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