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Literary Adventures

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)

Chapter 18

On Sunday Fan accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Churton to morning service, and thought it strange that her teacher did not go with them. In the evening the party was differently composed, the master of the house having absented himself; then just as Mrs. Churton and Fan were starting, Constance joined them, prayer-book in hand. Mrs. Churton was surprised, but made no remark. Fan sat between mother and daughter, and Constance, taking her book, found the places for her; for Mary had failed after all to teach her how to use it. Mr. Northcott preached the sermon, and it was a poor performance. He was not gifted with a good delivery, and his voice was not of that moist mellifluous description, as of an organ fattened on cream, which is more than half the battle to the young cleric, certainly more than passion and eloquence, and of the pulpit pulpity. There was a restless spirit in Mr. Northcott; he took a somewhat painful interest in questions of the day, and in preaching was prone to leave his text, to cast it away as it were, and, taking up modern weapons, fight against modern sins, modern unbelief.

His piping took a troubled sound,
Of storms that rage outside our happy ground;
He could not wait their passing.

But one who was over him could, and the piping was not pleasing to him, and scarcely intelligible to the drowsy villagers; and when in obedience to his vicar's wish he went back to preach again of the Jews and Jehovah's dealings with them, his sermons were no better and no worse than those of other curates in other village pulpits. It was a sermon of this kind that Constance heard. If some old Eyethorner, dead these fifty years, had risen from his mouldy grave in the adjoining churchyard, and had come in and listened, he would not have known that a great change had come, that the bright sea of faith that once girdled the earth had withdrawn.

Down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

He took his text from the Old Testament, and spoke of the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt. It was a dreary discourse, and through it all Miss Churton sat leaning back with eyes half closed, but whether listening to the preacher or attending to her own thoughts, there was nothing in her face to show.

When they came out into the pleasant evening air Mrs. Churton lingered a little, as was her custom, to exchange a few words with some of her friends, while Constance and Fan went slowly on for a short distance, and finally moved aside from the path on to the green turf. Here presently the curate joined them.

"I am glad you came, Miss Churton," he spoke, pressing her hand. And after an interval of silence he added, "I hope I have not made you hate me for inflicting such a horribly dull discourse on you."

"You should be the last person to say that," she returned. "You might easily have made your sermon interesting--to me I mean; but I should not have thought better of you if you had done so."

"Thanks for that. I am sometimes troubled with the thought that I made a mistake in going into the Church, and the doubt troubled me this evening when I was in the pulpit--more than it has ever done before."

She made no reply to this speech until Fan moved a few feet away to read a half-obliterated inscription she had been vainly studying for a minute or two. Then she said, looking at him:

"I cannot imagine, Mr. Northcott, why you should select me to say this to."

"Can you not? And yet I have a fancy that it would not be so very hard for you to find a reason. I have been accustomed to mix with people who read and think and write, and to discuss things freely with them, and I cannot forget for a single hour of my waking life that the old order has changed, and that we are drifting I know not whither. I do not wish to ignore this in the pulpit, and yet to avoid offending I am compelled to do so--to withdraw myself from the vexed present and look only at ancient things through ancient eyes. I know that you can understand and enter into that feeling, Miss Churton--you alone, perhaps, of all who came to church this evening; is it too much to look for a little sympathy from you in such a case?"

She had listened with eyes cast down, slowly swinging the end of her sunshade over the green grass blades.

"I do sympathise with you, Mr. Northcott," she returned, "but at the same time I scarcely think you ought to expect it, unless it be out of gratitude for your kindness to me."

"Gratitude! It hurts me to hear that word. I am glad, however, that you sympathise, but why ought I not to expect it? Will you tell me?"

"Yes, if it is necessary. I cannot pretend to respect your motives for ignoring questions you consider so important, and which occupy your thoughts so much. If your heart is really with the thinkers, and your desire to be in the middle of the fight, why do you rest here in the shade out of it all, explaining old parables to a set of sleepy villagers who do not know that there is a battle, and have never heard of Evolution?"

He listened with a flush on his cheeks, and there was trouble mingled with the admiration his eyes expressed; but when she finished speaking he dropped them again. Before he could frame a reply Mrs. Churton joined them, whereupon he shook hands and left them, only remarking to Constance in a low voice, "I shall answer you when we meet again--we do things quietly in Eyethorne."

On their way home Mrs. Churton made a few weak attempts to draw her daughter into conversation, and was evidently curious to know what she had been talking about so confidentially with the curate; but her efforts met with little success and were soon given up.

Mr. Churton met them on their arrival at the house. "What, Constance, you too! Well, well, wonders will never cease," he cried, smiling and holding up his hands with a great affectation of surprise.

"Mr. Churton!" exclaimed his wife, rebuke in her look and tones. Then she added, "It would have been better if you had also gone with us."

"My dear, I fully intended going. But there it is, man proposes and--ahem--I stayed talking with a friend until it was past the time. Most unfortunate!" and finishing with a little inconsequent chuckle, he opened the door for them to enter.

He was extremely lively and talkative, and Mrs. Churton had some difficulty in keeping him within the bounds of strict Sunday-evening propriety. At supper he became unmanageable.

"What was the text this evening, Constance?" he suddenly asked a propos of nothing, and still inclined to make a little joke out of her going to church.

"I don't remember--I think it was from one of the prophets," she returned coldly.

"That's interesting to know," he remarked, "but a little vague--just a little vague. Perhaps Miss Affleck remembers better; she is no doubt a more regular church-goer," and with a chuckle he looked at her.

Fan was distressed at being asked, but Mrs. Churton came almost instantly to her relief. "It is rather unfair to ask her, Nathaniel," she said, with considerable severity in her voice. "The text was from Exodus--the tenth and eleventh verses of the sixteenth chapter."

"Thanks--thanks, my dear. These tenths and elevenths and sixteenths are somewhat confusing to one's memory, but you always remember them. Yet, if my memory does not play me false, that is a text which most young ladies would remember. It refers, I think, to the Israelitish ladies making off with the jewellery--always a most fascinating subject."

"It does not, Nathaniel," she said sharply. "And I wish you would reflect that it is not quite in good taste to discuss sacred subjects in this light tone before--a stranger."

"My dear, you know very well that I am the last person to speak lightly on such subjects."

"I hope so. Let us say no more about it."

"Very well, my dear; I'm quite willing to drop the subject. But, my dear, now that it occurs to me, why should I drop it? Why should you monopolise every subject connected with--with--ahem--our religious observances? It strikes me that you are a little unreasonable."

His wife ignored this attack, and turning to Fan, remarked that the evening was so warm and lovely they might spend half an hour in the garden after supper.

"Yes, that will be charming," said Mr. Churton. "We'll all go--Constance too," he added, with a little vindictive cackle of laughter. "Don't be alarmed, my dear, I sha'n't smoke--pipes and religion strictly prohibited."

"Mr. Churton!" said his wife.

"Yes, my dear."

Constance rose from her seat.

"Will you come with us, Constance?" said her mother.

"Not this evening, mother. I wish to read a little in my room." After bidding them good-night, she left the room.

"Wise girl--strong-minded girl, knows her own mind," muttered Mr. Churton, shaking his head, conscious, poor man, that he had anything but a strong mind, and that he didn't know it.

His wife darted an angry look at him, but said nothing.

"My dear," he resumed. "On second thoughts I must ask to be excused. I shall also retire to my room to read a little."

"Very well," she answered, evidently relieved.

"I don't quite agree with you, my dear. I don't think it is very well. There's an old saying that you can choke a dog with pudding, and I fancy we have too much religion in this house," and here becoming excited, he struck the table with his fist.

"Mr. Churton, I cannot listen to such talk!" said his wife, rising from her seat.

Fan also rose, a little startled at this domestic jangling, but not alarmed, for it was by no means of so formidable a character as that to which she had been accustomed in the old days.

"I will join you presently in the garden, Fan," said Mrs. Churton, and then, left alone with her husband, she proceeded to use stronger measures; but the little man was in plain rebellion now, and from the garden Fan could hear him banging the furniture about, and his voice raised to a shrieky falsetto, making use of unparliamentary language.


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