Henry Fielding. (17071754). The History of Tom Jones.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.
Book XII. Containing the Same Individual Time with the Former
IV. The Adventure of a Beggar-Man
JUST as Partridge had uttered that good and pious doctrine, with which the last chapter concluded, they arrived at another cross-way, when a lame fellow in rags asked them for alms; upon which Partridge gave him a severe rebuke, saying, Every parish ought to keep their own poor. Jones then fell a-laughing, and asked Partridge, if he was not ashamed, with so much charity in his mouth, to have no charity in his heart. Your religion, says he, serves you only for an excuse for your faults, but is no incentive to your virtue. Can any man who is really a Christian abstain from relieving one of his brethren in such a miserable condition? And at the same time, putting his hand in his pocket, he gave the poor object a shilling.
Master, cries the fellow, after thanking him, I have a curious thing here in my pocket, which I found about two miles off, if your worship will please to buy it. I should not venture to pull it out to every one; but, as you are so good a gentleman, and so kind to the poor, you wont suspect a man of being a thief only because he is poor. He then pulled out a little gilt pocket-book, and delivered it into the hands of Jones.
Jones presently opened it, and (guess, reader, what he felt) saw in the first page the words Sophia Western, written by her own fair hand. He no sooner read the name than he prest it close to his lips; nor could he avoid falling into some very frantic raptures, notwithstanding his company; but, perhaps, these very raptures made him forget he was not alone.
While Jones was kissing and mumbling the book, as if he had an excellent brown buttered crust in his mouth or as if he had really been a book-worm, or an author who had nothing to eat but his own works, a piece of paper fell from its leaves to the ground, which Partridge took up, and delivered to Jones, who presently perceived it to be a bank-bill. It was, indeed, the very bill which Western had given his daughter the night before her departure; and a Jew would have jumped to purchase it at five shillings less than $sgr:100.
The eyes of Partridge sparkled at this news, which Jones now proclaimed aloud; and so did (though with somewhat a different aspect) those of the poor fellow who had found the book; and who (I hope from a principle of honesty) had never opened it: but we should not deal honestly by the reader if we omitted to inform him of a circumstance which may be here a little material, viz. that the fellow could not read.
Jones, who had felt nothing but pure joy and transport from the finding the book, was affected with a mixture of concern at this new discovery; for his imagination instantly suggested to him that the owner of the bill might possibly want it before he should be able to convey it to her. He then acquainted the finder that he knew the lady to whom the book belonged, and would endeavour to find her out as soon as possible, and return it her.
The pocket-book was a late present from Mrs. Western to her niece; it had cost five-and-twenty shillings, having been bought of a celebrated toyman; but the real value of the silver which it contained in its clasp was about eighteen-pence; and that price the said toyman, as it was altogether as good as when it first issued from his shop, would now have given for it. A prudent person would, however, have taken proper advantage of the ignorance of this fellow, and would not have offered more than a shilling, or perhaps sixpence, for it; nay, some perhaps would have given nothing, and left the fellow to his action of trover, which some learned serjeants may doubt whether he could, under these circumstances, have maintained.
Jones, on the contrary, whose character was on the outside of generosity, and may perhaps not very unjustly have been suspected of extravagance, without any hesitation gave a guinea in exchange for the book. The poor man, who had not for a long time before been possessed of so much treasure, gave Mr. Jones a thousand thanks, and discovered little less of transport in his muscles than Jones had before shown when he had first read the name of Sophia Western.
The fellow very readily agreed to attend our travellers to the place where he had found the pocket-book. Together, therefore, they proceeded directly thither; but not so fast as Mr. Jones desired; for his guide unfortunately happened to be lame, and could not possibly travel faster than a mile an hour. As this place, therefore, was at above three miles distance, though the fellow had said otherwise, the reader need not be acquainted how long they were in walking it.
Jones opened the book a hundred times during their walk, kissed it as often, talked much to himself, and very little to his companions. At all which the guide exprest some signs of astonishment to Partridge; who more than once shook his head, and cryed, Poor gentleman! orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
At length they arrived at the very spot where Sophia unhappily dropt the pocket-book, and where the fellow had as happily found it. Here Jones offered to take leave of his guide, and to improve his pace; but the fellow, in whom that violent surprize and joy which the first receipt of the guinea had occasioned was now considerably abated, and who had now had sufficient time to recollect himself, put on a discontented look, and, scratching his head, said, He hoped his worship would give him something more. Your worship, said he, will, I hope, take it into your consideration that if I had not been honest I might have kept the whole. And, indeed, this the reader must confess to have been true. If the paper there, said he, be worth $sgr:100, I am sure the finding it deserves more than a guinea. Besides, suppose your worship should never see the lady, nor give it herand, though your worship looks and talks very much like a gentleman, yet I have only your worships bare word; and, certainly, if the right owner bent to be found, it all belongs to the first finder. I hope your worship will consider of all these matters: I am but a poor man, and therefore dont desire to have all; but it is but reasonable I should have my share. Your worship looks like a good man, and, I hope, will consider my honesty; for I might have kept every farthing, and nobody ever the wiser. I promise thee, upon my honour, cries Jones, that I know the right owner, and will restore it her. Nay, your worship, answered the fellow, may do as you please as to that; if you will but give me my share, that is, one-half of the money, your honour may keep the rest yourself if you please; and concluded with swearing, by a very vehement oath, that he would never mention a syllable of it to any man living.
Lookee, friend, cries Jones, the right owner shall certainly have again all that she lost; and as for any farther gratuity, I really cannot give it you at present; but let me know your name, and where you live, and it is more than possible you may hereafter have further reason to rejoice at this mornings adventure.
I dont know what you mean by venture, cries the fellow; it seems I must venture whether you will return the lady her money or no; but I hope your worship will consider Come, come, said Partridge, tell his honour your name, and where you may be found; I warrant you will never repent having put the money into his hands. The fellow, seeing no hopes of recovering the possession of the pocket-book, at last compiled in giving in his name and place of abode, which Jones writ upon a piece of paper with the pencil of Sophia; and then, placing the paper in the same page where she had writ her name, he cried out, There, friend, you are the happiest man alive; I have joined your name to that of an angel. I dont know anything about angels, answered the fellow; but I wish you would give me a little more money, or else return me the pocket-book. Partridge now waxed wrath; he called the poor cripple by several vile and opprobrious names, and was absolutely proceeding to beat him, but Jones would not suffer any such thing: and now, telling the fellow he would certainly find some opportunity of serving him, Mr. Jones departed as fast as his heels would carry him; and Partridge, into whom the thoughts of the hundred pound had infused new spirits, followed his leader; while the man, who was obliged to stay behind, fell to cursing them both, as well as his parents; for had they, says he, sent me to charity-school to learn to write and read and cast accounts, I should have known the value of these matters as well as other people.