Laurence Sterne. (17131768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
45. Le Patisser. Versailles
BEFORE I had got half-way down the street I changed my mind: as I am at Versailles, thought I, I might as well take a view of the town; so I pulld the cord, and ordered the coachman to drive round some of the principal streets.I suppose the town is not very large, said I.The coachman beggd pardon for setting me right, and told me it was very superb, and that numbers of the first dukes and marquises and counts had hotels.The Count de B, of whom the bookseller at the Quai de Conti had spoke so handsomely the night before, came instantly into my mind.And why should I not go, thought I, to the Count de B, who has so high an idea of English books and Englishmenand tell him my story? So I changed my mind a second timein truth it was the third; for I had intended that day for Madame de R in the Rue St. Pierre, and had devoutly sent her word by her fille de chambre that I would assuredly wait upon herbut I am governd by circumstancesI cannot govern them: so seeing a man standing with a basket on the other side of the street, as if he had something to sell, I bid La Fleur go up to him and inquire for the Counts hotel.
La Fleur returnd a little pale: and told me it was a Chevalier de St. Louis selling pâtés.It is impossible, La Fleur, said I.La Fleur could no more account for the phenomenon than myself; but persisted in his story: he had seen the croix set in gold, with its red ribband, he said, tied to his buttonholeand had looked into the basket and seen the pâtés which the Chevalier was selling; so could not be mistaken in that.
Such a reverse in mans life awakens a better principle than curiosity: I could not help looking for some time at him as I sat in the remisethe more I lookd at him, his croix, and his basket, the stronger they wove themselves into my brainI got out of the remise, and went towards him.
He was begirt with a clean linen apron, which fell below his knees, and with a sort of a bib that went half-way up his breast; upon the top of this, but a little below the hem, hung his croix. His basket of little pâtés was coverd over with a white damask napkin: another of the same kind was spread at the bottom; and there was a look of propreté and neatness throughout, that one might have bought his pâtés of him, as much from appetite as sentiment.
He was about forty-eightof a sedate look, something approaching to gravity. I did not wonder.I went up rather to the basket than him, and having lifted up the napkin, and taken one of his pâtés into my handI beggd he would explain the appearance which affected me.
He told me in a few words, that the best part of his life had passd in the service, in which, after spending a small patrimony, he had obtaind a company and the croix with it; but that, at the conclusion of the last peace, his regiment being reformed, and the whole corps, with those of some other regiments, left without any provisionhe found himself in a wide world without friends, without a livreand indeed, said he, without anything but this(pointing, as he said it, to his croix).The poor chevalier won my pity, and he finished the scene with winning my esteem too.
The king, he said, was the most generous of princes, but his generosity could neither relieve or reward every one, and it was only his misfortune to be amongst the number. He had a little wife, he said, whom he loved, who did the pâtisserie; and added, he felt no dishonor in defending her and himself from want in this wayunless Providence had offerd him a better.
It seems he usually took his stand near the iron gates which lead up to the palace, and as his croix had caught the eye of numbers, numbers had made the same inquiry which I had done.He had told the same story, and always with so much modesty and good sense, that it had reachd at last the kings earswho hearing the chevalier had been a gallant officer, and respected by the whole regiment as a man of honor and integrityhe broke up his little trade by a pension of fifteen hundred livres a year.
As I have told this to please the reader, I beg he will allow me to relate another, out of its order, to please myselfthe two stories reflect light upon each otherand t is a pity they should be parted.