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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Pulse: Paris
By Laurence Sterne (1713–1768)
 

HAIL, ye small sweet courtesies of life! for smooth do ye make the road of it; like grace and beauty, which beget inclinations to love at first sight: ’tis ye who open this door, and let the stranger in.  1
  —“Pray, madam,” said I, “have the goodness to tell me which way I must turn to go to the Opéra Comique?”  2
  “Most willingly, monsieur,” said she, laying aside her work.  3
  I had given a cast with my eye into half a dozen shops as I came along, in search of a face not likely to be disordered by such an interruption; till at last, this hitting my fancy, I had walked in.  4
  She was working a pair of ruffles as she sat in a low chair on the far side of the shop, facing the door.  5
  “Très volontiers—most willingly,” said she, laying her work down upon a chair next her, and rising up from the low chair she was sitting in, with so cheerful a movement and so cheerful a look that had I been laying out fifty louis d’ors with her, I should have said, “That woman is grateful.”  6
  “You must turn, monsieur,” said she, going with me to the door of the shop, and pointing the way down the street I was to take—“you must turn first to your right hand,—mais prenez garde, there are two turns, and be so good as to take the second,—then go down a little way, and you’ll see a church; and when you are past it, give yourself the trouble to turn directly to the right, and that will lead you to the foot of the Pont-Neuf, which you must cross, and there any one will do himself the pleasure to show you.”  7
  She repeated her instructions three times over to me, with the same good-natured patience the third time as the first; and if tones and manners have a meaning,—which certainly they have, unless to hearts which shut them out,—she seemed really interested that I should not lose myself.  8
  I will not suppose it was the woman’s beauty (notwithstanding she was the handsomest grisette, I think, I ever saw) which had much to do with the sense I had of her courtesy; only I remember when I told her how much I was obliged to her, that I looked very full in her eyes, and that I repeated my thanks as often as she had done her instructions.  9
  I had not got ten paces from the door, before I found I had forgot every tittle of what she had said; so looking back, and seeing her still standing in the door of the shop, as if to look whether I went right or not, I returned back to ask her whether the first turn was to my right or left, for that I had absolutely forgot.  10
  “It is impossible!” said she, half laughing.  11
  “’Tis very possible,” replied I, “when a man is thinking more of a woman than of her good advice.”  12
  As this was the real truth, she took it, as every woman takes a matter of right, with a slight courtesy.  13
  —“Attendez!” said she, laying her hand upon my arm to detain me, whilst she called a lad out of the back shop to get ready a parcel of gloves. “I am just going to send him,” said she, “with a packet into that quarter; and if you will have the complaisance to step in, it will be ready in a moment, and he shall attend you to the place.”  14
  So I walked in with her to the far side of the shop; and taking up the ruffle in my hand which she laid upon the chair, as if I had a mind to sit, she sat down herself in her low chair, and I instantly sat myself down beside her.  15
  —“He will be ready, monsieur,” said she, “in a moment.”  16
  “And in that moment,” replied I, “most willingly would I say something very civil to you for all these courtesies. Any one may do a casual act of good-nature, but a continuation of them shows it is a part of the temperature; and certainly,” added I, “if it is the same blood which comes from the heart which descends to the extremes” (touching her wrist), “I am sure you must have one of the best pulses of any woman in the world.”  17
  “Feel it,” said she, holding out her arm.  18
  So laying down my hat, I took hold of her fingers in one hand, and applied the two forefingers of my other to the artery.  19
  —Would to Heaven! my dear Eugenius, thou hadst passed by and beheld me sitting in my black coat, and in my lackadaisical manner counting the throbs of it, one by one, with as much true devotion as if I had been watching the critical ebb or flow of her fever: how wouldst thou have laughed and moralized upon my new profession!—and thou shouldst have laughed and moralized on. Trust me, my dear Eugenius, I should have said, “There are worse occupations in this world than feeling a woman’s pulse.”—“But a grisette’s!” thou wouldst have said; “and in an open shop! Yorick”—  20
  —“So much the better: for when my views are direct, Eugenius, I care not if all the world saw me feel it.”  21
  I had counted twenty pulsations, and was going on fast towards the fortieth, when her husband, coming unexpected from a back parlor into the shop, put me a little out of my reckoning. “’Twas nobody but her husband,” she said;—so I began a fresh score.  22
  “Monsieur is so good,” quoth she as he passed by us, “as to give himself the trouble of feeling my pulse.”  23
  The husband took off his hat, and making me a bow, said I did him too much honor; and having said that, he put on his hat and walked out.  24
  “Good God!” said I to myself as he went out, “and can this man be the husband of this woman?”  25
  Let it not torment the few who know what must have been the grounds of this exclamation, if I explain it to those who do not.  26
  In London, a shopkeeper and a shopkeeper’s wife seem to be one bone and one flesh: in the several endowments of mind and body, sometimes the one, sometimes the other, has it, so as in general to be upon a par, and to tally with each other as nearly as man and wife need to do.  27
  In Paris, there are scarce two orders of beings more different: for the legislative and executive powers of the shop not resting in the husband, he seldom comes there; in some dark and dismal room behind, he sits commerceless in his thrum nightcap, the same rough son of Nature that Nature left him.  28
  The genius of a people where nothing but the monarchy is salique, having ceded this department, with sundry others, totally to the women,—by a continual higgling with customers of all ranks and sizes from morning to night, like so many rough pebbles shook along together in a bag, by amicable collisions they have worn down their asperities and sharp angles, and not only become round and smooth, but will receive, some of them, a polish like a brilliant;—Monsieur le Mari is little better than the stone under your foot.  29
  —Surely, surely, man! it is not good for thee to sit alone; thou wast made for social intercourse and gentle greetings; and this improvement of our natures from it I appeal to as my evidence.  30
  —“And how does it beat, monsieur?” said she.  31
  “With all the benignity,” said I, looking quietly in her eyes, “that I expected.”  32
  She was going to say something civil in return, but the lad came into the shop with the gloves.  33
  “Àpropos,” said I, “I want a couple of pairs myself.”  34
 
 
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