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A delightful walk it was; for it was a pleasant afternoon in June, and their way lay through a deep and shady wood, cooled by the light wind which gently rustled the thick foliage, and enlivened 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 silken mat. They emerged upon an open park, with an ancient hall, displaying the quaint and picturesque architecture of Elizabeth's time. Long vistas of stately oaks and elm trees appeared on every 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 clouds which swept across a sunny landscape like a passing breath of summer.
'If this,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking about him--'if this were the place to which all who are troubled with our friend's complaint came, I fancy their old attachment to this world would very soon return.'
'I think so too,' said Mr. Winkle.
'And really,' added Mr. Pickwick, after half an hour's walking had brought them to the village, 'really, for a misanthrope's choice, this is one of the prettiest and most desirable places of residence I ever met with.'
In this opinion also, both Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass expressed their concurrence; and having been directed to the Leather Bottle, a clean and commodious village ale-house, the three travellers entered, and at once inquired for a gentleman of the 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, furnished with a large number of high-backed leather-cushioned chairs, of fantastic shapes, and embellished with a great variety of old portraits and roughly-coloured prints of some antiquity. At the upper 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 at the table sat Mr. Tupman, looking as unlike a man who had taken his leave of the world, as possible.
On the entrance of his friends, that gentleman laid down his knife 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 his forehead the perspiration which the walk had engendered. 'Finish your dinner, and walk out with me. I wish to speak to you alone.'
Mr. Tupman did as he was desired; and Mr. Pickwick having refreshed himself 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 the churchyard to and fro, while Mr. Pickwick was engaged in combating his companion's resolution. Any repetition of his arguments would be useless; for what language could convey to them that energy and force which their great originator's manner communicated? Whether Mr. Tupman was already tired of retirement, or whether he was wholly unable to resist the eloquent appeal which was made to him, matters not, he did NOT resist it at last.
'It mattered little to him,' he said, 'where he dragged out the miserable remainder of his days; and since his friend laid so much stress upon his humble companionship, he was willing to share his adventures.'
Mr. Pickwick smiled; they shook hands, and walked back to rejoin their companions.
It was at this moment that Mr. Pickwick made that immortal discovery, which has been the pride and boast of his friends, and the envy of every antiquarian in this or any other country. They had passed the door of their inn, and walked a little way down the village, before they recollected the precise spot in which it stood. As they turned back, Mr. Pickwick's eye fell upon a small broken stone, partially buried in the ground, in front of a cottage door. He paused.
'This is very strange,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'What is strange?' inquired Mr. Tupman, staring eagerly at every object near him, but the right one. 'God bless me, what's the matter?'
This last was an ejaculation of irrepressible astonishment, occasioned by seeing Mr. Pickwick, in his enthusiasm for discovery, fall on his knees before the little stone, and commence wiping 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 all his might, and gazing intently through his spectacles--'I can discern a cross, and a 13, and then a T. This is important,' continued Mr. Pickwick, starting up. 'This is some very old inscription, existing perhaps long before the ancient alms-houses in 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?' inquired the benevolent Mr. Pickwick.
'No, I doan't, Sir,' replied the man civilly. 'It was here long afore 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 mind selling it, now?'
'Ah! but who'd buy it?' inquired the man, with an expression of 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 his own 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 following fragment of an inscription was clearly to be deciphered:--
[cross] B I L S T u m P S H I S. M. ARK
Mr. Pickwick's eyes sparkled with delight, as he sat and gloated over the treasure he had discovered. He had attained one of the greatest objects of his ambition. In a county known to abound in the remains of the early ages; in a village in which there still existed some memorials of the olden time, he--he, the chairman of the Pickwick Club--had discovered a strange and curious inscription of unquestionable antiquity, which had wholly escaped the observation of the many learned men who had preceded him. He could hardly trust the evidence of his senses.
'This--this,' said he, 'determines me. We return to town to-morrow.'
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The Pickwick Papers -- by Charles Dickens