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Chapter 6


CHAPTER VI
AN OLD-FASHIONED CARD-PARTY--THE CLERGYMAN'S
  VERSES--THE STORY OF THE CONVICT'S RETURN


Several guests who were assembled in the old parlour rose to
greet Mr. Pickwick and his friends upon their entrance; and during
the performance of the ceremony of introduction, with all due
formalities, Mr. Pickwick had leisure to observe the appearance,
and speculate upon the characters and pursuits, of the persons by
whom he was surrounded--a habit in which he, in common with many
other great men, delighted to indulge.

A very old lady, in a lofty cap and faded silk gown--no less a
personage than Mr. Wardle's mother--occupied the post of
honour on the right-hand corner of the chimney-piece; and
various certificates of her having been brought up in the way she
should go when young, and of her not having departed from it
when old, ornamented the walls, in the form of samplers of
ancient date, worsted landscapes of equal antiquity, and crimson
silk tea-kettle holders of a more modern period.  The aunt, the two
young ladies, and Mr. Wardle, each vying with the other in
paying zealous and unremitting attentions to the old lady,
crowded round her easy-chair, one holding her ear-trumpet,
another an orange, and a third a smelling-bottle, while a fourth
was busily engaged in patting and punching the pillows which
were arranged for her support.  On the opposite side sat a bald-
headed old gentleman, with a good-humoured, benevolent face--
the clergyman of Dingley Dell; and next him sat his wife, a stout,
blooming old lady, who looked as if she were well skilled, not
only in the art and mystery of manufacturing home-made
cordials greatly to other people's satisfaction, but of tasting them
occasionally very much to her own.  A little hard-headed,
Ripstone pippin-faced man, was conversing with a fat old
gentleman in one corner; and two or three more old gentlemen,
and two or three more old ladies, sat bolt upright and motionless
on their chairs, staring very hard at Mr. Pickwick and his
fellow-voyagers.

'Mr. Pickwick, mother,' said Mr. Wardle, at the very top of
his voice.

'Ah!' said the old lady, shaking her head; 'I can't hear you.'

'Mr. Pickwick, grandma!' screamed both the young ladies together.

'Ah!' exclaimed the old lady.  'Well, it don't much matter.  He
don't care for an old 'ooman like me, I dare say.'

'I assure you, ma'am,' said Mr. Pickwick, grasping the old
lady's hand, and speaking so loud that the exertion imparted a
crimson hue to his benevolent countenance--'I assure you,
ma'am, that nothing delights me more than to see a lady of your
time of life heading so fine a family, and looking so young and well.'

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

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

Mr. Pickwick nodded his readiness to humour the infirmities
of age, and entered into a general conversation with the other
members 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 the
hard-headed man with the pippin--face; 'there ain't indeed, sir--
I'm sure there ain't, Sir.'  The hard-headed man looked triumphantly
round, 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 the
hard-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 finding
himself in a minority, assumed a compassionate air and said no more.
'What are they talking about?' inquired the old lady of one of
her granddaughters, in a very audible voice; for, like many deaf
people, she never seemed to calculate on the possibility of other
persons 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 than
Mullins's Meadows.'

'How should he know anything about it?'inquired the old lady
indignantly.  'Miller's a conceited coxcomb, and you may tell him
I said so.'  Saying which, the old lady, quite unconscious that she
had spoken above a whisper, drew herself up, and looked
carving-knives at the hard-headed delinquent.

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

'I should like it of all things,' replied that gentleman; 'but pray
don'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 on
any other, replied in the affirmative.

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

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

The rubber was conducted with all that gravity of deportment
and sedateness of demeanour which befit the pursuit entitled
'whist'--a solemn observance, to which, as it appears to us, the
title of 'game' has been very irreverently and ignominiously
applied.  The round-game table, on the other hand, was so
boisterously merry as materially to interrupt the contemplations
of Mr. Miller, who, not being quite so much absorbed as he
ought to have been, contrived to commit various high crimes and
misdemeanours, which excited the wrath of the fat gentleman to
a very great extent, and called forth the good-humour of the old
lady in a proportionate degree.

'There!' said the criminal Miller triumphantly, as he took up
the odd trick at the conclusion of a hand; 'that could not have
been played better, I flatter myself; impossible to have made
another 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 appeal
to 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 a
memorandum of the circumstance, by placing one sixpence and a
battered 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 revoke
from the unlucky Miller; on which the fat gentleman burst into a
state of high personal excitement which lasted until the
conclusion of the game, when he retired into a corner, and remained
perfectly mute for one hour and twenty-seven minutes; at the end
of which time he emerged from his retirement, and offered
Mr. Pickwick a pinch of snuff with the air of a man who had
made up his mind to a Christian forgiveness of injuries sustained.
The old lady's hearing decidedly improved and the unlucky
Miller felt as much out of his element as a dolphin in a sentry-box.

Meanwhile the round game proceeded right merrily.  Isabella
Wardle and Mr. Trundle 'went partners,' and Emily Wardle and
Mr. Snodgrass did the same; and even Mr. Tupman and the
spinster aunt established a joint-stock company of fish and
flattery.  Old Mr. Wardle was in the very height of his jollity; and
he was so funny in his management of the board, and the old
ladies were so sharp after their winnings, that the whole table was
in a perpetual roar of merriment and laughter.  There was one old
lady who always had about half a dozen cards to pay for, at
which everybody laughed, regularly every round; and when the
old lady looked cross at having to pay, they laughed louder than
ever; on which the old lady's face gradually brightened up, till at
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
your glass?'

'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
Mr. Snodgrass.

'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.
Pickwick said--

'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
Gospel.'

'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
said--

'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
at once.'

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
and clean.  Every one had a friendly nod and a kind word for
"poor Mrs. Edmunds"; and sometimes, when she stopped to
exchange a few words with a neighbour at the conclusion of the
service in the little row of elm-trees which leads to the church
porch, or lingered behind to gaze with a mother's pride and
fondness upon her healthy boy, as he sported before her with
some little companions, her careworn face would lighten up with
an expression of heartfelt gratitude; and she would look, if not
cheerful and happy, at least tranquil and contented.

'Five or six years passed away; the boy had become a robust
and well-grown youth.  The time that had strengthened the child's
slight frame and knit his weak limbs into the strength of manhood
had bowed his mother's form, and enfeebled her steps;
but the arm that should have supported her was no longer locked
in hers; the face that should have cheered her, no more looked
upon her own.  She occupied her old seat, but there was a vacant
one beside her.  The Bible was kept as carefully as ever, the places
were found and folded down as they used to be: but there was no
one to read it with her; and the tears fell thick and fast upon the
book, and blotted the words from her eyes.  Neighbours were as
kind as they were wont to be of old, but she shunned their
greetings with averted head.  There was no lingering among the
old elm-trees now-no cheering anticipations of happiness yet in
store.  The desolate woman drew her bonnet closer over her face,
and walked hurriedly away.

'Shall I tell you that the young man, who, looking back to the
earliest of his childhood's days to which memory and consciousness
extended, and carrying his recollection down to that moment,
could remember nothing which was not in some way connected
with a long series of voluntary privations suffered by his mother
for his sake, with ill-usage, and insult, and violence, and all
endured for him--shall I tell you, that he, with a reckless
disregard for her breaking heart, and a sullen, wilful forgetfulness of
all she had done and borne for him, had linked himself with
depraved and abandoned men, and was madly pursuing a
headlong career, which must bring death to him, and shame to
her? Alas for human nature! You have anticipated it long since.

'The measure of the unhappy woman's misery and misfortune
was about to be completed.  Numerous offences had been
committed in the neighbourhood; the perpetrators remained
undiscovered, and their boldness increased.  A robbery of a daring
and aggravated nature occasioned a vigilance of pursuit, and a
strictness of search, they had not calculated on.  Young Edmunds
was suspected, with three companions.  He was apprehended--
committed--tried--condemned--to die.
'The wild and piercing shriek from a woman's voice, which
resounded through the court when the solemn sentence was
pronounced, rings in my ears at this moment.  That cry struck a
terror to the culprit's heart, which trial, condemnation--the
approach of death itself, had failed to awaken.  The lips which
had been compressed in dogged sullenness throughout, quivered
and parted involuntarily; the face turned ashy pale as the cold
perspiration broke forth from every pore; the sturdy limbs of the
felon trembled, and he staggered in the dock.

'In the first transports of her mental anguish, the suffering
mother threw herself on her knees at my feet, and fervently
sought the Almighty Being who had hitherto supported her in
all her troubles to release her from a world of woe and misery,
and to spare the life of her only child.  A burst of grief, and a
violent struggle, such as I hope I may never have to witness
again, succeeded.  I knew that her heart was breaking from
that hour; but I never once heard complaint or murmur escape
her lips.
'It was a piteous spectacle to see that woman in the prison-yard
from day to day, eagerly and fervently attempting, by affection
and entreaty, to soften the hard heart of her obdurate son.  It was
in vain.  He remained moody, obstinate, and unmoved.  Not even
the unlooked-for commutation of his sentence to transportation
for fourteen years, softened for an instant the sullen hardihood
of his demeanour.

'But the spirit of resignation and endurance that had so long
upheld her, was unable to contend against bodily weakness and
infirmity.  She fell sick.  She dragged her tottering limbs from the
bed to visit her son once more, but her strength failed her, and
she sank powerless on the ground.

'And now the boasted coldness and indifference of the young
man were tested indeed; and the retribution that fell heavily upon
him nearly drove him mad.  A day passed away and his mother
was not there; another flew by, and she came not near him; a
third evening arrived, and yet he had not seen her--, and in four-
and-twenty hours he was to be separated from her, perhaps for
ever.  Oh! how the long-forgotten thoughts of former days rushed
upon his mind, as he almost ran up and down the narrow yard--
as if intelligence would arrive the sooner for his hurrying--and
how bitterly a sense of his helplessness and desolation rushed
upon him, when he heard the truth! His mother, the only parent
he had ever known, lay ill--it might be, dying--within one mile
of the ground he stood on; were he free and unfettered, a few
minutes would place him by her side.  He rushed to the gate, and
grasping the iron rails with the energy of desperation, shook it
till it rang again, and threw himself against the thick wall as if to
force a passage through the stone; but the strong building
mocked his feeble efforts, and he beat his hands together and
wept like a child.

'I bore the mother's forgiveness and blessing to her son in
prison; and I carried the solemn assurance of repentance, and his
fervent supplication for pardon, to her sick-bed.  I heard, with
pity and compassion, the repentant man devise a thousand little
plans for her comfort and support when he returned; but I knew
that many months before he could reach his place of destination,
his mother would be no longer of this world.
'He was removed by night.  A few weeks afterwards the poor
woman's soul took its flight, I confidently hope, and solemnly
believe, to a place of eternal happiness and rest.  I performed the
burial service over her remains.  She lies in our little churchyard.
There is no stone at her grave's head.  Her sorrows were known to
man; her virtues to God.
'it had been arranged previously to the convict's departure,
that he should write to his mother as soon as he could obtain
permission, and that the letter should be addressed to me.  The
father had positively refused to see his son from the moment of
his apprehension; and it was a matter of indifference to him
whether he lived or died.  Many years passed over without any
intelligence of him; and when more than half his term of
transportation had expired, and I had received no letter, I concluded
him to be dead, as, indeed, I almost hoped he might be.

'Edmunds, however, had been sent a considerable distance up
the country on his arrival at the settlement; and to this circumstance,
perhaps, may be attributed the fact, that though several
letters were despatched, none of them ever reached my hands.
He remained in the same place during the whole fourteen years.
At the expiration of the term, steadily adhering to his old
resolution and the pledge he gave his mother, he made his way
back to England amidst innumerable difficulties, and returned,
on foot, to his native place.

'On a fine Sunday evening, in the month of August, John
Edmunds set foot in the village he had left with shame and
disgrace seventeen years before.  His nearest way lay through the
churchyard.  The man's heart swelled as he crossed the stile.  The
tall old elms, through whose branches the declining sun cast here
and there a rich ray of light upon the shady part, awakened the
associations of his earliest days.  He pictured himself as he was
then, clinging to his mother's hand, and walking peacefully to
church.  He remembered how he used to look up into her pale
face; and how her eyes would sometimes fill with tears as she
gazed upon his features--tears which fell hot upon his forehead
as she stooped to kiss him, and made him weep too, although he
little knew then what bitter tears hers were.  He thought how
often he had run merrily down that path with some childish
playfellow, looking back, ever and again, to catch his mother's
smile, or hear her gentle voice; and then a veil seemed lifted from
his memory, and words of kindness unrequited, and warnings
despised, and promises broken, thronged upon his recollection
till his heart failed him, and he could bear it no longer.
'He entered the church.  The evening service was concluded and
the congregation had dispersed, but it was not yet closed.  His
steps echoed through the low building with a hollow sound, and
he almost feared to be alone, it was so still and quiet.  He looked
round him.  Nothing was changed.  The place seemed smaller than
it used to be; but there were the old monuments on which he had
gazed with childish awe a thousand times; the little pulpit with
its faded cushion; the Communion table before which he had so
often repeated the Commandments he had reverenced as a child,
and forgotten as a man.  He approached the old seat; it looked
cold and desolate.  The cushion had been removed, and the Bible
was not there.  Perhaps his mother now occupied a poorer seat, or
possibly she had grown infirm and could not reach the church
alone.  He dared not think of what he feared.  A cold feeling crept
over him, and he trembled violently as he turned away.
'An old man entered the porch just as he reached it.  Edmunds
started back, for he knew him well; many a time he had watched
him digging graves in the churchyard.  What would he say to the
returned convict?

'The old man raised his eyes to the stranger's face, bade him
"good-evening," and walked slowly on.  He had forgotten him.

'He walked down the hill, and through the village.  The weather
was warm, and the people were sitting at their doors, or strolling
in their little gardens as he passed, enjoying the serenity of the
evening, and their rest from labour.  Many a look was turned
towards him, and many a doubtful glance he cast on either side
to see whether any knew and shunned him.  There were strange
faces in almost every house; in some he recognised the burly form
of some old schoolfellow--a boy when he last saw him--surrounded
by a troop of merry children; in others he saw, seated in
an easy-chair at a cottage door, a feeble and infirm old man,
whom he only remembered as a hale and hearty labourer; but
they had all forgotten him, and he passed on unknown.

'The last soft light of the setting sun had fallen on the earth,
casting a rich glow on the yellow corn sheaves, and lengthening
the shadows of the orchard trees, as he stood before the old house
--the home of his infancy--to which his heart had yearned with
an intensity of affection not to be described, through long and
weary years of captivity and sorrow.  The paling was low, though
he well remembered the time that it had seemed a high wall to
him; and he looked over into the old garden.  There were more
seeds and gayer flowers than there used to be, but there were the
old trees still--the very tree under which he had lain a thousand
times when tired of playing in the sun, and felt the soft, mild sleep
of happy boyhood steal gently upon him.  There were voices
within the house.  He listened, but they fell strangely upon his ear;
he knew them not.  They were merry too; and he well knew that
his poor old mother could not be cheerful, and he away.  The door
opened, and a group of little children bounded out, shouting and
romping.  The father, with a little boy in his arms, appeared at the
door, and they crowded round him, clapping their tiny hands,
and dragging him out, to join their joyous sports.  The convict
thought on the many times he had shrunk from his father's sight
in that very place.  He remembered how often he had buried his
trembling head beneath the bedclothes, and heard the harsh word,
and the hard stripe, and his mother's wailing; and though the
man sobbed aloud with agony of mind as he left the spot, his fist
was clenched, and his teeth were set, in a fierce and deadly passion.

'And such was the return to which he had looked through the
weary perspective of many years, and for which he had undergone
so much suffering! No face of welcome, no look of forgiveness,
no house to receive, no hand to help him--and this too in the old
village.  What was his loneliness in the wild, thick woods, where
man was never seen, to this!

'He felt that in the distant land of his bondage and infamy, he
had thought of his native place as it was when he left it; and not
as it would be when he returned.  The sad reality struck coldly at
his heart, and his spirit sank within him.  He had not courage to
make inquiries, or to present himself to the only person who was
likely to receive him with kindness and compassion.  He walked
slowly on; and shunning the roadside like a guilty man, turned
into a meadow he well remembered; and covering his face with
his hands, threw himself upon the grass.

'He had not observed that a man was lying on the bank beside
him; his garments rustled as he turned round to steal a look at
the new-comer; and Edmunds raised his head.

'The man had moved into a sitting posture.  His body was much
bent, and his face was wrinkled and yellow.  His dress denoted
him an inmate of the workhouse: he had the appearance of being
very old, but it looked more the effect of dissipation or disease,
than the length of years.  He was staring hard at the stranger, and
though his eyes were lustreless and heavy at first, they appeared
to glow with an unnatural and alarmed expression after they had
been fixed upon him for a short time, until they seemed to be
starting from their sockets.  Edmunds gradually raised himself to
his knees, and looked more and more earnestly on the old man's
face.  They gazed upon each other in silence.

'The old man was ghastly pale.  He shuddered and tottered to
his feet.  Edmunds sprang to his.  He stepped back a pace or two.
Edmunds advanced.

'"Let me hear you speak," said the convict, in a thick, broken voice.

'"Stand off!" cried the old man, with a dreadful oath.  The
convict drew closer to him.

'"Stand off!" shrieked the old man.  Furious with terror, he
raised his stick, and struck Edmunds a heavy blow across the face.

'"Father--devil!" murmured the convict between his set
teeth.  He rushed wildly forward, and clenched the old man by
the throat--but he was his father; and his arm fell powerless by
his side.

'The old man uttered a loud yell which rang through the
lonely fields like the howl of an evil spirit.  His face turned black,
the gore rushed from his mouth and nose, and dyed the grass a
deep, dark red, as he staggered and fell.  He had ruptured a
blood-vessel, and he was a dead man before his son could raise him.
'In that corner of the churchyard,' said the old gentleman, after
a silence of a few moments, 'in that corner of the churchyard of
which I have before spoken, there lies buried a man who was in
my employment for three years after this event, and who was
truly contrite, penitent, and humbled, if ever man was.  No one
save myself knew in that man's lifetime who he was, or whence he
came--it was John Edmunds, the returned convict.'


Charles Dickens