By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

13. Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon, pp. 382-421

Mason & Dixon: A NovelTwo: America; 38-41
Mr. Dimdown had been a passenger in the coach -- a foppish young man (a "macaroni" in the contemporary argot) who enjoyed flashing his "hanger" -- a cutlass. He "had been drinking steadily whatever Spirits came to hand, for the three days previous, attempting, as he explains, 'to get the Time to pass differently, that's all.'" His sudden attack on Allègre could have been fatal, but "Immediately, Inches short of its target, the Weapon, from no cause visible to anyone, leaves Dimdown's Grasp and sails across the Room in a slow, some might say insolent Arc, directly in among the blazing Logs of the Hearth, where none may reach."

The duck, it seems, has found Allègre, having developed the ability to fly "ever longer Distances." He explains that he had awakened "to find her perch'd at the end of the Bed, quacking merrily as a Milk-maid." He likens the duck to an angel, which reminds Frau Redzinger of her husband, Peter. But he is grateful after all that he left Europe for America, which he regards as a land of plenty: "the tomatoes, terrapins, peaches, rockfish, crabs, Indian Corn, Venison! Bear! Beaver! To create the Beaver Bourguignon, -- who knows, perhaps even the ... the Beaver soufflé, non?" And when Frau Redzinger reveals that she knows how to cook beaver, he falls in love. It is the making of a triangle: "the incorruptible Pietist, the exil'd Chef, and the infatuated Duck."

They are snowbound in the inn, and Mitzi is flirting with "the stable-hands and Scullery-Boys" as well as helping Allègre in the kitchen. And eventually she flirts with Dimdown, having rescued his sword from the ashes and sharpened it for him. She reports that Allègre "has forsworn Violence in the Kitchen, -- not only toward Meat, but the Vegetables as well, for as little now can he bring himself to chop and Onion, as to slice a Turnip, or even scrub a Mushroom. She also engineers an apology by Dimdown to Allègre

Meanwhile, Mason and Dixon are quarreling again, about Mason's melancholy and Dixon's expanding waistline. So when the snow stops, they decide to go about their mission separately, flipping a coin that sends Mason north and Dixon south. Dixon journeys as far as Williamsburg, where he discovers the colonials in an uproar over the Stamp Act. In "Raleigh's Tavern, Virginians young and old are standing to toast the King's Confoundment." When his turn comes to propose a toast, Dixon comes up with, "To the pursuit of Happiness." This attracts the notice of "a tall red-headed youth" who asks if he might use the phrase sometime. Discovering that Dixon is a surveyor, the young man asks, "are you Mason, or Dixon?" "'Tom takes a Relative interest in West Lines," quips the Landlord, "his father having help'd run the one that forms our own southern border." And so Dixon falls into conversation with Jefferson (though not identified as such in the novel).

Mason travels to New York, where he meets a young woman named Amelia, "a Milk-Maid of Brooklyn, somehow alone in New-York without funds." She "is dress'd from Boots to Bonnet all in different Articles of black, a curious choice for a milkmaid, it seems to Mason, tho', as he has been instructed ever to remind himself, this is New-York, where other Customs prevail." He feeds her  and accompanies her back to Brooklyn, where he finds himself among "an assortment of Rogues weirder than any Mason has yet seen, be it at Portsmouth, or the Cape, or even Lancaster Town." When he reveals that he's an astronomer and that he knows how to repair a telescope, he's asked to repair theirs, which Mason is perplexed to find has been trained on the horizon and not on the stars. The real problem with the instrument, however, is that the lenses have been knocked out of alignment. He agrees to repair it, and "Feeling not quite a Prisoner, Mason works thro' the Day."

Like Dixon, Mason is surrounded by angry talk about the Stamp Act. When someone says, "the Stamp Act is simple Tyranny, and our duty's to resist it,"
Mason expects shock'd murmurs at this, -- that there are none shocks him even more gravely, allowing him a brief, careening glimpse at how far and fast all this may be moving, -- something styling itself  'America,' coming into being, ripening, like a Tree-ful of Cherries in a good summer, almost as one stands and watches, -- something no one in London, however plac'd in the Web of Privilege, however up-to-the-minute, seems to know much about. What is happening? 
More shocking is the suggestion that he is a serf, "As they call it here, a Slave." He resists the idea, but when he tells them he's from Stroud, he's reminded of how then-Col. James Wolfe put down an effort by weavers in Stroud to bring about an increase in their wages:
Mason recalls well enough that autumn of '56, when the celebrated future Martyr of Quebec, with six companies of Infantry, occupied that unhappy town after wages were all cut in half ... and a weaver was lucky to earn tuppence for eight hours' work. Mason in those same Weeks was preparing to leave the Golden Valley, to begin his job as Bradley's assistant, even as Soldiers were beating citizens and slaughtering sheep for their pleasure, fouling and making sick Streams once holy, -- his father meantimes cursing his Son for a Coward.... Mason, seeing the Choices, had chosen Bradley, and Bradley's world, when he should instead have stood by his father, and their small doom'd Paradise. 
Having repaired the telescope, Mason is accompanied to New Jersey by a member of the group, Patsy, who bid him farewell with, "We could be at War, in another Year. What a Thought, hey?"

At this point, LeSpark reveals that he met Mason and Dixon at a "ridotto" at Lepton Castle on the "well-guarded, and in the estimate of some, iniquitous, Iron-Plantation of Lord and Lady Lepton." Mason and Dixon stumble upon the castle by accident, taking shelter one night in a cabin that, like the coach they rode in earlier, turns out to be larger inside than outside. They walk through corridors, hearing "new music, advanced music," and finally reach a grand hall where they are announced to the gathering as "Mr. Mason, and Mr. Dixon, Astronomers of London." Dixon's promotion to astronomer annoys Mason, but they proceed "into what, in London, is term'd an 'Hurricanoe,' -- a thick humidity of Intrigue and Masks realiz'd in locally obtained Fur and Plumage, clamorous with Chatter and what seems now more to resemble Dancing-Music."

Among the crowd Mason "belatedly recognizes the notorious Calvert agent Captain Dasp." Meeting Lady Lepton, Dixon recalls that he had seen her when they were both much younger, at Raby Castle. "Dixon ... is finding all this, to his delight, dangerously interesting."
Somehow this fearlessly independent Girl had then gone on to marry the ill-famed, the drooling and sneering, multiply-bepoxed Lord Lepton, an insatiate Gamester who failed to pay his losses, forever a-twittering, even as he tumbled to ruin in one of the period's more extravagant Stock-Bubbles, summarily ejected from Clubs high and low, advised by friend and enemy that his only decent course would be to step off the Edge of the World. 
Lepton took this to mean "go to America," where he made his fortune in iron. He is also rumored to be a member of the Hellfire Club.

The servants in the hall are black slaves in white wigs -- "black Major-domos and black Soubrettes. One of the latter passes by with a tray of drinks." She looks at Dixon as if she knows him. "For a frightening moment, he seems to know her." And Mason has recognized that Captain Dasp is a French spy. But "no one at the moment has anything but Gaming of one sort or another in mind."

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