The Dinner Party
Miss Mordecai1 gives an account of a dinner of 1815, by one of the most prominent lawyers of the town, whom she calls Mr. Penrose, but whose real name was recognized as Kemp Plummer, head and ancestor of a large and distinguished family.
"Mr. Penrose gave a dinner party. He had a social disposition, a large family, and a very sweet wife, who fulfilled all her various domestic duties as if she had been educated by the mother of King Lemuel.
Their house was pleasantly situated near a pretty skirt of woods, and although not otherwise improved, the yard was green, and the natural foliage that shaded it gave the place an inviting appearance. Lawyer Penrose by his practice supported his family comfortably, his manners were cheerful and pleasing, and he was consequently popular in the village. It was in compliance with his wishes that Mrs. Penrose had invited her neighbors to "a dinner," as it was called, the dinner hour being about two o'clock. The guests assembled between eleven and twelve in "the chamber," as the bedroom of the mistress of the house was styled; this was the usual sitting room. It was customary for the ladies to bring their knitting and sewing and sit in one room, while the gentlemen assembled in the porch or out under the trees in warm weather, or in a separate room in cold weather; so they did not meet the ladies except at dinner, and then the table was generally between them. Before dinner a large bowl of toddy was made and handed first to the ladies, and then to the gentleman, each and all drinking from the same vessel. There were two or three carriages in the village, several kept by the neighboring families and, of course, all those who lived a great distance from the town. Two were old fashioned chariots; one was painted green with casement windows all four panes; of course, very small. After all were assembled they discussed their domestic affairs rather than the gossip of the village... 2
The evening was now advancing, for the old clock in the corner of the room had struck 10, and that hour for the good people of the town was a late one. There was now no opposition made for their departure; so while hopes of meeting again soon were being expressed on all sides, the guests in a body took leave of their hospitable entertainers. It was a dark night and the ladies with their escorts sought their homes. Dr. G.'s3 most direct way was distinct from the rest, being on one of the streets the length of the village, and of the three the least frequented. The house of Mr. Penrose stood at one extremity and Dr. G's at the other end. The street was dark as Erebus, nor was it level for, being little used. It had never been, as the people expressed it, " worked upon." Consequently the natural slopes and gullies remained much as they were when the village was settled. A descent each way from Mr. Penrose's to that of Dr. G's met, nearly opposite an old blacksmith shop, and this being the worst of the way, the doctor hoped there to get a lightwood torch to help him on the way. But the last spark had flown upward for that night from the old vulcan's forge, and he, most probably with his feet to the fire at his wife's house, was nodding, a mile or two from his shop. This midway ground was shaded by several fine trees in the summer, and as the cows of the village were in the habit of reposing there at that season, they frequented the spot at all others, so that in summer and winter, night and day, it was their lounging spot. Here came Dr. G. among them an unexpected visitor. He was striding along cautiously, so as to at least to place each foot firmly on sides of equal height among the gullies. This, for a space, he succeeded in effecting, never for a moment apprehending a previous rise, when a few moments after, to his great surprise, he was lifted bodily from the ground and moved backward with all the speed possible to be exercised by the a frightened cow - over whose back he had decidedly stridden. One audible breath from the cows distended nostrils, and off she set at full speed. He was bobbing and bumping about in this way when he found himself suddenly dropped off in the grass at Mr. Penrose's gate. Old Cheery deserved this fright for she might have come home in good time and on better terms.
Dr. G's shouting for help as he passed the house brought Mr. Penrose and the servants at the same time to the gate. Just as they reached it the cow threw him off. Being a quick tempered man, "he was in a fine frenzy of rolling" when Mr. Penrose first espied him. Fortunately he was only a little bruised. After many inquiries and much brushing off he was conducted to the house where after he had taken a little more toddy, and become a little more composed, while describing his accident to Mr. and Mrs. Penrose (who by the way could not remain perfectly serious about the recital) the unlucky doctor was now ready to take his leave. Old Straw turned up a lantern and escorted him. The story was never forgotten in the village, but after the first day or to it was not repeated in the doctors presence; he being for some reason the first person to tire of it.
Thus ended the day of the great dinner at Lawyer Penrose's."
1. Miss Mordecai was the oldest daughter of Jacob Mordecai, who made his residence in Warrenton as early as 1792. He engaged in business for some years. Later, in 1809, he opened the well-known school for young ladies in Warrenton. Miss Ellen was one of his able assistants. While a young woman she began to write the history of Warrenton, its people and their customs, calling it "The History of Hastings", in the main giving fictitious names to many of the citizens.
2. This story is excerpted from the 1924 book, "Sketches of Old Warrenton." Here I have omitted a lengthy discussion of the dinner and evening.
3. Dr. G. is not identified in the story but we hope to determine who he might be by looking for the doctor or doctors who would have been in Warrenton in 1815.
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