In Black & White


Title Page
Under the Hill

The Art of the Hoarding
Letters to his Critics
   Pall Mall Budget
   Daily Chronicle
   St. Paul’s
Table Talk
Lines upon Pictures
   St Rose of Lima

The Three Musicians
The Ballad of a Barber
Ave Atque Vale
The Celestial Lover
The Ivory Piece
Prospectus for Volpone

Appendix : Juvenilia
The Valiant
A Ride in an Omnibus
The Confession Album
The Courts of Love
Dante in Exile
Written in Uncertainty
The Morte Darthur

Enoch Soames

Under the Hill
Under the Hill

Chapter IV

How the court of Venus behaved strangely at her supper

At first there was the fun with the surprise packets that contained myriads of amusing things, then a general criticism of the decorations, everyone finding a different meaning in the fall of a festoon, turn of twig and twist of branch. Pulex, as usual, bore the palm for insight and invention, and to-night he was more brilliant than ever. He leant across the table and explained to the young page, Macfils de Martaga, what thing was intended by a certain arrangement of roses. The young page smiled and hummed the refrain of “La petite balette.” Sporion, too, had delicate perceptions, and was vastly entertained by the disposition of the candelabra.
     As the courses advanced, the conversation grew bustling and more personal. Pulex and Cyril and Marisca and Cathelin opened a fire of raillery. The infidelities of Cerise, the difficulties of Brancas, Sarmean’s caprices that morning in the lily garden, Thorilliere’s declining strength, Astarte’s affection for Roseola, Felix’s impossible member, Cathelin’s passion for Sulpilia’s poodle, Sola’s passion for herself, the nasty bite that Marisca gave Chloe, the épilatière of Pulex, Cyril’s diseases, Butor’s illness, Maryx’s tiny cemetery, Lesbia’s profound fourth letter, and a thousand amatory follies of the day were discussed.
     From harsh and shrill and clamant, the voices grew blurred and inarticulate. Bad sentences were helped out by worse gestures, and at one table, Scabius could only express himself with his napkin, after the manner of Sir Jolly Jumble in the first part of the Soldier’s Fortune of Otway. Basalissa and Lysistrata tried to pronounce each other’s names, and became very affectionate in the attempt; and Tala, the tragedian, robed in roomy purple and wearing plume and buskin, rose to his feet and with swaying gestures began to recite one of his favourite parts. He got no further than the first line, but repeated it again and again, with fresh accents and intonations each time, and was only silenced by the approach of the asparagus that was being served by satyrs dressed in white muslin.
     Clitor and Sodon had a violet struggle over the beautiful Pella, and nearly upset a chandelier. Sophie became very intimate with an empty champagne bottle, swore it had made her enceinte, and ended by having a mock accouchement on the top of the table; and Belamour pretended to be a dog, and pranced from couch to couch on all fours, biting and barking and licking. Mellefont crept about dropping love philtres into glasses. Juventus and Ruella stripped and put on each other’s things, Spelto offered a prize for who ever should come first, and Spelto won it! Tannhäuser, just a little grisé, lay down on the cushions and let Julia do whatever she liked.
     I wish I could be allowed to tell you what occurred round table 15 just at this moment. It would amuse you very much, and would give you a capital idea of the habits of Venus’s retinue. Indeed, for deplorable reasons, by far the greater part of what was said and done at this supper must remain unrecorded and even unsuggested.
     Venus allowed most of the dishes to pass untasted, she was so engaged with the beauty of Tannhäuser. She laid her head many times on his robe, kissing him passionately; and his skin, at once firm and yielding, seemed to those exquisite little teeth of hers, the most incomparable pasture. Her upper lip curled and trembled with excitement, showing the gums. Tannhäuser, on his side, was no less devoted. He adored her all over and all the things she had on, and buried his face in the folds and flounces of her linen, and ravished away a score of frills in his excess. He found her exasperating, and crushed her in his arms, and slaked his parched lips at her mouth. He caressed her eyelids softly with his finger tips, and pushed aside the curls from her forehead, and did a thousand gracious things, tuning her body as a violinist tunes his instrument before he plays upon it.
     Priapusa snorted like an old war horse at the sniff of powder, and tickled Tannhäuser and Venus by turns, and slipped her tongue down their throats, and refused to be quiet at all until she had had a mouthful of the Chevalier. Claude, seizing his chance, dived under the table and came up on the other side just under the Queen’s couch, and before she could say “One!” he was taking his coffee “aux deux colonnes”. Clair was furious at his friend’s success, and sulked for the rest of the evening.

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