The Pickwickians arrive at Mr. Wardle’s Manor Farm where, in addition to meeting their previous acquaintances Emily and Isabella Wardle; Mr. Trundle; and the spinster aunt, they are introduced among others to Mr. Wardle’s mother; the clergyman of Dingley Dell; and Mr. Miller who is hard-headed and who is “Ripstone pippin-faced.”
Though very old and hard of hearing, Mr. Wardle’s mother, who is closely attended to by Emily, Isabella, and the spinster-aunt, has an affinity for whist which affinity seems to miraculously improve her hearing. By and by, tables are set for card games and Mr. Pickwick is paired up with Mr. Wardle’s mother vis-à-vis Mr. Miller and a fat gentleman, who is one of several fat gentlemen present at the social. To the fat gentleman’s chagrin, in large part due to Mr. Miller’s negligence, Mr. Wardle’s mother and Mr. Pickwick get the better of their opponents at whist.
As it turns out Mr. Miller isn’t very popular, for prior to the card game, Mr. Miller has been contradicted by 3 fat gentlemen with regards the best land in Kent, and has been openly declared to be a “conceited coxcomb” by Mr. Wardle’s mother.
Presently, on the card table where the others are assembled, others which include Emily and Isabella Wardle; Mr. Trundle; the spinster-aunt; Mr. Snodgrass; Mr. Tupman; Mr. Wardle; Mr. Winkle; the clergyman; and others, there is nothing but merriment. The card games are followed by supper. Then, when overcome with happiness, Mr. Wardle waxes sentimental about old, familiar places, at Mr. Snodgrass’ insistence, the clergyman recites “The Ivy Green,” a song that Mr. Wardle had referred to and a song that memorializes that which is old, familiar, and dear. The clergyman’s recitation doesn’t end there, however, as Mr. Pickwick urges the clergyman to relate a an interesting story, for he certainly must have one on account of being the clergyman of Dingley Dell for twenty-five years. The clergyman doesn’t disappoint as he relates a tale called “The Convict’s Return.”
“The Convict’s Return” involves a man named Edmunds who is a parishioner of Dingley Dell and who is notorious for abusing his wife for which he is universally shunned. Conversely, the wife, Mrs. Edmunds, evinces the qualities of a saint as she manages to not only absorb her husband’s abuses but to provide for him and their son. (Needless to say, Edmunds is not only a wife-beater but a deadbeat.)
It’s known throughout Dingley Dell that Mrs. Edmund’s saintliness can be attributed to her devotion to her son John. It’s for John’s sake that she has put up with her husband’s abuses and his utter lack of accountability. Then the unthinkable happens: As John grows up to be a young man, he alienates himself from his mother to the extent of committing crimes for which he is tried and imprisoned. Nonetheless Mrs. Edmunds remains devoted to her son, visiting John every day at prison, i.e. until her advancing age and illness prevents her from doing so.
Alas, it is precisely at this point, when his mother ceases to visit him in prison, that John realizes the error of his ways. Overcome with guilt, his life in prison becomes a living hell. He seeks solace from the clergyman who does what he can to ease John’s pain.
Fourteen years pass when John Edmunds, who is released from prison, returns to his old village in search of his mother’s fate. Not surprisingly he finds no traces of her. Realizing that all is lost, John repairs to a secluded meadow to cry his heart out only to realize that he isn’t alone. Not far from where he is, there is an old man who looks vaguely familiar. By and by, John recognizes his father. Filled with hatred, John approaches the old man and attempts to choke him only to relent. (The old man is his father after all.) Alas, the stress of the encounter burst a blood vessel in John’s father and he dies.
For the next 3 years, before he dies, John Edmunds faithfully serves the clergyman at church. During those 3 years, no one in the village knows that John Edmunds is the returned convict.