The Man of Feeling


The company he was engaged to meet were assembled in Fleet Street. He had walked some time along the Strand, amidst a crowd of those wretches who wait the uncertain wages of prostitution, with ideas of pity suitable to the scene around him and the feelings he possessed, and had got as far as Somerset House, when one of them laid hold of his arm, and, with a voice tremulous and faint, asked him for a pint of wine, in a manner more supplicatory than is usual with those whom the infamy of their profession has deprived of shame. He turned round at the demand, and looked steadfastly on the person who made it.

She was above the common size, and elegantly formed; her face was thin and hollow, and showed the remains of tarnished beauty. Her eyes were black, but had little of their lustre left; her cheeks had some paint laid on without art, and productive of no advantage to her complexion, which exhibited a deadly paleness on the other parts of her face.

Harley stood in the attitude of hesitation; which she, interpreting to her advantage, repeated her request, and endeavoured to force a leer of invitation into her countenance. He took her arm, and they walked on to one of those obsequious taverns in the neighbourhood, where the dearness of the wine is a discharge in full for the character of the house. From what impulse he did this we do not mean to enquire; as it has ever been against our nature to search for motives where bad ones are to be found. They entered, and a waiter showed them a room, and placed a bottle of claret on the table.

Harley filled the lady’s glass: which she had no sooner tasted, than dropping it on the floor, and eagerly catching his arm, her eye grew fixed, her lip assumed a clayey whiteness, and she fell back lifeless in her chair.

Harley started from his seat, and, catching her in his arms, supported her from falling to the ground, looking wildly at the door, as if he wanted to run for assistance, but durst not leave the miserable creature. It was not till some minutes after that it occurred to him to ring the bell, which at last, however, he thought of, and rung with repeated violence even after the waiter appeared. Luckily the waiter had his senses somewhat more about him; and snatching up a bottle of water, which stood on a buffet at the end of the room, he sprinkled it over the hands and face of the dying figure before him. She began to revive, and, with the assistance of some hartshorn drops, which Harley now for the first time drew from his pocket, was able to desire the waiter to bring her a crust of bread, of which she swallowed some mouthfuls with the appearance of the keenest hunger. The waiter withdrew: when turning to Harley, sobbing at the same time, and shedding tears, “I am sorry, sir,” said she, “that I should have given you so much trouble; but you will pity me when I tell you that till now I have not tasted a morsel these two days past.” - He fixed his eyes on hers - every circumstance but the last was forgotten; and he took her hand with as much respect as if she had been a duchess. It was ever the privilege of misfortune to be revered by him. - “Two days!” said he; “and I have fared sumptuously every day!” - He was reaching to the bell; she understood his meaning, and prevented him. “I beg, sir,” said she, “that you would give yourself no more trouble about a wretch who does not wish to live; but, at present, I could not eat a bit; my stomach even rose at the last mouthful of that crust.” - He offered to call a chair, saying that he hoped a little rest would relieve her. - He had one half-guinea left. “I am sorry,” he said, “that at present I should be able to make you an offer of no more than this paltry sum.” - She burst into tears: “Your generosity, sir, is abused; to bestow it on me is to take it from the virtuous. I have no title but misery to plead: misery of my own procuring.” “No more of that,” answered Harley; “there is virtue in these tears; let the fruit of them be virtue.” - He rung, and ordered a chair. - “Though I am the vilest of beings,” said she, “I have not forgotten every virtue; gratitude, I hope, I shall still have left, did I but know who is my benefactor.” - “My name is Harley.” - “Could I ever have an opportunity?” - “You shall, and a glorious one too! your future conduct - but I do not mean to reproach you - if, I say - it will be the noblest reward - I will do myself the pleasure of seeing you again.” - Here the waiter entered, and told them the chair was at the door; the lady informed Harley of her lodgings, and he promised to wait on her at ten next morning.

He led her to the chair, and returned to clear with the waiter, without ever once reflecting that he had no money in his pocket. He was ashamed to make an excuse; yet an excuse must be made: he was beginning to frame one, when the waiter cut him short by telling him that he could not run scores; but that, if he would leave his watch, or any other pledge, it would be as safe as if it lay in his pocket. Harley jumped at the proposal, and pulling out his watch, delivered it into his hands immediately, and having, for once, had the precaution to take a note of the lodging he intended to visit next morning, sallied forth with a blush of triumph on his face, without taking notice of the sneer of the waiter, who, twirling the watch in his hand, made him a profound bow at the door, and whispered to a girl, who stood in the passage, something, in which the word CULLY was honoured with a particular emphasis.