The further adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford under-graduate/Chapter 9
MR. VERDANT GREEN MAKES HIS FIRST APPEARANCE ON ANY BOARDS.
It is the last night of December. The old year, worn out and spent with age, lies a dying, wrapped in sheets of snow.
A stern stillness reigns around. The steps of men are muffled; no echoing footfalls disturb the solemn nature of the time. The little runnels weep icy tears. The dark pines hang out their funereal plumes, and nod with their weight of snow. The elms have thrown off their green robes of joy, and, standing up in gaunt nakedness, wildly toss to heaven their imploring arms. The old year lies a dying.
Silently through the snow steal certain carriages to the portals of the Manor Green: and, with a ringing of bells and a banging of steps, the occupants disappear in a stream of light that issues from the hall door. Mr. Green's small sanctum to the right of the hall has been converted into a cloak-room, and is fitted up with a ladies'-maid and a looking-glass, in a manner not to be remembered by the oldest inhabitant.
There the finishing stroke of ravishment is given to the toilette disarranged by a long drive through the impeding snow. There Miss Parkington (whose papa has lately revived his old school friendship with Mr. Green) discovers, to her unspeakable disgust, that the ten mile drive through the cold has invested her cheek with purple tints, and given to her retroussé (ill-natured people call it "pug") nose a hue that mocks
The turkey's crested fringe.
There, too, Miss Waters (whose paternities had hitherto only been on morning-call terms with the Manor Green people, but had brushed up their acquaintance now that there was a son of marriageable years and heir to an independent fortune) discovers to her dismay that the joltings received during a six-mile drive through snowed-up lanes, have somewhat deteriorated the very full-dress aspect of her attire, and considerably flattened its former balloon-like dimensions. And there, too, Miss Brindle (whose family have been hunted up for the occasion) makes the alarming discovery that, in the lurch which their hack-fly had made at the cross roads, her brother Alfred's patent boots had not only dragged off some yards (more or less) of her flounces, but had also—to use her own mystical language—"torn her skirt at the gathers!"
All, however, is put right as far as possible. A warm at the sanctum's fire diminishes the purple in Miss Parkington's cheeks; and the maid, by some hocus-pocus peculiar to her craft, again inflates Miss Waters into a balloon, and stitches up Miss Brindle's flounces and "gathers." The ladies join their respective gentlemen, who have been cooling their toes and uttering warm anathemas in the hall; and the party sail, arm-in-arm, into the drawing-room, and forthwith fall to lively remarks on that neutral ground of conversation, the weather. Mr. Verdant Green is there, dressed with elaborate magnificence; but he continues in a state of listless apathy, and is indifferent to the "lively" rattle of the balloon-like Miss Waters, until John the footman (who is suffering from influenza) rouses him into animation by the magic talisman "Bister, Bissis, an' the Biss 'Oneywoods;" when he beams through his spectacles in the most benign and satisfied manner. The Misses Honeywood are as blooming as usual: the cold air, instead of spoiling their good looks, has but improved their healthy style of beauty; and they smile, laugh, and talk in a perfectly easy, unaffected, and natural manner. Mr. Verdant Green at once makes his way to Miss Patty Honeywood's side, and, gracefully standing beside her, coffee-cup in hand, plunges headlong into the depths of a tangled conversation.
Meanwhile, the drawing-room of the Manor Green becomes filled in a way that has not been seen for many a long year; and the intelligent Mr. Mole, the gardener (who has been impressed as an odd man for the occasion, and is served up in a pseudo-livery to make him more presentible), sees more "genteel" people than have, for a long time, been visible to his naked eye. The intelligent Mr. Mole, when he has afterwards been restored to the bosom of Mrs. Mole and his family, confides to his equally intelligent helpmate that, in his opinion, "Master has guv the party to get husbands for the young ladies"—an opinion which, though perhaps not founded on fact so far as it related to the party which was the subject of Mr. Mole's remark, would doubtless be applicable to many similar parties given under somewhat similar circumstances.
It is not improbable that the intelligent Mr. Mole may have based his opinion on a circumstance—which, to a gentleman of his sagacity, must have carried great weight—namely, that whenever in the course of the evening the hall was made the promenade for the loungers and dancers, he perceived, firstly, that Miss Green was invariably accompanied by Mr. Charles Larkyns; secondly, that the Rev. Josiah Meek kept Miss Helen dallying about the wine and lemonade tray much longer than was necessary for the mere consumption of the cooling liquids; and thirdly, that Miss Fanny, who was a pert, talkative Miss of sixteen, was continually to be found there with either Mr. Henry Bouncer or Mr. Alfred Brindle dancing attendance upon her. But, be this as it may, the intelligent Mr. Mole was impressed with the conviction that Mr. Green had called his young friends together as to a matrimonial auction, and that his daughters were to be put up without reserve, and knocked down to the highest bidder.
All the party have arrived. The weather has been talked over for the last time (for the present); a harp, violin, and a cornet-à-piston from the county town, influenced by the spirit of gin-and-water, are heard discoursing most eloquent music in the dining-room, which has been cleared out for the dance. Miss Patty Honeywood, accepting the offer of Mr. Verdant Green's arm, swims joyously out of the room; other ladies and gentlemen pair, and follow: the ball is opened.
A polka follows the quadrille; and, while the dancers rest awhile from their exertions, or crowd around the piano in the drawing-room to hear the balloon-like Miss Waters play a firework piece of music, in which execution takes the place of melody, and chromatic scales are discharged from her fingers like showers of rockets, Mr. Verdant Green mysteriously weeds out certain members of the party, and vanishes with them upstairs.
When Miss Waters has discharged all her fireworks, and has descended from the throne of her music-stool, a set of Lancers is formed; and, while the usual mistakes are being made in the figures, the dancers find a fruitful subject of conversation in surmises that a charade is going to be acted. The surmise proves to be correct; for when the set has been brought to an end with that peculiar in-and-out tum-tum-tiddle-iddle-tum-tum-tum movement which characterises the last figure of Les Lanciers, the trippers on the light fantastic toe are requested to assemble in the drawing-room, where the chairs and couches have been pulled up to face the folding doors that lead into the library. Mr. Verdant Green appears; and, after announcing that the word to be acted will be one of three syllables, and that each syllable will be represented by itself, and that then the complete word will be given, throws open the folding doors for
Scene I. Syllable 1.—Enter the Miss Honeywoods, dressed in fashionable bonnets and shawls. They are shown in by a footman (Mr. Bouncer) attired in a peculiarly ingenious and effective livery, made by pulling up the trousers to the knee, and wearing the dress-coat inside out, so as to display the crimson silk linings of the sleeves: the effect of Mr. Bouncer's appearance is considerably heightened by a judicious outlay of flour sprinkled over his hair. Mr. Bouncer (as footman)
gives the ladies chairs, and inquires, "What name shall I be pleased to say, mem?" Miss Patty answers in a languid and fashionable voice, "The Ladies Louisa and Arabella Mountfidget." Mr. Bouncer evaporates with a low bow, leaving the ladies to play with their parasols, and converse. Lady Arabella (Miss Patty) then expresses a devout wish that Lady Trotter (wife of Sir Lambkin Trotter, Bart.), in whose house they are supposed to be, will not keep them waiting as long as she detained her aunt, Lady Bellwether, when the poor old lady fell asleep from sheer fatigue, and was found snoring on the sofa. Lady Louisa then falls to an inspection of the card-tray, and reads the paste-boards of some high-sounding titles not to be found in Debrett, and expresses wonder as to where Lady Trotter can have picked up the Duchess of Ditchwater's card, as she (Lady Louisa) is morally convinced that her Grace can never have condescended to have even sent in her card by a footman. Becoming impatient at the non-appearance of Lady Trotter, Miss Patty Honeywood then rings the bell, and, with much asperity of manner, inquires of Mr. Bouncer (as footman) if Lady Trotter is informed that the Ladies Louisa and Arabella Mountfidget are waiting to see her? Mr. Bouncer replies, with a footman's bow, and a footman's hexasperation of his h's, "Me lady is hawcer hof your ladyships' visit; but me lady is at present hunable to happear: me lady, 'owever, has give me a message, which she hasks me to deliver to your ladyships." "Then why don't you deliver it at once," says Miss Patty, "and not waste the valuable time of the Ladies Louisa and Arabella Mountfidget? What is the message?" "Me lady," replies Mr. Bouncer, "requests me to present her compliments to your ladyships, and begs me to hinform you that me lady is a cleaning of herself!" Amid great laughter from the audience, the Ladies Mountfidget toss their heads and flutter grandly out of the room, followed by the floured footman; while Mr. Verdant Green, unseen by those in front, pushes-to the folding doors, to show that the first syllable is performed.
Praises of the acting, and guesses at the word, agreeably fill up the time till the next scene. The Revd Josiah Meek, who is not much used to charades, confides to Miss Helen Green that he surmises the word to be, either "visitor" or "impudence" but, as the only ground to this surmise rests on these two words being words of three syllables, Miss Helen gently repels the idea, and sagely observes "we shall see more in the next scene."
Scene II. Syllable 2.—The folding-doors open, and discover Mr. Verdant Green, as a sick gentleman, lying on a sofa, in a dressing-gown, with pillows under his head, and Miss Patty Honeywood in attendance upon him. A table, covered with glasses and medicine bottles, is drawn up to the sufferer's couch in an inviting manner. Miss Patty informs the sufferer that the time is come for him to take his draught. The sufferer groans in a dismal manner, and says, "Oh! is it, my dear?" She replies, "Yes! you must take it now;" and sternly pours some sherry wine out of the medicine bottle into a cup. The sufferer makes piteous faces, and exclaims, "It is so nasty, I can't take it, my love!" (It is to be observed that Mr. Verdant Green, skilfully taking advantage of the circumstance that Miss Patty Honeywood is supposed to represent the wife of the sufferer, plentifully besprinkles his conversation with endearing epithets.) When, after much persuasion and groaning, the sufferer has been induced to take his medicine, his spouse announces the arrival of the doctor; when, enter Mr. Bouncer, still floured as to his head, but wearing spectacles, a long black coat, and a shirt-frill, and having his dress otherwise altered so as to represent a medical man of the old school. The doctor asks what sort of a night his patient has had, inspects his tongue with professional gravity, feels his pulse, looks at his watch, and mysteriously shakes his head. He then commences thrusting and poking Mr. Verdant Green in various parts of his body,—after the manner of doctors with their victims, and farmers with their beasts,—enquiring between each poke, "Does that hurt you?" and being answered by a convulsive "Oh!" and a groan of agony. The doctor then prescribes a draught to be taken every half-hour, with the pills and blister at bed-time; and, after covering his two fellow-actors with confusion, by observing that he leaves his patient in admirable hands, and, that in an affection of the heart, the application of lip-salve and warm treatment will give a decided tone to the system, and produce soothing and grateful emotions—takes his leave; and the folding-doors are closed on the blushes of Miss Patty Honeywood, and Mr. Verdant Green.
More applause: more agreeable conversation: more ingenious speculations. The Revd. Josiah Meek is now of opinion that the word is either "medicine" or "suffering." Miss Helen still sagely observes, "we shall see more in the next scene."
Scene III. Syllable 3.—Mr. Verdant Green discovered sitting at a table furnished with pens and ink, books, and rolls of paper. Mr. Verdant Green wears on his head a Chelsea pensioner's cocked-hat (the "property" of the Family,—as Mr. Footelights would have said), folded into a shovel shape; and is supposed to accurately represent the outside of a London publisher. To him enter Mr. Bouncer—the flour off his head—coat buttoned tightly to the throat, no visible linen, and wearing in his face and appearance generally, "the garb of humility." Says the publisher "Now, sir, please to state your business, and be quick about it: I am much engaged in looking over for the press a work of a distinguished author, which I am just about to publish." Meekly replies the other, as he holds under his arm an immense paper packet: "It is about a work of my own, sir, that I have now ventured to intrude upon you. I have here, sir, a small manuscript," (producing his roll of a book), "which I am ambitious to see given to the world through the medium of your printing establishment." To him, the Publisher—"Already am I inundated with manuscripts on all possible subjects, and cannot undertake to look at any more for some time to come. What is the nature of your manuscript?" Meekly replies the other—"The theme of my work, sir, is a History of England before the Flood. The subject is both new and interesting. It is to be presumed that our beloved country existed before the Flood: if so, it must have had a history. I have therefore endeavoured to fill up what is lacking in the annals of our land, by a record of its antediluvian state, adapted to the meanest comprehension, and founded on the most baseless facts. I am desirous, sir, to see myself in print. I should like my work, sir, to appear in large letters; in very large letters, sir. Indeed, sir, it would give me joy, if you would condescend to print it altogether in capital letters: my magnum opus might then be called with truth, a capital work." To him, the Publisher—"Much certainly depends on the character of the printing." Meekly the author—"Indeed, sir, it does. A great book, sir, should be printed in great letters. If you will permit me, I will show you the size of the letters in which I should wish my book to be printed." Mr. Bouncer then points out in some books on the table, the printing he most admires; and, beseeching the Publisher to read over his manuscript, and think favourably of his History of England before the Flood, makes his bow to Mr. Verdant Green and the Chelsea pensioner's cocked hat.
More applause, and speculations. The Revd. Josiah Meek confident that he has discovered the word. It must be either "publisher" or "authorship." Miss Helen still sage.
Scene IV. The Word.—Miss Bouncer discovered with her camera, arranging her photographic chemicals. She soliloquises. "There! now, all is ready for my sitter." She calls the footman (Mr. Verdant Green), and says, "John, you may show the Lady Fitz-Canute upstairs." The footman shows in Miss Honeywood, dressed in an antiquated bonnet and mantle, waving a huge fan. John gives her a chair, into which she drops, exclaiming, "What an insufferable toil it is to ascend to these elevated Photographic rooms;" and makes good use of her fan. Miss Bouncer then fixes the focus of her camera, and begs the Lady Fitz-Canute to sit perfectly still, and to call up an agreeable smile to her face. Miss Honeywood thereupon disposes her face in ludicrous "wreathed smiles;" and Miss Bouncer's head disappears under the velvet hood of the camera. "I am afraid," at length says Miss Bouncer, "I am afraid that I shall not be able to succeed in taking a likeness of your ladyship this morning." "And why, pray?" asks her ladyship with haughty surprise. "Because it is a gloomy day," replies the Photographer, "and much depends upon the rays of light." "Then procure the rays of light!" "That is more than I can do." "Indeed! I suppose if the Lady Fitz-Canute wishes for the rays of light, and condescends to pay for the rays of light, she can obtain the rays of light." Miss Bouncer considers this too exigeant, and puts her sitter off by promising to complete a most fascinating portrait of her on some more favourable day. Lady Fitz-Canute appears to be somewhat mollified at this, and is graciously pleased to observe, "Then I will undergo the fatigue of ascending to these elevated Photographic-rooms at some future period. But, mind, when I next come, that you procure the rays of light!" So she is shown out by Mr. Verdant Green, and the folding-doors are closed amid applause, and the audience distract themselves with guesses as to the word.
"Photograph" is a general favourite, but is found not to agree with the three first scenes, although much ingenuity is expended in endeavouring to make them fit the word. The Curate makes a headlong rush at the word "Daguerreotype," and is confident that he has solved the problem, until he is informed that it is a word of more than three syllables. Charles Larkyns has already whispered the word to Mary Green; but they keep their discovery to themselves. At length, the Revd. Josiah Meek, in a moment of inspiration, hits upon the word, and proclaims it to be calotype ("Call—oh!—type;") upon which Mr. Alfred Brindle declares to Miss Fanny Green that he had fancied it must be that, all along, and, in fact, was just on the point of saying it: and the actors, coming in in a body, receive the violet-crowns and laurel-wreaths of praise as the meed of their exertions. Perhaps, the Miss Honeywoods and Mr. Bouncer receive larger crowns than the others, but Mr. Verdant Green gets his due share, and is fully satisfied with his first appearance on "the boards."
Dancing then succeeds, varied by songs from the young ladies, and discharges of chromatic fireworks from the fingers of Miss Waters, for whom Charles Larkyns does the polite, in turning over the leaves of her music. Then some carol-singers come to the Hall-door, and the bells of the church proclaim, in joyful peals, the birth of the New Year;—a new year of hopes, and joys, and cares, and griefs, and unions, and partings;—a new year of which, who then present shall see the end? who shall be there to welcome in its successor? who shall be absent, laid in the secret places of the earth? Ah, who? For, even in the midst of revelry and youth, the joy-peals of those old church bells can strike the key-note of a wail of grief.
Another charade follows, in which new actors join. Then comes a merry supper, in which Mr. Alfred Brindle, in order to give himself courage to appear in the next charade, takes more champagne than is good for him; in which, too (probably, from similar champagney reasons), Miss Parkington's unfortunately self-willed nose again assumes a more roseate hue than is becoming to a maiden; in which, too, Mr. Verdant Green being called upon to return thanks for "the ladies"—(toast, proposed in eloquent terms by H. Bouncer, Esq., and drunk "with the usual honours,")—is so alarmed at finding himself upon his legs, that his ideas altogether vanish, and in great confusion of utterance, he observes,—"I—I—ladies and gentlemen—feel—I—I—a—feel—assure you—grattered and flattified—I mean, flattered and gratified—being called on—return thanks—I—I—a—the ladies—give a larm to chife—I mean, charm to life—(applause)—and—a—a—grace by their table this presence,—I mean—a—a—(applause),—and joytened our eye—I mean, heighted our joy, to-night—(applause),—in their name—thanks—honour." Mr. Verdant Green takes advantage of the applause which follows these incoherent remarks, and sits down, covered with confusion, but thankful that the struggle is over.
More dancing follows. Our hero performs prodigies in the valse à deux temps, and twirls about until he has not a leg left to stand upon. The harp, the violin, and the cornet-à-piston, from the county-town, play mechanically in their sleep, and can only be roused by repeated applications of gin-and-water. Carriages are ordered round: wraps are in requisition: the mysterious rites under the white-berried bush are stealthily repeated for the last time: the guests depart, as it were, in a heap; the Rectory party being the last to leave. The intelligent Mr. Mole, who has fuddled himself by an injudicious mixture of the half-glasses of wine left on the supper-table, is exasperated with the butler for not allowing him to assist in putting away the silver; and declares that he (the butler) is "a hold himage," for which, he (the intelligent Mr. M.), "don't care a button!" and, as the epithet "image" appears to wondrously offend the butler, Mr. Mole is removed from further consequences by his intelligent wife, who is waiting to conduct her lord and master home. At length, the last light is out in the Manor-Green. Mr. Verdant Green is lying uncomfortably upon his back, and is waltzing through Dreamland with the blooming Patty Honeywood.