The company at the baronet’s removed to the playhouse accordingly, and Harley took his usual route into the Park. He observed, as he entered, a fresh-looking elderly gentleman in conversation with a beggar, who, leaning on his crutch, was recounting the hardships he had undergone, and explaining the wretchedness of his present condition. This was a very interesting dialogue to Harley; he was rude enough, therefore, to slacken his pace as he approached, and at last to make a full stop at the gentleman’s back, who was just then expressing his compassion for the beggar, and regretting that he had not a farthing of change about him. At saying this, he looked piteously on the fellow: there was something in his physiognomy which caught Harley’s notice: indeed, physiognomy was one of Harley’s foibles, for which he had been often rebuked by his aunt in the country, who used to tell him that when he was come to her years and experience he would know that all’s not gold that glitters: and it must be owned that his aunt was a very sensible, harsh-looking maiden lady of threescore and upwards. But he was too apt to forget this caution and now, it seems, it had not occurred to him. Stepping up, therefore, to the gentleman, who was lamenting the want of silver, “Your intentions, sir,” said he, “are so good, that I cannot help lending you my assistance to carry them into execution,” and gave the beggar a shilling. The other returned a suitable compliment, and extolled the benevolence of Harley. They kept walking together, and benevolence grew the topic of discourse.
The stranger was fluent on the subject. “There is no use of money,” said he, “equal to that of beneficence. With the profuse, it is lost; and even with those who lay it out according to the prudence of the world, the objects acquired by it pall on the sense, and have scarce become our own till they lose their value with the power of pleasing; but here the enjoyment grows on reflection, and our money is most truly ours when it ceases being in our possession.
“Yet I agree in some measure,” answered Harley, “with those who think that charity to our common beggars is often misplaced; there are objects less obtrusive whose title is a better one.”
“We cannot easily distinguish,” said the stranger; “and even of the worthless, are there not many whose imprudence, or whose vice, may have been one dreadful consequence of misfortune?”
Harley looked again in his face, and blessed himself for his skill in physiognomy.
By this time they had reached the end of the walk, the old gentleman leaning on the rails to take breath, and in the meantime they were joined by a younger man, whose figure was much above the appearance of his dress, which was poor and shabby. Harley’s former companion addressed him as an acquaintance, and they turned on the walk together.
The elder of the strangers complained of the closeness of the evening, and asked the other if he would go with him into a house hard by, and take one draught of excellent cyder. “The man who keeps this house,” said he to Harley, “was once a servant of mine. I could not think of turning loose upon the world a faithful old fellow, for no other reason but that his age had incapacitated him; so I gave him an annuity of ten pounds, with the help of which he has set up this little place here, and his daughter goes and sells milk in the city, while her father manages his tap-room, as he calls it, at home. I can’t well ask a gentleman of your appearance to accompany me to so paltry a place.” “Sir,” replied Harley, interrupting him, “I would much rather enter it than the most celebrated tavern in town. To give to the necessitous may sometimes be a weakness in the man; to encourage industry is a duty in the citizen.” They entered the house accordingly.
On a table at the corner of the room lay a pack of cards, loosely thrown together. The old gentleman reproved the man of the house for encouraging so idle an amusement. Harley attempted to defend him from the necessity of accommodating himself to the humour of his guests, and taking up the cards, began to shuffle them backwards and forwards in his hand. “Nay, I don’t think cards so unpardonable an amusement as some do,” replied the other; “and now and then, about this time of the evening, when my eyes begin to fail me for my book, I divert myself with a game at piquet, without finding my morals a bit relaxed by it. Do you play piquet, sir?” (to Harley.) Harley answered in the affirmative; upon which the other proposed playing a pool at a shilling the game, doubling the stakes; adding, that he never played higher with anybody.
Harley’s good nature could not refuse the benevolent old man; and the younger stranger, though he at first pleaded prior engagements, yet being earnestly solicited by his friend, at last yielded to solicitation.
When they began to play, the old gentleman, somewhat to the surprise of Harley, produced ten shillings to serve for markers of his score. “He had no change for the beggar,” said Harley to himself; “but I can easily account for it; it is curious to observe the affection that inanimate things will create in us by a long acquaintance. If I may judge from my own feelings, the old man would not part with one of these counters for ten times its intrinsic value; it even got the better of his benevolence! I, myself, have a pair of old brass sleeve buttons.” Here he was interrupted by being told that the old gentleman had beat the younger, and that it was his turn to take up the conqueror. “Your game has been short,” said Harley. “I re-piqued him,” answered the old man, with joy sparkling in his countenance. Harley wished to be re-piqued too, but he was disappointed; for he had the same good fortune against his opponent. Indeed, never did fortune, mutable as she is, delight in mutability so much as at that moment. The victory was so quick, and so constantly alternate, that the stake, in a short time, amounted to no less a sum than £12, Harley’s proportion of which was within half-a-guinea of the money he had in his pocket. He had before proposed a division, but the old gentleman opposed it with such a pleasant warmth in his manner, that it was always over-ruled. Now, however, he told them that he had an appointment with some gentlemen, and it was within a few minutes of his hour. The young stranger had gained one game, and was engaged in the second with the other; they agreed, therefore, that the stake should be divided, if the old gentleman won that: which was more than probable, as his score was 90 to 35, and he was elder hand; but a momentous re-pique decided it in favour of his adversary, who seemed to enjoy his victory mingled with regret, for having won too much, while his friend, with great ebullience of passion, many praises of his own good play, and many malediction’s on the power of chance, took up the cards, and threw them into the fire.