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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 22

Mrs. Churton was quickly made aware of the now in one sense improved relations between the girls when they returned from their walk; and with that new hope in her heart she was not displeased to see it, although its suddenness startled her a little. She did not know until the following morning how great the change was. She was an early riser, and hearing voices and laughter in the garden while dressing, she looked out of the window, and saw the girls walking in the path, Constance with an open book in her hand, while Fan at her side had an arm affectionately thrown over her teacher's shoulder. It was a pretty sight, but it troubled her; she had not expected so close a friendship as that, which had made them rise so long before their usual time for the pleasure of being together. If, after all, a vain hope had deluded her, then there might be an exceedingly sad end to her experiment. With deep anxiety and returning jealousy she reflected that the simple-minded affectionate girl might prove as wax in the hands of her clever godless daughter. But it was too soon to intervene and try to undo her own work. She would watch and wait, and hope still that the infinite beauty and preciousness of a childlike faith would touch the stony heart that nothing had touched, and win back the wandering feet to the ways of pleasantness.

From her watching nothing much resulted for some days, although she soon began to suspect that Fan now wore a look of patience, almost of weariness, whenever she was spoken to on religious subjects, that it seemed a relief to her when the lesson was finished, and she could go back to Constance. They were constantly together now, in and out of doors, and the woods had become their daily haunt. And one day they met with an adventure. Arriving about three o'clock at their favourite tree, they saw a young man in a dark blue cycling costume lying on the grass with his hands clasped behind his head, and gazing up into the leafy depths above him. At the same moment he saw them, standing and hesitating which way to turn; and in a moment he sprang to his feet. He was a handsome young fellow, a little below the medium height, clean shaved, with black hair and very dark blue eyes, which looked black; his features were very fine, and his skin, although healthy-looking, colourless.

"I perceive that I am an intruder here," he said with a smile, and with an admiring glance at Miss Churton's face.

"Oh, no," she returned, with heightened colour. "This wood is free to all; we can soon find another spot for ourselves."

"But it is evident that you were coming to sit here," he said, still smiling. "I suppose you have done so on former occasions, so that you have acquired a kind of prescriptive right to this place. I am putting it on very low grounds, you see," he added with a slight laugh, and raising his cap was about to turn away; but just at that moment he glanced at Fan, who had been standing a little further away, watching his face with very great interest. He started, looked greatly surprised, then quickly recovering his easy self-possessed manner, advanced and held out his hand to her. "How do you do?" he said. "How strange to meet you here! You have not forgotten me, I hope?"

Fan had taken his hand. "Oh, no, Mr. Chance," she returned, blushing a little, "I remember you very well."

"I'm very glad you do. But I am ashamed to have to confess that though I remember your Christian name very well I can't recall your surname. I only remember that it is an uncommon one."

"My name is Affleck. But you only saw me once, and it is not strange you should have forgotten it."

It was true that she had only seen him once; for in spite of the brave words he had spoken to Miss Starbrow after she had rejected his offer of marriage, he had never returned to her house. But Fan had heard first and last a great deal about him, and Mary had even told her the story of that early morning declaration, not without some scornful laughter. Nevertheless at this distance from town it seemed very pleasant to see him once more. It was like meeting an old acquaintance, and vividly brought back her life in Dawson Place with Mary.

For some minutes he stood talking to her, asking after Miss Starbrow and herself, and saying that since he left Bayswater he had greatly missed those delightful evenings; but while he talked to Fan he glanced frequently at the beautiful face of her companion. Once or twice their eyes met, and Mr. Chance, judging from what he saw that he had made a somewhat favourable impression, in his easy way, and with a little apology, asked Fan to introduce him. This little ceremony over, they all sat down on the grass and spent an hour very agreeably in conversation. He told them that he was spending a month's holiday in a bicycle ramble through the south-west of England, and had turned aside to see the village of Eyethorne and its woods, which he had heard were worth a visit. From local scenery the conversation passed by an easy transition to artistic and literary subjects; in a very short time Fan ceased to take any part in it, and was satisfied to listen to this new kind of duet in which harmony of mind was substituted for that of melodious sound. With a pleased wonder, which was almost like a sense of mystery, she followed them in this rapid interchange of thoughts about things so remote from every-day life. They mentioned a hundred names unknown to her--of those who had lived in ancient times and had written poems in many languages, and of artists whose works they had never seen and could yet describe; and in all these far-off things they seemed as deeply interested as Mrs. Churton was in her religion, her parish work, and her housekeeping. How curious it was to note their familiarity with an endless variety of subjects, so that one could not say anything without a look of quick intelligence and ready sympathy from the other! How well they seemed to know each other's minds! They were talking familiarly as if they had been acquainted all their lives!

To Constance the pleasure was more real and far greater; for not only had her unfortunate opinions concerning matters of faith separated her from her few educated neighbours, but in that rustic and sleepy-minded spot there were none among them, excepting the curate, who took any interest in literary and philosophical questions. Her friends were not the people she knew, but the authors whose works she purchased with shillings saved out of the small quarterly allowance her mother made her for dress. These were the people she really knew and loved, and their thoughts were of infinitely deeper import to her than the sayings and doings of the men and women of her little world. In such circumstances, how pleasant it was to meet with this young stranger, engaging in his manner and attractive in appearance, and to converse freely with him on the subjects that constantly occupied her thoughts. There was a glow of happy excitement on her face, her eyes shone, she laughed in a free glad way, as Fan had never heard her laugh before; she was surprised at the extent of her own knowledge--at that miracle of memory, when many fine thoughts, long forgotten, and multitudes of strange facts, and glowing passages in verse and prose, came back uncalled to her mind; and above all she was surprised at a ready eloquence which she had never suspected herself capable of.

Merton Chance had often conversed with clever and beautiful women, but this country girl surprised him with the extent of her reading, her vivacity and wit, and quick sympathy; and the more they talked the more he admired her.

Then insensibly their conversation took a graver tone, and they passed to other themes, which, to Constance at least, had a deeper and more enduring interest. In all philosophical questions she could follow and even go beyond him, although she didn't know it, and very soon they made the discovery that towards the faith still professed by a large majority of their fellow-beings their attitude was the same. Or so it appeared to Constance. Christianity was one of the forms in which the universal religious sentiment had found expression for a period among a large portion of the human race. They were not agnostics, so they both declared, and yet were contented to be called so by others, not yet having invented a word better than this one of the materialistic Professor Huxley to describe themselves by. They had moved onwards and had left the creed of the Christian behind them, yet were confident that the vast unbounded prospect before them would not always rest obscured with clouds. But what the new thing was to be they knew not. Time would reveal it. They were not left without something to cheer them--gleams of a spiritual light which, although dim and transient, yet foretold the perfect day. Like so many others among the choice spirits of the earth, they turned their eyes this way and that, considering now the hard and pitiless facts of biology and physics, now the new systems of philosophy, that come like shadows and so depart, and now the vague thoughts, or thoughts vaguely expressed, of those the careless world calls mystics and wild-minded visionaries; and after it all they were fain to confess that the waters have not yet abated; and that although for them there could be no return to the ark, they were still without any rest for the soles of their feet.

If, instead of that young ignorant girl, their listener had been a grey-haired disillusioned man, he would have shaken his head, and perhaps remarked that they were a couple of foolish dreamers, that the light which inspired such splendid hopes was a light from the past--a dying twilight left in their souls by that sun of faith which for them had set. But there was nothing to disturb their pleasing self-complacency--no mocking skeleton to spoil their rare intellectual feast.

Merton was not yet satisfied, he wished to go more fully into these great subjects, and pressed her with more and more searching questions. Constance, on her side, grew more reticent, and seemed troubled in her mind, glancing occasionally into his face; and at length, dropping her hand on Fan's, who still listened but without understanding, she said that for reasons which could not be stated, which he would be able to guess, further discussion had better be deferred.

He assented with a smile, and returning her look with quick intelligence. The talk drifted into other channels, and at length they all rose to their feet, but he did not go at once. He began to ask Fan about her botanical studies, one of the subjects which Constance had taught her. He had, he said, studied botany at school and was very fond of it. Presently he became much interested in a plant, a creeper, hanging from a low shrub about twenty-five or thirty yards from where they were standing, and Fan at once started off to get a spray for him to see.

"I am very glad, Miss Churton, that our discussion is only to be deferred," he said. "It has interested me more deeply than you can imagine, and for various reasons I should be glad to go further with it."

She did not reply, although looking pleased at his words, and then he continued:

"I cannot bear to think of leaving this place without seeing you again. I wished for one thing--please don't think me very egotistical for saying it--to tell you about some little papers I am writing, and one or two of which have been printed in a periodical. I think the subject would interest you. Will you think me very bold, Miss Churton, if I ask you to let me call on you at your home?"

His request troubled her, and after a little hesitation she answered:

"I shall be perfectly frank with you, Mr. Chance, and perhaps if I tell you why I can scarcely do what you ask you will not think hardly of me. I cannot open my lips at home on the subject we have been discussing, and I am looked on coldly here, in my own village, on account of my heterodox opinions. My mother would receive you well, but she would think it wrong in me to invite a sympathiser to the house."

"Then, Miss Churton, how lonely your life must be!"

"You must not think more about me, Mr. Chance."

"You are asking too much," he answered smiling, and the words brought a blush to her cheek. "But I cannot bear to go away from Eyethorne without seeing you once more. May I hope to meet you tomorrow in this place?"

"I cannot promise that. But if--no, I cannot say more now."

Fan was back with a spray of the plant, but he had somehow lost all interest in it. That about his botany had all been pure fiction; but it had served its purpose, and now, he regretfully remarked, his plant-lore, he found, had completely faded from his mind. And after a little further conversation he shook hands and left them.


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