Number One had disappeared.
There was a remote rumour of cries and shouts, the muffled sound of axes crashing into woodwork....
Late in the forenoon a pencil of golden light found a chink in jealously drawn draperies, and groped the rich dusk of the bedchamber till it came to rest, as if happy that its search had found so lovely a reward, upon the face of a young girl who lay sleeping in a bed whose exquisite adornment must have flattered even the exalted person of a princess.
With a swift but silent movement another girl, who had been sitting patiently on a low stool near by, rose and put herself in the way of the sunbeam. But too late: already long lashes were a-flutter upon the delicately modelled cheeks of the sleeper.
A gentle sigh brushed parting lips; the sweet body stirred luxuriously; unclouded by any shadow of misgiving, the blue eyes of the Princess Sofia looked out upon the first day of her new world.
Then they grew wide with wonder, comprehending the sleek, pretty face of a Chinese girl of about her own age who, with eyes downcast, demure mouth and folded hands, submissively awaited recognition.
“Who are you?” Sofia demanded in a breath.
A bob of courtesy, wholly charming, prefaced a reply pattered in English of quaintest accent:
“You’ handmaiden—Chou Nu is my name.”
“Les, Plincess Sofia.”
“But I don’t understand. How—when—?”
“Las’ night Numbe’ One he send for me, but when I come you go-sleep.”
Surprise coloured faintly the explanation: “Plince Victo’, honol’ble fathe’ of Plincess Sofia. You like get up now, take bath, have blekfuss?”
The smile was irresistibly ingratiating: Sofia could not but return it. Delighted, Chou Nu ran to the windows, threw wide their draperies, and darted into the bathroom.
Autumnal sunlight kindled to burning beauty the golden-bronze tresses coiled upon the pillows where Sofia lay unstirring, like a princess enchanted—as indeed she was. Surely nothing less potent than magic had wrought this metamorphosis in the fabric of her life! And whether the magic were white or black—what matter? Its work was good.
No more the Cafe des Exiles, no more the deadly tedium of daily service at the desk of the caisse, no more the shrewish tongue of Mama Therese, the odious oglings of Papa Dupont, the ceaseless cark of discontent....
As one who moves in a dream, Sofia rose presently and bathed, then, robed in a ravishing negligee of rare brocade, breakfasted on melon, tea, and toast from a service of eggshell china.
In a long mirror she saw and watched but did not know herself. Like Goody Twoshoes of nursery fame she could have cried: Lawkamercy! this is never I!