This page will take you into pieces of literature that are carefully selected for their great content at the literary, scientific, or philosophical level. A short selection will be presented in full. A long one will be divided into sections that will be refreshed regularly. Emphasis and highlights are mostly ours, not made by the original author.
Here is our current selection:
Fan, the Story of a Young Girl's Life (1892)
by Henry Harford (W.H. Hudson)
To Fan no comfort came that evening, and an hour after supper she went to bed to get warm, without seeing her mistress, who had returned to dinner. Next day she was no better off; she did not venture to ask whether she might go out or not, or even to go to Miss Starbrow's room, but kept to her own cold apartment, working and grieving, and seeing no one except the maid. Rosie came and went, but she was moody, or else afraid to use her tongue, and silent. On the following morning Miss Starbrow left the house at an early hour, and Fan resigned herself to yet another cold solitary day. About eleven o'clock Rosie came running up in no little excitement with a telegram addressed to "Miss Affleck." She took it, wondering a little at the change in the maid's manner, but not thinking much about it, for she had never received a telegram before, and it startled and troubled her to have one thrust into her hand. Rosie stood by, anxiously waiting to hear its contents.
"How long are you going to be about it?" she exclaimed. "Let me read it for you."
Fan held it back, and went on perusing it slowly. It was from Miss Starbrow at Twickenham, and said: "Come to me here by train from Westbourne Park Station. Bring two or three dresses and all you will require in my bag. Shall remain here several days. The housekeeper will meet you at Twickenham Station."
She allowed Rosie to read the message, and was told that Twickenham was very near London; that she must take a cab to get quickly to Westbourne Park Station, so as not to keep Miss Starbrow waiting. Then, while Fan changed her dress and got herself ready, the maid selected one of Miss Starbrow's best bags and busied herself in folding up and packing as many of Fan's things as she could cram into it. Then she ran out to call a cab, leaving Fan again studying the telegram and feeling strangely perplexed at being thus suddenly sent for by her mistress, who had gone out of the house without speaking one word to her.
In a few minutes the cab was at the door, and Rosie officiously helped the girl in, handed her the bag, and told her to pay the cabman one shilling. After it started she rushed excitedly into the road and stopped it.
"Oh, I forgot, Miss Fan, leave the telegram, you don't want it any more," she said, coming to the side of the cab.
Fan mechanically pulled the yellow envelope from her pocket and gave it to her without question, and was then driven off. But in her agitation at the sudden summons she had thrust the missive and the cover separately into her pocket, so that Rosie had after all only got the envelope. It was a little matter--a small oversight caused by hurry--but the result was important; in all probability Fan's whole after life would have been different if she had not made that trivial mistake.
She was quickly at the station, and after taking her ticket had only a few minutes to wait for a train; half an hour later she was at Twickenham Station. As soon as the platform was clear of the other passengers who had alighted, a respectably-dressed woman got up from one of the seats and came up to Fan. "You are Miss Affleck," she said, with a furtive
glance at the girl's face. "Miss Starbrow sent me to meet you. She is going to stay a few days with friends just outside of Twickenham. Will you please come this way?"
She took the bag from Fan, then led the way not to, but round the village, and at some distance beyond it into a road with trees planted in it and occasional garden-seats. They followed this road for about a quarter of a mile, then left it, and the villas and houses near it, and struck across a wide field. Beyond it, in an open space, they came to an isolated terrace of small red-brick cottages. The cottages seemed newly built and empty, and no person was moving about; nor had any road been made, but the houses stood on the wet clay, full of deep cart-wheel ruts, and strewn with broken bricks and builders' rubbish. In the middle of the row Fan noticed that one of the cottages was inhabited, apparently by very poor people, for as she passed by with her guide, three or four children and a woman, all wretchedly dressed, came out and stared curiously at her. Then, to her surprise, her guide stopped at the last house of the row, and opened the door with a latchkey. The windows were all closed, and from the outside it looked uninhabited, and as they went into the narrow uncarpeted hall Fan began to experience some nervous fears. Why had her mistress, a rich woman, with a luxurious home of her own, come into this miserable suburban cottage? The door of a small square room on the ground-floor was standing open, and looking into it she saw that it contained a couple of chairs and a table, but no other furniture and no carpet.
"Where's Miss Starbrow?" she asked, becoming alarmed.
"Upstairs, waiting for you. This way, please"; and taking Fan by the hand, she attempted to lead her up the narrow uncarpeted stairs. But suddenly, with a cry of terror, the girl snatched herself free and rushed down into the open room, and stood there panting, white and trembling with terror, her eyes dilated, like some wild animal that finds itself caught in a trap.
"What ails you?" said the woman, quickly following her down.
"Captain Horton is there--I saw him looking down!" said Fan, in a terrified whisper. "Oh, please let me out--let me out!
"Why, what nonsense you are talking, to be sure! There's no Captain Horton here, and what's more, I don't know who Captain Horton is. It was Miss Starbrow you saw waiting for you on the landing."
"No, no, no--let me out! let me out!" was Fan's only reply.
The woman then made a dash at her, but the girl, now wild with fear, sprang quickly from her, and running round the room came to the window at the front, and began madly pulling at the fastenings to open it. There she was seized, but not to be conquered yet, for the sense of the terrible peril she was in gave her an unnatural strength, and struggling still to return to the window, her only way of escape, they presently came violently against it and shattered a pane of glass. At this moment the woman, exerting her whole strength, succeeded in dragging her back to the middle of the room; and Fan, finding that she was being overcome, burst forth in a succession of piercing screams, which had the effect of quickly bringing Captain Horton on to the scene.
"Oh, you've come at last! There--manage her yourself--the wild beast!" cried the woman, flinging the girl from her towards him.
He caught her in his arms. "Will you stop screaming?" he shouted; but Fan only screamed the louder.
"Stop her--stop her quick, or we'll have those people and the police here," cried the woman, running to the window and peering out at the broken pane to see if the noise had attracted their neighbours.
He succeeded in getting one of his hands over her mouth, and still keeping her clasped firmly with the other arm, began drawing her towards the door. But not even yet was she wholly overcome; all the power which had been in her imprisoned arms and hands appeared suddenly to have gone into the muscles of her jaws, and in a moment her sharp teeth had cut his hand to the bone.
"Oh, curse the hell-cat!" he cried; and maddened with rage at the pain, he struck her from him, and her head coming violently in contact with the sharp edge of the table, she was thrown down senseless on the floor. Her forehead was deeply cut, and presently the blood began flowing over her still, white face.
The woman now became terrified in her turn.
"You have killed her!" she cried. "Oh, Captain, you have killed her, and you'll hang for it and make me hang too. Oh God! what's to be done now?"
"Hold your noise, you cursed fool!" exclaimed the other, in a rage. "Get some cold water and dash it over her face."
She obeyed quickly enough, and kneeling down washed the blood from the girl's face and hair, and loosened her dress. But the fear that they would be discovered unnerved her, her hands shook, and she kept on moaning that the girl was dead, that they would be found out and tried for murder.
"She's not dead, I tell you--damn you for a fool!" exclaimed Captain Horton, dashing the blood from his wounded hand and stamping on the floor in a rage.
"She is! she is! There's not a spark of life in her that I can feel! Oh, what shall I do?"
He pushed her roughly aside and felt for the girl's pulse, and placed his hand over her heart, but was perhaps too much agitated himself to feel its feeble pulsations.
"Good God, it can't be!" he said. "A girl can't be killed with a light knock in falling like that. No, no, she'll come to presently and be all right. And we're safe enough--not a soul knows where she is."
"Oh, don't you think that!" returned the woman, again kneeling down and chafing and slapping Fan's palms, and moistening her face. "The people at the other house were all there watching us when I brought the girl in. They're curious about it, and maybe suspect something; and when the policeman comes round you may be sure they'll tell him, and they'll have heard the screams too, and they'll be watching about now. Oh, what a blessed fool I was to have anything to do with it!"
Captain Horton began cursing her again; but just then Fan's bosom moved, she drew a long breath, and presently her eyes opened.
They were watching her with a feeling of intense relief, thinking that they had now escaped from a great and terrible danger. Fan looked up into the face of the woman bent over her, and gazed at her in a dazed kind of way, not yet remembering where she was or what had befallen her. Then she glanced at the man's face, a little distance off, shivered and closed her eyes, and in her stillness and extreme pallor seemed to have become insensible again, although her white lips twitched at intervals.
"Go away, for God's sake! Go to the other room--it kills her to see you!" said the woman, in an excited whisper.
He moved away and slipped out at the door very quietly, but presently called softly to the woman.
"Here, make her swallow a little brandy," he said, giving her a pocket flask.
In about half an hour Fan had recovered so far that she could sit up in a chair; but with her strength her distress and terror came back, and feeling herself powerless she began to cry and beg to be let out.
The woman went to the door and spoke softly to her companion.
"It's all right now; she's getting over it."
"It's all wrong, I tell you," said the other with an oath, and in a tone of concentrated rage. "There are two of your neighbour's boys prying about in front and trying to peer through the window. For heaven's sake get rid of her and let her go as soon as you can."
She was about to return to Fan when he called her back.
"Take her to the station yourself," he said; and proceeded to give her some directions which she promised to obey, after which she came back to Fan, to find her at the window feebly struggling to unfasten the stiff catch.
"Don't you be afraid any more, my dear," she said effusively. "I'll take you back to the station as soon as you're well enough to walk. You've had a fall against the table and hurt yourself a little, but you'll soon be all right."
Fan looked at her and shrunk away as she approached, and then turned her eyes, dilating again with fear, towards the door.
"He's gone, my dear, and won't come near you again, so don't you fear. Sit down quietly and I'll make you a cup of tea, and then you'll be able to walk to the station."
But Fan would not be reassured, and continued piteously begging the woman to let her out.
"Very well, you shall go out; only take a little brandy first to give you strength to walk."
Fan thrust the flask away, and then putting her hand to her forehead, cried out:
"Oh, what's this on my head?"
"Only a bit of sticking-plaster where you hit yourself against the table, my dear."
Then she smoothed out Fan's broken hat, and with a wet sponge cleaned the bloodstains from her gown, and finally opening the door and with the bag in her hand, she accompanied the girl out.
Once in the cold keen air Fan began to recover strength and confidence, but she was still too weak to walk fast, and when they had got to the long road where the benches were, she was compelled to sit down and rest for some time.
"Where are you going after I leave you at the station?" asked the woman.
"To London--to Westbourne Park."
"I don't know--I can't think. Oh, please leave me here!"
"No, my dear, I'll see you in your train at the station."
"Perhaps he'll be there," said Fan, in sudden fear.
"Oh no, bless you, he won't be there. He didn't mean any harm, don't you believe it. We were only going to shut you up in the house just for a few days because Miss Starbrow wanted us to."
"Why, yes; didn't you get her telegram telling you to come to Twickenham to her, and that I'd meet you at the station?"
"Yes, I remember. Where is she?"
"The Lord knows, my dear. But it seems she's taken a great hatred to you, and can't abide you, and that's all I know. She came this morning with Captain Horton, and they arranged it all together; and she telegraphed and then went away, and said she hated the very sight of your face; and hoped I'd keep you safe because she never wanted to see you again, and was sorry she ever took you."
"But why--why--what had I done?" moaned Fan, the tears coming to her eyes.
"There's no knowing why, except that she's a cruel, wicked, bad woman. That's all I know about it. Where is the telegram--have you got it?"
Fan put her hand into her pocket and then drew it out again.
"No, I haven't got it; I gave it to Rosie before I left--I remember now she asked me for it when I was in the cab."
"That's all right; it doesn't matter a bit. But tell me, where are you going when you get back to London--back to Miss Starbrow?"
Fan looked at her, puzzled and surprised at the question. "But you say she sent for me to shut me up because she hated me, and never wished to see me again."
"Yes, my dear, that's quite right what I told you. But what are you going to do in London? Where will you go to sleep tonight? Here's your bag you'd forgotten all about; if you go and forget it you'll have no clothes to change; and perhaps you'll lose yourself in London, and when they ask you where you belong, you'll let them take you to Miss Starbrow's house."
The woman in her anxiety was quite voluble; while Fan slowly turned it all over in her mind before replying. "My head is paining so, I was forgetting. But I shan't lose my bag, and I'll find some place to sleep tonight. No, I'll never, never go back to Mary--to Miss Starbrow."
"And you'll be able to take care of yourself?"
"Yes; will you let me go now?"
"Come then, I'll put you in your train with your bag; and don't you go and speak to anyone about what happened here, and then you'll be quite safe. Let Miss Starbrow think you are shut up safe out of her sight, and then she won't trouble herself about you."
"There's no one I can speak to--I have no one," said Fan, mournfully; after which they went on to the station, and she was put into her train with her bag, and about three o'clock in the afternoon arrived at Westbourne Park Station.
There were clothes enough in her bag to last her for some time with those she was wearing, and money in her purse--two or three shillings in small change and the sovereign which had been in her possession for several months. Food and shelter could therefore be had, and she was not a poor girl in rags now, but well dressed, so that she could go without fear or shame to any registry office to seek an engagement. These thoughts passed vaguely through her brain; her head seemed splitting, and she could scarcely stand on her legs when she got out of the train at Westbourne Park. It would be a dreadful thing if she were to fall down in the streets, overcome with faintness, she thought, for then her bag and purse might be stolen from her, or worse still, she might be taken back to the house of her cruel enemy. Clinging to her bag, she walked on as fast as she could seeking for some humble street with rooms to let--some refuge to lie down in and rest her throbbing head. She passed through Colville Gardens, scarcely knowing where she was; but the tall, gloomy, ugly houses there were all too big for her; and she did not know that in some of them were refuges for poor girls--servants and governesses out of place--where for a few shillings a week she might have had board and lodging. Turning aside, she came into the long, narrow, crooked Portobello Road, full of grimy-looking shops, and after walking a little further turned at last into a short street of small houses tenanted by people of the labourer class.
At one of these houses she was shown a small furnished room by a suspicious-looking woman, who asked four-and-sixpence a week for it, including "hot water." Fan agreed to take it for a week at that rent. The poor woman wanted the money, but seemed undecided. Presently she said, "You see, miss, it's like this, you haven't got no box, and ain't dressed like one that lodges in these places, and--and I couldn't let you the room without the money down."
"Oh, I'll pay you now," said Fan; and taking the sovereign from her purse, asked the woman to get change.
"Very well, miss; if you'll go downstairs, I'll put the room straight for you."
"Oh, I must lie down now, my head is aching so," said Fan, feeling that she could no longer stand.
"What ails you--are you going to be ill?"
"No, no; this morning I had a fall and struck my head and hurt it so-- look," and taking off her hat, she showed the plaster on her forehead.
That satisfied the woman, who had only been thinking of fever and her own little ones, who were more to her than any stranger, and her manner became kind at once. She imagined that her lodger was a young lady who for some reason had run away from her friends. Smoothing down the coverlet, she went away to get change, closing the door after her, and then, with a sigh of relief, Fan threw herself on to the poor bed.
The pain she was in, and state of exhaustion after the violent emotions and the rough handling she had experienced, prevented her from thinking much of her miserable forlorn condition. She only wished for rest yet she could not rest, but turned her hot flushed face and throbbing head from side to side, moaning with pain. By-and-by the woman came back with the change and a very big cup of hot tea.
"This'll do your head good," she said. "Better drink it hot, miss; I always say there's nothing like a cup of tea for the headache."
Fan took it gratefully and drank the whole of it, though it was rougher tea than she had been accustomed to of late. And the woman proved a good physician; it had the effect of throwing her into a profuse perspiration, and before she had been alone for many minutes she fell asleep.
She did not wake until past nine o'clock, and found a lighted candle on her table; her poor landlady had been up perhaps more than once to visit her. She felt greatly refreshed; the danger, if there had been any, was over now, but she was still drowsy--so drowsy that she longed to be asleep again; and she only got up to undress and go to bed in a more regular way. The time to think had not come yet; sleep alone seemed sweet to her, and in its loving arms she would lie, for it seemed like one that loved her always, like her poor dead mother who had never turned against her and used her cruelly. Before she closed her heavy eyes the landlady
came into her room again to see her, and Fan gave her a shilling to get some tea and bread-and-butter for her breakfast next day.