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Ancestors A Novel   By: (1857-1948)

Ancestors A Novel by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton

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Ancestors

A Novel

By Gertrude Atherton

Copyright, 1907, by HARPER & BROTHERS. New York and London

All rights reserved.

Published September, 1907.

TO Emma Beatrice Brunner

PART I

1904

I

Miss Thangue, who had never seen her friend's hand tremble among the teacups before, felt an edge on her mental appetite, stimulating after two monotonous years abroad. It was several minutes, however, before she made any effort to relieve her curiosity, for of all her patron friends Victoria Gwynne required the most delicate touch. Flora had learned to be audacious without taking a liberty, which, indeed, was one secret of her success; but although she prided herself upon her reading of this enigma, whom even the ancestral dames of Capheaton looked down upon inspectively, she was never quite sure of her ground. She particularly wished to avoid mistakes upon the renewal of an intimacy kept alive by a fitful correspondence during her sojourn on the Continent. Quite apart from self interest, she liked no one as well, and her curiosity was tempered by a warm sympathy and a genuine interest. It was this capacity for friendship, and her unlimited good nature, that had saved her, penniless as she was, from the ignominious footing of the social parasite. The daughter of a clergyman in a Yorkshire village, and the playmate in childhood of the little girls of the castle near by, she had realized early in life that although pretty and well bred, she was not yet sufficiently dowered by either nature or fortune to hope for a brilliant marriage; and she detested poverty. Upon her father's death she must earn her bread, and, reasoning that self support was merely the marketing of one's essential commodity, and as her plump and indolent body was disinclined to privations of any sort, she elected the rĂ´le of useful friend to fashionable and luxurious women. It was not an exalted niche to fill in life, but at least she had learned to fill it to perfection, and her ambitions were modest. Moreover, a certain integrity of character and girlish enthusiasm had saved her from the more corrosive properties of her anomalous position, and she was not only clever enough to be frankly useful without servility, but she had become so indispensable to certain of her friends, that although still blooming in her early forties, she would no more have deserted them for a mere husband than she would have renounced her comfortable and varied existence for the no less varied uncertainties of matrimony.

It was not often that a kindly fate had overlooked her for so long a period as two years, and when she had accepted the invitation of one of the old castle playmates to visit her in Florence, it had been with a lively anticipation that made dismay the more poignant in the face of hypochondria. Nevertheless, realizing her debt to this first of her patrons, and with much of her old affection revived, she wandered from one capital and specialist to the next, until death gave her liberty. She was not unrewarded, but the legacy inspired her with no desire for an establishment beyond her room at the Club in Dover Street, the companionship of friends not too exacting, the agreeable sense of indispensableness, and a certain splendor of environment which gave a warmth and color to life; and which she could not have commanded had she set up in middle years as an independent spinster of limited income. She had received many impatient letters while abroad, to which she had replied with fluent affection and picturesque gossip, never losing touch for a moment. When release came she had hastened home to book herself for the house parties, and with Victoria Gwynne, although one of the least opulent of her friends, first on the list. She had had several correspondents as ardent as herself, and there was little gossip of the more intimate sort that had not reached her sooner or later, but she found subtle changes in Victoria for which she could not as yet account... Continue reading book >>




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