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The Woman with the Fan   By: (1864-1950)

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By Robert Hichens


IN a large and cool drawing room of London a few people were scattered about, listening to a soprano voice that was singing to the accompaniment of a piano. The sound of the voice came from an inner room, towards which most of these people were looking earnestly. Only one or two seemed indifferent to the fascination of the singer.

A little woman, with oily black hair and enormous dark eyes, leaned back on a sofa, playing with a scarlet fan and glancing sideways at a thin, elderly man, who gazed into the distance from which the voice came. His mouth worked slightly under his stiff white moustache, and his eyes, in colour a faded blue, were fixed and stern. Upon his knees his thin and lemon coloured hands twitched nervously, as if they longed to grasp something and hold it fast. The little dark woman glanced down at these hands, and then sharply up at the elderly man's face. A faint and malicious smile curved her full lips, which were artificially reddened, and she turned her shoulder to him with deliberation and looked about the room.

On all the faces in it, except one, she perceived intent expressions. A sleek and plump man, with hanging cheeks, a hooked nose, and hair slightly tinged with grey and parted in the middle, was the exception. He sat in a low chair, pouting his lips, playing with his single eyeglass, and looking as sulky as an ill conditioned school boy. Once or twice he crossed and uncrossed his short legs with a sort of abrupt violence, laid his fat, white hands on the arms of the chair, lifted them, glanced at his rosy and shining nails, and frowned. Then he shut his little eyes so tightly that the skin round them became wrinkled, and, stretching out his feet, seemed almost angrily endeavouring to fall asleep.

A tall young man, who was sitting alone not far off, cast a glance of contempt at him, and then, as if vexed at having bestowed upon him even this slight attention, leaned forward, listening with eagerness to the soprano voice. The little dark woman observed him carefully above the scarlet feathers of her fan, which she now held quite still. His face was lean and brown. His eyes were long and black, heavy lidded, and shaded by big lashes which curled upward. His features were good. The nose and chin were short and decided, but the mouth was melancholy, almost weak. On his upper lip grew a short moustache, turned up at the ends. His body was slim and muscular.

After watching him for a little while the dark woman looked again at the elderly man beside her, and then quickly back to the young fellow. She seemed to be comparing the two attentions, of age and of youth. Perhaps she found something horrible in the process for she suddenly lost her expression of sparkling and birdlike sarcasm, and bending her arm, as if overcome with lassitude, she let her fan drop on her knees, and stared moodily at the carpet.

A very tall woman, with snow white hair and a face in which nobility and weariness were mated, let fall two tears, and a huge man, with short, bronze coloured hair and a protruding lower jaw, who was sitting opposite to her, noticed them and suddenly looked proud.

The light soprano voice went on singing an Italian song about a summer night in Venice, about stars, dark waters and dark palaces, heat, and the sound of music, and of gondoliers calling over the lagoons to their comrades. It was an exquisite voice; not large, but flexible and very warm. The pianoforte accompaniment was rather uneasy and faltering. Now and then, when it became blurred and wavering, the voice was abruptly hard and decisive, once even piercing and almost shrewish. Then the pianist, as if attacked by fear, played louder and hurried the tempo, the little dark woman smiled mischievously, the white haired woman put her handkerchief to her eyes, and the young man looked as if he wished to commit murder. But the huge man with the bronze hair went on looking equably proud... Continue reading book >>

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