The further adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford under-graduate/Chapter 5
MR. VERDANT GREEN IS FAVOURED WITH MR. BOUNCER'S OPINIONS REGARDING AN UNDERGRADUATE'S EPISTOLARY COMMUNICATIONS TO HIS MATERNAL RELATIVE.
"Come in, whoever you are! don't mind the dogs!" shouted little Mr. Bouncer, as he lay, in an extremely inelegant attitude, in a red morocco chair, which was considerably the worse for wear, chiefly on account of the ill-usage it had to put up with, in being made to represent its owner's antagonist, whenever Mr. Bouncer thought fit to practise his fencing. "Oh! it's you and Giglamps, is it, Charley? I'm just refreshing myself with a weed, for I've been desperately hard at work."
"What! Harry Bouncer devoting himself to study! But this is the age of wonders," said Charles Larkyns, who entered the room in company with Mr. Verdant Green, whose forehead still betrayed the effects of the blow he had received a few nights before.
"It ain't reading that I meant," replied Mr. Bouncer, "though that always does floor me, and no mistake! and what's the use of their making us peg away so at Latin and Greek, I can't make out. When I go out into society, I don't want to talk about those old Greek and Latin birds that they make us get up. I don't want to ask any old dowager I happen to fall in with at a tea-fight, whether she believes all the crammers that Herodotus tells us, or whether she's well up in the naughty tales and rummy nuisances that we have to pass no end of our years in getting by heart. And when I go to a ball, and do the light fantastic, I don't want to ask my partner what she thinks about Euripides, or whether she prefers Ovid's Metamorphoses to Ovid's Art of Love, and all that sort of thing; and as for requesting her to do me a problem of Euclid, instead of working me any glorified slippers or woolleries, I'd scorn the haction. I ain't like you, Charley, and I'm not guv in the classics: I saw too much of the beggars while I was at Eton to take kindly to 'em; and just let me once get through my Greats, and see if I don't precious soon drop the acquaintance of those old classical parties!"
"No you won't, old fellow!" said Charles Larkyns; "you'll find that they'll stick to you through life, just like poor relations, and you won't be able to shake them off. And you ought not to wish to do so, more especially as, in the end, you will find them to have been very rich relations."
"A sort of 'O my prophetic soul, my uncle!' I suppose, Master Charley," observed Mr. Bouncer; "but what I meant when I said that I had been hard at work, was, that I had been writing a letter; and, though I say it that ought not to say it, I flatter myself it's no end of a good letter."
"Is it a love-letter?" asked Charles Larkyns, who was leaning against the mantelpiece, amusing himself with a cigar which he had taken from Mr. Bouncer's box.
"A love-letter?" replied the little gentleman, contemptuously—"my gum! no; I should rayther think not! I may have done many foolish things in my life, but I can't have the tender passion laid to my charge. No! I've been writing my letter to the Mum: I always write to her once a term." Mr. Bouncer, it must be observed, always referred to his maternal relative (his father had been long dead) by the epithet of "the Mum."
"Once a term!" said our hero, in a tone of surprise; "why I always write home once or twice every week."
"You don't mean to say so, Giglamps!" replied Mr. Bouncer, with admiration. "Well, some fellers have what you call a genius for that sort of thing, you see, though what you can find to tell 'em I can't imagine. But if I'd gone at that pace I should have got right through the Guide Book by this time, and then it would have been all U P, and I should have been obleeged to have invented another dodge. You don't seem to take, Giglamps?"
"Well, I really don't know what you mean," answered our hero.
"Why," continued Mr. Bouncer, "you see, there's only the Mum and Fanny at home: Fanny's my sister, Giglamps—a regular stunner—just suit you!—and they, you understand, don't care to hear about wines, and Town and Gowns, and all that sort of thing; and, you see, I ain't inventive and that, and can't spin a yarn about nothing; so, as soon as ever I came up to Oxford, I invested money in a Guide Book; and I began at the beginning, and I gave the Mum three pages of Guide Book in each letter. Of course, you see, the Mum imagines it's all my own observation; and she thinks no end of my letters, and says that they make her know Oxford almost as well as if she lived here; and she, of course, makes a good deal of me; and as Oxford's the place where I hang out, you see, she takes an interest in reading something about the jolly old place."
"Of course," observed Mr. Verdant Green; "my mamma—mother, at least—and sisters, always take pleasure in hearing about Oxford; but your plan never occurred to me."
"It's a first-rater, and no mistake," said Mr. Bouncer, confidently, "and saves a deal of trouble. I think of taking out a patent for it—'Bouncer's Complete Letter-Writer'—or get some literary swell to put it into a book, 'with a portrait of the inventor;' it would be sure to sell. You see, it's what you call amusement blended with information; and that's more than you can say of most men's letters to the Home department."
"Cocky Palmer's, for instance," said Charles Larkyns, "which always contained a full, true, and particular account of his Wheatley doings. He used to go over there, Verdant, to indulge in the noble sport of cock-fighting, for which he had a most unamiable and unenviable weakness; that was the reason why he was called 'Cocky' Palmer. His elder brother—who was a Pembroke man—was distinguished by the pronomen 'Snuffy,' to express his excessive partiality for that titillating compound."
"And Snuffy Palmer," remarked Mr. Bouncer, "was a long sight better feller than Cocky, who was in the very worst set in Brazenface. But Cocky did the Wheatley dodge once too often, and it was a good job for the King of Oude when his friend Cocky came to grief, and had to take his name off the books."
"You look as though you wanted a translation of this," said Charles Larkyns to our hero, who had been listening to the conversation with some wonderment,—understanding about as much of it as many persons who attend the St. James's Theatre understand the dialogue of the French Plays. "There are College cabalia, as well as Jewish; and College surnames are among these. 'The King of Oude' was a man of the name of Towlinson, who always used to carry into Hall with him a bottle of 'the King of Oxide's Sauce,' for which he had some mysterious liking, and without which he professed himself unable to get through his dinner. At one time he was a great friend of Cocky Palmer's, and used to go with him to the cock-fights at Wheatley—that village just on the other side Shotover Hill—where we did a 'constitutional' the other day. Cocky, as our respected friend says, 'came to grief,' but was allowed to save himself from expulsion by voluntarily, or rather in-voluntarily, taking his name off the books. When his connection with Cocky had thus been ruthlessly broken, 'the King' got into a better set, and retrieved his character."
"The moral of which, my beloved Giglamps," observed Mr. Bouncer, "is, that there are as many sets of men in a College as there are of quadrilles in a ball-room, and that it's just as easy to take your place in one as it is in another; but, that when you've once taken up your position, you'll find it ain't an easy thing, you see, to make a change for yourself, till the set is broken up. Whereby, Giglamps, you may comprehend what a grateful bird you ought to be, for Charley's having put you into the best set in Brazenface."
Mr. Verdant Green was heard to murmur, "sensible of honour,—grateful for kindness,—endeavours to deserve,"—and the other broken sentiments which are commonly made use of by gentlemen who get upon their legs to return thanks for having been "tea-potted."
"If you like to hear it," said Mr. Bouncer, "I'll read you my letter to the Mum. It ain't very private; and I flatter myself, Giglamps, that it'll serve you as a model."
"Let's have it by all means, Harry," said Charles Larkyns. "It must be an interesting document; and I am curious to hear what it is that you consider a model for epistolary communication from an undergraduate to his maternal relative."
"Off she goes then;" observed Mr. Bouncer; "lend me your ears—list, list, O list! as the recruiting-sergeant or some other feller says in the Play. 'Now, my little dears! look straight for'ard—blow your noses, and don't brathe on the glasses!'" and Mr. Bouncer read the letter, interspersing it with explanatory observations:—
"'My dearest mother,—I have been quite well since I left you, and I hope you and Fanny have been equally salubrious.'—That's doing the civil, you see: now we pass on to statistics.—'We had rain the day before yesterday, but we shall have a new moon to-night.'—You see, the Mum always likes to hear about the weather, so I get that out of the Almanack. Now we get on to the interesting part of the letter.—'I will now tell you a little about Merton College.'—That's where I had just got to. We go right through the Guide Book, you understand.—'The history of this establishment is of peculiar importance, as exhibiting the primary model of all the collegiate bodies in Oxford and Cambridge. The statutes of Walter de Merton had been more or less copied by all other founders in succession; and the whole constitution of both Universities, as we now behold them, may be, not without reason, ascribed to the liberality and munificence of this truly great man.'—Truly great man! that's no end good, ain't it? observed Mr. Bouncer, in the manner of the 'mobled queen is good' of Polonius.—'His sagacity and wisdom led him to profit by the spirit of the times; his opulence enabled him to lay the foundation of a nobler system; and the splendour of his example induced others, in subsequent ages, to raise a superstructure at once attractive and solid.'—That's piling it up mountaynious, ain't it?—'The students were no longer dispersed through the streets and lanes of the city, dwelling in insulated houses, halls, inns, or hostels, subject to dubious control and precarious discipline.'—That's stunnin', is'nt it? just like those Times fellers write.—'But placed under the immediate superintendence of tutors and governors, and lodged in comfortable chambers. This was little less than an academical revolution; and a new order of things may be dated from this memorable era. Love to Fanny; and, believe me your affectionate Son, Henry Bouncer.'—If the Mum don't say that's first-rate, I'm a Dutchman! You see, I don't write very close, so that this respectably fills up three sides of a sheet of note-paper. Oh, here's something over the leaf. 'P.S. I hope Stump and Rowdy have got something for me, because I want some tin very bad.' That's all! Well, Giglamps! don't you call that quite a model letter for a University man to send to his tender parient?"
"It certainly contains some interesting information," said our hero, with a Quaker-like indirectness of reply.
"It seems to me, Harry," said Charles Larkyns, "that the pith of it, like a lady's letter, lies in the postscript—the demand for money."
"You see," observed the little gentleman in explanation, "Stump and Rowdy are the beggars that have got all my property till I come of age next year; and they only let me have money at certain times, because it's what they facetiously call tied-up: though why they've tied it up, or where they've tied it up, I hav'nt the smallest idea. So, though I tick for nearly everything,—for men at College, Giglamps, go upon tick as naturally as the crows do on the sheep's backs,—I sometimes am rather hard up for ready dibs; and then I give the Mum a gentlemanly hint of this, and she tips me. By-the-way," continued Mr. Bouncer, as he re-read his postscript, "I must alter the word 'tin' into 'money'; or else she'll be taking it literally, just as she did with the ponies. Know what a pony is, Giglamps?"
"Why, of course I do," replied Mr. Verdant Green; "besides which, I have kept one: he was an Exmoor pony,—a bay one, with a long tail."
"Oh, Giglamps!' You'll be the death of me some fine day," faintly exclaimed little Mr. Bouncer, as he slowly recovered from an exhausting fit of laughter. "You're as bad as the Mum was. A pony means twenty-five pound, old feller. But the Mum didn't know that; and when I wrote to her and said, 'I'm very short; please to send me two ponies;' meaning, of course, that I wanted fifty pound; what must she do, but write back and say, that, with some difficulty, she had procured for me two Shetland ponies, and that, as I was short, she hoped they would suit my size. And, before I had time to send her another letter, the two little beggars came. Well, I couldn't ride them both at once, like the fellers do at Astley's; so I left one at Tollitt's, and I rode the other down the High, as cool as a cucumber. You see, though I ain't a giant, and that, yet I was big for the pony; and as Shelties are rum-looking little beggars, I dare say we look'd rather queer and original. But the Proctor happened to see me; and he cut up so doosed rough about it, that I couldn't show on the Shelties any more; and Tollit was obliged to get rid of them for me."
"Well, Harry," said Charles Larkyns; "it is to Tollitt's that you must now go, as you keep your horse there. We want you to join us in a ride."
"What!" cried out Mr. Bouncer, "old Giglamps going outside an Oxford hack once more! Why, I thought you'd made a vow never to do so again?"
"Why, I certainly did so," replied Mr. Verdant Green; "but Charles Larkyns, during the holidays—the vacation, at least—was kind enough to take me out several rides; so I have had a great deal of practice since last term."
"And you don't require to be strapped on, or to get inside and pull down the blinds?" inquired Mr. Bouncer.
"Oh dear, no!"
The fact was, that during the long vacation Charles Larkyns had paid considerable attention to our hero's equestrian exercises; not so much, it must be confessed, out of friendship for his friend, as that he might have an opportunity of riding by the side of that friend's fair sister Mary, for whom he entertained something more than a partiality. And herein, probably, Mr. Charles Larkyns showed both taste and judgment. For there may be many things less pleasant in this world than cantering down a green Warwickshire lane—on some soft summer's day when the green is greenest and the blossoms brightest—side by side with a charming girl whose nature is as light and sunny as the summer air and the summer sky. Pleasant it is to watch the flushing cheek glow rosier, than the rosiest of all the briar-roses that stoop to kiss it. Pleasant it is to look into the lustrous light of tender eyes; and to see the loosened ringlets reeling with the motion of the ride. Pleasant it is to canter on from lane to lane over soft moss, and springy turf, between the high honeysuckle hedges, and the broad-branched beeches that meet overhead in a tangled embrace. But pleasanter by far than all is it, to hug to one's heart the darling fancy that she who is cantering on by your side in all the witchery of her maiden beauty, holds you in her dearest thoughts, and dowers you with all her wealth of love. Pleasant rides indeed, pleasant fancies, and pleasant day-dreams, had the long vacation brought to Charles Larkyns!
"Well, come along, Verdant," said Mr. Larkyns, "we'll go to Charley Symonds' and get our hacks. You can meet us, Harry, just over the Maudlin Bridge; and we'll have a canter along the Henley road."
So Mr. Verdant Green and his friend walked into Holywell Street, and passed under the archway up to Symonds' stables. But the nervous trepidation which our hero had felt in the same place on a previous occasion returned with full force when his horse was led out in an exuberantly playful and "fresh" condition. The beast he had bestridden during his long vacation rides, with his sister and his (and sister's) friend, was a cob-like steed, whose placidity of temper was fully equalled by its gravity of demeanour; and who would as soon have thought of flying over a five-bar gate as he would of kicking up his respectable heels both behind and before in the low-lived manner recorded of the Ethiopian "Old Joe." But, if "Charley Symonds'" hacks had been of this pacific and easy-going kind, it is highly probable that Mr. C. S. and his stud would not have acquired that popularity which they had deservedly achieved. For it seems to be a sine-quâ-non with an Oxford hack, that to general showiness of exterior, it must add the power of enduring any amount of hard riding and rough treatment in the course of the day which its pro-tem. proprietor may think fit to inflict upon it; it being an axiom which has obtained, as well in Universities as in other places, that it is of no advantage to hire a hack unless you get out of him as much as you can for your money, you won't want to use him to-morrow, so you don't care about over-riding him to-day.
But, all this time, Mr. Verdant Green is drawing on his gloves, in the nervous manner that tongue-tied gentlemen go through the same performance during the conversational spasms of the first-set of Quadrilles; the groom is leading out the exuberantly playful quadruped on whose back Mr. Verdant Green is to disport himself; Charles Larkyns is mounted; the November sun is shining brightly on the perspective of the yard and stables, and the tower of New College; the dark archway gives one a peep of Holywell Street; while the cold blue sky is flecked with gleaming pigeons.
At last, Mr. Verdant Green has scrambled into his saddle, and is riding cautiously down the yard, while his heart beats in an alarming alarum-like way. As they ride under the archway, there, in the little room underneath it, is Mr. Four-in-hand Fosbrooke, selecting his particular tandem-whip from a group of some two score of similar whips kept there in readiness for their respective owners.
"Charley, you're a beast!" says Mr. Fosbrooke, politely addressing himself to Mr. Larkyns; "I wanted Bouncer to come with me in the cart to Abingdon, and I find that the little man is engaged to you." Upon which, Mr. Fosbrooke playfully raising his tandem-whip, Mr. Verdant Green's horse plunges, and brings his rider's head into concussion with the lamp which hangs within the gateway; whereupon, the hat falls off, and our hero is within an ace of following his hat's example.
By a powerful exertion, however, he recovers his proper position in the saddle, and proceeds in an agitated and jolted condition, by Charles Larkyns's side, down Holywell Street, past the Music Room, and round by the Long Wall, and over Magdalen Bridge. Here they are soon joined by Mr. Bouncer, mounted, according to the custom of small men, on one of Tollitt's tallest horses, of ever-so-many hands high. As by this time our hero has got more accustomed to his steed, his courage gradually returns, and he rides on with his companions very pleasantly, enjoying the magnificent distant view of his University. When they have passed Cowley, some very tempting fences are met with; and Mr. Bouncer and Mr. Larkyns, being unable to resist their fascinations, put their horses at them, and leap in and out of the road in an insane Vandycking kind of way; while an excited agriculturist, whose smock-frock heaves with indignation, pours down denunciations on their heads.
"Blow that bucolical party!" says Mr. Bouncer; "he's no right to interfere with the enjoyments of the animals. If they break the fences, it ain't their faults; it's the fault of the farmers for not making the fences strong enough to bear them. Come along, Giglamps! put your beast at that hedge! he'll take you over as easy as if you were sitting in an arm-chair."
But Mr. Verdant Green has doubts about the performance of this piece of equestrian upholstery; and, thinking that the arm-chair would soon become a reclining one, he is firm in his refusal to put the leaping powers of his steed to the test. But having, afterwards, obtained some "jumping powder" at a certain small road-side hostelry to which Mr. Bouncer has piloted the party, our hero, on his way back to Oxford, screws up his courage sufficiently to gallop his steed desperately at a ditch which yawns, a foot wide, before him. But to his immense astonishment—not to say, disgust—the obtuse-minded quadruped gives a leap which would have taken him clear over a canal; and our hero, not being prepared for this very needless display of agility, flies off the saddle at a tangent, and finds that his "vaulting ambition," had o'erleap'd itself, and fallen on the other side—of the ditch.
"It ain't your fault, Giglamps!" says Mr. Bouncer, when he has galloped after Verdant's steed, and has led it up to him, and when he has ascertained that his friend is not in the least hurt; but has only broken—his glasses; "it ain't your fault, Giglamps, old feller! it's the clumsiness of the hack. He tossed you up, and could'nt catch you again!"
And so our hero rides back to Oxford. But, before the Term has ended, he has become more accustomed to Oxford hacks, and has made himself acquainted with the respective merits of the stables of Messrs. Symonds, Tollitt, and Pigg; and has, moreover, ridden with the drag, and, in this way, hunted the fabled foxes of Bagley Wood, and Whichwood Forest.