Laurence Sterne. (17131768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
52. The Temptation. Paris
WHEN I alighted at the hotel, the ported told me a young woman with a band-box had been that moment inquiring for me.I do not know, said the porter, whether she is gone away or no. I took the key of my chamber of him, and went up-stairs; and when I had got within ten steps of the top of the landing before my door, I met her coming easily down.
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 faild 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.
It was a fine still evening in the latter end of the month of Maythe crimson window-curtains (which were of the same color of those of the bed) were drawn closethe sun was setting, and reflected through them so warm a tint into the fair fille de chambres faceI thought she blushdthe idea of it made me blush myselfwe 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 mant is sent impetuous from the heart, and virtue flies after itnot to call it back, but to make the sensation of it more delicious to the nervest is associated.
But Ill 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 cardI knew I had not one.I took up a penI laid it down againmy hand trembledthe devil was in me.
I know as well as any one he is an adversary, whom if we resist he will fly from usbut I seldom resist him at all; from a terror that though I may conquer, I may still get a hurt in the combatso 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 cardtook up first the pen I cast down, then offerd to hold me the ink; she offerd it so sweetly, I was going to accept itbut I durst not.I have nothing, my dear, said I, to write upon.Write it, said she, simply, upon anything.
If I do, said I, I shall perishso I took her by the hand, and led her to the door, and beggd she would not forget the lesson I had given her.She said, indeed she would notand as she utterd it with some earnestness, she turnd about, and gave me both her hands, closed together, into mineit was impossible not to compress them in that situationI wishd to let them go; and all the time I held them, I kept arguing within myself against itand still I held them on.In two minutes I found I had all the battle to fight over againand 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 standingI had still hold of her handsand how it happened I can give no account, but I neither askd hernor drew hernor did I think of the bedbut so it did happen, we both sat down.
Ill 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 timethen into the leftShe had lost it.I never bore expectation more quietlyit was in her right pocket at lastshe pulld it out; it was of green taffeta, lined with a little bit of white quilted satin, and just big enough to hold the crownshe put it into my hand;it was pretty; and I held it ten minutes with the back of my hand resting upon her laplooking sometimes at the purse, sometimes on one side of it.
A stitch or two had broke out in the gathers of my stockthe fair fille de chambre, without saying a word, took out her little hussive, threaded a small needle, and sewd it up.I foresaw it would hazard the glory of the day; and as she passd her hand in silence across and across my neck in the manuver, I felt the laurels shake which fancy had wreathd 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 strapand lifting up the other foot with it, when I had done, to see both were rightin doing it too suddenlyit unavoidably threw the fair fille de chambre off her centerand then