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)
Constance did not reply immediately to Fan's letter, which came to her with the photograph, but first completed her preparations for leaving Notting Hill. A visit from her friend was what she most feared, and the thought of the overwhelming confusion she would feel in the presence of the guileless girl, and of further and still more painful duplicity on her part, had the effect of hastening her movements. Before Merton's enthusiasm had had time to burn itself out--that great blaze which had nothing but a bundle of wood-shavings to sustain it--they were ready to depart. But the letter must be written--that sad farewell letter which for ever or for a long period of time would put an end to their sweet intercourse; and it was with a heavy heart that Constance set herself to the task. She herself had gone into the shop to seek an engagement for her friend, and had been pleased at the result--it had not made a shadow of difference between them; now, when she thought that she was about to cast the girl off, although in obedience to her husband's wishes, for this very thing, her cheeks were on fire with shame, her heart filled with grief. Brave and honest though she was, she could not in this instance bear to tell the plain truth. They were hurriedly leaving Norland Square, she said; they were going away--she did not say how far, but left the other to infer that it was to a great distance. In their new home they would be engaged in work which would occupy all their time, all their thoughts, so that even their correspondence would have to be suspended.
Their separation would be for a long time--she could not say how long, but the thought of it filled her with grief, and she had not the courage to meet Fan to say good-bye. Such partings between dear friends were so unspeakably sad! There was much more in the letter, and the writer said all she could to soften the unkind blow she was constrained to inflict. But when Fan read it, after recovering from her first astonishment, her heart sank within her. For now it seemed that her second friend, not less dearly loved than the first, was also lost. A keen sense of loneliness and desolation came over her, which sadly recalled to her mind the days when she had wandered homeless and hungry through the streets of
Paddington, and again, long afterwards, when she had been treacherously enticed away from Dawson Place.
Not until two days after receiving this letter, which she had read a hundred times and sadly pondered over during the interval, did she write to Arthur Eden; she could delay writing no longer, since she had promised to let him know if anything happened at Norland Square. She wrote briefly, and the reply came very soon.
MY DEAR MISS AFFLECK,
I am much concerned at what you tell me, and fear that Merton has got into serious trouble. He is not deserving of much pity, I am afraid, but I do feel sorry for his wife. That she should not have given you her new address is a curious circumstance, as you say, and a rather disagreeable one. I can understand their hiding themselves from a creditor, or any
other obnoxious person, but to hide themselves from you seems a senseless proceeding. However, don't let us judge them too hastily. I shall send off a note at once to Merton, addressed to Norland Square, asking him to lunch with me at my club on Saturday next. No doubt he has left an address with his landlady where letters are to be forwarded, and if he is
out of town, as you imagine, there will be time to get a reply before Saturday; but I am sure he has not left London, and that I shall see him. He knows that he has nothing to fear from me, and when he learns that I am willing to assist him he will perhaps tell me what the trouble is. Of course I shall not tell him that I have been in communication with you. Will you be so good as to meet me in the Regent's Park--near the Portland Road Station entrance--at eleven o'clock next Sunday? and I shall then let you hear the result.
Yours very sincerely,
It was with a little shock of pleasure that Fan read this letter, so ready had the writer been to show his sympathy, and so perfectly in accord were their thoughts; and if these new benevolent designs of Mr. Eden were to succeed, then how great a satisfaction it would always be to her to think that she had been instrumental, in a secret humble way, in her friend's deliverance from trouble! She thought it a little strange that Mr. Eden should wish to tell her the news he would have by word of mouth instead of by letter; but the prospect of a meeting was not unpleasant. On the contrary, it consoled her to know that the disappearance of Constance had not cast her wholly off from that freer, sweeter, larger life she had known at Dawson Place and at Eyethorne, which had made her so happy. A link with it still existed in this new friendship; and although Arthur Eden could not take the place of
Constance in her heart, from among his own sex fate could not have selected a more perfect friend for her. The link was a slender one, and in the future there would probably be no meetings and few letters, but in spite of that he was and always would be very much to her. With these thoughts occupying her mind she wrote thanking him for his ready response to her letter, and promising to meet him on the ensuing Sunday.
When the day at length arrived she set out at half-past ten to keep the appointment, with many misgivings, not however because she, a pretty unprotected shop-girl, was going to meet a young gentleman, but solely on account of the weather. All night and at intervals during the morning there had been torrents of rain, and though the rain had ceased now the sky still looked dark and threatening. Unfortunately her one umbrella was getting shabby, and matched badly with hat, gloves, shoes and dress, all of which were satisfactory. Mr. Eden, she imagined, judging from his appearance, was a little fastidious about such things, and in the end she determined to risk going without the umbrella. When she passed Portland Road Station, and the sky widened to her sight in the open space, there were signs of coming fair weather to cheer her; the fresh breeze felt dry to the skin, the clouds flew swiftly by, and at intervals the sun appeared, not fiery and dazzling, but like a silver shield suspended above, rayless and white as the moon, and after throwing its chastened light over the wet world for a few moments the flying vapours would again obscure it. She was early, but had scarcely entered the park before Mr. Eden joined her. The pleasure which shone in his eyes when he advanced to greet her made her think that he was the bearer of welcome news; he divined as much, and hastened to undeceive her.
"I know that you are anxious to hear the result of my inquiries," he said, "but you must prepare for a disappointment, Miss Affleck."
"You have something bad to tell me?"
"No, I have nothing to tell. My letter to Merton was returned to me on Friday through the dead letter post. The've gone and left no address. To make quite sure, I went to Norland Square yesterday to see the landlady, and she says that they left ten days ago, and that Mr. Chance told her that he had written to all his correspondents to give them his new address, and that if any letter came for him or his wife she was to return it to the postman. Of course she does not know where they have gone."
Fan was deeply disappointed, and still conversing on this one subject, they continued walking for an hour about the park, keeping to the paths.
"You must not distress yourself, Miss Affleck," said her companion. "The thing is no greater a mystery now than it was a week ago, and you must have arrived at the conclusion as long ago as that, that the Chances wished to sever their connection with you."
"Do you think that, Mr. Eden--do you think that Constance really wishes to break off with me? It would be so unlike her." There were tears in her voice if not in her eyes as she spoke.
He did not answer her question at once. They were now close to the southern entrance to the Zoological Gardens.
"Let's go in through this gate," he said. "In there we shall be able to find shelter if it rains." He had tickets of admission in his pocket, and passing the stile Fan found herself in that incongruous wild animal world set in the midst of a world of humanity. A profusion of flowers met her gaze on every side, but she looked beyond the variegated beds, blossoming shrubs, and grass-plats sprinkled with patches of gay colour, to the huge
unfamiliar animal forms of which she caught occasional glimpses in the distance. For she had never entered the Gardens before, this being the one great sight in London which Mary and her brother Tom had forgotten to show her. And since her return to town she had not ventured to go there alone, although living so near to the Regent's Park. Walking there on
Sundays, when there was no admission to the public, she had often paused to listen with a feeling of wonder to the strange sounds that issued from the enchanted enclosure--piercing screams of eagles and of cranes; the muffled thunder of lions, mingled with sharp yells from other felines; and wolf-howls so dismal and long that they might have been wafted to her all the way from Oonalaska's shore.
Mr. Eden appeared not to notice the curious glances as he paced thoughtfully by her side, and presently he recalled her to the subject they had been discussing.
"Miss Affleck," he said, "has there been any disagreement, or have you heard any word from Merton or Mrs. Chance which might have led you to think that they contemplated breaking off their acquaintance with you?"
In answer she told him about the letter from Constance asking for her photograph.
"Where did you have your picture taken?" he asked somewhat irrelevantly.
Fan told him, and as he said nothing she added, "But why do you ask that, Mr. Eden?"
He could not tell her that he intended going to the photographer, whose name he had just heard, to secure a copy of her picture for his own pleasure, and so he answered:
"It merely occurred to me to ask just to know whether you had gone by chance to one of the good men I could have recommended. It is evident that when Mrs. Chance wrote to you in that way she had already planned this separation. Whatever her motives may have been, it is certainly hard on you; and I scarcely need assure you, Miss Affleck, that you have my heartfelt sympathy."
"You are very kind, Mr. Eden," she returned, scarcely able to repress the tears that rose to her eyes.
After an interval of silence he said:
"If you still wish to find out their address, the quickest way would be to write to your friend's home. Merton told me that you lived for a year with his wife's people in Hampshire or Dorset."
"Yes, in Wiltshire. But I know that Constance has not corresponded with her mother since her marriage. Perhaps you are right in what you said, Mr. Eden, that they wish--not to know me any longer."
He turned away from the wistful, questioning look in her eyes, and only remarked, "I shall find it hard to forgive them this."
"But I can't believe that Constance would do anything unkind," she replied, somewhat illogically.
"No. But Constance is not herself--her real self now, she is Merton\'s wife."
"Then you think that Constance--yes, perhaps you are right"; and then in a pathetic tone she added, "I have no friend now."
"Do not say that, Miss Affleck! Do you not remember that on the occasion of our first meeting you promised to regard me as a friend?"
"Yes, I do, and I feel very grateful for your kindness to me. When I said that I meant a lady friend.... That is such a different kind of friendship. And--and you could never be like one of the two friends I have lost."
"Two, Miss Affleck! I did not know that you had had the misfortune to lose more than one."
"The first was the lady I lived with in London before I went to the Churtons'."
"Oh, yes, I see what you mean. It was a great loss to you in one sense, but of course you couldn't have the same feeling about her as in the case of Mrs. Chance. She was, I understand, a toothless old hag, more than half-crazy--"
"Half-crazy! Toothless! Old! What do you mean, Mr. Eden? She is young and beautiful, and though I am nothing to her now I love her still with all my heart."
He looked at her with the utmost surprise, and then burst into a laugh.
"Forgive me for laughing, Miss Affleck," he said. "But I remember now it was Merton who described her to me as a made-up old lady who ought to be in an asylum. How stupid of me to believe anything that fellow ever says, even when he has no motive for being untruthful!"
Fan also laughed, she could not help laughing in spite of the intense indignation she felt against Mary's rejected suitor for libelling her in such an infamous manner.
"Do you know that it is beginning to rain?" he said, holding his umbrella over her head. "We must go in there and wait until it pauses."
It was one o'clock, and the refreshment rooms had just opened. Fan was conducted into the glittering dining-saloon, and was persuaded to join her companion in a rather sumptuous luncheon, and to drink a glass of champagne.
Occasional showers prevented them leaving for some time, and it was nearly four o'clock when they finally left the Gardens, Fan again staring curiously round her.
"Mr. Eden," she asked, pointing to a large, blue, cow-like creature, with goat's horns and a hump, "will you tell me what that animal is?"
"I am not sure quite that I can," he replied with a slight laugh. "Its name is as outlandish as itself--gnu, or yak, or perhaps Jamrach."
The reply was not very satisfactory, and she felt a little disappointed that he did not turn aside to let her look at it, or at any of the other strange beasts and birds near them; but just after leaving he remarked in a casual way:
"I suppose you are quite familiar with the Gardens, Miss Affleck?"
"Oh, no, I have never been in them before today."
"Really! Then how sorry I am that I did not know sooner! We might have gone in and seen the lions, and monkeys, while it was raining. However, we could not have seen very much today, and if you can manage to come next Sunday I shall be so glad to show you everything." Seeing that she hesitated, he added, "I shall make some inquiries during the week, and may have something to tell you next Sunday if you will come."
That won her consent, and after seeing her to her own door, Eden went on his way rejoicing, for so far the gods he had once spoken of had shown themselves favourable.
During the week that followed Fan thought often enough of her friend\'s mysterious conduct towards her; but the remembrance of Mr. Eden\'s sympathy lightened the pain considerably, and as the time of that second meeting, which was to be more pleasant even than the first, drew near, she began to think less of Constance and more of Arthur Eden. She smiled to herself when she remembered certain things she had heard about the danger to young girls in her position in life resulting from the plausible attentions of idle pleasure-seekers like Mr. Eden; for in his case there could be no danger. His soul was without guile. She had made his acquaintance in his own friend's house, and it was not in her nature to suspect evil designs which did not appear in a person's manner and conversation. If he had been her brother--that ideal brother whose kindness is unmixed with contempt for so poor a creature as a sister--
his manner could not have been more free from any suggestion of a feeling too warm in character. Walking home with her from the park he had spoken with some melancholy of the changes which the end of the London season--happily not yet near--must always bring. He still had thoughts of going abroad, but it saddened him to think that when returning after a long
absence he would be sure to miss some friendly faces--hers perhaps among others. And all the words he had spoken on this subject, in his tender musical voice, were treasured in her memory. He was more to her, far more, she thought, than she could ever be to him. Only for a time would he remember her face, his life was so full, his friends so many, but she would not forget, and the pleasant hours she now spent in his company would shine bright in memory in future years.
When the eagerly-wished Sunday at last arrived, the spring weather was perfect. Even London on that morning had the softest of blue skies above it, with far-up ethereal clouds, white as angels' wings, a brilliant sunshine, and a breeze elastic yet warm, laden with the perfume of lilac and may. Fan smiled at her own image in the glass, pleased to think that she looked well in her new spring hat and dress; and at ten o'clock, when Mr. Eden met her at the appointed place, and regarded her with keen critical eyes as she advanced to him under her light sunshade, his satisfaction was not unmingled with a secret pang, a sudden "conscience fit," which, however, did not last long. The fashionable tide did not just then set very strongly towards the Gardens on Sundays, but he felt with some pride that he could safely appear anywhere in London with Miss Affleck at his side, and although his friends would not know her, they would never suspect that in her he had picked up one of the "lower orders."
While walking across the park they conversed once more about their vanished friends. Eden had no news to tell, but still cherished hopes of being able to discover their retreat. When they were once inside the Gardens, Fan soon forgot everything except the pleasure of the moment. She could not have had a better guide than her companion, for beside a fair knowledge of wild animal life, he had the pleasant faculty of seeing things in a humorous light. And above everything, he knew his way about, and could show her many little mysterious things, hidden away behind jealously-guarded doors, of which he had the keys, and pretty bird performances and amusing mammalian comedies, all of which are missed by the casual visitor. The laughing jackasses laughed their loudest, almost frightening her with their weird cachinnatory chorus; and the laughing hyaena screamed his sepulchral ha-ha-ha's so that he was heard all the way to Primrose Hill. Pelicans, penguins, darters and seals captured and swallowed scores of swift slippery fishes for her pleasure. She was taken to visit the "baby" in its private apartment, and saw him at close quarters, not without fear and shrinking, for the baby was as big as a house--the leviathan of the ancients, as some think. Into its vast open mouth she dropped a bun, which was like giving a grain of rice to a hungry human giant. Then she was made to take a large armful of green clover and thrust it into the same yawning red cavern; and having done so she started quickly back for fear of being swallowed alive along with the grass. Mr. Eden spent a small fortune on buns, nuts, and bon-bons for the animals, and she fed everything, from the biggest elephant and the most tree-like giraffe to the smallest harvest mouse. But it was most curious with an eagle they looked at.
"Give it a bun," said Eden.
"You shall not laugh at my ignorance this time," said Fan. "I know that eagles eat nothing but flesh."
"Quite right," said he, "but if you will offer it a bun he will gladly eat it." And as he persisted, she, still incredulous, offered the bun, which the eagle seized in his crooked claws, and devoured with immense zest. Fan was amazed, and Eden said triumphantly, "There, I told you so."
Long afterwards she was alone one day in the Gardens, and going to the eagle's cage, and feeling satisfied that no one was looking, offered a bun to an eagle. The bird only stared into her face with its fierce eyes, as much as to say, "Do you take me for a monkey, or what? You are making a great mistake, young woman." It happened that someone did see her--a rude man, who burst into a loud laugh; and Fan walked away with crimson cheeks, and the mystery remained unexplained. Perhaps someone has compassionately enlightened her since.
In the snake-house a brilliant green tree-snake of extraordinary length was taken from its box by the keeper, and Eden wound it twice round her waist; and looking down on that living, coiling, grass-green sash, knowing that it was a serpent, and yet would do her no harm, she experienced a sensation of creepy delight which was very novel, and curious, and mixed. The kangaroos were a curious people, resembling small donkeys with crocodile tails, sitting erect on their haunches, and moving about with a waltzing hop, which was both graceful and comical. One of them, oddly enough, had a window in the middle of its stomach out of which a baby kangaroo put its long-eared head and stared at them, then popped it in again and shut the window. The secretary-bird proved himself a grand actor; he marched round his cage, bowed two or three times to Fan, then performed the maddest dance imaginable, leaping and pounding
the floor with his iron feet, just to show how he broke a serpent's back in South Africa.
From the monkey-house and its perpetual infinitely varied pantomime they were conducted into a secret silent chamber, where an interesting event had recently occurred, and Mrs. Monkey, who was very aristocratic and exclusive, received only a few privileged guests. They found her sitting up in bed and nursing an infant that looked exceedingly ancient, although
the keeper solemnly assured Fan that it was only three days old. Mrs. Monkey gravely shook hands with her visitors, and condescendingly accepted a bon-bon, which she ate with great dignity, and an assumption of not caring much about it.
"Don't you think, Miss Affleck," said Eden, sinking his voice, "that you ought to say something complimentary--that the little darling looks like its mamma, for instance, even if you can't call it pretty?"
Fan laughed merrily, whereat Mrs. Monkey flew into a rage, and seemed so inclined to commit an assault on her visitors, that they were glad to make a hasty retreat.
In the blithe open air Fan observed, when she had recovered her gravity:
"How good the keepers are to take so much trouble to show us things!"
"Thanks to you," he replied, hypocritically. "If I had come alone they wouldn't have troubled to show me things."
Then they roused the nocturnal animals from their slumbers in the straw--the wingless apteryx, like a little armless man with a very long nose; the huge misshapen earthy-looking ant-bear, and those four-footed Rip Van Winkles, the quaint, rusty, blear-eyed armadillos. But the giant ant-eater was the most wonderful, for he walked on his knuckles, and strode majestically about, for all the world like a mammalian peacock, exhibiting his great tail. They also saw his tongue, like a yard of pink ribbon drawn out by an invisible hand from the tip of his long cucumber-shaped head. In the parrot-house the shrieking of a thousand parrots and
cockatoos, all trying to shriek each other down, drove them quickly out.
"I am sorry my nerves are not stronger, but really I can't stand it, Mr. Eden," said Fan, apologetically.
He laughed. "It's a great row, but not a very sublime one," he answered. "By-and-by we shall hear something better." And by-and-by they were in the great lion-house, where the prisoner kings and nobles are, barred and tawny and striped and spotted, and with flaming yellow eyes. They were all striding up and down, raging with hunger, for it was near the feeding-time; and suddenly a lion roared, and then others roared; and royal tigers, and jaguars, and pumas, and cheetahs, and leopards joined in with shrieks and with yells, and the awful chorus of the feline giants grew louder, like the continuous roar of near thunder, until the whole vast building shook and the solid earth seemed to tremble beneath them. And Fan also trembled and grew white with fear, and implored her companion to take her out. If she had shouted her loudest he could not have heard a sound, but he saw her lips moving, and her pallor, and led her out; yet no sooner was she out than she wished to return, so wonderful and so glorious did it seem to stand amidst that awful tempest of sound!
Thus passed Fan's day, seeing much of animal life, and with welcome intervals of rest, when they had a nice little dinner in the refreshment rooms, or sat for an hour on the shady lawn, where Mr. Eden smoked his cigar, and related some of his adventures in distant lands.
"You have given me so much pleasure, Mr. Eden--I have spent a very happy day," said Fan, on their walk back to her humble lodgings.
"And I, Miss Affleck?"
"You know it all so well; it could not be so much to you," she returned.
"Have I not been happy then?"
"Yes, I think you have," she answered. "But you were happy principally because you were giving pleasure to someone else."
"I think," he said, without directly answering her words, "that when I am far from England again, and see things that are as unfamiliar to me as this has been to you, which people come from the ends of the earth to look at, it will all seem very dull and insipid to me when I remember the pleasure I have had today."
For many days past he had in imagination been saying a thousand pretty and passionate things to Fan--rehearsing little speeches suitable for every occasion.
And now this little laborious round-about speech, about going abroad, the pleasures of memory, and the rest of it, which might mean anything or nothing, was the only speech he could make. And she did not reply to it.
"Perhaps," thought Eden, as he walked away after leaving her at her door, "she understood the feeling, but waited to hear it expressed a little more clearly." Time would show, but it struck him on this evening that he had made little progress since the first meeting at Norland Square, and he thought with little satisfaction of his neglected opportunities, or, as he called them, his sins of omission.