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

The Case of Conscience. Paris

I WAS immediately followed up by the master of the hotel, who came into my room to tell me I must provide lodgings elsewhere.—How so, friend? said I.—He answer’d, I had had a young woman lock’d up with me two hours that evening in my bedchamber, and ’t was against the rules of his house.—Very well, said I, we’ll all part friends then—for the girl is no worse—and I am no worse—and you will be just as I found you.—It was enough, he said, to overthrow the credit of his hotel.—Voyez vous, Monsieur, said he, pointing to the foot of the bed we had been sitting upon.—I own it had something of the appearance of an evidence; but my pride not suffering me to enter into any detail of the case, I exhorted him to let his soul sleep in peace, as I resolved to let mine do that night, and that I would discharge what I owed him at breakfast.

I should not have minded, Monsieur, said he, if you had had twenty girls—’T is a score more, replied I, interrupting him, than I ever reckon’d upon—Provided, added he, it had been but in a morning.—And does the difference of the time of the day at Paris make a difference in the sin?—It made a difference, he said, in the scandal.—I like a good distinction in my heart; and cannot say I was intolerably out of temper with the man. I own it is necessary, reassumed the master of the hotel, that a stranger at Paris should have the opportunities presented to him of buying lace and silk stockings, and ruffles, et tout cela—and ’t is nothing if a woman comes with a band-box.—O, my conscience, said I, she had one; but I never look’d into it.—Then Monsieur, said he, has bought nothing.—Not one earthly thing, replied I.—Because, said he, I could recommend one to you who would use you en conscience.—But I must see her this night, said I.—He made me a low bow, and walk’d down.

Now shall I triumph over this maître d’ hôtel, cried I—and what then?—Then I shall let him see I know he is a dirty fellow.—And what then?—What then!—I was too near myself to say it was for the sake of others.—I had no good answer left—there was more of spleen than principle in my project, and I was sick of it before the execution.

In a few minutes the Grisset came in with her box of lace—I’ll buy nothing, however, said I, within myself.

The Grisset would show me everything.—I was hard to please: she would not seem to see it; she open’d her little magazine, and laid all her laces one after another before me—unfolded and folded them up again one by one with the most patient sweetness—I might buy—or not—she would let me have everything at my own price—the poor creature seem’d anxious to get a penny; and laid herself out to win me, and not so much in a manner which seem’d artful, as in one I felt simple and caressing.

If there is not a fund of honest cullibility in man, so much the worse—my heart relented, and I gave up my second resolution as quietly as the first.—Why should I chastise one for the trespass of another? If thou art tributary to this tyrant of an host, thought I, looking up in her face, so much harder is thy bread.

If I had not had more than four Louis d’ors in my purse, there was no such thing as rising up and showing her the door, till I had first laid three of them out in a pair of ruffles.

—The master of the hotel will share the profit with her—no matter—then I have only paid as many a poor soul has paid before me, for an act he could not do, or think of.