Mr. Verdant Green Married and Done for/Chapter 9
MR. VERDANT GREEN ASKS PAPA.
ISS MORKIN met with her reward before many hours. The pic-nic party were on their way home, and had reached within a short distance of the inn where their wagons had to be exchanged for carriages. It has been mentioned that, among the difficulties of the way, they had to drive through bridgeless brooks; and one of these was not half-a-mile distant from the inn.
It happened that the mild Mr. Poletiss was seated at the tail end of the wagon, next to the fair Miss Morkin, who was laying violent siege to him, with a battery of words, if not of charms. If the position of Mr. Poletiss, as to deliverance from his fair foe, was a difficult one, his position, as to maintaining his seat during the violent throes and tossings to and fro of the wagon, was even more difficult; for Mr. Poletiss's mildness of voice was surpassed by his mildness of manner, and he was far too timid to grasp at the side of the wagon by placing his arm behind the fair Miss Morkin, lest it should be supposed that he was assuming the privileged position of a partner in a valse. Mr. Poletiss, therefore, whenever they jolted through ruts or brooks, held on to his hay hassock, and preserved his equilibrium as best he could.
On the same side of the wagon, but at its upper and safer end, was seated Mr. Bouncer, who was not slow to perceive that a very slight accident would destroy Mr. Poletiss's equilibrium; and the little gentleman's fertile brain speedily concocted a plan, which he forthwith communicated to Miss Fanny Green, who sat next to him. It was this:—that when they were plunging through the brook, and every one was swaying to and fro, and was thrown off their balance, Mr. Bouncer should take advantage of the critical moment, and (by accident, of course!) give Miss Fanny Green a heavy push; this would drive her against her next neighbour, Miss Patty Honeywood; who, from the recoil, would literally be precipitated into the arms of Mr. Verdant Green, who would be pushed against Miss Letitia Jane Morkin, who would be driven against her sister, who would be propelled against Mr. Poletiss, and thus give him that coup de grace, which, as Mr. Bouncer hoped, would have the effect of quietly tumbling him out of the wagon, and partially ducking him in the brook. "It won't hurt him," said the little gentleman; "it'll do him good. The brook ain't deep, and a bath will be pleasant such a day as this. He can dry his clothes at the inn, and get some steaming toddy, if he's afraid of catching cold. And it will be such a lark to see him in the water. Perhaps Miss Morkin will take a header, and plunge in to save him; and he will promise her his hand, and a medal from the Humane Society! The wagon will be sure to give a heavy lurch as we come up out of the brook, and what so natural as that we should all be jolted against each other?" It is not necessary to state whether or no Miss Fanny Green seconded or opposed Mr. Bouncer's motion; suffice it to say that it was carried out.
They had reached the brook. Miss Morkin was exclaiming, "Oh, dear! here's another of those dreadful brooks—the last, I hope, for I always feel so timid at water, and I never bathe at the sea-side without shutting my eyes and being pushed into it by the old woman—and, my goodness! here we are, and I feel convinced that we shall all be thrown in by those dreadful wagoners, who are quite tipsy I'm sure—don't you think so, Mr. Poletiss?"
But, ere Mr. Poletiss could meekly respond, the horses had been quickened into a trot, the wagon had gone down into the brook—through it—and was bounding up the opposite side—everybody was holding tightly to anything that came nearest to hand—when, at that fatal moment, little Mr. Bouncer gave the preconcerted push, which was passed on, unpremeditatedly, from one to another, until it had gained its electrical climax in the person of Miss Morkin, who, with a shriek, was propelled against Mr. Poletiss, and gave the necessary momentum that toppled him from the wagon into the brook. But, dreadful to relate, Mr. Bouncer's practical joke did not terminate at this fixed point. Mr. Poletiss, in the suddenness of his fall, naturally struck out at any straw that might save him; and the straw that he caught was the dress of Miss Morkin. She being at that moment off her balance, and the wagon moving rapidly at an angle of 45°, was unable to save herself from following the example of Mr. Poletiss, and she also toppled over into the brook. A third victim would have been added to Mr. Bouncer's list, had not Mr. Verdant Green, with considerable presence of mind, plucked Miss Letitia Jane Morkin from the violent hands that her sister was laying upon her, in making the same endeavours after safety that had been so futilely employed by the luckless Mr. Poletiss.
No sooner had he fallen with a splash into the brook, than Miss Eleonora Morkin was not only after but upon him. This was so far fortunate for the lady, that it released her with only a partial wetting, and she speedily rolled from off her submerged companion on to the shore; but it rendered the ducking of Mr. Poletiss a more complete one, and he scrambled from the brook, dripping and heavy with wet, like an old ewe emerging from a sheep-shearing tank. The wagon had been immediately stopped, and Mr. Bouncer and the other gentlemen had at once sprung down to Miss Morkin's assistance. Being thus surrounded by a male body-guard, the young lady could do no less than go into hysterics, and fall into the nearest gentleman's arms, and as this gentleman was little Mr. Bouncer he was partially punished for his practical joke. Indeed, he afterwards declared that a severe cold which troubled him for the next fortnight was attributable to his having held in his arms the damp form of the dishevelled naiad. On her recovery—which was effected by Mr. Bouncer giving way under his burden, and lowering it to the ground—she utterly refused to be again carried in the wagon; and, as walking was perhaps better for her under the circumstances, she and Mr. Poletiss were escorted in procession to the inn hard by, where dry changes of costume were provided for them by the landlord and his fair daughter.
As this little misadventure was believed by all, save the privileged few, to have been purely the result of accident, it was not permitted, so Mr. Bouncer said, to do as Miss Morkin had done by him—throw a damp upon the party; and as the couple who had taken a watery bath met with great sympathy, they had no reason to complain of the incident. Especially had the fair Miss Morkin cause to rejoice therein, for the mild Mr. Poletiss had to make her so many apologies for having been the innocent cause of her fall, and, as a reparation, felt bound to so particularly devote himself to her for the remainder of the evening, that Miss Morkin was in the highest state of feminine gratification, and observed to her sister, when they were preparing themselves for rest, "I am quite sure, Letitia Jane, that the gipsy woman spoke the truth, and could read the stars and whatdyecallems as easy as a b c. She told me that I should be married to a man with light whiskers and a soft voice, and that he would come to me from over the water; and it's quite evident that she referred to Mr. Poletiss and his falling into the brook; and I'm sure if he'd have had a proper opportunity he'd have said something definite to-night." So Miss Eleonora Morkin laid her head upon her pillow, and dreamt of bride-cake and wedding-favours. Perhaps another young lady under the same roof was dreaming the same thing!
A ball at Honeywood Hall terminated the pleasures of the day. The guests had brought with them a change of garments, and were therefore enabled to make their reappearance in evening costume. This quiet interval for dressing was the first moment that Verdant could secure for sitting down by himself to think over the events of the day. As yet the time was too early for him to reflect calmly on the step he had taken. His brain was in that kind of delicious stupor which we experience when, having been aroused from sleep, we again shut our eyes for a moment's doze. Past, present, and future were agreeably mingled in his fancies. One thought quickly followed upon another; there was no dwelling upon one special point, but a succession of crowding feelings chased rapidly through his mind, all pervaded by that sunny hue that shines out from the knowledge of love returned.
He could not rest until he had told his sister Mary, and made her a sharer in his happiness. He found her just without the door, strolling up and down the drive with Charles Larkyns, so he joined them; and, as they walked in the pleasant cool of the evening down a shady walk, he stammered out to them, with many blushes, that Patty Honeywood had promised to be his wife.
"Cousin Patty is the very girl for you!" said Charles Larkyns, "the very best choice you could have made. She will trim you up and keep you tight, as old Tennyson hath it. For what says 'the fat-faced curate Edward Bull?'
" 'I take it, God made the woman for the man
And for the good and increase of the world.
A pretty face is well, and this is well,
To have a dame indoors, that trims us up
And keeps us tight.'
"Verdant, you are a lucky fellow to have won the love of such a good and honest-hearted girl, and if there is any room left to mould you into a better fellow than what you are, Miss Patty is the very one for the modeller."
At the same time that he was thus being congratulated on his good fortune and happy prospects, Miss Patty was making a similar confession to her mother and sister, and receiving the like good wishes. And it is probable that Mrs. Honeywood made no delay in communicating this piece of family news to her liege lord and master; for when, half an hour afterwards, Mr. Verdant Green had screwed up his courage sufficiently to enable him to request a private interview with Mr. Honeywood in the library, the Squire most humanely relieved him from a large load of embarrassment, and checked the hems and hums and haws that our hero was letting off like squibs, to enliven his conversation, by saying, "I think I guess the nature of your errand—to ask my consent to your engagement with my daughter Martha? Am I right?"
And so, by this grateful helping of a very lame dog over a very difficult stile, the diplomatic relations and circumlocutions that are usually observed at horrible interviews of this description were altogether avoided, and the business was speedily brought to a satisfactory termination.
When Mr. Verdant Green issued from the library, he felt himself at least ten years older and a much more important person than when he had entered it, so greatly is our bump of self-esteem increased by the knowledge that there is a being in existence who holds us dearer than aught else in the whole wide world. But not even a misogynist would have dared to assert that, in the present instance, love was but an excess of self-love; for if ever there was a true attachment that honestly sprang from the purest feelings of the heart, it was that which existed between Miss Patty Honeywood and Mr. Verdant Green.
What need to dwell further on the daily events of that happy time? What need to tell how the several engagements of the two Miss Honeywoods were made known, and how, with Miss Mary Green and Mr. Charles Larkyns, there were thus three bonâ fide "engaged couples" in the house at the same time, to say nothing of what looked like an embryo engagement between Miss Fanny Green and Mr. Bouncer? But if this last-named attachment should come to anything, it would probably be owing to the severe aggravation which the little gentleman felt on continually finding himself de trop at some scene of tender sentiment.
If, for example, he entered the library, its tenants, perhaps, would be Verdant and Patty, who would be discovered, with agitated expressions, standing or sitting at intervals of three yards, thereby endeavouring to convey to the spectator the idea that those positions had been relatively maintained by them up to the moment of his entering the room, an idea which the spectator invariably rejected. When Mr. Bouncer had retired with figurative Eastern apologies from the library, he would perhaps enter the drawing-room, there to find that Frederick Delaval and Miss Kitty Honeywood had sprung into remote positions (as certain bodies rebound upon contact), and were regarding him as an unwelcome intruder. Thence, with more apologies, he would betake himself to the breakfast-room, to see what was going on in that quarter, and there he would flush a third brace of betrotheds, a proceeding that was not much sport to either party. It could hardly be a matter of surprise, therefore, if Mr. Bouncer should be seized with the prevailing epidemic, and, from the circumstances of his position, should be driven more than he might otherwise have been into Miss Fanny Green's society. And though the little gentleman had no serious intentions in all this, yet it seemed highly probable that something might come of it, and that Mr. Alfred Brindle (whose attentions at the Christmas charade-party at the Manor Green had been of so marked a character) would have to resign his pretensions to Miss Fanny Green's hand in favour of Mr. Henry Bouncer.
But it is needless to describe the daily lives of these betrothed couples—how they rode, and sketched, and walked, and talked, and drove, and fished, and shot, and visited, and pic-nic'd—how they went out to sea in Frederick Delaval's yacht, and were overtaken by rough weather, and became so unromantically ill that they prayed to be put on shore again—how, on a chosen day, when the sea was as calm as a duckpond, they sailed from Bamborough to the Longstone, and nevertheless took provisions with them for three days, because, if storms should arise, they might have found it impossible to put back from the island to the shore; but how, nevertheless, they were altogether fortunate, and had not to lengthen out their pic-nic to such an uncomfortable extent—and how they went over the Lighthouse, and talked about the brave and gentle Grace Darling; and how that handsome, grey-headed old man, her father, showed them the presents that had been sent to his daughter by Queen, and Lords, and Commons, in token of her deed of daring; and how he was garrulous about them and her, with the pardonable pride of a
"fond old man,
Fourscore and upward,"
who had been the father of such a daughter. It is needless to detail all this; let us rather pass to the evening of the day preceding that which should see the group of visitors on their way back to Warwickshire.
Mr. Verdant Green and Miss Patty Honeywood have been taking a farewell after-dinner stroll in the garden, and have now wandered into the deserted breakfast-room, under the pretence of finding a water-colour drawing of Honeywood Hall, that the young lady had made for our hero.
"Now, you must promise me," she said to him, "that you will take it to Oxford."
"Certainly, if I go there again. But"—
"But, sir! but I thought you had promised to give up to me on that point. You naughty boy! if you already break your promises in this way, who knows but what you will forget your promise to remember me when you have gone away from here?"
Mr. Verdant Green here did what is usual in such cases. He kissed the young lady, and said, "You silly little woman! as though I could forget you!" et cetera, et cetera.
"Ah! I don't know," said Miss Patty.
Mr. Verdant Green repeated the kiss and the et ceteras.
"Very well, then, I'll believe you," at length said Miss Patty. "But I won't love you one bit unless you'll faithfully promise that you will go back to Oxford. Whatever would be the use of your giving up your studies?"
"A great deal of use; we could be married at once."
"Oh no, we couldn't. Papa is quite firm on this point. You know that he thinks us much too young to be married."
"But," pleaded our hero, "if we are old enough to fall in love, surely we must be old enough to be married."
"Oxford logic again, I suppose," laughed Miss Patty, "but it won't persuade papa, nevertheless. I am not quite nineteen, you know, and papa has always said that I should never be married until I was one-and-twenty. By that time you will have done with college and taken your degree, and I should so like to know that you have passed all your examinations, and are a Bachelor of Arts."
"But," said Verdant, "I don't think I shall be able to pass. Examinations are very nervous affairs, and suppose I should be plucked. You wouldn't like to marry a man who had disgraced himself."
"Do you see that picture?" asked Miss Patty; and she directed Verdant's attention to a small but exquisite oil-painting by Maclise. It was in illustration of one of Moore's melodies, "Come, rest in this bosom, my own stricken deer!" The lover had fallen upon one knee at his mistress's feet, and was locked in her embrace. With a look of fondest love she had pillowed his head upon her bosom, as if to assure him, "Though the herd have all left thee, thy home it is here."
"Do you see that picture?" asked Miss Patty. "I would do as she did. If all others rejected you yet would I never. You would still find your home here," and she nestled fondly to his side.
"But," she said, after one of those delightful pauses which lovers know so well how to fill up, "you must not conjure up such silly fancies. Charles has often told me how easily you passed your—Little-go, isn't it called?—and he says you will have no trouble in obtaining your degree."
"But two years is such a tremendous time to wait," urged our hero, who, like all lovers, was anxious to crown his happiness without much delay.
"If you are resolved to think it long," said Miss Patty; "but it will enable you to tell whether you really like me. You might, you know, marry in haste, and then have to repent at leisure."
And the end of this conversation was, that the fair special-pleader gained her cause, and that Mr. Verdant Green consented to return to Oxford, and not to dream of marriage until two years had passed over his head.
The next night he slept at the Manor Green, Warwickshire.