As I came around the corner I saw sitting there on my steps the very personification of Ruin, a tumble-down, dilapidated wreck of manhood. He gave one the impression of having been dropped where he sat, all in a heap. My first instinctive feeling was not one of recoil or even of hostility, but rather a sudden desire to pick him up and put him where he belonged, the instinct, I should say, of the normal man who hangs his axe always on the same nail. When he saw me he gathered himself together with reluctance and stood fully revealed. It was a curious attitude of mingled effrontery and apology. “Hit me if you dare,” blustered his outward personality. “For God’s sake, don’t hit me,” cried the innate fear in his eyes. I stopped and looked at him sharply, His eyes dropped, his look slid away, so that I experienced a sense of shame, as though I had trampled upon him. A damp rag of humanity! I confess that my first impulse, and a strong one, was to kick him for the good of the human race. No man has a right to be like that.
And then, quite suddenly, I had a great revulsion of feeling. What was I that I should judge without knowledge? Perhaps, after all, here was one bearing treasure. So I said:
“You are the man I have been expecting.”
He did not reply, only flashed his eyes up at me, wherein fear deepened.
“I have been saving up a coat for you,” I said, “and a pair of shoes. They are not much worn,” I said, “but a little too small for me. I think they will fit you.”
He looked at me again, not sharply, but with a sort of weak cunning. So far he had not said a word.
“I think our supper is nearly ready,” I said: “let us go in.”
“No, mister,” he mumbled, “a bite out here—no, mister”—and then, as though the sound of his own voice inspired him, he grew declamatory.
“I’m a respectable man, mister, plumber by trade, but——”
“But,” I interrupted, “you can’t get any work, you’re cold and you haven’t had anything to eat for two days, so you are walking out here in the country where we farmers have no plumbing to do. At home you have a starving wife and three small children——”
“Well, six—And now we will go in to supper.”
I led him into the entry way and poured for him a big basin of hot water. As I stepped out again with a comb he was slinking toward the doorway.
“Here,” I said, “is a comb; we are having supper now in a few minutes.”
I wish I could picture Harriet’s face when I brought him into her immaculate kitchen. But I gave her a look, one of the commanding sort that I can put on in times of great emergency, and she silently laid another place at the table.