So she was fain to accept them all at their own valuation, and thought most of them entirely charming. And though she had hardly had time as yet to progress beyond the introductory stages of chance meetings and informal little teas in public, she began clearly to descry enchanting vistas of better days to come, when the Princess Sofia Vassilyevski would have not only teas but dinners and dances given in her honour, and would be asked to spend gay week-ends in the country houses of the people with whom she contracted the stronger friendships.
But for the immediate present, and especially in the paramount business of having a good time, Karslake was fairly a necessity. He thought of everything and forgot nothing, was ever fertile of fresh expedient if the pastime of a moment began to pall, and was capable of sustained fits of irresponsible gaiety which enchanted Sofia, so well did they chime with her own eagerness for sheer fun.
Decidedly she would have been lost without Sybil Waring; but without Karslake she would have been forlorn.
Not yet prepared to admit it even to herself, in her heart Sofia knew she prized the companionship of Karslake for something more than the mere amusement it afforded her: there was a deeper feeling she would not name. For all that, her times of solitude knew dreams quick and warm with the thought of Karslake, his words and ways, the gracious little attentions he had accustomed her to expect of him and which his manner subtly invested with a personal flavour inexpressibly delightful, indispensably sweet.
Nor did she ever quite forget how long he had worshipped with unostentatious devotion at her lowly shrine of the caisse in the Cafe des Exiles, and how shabbily she had rewarded his admiration—never once, in those many months, with so much as a smile—and how unresentful had been his acceptance of her half-feigned, half-real indifference to his existence.
But whenever her reflections took that back-turning she would recall the man who had talked to Karslake in the cafe, that day so long ago, of his own humble past as a ’bus-boy in Troyon’s in Paris, and who on leaving had given Sofia herself that odd look of half-recognition tempered by bewilderment.
She tried once to draw Karslake about this acquaintance of his, but Karslake’s memory proved unusually sluggish.
“No-o,” he drawled after a tolerably long pause for thought—“can’t say I place the chap you mean, can’t seem somehow to think back that far, you know. One meets such a lot of people, first and last, they talk such a lot of tosh—”
“But it couldn’t have been only tosh you were talking,” the girl persisted, “because—I remember—you were so keen about keeping what you said secret, you spoke the strangest language together most of the time. I could hear every word”—she had already explained about the freak acoustics of the Cafe des Exiles—“and not one meant anything to me.”