—And the story too—if you please: for though I have all along been hastening towards this part of it, with so much earnest desire, as well knowing it to be the choicest morsel of what I had to offer to the world, yet now that I am got to it, any one is welcome to take my pen, and go on with the story for me that will—I see the difficulties of the descriptions I'm going to give—and feel my want of powers.
It is one comfort at least to me, that I lost some fourscore ounces of blood this week in a most uncritical fever which attacked me at the beginning of this chapter; so that I have still some hopes remaining, it may be more in the serous or globular parts of the blood, than in the subtile aura of the brain—be it which it will—an Invocation can do no hurt—and I leave the affair entirely to the invoked, to inspire or to inject me according as he sees good.
Gentle Spirit of sweetest humour, who erst did sit upon the easy pen of my beloved Cervantes; Thou who glidedst daily through his lattice, and turned'st the twilight of his prison into noon-day brightness by thy presence—tinged'st his little urn of water with heaven-sent nectar, and all the time he wrote of Sancho and his master, didst cast thy mystic mantle o'er his wither'd stump (He lost his hand at the battle of Lepanto.), and wide extended it to all the evils of his life—
—Turn in hither, I beseech thee!—behold these breeches!—they are all I have in world—that piteous rent was given them at Lyons—
My shirts! see what a deadly schism has happen'd amongst 'em—for the laps are in Lombardy, and the rest of 'em here—I never had but six, and a cunning gypsey of a laundress at Milan cut me off the fore-laps of five—To do her justice, she did it with some consideration—for I was returning out of Italy.
And yet, notwithstanding all this, and a pistol tinder-box which was moreover filch'd from me at Sienna, and twice that I pay'd five Pauls for two hard eggs, once at Raddicoffini, and a second time at Capua—I do not think a journey through France and Italy, provided a man keeps his temper all the way, so bad a thing as some people would make you believe: there must be ups and downs, or how the duce should we get into vallies where Nature spreads so many tables of entertainment.—'Tis nonsense to imagine they will lend you their voitures to be shaken to pieces for nothing; and unless you pay twelve sous for greasing your wheels, how should the poor peasant get butter to his bread?—We really expect too much—and for the livre or two above par for your suppers and bed—at the most they are but one shilling and ninepence halfpenny—who would embroil their philosophy for it? for heaven's and for your own sake, pay it—pay it with both hands open, rather than leave Disappointment sitting drooping upon the eye of your fair Hostess and her Damsels in the gate-way, at your departure—and besides, my dear Sir, you get a sisterly kiss of each of 'em worth a pound—at least I did—
—For my uncle Toby's amours running all the way in my head, they had the same effect upon me as if they had been my own—I was in the most perfect state of bounty and good-will; and felt the kindliest harmony vibrating within me, with every oscillation of the chaise alike; so that whether the roads were rough or smooth, it made no difference; every thing I saw or had to do with, touch'd upon some secret spring either of sentiment or rapture.
—They were the sweetest notes I ever heard; and I instantly let down the fore-glass to hear them more distinctly—'Tis Maria; said the postillion, observing I was listening—Poor Maria, continued he (leaning his body on one side to let me see her, for he was in a line betwixt us), is sitting upon a bank playing her vespers upon her pipe, with her little goat beside her.
The young fellow utter'd this with an accent and a look so perfectly in tune to a feeling heart, that I instantly made a vow, I would give him a four-and-twenty sous piece, when I got to Moulins—
—And who is poor Maria? said I.
The love and piety of all the villages around us; said the postillion—it is but three years ago, that the sun did not shine upon so fair, so quick-witted and amiable a maid; and better fate did Maria deserve, than to have her Banns forbid, by the intrigues of the curate of the parish who published them—
He was going on, when Maria, who had made a short pause, put the pipe to her mouth, and began the air again—they were the same notes;—yet were ten times sweeter: It is the evening service to the Virgin, said the young man—but who has taught her to play it—or how she came by her pipe, no one knows; we think that heaven has assisted her in both; for ever since she has been unsettled in her mind, it seems her only consolation—she has never once had the pipe out of her hand, but plays that service upon it almost night and day.
The postillion delivered this with so much discretion and natural eloquence, that I could not help decyphering something in his face above his condition, and should have sifted out his history, had not poor Maria taken such full possession of me.
We had got up by this time almost to the bank where Maria was sitting: she was in a thin white jacket, with her hair, all but two tresses, drawn up into a silk-net, with a few olive leaves twisted a little fantastically on one side—she was beautiful; and if ever I felt the full force of an honest heart-ache, it was the moment I saw her—
—God help her! poor damsel! above a hundred masses, said the postillion, have been said in the several parish churches and convents around, for her,—but without effect; we have still hopes, as she is sensible for short intervals, that the Virgin at last will restore her to herself; but her parents, who know her best, are hopeless upon that score, and think her senses are lost for ever.
As the postillion spoke this, Maria made a cadence so melancholy, so tender and querulous, that I sprung out of the chaise to help her, and found myself sitting betwixt her and her goat before I relapsed from my enthusiasm.
Maria look'd wistfully for some time at me, and then at her goat—and then at me—and then at her goat again, and so on, alternately—
—Well, Maria, said I softly—What resemblance do you find?
I do entreat the candid reader to believe me, that it was from the humblest conviction of what a Beast man is,—that I asked the question; and that I would not have let fallen an unseasonable pleasantry in the venerable presence of Misery, to be entitled to all the wit that ever Rabelais scatter'd—and yet I own my heart smote me, and that I so smarted at the very idea of it, that I swore I would set up for Wisdom, and utter grave sentences the rest of my days—and never—never attempt again to commit mirth with man, woman, or child, the longest day I had to live.
As for writing nonsense to them—I believe there was a reserve—but that I leave to the world.
Adieu, Maria!—adieu, poor hapless damsel!—some time, but not now, I may hear thy sorrows from thy own lips—but I was deceived; for that moment she took her pipe and told me such a tale of woe with it, that I rose up, and with broken and irregular steps walk'd softly to my chaise.
—What an excellent inn at Moulins!