He indicated a weedy young Alsatian across the room, a depressed and pimply creature in a waiter’s jacket and apron, who was shambling from table to table and collecting used glasses and saucers.
“You see that omnibus yonder? What he is to-day, that was I in mine—omnibus, scullion, valet-de-chambre, butt and scapegoat-in-general to the establishment, scavenger of food that no one else would eat.... I suffered there, at Troyon’s.”
“You, sir?” Karslake exclaimed in astonishment. “Whoever would have thought that you ... How did you escape?”
“It occurred to me, one day, I was less than half alive and never would be better while I stayed on in that servitude. So I walked out—into life.”
“I wish you’d tell me, sir,” Karslake ventured, eagerly.
“Some day, perhaps, when I get back. But now”—he looked at his watch—“I’ve got just time enough to taxi to my hotel, pack, and catch the boat train.”
“Don’t wait for me,” Karslake suggested, signalling the waiter.
“Perhaps it would be as well if I didn’t.”
They shook hands, and the older man got up, secured his hat and stick, and started out toward the door, moving leisurely, still looking about him with the narrowed eyes and smile of reminiscence.
Of a sudden that look was abolished utterly. He had caught sight of Sofia.
Her interest had been so excited by the singular confidences she had overheard that the girl had quite forgotten herself and her professional pose of blank neutrality. She was bending forward a little, forearms resting on the desk, frankly staring.
The man’s stride checked, his smile faded, his eyes grew wide and cloudy with bewilderment. For a moment Sofia thought him on the point of bowing, as one might on unexpectedly encountering an acquaintance after many years: there was that hint of impulse hindered by uncertainty. And in that moment the girl was conscious of a singular sensation of breathlessness, as if something impended whose issue might change all the courses of her life. A feeling quite insane and unaccountable, to be sure; and nothing came of it whatever. With a readiness so instant that the break in his walk must have been imperceptible to anybody but Sofia, the man recollected himself, composed his face, and proceeded to the door.
Confounded with inexplicable disappointment, Sofia sat unstirring.
In the open doorway the man turned and looked back, not at her, but at Karslake, as if of half a mind to return and say something more to the younger man. But he didn’t.
He never came back.
THE AGONY COLUMN
Sofia dated from that afternoon the first stirrings of a discontent which grew in her throughout the summer till everything related to her lot seemed abominable in her sight.