Laurence Sterne. (17131768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
59. The Fragment. Paris
NOW as the notarys wife disputed the point with the notary with too much heatI wish, said the notary, throwing down the parchment, that there was another notary here only to set down and attest all this.
And what would you do then, Monsieur? said she, rising hastily upthe notarys wife was a little fume of a woman, and the notary thought it well to avoid a hurricane by a mild replyI would go, answerd he, to bed.You may go to the devil, answerd the notarys wife.
Now there happening to be but one bed in the house, the other two rooms being unfurnishd, 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 walkd out ill at ease towards the Pont Neuf.
Of all the bridges which ever were built, the whole world who have passd over the Pont Neuf must own, that it is the noblestthe finestthe grandestthe lightestthe longestthe broadest that ever conjoind land and land together upon the face of the terraqueous globe.
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 Dieud there than in any other aperture of the whole cityand with reason, good and cogent, Messieurs; for it comes against you without crying garde deau, 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 clappd his cane to the side of it, but in raising it up, the point of his cane catching hold of the loop of the sentinels hat, hoisted it over the spikes of the balustrade clear into the Seine.
Harquebuses in those days went off with matches; and an old womans paper lanthorn at the end of the bridge happening to be blown out, she had borrowd the sentrys match to light itit gave a moments time for the Gascons blood to run cool, and turn the accident better to his advantage.T is an ill wind, said he, catching off the notarys castor, and legitimating the capture with the boatmans adage.
The poor notary crossd the bridge, and passing along the Rue de Dauphine into the fauxbourg of St. Germain, lamented himself as he walkd along in this manner: Luckless man that I am! said the notary, to be the sport of hurricanes all my daysto be born to have the storm of ill language leveld against me and my profession wherever I goto be forced into marriage by the thunder of the church to a tempest of a womanto be driven forth out of my house by domestic winds, and despoild of my castor by pontific onesto be here, bareheaded, in a windy night at the mercy of the ebbs and flows of accidentswhere 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 calld out to a girl, to bid her run for the next notarynow the notary being the next, and availing himself of his situation, walkd up the passage to the door, and passing through an old sort of a saloon, was usherd into a large chamber, dismantled of everything but a long military pikea breastplatea 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 chairthe 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 gentlemans 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 meit is a story so uncommon, it must be read by all mankindit will make the fortunes of your housethe notary dippd 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 heaventhou, 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 mandirect 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 condemnd or acquitted!The notary held up the point of his pen betwixt the taper and his eye.
The notary was inflamed with a desire to begin, and put his pen a third time into his inkhornand the old gentleman turning a little more towards the notary, began to dictate his story in these words