Grape People and Grain People (Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon)

Mason, having expected some shambling wild Country Fool, remains amiably puzzl’d before the tidied Dixon here presented,— who, for his own part, having despite talk of Oddity expected but another overdress’d London climber, is amus’d at Mason’s nearly invisible Turn-out, all in Snuffs and Buffs and Grays.

Mason is nodding glumly. “I must seem an Ass.”

“If this is as bad as it gets, why I can abide thah’. As long as the Spirits don’t run out.”

“Nor the Wine.”

“Wine.” Dixon is now the one squinting. Mason wonders what he’s done this time. ” ‘Grape or Grain, but ne’er the Twain,’ as me Great- Uncle George observ’d to me more than once,— ‘Vine with Corn, beware the Morn.’ Of the two sorts of drinking Folk this implies, than’ is, Grape People and Grain People, You will now inform rne of Your membership in the Brotherhood of the, eeh, Grape…? and that You seldom, if ever, touch Ale or Spirits, am I correct?”

“Happily so, I should imagine, as, given a finite Supply, there’d be more for each of us, it’s like Jack Sprat, isn’t it.”

“Oh, I’ll drink Wine if I must…?— and now we’re enter’d upon the Topick,— ”

“— and as we are in Portsmouth, after all,— there cannot lie too distant some Room where each of us may consult what former Vegetation pleases him?”

Dixon looks outside at the ebbing wintry sunlight. “Nor too early, I guess…?”

“We’re sailing to the Indies,— Heaven knows what’s available on Board, or out there. It may be our last chance for civiliz’d Drink.”

“Sooner we start, the better, in thah’ case…?”

As the day darkens, and the first Flames appear, sometimes reflected as well in Panes of Glass, the sounds of the Stables and the Alleys grow louder, and chimney-smoke perambulates into the Christmastide air. The Room puts on its Evening-Cloak of shifting amber Light, and sinuous Folds of Shadow. Mason and Dixon become aware of a jostling Murmur of Expectancy.

All at once, out of the Murk, a dozen mirror’d Lanthorns have leapt alight together, as into their Glare now strolls a somewhat dishevel’d Norfolk Terrier, with a raffish Gleam in its eye,— whilst from somewhere less illuminate comes a sprightly Overture upon Horn, Clarinet, and Cello, in time to which the Dog steps back and forth in his bright Ambit.

Ask me anything you please,
The Learned English Dog am I,
well-Up on ev’rything from Fleas Unto the King’s Mon-og-am-eye,
Persian Princes, Polish Blintzes, Chinamen’s Geo-mancy,—
Jump-ing Beans or Flying Machines, Just as it suits your Fan-cy.
I quote enough of the Classickal Stuff To set your Ears a-throb,
Work logarith-mick Versed Sines Withal, within me Nob,
– Only nothing Ministerial, please, Or I’m apt to lose m’ Job,
As, the Learned English Dog, to-ni-ight!

There are the usual Requests. Does the Dog know “Where the Bee Sucks”? What is the Integral of One over (Book) d (Book)? Is he married? Dixon notes how his co-Adjutor-to-be seems fallen into a sort of Magnetickal Stupor, as Mesmerites might term it. More than once, Mason looks ready to leap to his feet and blurt something better kept till later in the Evening. At last the Dog recognizes him, tho’ now he is too key’d up to speak with any Coherence. After allowing him to rattle for a full minute, the Dog sighs deeply. “See me later, out in back.”

“It shouldn’t take but a moment,” Mason tells Dixon. “I’ll be all right by myself, if there’s something you’d rather be doing….”

From Thomas Pynchon’s novel Mason & Dixon.

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