Mr. Verdant Green Married and Done for/Chapter 2




EVEN if Mr. Verdant Green had not been filled with the peculiarly pleasurable sensations to which allusion has just been made, it is yet exceedingly probable that he would have found his visit to Honeywood Hall one of those agreeable and notable events which the memory of after-years invests with the couleur du rose.

In the first place—even if Miss Patty was left out of the question—every one was so particularly attentive to him, that all his wants, as regarded amusement and occupation, were promptly supplied, and not a minute was allowed to hang heavily upon his hands. And, in the second place, the country, and its people and customs, had so much freshness and peculiarity, that he could not stir abroad without meeting with novelty. New ideas were constantly received; and other sensations of a still more delightful nature were daily deepened. Thus the time passed pleasantly away at Honeywood Hall, and the hours chased each other with flying feet.

Mr. Honeywood was a squire, or laird; and though the prospect from the hall was far too extensive to allow of his being monarch of all that he surveyed, yet he was the proprietor of no inconsiderable portion. The small village of Honeybourn,—which brought its one wide street of long, low, lime-washed houses hard by the hall,—owned no other master than Mr. Honeywood; and all its inhabitants were, in one way or other, his labourers. They had their own blacksmith, shoemaker, tailor, and carpenter; they maintained a general shop of the tea-coffee-tobacco-and-snuff genus; and they lived as one family, entirely independent of any other village. In fact, the villages in that district were as sparingly distributed as are "livings" among poor curates, and, when met with, were equally as small; and so it happened, that as the landowners usually resided, like Mr. Honeywood, among their own people, a gentleman would occasionally be as badly off for a neighbour, as though he had been a resident in the backwoods of Canada. This evil, however, was productive of good, in that it set aside the possibility of a deliberate interchange of formal morning-calls, and obliged neighbours to be hospitable to each other, sans cérémonie, and with all good fellowship. To drive fifteen, twenty, or even five-and-twenty miles, to a dinner party was so common an occurrence, that it excited surprise only in a stranger, whose wonderment at this voluntary fatigue would be quickly dispelled on witnessing the hearty hospitality and friendly freedom that made a north country visit so enjoyable, and robbed the dinner party of its ordinary character of an English solemnity.

Pg 09--Mr Verdant Green married and done for.png

Close to Honeybourn village was the Squire's model farm, with its wide-spreading yards and buildings, and its comfortable bailiff's house. In a morning at sunrise, when our Warwickshire friends were yet in bed, such of them as were light sleepers would hear a not very melodious fanfare from a cow's horn—the signal to the village that the day's work was begun, which signal was repeated at sunset. This old custom possessed uncommon charms for Mr. Bouncer, whose only regret was that he had left behind him his celebrated tin horn. But he took to the cow-horn with the readiness of a child to a new plaything; and, having placed himself under the instruction of the Northumbrian Kœnig, was speedily enabled to sound his octaves and go the complete unicorn (as he was wont to express it, in his peculiarly figurative eastern language) with a still more astounding effect than he had done on his former instrument. The little gentleman always made a point of thus signalling the times of the arrival and departure of the post,—greatly to the delight of small Jock Muir, who, girded with his letter-bag, and mounted on a highly-trained donkey, rode to and fro to the neighbouring post-town.

Although Mr. Verdant Green was not (according to Mr. Bouncer) "a bucolical party," and had not any very amazing taste for agriculture, he nevertheless could not but feel interested in what he saw around him. To one who was so accustomed to the small enclosures and timbered hedge-rows of the midland counties, the country of the Cheviots appeared in a grand, though naked aspect, like some stalwart gladiator of the stern old times. The fields were of large extent; and it was no uncommon sight to see, within one boundary fence, a hundred acres of wheat, rippling into mimic waves, like some inland sea. The flocks and herds, too, were on a grand scale; men counted their sheep, not by tens, but by hundreds. Everything seemed to be influenced, as it were, by the large character of the scenery. The green hills, with their short sweet grass, gave good pasture for the fleecy tribe, who were dotted over the sward in almost countless numbers; and Mr. Verdant Green was as much gratified with "the silly sheep" as with anything else that he witnessed in that land of novelty. To see the shepherd, with his bonnet and grey plaid, and long slinging step, walking first, and the flock following him,—to hear him call the sheep by name, and to perceive how he knew them individually, and how they each and all would answer to his voice, was a realisation of Scripture reading, and a northern picture of Eastern life.

The head shepherd, old Andrew Graham—an active youth whose long snowy locks had been bleached by the snows of eighty winters—was an especial favourite of Mr. Verdant Green's, who would never tire of his company, or of his anecdotes of his marvellous dogs. His cottage was at a distance from the village, up in a snug hollow of one of the hills. There he lived, and there had been brought up his six sons, and as many daughters. Of the latter, two were out at service in noble families of the county; one was maid to the Misses Honeywood, and the three others were at home. How they and the other inmates of the cottage were housed, was a mystery; for, although old Andrew was of a superior condition in life to the other cottagers of Honeybourn, yet his domicile was like all the rest in its arrangements and accommodation. It was one moderately large room, fitted up with cupboards, in which, one above another, were berths, like to those on board a steamer. In what way the morning and evening toilettes were performed was a still greater mystery to our Warwickshire friends; nevertheless, the good-looking trio of damsels were always to be found neat, clean, and presentable; and, as their mother one day proudly remarked, they were "douce, sonsy bairns, wi' weel-faur'd nebs; and, for puir folks, would be weel tochered." Upon which our hero said "Indeed!" which, as he had not the slightest idea what the good woman meant, was, perhaps, the wisest remark that he could have made.

Pg 10--Mr Verdant Green married and done for.png

One of them was generally to be found spinning at her muckle wheel, retiring and advancing to the music of its cheerful hum, the while her spun thread was rapidly coiled up on the spindle. The others, as they busied themselves in their household duties, or brightened up the delf and pewter, and set it out on the shelf to its best advantage, would join in some plaintive Scotch ballad, with such good taste and skill that our friends would frequently love to linger within hearing, though out of sight. But these artless ditties were sometimes specially sung for them when they paid the cottage-room a visit, and sat around its canopied, projecting fire-place. For, old Andrew was a great smoker; and little Mr. Bouncer was exceedingly fond of waylaying him on his return home, and "blowing a cloud" with so loquacious and novel a companion. And Mr. Verdant Green sometimes joined him in these visits; on which occasions, as harmony was the order of the day, he would do his best to further it by singing "Marble Halls," or any other song that his limited repertoire could boast; while old Andrew would burst into "Tullochgorum," or do violence to "Get up and bar the door."

It must be confessed, that the conversation at such times was sustained not without difficulty. Old Andrew, his wife, and the major portion of his family, were barely able to understand the language of their guests, whom they persisted in generalising as "cannie Soothrons;" while the guests, on their part, could not altogether arrive at the meaning of observations that were couched in the most incomprehensible patois that was ever invented. It was "neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring," although it was flavoured with the Northumbrian burr, and mixed with a species of Scotch; and the historian of these pages would feel almost as much difficulty in setting down this north-Northumbrian dialect, as he would do were he to attempt to reduce to words the birdlike chatter of the Bosjesmen.

When, for example, the bewigged Mr. Bouncer—"the laddie wi' the black pow," as they called him—was addressed as "Hinny! jist come ben, and crook yer hough on the settle, and het yersen by the chimney-lug," it was as much by action as by word that he understood an invitation to be seated; though the "wet yer thrapple wi' a drap o' whuskie, mon!" was easier of comprehension when accompanied with the presentation of the whiskey-horn. In like manner, when Mr. Verdant Green's arrival was announced by the furious barking of the faithful dogs, the apology that "the camstary breutes of dougs would not steek their clatterin' gabs," was accepted as an ample explanation, more from the dogs being quieted than from the lucidity of the remark that explained their uproar.

Pg 11--Mr Verdant Green married and done for.png

There was one class of lady-labourers, peculiar to that part of the country, who were called Bondagers,—great strapping damsels of three or four-woman-power, whose occupation it was to draw water, and perform some of the rougher duties attendant upon agricultural pursuits. The sturdy legs of these young ladies were equipped in greaves of leather, which protected them from the cutting attacks of stubble, thistles, and all other lacerating specimens of botany, and their exuberant figures were clad in buskins, and many-coloured garments, that were not long enough to conceal their greaves and clod-hopping boots. Altogether, these young women, when engaged at their ordinary avocations by the side of a spring, formed no unpicturesque subject for the sketcher's pencil, and might have been advantageously transferred to canvas by many an artist who travels to greater distances in search of lesser novelties. [1]

Pg 12--Mr Verdant Green married and done for.png

But many peculiar subjects for the pencil might there have been found. One day when they were all going to see the ewe-milking (which of itself would have furnished material for a host of sketches), they suddenly came upon the following scene. Round by the gable of a cottage was seated a shock-headed rustic Absalom, and standing over him was another rustic, who, with a large pair of shears, was acting as an amateur Tonson, and was earnestly engaged in reducing the other's profuse head of hair; an occupation upon which he busied himself with more zeal than discretion. Of this little scene Miss Patty Honeywood forthwith made a memorandum.

For Miss Patty possessed the enviable accomplishment of sketching from nature; and, leaving the beaten track of young-lady figure-artists, who usually limit their efforts to chalk-heads and crayon smudges, she boldly launched into the more difficult, but far more pleasing undertaking of delineating the human form divine from the very life. Mr. Verdant Green found this sketching from nature to be so pretty a pastime, that though unable of himself to produce the feeblest specimen of art, he yet took the greatest delight in watching the facility with which Miss Patty's taper fingers transferred to paper the vraisemblance of a pair of sturdy Bondagers, or the miniature reflection of a grand landscape. Happily for him, also, by way of an excuse for bestowing his company upon Miss Patty, he was enabled to be of some use to her in carrying her sketching-block and box of moist water-colours, or in bringing to her water from a neighbouring spring, or in sharpening her pencils. On these occasions Verdant would have preferred their being left to the sole enjoyment of each other's company; but this was not so to be, for they were always favoured with the attendance of at least a third person.

But (at last!) on one happy day, when the bright sunshine was reflected in Miss Patty Honeywood's bright-beaming face, Mr. Verdant Green found himself wandering forth,

"All in the blue, unclouded weather,"

with his heart's idol, and no third person to intrude upon their duet. The alleged purport of the walk was, that Miss Patty might sketch the ruined church of Lasthope, which was about two miles distant from the Hall. To reach it they had to follow the course of the Swirl, which ran through the Squire's grounds.

The Swirl was a brawling, picturesque stream; at one place narrowing into threads of silver between lichen-covered stones and fragments of rock; at another place flowing on in deep pools—

"Wimpling, dimpling, staying never-
Lisping, gurgling, ever going,
Sipping, slipping, ever flowing,
Toying round the polish'd stone;" [2]

fretting "in rough, shingly shallows wide," and then "bickering down the sunny day." On one day, it might, in places, and with the aid of stepping-stones, be crossed dryshod; and within twenty-four hours it might be swelled by mountain torrents into a river wider than the Thames at Richmond. This sudden growth of the

"Infant of the weeping hills,"

was the reason why the high road was carried over the Swirl by a bridge of ten arches—a circumstance which had greatly excited little Mr. Bouncer's ideas of the ridiculous when he perceived the narrow stream scarcely wide enough to wet the sides of one of the arches of the great bridge that straggled over it, like a railway viaduct over a canal. But, ere his visit to Honeywood Hall had come to an end, the little gentleman had more than once seen the Swirl swollen to its fullest dimensions, and been enabled to recognise the use of the bridge, and the full force of the local expression—"the waeter is grit."

As Verdant and Miss Patty made their way along the bank of this most changeable stream, they came upon Mr. Charles Larkyns knee-deep in it, equipped in his wading-boots and fishing dress, and industriously whipping the water for trout. The Swirl was a famous trout-stream, and Mr. Honeywood's coachman was a noted fisherman, and was accustomed to pass many of his nights fishing the stream with a white moth. It appeared that the finny inhabitants of the Swirl were as fond of whitebait as are Cabinet Ministers and London aldermen; for the coachman's deeds of darkness invariably resulted in the production of a fine dish of freshly-caught trout for the breakfast-table.

"It must be hard work," said Verdant to his friend, as they stopped awhile to watch him; "it must be hard work to make your way against the stream, and to clamber in and out among the rocks and stones."

Pg 14--Mr Verdant Green married and done for.png

"Not at all hard work," was Charles Larkyns's reply, "but play. Play, too, in more senses than one. See! I have just struck a fish. Watch, while I play him. 'The play's the thing!' Wait awhile and you'll see me land him, or I'm much mistaken."

So they waited awhile and watched this fisherman at play, until he had triumphantly landed his fish, and then they pursued their way.

Miss Patty had great conversational abilities and immense power of small talk, so that Verdant felt quite at ease in her society, and found his natural timidity and quiet bashfulness to be greatly diminished, even if they were not altogether put on one side. They were always such capital friends, and Miss Patty was so kind and thoughtful in making Verdant appear to the best advantage, and in looking over any little gaucheries to which his bashfulness might give birth, that it is not to be wondered at if the young gentleman should feel great delight in her society, and should seek for it at every opportunity. In fact, Miss Patty Honeywood was beginning to be quite necessary to Mr. Verdant Green's happy existence. It may be that the young lady was not altogether ignorant of this, but was enabled to read the young man's state of mind, and to judge pretty accurately of his inward feelings, from those minute details of outward evidence which womankind are so quick to mark, and so skilful in tracing to their true source. It may be, also, that the young lady did not choose either to check these feelings or to alter this state of mind—which she certainly ought to have done if she was solicitous for her companion's happiness, and was unable to increase it in the way that he wished.

Pg 15--Mr Verdant Green married and done for.png

But, at any rate, with mutual satisfaction for the present, they strolled together along the Swirl's rocky banks, and passing into a large enclosure, they advanced midway through the fields to a spot which seemed a suitable one for Miss Patty's purpose. The brawling stream made a good foreground for the picture, which, on the one side, was shut in by a steep hill rising precipitously from the water's rough bed, and on the other side opened out into a mountainous landscape, having in the near view the ruined church of Lasthope, with the still more ruinous minister's house, a fir plantation, and a rude bridge; with a middle distance of bold, sheep-dotted hills; and for a background the "sow-backed" Cheviot itself.

Miss Patty had made her outline of this scene, and was preparing to wash it in, when, as her companion came up from the stream with a little tin can of water, he saw, to his equal terror and amazement, a huge bull of the most uninviting aspect stealthily approaching the seated figure of the unconscious young lady. Mr. Verdant Green looked hastily around and at once perceived the danger that menaced his fair friend. It was evident that the bull had come up from the further end of the large enclosure, the while they had been too occupied to observe his stealthy approach. No one was in sight save Charles Larkyns, who was too far off to be of any use. The nearest gate was about a hundred and fifty yards distant; and the bull was so placed that he could overtake them before they would be able to reach it. Overtake them!—yes! But suppose they separated? then, as the brute could not go two ways at once, there would be a chance for one of them to get through the gate in safety. Love, which induces people to take extraordinary steps, prompted Mr. Verdant Green to jump at a conclusion. He determined, with less display but more sincerity than melodramatic heroes, to save Miss Patty, or "perish in the attempt."

She was seated on the rising bank altogether ignorant of the presence of danger; and, as Verdant returned to her with the tin can of water, she received him with a happy smile, and a gush of pleasant small talk, which our hero immediately repressed by saying, "Don't be frightened—there is no danger—but there is a bull coming towards us. Walk quietly to that gate, and keep your face towards him as much as possible, and don't let him see that you are afraid of him. I will take off his attention till you are safe at the gate, and then I can wade through the stream and get out of his reach."

Miss Patty had at once sprung to her feet, and her smile had changed to a terrified expression. "Oh, but he will hurt you!" she cried; "do come with me. It is papa's bull Roarer; he is very savage. I can't think what brings him here—he is generally up at the bailiff's. Pray do come; I can take care of myself."

Miss Patty in her agitation and anxiety had taken hold of Mr. Verdant Green's hand; but, although the young gentleman would at any other time have very willingly allowed her to retain possession of it, on the present occasion he disengaged it from her clasp, and said, "Pray don't lose time, or it will be too late for both of us. I assure you that I can easily take care of myself. Now do go, pray; quietly, but quickly." So Miss Patty, with an earnest, searching gaze into her companion's face, did as he bade her, and retreated with her face to the foe.

In a few seconds, however, the object of her movement had dawned upon Mr. Roarer's dull understanding, upon which discovery he set up a bellow of fury, and stamped the ground in very undignified wrath. But, more than this, like a skilful general who has satisfactorily worked out the forty-seventh proposition of the First Book of Euclid, and knows therefrom that the square of the hypothenuse equals both that of the base and perpendicular, he unconsciously commenced the solution of the problem, by making a galloping charge in the direction of the gate to which Miss Patty was hastening. Thereupon, Mr. Verdant Green, perceiving the young lady's peril, deliberately ran towards Mr. Roarer, shouting and brandishing the sketch-book. Mr. Roarer paused in wonder and perplexity. Mr. Verdant Green shouted and advanced; Miss Patty steadily retreated. After a few moments of indecision Mr. Roarer abandoned his design of pursuing the petticoats, and resolved that the gentleman should be his first victim. Accordingly he sounded his trumpet for the conflict, gave another roar and a stamp, and then ran towards Mr. Verdant Green, who, having picked up a large stone, threw it dexterously into Mr. Roarer's face, which brought that broad-chested gentleman to a stand-still of astonishment and a search for the missile. Of this Mr. Verdant Green took advantage, and made a Parthian retreat. Glancing towards Miss Patty he saw that she was within thirty yards of the gate, and in a minute or two would be in safety—saved through his means!

A bellow from Mr. Roarer's powerful lungs prevented him for the present from pursuing this delightful theme. In another moment the bull charged, and Mr. Verdant Green—braced up, as it were, to energetic proceedings by the screams with which Miss Patty had now begun to shrilly echo Mr. Roarer's deep-mouthed bellowings—waited for his approach, and then, as the bull rushed on him—like a massive rock hurled forward by an avalanche—he leaped aside, nimble as a doubling hare. As he did so, he threw down his wide-awake, which the irate Mr. Roarer forthwith fell upon, and tossed, and tossed, and tore into shreds. By this time, Verdant had reached the bank of the Swirl; but before he could proceed further, the bull was upon him again. Verdant was prepared for this, and had taken off his coat. As the bull dashed heavily towards him, with head bent wickedly to the ground, Verdant again doubled, and, with the dexterity of a matador, threw his coat upon the horns. Blinded by this, Mr. Roarer's headlong career was temporarily checked; and it was three minutes before he had torn to shreds the imaginary body of his enemy; but this three minutes' pause was of very great importance, and in all probability prevented the memoirs of Mr. Verdant Green from coming to an untimely end at this portion of the narrative.

Miss Patty's continued screams had been signals of distress that had not only brought up Charles Larkyns, but four labourers also, who were working in a field within ear-shot. This corps de reserve ran up to the spot with all speed, shouting as they did so, in order to distract Mr. Roarer's attention. By this time Mr. Verdant Green had waded into the water, and was making the best of his way across the Swirl, in order that he might reach the precipitous hill to the right; up this he could scramble and bid defiance to Mr. Roarer. But there is many a slip 'tween cup and lip. Poor Verdant chanced to make a stepping-stone of a treacherous boulder, and fell headlong into the water; and ere he could regain his feet, the bull had plunged with a bellow into the stream, and was within a yard of his prostrate form, when—

When you may imagine Mr. Verdant Green's delight and Miss Patty Honeywood's thankfulness at seeing one of the labourers run into the stream, and strike the bull a heavy stroke with a sharp hoe, the pain of which wound caused Mr. Roarer to suddenly wheel round and engage with his new adversary, who followed up his advantage, and cut into his enemy with might and main. Then Charles Larkyns and the other three labourers came up, and the bull was prevented from doing an injury to any one until a farm-servant had arrived upon the scene with a strong halter, when Mr. Roarer, somewhat spent with wrath, and suffering from considerable depression of animal spirits, was conducted to the obscure retirement and littered ease of the bull-house.

This little adventure has been recorded here, inasmuch as from it was forged, by the hand of Cupid, a golden link in our hero's chain of fate; for to this occurrence Miss Patty attached no slight importance. She exalted Mr. Verdant Green's conduct on this occasion into an act of heroism worthy to be ranked with far more notable deeds of valour. She looked upon him as a Bayard who had chivalrously risked his life in the cause of—love, was it? or only of—a lady. Her gratitude, she considered, ought to be very great to one who had, at so great a venture, preserved her from so horrible a death. For that she would have been dreadfully gored, and would have lost her life, if she had not been rescued by Mr. Verdant Green, Miss Patty had most fully and unalterably decided—which, certainly, might have been the case.

At any rate, our hero had no reason to regret that portion of his life's drama in which Mr. Roarer had made his appearance.

  1. In north-Northumberland, farm-labourers are usually hired by the year—from Whitsunday to Whitsunday—and are paid mostly in kind,—so many bolls of oats, barley, and peas—so much flax and wheat—the keep of a cow, and the addition of a few pounds in money. Every hind or labourer is bound, in return for his house, to provide a woman-labourer to the farmer, for so much a day throughout the year—which is usually tenpence a day in summer, and eightpence in winter; and as it often happens that he has none of his own family fit for the work, he has to hire a woman, at large wages, to do it. As the demand is greater than the supply there is not always a strict inquiry into the "bondager's" character. As with the case of hop-pickers—whom these bondagers somewhat resemble both socially and morally—they are oftentimes the inhabitants of densely-populated towns, who are tempted to live a brief agricultural life, not so much from the temptation of the wages, as from the desire to pass a summer-time in the country.
  2. Thomas Aird.