The further adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford under-graduate/Chapter 10
MR. VERDANT GREEN ENJOYS A REAL CIGAR.
The Christmas vacation passed rapidly away; the Honeywood family returned to the far north; and, once more, Mr. Verdant Green found himself within the walls of Brazenface. He and Mr. Bouncer had together gone up to Oxford, leaving Charles Larkyns behind to keep a grace-term.
Charles Larkyns had determined to take a good degree. For some time past, he had been reading steadily; and, though only a few hours in each day may be given to books—yet, when that is done, with regularity and painstaking, a real and sensible progress is made. He knew that he had good abilities, and he had determined not to let them remain idle any longer, but to make that use of them for which they were given to him. His examination would come on during the next term; and he hoped to turn the interval to good account, and be able in the end to take a respectable degree. He was destined for the Bar; and, as he had no wish to be a briefless Barrister, he knew that college honours would be of great advantage to him in his after career. He, at once, therefore, set bodily to work to read up his subjects; while his father assisted him in his labours, and Mary Green smiled a kind approval.
Meanwhile, his friends, Mr. Verdant Green and Mr. Henry Bouncer, were enjoying Oxford life, and disporting themselves among the crowd of skaters in the Christ Church meadows. And a very different scene did the meadows present to the time when they had last skimmed over its surface. Then, the green fields were covered with sailing-boats, out-riggers, and punts, and Mr. Verdant Green had nearly come to an untimely end in the waters. But now the scene was changed! Jack Frost had stepped in, and had seized the flood in his frozen fingers, and had bound it up in an icy breast-plate.
And a capital place did the meadows make for any Undergraduate who was either a professed skater, or whose skating education (as in the case of our hero) had been altogether neglected. For the water was only of a moderate depth; so that, in the event of the ice giving way, there was nothing to fear beyond a slight and partial ducking. This was especially fortunate for Mr. Verdant Green, who, after having experienced total submersion and a narrow escape from drowning on that very spot, would never have been induced to again commit himself to the surface of the deep, had he not been fully convinced that the deep had now subsided into a shallow. With his breast fortified by this resolution, he therefore fell a victim to the syren tongue of Mr. Bouncer, when that gentleman observed to him with sincere feeling, "Giglamps, old fellow! it would be a beastly shame, when there's such jolly ice, if you did not learn to skate; especially, as I can show you the trick."
For, Mr. Bouncer was not only skilful with his hands and arms, but could also perform feats with his feet. He could not only dance quadrilles in dress boots in a ball-room, but he could also go through the figures on the ice in a pair of skates. He could do the outside edge at a more acute angle than the generality of people; he could cut figures of eight that were worthy of Cocker himself, he could display spread-eagles that would have astonished the Fellows of the Zoological Society. He could skim over the thinnest ice in the most don't-care way; and, when at full speed, would stoop to pick up a stone. He would take a hop-skip-and-a-jump; and would vault over walking-sticks, as easily as if he were on dry land,—an accomplishment which he had learnt of the Count Doembrownski, a Russian gentleman, who, in his own country, lived chiefly on skates, and, in this country, on pigeons, and whose short residence in Oxford was suddenly brought to a full stop by the arbitrary power of the Vice-Chancellor. So, Mr. Verdant Green was persuaded to purchase, and put on a pair of skates, and to make his first appearance as a skater in the Christ Church meadows, under the auspices of Mr. Bouncer.
The sensation of first finding yourself in a pair of skates is peculiar. It is not unlike the sensation which must have been felt by the young bear, when he was dropped from his mamma's mouth, and, for the first time, told to walk. The poor little bear felt, that it was all very well to say "walk,"—but how was he to do it? Was he to walk with his right fore-leg only? or, with his left fore-leg? or, with both his fore-legs? or, was he to walk with his right hind-leg? or, with his left hind-leg? or, with both his hind-legs? or, was he to make a combination of hind and fore-legs, and walk with all four at once? or, what was he to do? So he tried each of these ways; and they all failed. Poor little bear!
Mr. Verdant Green felt very much in the little bear's condition. He was undecided whether to skate with his right leg, or with his left leg, or with both his legs. He tried his right leg, and immediately it glided off at right angles with his body, while his left leg performed a similar and spontaneous movement in the contrary direction. Having captured his left leg, he put it cautiously forwards, and immediately it twisted under him, while his right leg amused itself by describing an altogether unnecessary circle. Obtaining a brief mastery over both legs, he put them forwards at the same moment, and they fled from beneath him, and he was flung—bump!—on his back. Poor little bear!
But, if it is hard to make a start in a pair of skates when you are in a perpendicular position, how much is the difficulty increased when your position has become a horizontal one! You raise yourself on your knees,—you assist yourself with your hands,—and, no sooner have you got one leg right, than away slides the other, and down you go. It is like the movement in that scene with the pair of short stilts, in which the French clowns are so amusing, and it is almost as difficult to perform. Mr. Verdant Green soon found that though he might be ambitious to excel in the polite accomplishment of skating, yet that his ambition was destined to meet with many a fall. But he persevered, and perseverance will achieve wonders, especially when aided by the tuition of such an indefatigable gentleman as Mr. Bouncer.
"You get on stunningly, Giglamps," said the little gentleman, "and hav'nt been on your beam ends more than once a minute. But I should advise you, old fellow, to get your sit-upons seated with wash-leather,—just like the eleventh hussars do with their cherry-coloured pants. It'll come cheaper in the end, and may be productive of comfort. And now, after all these exciting ups and downs, let us go and have a quiet hand at billiards." So the two friends strolled up the High, where they saw two Queensmen "confessing their shame," as Mr. Bouncer phrased it, by standing under the gateway of their college; and went on to Bickerton's, where they found all the tables occupied, and Jonathan playing a match with Mr. Fluke of Christchurch. So, after watching the celebrated marker long enough to inspire them with a desire to accomplish similar feats of dexterity, they continued their walk to Broad Street, and, turning up a yard opposite to the Clarendon, found that Betteris had an upstair room at liberty. Here they accomplished several pleasing mathematical problems with the balls, and contributed their modicum towards the smoking of the ceiling of the room.
Since Mr. Verdant Green had acquired the art of getting through a cigar without making himself ill, he had looked upon himself as a genuine smoker; and had, from time to time, bragged of his powers as regarded the fumigation of "the herb Nicotiana, commonly called tobacco," (as the Oxford statute tersely says). This was an amiable weakness on his part that had not escaped the observant eye of Mr. Bouncer, who had frequently taken occasion, in the presence of his friends, to defer to Mr. Verdant Green's judgment in the matter of cigars. The train of adulation being thus laid, an opportunity was only needed to fire it. It soon came.
"Once upon a time," as the story-books say, it chanced that Mr. Bouncer was consuming his minutes and cigars at his tobacconist's, when his eye lighted for the thousandth time on the roll of cabbage-leaves, brown paper, and refuse tobacco, which being done up into the form of a monster cigar (a foot long, and of proportionate thickness), was hung in the shop-window, and did duty as a truthful token of the commodity vended within. Mr. Bouncer had looked at this implement nine hundred and ninety nine times, without its suggesting anything else to his mind, than its being of the same class of art as the monster misrepresentations outside wild-beast shows; but he now gazed upon it with new sensations. In short, Mr. Bouncer took such a fancy to the thing, that he purchased it, and took it off to his rooms,—though he did not mention this fact to his friend, Mr. Verdant Green, when he saw him soon afterwards, and spoke to him of his excellent judgment in tobacco.
"A taste for smoke comes natural, Giglamps!" said Mr. Bouncer. "It's what you call a nascitur non fit; and, if you haven't the gift, why you can't purchase it. Now, you're a judge of smoke; it's a gift with you, don't you see; and you could no more help knowing a good weed from a bad one, than you could help waggling your tail if you were a baa-lamb."
Mr. Verdant Green bowed, and blushed, in acknowledgment of this delightful flattery.
"Now, there's old Footelights, you know; he's got an uncle, who's a governor, or some great swell, out in Barbadoes. Well, every now and then the old trump sends Footelights no end of a box of weeds; not common ones, you understand, but regular tip-toppers; but they're quite thrown away on poor Footelights, who'd think as much of cabbage-leaves as he would of real Havannahs, so he's always obliged to ask somebody else's opinion about them. Well, he's got a sample of a weed of a most terrific kind:—Magnifico Pomposo is the name;—no end uncommon, and at least a foot long. We don't meet with 'em in England because they're too expensive to import. Well, it would'nt do to throw away such a weed as this on any one; so, Footelights wants to have the opinion of a man who's really a judge of what a good weed is. I refused, because my taste has been rather out of order lately; and Billy Blades is in training for Henley, so he's obliged to decline; so I told him of you, Giglamps, and said, that if there was a man in Brazenface that could tell him what his Magnifico Pomposo was worth, that man was Verdant Green. Don't blush, old feller! you can't help having a fine judgment, you know; so don't be ashamed of it. Now, you must wine with me this evening; Footelights and some more men are coming; and we're all anxious to hear your opinion about these new weeds, because, if it's favourable we can club together, and import a box." Mr. Bouncer's victim, being perfectly unconscious of the trap laid for him, promised to come to the wine, and give his opinion on this weed of fabled size and merit.
When the evening and company had come, he was rather staggered at beholding the dimensions of the pseudo-cigar; but, rashly judging that to express surprise would be to betray ignorance, Mr. Verdant Green inspected the formidable monster with the air of a connoisseur, and smelt, pinched, and rolled his tongue round it, after the manner of the best critics. If this was a diverting spectacle to the assembled guests of Mr. Bouncer, how must the humour of the scene have been increased, when our hero, with great difficulty, lighted the cigar, and, with still greater difficulty, held it in his mouth, and endeavoured to smoke it! As Mr. Foote afterwards observed, "it was a situation for a screaming farce."
"It doesn't draw well!" faltered the victim, as the bundle of rubbish went out for the fourth time.
"Why, that's always the case with the Barbadoes baccy!" said Mr. Bouncer; "it takes a long pull, and a strong pull, and a pull all together to get it to make a start; but when once it does go, it goes beautiful—like a house a-fire. But you can't expect it to be like a common threepenny weed. Here! let me light him for you, Giglamps; I'll give the beggar a dig in his ribs, as a gentle persuader." Mr. Bouncer thereupon poked his pen-knife through the rubbish, and after a time induced it to "draw;" and Mr. Verdant Green pulled at it furiously, and made his eyes water with the unusual cloud of smoke that he raised.
"And now, what d'ye think of it, my beauty?" inquired Mr. Bouncer. "It's something out of the common, ain't it?"
"It has a beautiful ash!" observed Mr. Smalls.
"And diffuses an aroma that makes me long to defy the trainer, and smoke one like it!" said Mr. Blades.
"So pray give me your reading—at least, your opinion,—on my Magnifico Pomposo!" asked Mr. Foote.
"Well," answered Mr. Verdant Green, slowly—turning very pale as he spoke,—"at first, I thought it was be-yew-tiful; but, altogether, I think—that—the Barbadoes tobacco—doesn't quite—agree with—my stom—" the speaker abruptly concluded by dropping the cigar, putting his handkerchief to his mouth, and rushing into Mr. Bouncer's bedroom. The Magnifico Pomposo had been too much for him, and had produced sensations accurately interpreted by Mr. Bouncer, who forthwith represented in expressive pantomine, the actions of a distressed voyager, when he feebly murmurs "Steward!"
To atone for the "chaffing" which he had been the means of inflicting on his friend, the little gentleman, a few days afterwards, proposed to take our hero to the Chipping Norton Steeple-chase,—Mr. Smalls and Mr. Fosbrooke making up the quartet for a tandem. It was on their return from the races, that, after having stopped at The Bear at Woodstock, "to wash out the horses' mouths," and having done this so effectually that the horses had appeared to have no mouths left, and had refused to answer the reins, and had smashed the cart against a house, which had seemed to have danced into the middle of the road for their diversion,—and, after having put back to The Bear, and prevailed upon that animal to lend them a nondescript vehicle of the "pre-adamite buggy" species, described by Sidney Smith,—that, much time having been consumed by the progress of this chapter of accidents, they did not reach Peyman's Gate until a late hour; and Mr. Verdant Green found that he was once more in difficulties. For they had no sooner got through the gate, than the wild octaves from Mr. Bouncer's post-horn were suddenly brought to a full stop, and Mr. Fosbrooke, who was the "waggoner," was brought to Woh! and was compelled to pull up in obedience to the command of the proctor, who, as on a previous occasion, suddenly appeared from behind the toll-house, in company with his marshall and bull-dogs.
The Sentence pronounced on our hero the next day, was, "Sir!—You will translate all your lectures; have your name crossed on the buttery and kitchen books; and be confined to chapel, hall, and college."
This sentence was chiefly annoying, inasmuch as it somewhat interfered with the duties and pleasures attendant upon his boating practice. For, wonderful to relate, Mr. Verdant Green had so much improved in the science, that he was now "Number 3" of his college "Torpid," and was in hard training. The Torpid races commenced on March 10th, and were continued on the following days. Our hero sent his father a copy of "Tintinnabulum's Life," which—after informing the Manor Green family that "the boats took up positions in the following order: Brazenose, Exeter 1, Wadham, Balliol, St. John's, Pembroke, University, Oriel, Brazenface, Christ Church 1, Worcester, Jesus, Queen's, Christ Church 2, Exeter 2"—proceeded to enter into particulars of each day's sport, of which it is only necessary to record such as gave interest to our hero's family.
"First day. * * * Brazenface refused to acknowledge the bump by Christ Church (1) before they came to the Cherwell. There is very little doubt but that they were bumped at the Gut and the Willows. * * *
"Second day. * * * Brazenface rowed pluckily away from Worcester. * * *
"Third day. * * * A splendid race between Brazenface and Worcester; and, at the flag, the latter were within a foot; they did not, however, succeed in bumping. The cheering from the Brazenface barge was vociferous. * * *
"Fourth day. * * * Worcester was more fortunate, and succeeded in making the bump at the Cherwell, in consequence of No. 3 of the Brazenface boat fainting from fatigue."
Under "No. 3" Mr. Verdant Green had drawn a pencil line, and had written "V. G." He shortly after related to his family the gloomy particulars of the bump, when he returned home for the Easter vacation.