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)
The lawyer's visit had given her something to think of and to do; forthwith she began to prepare for her fortnight's stay at Kingston with much zeal and energy. It was a great deal to her to be able to look forward to the companionship for a short time of even an elderly, perhaps very dignified, lady, her loneliness did so weigh upon her. It had not so weighed before; she had had her daily occupations, the companionship of her fellow-assistants, and had always felt tired and glad to rest in the evening. Now that this strange new life had come to her, that the days were empty yet her heart full, to be so completely cut off from her fellows and thrown back on herself, to have not one sympathetic friend among all these multitudes around her, appeared unnatural, and made all the good things she possessed seem almost a vanity and a delusion.
Sitting in the shade in Hyde Park, she had begun to find a vague pleasure in recognising individuals she had seen and noticed on previous occasions in the moving well-dressed crowd--the same tall spare military-looking gentleman with the grey moustache; the same three slim pretty girls with golden hair and dressed alike in grey and terra-cotta; the same two young gentlemen together, both wearing tight morning coats, silk hats, and tan gloves, but in their faces so different! one colourless, thoughtful, with eyes bent down; the other burnt brown by tropical heats and looking so glad to be in London once more. Were they brothers, or dear friends, reunited after a long separation, with many strange experiences to tell?
To see them again day after day was like seeing people she knew; it was pleasant and painful at the same time. But as the slow heavy days went on, and after all her preparations were complete, and still other days remained to be got through before she could leave London, the
dissatisfied feeling grew in her until she thought that it would be a joy even to meet that poor laundry-woman who had given her shelter at Dudley Grove, only to look once more into familiar friendly eyes. During these days the memory of Constance and Mary was persistently with her; for these two had become associated together in her mind, as if the two distinct periods of her life at Dawson Place and Eyethorne had been the same, and she could not think of one without the other. She had loved and still loved them both so much; they were both so beautiful and strong and proud in their different ways; and in their strength perhaps both had alike despised her weak clinging nature, had grown tired of her
affection. And at last this perpetual want in her heart, this disquieting "passion of the past," reached its culminating point, when, one day after dinner, she went out for a short stroll in the park.
The Row at that hot hour being forsaken, instead of crossing the park to seek her favourite resting-place, she turned into the fresh shade of the elms growing near its northern unfashionable side. She walked on until the fountains were passed and she was in the deeper shade of Kensington Gardens. She was standing on the very spot where she had watched three ragged little children playing together, heaping up the old dead brown leaves. The image of the little girl struggling up from the heap in which her rude playfellows had thrown her, with tearful dusty face, and dead leaves clinging to her clothes and disordered hair, made Fan laugh, and then in a moment she could scarcely keep back the tears. For now a hundred sweet memories rushed into her heart--her walks in the Gardens, all the little incidents, the early blissful days when she lived with Mary; and so vividly was the past seen and realised, yet so immeasurably far did it seem to her and so irrecoverably lost, that the sweetness was overmastered by the pain, and the pain was like anguish. And yet with that feeling in her heart, so strong that it made her cheeks pallid and her steps languid, she went on to visit every spot associated in her mind with some memory of that lost time. Under that very tree, one chill
October day, she had given charity unasked to a pale-faced man, shivering in thin clothes; and there too she had comforted a poor wild-haired little boy whose stronger companions had robbed him of all the chestnut-burs and acorns he had gathered; and on this sacred spot a small angelic child walking with its mamma had put up its arms and demanded a kiss. Even the Albert Memorial was not overlooked, but she went not there to admire the splendour of colour and gold, and the procession of marble men of all ages and all lands, led by old Homer playing on his lyre. She looked only on the colossal woman seated on her elephant, ever gazing straight before her, shading her eyes from the hot Asiatic sun with her hand, for that majestic face of marble, and the proud beautiful mouth that reminded her of Mary, had also memories for her. And at last her rambles brought her to the extreme end of the Gardens, to the once secluded grove between Kensington Palace and Bayswater Hill; for even that bitter spot among the yew and pine-trees must be visited now. She found the very seat where she had rested on that unhappy day in early spring, shortly after her adventure at Twickenham, when, as she then imagined, her beloved friend and protector had so cruelly betrayed and abandoned her. How desolate and heart-broken she had felt, seated there alone on that morning in early spring, in that green dress which Mary had given her--how she had sobbed there by herself, abandoned, unloved, alone in the world! And after all Mary had done her no wrong, and Mary herself had found her in that lonely place! The whole scene of their meeting rose with a painful distinctness before her mind. In memory she heard again the slight rustle of a dress, the tread of a light foot on a dead leaf that had startled her; she listened again to all the scornful cutting words that had the effect at last of waking such a strange frenzy of rage
in her, a rage that was like insanity. And now how gladly would she have dismissed the rest, but the tyrant Memory would not let her be, she must re-live it all again, and not one feeling, thought, or word be left out. Oh, why, why did she remember it all now--when, starting from her seat as if some demon had possessed her, she turned on her mocker with words such as had never defiled her lips before, which she now shuddered to recall? Unable to shake these hateful memories off, and with face crimsoned with shame, she rose from the seat and hurriedly walked away towards Bayswater Hill. Issuing from the Gardens she stood hesitating for some time, and finally, as if unable to resist the strange impulse that was drawing her, she turned into St. Petersburg Place, looking long at each familiar building--the fantastic, mosque-like red-brick synagogue; and just beyond it St. Sophia, the ugly Greek cathedral, yellow, squat, and ponderous; and midway between these two--a thing of beauty--St. Matthew's Church, grey and Gothic, with its slender soaring spire. In Pembridge Square she paused to ask herself if it was not time to turn back. No, not yet, a few steps more would bring her to the old turning--that broad familiar way only as long as the width of two houses with their gardens, from which she might look for a few moments into that old beloved place where she
had lived with Mary. And having reached the opening, and even ventured a few paces into it, she thought, "No, not there, I must not go one step further, for to see the dear old house would be too painful now." But against her will, and in spite of pain and the fear of greater pain, her feet carried her on, slowly, step by step, and in another minute she was walking on the broad clean pavement of Dawson Place.
How familiar it looked, lovely and peaceful under the hot July sun; the detached houses set well back from the road, still radiant as of old with flowers in the windows and gardens! It was strangely quiet, and only two persons beside herself were walking there--a lady with a girl of ten or twelve carrying a bunch of water-lilies in her hand, which she had probably just bought at Westbourne Grove. They passed her, talking and laughing, and went into one of the houses; and after that it seemed stiller than ever. Only a sparrow burst out into blithe chirruping notes, which had a strangely joyous ring in them. And here where she had expected greater pain her pain was healed. Something from far, something mysterious, seemed to rest on that spot, to make it unlike all other places within the great city. What was it--this calm which stilled her throbbing heart; this touch of glory and subtle fragrance entering her soul and turning all bitterness there to sweetness? Perhaps the shy spirit of life and loveliness, mother of men and of wild-flowers and grasses, had come to it, bringing a whiter sunshine and the mystic silence of her forests, and touching every flowery petal with her invisible finger to make it burn like fire, and giving a ringing woodland music to the sparrow's voice.
In that brightness and silence she could walk there, thinking calmly of the vanished days. How real it all seemed--Mary, and her life with Mary: all the rest of her life seemed pale and dream-like in comparison, and the images of all other men and women looked dim in her mind when she thought of the woman, sweet, strong, and passion-rocked, who had taken her to her heart. Slowly she walked along the pavement, looking at each well-known house as she passed, and when she reached the house where she had lived, walking slower still, while her eyes rested lovingly, lingeringly on it. And as she passed it, both to leave it so soon, it occurred to her that she could easily invent some innocent pretext for calling. She would see the lady of the house to ask for Miss Starbrow's present address. Not that she would ever write to Mary again, even if the address were known, but it would be an excuse to go to the door with, to see the interior once more--the shady tessellated hall, perhaps the drawing-room. Turning in at the gate, she ascended the broad white steps, and their whiteness made her smile a little sadly, reminding her of the old dark days before Mary had been her friend.
Her knock was answered by a neat-looking parlourmaid.
"I called to see the lady of the house," said Fan. "Is she in?"
"Yes, miss; will you please walk in," and she led the way to the drawing-room. "What name shall I say, miss?" said the girl.
Fan gave her a card, and then, left alone, sat down and began eagerly studying the well-remembered room. There were ferns and blossoming plants in large blue pots about the room, and some pictures, and a few chairs and knick-knacks she had never seen, and a new Persian carpet on the floor; but everything else was unchanged. The grand piano was in the old place, open, with loose sheets of music lying on it, just as if Mary herself had been there practising an hour before.
She was sitting with her back to the door, and did not hear it open. The slight rustling sound of a dress caught her ear, and turning quickly, she beheld Mary herself standing before her. It might have been only yesterday that Mary had spoken those cruel-kind words and left her in
tears at Eyethorne. For there was no change in her--in that strong beautiful face, the raven hair and full dark eyes, the proud, sweet mouth--which Foley might have had for a model when he chiselled his "Asia"--and that red colour on her cheeks, richer and softer than ever burned on sea-shell or flower.
The instant that Fan turned she recognised her visitor, and remained standing motionless, holding the girl's card in her hand, her face showing the most utter astonishment. If a visitor from the other world had appeared to her she could not have looked more astonished. Meanwhile Fan, forgetting everything else in the joy of seeing Mary again, had started to her feet, and with a glad cry and outstretched arms moved towards her. Then the other regained possession of her faculties; she dropped her hand to her side, the colour forsook her face, and it grew cold and hard as stone, while the old black look came to her brows.
"Pray resume your seat, Miss Paradise--I beg your pardon, Miss----" here she consulted the card--"Miss Eden," she finished, her lips curling.
"Oh, I forgot about the card," exclaimed Fan deeply distressed. "You are vexed with me because--because it looks as if I wished to take you by surprise. Will you let me explain about my change of name?"
"You need not take that trouble, Miss--Eden. I have not the slightest interest in the subject. I only desire to know the object of this visit."
"My object was only to--to see the inside of the house again. I did not know that you were living here now. I had invented an excuse for calling. But if I had know you were here--oh, if you knew how I have wished to see you!"
"I do not wish to know anything about it, Miss Eden. Have you so completely forgotten the circumstances which led to our parting, and the words I wrote to you on that occasion?"
"No, I have not forgotten," said Fan despairingly; "but when I saw you I thought--I hoped that the past would not be remembered--that you would be glad to see me again."
"Then you made a great mistake, Miss Eden; and I hope this interview will serve to convince you, if you did not know it before, that I am not one to change, that I never repent of what I do, or fail to be as good as my word."
"Then I must go," said Fan, scarcely able to keep back the tears that were gathering thick in her eyes. "But I am so sorry--so sorry! I wish--I wish you could think differently about it and forgive me if I have offended you."
"There is nothing to be gained by prolonging this conversation, which is not pleasant to me," returned the other haughtily, advancing to the bell to summon the servant.
"Wait one moment--please don't ring yet," cried Fan, hurrying forward, the tears now starting from her eyes. "Oh, Mary, will you not shake hands with me before I go?"
Miss Starbrow moved back a step or two and stared deliberately at her face, as if amazed and angered beyond measure at her persistence. And for some moments they stood thus, not three feet apart, gazing into each other's eyes, Fan's tearful, full of eloquent pleading, her hands still held out; and still the other delayed to speak the cutting words that trembled on her lips. A change came over her scornful countenance; the corners of her mouth twitched nervously, as if some sharp pang had touched her heart; the dark eyes grew misty, and in another moment Fan was clasped to her breast.
"Oh, Fan!--dearest Fan!--darling--you have beaten me again!" she exclaimed spasmodically, half-sobbing. "Oh what a strange girl you are! ... To come and--take me by storm like that! ... And I was so determined never to relent--never to go back from what I said.... But you have swept it all away--all my resolutions--everything. Oh, Fan, can you ever, ever forgive me for being such a brute? But I had to act in that way--there was no help for it. I couldn't break my word--I never do. You know, Fan, that I never change.... Is it really you?--oh, I can't believe it--I can't realise it--here in my own house! Let me look at your dear face again."
And drawing back their heads they gazed into each other's faces once more, Fan crying and laughing by turns, while Mary, the strong woman, could do nothing but cry now.
"The same dear grey eyes, but oh, how beautiful you have grown," she went on. "I shall never forgive myself--never cease to hate myself after this. And yet, dearest, what could I do? I had solemnly vowed never to speak to you again if we met. I should have been a poor weak creature if I hadn't--you must know that. And now--oh, how could I resist so long, and be so cruel? I know I'm very illogical, but--I hate it, there!--I mean logic--don't you?"
"I hardly know what it is, Mary, but if you hate it, so do I with all my heart."
"That's a dear sensible girl. How sweet it is to hear that 'Mary' from your lips again! How often I have wished to hear it!--the wish has even made me cry. For I have never ceased to think of you and love you, Fan, even when I was determined never to speak to you again. But let me explain something. Though you disobeyed me, Fan, and spoke so lightly about it, just as if you believed that you could do what you liked with me, I still might have overlooked it if it had not been for my brother Tom's interference. I was very much offended with you, and when we spoke of you I said that I intended giving you up, but I don't think I really meant it in my heart. But he put himself into a passion about it, and abused me, and called me a demon, and dared me to do what I threatened, and said that if I did he would never speak to me again. That settled it at once. To be talked to in that way by anyone--even by Tom--is more than my flesh and blood can stand. And so we parted--it was at Ravenna, an old Italian city--and of course I did what I said, and from that day to this we have not exchanged a line, nor ever shall until he apologises for his words. That's how it happened, and what woman with any self-respect--would not you have acted in the same way, Fan, in such a case?"
"No, Mary, I don't think so. But we are so different, you so strong and so weak."
"Are you really weak? I am not so sure. You have taken me captive, at all events." And then her eyes suddenly growing misty again, she continued: "Fan, you have a strength which I never had, which, in the old days when you lived with me, used to remind me of Longfellow's little poem about a meek-eyed maid going through life with a lily in her hand, one touch of
which even gates of brass could not withstand. You will forgive me, I know, but tell me now from your heart, don't you think it was cruel--wicked of me to receive you as I did just now?"
"You wouldn't have been so hard with me, Mary, if you had known what I felt. All day long I have been thinking of you, and wishing--oh, how I wished to see you again! And before coming here to see Dawson Place once more I went and sat down on that very seat in Kensington Gardens where you found me crying by myself on that day--do you remember?--and where--and where--oh, how I cried again only to think of it! How could I speak to you as I did--in that horrible way--when you had loved me so much!"
"Hush, Fan, for heaven's sake! You make me feel as if you had put your hand down into me and had wound all the strings of my heart round your fingers, and--I can't bear it. I think nothing of what you said in your anger, but only of my cruelty to you then and on other occasions. Oh, do let's speak of something else. Look, there is your card on the floor where I dropped it. Why do you call yourself Miss Eden--how do you come to be so well-dressed, and looking more like some delicately-nurtured patrician's daughter than a poor girl? Do tell me your story now."
And the story was told as they sat together by the open window in the pleasant room; and when they had drank tea at five o'clock, much remaining yet to be told--much in spite of the gaps Fan saw fit to leave in her narrative--Mary said:
"Will you dine with me, Fan? You shall name the hour yourself if you will only stay--seven, eight, nine if you like."
"I shall only be too glad to stay for as long as you care to have me," said Fan.
"Then will you sleep here? I have a guest's room all ready, a lovely little room, only I think if you sleep there I shall sit by your bedside all night."
"Then if I stay I shall sleep with you, Mary, so as not to keep you up," said Fan laughing. "Can I send a telegram to my landlady to say that I shall not be home tonight?"
"Yes; after it gets cool we might walk to the post-office in the Grove to send it."
And thus it was agreed, and so much had they to say to each other that not until the morning light began to steal into their bedroom, to discover them lying on one pillow, raven-black and golden tresses mingled together, did any drowsy feeling come to them. And even then at intervals they spoke.
"Mary," said Fan, after a rather long silence, "have you ever heard of Rosie since?"
"No; but I saw her once. I went to the Alhambra to see a ballet that was admired very much, and I recognised Rosie on the stage in spite of her paint and ballet dress. I couldn't stay another moment after that. I should have left the theatre if--if--well, never mind. Don't speak again, Fan, we must go to sleep now."
But another question was inevitable. "Just one word more, Mary; have you never heard of Captain Horton since?"
"Ah, I thought that was coming! Yes, once. Just about the time when I returned from abroad, I had a letter from my bankers to say that he--that man--had paid a sum of money--about two hundred and thirty pounds--to my account. It was money I had lent him a long time before, and he had the audacity to ask them to send him a receipt in my handwriting! I told them to send the man a receipt themselves, and to inform him from me that I was sorry he had paid the money, as it had reminded me of his hateful existence."
After another interval Fan remarked, "I am glad he paid the money, Mary."
"Why--do you think I couldn't afford to lose that? I would rather have lost it."
"I wasn't thinking of the money. But it showed that he had some right feelings--that he was not altogether bad."
"You should be the last person to say that, Fan. You should hate his memory with all your heart."
"I am so happy to be with you again, Mary; I feel that I cannot hate anyone, however wicked he may be."
"Yes, you are like that Scotch minister who prayed for everything he could think of in earth and heaven, and finally finished up by praying for the devil. But are you really so happy, dear Fan? Is your happiness quite complete--is there nothing wanting?"
"I should like very, very much to know where Constance is."
"Well, judging from what you have told me, I should think she must be very miserable indeed. They are very poor, no doubt, and in ordinary circumstances poverty would perhaps not make her unhappy, for, being intellectual, she would always have the beauty of her own intellect and the stars to think about."
"Do you really think that, Mary--that she is miserable?"
"I do indeed. When she, poor fool! married Merton Chance, she leant on a reed, and it would be strange if it had not broken and pierced her to the quick."
And after that there was silence, broken only by a sad sigh from Fan; which meant that she knew it and always had known it, but had gone on hoping against hope that the fragile reed would not break to pierce that loved one.