“H’m!” he said, as if considering the idea for the first time. “Sometimes I fought for a living, and sometimes—because I was obliged; one must try to be a gentleman. But won’t you have some more?”
I refused more tea and took my leave, carrying away with me a picture of the old fellow looking down from the top of the steep staircase, one hand pressed to his back, the other twisting up those little white moustaches, and murmuring, “Take care, my dear sir, there’s a step there at the corner.”
“To be a gentleman!” I repeated in the street, causing an old French lady to drop her parasol, so that for about two minutes we stood bowing and smiling to each other, then separated full of the best feeling.
A week later I found myself again seated next him at a concert. In the meantime I had seen him now and then, but only in passing. He seemed depressed. The corners of his lips were tightened, his tanned cheeks had a greyish tinge, his eyes were restless; and, between two numbers of the programme, he murmured, tapping his fingers on his hat, “Do you ever have bad days? Yes? Not pleasant, are they?”
Then something occurred from which all that I have to tell you followed. There came into the concert-hall the heroine of one of those romances, crimes, follies, or irregularities, call it what you will, which had just attracted the “world’s” stare. She passed us with her partner, and sat down in a chair a few rows to our right. She kept turning her head round, and at every turn I caught the gleam of her uneasy eyes. Some one behind us said: “The brazen baggage!”
My companion turned full round, and glared at whoever it was who had spoken. The change in him was quite remarkable. His lips were drawn back from his teeth; he frowned; the scar on his temple had reddened.
“Ah!” he said to me. “The hue and cry! Contemptible! How I hate it! But you wouldn’t understand—!” he broke off, and slowly regained his usual air of self-obliteration; he even seemed ashamed, and began trying to brush his moustaches higher than ever, as if aware that his heat had robbed them of neatness.
“I’m not myself, when I speak of such matters,” he said suddenly; and began reading his programme, holding it upside down. A minute later, however, he said in a peculiar voice: “There are people to be found who object to vivisecting animals; but the vivisection of a woman, who minds that? Will you tell me it’s right, that because of some tragedy like this—believe me, it is always a tragedy—we should hunt down a woman? That her fellow-women should make an outcast of her? That we, who are men, should make a prey of her? If I thought that....” Again he broke off, staring very hard in front of him. “It is we who make them what they are; and even if that is not so—why! if I thought there was a woman in the world I could not take my hat off to—I—I—couldn’t sleep at night.” He got up from his seat, put on his old straw hat with trembling fingers, and, without a glance back, went out, stumbling over the chair-legs.