Laurence Sterne. (1713–1768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

The Bidet

HAVING settled all these little matters, I got into my post-chaise with more ease than ever I got into a post-chaise in my life; and La Fleur having got one large jack-boot on the far side of a little bidet, 1 and another on this (for I count nothing of his legs)—he canter’d away before me as happy and as perpendicular as a prince.—    1
  —But what is happiness! what is grandeur in this painted scene of life! A dead ass, before we had got a league, put a sudden stop to La Fleur’s career—his bidet would not pass by it—a contention arose betwixt them, and the poor fellow was kick’d out of his jack-boots the very first kick.    2
  La Fleur bore his fall like a French Christian, saying neither more or less upon it, than, Diable! so presently got up and came to the charge again astride his bidet, beating him up to it as he would have beat his drum.    3
  The bidet flew from one side of the road to the other, then back again—then this way—then that way, and in short every way but by the dead ass.—La Fleur insisted upon the thing—and the bidet threw him.    4
  What’s the matter, La Fleur, said I, with this bidet of thine?—Monsieur, said he, c’est un cheval le plus opiniâtre du monde.—Nay, if he is a conceited beast, he must go his own way, replied I—so La Fleur got off him, and giving him a good sound lash, the bidet took me at my word, and away he scamper’d back to Montriul.—Peste! said La Fleur.    5
  It is not mal-à-propos to take notice here, that tho’ La Fleur availed himself but of two different terms of exclamation in this encounter—namely, Diable! and Peste! that there are nevertheless three in the French language, like the positive, comparative, and superlative, one or the other of which serve for every unexpected throw of the dice in life.    6
  Le Diable! which is the first, and positive degree, is generally used upon ordinary emotions of the mind, where small things only fall out contrary to your expectations—such as—the throwing once doublets—La Fleur’s being kick’d off his horse, and so forth—cuckoldom, for the same reason, is always—Le Diable!    7
  But in cases where the cast has something provoking in it, as in that of the bidet’s running away after, and leaving La Fleur aground in jack-boots—’t is the second degree.    8
  ’T is then Peste!    9
  And for the third—   10
  —But here my heart is wrung with pity and fellow-feeling, when I reflect what miseries must have been their lot, and how bitterly so refined a people must have smarted, to have forced them upon the use of it.—   11
  Grant me, O ye powers which touch the tongue with eloquence in distress!—whatever is my cast, grant me but decent words to exclaim in, and I will give my nature way.   12
  —But as these were not to be had in France, I resolved to take every evil just as it befell me, without any exclamation at all.   13
  La Fleur, who had made no such covenant with himself, followed the bidet with his eyes till it was got out of sight—and then, you may imagine, if you please, with what word he closed the whole affair.   14
  As there was no hunting down a frighten’d horse in jackboots, there remained no alternative but taking La Fleur either behind the chaise, or into it.—   15
  I preferred the latter, and in half an hour we got to the post-house at Nampont.   16
Note 1.  Post-horse. [back]