“Oh, madame!” was all she said; but the manner of her saying it was rarely eloquent.
Sofia laughed lightly, and affectionately pinched the cheek of the maid.
“And you, my little one,” she said in liquid French—“you yourself are too ravishingly pretty to keep out of trouble. Do you know that?”
Her little one looked more than ever demure as she enquired after the hidden meaning of madame la princesse.
“Because you will marry too soon, Therese—too soon some worthless man will persuade you to dedicate all those charms to him alone.”
“Is it not so?”
“Who knows, madame?” said Therese, as who should say: “What must be, must.”
“Then there is a man! I suspected as much.”
“But, madame la princesse, is there not always a man?”
“Madame la princesse need not fear for me,” Therese replied. “Me, my head is not so easily turned. There is always some man, naturally—there are so many men!—but when I marry, rest assured, it will be for something more.”
With the compressed lips of self-approbation she deftly assisted her mistress to swathe her head in the mantilla-like veil.
“Something more than a man?” Sofia enquired through its folds. “What then?”
“Independence, madame la princesse.”
“What an idea! Marriage and independence: how do you reconcile that paradox?”
“Madame la princesse means love, I think, when she speaks of marriage. But love—that is all over and done with when one marries. One is then ready to settle down; one has put by one’s dot, and marries a worthy, industrious man with a little fortune of his own. With such a husband one collaborates in the maintenance of the menage and the management of a small business, something substantial if small. And so one ends one’s days in comfortable companionship. That, madame la princesse, is the marriage for Therese! It may not sound romantic, madame, but it has this rare virtue—it lasts!”
The London night was normal: that is to say, wet. Darkness had transformed the streets into vast sheets of black satin shot with golden strands and studded with lamp-posts like sturdy stems for ethereal blooms of golden haze. Within their areas of glow the air teemed with atoms of liquid gold. The ring of hoofs on wet pavements was at once disturbing and inspiriting.
Alone in her hired hansom the Princess Sofia sat with the window raised, drinking deep of the soft damp air, finding it as heady as strange wine. Under cover of the veil her eyes were brilliant with awareness of her audacity, her lips were parted with the promise of a smile.
She loved it all, she adored this mood of London: its nights of rain were sheer enchantment, arabesque, nights of secrecy and stealth, mystery, and romance under the rose. On nights such as this lovers prospered, adventures were to the venturesome, brave rewards to the bold.