Miss Benham reflected that she knew almost nothing about Ste. Marie save for his reputation as a carpet knight, and Baron de Vries’ good opinion, which could not be despised. And that made her the more displeased when she realized how promptly she was surrendering to his charm. In a moment of silence she gave a sudden little laugh which seemed to express a half-angry astonishment.
“What was that for?” Ste. Marie demanded.
The girl looked at him for an instant and shook her head.
“I can’t tell you,” said she. “That’s rude, isn’t it? I’m sorry. Perhaps I will tell you one day, when we know each other better.”
But inwardly she was saying: “Why, I suppose this is how they all begin—all these regiments of women who make fools of themselves about him! I suppose this is exactly what he does to them all!”
It made her angry, and she tried quite unfairly to shift the anger, as it were, to Ste. Marie—to put him somehow in the wrong. But she was by nature very just, and she could not quite do that, particularly as it was evident that the man was using no cheap tricks. He did not try to flirt with her, and he did not attempt to pay her veiled compliments, though she was often aware that when her attention was diverted for a few moments his eyes were always upon her, and that is a compliment that few women can find it in their hearts to resent.
“You say,” said Ste. Marie, “‘when we know each other better.’ May one twist that into a permission to come and see you—I mean, really see you—not just leave a card at your door to-morrow by way of observing the formalities?”
“Yes,” she said. “Oh yes, one may twist it into something like that without straining it unduly, I think. My mother and I shall be very glad to see you. I’m sorry she is not here to-night to say it herself.”
Then the hostess began to gather together her flock, and so the two had no more speech. But when the women had gone and the men were left about the dismantled table, Hartley moved up beside Ste. Marie and shook a sad head at him. He said:
“You’re a very lucky being. I was quietly hoping, on the way here, that I should be the fortunate man, but you always have all the luck. I hope you’re decently grateful.”
“Mon vieux,” said Ste. Marie, “my feet are upon the stars. No!” He shook his head as if the figure displeased him. “No, my feet are upon the ladder to the stars. Grateful? What does a foolish word like grateful mean? Don’t talk to me. You are not worthy to trample among my magnificent thoughts. I am a god upon Olympus.”