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)
One afternoon in early August Fan accompanied Mrs. Churton on a visit to
some cottages on the further side of Eyethorne village; she went gladly, for they were going to see Mrs. Cawood, a young married woman with three children, and one of them, the eldest, a sharp little fellow, was her special favourite. Mrs. Cawood was a good-tempered industrious little woman; but her husband--Cawood the carpenter--was a thorn in Mrs.
Churton's tender side. Not that he was a black sheep in the Eyethorne fold; on the contrary, he was known to be temperate, a good husband and father, and a clever industrious mechanic. But he was never seen at church; on Sundays he went fishing, being devoted to the gentle craft; and it was wrong, more so in him because of his good name than in many
another. Mrs. Churton was anxious to point this out to him, but unfortunately could not see him; he was always out of the way when she called, no matter when the call was timed. "I wish you could get hold of Cawood," had been said to her many times by the parson and his wife; but there was no getting hold of him. The curate had also tried and failed. Once he had gone to him when he was engaged on some work, but the carpenter had reminded him very pleasantly that there is a time for everything, that carpentering and theology mixed badly together.
But all things come to those who wait, and on this August afternoon the slippery carpenter was fairly caught, like one of his own silly fish; but whether she succeeded in landing her prize or not remains to be told. Apparently he did not suspect that there were strangers in the cottage--some prearranged signal had failed to work, or someone had blundered; anyhow he walked unconcernedly into the room, and seemed greatly surprised to find it occupied by two lady visitors. Mrs. Churton sat with a book in her hand, gently explaining some difficult point to his wife; while at some distance Fan was carrying on a whispered conversation with her little friend Billy. The child sprung up with such sudden violence that he almost capsized her low chair, and rushing to his father embraced his legs. With a glance at his wife, expressing mild reproach and a resolution to make the best of it, he saluted his visitors, then deposited his bag of tools on the floor.
Cawood was a Londoner, who had come down to do some work on a large house in the neighbourhood, and there "met his fate" in the person of a pretty Eyethorne girl, whom he straightway married; then, finding that there was room for him, and good fishing to be had, he elected to stay in his wife's village among her own people. He was a well-set-up man of about thirty-five, with that quiet, self-contained, thoughtful look in his countenance which is not infrequently seen in the London artisan--a face expressing firmness and intelligence, with a mixture of bonhomie, which made it a pleasant study.
"I am glad you have come in," said the visitor. "I have been wishing to see you for a long time, but have not succeeded in finding you at home."
"Thank you, ma'am; it's very kind of you to come and see my wife. She often speaks of your visits. Also of the young lady's"; and here he looked at Fan with a pleasant smile.
"Yes; your wife is very good. I knew her before you did, Mr. Cawood; I have held her in my arms when she was a baby, and have known her well up till now when she is having babies of her own."
"And very good things to have, ma'am--in moderation," he remarked, with a twinkle in his eye.
"And since she makes you so good a wife, don't you think you ought to comply with her wishes in some things?"
"Why, yes, ma'am, certainly I ought; and what's more, I do. We get on amazingly well together, considering that we are man and wife," and with a slight laugh he sat down.
Mrs. Churton winced a little, thinking for the moment that he had made a covert allusion to the state of her own domestic relations; but after a glance at his open genial face, she dismissed the suspicion and returned to the charge.
"I know you are happy together, and it speaks well for both of you. But we do not see you at church, Mr. Cawood. Your wife has often promised me to beg you to go with her; if she has done so you have surely not complied in this case."
"No, ma'am, no, not in that; but I think she understands how to look at it; and if she asks me to go with her, she knows that she is asking for something she doesn't expect to get."
"But why? I want to know why you do not go to church. There are many of us who try to live good lives, but we are told, and we know, that this is not enough; that we cannot save ourselves, however hard we may try, but must go to Him who gave Himself to save us, and who bade us assemble together to worship Him."
"Well, ma'am, if anyone feels like that, I think he is right to go to church. I do not object to my wife going; if it is a pleasure and comfort to her I am glad of it. I only say, let us all have the same liberty, and go or not just as we please."
"We all have it, Mr. Cawood. But if you believe that there is One who made us, and is mindful of us, you must know that it is a good thing to obey His written word, and serve Him in the way He has told us."
"I'm sorry I can't see my way to do as you wish. My wife has given me all your messages, and the papers and tracts you've been so good as to leave for me. But I haven't read them. I can't, because you see my mind's made up about such things, and I don't see the advantage of unmaking it again."
Here was a stubborn man to deal with! His wife heard him quietly, as if it were all familiar to her. Fan, on the other hand, listened with an expression of intense interest. For this man answered not like the others. He seemed to know his own mind, and did not instantly acquiesce in what was said, and unhesitatingly make any promise that was asked of him. But how had he been able to make up his mind? and what to think and believe? That was what she wanted to know, and was waiting to hear. Mrs. Churton, glancing round on her small audience, encountered the girl's eager eyes fixed on her face; and she reflected that even if her words
should avail nothing so far as Cawood was concerned, their effect would not be lost on others whose hearts were more open to instruction. She addressed herself to her task once more, and her words were meant for Fan and for the carpenter's wife as well as for the carpenter.
"I think," she began, "that I can convince you that you are wrong. There cannot be two rights about any question; and if what you think is right--that it is useless to attend church and trouble yourself in any way about your eternal interests--then all the rest of us must be in the wrong. I suppose you do not deny the truth of Christianity?"
"Since you put it in that way, I do not."
"That makes it all the simpler for me. I know you to be an honest, temperate man, diligent in your work, and that you do all in your power to make your home happy. Perhaps you imagine that this is enough. It would not be strange if you did, because it is precisely the mistake we are all most liable to fall into. What more is wanted of us? we say; we are not bad, like so many others; and so we are glad to put the whole question from us, and go on in our own easy way. Everything is smooth on the surface, and this pleasant appearance of things lulls us into security. But it is all a delusion, a false security, as we too often discover only when death is near. Only then we begin to see how we have neglected our opportunities, and despised the means of grace, and lived at enmity with God. For we have His word, which tells us that we are born in sin, and do nothing pleasing in His sight unless we obey Him. There is no escape from this: either He is our guide in this our pilgrimage or He is not. And if He is our guide, then it behoves us to reflect seriously on these things--to search the Scriptures, to worship in public, and humbly seek instruction from our appointed teachers."
This was only a small portion of what she said. Mrs. Churton was experienced in talk of this kind, and once fairly started she could run on indefinitely, like a horse cantering or a lark singing, with no perceptible effort and without fatigue.
"I think, ma'am, you could not have put it plainer," said the carpenter, who had sat through it all, with eyes cast down, in an attitude of respectful attention. "But if I can't go with you in this matter, then probably it wouldn't interest you to know what I hold and where I go?"
Now that was precisely what Fan wanted to know; again she looked anxiously at Mrs. Churton, and it was a great relief when that lady replied:
"It will interest me very much to hear you state your views, Mr. Cawood."
"Thank you, ma'am. I must tell you that I've attended more churches, and heard more good sermons, and read more books about different things, and heard more good lectures from those who spoke both for and against religion, than most working-men. In London it was all to be had for nothing; and being of an inquiring turn of mind, and thinking that something would come of it all, I used my opportunities. And what was the result? Why nothing at all--nothing came of it. The conclusion I arrived at was, that if I could live for a thousand years it would be just the same--nothing would come of it; so I just made up my mind to throw the whole thing up. I don't want you to think that I ever turned against religion. I never did that; nor did I ever set up against those who say that the Bible is only a mixture of history and fable. I did something quite different, and I can't agree with you when you say that we must be either for or against. For here am I, neither for one thing nor the other. On one side are those who have the Bible in their hands, and tell us that it is an inspired book--God's word; on the other side are those who maintain that it is nothing of the sort; and when we ask what kind of
men they are, and what kind of lives do they lead, we find that in both camps there are as good men as have ever lived, and along with these others bad and indifferent. And when we ask where the intelligence is, the answer is the same; it is on this side and on that. Now my place is with neither side. I stand, so to speak, between the two camps, at an equal distance from both. Perhaps there is reason and truth on this side and on that; but the question is too great for me to settle, when the wisest men can't agree about it. I have heard what they had to say to me, and finding that I did nothing but see-saw from one side to the other, and that I could never get to the heart of the thing, I thought it best to give it all up, and give my mind to something else."
Mrs. Churton remained silent for some time, her eyes cast down. She was thinking of her daughter, wondering if her state of mind resembled that of this man. But no; that careless temper in the presence of great questions and great mysteries would be impossible to one of her restless intellect. She had chosen her side, and although she refused to speak she doubtless cherished an active animosity against religion.
"It grieves me to find you in this negative state," she returned, "and I can only hope and pray that you will not always continue in it. You do not deny the truth of Christianity, you say; but tell me, putting aside all that men say for and against our holy faith, and the arguments that have pulled you this way and that, is there not something in your own soul that tells you that you are not here by chance, that there is an Unseen Power that gave us life, and that it is good for us, even here in this short existence, if we do that which is pleasing to Him?"
"Yes, I feel that. It is the only guide I have, and I try my best to follow it. But whether the Unseen Power sees us and reads all our thoughts as Christians think, or only set things going, so to speak, is more than I am able to say. I think we are free to do good or evil; and if there is a future life--and I hope there is--I don't think that anyone will be made miserable in it because he didn't know things better than he could know them. That's the whole of my religion, Mrs. Churton, and I don't think it a bad one, on the whole--for myself I mean; for I
don't go about preaching it, and I don't ask others to think as I do."
With a sigh she resigned the contest; and after a few more words bade him good-bye, and went out with the carpenter's wife into the garden.
Fan remained standing where she had risen, some colour in her cheeks, a smile of contentment playing about her lips.
"Good-bye, Mr. Cawood," she said; and after a moment's hesitation held out her hand to him.
He looked a little surprised. "My hand is not over-clean, miss, as you see," opening it with a comical look of regret on his face. "I've just come in from work and haven't washed yet."
"Oh, it's clean enough," she said with a slight laugh, putting her small white hand into his dusty palm.
On her way home Mrs. Churton talked a good deal to her companion. She went over her discussion with the carpenter, repeating her own arguments with much amplification; then passing to his, she pointed out their weakness, and explained how that neutral state of mind is unworthy of a rational being, and dangerous as well, since death might come unexpectedly and give no time for repentance.
Fan listened, readily assenting to everything; but in her heart she felt like a bird newly escaped from captivity. That restful state she had been hearing about, in which there was no perpetual distrust of self, vigilance, heart-searching, wrestling in prayer, looked infinitely attractive, and suited her disposition and humble intellect.