Nightmare Abbey, by Thomas Love Peacock

Chapter V

Marionetta felt secure of Scythrop’s heart; and notwithstanding the difficulties that surrounded her, she could not debar herself from the pleasure of tormenting her lover, whom she kept in a perpetual fever. Sometimes she would meet him with the most unqualified affection; sometimes with the most chilling indifference; rousing him to anger by artificial coldness — softening him to love by eloquent tenderness — or inflaming him to jealousy by coquetting with the Honourable Mr Listless, who seemed, under her magical influence, to burst into sudden life, like the bud of the evening primrose. Sometimes she would sit by the piano, and listen with becoming attention to Scythrop’s pathetic remonstrances; but, in the most impassioned part of his oratory, she would convert all his ideas into a chaos, by striking up some Rondo Allegro, and saying, ‘Is it not pretty?’ Scythrop would begin to storm; and she would answer him with,

‘Zitti, zitti, piano, piano,

Non facciamo confusione,’

or some similar facezia, till he would start away from her, and enclose himself in his tower, in an agony of agitation, vowing to renounce her, and her whole sex, for ever; and returning to her presence at the summons of the billet, which she never failed to send with many expressions of penitence and promises of amendment. Scythrop’s schemes for regenerating the world, and detecting his seven golden candle-sticks, went on very slowly in this fever of his spirit.

Things proceeded in this train for several days; and Mr Glowry began to be uneasy at receiving no intelligence from Mr Toobad; when one evening the latter rushed into the library, where the family and the visitors were assembled, vociferating, ‘The devil is come among you, having great wrath!’ He then drew Mr Glowry aside into another apartment, and after remaining some time together, they re-entered the library with faces of great dismay, but did not condescend to explain to any one the cause of their discomfiture.

The next morning, early, Mr Toobad departed. Mr Glowry sighed and groaned all day, and said not a word to any one. Scythrop had quarrelled, as usual, with Marionetta, and was enclosed in his tower, in a fit of morbid sensibility. Marionetta was comforting herself at the piano, with singing the airs of Nina pazza per amore; and the Honourable Mr Listless was listening to the harmony, as he lay supine on the sofa, with a book in his hand, into which he peeped at intervals. The Reverend Mr Larynx approached the sofa, and proposed a game at billiards.

THE HONOURABLE MR LISTLESS Billiards! Really I should be very happy; but, in my present exhausted state, the exertion is too much for me. I do not know when I have been equal to such an effort. (He rang the bell for his valet. Fatout entered.) Fatout! when did I play at billiards last?

FATOUT De fourteen December de last year, Monsieur. (Fatout bowed and retired.)

THE HONOURABLE MR LISTLESS So it was. Seven months ago. You see, Mr Larynx; you see, sir. My nerves, Miss O’Carroll, my nerves are shattered. I have been advised to try Bath. Some of the faculty recommend Cheltenham. I think of trying both, as the seasons don’t clash. The season, you know, Mr Larynx — the season, Miss O’Carroll — the season is every thing.

MARIONETTA And health is something. N’est-ce pas, Mr Larynx?

THE REVEREND MR LARYNX Most assuredly, Miss O’Carroll. For, however reasoners may dispute about the summum bonum, none of them will deny that a very good dinner is a very good thing: and what is a good dinner without a good appetite? and whence is a good appetite but from good health? Now, Cheltenham, Mr Listless, is famous for good appetites.

THE HONOURABLE MR LISTLESS The best piece of logic I ever heard, Mr Larynx; the very best, I assure you. I have thought very seriously of Cheltenham: very seriously and profoundly. I thought of it — let me see — when did I think of it? (He rang again, and Fatout reappeared.) Fatout! when did I think of going to Cheltenham, and did not go?

FATOUT De Juillet twenty-von, de last summer, Monsieur. (Fatout retired.)

THE HONOURABLE MR LISTLESS So it was. An invaluable fellow that, Mr Larynx — invaluable, Miss O’Carroll.

MARIONETTA So I should judge, indeed. He seems to serve you as a walking memory, and to be a living chronicle, not of your actions only, but of your thoughts.

THE HONOURABLE MR LISTLESS An excellent definition of the fellow, Miss O’Carroll — excellent, upon my honour. Ha! ha! he! Heigho! Laughter is pleasant, but the exertion is too much for me.

A parcel was brought in for Mr Listless; it had been sent express. Fatout was summoned to unpack it; and it proved to contain a new novel, and a new poem, both of which had long been anxiously expected by the whole host of fashionable readers; and the last number of a popular Review, of which the editor and his coadjutors were in high favour at court, and enjoyed ample pensions5 for their services to church and state. As Fatout left the room, Mr Flosky entered, and curiously inspected the literary arrivals.

MR FLOSKY (Turning over the leaves.) ‘Devilman, a novel.’ Hm. Hatred — revenge — misanthropy — and quotations from the Bible. Hm. This is the morbid anatomy of black bile. —‘Paul Jones, a poem.’ Hm. I see how it is. Paul Jones, an amiable enthusiast — disappointed in his affections — turns pirate from ennui and magnanimity — cuts various masculine throats, wins various feminine hearts — is hanged at the yard-arm! The catastrophe is very awkward, and very unpoetical. —‘The Downing Street Review.’ Hm. First article — An Ode to the Red Book, by Roderick Sackbut, Esquire. Hm. His own poem reviewed by himself. Hm — m — m.

(Mr Flosky proceeded in silence to look over the other articles of the review; Marionetta inspected the novel, and Mr Listless the poem.)

THE REVEREND MR LARYNX For a young man of fashion and family, Mr Listless, you seem to be of a very studious turn.

THE HONOURABLE MR LISTLESS Studious! You are pleased to be facetious, Mr Larynx. I hope you do not suspect me of being studious. I have finished my education. But there are some fashionable books that one must read, because they are ingredients of the talk of the day; otherwise, I am no fonder of books than I dare say you yourself are, Mr Larynx.

THE REVEREND MR LARYNX Why, sir, I cannot say that I am indeed particularly fond of books; yet neither can I say that I never do read. A tale or a poem, now and then, to a circle of ladies over their work, is no very heterodox employment of the vocal energy. And I must say, for myself, that few men have a more Job-like endurance of the eternally recurring questions and answers that interweave themselves, on these occasions, with the crisis of an adventure, and heighten the distress of a tragedy.

THE HONOURABLE MR LISTLESS And very often make the distress when the author has omitted it.

MARIONETTA I shall try your patience some rainy morning, Mr Larynx; and Mr Listless shall recommend us the very newest new book, that every body reads.

THE HONOURABLE MR LISTLESS You shall receive it, Miss O’Carroll, with all the gloss of novelty; fresh as a ripe green-gage in all the downiness of its bloom. A mail-coach copy from Edinburgh, forwarded express from London.

MR FLOSKY This rage for novelty is the bane of literature. Except my works and those of my particular friends, nothing is good that is not as old as Jeremy Taylor: and, entre nous, the best parts of my friends’ books were either written or suggested by myself.

THE HONOURABLE MR LISTLESS Sir, I reverence you. But I must say, modern books are very consolatory and congenial to my feelings. There is, as it were, a delightful north-east wind, an intellectual blight breathing through them; a delicious misanthropy and discontent, that demonstrates the nullity of virtue and energy, and puts me in good humour with myself and my sofa.

MR FLOSKY Very true, sir. Modern literature is a north-east wind — a blight of the human soul. I take credit to myself for having helped to make it so. The way to produce fine fruit is to blight the flower. You call this a paradox. Marry, so be it. Ponder thereon.

The conversation was interrupted by the re-appearance of Mr Toobad, covered with mud. He just showed himself at the door, muttered ‘The devil is come among you!’ and vanished. The road which connected Nightmare Abbey with the civilised world, was artificially raised above the level of the fens, and ran through them in a straight line as far as the eye could reach, with a ditch on each side, of which the water was rendered invisible by the aquatic vegetation that covered the surface. Into one of these ditches the sudden action of a shy horse, which took fright at a windmill, had precipitated the travelling chariot of Mr Toobad, who had been reduced to the necessity of scrambling in dismal plight through the window. One of the wheels was found to be broken; and Mr Toobad, leaving the postilion to get the chariot as well as he could to Claydyke for the purpose of cleaning and repairing, had walked back to Nightmare Abbey, followed by his servant with the imperial, and repeating all the way his favourite quotation from the Revelations.

5 pensions: ‘PENSION. Pay given to a slave of state for treason to his country.’— JOHNSON’S Dictionary.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59