Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter 5

The Seven Sisters

(Greek passage.)

Euripides: Alcestis.

Rejoice thy spirit: drink: the passing day

Esteem thine own, and all beyond as Fortune’s.

The doctor was not long without remembering his promise to revisit his new acquaintance, and, purposing to remain till the next morning, he set out later in the day. The weather was intensely hot: he walked slowly, and paused more frequently than usual, to rest under the shade of trees. He was shown into the drawing-room, where he was shortly joined by Mr. Falconer, and very cordially welcomed.

The two friends dined together in the lower room of the tower. The dinner and wine were greatly to the doctor’s mind. In due time they adjourned to the drawing-room, and the two young handmaids who had waited at dinner attended with coffee and tea. The doctor then said —‘You are well provided with musical instruments. Do you play?’

Mr. Falconer. No. I have profited by the observation of Doctor Johnson: ‘Sir, once on a time I took to fiddling; but I found that to fiddle well I must fiddle all my life, and I thought I could do something better.’

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Then, I presume, these are pieces of ornamental furniture, for the use of occasional visitors?

Mr. Falconer. Not exactly. My maids play on them, and sing to them.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Your maids!

Mr. Falconer. Even so. They have been thoroughly well educated, and are all accomplished musicians.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. And at what time do they usually play on them?

Mr. Falconer. Every evening about this time, when I am alone.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. And why not when you have company?

Mr. Falconer. La Morgue aristocratique, which pervades all society, would not tolerate such a proceeding on the part of young women, of whom some had superintended the preparation of the dinner, and others attended on it. It would not have been incongruous in the Homeric age.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Then I hope you will allow it to be not incongruous this evening, Homer being the original vinculum between you and me.

Mr. Falconer. Would you like to hear them?

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Indeed I should.

The two younger sisters having answered the summons, and the doctor’s wish having been communicated, the seven appeared together, all in the same dress of white and purple.

‘The seven Pleiads!’ thought the doctor. ‘What a constellation of beauty!’ He stood up and bowed to them, which they gracefully acknowledged.

They then played on, and sang to, the harp and piano. The doctor was enchanted.

After a while, they passed over to the organ, and performed some sacred music of Mozart and Beethoven. They then paused and looked round, as if for instructions.

‘We usually end,’ said Mr. Falconer, ‘with a hymn to St. Catharine, but perhaps it may not be to your taste; although Saint Catharine is a saint of the English Church Calendar.’

‘I like all sacred music,’ said the doctor. ‘And I am not disposed to object to a saint of the English Church Calendar.’

‘She is also,’ said Mr. Falconer, ‘a most perfect emblem of purity, and in that sense alone there can be no fitter image to be presented to the minds of young women.’

‘Very true,’ said the doctor. ‘And very strange withal,’ he thought to himself.

The sisters sang their hymn, made their obeisance, and departed.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. The hands of these young women do not show signs of menial work.

Mr. Falconer. They are the regulating spirits of the household. They have a staff of their own for the coarser and harder work.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Their household duties, then, are such as Homeric damsels discharged in the homes of their fathers, with (Greek word) for the lower drudgery? Mr. Falconer. Something like it.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Young ladies, in short, in manners and accomplishments, though not in social position; only more useful in a house than young ladies generally are.

Mr. Falconer. Something like that, too. If you know the tree by its fruit, the manner in which this house is kept may reconcile you to the singularity of the experiment.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I am perfectly reconciled to it. The experiment is eminently successful.

The doctor always finished his day with a tumbler of brandy and water: soda water in summer, and hot water in winter. After his usual draught he retired to his chamber, where he slept like a top, and dreamed of Electra and Nausicaa, Vestals, Pleiads, and Saint Catharine, and woke with the last words he had heard sung on the preceding night still ringing in his ears:—

Dei virgo Catharina,

Lege constans in divina,

Coli gemma preciosa,

Margarita fulgida,

Sponsa Christi gloriosa,

Paradisi viola!1

1 Virgin bride, supremely bright,

Gem and flower of heavenly light,

Pearl of the empyreal skies,

Violet of Paradise!

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