection.

'Snodgrass,' said Mr. Pickwick earnestly, 'how is our friend--he is not ill?'

'No,' replied Mr. Snodgrass; and a tear trembled on hissentimental eyelid, like a rain-drop on a window-frame-'no; heis not ill.'

Mr. Pickwick stopped, and gazed on each of his friends in turn.

'Winkle--Snodgrass,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'what does thismean? Where is our friend? What has happened? Speak--Iconjure, I entreat--nay, I command you, speak.'

There was a solemnity--a dignity--in Mr. Pickwick's manner,not to be withstood.

'He is gone,' said Mr. Snodgrass.

'Gone!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick. 'Gone!'

'Gone,' repeated Mr. Snodgrass.

'Where!' ejaculated Mr. Pickwick.

'We can only guess, from that communication,' replied Mr.Snodgrass, taking a letter from his pocket, and placing it in hisfriend's hand. 'Yesterday morning, when a letter was receivedfrom Mr. Wardle, stating that you would be home with his sisterat night, the melancholy which had hung over our friend duringthe whole of the previous day, was observed to increase. Heshortly afterwards disappeared: he was missing during the wholeday, and in the evening this letter was brought by the hostlerfrom the Crown, at Muggleton. It had been left in his charge inthe morning, with a strict injunction that it should not bedelivered until night.'

Mr. Pickwick opened the epistle. It was in his friend's hand-writing, and these were its contents:--

'MY DEAR PICKWICK,--YOU, my dear friend, are placed farbeyond the reach of many mortal frailties and weaknesses whichordinary people cannot overcome. You do not know what itis, at one blow, to be deserted by a lovely and fascinatingcreature, and to fall a victim to the artifices of a villain, who hadthe grin of cunning beneath the mask of friendship. I hope younever may.

'Any letter addressed to me at the Leather Bottle, Cobham,Kent, will be forwarded--supposing I still exist. I hasten fromthe sight of that world, which has become odious to me. ShouldI hasten from it altogether, pity--forgive me. Life, my dearPickwick, has become insupportable to me. The spirit whichburns within us, is a porter's knot, on which to rest the heavyload of worldly cares and troubles; and when that spirit fails us,the burden is too heavy to be borne. We sink beneath it. Youmay tell Rachael--Ah, that name!--'TRACY TupmAN.'

'We must leave this place directly,' said Mr. Pickwick, as herefolded the note. 'It would not have been decent for us toremain here, under any circumstances, after what has happened;and now we are bound to follow in search of our friend.' Andso saying, he led the way to the house.

His intention was rapidly communicated. The entreaties toremain were pressing, but Mr. Pickwick was inflexible. Business,he said, required his immediate attendance.

The old clergyman was present.

'You are not really going?' said he, taking Mr. Pickwick aside.

Mr. Pickwick reiterated his former determination.

'Then here,' said the old gentleman, 'is a little manuscript,which I had hoped to have the pleasure of reading to you myself.I found it on the death of a friend of mine--a medical man,engaged in our county lunatic asylum--among a variety ofpapers, which I had the option of destroying or preserving, as Ithought proper. I can hardly believe that the manuscript isgenuine, though it certainly is not in my friend's hand. However,whether it be the genuine production of a maniac, or foundedupon the ravings of some unhappy being (which I think moreprobable), read it, and judge for yourself.'

Mr. Pickwick received the manuscript, and parted from thebenevolent old gentleman with many expressions of good-willand esteem.

It was a more difficult task to take leave of the inmates ofManor Farm, from whom they had received so much hospitalityand kindness. Mr. Pickwick kissed the young ladies--we weregoing to say, as if they were his own daughters, only, as he mightpossibly have infused a little more warmth into the salutation, thecomparison would not be quite appropriate--hugged the old ladywith filial cordiality; and patted the rosy cheeks of the femaleservants in a most patriarchal manner, as he slipped into thehands of each some more substantial expression of his approval.The exchange of cordialities with their fine old host and Mr.Trundle was even more hearty and prolonged; and it was notuntil Mr. Snodgrass had been several times called for, and at lastemerged from a dark passage followed soon after by Emily(whose bright eyes looked unusually dim), that the three friendswere enabled to tear themselves from their friendly entertainers.Many a backward look they gave at the farm, as they walkedslowly away; and many a kiss did Mr. Snodgrass waft in the air,in acknowledgment of something very like a lady's handkerchief,which was waved from one of the upper windows, until a turn ofthe lane hid the old house from their sight.

At Muggleton they procured a conveyance to Rochester. Bythe time they reached the last-named place, the violence of theirgrief had sufficiently abated to admit of their making a veryexcellent early dinner; and having procured the necessary informationrelative to the road, the three friends set forward again inthe afternoon to walk to Cobham.

A delightful walk it was; for it was a pleasant afternoon inJune, and their way lay through a deep and shady wood, cooledby the light wind which gently rustled the thick foliage, andenlivened by the songs of the birds that perched upon the boughs.The ivy and the moss crept in thick clusters over the old trees,and the soft green turf overspread the ground like a silkenmat. They emerged upon an open park, with an ancient hall,displaying the quaint and picturesque architecture of Elizabeth'stime. Long vistas of stately oaks and elm trees appeared onevery side; large herds of deer were cropping the fresh grass;and occasionally a startled hare scoured along the ground,with the speed of the shadows thrown by the light cloudswhich swept across a sunny landscape like a passing breath of summer.

'If this,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking about him--'if this werethe place to which all who are troubled with our friend's complaintcame, I fancy their old attachment to this world would verysoon return.'

'I think so too,' said Mr. Winkle.

'And really,' added Mr. Pickwick, after half an hour's walkinghad brought them to the village, 'really, for a misanthrope'schoice, this is one of the prettiest and most desirable places ofresidence I ever met with.'

In this opinion also, both Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrassexpressed their concurrence; and having been directed to theLeather Bottle, a clean and commodious village ale-house, thethree travellers entered, and at once inquired for a gentleman ofthe name of Tupman.

'Show the gentlemen into the parlour, Tom,' said the landlady.

A stout country lad opened a door at the end of the passage,and the three friends entered a long, low-roofed room, furnishedwith a large number of high-backed leather-cushioned chairs, offantastic shapes, and embellished with a great variety of oldportraits and roughly-coloured prints of some antiquity. At theupper end of the room was a table, with a white cloth upon it,well covered with a roast fowl, bacon, ale, and et ceteras; and atthe table sat Mr. Tupman, looking as unlike a man who hadtaken his leave of the world, as possible.

On the entrance of his friends, that gentleman laid down hisknife and fork, and with a mournful air advanced to meet them.

'I did not expect to see you here,' he said, as he grasped Mr.Pickwick's hand. 'It's very kind.'

'Ah!' said Mr. Pickwick, sitting down, and wiping from hisforehead the perspiration which the walk had engendered. 'Finishyour dinner, and walk out with me. I wish to speak to you alone.'

Mr. Tupman did as he was desired; and Mr. Pickwick having refreshedhimself with a copious draught of ale, waited his friend's leisure.The dinner was quickly despatched, and they walked out together.

For half an hour, their forms might have been seen pacing thechurchyard to and fro, while Mr. Pickwick was engaged incombating his companion's resolution. Any repetition of hisarguments would be useless; for what language could convey tothem that energy and force which their great originator's mannercommunicated? Whether Mr. Tupman was already tired ofretirement, or whether he was wholly unable to resist the eloquentappeal which was made to him, matters not, he did NOT resist itat last.

'It mattered little to him,' he said, 'where he dragged out themiserable remainder of his days; and since his friend laid somuch stress upon his humble companionship, he was willing toshare his adventures.'

Mr. Pickwick smiled; they shook hands, and walked back torejoin their companions.

It was at this moment that Mr. Pickwick made that immortaldiscovery, which has been the pride and boast of his friends, andthe envy of every antiquarian in this or any other country. Theyhad passed the door of their inn, and walked a little way downthe village, before they recollected the precise spot in which itstood. As they turned back, Mr. Pickwick's eye fell upon a smallbroken stone, partially buried in the ground, in front of a cottagedoor. He paused.

'This is very strange,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'What is strange?' inquired Mr. Tupman, staring eagerly atevery object near him, but the right one. 'God bless me, what'sthe matter?'

This last was an ejaculation of irrepressible astonishment,occasioned by seeing Mr. Pickwick, in his enthusiasm fordiscovery, fall on his knees before the little stone, and commencewiping the dust off it with his pocket-handkerchief.

'There is an inscription here,' said Mr. Pickwick.

'Is it possible?' said Mr. Tupman.

'I can discern,'continued Mr. Pickwick, rubbing away with allhis might, and gazing intently through his spectacles--'I candiscern a cross, and a 13, and then a T. This is important,'continued Mr. Pickwick, starting up. 'This is some very oldinscription, existing perhaps long before the ancient alms-housesin this place. It must not be lost.'

He tapped at the cottage door. A labouring man opened it.

'Do you know how this stone came here, my friend?' inquiredthe benevolent Mr. Pickwick.

'No, I doan't, Sir,' replied the man civilly. 'It was here longafore I was born, or any on us.'

Mr. Pickwick glanced triumphantly at his companion.

'You--you--are not particularly attached to it, I dare say,'said Mr. Pickwick, trembling with anxiety. 'You wouldn't mindselling it, now?'

'Ah! but who'd buy it?' inquired the man, with an expressionof face which he probably meant to be very cunning.

'I'll give you ten shillings for it, at once,' said Mr. Pickwick,'if you would take it up for me.'

The astonishment of the village may be easily imagined, when(the little stone having been raised with one wrench of a spade)Mr. Pickwick, by dint of great personal exertion, bore it with hisown hands to the inn, and after having carefully washed it,deposited it on the table.

The exultation and joy of the Pickwickians knew no bounds,when their patience and assiduity, their washing and scraping,were crowned with success. The stone was uneven and broken,and the letters were straggling and irregular, but the followingfragment of an inscription was clearly to be deciphered:--

[cross] B I L S Tu mP S H IS. M.ARK

Mr. Pickwick's eyes sparkled with delight, as he sat andgloated over the treasure he had discovered. He had attained oneof the greatest objects of his ambition. In a county known toabound in the remains of the early ages; in a village in whichthere still existed some memorials of the olden time, he--he, thechairman of the Pickwick Club--had discovered a strange andcurious inscription of unquestionable antiquity, which hadwholly escaped the observation of the many learned men who hadpreceded him. He could hardly trust the evidence of his senses.

'This--this,' said he, 'determines me. We return to town to-morrow.'

'To-morrow!' exclaimed his admiring followers.

'To-morrow,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'This treasure must be at oncedeposited where it can be thoroughly investigated and properlyunderstood. I have another reason for this step. In a few days,an election is to take place for the borough of Eatanswill, atwhich Mr. Perker, a gentleman whom I lately met, is the agent ofone of the candidates. We will behold, and minutely examine, ascene so interesting to every Englishman.'

'We will,' was the animated cry of three voices.

Title: The Pickwick Papers
Author: Charles Dickens
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