The door opened, Nogam announced:
Hard on the echo of his name a man swung into the room with an air at once nervous and aggressive—a tall man shabbily dressed, holding his head high—and at sight of Sofia and Mrs. Waring, where he had doubtless thought to find Prince Victor alone, stopped short, betraying disconcertion in the way he instinctively assumed the stand of a soldier at attention, bringing his heels together with an undeniable click, straightening his shoulders, stiffening both arms to rigidity at his sides. And for a bare thought his eyes rolled almost wildly in their deep sockets. Then he bowed twice, from the hips, with mechanical precision, profoundly to Victor, with deep respect to the women.
Victor smothered an exclamation of annoyance.
Unbidden, a word shaped in Sofia’s consciousness, a French monosyllable into which the war had packed every shade and gradation of hatred and contempt, the epithet Boche.
Immediately erasing every sign of irritation, Victor greeted the man with casual suavity. “Oh, there you are, eh, Sturm?” Then, as Sofia and Mrs. Waring turned to go, he added quickly: “A moment, please. Since Mr. Sturm to-day becomes a member of the household, acting as my assistant in some research work which I am undertaking, I may as well present him now. Mrs. Waring, permit me: Mr. Sturm. And the Princess Sofia Vassilyevski, my daughter ...”
Mumbling their names after Victor, the man Sturm executed two more bows. At the same time he seemed to remind himself that his soldierly carriage was perhaps injudicious, and forthwith abandoned it for a studied slouch which, in Sofia’s sight, was little less than insolent. And unmistakably there was something nearly resembling insolence in the eyes that boldly sought hers: a look equivocal at best and, intentionally or no, wholly offensive in essence; as if the fellow were asserting their partnership in some secret understanding; or as if he knew something by no means to Sofia’s credit....
Her acknowledgment of his salute was accordingly cool, and she was glad when a nod from Prince Victor gave her leave to go.
VICTOR ET AL
Those first few weeks of emancipation from the ennui of existence at the Cafe des Exiles were so replete with wonders that Sofia lived largely in a beatific state of breathless excitement, devoting the best part of her days to thoughtless flying from delight to new delight, and going nightly to her bed so healthily tired that she slept like a top and never once awakened to memories of disturbing dreams.
Perhaps her pleasure burned the brighter for its dark, ambiguous background—those many questions which Prince Victor persisted in leaving unanswered. Sofia knew bad times of perplexity and depression, when the price of translation from drudge to princess seemed a sore price to pay.