The repast was conducted with much solemnity. The masculine character of the mind of Sophia had rendered her particularly attached to the grace of action. When she drank the health of any of her guests, she accompanied it with a most profound conge. When she invited them to partake of any dish, she pointed towards it with her hand. This action might have served to display a graceful arm, but, alas! upon hers the hand of time had been making depredations, and it appeared somewhat coarse and discoloured.
After dinner, the lady of the house, as usual, turned the conversation upon the subject of politics. She inveighed with much warmth against the effeminacy and depravity of the modern times. We were slaves, and we deserved to be so. In almost every country there now appeared a king, that puppet pageant, that monster in creation, miserable itself, a combination of every vice, and invented for the curse of human kind. “Where now,” she asked, “was the sternness and inflexibility of ancient story? Where was that Junius, that stood and gazed in triumph upon the execution of his sons? Where that Fabricius, that turned up his nose under the snout of an elephant? Where was that Marcus Brutus, who sent his dagger to the heart of Caesar? For her part, she believed, and she would not give the snap of her fingers for him if it were otherwise, that he was in reality, as sage historians have reported, the son of Julius.”
In the very paroxysm of her oratory she chanced to cast her eyes upon Mr. Prattle. With the character of Mr. Prattle, the reader is already partly acquainted. But he does not yet know, for it was not necessary for our story he should do so, that the honourable Mr. Prattle was a commoner and a placeman. Good God, sir, represent to yourself with what a flame of indignation our amazon surveyed him! She rose from her seat, and, taking him by the hand, very familiarly turned him round in the middle of the company. “This,” said she, “is one of our Fabiuses, one of our Decii. Good God, my friend, what would you do, if a brother officer shook a cane over your shoulders as he did over those of the divine Themistocles? What would you do, if the brutal lull of an Appius ravished from your arms an only daughter? But I beg your pardon, sir. You are a placeman, mutually disgracing and disgraced. You sell your constituents to the vilest ministers, that ever came forward the champions of despotism. And those ministers show us what is their insignificance, their impotence, their want of discernment, in giving such a thing as you are, places of so great importance, offices of so high emolument.”
Mr. Prattle, unused to be treated so cavalierly, and arraigned before so large a company, trembled in every limb: “My dear madam, my sweet Miss Sophia, pray do not pinch quite so hard;” and the water stood in his eyes. Unable however to elude her grasp he fell down upon his knees. “For God’s sake! Oh dear! Oh lack a daisy! Why, Miss, sure you are mad.” Miss Cranley, unheedful of his exclamations, was however just going to begin with more vehemence than ever, when a sudden accident put a stop to the torrent of her oratory. But this event cannot be properly related without going back a little in our narrative, and acquainting the reader with some of those circumstances by which it was produced.