I am Ferndale, a large and very old villa that stands at the corner of our village and I am going to tell you the story of a very special dame. Yes, like it always happens in all fairy tales tragic things happen to the central character but at the end everything becomes happy and gay, it happened with our little princess too but this journey is special. Her father died in a great battle and her mother died a few years later. Linda, their only daughter who was only twelve years old then and had stayed back with me survived without a guardian to look after her. Since then, she has lived here with a house-keeper, a cook and ofcourse me.
A young solitary girl is a very vulnerable status to be in. But Linda was a very bright girl. When her parents died, she had to assume office and take care of herself and her vast estate. The house-keeper and the cook were trustworthy but of no practical use beyond their vocation. So, it befell on me to take care of the child and tutor her. I would narrate her the story of her parents, her grand-parents, her great grandparents and she would keep awake all night listening to the greatness of her great grand-father and virtuousness of all the ladies who had inhabited me. My walls would tell her all that they had listened. They were her teachers, teaching her all that her parents could not teach her. My walls which had grown old supporting my grandness for a hundred years were the best counsels I had ever known. They taught her feminine grace and masculine valor, righteousness and honesty, virtues of love and vices of hatred.
But, like it always happens, there was a villain too. Her nasty uncle wanted to sell her estates and me and adopt her. He would visit us often and press his demands. The sweet-tonged greedy man would try to seduce her into accepting his guardianship and surrender her properties. Once, I remember, Linda had thought of succumbing to his requests thinking that she would be taken care of. And after all, she thought, her demands were meager and the estate too large. Hoarding so much property made no sense, she thought. But, what she could not convince herself for was to part ways with me. After her parents’ death she had lived with me for five years now and had developed great attachment for me.
So, she asked her uncle, “Uncle Sawyer, will it be ok if I continue living in this house?”
It surprised the uncle and he said, ” Umm…no little child of mine. It’s not safe. You should come with me. Do you think your aunt and I would take little care of you or your cousins will not be happy to play with you?”
That night while Linda lay on her bed musing over the proposal, she couldn’t think of a way to get out of this precarious situation.
She said to me, “Ferndale, I can’t decide what to do. I am sick of all this. He has been pestering me since the death of my mom and dad. I love you and I can’t live without you. I don’t know how to explain this to Uncle Sawyer. Why don’t you talk to him about this?”
I told her that I couldn’t. All I could do was to chase him off from here so that he never returns. I can blow the curtains over his face and ask the doors to produce a creaking sound. I can also ask the bed to tremble a little and his desk lamp to burn with violent flutters.
She chortled, “Who talks like that Ferndale?”
“I, Ferndale, the great old Villa, madam” and joined her.
We managed to scare the poor man out of the house that very night. He cried on the streets, “ghost, ghost! The house is haunted!” as he fled on.
Next evening Linda walked to the village market to freshen her spirits.
She walked on the village road chaperoned by the housekeeper without a hint of feminine grace and elegance. She bent down to wipe off a little mud from her shoes without attracting anyone’s attention as her skirt exposed her well- turned ankle. Had it been any other girl, the sight could have stirred many a hearts and invoked many uninterrupted sentiments.
“Excuse me!” she requested softly, partly muttering the words and partly giving a semblance of what she had meant to say.
The person excused her and spared a fleeting glance at her and soon dropped it.
She walked out of the place thinking and imagining him still staring at her. She started walking with an added enthusiasm and consciousness. As a result, she reached home a little earlier than every day.
The chimney, who was the first of all to spot her singing as she walked on the country road, immediately knew that her mistress will be in a cheerful mood. This meant that it will be a happy affair in the kitchen and he can enjoy a savory aroma all evening. He, therefore, quickly cleared his throat and exhaled any stale flavor that might have hung in its wind pipe.
She sat in the porch humming songs while stitching a new lace of her new gown, gradually building up the courage to talk to him next time she meets him. She was stitching it for no known purpose but to while away her time thinking and imagining that person at the market-place. She imagined him asking her name and where she lived. Probably, she would have loved to show him this place and maybe, he would love it and would visit her often. It would be all so good and perfect.
She had never seen him in the village market before. She saw him chit-chatting with the shopkeeper, entertaining them and then retreat to the center of the street watching people and scratching something on his note-pad.
She told me about that handsome man in the market, that night. My little girl was infatuated by this gentleman, it seemed. My windows could not stop laughing for a whole minute after listening to the account. It teased Linda for not talking to him if she so wanted to. This made the poor girl sad and gloomy. She turned away from the window and kept staring at the walls expecting them to give her solace. My walls had never seen love of this kind. They knew of love after marriage, one between husbands and wives but had no clue about the silly hearts of young girls. At this, my roof came to rescue. It had read many a books with my former mistress i.e. Linda’s mother which talked about these kind of romances. It asked her to learn some feminine grace to attract the attention of the person she was infatuated to so that they could arrive at a situation where she could talk to him and decide what she wanted.
Next morning, a young man of fine demeanor robed in gentlemanly clothes visited us. He asked to see our mistress and informed that he was sent by her uncle. After the last night lesson, Linda didn’t want to meet anyone. She wanted to concentrate on her conduct which made her more and more nervous. When the visitor pressed that it was an issue of great importance, Linda had to forego her reluctance. As she entered the hall, she was surprised to find the same person she had seen last evening in the market waiting for her. In her excitement coupled with nervousness she completely forgot to ask him to take a seat. It was the housekeeper who finally asked him to take a seat and make himself comfortable. Linda blushed with embarrassment.
The gentleman informed us that he was sent by her uncle to tutor her in classical languages and painting so that she could develop some of her qualities to earn a good groom for herself. He would visit her next summer with a gentleman with whom he intended to get her married. We understood that this was another of his ploy. Linda immediately wanted to hate this new man but could not bring herself to.
The housekeeper escorted him to one of the guest rooms where he was to stay until he had finished the job to her uncle’s satisfaction. Linda retired to her room unable to think of a way out. I suggested that she should atleast take them up and better her vocation and see what it entailed.
My walls in the guestroom later informed me that the man had been busy with his scratch-pad as soon as he had entered the room. He seemed very disturbed and tried hard to get a face right in his sketches. I asked him what that face looked like. But, as you know, the walls of the guestrooms are the most foolish of all because it meets very few people in its lifetime and therefore learns little, it could not furnish a satisfactory answer to my query.
Next morning Linda began painting under his tutelage. The man whose name was Philip Dowley and insisted on being called Phil was a very well-mannered gentleman. He was well versed in classical languages and I could not find any flaw in his oratory. He was new to this country and had accepted to teach her because he wanted some time off from the town to perfect his skill at painting and sketching. He had come to the country in search of a muse.
Linda was never herself when Phil was around. She either spoke too less or too much. She forgot all the lessons that my roof had given her and ended up talking carelessly.
He noticed that she was very pretty. She was taller and fairer than a lot of average women. She wasn’t particularly slim and not fat either-the right sort of her species.
Everything was just too subtle about her which seemed to stir his thoughts every now and then. She provoked desire and invoked curiosity and interest. She was like a lost rush of thought one goes mad trying to trace. It astounded her that she had managed all her estates so well since her parents left her.
He spent all his free hours sketching her face and no matter how much he tried, he never got it right. The sketch could never look as pretty as she seemed to him roaming about him in the room where they practiced painting. He sometimes tried to capture the way she held the brush between her fingers, the way her pearl danced as she breathed, the way that little ripple traveled down her neck as she swallowed the food, but the work of art was never as beautiful as its source.
It was sometime before summers would set in. A letter had arrived from her uncle informing that he would be visiting them in a month’s time. This made Linda very sad. A visit from her uncle would mean an end to her lessons and all the arrangements. The year had passed very soon, it appeared. She had learnt almost everything that was required of her but was not ready to let Phil go. In a year’s time her affection for him had increased infinitely. She confided to me that night with her uncle’s letter in her hand that she would do anything possible to keep Phil with her. She asked me if she should write a letter to her uncle asking him some more extension so that she could learn more.
In the guest room, Phil considered going to her and pour his heart out. He suddenly regretted coming here. Had he not come, he would have never met Linda and have never been in such a difficult situation. He wanted to leave immediately without a note or a notice. Linda would never bother to find out, and even if she did, she didn’t have the means. But Phil could not gather the will to leave. It occurred to him that though his story would end in a way that will leave him sad for rest of his life, he wanted to make everything perfect till it approached.
Next morning, he asked Linda to paint an image from her childhood. Linda summoned the housekeeper to stand at the kitchen door, the way she had stood twelve years ago consoling her mother. That day had brought the awful news of the death of her father in the Great War that the country was fighting. She was still a small child who could not understand what was going on. She clung to her nanny as she saw the messenger walk away while her mother suddenly seemed so fragile and weak.
It was that image from her childhood that she could never understand fully.
As she painted it, with every stroke that she launched to paint her mother at the door she understood the nature of her pain. And as she came closer to understanding her mother’s pain it seemed to conflate with the pain of leaving Phil. Phil stood behind her sketching her trembling hand and with every movement of his pencil his love for her grew bolder. He moved forward to fill her in his arms and she broke down with his touch.
A month later, when her uncle came they declared their love and their wish to get married. Uncle Sawyer cursed her and called her bad names. But Phil and Linda were ready for this. As soon as the night descended, they asked me to scare the uncle off for always and forever. I asked the bed stand on its two legs and throw him out of the door. The poor man had never seen a standing bed all his life and as soon as he saw it, old memories came rushing to his consciousness. We did not need to throw him out because he fled as fast as possible crying and cursing me, which ofcourse I didn’t mind.
And so, like this everything ended happily and my little Linda with her man lived with me forever.