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An excerpt from Mason & Dixon,

by Thomas Pynchon, p.278-80

“As a rule here,” advises the Col°, “ye may speak your Minds upon any Topick Politickal. But on no account, ever discuss Religion. If any insist, represent yourselves as Deists, The Back Inhabitants are terrified of all Atheists, especially the Indians,— tho’ Englishmen bearing unfamiliar Equipment across their land might easily qualify. Their firs Impulse, upon meeting an Atheist, is to shoot at him, often at close range, tho’ some of the Lancaster County Rifles are deadly from a mile off,— so running for cover is largely out of the Question. Besides, you cannot know what may be waiting among the Trees...

“What’s that Aroma?” Dixon blurts, knowing quite well, from the Cape, what it is.

“Ah, the new Harvest, how inhospitable of me. ‘Tis but a small patch out back, planted as an Experiment,— if it prospers, next season perhaps we’ll plant ten Acres, as a Market-Crop. With luck, between the Navy and the New-York Fops, we could get rid of it all, Male and Fimble, and see us some Profit. Always a few Shillings in Canary-Seed as well, worse comes to worst.— Here then,— Gershom! Where be you at, my man!”

An African servant with an ambiguous expression appears. “Yes Massuh Washington Suh.”

“Gershom fetch us if you will some Pipes, and a Bowl of the new-cur’d Hemp. And another gallon of your magnificent Punch. There’s a good fellow. Truly, Gentlemen, ‘an Israelite in whom there is no guile.’”

Mason, recognizing the source as John 1:49, actually chuckles, whilst Dixon rather glowers. “At Raby Castle,” he informs them, Phiz aflame, “Darlington liked to joak of his Steward, my Great-Uncle George, using thah’ same quo-tation from the Bible. Yet only from Our Savior, surely, might such words be allow’d to pass, without raising suspicions as to amplitude of Spirit…? From the Earl of Darlington, the remark was no more than the unconsider’d Jollity one expects of a Castle-Dweller,— but to hear it in America, is an Enigma I confess I am at a loss to explain...?”

“Good Sir,” the Colonel smiting himself repeatedly upon the head, unto knocking his Wig askew, “I regret providing the Text for an unwelcome association.” He snatches the Wig completely off and bows his head, cocking one eye at Dixon. The two Conditions are entirely separate, of course.”

“I’m a Quaker,” shrugs Dixon, “what am I suppos’d to do, call thee out?”

“Don’t bother about that Israelite talk, anyhow,” Gershom coming back in with a Tray, “it’s his way of joaking, he does it all the time.”

“Thou aren’t offended?”

“As I do happen to be of the Hebrew faith,” tilting his head so that all may see the traditional Jewish Yarmulke, attach’d to the crown of his Peruke in a curious display of black on white, “it would seem a waste of precious time.”

“Say,— and cook?” beams George Washington. “Gersh, any them Kasha Varnishkies left?”

“Believe you ate ‘em all up for Breakfast, Colonel.”

“Well whyn’t you just whup up another batch,— maybe fry us some hog jowls, he’p it slide on down?”

“One bi-i-i-g mess o’ Hog Jowls, comin’ raaight up, Suh!”

“Wait a minute,” objects Mason. “Do the Jews not believe, that,” glancing over at Dixon, “the Article you speak of, is unclean, and so avoid scrupulously its flesh?”

“Please,— you don’t think I feel guilty enough already? As it happens, the Sect I belong to, is concern’d scarce at all with Dietary Rules.”

“— of any kind,” adds the Col°, having inhal’d mightily upon his Pipe, whence now arises another aromatic Cloud. “Yet if a Jew cooking pork is a Marvel, what of a Negroe, working a Room? Yes, my Oath,— here is Joe Miller resurrected,— they applaud him ‘round a circuit of Coaching-inns upon the roads to George’s Town, Williamsburg, and Annapolis,— indeed he is known far and Wide, as a Theatrickal Artist of some Attainment, leaving him less and less time for his duties here,— not to mention an income per annum which creeps dangerously close to that of his nominal Master, me.” He passes the Pipe to Dixon.

“He wants me to put it in Dismal Swamp Land Company shares,” Gershom confides. “How would you Gentlemen advise me?”

Mason and Dixon make eye contact, Dixon blurting, “Didn’t they tell us,— “Mason going, “Shh! Sshhhh!,” Washington meanwhile trying to wave Gershom back into the house. Gershom, however, has just taken the Pipe from Mr. Dixon. “Thank you.” Inhales. Presently, “Well! How are you, Gentlemen, you having a good time? That’s quite some Coat I you’re wearing, Sir. It’s, ah, certainly is red, ain’t it? And those silver Buttons,— mighty shiny,— tell me, seriously now, you were planning to wear this, out into the Forest?”

“Why, why aye,—”

“Actually, bright red, it’s quite a La mode out there, seen rather often,— down the barrels of cheap Rifles.— You’ll be very popular with all kinds of Folk,— Delawares, Shawanese, Seneca,— Seneca fancy a nice red Coat.— So !“ passing the Pipe to Mason, “1 can see which one’s the snappy Dresser,— whilst the Indians are shooting at him, the Presbyterians’ll be after you, thinking you’re something to eat,— ‘It’s a Buffalo, I’m tellin’ ye, mon!’ ‘Hush, Patrick, it seem’d but a Squirrel to me.’ ‘So it’s a Squirrel!’ ffsss— Pow!”

“Oblig’d of course,” squawks Mason, “ever so kind to imagine for me my Death in America.. .need no longer preoccupy myself upon the Matter, kind yes and withal a great relief,— “

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