After my friend and I left the tobacco shop, he carefully sorted his loose change; slipped some small gold coins in his left jacket pocket; into the right went the silver pieces; in his left pants pocket, a handful of centimes; and in the right, a silver two-franc piece he inspected closely. I wondered about this odd distribution of coins.

In the street we came across a beggar, cap in hand, pleading for loose change. Nothing is harder for me to refuse than the mute eloquence of a mendicant’s eyes, implying humility while issuing reproach. It’s the same complex emotion you might find in the eyes of a whipped dog whimpering. My friend made an even larger donation than I, and so I said, “The element of surprise is a wonderful thing. And except for the joy of being astonished ourselves, nothing surpasses the pleasure of surprising someone else.”

“I gave him a phony coin,” my friend replied calmly, as if to justify his prodigality.