Anthony Hope.

Sophy of Kravonia: A Novel



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Suddenly through the window came a boy's shrill voice: "Vive la guerre!"

Sophy sprang to her feet, caught up the dirty note, and thrust it inside her glove. Without delay, seemingly without hesitation, she left the house, passed swiftly along the street, and made for the Pont Royal. She was bound for the other bank and for the Boulevard des Italiens, where Casimir de Savres had his lodging. The stream of traffic set with her. She heeded it not. The streets were full of excited groups, but there was no great tumult yet. Men were eagerly reading the latest editions of the papers. Sophy pushed on till she reached Casimir's house. She was known there. Her coming caused surprise to the concierge– it was not the proper thing; but he made no difficulty. He showed her to Casimir's sitting-room, but of Casimir he could give no information, save that he presumed he would return to sleep.

"I must wait – I must see him," she said; and, as the man left her, she went to the window, flung it open wide, and stood there, looking down into the great street.

The lights blazed now. Every seat at every caf? was full. The newspapers did a great trade; a wave of infinite talk, infinite chaff, infinite laughter rose to her ears. A loud-voiced fellow was selling pictures of the King of Prussia – as he looks now, and as he will look! The second sheet never failed of a great success. Bands of lads came by with flags and warlike shouts. Some cheered them, more laughed and chaffed. One broad-faced old man she distinguished in the caf? opposite; he looked glum and sulky and kept arguing to his neighbor, wagging a fat forefinger at him repeatedly; the neighbor shrugged bored shoulders; after all, he had not made the war – it was the Emperor and those gentlemen at St. Cloud! As she watched, the stir grew greater, the bands of marching students more frequent and noisy, "A Berlin!" they cried now, amid the same mixture of applause and tolerant amusement. A party of girls paraded down the middle of the street, singing "J'aime les militaires!" The applause grew to thunder as they went by, and the laughter broke into one great crackle when the heroines had passed.

She turned away with a start, conscious of a presence in the room. Casimir came quickly across to her, throwing his helmet on the table as he passed. He took her hands. "I know. Lady Meg wrote to me," he said. "And you are here!"

"I have no other home now," she said.

With a light of joy in his eyes he kissed her lips.

"I come to you only when I'm in trouble!" she said, softly.

"It is well," he answered, and drew her with him back to the window.

Together they stood looking down.

"It is war, then?" she asked.

"Without doubt it's war – without doubt," he answered, gravely. "And beyond that no man knows anything."

"And you?" she asked.

He took her hands again, both of hers in his. "My lady of the Red Star!" he murmured, softly.

"And you?"

"You wouldn't have it otherwise?"

"Heaven forbid! God go with you as my heart goes! When do you go?"

"I take the road in an hour for Strasburg.

We are to be of MacMahon's corps."

"In an hour?"

"Yes."

"Your preparations – are they made?"

"Yes."

"And you are free?"

"Yes."

"Then you've an hour to make me sure I love you!"

He answered as to a woman of his own stock.

"I have an hour now – and all the campaign," said he.

IV
THE PICTURE AND THE STAR

The letter which gives Julia Robins the history of that Sunday – so eventful alike for France and for Sophy – is the last word of hers from Paris. Julia attached importance to it, perhaps for its romantic flavor, perhaps because she fancied that danger threatened her friend. At any rate, she bestowed it with the care she gave to the later letters, and did not expose it to the hazards which destroyed most of its predecessors. It is dated from Marie Zerkovitch's apartment in the Rue du Bac, and it ends: "I shall stay here, whatever happens – unless Casimir tells me to meet him in Berlin!"

The rash comprehensiveness of "whatever happens" was not for times like those, when neither man nor nation knew what fate an hour held; but for three weeks more she abode with Marie Zerkovitch. Marie was much disturbed in her mind. Zerkovitch had begun to send her ominous letters from the front – or as near thereto as he could get; the burden of them was that things looked bad for the French, and that her hold on Paris should be a loose one. He urged her to go home, where he would join her – for a visit at all events, very likely to stay. Marie began to talk of going home in a week or so; but she lingered on for the sake of being nearer the news of the war. So, amid the rumors of unreal victories and the tidings of reverses only too real, if not yet great, the two women waited.

Casimir had found time and opportunity to send Sophy some half-dozen notes (assuming she preserved all she received). On the 5th of August, the eve of W?rth, he wrote at somewhat greater length: "It is night. I am off duty for an hour. I have been in the saddle full twelve hours, and I believe that, except the sentries and the outposts, I am the only man awake. We need to sleep. The Red Star, which shines everywhere for me, shines for all of us over our bivouac to-night. It must be that we fight to-morrow. Fritz is in front of us, and to-morrow he will come on. The Marshal must stop him and spoil his game; if we don't go forward now, we must go back. And we don't mean going back. It will be the first big clash – and a big one, I think, it will be. Our fellows are in fine heart (I wish their boots were as good!), but those devils over there – well, they can fight, too, and Fritz can get every ounce out of them. I am thinking of glory and of you. Is it not one and the same thing? For, in that hour, I didn't make you sure! I know it. Sophie, I'm hardly sorry for it. It seems sweet to have something left to do. Ah, but you're hard, aren't you? Shall I ever be sure of you? Even though I march into Berlin at the head of a regiment!

"I can say little more – the orderly waits for my letter. Yet I have so much, much more to say. All comes back to me in vivid snatches. I am with you in the old house – or by the Calvaire (you remember?); or again by the window; or while we walked back that Sunday night. I hear your voice – the low, full-charged voice. I see your eyes; the star glows anew for me. Adieu! I live for you always so long as I live. If I die, it will be in the thought of you, and they will kill no prouder man than Sophie's lover. To have won your love (ah, by to-morrow night, yes!) and to die for France – would it be ill done for a short life? By my faith, no! I'll make my bow to my ancestors without shame. 'I, too, have done my part, messieurs!' say I, as I sit down with my forefathers. Sophie, adieu! You won't forget? I don't think you can quite forget. Your picture rides with me, your star shines ahead.

"CASIMIR."

He was not wrong. They fought next day. The letter is endorsed "8th August," presumably the date of its receipt. That day came also the news of the disaster. On the 11th the casualty list revealed Casimir de Savres's name. A few lines from a brother officer a day later gave scanty details. In the great charge of French cavalry which marked the closing stages of the battle he had been the first man hit of all his regiment – shot through the heart – and through the picture of Sophy which lay over his heart.

No word comes from Sophy herself. And Madame Zerkovitch is brief: "She showed me the picture. The bullet passed exactly through where that mark on her cheek is. It was fearful; I shuddered; I hoped she didn't see. She seemed quite stunned. But she insisted on coming with me to Kravonia, where I had now determined to go at once. I did not want her to come. I thought no good would come of it. But what could I do? She would not return to England; she could not stay alone in Paris. I was the only friend she had in the world. She asked no more than to travel with me. 'When once I am there, I can look after myself,' she said."

The pair – a little fragment of a great throng, escaping or thrust forth – left Paris together on the 13th or 14th of August, en route for Kravonia. With Sophy went the bullet-pierced picture and the little bundle of letters. She did not forget. With a sore wound in her heart she turned to face a future dark, uncertain, empty of all she had loved. And – had she seen Marie Zerkovitch's shudder? Did she remember again, as she had remembered by the Calvaire at Fontainebleau, how Pharos had said that what she loved died? She had bidden Casimir not fight thinking of her. Thinking of her, he had fought and died. All she ever wrote about her departure is one sentence – "I went to Kravonia in sheer despair of the old life; I had to have something new."

Stricken she went forth from the stricken city, where hundreds of men were cutting down the trees beneath whose shade she had often walked and ridden with her lover.

PART III

KRAVONIA
I
THE NAME-DAY OF THE KING

The ancient city of Slavna, for a thousand years or more and under many dynasties the capital of Kravonia, is an island set in a plain. It lies in the broad valley of the Krath, which at this point flows due east. Immediately above the city the river divides into two branches, known as the North and the South rivers; Slavna is clasped in the embrace of these channels. Conditioned by their course, its form is not circular, but pear-shaped, for they bend out in gradual broad curves to their greatest distance from one another, reapproaching quickly after that point is passed till they meet again at the end – or, rather, what was originally the end – of the city to the east; the single reunited river may stand for the stalk of the pear.

In old days the position was a strong one; nowadays it is obviously much less defensible; and those in power had recognized this fact in two ways – first by allocating money for a new and scientific system of fortifications; secondly by destroying almost entirely the ancient and out-of-date walls which had once been the protection of the city. Part of the wall on the north side, indeed, still stood, but where it had escaped ruin it was encumbered and built over with warehouses and wharves; for the North River is the channel of commerce and the medium of trade with the country round about. To the south the wall has been entirely demolished, its site being occupied by a boulevard, onto which faces a line of handsome modern residences – for as the North River is for trade, so the South is for pleasure – and this boulevard has been carried across the stream and on beyond the old limits of the city, and runs for a mile or farther on the right bank of the reunited Krath, forming a delightful and well-shaded promenade where the citizens are accustomed to take their various forms of exercise.

Opposite to it, on the left bank, lies the park attached to the Palace. That building itself, dating from 1820 and regrettably typical of the style of its period, faces the river on the left bank just where the stream takes a broad sweep to the south, giving a rounded margin to the King's pleasure-grounds. Below the Palace there soon comes open country on both banks. The boulevard merges in the main post-road to Volseni and to the mountains which form the eastern frontier of the kingdom. At this date, and for a considerable number of years afterwards, the only railway line in Kravonia did not follow the course of the Krath (which itself afforded facilities for traffic and intercourse), but ran down from the north, having its terminus on the left bank of the North River, whence a carriage-bridge gave access to the city.

To vote money is one thing, to raise it another, and to spend it on the designated objects a third. Not a stone nor a sod of the new forts was yet in place, and Slavna's solitary defence was the ancient castle which stood on the left bank of the river just at the point of bisection, facing the casino and botanical gardens on the opposite bank. Suleiman's Tower, a relic of Turkish rule, is built on a simple plan – a square curtain, with a bastion at each corner, encloses a massive circular tower. The gate faces the North River, and a bridge, which admits of being raised and lowered, connects this outwork with the north wall of the city, which at this point is in good preservation. The fort is roomy; two or three hundred men could find quarters there; and although it is, under modern conditions, of little use against an enemy from without, it occupies a position of considerable strength with regard to the city itself. It formed at this time the headquarters and residence of the Commandant of the garrison, a post held by the heir to the throne, the Prince of Slavna.

In spite of the flatness of the surrounding country, the appearance of Slavna is not unpicturesque. Time and the hand of man (the people are a color-loving race) have given many tints, soft and bright, to the roofs, gables, and walls of the old quarter in the north town, over which Suleiman's Tower broods with an antique impressiveness. Behind the pleasant residences which border on the southern boulevard lie handsome streets of commercial buildings and shops, these last again glowing with diversified and gaudy colors. In the centre of the city, where, but for its bisection, we may imagine the Krath would have run, a pretty little canal has been made by abstracting water from the river and conducting it through the streets. On either side of this stream a broad road runs. Almost exactly midway through the city the roads broaden and open into the spacious Square of St. Michael, containing the cathedral, the fine old city hall, several good town-houses dating two or three hundred years back, barracks, and the modern but not unsightly Government offices. Through this square and the streets leading to it from west and east there now runs an excellent service of electric cars; but at the date with which we are concerned a crazy fiacre or a crazier omnibus was the only public means of conveyance. Not a few good private equipages were, however, to be seen, for the Kravonians have been from of old lovers of horses. The city has a population bordering on a hundred thousand, and, besides being the principal depot and centre of distribution for a rich pastoral and agricultural country, it transacts a respectable export trade in hides and timber. It was possible for a careful man to grow rich in Slavna, even though he were not a politician nor a Government official.

Two or three years earlier, an enterprising Frenchman of the name of Rousseau had determined to provide Slavna with a first-rate modern hotel and caf?. Nothing could have consorted better with the views of King Alexis Stefanovitch, and Monsieur Rousseau obtained, on very favorable terms, a large site at the southeast end of the city, just where the North and South rivers reunite. Here he built his hostelry and named it pietatis caus?, the H?tel de Paris. A fine terrace ran along the front of the house, abutting on the boulevard and affording a pleasant view of the royal park and the Palace in the distance on the opposite bank.

On this terrace, it being a fine October morning, sat Sophy, drinking a cup of chocolate.

The scene before her, if not quite living up to the name of the hotel, was yet animated enough. A score of handsome carriages drove by, some containing gayly dressed ladies, some officers in smart uniforms. Other officers rode or walked by; civil functionaries, journalists, and a straggling line of onlookers swelled the stream which set towards the Palace. Awaking from a reverie to mark the unwonted stir, Sophy saw the leaders of the informal procession crossing the ornamental iron bridge which spanned the Krath, a quarter of a mile from where she sat, and gave access to the King's demesne on the left bank.

"Right bank – left bank! It sounds like home!" she thought to herself, smiling perhaps rather bitterly. "Home!" Her home now was a single room over a goldsmith's shop, whither she had removed to relieve Marie Zerkovitch from a hospitality too burdensome, as Sophy feared, for her existing resources to sustain.

The reverie bore breaking; it had been none too pleasant; in it sad memories disputed place with present difficulties. Some third or so remained of Lady Meg's hundred-pound note. Necessity had forced a use of the money at any cost to pride. When all was gone, Sophy would have to depend on what is so often a last and so often a vain refuge – the teaching of French; it was the only subject which she could claim to teach. Verily, it was a poor prospect; it was better to look at the officers and the ladies than to think of it – ay, better than to think of Casimir and of what lay in the past. With her strong will she strove to steel herself alike against recollection and against apprehension.

The caf? was nearly deserted; the hour was too early for the citizens, and Sophy's own chocolate had been merely an excuse to sit down. Yet presently a young officer in a hussar uniform stopped his horse opposite the door, and, giving over the reins to an orderly who attended him, nimbly dismounted. Tall and fair, with a pleasant, open face, he wore his finery with a dashing air, and caressed a delicate, upturned mustache as he glanced round, choosing his seat. The next moment he advanced towards Sophy; giving her a polite salute, he indicated the little table next to hers.

"Mademoiselle permits?" he asked. "She has, I fear, forgotten, but I have the honor to be an acquaintance of hers."

"I remember," smiled Sophy. "Captain Markart? We met at Madame Zerkovitch's."

"Oh, that's pleasant of you!" he cried. "I hate being clean forgotten. But I fear you remember me only because I sang so badly!"

"I remember best that you said you wanted to go and help France, but your General wouldn't let you."

"Ah, I know why you remember that – you especially! Forgive me – our friend Marie Zerkovitch told me." He turned away for a moment to give an order to the waiter.

"What's going on to-day?" asked Sophy. "Where's everybody going?"

"Why, you are a stranger, mademoiselle!" he laughed. "It's the King's name-day, and we all go and congratulate him."

"Is that it? Are you going?"

"Certainly; in attendance on my General – General Stenovics. My lodgings are near here, his house at the other end of the boulevard, so he gave me leave to meet him here. I thought I would come early and fortify myself a little for the ordeal. To mademoiselle's good health!" He looked at her with openly admiring eyes, to which tribute Sophy accorded a lazy, unembarrassed smile. She leaned her chin on her hand, turning her right cheek towards him. Sophy was never disdainful, never neglectful; her pose now was good.

"What sort of a man is the King?" she asked.

"The King is most emphatically a very good sort of fellow – a very good old fellow. I only wish his son was like him! The Prince is a Tartar. Has he gone by yet?"

"I don't think so. I suppose he'd have an escort, wouldn't he? I don't know him by sight yet. Does everybody call the King a good fellow?"

"Some people are so extremely righteous!" pleaded Markart, ruefully. "And, anyhow, he has reformed now."

"Because he's old?"

"Fifty-nine! Is that so very old? No; I rather attribute it – you're discreet, I hope? I'm putting my fortunes in your hands – to Madame la Comtesse."

"The Countess Ellenburg? Marie has told me something about her."

"Ah! Madame Zerkovitch is a friend of hers?"

"Not intimate, I think. And is the Countess oppressively respectable, Captain Markart?"

"Women in her position always are," said the Captain, with an affected sigh: his round, chubby face was wrinkled with merriment. "You see, a morganatic marriage isn't such a well-established institution here as in some other countries. Oh, it's legal enough, no doubt, if it's agreed to on that basis. But the Stefanovitches have in the past often made non-royal marriages – with their own subjects generally. Well, there was nobody else for them to marry! Alexis got promotion in his first marriage – an Italian Bourbon, which is always respectable, if not very brilliant. That gave us a position, and it couldn't be thrown away. So the second marriage had to be morganatic. Only – well, women are ambitious, and she has a young son who bears the King's name – a boy twelve years old."

He looked reflectively at his polished boots. Sophy sat in thoughtful silence. A jingle of swords and the clatter of hoofs roused them. A troop of soldiers rode by. Their uniform was the same smart tunic of light blue, with black facings, as adorned Captain Markart's shapely person.

"Ah, here's the Prince!" said Markart, rising briskly to his feet. Sophy followed his example, though more in curiosity than respect.

The young man at the head of the troop returned Markart's salute, but was apparently unconscious of the individual from whom it proceeded. He rode by without turning his head or giving a glance in the direction of the caf? terrace. Sophy saw a refined profile, with a straight nose, rather short, and a pale cheek: there was little trace of the Bourbon side of the pedigree.



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