Mr. Verdant Green Married and Done for/Chapter 7
MR. VERDANT GREEN HAS AN INKLING OF THE FUTURE.
MONG other things that Mr. Honeywood had thoughtfully provided for the pic-nic was a flask of pale brandy, which, for its better preservation, he had kept in his own pocket. This was fortunate, as it enabled the Squire to make use of it for Frederick Delaval's recovery. He had fainted: his concentrated courage and resolution had borne him bravely up to a certain point, and then his overtaxed energies had given way when the necessity for their exertion was removed. When he had come to himself, he appeared to be particularly thankful that there had not been a spectator of (what he deemed to be) his unpardonable foolishness in giving way to a weakness that he considered should be indulged in by none other than faint-hearted women; and he earnestly begged the Squire to be silent on this little episode in the day's adventure.
When they had left the Wild Cattle's park, and had joined the rest of the party, Frederick Delaval received the hearty thanks that he so richly deserved; and this, with such an exuberant display of feminine gratitude as to lead Mr. Bouncer to observe, that, if Mr. Delaval chose to take a mean advantage of his position, he could have immediately proposed to two-thirds of the ladies, without the possibility of their declining his offer: at which remark Mr. Verdant Green experienced an uncomfortable sensation, as he thought of the probable issue of events if Mr. Delaval should partly act upon Mr. Bouncer's suggestion, by selecting one young lady—his cousin Patty—and proposing to her. This reflection became strengthened into a determination to set the matter at rest, decide his doubts, and put an end to his suspense, by taking the first opportunity to renew with Miss Patty that most interesting apple-tree conversation that had been interrupted by Mr. Bouncer at such a critical moment.
The pic-nic party, broken up into couples and groups, slowly made their way up the hill to Ros Castle—the doubly-intrenched British fort on the summit—where the dinner was to take place. It was a rugged road, running along the side of the park, bounded by rocky banks, and shaded by trees. It was tenanted as usual by a Faw gang,—a band of gipsies, whose wild and gay attire, with their accompaniments of tents, carts, horses, dogs, and fires, added picturesqueness to the scene. With the characteristic of their race—which appears to be a shrewd mixture of mendicity and mendacity—they at once abandoned their business of tinkering and peg-making; and, resuming their other business of fortune-telling and begging, they judiciously distributed themselves among the various divisions of the pic-nic party.
Mr. Verdant Green was strolling up the hill lost in meditation, and so inattentive to the wiles of Miss Eleonora Morkin, and her sister Letitia Jane (two fascinating young ladies who were bent upon turning the pic-nic to account), that they had left him, and had forcibly attached themselves to Mr. Poletiss (a soft young gentleman from the neighbourhood of Wooler), when a gipsy woman, with a baby at her back and two children at her heels, singled out our hero as a not unlikely victim, and began at once to tell his fate, dispensing with the aid of stops:—
"May the heavens rain blessings on your head my pretty gentleman give the poor gipsy a piece of silver to buy her a bit for the bairns and I can read by the lines in your face my pretty gentleman that you're born to ride in a golden coach and wear buckles of diemints and that your heart's opening like a flower to help the poor gipsy to get her a trifle for her poor famishing bairns that I see the tears of pity astanding like pearls in your eyes my pretty gentleman and may you never know the want of the shilling that I see you're going to give the poor gipsy who will send you all the rich blessings of heaven if you will but cross her hand with the bright pieces of silver that are not half so bright as the sweet eyes of the lady that's awaiting and athinking of you my pretty gentleman."
This unpunctuated exhortation of the dark-eyed prophetess was here diverted into a new channel by the arrival of Miss Patty Honeywood, who had left her cousin Frank, and had brought her sketch-book to the spot where "the pretty gentleman" and the fortune-teller were standing.
"I do so want to draw a real gipsy," she said. "I have never yet sketched one; and this is a good opportunity. These little brownies of children, with their Italian faces and hair, are very picturesque in their rags."
"Oh! do draw them!" said Verdant enthusiastically, as he perceived that the rest of the party had passed out of sight. "It is a capital opportunity, and I dare say they will have no objection to be sketched."
"May the heavens be the hardest bed you'll ever have to lie on my pretty rosebud," said the unpunctuating descendant of John Faa, as she addressed herself to Miss Patty; "and you're welcome to take the poor gipsy's pictur and to cross her hand with the shining silver while she reads the stars and picks you out a prince of a husband and twelve pretty bairns like the"——
"No, no!" said Miss Patty, checking the gipsy in her bounteous promises. "I'll give you something for letting me sketch you, but I won't have my fortune told. I know it already; at least as much as I care to know." A speech which Mr. Verdant Green interpreted thus: Frederick Delaval has , and has been accepted.
"Pray don't let me keep you from the rest of the party," said Miss Patty to our hero, while the gipsy shot out fragments of persuasive oratory. "I can get on very well by myself." "She wants to get rid of me," thought Verdant. "I dare say her cousin is coming back to her." But he said, "At any rate let me stay until Mr. Delaval rejoins you."
"Oh! he is gone on with the rest, like a polite man. The Miss Maxwells and their cousins were all by themselves."
"But you are all by yourself; and, by your own showing, I ought to prove my politeness by staying with you."
"I suppose that is Oxford logic," said Miss Patty, as she went on with her sketch of the two gipsy children. "I wish these small persons would stand quiet. Put your hands on your stick, my boy, and not before your face.—But there are the Miss Morkins, with one gentleman for the two; and I dare say you would much rather be with Miss Eleonora. Now, wouldn't you?" and the young lady, as she rapidly sketched the figures before her, stole a sly look at the enamoured gentleman by her side, who forthwith protested, in an excited and confused manner, that he would rather stand near her for one minute than walk and talk for a whole day with the Miss Morkins; and then, having made this (for him) unusually strong avowal, he timidly blushed, and retired within himself.
"Oh yes! I dare say," said Miss Patty; "but I don't believe in compliments. If you choose to victimise yourself by staying here, of course you can do so.—Look at me, little girl; you needn't be frightened; I shan't eat you.—And perhaps you can be useful. I want some water to wash-in these figures; and if they were literally washed in it, it would be very much to their advantage, wouldn't it?"
Of course it would; and of course Mr. Verdant Green was delighted to obey the command. "What spirits she is in!" he thought, as he dipped the little can of water into the spring. "I dare say it is because she and her cousin Frederick have come to an understanding."
"If you are anxious to hear a fortune told," said Miss Patty, "here is the old gipsy coming back to us, and you had better let her tell yours."
"I am afraid that I know it."
"And do you like the prospect of it?"
"Not at all!" and as he said this Mr. Verdant Green's countenance fell. Singularly enough, a shade of sadness also stole over Miss Patty's sunny face. What could he mean?
A somewhat disagreeable silence was broken by the gipsy most volubly echoing Miss Patty's request.
"You had better let her tell you your fortune," said the young lady; "perhaps it may be an improvement on what you expected. And I shall be able to make a better sketch of her in her true character of a fortune-teller."
Then, like as Martivalle inspected Quentin Durward's palm, according to the form of the mystic arts which he practised, so the swarthy prophetess opened her Book of Fate, and favoured Mr. Verdant Green with choice extracts from its contents. First, she told the pretty gentleman a long rigmarole about the stars, and a planet that ought to have shone upon him, but didn't. Then she discoursed of a beautiful young lady, with a heart as full of love as a pomegranate was full of seeds,—painting, in pretty exact colours, a lively portraiture of Miss Patty, which was no very difficult task, while the fair original was close at hand; nevertheless, the infatuated pretty gentleman was deeply impressed with the gipsy narrative, and began to think that the practice and knowledge of the occult sciences may, after all, have been handed down to the modern representatives of the ancient Egyptians. He was still further impressed with this belief when the gipsy proceeded to tell him that he was passionately attached to the pomegranate-hearted young lady, but that his path of true love was crossed by a rival—a dark man.
Frederick Delaval! This is really most extraordinary! thought Mr. Verdant Green, who was not familiar with a fortune-teller's stock in trade; and he waited with some anxiety for the further unravelling of his fate.
The cunning gipsy saw this, and broadly hinted that another piece of silver placed upon the junction of two cross lines in the pretty gentleman's right palm would materially propitiate the stars, and assist in the happy solution of his fortune. When the hint had been taken she pursued her romantic narrative. Her elaborate but discursive summing-up comprehended the triumph of Mr. Verdant Green, the defeat of the dark man, the marriage of the former to the pomegranate-hearted young lady, a yellow carriage and four white horses with long tails, and, last but certainly not least, a family of twelve children: at which childish termination Miss Patty laughed, and asked our hero if that was the fate that he had dreaded?
Her sketch being concluded, she remunerated her models so munificently as to draw down upon her head a rapid series of the most wordy and incoherent blessings she had ever heard, under cover of which she effected her escape, and proceeded with her companion to rejoin the others. They were not very far in advance. The gipsies had beset them at divers points in their progress, and had made no small number of them yield to their importunities to cross their hands with silver. When the various members of the pic-nic party afterwards came to compare notes as to the fortunes that had been told them, it was discovered that a remarkable similarity pervaded the fates of all, though their destinies were greatly influenced by the amount expended in crossing the hand; and it was observable that the number of children promised to bless the nuptial tie was also regulated by a sliding-scale of payment—the largest payers being rewarded with the assurance of the largest families. It was also discovered that the description of the favoured lover was invariably the verbal delineation of the lady or gentleman who chanced to be at that time walking with the person whose fortune was being told—a prophetic discrimination worthy of all praise, since it had the pretty good security of being correct in more than one case, and in the other cases there was the chance of the prophecy coming true, however improbable present events would appear. Thus, Miss Eleonora Morkin received, and was perfectly satisfied with, a description of Mr. Poletiss; while Miss Letitia Jane Morkin was made supremely happy with a promise of a similarly-described gentleman; until the two sisters had compared notes, when they discovered that the same husband had been promised to both of them—which by no means improved their sororal amiability.
As Verdant walked up the hill with Miss Patty, he thought very seriously on his feelings towards her, and pondered what might be the nature of her feelings in regard to him. He believed that she was engaged to her cousin Frederick. All her little looks, and acts, and words to himself, he could construe as the mere tokens of the friendship of a warm-hearted girl. If she was inclined to a little flirtation, there was then an additional reason for her notice of him. Then he thought that she was of far too noble a disposition to lead him on to a love which she could not, or might not wish to, return; and that she would not have said and done many little things that he fondly recalled, unless she had chosen to show him that he was dearer to her than a mere friend. Having ascended to the heights of happiness by this thought, Verdant immediately plunged from thence into the depths of misery, by calling to mind various other little things that she had said and done in connection with her cousin; and he again forced himself into the conviction that in Frederick Delaval he had a rival, and, what was more, a successful one. He determined, before the day was over, to end his tortures of suspense by putting to Miss Patty the plain question whether or no she was engaged to her cousin, and to trust to her kindness to forgive the question if it was an impertinent one. He was unable to do this for the present, partly from lack of courage, and partly from the too close neighbourhood of others of the party; but he concocted several sentences that seemed to him to be admirably adapted to bring about the desired result.
"How abstracted you are!" said Miss Patty to him rather abruptly. "Why don't you make yourself agreeable? For the last three minutes you have not taken your eyes off Kitty." (She was walking just before them, with her cousin Frederick.) "What were you thinking about?"
Perhaps it was that he was suddenly roused from deep thought, and had no time to frame an evasive reply; but at any rate Mr. Verdant Green answered, "I was thinking that Mr. Delaval had proposed, and had been accepted." And then he was frightened at what he had said; for Miss Patty looked confused and surprised. "I see that it is so," he sighed, and his heart sank within him.
"How did you find it out?" she replied. "It is a secret for the present; and we do not wish any one to know of it."
"My dear Patty," said Frederick Delaval, who had waited for them to come up, "wherever have you been? We thought the gipsies had stolen you. I am dying to tell you my fortune. I was with Miss Maxwell at the time, and the old woman described her to me as my future wife. The fortune-teller was slightly on the wrong tack, wasn't she?" So Frederick Delaval and the Misses Honeywood laughed; and Mr. Verdant Green also laughed in a very savage manner; and they all seemed to think it a very capital joke, and walked on together in very capital spirits.
"My last hope is gone!" thought Verdant. "I have now heard my fate from her own lips."