Mr. Verdant Green Married and Done for/Chapter 12




During the fortnight that intervened between Mr. Bouncer's breakfast party and the Grind, Mr. Verdant Green got himself into training for his first appearance as a steeple-chase rider, by practising a variety of equestrian feats over leaping-bars and gorse-stuck hurdles; in which he acquitted himself with tolerable success, and came off with fewer bruises than might have been expected. At this period of his career, too, he strengthened his bodily powers by practising himself in those varieties of the "manly exercises" that found most favour in Oxford.

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The adoption of some portion of these was partly attributable to his having been made a Mason; for, whenever he attended the meetings of his Lodge, he had to pass the two rooms where Mr. MacLaren conducted his fencing-school and gymnasium. The fencing-room—which was the larger of the two, and was of the same dimensions as the Lodge-room above it—was usually tenanted by the proprietor and his assistant, (who, as Mr. Bouncer phrased it, "put the pupils through their paces,") and re-echoed to the sounds of stampings, and the cries of "On guard! quick! parry! lunge!" with the various other terms of Defence and Attack, uttered in French and English. At the upper end of the room, over the fire-place, was a stand of curious arms, flanked on either side by files of single-sticks. The centre of the room was left clear for the fencing; while the lower end was occupied by the parallel bars, a regiment of Indian clubs, and a mattress apparatus for the delectation of the sect of jumpers.

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Here Mr. Verdant Green, properly equipped for the purpose, was accustomed to swing his clubs after the presumed Indian manner, to lift himself off his feet and hang suspended between the parallel bars, to leap the string on to the mattress, to be rapped and thumped with single-sticks and boxing-gloves by any one else than Mr. Blades (who had developed his muscles in a most formidable manner), and to go through his parades of quarte and tierce with the flannel-clothed assistant. Occasionally he had a fencing bout with the good-humoured Mr. MacLaren, who—professionally protected by his padded leathern plastron—politely and obligingly did his best to assure him, both by precept and example, of the truth of the wise old saw, "mens sana in corpore sano."

The lower room at MacLaren's presented a very different appearance to the fencing-room. The wall to the right hand, as well as a part of the wall at the upper end, was hung around—not

"With pikes, and guns, and bows,"

like the fine old English gentleman's,—but nevertheless,

"With swords, and good old cutlasses,"

and foils, and fencing masks, and fencing gloves, and boxing gloves, and pads, and belts, and light white shoes. Opposite to the door, was the vaulting-horse, on whose wooden back the gymnasiast sprang at a bound, and over which the tyro (with the aid of the spring-board) usually pitched himself headlong. Then, commencing at the further end, was a series of poles and ropes—the turning pole, the hanging poles, the rings, and the trapeze,—on either or all of which the pupil could exercise himself; and, if he had the skill so to do, could jerk himself from one to the other, and finally hang himself upon the sloping ladder, before the momentum of his spring had passed away.

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Mr. Bouncer, who could do most things with his hands and feet, was a very distinguished pupil of Mr. MacLaren's; for the little gentleman was as active as a monkey, and—to quote his own remarkably figurative expression—was "a great deal livelier than the Bug and Butterfly." [1]

Mr. Bouncer, then, would go through the full series of gymnastic performances, and finally pull himself up the rounds of the ladder, with the greatest apparent ease, much to the envy of Mr. Verdant Green, who, bathed in perspiration, and nearly dislocating every bone in his body, would vainly struggle (in attitudes like to those of "the perspiring frog" of Count Smorltork) to imitate his mercurial friend, and would finally drop exhausted on the padded floor.

And, Mr. Verdant Green did not confine himself to these indoor amusements; but studied the Oxford Book of Sports in various out-of-door ways. Besides his Grinds, and cricketing, and boating, and hunting, he would paddle down to Wyatt's, for a little pistol practice, or to indulge in the exciting amusement of rifle-shooting at empty bottles, or to practise, on the leaping and swinging poles, the lessons he was learning at MacLaren's, or to play at skittles with Mr. Bouncer (who was very expert in knocking down three out of the four), or to kick football until he became (to use Mr. Bouncer's expression) "as stiff as a biscuit."

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Or, he would attend the shooting parties given by William Brown, Esquire, of University House; where blue-rocks and brown rabbits were turned out of traps for the sport of the assembled bipeds and quadrupeds. The luckless pigeons and rabbits had but a poor chance for their lives; for, if the gentleman who paid for the privilege of the shot missed his rabbit (which was within the bounds of probability) the other guns were at once discharged, and the dogs of Town and Gown let slip. And, if any rabbit was nimble and fortunate enough to run this gauntlet with the loss of only a tail or ear, and, Galatea-like,

"fugit ad salices,"

and rushed into the willow-girt ditches, it speedily fell before the clubs of the "cads," who were there to watch, and profit by the sports of their more aristocratic neighbours. [2]

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Mr. Verdant Green would also study the news of the day, in the floating reading-room of the University Barge; and, from these comfortable quarters, indite a letter to Miss Patty, and look out upon the picturesque river with its moving life of eights and four-oars sweeping past with measured stroke. A great feature of the river picture, just about this time, was the crowd of newly introduced canoes; their occupants, in every variety of bright-coloured shirts and caps, flashing up and down a double paddle, the ends of which were painted in gay colours, or emblazoned with the owner's crest. But Mr. Verdant Green, with a due regard for his own preservation from drowning, was content with looking at these cranky canoes, as they flitted, like gaudy dragon-flies, over the surface of the water.

Fain would the writer of these pages linger over these memoirs of Mr. Verdant Green. Fain would he tell how his hero did many things that might be thought worthy of mention, besides those which have been already chronicled; but, this narrative has already reached its assigned limits, and, even a historian must submit to be kept within reasonable bounds.

The Dramatist has the privilege of escaping many difficulties, and passing swiftly over confusing details, by the simple intimation, that "An interval of twenty years is supposed to take place between the Acts." Suffice it, therefore, for Mr. Verdant Green's historian, to avail himself of this dramatic art, and, in a very few sentences, to pass over the varied events of two years, in order that he may arrive at a most important passage in his hero's career.

The Grind came off without Mr. Verdant Green being enabled to communicate to Miss Patty Honeywood, that he was the winner of a silver cup. Indeed, he did not arrive at the winning post until half an hour after it had been first reached by Mr. Four-in-hand Fosbrooke on his horse Tearaway; for, after narrowly escaping a blow from the hatchet of an irate agriculturist who professed great displeasure at any one presuming to come a galloperin' and a tromplin' over his fences, Mr. Verdant Green finally "came to grief," by being flung into a disagreeably-moist ditch. And though, for that evening, he forgot his troubles, in the jovial dinner that took place at the Red Lion, yet, the next morning, they were immensely aggravated, when the Tutor told them that he had heard of the steeple-chase, and should expel every gentleman who had taken part in it. The Tutor, however, relented, and did not carry out his threat; though Mr. Verdant Green suffered almost as much as if he had really kept it.

The infatuated Mr. Bouncer madly persisted (despite the entreaties and remonstrances of his friends) in going into the Schools clad in his examination coat, and padded over with a host of crams. His fate was a warning that similar offenders should lay to heart, and profit by; for the little gentleman was again plucked. Although he was grieved at this on "the Mum's" account, his mercurial temperament enabled him to thoroughly enjoy the Christmas vacation at the Manor Green, where were again gathered together the same party who had met there the previous Christmas. The cheerful society of Miss Fanny Green did much, probably, towards restoring Mr. Bouncer to his usual happy frame of mind; and, after Christmas, he gladly returned to his beloved Oxford, leaving Brazenface, and migrating ("through circumstances over which he had no control," as he said) to "the Tavern." But when the time for his examination drew on, the little gentleman was seized with such trepidation, and "funked" so greatly, that he came to the resolution not to trouble the Examiners again, and to dispense with the honours of a Degree. And so, at length, greatly to Mr. Verdant Green's sorrow, and "regretted by all that knew him," Mr. Bouncer sounded his final octaves and went the complete unicorn for the last time in a College quad, and gave his last Wine (wherein he produced some "very old port, my teacakes!—I've had it since last term!") and then, as an undergraduate, bade his last farewell to Oxford, with the parting declaration, that, though he had not taken his Degree, yet that he had got through with great credit, for that he had left behind him a heap of unpaid bills.

By this time, or shortly after, many of Mr. Verdant Green's earliest friends had taken their Degrees, and had left College; and their places were occupied by a new set of men, among whom our hero found many pleasant companions, whose names and titles need not be recorded here.

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When June had come, there was a "grand Commemoration," and this was quite a sufficient reason that the Miss Honeywoods should take their first peep at Oxford, at so favourable an opportunity. Accordingly there they came, together with the Squire, and were met by a portion of Mr. Verdant Green's family, and by Mr. Bouncer; and there were they duly taken to all the lions, and initiated into some of the mysteries of College life. Miss Patty was enchanted with everything that she saw—even carrying her admiration to Verdant's undergraduate's gown—and was proudly escorted from College to College by her enamoured swain.

"Pleasant it was, when woods were green,
And winds were soft and low,"

when in a House-boat, and in four-oars, they made an expedition ("a wine and water party," as Mr. Bouncer called it) to Nuneham, and, after safely passing through the perils of the pound-locks of Iffley and Sandford, arrived at the pretty thatched cottage, and pic-nic'd in the round-house, and strolled through the nut plantations up to Carfax hill, to see the glorious view of Oxford, and looked at the Conduit, and Bab's-tree, and paced over the little rustic bridge to the island, where Verdant and Patty talked as lovers love to talk.

Then did Mr. Verdant Green accompany his lady-love to Northumberland; from whence, after spending a pleasant month that, all too quickly, came to an end, he departed (viâ Warwickshire) for a continental tour, which he took in the company of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Larkyns (née Mary Green), who were there for the honeymoon.

Then he returned to Oxford; and when the month of May had again come round, he went in for his Degree examination. He passed with flying colours, and was duly presented with that much-prized shabby piece of paper, on which was printed and written the following brief form:-

Green Verdant è Coll. Æn. Fac.

Die 28° Mensis Maii Anni 185—

Examinatus, prout Statuta requirunt, satisfecit nobis Examinatoribus.

Ita testamur

J. Smith
Gul. Brown
Jac. L. Jones
R. Robinson

Examinatores in
Literis Humanio-

Owing to Mr. Verdant Green having entered upon residence at the time of his matriculation, he was obliged, for the present, to defer the putting on of his gown, and, consequently, of arriving at the full dignity of a Bachelor of Arts. Nevertheless, he had taken his Degree de facto, if not de jure; and he, therefore—for reasons which will appear—gave the usual Degree dinner, on the day of his taking his Testamur.

He also cleared his rooms, giving some of his things away, sending others to Richards's sale-rooms, and resigning his china and glass to the inexorable Mr. Robert Filcher, who would forthwith dispose of these gifts (much over their cost price) to the next Freshman who came under his care.

Moreover, as the adorning of College chimney-pieces with the photographic portraits of all the owner's College friends, had just then come into fashion, Mr. Verdant Green's beaming countenance and spectacles were daguerreotyped in every variety of Ethiopian distortion; and, being enclosed in miniature frames, were distributed as souvenirs among his admiring friends.

Then, Mr. Verdant Green went down to Warwickshire; and, within three months, travelled up to Northumberland on a special mission.

  1. A name given to Mr. Hope's Entomological Museum.
  2. "The Vice-Chancellor, by the direction of the Hebdomadal Council, has issued a notice against the practice of pigeon-shooting, &c., in the neighbourhood of the University."—Oxford Intelligence, Decr. 1854.