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Chapter 20
A Highland Feast
Ere Waverley entered the banqueting hall, he was offered the patriarchal refreshment of a
bath for the feet, which the sultry weather, and the morasses he had traversed, rendered
highly acceptable. He was not, indeed, so luxuriously attended upon this occasion as the
heroic travellers in the Odyssey; the task of ablution and abstersion being performed, not
by a beautiful damsel, trained
To chafe the limb, and pour the fragrant oil,
but by a smoke-dried skinny old Highland woman, who did not seem to think herself
much honoured by the duty imposed upon her, but muttered between her teeth, 'Our
father's herds did not feed so near together, that I should do you this service.' A small
donation, however, amply reconciled this ancient handmaiden to the supposed
degradation; and, as Edward proceeded to the hall, she gave him her blessing, in the
Gaelic proverb, 'May the open hand be filled the fullest.'
The hall, in which the feast was prepared, occupied all the first storey of Ian nan
Chaistel's original erection, and a huge oaken table extended through its whole length.
The apparatus for dinner was simple, even to rudeness, and the company numerous, even
to crowding. At the head of the table was the Chief himself, with Edward, and two or
three Highland visitors of neighbouring clans; the elders of his own tribe, wadsetters, and
tacksmen, as they were called, who occupied portions of his estate as mortgagers or
lessees, sat next in rank beneath them, their sons, and nephews, and foster-brethren; then
the officers of the Chief's household, according to their order; and, lowest of all, the
tenants who actually cultivated the ground. Even beyond this long perspective, Edward
might see upon the green, to which a huge pair of folding doors opened, a multitude of
Highlanders of a yet inferior description, who, nevertheless, were considered as guests,
and had their share both of the countenance of the entertainer, and of the cheer of the day.
In the distance, and fluctuating round this extreme verge of the banquet, was a changeful
group of women, ragged boys and girls, beggars, young and old, large greyhounds, and
terriers, and pointers, and curs of low degree; all of whom took some interest, more or
less immediate, in the main action of the piece.
This hospitality, apparently unbounded, had yet its line of economy. Some pains had been
bestowed in dressing the dishes of fish, game, &c., which were at the upper end of the
table, and immediately under the eye of the English stranger. Lower down stood immense
clumsy joints of mutton and beef, which, but for the absence of pork, [See Note 17.]
abhorred in the Highlands, resembled the rude festivity of the banquet of Penelope's
suitors. But the central dish was a yearling lamb, called 'a hog in har'st,' roasted whole. It
was set upon its legs, with a bunch of parsley in its mouth, and was probably exhibited in
that form to gratify the pride of the cook, who piqued himself more on the plenty than the
elegance of his master's table. The sides of this poor animal were fiercely attacked by the