The Pickwick Papers
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last she laughed louder than any of them, Then, when the spinster
aunt got 'matrimony,' the young ladies laughed afresh, and the
Spinster aunt seemed disposed to be pettish; till, feeling Mr.
Tupman squeezing her hand under the table, she brightened up
too, and looked rather knowing, as if matrimony in reality were
not quite so far off as some people thought for; whereupon
everybody laughed again, and especially old Mr. Wardle, who
enjoyed a joke as much as the youngest. As to Mr. Snodgrass, he
did nothing but whisper poetical sentiments into his partner's
ear, which made one old gentleman facetiously sly, about
partnerships at cards and partnerships for life, and caused the
aforesaid old gentleman to make some remarks thereupon,
accompanied with divers winks and chuckles, which made the
company very merry and the old gentleman's wife especially so.
And Mr. Winkle came out with jokes which are very well known
in town, but are not all known in the country; and as everybody
laughed at them very heartily, and said they were very capital,
Mr. Winkle was in a state of great honour and glory. And the
benevolent clergyman looked pleasantly on; for the happy faces
which surrounded the table made the good old man feel happy
too; and though the merriment was rather boisterous, still it
came from the heart and not from the lips; and this is the right
sort of merriment, after all.
The evening glided swiftly away, in these cheerful recreations;
and when the substantial though homely supper had been
despatched, and the little party formed a social circle round the
fire, 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 great
state next the old lady's arm-chair, with her hand fast clasped in
his--'this is just what I like--the happiest moments of my life
have 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 actually
grows too hot to bear it. Why, my poor old mother, here, used
to sit before this fireplace upon that little stool when she was a
girl; didn't you, mother?'
The tear which starts unbidden to the eye when the recollection
of old times and the happiness of many years ago is suddenly
recalled, stole down the old lady's face as she shook her head with
a 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 living
friends to me; and so does our little church with the ivy, about
which, by the bye, our excellent friend there made a song when
he first came amongst us. Mr. Snodgrass, have you anything in
'Plenty, thank you,' replied that gentleman, whose poetic
curiosity had been greatly excited by the last observation of his
entertainer. 'I beg your pardon, but you were talking about the
song of the Ivy.'
'You must ask our friend opposite about that,' said the host
knowingly, indicating the clergyman by a nod of his head.
'May I say that I should like to hear you repeat it, sir?' said
'Why, really,' replied the clergyman, 'it's a very slight affair;
and the only excuse I have for having ever perpetrated it is, that
I was a young man at the time. Such as it is, however, you shall
hear it, if you wish.'
A murmur of curiosity was of course the reply; and the old
gentleman proceeded to recite, with the aid of sundry promptings
from 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 clings
To 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 round
The 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, to
enable Mr. Snodgrass to note them down, Mr. Pickwick perused
the 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.
'Excuse me, sir, for making the remark on so short an
acquaintance; but a gentleman like yourself cannot fail, I should
think, to have observed many scenes and incidents worth
recording, in the course of your experience as a minister of the
'I have witnessed some certainly,' replied the old gentleman,
'but the incidents and characters have been of a homely and
ordinary nature, my sphere of action being so very limited.'
'You did make some notes, I think, about John Edmunds, did
you not?' inquired Mr. Wardle, who appeared very desirous to
draw 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. Pickwick
'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 satisfy
the curiosity of these gentlemen, sooner or later; so you had
better take advantage of this favourable opportunity, and do so
The old gentleman smiled good-humouredly as he drew his
chair forward--the remainder of the party drew their chairs
closer together, especially Mr. Tupman and the spinster aunt,
who were possibly rather hard of hearing; and the old lady's
ear-trumpet having been duly adjusted, and Mr. Miller (who had
fallen asleep during the recital of the verses) roused from his
slumbers by an admonitory pinch, administered beneath the
table by his ex-partner the solemn fat man, the old gentleman,
without further preface, commenced the following tale, to which
we 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 notorious
person among my parishioners was a man of the name of
Edmunds, who leased a small farm near this spot. He was a
morose, savage-hearted, bad man; idle and dissolute in his
habits; cruel and ferocious in his disposition. Beyond the few
lazy and reckless vagabonds with whom he sauntered away his
time in the fields, or sotted in the ale-house, he had not a single
friend or acquaintance; no one cared to speak to the man whom
many feared, and every one detested--and Edmunds was
shunned 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's
sufferings, of the gentle and enduring manner in which she bore
them, of the agony of solicitude with which she reared that boy,
no one can form an adequate conception. Heaven forgive me the
supposition, if it be an uncharitable one, but I do firmly and in
my soul believe, that the man systematically tried for many years
to 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; for
brute as he was, and cruelly as he had treated her, she had loved
him once; and the recollection of what he had been to her,
awakened feelings of forbearance and meekness under suffering
in her bosom, to which all God's creatures, but women, are strangers.
'They were poor--they could not be otherwise when the man
pursued such courses; but the woman's unceasing and
unwearied exertions, early and late, morning, noon, and night, kept
them above actual want. These exertions were but ill repaid.
People who passed the spot in the evening--sometimes at a late
hour of the night--reported that they had heard the moans and
sobs of a woman in distress, and the sound of blows; and more
than once, when it was past midnight, the boy knocked softly at
the door of a neighbour's house, whither he had been sent, to
escape the drunken fury of his unnatural father.
'During the whole of this time, and when the poor creature
often bore about her marks of ill-usage and violence which she
could not wholly conceal, she was a constant attendant at our
little church. Regularly every Sunday, morning and afternoon, she
occupied the same seat with the boy at her side; and though they
were both poorly dressed--much more so than many of their
neighbours who were in a lower station--they were always neat