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)
To Fan's mind there was no note of warning in that little vague complimentary speech, and she thought nothing at all about it. It is quite impossible for a man to talk all day without saying meaningless if not foolish things, unless he happens to be a very solemn prig who carefully considers his words and lays them down like dominoes; and Eden was not that. His naturalness was his great charm, and she judged his feelings from her own; his simple transparent kindliness was enough to account for all his attentions to her. After that day at the Zoological Gardens she met him on other Sundays and Saturday afternoons, and also
received some letters from him, and more books, all like the first in a wonderfully clean and well-kept condition.
One summer day Eden went to the City, a very unusual thing for him to do, and while making his way towards Cheapside through the hurrying crowd of pedestrians filling the narrow thoroughfare of St. Paul's Churchyard, he all at once came face to face with the long-lost Merton Chance. Involuntarily both started and stopped short on coming together. It was
impossible to avoid speaking, which would have happened if they had recognised each other at a suitable distance. "Eden, is it possible!" "Chance, how glad I am to see you!" were the words they exclaimed at the same moment, as they clasped hands with fictitious warmth; and then, to avoid the crowd, Merton drew his friend aside through one of the open gates into the cathedral garden.
"Just back again from a trip to the Hindoo Koosh or the Mountains of the Moon, I suppose?" cried Merton with overflowing gaiety.
"I have not been out of London as it happens," said Eden. "As you might have known if you had sent me your address. I wrote to you at Norland Square several weeks ago, asking you to lunch with me one day at the club, and the letter was returned through the Dead Letter Office, marked 'Gone away--no address.'"
"Ah, yes, I forgot to send you my new address at the time, and ever since moving I have been so overwhelmed with work and a hundred other things that I have really had no time to write. I have been anxiously looking forward to a few hours of leisure to make up all arrears of the kind."
"Well, then, as it is nearly two o'clock perhaps you will lunch with me today. Is there any place close by where we can get something to eat and drink? I am all at sea when I get as far east as this."
"Thanks," said Merton, with a laugh. "That just reminds me that I have had nothing except a cup of tea since seven o'clock this morning. Too busy even to remember such a thing as food. Yes, there's the Cathedral Hotel, where you can get anything to eat from locusts and wild honey to a stalled ox. By the way, since you know so little about East London, let me take you a little further east; then you will be able to boast some day that you stood on the volcano and looked down into its seething crater just before the great eruption. Of course I mean that you will be able to make that boast if you happen to survive the eruption."
If Eden had little taste for ordinary enthusiasm, he had still less for downright madness, and he hastily begged his friend to defer the volcanic question until after luncheon. Merton's language surprised him, it seemed so wildly irrational, and uttered with so much seriousness. In his appearance also there were signs of degeneracy: he was thin and pale and rather shabbily dressed, and wore a broad-brimmed rusty black felt hat, which he frequently pulled off only to twist it into some new disreputable shape and thrust it on again. Over a black half-unbuttoned waistcoat he wore only a light covert coat, which had long seen its best
days; his boots were innocent of polish. Eden noticed all that, and remembering that his friend had once been quite as fastidious about his dress as himself, he was a little shocked at his appearance.
In a few minutes they were seated at a table where they were served with an excellent luncheon, with plenty of variety in it, although it did not include locusts and wild honey. Rather oddly, Merton appeared to have leisure enough to make the most of it; he studied the menu with the interest of a professed gourmet, freely advised Eden what to eat, and partook of at least half a dozen different dishes himself. Nor was he sparing of the wine; and after adjourning to the smoking-room, and lighting the fragrant Havannah his friend had given him, he declined coffee but ordered a second bottle of six-shilling claret.
"It rather surprises me to see a travelled fellow like you, Eden, drinking English-made coffee," he said. "For my part, until the French can send it to us as they make it, bottled, I intend to stick to their light wines."
All this amused Eden; he liked it better than the wild talk about impending eruptions, and began to feel rather pleased that he had met Merton after all. Still, he could not help experiencing some curiosity about his mysterious friend's way of life; and in spite of prudence he led the way to this dangerous topic.
"Just look at this, Eden; this will show you what I am doing. You Pall Mall gentlemen are living in a fool's paradise--excuse me for putting it so bluntly--but personally you are my friend, although in our ways of thought we are as far as the poles asunder." He had taken a newspaper from his pocket, a small sheet of coarse paper printed with bad type, and
turning and refolding it he handed it to his friend. The article to which Eden's attention was drawn was headed "A Last Word," and occupied three columns, and at the foot appeared the name of Merton Chance.
"I see; but surely you don't expect me to read this now?" said Eden. "Your last word is a very long one."
"No, you can put the paper in your pocket to read at your leisure. I think it will have the effect of opening your eyes, Eden. That you may escape the wrath to come is my devout wish."
"Thanks. So you have gone in for the Salvation Army business?" And he glanced at the title of the paper, but it was not the War Cry. The Time Has Come was the name of the sheet he held in his hand, to which Merton Chance had the honour to be a contributor.
"No, Eden," said the other, with a look on his face of such deep and serious meaning as to be almost tragic. "This is not the war cry you imagine, but it is a war cry nevertheless. You can shut your ears to it, if you feel so minded, and persuade yourself that there is no war in preparation. The streets of London are full of soldiers, but then they wear no red jackets, and carry no banners, and you needn't know that they are soldiers at all. You can safely let them march on, since they march without blare of trumpets and beat of drums."
"All right, Chance, I'll have a shot at it before going to bed to-night"; and he was again about to thrust the paper into his pocket, feeling that he was getting tired of this kind of talk.
"Wait a moment, Eden," said the other. "I'm afraid you do not quite know yet what the matter is all about. Allow me to look at the paper again." Taking it, he found and asked his friend to read a rather long editorial paragraph.
This was all about the trumpet-tongued Merton Chance, congratulating the League on the accession to its ranks of so able a fighter with the pen--one who was only too ready to handle other weapons in their cause. It spoke of all he had nobly abandoned--social position, Government appointment, etc.--to cast in his lot with theirs; his brilliant and impassioned oratory, pitiless logic, with more in the same strain.
"I presume this is a socialistic print," said Eden, after reading the paragraph. "Well, I can't say I congratulate you on your new--departure. Still, it is something to be thought well of by those you are working with, and you can't complain that your editor has not laid it on thick
enough in this passage."
Merton's brows contracted; he did not like this speech, and before replying swallowed a glass of claret.
"Eden," he returned, "this is too serious a matter for a jest. But I do not think that anything is to be gained by discussing it. I should certainly gain nothing by informing you that everyone has a right to live, since a certain number of human beings must give up living, or, in other words, live like dogs, in order that you may have something beyond the mere necessaries of life--something to make your existence pleasant. This only I will say. If you are one of those who persistently shut their eyes to the fact that a change has come, that it will no longer be as it has been, then all I have to say is, My friend, I have warned you, and
here we part company."
"But not," thought Eden, "before you have finished your second bottle of claret." He only said, "I really never had any taste for politics," and then added, "You have not said, Chance, whether your wife is with you in this new--departure?"
"My wife," said Merton, somewhat loftily, "is always with me." But more than that he did not say about his domestic affairs; nor did he even think to give his address before they separated.
Eden did not fail to write to Fan, telling her that he had seen and talked with Merton, and asking her to meet him at the Marble Arch on the next Sunday morning, when he would be able to tell her all that had passed between his friend and himself. She replied on the following day, promising to meet him, in one of her characteristic letters, which he always read over a great many times and admired very much, and which nevertheless had always had the effect of irritating him a little and making his hope for a time look pale. They were so transparently simple and straightforward, and expressed so openly the friendly feelings she had for him.
"What does she expect, what does she imagine, what does she think in her own heart?" he said, as he sat holding her letter in his hand. "She can't surely think that I am going to make a shop-girl my wife, and if she doesn't hope for that, why has she consented to correspond with me, to receive the books I send her, and to meet me so frequently? Or does she
believe that this is purely a platonic feeling between us--a mere friendship such as one man has for another? I don't think so. Platonic love is purely a delusion of the male mind. Women are colder than we are, but instinctively they know the character of our feelings better than we do ourselves. She must know that I love her. And yet she consents to meet me, and she is, I am sure, a very pure-hearted girl. How are these seeming contradictions to be reconciled? A philosopher has said that the mind of a child is a clean sheet of paper on which you may write what you like. I believe that some women have the power of keeping their minds in that clean-sheet-of-paper condition for their own advantage. You may write what you like on the paper, but only after you have paid for the privilege. Of course, this view takes a good deal of the romance out of life; but I have to deal with facts as I find them, and women as a rule are not romantic. At all events, I have come to the conclusion that Miss Affleck is capable of looking at this thing in a calm practical way. She will be my friend as long as I am hers; she loses nothing by it, but gains a little. She will also give me her whole heart if I ask for it, but not until I have given her something better than the passion, which may not last, in return. A poor girl, without friends or relations, and with nothing in prospect but a life of dull drudgery--perhaps I am willing to give her more, far more, than she dreams or hopes."
So ran his dream; and yet when she met him on the Sunday morning with a smile on her lips and a look of gladness in her eyes, and when he listened to her voice again, he was troubled with some fresh doubts about the correctness of his sheet-of-paper theory.
They walked about a little, and then sat for some time in the shade near the Grosvenor Gate, while Eden told her everything that Merton had said, and then made her read Merton's "Last Word" in the socialistic paper. Then he went over the article, explaining the whole subject to her and pointing out the writer's errors, which, he said, could only deceive the very ignorant; but he did not inform her that he had spent two days working up the subject, all for her benefit. She was made to see that Merton was wrong in what he said, and that Mr. Eden had a very powerful intellect; but she confessed ingenuously that she found the subject a difficult and wearisome one. The intellectual errors of Merton were as nothing to her compared with the unkindness of her friend in keeping out of her sight when all the time she was living close by in London. Eden was secretly glad that she took this view of the matter; from the first he had felt that a reunion of the girls was the one thing he had to fear; and now Fan was compelled to believe that her friend had deliberately thrown her off, and did not wish even to hear from her.
"Miss Affleck--Fan--may I call you Fan?" he said, and having won her consent, he continued, "I need not tell you again how much I sympathise with you, but from the first I saw what you only clearly see now, for you were not willing to believe that of your friend before. Do you remember when you first lost her that I begged you to regard me as a friend? You said that no man could take the place of Constance in your heart. I did not say anything, but I felt, Fan, that you did not know what a man's friendship can be. I hoped that you would know it some day; I hope the day will come when you will be able to say from your heart that my friendship has been something to you."
"It has been a great deal to me, Mr. Eden; I should have said so long ago if I had thought it necessary."
"It was not necessary, Fan, but it is very pleasant to hear it from your lips. Will you not call me Arthur?"
She consented to call him Arthur, and then he proposed a trip to Kew Gardens.
"It will be too late if you go home to get your dinner first," he said. "If you don't mind we will just have a snack when we get there to keep up our strength. Or let us have it here at once, and then we can give all our time to the flowers when we get there. They are looking their best just now."
She consented, and they adjourned to an hotel close by, where the "snack" developed into a very elaborate luncheon; and when they slipped out again a brougham, which Eden had meanwhile ordered, was waiting at the door to take them.
The drive down, and rambles about the flower-beds, and visit to the tropical house, gave Fan great pleasure; and then Eden confessed that he always found the beauty of Kew, or at all events the flowery portion of it, a little cloying; he preferred that further part where trees grew, and the grass was longer, with an occasional weed in it, and where Nature didn't quite look as if an army of horticultural Truefitts were everlastingly clipping at her wild tresses with their scissors and rubbing pomatum and brilliantine on her green leaves. To that comparatively incult part they accordingly directed their steps, and found a pleasant resting-place on a green slope with great trees behind them and others but small and scattered before, and through the light foliage of which they could see the gleam of the Thames, while the plash of oars and the hum of talk and laughter from the waterway came distinctly to their ears. But just on that spot they seemed to have the Gardens to themselves, no other visitors being within sight. The day was warm and the turf dry, but for fear of moisture Eden spread his light covert coat for Fan to sit on, and then stretched himself out by her side.
"In this position I can watch your face," he said. "Usually when we are sitting or standing together I only half see your eyes. They hide themselves under those shady lashes like violets under their leaves. Now I can look straight up into them and read all their secrets."
"I shouldn't like you to do that--I mean to look steadily at my eyes."
"Why not, Fan; is it not a pleasant thing to have a friend look into one's eyes?"
"Yes, just for a moment, but not--" and then she came to a stop.
"Perhaps you are right," he said after a while, finding she did not continue. "I wonder if I can guess what was in your mind just then? Was it that our eyes reveal all they are capable of revealing at a glance, in an instant; that at a glance we see all that we wish to see; but that they do not and cannot reveal our inner self, the hidden things of the soul; and that when our eyes are gazed steadily at it looks like an attempt to pierce to that secret part of us?"
"Yes, I think that is so."
"And yet I think that friends that love and trust each other ought not to have that uncomfortable feeling. Why should you have it, for instance, in a case where your friend freely opens his heart to you, and tells you every thought and feeling he has about you? For instance, if I were to open my heart to you now and tell you all that is in it--every thought and every wish?"
She glanced at him and her lips moved, but she did not speak, and after a little he continued:
"Listen, Fan, and you shall hear it all. In the first place there is the desire to see you contented and happy. The desire brings the thought that happiness results from the possession of certain things, which, in your case, fate has put out of your reach. Your future is uncertain, and in the event of a serious illness or an accident, you might at any time be deprived of your only means of subsistence; so that to free you from that anxiety about the future which makes perfect happiness impossible, a fixed income sufficient for anything and settled on you for life would be required. And now, Fan, may I tell you how I should like to act to put these thoughts and feelings about you into practice?"
"How?" said Fan, glancing for a moment with some curiosity at his face.
"This is what I should do--how gladly! I should invest a sum of money for your benefit, and appoint trustees who would pay you the interest every year as long as you lived. I should also buy a pretty little house in some nice neighbourhood, like this one of Kew, for instance, and have it beautifully decorated and furnished, and make you a present of it, so
that you would have your own home. If you wished to study music or painting, or any other art or subject, I should employ masters to instruct you. And I should also give you books, and jewels, and dresses, and go with you to plays and concerts, and take you abroad to see other countries more beautiful than ours."
Here he paused as if expecting some reply, but she spoke no word; she only glanced for a moment at his upturned face with a look of wonder and trouble in her eyes.
Then he continued, "And in return for all that, Fan. and for my love--the love I have felt for you since I saw you on that evening at Norland Square--I should only ask you to be my friend still, but with a sweeter, closer, more precious friendship than you have hitherto had for me."
Again she glanced at him, but only for an instant; for a few moments more she continued silent, deeply troubled, then with face still averted, pressed her hand on the ground to assist her in rising; but he caught her by the wrist and detained her.
"Have you nothing to say to me, Fan?" he asked.
"Only that I wish to stand up, Arthur, if you will let me."
She spoke so quietly, in a tone so like her usual one, using his Christian name too, that he looked searchingly at her, not yet knowing how his words had affected her. Her cheeks were flushed, but she was evidently not angry, only a little excited perhaps at his declaration.
Her manner only served to raise his hopes.
"Then let me assist you," he said, springing lightly to his feet, and drawing her up. But before she could steady herself his arms were round her waist, and she was drawn and held firmly against his breast while he kissed her two or three times on the cheek.
After freeing herself from his embrace, still silent, she walked hurriedly away; then Eden, snatching up his coat from the grass, ran after her and was quickly at her side.
"Dearest Fan, are you angry with me that you refuse to speak?" he said, seizing her hand.
"I have nothing to say, Mr. Eden. Will you release my hand, as I wish to go home?"
"I must go back to town with you, Fan," he returned. "I will release your hand if you will sit down on this bench and let me speak to you. We must not part in this way."
After a few moments' hesitation she sat down, still keeping her face averted from him. Then he dropped her hand and sat down near her. His hopes were fast vanishing, and he was not only deeply disappointed but angry; and with these feelings there mingled some remorse, he now began to think that he had surprised and pained her. Never had she seemed more sweet and desirable than now, when he had tempted her and she had turned silently away.
"For heaven's sake don't be so angry with me, Fan," he said at length. "It is not just. I could not help loving you; and if you have old-fashioned ideas about such things, and can't agree to my proposals, why can't we agree to differ, and not make matters worse by quarrelling? My only wish, goodness knows, was to make you happy; there is no sacrifice I
would not gladly make for your sake, for I do love you, Fan, with all my heart."
She listened quietly, but every sentence he uttered only had the effect of widening the distance between them. Her only answer was, "I wish to go home now--will you let me go by myself?"
But he caught her hand again when she attempted to rise, and forced her to remain on the seat.
"No, Fan, you must not go before you have answered me," he returned, his face darkening with anger. "You have no right to treat me in this way. What have I said to stir up such a tempest?"
"There is no tempest, Mr. Eden. What can I say to you except that we have both been mistaken? I was wrong to meet you, but I did not know--it did not seem wrong. That was my mistake."
Her voice was low and trembled a little, and there was still no note of anger in it. It touched his heart, and yet he could not help being angry with her for destroying his hopes, and it was with some bitterness that he replied:
"You have told me your mistake; now what was mine?"
"That you know already."
"Yes, I know it; but I do not know what you imagine. I may be able to show you yet that you are too harsh with me."
After an interval of silence she answered:
"Mr. Eden, I believe you have heard the story of my origin from Mr. Chance. I suppose that he knows what I came from. No doubt he thought it right to separate his wife from me for the same reason that made you think that you could buy me with money, just as you could buy anything else you might wish to have. You would not have made such a proposal to one in your own class, though she might be an orphan and friendless and obliged to work for her living."
"You are altogether mistaken," he returned warmly. "I know absolutely nothing of your origin, and if I had known all about it that would not have had the slightest effect. Gentle birth or not, I should have made the same proposal; and if you imagine that ladies do not often receive and accept such proposals, you know little of what goes on in the world. But you must not think for a moment that I ever tried to find out your history from Merton. I put one question to him about you, and one only. Let me tell you what it was, and the answer he gave me. I asked him where you came from, or what your people were, and gave him a reason for my question, which was that the surname of Affleck had a peculiar interest for me. There was nothing wrong in that, I think? He said that you were an orphan, that the lady you lived with, not liking your own name, gave you the name of Affleck, solely because it took her fancy, or was uncommon, not because you had any relations of that name."
"He did not know, I suppose, that it was my mother's name," said Fan.
But the moment she had spoken it flashed across her mind that by that incautious speech she had revealed the secret of her birth, and her face crimsoned with shame and confusion.
But the other did not notice it; and without raising his eyes from the ground he returned--"Your mother's name--what was her name?"
"Margaret Affleck," she answered; and thinking that it was not too late to repair the mistake she had made, and preserve her secret, she added, "That was her maiden name, and when the lady I lived with heard it, she preferred to call me by it because she did not like my right name."
"And what was your father's name?"
"I cannot answer any more questions, Mr. Eden," she returned, after an interval of silence. "It cannot matter to you in the least. Perhaps you say truly that it would have made no difference to you if I had come of a good family. That does not make me less unhappy, or alter my opinion of you. My only wish now is to go away, and to be left alone by you."
He continued silently prodding at the turf with his stick, his eyes fixed on the ground. She was nervous and anxious to make her escape, and could not help glancing frequently at his face, so strange in its unaccustomed gloom and look of abstraction. Suddenly he lifted his eyes to hers and said:
"And if I refuse to leave you alone, Fan?"
"Must I, then, go away altogether?" she returned with keen distress. "Will you be so cruel as to hunt me out of the place where I earn my bread? I have no one to protect me, Mr. Eden--surely you will not carry out such a threat, and force me to hide myself in some distant place!"
"Do you think you could hide yourself where I would not find you, Fan?" he answered, looking up with a strange gleam in his eyes and a smile on his lips.
She did not reply, although his words troubled her strangely. After a while he added:
"No, Fan; you need not fear any persecution from me. You are just as safe in your shop in Regent Street, where you earn your bread, as you would be at the Antipodes."
"Thank you," she returned. "Will you let me go home now?"
"We must go back together as we came," he said.
"I am sorry you think we must go back together. Is it only to annoy me?"
"Why should you think that, my girl?" he said, but in an indifferent tone, and still sullenly prodding at the ground with his stick. After a time he continued, "I don't want to lose sight of you just yet, Fan, or to think when we part it will be for ever. If you knew how heavy my heart is you would not be so bitter against me. Perhaps before we get back to town you will have kinder thoughts. When you remember the pleasant hours we have spent together you will perhaps be able to give me your hand and say that you are my friend still."
Up to this moment she had felt only the pain of her wound and the desire to escape and hide herself from his sight; but his last words had the effect of kindling her anger--the anger which took so long to kindle, and which now, as on one or two former occasions, suddenly took complete possession of her and instantly drove out every other feeling. Her face had all at once grown white, and starting to her feet, she stood facing him.
"Mr. Eden," she said, her words coming rapidly, with passion, from her lips, "do you wish me to say more than I have said? Would you like to know what I think of you?"
"Yes; what do you think of me, Fan? I think it would be rather interesting to hear."
"I think you have acted very treacherously all along. I believe that from the first you have had it in your mind to--to make me this offer, but you have never let me suspect such a thing. Your kindness and interest in the Chances--it was all put on. I believe you are incapable of an unselfish feeling. Your love I detest, and every word you have spoken since you told me of it has only made me think worse of you. You thought you could buy me, and if your heart is heavy it is only because you have not succeeded--because I will not sell myself. I dare say you have plenty of money, but if you had ten times as much you couldn't buy a better opinion of you than I have given. My only wish is never to see you again. I wish I could forget you! I detest you! I detest you!"
Not one word did he reply; nor had he listened to her excited words with any show of interest; but his eyes continued cast down, and the expression of his face was still dark and strangely abstracted.
For some moments she remained standing before him, still white and trembling with the strength of her emotions; then turning, she walked away through the trees. He did not follow her this time; and when, still fearing, she cast back one hurried glance at him from a considerable distance, he was sitting motionless in the same attitude, with eyes fixed on the ground before him.