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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 23

On their way home the conversation of the girls turned chiefly on their encounter with Mr. Chance. Constance displayed an unusual amount of feminine curiosity, and asked a great many questions about him. Fan had nothing to tell, for she dared not tell what she knew. It was a peculiarity of her character, that if she knew anything to a person's disadvantage she was anxious to conceal it, as if it had been something reflecting on herself; apart from this, she felt that Miss Starbrow's description of Mr. Chance would not be what Miss Churton wished to hear. For it was plain that Constance had been favourably impressed, and had taken Merton at his own valuation, which was a high one. While she kept silence it troubled her to think that one who had been despised and ridiculed by Mary should be highly esteemed by Constance, since she now loved (or worshipped) them both in an equal degree.

At the gate it all at once occurred to her to ask whether she should tell Mrs. Churton about meeting Mr. Chance in the wood or not.

"You may tell her if you like," said the other after a little hesitation. "He is a friend of Miss Starbrow's; it was only natural that we should talk with him." Then she added, "I shall say nothing about it, simply because mother and I never talk about anything. You needn't mention it unless you care to, Fan. I really don't believe that mother would feel any interest in the subject."

She reddened a little after speaking, knowing that she had been slightly disingenuous. Fan understood from her face more than from her words what she really wished.

"Then I shall not say anything, unless Mrs. Churton asks me about our walk, and if we met anyone," she returned.

But nothing was asked and nothing told.

At dinner next day Constance heard that Fan was going out with Mrs. Churton to visit a neighbour. A bright look came into her expressive face, followed by a swift blush, but she said nothing, and after dinner went back to her room. As soon as the others had left the house she began to dress for a walk, paying a great deal more attention to herself at the glass than she was accustomed to do. Her luxuriant brown hair was brushed out and rearranged, her artful fingers allowing three or four small locks to escape and lie unconfined on her forehead and temples. She studied her face very closely, thinking a great deal about that peculiar shade of colour which she saw there. But her own face was so familiar to her, how could she tell what another would think of it, and whether to city eyes that brown tint would not make it look less like the face of a Rosalind than of an Audrey? With her dress she was altogether dissatisfied, and there was nothing to give a touch of beauty to it but a poor flower--a half-open rose--which she pinned on her bosom. Then she envied Fan her beautiful watch and chain, the half-score of rings, bangles, and brooches which Miss Starbrow had given her; and this reminded her of an ornament she possessed, an old-fashioned gold brooch with an amethyst in it, and which in the pride of philosophy she had looked on with a good deal of contempt. Now the rose was flung away, and the despised jewel put in its place. Taking her book and sunshade she finally left the house, and turned her steps towards the wood. Scarcely had she left the gate behind before a tumult of doubts and fears began to assail her. She was hurrying away alone to the wood, glad to be alone, solely to meet Mr. Chance. Would he not at once divine the reason of her strange readiness to obey his wishes? Could she in her present agitated state, with her cheek full of hot blushes, and her heart throbbing so that it almost choked her, hide her secret from him? This thought frightened her and she slackened her pace, and argued that it would be better not to go to the wood, not to run the risk of such a self-betrayal and humiliation. But perhaps he would not come after all to meet her, for no appointment had been made, and no promise of any kind given--why should she be so anxious in her mind about it? It gave her a pang to think that the meeting and conversation which had been so important an event in her life were perhaps very little to him, that they were perhaps fading out of his mind already, and would soon be, like his botanical knowledge, altogether forgotten. Perhaps he was even now on the road speeding away far from Eyethorne on his bicycle. Then the fear that she might betray her secret was overmastered by this new fear that she would never see him again, that he had gone out of her life for ever; and she quickened her slow steps once more, and at last gaining the wood, and coming to the spot where she had parted from him, and not finding him there, her excitement left her, and she sat down with a pang of bitter disappointment in her heart.

But before many minutes had gone by she heard approaching footsteps, and looking up saw him coming towards her. The tell-tale blood rushed again to her cheeks and her heart throbbed wildly, but she bent her eyes resolutely on her book and pretended not to see his approach. Poor girl, so innocent of wiles! she did not know, she could not guess, that he had been for upwards of an hour on the spot waiting for her, his heart also agitated with hopes and fears. He had watched her coming with glad triumphant feelings, and then, prudent and artful even in his moment of triumph, had concealed himself from her to come on to the scene after allowing her a little time to taste her disappointment.

He was already standing before her and speaking, and then in a moment the outward calm which she had been vainly striving to observe came unexpectedly to her aid. She shook hands with him and explained why she was alone, and then, surprised at her own new courage, she added:

"I am glad that we have met again, Mr. Chance; I came here hoping to meet you; our conversation yesterday gave me so much pleasure, and I wished so much to hear about your literary work. After today I do not suppose that we shall ever meet again."

"I sincerely hope we shall!" he returned, sitting down near her. "It is really painful to think that you should be immured in this uncongenial place with your tastes and--advantages."

"Please do not pity my condition, Mr. Chance. I can endure it very well for a time, I hope; it is not my intention to stay here always, nor very much longer, and just now I am not altogether alone, as I have Fan to teach and for a companion."

"She is a very charming girl," he returned; "and I must tell you that she has improved marvellously since I last saw her. Miss Starbrow has, I think, been singularly fortunate in having put her into your hands."

"Thank you," said Constance, with a quick glance at his face. Then she added, "I suppose you know Miss Starbrow very well?"

"Yes," he returned with a slight smile, and she was curious to know why he smiled in that meaning way, but feared to ask. "But she is your friend, I suppose, and you know her as well as I do," he added after a while.

"Oh no, she is a perfect stranger to me. We only saw her once for a few minutes when she brought Fan down to us last May."

"How strange! But I should have thought that Miss Affleck would have told you everything about her before now."

"No; I never question Fan about her London life, and when left to herself she is a very reticent girl."

"Really!" said he, not ill-pleased at this information. "But, Miss Churton, how very natural that you should wish to know something about this lady!"

She smiled without replying, but no reply was needed. He had been studying her face, and knew that she was curious to hear what he had to say, and this interest in Miss Starbrow, he thought, was a very new feeling, and rose entirely out of her interest in himself.

He told her a great deal about the lady, without altogether omitting her little eccentricities, as he leniently called them, and her little faults of temper; he paid a tribute to her generous, hospitable character, only she was, he thought, just a little too hospitable, judging from the curious specimens one met at her Wednesday evening gatherings. But he was very good-natured, and touched lightly on the disagreeable features in the picture, or else kindly toned them down with a few skilful touches, producing the impression on his listener that he did not dislike Miss Starbrow, but regarded her with a kind of amused curiosity. And that, in fact, was precisely the impression he had wished to make, and he was well pleased with himself when he saw how well he had succeeded.

Afterwards they spoke of other things, and soon came to those literary topics in which Miss Churton took so keen an interest. They talked long and earnestly, and Merton Chance neglected no opportunity of saying pretty things with a subtle flattery in them at which the other was far from being displeased.

"You draw your mental nutriment from a distance," he said. "Being without sympathy from those around you, you are like a person in a diving-bell, shut in on all sides by a medium through which a current of life-preserving oxygen comes, but dark and cold and infinitely repelling to the spirit."

It was true, and very pleasant to meet with appreciation. And finally, before he left her, he had promised to send, and she had promised to accept gratefully, some magazines containing contributions from his pen, also some books which he wished her to read. But he did not say anything about writing, he did not wish to show himself too eager to continue the acquaintance which chance had brought about: in his own mind, however, it was already settled that there was to be a correspondence.


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