(Excerpt from Tales and Novels, Vol. 6,

by Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849))

 

The dinner had two great faults--profusion and pretension. There was, in fact, ten times more on the table than was necessary; and the entertainment was far above the circumstances of the person by whom it was given: for instance, the dish of fish at the head of the table had been brought across the island from Sligo, and had cost five guineas; as the lady of the house failed not to make known. But, after all, things were not of a piece; there was a disparity between the entertainment and the attendants; there was no proportion or fitness of things; a painful endeavour at what could not be attained, and a toiling in vain to conceal and repair deficiencies and blunders. Had the mistress of the house been quiet; had she, as Mrs. Broadhurst would say, but let things alone, let things take their course, all would have passed off with well-bred people; but she was incessantly apologizing, and fussing, and fretting inwardly and outwardly, and directing and calling to her servants--striving to make a butler who was deaf, and a boy who was harebrained, do the business of five accomplished footmen of parts and figure. The mistress of the house called for "plates, clean plates!--plates!"

"But none did come, when she did call."

Mrs. Raffarty called "Lanty! Lanty! My lord's plate, there!--James! bread to Captain Bowles!--James! port wine to the major!--James! James Kenny! James!"

"And panting James toiled after her in vain."

At length one course was fairly got through, and after a torturing half hour, the second course appeared, and James Kenny was intent upon one thing, and Lanty upon another, so that the wine-sauce for the hare was spilt by their collision; but, what was worse, there seemed little chance that the whole of this second course should ever be placed altogether rightly upon the table. Mrs. Raffarty cleared her throat, and nodded, and pointed, and sighed, and sent Lanty after Kenny, and Kenny after Lanty; for what one did, the other undid; and at last the lady's anger kindled, and she spoke: "Kenny! James Kenny! set the sea-cale at this corner, and put down the grass cross-corners; and match your maccaroni yonder with them puddens, set--Ogh! James! the pyramid in the middle, can't ye?"

The pyramid, in changing places, was overturned. Then it was that the mistress of the feast, falling back in her seat, and lifting up her hands and eyes in despair, ejaculated, "Oh, James! James!"

The pyramid was raised by the assistance of the military engineers, and stood trembling again on its base; but the lady's temper could not be so easily restored to its equilibrium. She vented her ill humour on her unfortunate husband, who happening not to hear her order to help my lord to some hare, she exclaimed loud, that all the world might hear, "Corny Raffarty! Corny Raffarty! you're no more gud at the fut of my table than a stick of celery!"





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