“Faster Jim, faster! We don’t have the whole day!”
Jim is riding the carriage on the winding road as fast as he can, holding tightly and twisting the harnesses around his hands, pushing the horses into an insane race that doesn’t seem to satisfy Sophie a bit.
Every time she checks the road, she pulls her head back into the carriage for no more than a minute, impatiently looking out again to see how far still is the house of her dear and lifelong friend, Greta Mason.
What on earth is taking it so long to reach their mansion? They are neighbors, aren’t they?
It’s a beautiful and long friendship that Sophie has been having with Greta for so many years. They know each other since childhood and have been inseparable, as sisters, and soon their families have built a bond just as strong.
When Greta had to face the cruel truth that she wouldn’t be blessed with children, Sophie’s daughter became like her daughter. And when Hattie was left alone after her parent’s death, she took the little girl under her care, treating her like her own offspring.
And this is why Sophie knows it wouldn’t be easy to ask her friend what she has come for, but Greta has to trust her. Rarely she had been wrong throughout her life.
The morning sun is shining in the old eyes of Sophie but that doesn’t seem to bother her at all.
On contrary, the warm sun rays glitter just as much as her face, with eagerness and happiness of this wonderful morning that has brought her so much joy.
Of course, it’s the best thing to do! Strikingly surprising is the fact that she hasn’t thought about it earlier! It has to work, her plan has to work and has to be put in place at once. Nobody knows her grandson better than she does.
And yes, Hattie is perfect, and surely her daughter, Margret, could have never been wrong, not about her son and not about Hattie who literally has grown up in her house.
Years after Margret passed away she was still reluctant to the idea, but not today.
Today is the day when Margret’s wish will come true.
Because after all these years while Sophie has twisted the matter on all sides possible, she would reach the same conclusion: Hattie is a perfect choice.
And if love isn’t going to shine from the beginning, well, they will have to learn it and over the years they will understand that it has been the best decision to be made.
Maybe they don’t know it yet, but they are made for each other.
Sophie is all smiles and joy in her eyes just to the thought of it and getting closer to Greta’s house she is even more excited.
She is checking the surroundings every two minutes, picking her head out on the small carriage window. And finally, there it is! The beautiful mansion of Greta is standing tall and graceful at the end of the road.
The carriage approaches the entrance door at the same speed and stops suddenly right at the front door where Sophie is welcomed by Ellen, Greta’s housemaid.
Jim steps down the front carriage and rushes to open the door for Sophie, reaching his hand to the old lady so she can get down easier, but she does it by herself, light as a feather.
One could have never guessed she was almost seventy-two. She’s always full of life and cheerful that sometimes it’s making even the young Ross feel envious.
Ellen smiles at Sophie in a large and sweet curl of her lips, being always a delight to see.
“Ellen, it’s so good to see you on such a beautiful morning. Isn’t it beautiful, tell me?” Sophie says as she is walking up the steps towards the wide entrance doors. “I need Greta and I need her now,” Sophie orders in a joke.
“The day always gets nicer when you are here, Miss Sophie. Ms. Greta is in the salon, for breakfast. It has just been served. I hope you will join, too,” Ellen replies with a happy face.
Hearing her friend’s voice, Greta rushes to the hallway, all excited and at the same time relieved to see her.
The news of her visit, so early in the morning isn’t as much of a surprise as it is the urgency Sophie has announced it with.
“Sophie dear, I’m so happy you’ve arrived, finally. Jim said it was something of great urgency, just tell me that nothing bad happened,” Greta says in her own breath, welcoming her friend with a hug and heart unclenching slowly seeing the happiness on her friend’s face.
“Greta, dearest,” Sophie replies and kisses her friend on her cheek. “Nothing happened, at least nothing bad happened, you can rest assured. We’re all fine, I’m fine. Only these many years I’m carrying are giving me some ups and downs and not only to me. That’s what bothers me the most. It gets everybody worried.”
They both sit on the small sofa in the dining disregarding the breakfast. Greta askes Ellen to bring a tea for her dear friend.
“Sophie, all this excitement you put yourself through every day will keep giving you ups, and downs and I have told you that so many times. There, now just calm down and tell me. Is everybody okay?” Greta keeps asking.
Sophie takes a sip from the freshly brought cup of tea and waves her hand in a restful sign towards Greta as she is gulping the tea.
“Your nephew, how is he? All is good?” Greta insists.
“Oh, my dear, he’s well and in good health and seems so happy with his bachelor life which, if you don’t mind me saying, is taking way too long for my liking. He seems to need nothing more to feel happy. The new printing house he has purchased keeps him busy all day long and the club and easy women all night. But I didn’t come here to talk about him. Or at least not yet. I mean... it is about him, but not mainly about him ....”
“Oh Sophie, will you stop it already and tell me what is it? It surely seems important, and I know nothing is more important than your grandson, I know it very well,” Greta becomes impatient.
“But I don’t see Hattie,” Sophie says searching for the young lady around the house with her eyes and ignoring Greta at the same time. “Where is she?”
“You are trying to avoid the subject and you know that this way of yours is making my ears crack with blood pressure and I know you enjoy that,” Greta replies pouting.
Sophie breaks into a burst of healthy laughter that makes Greta stare with such wide eyes that she has to answer, or Greta will think she has gone crazy.
“Not at all my dear, not at all. You should have known me by now and understand that no, I’m not trying to avoid any subject. And I definitely have nothing with your ears. And to spare you from waiting allow me to tell you that I’m here to ask a hand in marriage. For my grandson,” Sophie completes and takes leisurely another sip from the teacup, giving Greta time enough to absorb the news and relax once she has heard the reason for her urgent visit.
But that doesn’t happen at all, as Greta’s eyes become even wider in awe. What on earth is Sophie trying to say? Greta seems she can’t get to the bottom of her friend’s bubbling no matter how much she tries.
Sophie asking for a hand in marriage is understandable, she has just confessed to her grandson’s way of life she doesn’t approve and surely marriage is the right thing to do, at least for the image’s sake, but why does she come to her? What hand could Sophie find here to ask in marriage? Greta is still staring at her friend, puzzled, waiting for more details.
“I’m afraid I still cannot get it, Sophie,” she finally says.
The old lady places aside from the cup of tea in a painfully slow motion and grabs Greta’s hands with her soft fingers, looking straight into her eyes.
“Well, I believe it’s the time for my grandson to get married. He’s past thirty already and it’s about time he gets a good wife.”
“I totally agree, Sophie. You want me to find him a wife?”
Sophie motions her right hand in a sign that she shouldn’t bother herself with that. It’s all sorted out.
“I found her already and trust me, there is no other better than her. I now understand clearly my late daughter’s wish and she seems the best choice. She had been taking care of that when poor soul was still with us, I know. Listen to me Greta,” Sophie continues becoming serious. “I know that after Hattie’s parents have passed away in that awful fire you’ve taken her under your protection. And this is why I’ve come here to ask you her hand in marriage for my grandson, Ross.”
Greta sucks a sharp blade of air between her thin lips, covering her mouth with one hand and placing the other on her chest where her heart is, afraid it would jump out of her rib cage.
“Sophie O’Tool, I know you for so many years, but you’ve never ceased to surprise me! I know how much you love Hattie and dearest Margret as well, but to marry her with your grandson... don’t you think it is too much? I’m not saying that she doesn’t deserve it nor that this wouldn’t be a wonderful thing to happen but... Ross has such a strong personality, he’s tough and stubborn... would he accept to be married to his grandmother? You have just told me how much he enjoys being a bachelor. How do you think he would agree to get married? Especially that Hattie comes from such a... simple family?”
Hattie is the daughter of a servant’s family, although hard worker and well appreciated by Greta and her husband, while Ross is the grandson of a mayor, a founder of the high society of the community, highly educated, a businessman in the pick of his success.
These days, families of different backgrounds might be normally united in marriages in the Americas, on the New Continent but not here, in a deeply traditional community where such union might fall in the depth of ugly gossips that would finally only harm.