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Bunyan Characters Second Series: 21. GAIUS

By Alexander Whyte


      "Gaius, mine host."--Paul.

      Goodman Gaius was the head of a hostel that stood on the side of the highway well on to the Celestial City. The hostess of the hostel was no more, and the old hostel-keeper did all her once well-done work and his own proper work into the bargain. Every day he inspected the whole house with his own eyes, down even to the kitchen and the scullery. The good woman had left our host an only daughter; but, "Keep her as much out of sight as is possible," she said, and so fell asleep. And Gaius remembered his wife's last testament every day, till none of the hostel customers knew that there was so much as a young hostess in all the house. "Yes, gentlemen," replied the old innkeeper. "Yes, come in. It is late, but I take you for true men, for you must know that my house is kept open only for such." So he took the large pilgrim party to their several apartments with his own eyes, and then set about a supper for those so late arrivals. Stamping with his foot, he brought up the cook with the euphonious and eupeptic name, and that quick-witted domestic soon had a supper on the table that would have made a full man's mouth water. "The sight of all this," said Matthew, as the under-cook laid the cloth and the trenchers, and set the salt and the bread in order--"the sight of this cloth and of this forerunner of a supper begetteth in me a greater appetite to my food than I thought I had before." So supper came up; and first a heave-shoulder and a wave-breast were set on the table before them, in order to show that they must begin their meal with prayer and praise to God. These two dishes were very fresh and good, and all the travellers did eat heartily well thereof. The next was a bottle of wine red as blood. So Gaius said to them, "Drink freely; this is the juice of the true vine that makes glad the heart of God and man." And they did drink and were very merry. The next was a dish of milk well crumbed. At the sight of which Gaius said, "Let the boys have that, that they may grow thereby." And so on, dish after dish, till the nuts came with the recitations and the riddles and the saws and the stories over the nuts. Thus the happy party sat talking till the break of day.

      1. Now, it is natural to remark that the first thing about a host is his hospitality. And that, too, whether our host is but the head of a hostel like Goodman Gaius, or the head of a well-appointed private house like Gaius's neighbour, Mr. Mnason. The first and the last thing about a host is his hospitality. "Say little and do much" is the example and the injunction to all our housekeepers that Rabban Shammai draws out of the eighteenth of Genesis. "Be like your father Abraham," he says, "on the plains of Mamre, who only promised bread and water, but straightway set Sarah to knead three measures of her finest meal, while he ran to the herd and fetched a calf tender and good, and stood by the three men while they did eat butter and milk under the tree. Make thy Thorah an ordinance: say little and do much: and receive every man with a pleasant expression of countenance." Now, this was exactly what Gaius our goodman did that night, with one exception, which we shall be constrained to attend to afterwards. "It is late," he said, "so we cannot conveniently go out to seek food; but such as we have you shall be welcome to, if that will content." At the same time Taste-that-which-is-good soon had a supper sent up to the table fit for a prince: a supper of six courses at that time in the morning, so that the sun was already in the sky when Old Honest closed his casement.

      "Dining in company is a divine institution," says Mr. Edward White, in his delightful Minor Moralities of Life. "Let Soyer's art be honoured among all men," he goes on. "Cookery distinguishes mankind from the beasts that perish. Happy is the woman whose daily table is the result of forethought. Her husband shall rise up and call her blessed. It is piteous when the culinary art is neglected in our young women's education. Let them, as St. Peter says, imitate Sarah. Let them see how that venerable princess went quickly to her kneading-trough and oven and prepared an extempore collation of cakes and pilau for the angels. How few ladies, whether Gentiles or Jewesses, could do the like in the present day!"

      2. The wistful and punctilious attention that Goodman Gaius paid to each individual guest of his was a fine feature in his munificent hospitality. He made every one who crossed his doorstep, down even to Mr. Fearing, feel at once at home, such was his exquisite as well as his munificent hospitality. "Come, sir," he said, clapping that white-faced and trembling pilgrim on the shoulder, "come, sir, be of good cheer, you are welcome to me and to my house; and what thou hast a mind to, that call for freely: for what thou wouldst have my servants will do for thee, and they will do it for thee with a ready mind." All the same, for a long time Mr. Fearing was mortally afraid of the servants. He would as soon have thought of stamping his foot for a duchess to come up as for any of Gaius's serving-maids. He was afraid to make any noise in his room lest all the house should hear it. He was afraid to touch anything in the room lest it should fall and be broken. We ourselves, with all our assumed ease and elaborate abandon, are often afraid to ring our bell even in an inn. Mr. Fearing would as soon have pulled the tail of a rattlesnake. But before their sojourn was over, the Guide was amazed at Mr. Fearing, for that hare-hearted pilgrim would be doing things in the house that he himself would scarcely do who had been in the house a thousand times. It was Gaius's exuberant heartiness that had demoralised Mr. Fearing and made him almost too forward even for a wayside inn. In little things also Gaius, mine host, showed his sensitive and solicitous hospitality. We all know housekeepers, not to say innkeepers, and not otherwise ungenerous housekeepers either who will grudge us a sixpennyworth of sticks and coals in a cold night, and that, too, in a room furnished to overflowing by Morton Brothers or the Messrs. Maple. We take a candlestick and a dozen candles with us in the boot of the carriage when we wish to read or write late into the night in that great house. Another housekeeper, who would give you her only daughter with her wealthy dowry, will sometimes be seen by all in her house to grudge you a fresh cup of afternoon tea when you drop in to see her and her daughter. She says to herself that it is to spare the servants the stairs; but, all the time, under the stairs, the servants are blushing for the sometimes unaccountable stinginess of their unusually munificent mistress. I shall give you "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little" of Aristotle upon munificence in little things till you come up to his pagan standard. "There is a real greatness," he says, "even in the way that some men will buy a toy to a child. Even in the smallest matters the munificent man will act munificently!" As Gaius, mine host, munificently did.

      3. Speaking of children, what a night of entertainment good old Gaius gave the children of the pilgrim party! "Let the boys have the crumbed milk," he gave orders. "Butter and honey shall they eat," he exclaimed over them as that brimming dish came up. "This was our Lord's dish when He was a child," he said to the mother of the boys, "that He might know to refuse the evil and to choose the good." Then they brought up a dish of apples, and they were very good-tasted fruit. Then said Matthew, "May we eat apples, since they were such by and with which the serpent beguiled our first mother?" Then said Gaius,

      "Apples were they by which we were beguiled,
      Yet sin, not apples, hath our souls defiled.
      Apples forbid, if eat, corrupt the blood.
      To eat such, when commanded, does us good.
      Drink of His flagons then, thou Church, His Dove,
      And eat His apples who are sick of love."

      Then said Matthew, "I make the scruple because I awhile since was sick with eating of fruit." "Forbidden fruit," said the host, "will make you sick, but not what our Lord hath tolerated." While they were thus talking they were presented with another dish, and it was a dish of nuts. Then said some at the table, "Nuts spoil tender teeth, especially the teeth of children," which when Gaius heard, he said,

      "Hard texts are nuts (I will not call them cheaters)
      Whose shells do keep their kernels from the eaters;
      Ope then the shells and you shall have the meat;
      They here are brought for you to crack and eat."

      Then Samuel whispered to his mother and said, "Mother, this is a very good man's house; let us stay here a good while before we go any farther." The which Gaius the host overhearing, said, "With a very good will, my child."

      4. Widower as old Gaius was, and never for a single hour forgot that he was, there was a certain sweet and stately gallantry awakened in his withered old heart at the sight of Christiana and Mercy, and especially at the sight of Matthew and Mercy when they were seen together. He seems to have fallen almost in love with that aged matron, as he called her, and the days of his youth came back to him as he studied the young damsel, who was to her as a daughter. And this set the loquacious old innkeeper upon that famous oration about women which every man who has a mother, or a wife, or a sister, or a daughter has by heart. And from that he went on to discourse on the great advantages of an early marriage. He was not the man, nor was he speaking to a mother who was the woman, ever to become a vulgar and coarse-minded matchmaker; at the same time, he liked to see Matthew and Mercy sent out on a message together, leaving it to nature and to grace to do the rest. The pros and cons of early marriage were often up at his hearty table, but he always debated, and Gaius was a great debater, that true hospitality largely consisted in throwing open the family circle to let young people get well acquainted with one another in its peace and sweetness. And Gaius both practised what he preached, and at the same time endorsed his watchful wife's last testament, when he gave his daughter Phebe to James, Christiana's second son, and thus was left alone, poor old Gaius, when the happy honeymoon party started upward from his hostel door.

      5. Their next host was one Mr. Mnason, a Cyprusian by nation, and an old disciple. "How far have you come to-day?" he asked. "From the house of Gaius our friend," they said. "I promise you," said he, "you have gone a good stitch; you may well be weary; sit down." So they sat down. "Our great want a while since," said Old Honest, "was harbour and good company, and now I hope we have both." "For harbour," said the host, "you see what it is, but for good company that will appear in the trial." After they were a little rested Old Honest again asked his host if there were any store of good people in that town; and, "How," he said, "shall we do to see some of them? For the sight of good men to them that are going on pilgrimage is like to the appearing of the moon and stars to them that are sailing upon the seas." Then Mr. Mnason stamped with his foot and his daughter Grace came up, when he sent her out for five of his friends in the town, saying that he had a guest or two in his house at present to whom he would like to introduce them.

      Now, this is another of the good qualities of a good host, to know the best and the most suitable people in the town, and to be on such terms with them that on short notice they will step across to help to entertain such travellers as had come to Mr. Mnason's table. And it is an excellent thing to be sure that when we are so invited we shall not only get a good dinner, but also, as good "kitchen" with our dinner, good company and good conversation. It is nothing short of a fine art to gather together and to seat suitably beside one another good and suitable people as Mr. and Miss Mnason did in their hospitable house that afternoon. And then, as to the talk: let the host and the hostess introduce the guests, and then let the guests introduce their own topics. And as far as possible, in a city and a day like this, let our topics be books rather than people. And let the books be the books that the guests have read rather than those that the host and the hostess have read. Books are a fine subject for a talk at table. Only, let great readers order their learned and literary talk so as not to lead the less learned into temptation. There is no finer exercise of fine feeling than to be able to carry on a conversation about matters that other people present are ignorant of, and at the same time to interest them, to set them at ease, and to make them forget both you and themselves. I had a letter the other day from an English Church clergyman, in which he tells me that his bishop is coming this month to his vicarage for a kind of visitation and retreat, and that they are to have William Law's Characters and Characteristics read aloud to them when the bishop and the assembled clergy are at their meals. For my part, I would rather hear a good all-round talk on that book by the bishop and his clergy after they had all read the book over and over again at home. But such readings at assembled meals have all along been a feature of the best fraternal life in the Church of England and in some of the sister churches.

      6. Now, after dining and supping repeatedly with garrulous old Gaius, and with the all-but-silent Mr. Mnason, I have come home ruminating again and again on this--that a good host, the best host, lets his guests talk while he attends to the table. If the truth may even be whispered to one's-self about a table that one has just left, Gaius did his best to spoil his good supper by his own over-garrulity. It was good talk that he entertained his waiting guests with, but we may have too much of a good thing. His oration in praise of women was an excellent oration, had it been delivered in another house than his own; and, say, when he was asked to give the health of Christiana, or of Matthew the bridegroom and Mercy the bride, it would then have been perfect; but not in his own house, and not when his guests were waiting for their supper. On the other hand, you should have seen that perfect gentleman, Mr. Mnason. For that true old Christian and old English gentleman never once opened his mouth after he had set his guests a-talking. He was too busy watching when any man's dish was again empty. He was too much delighted to see that every one of his guests was having his punctual share of the supper, and at the same time his full share of the talk. Mr. Fearing's small voice was far more pleasant to Mr. Mnason than his own voice was in his own best story. As I opened my own door the other night after supping with Mr. and Miss Mnason, I said to myself--One thing I have again seen and learned to-night, and that is, that a host, and still more a hostess, should talk less at their own table than their most silent, most bashful, and most backward guest. "Make this an ordinance for thee," said Rabban Shammai to his sons in the law; "receive all thy guests with a pleasant expression of countenance, and then say little and do much."

      * LECTURE DELIVERED IN ST. GEORGE'S FREE CHURCH EDINBURGH

Back to Alexander Whyte index.

See Also:
   1. IGNORANCE
   2. LITTLE-FAITH
   3. THE FLATTERER
   4. ATHEIST
   5. HOPEFUL
   6. TEMPORARY
   7. SECRET
   8. MRS. TIMOROUS
   9. MERCY
   10. MR. BRISK
   11. MR. SKILL
   12. THE SHEPHERD BOY
   13. OLD HONEST
   14. MR. FEARING
   15. FEEBLE-MIND
   16. GREAT-HEART
   17. MR. READY-TO-HALT
   18. VALIANT-FOR-TRUTH
   19. STANDFAST
   20. MADAM BUBBLE
   21. GAIUS
   22. CHRISTIAN
   23. CHRISTIANA
   24. THE ENCHANTED GROUND
   25. THE LAND OF BEULAH
   26. THE SWELLING OF JORDAN

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