Laurence Sterne. (1713–1768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
The Temptation. Paris
It was the fair fille de chambre I had walked along the Quai de Conti with: Madame de R—— had sent her upon some commissions to a merchante des modes within a step or two of the Hotel de Modene, and as I had fail’d in waiting upon her, had bid her inquire if I had left Paris, and if so, whether I had not left a letter addressed to her.
As the fair fille de chambre was so near my door, she turned back, and went into the room with me for a moment or two whilst I wrote a card.
It was a fine still evening in the latter end of the month of May—the crimson window-curtains (which were of the same color of those of the bed) were drawn close—the sun was setting, and reflected through them so warm a tint into the fair fille de chambre’s face—I thought she blush’d—the idea of it made me blush myself—we were quite alone; and that superinduced a second blush before the first could get off.
There is a sort of a pleasing half guilty blush, where the blood is more in fault than the man—’t is sent impetuous from the heart, and virtue flies after it—not to call it back, but to make the sensation of it more delicious to the nerves—’t is associated.—
But I’ll not describe it.—I felt something at first within me which was not in strict unison with the lesson of virtue I had given her the night before.—I sought five minutes for a card—I knew I had not one.—I took up a pen—I laid it down again—my hand trembled—the devil was in me.
I know as well as any one he is an adversary, whom if we resist he will fly from us—but I seldom resist him at all; from a terror that though I may conquer, I may still get a hurt in the combat—so I give up the triumph for security; and instead of thinking to make him fly, I generally fly myself.
The fair fille de chambre came close up to the bureau where I was looking for a card—took up first the pen I cast down, then offer’d to hold me the ink; she offer’d it so sweetly, I was going to accept it—but I durst not.—I have nothing, my dear, said I, to write upon.—Write it, said she, simply, upon anything.—
I was just going to cry out, Then I will write it, fair girl, upon thy lips.—
If I do, said I, I shall perish—so I took her by the hand, and led her to the door, and begg’d she would not forget the lesson I had given her.—She said, indeed she would not—and as she utter’d it with some earnestness, she turn’d about, and gave me both her hands, closed together, into mine—it was impossible not to compress them in that situation—I wish’d to let them go; and all the time I held them, I kept arguing within myself against it—and still I held them on.—In two minutes I found I had all the battle to fight over again—and I felt my legs and every limb about me tremble at the idea.
The foot of the bed was within a yard and a half of the place where we were standing—I had still hold of her hands—and how it happened I can give no account, but I neither ask’d her—nor drew her—nor did I think of the bed—but so it did happen, we both sat down.
I’ll just show you, said the fair fille de chambre, the little purse I have been making to-day to hold your crown. So she put her hand into her right pocket, which was next me, and felt for it some time—then into the left—“She had lost it.”—I never bore expectation more quietly—it was in her right pocket at last—she pull’d it out; it was of green taffeta, lined with a little bit of white quilted satin, and just big enough to hold the crown—she put it into my hand;—it was pretty; and I held it ten minutes with the back of my hand resting upon her lap—looking sometimes at the purse, sometimes on one side of it.
A stitch or two had broke out in the gathers of my stock—the fair fille de chambre, without saying a word, took out her little hussive, threaded a small needle, and sew’d it up.—I foresaw it would hazard the glory of the day; and as she pass’d her hand in silence across and across my neck in the manœuver, I felt the laurels shake which fancy had wreath’d about my head.
A strap had given way in her walk, and the buckle of her shoe was just falling off.—See, said the fille de chambre, holding up her foot.—I could not for my soul but fasten the buckle in return, and putting in the strap—and lifting up the other foot with it, when I had done, to see both were right—in doing it too suddenly—it unavoidably threw the fair fille de chambre off her center—and then—