Laurence Sterne. (1713–1768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
The Fragment. Paris
—And what would you do then, Monsieur? said she, rising hastily up—the notary’s wife was a little fume of a woman, and the notary thought it well to avoid a hurricane by a mild reply—I would go, answer’d he, to bed.—You may go to the devil, answer’d the notary’s wife.
Now there happening to be but one bed in the house, the other two rooms being unfurnish’d, as is the custom at Paris, and the notary not caring to lie in the same bed with a woman who had but that moment sent him pell-mell to the devil, went forth with his hat and cane and short cloak, the night being very windy, and walk’d out ill at ease towards the Pont Neuf.
Of all the bridges which ever were built, the whole world who have pass’d over the Pont Neuf must own, that it is the noblest—the finest—the grandest—the lightest—the longest—the broadest that ever conjoin’d land and land together upon the face of the terraqueous globe.—
By this it seems as if the author of the fragment had not been a Frenchman.
The worst fault which divines and the doctors of the Sorbonne can allege against it, is, that if there is but a capful of wind in or about Paris, ’t is more blasphemously sacre Dieu’d there than in any other aperture of the whole city—and with reason, good and cogent, Messieurs; for it comes against you without crying garde d’eau, and with such unpremeditable puffs, that of the few who cross it with their hats on, not one in fifty but hazards two livres and a half which is its full worth.
The poor notary, just as he was passing by the sentry, instinctively clapp’d his cane to the side of it, but in raising it up, the point of his cane catching hold of the loop of the sentinel’s hat, hoisted it over the spikes of the balustrade clear into the Seine.—
—’T is an ill wind, said a boatsman, who catch’d it, which blows nobody any good.
The sentry, being a Gascon, incontinently twirl’d up his whiskers, and level’d his harquebus.
Harquebuses in those days went off with matches; and an old woman’s paper lanthorn at the end of the bridge happening to be blown out, she had borrow’d the sentry’s match to light it—it gave a moment’s time for the Gascon’s blood to run cool, and turn the accident better to his advantage.—’T is an ill wind, said he, catching off the notary’s castor, and legitimating the capture with the boatman’s adage.
The poor notary cross’d the bridge, and passing along the Rue de Dauphine into the fauxbourg of St. Germain, lamented himself as he walk’d along in this manner: Luckless man that I am! said the notary, to be the sport of hurricanes all my days—to be born to have the storm of ill language level’d against me and my profession wherever I go—to be forced into marriage by the thunder of the church to a tempest of a woman—to be driven forth out of my house by domestic winds, and despoil’d of my castor by pontific ones—to be here, bareheaded, in a windy night at the mercy of the ebbs and flows of accidents—where am I to lay my head?—miserable man! what wind in the two and thirty points of the whole compass can blow unto thee, as it does to the rest of thy fellow-creatures, good!
As the notary was passing on by a dark passage, complaining in this sort, a voice call’d out to a girl, to bid her run for the next notary—now the notary being the next, and availing himself of his situation, walk’d up the passage to the door, and passing through an old sort of a saloon, was usher’d into a large chamber, dismantled of everything but a long military pike—a breastplate—a rusty old sword, and bandoleer, hung up equidistant in four different places against the wall.
An old personage, who had heretofore been a gentleman, and unless decay of fortune taints the blood along with it, was a gentleman at that time, lay supporting his head upon his hand, in his bed; a little table with a taper burning was set close beside it, and close by the table was placed a chair—the notary sat him down in it; and pulling out his inkhorn and a sheet or two of paper which he had in his pocket, he placed them before him, and dipping his pen in his ink, and leaning his breast over the table, he disposed everything to make the gentleman’s last will and testament.
Alas! Monsieur le Notaire, said the gentleman, raising himself up a little, I have nothing to bequeath, which will pay the expense of bequeathing, except the history of myself, which I could not die in peace unless I left it as a legacy to the world; the profits arising out of it I bequeath to you for the pains of taking it from me—it is a story so uncommon, it must be read by all mankind—it will make the fortunes of your house—the notary dipp’d his pen into his inkhorn.—Almighty Director of every event in my life! said the old gentleman, looking up earnestly, and raising his hands towards heaven—thou, whose hand hast led me on through such a labyrinth of strange passages down into this scene of desolation, assist the decaying memory of an old, infirm, and broken-hearted man—direct my tongue by the spirit of thy eternal truth, that this stranger may set down naught but what is written in that Book, from whose records, said he, clasping his hands together, I am to be condemn’d or acquitted!—The notary held up the point of his pen betwixt the taper and his eye.—
—It is a story, Monsieur le Notaire, said the gentleman, which will rouse up every affection in nature—it will kill the humane, and touch the heart of cruelty herself with pity.—
—The notary was inflamed with a desire to begin, and put his pen a third time into his inkhorn—and the old gentleman turning a little more towards the notary, began to dictate his story in these words—
—And where is the rest of it, La Fleur? said I, as he just then enter’d the room.