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The further adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford under-graduate/Chapter 3

< The further adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford under-graduate


CHAPTER III.

MR. VERDANT GREEN ENDEAVOURS TO KEEP HIS SPIRITS UP BY POURING SPIRITS DOWN.

It was the evening of the fifth of November; the day which the Protestant youth of England dedicate to the memory of that martyr of gunpowder, the firework Faux, and which the youth of Oxford, by a three months' anticipation of the calendar, devote to the celebration of those scholastic sports for which the day of St. Scholastica the Virgin was once so famous. [1]

Rumour with its hundred tongues had spread far and wide the news, that a more than ordinary demonstration would be made of the might of Town, and that this demonstration would be met by a corresponding increase of prowess on the side of Gown. It was darkly whispered that the purlieus of Jericho would send forth champions to the fight. It was mentioned that the Parish of St. Thomas would be powerfully represented by its Bargee lodgers. It was confidently reported that St. Aldate's [2] would come forth in all its olden strength. It was told as a fact that St. Clement's had departed from the spirit of clemency, and was up in arms. From an early hour of the evening, the Townsmen had gathered in threatening groups; and their determined aspect, and words of chaff, had told of the coming storm. It was to be a tremendous Town and Gown!

The Poet has forcibly observed—


"Strange that there should such diff'rence be,
'Twixt Tweedledum and Tweedledee!"


But the difference between Town and Gown, is not to be classed with the Tweedledum and Tweedledee difference. It is something more than a mere difference of two letters. The lettered Gown lorded it over the unlettered Town: the plebeian Town was perpetually snubbed by the aristocratic Gown. If Gown even wished to associate with Town, he could only do so under certain restrictions imposed by the statutes; and Town was thus made to feel exceedingly honoured by the gracious condescension of Gown. But Town, moreover, maintained its existence, that it might contribute to the pleasure and amusements, the needs and necessities, of Gown. And very expensively was Town occasionally made to pay for its existence; so expensively indeed, that if it had not been for the great interest which Town assumed on Gown's account, the former's business-life would have soon failed. But, on many accounts, or rather, in many accounts, Gown was deeply indebted to Town; and, although Gown was often loth to own the obligation, yet Town never forgot it, but always placed it to Gown's credit. Occasionally, in his early freshness, Gown would seek to compensate Town for his obliging favours; but Town would gently run counter to this wish, and preferred that the evidences of Gown's friendly intercourse with him should accumulate, until he could, with renewed interest (as we understand from the authority of an aged pun), obtain his payments by Degrees.

When Gown was absent, Town was miserable: it was dull; it did nothing; it lost its customer-y application to business. When Gown returned, there was no small change,—the benefit was a sovereign one to Town. Notes, too, passed between them; of which, those received by Town were occasionally of intrinsic value. Town thanked Gown for these,—even thanked him when his civility had only been met by checks,—and smirked, and fawned, and flattered; and Gown patronised Town, and was offensively condescending. What a relief then must it have been to the pent-up feelings of Town, when the Saturnalia of a Guy-Faux day brought its usual license, and Town could stand up against Gown and try a game of fisticuffs! And if, when there was a cry "To arms!" we could always settle the dispute in an English fashion with those arms with which we have been supplied by nature, there would then, perhaps, be fewer weeping widows and desolate orphans in the world than there are just at present.

On the evening of the fifth of November, then, Mr. Bouncer's rooms were occupied by a wine-party; and, among the gentlemen assembled, we noticed (as newspaper reporters say), Mr. Verdant Green, Mr. Charles Larkyns, Mr. Fosbrooke, Mr. Smalls, and Mr. Blades. The table was liberally supplied with wine; and a "desert at eighteen-pence per head,"—as Mr. Bouncer would afterwards be informed through the medium of his confectioner's bill;—and, while an animated conversation was being held on the expected Town and Gown, the party were fortifying themselves for the émeute by a rapid consumption of the liquids before them. Our hero, and some of the younger ones of the party, who had not yet left off their juvenile likings, were hard at work at the dessert in that delightful, disregardless-of-dyspepsia manner, in which boys so love to indulge, even when they have passed into University men. As usual, the bouquet of the wine was somewhat interfered with by those narcotic odours, which, to a smoker, are as the gales of Araby the Blest.

Mr. Blades was conspicuous among the party, not only from his dimensions,—or, as he phrased it, from "his breadth of beam,"—but also from his free-and-easy costume. "To get himself into wind," as he alleged, Mr. Blades had just been knocking the wind out of the Honourable Flexible Shanks (youngest son of the Earl of Buttonhole), a Tuft from Christ Church, who had left his luxurious rooms in the Canterbury Quad chiefly for the purpose of preparing himself for the forthcoming Town and Gown, by putting on the gloves with his boating friend. The bout having terminated by Mr. Flexible Shanks having been sent backwards into a tray of wine-glasses with which Mr. Filcher was just entering the room, the gloves were put aside, and the combatants had an amicable set-to at a bottle of Carbonell's "Forty-four," which Mr. Bouncer brought out of a wine-closet in his bedroom for their especial delectation. Mr. Blades, who was of opinion that, in dress, ease should always be consulted before elegance, had not resumed that part of his attire of which he had divested himself for fistianic purposes; and, with a greater display of linen than is usually to be seen in society, was seated comfortably in a lounging chair, smoking the pipe of peace. Since he had achieved the proud feat of placing the Brazenface boat at the head of the river, Mr. Blades had gained increased renown, more especially in his own college, where he was regarded in the light of a tutelary river deity; and, as training was not going on, he was now enabled to indulge in a second glass of wine, and also in the luxury of a cigar. Mr. Blades's shirt-sleeves were turned up so as to display the anatomical proportion of his arms; and little Mr. Bouncer, with the grave aspect of a doctor feeling a pulse, was engaged in fingering his deltoid and biceps muscles, and in uttering panegyrics on his friend's torso-of-Hercules condition.

"My gum, Billy!" (it must be observed, en passant, that, although the name given to Mr. Blades at an early age was Frank, yet that when he was not called "old Blades," he was always addressed as "Billy,"—it being a custom which has obtained in universities, that wrong names should be familiarly given to certain gentlemen, more as a mark of friendly intimacy than of derision or caprice.) "My gum, Billy!" observed Mr. Bouncer, "you're as hard as nails! What an extensive assortment of muscles you've got on hand,—to say nothing about the arms. I wish I'd got such a good stock in trade for our customers to-night; I'd soon sarve 'em out, and make 'em sing peccavi."

"The fact is," said Mr. Flexible Shanks, who was leaning smoking against the mantelpiece behind him, "Billy is like a respectable family of bivalves—he is nothing but mussels."

"Or like an old Turk," joined in Mr. Bouncer, "for he's a regular Mussulman."

"Oh! Shanks! Bouncer!" cried Charles Larkyns, "what stale jokes! Do open the window, somebody,—it's really offensive."

"Ah!" said Mr. Blades, modestly, "you only just wait till Footelights brings the Pet, and then you'll see real muscles."

"It was rather a good move," said Mr. Cheke, a gentleman commoner of Corpus, who was lounging in an easy chair smoking a meerschaum through an elastic tube a yard long,—"it was rather a good move of yours, Fossy," he said, addressing himself to Mr. Four-in-hand Fosbrooke, "to secure the Pet's services. The feller will do us some service, and will astonish the oi polloi no end."

"Oh! how prime it will be," cried little Mr. Bouncer, in ecstacies with the prospect before him, "to see the Pet pitching into the cads, and walking into their small affections with his one, two, three! And don't I just pity them when he gets them into Chancery! Were you ever in Chancery, Giglamps?"

"No, indeed!" replied the innocent Mr. Verdant Green; "and I hope that I shall always keep out of it; lawsuits are so very disagreeable and expensive."


Mr. Bouncer had only time to remark sotto voce to Mr. Flexible Shanks, "it is so jolly refreshing to take a rise out of old Giglamps!" when a knock at the oak was heard; and, as Mr. Bouncer roared out, "Come in!" the knocker entered. He was rather dressy in his style of costume, and wore his long dark hair parted in the middle. Opening the door, and striking into an attitude, he exclaimed in a theatrical tone and manner: "Scene, Mr. Bouncer's rooms in Brazenface: in the centre a table, at which Mr. B. and party are discovered drinking log-juice, and smoking cabbage-leaves. Door, left, third entrance; enter the Putney Pet. Slow music; lights half-down." And standing on one side, the speaker motioned to a second gentleman to enter the room.


Pg 172 - Mr Verdant Green.png


There was no mistaking the profession of this gentleman; even the inexperience of Mr. Verdant Green did not require to be informed that the Putney Pet was a prizefighter. "Bruiser" was plainly written in his personal appearance, from his hard-featured, low-browed, battered, hang-dog face, to his thickset frame, and the powerful muscular development of the upper part of his person. His close-cropped thatch of hair was brushed down tightly to his head, but was permitted to burst into the luxuriance of two small ringlets, which dangled in front of each huge ear, and were as carefully curled and oiled as though they had graced the face of beauty. The Pet was attired in a dark olive-green cutaway coat, buttoned over a waistcoat of a violent-coloured plaid,—a pair of white cord trousers that fitted tightly to the leg,—and a white-spotted blue handkerchief, which was twisted round a neck that might have served as a model for the Minotaur's. In his mouth, the Pet cherished, according to his wont, a sprig of parsley; small fragments of which herb he was accustomed to chew and spit out, as a pleasing relief to the monotony of conversation.

The Pet, after having been proclaimed victor in more than one of those playfully frolicsome "Frolics of the Fancy," in which nobly born but ignobly-minded "Corinthians" formerly invested so much interest and money, had at length matched his powers against the gentleman who bore the title of "the champion of the ring;" but, after a protracted contest of two hours and a half, in which one hundred and nineteen rounds had been fought, the Pet's eyes had been completely closed up by an amusing series of blows from the heavy fists of the more skilful champion; and as the Pet, moreover, was so battered and bruised, and was altogether so "groggy" that he was barely able to stand up to be knocked down, his humane second had thrown up the sponge in acknowledgment of his defeat. But though unable to deprive the champion of his belt, yet—as Tintinnabulum's Life informed its readers on the following Sunday, in its report of this "matchless encounter,"—the Putney Pet had "established a reputation;" and a reputation is a reputation, even though it be one which may be offensive to the nostrils. Retiring, therefore, from the more active public-duties of his profession, he took unto himself a wife and a beershop,—for it seems to be a freak of "the Fancy," when they retire from one public line to go into another,—and placing the former in charge of the latter, the Pet came forth to the world as a "Professor of the noble art of Self-defence."

It was in this phase of his existence, that Mr. Fosbrooke had the pleasure of forming his acquaintance. Mr. Fosbrooke had received a card, which intimated that the Pet would have great pleasure in giving him "lessons in the noble and manly art of Self-defence, either at the gentleman's own residence, or at the Pet's spacious Sparring Academy, 5, Cribb Court, Drury Lane, which is fitted up with every regard to the comfort and convenience of his pupils. Gloves are provided. N.B.—Ratting sports at the above crib every evening. Plenty of rats always on hand. Use of the Pit gratis." Mr. Fosbrooke, having come to the wise conclusion that every Englishman ought to know how to be able to use his fists in case of need, and being quite of the opinion of the gentleman who said:—"my son should even learn to box, for do we not meet with imposing toll-keepers, and insolent cabmen? and, as he can't call them out, he should be able to knock them down," [3] at once put himself under the Pet's tuition; and, as we have before seen, still kept up his practice with the gloves, when he had got to his own rooms at Brazenface.

But the Pet had other Oxford pupils than Mr. Fosbrooke; and he took such an affectionate interest in their welfare, that he came down from Town two or three times in each term, to see if his pupils' practice had made them perfect in the art. One of the Pet's pupils, was the gentleman who had now introduced him to Mr. Bouncer's rooms. His name was Foote, but he was commonly called "Footelights;" the addition having been made to his name by way of sobriquet to express his unusual fondness for the stage, which amounted to so great a passion, that his very conversation was redolent of "the footlights." He had only been at St. John's a couple of terms, and Mr. Fosbrooke had picked up his acquaintance through the medium of the Pet, and had afterwards made him known to most of the men who were now assembled at Mr. Bouncer's wine.

"Your servant, gents!" said the Pet, touching his forehead, and making a scrape with his leg, by way of salutation.

"Hullo, Pet!" returned Mr. Bouncer; "bring yourself to an anchor, my man." The Pet accordingly anchored himself by dropping on to the edge of a chair, and placing his hat underneath it; while Huz and Buz smelt suspiciously round his legs, and looked at him with an expression of countenance which bore a wonderful resemblance to that which they gazed upon.

"Never mind the dogs; they're amiable little beggars," observed Mr. Bouncer, "and they never bite any one except in play. Now then, Pet, what sort of liquors are you given to? Here are Claret liquors, Port liquors, Sherry liquors, egg-flip liquors, Cup liquors. You pays your money, and you takes your choice!"

"Well, sir, thankee!" replied the Pet, "I ain't no ways pertikler, but if you have sich a thing as a glass o' sperrits, I'd prefer that—if not objectionable."

"In course not, Pet! always call for what you like. We keep all sorts of liquors, and are allowed to get drunk on the premises. Ain't we, Giglamps?" Firing this raking shot as he passed our hero, little Mr. Bouncer dived into the cupboard which served as his wine-bin, and brought therefrom two bottles of brandy and whiskey which he set before the Pet. "If you like gin or rum, or cherry-brandy, or old-tom, better than these liquors," said Mr. Bouncer, astonishing the Pet with the resources of a College wine-cellar, "just say the word, and you shall have them. 'I can call spirits from the vasty deep;' as Shikspur says. How will you take it, Pet? Neat, or adulterated? Are you for callidum cum, or frigidum sine—for hot-with, or cold-without?"

"I generally takes my sperrits 'ot, sir—if not objectionable;" replied the Pet deferentially. Whereupon Mr. Bouncer seizing his speaking-trumpet, roared through it from the top of the stairs, "Rob-ert! Rob-ert!" But, as Mr. Filcher did not answer the summons, Mr. Bouncer threw up the window of his room, and bellowed out "Rob-ert" in tones which must have been perfectly audible in the High Street. "Doose take the feller, he's always over at the Buttery;" said the incensed gentleman.

"I'll go up to old Sloe's room, and get his kettle," said Mr. Smalls; "he teas all day long to keep himself awake for reading. If he don't mind, he'll blow himself up with his gunpowder tea before he can take his double-first."

By the time Mr. Smalls had re-appeared with the kettle, Mr. Filcher had thought it prudent to answer his master's summons.

"Did you call, sir?" asked the Scout, as though he was doubtful on that point.

"Call!" said Mr. Bouncer, with great irony; "oh, no! of course not! I should rather think not! Do you suppose that you are kept here that parties may have the chance of hollering out their lungs for you? Don't answer me, sir! but get some hot water, and some more glasses; and be quick about it." Mr. Filcher was gone immediately; and, in three minutes, everything was settled to Mr. Bouncer's satisfaction, and he gave Mr. Filcher farther orders to bring up coffee and anchovy toast, at half-past eight o'clock. "Now, Pet, my beauty!" said the little gentleman, "you just walk into the liquors; because you've got some toughish work before you, you know."

The Pet did not require any pressing, but did as he was told; and, bestowing a collective nod on the company, drank their healths with the prefatory remark, "I looks to-wards you gents!"

"Will you poke a smipe, Pet?" asked Mr. Bouncer, rather enigmatically; but, as he at the same time placed before the Pet a "yard of clay" and a box of cigars, the professor of the art of self-defence perceived that he was asked to smoke a pipe.

"That's right, Pet!" said the Honourable Flexible Shanks, condescendingly, as the prizefighter scientifically filled the bowl of his pipe; "I'm glad to see you join us in a bit of smoke. We're all Baccy-nalians now!"

"Shanks, you're incorrigible!" said Charles Larkyns; "and don't you remember what the Oxford Parodies say?" and, in his clear, rich voice, Mr. Larkyns sang the two following verses to the air of "Love not:"—


Smoke not, smoke not, your weeds nor pipes of clay!
Cigars they are made from leaves of cauliflowers;—
Things that are doomed no duty e'er to pay;—
Grown, made, and smoked in a few short hours.

Smoke not—smoke not!



Smoke not, smoke not, the weed you smoke may change
The healthfulness of your stomachic tone;
Things to the eye grow queer and passing strange;
All thoughts seem undefined—save one—to be alone!

Smoke not—smoke not!


"I know what you're thinking about, Giglamps," said Mr. Bouncer, as Charles Larkyns ceased his parody amid an approving clatter of glasses; "you were thinking of your first weed on the night of Small's quiet party: wer'nt you now, old feller? Ah, you've learnt to poke a smipe, beautiful, since then. Pet, here's your health. I'll give you a toast and sentiment, gentlemen. May the Gown give the Town a jolly good hiding!" The sentiment was received with great applause, and the toast was drunk with all the honours, and followed by the customary but inappropriate chorus, "For he's a jolly good fellow!" without the singing of which Mr. Bouncer could not allow any toast to pass.

"How many cads could you lick at once, one off and the other on?" asked Mr. Fosbrooke of the Pet, with the air of Boswell when he wanted to draw out the Doctor.

"Well, sir," said the Pet, with the modesty of true genius, "I wouldn't be pertickler to a score or so, as long as I'd got my back well up agin some'ut, and could hit out."

"What an effective tableau it would be!" observed Mr. Foote, who had always an eye to dramatic situations. "Enter the Pet, followed by twenty townspeople. First T.P.—Yield, traitor! Pet—Never! the man who would yield when ordered to do so, is unworthy the name of a Pet and an Englishman! Floors the twenty T.P.'s one after the other. Tableau, blue fire. Why, it would surpass the British sailor's broadsword combat for six, and bring down the house."

"Talking of bringing down," said Mr. Blades, "did you remember to bring down a cap and gown for the Pet, as I told you?"

"Well, I believe those were the stage directions," answered Mr. Foote; "but, really, the wardrobe was so ill provided that it would only supply a cap. But perhaps that will do for a super."

"If by a super you mean a supernumerary, Footelights," said Mr. Cheke, the gentleman Commoner of Corpus, "then the Pet isn't one. He's the leading character of what you would call the dramatis personæ."

"True," replied Mr. Foote, "he's cast for the hero; though he will create a new rôle as the walking-into-them gentleman."

"You see, Footelights," said Mr. Blades, "that the Pet is to lead our forces; and we depend upon him to help us on to victory: and we must put him into academicals, not only because the town cads must think he is one of us, but also because the proctors might otherwise deprive us of his services—and old Towzer, the Senior Proctor, in particular, is sure to be all alive. Who's got an old gown?"

"I will lend mine with pleasure," said Mr. Verdant Green.

"But you'll want it yourself," said Mr. Blades.

"Why, thank you," faltered our hero, "I'd rather, I think, keep within college. I can see the—the fun—yes, the fun—from the window."

"Oh, blow it, Giglamps!" ejaculated Mr. Bouncer, "you'll never go to do the mean, and show the white feather, will you?"

"Music expressive of trepidation," murmured Mr. Foote, by way of parenthesis.

"But," pursued our hero, apologetically, "there will be, I dare say, a large crowd."

"A very powerful caste, no doubt," observed Mr. Foote.

"And I may get my—yes, my spectacles broken; and then"—

"And then, Giglamps," said Mr. Bouncer, "why, and then you shall be presented with another pair as a testimonial of affection from yours truly. Come, Giglamps, don't do the mean! a man of your standing, and with a chest like that!" and the little gentleman sounded on our hero's shirt-front, as doctors do when they stethoscope a patient. "Come, Giglamps, old feller, you mustn't refuse. You didn't ought to was, as Shakspeare says."

"Pardon me! Not Shakspeare, but Wright, in the 'Green Bushes,'" interrupted Mr. Foote, who was as painfully anxious as Mr. Payne Collier himself that the text of the great poet should be free from corruptions.

So Mr. Verdant Green, reluctantly, it must be confessed, suffered himself to be persuaded to join that section of the Gown which was to be placed under the leadership of the redoubted Pet; while little Mr. Bouncer, who had gone up into Mr. Sloe's rooms, and had vainly endeavoured to persuade that gentleman to join in the forthcoming mêlée, returned with an undergraduate's gown, and forthwith invested the Pet with it.

"I don't mind this 'ere mortar-board, sir," remarked the professor of the noble art of self-defence, as he pointed to the academical cap which surmounted his head, "I don't mind the mortar-board, sir; but I shall never be able to do nothink with this 'ere toggery on my shudders. I couldn't use my mawleys no how!" And the Pet illustrated his remark in a professional manner, by sparring at an imaginary opponent in a feeble and unscientific fashion.

"But you can tie the tail-curtain round your shoulders—like this!" said Mr. Fosbrooke, as he twisted his own gown tightly round him.

But the Pet had taken a decided objection to the drapery.

"The costume would interfere with the action," as Mr. Foote remarked, "and the management of a train requires great practice."

"You see, sir," said the Pet, "I ain't used to the feel of it, and I couldn't go to business properly, or give a straight nosender no how. But the mortar-board ain't of so much consekvence." So a compromise was made; and it was agreed that the Pet was to wear the academicals until he had arrived at the scene of action, where he could then pocket the gown, and resume it on any alarm of the Proctor's approach.

"Here, Giglamps, old feller! get a priming of fighting-powder!" said little Mr. Bouncer to our hero, as the party were on the point of sallying forth; "it'll make you hit out from your shoulder like a steam-engine with the chill off." And, as Mr. Bouncer whispered to Charles Larkyns,—


"So he kept his spirits up
By pouring spirits down,"


Verdant—who felt extremely nervous, either from excitement or from fear, or from a pleasing mixture of both sensations—drank off a deep draught of something which was evidently not drawn from Nature's spring or the college pump; for it first took away his breath, and made his eyes water; and it next made him cough, and endeavour to choke himself; and it then made his face flush, and caused him to declare that "the first snob who 'sulted him should have a sound whopping."

"Brayvo, Giglamps!" cried little Mr. Bouncer, as he patted him on the shoulder; "come along! You're the right sort of fellow for a Town and Gown, after all!"

  1. Town and Gown disturbances are of considerable antiquity. Fuller and Matthew Paris give accounts of some which occurred as early as the year 1238. These disputes not unfrequently terminated fatally to some of the combatants. One of the most serious Town and Gown rows on record took place on the day of St. Scholastica the Virgin, February 10th, 1345, when several lives were lost on either side. The University was at that time in the Lincoln diocese; and Grostête, the Bishop, placed the townspeople under an interdict, from which they were not released till 1357, and then only on condition that the mayor and sixty of the chief burgesses should, on every anniversary of the day of St. Scholastica, attend St. Mary's Church and offer up mass for the souls of the slain scholars; and should also individually present an offering of one penny at the high altar. They, moreover, paid a yearly fine of 100 marks to the University, with the penalty of an additional fine of the same sum for every omission in attending at St. Mary's. This continued up to the time of the Reformation, when it gradually fell into abeyance. In the fifteenth year of Elizabeth, however, the University asserted their claim to all arrears. The matter being brought to trial, it was decided that the town should continue the annual fine and penance, though the arrears were forgiven. The fine was yearly paid on the 10th of February up to our own time: the mayor and chief burgesses attended at St. Mary's, and made the offering at the conclusion of the litany, which, on that occasion, was read from the altar. Thia was at length put an end to by Convocation in the year 1825.
  2. Corrupted by Oxford pronunciation (which makes Magdalen Maudlin) into St Old's.)
  3. "A Bachelor of Arts," Act I.