Le Petit Grignotage
To drink like a Benedictine is to drink deeply,
To drink like a Dominican is pot after pot,
But to drink like a Jesuit
Is to drink the cellar dry!
-Adapted from an old French drinking song
Just having returned from Mass, Christine stood before the mirror arranging her gold headdress, putting in the last of the pearl-studded pins. As it was the tenth anniversary of Fr. M’s ordination at Douay, as well as the Feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, instituted by Pope Pius V of blessed memory to commemorate the vanquishing of the Turks at Lepanto (true enough, the feast had not yet been applied to the Universal Church, but Fr. M held a special love for Our Lady and her Rosary, and celebrated the day in her honor), she chose to wear to the celebratory meal her crimson gown with gold bodice and cream silk kirtle, white hose, and black shoes with gold buckles.
A rap came on the door. When she went to open it, Sir Basil gave a gentlemanly bow. “May I escort you to dinner, Miss de Vannier?” He stood in his red coat with blue doublet beneath, blue sleeves, and white hose, the silver buckles shining on his leather shoes, and his blue cap stuck with a single white feather. She observed no alcohol on the breath, unsteady gait, or slurred speech. Indeed, it was true: he was quite sober, and so in control of his faculties he was able to retain custody of his eyes, which avoided, miraculously enough, her corset. “Vous êtes très gentil,” she responded warmly. She took his proffered elbow and let him lead her down the hall toward the dining room.
Lord and Lady P were seated at a round table in the corner chatting gaily with Fr. M and four other stout men, who were taking generous sips of barley ale from pewter tankards. Upon Sir Basil and Christine's arrival, Fr. M stood and introduced one Count Crackie, one Earl Sullivan, and one fellow who went by the moniker “Old Dominion Tory”, and a gentleman who, strangely enough, insisted on being addressed as "Sir Robbo the Llamabutcher." Fr. M, always working quietly and efficiently behind the scenes, had helped convert these souls from their Calvinist heterodoxy.
The chef (a closet Catholic, as was obvious from his sumptuous cooking) had arranged a special meal for the occasion: to start, savoury pottage, followed by a main course of sturgeon cooked in parsley and vinegar, covered with powdered ginger, and a civet of hare. The silver goblets had been brought out, into which was poured the Mayflower’s finest mead. In the middle of the repast, Sir Basil stood and raised his draught to Fr. M, “the least Jesuitical Jesuit I’ve ever known,” to which the rest replied with a hearty, “Hear, hear!” and a generous quaff. The dessert, a frothy syllabub, was brought out with a flask of some clear libation, which Sir Basil first poured into Christine’s cup. Upon tasting it, she cried, “Apple wine! Why, Sir Basil, how did you manage it?”
“A gentleman never reveals how he procures his alcohol, my lady,” he replied. “True enough,” Lord P added, and he, Fr. M, and the rest of the coterie drank deeply from their goblets.
Now if the reader has been paying the slightest attention, he will notice that three different types of spirits had been served throughout the course of the meal, and that the participants--in particular the male participants--had imbibed the most generously. It is thus not unfair to say that Sir Basil, Lord P, Count Crackie, Old Dominion Tory, Sir Robbo, Earl Sullivan and yes, dare one say it, even Fr. M, were by this point, as the popular Elizabethan phrase goes, three sheets to the wind.
It was then the ponderous Miss Quackenboss entered with an entourage of equally ponderous black-clad spinsters and sat at the table immediately adjacent. Seeing our hearty repast, she asked the servant, in a loud tone, to “bring the flagon of water and the plate of herbs, and a small morsel of bread.” Sir Basil stood and gave Miss Q an unnecessarily low bow, and seated himself back at the table.
Sensing imminent trouble, Christine offered a quick prayer under her breath: Je vous salut, Marie, pleine de grace…, and attempted to distract Sir Basil by hinting at a turn on the dance floor. “But there is no music, Miss de Vannier,” he objected. “Lord P, won’t you fetch your lute and play a tune for us?” Christine suggested. “You play so finely.” Lord P, flattered, went to his stateroom and returned with the instrument, whereupon he proceeded to perform an excruciating version of “O Thou Silver Thames.” Christine immediately regretted her suggestion. Despite the melody’s less than satisfactory rendering, Miss Quackenboss was allayed, as it reminded her of her beloved England, and she gently nodded her head to the lilting melody. But when Lord P, not quite at his full wits, followed with "Ale and Tobacco," belting out the lyrics at piercing volume, it was then that, as another popular medieval phrase goes, all hell broke loose.
Miss Quackenboss’s group let out a collective gasp, while the matriarch began loudly berating the Catholics for their “shameful intemperateness.” Never one to take an insult lying down, Sir Basil grabbed the lute from Lord P and, standing before Miss Q, one leg perched upon a chair, proceeded to play "The Buzzeinge Bee’s Complaynt." Miss Q, nearly at the end of her tether, gathered up her stout self and began to shake her finger in his face. Meanwhile, Lady P was holding back his Lordship, who was attempting to reclaim his instrument, while Fr. M remained seated in his chair wearing a curious grin, and the other gentlemen banged their tankards upon the table with the intent of approximating the percussion section, but only succeeding to heighten the cacophony. Christine busied herself doing her best to pacify the agitated Miss Q, quoting Scripture verses about love of neighbor and the Golden Rule. But when Sir Basil knelt and intoned a lusty "Come Live with Me and Be My Love,", all her work was undone. The stern-faced drones, now all on their feet, started clamoring for blood, and the Catholics saw themselves surrounded on all sides by the pilgrim mob. In short, it was pandemonium.
Sir Basil, quite unaware of the gravity of the situation, sang more boisterously than ever. Before he knew it, the lute had been smashed on top of his head, perching there hat-like, his doublet torn in two, and his hose shredded around the ankles. A free-for-all ensued; chairs were thrown, tables were overturned, glasses were smashed, bottles were broken. Even Miss Quackenboss herself joined in the fisticuffs, succeeding to bloody not a few noses.
With a loud rain of expletives, Sir Basil realized he had left his sword in his cabin, and thus had no means of defense. The pack pressed in on him, Lord P among them, furious at him over his beloved and mangled lute, while Count Crackie and Earl Sullivan had joined the fray, throwing off the extremists left and right. Old Dominion Tory, for some inexplicable reason, was crawling about on the floor, while her Ladyship ran about hither and thither with arms raised, Fr. M trying to pull the fanatics off the beleaguered Basil. Sir Robbo, besotted with mead and oblivious, thought the throng to be taking part in a festive and chaotic dance, and swung his mug ever the more gleefully.
It was now Christine’s part to turn heroine to Sir Basil. She let out an unearthly shriek and pretended to faint, falling lightly to the floor. A young puritan ran over to her, yelling for help, while others followed to see what was the matter. The horde’s attention momentarily diverted, Sir Basil leapt to his feet and ran to the door as fast as his hose-clad legs could carry him, his coat flapping wildly behind him. The three converts dragged the still-grinning Sir Robbo from his chair and forced him out the exit, while Lady P chased after his lordship, who was fast on the heels of Sir Basil and still cursing about his lute. Fr. M pushed his way calmly through the hovering crowd, his stern gaze bringing the masses to abrupt silence. He lifted Christine, she still feigning unconsciousness and hanging limply in his arms, and proceeded out of the dining room.
Once beyond the exit, both dashed back to Lord and Lady P’s stateroom. Inside the door, panting and out of breath, she was met with the shock of a bounding and kneeling Sir Basil, still in tattered doublet, asking in the loudest voice, “Will you marry me?” Christine, speechless, not quite recovered from the melée of just a few moments before, stood there aghast. “You saved my life, dear young lady. I shall never be able to repay you. Say you’ll marry me!”
“But, but,” she stammered, “marry you?!”
“Yes, marry me, Miss de Vannier! Be my wife!”
“But I, but,” she looked confusedly around the room. Lord P was splayed out on an armchair, grumbling, Lady P was seated at her table dabbing her forehead with a silk hankerchief, and Fr. M was splashing his face with water from the basin. The others were nowhere in sight.
“During your convalescence, it seemed clear to me you had conceived an affection for me. Am I wrong to assume that my reading had not been a comfort to you?” Sir Basil waited.
“Oh no, not at all! I was most grateful for your company in those hours.”
“What say you then, miss? Shall we not be merry together the rest of our days?”
“I bore an affection for you, that is true,” Christine replied, “but I assure you it was a sisterly one, and, though I be twice your junior, even a tender motherly one, caring for nothing greater than the welfare of your soul. Besides,” she continued, “even if the affection had denoted anything more, it is impossible.”
“Impossible?” Sir Basil looked perplexed.
“Yes, my dear Basil,” she continued, “I cannot marry you.”
“You can’t?!” Lady P leaned forward in her chair.
“You can’t?!?” Lord P sat bolt upright.
“You can’t?!?!” Sir Basil cocked his head.
“She can’t,” Fr. M pronounced from across the room. All looked at the tall priest, then back at Christine, her face blushing under the weight of their stares. “But why on earth not?” insisted Lady P.
“Because I am betrothed to another.” Sir Basil sank to the floor with a look of amazement. “Betrothed to another?” Lady P asked, bewildered. “Why, who is this man? Why have we heard nothing of him??” All gazed intently at Christine. “He is,” she answered unsteadily, looking around the room, “He is the—the Man; the Man of Sorrows. The God-Man.” Sir Basil’s face showed a lack of comprehension. Fr. M thus added, “The young miss has taken private vows.” A long silence ensued as the words were digested. Sir Basil remained there on the floor, Lord P looked pensively into space, and Fr. M stood wiping his hands with a towel. “After my heartbreak with Charles," she explained, "I realized the only love that could satisfy me was that of the Divine Spouse. Indeed, Fr. M had counseled me on the matter, and, after much prayer and thought, I took private vows a month before embarkation. I am sorry to have led anyone here to believe I was otherwise free…”
“My dear girl,” Lady P’s laughter broke the hush, “there is no need for apology. I should do well to obey his Lordship in the future, who has more than once forbidden me to play matchmaker—and, as we see, with good reason.” She walked towards Christine and put her arms around her shoulders, leading her to a chair. “You have chosen the noblest vocation, Miss de Vannier, and we are all immensely glad for you.”
Sir Basil got back up onto his feet, gathered himself as best he could, and gave a bow. “I am indeed gladdened to hear the news, Miss de Vannier. In no wise pity me; if I am to make an ass of myself, I would rather it be here before you than before any other lady. I shan’t forget you. I only ask that, once we have gone our separate ways in the New World, you not forget me in your prayers, as prayers are most needed for this incorrigible mischief-maker.”
“I shall always remember you in my prayers,” Christine confirmed warmly.
“My thanks. And with that,” Sir Basil looked about the room, “I must be off to change out of this ragged habit.” He gave a last bow, then slipped out the door.
To be continued...