Anthony Hope.

Sophy of Kravonia: A Novel



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II
THE COOK AND THE CATECHISM

Sophy Grouch had gone to lay a bunch of flowers on her father's grave. From the first Mrs. Brownlow had taught her this pious rite, and Mrs. Brownlow's deputy, the gardener's wife (in whose cottage Sophy lived), had seen to its punctual performance every week. Things went by law and rule at the Hall, for the Squire was a man of active mind and ample leisure. His household code was a marvel of intricacy and minuteness. Sophy's coming and staying had developed a multitude of new clauses, under whose benevolent yet strict operation her youthful mind had been trained in the way in which Mr. Brownlow was of opinion that it should go.

Sophy's face, then, wore a grave and responsible air as she returned with steps of decorous slowness from the sacred precincts. Yet the outer manner was automatic Ц the result of seven years' practice. Within, her mind was busy: the day was one of mark in her life; she had been told her destined future, and was wondering how she would like it.

Her approach was perceived by a tall and pretty girl who lay in the meadow-grass (and munched a blade of it) which bordered the path under the elm-trees.

"What a demure little witch she looks!" laughed Julia Robins, who was much in the mood for laughter that day, greeting with responsive gleam of the eyes the sunlight which fell in speckles of radiance through the leaves above. It was a summer day, and summer was in her heart, too; yet not for the common cause with young maidens; it was no nonsense about love-making Ц lofty ambition was in the case to-day.

"Sophy Grouch! Sophy Grouch!" she cried, in a high, merry voice.

Sophy raised her eyes, but her steps did not quicken. With the same measured paces of her lanky, lean, little legs, she came up to where Julia lay.

"Why don't you say just 'Sophy'?" she asked. "I'm the only Sophy in the village."

"Sophy Grouch! Sophy Grouch!" Julia repeated, teasingly.

The mark on Sophy's left cheek grew redder. Julia laughed mockingly. Sophy looked down on her, still very grave.

"You do look pretty to-day," she observed Ц "and happy."

"Yes, yes! So I tease you, don't I? But I like to see you hang out your danger-signal."

She held out her arms to the little girl. Sophy came and kissed her, then sat down beside her.

"Forgive?"

"Yes," said Sophy. "Do you think it's a very awful name?"

"Oh, you'll change it some day," smiled Julia, speaking more truth than she knew. "Listen! Mother's consented, consented, consented! I'm to go and live with Uncle Edward in London Ц London, Sophy!†Ц and learn elocution Ц "

"Learn what?"

"E-lo-cu-tion Ц which means how to talk so that people can hear you ever so far off Ц "

"To shout?"

"No. Don't be stupid. To Ц to be heard plainly without shouting. To be heard in a theatre! Did you ever see a theatre?"

"No. Only a circus. I haven't seen much."

"And then Ц the stage! I'm to be an actress! Fancy mother consenting at last! An actress instead of a governess! Isn't it glorious?" She paused a moment, then added, with a self-conscious laugh: "Basil's awfully angry, though."

"Why should he be angry?" asked Sophy.

Her own anger was gone; she was plucking daisies and sticking them here and there in her friend's golden hair. They were great friends, this pair, and Sophy was very proud of the friendship. Julia was grown up, the beauty of the village, and Ц a lady! Now Sophy was by no means any one of these things.

"Oh, you wouldn't understand," laughed Julia, with a blush.

"Does he want to keep company with you Ц and won't you do it?"

"Only servants keep company, Sophy."

"Oh!" said Sophy, obviously making a mental note of the information.

"But he's very silly about it. I've just said 'Good-bye,' to him Ц you know he goes up to Cambridge to-morrow?†Ц and he did say a lot of silly things." She suddenly caught hold of Sophy and kissed her half a dozen times. "It's a wonderful thing that's happened. I'm so tremendously happy!" She set her little friend free with a last kiss and a playful pinch.

Neither caress nor pinch disturbed Sophy's composure. She sat down on the grass.

"Something's happened to me, too, to-day," she announced.

"Has it, Tots? What is it?" asked Julia, smiling indulgently; the great events in other lives are thus sufficiently acknowledged.

"I've left school, and I'm going to leave Mrs. James's and go and live at the Hall, and be taught to help cook; and when I'm grown up I'm going to be cook." She spoke slowly and weightily, her eyes fixed on Julia's face.

"Well, I call it a shame!" cried Julia, in generous indignation. "Oh, of course it would be all right if they'd treated you properly Ц I mean, as if they'd meant that from the beginning. But they haven't. You've lived with Mrs. James, I know; but you've been in and out of the Hall all the time, having tea in the drawing-room, and fruit at dessert, and Ц and so on. And you look like a little lady, and talk like one Ц almost. I think it's a shame not to give you a better chance. Cook!"

"Don't you think it might be rather nice to be a cook Ц a good cook?"

"No, I don't," answered the budding Mrs. Siddons, decisively.

"People always talk a great deal about the cook," pleaded Sophy. "Mr. and Mrs. Brownlow are always talking about the cook Ц and the Rector talks about his cook, too Ц not always very kindly, though."

"No, it's a shame Ц and I don't believe it'll happen."

"Yes, it will. Mrs. Brownlow settled it to-day."

"There are other people in the world besides Mrs. Brownlow."

Sophy was not exactly surprised at this dictum, but evidently it gave her thought. Her long-delayed "Yes" showed that as plainly as her "Oh" had, a little while before, marked her appreciation of the social limits of "keeping company." "But she can settle it all the same," she persisted.

"For the time she can," Julia admitted. "Oh, I wonder what'll be my first part, Tots!" She threw her pretty head back on the grass, closing her eyes; a smile of radiant anticipation hovered about her lips. The little girl rose and stood looking at her friend Ц the friend of whom she was so proud.

"You'll look very, very pretty," she said, with sober gravity.

Julia's smile broadened, but her lips remained shut. Sophy looked at her for a moment longer, and, without formal farewell, resumed her progress down the avenue. It was hard on tea-time, and Mrs. James was a stickler for punctuality.

Yet Sophy's march was interrupted once more. A tall young man sat swinging his legs on the gate that led from the avenue into the road. The sturdy boy who had run home in terror on the night Enoch Grouch died had grown into a tall, good-looking young fellow; he was clad in what is nowadays called a "blazer" and check-trousers, and smoked a large meerschaum pipe. His expression was gloomy; the gate was shut Ц and he was on the top of it. Sophy approached him with some signs of nervousness. When he saw her, he glared at her moodily.

"You can't come through," he said, firmly.

"Please, Mr. Basil, I must, I shall be late for tea."

"I won't let you through. There!"

Sophy looked despairful. "May I climb over?"

"No," said Basil, firmly; but a smile began to twitch about his lips.

Quick now, as ever, to see the joint in a man's armor, Sophy smiled too.

"If you'd let me through, I'd give you a kiss," she said, offering the only thing she had to give in all the world.

"You would, would you? But I hate kisses. In fact, I hate girls all round Ц big and little."

"You don't hate Julia, do you?"

"Yes, worst of all."

"Oh!" said Sophy Ц once more the recording, registering "Oh!" Ц because Julia had given quite another impression, and Sophy sought to reconcile these opposites.

The young man jumped down from the gate, with a healthy laugh at himself and at her, caught her up in his arms, and gave her a smacking kiss.

"That's toll," he said. "Now you can go through, missy."

"Thank you, Mr. Basil. It's not very hard to get through, is it?"

He set her down with a laugh, a laugh with a note of surprise in it; her last words had sounded odd from a child. But Sophy's eyes were quite grave; she was probably recording the practical value of a kiss.

"You shall tell me whether you think the same about that in a few years' time," he said, laughing again.

"When I'm grown up?" she asked, with a slow, puzzled smile.

"Perhaps," said he, assuming gravity anew.

"And cook?" she asked, with a curiously interrogative air Ц anxious apparently to see what he, in his turn, would think of her destiny.

"Cook? You're going to be a cook?"

"The cook," she amended. "The cook at the Hall."

"I'll come and eat your dinners." He laughed, yet looked a trifle compassionate. Sophy's quick eyes tracked his feelings.

"You don't think it's nice to be a cook, either?" she asked.

"Oh yes, splendid! The cook's a sort of queen," said he.

"The cook a sort of queen? Is she?" Sophy's eyes were profoundly thoughtful.

"And I should be very proud to kiss a queen Ц a sort of queen. Because I shall be only a poor sawbones."

"Sawbones?"

"A surgeon Ц a doctor, you know Ц with a red lamp, like Dr. Seaton at Brentwood."

She looked at him for a moment. "Are you really going away?" she asked, abruptly.

"Yes, for a bit Ц to-morrow."

Sophy's manner expanded into a calm graciousness. "I'm very sorry," she said.

"Thank you."

"You amuse me."

"The deuce I do!" laughed Basil Williamson.

She raised her eyes slowly to his. "You'll be friends, anyhow, won't you?"

"To cook or queen," he said Ц and heartiness shone through his raillery.

Sophy nodded her head gravely, sealing the bargain. A bargain it was.

"Now I must go and have tea, and then say my catechism," said she.

The young fellow Ц his thoughts were sad Ц wanted the child to linger.

"Learning your catechism? Where have you got to?"

"I've got to say my 'Duty towards my Neighbor' to Mrs. James after tea."

"Your 'Duty towards your Neighbor' Ц that's rather difficult, isn't it?"

"It's very long," said Sophy, resignedly.

"Do you know it?"

"I think so. Oh, Mr. Basil, would you mind hearing me? Because if I can say it to you, I can say it to her, you know."

"All right, fire away."

A sudden doubt smote Sophy. "But do you know it yourself?" she asked.

"Yes, rather, I know it."

She would not take his word. "Then you say the first half, and I'll say the second."

He humored her Ц it was hard not to Ц she looked so small and seemed so capable. He began Ц and tripped for a moment over "'To love, honor, and succor my father and mother.'" The child had no chance there. But Sophy's eyes were calm. He ended, "'teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters.' Now go on," he said.

"'To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters; to hurt nobody by word nor deed; to be true and just in all my dealing; to bear no malice nor hatred in my heart; to keep my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evil-speaking, lying, and slandering; to keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity [the young man smiled for an instant Ц that sounded pathetic]; not to covet nor desire other men's goods, but to learn and labor truly to get mine own living and to do my duty in that state of life unto which it has pleased God to call me.'"

"Wrong!" said Basil. "Go down two!"

"Wrong?" she cried, indignantly disbelieving.

"Wrong!"

"It's not! That's what Mrs. James taught me."

"Perhaps Ц it's not in the prayer-book. Go and look."

"You tell me first!"

"'And to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me.'" His eyes were set on her with an amused interest.

She stood silent for a moment. "Sure?" she asked then.

"Positive," said he.

"Oh!" said Sophy, for the third time. She stood there a moment longer. Then she smiled at him. "I shall go and look. Good-bye."

Basil broke into a laugh. "Good-bye, missy," he said. "You'll find I'm right."

"If I do, I'll tell you," she answered him, generously, as she turned away.

His smile lasted while he watched her. When she was gone his grievance revived, his gloom returned. He trudged home with never a glance back at the avenue where Julia was. Yet even now the thought of the child crossed his mind; that funny mark of hers had turned redder when he corrected her rendering of the catechism.

Sophy walked into Mrs. James's kitchen. "Please may I read through my 'Duty' before I say it?" she asked.

Permission accorded with some surprise Ц for hitherto the teaching had been by word of mouth Ц she got the prayer-book down from its shelf and conned her lesson. After tea she repeated it correctly. Mrs. James noticed no difference.

III
BEAUTIFUL JULIA Ц AND MY LORD

"It seemed somehow impossible, me going to be cook there all my days." So writes Sophy at a later date in regard to her life at Morpingham Hall. To many of us in our youth it has seemed impossible that we should pass all our days in the humdrum occupations and the mediocre positions in which we have in fact spent them. Young ambitions are chronicled only when they have been fulfilled Ц unless where a born autobiographer makes fame out of his failures. But Sophy had a double portion of original restlessness Ц this much the records of Morpingham years, scanty as they are, render plain. Circumstances made much play with her, but she was never merely the sport of chance or of circumstances. She was always waiting, even always expecting, ready to take her chance, with arm out-stretched to seize Occasion by the forelock. She co-operated eagerly with Fate and made herself a partner with Opportunity, and she was quick to blame the other members of the firm for any lack of activity or forwardness. "You can't catch the train unless you're at the station Ц and take care your watch isn't slow," she writes somewhere in the diary. The moral of the reflection is as obvious as its form; it is obvious, too, that a traveller so scrupulous to be in time would suffer proportionate annoyance if the train were late.

The immediate result of this disposition of hers was unhappy, and it is not hard to sympathize with the feelings of the Brownlows. Their benevolence was ample, but it was not unconscious; their benefits, which were very great, appeared to them exhaustive, not only above what Sophy might expect, but also beyond what she could imagine. They had picked her up from the road-side and set her on the way to that sort of kingdom with the prospect of which Basil Williamson had tried to console her. The Squire was an estimable man, but one of small mind; he moved among the little Ц the contented lord of a pin-point of the earth. Mrs. Brownlow was a profoundly pious woman, to whom content was a high duty, to be won by the performance of other duties. If the Squire detected in the girl signs of ingratitude to himself, his wife laid equal blame on a rebellion against Heaven. Sophy knew Ц if not then, yet on looking back Ц what they felt; her references to them are charged with a remorse whose playful expression (obstinately touched with scorn as it is) does not hide its sincerity. She soon perceived, anyhow, that she was getting a bad character; she, the cook in posse, was at open war with Mrs. Smilker, the cook in esse; though, to be sure, "Smilker" might have done something to reconcile her to "Grouch!"

Mrs. Brownlow naturally ranged herself on the side of constituted authority, of the superior rank in the domestic hierarchy. Moreover, it is likely that Mrs. Smilker was right in nine cases out of ten, at all events; Sophy recognized that probability in after-life; none the less, she allows herself more than once to speak of "that beast of a Smilker." Mere rectitude as such never appealed to her; that comes out in another rather instructive comment, which she makes on Mrs. Brownlow herself, "Me being what I was, and she what she was, though I was grateful to her, and always shall be, I couldn't love her; and what hit me hardest was that she didn't wonder at it, and, in my opinion, wasn't very sorry either Ц not in her heart, you know. Me not loving her made what she was doing for me all the finer, you see."

Perhaps these flashes of insight should not be turned on our benefactors, but the extract serves to show another side of Sophy Ц one which in fairness to her must not be ignored. Not only was restlessness unsatisfied, and young ambitions starved; the emotions were not fed either, or at least were presented with a diet too homely for Sophy's taste. For the greater part of this time she had no friends outside the Hall to turn to. Julia Robins was pursuing her training in London, and, later, her profession in the country. Basil Williamson, who "amused" her, was at Cambridge, and afterwards at his hospital; a glimpse of him she may have caught now and then, but they had no further talk. Very probably he sought no opportunity; Sophy had passed from the infants' school to the scullery; she had grown from a child into a big girl. If prudent Basil kept these transformations in view, none can blame him Ц he was the son of the Rector of the parish. So, when bidden to the Hall, he ate the potatoes Sophy had peeled, but recked no more of the hand that peeled them. In the main the child was, no doubt, a solitary creature.

So much is what scientific men and historians call "reconstruction" Ц a hazardous process Ц at least when you are dealing with human beings. It has been kept within the strict limits of legitimate inference, and accordingly yields meagre results. The return of Julia Robins enables us to put many more of the stones Ц or bones, or whatever they may be called Ц in their appropriate places.

It is the summer of 1865 Ц and Julia is very gorgeous. Three years had passed over her head; her training had been completed a twelvemonth before, and she had been on her first tour. She had come home "to rest" Ц and to look out for a new engagement. She wore a blue hat with a white feather, a blue skirt, and a red "Garibaldi" shirt; her fair hair was dressed in the latest fashion. The sensation she made in Morpingham needs no record. But her head was not turned; nobody was ever less of a snob than Julia Robins, no friendship ever more independent of the ups and downs of life, on one side or the other, than that which united her and Sophy Grouch. She opened communications with the Hall scullery immediately. And Ц "Sophy was as much of a darling as ever" Ц is her warm-hearted verdict.

The Hall was not accessible to Julia, nor Woodbine Lodge to Mrs. Brownlow's little cook-girl. But the Squire's coachman had been at the station when Julia's train came in: her arrival would be known in the Hall kitchen, if not up-stairs. On the morrow she went into the avenue of old elms about twelve o'clock, conjecturing that her friend might have a few free moments about that hour Ц an oasis between the labors of the morning and the claims of luncheon. Standing there under the trees in all her finery Ц not very expensive finery, no doubt, yet fresh and indisputably gay Ц she called her old mocking challenge Ц "Sophy Grouch! Sophy Grouch!"

Sophy was watching. Her head rose from the other side of the ditch. She was down in a moment, up again, and in her friend's arms. "It's like a puff of fresh air," she whispered, as she kissed her, and then, drawing away, looked her over. Sophy was tall beyond her years, and her head was nearly on a level with Julia's. She was in her short print gown, with her kitchen apron on; her sleeves rolled up, her face red from the fire, her hands too, no doubt, red from washing vegetables and dishes. "She looked like Cinderella in the first act of a pantomime," is Miss Robins's professional comment Ц colored, perhaps, also by subsequent events.

"You're beautiful!" cried Sophy. "Oh, that shirt Ц I love red!" And so on for some time, no doubt. "Tell me about it; tell me everything about it," she urged. "It's the next best thing, you know."

Miss Robins recounted her adventures: they would not seem very dazzling at this distance. Sophy heard them with ardent eyes; they availed to color the mark on her cheek to a rosy tint. "That's being alive," she said, with a deep-drawn sigh.

Julia patted her hand consolingly. "But I'm twenty!" she reminded her friend. "Think how young you are!"

"Young or old's much the same in the kitchen," Sophy grumbled.

Linking arms, they walked up the avenue. The Rector was approaching from the church. Sophy tried to draw her arm away. Julia held it tight. The Rector came up, lifted his hat Ц and, maybe, his brows. But he stopped and said a few pleasant words to Julia. He had never pretended to approve of this stage career, but Julia had now passed beyond his jurisdiction. He was courteous to her as to any lady. Official position betrayed itself only as he was taking leave Ц and only in regard to Sophy Grouch.

"Ah, you keep up old friendships," he said Ц with a rather forced approval. "Please don't unsettle the little one's mind, though. She has to work Ц haven't you, Sophy? Good-bye, Miss Robins."

Sophy's mark was ruddy indeed as the Rector went on his blameless way, and Julia was squeezing her friend's arm very hard. But Sophy said nothing, except to murmur Ц just once Ц "The little one!" Julia smiled at the tone.



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