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His middle was crossed
by a thick silver watch-chain, and curious, old-fashioned buttons of agate
set in square frames of gold fastened his round stiff cuffs of yesterday.
He carried a well-brushed bowler as unfashionable as unseasonable.

When Mr. Karslake entered, the polished pattern of a young gentleman of
means, slenderly well set-up in an exquisitely tailored brown lounge suit,
wearing a boater and carrying a slender malacca stick in one chamois-gloved
hand, the butler stood up at his table, quietly acknowledged his
greeting--"Ah, Nogam! you here already?"--and waited for the younger man to
be seated before resuming his own chair: a stoop-shouldered symbol of
self-respecting respectability, not too intelligent, subdued by definite
and unresentful acceptance of "his place."

Their table was the one immediately beyond the buffet; and the café was
very quiet, with only three other patrons, two of whom were playing chess
while the third was reading an old issue of the Echo de Paris. So Sofia
could, if she had cared to eavesdrop, have overheard everything that passed
between Mr. Karslake and the man Nogam. But she didn't; their first few
speeches failed to excite her curiosity in the least.

She heard Mr. Karslake, who was becomingly affable to one of inferior
station, express the perfunctory hope that he hadn't kept Nogam waiting
long, and Nogam reply to the simple effect of "Oh, not at all, sir." To
this he added that he 'oped there had been no 'itch, he was most heager to
be installed in his new situation, and would do his best to give
satisfaction. Karslake replied airily that he was sure Nogam would do
famously, and Nogam said "Thank you, sir." Then Karslake announced they
must bustle along, because they were expected by some person unnamed, but
just the same he meant to have a drink before he budged a foot. And he
called a waiter and requested a whiskey and soda for himself and some beer
for Nogam.... And Sofia turned her attention to other things.

The murmur of their talk meant nothing to her after that, and she forgot
them entirely till they got up to leave, and then wasted only a moment in
wondering why Mr. Karslake, if he were, as he seemed to be, engaging a
butler for some friend or employer, should have arranged to meet the man in
a café of Soho. But it didn't matter, and she dismissed the incident from
her mind.

What did matter was that she was to-day more than ever galled by the deadly
circumstances of her existence. If they were to continue to obtain, she
felt, life would grow simply unendurable, and she would to do something
reckless to get a little relief from the tedium and the ugliness of it all.

She was fed up with everything, the shrewishness of Mama Thérèse, the
drunkenness of Papa Dupont, the hideous dullness of the café, the smell of
food, the fumes of tobacco, the reek of wines.

She was fed up with the leers of Papa Dupont, the scowls of Mama Thérèse,
the grimaces of waiters, the stares of customers, the very sight of herself
in the mirror across the room.

She was fed up with being fed up, she wanted to do something lunatic, she
wanted to kick and scream and drum on the floor with her heels.

And all the while, beyond the threshold, life in the street was flowing by,
a restless stream, and the voice of it was a siren call to her hungry
heart, whispering of freedom, laughing low of love, roaring robustly of
brave adventures.

And she sat there with folded hands, mutinous yet impotent, afraid, a
useless thing with sullen eyes ... wasted ...

As was her custom, between six and seven, before the busy hours of the
evening, she had her dinner fetched to a table near by.

Somebody had left a copy of a morning paper on the wall-seat. Sofia glanced
through it without much interest. None the less, when she had finished, she
took the sheet back to the caisse with her and intermittently, as occasion
offered, read snatches of it quite openly, so bored that she didn't care if
Mama Thérèse did catch her at this forbidden practice; a good row would be
almost welcome ... anything to break the monotony....

When she had digested without edification every item of news, she devoured
the advertisements of the shops, then turned to the Agony Column, which she
had saved up for a savoury.

She read the appeal of the widow of the English army officer who wanted
some kind-hearted and soft-headed person to finance her in setting up an
establishment for "paying guests."

She read the card of the young gentleman of good family but impoverished
means who admitted that he had every grace and talent heart could desire
and who, in frantic effort to escape going to work for his living, threw
himself bodily upon the generosity of an unknown, and as yet non-existent,
benefactor, hinting darkly at suicide if nothing came of this last attempt
to get himself luxuriously maintained in indolence.

She read the advertisements of money-lenders who yearned to advance
fabulous sums to the nobility and gentry on their simple notes of hand.

She read the thinly disguised professional cards of lonely ladies whose
unhappy lot could be mitigated only by congenial male companionship.

She read the ingenuous matrimonial bids.

She read the announcement of the lady of (deleted) title who was willing,
for a substantial consideration, to introduce gentlefolk of means and their
daughters to the most exclusive social circles.

She read the naïve solicitation of the alleged ex-officer of the B.E.F.,
who had won through the war with every known decoration except the Double
Cross of the Order of St. Gall and with nothing of his anatomy left whole
except his cheek, begging some great-hearted soul to buy him a barrel organ
to play in the streets.

And then her eye was arrested by the appearance of her own name in the text
of a brief advertisement, which she read naturally, with heightened

IF MICHAEL LANYARD will communicate privately he will hear news of Sofia
his daughter. Address Secretan & Sypher, Solicitors, Lincoln's Inn Fields,
W.C. 3



Sofia had never heard the name of Michael Lanyard. Neither did the firm
style of Messrs. Secretan & Sypher, Solicitors, mean anything to her.
Notwithstanding, she wasted more time than she knew trying to picture to
herself a man who looked like Michael Lanyard sounded, and wishing (no
matter what his looks might be) that she were his long-lost daughter Sofia,
and that he would see the advertisement, and communicate privately as
requested, and hear news of her, and come speeding in a Rolls-Royce to the
Café des Exiles, and walk in and humble Papa Dupont with a look of hauteur
and confound Mama Thérèse with a peremptory word, and take Sofia by the
hand and lead her out and induct her into such an environment as suited her
rightful station: said environment necessarily comprising a town house if
not on Park Lane at least nearly adjacent to it, and a country house
sitting, in the mellowed beauty of its Seventeenth Century architecture,
amid lordly acres of velvet lawn and private park.

She hoped the country house would be within sight of the sea, and that the
family garage would run to a comfortable little town-car for her personal
use when she went shopping in Bond Street, or to pay calls or leave cards,
or to concerts and matinees....

At about this stage her châteaux en Espagne began to rock upon their
foundations; a seismic phenomenon due to the appearance of Mama Thérèse and
Papa Dupont, coming from zinc and kitchen for their dinner, which meal they
habitually consumed in the café when the evening rush was over, the tables
undressed, and the establishment had settled down to drowse away the dull
hours till closing time.

Thus reminded that it was nine o'clock or thereabouts of a stuffy evening
in a stodgy world where nothing ever happened that hadn't wearily happened
the day before and the day before that and so back to the beginning of
Time, and wasn't scheduled tediously to continue happening to-morrow and
the day after and so on to the end of Eternity, Sofia sighed and shook
herself and put away the vanity of dreams.

But her beauty, as she sat brooding, was as sultry as the night.

In the rear of the room Mama Thérèse and Papa Dupont wrangled sourly over
their food; not with impassioned rancour but in the natural order of
things--as others might discuss the book of the moment or the play of the
year or scandal or Charlie Chaplin or the thundering fiasco of
Versailles--these two discussed each other's failings with utmost candour
and freedom of expression: handling their subjects without gloves; never
hesitating to touch upon topics not commonly mentioned in civil intercourse
or to use the apt, unprintable word; never dreaming of politely terming a
damned old hoe a spade; tossing the ball of recrimination to and fro with
masterly ease.

Their preoccupation with this pastime was so thoroughgoing that Mama
Thérèse even failed to notice the passage of the postman on his last round
of the day. Ordinarily, for reasons best known to herself and which Sofia
had never thought to question, Mama Thérèse preferred personally to receive
all letters and contrived to be on hand at the postman's customary hours of
call. But to-night she only realized that he had come and gone when,
happening to glance toward the caisse, she saw Sofia shuffling the
half-dozen envelopes which had been left with her.

Immediately Mama Thérèse pushed back the table and got up, wiping chin and
moustache with her napkin as she rolled toward the desk.

But she was too late. Already Sofia had sorted out and was staring in blank
wonder at an envelope addressed to Mama Thérèse and bearing in its upper
left-hand corner the imprint of its origin:

_Secretan & Sypher
Lincoln's Inn
Fields London, W.C. 3._

As yet she was simply startled by the coincidence, her brain had not had
time to absorb its full significance--that Mama Thérèse should receive a
communication from these distinctively named solicitors on the evening of
the very day on which they advertised concerning a young woman named
Sofia!--when the letter was snatched out of her hand, a torrent of
objurgation was loosed upon her devoted head, and she looked into the black
scowl of the Frenchwoman.


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