The Story of Le Fever

It was some time in the summer of that year in which Dendermond was taken by the allies,⁠—which was about seven years before my father came into the country,⁠—and about as many, after the time, that my uncle Toby and Trim had privately decamped from my father’s house in town, in order to lay some of the finest sieges to some of the finest fortified cities in Europe⁠⸺⁠when my uncle Toby was one evening getting his supper, with Trim sitting behind him at a small sideboard,⁠—I say, sitting⁠—for in consideration of the corporal’s lame knee (which sometimes gave him exquisite pain)⁠—when my uncle Toby dined or supped alone, he would never suffer the corporal to stand; and the poor fellow’s veneration for his master was such, that, with a proper artillery, my uncle Toby could have taken Dendermond itself, with less trouble than he was able to gain this point over him; for many a time when my uncle Toby supposed the corporal’s leg was at rest, he would look back, and detect him standing behind him with the most dutiful respect: this bred more little squabbles betwixt them, than all other causes for five-and-twenty years together⁠—But this is neither here nor there⁠—why do I mention it?⁠⸺⁠Ask my pen,⁠—it governs me,⁠—I govern not it.

He was one evening sitting thus at his supper, when the landlord of a little inn in the village came into the parlour, with an empty phial in his hand, to beg a glass or two of sack; ’Tis for a poor gentleman,⁠—I think, of the army, said the landlord, who has been taken ill at my house four days ago, and has never held up his head since, or had a desire to taste anything, till just now, that he has a fancy for a glass of sack and a thin toast,⁠⸺⁠I think, says he, taking his hand from his forehead, it would comfort me.

⸺⁠If I could neither beg, borrow, or buy such a thing⁠—added the landlord,⁠—I would almost steal it for the poor gentleman, he is so ill.⁠⸺⁠I hope in God he will still mend, continued he,⁠—we are all of us concerned for him.

Thou art a good-natured soul, I will answer for thee, cried my uncle Toby; and thou shalt drink the poor gentleman’s health in a glass of sack thyself,⁠—and take a couple of bottles with my service, and tell him he is heartily welcome to them, and to a dozen more if they will do him good.

Though I am persuaded, said my uncle Toby, as the landlord shut the door, he is a very compassionate fellow⁠—Trim,⁠—yet I cannot help entertaining a high opinion of his guest too; there must be something more than common in him, that in so short a time should win so much upon the affections of his host;⁠⸺⁠And of his whole family, added the corporal, for they are all concerned for him.⁠⸺⁠Step after him, said my uncle Toby,⁠—do, Trim,⁠—and ask if he knows his name.

⸺⁠I have quite forgot it truly, said the landlord, coming back into the parlour with the corporal,⁠—but I can ask his son again:⁠⸺⁠Has he a son with him then? said my uncle Toby.⁠—A boy, replied the landlord, of about eleven or twelve years of age;⁠—but the poor creature has tasted almost as little as his father; he does nothing but mourn and lament for him night and day:⁠⸺⁠He has not stirred from the bedside these two days.

My uncle Toby laid down his knife and fork, and thrust his plate from before him, as the landlord gave him the account; and Trim, without being ordered, took away, without saying one word, and in a few minutes after brought him his pipe and tobacco.

⸺⁠Stay in the room a little, said my uncle Toby.

Trim!⁠⸺⁠said my uncle Toby, after he lighted his pipe, and smoak’d about a dozen whiffs.⁠⸺⁠Trim came in front of his master, and made his bow;⁠—my uncle Toby smoak’d on, and said no more.⁠⸺⁠Corporal! said my uncle Toby⁠⸺⁠the corporal made his bow.⁠⸺⁠My uncle Toby proceeded no farther, but finished his pipe.

Trim! said my uncle Toby, I have a project in my head, as it is a bad night, of wrapping myself up warm in my roquelaure, and paying a visit to this poor gentleman.⁠⸺⁠Your honour’s roquelaure, replied the corporal, has not once been had on, since the night before your honour received your wound, when we mounted guard in the trenches before the gate of St. Nicolas;⁠⸺⁠and besides, it is so cold and rainy a night, that what with the roquelaure, and what with the weather, ’twill be enough to give your honour your death, and bring on your honour’s torment in your groin. I fear so, replied my uncle Toby; but I am not at rest in my mind, Trim, since the account the landlord has given me.⁠⸺⁠I wish I had not known so much of this affair,⁠—added my uncle Toby,⁠—or that I had known more of it:⁠⸺⁠How shall we manage it? Leave it, an’t please your honour, to me, quoth the corporal;⁠⸺⁠I’ll take my hat and stick and go to the house and reconnoitre, and act accordingly; and I will bring your honour a full account in an hour.⁠⸺⁠Thou shalt go, Trim, said my uncle Toby, and here’s a shilling for thee to drink with his servant.⁠⸺⁠I shall get it all out of him, said the corporal, shutting the door.

My uncle Toby filled his second pipe; and had it not been, that he now and then wandered from the point, with considering whether it was not full as well to have the curtain of the tenaille a straight line, as a crooked one,⁠—he might be said to have thought of nothing else but poor Le Fever and his boy the whole time he smoaked it.