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)
Before leaving Fan at her own door Mr. Eden did not neglect to make a mental note of the number, although to make it out was not easy owing to the obscure veil that time, weather, and London smoke had thrown over the gilded figures. From Charlotte Street he walked slowly and thoughtfully to his rooms in Albemarle Street. "I feel too tired to go anywhere tonight," he said. "From the remotest wilds of Notting Hill to the eastern boundaries of Marylebone--a long walk even with such a companion. That young person I took for a lady is an all-round fraud. That delicate style of beauty is very deceptive; she would walk a camel off its legs."
A fire was burning brightly in his sitting-room; and throwing himself into a comfortable easy-chair before it, he lit a cigar, and began to think about things in general.
He did not feel quite settled in his London rooms, which he had taken furnished, and in which he had lived off and on for a period of eighteen months. He was always thinking of going abroad again to resume the wanderings which had been prematurely ended by the tidings of his father's death. But he was indolent, a lover of pleasure, with plenty of money, and a year and a half had slipped insensibly by. There was no need to do things in a hurry, he said; his inclination was everything: when he had a mind to travel he would travel, and when it suited his mood he would rest at home. He did not care very much about anything. His teachers had failed to make anything of him.
His father, who had retired from the military profession rather early in life, had wished him to go into the army; but he was not urgent, speaking to him less like a father to a son than a middle-aged gentleman to a young friend in whom he took a considerable interest, but who was his own master. "It's all very well to say 'Go into the army,'" his son would answer; "but I can't do it in the way you did, and I strongly object to the competitive system." And so the matter ended.
It was perhaps in a great measure due to his easygoing, unambitious character that he had not taken actively to evil courses. The poet is no doubt right when he says:
Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.
But it is after all a small amount of mischief and of a somewhat mild description compared with that which he inspires in the busy, pushing, energetic man. But in spite of his moral debility and his small sympathy with enthusiasms of any kind, he was much liked by those who knew him. In a quiet way he was observant, and not without humour, which gave a pleasant flavour to his conversation. Moreover he was good-tempered, even to those who bored him, slow to take offence, easily conciliated, never supercilious, generous.
"What has come to Merton?" he said. "Confound the fellow! I used to think him so quiet, but now he would talk a donkey's hind-leg off. He's going to the dogs, I think, and I'm sorry I met him.... No, not sorry, since through meeting him I have made the acquaintance of that exquisite girl.... If I know what it is to be in love--and do I not?--I fancy I am beginning to feel the symptoms of that sweet sickness. I could not think of such a face and feel well. I must try to get her photo and have it enlarged; Mills could do a beautiful water-colour portrait from it.... Figure slim, and a most perfect complexion, with a colour delicate as the blush on the petals of some white flower. Nose straight enough and of the right size. It is possible to love, as I happen to know, women with insignificant noses, but impossible not to feel some contempt for them at the same time. Mouth--well, of a girl or woman, not a suckling--not the facial disfigurement called a rose-bud mouth, which has as little attraction for me as the Connemara or even the Zulu mouth. But how describe it, since the poets have not taught me? The painters manage these things better; but even their prince, Rossetti, has nothing on his canvases to compare with this delicate feature. Hair, golden-brown, very bright; for it does not lie like grass, beaten flat and sodden with rain; it is fluffy, loose, crisp, with little stray tresses on forehead, neck, and temples. About her eyes, those windows of the soul, I can only say-- nothing. Something in their grey, mysterious depths haunts me like music. I don't know what it is. I have loved many a girl, from the northern with arsenic complexion, china-blue eyes, and canary-coloured hair, to the divine image cut in ebony, as some one piously and prettily says, but I doubt that I have felt quite in this way before. Yet she is not clever, as she says, and is only a poor shop-girl, her surname Affleck--that quaint, plebeian name with its curious associations! I must not forget to ask Merton to tell me her history. I shall certainly see him tomorrow, although perhaps for the last time. Fifty pounds should be enough to pay for the information I require. And that reminds me to ask myself a question--Is it my intention to follow up this adventure? She is a friend of Mrs. Chance, and since I met her at my friend's house, would it be a right thing to do? A nice question, but why bother my brains about it? One can't trust to appearances; but if she is what she looks no harm will come to her. If she is like other girls of her class, not too pure and good for human nature's daily food, then the result might be--not at all unpleasant.... Women, pretty girls even, are very cheap in England--a drug in the market, as any young man not positively a gorilla of ugliness must know. It rather saddens me to think what I could do, without being a King Solomon. But for this young girl who is not clever, and lodges in Charlotte Street, and goes every day to her shop, I think I could make a fool of myself. And make her happy perhaps. She should have not only a shelter from the storm and the tempest, but everything her heart could desire.... And if the opportunity offers, why should I not make her happy in the way she might like? Is it bad to wish to possess a beautiful girl? I fancy I have that part of my nature by inheritance. My amiable progenitor was, in this respect, something of a rascal, as someone says of the pious AEneas. Only at last he became religious, and repented of all his sins: the devil was sick, the devil a saint would be.... After all, <if we are powerless to shape our own destinies, if what is to be will be, how idle to discuss such a question, to array conscience and inclination against one another, like two sets of wooden marionettes made to advance and retire by pulling at the strings! This battle in the brain, which may be fought out till not an opponent is left alive on one side, all in the course of half an hour, is only a mock battle--a mere farce. The real battle will be a bigger affair and last much longer, and a whole galaxy of gods will be looking down assisting now this side and now that--Chance, Time, Circumstance, and others too numerous to mention. This, then, is my conclusion--I am in the hands of destiny: che sara sara."
When Merton, after bidding good-night to his guests at the street-door, returned to the sitting-room where he had left his wife he did not find her there; in the bedroom he discovered her with tear-stains on her face.
The smile faded from his lips, he forgot the things he had come to say, and sitting down by her side he took her hand in his, but without speaking. He knew why she had been crying. He loved his wife as much as it was in his power to love anyone after himself, and to some extent he
appreciated her. He recognised in her a very pure and beautiful spirit, a great depth of affection, and a clear, cultivated intellect, yet without any of that offensive pride and insolent scorn which so often accompanies freedom of thought in a woman and makes her contrast so badly with her old-fashioned Christian sister. He did not rate her powers very highly,
not high enough in fact, so as to compensate for the excessive esteem in which he held his own; nevertheless she was to him a lovely, even a gifted woman, and, what was more, she loved him and took him at his own valuation, and had linked her life with his when his fortunes were at
their lowest. He was always very tender with her, and had never yet, even in his occasional moments of irritation and despondence, spoken an unkind word to her. During the evening he had not failed to notice that she was ill at ease, and he rightly divined that something in himself had been the cause; nor was he at a loss to guess what that something was. Yet he had not allowed the thought to trouble him overmuch; at all events it had made no perceptible difference in his manner, his elation at the thought of the fifty pounds he was going to receive causing this little shadow to seem a very small matter. Now he was troubled by a feeling of
compunction, and when he spoke at length it was in a gentle, pleading tone.
"Connie," he said, "I needn't ask you why you have been crying. I have offended you so many times that I know the signs only too well."
"That is a reproach I do not deserve, Merton," she returned.
"I am not reproaching you, dear, but myself for giving you pain."
"Have I shown myself so hard to please, so ready to take offence, that you know the signs of disapproval so well?"
"No, Connie; on the contrary. But my eyes are quick to see disapproval, as yours are quick to see anything wrong in me. And I would not have it different." After a while he continued, a little anxiously, "Do you think our visitor--I mean Eden, for I care nothing about Fan--noticed any signs of--noticed what you did?"
"How can I tell, Merton? He looked a little tired, I thought."
"Did he look tired? And yet I think I talked well." She made no reply, and he continued, "Of course, Connie, you thought I seemed too excited--that I had been taking stimulants. Is it not so?"
"Yes, I thought that," she replied, averting her eyes, and in a tone of deep pain. "Oh, Merton, is this going to continue until it grows into a habit? It will break my heart!"
"My dear girl, you needn't imagine anything so terrible. You can trust me to keep my word. I shall become a total abstainer; not because alcohol has now or ever can have any fatal attraction for me, but solely because you wish it, Connie. I confess that today I came home unusually excited, but it was not because I had exceeded. It was because I had met with an unexpected stroke of good luck. When I met Eden today, and was telling him about my new career and my struggles as a beginner, he at once very kindly offered to lend me fifty pounds to assist me."
"And are you going to borrow money from your friend?"
"I should not think of asking him for money; but when he offered me this small sum--for to him it is small--I could not think of refusing. It would have been foolish when our funds are so low, and I shall soon be in a position to repay him."
"And you took the money?"
"No, I am to have it tomorrow. I am going to meet him at his club."
"I wish, Merton, that you could do without this fifty pounds," she said after a while. "I see no prospect of repaying it, there is so little coming in. And I seem unable to help you in the least--my last manuscript came back today, declined like the others. I am afraid that this borrowing will do us more harm than good. It is the way to lose your friends, I think, and the friendship of a man in Mr. Eden's position should be worth more to you than fifty pounds, even looking at the matter in a purely interested way."
"You need not fear, Connie. Besides, even if you are right in what you say, I should really prefer to have this little help than Eden's friendship. You see he is a mere butterfly, without any interest in things of the mind, and it is not likely that he will be very much to us in our new life, which will be among intellectual and artistic people, I hope."
"With so poor an opinion of him I can't imagine how you can take his money and lay yourself under so great an obligation."
"Pooh, Connie, the obligation will be very light indeed. In three or four months the money will be repaid, and he will think as little about it as he does of inviting me to lunch or giving me a good cigar. I shall always be friendly with him, and invite him sometimes to see us when we are comfortably established; but he is not a man I should ever wish to grapple to my breast with hooks of steel. And so you see, wifie dear, you have been making yourself unhappy without sufficient cause. And now won't you kiss and forgive me, and acknowledge that I am not so black as your imagination painted me?"
She kissed him freely, and accepted as simple truth the explanation he had given of his excited condition during the evening; nevertheless, she was not quite happy in her mind. The return of that last manuscript--a long article which had cost her much pains to write, and about which she had been very hopeful--had made her sore, and he had paid no attention to what she had said about it, and the words of sympathy and encouragement she had looked for had not been spoken. Then it had jarred on her mind to hear her husband talk so disparagingly of the friend from whom he was borrowing money. She had herself formed a better opinion of Mr. Eden's character and capabilities. And about the borrowing, what he had said had not altered her mind; but it was her way whenever she disagreed with her husband to reason and even plead with him, and if she then found, as she generally did, that he still adhered to his own view, to yield the point and say no more about it.