“You said just now,” objected the other man, practically, “that your feet were on a ladder. There are no ladders from Olympus to the stars.”
“Ho!” said Ste. Marie. “Ho! Aren’t there, though? There shall be ladders all over Olympus, if I like. What do you know about gods and stars? I shall be a god climbing to the heavens, and I shall be an angel of light, and I shall be a miserable worm grovelling in the night here below, and I shall be a poet, and I shall be anything else I happen to think of—all of them at once, if I choose. And you shall be the tongue-tied son of perfidious Albion that you are, gaping at my splendors from a fog-bank—a November fog-bank in May. Who is the desiccated gentleman bearing down upon us?”
* * * * *
STE. MARIE MAKES A VOW, BUT A PAIR OF EYES HAUNT HIM
Hartley looked over his shoulder and gave a little exclamation of distaste.
“It’s Captain Stewart, Miss Benham’s uncle,” he said, lowering his voice. “I’m off. I shall abandon you to him. He’s a good old soul, but he bores me.” Hartley nodded to the man who was approaching, and then made his way to the end of the table, where their host sat discussing aero-club matters with a group of the other men.
Captain Stewart dropped into the vacant chair, saying: “May I recall myself to you, M. Ste. Marie? We met, I believe, once or twice, a couple of years ago. My name’s Stewart.”
Captain Stewart—the title was vaguely believed to have been borne some years before in the American service, but no one appeared to know much about it—was not an old man. He could not have been, at this time, much more than fifty, but English-speaking acquaintances often called him “old Stewart,” and others “ce vieux Stewart.” Indeed, at a first glance he might have passed for anything up to sixty, for his face was a good deal more lined and wrinkled than it should have been at his age. Ste. Marie’s adjective had been rather apt. The man had a desiccated appearance. Upon examination, however, one saw that the blood was still red in his cheeks and lips, and, although his neck was thin and withered like an old man’s, his brown eyes still held their fire. The hair was almost gone from the top of his large, round head, but it remained at the sides—stiff, colorless hair, with a hint of red in it. And there were red streaks in his gray mustache, which was trained outward in two loose tufts, like shaving-brushes. The mustache and the shallow chin under it gave him an odd, catlike appearance. Hartley, who rather disliked the man, used to insist that he had heard him mew.
Ste. Marie said something politely non-committal, though he did not at all remember the alleged meeting two years before, and he looked at Captain Stewart with a real curiosity and interest in his character as Miss Benham’s uncle. He thought it very civil of the elder man to make these friendly advances when it was in no way incumbent upon him to do so.