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)
On the very next day Miss Starbrow was herself again apparently, and the old life was resumed just where it had been broken off. But although outwardly things went on in the old way, and her mistress was not unkind, and she had her daily walk, her reading, sewing, and embroidery to fill her time, the girl soon perceived that something very precious to her had been lost in the storm, and she looked and waited in vain for its recovery. In spite of those reassuring well-remembered words Mary had spoken to her, the old tender affection and confidence, which had made their former relations seem so sweet, now seemed lost. Mary was not unkind, but that was all. She did not wish Fan to read to her, or give her any assistance in dressing, or to remain long in her room, but preferred to be left alone. When she spoke, her words and tone were not ungentle, but she no longer wished to talk, and after a few minutes she would send her away; and then Fan, sad at heart, would go to her own
room--that large back room where her bed had been allowed to remain, and where she worked silent and solitary, sitting before her own fire.
One day, just as she came in from her morning walk, a letter was left by the postman, and Fan took it up to her mistress, glad always of an excuse to go to her--for now some excuse seemed necessary.
Miss Starbrow, sitting moodily before her fire in her bedroom, took it; but the moment she looked at the writing she started as if a snake had bitten her, and flung the letter into the fire. Then, while watching it blaze up, she suddenly exclaimed:
"I was a fool to burn it before first seeing what was in it!"
Before she finished speaking Fan darted her hand into the flame, and tossing the burning letter on the rug, stamped out the fire with her foot. The envelope and the outer leaf of the letter were black and charred, but the inner leaf, which was the part written on, had not suffered.
"Thanks, Fan; that was clever," said Miss Starbrow, taking it; and then proceeded to read it, holding it far from her face as if her eyesight had suddenly fallen into decay.
Dear Pollie [ran the letter], When I saw that girl back in your house I knew that it would be all over between us. It is a terrible thing for me to lose you in that way, but there is no help for it now; I know that you will not forgive me. But I don't wish you to think of me worse than I deserve. You know as well as I do that since you took Fan into the house you have changed towards me, and that without quite throwing me over you made it as uncomfortable for me as you could. As things did not improve, I became convinced that as long as you had her by you it would continue the same, so I resolved to get her out of the way. I partially succeeded, and she would have been kept safely shut up for a few days, and then sent to a distant part of the country, to be properly taken care of. That is the whole of my offence, and I am very sorry that my plan failed. Nothing more than that was intended; and if you have imagined anything more you have done me an injustice. I am bad enough, I suppose, but not so bad as that; and I hate and always have hated that girl, who has been my greatest enemy, though perhaps unintentionally. That is all I have to say, except that I shall never forget how different it once was--how kind you could be, and how happy you often made me before that miserable creature came between us.
Good-bye for ever,
Miss Starbrow laughed bitterly. "There, Fan, read it," she said. "It is all about you, and you deserve a reward for burning your fingers. Coward and villain! why has he added this infamous lie to his other crimes? It has only made me hate and despise him more than ever. If he had had the courage to confess everything, and even to boast of it, I should not have
thought so meanly of him."
The wound was bleeding afresh. Her face had grown pale, and under her black scowling brows her eyes shone as if with the reflected firelight. But it was only the old implacable anger flashing out again.
Fan, after reading the letter for herself, and dropping it with trembling fingers on to the fire, turned to her mistress. Her face had also grown very pale, and her eyes expressed a new and great trouble.
"Why do you look at me like that?" exclaimed Miss Starbrow, seizing her by the arm. "Speak!"
Fan sank down on to her knees, and began stammeringly, "Oh, I can't bear to think--to think--"
"To think what?--Speak, I tell you!"
"Did I come between you?--oh, Mary, are you sorry--"
"Hush!" and Miss Starbrow pushed her angrily from her. "Sorry! Never dare to say such a thing again! Oh, I don't know which is most hateful to me, his villainy or your whining imbecility. Leave me--go to your room, and never come to me unless I call you."
Fan went away, sad at heart, and cried by herself, fearing now that the sweet lost love would never again return to brighten her life. But after this passionate outburst Miss Starbrow was not less kind and gentle than before. Once at least every day she would call Fan to her room and speak a few words to her, and then send her away. The few words would even be cheerfully spoken, but with a fictitious kind of cheerfulness; under it all there was ever a troubled melancholy look; the clouds which had returned after the rain had not yet passed away. To Fan they were very much, those few daily words which served to keep her hope alive, while her heart hungered for the love that was more than food to her.
Even in her sleep this unsatisfied instinct of her nature and perpetual craving made her dreams sad. But not always, for on more than one occasion she had a very strange sweet dream of Mary pressing her lips and whispering some tender assurance to her; and this dream was so vivid, so like reality, that when she woke she seemed to feel still on face and hands the sensation of loving lips and other clasping hands, so that she put out her hands to return the embrace. And one night from that dream she woke very suddenly, and saw a light in the room--the light of a small shaded lamp moving away towards the door, and Mary, in a white wrapper, with her dark hair hanging unbound on her back, was carrying it.
"Mary, Mary!" cried the girl, starting up in bed, and holding out her arms.
The other turned, and for a little while stood looking at her; no ghost nor somnambulist was she in appearance, with those bright wakeful eyes, the curious smile that played about her lips, and the rich colour, perhaps from confusion or shame at being detected, surging back into her
lately pale face. She did not refuse the girl's appeal, or try any longer to conceal her feelings. Setting the lamp down she came to the bedside, and taking Fan in her arms, held her in a long close embrace. When she had finished caressing the girl she remained standing for some time
silent beside the bed, her eyes cast down as if in thought, and an expression half melancholy but strangely tender and beautiful on her face.
Presently she bent down over the girl again and spoke.
"Don't fret, dearest, if I seem bad-tempered and strange. I love you just the same; I have come here more than once to kiss you when you were asleep. Do you remember how angry you made me when you asked if you had come between that man and me, and if I were sorry? You did come between us, Fan, in a way that his wholly corrupt soul would never understand. But you could not have done me a greater service than that--no, not if you had spilt your heart's blood for me. You have repaid me for all that I have done, or ever can do for you, and have made me your debtor besides for the rest of my life."
That midnight interview with her mistress had thereafter a very bright and beautiful place in Fan's memory, and still thinking of it she would sometimes lie awake for hours, wishing and hoping that Mary would come to her again in one of her tender moods. But it did not happen again; for Mary was not one to recover quickly from such a wound as she had suffered, and she still brooded, wrapped up in her own thoughts, dreaming perhaps of revenge. And in the meantime bitter blustering March wore on to its end, the sun daily gaining power; and then, all at once, it was April, with sunshine and showers; and some heavenly angel passed by and touched the brown old desolate elms in Kensington Gardens with tenderest green; and as by a miracle the baskets of the flower-girls in Westbourne Grove were filled to overflowing with spring flowers--pale primroses that die unmarried; and daffodils that come before the swallow dares, shining like gold; and violets dim, but sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes, or Cytherea's breath.