Mr. Verdant Green Married and Done for/Chapter 8
MR. VERDANT GREEN CROSSES THE RUBICON.
The hill on which they were seated was broken up into the most picturesque undulations; here, the rock cropped out from the mossy turf; there, the blaeberries (the bilberries of more southern counties) clustered in myrtle-like bushes. The intrenched hill sloped down to a rich plain, spreading out for many miles, traversed by the great north road, and dotted over with hamlets. Then came a brown belt of sand, and a broken white line of breakers; and then the sea, flecked with crested waves, and sails that glimmered in the dreamy distance. Holy Island was also in sight, together with the rugged Castle of Bamborough, and the picturesque groups of the Staple and the Farn Islands, covered with sea-birds, and circled with pearls of foam.
The immediate foreground presented a very cheering prospect to hungry folks. The snowy table-cloth—held down upon the grass by fragments of rock against the surprise of high winds—was dappled over with loins of lamb, and lobster salads, and pigeon-pies, and veal cakes, and grouse, and game, and ducks, and cold fowls, and ruddy hams, and helpless tongues, and cool cucumbers, and pickled salmon, and roast-beef of old England, and oyster patties, and venison pasties, and all sorts of pastries, and jellies, and custards, and ice: to say nothing of piles of peaches, and nectarines, and grapes, and melons, and pines. Everything had been remembered—even the salt, and the knives and forks, which are usually forgotten at alfresco entertainments. All this was very cheering, and suggestive of enjoyment and creature comforts. Wines and humbler liquids stood around; and, for the especial delectation of the ladies, a goodly supply of champagne lay cooling itself in some ice-pails, under the tilt of the cart that had brought it. This cart-tilt, draped over with loose sacking, formed a very good imitation of a gipsy tent, that did not in the least detract from the rusticity of the scene, more especially as close behind it was burning a gipsy fire, surmounted by a triple gibbet, on which hung a kettle, melodious even then, and singing through its swan-like neck an intimation of its readiness to aid, at a moment's notice, in the manufacture of whisky-toddy.
The dinner was a very merry affair. The gentlemen vied with the servants in attending to the wants of the ladies, and were assiduous in the duties of cutting and carving; while the sharp popping of the champagne, and the heavier artillery of the pale ale and porter bottles, made a pleasant fusillade. Little Mr. Bouncer was especially deserving of notice. He sat with his legs in the shape of the letter V inverted, his legs being forced to retain their position from the fact of three dishes of various dimensions being arranged between them in a diminuendo passage. These three dishes he vigorously attacked, not only on his own account, but also on behalf of his neighbours, more especially Miss Fanny Green, who reclined by his side in an oriental posture, and made a table of her lap. The disposition of the rest of the dramatis personæ was also noticeable, as also their positions—their sitting à la Turk or tailor, and their dégagés attitudes and costumes. Charles Larkyns had got by Mary Green; Mr. Poletiss was placed, sandwich-like, between the two Miss Morkins, who were both making love to him at once; Frederick Delaval was sitting in a similar fashion between the two Miss Honeywoods, who were not, however, both making love to him at once; and on the other side of Miss Patty was Mr. Verdant Green. The infatuated young man could not drag himself away from his conqueror. Although, from her own confession, he had learnt what he had many times suspected—that Frederick Delaval had proposed and had been accepted—yet he still felt a pleasure in burning his wings and fluttering round his light of love. "An affection of the heart cannot be cured at a moment's notice," thought Verdant; "to-morrow I will endeavour to begin the task of forgetting—to-day, remembrance is too recent; besides, every one is expected to enjoy himself at a pic-nic, and I must appear to do the same."
But it did not seem as though Miss Patty had any intention of allowing those in her immediate vicinity to betake themselves to the dismals, or to the produce of wet-blankets, for she was in the very highest spirits, and insisted, as it were, that those around her should catch the contagion of her cheerfulness. And it accordingly happened that Mr. Verdant Green seemed to be as merry as was old King Cole, and laughed and talked as though black care was anywhere else than between himself and Miss Patty Honeywood.
Close behind Miss Patty was the gipsy-tent-looking cart-tilt; and when the dinner was over, and there was a slight change of places, while the fragments were being cleared away and the dessert and wine were being placed on the table—that is to say, the cloth—Miss Patty, under pretence of escaping from a ray of sunshine that had pierced the trees and found its way to her face, retreated a yard or so, and crouched beneath the pseudo gipsy-tent. And what so natural but that Mr. Verdant Green should also find the sun disagreeable, and should follow his light of love, to burn his wings a little more, and flutter round her fascinations? At any rate, whether natural or no, Verdant also drew back a yard or so, and found himself half within the cart-tilt, and very close to Miss Patty.
The pic-nic party were stretched at their ease upon the grass, drinking wine, munching fruit, talking, laughing, and flirting, with the blue sea before them and the bluer sky above them, when said the squire in heroic strain, "Song alone is wanting to crown our feast! Charles Larkyns, you have not only the face of a singer, but, as we all know, you have the voice of one. I therefore call upon you to set our minstrels an example; and, as a propitiatory measure, I beg to propose your health, with eulogistic thanks for the song you are about to sing!" Which was unanimously seconded amid laughter and cheers; and the pop of the champagne bottles gave Charles Larkyns the key-note for his song. It was suited to the occasion (perhaps it was composed for it?), being a pæan for a pic-nic, and it stated (in chorus)—
"Then these aids to success
Should a pic-nic possess
For the cup of its joy to be brimming:
Three things there should shine
Fair, agreeable, and fine—
The Weather, the Wine, and the Women!"
A rule of pic-nics which, if properly worked out, could not fail to answer.
Other songs followed; and Mr. Poletiss, being a young gentleman of a meek appearance and still meeker voice, lyrically informed the company that "Oh! he was a pirate bold, The scourge of the wide, wide sea, With a murd'rous thirst for gold, And a life that was wild and free!" And when Mr. Poletiss arrived at this point, he repeated the last word two or three times over—just as if he had been King George the Third visiting Whitbread's Brewery—
"Grains, grains!" said majesty, "to fill their crops?
Grains, grains! that comes from hops—yes, hops, hops, hops!"
So Mr. Poletiss sang, "And a life that was wild and free, free, free, And a life that was wild and free." To this charming lyric there was a chorus of, "Then hurrah for the pirate bold, And hurrah for the rover wild, And hurrah for the yellow gold, And hurrah for the ocean's child!" the mild enunciation of which highly moral and appropriate chant appeared to give Mr. Poletiss great satisfaction, as he turned his half-shut eyes to the sky, and fashioned his mouth into a smile. Mr. Bouncer's love for a chorus was conspicuously displayed on this occasion; and Miss Eleonora and Miss Letitia Jane Morkin added their feeble trebles to the hurrahs with which Mr. Poletiss, in his George the Third fashion, meekly hailed the advantages to be derived from a pirate's career.
But what was Mr. Verdant Green doing all this time? The sunbeam had pursued him, and proved so annoying that he had found it necessary to withdraw altogether into the shade of the pseudo gipsy-tent. Miss Patty Honeywood had made such room for him that she was entirely hidden from the rest of the party by the rude drapery of the tent. By the time that Mr. Poletiss had commenced his piratical song, Miss Patty and Verdant were deep in a whispered conversation. It was she who had started the conversation, and it was about the gipsy and her fortune-telling.
Just when Mr. Poletiss had given his first imitation of King George, and was mildly plunging into his hurrah chorus, Mr. Verdant Green—whose timidity, fears, and depression of spirits had somewhat been dispelled and alleviated by the allied powers of Miss Patty and the champagne—was speaking thus: "And do you really think that she was only inventing, and that the dark man she spoke of was a creature of her own imagination?"
"Of course!" answered Miss Patty; "you surely don't believe that she could have meant any one in particular, either in the gentleman's case or in the lady's?"
"But, in the lady's, she evidently described you."
"Very likely! just as she would have described any other young lady who might have chanced to be with you: Miss Morkin, for example. The gipsy knew her trade."
"Many true words are spoken in jest. Perhaps it was not altogether idly that she spoke; perhaps I did care for the lady she described."
The sunbeam must surely have penetrated through the tent's coarse covering, for both Miss Patty and Mr. Verdant Green were becoming very hot—hotter even than they had been under the apple-tree in the orchard. Mr. Poletiss was all this time giving his imitations of George the Third, and lyrically expressing his opinion as to the advantages to be derived from the profession of a pirate; and, as his song was almost as long as "Chevy Chase," and mainly consisted of a chorus, which was energetically led by Mr. Bouncer, there was noise enough made to drown any whispered conversation in the pseudo gipsy-tent.
"But," continued Verdant, "perhaps the lady she described did not care for me, or she would not have given all her love to the dark man."
"I think," faltered Miss Patty, "the gipsy seemed to say that the lady preferred the light man. But you do not believe what she told you?"
"I would have done so a few days ago—if it had been repeated by you."
"I scarcely know what you mean."
"Until to-day I had hoped. It seems that I have built my hopes on a false foundation, and one word of yours has crumbled them into the dust!"
This pretty sentence embodied an idea that he had stolen from his own Legend of the Fair Margaret. He felt so much pride in his property that, as Miss Patty looked slightly bewildered and remained speechless, he reiterated the little quotation about his crumbling hopes.
"Whatever can I have done," said the young lady, with a smile, "to cause such a ruin?"
"It caused you no pain to utter the words," replied Verdant; "and why should it? but, to me, they tolled the knell of my happiness." (This was another quotation from his Legend.)
"Then hurrah for the pirate bold, And hurrah for the rover wild!" sang the meek Mr. Poletiss.
Miss Patty Honeywood began to suspect that Mr. Verdant Green had taken too much champagne!
"What do you mean?" she said. "Whatever have I said or done to you that you make use of such remarkable expressions?"
"And hurrah for the yellow gold, And hurrah for the ocean's child!" chorussed Messrs. Poletiss, Bouncer, and Co.
Looking as sentimental as his spectacles would allow, Mr. Verdant Green replied in verse—
"'Hopes that once we've loved to cherish
May fade and droop, but never perish!'
as Shakspeare says." (Although he modestly attributed this sentiment to the Swan of Avon, it was, nevertheless, another quotation from his own Legend.) "And it is my case. I cannot forget the Past, though you may!"
"Really you are as enigmatical as the Sphinx!" said Miss Patty, who again thought of Mr. Verdant Green in connection with champagne. "Pray condescend to speak more plainly, for I was never clever at finding out riddles."
"And have you forgotten what you said to me, in reply to a question that I asked you, as we came up the hill?"
"Yes, I have quite forgotten. I dare say I said many foolish things; but what was the particular foolish thing that so dwells on your mind?"
"If it is so soon forgotten, it is not worth repeating."
"Oh, it is! Pray gratify my curiosity. I am sorry my bad memory should have given you any pain."
"It was not your bad memory, but your words."
"My bad words?"
"No, not bad; but words that shut out a bright future, and changed my life to gloom." (The Legend again.)
Miss Patty looked more perplexed than ever; while Mr. Poletiss politely filled up the gap of silence with an imitation of King George the Third.
"I really do not know what you mean," said Miss Patty. "If I have said or done anything that has caused you pain, I can assure you it was quite unwittingly on my part, and I am very sorry for it; but, if you will tell me what it was, perhaps I may be able to explain it away, and disabuse your mind of a false impression."
"I am quite sure that you did not intend to pain me," replied Verdant; "and I know that it was presumptuous in me to think as I did. It was scarcely probable that you would feel as I felt; and I ought to have made up my mind to it, and have borne my sufferings with a patient heart." (The Legend again!) "And yet when the shock does come, it is very hard to be borne."
Miss Patty's bright eyes were dilated with wonder, and she again thought of Mr. Verdant Green in connection with champagne. Mr. Poletiss was still taking his pirate through all sorts of flats and sharps, and chromatic imitations of King George.
"But, what is this shock?" asked Miss Patty. "Perhaps I can relieve it; and I ought to do so if it came through my means."
"You cannot help me," said Verdant. "My suspicions were confirmed by your words, and they have sealed my fate."
"But you have not yet told me what those words were, and I must really insist upon knowing," said Miss Patty, who had begun to look very seriously perplexed.
"And, can you have forgotten!" was the reply. "Do you not remember, that, as we came up the hill, I put a certain question to you about Mr. Delaval having proposed and having been accepted?"
"Yes! I remember it very well! And, what then?"
"And, what then!" echoed Mr. Verdant Green, in the greatest wonder at the young lady's calmness; "what then! why, when you told me that he had been accepted, was not that sufficient for me to know?—to know that all my love had been given to one who was another's, and that all my hopes were blighted! was not this sufficient to crush me, and to change the colour of my life?" And Verdant's face showed that, though he might be quoting from his Legend, he was yet speaking from his heart.
"Oh! I little expected this!" faltered Miss Patty, in real grief; "I little thought of this. Why did you not speak sooner to some one—to me, for instance—and have spared yourself this misery? If you had been earlier made acquainted with Frederick's attachment, you might then have checked your own. I did not ever dream of this!" And Miss Patty, who had turned pale, and trembled with agitation, could not restrain a tear.
"It is very kind of you thus to feel for me!" said Verdant; "and all I ask is, that you will still remain my friend."
"Indeed, I will. And I am sure Kitty will always wish to be the same. She will be sadly grieved to hear of this; for, I can assure you that she had no suspicion you were attached to her."
"Attached to her!" cried Verdant, with vast surprise. "What ever do you mean?"
"Have you not been telling me of your secret love for her?" answered Miss Patty, who again turned her thoughts to the champagne.
"Love for her? No! nothing of the kind."
"What! and not spoken about your grief when I told you that Frederick Delaval had proposed to her, and had been accepted?"
"Proposed to her?" cried Verdant, in a kind of dreamy swoon.
"Yes! to whom else do you suppose he would propose?"
"Yes, to you! Why, have you not been telling me that you were engaged to him?"
"Telling you that I was engaged to Fred!" rejoined Miss Patty. "Why, what could put such an idea into your head? Fred is engaged to Kitty. You asked me if it was not so; and I told you, yes, but that it was a secret at present. Why, then of whom were you talking?"
"Yes, of you!" And the scales fell from the eyes of both, and they saw their mutual mistake.
There was a silence, which Verdant was the first to break.
"It seems that love is really blind. I now perceive how we have been playing at cross questions and crooked answers. When I asked you about Mr. Delaval, my thoughts were wholly of you, and I spoke of you, and not of your sister, as you imagined; and I fancied that you answered not for your sister, but for yourself. When I spoke of my attachment, it did not refer to your sister, but to you."
"To me?" softly said Miss Patty, as a delicious tremor stole over her.
"To you, and to you alone," answered Verdant. The great stumbling-block of his doubts was now removed, and his way lay clear before him. Then, after a momentary pause to nerve his determination, and without further prelude, or beating about the bush, he said, "Patty—my dear Miss Honeywood—I love you! do you love me?"
There it was at last! The dreaded question over which he had passed so many hours of thought, was at length spoken. The elaborate sentences that he had devised for its introduction, had all been forgotten; and his artificial flowers of oratory had been exchanged for those simpler blossoms of honesty and truth—"I love you—do you love me?" He had imagined that he should put the question to her when they were alone in some quiet room; or, better still, when they were wandering together in some sequestered garden walk or shady lane; and, now, here he had unexpectedly, and undesignedly, found his opportunity at a pic-nic dinner, with half a hundred people close beside him, and his ears assaulted with a songster's praises of piracy and murder. Strange accompaniments to a declaration of the tender passion! But, like others before him, he had found that there was no such privacy as that of a crowd—the fear of interruption probably adding a spur to determination, while the laughter and busy talking of others assist to fill up awkward pauses of agitation in the converse of the loving couple.
Despite the heat, Miss Patty's cheeks paled for a moment, as Verdant put to her that question, "Do you love me?" Then a deep blush stole over them, as she whispered "I do."
What need for more? what need for pressure of hands or lips, and vows of love and constancy? What need even for the elder and more desperate of the Miss Morkins to maliciously suggest that Mr. Poletiss—who had concluded, amid a great display of approbation (probably because it was concluded) his mild piratical chant, and his imitations of King George the Third—should call upon Mr. Verdant Green, who, as she understood, was a very good singer? "And, dear me! where could he have gone to, when he was here just now, you know! and, good gracious! why there he was, under the cart-tilt—and well, I never was so surprised—Miss Martha Honeywood with him, flirting now, I dare say? shouldn't you think so?"
No need for this stroke of generalship! No need for Miss Letitia Jane Morkin to prompt Miss Fanny Green to bring her brother out of his retirement. No need for Mr. Frederick Delaval to say "I thought you were never going to slip from your moorings!" Or for little Mr. Bouncer to cry, "Yoicks! unearthed at last!" No need for anything, save the parental sanction to the newly-formed engagement. Mr. Verdant Green had proposed, and had been accepted; and Miss Patty Honeywood could exclaim with Schiller's heroine, "Ich habe gelebt und geliebet!—I have lived, and have loved!"