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The times were full of trouble; but Martha Quinn was unperturbed. Hers was a mind that confined itself to the essentials of life: its sustenance and reproduction. Not for her to plague herself with the complexities of existence, with considerations of the Hereafter or disputations upon the various creeds by which its happiness may be ensured—a matter upon which men have always been ready to send one another upon exploring voyages thither—or yet with the political opinions by which a nation is fiercely divided. Not even the preparations for war with Holland, which were agitating men so violently, or the plague-scare based upon reports of several cases in the outskirts of the City, could disturb the serenity of her direct existence. The vices of the Court, which afforded such delectable scandal for the Town, touched her more nearly, as did the circumstance that yellow bird’s-eye hoods were now all the rage with ladies of fashion, and the fact that London was lost in worship of the beauty and talent of Sylvia Farquharson, who was appearing with Mr. Betterton at the Duke’s House in the part of Katherine in Lord Orrery’s “Henry the Fifth.”
Even so, to Martha Quinn, who very competently kept the Paul’s Head, in Paul’s Yard, these things were but the unimportant trifles that garnish the dish of life. It was upon life’s main concerns that she concentrated her attention. In all that regarded meat and drink her learning—as became the hostess of so prosperous a house—was probably unrivalled. It was not merely that she understood the mysteries of bringing to a proper succulence a goose, a turkey, or a pheasant; but a chine of beef roasted in her oven was like no chine of beef at any other ordinary; she could perform miracles with marrow-bones; and she could so dissemble the umbles of venison in a pasty as to render it a dish fit for a prince’s table. Upon these talents was her solid prosperity erected. She possessed, further—as became the mother of six sturdy children of assorted paternity—a discerning eye for a fine figure of a man. I am prepared to believe that in this matter her judgment was no whit inferior to that which enabled her, as she boasted, to determine at a glance the weight and age of a capon.
It was to this fact—although he was very far from suspecting it—that Colonel Holles owed the good fortune of having lodged in luxury for the past month without ever a reckoning asked or so much as a question on the subject of his means. The circumstance may have exercised him. I do not know. But I know that it should have done so. For his exterior—his fine figure apart—was not of the kind that commands credit.
Mrs. Quinn had assigned to his exclusive use a cosy little parlour behind the common room. On the window-seat of this little parlour he now lounged, whilst Mrs. Quinn herself—and the day was long past in which it had been her need or habit with her own plump hands to perform so menial an office—removed from the table the remains of his very solid breakfast.