Kravonia is a principality to be sought on the map somewhere in the vicinity of Zenda, and is, like most of the states of the mythical group to which it belongs, the sport of diplomatic intrigue. Its prince is sorely beset by enemies, but when he acquires a princess, in the shape of a beautiful English maiden-transformed from a lowly maid-servant into a captivating adventuress his fortunes change, and he gives his foes a run for their money. Unhappily, he is killed just when triumph is at hand, and his princess goes into exile cherishing the memory of the glorious weeks of the conﬂict. Mr. Hope's hand has lost little of its cunning since the days when he invented Zenda, and his "Sophy of Kravonia" is a capital story.
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Sophy Of Kravonia
Anthony Hope – His Life And Work
Sophy Of Kravonia
Part I - Morpingham
Part II - Paris
Part III - Kravonia
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
By Frederick Taber Cooper
It is a sufficiently pleasant task to undertake to write a brief appreciation of Mr. Anthony Hope. The prevailing urbanity of his manner, the sustained sparkle of his wit, the agreeable expectation that he arouses of something stimulating about to happen, largely disarm criticism. Besides, he does not seem to demand to be taken too seriously; he is not a preacher or reformer, he is not trying to revolutionize the world; he is too well pleased with men and women as they actually are, to desire to make them something different. In short, he is a suave and charming public entertainer, and like all wise entertainers he alters the character of his program in accordance with the fluctuations of public taste. And being both versatile and farsighted he is usually in the van of each new movement. The God in the Car, his story of gigantic land speculations in South Africa, with the Herculean figure whom he chooses to disguise under the name of " Juggernaut," appeared in 1894, thus antedating by five years The Colossus, by Morley Roberts. Phroso, with its romantic setting among the islands of modern Greece, anticipated by a year Mr. E. F. Benson's analogous attempts, The Vintage and The Capsina. When the revival of the English historical novel was at its height, he succeeded once more in coming in ahead of his competitors, and Simon Dale, which appeared in 1898 and is a study of Restoration manners, with Nell Gwynn for its central interest, led the way for The Orange Girl by Sir Walter Besant, issued in 1899, and F. Frankfort Moore's Nell Gwynn, Comedian, which was not published until 1900.
But although he so cleverly adapts himself to the trend of public taste, Mr. Anthony Hope is not an innovator; he adapts but does not originate. Yet it is no uncommon thing to hear him erroneously praised for having created two new and widely popular types of fiction, the Zenda type and that of The Dolly Dialogues. Now, The Prisoner of Zenda, as we remember at once when we stop to think, is not the first up-to-date sword and buckler story of an imaginary principality; it was preceded, by nearly a decade, by Stevenson's Prince Otto; and the only reason that it so often gets the credit of being the forerunner of its class is simply because it was done with a defter, lighter touch, a more spontaneous inspiration. Similarly, The Dolly Dialogues are not the first attempt to imitate in English the sparkle and the piquancy of the Gallic dialogue in the form that " Gyp " and Henri Lavedan have made familiar. Although it is quite likely that at that time Anthony Hope had never even heard of it, The Story of the Gadsbys had at least three years the start of The Dolly Dialogues, and even though it was done with a heavier hand, it succeeded in getting a greater effectiveness out of the type.
But, after all, statistics of this sort, while interesting to a person of precise and inquiring mind, have little or no bearing upon the sources of enjoyment which a surprisingly large number of people undoubtedly find in Mr. Hope's writings. And there is variety enough among them to suit all tastes. He began in a spirit of blithe and irresponsible romanticism; he has gradually come, in his later years, to look upon life in a rather matter-of-fact way and to picture, by choice, the more serious problems of life in the social world to which he belongs. Yet his novels, even the most ambitious of them, never suggest the ponderousness of a novel-with-a-purpose; he never forgets what is expected from a conscientious entertainer. And one reason why he so uniformly succeeds is that he is an exceedingly good craftsman; he has mastered the sheer mechanics of his art. It is never wise for a novelist, whatever his literary creed may be, to be wantonly scornful of technique. There are just a few erratic geniuses who, because they have in them certain big thoughts that are struggling for utterance and apparently cannot be uttered in the simple usual way, boldly break the established rules and make new ones to suit their needs. To draw an offhand parallel, they are somewhat in the position of a man who, although untrained in public speaking, is listened to indulgently because of the importance of what he has to say. But your public entertainer enjoys no such license; and the lighter and more irresponsible his theme the more perfect must be his execution. And it is because Mr. Hope possesses that magic touch of the born story teller, that such delightful triflings as The Dolly Dialogues and The Indiscretion of the Duchess seem to linger in the memory with perennial youth, while many another weightier volume has faded out with the passage of years.
Accordingly, Mr. Hope belongs to that order of novelists about whom it is not only more enjoyable but more profitable to gossip genially than to weigh strictly in the balance. It is so easy to become garrulous over volumes that have worn well and afford many a pleasant hour of relaxation. It would be purposeless to take up serially each one of his many volumes, analyze and pigeonhole it according to its relative value. The better and the franker thing to do is to admit that there are certain volumes by Mr. Hope which gave the present writer genuine pleasure, and certain others that gave him no pleasure at all, and that those falling under the first division are the only ones which it seems worth while to discuss. In his earlier period the mere mention of Anthony Hope conjured up scenes of spirited adventure, reckless daring, gallant heroes combining the good breeding, the patrician ease, the assured manner of the better class of young Englishmen possessing the double advantage of birth and education, who, nevertheless, despite their studied reserve and immaculateness of dress, are plunged by a whim of fate into adventures of extraordinary daring and sublime audacity, adventures that would have taxed the prowess of Dumas's Immortal Three. It is a clever formula, this trick of taking certain types of familiar everyday people straight out of prosaic actuality and compelling them, whether they will or no, to perform romantic deeds against a romantic background. This peculiar combination was certainly a happy thought. It appealed to that latent thirst for adventure which we almost all possess; it unconsciously flattered the reader with a new sense of daring, a feeling that he too, if thus suddenly and surprisingly transported into Zendaland, might similarly rise to the occasion and achieve great deeds. There is no purpose served by analyzing once again the story of The Prisoner of Zenda. It is one of those stories the artificiality of which stands out glaringly the moment one starts to lay its bones bare.
Any story which depends upon the chance resemblance of two human beings, a resemblance so close, so misleading, that even the wife of one of the two is at a loss to distinguish them, takes on, when stated briefly, apart from the glamour of the tale itself, an air of palpable falsity to life. And yet the fact remains that tens of thousands of readers have lost themselves, forgotten time and space, in their utter absorption in the dilemma of the Princess Flavia, who finds in Rudolph Rassendyl all the qualities which might have made it possible for her to love her husband, if only he had been as close a replica of Rassendyl morally as he was physically.
I do not mind admitting that personally I revert more frequently to The Dolly Dialogues than to any other volume by Mr. Hope. This is not merely because of the delicate touch and epigrammatic neatness for which they have been so universally praised. Superficially considered they are a series of encounters between a sparkling and fascinating little lady and a sedate and nimble-witted gentleman, whom it is insinuated that the Lady Dolly has jilted. Now, the real fascination about these brilliant exchanges of repartee lies chiefly in the subtle and yet elusive implications that we are always on the point of reading between the lines, and yet never quite get in their entirety. That Mr. Carter has long been a worshiper at the shrine of Lady Dolly, that he has many a time felt a pang of regret that his fortune in life has made him ineligible, that he considers her husband not half grateful enough to Providence and that his own assumed air of sentimental resignation has in it a little touch of genuine regret, all this we get pretty clearly. And yet, we are well aware, all the time, that Mr. Carter, in spite of an occasional twinge of envy, would not change his condition if he could; that, although he may not be precisely aware of it, he is already confirmed in his bachelor habits; that he likes his freedom from responsibility, his harmless, unprofitable daily routine, his favorite corner in his favorite club, his innocent philandering with various young women, married and unmarried. He may, at times, deceive the Lady Dolly into commiserating him and blaming herself as a thoughtless coquette, but never for very long at a time. The whole thing is a sort of grown-up game of make-believe in which the players get a curious transitory, almost illogical enjoyment in feigning broken hearts and blighted lives. And yet there is just enough truth underlying it all to suggest that Mr. Hope was capable of more serious work than he had yet done. There was, for instance, everywhere a pervading suggestion of the infinite number of contradictory motives and impulses that determine every human action, and the impossibility which every man and woman must admit to themselves of deciding just how much gladness and how much regret is entailed in every least little thing that they do.
Almost without warning Mr. Hope proved that the vague promise of more serious work was well founded, by producing what, I think, the sober judgment of posterity will recognize as his most ambitious and most enduring work, Quisante. Alexander Quisante, from whom the volume takes its name, is not an Englishman either by birth or ancestry. He comes of antecedents almost unknown beyond the fact that they are a mixture of French and Spanish. With scanty means he comes, an absolute outsider, preparing to lay siege to the political and social world of London. In every way he finds himself handicapped. The foreordained course of education through which the English ruling classes pass as a matter of course and by which their prejudices and points of view are determined, has not been his privilege. In addition to this he lacks that inborn refinement which sometimes makes up for good breeding and social experience. His taste is often exceedingly bad; his manner is alternately too subservient and too arrogant. Of the higher standards of morality he has no perception; he is the typical adventurer, unscrupulous, insincere, monumentally selfish. But, to offset all this, his intellect is quite extraordinary; his brain is an instrument marvelously under control, and he uses it at his pleasure, to bring the lesser intellects about him under his dominion. Above all, he has the gift of eloquence; and when he chooses to give full rein to his rhetorical powers, he can sway his audience at will, and thrill and sweep them with him through the whole gamut of human emotions. Of the men and women whom he meets, fully one-half are antagonized and repelled; the others give him an unquestioning, almost slavish devotion. But he has a personality which cannot leave negative results; it must breed love or hate.
The other character in the book who shares the central interest is Lady May Gaston, a woman who, by birth and training, participates in all those special privileges of rank and caste, all the traditions of her order from which Quisante is shut out. There is another man, one in her own class, who would be glad to make her his wife. He is in all respects the sort of man whom she is expected to marry; and she is not wholly indifferent to him. But she meets Quisante, and, from the first, comes under the spell of his dominant personality. There is much in him from which she shrinks. His social ineptitude, his faculty for doing the wrong thing, or the right thing at the wrong time, makes her shudder. Although fascinated, she is not blinded. She sees his vulgarities, she questions his sincerity, she even doubts whether he is deserving of her respect. Nevertheless, the spectacular, flamboyant brilliancy of the man dominates her better judgment, and in spite of her relatives' remonstrances, in spite of warnings from a member of Quisante's own family, she marries him, unable to resist the almost hypnotic spell cast over her by this man, who is something of a charlatan and something of a cad. The greater part of the book concerns itself with the story of the married life of this curiously ill-assorted couple; of his success in the public eye; of her gradual disillusionment, which, bitter though it is in its completeness, finds her somewhat apathetic, unable to feel the resentment that she knows she ought, unable to acknowledge that she regrets her choice. This, indeed, is the most interesting aspect of the book, the domination, mentally and morally, of a woman of rare sensitiveness and infinite possibilities by a man with whom companionship inevitably means deterioration.
The next of Mr. Anthony Hope's volumes, which personally appealed to the present writer, is entitled A Servant of the Public, and is enjoyable chiefly because of the tantalizing witchery of its heroine. Ora Pinsent is a young actress, who has taken London by storm. She has a husband somewhere, it is said, " whose name does not matter "; indeed, it matters so little that it does not prevent her from letting Ashley Mead make ardent love to her, one Sunday afternoon, though all the while she " preserves wonderfully the air of not being responsible for the thing, of neither accepting nor rejecting, of being quite passive, of having it just happen to her." Thus with a single pen stroke Mr. Hope has set the woman unmistakably before us. Throughout the book she practices the art of having things just happen to her, the art of dodging responsibility. With Ashley she drifts, dangerously one thinks, at first, until one sees how easily she checks his ardor when she chooses, with a nervous laugh, and a low whispered " Don't, don't make love to me any more now." She talks much solemn nonsense about her duty to the husband whose name does not matter, and about her intention to renounce Ashley, although one realizes that there is really nothing to renounce, nor ever will be. And when the time comes for her company to leave London and start on their American tour, here also she plays the passive role, neither accepting nor rejecting. It is only when the weary months of her absence are over and she comes back as the wife of her leading man, that Ashley begins to see her as she really is; only then that he feels her power over him has ceased; only then that he can say, " I no longer love her, but I wish to God I did! " It is not easy to convey an impression of a woman's charm, when it lies not in what she says, but in the way she says it; not in what she does, but in the way she does it. But this is precisely what Anthony Hope has done triumphantly in his portraiture of Ora Pinsent, Ora, with her upturned face, with its habitual expression of expecting to be kissed, is one of the heroines in contemporary fiction that will not easily be forgotten.
Helena's Path deserves something more than a passing word of commendation, for it is an excellent example of Mr. Hope's deftness in doing a very slight thing extremely well. It has an outward framework of actuality, the atmosphere of present day English country life; yet into this he has infused a certain spirit of old-time chivalry and homage that gives to his whole picture something of the grace and charm of a Watteau landscape. The whole theme of the volume, which is scarcely more than a novelette, concerns itself with a right of way. The hero's estates lie somewhere on the east coast of England; but between his land and the strip of beach where he and his fathers before him have for generations been in the habit of bathing lies the property which the heroine has recently purchased; and, unaware of any right of way, she closes up the gate through which it is his habit to pass for his daily swim. He writes courteously but firmly, insisting on his right. She answers in the same spirit, emphatically denying it. He refuses to be robbed of his legal rights, even by a pretty woman; she refuses to yield, at a command, what she would have graciously granted to a prayer. As neither side chooses to adopt legal measures, a state of mimic war ensues, in which he continues to invade the enemy's territory, while she continues to barricade and entrench. And all the while, although they have not once met face to face, each is quietly falling in love with the other, so that when finally honorable terms of peace are concluded, it is already a foregone conclusion that the whole dainty little comedy will end with oaths of fealty and bestowal of favors worthy of a knight and a lady of the olden times.
With the passage of years, however, the author of The Dotty Dialogues has tended to give us fewer and fewer of these dainty trifles and more and more of his serious and careful social studies. In this class belongs The Great Miss Driver, and there is no exaggeration in saying that since the publication of Quisante it is easily the biggest, best-rounded, and altogether worthiest book he has written. And yet, the first thing you are apt to think of is that the germ idea of the story goes straight back to The Dolly Dialogues; that in a superficial way, yes, and perhaps in a deeper way, too, there is a certain rather absurd similarity between them; just as though the author, having once made a pleasant little comedy out of a certain situation, had ever since been turning over in his mind the possibility of using it in a bigger and more serious way, until eventually he evolved the present volume. Not that Jennie Driver, heiress to Breysgate Priory, bears any close resemblance to Lady Mickleham beyond the very feminine desire for conquest, any more than the Mr. Austin of the one story is a close relative of Mr. Carter in the other. The resemblance lies in this, that both stories are told in the first person by the man who in his secret heart loves the woman of whom he writes, but knows that because he is poor, because he has the natural instinct of an old bachelor, because, also, she has given her heart elsewhere, he must remain content to look upon her joys and sorrows in the capacity of a friend, and not that of a lover. To this extent The Great Miss Driver may be defined as The Dolly Dialogues rendered in a different tempo.
Yet, such a definition gives no hint of the strength, the variety, the vital interest of this story. In the character of Jennie Driver Mr. Hope has given us a woman whose ruling passion is to hold sway, to fascinate and bend to her will every one who comes within her sphere. And because of this desire she can never bear to lose the allegiance of any man, no matter how mean and unworthy he has proved himself; and herein lies the source of her life's tragedy. She is not content to be merely the richest woman in the county, to play the part of Lady Bountiful, and build memorials and endow institutions with fabulous sums; she wants also to be a social leader with undisputed right to take precedence over all the other ladies of the community, and this she could do if she married Lord Fillingford, whom she respects, and who badly needs her fortune; but not if she should marry Leonard Octon, big, brusque, rather brutal, who is cut by the whole county, and whom she happens to love. It is a rather unique situation in fiction for a woman to be forced into publicly slighting the one man on earth that she cares for; still more unique for a woman who is pledged to marry one man to be secretly meeting the other man, and thus atoning for deliberately cutting him whenever they meet in public. And, surely, it was a rather audacious thing for Mr. Hope to attempt to make us feel that in spite of her double-dealing Jennie Driver is a rather big and fine and splendid sort of woman; that she would have kept faith with Fillingford had he been big enough to trust her when appearances were heavily against her; and that in defying convention and scandalizing the little world she lives in by fleeing with Octon to Paris, she is doing the one big, brave, inevitable act. Yet, that is precisely what the author does succeed in making us feel; and when because Fate intervenes and wrecks the last chance of Jennie's happiness through the death of Octon, we not only sympathize with her bitterness toward the narrow-minded social circle that had forced her lover into exile, but we also glory with her in the big, carefully planned and altogether adequate revenge by which she forces the county to pay tardy homage to the name of Octon.
Notwithstanding the statement made at the beginning of this chapter, to the effect that Mr. Anthony Hope does not write problem novels, the volume entitled Mrs. Maxon Protests comes critically near the border-line. Mrs. Maxon is simply one more young woman who has discovered marriage to be something vastly different from what she had imagined; and her difficulty is of the variety which she regards as almost humiliatingly commonplace namely, incompatibility. Her husband happens to be one of those narrow, self-satisfied, dictatorial men, with old-fashioned ideas about women in general and a rooted conviction that a man has a high moral responsibility for his wife's conduct and must mould her in all fashions to his own way of thinking. Mrs. Maxon bears the strain for five years; then she consults a lawyer. She learns that while she cannot get a divorce in England, she can leave her husband and he cannot force her to come back. At the time of their separation, or to be more accurate, her desertion of him for Maxon refuses to take the matter seriously there is no other man in her life; but in the weeks that follow during which she stays at the country home of some friends with lax ideas of life and a houseful of curious and often irregular people, she suddenly surprises herself by falling in love with a certain Godfrey Ledstone and promptly scandalizes society by eloping with him openly and unashamed. The rest of the book traces, with a clear-sightedness that Mr. Hope has not always shown in his books, the subsequent career of a woman who thinks that by the force of her own example she can bring the whole world over to her way of thinking. He does not spare us any of her disillusions, her humiliations, her heartache and loneliness. But through it all she is learning, strangely and cruelly learning, much that is exceedingly good for her. She is learning, for instance, that charity and sympathy and understanding are often found where least expected. She is learning, too, that there are many other standards in this world as well as her own and that they are just as reasonable and perhaps nobler. She learns that one of the best men she has ever had the good fortune to meet, loving her, pitying her, utterly disapproving of her, would nevertheless have made her his wife in spite of the scandal that had preceded and followed her divorce but for one reason: he is an army officer, and a woman with a taint upon her name would lower the social tone of his regiment and be in some degree a menace to the moral tone of the younger set. It is a temptation to analyze at some length the separate episodes of this rather unusual book throughout the years while Mrs. Maxon is slowly finding her way out of the quagmire of her own making into a belated peace and happiness. Yet, after all, what the book stands for is so admirably summed up in the concluding paragraph that one cannot do it a greater service than to close with one brief quotation. It is a satisfaction to find a book written upon this theme which, while recognizing that there is much to be said on both sides, shows neither vindictiveness toward the woman nor a misplaced championship that would exalt her into a martyr.
In the small circle of those with whom she had shared the issues of destiny she had unsettled much; of a certainty she had settled nothing. Things were just as much in solution as ever; the welter was not abated. Man being imperfect, laws must be made. Man being imperfect, laws must be broken or ever new laws will be made. Winnie Maxon had broken a law and asked a question. When thousands do the like, the Giant, after giving the first comers a box on the ear, may at last put his hand to his own and ponderously consider.
Such are the volumes chosen as a matter of personal preference, out of the generous series that Mr. Hope has so industriously turned out, during a score of years. Another reader's choice might be different, and who shall say whether it would not be as well justified? Because, the first duty of a public entertainer is to entertain; and, taking this for a criterion, the most that any one can say of his own knowledge is, such-and-such volumes have entertained me. It is obvious that Mr. Hope's own preference is for his more serious work, that with the passage of years he has grown more willing to allow the books of his romantic period to fade from sight. Yet, by doing this, he challenges a harder competition, a stricter measurement against a host of rivals. There has been no one to give us a second Prisoner of Zenda, excepting Mr. Hope himself, notwithstanding that many another writer has tried his best. But it would be easy to name a dozen contemporary novelists who could give us the annals of another Servant of the People, or chronicle some further Intrusions of Peggy, and one or two who, perhaps, could do it better. Mr. Hope is not one of the great novelists of his generation; but he is never mediocre, and even in his uninspired moments never dull. His Prisoner of Zenda and his Dolly Dialogues were both gems of the first water; his Quisante certainly suffers nothing by comparison with George Gissing's Charlatan, separated from it by barely a year. As a chronicler of English manners he is certainly of rather more importance than Mr. E. F. Benson or Mr. Maarten Maartens, although not in the same class with Galsworthy, Bennett, or W. H. Maxwell. He will be remembered, I think, somewhat as William Black and Marion Crawford are remembered, as having preserved a wholesome optimism, an unshaken belief in human nature, and as having done his part to keep the tone of the modern novel clean and wholesome.
The following narrative falls naturally into three divisions, corresponding to distinct and clearly marked periods of Sophy's life. Of the first and second—her childhood at Morpingham and her sojourn in Paris—the records are fragmentary, and tradition does little to supplement them. As regards Morpingham, the loss is small. The annals of a little maid-servant may be left in vagueness without much loss. Enough remains to show both the manner of child Sophy was and how it fell out that she spread her wings and left the Essex village far behind her. It is a different affair when we come to the French period. The years spent in and near Paris, in the care and under the roof of Lady Margaret Duddington, were of crucial moment in Sophy's development. They changed her from what she had been and made her what she was to be. Without Paris, Kravonia, still extraordinary, would have been impossible.
Yet the surviving history of Paris and the life there is scanty. Only a sketch is possible. A record existed—and a fairly full one—in the Julia Robins correspondence; that we know from Miss Robins herself. But the letters written from Paris by Sophy to her lifelong friend have, with some few exceptions, perished. Miss Robins accounts for this—and in view of her careful preservation of later correspondence, her apology must be accepted—by the fact that during these years—from 1866 to 1870—she was constantly travelling from town to town and from lodging to lodging, as a member of various theatrical companies; this nomadic existence did not promote the careful and methodical storage of her letters. It may, of course, be added that no such obvious interest attached to these records as gathered round Sophy's doings after she had exchanged Paris and the Rue de Grenelle for Slavna and the Castle of Praslok.
When this migration has been effected, the historian is on much firmer ground; he is even embarrassed sometimes by the abundance of material of varying value. Apart from public records and general memory (both carefully consulted on the spot), the two main sources flow from Sophy's own hand. They are the Robins correspondence and the diary. Nearly to the end the letters are very constant, very full, very instructive; but they are composed with an obvious view to the tastes and interests of their recipient, and by no means always devote most space to what now seems of greatest interest. In one point, however, Miss Robins's tastes prove of real service. This lady, who rose to a respectable, if not a high, position as a Shakespearian actress, was much devoted to the study of costume, and Sophy, aware of this hobby, never omits to tell her with minute care what she herself wore on every occasion, what the other ladies wore, and what were the uniforms, military or civil, in which the men were arrayed. Trivial, perhaps, yet of great value in picturing the scenes!
In her letters Sophy is also copious in depicting places, houses, and landscapes—matters on which the diary is naturally not so full. So that, in spite of their great faults, the letters form a valuable supplement to the diary. Yet what faults—nay, what crimes! Sophy had learned to talk French perfectly and to write it fairly well. She had not learned to write English well or even decently; the letters are, in fact, a charnel-house of murdered grammar and broken-backed sentences. Still there emerge from it all a shrewdness and a rural vigor and raciness which show that the child of the little Essex farm-house survived in the writer.
But for this Kravonian period—the great period—the diary is the thing. Yet it is one of the most unconscientious diaries ever written. It is full of gaps; it is often posted up very unpunctually; it is sometimes exasperatingly obscure—there may be some intention in that; she could not tell into what hands it might fall. But it covers most of the ground; it begins almost with Sophy's arrival in Slavna, and the last entry records her discovery of Lord Dunstanbury's presence in Kravonia. It is written for the most part in French, and she wrote French, as has been said, decently—nay, even forcibly, though not with elegance; yet she frequently relapses into English—often of a very colloquial order: this happens mostly under the influence of anger or some other strong emotion. And she is dramatic—that must be allowed to her. She concentrates her attention on what she conceives (nor is her instinct far out) to be her great scenes; she gives (or purports to give) a verbatim report of critical conversations, and it is only just to say that she allows her interlocutors fair play. She has candor—and that, working with the dramatic sense in her, forbids her to warp the scene. In the earlier parts of the story she shows keen appreciation of its lighter aspects; as times grow graver, her records, too, change in mood, working up to the tense excitement, the keen struggle, the burning emotions of her last days in Kravonia. Yet even then she always finds time for a laugh and a touch of gayety.
When Sophy herself ceases to be our guide, Lord Dunstanbury's notes become the main authority. They are supplemented by the recollection of Mr. Basil Williamson, now practising his profession of surgery in Australia; and this narrative is also indebted to Colonel Markart, sometime secretary to General Stenovics, for much important information which, as emanating from the enemy's camp, was not accessible to Sophy or her informants. The contributions of other actors in the drama, too numerous to mention here, will be easily identified in their place in the story.
A word seems desirable on one other subject, and no mean one; for it is certain that Sophy's physical gifts were a powerful ally to her ambition, her strong will, and her courage; it is certain, too, that she did not shrink from making the most of this reinforcement to her powers. All the authorities named above—not excepting Sophy herself—have plenty to say on the topic, and from their descriptions a portrait of her may be attempted. Of actual pictures one only exists—in the possession of the present Lord Dunstanbury, who succeeded his father—Sophy's Earl—a few years ago. It is a pastel, drawn just before she left Paris—and, to be frank, it is something of a disappointment; the taste of the 'sixties is betrayed in a simper which sits on the lips but is alien to the character of them. Still the outline and the color are there.
Her hair was very dark, long, and thick; her nose straight and fine, her lips firm and a trifle full. Her complexion was ordinarily very pale, and she did not flush save under considerable agitation of mind or exertion of body. She was above the middle height, finely formed, and slender. It was sometimes, indeed, objected that her shape was too masculine—the shoulders a trifle too square and the hips too small for a woman. These are, after all, matters of taste; she would not have been thought amiss in ancient Athens. All witnesses agree in describing her charm as lying largely in movement, in vivacity, in a sense of suppressed force trying to break out, or (as Mr. Williamson puts it) of "tremendous driving power."
The personality seems to stand out fairly distinct from these descriptions, and we need the less regret that a second picture, known to have been painted soon after her arrival in Kravonia, has perished either through carelessness or (more probably) by deliberate destruction; there were many in Kravonia not too anxious that even a counterfeit presentment of the famous "Red Star" and its wearer should survive. It would carry its memories and its reproach.
"The Red Star!" The name appears first in a letter of the Paris period—one of the few which are in existence. Its invention is attributed by Sophy to her friend the Marquis de Savres (of whom we shall hear again). He himself used it often. But of the thing we hear very early—and go on hearing from time to time. Sophy at first calls it "my mark," but she speedily adopts Monsieur le Marquis's more poetical term, and by that description it is known throughout her subsequent career. The polite artist of the 'sixties shirked it altogether by giving a half-profile view of his subject, thus not showing the left cheek where the "star" was situated.
It was, in fact, a small birth-mark, placed just below the cheek-bone, almost round, yet with a slightly indented outline. No doubt a lover (and M. de Savres was one) found warrant enough for his phrase. At ordinary times it was a very pale red in color, but (unlike the rest of her face) it was very rapidly sensitive to any change of mood or temper; in moments of excitement the shade deepened greatly, and (as Colonel Markart says in his hyperbolic strain) "it glowed like angry Venus." Without going quite that length, we are bound to allow that it was, at these moments, a conspicuous and striking mark, and such it clearly appeared to the eyes of all who saw it. "La dame à l'étoile rouge," says the Marquis. "The Red-starred Witch," said the less courteous and more hostile citizens and soldiers of Kravonia. Sophy herself appears proud of it, though she feigns to consider it a blemish. Very probably it was one of those peculiarities which become so closely associated and identified with the personality to which they belong as at once to heighten the love of friends and to attract an increased dislike or hatred from those already disposed or committed to enmity. At any rate, for good or evil, it is as "Red Star" that the name of Sophy lives to-day in the cities and mountains of Kravonia.
So much in preface; now to the story. Little historical importance can be claimed for it. But amateurs of the picturesque, if yet there be such in this business-like world, may care to follow Sophy from Morpingham to Paris, to share her flight from the doomed city, to be with her in the Street of the Fountain, at venerable Praslok, on Volseni's crumbling wall, by the banks of the swift-flowing Krath at dawn of day—to taste something of the spirit that filled, to feel something of the love that moved, the heart of Sophy Grouch of Morpingham, in the county of Essex.Still, sometimes Romance beckons back her ancient votaries.
Enoch Grouch's Daughter
Grouch! That is the name—and in the interest of euphony it is impossible not to regret the fact. Some say it should be spelled "Groutch," which would not at all mend matters, though it makes the pronunciation clear beyond doubt—the word must rhyme with "crouch" and "couch." Well might Lady Meg Duddington swear it was the ugliest name she had ever heard in her life! Sophy was not of a very different opinion, as will be shown by-and-by. She was Grouch on both sides—unmixed and unredeemed. For Enoch Grouch married his uncle's daughter Sally, and begat, as his first child, Sophy. Two other children were born to him, but they died in early infancy. Mrs. Grouch did not long survive the death of her little ones; she was herself laid in Morpingham church-yard when Sophy was no more than five years old. The child was left to the sole care of her father, a man who had married late for his class—indeed, late for any class—and was already well on in middle age. He held a very small farm, lying about half a mile behind the church. Probably he made a hard living of it, for the only servant in his household was a slip of a girl of fifteen, who had, presumably, both to cook and scrub for him and to look after the infant Sophy. Nothing is remembered of him in Morpingham. Perhaps there was nothing to remember—nothing that marked him off from thousands like him; perhaps the story of his death, which lives in the village traditions, blotted out the inconspicuous record of his laborious life.
Morpingham lies within twenty-five miles of London, but for all that it is a sequestered and primitive village. It contained, at this time at least, but three houses with pretensions to gentility—the Hall, the Rectory, and a smaller house across the village street, facing the Rectory. At the end of the street stood the Hall in its grounds. This was a handsome, red-brick house, set in a spacious garden. Along one side of the garden there ran a deep ditch, and on the other side of the ditch, between it and a large meadow, was a path which led to the church. Thus the church stood behind the Hall grounds; and again, as has been said, beyond the church was Enoch Grouch's modest farm, held of Mr. Brownlow, the owner of the Hall. The church path was the favorite resort of the villagers, and deservedly, for it was shaded and beautified by a fine double row of old elms, forming a stately avenue to the humble little house of worship.
On an autumn evening in the year 1855 Enoch Grouch was returning from the village, where he had been to buy tobacco. His little girl was with him. It was wild weather. A gale had been blowing for full twenty-four hours, and in the previous night a mighty bough had been snapped from one of the great elms and had fallen with a crash. It lay now right across the path. As they went to the village, her father had indulged Sophy with a ride on the bough, and she begged a renewal of the treat on their homeward journey. The farmer was a kind man—more kind than wise, as it proved, on this occasion. He set the child astraddle on the thick end of the bough, then went to the other end, which was much slenderer. Probably his object was to try to shake the bough and please his small tyrant with the imitation of a see-saw. The fallen bough suggested no danger to his slow-moving mind. He leaned down towards the bough with out-stretched hands—Sophy, no doubt, watching his doings with excited interest—while the wind raged and revelled among the great branches over their heads. Enoch tried to move the bough, but failed; in order to make another effort, he fell on his knees and bent his back over it.
At this moment there came a loud crash—heard in the Rectory grounds and in the dining-room at Woodbine Cottage, the small house opposite.
"There's another tree gone!" cried Basil Williamson, the Rector's second son, who was giving his retriever an evening run.
He raced through the Rectory gate, across the road, and into the avenue.
A second later the garden gate of Woodbine Cottage opened, and Julia, the ten-years-old daughter of a widow named Robins who lived there, came out at full speed. Seeing Basil just ahead of her, she called out: "Did you hear?"
He knew her voice—they were playmates—and answered without looking back: "Yes. Isn't it fun? Keep outside the trees—keep well in the meadow!"
"Stuff!" she shouted, laughing. "They don't fall every minute, silly!"
Running as they exchanged these words, they soon came to where the bough—or, rather, the two boughs—had fallen. A tragic sight met their eyes. The second bough had caught the unlucky farmer just on the nape of his neck, and had driven him down, face forward, onto the first. He lay with his neck close pinned between the two, and his arms spread out over the undermost. His face was bad to look at; he was quite dead, and apparently death must have been instantaneous. Sobered and appalled, the boy and girl stood looking from the terrible sight to each other's faces.
"Is he dead?" Julia whispered.
"I expect so," the boy answered. Neither of them had seen death before.
The next moment he raised his voice and shouted: "Help, help!" then laid hold of the upper bough and strove with all his might to raise it. The girl gave a shriller cry for assistance and then lent a hand to his efforts. But between them they could not move the great log.
Up to now neither of them had perceived Sophy.
Next on the scene was Mr. Brownlow, the master of the Hall. He had been in his greenhouse and heard the crash of the bough. Of that he took no heed—nothing could be done save heave a sigh over the damage to his cherished elms. But when the cries for help reached his ears, with praiseworthy promptitude he rushed out straight across his lawn, and (though he was elderly and stout) dropped into the ditch, clambered out of it, and came where the dead man and the children were. As he passed the drawing-room windows, he called out to his wife: "Somebody's hurt, I'm afraid"; and she, after a moment's conference with the butler, followed her husband, but, not being able to manage the ditch, went round by the road and up the avenue, the servant coming with her. When these two arrived, the Squire's help had availed to release the farmer from the deadly grip of the two boughs, and he lay now on his back on the path.
"He's dead, poor fellow," said Mr. Brownlow.
"It's Enoch Grouch!" said the butler, giving a shudder as he looked at the farmer's face. Julia Robins sobbed, and the boy Basil looked up at the Squire's face with grave eyes.
"I'll get a hurdle, sir," said the butler. His master nodded, and he ran off.
Something moved on the path—about a yard from the thick end of the lower bough.
"Look there!" cried Julia Robins. A little wail followed. With an exclamation, Mrs. Brownlow darted to the spot. The child lay there with a cut on her forehead. Apparently the impact of the second bough had caused the end of the first to fly upward; Sophy had been jerked from her seat into the air, and had fallen back on the path, striking her head on a stone. Mrs. Brownlow picked her up, wiped the blood from her brow, and saw that the injury was slight. Sophy began to cry softly, and Mrs. Brownlow soothed her.
"It's his little girl," said Julia Robins. "The little girl with the mark on her cheek, please, Mrs. Brownlow."
"Poor little thing! Poor little thing!" Mrs. Brownlow murmured; she knew that death had robbed the child of her only relative and protector.
The butler now came back with a hurdle and two men, and Enoch Grouch's body was taken into the saddle-room at the Hall. Mrs. Brownlow followed the procession, Sophy still in her arms. At the end of the avenue she spoke to the boy and girl:
"Go home, Basil; tell your father, and ask him to come to the Hall. Good-night, Julia. Tell your mother—and don't cry any more. The poor man is with God, and I sha'n't let this mite come to harm." She was a childless woman, with a motherly heart, and as she spoke she kissed Sophy's wounded forehead. Then she went into the Hall grounds, and the boy and girl were left together in the road. Basil shook his fist at the avenue of elms—his favorite playground.
"Hang those beastly trees!" he cried. "I'd cut them all down if I was Mr. Brownlow."
"I must go and tell mother," said Julia. "And you'd better go, too."
"Yes," he assented, but lingered for a moment, still looking at the trees as though reluctantly fascinated by them.
"Mother always said something would happen to that little girl," said Julia, with a grave and important look in her eyes.
"Why?" the boy asked, brusquely.
"Because of that mark—that mark she's got on her cheek."
"What rot!" he said, but he looked at his companion uneasily. The event of the evening had stirred the superstitious fears seldom hard to stir in children.
"People don't have those marks for nothing—so mother says." Other people, no wiser, said the same thing later.
"Rot!" Basil muttered again. "Oh, well, I must go."
She glanced at him timidly. "Just come as far as our door with me. I'm afraid."
"Afraid!" He smiled scornfully. "All right!"
He walked with her to the door of Woodbine Cottage, and waited till it closed behind her, performing the escort with a bold and lordly air. Left alone in the fast-darkening night, with nobody in sight, with no sound save the ceaseless voice of the angry wind essaying new mischief in the tops of the elm-trees, he stood for a moment listening fearfully. Then he laid his sturdy legs to the ground and fled for home, looking neither to right nor left till he reached the hospitable light of his father's study. The lad had been brave in face of the visible horror; fear struck him in the moment of Julia's talk about the mark on the child's cheek. Scornful and furious at himself, yet he was mysteriously afraid.
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—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—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—"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.
"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—London, Sophy!—and learn elocution—"
"E-lo-cu-tion—which means how to talk so that people can hear you ever so far off—"
"No. Don't be stupid. To—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—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—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—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—you know he goes up to Cambridge to-morrow?—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—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—and so on. And you look like a little lady, and talk like one—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—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—and the Rector talks about his cook, too—not always very kindly, though."
"No, it's a shame—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—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.
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