The further adventures of Mr. Verdant Green, an Oxford under-graduate/Chapter 8

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Christmas had come; the season of kindness, and hospitality; the season when the streams of benevolence flow full in their channels; the season when the Honourable Miss Hyems indulges herself with ice, while the vulgar Jack Frost regales himself with cold-without. Christmas had come, and had brought with it an old fashioned winter; and, as Mr. Verdant Green stands with his hands in his pockets, and gazes from the drawing-room of his paternal mansion, he looks forth upon a white world.

The snow is everywhere. The shrubs are weighed down by masses of it; the terrace is knee-deep in it; the plaster Apollo, in the long-walk, is more than knee-deep in it, and is furnished with a surplice and wig, like a half-blown Bishop. The distant country looks the very ghost of a landscape: the white-walled cottages seem part and parcel of the snow-drifts around them,—drifts that take every variety of form, and are swept by the wind into faëry wreaths, and fantastic caves. The old mill-wheel is locked fast, and gemmed with giant icicles; its slippery stairs are more slippery than ever. Golden gorse and purple heather are now all of a colour; orchards puts forth blossoms of real snow; the gently swelling hills look bright and dazzling in the wintry sun; the grey church tower has grown from grey to white; nothing looks black, except the swarms of rooks that dot the snowy fields, or make their caws (long as any Chancery-suit) to be heard from among the dark branches of the stately elms that form the avenue to the Manor-Green.

It is a rare busy time for the intelligent Mr. Mole the gardener! he is always sweeping at that avenue, and, do what he will, he cannot keep it clear from snow. As Mr. Verdant Green looks forth upon the white world, his gaze is more particularly directed to this avenue, as though the form of the intelligent Mr. Mole was an object of interest. From time to time Mr. Verdant Green consults his watch in a nervous manner, and is utterly indifferent to the appeals of the robin-redbreast who is hopping about outside, in expectation of the dinner which has been daily given to him.

Just when the robin, emboldened by hunger, has begun to tap fiercely with his bill against the window-pane, as a gentle hint that the smallest donations of crumbs of comfort will be thankfully received, Mr. Verdant Green, utterly oblivious of robins in general, and of the sharp pecks of this one in particular, takes no notice of the little redbreast waiter with the bill, but, slightly colouring up, fixes his gaze upon the lodge-gate through which a group of ladies and gentlemen are passing. Stepping back for a moment, and stealing a glance at himself in the mirror, Mr. Verdant Green hurriedly arranges and disarranges his hair—pulls about his collar—ties and unties his neck-handkerchief—buttons and then unbuttons his coat—takes another look from the window—sees the intelligent Mr. Mole (besom in hand) salaaming the party, and then makes a rush for the vestibule, to be at the door to receive them.

Let us take a look at them as they come up the avenue. Place aux dames, is the proper sort of thing; but as there is no rule without its exception, and no adage without its counter-proverb, we will give the gentlemen the priority of description.

Hale and hearty, the picture of amiability and gentlemanly feeling, comes the Rector, Mr. Larkyns, sturdily crunching the frozen snow, which has defied all the besom powers of the intelligent Mr. Mole. Here, too, is Mr. Charles Larkyns, and, moreover, his friend Henry Bouncer, Esq., who has come to Christmas at the Rectory. Following in their wake is a fourth gentleman attired in the costume peculiar to clergymen, dissenting ministers, linen-drapers' assistants, and tavern waiters. He happens to belong to the first-named section, and is no less a person than the Rev. Josiah Meek, B.A., (St. Christopher's Coll., Oxon.)—who, for the last three months, has officiated as Mr. Larkyns's curate. He appears to be of a peace-loving, lamb-like disposition; and, though sportive as a lamb when occasion requires, is yet of timid ways and manners. He is timid, too, in voice,—speaking in a feeble treble; he is timid, too, in his address,—more particularly as regards females; and he has mild-looking whiskers, that are far too timid to assume any decided or obtrusive colour, and have fallen back on a generalised whitey-brown tint. But, though timid enough in society, he was bold and energetic in the discharge of his pastoral duties, and had already won the esteem of every one in the parish. So, Verdant had been told, when, on his return from college, he had asked his sisters how they liked the new curate. They had not only heard of his good deeds, but they had witnessed many of them in their visits to the schools and among the poor. Mary and Fanny were loud in his praise; and if Helen said but little, it was perhaps because she thought the more; for Helen was now of the susceptible age of "sweet seventeen," an age that not only feels warmly but thinks deeply; and, who shall say what feelings and thoughts may be beneath the pure waters of that sea of maidenhood whose surface is so still and calm? Love alone can tell:—Love, the bold diver, who can cleave that still surface, and bring up into the light of heaven the rich treasures that are of Heaven's own creation.

With the four gentlemen come two ladies—young ladies, moreover, who, as penny-a-liners say, are "possessed of considerable personal attractions." These are the Misses Honeywood, the blooming daughters of the rector's only sister; and they have come from the far land of the North, and are looking as fresh and sweet as their own heathery hills. The roses of health that bloom upon their cheeks have been brought into full blow by the keen, sharp breeze; the shepherd's-plaid shawls drawn tightly around them give the outline of figures that gently swell into the luxuriant line of beauty and grace. Altogether, they are damsels who are pleasant to the eye, and very fair to look upon.

Since they had last visited their uncle four years had passed, and, in that time, they had shot up to womanhood, although they were not yet out of their teens. Their father was a landed proprietor living in north Northumberland; and, like other landed proprietors who live under the shade of the Cheviots, was rich in his flocks, and his herds, and his men-servants and his maid-servants, and his he-asses and his she-asses, and was quite a modern patriarch. During the past summer, the rector had taken a trip to Northumberland, in order to see his sister, and refresh himself with a clergyman's fortnight at Honeywood Hall, and he would not leave his sister and her husband until he had extracted from them a promise that they would bring down their two eldest daughters and Christmas in Warwickshire. This was accordingly agreed to, and, more than that, acted upon; and little Mr. Bouncer and his sister Fanny were asked to meet them; but, to relieve the rector of a superfluity of lady guests, Miss Bouncer's quarters had been removed to the Manor Green.

It was quite an event in the history of our hero and his sisters. Four years ago, they, and Kitty and Patty Honeywood, were mere chits, for whom dolls had not altogether lost their interest, and who considered it as promotion when they sat in the drawing-room on company evenings, instead of being shown up at dessert. Four years at this period of life makes a vast change in young ladies, and the Green and Honeywood girls had so altered since last they met, that they had almost needed a fresh introduction to each other. But a day's intimacy made them bosom friends; and the Manor Green soon saw such revels as it had not seen for many a long year.

Every night there were (in the language of the play-bills of provincial theatres) "singing and dancing, with a variety of other entertainments;" the "other entertainments" occasionally consisting (as is scandalously affirmed) of a very favourite class of entertainment—popular at all times, but running mad riot at the Christmas season—wherein two performers of either sex take their places beneath a white-berried bough, and go through a species of dance, or pas de fascination, accompanied by mysterious rites and solemnities that have been scrupulously observed, and handed down to us, from the earliest age.

Mr. Verdant Green, during the short—alas! too short—Christmas week, had performed more polkas than he had ever danced in his life; and, under the charming tuition of Miss Patty Honeywood, was fast becoming a proficient in the valse à deux temps. As yet, the whirl of the dance brought on a corresponding rotatory motion of the brain, that made everything swim before his spectacles in a way which will be easily understood by all bad travellers who have crossed from Dover to Calais with a chopping sea and a gale of wind. But Miss Patty Honeywood was both good-natured and persevering: and she allowed our hero to dance on her feet without a murmur, and watchfully guided him when his giddy vision would have led them into contact with foreign bodies.

It is an old saying, that Gratitude begets Love. Mr. Verdant Green had already reached the first part of this dangerous creation, for he felt grateful to the pretty Patty for the good-humoured trouble she bestowed on the awkwardness, which he now, for the first time, began painfully to perceive. But, what his gratitude might end in, he had perhaps never taken the trouble to inquire. It was enough to Mr. Verdant Green that he enjoyed the present; and, as to the future, he fully followed out the Horatian precept—

Quid sit futurum cras, fuge quærere;
nec dulces amores
Sperne, puer, neque tu choreas.

It was perhaps ungrateful in our hero to prefer Miss Patty Honeywood to Miss Fanny Bouncer, especially when the latter was staying in the house, and had been so warmly recommended to his notice by her vivacious brother. Especially, too, as there was nothing to be objected to in Miss Bouncer, saving the fact that some might have affirmed she was a trifle too much inclined to embonpoint, and was indeed a bouncer in person as well as in name. Especially, too, as Miss Fanny Bouncer was both good-humoured and clever, and, besides being mistress of the usual young-lady accomplishments, was a clever proficient in the fascinating art of photography, and had brought her camera and chemicals, and had not only calotyped Mr. Verdant Green, but had made no end of duplicates of him, in a manner that was suggestive of the deepest admiration and affection. But these sort of likings are not made to rule, and Mr. Verdant Green could see Miss Fanny Bouncer approach without betraying any of those symptoms of excitement, under the influence of which we had the privilege to see him, as he gazed from the window of his paternal mansion, and then, on beholding the approaching form of Miss Patty Honeywood, rush wildly to the vestibule.

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The party had no occasion to ring, for the hall door was already opened for them, and Mr. Verdant Green was soon exchanging a delightful pressure of the hand with the blooming Patty.

"We were such a formidable party," said that young lady, as she laughed merrily, and thereby disclosed to the enraptured gazer a remarkably even set of white teeth ("All her own, too!" as little Mr. Bouncer afterwards remarked to the enraptured gazer); "we were such a formidable party," said Miss Patty, "that papa and mamma declared they would stay behind at the Rectory, and would not join in such a visitation."

Mr. Verdant Green replies, "Oh dear! I am very sorry," and looks remarkably delighted—though it certainly may not be at the absence of the respected couple; and he then proclaims that everything is ready, and that Miss Bouncer and his sisters had found out some capital words.

"What a mysterious communication, Verdant!" remarks the rector, as they pass into the house. But the rector is only to be let so far into the secret as to be informed that, at the evening party which is to be held at the Manor Green that night, a charade or two will be acted, in order to diversify the amusements. The Misses Honeywood are great adepts in this sort of pastime; so, also, are Miss Bouncer and her brother. For although the latter does not shine as a mimic, yet, as he is never deserted by his accustomed coolness, he has plenty of the nonchalance and readiness which is a requisite for charade acting. The Miss Honeywoods and Mr. Bouncer have therefore suggested to Mr. Verdant Green and his sisters, that to get up a little amateur performance would be "great fun;" and the suggestion has met with a warm approval.

The drawing-room at the Manor Green opened by large folding-doors to the library; so (as Mr. Bouncer observed to our hero), "there you've got your stage and your drop-scene as right as a trivet; and, if you stick a lot of candles and lights on each side of the doors in the library, there you'll have a regular flare-up that'll show off your venerable giglamps no end."

So charades were determined on; and, when words had been hunted up, a council of war was called. But, as the ladies and gentlemen hold their council with closed doors, we cannot intrude upon them. We must therefore wait till the evening, when the result of their deliberations will be publicly manifested.