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Maupassant's Short Stories Vol. 9

A Coward
In society he was called "Handsome Signoles." His name was Vicomte Gontran-Joseph
de Signoles.
An orphan, and possessed of an ample fortune, he cut quite a dash, as it is called. He had
an attractive appearance and manner, could talk well, had a certain inborn elegance, an
air of pride and nobility, a good mustache, and a tender eye, that always finds favor with
women.
He was in great request at receptions, waltzed to perfection, and was regarded by his own
sex with that smiling hostility accorded to the popular society man. He had been
suspected of more than one love affair, calculated to enhance the reputation of a bachelor.
He lived a happy, peaceful life--a life of physical and mental well-being. He had won
considerable fame as a swordsman, and still more as a marksman.
"When the time comes for me to fight a duel," he said, "I shall choose pistols. With such
a weapon I am sure to kill my man."
One evening, having accompanied two women friends of his with their husbands to the
theatre, he invited them to take some ice cream at Tortoni's after the performance. They
had been seated a few minutes in the restaurant when Signoles noticed that a man was
staring persistently at one of the ladies. She seemed annoyed, and lowered her eyes. At
last she said to her husband:
"There's a man over there looking at me. I don't know him; do you?"
The husband, who had noticed nothing, glanced across at the offender, and said:
"No; not in the least."
His wife continued, half smiling, half angry:
"It's very tiresome! He quite spoils my ice cream."
The husband shrugged his shoulders.
"Nonsense! Don't take any notice of him. If we were to bother our heads about all the ill-
mannered people we should have no time for anything else."
But the vicomte abruptly left his seat. He could not allow this insolent fellow to spoil an
ice for a guest of his. It was for him to take cognizance of the offence, since it was
through him that his friends had come to the restaurant. He went across to the man and
said:
 
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