I was a little bit older, of course, and I'd known Sophie all her life, knew her better than is usual in small towns like this one, where everybody knows everybody else, anyway. Because when I was a young ladyand already being courted by my late husbandSophie was just a little girl, and even then, I thought she was very special.
Maybe it had something to do with the way I'd always wanted a sister. Someone younger than me to look up to me and share her little secrets with me. Sophie was the closest I had to that. But of course, her mama didn't let her get away very often, so it didn't blossom into a real friendshiplike sistersit could have been. Still, I always thought she was a precious little thing.
I remember one twilight evening when I was sitting in the porch swing, and Sophie came skipping down the road right in front of my houseshe couldn't have been more than six or sevenand waved her fingers at me as she went by. Must have gotten away from her mama for a few minutes. She was wearing a white pinafore and skipping and singing right down the middle of the road, and I thought she looked so pretty that day. And, too, there was something about the way it was, right at dusk, that made me think she looked just like a little white egret, ruffling its feathers this way and that. But if her mama had seen her, she'd have had a fit.
"Keep your skirt down, Sophie!" she would have admonished. "And behave like a lady!" Like I said, whatever other faults Sophie's mama had, she certainly raised Sophie to be a real lady.
I don't know why that particular image of Sophie stands out like it does in my mind. But then, we never do know how it's going to be with us when we get older.
Anyway, when she was just a little girl, Sophie used to come over to my house some afternoons, whenever her mama would let her, and she'd play dress-up, draping herself all over with my scarves, and sometimes, I'd let her put some of my face powder on her nose. Other times, she liked just lying across the front of my bed and watching me mending my silk stockings or making some tatted lace for the pillowcases in my hope chest.
"What's a hope chest?" she asked me once. It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, I remember.
"It's where you keep all the things you fix up for when you're a married lady," I told her.
"Is that what you're supposed to hope for? Is that why it's called a hope chest?"
"I think so. And yes, it's what every young lady hopes for."
"Not me," Sophie said in a voice strong with that particular kind of certainty children have.
"Yesyou, too," I assured her, enjoying the little proclamation she had made. And her absolute confidence in it.
"No," she insisted. "'Cause Mama wouldn't let me."
"She would if you were a grown-up young lady," I explained, and then I amended that: "She will when you're a grown-up young lady."
"I don't think so," Sophie said matter-of-factly.
I was really quite amused at her earnestness about it. As I said, she was such a precious little girl. Other folks may have thought that she was plain-looking, but I always thought it was just that she'd never had a chance to be free. Or happy, maybe.
By the time Sophie was a young lady, I was already married and had a home of my ownthis house, built by my late husband's grandfather, the one who started this whole town. And I think that one of the reasons Sophie particularly liked calling on me was because she enjoyed being with someone who really had a life of her own, if you know what I mean. Not just living right in the same house where she was born, like she did. Years later, after my husband passed on and when all Sophie's old ladies were gone at last, she just kept on coming to call on me anyway.
Such a lady, she was. That's why I don't . . . Well, I'm not sure what happened. About two years after Mr. Oto first came to work for me, it was, if I'm remembering it right. Because after all, it was such a long time ago.
Reprinted from Sophie and the Rising Sun by Augusta Trobaugh by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Augusta Trobaugh. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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