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)
Mr. Tytherleigh was already at her lodgings, and seeing her arrive, he hurried out to ask her not to alight. Mr. Travers, he said, wished her to move into better apartments; he had a short list in his pocket, and offered to go with her to choose a place. Fan readily consented, and when he had taken the picture into the house for her, he got into the cab, and they drove off to the neighbourhood of Portman Square. In Quebec Street they found what they wanted--two spacious and prettily--furnished rooms on a first floor in a house owned by a Mrs. Fay. A respectable woman, very attentive to her lodgers, Mr. Tytherleigh said, and known to Mr. Travers through a country client of his having used the house for several years. He also pronounced the terms very moderate, which rather surprised
Fan, whose ideas about moderation were not the same as his.
From Quebec Street they went to the London and Westminster Bank in Stratford Place, where Fan was made to sign her name in a book; and as she took the pen into her hand, not knowing what meaning to attach to all these ceremonies, Mr. Tytherleigh, standing at her elbow, whispered warningly--"Frances Eden." She smiled, and a little colour flushed her cheeks. Did he imagine that she had forgotten? that the name of Affleck was anything more to her than a bit of floating thistledown, which had rested on her for a moment only to float away again, to be carried by some light wind into illimitable space, to be henceforth and for ever less than nothing to her? After signing her new name a cheque-book was handed to her; then Mr. Tytherleigh instructed her in the mysterious art of drawing a cheque, and as a beginning he showed her how to write one payable to self for twenty-five pounds; then after handing it over the counter and receiving five bank-notes for it, they left the bank and proceeded to a stationer's in Oxford Street, where Fan ordered her cards.
Mr. Tytherleigh, as if reluctant to part from her, returned to Charlotte Street in the cab at her side. During their ride back she began to experience a curious sensation of dependence and helplessness. It would have been very agreeable to her if this freer, sweeter life which she had
tasted formerly, and which was now hers once more, had come to her as a gift from her brother; but he had distinctly told her that she had nothing to thank him for, and only some very vague words about her father's dying wishes had been spoken. Who then was she dependent on? She had not been consulted in any way; her employer had simply been told that
it would not be convenient for her to attend again at the place of business, and now she was sent to live alone in grand apartments, where she would have a cheque-book and some five-pound notes to amuse herself with. For upwards of a year she had been proud of her independence, of
her usefulness in the world, of the room she rented, and had made pretty with bits of embroidery and such art as she possessed, and now she could not help experiencing a little pang of regret at seeing all this taken from her--especially as she did not know who was taking it, or changing it for something else.
These thoughts were occupying her mind when she was led into her landlady's little sitting-room, and hoped that the lawyer or lawyer's clerk had only come to explain it all to her.
"I don't know when I shall see you again, Miss Eden," he said; she noticed that he and her brother had begun calling her Miss Eden on the same day; "but if there is anything more I can do for you now I shall be glad. If I can assist you in moving to Quebec Street, for instance----"
"Oh no, thank you; all my luggage will go easily on a cab. Are you in a hurry to leave, Mr. Tytherleigh?"
"Oh no, Miss Eden, my time is at your disposal"; and he sat down again to await her commands.
"I should so like to ask you something," she said. "For the last few hours I have scarcely known what was happening to me, and I feel--a little bewildered at being left alone with this cheque-book and money. And then, whose money is it, Mr. Tytherleigh--you can tell me that, I suppose?"
"Why, I should say your own, Miss Eden, else--you could hardly have it to spend."
"But how is it mine? I forgot to ask my brother today to explain some things in a letter I had from him last night. He wishes me to be guided by Mr. Travers, and says that what I receive does not come from him, but from my father."
"Quite right," said the other with confidence.
"But, Mr. Tytherleigh, you told me some days ago that no money was left to my mother or to anyone belonging to her."
"Ah, yes, it does seem a little contradictory, Miss Eden. I was quite correct in what I told you, and--for the rest, you must of course take your brother's word."
"Yes; but what am I to understand--can you not explain it all to me?"
"Scarcely," he returned, with the regulation solicitor smile. "I think I have heard that Mr. Travers will see you himself before long. Perhaps he will make it clear to you, for I confess that it must seem a little puzzling to you just now."
"When shall I see Mr. Travers?"
"I cannot say. He is an elderly man, not very strong, and does not often go out of his way. In the meantime, I hope you will take my word for it that it is all right, and that when you require money you will freely use your cheque-book."
And that was all the explanation she got from Mr. Tytherleigh.
Fan, alone in her fine apartments, her occupation gone, found the time hang heavily on her hands. To read a little, embroider a little, walk a little in Hyde Park each day, was all she could do until Mr. Travers should come to her and explain everything and be her guide and friend. But the slow hours, the long hot days passed, and Mr. Travers still delayed his coming, until to her restless heart the leisure she enjoyed seemed a weariness and the freedom a delusion. Every day she spent more and more time out of doors. At home the profound silence and seeming emptiness of the house served but to intensify her craving for companionship. Her landlady, who was her own cook, never entered into conversation with her, and only came to her once or twice a day to ask her what she would have to eat. But to Fan it was no pleasure to sit down to eat by herself, and for her midday meal she was satisfied to have a mutton chop with a potato--that hideously monotonous mutton chop and potato which so many millions of unimaginative Anglo-Saxons are content to swallow on each recurring day. And Mrs. Fay, her landlady, had a soul; and her skill in cooking was her pride and glory. Cookery was to her what poetry and the worship of Humanity, and Esoteric Buddhism are to others; and from the time when she began life as a kitchen-maid in a small hotel, she had followed her art with singleness of purpose and unflagging zeal. She felt it as a kind of degradation to have a lodger in her house who was satisfied to order a mutton chop and a potato day after day. It was no wonder then that she grew more reticent and dark-browed and sullen every day, and that she went about the house like a person perpetually brooding over some dark secret. Some awful midnight crime, perhaps--some beautiful and unhappy young heiress, left in her charge, and smothered with a pillow for yellow gold, still haunting her in Quebec Street. So might one have imagined; but it would have been a mistake, for the poor
woman was haunted by nothing more ghastly than the image of her lodger's mutton chop and potato. And at last she could endure it no longer, and spoke out.
"I beg your pardon for saying it, Miss," she said in an aggrieved tone, "but I think it very strange you can't order anything better for your dinner."
"It does very well for me," said Fan innocently. "I never feel very hungry when I'm alone."
"No, miss; and no person would with nothing but a chop to sit down to. I was told by the gentleman from Mr. Travers' office that brought you here that I was to do my best for you. But how can I do my best for you when you order me to do my worst?" Here she appeared almost at the point of crying. "It is not for me to say anything, but I consider, miss, that you're not doing yourself justice. I mean only with respect to eating and drinking----" with a glance full of meaning at Fan's face, then at her dress. "About other things I haven't anything to say, because I don't interfere with what doesn't concern me."
"But what can I do, Mrs. Fay?" said Fan distressed. "I have not been accustomed to order my meals, but to sit down without knowing what there was to eat. And I like that way best." Then, in a burst of despair, she added, "Can't you give me just whatever you like, without asking me?"
Mrs. Fay's brow cleared, and she smiled as Fan had not seen her smile before.
"That I will, miss; and I don't think you'll have any reason to complain that you left it to me."
From that time Fan was compelled to fare delicately, and each day in place of the simple quickly-eaten and soon-forgotten chop, there came to her table a soup with some new flavour, a bit of fish--salmon cutlets, or a couple of smelts, or dainty whitebait with lemon and brown bread-and-butter, or a red mullet in its white wrapper--and exquisitely-tasting little made dishes, and various sweets of unknown names. Nor was there wanting bright colour to relieve the monotony of white napery and please the eye--wine, white and red, in small cut-glass decanters, and rose and amber-coloured wineglasses, and rich-hued fruits and flowers. Of all the delicacies provided for her she tasted, yet never altogether free from the painful thought that while she was thus faring sumptuously, many of her fellow-creatures were going about the streets hungry, even as she had once gone about wishing for a penny to buy a roll. Still, Mrs. Fay was happy now, and that was one advantage gained, although her lodger was
paying dearly for it with somebody's money.
But here she drew the line, being quite determined not to spend any money on dress until Mr. Travers should come to her to relieve her doubts, and yet she knew very well that to be leading this easy idle life she was very poorly dressed. Many an hour she spent sitting in the shade in Hyde Park, watching the perpetual stream of fashionable people, on foot and in
carriages--she the only unfashionable one there, the only one who exchanged greetings and pleasant words with no friend or acquaintance. What then did it matter how meanly she dressed? she said to herself every day, determined not to spend that mysterious money. Then one day a great temptation--a new thought--assailed her, and she fell. She was passing Marshall and Snelgrove's, about twelve o'clock in the morning, when the broad pavement is most thronged with shopping ladies and idlers of both sexes, when out of the door there came a majestic-looking elderly lady, followed by two young ladies, her daughters, all very richly dressed. Seeing Fan, the first put out her hand and advanced smilingly to her.
"My dear Miss Featherstonehaugh," she exclaimed, "how strange that we should meet here!"
"Oh, mamma, it is not Miss Featherstonehaugh!" broke in one of the young ladies; and after surveying Fan from top to toe with a slightly supercilious smile, she added, "How could you make such a mistake!"
"I beg your pardon," said the old lady loftily, as if Fan had done her some injury, and also surveying the girl, apparently surprised at herself for mistaking this badly-dressed young woman for one of her own friends.
Fan, arrested in her walk, had been standing motionless before them, and her eyes, instinctively following the direction of the lady's glance, travelled down her dress to her feet, where one of her walking-boots, old and cracked, was projecting from her skirt. She reddened with shame and confusion, and walked hurriedly on. What would her brother's feeling have been, she asked herself, if he had met her accidentally there and had noticed those shabby boots? and with all that money, which she had been told to use freely, in her purse! A fashionable shoe-shop caught her eye at that moment, and without a moment's hesitation she went in and purchased a pair of the most expensive walking-shoes she could get, and a
second light pretty pair to wear in the house. That was only the first of a series of purchases made that day. At one establishment she ordered a walking-dress to be made, a soft blue-grey, with cream-coloured satin vest; and at yet another a hat to match. And many other things were added, included a sunshade of a kind she admired very much, covered with cream-coloured lace. With a recklessness which was in strange contrast to her previous mood, she got rid of every shilling of her money in a few hours, and then went boldly to the bank. Then her courage forsook her, and her face burned hotly, and her hand shook while she wrote out a second cheque for twenty-five pounds. Not without fear and trembling did she present it at the cashier's desk; but the clerk said not a word, nor did he look at her with a stern, shocked expression as if reproaching her for such awful extravagance. On the contrary he smiled pleasantly, remarking that it was a warm day (which Fan knew), and then bowed, and said "Good-day" politely.
The feeling of guilt as of having robbed the bank with which she left Stratford Place happily wore off in time; and when the grey dress was finished, and she found herself arrayed becomingly, the result made her happy for a season. She surveyed her reflection in the tall pier-glass in her bedroom with strange interest--or not strange, perhaps--and thought with a little feeling of triumph that the grand lady and her daughters would not feel disgusted at their dimness of vision if they once more mistook her for their friend "Miss Featherstonehaugh."
"Even Constance would perhaps think me good enough for a friend now," she said, a little bitterly; and then remembering that she had no friend to show herself to, she felt strongly inclined to sit down and cry.
"Oh, how foolish I have been to spend so much on myself, when it doesn't matter in the least what I wear--until Arthur comes back!"
And Arthur was not coming back just now, for only after all her finery had been bought, on that very day she had received a letter from him dated from Southampton, telling her that he had joined a friend who was about to start for Norway in his yacht, and that he would be absent not less than two months. This was a sore disappointment, but a note from Mr.
Travers accompanied Eden's letter, sent in the first place to Lincoln's Inn, which gave her something to expect and think about. The lawyer wrote to say that he would call to see her at twelve o'clock on the following morning.
Fan, in her new dress, and with a slight flush caused by excitement, was waiting for him when he arrived. He was a tall spare man, over seventy years old, with a slight stoop in his shoulders, and hair and whiskers almost white. He had an aquiline nose and a firm mouth and chin, and yet the expression was far from severe, and under his broad, much-lined
forehead the deep-set clear blue eyes looked kindly to the girl. When in repose there was an expression of weariness on his grey face, and a far-off look in the eyes, like that of one who gazes on a distant prospect shrouded in mist or low-trailing clouds. He had thought and wrought much, and perhaps, unlike that stern-browed and dauntless old chair-mender that Fan remembered so well, he was growing tired of his long life-journey, and not unwilling to see the end when there would be rest. But when talking or listening his face still showed animation, and was pleasant to look upon. Fan remembered certain words of her brother's, and felt that even if they had never been uttered, here was a man in whom she could
At first he did not say much, and after explaining the cause of his delay in visiting her, contented himself with listening and observing her quietly. At length, catching sight of the water-colour portrait of Fan, which was hanging on the wall, he got up from his seat and placed himself before it.
"It is a very beautiful picture, Miss Eden," he said with a smile, as Fan came to his side.
"Yes, I think it is," she returned naively. "But that is the artist's work. I never had a dress like that--I never had a dinner dress in my life. It was taken from a photograph, and the painter has made a fancy picture of it."
"It is very like you, Miss Eden--an excellent portrait, I think. Do you not know that you are beautiful?"
"No, I did not know--at least, I was not sure. But I am glad you think so. I should like very much to be beautiful."
"Why?" he asked with a smile.
"Because I am not clever, and perhaps it would not matter so much if people thought me pretty. They might like me for that."
He smiled again. "I do not know you very well yet, Miss Eden, but judging from the little I have seen of you and what I have heard, I think you have a great deal to make people like you."
"Thank you," she returned a little sadly, remembering how her dearest friends had quickly grown tired of her.
"How strange it is--how very strange!" he remarked after a while, repeating Mr. Tytherleigh's very words. "I can scarcely realise that I am here talking to Colonel Eden's daughter."
"Yes, it is very strange. That I should have got acquainted in that chance way with my brother, and--"
"That he should have fallen in love with his sister," added Mr. Travers, as if speaking to himself rather than to her.
She looked up with a startled expression, then suddenly became crimson to the forehead and cast down her eyes. "Oh, I am so sorry--so sorry that you know," she spoke in a low sad voice. "Why, why did Arthur tell you that? No person knew except ourselves; and it would have been forgotten and buried, and now--now others know, and it will not be forgotten!"
"My dear Miss Eden, you must not think such a thing," he returned. "Your secret is safe with me, but perhaps you did not know that. Do you know that your father and I were close friends? There was little that he kept from me, and I am glad that Arthur Eden has inherited his father's trust in me; and perhaps, Miss Eden, when you know me better, and have heard all I intend telling you about your father, you will have the same feeling. But when I spoke of its being so strange, I was not thinking about you and Arthur becoming acquainted. That was strange, certainly, but it was no more than one of those coincidences which frequently occur, and which make people remark so often that truth is stranger than fiction."
"What were you thinking of then, Mr. Travers?" she asked, a little timidly.
"Are you not aware, Miss Eden, that your father never knew of your existence at all? That is the strangest part of the story. But I must not go into that now. You shall hear it all before long. Would you not like to see your father's portrait?"
"Oh yes, very much; but Arthur never told me that he had one."
"I am not sure that he has one; but I possess a very fine portrait of him, in oils, by a good artist, which, I hope, will belong to your brother some day, for I do not wish to live for ever, Miss Eden. I should like to show it you very much. And that leads me to one object of my visit today. Mrs. Travers and I wish you to pay us a visit if you will. We live at Kingston, and should like you to stay with us a fortnight."
Fan thanked him and accepted the invitation, and it was agreed that she should go to Kingston that day week.
"I have found out one thing since I came to see you, Miss Eden," he said, "and it is that you are singularly frank. One effect of that is to make me wish to be frank with you. Now I am going to confess that I came today with some misgivings. I remembered, my dear child, the circumstances of your birth and bringing up, and could not help fearing that your brother had been a little blinded by his feelings, and had seen a little more in you than you possessed. But I do not wonder now at what he said of you. If your father had lived till now I think that he would have been proud of his child, and yet he was a fastidious man."
"Thank you, Mr. Travers; but you, perhaps, think all that because I am--because you think I am pretty."
Mr. Travers smiled. "Well, your prettiness is a part of you--an appropriate part, I think, but only a part after all. You see I am not afraid of spoiling you. You are strangely like your father; in the shape of your face, the colour of your eyes, and in your voice you are like him."
She was looking up at him, drinking in his words with eager pleasure.
"I see that you like to hear about him," he said, taking her hand. "But all I have to tell you must be put off until we meet at Kingston. I am only sorry that you will find no young people there. My sons and daughters are all married and away. I have some grandchildren as old as you are, and they are often with us, but at present Mrs. Travers is alone."
After a few more words, he bade her good-bye and left her, and only after he had gone Fan remembered that she had intended to confess to him, among other things, that she had been extravagant with somebody's money.