He said something more in French which Hartley did not hear, and the Englishman saw that he was frowning.
“Oh, well, I shouldn’t have said there was anything strange about them,” Hartley said; “but they certainly were beautiful. There’s no denying that. The man with her looked rather Irish, I thought.”
They came to the Etoile, and cut across it toward the Avenue Hoche. Ste. Marie glanced back once more, but the motor-car and the delivery boy and the gendarmes were gone.
“What did you say?” he asked, idly.
“I said the man looked Irish,” repeated his friend. All at once Ste. Marie gave a loud exclamation.
“Sacred thousand devils! Fool that I am! Dolt! Why didn’t I think of it before?”
Hartley stared at him, and Ste. Marie stared down the Champs-Elysees like one in a trance.
“I say,” said the Englishman, “we really must be getting on, you know; we’re late.” And as they went along down the Avenue Hoche, he demanded: “Why are you a dolt and whatever else it was? What struck you so suddenly?”
“I remembered all at once,” said Ste. Marie, “where I had seen that man before and with whom I last saw him. I’ll tell you about it later. Probably it’s of no importance, though.”
“You’re talking rather like a mild lunatic,” said the other. “Here we are at the house!”
* * * * *
THE LADDER TO THE STARS
Miss Benham was talking wearily to a strange, fair youth with an impediment in his speech, and was wondering why the youth had been asked to this house, where in general one was sure of meeting only interesting people, when some one spoke her name, and she turned with a little sigh of relief. It was Baron de Vries, the Belgian First Secretary of Legation, an old friend of her grandfather’s, a man made gentle and sweet by infinite sorrow. He bowed civilly to the fair youth and bent over the girl’s hand.
“It is very good,” he said, “to see you again in the world. We have need of you, nous autres. Madame your mother is well, I hope—and the bear?” He called old Mr. Stewart “the bear” in a sort of grave jest, and that fierce octogenarian rather liked it.
“Oh yes,” the girl said, “we’re all fairly well. My mother had one of her headaches to-night and so didn’t come here, but she’s as well as usual, and ’the bear’—yes, he’s well enough physically, I should think, but he has not been quite the same since—during the past month. It has told upon him, you know. He grieves over it much more than he will admit.”
“Yes,” said Baron de Vries, gravely. “Yes, I know.” He turned about toward the fair young man, but that youth had drifted away and joined himself to another group. Miss Benham looked after him and gave a little exclamation of relief.
“That person was rather terrible,” she said. “I can’t think why he is here. Marian so seldom has dull people.”