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THE LADY'S MAID
IT was not easy to form a positive opinion of the young woman who now
presented herself in Miss Henley's room.
If the Turkish taste is truly reported as valuing beauty in the female
figure more than beauty in the female face, Fanny Mere's personal
appearance might have found, in Constantinople, the approval which she
failed to receive in London. Slim and well balanced, firmly and neatly
made, she interested men who met her by accident (and sometimes even
women), if they happened to be walking behind her. When they quickened
their steps, and, passing on, looked back at her face, they lost all
interest in Fanny from that moment. Painters would have described the
defect in her face as "want of colour." She was one of the whitest of
fair female human beings. Light flaxen hair, faint blue eyes with no
expression in them, and a complexion which looked as if it had never
been stirred by a circulation of blood, produced an effect on her
fellow-creatures in general which made them insensible to the beauty of
her figure, and the grace of her movements. There was no betrayal of
bad health in her strange pallor: on the contrary, she suggested the
idea of rare physical strength. Her quietly respectful manner was, so
to say, emphasised by an underlying self-possession, which looked
capable of acting promptly and fearlessly in the critical emergencies
of life. Otherwise, the expression of character in her face was
essentially passive. Here was a steady, resolute young woman, possessed
of qualities which failed to show themselves on the surface--whether
good qualities or bad qualities experience alone could determine.
Finding it impossible, judging by a first impression, to arrive at any
immediate decision favourable or adverse to the stranger, Iris opened
the interview with her customary frankness; leaving the consequences to
follow as they might.
"Take a seat, Fanny," she said, "and let us try if we can understand
each other. I think you will agree with me that there must be no
concealments between us. You ought to know that your mistress has told
me why she parted with you. It was her duty to tell me the truth, and
it is my duty not to be unjustly prejudiced against you after what I
have heard. Pray believe me when I say that I don't know, and don't
wish to know, what your temptation may have been--"
"I beg your pardon, Miss, for interrupting you. My temptation was
Whether she did or did not suffer in making that confession, it was
impossible to discover. Her tones were quiet; her manner was
unobtrusively respectful; the pallor of her face was not disturbed by
the slightest change of colour. Was the new maid an insensible person?
Iris began to fear already that she might have made a mistake.
"I don't expect you to enter into particulars," she said; "I don't ask
you here to humiliate yourself."
"When I got your letter, Miss, I tried to consider how I might show
myself worthy of your kindness," Fanny answered. "The one way I could
see was not to let you think better of me than I deserve. When a
person, like me, is told, for the first time, that her figure makes
amends for her face, she is flattered by the only compliment that has
been paid to her in all her life. My excuse, Miss (if I have an excuse)
is a mean one---I couldn't resist a compliment. That is all I have to
Iris began to alter her opinion. This was not a young woman of the
ordinary type. It began to look possible, and more than possible, that
she was worthy of a helping hand. The truth seemed to be in her.
"I understand you, and feel for you." Having replied in those words,
Iris wisely and delicately changed the subject. "Let me hear how you
are situated at the present time," she continued. "Are your parents
"My father and mother are dead, Miss."
"Have you any other relatives?"
"They are too poor to be able to do anything for me. I have lost my
character--and I am left to help myself."
"Suppose you fail to find another situation?" Iris suggested.
"How can you help yourself?"
"I can do what other girls have done."
"What do you mean?"
"Some of us starve on needlework. Some take to the streets. Some end it
in the river. If there is no other chance for me, I think I shall try
that way," said the poor creature, as quietly as if she was speaking of
some customary prospect that was open to her. "There will be nobody to
be sorry for me--and, as I have read, drowning is not a very painful
"You shock me, Fanny! I, for one, should be sorry for you."
"Thank you, Miss."
"And try to remember," Iris continued, "that there may be chances in
the future which you don't see yet. You speak of what you have read,
and I have already noticed how clearly and correctly you express
yourself. You must have been educated. Was it at home? or at school?
"I was once sent to school," Fanny replied, not quite willingly.
"Was it a private school?"
That short answer warned Iris to be careful.
"Recollections of school," she said good-humouredly, "are not the
pleasantest recollections in some of our lives. Perhaps I have touched
on a subject which is disagreeable to you?"
"You have touched on one of my disappointments, Miss. While my mother
lived, she was my teacher. After her death, my father sent me to
school. When he failed in business, I was obliged to leave, just as I
had begun to learn and like it. Besides, the girls found out that I was
going away, because there was no money at home to pay the fees--and
that mortified me. There is more that I might tell you. I have a reason
for hating my recollections of the school--but I mustn't mention that
time in my life which your goodness to me tries to forget."
All that appealed to her, so simply and so modestly, in that reply, was
not lost on Iris. After an interval of silence, she said:
"Can you guess what I am thinking of, Fanny?"
"I am asking myself a question. If I try you in my service shall I
never regret it?"
For the first time, strong emotion shook Fanny Mere. Her voice failed
her, in the effort to speak. Iris considerately went on.
"You will take the place," she said, "of a maid who has been with me
for years--a good dear creature who has only left me through
ill-health. I must not expect too much of you; I cannot hope that you
will be to me what Rhoda Bennet has been."
Fanny succeeded in controlling herself. "Is there any hope," she asked,
"of my seeing Rhoda Bennet?"
"Why do you wish to see her?"
"You are fond of her, Miss---that is one reason."
"And the other?"
"Rhoda Bennet might help me to serve you as I want to serve you; she
might perhaps encourage me to try if I could follow her example." Fanny
paused, and clasped her hands fervently. The thought that was in her
forced its way to expression. "It's so easy to feel grateful," she
said--"and, oh, so hard to show it!"
"Come to me," her new mistress answered, "and show it to-morrow."
Moved by that compassionate impulse, Iris said the words which restored
to an unfortunate creature a lost character and a forfeited place in
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