A TRAVELLING ACQUAINTANCE
Her words were so unexpected that for a moment or two I was speechless. On the whole, I scarcely felt that I deserved the cold contempt of her voice or the angry flash in her eyes.
“I am afraid I don’t understand you,” I said. “If you refer to the fact that I was watching you with some interest at that moment, I suppose I must plead guilty. On the other hand, I object altogether to the term ‘impertinence.’”
“And why do you object?” she asked, looking at me steadily, and beating with her little hand the arm-rest by her side. “If your behavior is not impertinence, pray what is it? We meet at the Opera. You look. It is not enough for you that you look once, but you look twice, three times. You come out on to the pavement to hear the address which my uncle gives the chauffeur. We go to a restaurant for supper, where only the few are admitted. You are content to be brought by a waiter, but you are there! You travel to England by the same train,—you walk up and down past my compartment. You presume to address me upon the boat. You give a fee to the guard that he should put us in your carriage. Yet you object to the term ’impertinence’!”
“I do,” I answered, “most strongly. I consider your use of the word absolutely uncalled for.”
She looked across at the sleeping man. He was breathing heavily, and was evidently quite unconscious of our conversation.
“Your standard of manners is, I am afraid, a peculiar one,” she said. “In Paris one is used always to be stared at. Englishmen, I was told, behaved better.”
She took up a magazine and turned away with a shrug of the shoulders. I leaned a little further forward in my place, and lowered my voice so as not to disturb the sleeping man.
“You are really unjust to me,” I said. “I will plead guilty to noticing you at the Opera House, but I did so as I would have done any well-dressed young woman who formed a part of the show there. So far as regards my visit to the Cafe des Deux Epingles, I went at the suggestion of Louis, whom I met by accident, and who is the maitre d’hotel at my favorite restaurant. I had no idea that you were going to be there. On the contrary, I distinctly heard your companion tell your chauffeur to drive to the Ritz. I came on this train by accident, and although it is true that I spoke to you as I might have done to any other travelling companion, I deny that there was anything in the least impertinent either in what I said or how I said it. So far as regards your coming into this carriage,” I added, “I feed the guard to keep it to myself, and although I will not say that your presence is unwelcome, it is certainly unsought for.”
She was silent for a moment, watching me all the time intently. My words seemed to have given her food for thought.