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

The Riddle. Paris

WHEN La Fleur came up to wait upon me at supper, he told me how sorry the master of the hotel was for his affront to me in bidding me change my lodgings.

A man who values a good night’s rest will not lay down with enmity in his heart, if he can help it—so I bid La Fleur tell the master of the hotel, that I was sorry on my side for the occasion I had given him—and you may tell him, if you will, La Fleur, added I, that if the young woman should call again, I shall not see her.

This was a sacrifice not to him, but myself, having resolved, after so narrow an escape, to run no more risks, but to leave Paris, if it was possible, with all the virtue I enter’d in.

C’est déroger à noblesse, Monsieur, said La Fleur, making me a bow down to the ground as he said it.—Et encore, Monsieur, said he, may change his sentiments—and if (parhazard) he should like to amuse himself—I find no amusement in it, said I, interrupting him—

Mon Dieu! said La Fleur—and took away.

In an hour’s time he came to put me to bed, and was more than commonly officious—something hung upon his lips to say to me, or ask me, which he could not get off: I could not conceive what it was, and indeed gave myself little trouble to find it out, as I had another riddle so much more interesting upon my mind, which was that of the man’s asking charity before the door of the hotel—I would have given anything to have got to the bottom of it; and that, not out of curiosity—’t is so low a principle of inquiry, in general, I would not purchase the gratification of it with a twosou piece—but a secret, I thought, which so soon and so certainly soften’d the heart of every woman you came near, was a secret at least equal to the philosopher’s stone: had I had both the Indies, I would have given up one to have been master of it.

I toss’d and turn’d it almost all night long in my brains to no manner of purpose; and when I awoke in the morning, I found my spirit as much troubled with my dreams, as ever the king of Babylon had been with his; and I will not hesitate to affirm, it would have puzzled all the wise men of Paris as much as those of Chaldea, to have given its interpretation.