One day Philip, with the bluntness of his age, asked him if it was true he had been with Garibaldi. The old man did not seem to attach any importance to the question. He answered quite quietly in as low a voice as usual.
‘They say you were in the Commune?’
‘Do they? Shall we get on with our work?’
He held the book open and Philip, intimidated, began to translate the passage he had prepared.
One day Monsieur Ducroz seemed to be in great pain. He had been scarcely able to drag himself up the many stairs to Philip’s room: and when he arrived sat down heavily, his sallow face drawn, with beads of sweat on his forehead, trying to recover himself.
‘I’m afraid you’re ill,’ said Philip.
‘It’s of no consequence.’
But Philip saw that he was suffering, and at the end of the hour asked whether he would not prefer to give no more lessons till he was better.
‘No,’ said the old man, in his even low voice. ‘I prefer to go on while I am able.’
Philip, morbidly nervous when he had to make any reference to money, reddened.
‘But it won’t make any difference to you,’ he said. ‘I’ll pay for the lessons just the same. If you wouldn’t mind I’d like to give you the money for next week in advance.’
Monsieur Ducroz charged eighteen pence an hour. Philip took a ten-mark piece out of his pocket and shyly put it on the table. He could not bring himself to offer it as if the old man were a beggar.
‘In that case I think I won’t come again till I’m better.’ He took the coin and, without anything more than the elaborate bow with which he always took his leave, went out.
Philip was vaguely disappointed. Thinking he had done a generous thing, he had expected that Monsieur Ducroz would overwhelm him with expressions of gratitude. He was taken aback to find that the old teacher accepted the present as though it were his due. He was so young, he did not realise how much less is the sense of obligation in those who receive favours than in those who grant them. Monsieur Ducroz appeared again five or six days later. He tottered a little more and was very weak, but seemed to have overcome the severity of the attack. He was no more communicative than he had been before. He remained mysterious, aloof, and dirty. He made no reference to his illness till after the lesson: and then, just as he was leaving, at the door, which he held open, he paused. He hesitated, as though to speak were difficult.
‘If it hadn’t been for the money you gave me I should have starved. It was all I had to live on.’
He made his solemn, obsequious bow, and went out. Philip felt a little lump in his throat. He seemed to realise in a fashion the hopeless bitterness of the old man’s struggle, and how hard life was for him when to himself it was so pleasant.