“Cuthbert Bede” was the pseudonym of the rector of Denton in Huntingtonshire, although he was not appointed to the living until six years after the publication of his first book. He wrote several stories of a mildly humorous nature, but none achieved the popular success of that which is presented here.
FROM earliest times, as you may find by referring to the unpublished volume of Burke’s Landed Gentry, the Verdant Greens have been regarded as highly respectable.
To be sure, none of the Greens has ever attained to great eminence, nor has any one ever amassed an unusual amount of wealth. In fact, they have from generation to generation been good-natured dupes of more astute minds. In the comedy of the monkey and the catspaw, they have always been ready to assume the role of the guileless cat, and there has rarely been a generation that did not number among its members a number of burned paws.
Turn again to the chronicles of which I have spoken and you will find this entry : ” VERDANT GREEN, of the Manor Green, Co. Warwick, Gent., who married Mary, only surviving child of Samuel Sappey, Esq., of Sapcot Hall, Co. Salop; by whom he has issue, one son, and three daughters: Mary, VERDANT, Helen, Fanny.”
The Manor Green was situated in one of the loveliest spots in all Warwickshire; a county rich in all that constitutes the picturesqueness of a true English landscape. Here Verdant passed the days of his youth, and here he was petted and spoiled, as much as his naturally sweet temper would allow, by the assiduous attentions of mother, sisters, and a doting father.
Verdant had no playmate of his own age, and his mother had a horror of public schools, so he never was allowed away from her apron-strings, although the rector, Mr. Larkyns, had a son who was being educated at a public school, and intimated that such a training was just what Verdant needed.
Verdant thought himself lucky to escape going to such a place of horrors as a public school, for Master Charley had told him many a tale of the way the second master would find out your tenderest places when you were licked for a false quantity, and of the jolly “mills” the boys used to have with town “cads,” who would lie in wait for a fellow and half kill him if they caught him alone; and of the fun it was to make a junior form fellow fag for you and do all your dirty work.
So Verdant came to the age of eighteen without ever having fired a gun or driven a cricket-ball, or having learned to swim or to ride, or to do anything that a girl should not do.
But if the Greens did not realize that their son was in a fair way to become a milksop, the rector did, and, wishing to save the boy from such a fate, he had several talks with Pater Green in which he discussed the advisability of sending Verdant to Oxford, where he would mix with other boys and learn some-thing of the world. Mr. Green finally allowed himself to be swayed by this counsel, and, to the great regret and trepidation of Mrs. Green, it was decided to send Verdant down.
Brazenface will be a good name to call the college selected for Verdant, and the evening of the day of his arrival (accompanied by his father) saw him ensconced in small but comfortable quarters, with a scout in the person of Robert Filcher to do his errands, and several amiable students in agreeable contiguity.
The next morning Mr. Green returned to Manor Green, and Verdant realized that now he was an Oxford MAN. He immediately looked up his old acquaintance, Charley Larkyns, who had been at Oxford some time.
Mr. Charles Larkyns had sporting tendencies, as was shown by the ornaments of his room, the foils, boxing-gloves, cricket-bats, tandem whips, antlers, pictures of footlight favorites, and other articles that lent themselves to manly decoration. There were also one or two suspicious-looking boxes labeled “Colorado,” “Regalia,” “Lukotilla.”
There was no doubt in Verdant’s mind when he timidly entered the room that Charley actually smoked, for a perfumed cloud was issuing from his lips as he lolled on a couch in the neglige attire of dressing-gown and slippers, with his pink striped shirt comfortably open at the neck.
Opposite him sat a gentleman who was draining the last drop from a pewter mug, and on a table between the two was another beer-mug and a bottle of soda-water.
At first Charley did not recognize Verdant, but when he did his reception was cordial, and he introduced him to “Mr. Smalls,” the gentleman who had formerly had Verdant’s room.
Both men were astonished to hear that Verdant never had smoked and advised him to adopt the habit if he intended to be a deep reader, as it was a great help to study.
A walk was proposed, and Verdant was filled full of “in-formation” concerning the colleges, the dons, the proctors, and the students, that was provocative of much amusement to the congenial pair of friends, and taken as gospel by the sapling.
Upon his return to his rooms the youth wrote a long letter to his mother, expatiating on the patient kindness of Charley and Mr. Smalls in explaining so much that was necessarily new and strange to him. He also (by the advice of Charley) asked for a certificate that he had been vaccinated, as that young gentleman had intimated that he could not pass his “Little Go” unless he were provided with such a paper.
There was no denying that there were pleasures connected with college life, and so far Verdant was rather glad that he had come down. The evening after his meeting with Charley Larkyns he attended a “smoker” at the rooms of Mr. Smalls. There was much smoking and many drinks of many kinds, and to his own astonishment Verdant soon found himself with a cigar in his mouth and a glass of milk-punch in his hand.
Bashful as he ordinarily was, it was not long before he was induced to sing, and in a weak voice he caroled to them, “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls.” As he. sang his utterance thickened, but he was delighted with the vigorous way in which all joined in the chorus, and after a time bashfulness gave place to assurance and he was easily prevailed upon to address the company.
His speech was remarkable for the way in which the consonants became mixed and were carried away by the vowels.
After making a few unintelligible sounds, Verdant felt his knees suddenly give way, and with a benevolent smile he disappeared under the table.
Two kind friends put ” Giglamps” (as he had been nick-named) to bed, and thus ended his first convivial evening.
He did not care to go to chapel next morning. His scout, using an agreeable euphemism, told him that he had been “pleasant” the night before, but when one of his friends, little Mr. Bouncer, came in to see how he was, he told him, to his intense mortification, that he had been beastly drunk. Mr. Bouncer, who was a jolly little man, always bent on turning things upside down, if it were possible, assured him that he had been all right until Mr. Slowcoach, his tutor, had joined the party.
Mr. Slowcoach ! To think that he should have seen him in that condition! Of course Mr. Slowcoach had not been near the scene of the festivities, but the mischievous Bouncer had alarmed poor Verdant with his insinuations.
“You see what brought him was your throwing empty beer-bottles at his window. That would have a tendency to arouse his interest. And then when he came in, you remember, you wanted to have a polka with himand he doesn’t dance,” said the incorrigible joker.
Visions of expulsion chased one another through Verdant’s throbbing head. A way out of it was kindly suggested by Mr. Bouncer, who told Verdant that if he wrote an extremely penitent and contrite note to Slowcoach, the tutor might relent enough to keep the matter from reaching the ears of higher authorities. The note was written and handed to Bouncer, and as Verdant was not expelled he felt very grateful to his kind friend.
The usual routine of lectures and study followed their due course, and Verdant’s innocent ways, while tempting to the mischievous, at the same time won him many friends, who could not help liking the gullible fellow, but who relaxed not one jot of their efforts to hoax him.
Under Charley Larkyns’s tutelage Verdant ordered clothing of a more fashionable cut and ran up a number of bills in the furnishing of his rooms with engravings and other ornaments. He also learned how it feels to be thrown by a horse, what it is to own a dog that cannot kill rats and finally runs away after you have paid an exorbitant sum for him, and in many ways added to his stock of an experience that somehow did not teach much discretion.
He could now smoke without evil consequences, and felt himself to be more of a man than his mother; and so the first term passed and he went home to his adoring relatives, where he posed as a devil of a fellow, shocked his maiden aunt, and made his father and mother feel that it was a wise move to send him to college, since he seemed to have learned so much.
Upon Verdant’s return to the University, it became his pleasure to hoax freshmen even as he had been hoaxed, but it is doubtful whether any among them were quite as credulous as he had been. His gullibility was likely to pass into a college tradition.
He was now firm friends with Larkyns, Bouncer, Smalls, and a number of other genial men with kindred tastes, and life at college was not all a ” grind.”
One of the most memorable evenings of his second term was an occasion when he took part in a Town and Gown riot (against his will at the outset, but coached by excitement into becoming an adversary of some worth).
In this fight Larkyns et al. received the help of no less a person than the Putney Pet, a prize-fighter of prowess who had been hired for the occasion, and who had been induced to don a mortar-board, although he balked at the gown as being in the way.
Many were the cracked heads and tapped noses that evening, and when the fight was at its height the Rev. Thomas Tozer of the University took an involuntary part in it and was saved from a knock-out blow at the hands of a Townsman by the same Putney Pet.
Being a strict disciplinarian, Mr. Tozer had called the lowbrowed gentleman to task for appearing on the streets without his gown.
“I ax your pardon, guv’nor!” replied the Pet, deferentially, “I didn’t so much care about the mortar-board, but I couldn’t do nothin’ nohow with the other thing, so I pocketed him; but some cove must have gone and prigged him, for he ain’t here.”
Owing to the darkness Mr. Tozer did not see the tale-telling features of the bruiser, and he angrily replied that he did not understand his foolish talk and would like him to confine him-self to English.
Then the truth came out, and the pacified Mr. Tozer said: “Well, well ! you have used your skill very much to our advantage, and displayed pugilistic powers not unworthy of the athletes and xystics of the noblest days of Rome. As a pales-trite you would have gained palms in the gymnastic exercises of the Circus Maximus. And now, go home, sir, and resume your customary head-dress: and stay! here’s five shillings.”
This so pleased the somewhat mystified Pet that he handed the reverend gentleman one of his professional cards.
After the fight there was a jovial supper-party in the principal room at “The Roebuck,” and the Pet was given a place of honor and toasted and cheered by all present in a manner to disperse the doubts of anyone as to undergraduate enthusiasm.
It is needless to say that the Rev. Mr. Tozer did not form one of this roistering company, but Verdant Green did, and enjoyed the occasion as well as any, in spite of the patch of brown paper, perfumed with vinegar, that indicated where he had met with punishment in the long-to-be-remembered fight between Town and Gown.
During his second term Verdant made adequate progress in his studies, but the outdoor sports interested him most, al-though candor compels the statement that he did not excel in one of them. His horseback rides always invited disaster, and disaster always accepted the invitation; his rowing was a sight for those whose risibles needed exercise; and altogether he continued to be the same guileless, amiable, lovable nincompoop that he was at the beginning of this veracious history.
At Christmas there were delightful doings down at Manor Green, for Charley Larkyns had invited little Bouncer down, and there were also two lovely girls from the north country, the sisters Honeywood.
Verdant found the younger, Miss Patty, to be quite the most adorable creature he had ever known, and, while Christmas holidays were always delightful, these Christmas holidays were made ever memorable by the advent of the rosy-cheeked girl from the northern borders.
The Christmas vacation passed all too quickly, and Verdant once more sought the classic shades of Oxford. Charley Larkyns was going in for a degree, so he burned oil at midnight more often than formerly; but neither Verdant nor Bouncer used their oil for studious purposes, and they contrived to have many a merry evening together. Verdant was still Green, but Green was not quite as verdant as he had been. He was never above learning, and as his learning was always attended by amusement on the part of the spectators, he always found those who were willing to coach him. So he learned to skate, and described many strange figures in the air rather than on the ice; he also kept up his horseback exercise, without ever being mistaken for a centaur.
After Easter vacation Verdant was fortunate enough to get through his “smalls,” while Charley Larkyns won the Chancellor’s prize for a Latin essay and the Newdigate prize for English verse.
But little Bouncer, in spite of an ingenious system of cards worn upon his person and decorated with answers to the questions in his examinations, was ignominiously “plucked,” and his boisterous spirits were dampened for nearly a day.
Commemoration Day came in due time, and Verdant was chosen as prompter for Charley Larkyns when he came to de-liver his prize poem; but luckily enough Charley did not need a prompter, for Verdant was far too nervous to render him any assistance.
After Commemoration came more vacation, and an event to which Verdant had looked forward for weeksa visit to Honeywood Hall, in the County of Northumberland, where dwelt the adorable Patty. Not only were Verdant and his sisters going, but Charley Larkyns and little Bouncer and his sister Fanny were of the party.
It was a merry company, and not the less merry for the presence of Bouncer; but with every revolution of the car-wheels Verdant’s heart beat faster as he reflected that in a few hours he would gaze on the dearest face in all Christendom and feel the pressure of the most thrilling hand in the world. But with all his ardor, doubt and mistrust of himself kept steady pace. It was not likely that so fascinating a young woman as Patty would ever deign to look at him in any way save as a friend.
Oh, the delights and the tortures of first love! Verdant was in a heavenly hell from which he hardly dared wish to be delivered.
At last they reached Honeywood Hall, and he saw Patty, saw Charley take upon himself the cousinly privilege of kissing her, and then he himself shook hands with herand was superlatively happy.
Many were the hospitalities lavished upon the guest from the South by the Northrons, but opportunity did not come for Verdant to be alone with Patty until one happy day when the bright sunshine was reflected in Miss Patty’s bright-beaming face, and Mr. Verdant Green found himself wandering forth with her all in the blue, unclouded weather.”
Miss Patty sketched, and she had asked Verdant to accompany her to the ruined church of Lasthope, about two miles distant from the Hall.
She had made her outline of the scene, and was preparing to wash it in (conversing most entertainingly the while), when to Verdant’s terror and amazement he saw a huge bull stealthily approaching the seated figure of the unconscious young lady.
And now, for the first time in his life, he proved that he was a man, after all. Quietly, with no indication of the fear he felt for her, he said to Patty: “Don’t be frightenedthere is no dangerbut there is a bull coming toward us. Walk quietly to that gate, and don’t let him see that you are afraid of him. I will take off his attention till you are safe at the gate, and then I can wade through the Swirl and get out of his reach.”
Patty, though loath to leave her escort behind, was prevailed upon to seek a place of safety, and then Verdant, arming him-self with a stone, watched his chance and hit the bull full in the nose. The indignant animal, which had been pursuing Patty, turned his attention to Verdant, but that young man, cool-headed for once, waited until the bull was almost on him and then threw his coat upon his horns. The bull, blinded by the coat, was temporarily checked, and while he made havoc with the garment, the delay enabled Verdant to reach the bank of the Swirl. But it is likely that the bull would have overtaken him had not Patty’s cries brought farm laborers to the scene. They attacked the bull with spades, and in a short time he was subdued and led to the bull-house.
Verdant was Patty’s deliverer, and as such was fully appreciated by her. She looked upon him as a Bayard who had chivalrously risked his life in behalf of a lady.
Most important in its bearing on Verdant’s suit was an interview that he had with Patty as they sat on the trunk of an apple-tree that formed a natural seat about two feet from the ground, an excellent place, as Patty said, for the telling of secrets, being put to that use by her sister and herself.
Such pleasant contiguity made even the timid Verdant think that it was a time most propitious for him to say words of greater weight than any he had ever used lips to form.
She said: “It’s very hot, don’t you think?”
He answered: “How very odd. I was thinking the same.” “I think I shall take my hat offit is so warm. Dear me! how stupid ! the strings are in a knot.”
“Let me see if I can untie them for you.”
“Thanks, no, I can manage.” (But she could not!)
He tried to help her, his fingers accidentally touched her chin, and he received a shock as from a highly charged electrical machine.
The conversation was for a little longer not particularly to the point. Verdant found it necessary to say “It’s hot” more than once, and Patty said that it was pleasanter there than in the sun.
After a time he became bold enough to place his arm behind her in order to keep her from falling off the seat. She allowed him to do this, and at last he said in a faltering tone, “I wonder how much you like mevery much?”
“Oh, I couldn’t tellhow should I? What strange questions you ask. You saved my life; so of course I am very, very grateful, and I hope I shall always be your friend.”
“Yes, I hope so indeedalwaysand something more. Do you hope the same?”
“What do you mean? Hadn’t we better go back to the house?”
“Not just yetit’s so cool hereat least, not cool exactly, but hotpleasanter, that ismuch pleasanter here. I always feel hot when I’m out-of-doors.”
“Then we’d better go indoors.”
“Pray don’tnot yetdo stop a little longer.”
And the hand that had been on the bough of the tree timidly seized Miss Patty’s arm.
“But,” said the young lady, as she felt the pressure of the hand, “but it’s not necessary to hold me a prisoner.”
“It’s you that hold me a prisoner!” said Mr. Verdant Green, with a sudden burst of enthusiasm and blushes, and a great stress upon the pronouns.
And then, just as he was about to tell his love, there was a perfume of tobacco, and the horrid voice of Mr. Bouncer said:
“Holloa, Giglamps! Been looking for you everywhere. Luncheon’s been on the table more than an hour, Miss Honey-wood.”
Of course Verdant took early opportunity to tell Bouncer how he had spoiled the most precious moment of his life, and of course the good-natured Bouncer was exceedingly sorry, but that opportunity was gone forever.
To Honeywood Hall came two unpleasant things not long after the episode on the tree-trunk: a Mr. Frederick Delaval and Jealousy. Delaval was a cousin of Patty’s, but that fact, while it gave him a right to kiss her, need not have given him a right to monopolize her company quite as much as he did unless they pretty well understood each other.
Verdant was heart-broken, and yet was so frank that he could not hate the debonair Delaval, and speedily became very good friends with him.
At a picnic a gipsy read Miss Patty’s fortune in such a manner and with so many veiled sayings that seemed to point directly at Delaval that Verdant was sure they were engaged, and he was betrayed into saying to Patty, who had rallied him on his seriousness and had asked him of what he was thinking, “I was thinking that Mr. Delaval had proposed and had been accepted.”
Miss Patty looked confused and surprised.
“I see that it is so,” he sighed, and his heart sank.
“How did you find out?” she replied. “It is a secret for the present, and we do not wish anyone to know of it.”
“My dear Betty,” said Frederick Delaval, who had waited for them to come up, “I am dying to tell you my fortune. I was with Miss Maxwell at the gipsy camp, and the old woman described her to me as my future wife. The fortune-teller was slightly on the wrong track, wasn’t she?”
Frederick Delaval and Patty and her sister Kitty laughed, and Mr. Verdant Green also laughed in a very savage manner.
“My last hope is gone,” thought Verdant. “I have now heard my fate from her own lips.”
All hope seemed indeed to have gone. If English language meant anything, Patty was engaged to Frederick, and Verdant must go through life “remote, unfriended, solitary, slow.”
But the fates were less disposed to laugh at the innocent young man than had been some of his college mates, and before the picnic was ended Verdant was rendered almost dizzy on learning that he and Patty had been having a game of cross-purposes and that the engagement of which he must not speak was that between Delaval and Patty’s sister, Kitty.
And thenthey were sitting shielded from the sun’s rays under a tilt-cart, while one of the picnickers was singing numberless verses of an inane songin this highly romantic position Verdant Green found the right words to declare his love, and Patty found bliss-bestowing words to say in return; and when the picnic party set out for home, Miss Patty Honeywood could exclaim with Schiller’s heroine: “Ich habe gelebt und geliebetl”
The ordeal of asking Patty’s papa was safely passed, and Verdant, on promising to wait two years, was allowed to become her fiance.
While in the North, Verdant became an expert horseman and took many rides with the lady of his love. In fact, the term “milksop” never could be applied again to Verdant.
His further adventures at Oxford often took the form of episodes in which he acted as the dupe, but the bonds of friend-ship between him and his fellows were ever more firmly united, and at last he found himself taking his degree before them all, with lovely Patty witnessing his pride; and not long after this he traveled once more to the County of Northumberland, there to be united to Patty for life.