Laurence Sterne. (17131768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
12. The Snuff-Box. Calais
THE GOOD old monk was within six paces of us, as the idea of him crossd my mind; and was advancing towards us a little out of the line, as if uncertain whether he should break in upon us or no.He stoppd, however, as soon as he came up to us, with a world of frankness. and having a horn snuff-box in his hand, he presented it open to me.You shall taste minesaid I, pulling out my box (which was a small tortoise one) and putting it unto his hand.T is most excellent, said the monk. Then do me the favor, I replied, to accept of the box and all, and when you take a pinch out of it, sometimes recollect it was the peace offering of a man who once used you unkindly, but not from his heart.
The poor monk blushd as red as scarlet. Mon Dieu! said he, pressing his hands togetheryou never used me unkindly.I should think, said the lady, he is not likely. I blushd in my turn, but from what movements I leave to the few who feel to analyze.Excuse me, Madame, replied II treated him most unkindly and from no provocations.T is impossible, said the lady.My God! cried the monk, with a warmth of asseveration which seemd not to belong to himthe fault was in me, and in the indiscretion of my zeal.The lady opposed it, and I joined with her in maintaining it was impossible, that a spirit so regulated as his, could give offense to any.
I knew not that contention could be rendered so sweet and pleasurable a thing to the nerves as I then felt it.We remained silent without any sensation of that foolish pain which takes place, when in such a circle you look for ten minutes in one anothers faces without saying a word. Whilst this lasted, the monk rubbd his horn box upon the sleeve of his tunic; and as soon as it had acquired a little air of brightness by the frictionhe made a low bow, and said, t was too late to say whether it was the weakness or goodness of our tempers which had involvd us in this contest.But be it as it wouldhe beggd we might exchange boxes.In saying this, he presented his to me with one hand, as he took mine from me in the other; and having kissd itwith a stream of good nature in his eyes he put it into his bosomand took his leave.
I guard this box, as I would the instrumental parts of my religion, to help my mind on to something better: in truth, I seldom go abroad without it: and oft and many a time have I calld up by it the courteous spirit of its owner to regulate my own, in the justlings of the world; they had found full employment for his, as I learnt from his story, till about the forty-fifth year of his age, when upon some military services ill requited, and meeting at the same time with a disappointment in the tenderest of passions, he abandond the sword and the sex together, and took sanctuary, not so much in his convent as in himself.
I feel a damp upon my spirits, as I am going to add, that in my last return through Calais, upon inquiring after Father Lorenzo, I heard he had been dead near three months, and was buried, not in his convent, but, according to his desire, in a little cemetery belonging to it, about two leagues off: I had a strong desire to see where they had laid himwhen upon pulling out his little horn box, as I sat by his grave, and plucking up a nettle or two at the head of it, which had no business to grow there, they all struck together so forcibly upon my affections, that I burst into a flood of tearsbut I am as weak as a woman; and I beg the world not to smile, but pity me.