Chapter 4.XXIV.

I had not gone above two leagues and a half, before the man with his gun began to look at his priming.

I had three several times loiter'd terribly behind; half a mile at least every time; once, in deep conference with a drum-maker, who was making drums for the fairs of Baucaira and Tarascone—I did not understand the principles—

The second time, I cannot so properly say, I stopp'd—for meeting a couple of Franciscans straitened more for time than myself, and not being able to get to the bottom of what I was about—I had turn'd back with them—

The third, was an affair of trade with a gossip, for a hand-basket of Provence figs for four sous; this would have been transacted at once; but for a case of conscience at the close of it; for when the figs were paid for, it turn'd out, that there were two dozen of eggs covered over with vine-leaves at the bottom of the basket—as I had no intention of buying eggs—I made no sort of claim of them—as for the space they had occupied—what signified it? I had figs enow for my money—

—But it was my intention to have the basket—it was the gossip's intention to keep it, without which, she could do nothing with her eggs—and unless I had the basket, I could do as little with my figs, which were too ripe already, and most of 'em burst at the side: this brought on a short contention, which terminated in sundry proposals, what we should both do—

—How we disposed of our eggs and figs, I defy you, or the Devil himself, had he not been there (which I am persuaded he was), to form the least probable conjecture: You will read the whole of it—not this year, for I am hastening to the story of my uncle Toby's amours—but you will read it in the collection of those which have arose out of the journey across this plain—and which, therefore, I call my

Plain Stories.

How far my pen has been fatigued, like those of other travellers, in this journey of it, over so barren a track—the world must judge—but the traces of it, which are now all set o' vibrating together this moment, tell me 'tis the most fruitful and busy period of my life; for as I had made no convention with my man with the gun, as to time—by stopping and talking to every soul I met, who was not in a full trot—joining all parties before me—waiting for every soul behind—hailing all those who were coming through cross-roads—arresting all kinds of beggars, pilgrims, fiddlers, friars—not passing by a woman in a mulberry-tree without commending her legs, and tempting her into conversation with a pinch of snuff—In short, by seizing every handle, of what size or shape soever, which chance held out to me in this journey—I turned my plain into a city—I was always in company, and with great variety too; and as my mule loved society as much as myself, and had some proposals always on his part to offer to every beast he met—I am confident we could have passed through Pall-Mall, or St. James's-Street, for a month together, with fewer adventures—and seen less of human nature.

O! there is that sprightly frankness, which at once unpins every plait of a Languedocian's dress—that whatever is beneath it, it looks so like the simplicity which poets sing of in better days—I will delude my fancy, and believe it is so.

'Twas in the road betwixt Nismes and Lunel, where there is the best Muscatto wine in all France, and which by the bye belongs to the honest canons of Montpellier—and foul befal the man who has drunk it at their table, who grudges them a drop of it.

—The sun was set—they had done their work; the nymphs had tied up their hair afresh—and the swains were preparing for a carousal—my mule made a dead point—'Tis the fife and tabourin, said I—I'm frighten'd to death, quoth he—They are running at the ring of pleasure, said I, giving him a prick—By saint Boogar, and all the saints at the backside of the door of purgatory, said he—(making the same resolution with the abbesse of Andouillets) I'll not go a step further—'Tis very well, sir, said I—I never will argue a point with one of your family, as long as I live; so leaping off his back, and kicking off one boot into this ditch, and t'other into that—I'll take a dance, said I—so stay you here.

A sun-burnt daughter of Labour rose up from the groupe to meet me, as I advanced towards them; her hair, which was a dark chesnut approaching rather to a black, was tied up in a knot, all but a single tress.

We want a cavalier, said she, holding out both her hands, as if to offer them—And a cavalier ye shall have; said I, taking hold of both of them.

Hadst thou, Nannette, been array'd like a duchesse!

—But that cursed slit in thy petticoat!

Nannette cared not for it.

We could not have done without you, said she, letting go one hand, with self-taught politeness, leading me up with the other.

A lame youth, whom Apollo had recompensed with a pipe, and to which he had added a tabourin of his own accord, ran sweetly over the prelude, as he sat upon the bank—Tie me up this tress instantly, said Nannette, putting a piece of string into my hand—It taught me to forget I was a stranger—The whole knot fell down—We had been seven years acquainted.

The youth struck the note upon the tabourin—his pipe followed, and off we bounded—'the duce take that slit!'

The sister of the youth, who had stolen her voice from heaven, sung alternately with her brother—'twas a Gascoigne roundelay.

Viva la Joia!
Fidon la Tristessa!

The nymphs join'd in unison, and their swains an octave below them—

I would have given a crown to have it sew'd up—Nannette would not have given a sous—Viva la joia! was in her lips—Viva la joia! was in her eyes. A transient spark of amity shot across the space betwixt us—She look'd amiable!—Why could I not live, and end my days thus? Just Disposer of our joys and sorrows, cried I, why could not a man sit down in the lap of content here—and dance, and sing, and say his prayers, and go to heaven with this nut-brown maid? Capriciously did she bend her head on one side, and dance up insidious—Then 'tis time to dance off, quoth I; so changing only partners and tunes, I danced it away from Lunel to Montpellier—from thence to Pescnas, Beziers—I danced it along through Narbonne, Carcasson, and Castle Naudairy, till at last I danced myself into Perdrillo's pavillion, where pulling out a paper of black lines, that I might go on straight forwards, without digression or parenthesis, in my uncle Toby's amours—

I begun thus—