Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Story of Le Fevre
By Laurence Sterne (1713–1768)
From ‘The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy’

IT was some time in the summer of that year in which Dendermond was taken by the Allies,—which was about seven years before my father came into the country, and about as many after the time that my Uncle Toby and Trim had privately decamped from my father’s house in town in order to lay some of the finest sieges to some of the finest fortified cities in Europe,—when my Uncle Toby was one evening getting his supper, with Trim sitting behind him at a small sideboard: I say sitting, for in consideration of the Corporal’s lame knee (which sometimes gave him exquisite pain), when my Uncle Toby dined or supped alone he would never suffer the Corporal to stand; and the poor fellow’s veneration for his master was such, that with a proper artillery my Uncle Toby could have taken Dendermond itself with less trouble than he was able to gain this point over him: for many a time when my Uncle Toby supposed the Corporal’s leg was at rest, he would look back and detect him standing behind him with the most dutiful respect; this bred more little squabbles betwixt them than all other causes for five-and-twenty years together. But this is neither here nor there: why do I mention it? Ask my pen: it governs me—I govern not it.  1
  He was one evening sitting thus at his supper, when the landlord of a little inn in the village came into the parlor with an empty phial in his hand, to beg a glass or two of sack: “’Tis for a poor gentleman, I think of the army,” said the landlord, “who has been taken ill at my house four days ago, and has never held up his head since, or had a desire to taste anything till just now, that he has a fancy for a glass of sack and a thin toast: ‘I think,’ says he, taking his hand from his forehead, ‘it would comfort me.’ If I could neither beg, borrow, nor buy such a thing,” added the landlord, “I would almost steal it for the poor gentleman, he is so ill. I hope in God he will still mend,” continued he: “we are all of us concerned for him.”  2
  “Thou art a good-natured soul, I will answer for thee,” cried my Uncle Toby; “and thou shalt drink the poor gentleman’s health in a glass of sack thyself, and take a couple of bottles, with my service, and tell him he is heartily welcome to them, and to a dozen more if they will do him good.  3
  “Though I am persuaded,” said my Uncle Toby as the landlord shut the door, “he is a very compassionate fellow, Trim, yet I cannot help entertaining a high opinion of his guest too; there must be something more than common in him, that in so short a time should win so much upon the affections of his host.”—“And of his whole family,” added the Corporal, “for they are all concerned for him.”—“Step after him,” said my Uncle Toby; “do, Trim, and ask if he knows his name.”  4
  “I have quite forgot it, truly,” said the landlord, coming back into the parlor with the Corporal, “but I can ask his son again.”—“Has he a son with him, then?” said my Uncle Toby.—“A boy,” replied the landlord, “of about eleven or twelve years of age: but the poor creature has tasted almost as little as his father; he does nothing but mourn and lament for him night and day. He has not stirred from the bedside these two days.”  5
  My Uncle Toby laid down his knife and fork, and thrust his plate from before him, as the landlord gave him the account; and Trim, without being ordered, took it away without saying one word, and in a few minutes after brought him his pipe and tobacco.  6
  “Stay in the room a little,” said my Uncle Toby.  7
  “Trim,” said my Uncle Toby, after he had lighted his pipe and smoked about a dozen whiffs. Trim came in front of his master and made his bow; my Uncle Toby smoked on and said no more. “Corporal,” said my Uncle Toby. The Corporal made his bow. My Uncle Toby proceeded no farther, but finished his pipe.  8
  “Trim,” said my Uncle Toby, “I have a project in my head, as it is a bad night, of wrapping myself up warm in my roquelaure, and paying a visit to this poor gentleman.”—“Your Honor’s roquelaure,” replied the Corporal, “has not once been had on since the night before your Honor received your wound, when we mounted guard in the trenches before the gate of St. Nicolas; and besides, it is so cold and rainy a night, that what with the roquelaure and what with the weather, ’twill be enough to give your Honor your death, and bring on your Honor’s torment in your groin.”—“I fear so,” replied my Uncle Toby; “but I am not at rest in my mind, Trim, since the account the landlord has given me. I wish I had not known so much of this affair,” added my Uncle Toby, “or that I had known more of it. How shall we manage it?”—“Leave it, an’ please your Honor, to me,” quoth the Corporal: “I’ll take my hat and stick and go to the house and reconnoitre, and act accordingly; and I will bring your Honor a full account in an hour.”—“Thou shalt go, Trim,” said my Uncle Toby; “and here’s a shilling for thee to drink with his servant.”—“I shall get it all out of him,” said the Corporal, shutting the door.  9
  My Uncle Toby filled his second pipe; and had it not been that he now and then wandered from the point with considering whether it was not full as well to have the curtain of the tenaile a straight line as a crooked one, he might be said to have thought of nothing else but poor Le Fevre and his boy the whole time he smoked it.  10
  IT was not till my Uncle Toby had knocked the ashes out of his third pipe that Corporal Trim returned from the inn, and gave him the following account:—  11
  “I despaired at first,” said the Corporal, “of being able to bring back to your Honor any kind of intelligence concerning the poor sick lieutenant.”—“Is he in the army, then?” said my Uncle Toby.—“He is,” said the Corporal.—“And in what regiment?” said my Uncle Toby.—“I’ll tell your Honor,” replied the Corporal, “everything straightforwards as I learnt it.”—“Then, Trim, I’ll fill another pipe,” said my Uncle Toby, “and not interrupt thee till thou hast done; so sit down at thy ease, Trim, in the window-seat, and begin thy story again.”—The Corporal made his old bow, which generally spoke as plain as a bow could speak it, “Your Honor is good.” And having done that, he sat down as he was ordered, and began the story to my Uncle Toby over again, in pretty near the same words.  12
  “I despaired at first,” said the Corporal, “of being able to bring back any intelligence to your Honor about the lieutenant and his son; for when I asked where his servant was, from whom I made myself sure of knowing everything which was proper to be asked—[“That’s a right distinction, Trim,” said my Uncle Toby.]—“I was answered, an’ please your Honor, that he had no servant with him; that he had come to the inn with hired horses, which, upon finding himself unable to proceed (to join, I suppose, the regiment), he had dismissed the morning, after he came. ‘If I get better, my dear,’ said he, as he gave his purse to his son to pay the man, ‘we can hire horses from hence.’ ‘But, alas! the poor gentleman will never get from hence,’ said the landlady to me, ‘for I heard the death-watch all night long; and when he dies, the youth his son will certainly die with him, for he is broken-hearted already.’  13
  “I was hearing this account,” continued the Corporal, “when the youth came into the kitchen, to order the thin toast the landlord spoke of. ‘But I will do it for my father myself,’ said the youth.—‘Pray let me save you the trouble, young gentleman,’ said I, taking up a fork for that purpose, and offering him my chair to sit down upon by the fire whilst I did it.—‘I believe, sir,’ said he very modestly, ‘I can please him best myself.’—‘I am sure,’ said I, ‘his Honor will not like the toast the worse for being toasted by an old soldier.’ The youth took hold of my hand, and instantly burst into tears.”—“Poor youth!” said my Uncle Toby: “he has been bred up from an infant in the army, and the name of a soldier, Trim, sounded in his ears like the name of a friend. I wish I had him here.”  14
  “I never in the longest march,” said the Corporal, “had so great a mind to my dinner as I had to cry with him for company. What could be the matter with me, an’ please your Honor?”—“Nothing in the world, Trim,” said my Uncle Toby, blowing his nose, “but that thou art a good-natured fellow.”  15
  “When I gave him the toast,” continued the Corporal, “I thought it was proper to tell him I was Captain Shandy’s servant, and that your Honor (though a stranger) was extremely concerned for his father, and that if there was anything in your house or cellar”—[“And thou mightest have added my purse, too,” said my Uncle Toby.]—“he was heartily welcome to it. He made a very low bow (which was meant to your Honor), but no answer, for his heart was full; so he went up-stairs with the toast. ‘I warrant you, my dear,’ said I as I opened the kitchen door, ‘your father will be well again.’ Mr. Yorick’s curate was smoking a pipe by the kitchen fire; but said not a word, good or bad, to comfort the youth. I thought it wrong,” added the Corporal.—“I think so too,” said my Uncle Toby.  16
  “When the lieutenant had taken his glass of sack and toast, he felt himself a little revived, and sent down into the kitchen to let me know that in about ten minutes he should be glad if I would step up-stairs. ‘I believe,’ said the landlord, ‘he is going to say his prayers; for there was a book laid upon the chair by his bedside, and as I shut the door I saw his son take up a cushion.’  17
  “‘I thought,’ said the curate, ‘that you gentlemen of the army, Mr. Trim, never said your prayers at all.’—‘I heard the poor gentleman say his prayers last night,’ said the landlady, ‘very devoutly, and with my own ears, or I could not have believed it.’—‘Are you sure of it?’ replied the curate.—‘A soldier, an’ please your Reverence,’ said I, ‘prays as often (of his own accord) as a parson; and when he is fighting for his king and for his own life, and for his honor too, he has the most reason to pray to God of any one in the whole world.’”—“’Twas well said of thee, Trim,” said my Uncle Toby.—“‘But when a soldier,’ said I, ‘an’ please your Reverence, has been standing for twelve hours together in the trenches up to his knees in cold water, or engaged,’ said I, ‘for months together in long and dangerous marches,—harassed perhaps in his rear to-day, harassing others to-morrow; detached here, countermanded there; resting this night out upon his arms, beat up in his shirt the next, benumbed in his joints, perhaps without straw in his tent to kneel on,—must say his prayers how and when he can, I believe,’ said I—for I was piqued,” quoth the Corporal, “for the reputation of the army—‘I believe, an’ please your Reverence,’ said I, ‘that when a soldier gets time to pray, he prays as heartily as a parson, though not with all his fuss and hypocrisy.’”—“Thou shouldst not have said that, Trim,” said my Uncle Toby, “for God only knows who is a hypocrite and who is not. At the great and general review of us all, Corporal, at the Day of Judgment (and not till then), it will be seen who have done their duties in this world and who have not; and we shall be advanced, Trim, accordingly.”—“I hope we shall,” said Trim.—“It is in the Scripture,” said my Uncle Toby, “and I will show it thee to-morrow; in the mean time we may depend upon it, Trim, for our comfort,” said my Uncle Toby, “that God Almighty is so good and just a governor of the world, that if we have but done our duties in it, it will never be inquired into whether we have done them in a red coat or a black one.”—“I hope not,” said the Corporal.—“But go on, Trim,” said my Uncle Toby, “with thy story.”  18
  “When I went up,” continued the Corporal, “into the lieutenant’s room, which I did not do until the expiration of the ten minutes, he was lying in his bed with his head raised upon his hand, with his elbow upon the pillow, and a clean white cambric handkerchief beside it. The youth was just stooping down to take up the cushion, upon which I supposed he had been kneeling, the book was laid upon the bed; and as he rose, in taking up the cushion with one hand, he reached out his other to take it away at the same time. ‘Let it remain there, my dear,’ said the lieutenant.  19
  “He did not offer to speak to me till I had walked up close to his bedside. ‘If you are Captain Shandy’s servant,’ said he, ‘you must present my thanks to your master, with my little boy’s thanks along with them, for his courtesy to me: if he was of Leven’s,’ said the lieutenant—I told him your Honor was—‘then,’ said he, ‘I served three campaigns with him in Flanders, and remember him; but ’tis most likely, as I had not the honor of any acquaintance with him, that he knows nothing of me. You will tell him, however, that the person his good-nature has laid under obligations to him is one Le Fevre, a lieutenant in Angus’s—but he knows me not,’ said he a second time, musing. ‘Possibly he may my story,’ added he. ‘Pray tell the captain I was the ensign at Breda whose wife was most unfortunately killed with a musket-shot as she lay in my arms in my tent.’—‘I remember the story, an’ please your Honor,’ said I, ‘very well.’—‘Do you so?’ said he, wiping his eyes with his handkerchief; ‘then well may I.’ In saying this he drew a little ring out of his bosom, which seemed tied with a black ribbon about his neck, and kissed it twice. ‘Here, Billy,’ said he. The boy flew across the room to the bedside, and falling down upon his knee, took the ring in his hand and kissed it too, then kissed his father, and sat down upon the bed and wept.”  20
  “I wish,” said my Uncle Toby with a deep sigh, “I wish, Trim, I was asleep.”  21
  “Your Honor,” replied the Corporal, “is too much concerned. Shall I pour your Honor out a glass of sack to your pipe?”—“Do, Trim,” said my Uncle Toby.  22
  “I remember,” said my Uncle Toby, sighing again, “the story of the ensign and his wife; and particularly well, that he, as well as she, upon some account or other (I forget what), was universally pitied by the whole regiment. But finish the story thou art upon.”—“’Tis finished already,” said the Corporal, “for I could stay no longer, so wished his Honor a good night: young Le Fevre rose from off the bed, and saw me to the bottom of the stairs; and as we went down together, told me they had come from Ireland, and were on their route to join the regiment in Flanders. “But alas!” said the Corporal, “the lieutenant’s last day’s march is over.”—“Then what is to become of his poor boy?” cried my Uncle Toby.  23
  IT was to my Uncle Toby’s eternal honor—though I tell it only for the sake of those who, when cooped in betwixt a natural and a positive law, know not for their souls which way in the world to turn themselves—that notwithstanding my Uncle Toby was warmly engaged at that time in carrying on the siege of Dendermond parallel with the Allies, who pressed theirs on so vigorously that they scarce allowed him time to get his dinner, that nevertheless he gave up Dendermond, though he had already made a lodgment upon the counterscarp, and bent his whole thoughts towards the private distresses at the inn; and except that he ordered the garden gate to be bolted up, by which he might be said to have turned the siege of Dendermond into a blockade, he left Dendermond to itself, to be relieved or not by the French king as the French king thought good; and only considered how he himself should relieve the poor lieutenant and his son.  24
  That kind Being who is a friend to the friendless shall recompense thee for this.  25
  “Thou hast left this matter short,” said my Uncle Toby to the Corporal as he was putting him to bed, “and I will tell thee in what, Trim. In the first place, when thou madest an offer of my services to Le Fevre, as sickness and traveling are both expensive, and thou knewest he was but a poor lieutenant, with a son to subsist as well as himself out of his pay, that thou didst not make an offer to him of my purse; because, had he stood in need, thou knowest, Trim, he had been as welcome to it as myself.”—“Your Honor knows,” said the Corporal, “I had no orders.”—“True,” quoth my Uncle Toby: “thou didst very right, Trim, as a soldier, but certainly very wrong as a man.”  26
  “In the second place, for which indeed thou hast the same excuse,” continued my Uncle Toby, “when thou offeredst him whatever was in my house, thou shouldst have offered him my house too. A sick brother officer should have the best quarters, Trim; and if we had him with us, we could tend and look to him. Thou art an excellent nurse thyself, Trim; and what with thy care of him, and the old woman’s, and his boy’s, and mine together, we might recruit him again at once, and set him upon his legs.  27
  “In a fortnight or three weeks,” added my Uncle Toby, smiling, “he might march.”—“He will never march, an’ please your Honor, in this world,” said the Corporal.—“He will march,” said my Uncle Toby, rising up from the side of the bed with one shoe off.—“An’ please your Honor,” said the Corporal, “he will never march but to his grave.”—“He shall march,” cried my Uncle Toby, marching the foot which had a shoe on, though without advancing an inch, “he shall march to his regiment.”—“He cannot stand it,” said the Corporal.—“He shall be supported,” said my Uncle Toby.—“He’ll drop at last,” said the Corporal, “and what will become of his boy?”—“He shall not drop,” said my Uncle Toby firmly.—“Ah, well-a-day, do what we can for him,” said Trim, maintaining his point, “the poor soul will die.”—“He shall not die, by G——,” cried my Uncle Toby.  28
  The Accusing Spirit which flew up to heaven’s chancery with the oath, blushed as he gave it in; and the Recording Angel, as he wrote it down, dropped a tear upon the word, and blotted it out forever.  29
  MY Uncle Toby went to his bureau, put his purse into his breeches pocket, and having ordered the Corporal to go early in the morning for a physician, he went to bed and fell asleep.  30
  THE SUN looked bright the morning after, to every eye in the village but Le Fevre’s and his afflicted son’s; the hand of death pressed heavy upon his eyelids; and hardly could the wheel of the cistern turn round its circle, when my Uncle Toby, who had rose up an hour before his wonted time, entered the lieutenant’s room, and without preface or apology sat himself down upon the chair by the bedside, and independently of all modes and customs, opened the curtain in the manner an old friend and brother officer would have done it, and asked him how he did, how he had rested in the night, what was his complaint, where was his pain, and what he could do to help him? And without giving him time to answer any one of the inquiries, went on and told him of the little plan which he had been concerting with the Corporal the night before for him.  31
  “But you shall go home directly, Le Fevre,” said my Uncle Toby, “to my house, and we’ll send for a doctor to see what’s the matter, and we’ll have an apothecary, and the Corporal shall be your nurse, and I’ll be your servant, Le Fevre.”  32
  There was a frankness in my Uncle Toby—not the effect of familiarity, but the cause of it—which let you at once into his soul, and showed you the goodness of his nature. To this there was something in his looks and voice and manner superadded, which eternally beckoned to the unfortunate to come and take shelter under him. So that before my Uncle Toby had half finished the kind offers he was making to the father, had the son insensibly pressed up close to his knees, and had taken hold of the breast of his coat, and was pulling it towards him. The blood and spirits of Le Fevre, which were waxing cold and slow within him, and were retreating to the last citadel, the heart, rallied back. The film forsook his eyes for a moment. He looked up wistfully in my Uncle Toby’s face, then cast a look upon his boy; and that ligament, fine as it was, was never broken.  33
  Nature instantly ebbed again. The film returned to its place; the pulse fluttered, stopped, went on—throbbed, stopped again—moved, stopped— Shall I go on? No.  34
  I AM so impatient to return to my own story that what remains of young Le Fevre’s—that is, from this turn of his fortune to the time my Uncle Toby recommended him for my preceptor—shall be told in a very few words in the next chapter. All that is necessary to be added to this chapter is as follows:—  35
  That my Uncle Toby, with young Le Fevre in his hand, attended the poor lieutenant as chief mourners to his grave.  36

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