Peveril of the Peak, by Walter Scott

Chapter 22

He was a fellow in a peasant’s garb;

Yet one could censure you a woodcock’s carving.

Like any courtier at the ordinary.

THE ORDINARY.

The person who appeared at the door of the little inn to receive Ganlesse, as we mentioned in our last chapter, sung, as he came forward, this scrap of an old ballad —

“Good even to you, Diccon;

And how have you sped;

Bring you the bonny bride

To banquet and bed?”

To which Ganlesse answered, in the same tone and tune —

“Content thee, kind Robin;

He need little care,

Who brings home a fat buck

Instead of a hare.”

“You have missed your blow, then?” said the other, in reply.

“I tell you I have not,” answered Ganlesse; “but you will think of nought but your own thriving occupation — May the plague that belongs to it stick to it! though it hath been the making of thee.”

“A man must live, Diccon Ganlesse,” said the other.

“Well, well,” said Ganlesse, “bid my friend welcome, for my sake. Hast thou got any supper?”

“Reeking like a sacrifice — Chaubert has done his best. That fellow is a treasure! give him a farthing candle, and he will cook a good supper out of it. — Come in, sir. My friend’s friend is welcome, as we say in my country.”

“We must have our horses looked to first,” said Peveril, who began to be considerably uncertain about the character of his companions —“that done, I am for you.”

Ganlesse gave a second whistle; a groom appeared, who took charge of both their horses, and they themselves entered the inn.

The ordinary room of a poor inn seemed to have undergone some alterations, to render it fit for company of a higher description. There were a beaufet, a couch, and one or two other pieces of furniture, of a style inconsistent with the appearance of the place. The tablecloth, which was already laid, was of the finest damask; and the spoons, forks, &c., were of silver. Peveril looked at this apparatus with some surprise; and again turning his eyes attentively upon his travelling companion, Ganlesse, he could not help discovering (by the aid of imagination, perhaps), that though insignificant in person, plain in features, and dressed like one in indigence, there lurked still about his person and manners, that indefinable ease of manner which belongs only to men of birth and quality, or to those who are in the constant habit of frequenting the best company. His companion, whom he called Will Smith, although tall and rather good-looking, besides being much better dressed, had not, nevertheless, exactly the same ease of demeanour; and was obliged to make up for the want, by an additional proportion of assurance. Who these two persons could be, Peveril could not attempt even to form a guess. There was nothing for it but to watch their manner and conversation.

After speaking a moment in whispers, Smith said to his companion, “We must go look after our nags for ten minutes, and allow Chaubert to do his office.”

“Will not he appear, and minister before us, then?” said Ganlesse.

“What! he? — he shift a trencher — he hand a cup? — No, you forget whom you speak of. Such an order were enough to make him fall on his own sword — he is already on the borders of despair, because no craw-fish are to be had.”

“Alack-a day!” replied Ganlesse. “Heaven forbid I should add to such a calamity! To stable, then, and see we how our steeds eat their provender, while ours is getting ready.”

They adjourned to the stable accordingly, which, though a poor one, had been hastily supplied with whatever was necessary for the accommodation of four excellent horses; one of which, that from which Ganlesse was just dismounted, the groom we have mentioned was cleaning and dressing by the light of a huge wax-candle.

“I am still so far Catholic,” said Ganlesse, laughing, as he saw that Peveril noticed this piece of extravagance. “My horse is my saint, and I dedicate a candle to him.”

“Without asking so great a favour for mine, which I see standing behind yonder old hen-coop,” replied Peveril, “I will at least relieve him of his saddle and bridle.”

“Leave him to the lad of the inn,” said Smith; “he is not worthy of any other person’s handling; and I promise you, if you slip a single buckle, you will so flavour of that stable duty, that you might as well eat roast-beef as ragouts, for any relish you will have of them.”

“I love roast-beef as well as ragouts, at any time,” said Peveril, adjusting himself to a task which every young man should know how to perform when need is; “and my horse, though it be but a sorry jade, will champ better on hay and corn, than on an iron bit.”

While he was unsaddling his horse, and shaking down some litter for the poor wearied animal, he heard Smith observe to Ganlesse — “By my faith, Dick, thou hast fallen into poor Slender’s blunder; missed Anne Page, and brought us a great lubberly post-master’s boy.”

“Hush, he will hear thee,” answered Ganlesse; “there are reasons for all things — it is well as it is. But, prithee, tell thy fellow to help the youngster.”

“What!” replied Smith, “d’ye think I am mad? — Ask Tom Beacon — Tom of Newmarket — Tom of ten thousand, to touch such a four-legged brute as that? — Why, he would turn me away on the spot — discard me, i’faith. It was all he would do to take in hand your own, my good friend; and if you consider him not the better, you are like to stand groom to him yourself tomorrow.”

“Well, Will,” answered Ganlesse, “I will say that for thee, thou hast a set of the most useless, scoundrelly, insolent vermin about thee, that ever ate up a poor gentleman’s revenues.”

“Useless? I deny it,” replied Smith. “Every one of my fellows does something or other so exquisitely, that it were sin to make him do anything else — it is your jacks-of-all-trades who are masters of none. — But hark to Chaubert’s signal. The coxcomb is twangling it on the lute, to the tune of Eveillez-vous, belle endormie. — Come, Master What d’ye call (addressing Peveril) — get ye some water, and wash this filthy witness from your hand, as Betterton says in the play; for Chaubert’s cookery is like Friar Bacon’s Head — time is — time was — time will soon be no more.”

So saying, and scarce allowing Julian time to dip his hands in a bucket, and dry them on a horse-cloth, he hurried him from the stable back to the supper-chamber.

Here all was prepared for their meal, with an epicurean delicacy, which rather belonged to the saloon of a palace, than the cabin in which it was displayed. Four dishes of silver, with covers of the same metal, smoked on the table; and three seats were placed for the company. Beside the lower end of the board, was a small side-table, to answer the purpose of what is now called a dumb waiter; on which several flasks reared their tall, stately, and swan-like crests, above glasses and rummers. Clean covers were also placed within reach; and a small travelling-case of morocco, hooped with silver, displayed a number of bottles, containing the most approved sauces that culinary ingenuity had then invented.

Smith, who occupied the lower seat, and seemed to act as president of the feast, motioned the two travellers to take their places and begin. “I would not stay a grace-time,” he said, “to save a whole nation from perdition. We could bring no chauffettes with any convenience; and even Chaubert is nothing, unless his dishes are tasted in the very moment of projection. Come, uncover, and let us see what he has done for us. — Hum! — ha! — ay — squab-pigeons — wildfowl — young chickens — venison cutlets — and a space in the centre, wet, alas! by a gentle tear from Chaubert’s eye, where should have been the soupe aux écrevisses. The zeal of that poor fellow is ill repaid by his paltry ten louis per month.”

“A mere trifle,” said Ganlesse; “but, like yourself, Will, he serves a generous master.”

The repast now commenced; and Julian, though he had seen his young friend the Earl of Derby, and other gallants, affect a considerable degree of interest and skill in the science of the kitchen, and was not himself either an enemy or a stranger to the pleasures of a good table, found that, on the present occasion, he was a mere novice. Both his companions, but Smith in especial, seemed to consider that they were now engaged in the only true business of life; and weighed all its minutiæ with a proportional degree of accuracy. To carve the morsel in the most delicate manner — and to apportion the proper seasoning with the accuracy of the chemist — to be aware, exactly, of the order in which one dish should succeed another, and to do plentiful justice to all — was a minuteness of science to which Julian had hitherto been a stranger. Smith accordingly treated him as a mere novice in epicurism, cautioning him to eat his soup before the bouilli, and to forget the Manx custom of bolting the boiled meat before the broth, as if Cutlar MacCulloch and all his whingers were at the door. Peveril took the hint in good part, and the entertainment proceeded with animation.

At length Ganlesse paused, and declared the supper exquisite. “But, my friend Smith,” he added, “are your wines curious? When you brought all that trash of plates and trumpery into Derbyshire, I hope you did not leave us at the mercy of the strong ale of the shire, as thick and muddy as the squires who drink it?”

“Did I not know that you were to meet me, Dick Ganlesse?” answered their host. “And can you suspect me of such an omission? It is true, you must make champagne and claret serve, for my burgundy would not bear travelling. But if you have a fancy for sherry, or Vin de Cahors, I have a notion Chaubert and Tom Beacon have brought some for their own drinking.”

“Perhaps the gentlemen would not care to impart,” said Ganlesse.

“Oh, fie! — anything in the way of civility,” replied Smith. “They are, in truth, the best-natured lads alive, when treated respectfully; so that if you would prefer ——”

“By no means,” said Ganlesse —“a glass of champagne will serve in a scarcity of better.”

“The cork shall start obsequious to my thumb,”

said Smith; and as he spoke, he untwisted the wire, and the cork struck the roof of the cabin. Each guest took a large rummer glass of the sparkling beverage, which Peveril had judgment and experience enough to pronounce exquisite.

“Give me your hand, sir,” said Smith; “it is the first word of sense you have spoken this evening.”

“Wisdom, sir,” replied Peveril, “is like the best ware in the pedlar’s pack, which he never produces till he knows his customer.”

“Sharp as mustard,” returned the bon vivant; “but be wise, most noble pedlar, and take another rummer of this same flask, which you see I have held in an oblique position for your service — not permitting it to retrograde to the perpendicular. Nay, take it off before the bubble bursts on the rim, and the zest is gone.”

“You do me honour, sir,” said Peveril, taking the second glass. “I wish you a better office than that of my cup-bearer.”

“You cannot wish Will Smith one more congenial to his nature,” said Ganlesse. “Others have a selfish delight in the objects of sense, Will thrives, and is happy by imparting them to his friends.”

“Better help men to pleasures than to pains, Master Ganlesse,” answered Smith, somewhat angrily.

“Nay, wrath thee not, Will,” said Ganlesse; “and speak no words in haste, lest you may have cause to repent at leisure. Do I blame thy social concern for the pleasures of others? Why, man, thou dost therein most philosophically multiply thine own. A man has but one throat, and can but eat, with his best efforts, some five or six times a day; but thou dinest with every friend that cuts a capon, and art quaffing wine in other men’s gullets, from morning to night — et sic de cæteris.”

“Friend Ganlesse,” returned Smith, “I prithee beware — thou knowest I can cut gullets as well as tickle them.”

“Ay, Will,” answered Ganlesse carelessly; “I think I have seen thee wave thy whinyard at the throat of a Hogan-Mogan — a Netherlandish weasand, which expanded only on thy natural and mortal objects of aversion — Dutch cheese, rye-bread, pickled herring, onion, and Geneva.”

“For pity’s sake, forbear the description!” said Smith; “thy words overpower the perfumes, and flavour the apartment like a dish of salmagundi!”

“But for an epiglottis like mine,” continued Ganlesse, “down which the most delicate morsels are washed by such claret as thou art now pouring out, thou couldst not, in thy bitterest mood, wish a worse fate than to be necklaced somewhat tight by a pair of white arms.”

“By a tenpenny cord,” answered Smith; “but not till you were dead; that thereafter you be presently embowelled, you being yet alive; that your head be then severed from your body, and your body divided into quarters, to be disposed of at his Majesty’s pleasure. — How like you that, Master Richard Ganlesse?”

“E’en as you like the thoughts of dining on bran-bread and milk-porridge — an extremity which you trust never to be reduced to. But all this shall not prevent me from pledging you in a cup of sound claret.”

As the claret circulated, the glee of the company increased; and Smith placing the dishes which had been made use of upon the side-table, stamped with his foot on the floor, and the table sinking down a trap, again rose, loaded with olives, sliced neat’s tongue, caviare, and other provocatives for the circulation of the bottle.

“Why, Will,” said Ganlesse, “thou art a more complete mechanist than I suspected; thou hast brought thy scene-shifting inventions to Derbyshire in marvellously short time.”

“A rope and pullies can be easily come by,” answered Will; “and with a saw and a plane, I can manage that business in half a day. I love the knack of clean and secret conveyance — thou knowest it was the foundation of my fortunes.”

“It may be the wreck of them too, Will,” replied his friend.

“True, Diccon,” answered Will; “but, dum vivimus, vivamus — that is my motto; and therewith I present you a brimmer to the health of the fair lady you wot of.”

“Let it come, Will,” replied his friend; and the flask circulated briskly from hand to hand.

Julian did not think it prudent to seem a check on their festivity, as he hoped in its progress something might occur to enable him to judge of the character and purposes of his companions. But he watched them in vain. Their conversation was animated and lively, and often bore reference to the literature of the period, in which the elder seemed particularly well skilled. They also talked freely of the Court, and of that numerous class of gallants who were then described as “men of wit and pleasure about town;” and to which it seemed probable they themselves appertained.

At length the universal topic of the Popish Plot was started; upon which Ganlesse and Smith seemed to entertain the most opposite opinions. Ganlesse, if he did not maintain the authority of Oates in its utmost extent, contended, that at least it was confirmed in a great measure by the murder of Sir Edmondsbury Godfrey, and the letters written by Coleman to the confessor of the French King.

With much more noise, and less power of reasoning, Will Smith hesitated not to ridicule and run down the whole discovery, as one of the wildest and most causeless alarms which had ever been sounded in the ears of a credulous public. “I shall never forget,” he said, “Sir Godfrey’s most original funeral. Two bouncing parsons, well armed with sword and pistol, mounted the pulpit, to secure the third fellow who preached from being murdered in the face of the congregation. Three parsons in one pulpit — three suns in one hemisphere — no wonder men stood aghast at such a prodigy.”

“What then, Will,” answered his companion, “you are one of those who think the good knight murdered himself, in order to give credit to the Plot?”

“By my faith, not I,” said the other; “but some true blue Protestant might do the job for him, in order to give the thing a better colour. — I will be judged by our silent friend, whether that be not the most feasible solution of the whole.”

“I pray you, pardon me, gentlemen,” said Julian; “I am but just landed in England, and am a stranger to the particular circumstances which have thrown the nation into such a ferment. It would be the highest degree of assurance in me to give my opinion betwixt gentlemen who argue the matter so ably; besides, to say truth, I confess weariness — your wine is more potent than I expected, or I have drunk more of it than I meant to do.”

“Nay, if an hour’s nap will refresh you,” said the elder of the strangers, “make no ceremony with us. Your bed — all we can offer as such — is that old-fashioned Dutch-built sofa, as the last new phrase calls it. We shall be early stirrers tomorrow morning.”

“And that we may be so,” said Smith, “I propose that we do sit up all this night — I hate lying rough, and detest a pallet-bed. So have at another flask, and the newest lampoon to help it out —

‘Now a plague of their votes

Upon Papists and Plots,

And be d — d Doctor Oates.

Tol de rol.’”

“Nay, but our Puritanic host,” said Ganlesse.

“I have him in my pocket, man — his eyes, ears, nose, and tongue,” answered his boon companion, “are all in my possession.”

“In that case, when you give him back his eyes and nose, I pray you keep his ears and tongue,” answered Ganlesse. “Seeing and smelling are organs sufficient for such a knave — to hear and tell are things he should have no manner of pretensions to.”

“I grant you it were well done,” answered Smith; “but it were a robbing of the hangman and the pillory; and I am an honest fellow, who would give Dun* and the devil his due. So,

‘All joy to great Cæsar,

Long life, love, and pleasure;

May the King live for ever,

’Tis no matter for us, boys.’”

* Dun was the hangman of the day at Tyburn. He was successor of Gregory Brunden, who was by many believed to be the same who dropped the axe upon Charles I., though others were suspected of being the actual regicide.

While this Bacchanalian scene proceeded, Julian had wrapt himself closely in his cloak, and stretched himself on the couch which they had shown him. He looked towards the table he had left — the tapers seemed to become hazy and dim as he gazed — he heard the sound of voices, but they ceased to convey any impression to his understanding; and in a few minutes, he was faster asleep than he had ever been in the whole course of his life.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29