Mr. Verdant Green Married and Done for/Chapter 1











JULY: fierce and burning!

A day to tinge the green corn with a golden hue. A day to scorch grass into hay between sunrise and sunset. A day in which to rejoice in the cool thick masses of trees, and to lie on one's back under their canopy, and look dreamily up, through its rents, at the peep of hot, cloudless, blue sky. A day to sit on shady banks upon yielding cushions of moss and heather, from whence you gaze on bright flowers blazing in the blazing sun, and rest your eyes again upon your book to find the lines swimming in a radiance of mingled green and red. A day that fills you with amphibious feelings, and makes you desire to be even a dog, that you might bathe and paddle and swim in every roadside brook and pond, without the exertion of dressing and undressing, and yet with propriety. A day that sends you out by willow-hung streams, to fish, as an excuse for idleness. A day that drives you dinnerless from smoking joints, and plunges you thirstfully into barrels of beer. A day that induces apathetic listlessness and total prostration of energy, even under the aggravating warfare of gnats and wasps. A day that engenders pity for the ranks of ruddy haymakers, hotly marching on under the merciless glare of the noonday sun. A day when the very air, steaming up from the earth, seems to palpitate with the heat. A day when Society has left its cool and pleasant country-house, and finds itself baked and burnt up in town, condemned to ovens of operas, and fiery furnaces of levees and drawing-rooms. A day when even ice is warm, and perspiring visitors to the Zoological Gardens envy the hippopotamus living in his bath. A day when a hot, frizzling, sweltering smell ascends from the ground, as though it was the earth's great ironing day. And—above all—a day that converts a railway traveller into a martyr, and a first-class carriage into a moving representation of the Black Hole of Calcutta.

So thought Mr. Verdant Green, as he was whirled onward to the far north, in company with his three sisters, Miss Bouncer, and Mr. Charles Larkyns. Being six in number, they formed a snug (and hot) family party, and filled the carriage, to the exclusion of little Mr. Bouncer, who, nevertheless, bore this temporary and unavoidable separation with a tranquil mind, inasmuch as it enabled him to ride in a second-class carriage, where he could the more conveniently indulge in the furtive pleasures of the Virginian weed. But, to keep up his connection with the party, and to prove that his interest in them could not be diminished by a brief and enforced absence, Mr. Bouncer paid them flying visits at every station, keeping his pipe alight by a puff into the carriage, accompanied with an expression of his full conviction that Miss Fanny Green had been smoking, in defiance of the company's by-laws. These rapid interviews were enlivened by Mr. Bouncer informing his friends that Huz and Buz (who were panting in a locker) were as well as could be expected, and giving any other interesting particulars regarding himself, his fellow-travellers, or the country in general, that could be compressed into the space of sixty seconds or thereabouts; and the visits were regularly and ruthlessly brought to an abrupt termination by the angry "Now, then, sir!" of the guard, and the reckless thrusting of the little gentleman into his second-class carriage, to the endangerment of his life and limbs, and the exaggerated display of authority on the part of the railway official.

Mr. Bouncer's mercurial temperament had enabled him to get over the little misfortune that had followed upon his examination for his degree; but he still preserved a memento of that hapless period in the shape of a wig of curly black hair. For he found, during the summer months, such coolness from his shaven poll, that, in spite of "the mum's" entreaties, he would not suffer his own luxuriant locks to grow, but declared that, till the winter at any rate, he would wear his gent's real head of hair; and in order that our railway party should not forget the reason for its existence, Mr. Bouncer occasionally favoured them with a sight of his bald head, and also narrated to them, with great glee, how, when a very starchy lady of a certain age had left their carriage, he had called after her upon the platform—holding out his wig as he did so—that she had left some of her property behind her; and how the passengers and porters had grinned, and the starchy lady had lost all her stiffening through the hotness of her wrath.

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York at last! A half-hour's escape from the hot carriage, and a hasty dinner on cold lamb and cool salad in the pleasant refreshment-room hung round with engravings. Mr. Bouncer's dinner is got over with incredible rapidity, in order that the little gentleman may carry out his humane intention of releasing Huz and Buz from their locker, and giving them their dinner and a run on the remote end of the platform, at a distance from timid spectators; which design is satisfactorily performed, and crowned with a douche bath from the engine-pump. Then, away again to the rabbit-hole of a locker, the smoky second-class carriage, and the stuffy first-class; incarcerated in which black-hole, the plump Miss Bouncer, notwithstanding that she has removed her bonnet and all superfluous coverings, gets hotter than ever in the afternoon sun, and is seen, ever and anon, to pass over her glowing face a handkerchief cooled with the waters of Cologne. And, when the man with the grease-pot comes round to look at the tires of the wheels, the sight of it increases her warmth by suggesting a desire (which cannot be gratified) for lemon ice. Nevertheless, they have with them a variety of cooling refreshments, and their hot-house fruit and strawberries are most acceptable. The Misses Green have wisely followed their friend's example, in the removal of bonnets and mantles; and, as they amuse themselves with books and embroidery, the black-hole bears, as far as possible, a resemblance to a boudoir. Charles Larkyns favours the company with extracts from The Times; reads to them the last number of Dickens's new tale, or directs their attention to the most note-worthy points on their route. Mr. Verdant Green is seated vis-à-vis to the plump Miss Bouncer, and benignantly beams upon her through his glasses, or musingly consults his Bradshaw to count how much nearer they have crept to their destination, the while his thoughts have travelled on in the very quickest of express trains, and have already reached the far north.

Thus they journey: crawling under the stately old walls of York; then, with a rush and a roar, sliding rapidly over the level landscape, from whence they can look back upon the glorious Minster towers standing out grey and cold from the sunlit plain. Then, to Darlington; and on by porters proclaiming the names of stations in uncouth Dunelmian tongue, informing passengers that they have reached "Faweyill" and "Fensoosen," instead of "Ferry Hill" and "Fence Houses," and terrifying nervous people by the command to "Change here for Doom!" when only the propinquity of the palatinate city is signified. And so, on by the triple towers of Durham that gleam in the sun with a ruddy orange hue; on, leaving to the left that last resting-place of Bede and St. Cuthbert, on the rock

"Where his cathedral, huge and vast,
Looks down upon the Wear."

On, past the wonderfully out-of-place "Durham monument," a Grecian temple on a naked hill among the coal-pits; on, with a double curve, over the Wear, laden with its Rhine-like rafts; on, to grimy Gateshead and smoky Newcastle, and, with a scream and a rattle, over the wonderful High Level (then barely completed), looking down with a sort of self-satisfied shudder upon the bridge, and the Tyne, and the fleet of colliers, and the busy quays, and the quaint timber-built houses with their overlapping storys, and picturesque black and white gables. Then, on again, after a cool delay and brief release from the black-hole; on, into Northumbrian ground, over the Wansbeck; past Morpeth; by Warkworth, and its castle, and hermitage; over the Coquet stream, beloved by the friends of gentle Izaak Walton; on, by the sea-side—almost along the very sands—with the refreshing sea-breeze, and the murmuring plash of the breakers—the Misses Green giving way to childish delight at this their first glimpse of the sea; on, over the Aln, and past Alnwick; and so on, still further north, to a certain little station, which is the terminus of their railway journey, and the signal of their deliverance from the black-hole.

There, on the platform is Mr. Honeywood, looking hale and happy, and delighted to receive his posse of visitors; and there, outside the little station, is the carriage and dog-cart, and a spring-cart for the luggage. Charles Larkyns takes possession of the dog-cart, in company with Mary and Fanny Green, and little Mr. Bouncer; while Huz and Buz, released from their weary imprisonment, caracole gracefully around the vehicle. Mr. Honeywood takes the reins of his own carriage; Mr. Verdant Green mounts the box beside him; Miss Bouncer and Miss Helen Green take possession of the open interior of the carriage; the spring-cart, with the servants and luggage, follows in the rear; and off they go.

But, though the two blood-horses are by no means slow of action, and do, in truth, gallop apace like fiery-footed steeds, yet to Mr. Verdant Green's anxious mind they seem to make but slow progress; and the magnificent country through which they pass offers but slight charms for his abstracted thoughts; until (at last) they come in sight of a broken mountain-range, and Mr. Honeywood, pointing with his whip, exclaims, "Yon's the Cheevyuts, as they say in these parts; there are the Cheviot Hills; and there, just where you see that gleam of light on a white house among some trees—there is Honeywood Hall."

Did Mr. Verdant Green remove his eyes from that object of attraction, save when intervening hills, for a time, hid it from his view? did he, when they neared it, and he saw its landscape beauties bathed in the golden splendours of a July sunset, did he think it a very paradise that held within its bowers the Peri of his heart's worship? did he—as they passed the lodge, and drove up an avenue of firs—did he scan the windows of the house, and immediately determine in his own mind which was her window, oblivious to the fact that she might sleep on the other side of the building? did he, as they pulled up at the door, scrutinise the female figures who were there to receive them, and experience a feeling made up of doubt and certainty, that there was one who, though not present, was waiting near with a heart beating as anxiously as his own? did he make wild remarks, and return incoherent answers, until the long-expected moment had come that brought him face to face with the adorable Patty? did he envy Charles Larkyns for possessing and practising the cousinly privilege of bestowing a kiss upon her rosy cheeks? and did he, as he pressed her hand, and marked the heightened glow of her happy face, did he feel within his heart an exultant thrill of joy as the fervid thought fired his brain—one day she may be mine?