THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND
CHAPTER 17: A ROYAL BANQUET
After this music, the priest who stood behind the royal table said
a noble long grace in ostensible Latin. Then the battalion of
waiters broke away from their posts, and darted, rushed, flew,
fetched and carried, and the mighty feeding began; no words
anywhere, but absorbing attention to business. The rows of chops
opened and shut in vast unison, and the sound of it was like to
the muffled burr of subterranean machinery.
The havoc continued an hour and a half, and unimaginable was the
destruction of substantials. Of the chief feature of the feast--
the huge wild boar that lay stretched out so portly and imposing
at the start--nothing was left but the semblance of a hoop-skirt;
and he was but the type and symbol of what had happened to all
the other dishes.
With the pastries and so on, the heavy drinking began--and the talk.
Gallon after gallon of wine and mead disappeared, and everybody
got comfortable, then happy, then sparklingly joyous--both sexes,--
and by and by pretty noisy. Men told anecdotes that were terrific
to hear, but nobody blushed; and when the nub was sprung, the
assemblage let go with a horse-laugh that shook the fortress.
Ladies answered back with historiettes that would almost have made
Queen Margaret of Navarre or even the great Elizabeth of England
hide behind a handkerchief, but nobody hid here, but only laughed--
howled, you may say. In pretty much all of these dreadful stories,
ecclesiastics were the hardy heroes, but that didn't worry the
chaplain any, he had his laugh with the rest; more than that, upon
invitation he roared out a song which was of as daring a sort as
any that was sung that night.
By midnight everybody was fagged out, and sore with laughing; and,
as a rule, drunk: some weepingly, some affectionately, some
hilariously, some quarrelsomely, some dead and under the table.
Of the ladies, the worst spectacle was a lovely young duchess, whose
wedding-eve this was; and indeed she was a spectacle, sure enough.
Just as she was she could have sat in advance for the portrait of the
young daughter of the Regent d'Orleans, at the famous dinner whence
she was carried, foul-mouthed, intoxicated, and helpless, to her bed,
in the lost and lamented days of the Ancient Regime.