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

The Mystery. Paris

IF a man knows the heart, he will know it was impossible to go back instantly to my chamber—it was touching a cold key with a flat third to it, upon the close of a piece of music, which had call’d forth my affections—therefore when I let go the hand of the fille de chambre, I remain’d at the gate of the hotel for some time, looking at every one who pass’d by, and forming conjectures upon them, till my attention got fix’d upon a single object which confounded all kind of reasoning upon him.

It was a tall figure of a philosophic, serious, adust look, which pass’d and repass’d sedately along the street, making a turn of about sixty paces on each side of the gate of the hotel—the man was about fifty-two—had a small cane under his arm—was dress’d in a dark drab-color’d coat, waistcoat, and breeches, which seem’d to have seen some years’ service—they 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 turn—he pass’d by me without asking anything—and yet did not go five steps further before he ask’d charity of a little woman—I was much more likely to have given of the two.—He had scarce done with the woman, when he pull’d off his hat to another who was coming the same way.—An ancient gentleman came slowly—and, after him, a young smart one.—He let them both pass, and ask’d 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 purpose—the first was, why the man should only tell his story to the sex—and secondly—what kind of story it was, and what species of eloquence it could be, which soften’d 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 mystery—the 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 petition—the other was, it was always successful—he never stopp’d a woman, but she pull’d out her purse, and immediately gave him something.

I could form no system to explain the phenomenon.

I had got a riddle to amuse me for the rest of the evening, so I walk’d up-stairs to my chamber.