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—
—But softly—for in these sportive plains, and under this genial sun, where at this instant all flesh is running out piping, fiddling, and dancing to the vintage, and every step that's taken, the judgment is surprised by the imagination, I defy, notwithstanding all that has been said upon straight lines (Vid. Vol. III.) in sundry pages of my book—I defy the best cabbage planter that ever existed, whether he plants backwards or forwards, it makes little difference in the account (except that he will have more to answer for in the one case than in the other)—I defy him to go on coolly, critically, and canonically, planting his cabbages one by one, in straight lines, and stoical distances, especially if slits in petticoats are unsew'd up—without ever and anon straddling out, or sidling into some bastardly digression—In Freeze-land, Fog-land, and some other lands I wot of—it may be done—
But in this clear climate of fantasy and perspiration, where every idea, sensible and insensible, gets vent—in this land, my dear Eugenius—in this fertile land of chivalry and romance, where I now sit, unskrewing my ink-horn to write my uncle Toby's amours, and with all the meanders of Julia's track in quest of her Diego, in full view of my study window—if thou comest not and takest me by the hand—
What a work it is likely to turn out!
Let us begin it.
It is with Love as with Cuckoldom—
But now I am talking of beginning a book, and have long had a thing upon my mind to be imparted to the reader, which, if not imparted now, can never be imparted to him as long as I live (whereas the Comparison may be imparted to him any hour in the day)—I'll just mention it, and begin in good earnest.