Mr. Verdant Green Married and Done for/Chapter 11




LITTLE Mr. Bouncer had abandoned his intention of obtaining a licet migrare to "the Tavern," and had decided (the Dons being propitious) to remain at Brazenface, in the nearer neighbourhood of his friends. He had resumed his reading for his degree; and, at various odd times, and in various odd ways, he crammed himself for his forthcoming examination with the most confused and confusing scraps of knowledge. He was determined, he said, "to stump the examiners."

One day, when Mr. Verdant Green had come from morning chapel, and had been refreshed by the perusal of an unusually long epistle from his charming Northumbrian correspondent, he betook himself to his friend's rooms, and found the little gentleman—notwithstanding that he was expecting a breakfast party—still luxuriating in bed. His curly black wig reposed on its block on the dressing table, and the closely shaven skull that it daily decorated shone whiter than the pillow that it pressed; for, although Mr. Bouncer considered that night-caps might be worn by "long-tailed babbies," and by "old birds that were as bald as coots," yet, he, being a young bird—though not a baby—declined to ensconce his head within any kind of white covering, after the fashion of the portraits of the poet Cowper. The smallness of Mr. Bouncer's dormitory caused his wash-hand-stand to be brought against his bed's head; and the little gentleman had availed himself of this conveniency, to place within the basin a blubbering, bubbling, gurgling hookah, from which a long stem curled in vine-like tendrils, until it found a resting place in Mr. Bouncer's mouth. The little gentleman lay comfortably propped on pillows, with his hands tucked under his head, and his knees crooked up to form a rest for a manuscript book of choice "crams," that had been gleaned by him from those various fields of knowledge from which the true labourer reaps so rich and ripe a store. Huz and Buz reposed on the counterpane, to complete this picture of Reading for a Pass.

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"The top o' the morning to you, Giglamps!" he said, as he saluted his friend with a volley of smoke—a salute similar as to the smoke, but superior, in the absence of noise and slightness of expense, to that which would have greeted Mr. Verdant Green's approach had he been of the royal blood—"here I am! sweating away, as usual, for that beastly examination." (It was a popular fallacy with Mr. Bouncer, that he read very hard and very regularly.) "I thought I'd cut chapel this morning, and coach up for my Divinity paper. Do you know who Hadassah was, old feller?"

"No! I never heard of her."

"Ha! you may depend upon it, those are the sort of questions that pluck a man;" said Mr. Bouncer, who thought—as others like him have thought—that the getting up of a few abstruse proper names would be proof sufficient for a thorough knowledge of the whole subject. "But I'm not going to let them gulph me a second time; though, they ought not to plough a man who's been at Harrow, ought they, old feller?"

"Don't make bad jokes."

"So I shall work well at these crams, although, of course, I shall put on my examination coat, and trust a good deal to my cards, and watch papers, and shirt wristbands, and so on."

"I should have thought," said Verdant, "that after those sort of crutches had broken down with you once, you would not fly to their support a second time."

"Oh, I shall though!—I must, you know!" replied the infatuated Mr. Bouncer. "The Mum cut up doosid this last time; you've no idea how she turned on the main, and did the briny! and, I must make things sure this time. After all, I believe it was those Second Aorists that ploughed me."

It is remarkable, that, not only in Mr. Bouncer's case, but in many others, also, of a like nature, gentlemen who have been plucked can always attribute their totally-unexpected failures to a Second Aorist, or a something equivalent to "the salmon," or "the melted butter," or "that glass of sherry," which are recognised as the causes for so many morning reflections. This curious circumstance suggests an interesting source of inquiry for the speculative.

"Well!" said Mr. Bouncer meditatively; "I'm not so sorry, after all, that they cut up rough, and ploughed me. It's enabled me, you see, to come back here, and be jolly. I shouldn't have known what to do with myself away from Oxford. A man can't be always going to feeds and tea-fights; and that's all that I have to do when I'm down in the country with the Mum—she likes me, you know, to do the filial, and go about with her. And it's not a bad thing to have something to work at! it keeps what you call your intellectual faculties on the move. I don't wonder at thingumbob crying when he'd no more whatdyecallems to conquer! he was regularly used up, I dare say."

Mr. Bouncer, upon this, rolled out some curls of smoke from the corner of his mouth, and then observed, "I'm glad I started this hookah! 'the judicious Hooker,' ain't it, Giglamps? it is so jolly, at night, to smoke oneself to sleep, with the tail end of it in one's mouth, and to find it there in the morning, all ready for a fresh start. It makes me get on with my coaching like a house on fire."

Here there was a rush of men into the adjacent room, who hailed Mr. Bouncer as a disgusting Sybarite, and, flinging their caps and gowns into a corner, forthwith fell upon the good fare which Mr. Robert Filcher had spread before them; at the same time carrying on a lively conversation with their host, the occupant of the bed-room. "Well! I suppose I must turn out, and do tumbies!" said Mr. Bouncer. So he got up, and went into his tub; and, presently, sat down comfortably to breakfast, in his shirt-sleeves.

When Mr. Bouncer had refreshed his inner man, and strengthened himself for his severe course of reading by the consumption of a singular mixture of coffee and kidneys, beef-steaks and beer; and when he had rested from his exertions, and had resumed his pipe—which was not "the judicious Hooker," but a short clay, smoked to a swarthy hue, and on that account, as well as from its presumed medicatory power, called "the Black Doctor,"—just then, Mr. Smalls, and a detachment of invited guests, who had been to an early lecture, dropped in to breakfast. Huz and Buz, setting up a terrific bark, darted towards a minute specimen of the canine species, which, with the aid of a powerful microscope, might have been discovered at the feet of its proud proprietor, Mr. Smalls. It was the first dog of its kind imported into Oxford, and it was destined to set on foot a fashion that soon bade fair to drive out of the field those long-haired Skye-terriers, with two or three specimens of which species, he entered the room.

"Kill 'em, Lympy!" said Mr. Smalls to his pet, who, with an extreme display of pugnacity, was submitting to the curious and minute inspection of Huz and Buz. "Lympy" was a black and tan terrier, with smooth hair, glossy coat, bead-like eyes, cropped ears, pointed tail, limbs of a cobwebby structure, and so diminutive in its proportions, that its owner was accustomed to carry it inside the breast of his waistcoat, as a precaution, probably, against its being blown away. And it was called "Lympy," as an abbreviation of "Olympus," which was the name derisively given to it for its smallness, on the lucus a non lucendo principle that miscalls the lengthy "brief" of the barrister, the "living"—not-sufficient-to-support-life—of the poor vicar, the uncertain "certain age," the unfair "fare," and the son-ruled "governor."

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"Lympy" was placed upon the table, in order that he might be duly admired; an exaltation at which Huz and Buz and the Skye-terriers chafed with jealousy. "Be quiet, you beggars! he's prettier than you!" said Mr. Smalls; whereupon, a mild punster present propounded the canine query, "Did it ever occur to a cur to be lauded to the Skyes?" at which there was a shout of indignation, and he was sconced by the unanimous vote of the company.

"Lympy ain't a bad style of dog," said little Mr. Bouncer, as he puffed away at the Black Doctor. "He'd be perfect, if he hadn't one fault."

"And what's his fault, pray?" asked his anxious owner.

"There's rather too much of him!" observed Mr. Bouncer, gravely. "Robert!" shouted the little gentleman to his scout; "Robert! doose take the feller, he's always out of the way when he's wanted." And, when the performance of a variety of octaves on the post-horn, combined with the free use of the speaking-trumpet, had brought Mr. Robert Filcher to his presence, Mr. Bouncer received him with objurgations, and ordered another tankard of beer from the buttery.

In the mean time, the conversation had taken a sporting turn. "Do you meet Drake's to-morrow?" asked Mr. Blades of Mr. Four-in-hand Fosbrooke.

"No! the old Berkshire," was the reply.

"Where's the meet?"

"At Buscot Park. I send my horse to Thompson's, at the Farringdon-Road station, and go to meet him by rail."

"And, what about the Grind?" asked Mr. Smalls of the company generally.

"Oh yes!" said Mr. Bouncer, "let us talk over the Grind. Giglamps, old feller, you must join."

"Certainly, if you wish it," said Mr. Verdant Green, who, however, had as little idea as the man in the moon what they were talking about. But, as he was no longer a Freshman, he was unwilling to betray his ignorance on any matter pertaining to college life; so, he looked much wiser than he felt, and saved himself from saying more on the subject, by sipping a hot spiced draught, from a silver cup that was pushed round to him.

"That's the very cup that Four-in-hand Fosbrooke won at the last Grind," said Mr. Bouncer.

"Was it indeed!" safely answered Mr. Verdant Green, who looked at the silver cup (on which was engraven a coat of arms with the words "Brazenface Grind.—Fosbrooke,"), and wondered what "a Grind" might be. A medical student would have told him, that a "Grind" meant the reading up for an examination under the tuition of one who was familiarly termed "a Grinder"—a process which Mr. Verdant Green's friends

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would phrase as "Coaching" under "a Coach;" but the conversation that followed upon Mr. Smalls' introduction of the subject, made our hero aware, that, to a University man, a Grind did not possess any reading signification, but a riding one. In fact, it was a steeple-chase, slightly varying in its details according to the college that patronized the pastime. At Brazenface, "the Grind" was usually over a known line of country, marked out with flags by the gentleman (familiarly known as Anniseed) who attended to this business, and full of leaps of various kinds, and various degrees of stiffness. By sweepstakes and subscriptions, a sum of from ten to fifteen pounds was raised for the purchase of a silver cup, wherewith to grace the winner's wines and breakfast parties; but, as the winner had occasionally been known to pay as much as fifteen pounds for the day's hire of the blood horse who was to land him first at the goal, and as he had, moreover, to discharge many other little expenses, including the by no means little one of a dinner to the losers, the conqueror for the cup usually obtained more glory than profit.

"I suppose you'll enter Tearaway, as before?" asked Mr. Smalls of Mr. Fosbrooke.

"Yes! for I want to get him in condition for the Aylesbury steeple-chase," replied the owner of Tearaway, who was rather too fond of vaunting his blue silk and black cap before the eyes of the sporting public.

"You've not much to fear from this man," said Mr. Bouncer, indicating (with the Black Doctor) the stalwart form of Mr. Blades. "Billy's too big in the Westphalias. Giglamps, you're the boy to cook Fosbrooke's goose. Don't you remember what old father-in-law Honeywood told you,—that you might, would, should, and could, ride like a Shafto? and lives there a man with soul so dead,—as Shikspur or some other cove observes—who wouldn't like to show what stuff he was made of? I can put you up to a wrinkle," said the little gentleman, sinking his voice to a whisper. "Tollitt has got a mare who can lick Tearaway into fits. She is as easy as a chair, and jumps like a cat. All that you have to do is to sit back, clip the pig-skin, and send her at it; and, she'll take you over without touching a twig. He'd promised her to me, but I intend to cut the Grind altogether; it interferes too much, don't you see, with my coaching. So I can make Tollitt keep her for you. Think how well the cup would look on your side-board, when you've blossomed into a parient, and changed the adorable Patty into Mrs. Verdant. Think of that, Master Giglamps!"

Mr. Bouncer's argument was a persuasive one, and Mr. Verdant Green consented to be one of the twelve gentlemen, who cheerfully paid their sovereigns to be allowed to make their appearance as amateur jockeys at the forthcoming Grind. After much debate, "the Wet Ensham course" was decided upon; and three o'clock in the afternoon of that day fortnight was fixed for the start. Mr. Smalls gained kudos by offering to give the luncheon at his rooms; and the host of the Red Lion, at Ensham, was ordered to prepare one of his very best dinners, for the winding up of the day's sport.

"I don't mind paying for it," said Verdant to Mr. Bouncer, "if I can but win the cup, and show it to Patty, when she comes to us at Christmas."

"Keep your pecker up, old feller! and put your trust in old beans," was Mr. Bouncer's reply.