Edna Ferber: Fanny Herself


The invitation to tea came in due time from Mrs. Fenger. A thin, querulous voice over the telephone prepared one for the thin, querulous Mrs. Fenger herself. A sallow, plaintive woman, with a misbehaving valve. The valve, she confided to Fanny, made any effort dangerous. Also it made her susceptible to draughts. She wore over her shoulders a scarf that was constantly slipping and constantly being retrieved by Michael Fenger. The sight of this man, a physical and mental giant, performing this task ever so gently and patiently, sent a little pang of pity through Fanny, as Michael Fenger knew it would. The Fengers lived in an apartment on the Lake Shore Drive--an apartment such as only Chicago boasts. A view straight across the lake, rooms huge and many-windowed, a glass-enclosed sun-porch gay with chintz and wicker, an incredible number of bathrooms. The guests, besides Fanny, included a young pair, newly married and interested solely in rents, hangings, linen closets, and the superiority of the Florentine over the Jacobean for dining room purposes; and a very scrubbed looking, handsome, spectacled man of thirty-two or three who was a mechanical engineer. Fanny failed to catch his name, though she learned it later. Privately, she dubbed him Fascinating Facts, and he always remained that. His conversation was invariably prefaced with, "Funny thing happened down at the works to-day." The rest of it sounded like something one reads at the foot of each page of a loose-leaf desk calendar.

At tea there was a great deal of silver, and lace, but Fanny thought she could have improved on the chicken a la king. It lacked paprika and personality. Mrs. Fenger was constantly directing one or the other of the neat maids in an irritating aside.

After tea Michael Fenger showed Fanny his pictures, not boastfully, but as one who loves them reveals his treasures to an appreciative friend. He showed her his library, too, and it was the library of a reader. Fanny nibbled at it, hungrily. She pulled out a book here, a book there, read a paragraph, skimmed a page. There was no attempt at classification. Lever rubbed elbows with Spinoza; Mark Twain dug a facetious thumb into Haeckel's ribs. Fanny wanted to sit down on the floor, legs crossed, before the open shelves, and read, and read, and read. Fenger, watching the light in her face, seemed himself to take on a certain glow, as people generally did who found this girl in sympathy with them.

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