Her inability to play up to the relationship in which she stood to Mama Therese in the manner prescribed by sentimentalists worried Sofia more than a little. She was as hungry to give affection as to receive it; and surely she ought to be fond of Mama Therese, who (Sofia was forever being reminded) had in the goodness of her great heart adopted her as the orphaned offspring of a cousin far-removed, and had brought her up at her own expense, expecting no return (excepting humility, gratitude, unquestioning affection, and uncomplaining acceptance of a life of incessant toil at tasks uncongenial when not downright unsavoury, without spending money or hours of untrammelled liberty in which to spend it).
Surely such nobility ought to be requited with nothing less than love!
Nevertheless, the plain, and to Sofia disquieting, truth was: it wasn’t.
She was fond of Mama Therese after a fashion. No one was ever more ready to acknowledge the woman’s good qualities. But her faults, which included avarice, bad temper, gluttony, native cruelty of inclination, and simple inability to give a damn for anybody but herself, forbade satisfaction of Sofia’s yearnings to give her affections freely through bestowing them upon the abundant and florid person of Mama Therese.
Still, she made no murmur. There was more than a trace of fatalism in the composition of her spirit. As she conceived it, in this life either things were or they were not; and as a rule they uncompromisingly were not: one couldn’t have everything.
She was not happy, it would be stretching the truth to say she was content, but she was resigned, she was patient, she waited not altogether without confidence....
All the same, sometimes, as she sat, day in day out, on her high stool, looking down on familiar aspects of life’s fermentation as it manifests in public restaurants, or peering out of the windows to catch tantalizing glimpses of its freer, ampler, and—alas!—more recondite phases—sometimes Sofia wondered whether there were not grimly cynic innuendo in those three words which the mystery of choice had affixed to the window-panes and graven so deep into her soul.
For surely she was in exile there, an exile from all the fun and frolic and, fury of life, marooned in weary isolation, on a high stool, in a frowsty table d’hote, in the living heart of London.
MASKS AND FACES
Quite naturally she became acquainted with Faces....
She grew adept at a game which consisted mostly in keeping close watch upon those who for this reason or that engaged her attention, without giving them the slightest reason to suspect she was doing anything of the sort.
One could not always be staring in abstraction at nothing in particular as it passed to and fro on the sidewalk in front of the Cafe des Exiles; one could not often or for long at a time succeed in reading a book held open in one’s lap, below the level of the cashier’s desk, Mama Therese was too brisk for that; one had to do something with one’s mind; and it was sometimes diverting to watch and speculate about people who looked interesting.