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)
In London once more! It was Fan's birth-place, the home she had known continuously up till one short year ago; yet now on her return how strange, how foreign to her soul, how even repelling it seemed! The change had come so unexpectedly and in such unhappy circumstances, and the contrast was so great to that peaceful country life and all its surroundings, which had corresponded so perfectly with her nature. To Constance, who knew little of London except from reading, the contrast seemed equally great, but it affected her in a different and much pleasanter way. To Fan town and town-life could be repelling because, owing to her past experiences, and to something in her mental character, she was able vividly to realise her present position. Even when the brilliant May sun shone on her, and the streets and parks were thronged with fashionable pleasure-seekers, and London looked not unbeautiful, she realised it. For all that made town-life pleasant and desirable was now beyond her reach. It was sweet when Mary loved her and gave her a home; but in all this vast world of London there was no second Mary who would find her and take her to her heart. Now she might sink into a state of utter destitution, and she would be powerless to win help or sympathy, or even a hearing, from any one of the countless thousands of fellow-creatures that would pass her in the streets, all engrossed with their own affairs, so accustomed to the sight of want and suffering that it affected them not at all. To find some work which she might be able to do, and for which the payment would be sufficient to provide her with food, clothing, and shelter, was the most she could hope. She could dream of no wonderful second deliverance in the long years of humble patient drudgery that awaited her--no impossible good fortune passing over the heads of thousands as deserving as herself to light on hers and give a new joy and glory to her life.
To Constance, with her more vigorous intellect and ardent imagination, no such dreary prospect could present itself. The thunderous noise and shifting panorama of the streets, the interminable desert of brick houses, and even the smoke-laden atmosphere only served to exhilarate her mind. These things continually reminded her that she was now where she had long wished to be, in the great intellectual laboratory, where thousands of men and women once as unknown and poor as herself had made a reputation. Not without great labour and pains certainly; but what others had done she could do; and with health and energy, and a bundle of carefully-prepared manuscripts in her box to begin with, she could feel
no serious anxiety about the future.
During their second day in town they managed after much searching to find cheap furnished apartments--a bed and small sitting-room--on the second floor of a house in a monotonous street of yellow brick houses in the monotonous yellow brick wilderness of West Kensington. Their search for rooms would not have occupied them very long if Constance had been as easily satisfied as her companion; but although in most of the places
they visited she found the bedrooms "good enough," wretched as they were compared with her own fragrant and spotless bower at Wood End House, she was not so readily pleased with the sitting-room. That, at all events, must not wear so mean and dingy a look as one usually has to put up with when the rent is only ten shillings a week; and beyond that sum they were
determined not to go. The reason of this fastidiousness about a sitting-room presently appeared. Fan was told the secret of the engagement with Merton Chance; also that Merton was now for the first time about to be informed of the step Constance had taken without first consulting him, and asked to visit her at her lodgings. Constance felt just a little hurt at the way her news was received, for Fan said little and seemed unsympathetic, almost as if her friend's happiness had been a matter of indifference to her.
Next day, after moving into their new quarters, Constance wrote her letter, addressing it to the Foreign Office, posting it herself in the nearest pillar-box, and then settled herself down to wait the result. It was weary waiting, she found, when the next morning's post brought her no answer, and when the whole day passed and no Merton came, and no message. She was restless and anxious, and in a feverish state of anxiety, fearing she knew not what; but outwardly she bore herself calmly; and remembering with some resentment still how little her engagement had seemed to rejoice her friend, she proudly held her peace. But she would not leave the house, for the lover might come at any moment, and it would not do to be out of the way when he arrived. She remained indoors, pretending to be much occupied with her writing, while Fan went out for long walks alone. The next day passed in like manner, the two friends less in harmony and less together than ever; and when still another morning came and brought no letter, Fan began to feel extremely unhappy in her mind, for now the long-continued strain was beginning to tell on her friend, robbing her cheeks of their rich colour, and filling her hazel eyes with a great unexpressed trouble. But on that day about three o'clock, while Constance sat at her window, which commanded a view of the street, she saw a hansom-cab arrive at the door, and the welcome form of her lover spring rapidly out and run up the steps. He had come to her at last! But why had he left her so long to suffer? She heard his steps bounding up the stairs, and stood trembling with excitement, her hand pressed to her wildly-beating heart. One glance at his face was enough to show her that her fears had been idle, that her lover's heart had not changed towards her; the next moment she was in his arms, feeling for the first time his kisses on her lips. After the excitement of meeting was over,
explanations followed, and Merton informed her that he had only just received her letter, and greatly blamed himself for not having sent her his new address immediately after having left the Foreign Office.
"Left the Foreign Office! Do you mean for good?" asked Constance in a kind of dismay.
"I hope for good," he replied, smiling at her serious face. "The uncongenial work I had to do there has chafed me for a long time. It interfered with the real and serious business of my life, and I threw it up with a light heart. I must be absolutely free and master of my own time before I can do, and do well, the work for which I am fitted."
"But, dear Merton, you told me that your work was so light there, and that the salary you had relieved you from all anxiety, and left you free to follow the bent of your own mind in literary work."
"Did I? That was one of my foolish speeches then. However light any work may be, if it occupies you during the best hours of the day, it must to some extent take the freshness out of you. And to look at the matter in a practical way, I consider that I am a great gainer, since by resigning a salary of £250 a year I put myself in a position to make five hundred. I hope before very long to make a thousand."
His news had given a considerable shock to Constance, but he seemed so confident of success, laughing gaily at her doubts, that in a little while he succeeded in raising her spirits, and she began to believe that this exceedingly clever young man had really done a wise thing in throwing up an appointment which would have secured him against actual want for the whole term of his life.
After a while she ventured to speak of her own plans and hopes. He listened with a slight smile.
"I have not the slightest doubt that you could make your living in that way," he said; "for how many do it who are not nearly so gifted as you are! But, Connie, if I understand you rightly, you wish to begin making money at once, and that is scarcely possible, as you have not been doggedly working away for years to make yourself known and useful to editors and publishers."
He then went very fully into this question, and concluded with a comical description of the magazine editor as a very unhappy spider, against whose huge geometric web there beats a continuous rain of dipterous insects of every known variety, besides innumerable nondescripts. The poor spider, unable to eat and digest more than about half a dozen to a dozen flies every month, was forced to spend his whole time cutting and dropping his useless captures from the web. As a rule Merton did not talk in this strain: the editors had cut away too many of his own nondescript dipterous contributions to their webs for him to love them; but for some mysterious reason it suited him just now to take the side of the enemy in the old quarrel of author versus editor.
"Do you think then that I have made a mistake in coming to London?" she asked despondingly.
He smiled and drew her closer to him. "Connie, dear, I am exceedingly glad you did come, for there is no going back, you say; and now that you are here there is only one thing to do to smooth the path for us, and that is--to consent to marry me at once."
This did not accord with her wishes at all. To consent would be to confess herself beaten, and that dream of coming to London and keeping herself, for a time at all events, by means of her own work, had been so long and so fondly cherished, and she wished so much to be allowed to make the trial. But he pleaded so eloquently that in the end he overcame her reluctance.
"I will promise to do what you wish," she said, "if after you have thought it over for a few days you should still continue in the same mind. But, Merton, I hope you will not think me too careful and anxious if I ask you whether it does not seem imprudent, when you have just given up your salary and are only beginning to work at something different, to marry a penniless girl? You have told me that you have no money, and that you cannot look to your relations for any assistance."
"By no money I simply meant no fortune. Of course we could not get married without funds, and just now I have a couple of hundreds standing to my credit in the bank. If we are careful, and content to begin married life in apartments, we need not spend any more than I am spending now by myself."
He omitted to say that this money was all that was left of a legacy of £500 which had come to him from an aunt, and that he had been spending it pretty freely. His words only gave the impression that he knew the value of money, and was not one to act without careful consideration.
They were still discussing this point when Fan came in, and after shaking hands with their visitor sat down in her hat and jacket. Merton, after expressing his regret that she had lost her protectress, proceeded to make some remarks about Miss Starbrow's eccentric temper. Nothing which that lady did, he said, surprised him in the least. Fan sat with eyes cast down; she looked pale and fatigued, and her face clouded at his words; then murmuring some excuse, she rose and went to her bedroom.
"I must warn you, Merton," said Constance, "that Fan can\'t endure to hear anything said in dispraise of Miss Starbrow. I have discovered that it is the one subject about which she is capable of losing her temper and quarrelling with her best friend."
"Is that so?" he returned, laughingly. "Then she must be as eccentric as Miss Starbrow herself. But what does the poor girl intend doing--she must do something to live, I suppose?"
Constance told him all about Fan's projects. "Why do you smile?" she said. "You do not approve, I suppose?"
"You are mistaken, Connie. I neither approve nor disapprove. She does not ask us to shape her future life for her, and we owe her thanks for that."
"Yes, but still you are a little shocked that she has not set her mind on something a little higher."
"Not at all. On the contrary. It is really disgusting to find how many there are who take 'Excelsior' for their motto. In a vast majority of cases they get killed by falling over a precipice, or smothered in the snow, or crawl back to the lower levels to go through life as frost-bitten, crippled, pitiful objects. You can see scores of these would-be climbers any day in the streets of London, and know them by their faces. If you are not a real Whymper it is better not to be in the crowd of foolish beings who imagine themselves Whympers, but to rest content, like Fan, in the valley below. I am very glad not to be asked for advice, but if you ask my opinion I can say, judging from what I have seen of Fan, that I believe she has made a wise choice. Her capabilities and appearance would make her a very nice shop-girl."
"Oh, you have too poor an opinion of her!" exclaimed Constance. Nevertheless she could not help thinking that he was perhaps right. It was very pleasant to listen to him, this eloquent lover of hers, to see how
With a Reaumur's skill his curious mind
Classed the insect tribes of human kind.
It was impossible to doubt that he, at any rate, would know very well where to set his foot on those perilous heights to which he aspired.
Later in the evening the lovers went out for a walk, from which Constance came home looking very bright and happy. The girls slept together, and after going to bed that night there was a curious little scene between them, in which Fan's part was a very passive one. "Darling, we have talked so little since we have been here," said Constance, putting her arm round her friend, "and now I have got so many things to say to you." And as Fan seemed anxious to hear her story, she began to talk first about Merton\'s wish for an early marriage, but before long she discovered that her companion had fallen asleep. Then she withdrew her arm and turned away disgusted, all the story of her happiness untold. "I verily
believe," she said to herself, "that I have credited Fan with a great deal more sensibility than she possesses. To drop asleep like a plough-boy the moment I begin to talk to her--how little she cares about my affairs! I think Merton must be right in what he said about her. She is very keen and wideawake about her shop, and seems to think and care for nothing else." Much more she thought in her vexation, and then glanced back at the face at her side, so white and pure and still, framed in its unbound golden hair, so peaceful and yet with a shade of sadness mingling with its peacefulness; and having looked, she could not withdraw her eyes. "How beautiful she looks," said Constance, relenting a little. And then, "Poor child, she must have overtired herself today.... And perhaps it is not strange that she has shown herself so cold about my engagement. She thinks that Merton is taking me away from her. She is grieving secretly at the thought of losing me, as she lost her bitter, cruel-hearted Mary. Oh, dearest, I am not so fantastical as that woman, and you shall never lose me. Married or single, rich or poor, and wherever you may be, in or out of a shop, my soul shall cleave to you as it did at Eyethorne, and I shall love you as I love no other woman--always,
always." And bending she lightly kissed the still white face; but Fan slept soundly and the light kiss disturbed her not.