Crotchet Castle, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter XVIII: Chainmail Hall

Vous autres dictes que ignorance est mere de tous maulx, et dictes vray: mais toutesfoys vous ne la bannissez mye de vos entendemens, et vivez en elle, avecques elle, et par elle. C’est pourquoy tant de maulx vous meshaignent de jour en jour. — RABELIAS, 1. 5. c. 7.

The party which was assembled on Christmas Day in Chainmail Hall comprised all the guests of Crotchet Castle, some of Mr. Chainmail’s other neighbours, all his tenants and domestics, and Captain Fitzchrome. The hall was spacious and lofty; and with its tall fluted pillars and pointed arches, its windows of stained glass, its display of arms and banners intermingled with holly and mistletoe, its blazing cressets and torches, and a stupendous fire in the centre, on which blocks of pine were flaming and crackling, had a striking effect on eyes unaccustomed to such a dining-room. The fire was open on all sides, and the smoke was caught and carried back under a funnel-formed canopy into a hollow central pillar. This fire was the line of demarcation between gentle and simple on days of high festival. Tables extended from it on two sides to nearly the end of the hall.

Mrs. Chainmail was introduced to the company. Young Crotchet felt some revulsion of feeling at the unexpected sight of one whom he had forsaken, but not forgotten, in a condition apparently so much happier than his own. The lady held out her hand to him with a cordial look of more than forgiveness; it seemed to say that she had much to thank him for. She was the picture of a happy bride, rayonnante de joie et d’amour.

Mr. Crotchet told the Reverend Doctor Folliott the news of the morning. “As you predicted,” he said, “your friend, the learned friend, is in office; he has also a title; he is now Sir Guy de Vaux.”

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Thank heaven for that! he is disarmed from further mischief. It is something, at any rate, to have that hollow and wind-shaken reed rooted up for ever from the field of public delusion.

MR. CROTCHET. I suppose, Doctor, you do not like to see a great reformer in office; you are afraid for your vested interests.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Not I, indeed, sir; my vested interests are very safe from all such reformers as the learned friend. I vaticinate what will be the upshot of all his schemes of reform. He will make a speech of seven hours’ duration, and this will be its quintessence: that, seeing the exceeding difficulty of putting salt on the bird’s tail, it will be expedient to consider the best method of throwing dust in the bird’s eyes. All the rest will be

[Greek text in verse]

as Aristophanes has it; and so I leave him, in Nephelococcygia.

Mr. Mac Quedy came up to the divine as Mr. Crotchet left him, and said: “There is one piece of news which the old gentleman has not told you. The great firm of Catchflat and Company, in which young Crotchet is a partner, has stopped payment.”

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Bless me! that accounts for the young gentleman’s melancholy. I thought they would overreach themselves with their own tricks. The day of reckoning, Mr. Mac Quedy, is the point which your paper-money science always leaves out of view.

MR. MAC QUEDY. I do not see, sir, that the failure of Catchflat and Company has anything to do with my science.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. It has this to do with it, sir, that you would turn the whole nation into a great paper-money shop, and take no thought of the day of reckoning. But the dinner is coming. I think you, who are so fond of paper promises, should dine on the bill of fare.

The harper at the head of the hall struck up an ancient march, and the dishes were brought in, in grand procession.

The boar’s head, garnished with rosemary, with a citron in its mouth, led the van. Then came tureens of plum-porridge; then a series of turkeys, and in the midst of them an enormous sausage, which it required two men to carry. Then came geese and capons, tongues and hams, the ancient glory of the Christmas pie, a gigantic plum pudding, a pyramid of mince pies, and a baron of beef bringing up the rear.

“It is something new under the sun,” said the divine, as he sat down, “to see a great dinner without fish.”

MR. CHAINMAIL. Fish was for fasts in the twelfth century.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Well, sir, I prefer our reformed system of putting fasts and feasts together. Not but here is ample indemnity.

Ale and wine flowed in abundance. The dinner passed off merrily: the old harper playing all the while the oldest music in his repertory. The tables being cleared, he indemnified himself for lost time at the lower end of the hall, in company with the old butler and the other domestics, whose attendance on the banquet had been indispensable.

The scheme of Christmas gambols, which Mr. Chainmail had laid for the evening, was interrupted by a tremendous clamour without.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. What have we here? Mummers?

MR. CHAINMAIL. Nay, I know not. I expect none.

“Who is there?” he added, approaching the door of the hall.

“Who is there?” vociferated the divine, with the voice of Stentor.

“Captain Swing,” replied a chorus of discordant voices.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Ho, ho! here is a piece of the dark ages we did not bargain for. Here is the Jacquerie. Here is the march of mind with a witness.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Do you not see that you have brought disparates together? the Jacquerie and the march of mind.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Not at all, sir. They are the same thing, under different names. [Greek text]. What was Jacquerie in the dark ages is the march of mind in this very enlightened one — very enlightened one.

MR. CHAINMAIL. The cause is the same in both; poverty in despair.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Very likely; but the effect is extremely disagreeable.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. It is the natural result, Mr. Mac Quedy, of that system of state seamanship which your science upholds. Putting the crew on short allowance, and doubling the rations of the officers, is the sure way to make a mutiny on board a ship in distress, Mr. Mac Quedy.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Eh! sir, I uphold no such system as that. I shall set you right as to cause and effect. Discontent arises with the increase of information. That is all.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. I said it was the march of mind. But we have not time for discussing cause and effect now. Let us get rid of the enemy.

And he vociferated at the top of his voice, “What do you want here?” “Arms, arms,” replied a hundred voices, “Give us the arms.”

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. You see, Mr. Chainmail, this is the inconvenience of keeping an armoury not fortified with sand bags, green bags, and old bags of all kinds.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Just give them the old spits and toasting irons, and they will go away quietly.

MR. CHAINMAIL. My spears and swords! not without my life. These assailants are all aliens to my land and house. My men will fight for me, one and all. This is the fortress of beef and ale.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Eh! sir, when the rabble is up, it is very indiscriminating. You are e’en suffering for the sins of Sir Simon Steeltrap and the like, who have pushed the principle of accumulation a little too far.

MR. CHAINMAIL. The way to keep the people down is kind and liberal usage.

MR. MAC QUEDY. That is very well (where it can be afforded) in the way of prevention; but in the way of cure the operation must be more drastic. (Taking down a battle-axe.) I would fain have a good blunderbuss charged with slugs.

MR. CHAINMAIL. When I suspended these arms for ornament, I never dreamed of their being called into use.

MR. SKIONAR. Let me address them. I never failed to convince an audience that the best thing they could do was to go away.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Eh! sir, I can bring them to that conclusion in less time than you.

MR. CROTCHET. I have no fancy for fighting. It is a very hard case upon a guest, when the latter end of a feast is the beginning of a fray.

MR. MAC QUEDY. Give them the old iron.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Give them the weapons! Pessimo, medius fidius, exemplo. Forbid it the spirit of Frere Jean des Entommeures! No! let us see what the church militant, in the armour of the twelfth century, will do against the march of mind. Follow me who will, and stay who list. Here goes: Pro aris et focis! that is, for tithe pigs and fires to roast them.

He clapped a helmet on his head, seized a long lance, threw open the gates, and tilted out on the rabble, side by side with Mr. Chainmail, followed by the greater portion of the male inmates of the hall, who had armed themselves at random.

The rabble-rout, being unprepared for such a sortie, fled in all directions, over hedge and ditch.

Mr. Trillo stayed in the hall, playing a march on the harp, to inspirit the rest to sally out. The water-loving Mr. Philpot had diluted himself with so much wine as to be quite hors de combat. Mr. Toogood, intending to equip himself in purely defensive armour, contrived to slip a ponderous coat of mail over his shoulders, which pinioned his arms to his sides; and in this condition, like a chicken trussed for roasting, he was thrown down behind a pillar in the first rush of the sortie. Mr. Crotchet seized the occurrence as a pretext for staying with him, and passed the whole time of the action in picking him out of his shell.

“Phew!” said the divine, returning; “an inglorious victory; but it deserves a devil and a bowl of punch.”

MR. CHAINMAIL. A wassail-bowl.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. No, sir. No more of the twelfth century for me.

MR. CHAINMAIL. Nay, Doctor. The twelfth century has backed you well. Its manners and habits, its community of kind feelings between master and man, are the true remedy for these ebullitions.

MR. TOOGOOD. Something like it: improved by my diagram: arts for arms.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. No wassail-bowl for me. Give me an unsophisticated bowl of punch, which belongs to that blissful middle period, after the Jacquerie was down, and before the march of mind was up. But, see, who is floundering in the water?

Proceeding to the edge of the moat, they fished up Mr. Firedamp, who had missed his way back, and tumbled in. He was drawn out, exclaiming, “that he had taken his last dose of malaria in this world.”

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Tut, man; dry clothes, a turkey’s leg and rump, well devilled, and a quart of strong punch, will set all to rights.

“Wood embers,” said Mr. Firedamp, when he had been accommodated with a change of clothes, “there is no antidote to malaria like the smoke of wood embers; pine embers.” And he placed himself, with his mouth open, close by the fire.

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. Punch, sir, punch: there is no antidote like punch.

MR. CHAINMAIL. Well, Doctor, you shall be indulged. But I shall have my wassail-bowl, nevertheless.

An immense bowl of spiced wine, with roasted apples hissing on its surface, was borne into the hall by four men, followed by an empty bowl of the same dimensions, with all the materials of arrack punch, for the divine’s especial brewage. He accinged himself to the task with his usual heroism, and having finished it to his entire satisfaction, reminded his host to order in the devil

REV. DR. FOLLIOTT. I think, Mr. Chainmail, we can amuse ourselves very well here all night. The enemy may be still excubant: and we had better not disperse till daylight. I am perfectly satisfied with my quarters. Let the young folk go on with their gambols; let them dance to your old harper’s minstrelsy; and if they please to kiss under the mistletoe, whereof I espy a goodly bunch suspended at the end of the hall, let those who like it not leave it to those who do. Moreover, if among the more sedate portion of the assembly, which, I foresee, will keep me company, there were any to revive the good old custom of singing after supper, so to fill up the intervals of the dances, the steps of night would move more lightly.

MR. CHAINMAIL. My Susan will set the example, after she has set that of joining in the rustic dance, according to good customs long departed.

After the first dance, in which all classes of the company mingled, the young lady of the mansion took her harp, and following the reverend gentleman’s suggestion, sang a song of the twelfth century.

FLORENCE AND BLANCHFLOR.

Florence and Blanchflor, loveliest maids,

Within a summer grove,

Amid the flower-enamelled shades

Together talked of love.

A clerk sweet Blanchflor’s heart had gain’d;

Fair Florence loved a knight:

And each with ardent voice maintained

She loved the worthiest wight.

Sweet Blanchflor praised her scholar dear,

As courteous, kind, and true!

Fair Florence said her chevalier

Could every foe subdue.

And Florence scorned the bookworm vain,

Who sword nor spear could raise;

And Blanchflor scorned the unlettered brain Could sing no lady’s praise.

From dearest love, the maidens bright

To deadly hatred fell,

Each turned to shun the other’s sight,

And neither said farewell.

The king of birds, who held his court

Within that flowery grove,

Sang loudly: “’Twill be rare disport

To judge this suit of love.”

Before him came the maidens bright,

With all his birds around,

To judge the cause, if clerk or knight

In love be worthiest found.

The falcon and the sparrow-hawk

Stood forward for the fight:

Ready to do, and not to talk,

They voted for the knight.

And Blanchflor’s heart began to fail,

Till rose the strong-voiced lark,

And, after him, the nightingale,

And pleaded for the clerk.

The nightingale prevailed at length,

Her pleading had such charms;

So eloquence can conquer strength,

And arts can conquer arms.

The lovely Florence tore her hair,

And died upon the place;

And all the birds assembled there

Bewailed the mournful case.

They piled up leaves and flowerets rare

Above the maiden bright,

And sang: “Farewell to Florence fair,

Who too well loved her knight.”

Several others of the party sang in the intervals of the dances. Mr. Chainmail handed to Mr. Trillo another ballad of the twelfth century, of a merrier character than the former. Mr. Trillo readily accommodated it with an air, and sang:

THE PRIEST AND THE MULBERRY TREE.

Did you hear of the curate who mounted his mare,

And merrily trotted along to the fair?

Of creature more tractable none ever heard;

In the height of her speed she would stop at a word,

And again with a word, when the curate said Hey,

She put forth her mettle, and galloped away.

As near to the gates of the city he rode,

While the sun of September all brilliantly glowed,

The good priest discovered, with eyes of desire,

A mulberry tree in a hedge of wild briar,

On boughs long and lofty, in many a green shoot,

Hung large, black, and glossy, the beautiful fruit.

The curate was hungry, and thirsty to boot;

He shrunk from the thorns, though he longed for the fruit;

With a word he arrested his courser’s keen speed,

And he stood up erect on the back of his steed;

On the saddle he stood, while the creature stood still,

And he gathered the fruit, till he took his good fill.

“Sure never,” he thought, “was a creature so rare,

So docile, so true, as my excellent mare.

Lo, here, how I stand” (and he gazed all around),

“As safe and as steady as if on the ground,

Yet how had it been, if some traveller this way,

Had, dreaming no mischief, but chanced to cry Hey?”

He stood with his head in the mulberry tree,

And he spoke out aloud in his fond reverie.

At the sound of the word, the good mare made a push,

And down went the priest in the wild-briar bush.

He remembered too late, on his thorny green bed,

Much that well may be thought cannot wisely be said.

Lady Clarinda, being prevailed on to take the harp in her turn, sang the following stanzas.

In the days of old,

Lovers felt true passion,

Deeming years of sorrow

By a smile repaid.

Now the charms of gold,

Spells of pride and fashion,

Bid them say good morrow

To the best-loved maid.

Through the forests wild,

O’er the mountains lonely,

They were never weary

Honour to pursue.

If the damsel smiled

Once in seven years only,

All their wanderings dreary

Ample guerdon knew.

Now one day’s caprice

Weighs down years of smiling,

Youthful hearts are rovers,

Love is bought and sold:

Fortune’s gifts may cease,

Love is less beguiling;

Wisest were the lovers

In the days of old.

The glance which she threw at the captain, as she sang the last verse, awakened his dormant hopes. Looking round for his rival, he saw that he was not in the hall; and, approaching the lady of his heart, he received one of the sweetest smiles of their earlier days.

After a time, the ladies, and all the females of the party, retired. The males remained on duty with punch and wassail, and dropped off one by one into sweet forgetfulness; so that when the rising sun of December looked through the painted windows on mouldering embers and flickering lamps, the vaulted roof was echoing to a mellifluous concert of noses, from the clarionet of the waiting-boy at one end of the hall, to the double bass of the Reverend Doctor, ringing over the empty punch-bowl, at the other.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24