Mr. Verdant Green Married and Done for/Chapter 4
ME. VERDANT GREEN ENDEAVOUBS TO SAY SNIP TO SOME ONE'S SNAP.
There was a gate in the kitchen-garden of Honeywood Hall, that led into an orchard; and in this orchard there was a certain apple-tree that had assumed one of those peculiarities of form to which the children of Pomona are addicted. After growing upright for about a foot and a half, it had suddenly shot out at right angles, with a gentle upward slope for a length of between three and four feet, and had then again struck up into the perpendicular. It thus formed a natural orchard seat, capable of holding two persons comfortably—provided that they regarded a close proximity as comfortable sitting.
One day Miss Patty directed Verdant's attention to this vagary of nature. "This is one of my favourite haunts," she said. "I often steal here on a hot day with some work or a book. You see this upper branch makes quite a little table, and I can rest my book upon it. It is so pleasant to be under the shade here, with the fruit or blossoms over one's head; and it is so snug and retired, and out of the way of every one."
"It is very snug—and very retired," said Mr. Verdant Green; and he thought that now would be the very time to put in execution a project that had for some days past been haunting his brain.
"When Kitty and I," said Miss Patty, "have any secrets we come here and tell them to each other while we sit at our work. No one can hear what we say; and we are quite snug all to ourselves."
Very odd, thought Verdant, that they should fix on this particular spot for confidential communications, and take the trouble to come here to make them, when they could do so in their own rooms at the house. And yet it isn't such a bad spot either.
"Try how comfortable a seat it is!" said Miss Patty.
Mr. Verdant Green began to feel hot. He sat down, however, and tested the comforts of the seat, much in the same way as he would try the spring of a lounging chair, and apparently with a like result, for he said, "Yes, it is very comfortable—very comfortable indeed."
"I thought you'd like it," said Miss Patty; "and you see how nicely the branches droop all round: they make it quite an arbour. If Kitty had been here with me I think you would have had some trouble to have found us."
"I think I should; it is quite a place to hide in," said Verdant. But the young lady and gentleman must have been speaking with the spirit of ostriches, and have imagined that, when they had hidden their heads, they had altogether concealed themselves from observation; for the branches of the apple-tree only drooped low enough to conceal the upper part of their figures, and left the rest exposed to view. "Won't you sit down, also?" asked Verdant, with a gasp and a sensation in his head as though he had been drinking champagne too freely.
"I'm afraid there's scarcely room for me," pleaded Miss Patty.
"Oh yes, there is, indeed! pray sit down."
So she sat down on the lower part of the trunk. Mr. Verdant Green glanced rapidly round and perceived that they were quite alone, and partly shrouded from view. The following highly interesting conversation then took place.
He. "Won't you change places with me? you'll slip off."
She. "No—I think I can manage."
He. "But you can come closer."
She. "Thanks." (She comes closer.)
He. "Isn't that more comfortable?"
She. "Yes—very much."
He. (Very hot, and not knowing what to say)—"I—I think you'll slip!"
She. "Oh no! it's very comfortable indeed."
(That is to say—thinks Mr. Verdant Green—that sitting by me is very comfortable. Hurrah!)
She. "It's very hot, don't you think?"
He. "How very odd! I was just thinking the same."
She. "I think I shall take my hat off—it is so warm. Dear me! how stupid!—the strings are in a knot."
He. "Let me see if I can untie them for you."
She. "Thanks! no! I can manage." (But she cannot.)
He. "You'd better let me try! now do!"
She. "Oh, thanks! but I'm sorry you should have the trouble."
He. "No trouble at all. Quite a pleasure."
(In a very hot condition of mind and fingers, Mr. Verdant Green then endeavoured to release the strings from their entanglement. But all in vain: he tugged, and pulled, and only made matters worse. Once or twice in the struggle his hands touched Miss Patty's chin; and no highly-charged electrical machine could have imparted a shock greater than that tingling sensation of pleasure which Mr. Verdant Green experienced when his fingers, for the fraction of a second, touched Miss Patty's soft dimpled chin. Then there was her beautiful neck, so white, and with such blue veins! he had an irresistible desire to stroke it for its very smoothness—as one loves to feel the polish of marble, or the glaze of wedding-cards—instead of employing his hands in fumbling at the brown ribands, whose knots became more complicated than ever. Then there was her happy rosy face, so close to which his own was brought; and her bright, laughing, hazel eyes, in which, as he timidly looked up, he saw little daguerreotypes of himself. Would that he could retain such a photographer by his side through life! Miss Bouncer's camera was as nothing compared with the camera lucida of those clear eyes, that shone upon him so truthfully, and mirrored for him such pretty pictures. And what with these eyes, and the face, and the chin, and the neck, Mr. Verdant Green was brought into such an irretrievable state of mental excitement that he was perfectly unable to render Miss Patty the service he had proffered. But, more than that, he as yet lacked sufficient courage to carry out his darling project.
At length Miss Patty herself untied the rebellious knot, and took off her hat. The highly interesting conversation was then resumed.
She. "What a frightful state my hair is in!" (Loops up an escaped lock.) "You must think me so untidy. But out in the country, and in a place like this where no one sees us, it makes one careless of appearance."
He. "I like 'a sweet neglect,' especially in—in some people; it suits them so well. I—'pon my word, it's very hot!"
She. "But how much hotter it must be from under the shade. It is so pleasant here. It seems so dreamlike to sit among the shadows and look out upon the bright landscape."
He. "It is—very jolly—soothing, at least!" (A pause.) "I think you'll slip. Do you know, I think it will be safer if you will let me" (here his courage fails him. He endeavours to say put my arm round your waist, but his tongue refuses to speak the words; so he substitutes) "change places with you."
She. (Rises, with a look of amused vexation.) "Certainly! if you so particularly wish it." (They change places.) "Now, you see, you have lost by the change. You are too tall for that end of the seat, and it did very nicely for a little body like me."
He. (With a thrill of delight and a sudden burst of strategy.) "I can hold on to this branch, if my arm will not inconvenience you."
She. "Oh no! not particularly:" (he passes his right arm behind her, and takes hold of a bough:) "but I should think it's not very comfortable for you."
He. "I couldn't be more comfortable, I'm sure." (Nearly slips off the tree, and doubles up his legs into an unpicturesque attitude highly suggestive of misery.—A pause.) "And do you tell your secrets here?"
She. "My secrets? Oh, I see—you mean, with Kitty. Oh, yes! if this tree could talk, it would be able to tell such dreadful stories."
He. "I wonder if it could tell any dreadful stories of—me?"
She. "Of you? Oh, no! Why should it? We are only severe on those we dislike."
He. "Then you don't dislike me?"
She. "No!—why should we?"
He. "Well—I don't know—but I thought you might. Well, I'm glad, of that—I'm very glad of that, 'Pon my word, it's very hot! don't you think so?"
She. "Yes! I'm burning. But I don't think we should find a cooler place." (Does not evince any symptoms of moving.)
He. "Well, p'raps we shouldn't." (A pause.) "Do you know that I'm very glad you don't dislike me; because, it wouldn't have been pleasant to be disliked by you, would it?"
She. "Well—of course, I can't tell. It depends upon one's own feelings."
He. "Then you don't dislike me?"
She. "Oh dear, no! why should I?"
He. "And if you don't dislike me, you must like me?"
She. "Yes—at least—yes, I suppose so."
At this stage of the proceedings, the arm that Mr. Verdant Green had passed behind Miss Patty thrilled with such a peculiar sensation that his hand slipped down the bough, and the arm consequently came against Miss Patty's waist, where it rested. The necessity for saying something, the wish to make that something the something that was bursting his heart and brain, and the dread of letting it escape his lips—these three varied and mingled sensations so distracted poor Mr. Verdant Green's mind, that he was no more conscious of what he was giving utterance to than if he had been talking in a dream. But there was Miss Patty by his side—a very tangible and delightful reality—playing (somewhat nervously) with those rebellious strings of her hat, which loosely hung in her hand, while the dappled shadows flickered on the waving masses of her rich brown hair,—so something must be said; and, if it should lead to the something, why, so much the better.
Returning, therefore, to the subject of like and dislike, Mr. Verdant Green managed to say, in a choking, faltering tone, "I wonder how much you like me—very much?"
She. "Oh, I couldn't tell—how 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."
He. "Yes, I hope so indeed—always—and something more. Do you hope the same?"
She. "What do you mean? Hadn't we better go back to the house?"
He. "Not just yet—it's so cool here—at least, not cool exactly, but hot—pleasanter, that is—much pleasanter here. You said so, you know, a little while since. Don't mind me; I always feel hot when—when I'm out of doors."
She. "Then we'd better go indoors."
He. "Pray don't—not yet—do stop a little longer."
And the hand that had been on the bough of the tree, timidly seized Miss Patty's arm, and then naturally, but very gently, fell upon her waist. A thrill shot through Mr. Verdant Green, like an electric flash, and, after traversing from his head to his heels, probably passed out safely at his boots—for it did him no harm, but, on the contrary, made him feel all the better.
"But," said the young lady, as she felt the hand upon her waist—not that she was really displeased at the proceeding, but perhaps she thought it best, under the circumstances, to say something that should have the resemblance of a veto—"but it is 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.
"Now you are talking nonsense, and, if so, I must go!" said Miss Patty. And she also blushed; perhaps it was from the heat. But she removed Mr. Verdant Green's hand from her waist, and he was much too frightened to replace it.
"Oh! do stay a little!" gasped the young gentleman, with an awkward sensation of want of employment for his hands. "You said that secrets were told here. I don't want to talk nonsense; I don't indeed; but the truth. I've a secret to tell you. Should you like to hear it?"
"Oh yes!" laughed Miss Patty. "I like to hear secrets."
Now, how very absurd it was in Mr. Verdant Green wasting time in beating about the bush in this ridiculously timid way! Why could he not at once boldly secure his bird by a straightforward shot? She did not fly out of his range—did she? And yet, here he was making himself unnecessarily hot and uncomfortable, when he might, by taking it coolly, have been at his ease in a moment. What a foolish young man! Nay, he still further lost time and evaded his purpose, by saying once again to Miss Patty—instead of immediately replying to her observation—"'Pon my word, it's uncommonly hot! don't you think so?"
Upon which Miss Patty replied, with some little chagrin, "And was that your secret?" If she had lived in the Elizabethan era she could have adjured him with a "Marry, come up!" which would have brought him to the point without any further trouble; but living in a Victorian age, she could do no more than say what she did, and leave the rest of her meaning to the language of the eyes.
"Don't laugh at me!" urged the bashful and weak-minded young man; "don't laugh at me! If you only knew what I feel when you laugh at me, you'd"——
"Cry, I dare say!" said Miss Patty, cutting him short with a merry smile, and (it must be confessed) a most wickedly-roguish expression about those bright flashing hazel eyes of hers. "Now, you haven't told me this wonderful secret!"
"Why," said Mr. Verdant Green, slowly and deliberately—feeling that his time was coming on, and cowardly anxious still to fight off the fatal words—"you said that you didn't dislike me; and, in fact, that you liked me very much; and"——
But here Miss Patty cut him short again. She turned sharply round upon him, with those bright eyes and that merry face, and said, "Oh! how can you say so? I never said anything of the sort!"
"Well," said Mr. Verdant Green, who was now desperate, and mentally prepared to take the dreaded plunge into that throbbing sea that beats upon the strand of matrimony, "whether you like me very much or not, I like you very much!—very much indeed! Ever since I saw you, since last Christmas, I've—I've liked you—very much indeed."
Mr. Verdant Green, in a very hot and excited state, had, while he was speaking, timidly brought his hand once more to Miss Patty's waist; and she did not interfere with its position. In fact, she was bending down her head, and was gazing intently on another knot that she had wilfully made in her hat-strings; and she was working so violently at that occupation of untying the knot, that very probably she might not have been aware of the situation of Mr. Verdant Green's hand. At any rate, her own hands were too much busied to suffer her to interfere with his.
At last the climax had arrived. Mr. Verdant Green had screwed his courage to the sticking point, and had resolved to tell the secret of his love. He had got to the very edge of the precipice, and was on the point of jumping over head and ears into the stream of his destiny, and of bursting into any excited form of words that should make known his affection and his designs, when——when a vile perfume of tobacco, a sudden barking rush of Huz and Buz, and the horrid voice of little Mr. Bouncer, dispelled the bright vision, dispersed his ideas, and prevented the fulfilment of his purpose.
"Holloa, Giglamps!" roared the little gentleman, as he removed a short pipe from his mouth, and expelled an ascending curl of smoke; "I've been looking for you everywhere! Here we are,—as Hamlet's uncle said,—all in the horchard! I hope he's not been pouring poison in your ear, Miss Honeywood; he looks rather guilty. The Mum—I mean your mother—sent me to find you. The luncheon's been on the table more than an hour!"
Luckily for Mr. Verdant Green and Miss Patty Honeywood, little Mr. Bouncer rattled on without waiting for any reply to his observations, and thus enabled the young lady to somewhat recover her presence of mind, and to effect a hasty retreat from under the apple tree, and through the garden gate.
"I say, old feller," said Mr. Bouncer, as he criticised Mr. Verdant Green's countenance over the bowl of his pipe, "you look rather in a stew! What's up? My gum!" cried the little gentleman, as an idea of the truth suddenly flashed upon him; "you don't mean to say you've been doing the spooney—what you call making love—have you?"
"Oh!" groaned the person addressed, as he followed out the train of his own ideas; "if you had but have come five minutes later—or not at all! It's most provoking!"
"Well! you're a grateful bird, I don't think!" said Mr. Bouncer. "Cut after her into luncheon, and have it out over the cold mutton and pickles!".
"Oh no!" responded the luckless lover; "I can't eat—especially before the others! I mean—I couldn't talk to her before the others. Oh! I don't know what I'm saying."
"Well, I don't think you do, old feller!" said Mr. Bouncer, puffing away at his pipe. "I'm sorry I was in the road, though! because, though I fight shy of those sort of things myself, yet I don't want to interfere with the little weaknesses of other folks. But come and have a pipe, old feller, and we'll talk matters over, and see what pips are on the cards, and what's the state of the game."
Now, a pipe was Mr. Bouncer's panacea for every kind of indisposition, both mental and bodily.