“How do you mean?” he asked urbanely; “it’s better than the woman making a fool of herself.”
“I’m thinking of the man.”
“What ’s the matter with him? He was a bit of a bounder, certainly.”
“I can’t understand any man wanting to live with a woman who doesn’t want him.”
Some note of battle in Shelton’s voice, rather than the sentiment itself, caused his friend to reply with dignity:
“There’s a lot of nonsense talked about that sort of thing. Women don’t really care; it’s only what’s put into their heads.”
“That’s much the same as saying to a starving man: ’You don’t really want anything; it’s only what’s put into your head!’ You are begging the question, my friend.”
But nothing was more calculated to annoy Halidome than to tell him he was “begging the question,” for he prided himself on being strong in logic.
“That be d—–d,” he said.
“Not at all, old chap. Here is a case where a woman wants her freedom, and you merely answer that she dogs n’t want it.”
“Women like that are impossible; better leave them out of court.”
Shelton pondered this and smiled; he had recollected an acquaintance of his own, who, when his wife had left him, invented the theory that she was mad, and this struck him now as funny. But then he thought: “Poor devil! he was bound to call her mad! If he didn’t, it would be confessing himself distasteful; however true, you can’t expect a man to consider himself that.” But a glance at his friend’s eye warned him that he, too, might think his wife mad in such a case.
“Surely,” he said, “even if she’s his wife, a man’s bound to behave like a gentleman.”
“Depends on whether she behaves like a lady.”
“Does it? I don’t see the connection.”
Halidome paused in the act of turning the latch-key in his door; there was a rather angry smile in his fine eyes.
“My dear chap,” he said, “you’re too sentimental altogether.”
The word “sentimental” nettled Shelton. “A gentleman either is a gentleman or he is n’t; what has it to do with the way other people behave?”
Halidome turned the key in the lock and opened the door into his hall, where the firelight fell on the decanters and huge chairs drawn towards the blaze.
“No, Bird,” he said, resuming his urbanity, and gathering his coat-tails in his hands; “it’s all very well to talk, but wait until you’re married. A man must be master, and show it, too.”
An idea occurred to Shelton.
“Look here, Hal,” he said: “what should you do if your wife got tired of you?”
The expression on Halidome’s face was a mixture of amusement and contempt.
“I don’t mean anything personal, of course, but apply the situation to yourself.”
Halidome took out a toothpick, used it brusquely, and responded: