Laurence Sterne. (17131768). A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
54. The Mystery. Paris
IF a man knows the heart, he will know it was impossible to go back instantly to my chamberit was touching a cold key with a flat third to it, upon the close of a piece of music, which had calld forth my affectionstherefore when I let go the hand of the fille de chambre, I remaind at the gate of the hotel for some time, looking at every one who passd by, and forming conjectures upon them, till my attention got fixd upon a single object which confounded all kind of reasoning upon him.
It was a tall figure of a philosophic, serious, adust look, which passd and repassd sedately along the street, making a turn of about sixty paces on each side of the gate of the hotelthe man was about fifty-twohad a small cane under his armwas dressd in a dark drab-colord coat, waistcoat, and breeches, which seemd to have seen some years servicethey were still clean, and there was a little air of frugal propreté throughout him. By his pulling off his hat, and his attitude of accosting a good many in his way, I saw he was asking charity; so I got a sou or two out of my pocket ready to give him, as he took me in his turnhe passd by me without asking anythingand yet did not go five steps further before he askd charity of a little womanI was much more likely to have given of the two.He had scarce done with the woman, when he pulld off his hat to another who was coming the same way.An ancient gentleman came slowlyand, after him, a young smart one.He let them both pass, and askd nothing: I stood observing him half an hour, in which time he had made a dozen turns backwards and forwards, and found that he invariably pursued the same plan.
There were two things very singular in this, which set my brain to work, and to no purposethe first was, why the man should only tell his story to the sexand secondlywhat kind of story it was, and what species of eloquence it could be, which softend the hearts of the women, which he knew t was to no purpose to practise upon the men.
There were two other circumstances which entangled this mysterythe one was, he told every woman what he had to say in her ear, and in a way which had much more the air of a secret than a petitionthe other was, it was always successfulhe never stoppd a woman, but she pulld out her purse, and immediately gave him something.