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)
Nearly the whole of Fan's remaining time before going to Kingston was passed at Dawson Place. Her happiness was perfect, like the sunshine she had found resting on that dear spot on her return to it, pure, without stain of cloud. For into Mary's vexed heart something new seemed to have come, something strange to her nature, a novel meekness, a sweetness that did not sour, so that their harmony continued unbroken to the end. And, oddly enough, or not oddly perhaps, since she was not "logical," she seemed now greatly to sympathise with Fan's growing anxiety about the lost Constance. Not one trace of the petty jealous feeling which had caused so much trouble in the past remained; she was heartily ashamed of it now, and was filled with remorse when she recalled her former unkind and capricious behaviour.
At length Fan went on her visit, not without a pang of regret at parting so soon again, even for a short time, from the friend she had recovered. She was anxious to hear that "strange story" about her father which the lawyer had promised to relate; apart from that, she did not anticipate much pleasure from her stay at Kingston.
The Travers' house was at a little distance from the town, and stood well back on the road, screened from sight by trees and a high brick wall. It was a large, low, old-fashioned, rambling house, purchased by its owner many years before, when he had a numerous family with him, and required plenty of house-room; but its principal charm to Fan was the garden,
covering about four acres of ground, well stocked with a great variety of shrubs and flowers, and containing some trees of noble growth.
Mrs. Travers was not many years younger than her husband; and yet she did not look old, although her health was far from good, her more youthful appearance being due to a false front of glossy chestnut-coloured hair, an occasional visit to the rouge-pot, and other artificial means used by civilised ladies to mitigate the ravages of time. In other things also
she offered a striking contrast to her husband, being short and stout, or fat; she was also a dressy dame, and burdened her podgy fingers and broad bosom with too much gold and too many precious stones--yellow, blue, and red; and her silk dresses were also too bright-hued for a lady of her years and figure. Her favourite strong blues and purples would have struck painfully on the refined colour-sense of an aesthete. On the other hand, to balance these pardonable defects, she was kind-hearted; not at all artificial in her manner and conversation, or unduly puffed up with her position, as one might have expected her to be from her appearance; and, to put her chief merit last, she reverenced her husband, and believed that in all things--except, perhaps, in those small matters sacred to femininity, which concerned her personal adornment--"he knew best." She was consequently prepared to extend a warm welcome to her young visitor, and, for her husband's sake, to do as much to make her
visit pleasant as if she had been the lawful daughter of her husband's late friend and client, Colonel Eden.
Nevertheless, after the days she had spent with Mary, Fan did not find Mrs. Travers' society exhilarating. The lady had given up walking, except a very little in the garden, but on most days she went out for carriage exercise in the morning, after Mr. Travers had gone to town. At two o'clock the ladies would lunch, after which Fan would be alone until the five o'clock tea, when her hostess would reappear in a gay dress, and a lovely carmine bloom on her cheeks--the result of her refreshing noonday slumbers. After tea they would spend an hour together in the garden talking and reading. Mrs. Travers, having bad eyesight, accepted Fan's
offer to read to her. She read nothing but periodicals--short social sketches, smart paragraphs, jokes, and occasionally a tale, if very short, so that Fan found her task a very light one. She had The World, Truth, The Whitehall Review, The Queen and The Lady's
Pictorial every week; and in the last-named paper Fan read out a little sketch--one of a series called "Eastern Idylls"--which she liked better than anything else for its graceful style and delicate pathos. So much did it please her, that she looked up the back numbers of the paper, and read all the sketches in them, each relating some little domestic East End incident or tale, pathetic or humorous, or both, with scenes and characters lightly drawn, yet with such skilful touches, and put so clearly before the mind, that it was impossible not to believe that these pictures were from life.
At half-past six Mr. Travers would return from town, and at seven they dined, sitting long at table; and afterwards, if there were friends, there would be a rubber of whist. It was a quiet almost sleepy existence, and Fan began to look forward with a little impatience to the end of her fortnight, when she would be able to return to her friend. For Mary's last words had been, "I shall not leave London without you." But she first wished to hear the "strange story" Mr. Travers had promised to tell, but about which he had spoken no word since her arrival. Every day she was reminded of it, for in the dining-room was the portrait of her father, painted, life-size, by a Royal Academician, and showing a gentleman aged about thirty-five years, with a handsome oval face, grey eyes, thin straight nose, and hair and well-trimmed moustache and Vandyke beard of a deep golden brown, the moustache not altogether hiding the pleasant, somewhat voluptuous mouth. And it seemed to Fan when she looked at it and the grey eyes gazed back into hers, and the pleasant lips seemed to smile on her, that she had never seen among living men a more beautiful and lovable face.
The sixth day of her visit was Sunday. Mr. Travers breakfasted alone with her, his wife not having risen yet, and after breakfast he asked her if she wished to go to church.
"Not unless you are going or wish me to go," returned Fan.
"Then, Miss Eden, let us stay at home, and have a morning to ourselves in the garden. We have not yet had much time to talk, as I am generally rather tired in the evenings. And besides, what I wish to talk to you about is one of my secrets, and it could not be mentioned before another."
They were out in the garden sitting in the shade, when he surprised her by saying, "Are you at all superstitious, Miss Eden?"
"I am not quite sure that I understand you," replied Fan, with a little hesitation. "Do you mean religious, Mr. Travers?"
"Well, no, not exactly. But superstition is undoubtedly a word of many meanings, and some people give it a very wide one, as your question implies. I used the word in a more restricted sense--in the sense in which we say that believers in dreams, presentiments, and apparitions are superstitious. My belief was--I am not sure whether I can say is--
that your father was infected with superstitions of this kind. But I must tell you the whole story, and then you will understand what I mean when I say that it is a strange one. He was one of several children; and, by the way, that reminds me that--but let that pass."
"Do you mean--have I--has my brother many relations--uncles, aunts, and cousins, Mr. Travers?" said Fan, a little eagerly.
"Well," he answered, smiling a little and stroking his chin, "yes. Your half-brother's mother had two married sisters, both with large families; but I do not think that Mr. Arthur Eden is intimate with them. I think I have heard him say as much."
Fan, noting that he cautiously confined himself to her brother's relations on the mother's side, grew red, and secretly resolved never to ask such a question again, even of Arthur.
The other continued: "Being one of several children, and not the eldest, his income was a small one for a young man of rather expensive habits and in the army. He was in difficulties on several occasions, and it was at that period that our acquaintance ripened into a very close friendship--as warm a friendship as can exist between two men living totally different lives, moving in different social worlds, and with a considerable difference in their ages.
"When about thirty-eight years old he married a lady with a considerable fortune, which was not in any way settled on herself, and consequently became his. It was not a happy marriage, and after the birth of their son--their only child--and Mrs. Eden not being in good health, she went to live at Winchester, where she had relations and where her son was educated; and for several years husband and wife lived apart. His wife died about fourteen years after her marriage, and, I am glad to say, he was with her during her last illness, but afterwards he returned to his old life in London, and went very much into society. Finally his health failed; and when he discovered that his malady, although a slow, was an incurable one, his habits and disposition changed, and he grew morbid, I think--possibly from brooding too much on his condition.
"Up to this time he had paid no attention to religion; now it became the sole subject of his thoughts. He attended a ritualistic church in the neighbourhood of Oxford Street, and gave up the house he had occupied before, and took another only a few doors removed from the church, so as to be able to attend all the services, one of which was held daily at a very early hour of the morning. In this church, confession and penances, and other things in which the ritualists imitate the Roman Catholics, are in use, and the vicar, or priest as he is called, gained a great influence over Colonel Eden's mind.
"He had at this time entirely given up going into society, but his intimacy with me, which had lasted so many years, continued to the end. Shortly before he died, and about three years and a half to four years ago, he told me that he had had a strange dream, which he persisted in regarding as of the supernatural order. This dream came to him on three consecutive nights, and after several conversations with his priest and confessor on the subject, and being encouraged by him in the belief that it was something more than a mere wandering of the disordered fancy, he consulted me about it. It was then that for the first time he told me the story of Margaret Affleck, a girl in a humble position in life who had
engaged his affections some fourteen years before, and from whom he had parted after a few months' acquaintance. He assured me that he had all but forgotten this affair; that when parting from her he had given her some money as a compensation for the trouble he had brought on her; while, on her side, she had told him that she would not be disgraced, but that she would marry a young man in her own class, who was willing and anxious to take her.
"At all events, during those fourteen years he had never seen nor heard anything of her. Then comes the dream. He dreamt that he was in the church for early matins, and that he heard a voice calling 'Father, father!' to him, and on looking round saw a poor girl in ragged clothes, and with a pale, exceedingly sad face, and that he had no sooner looked on her than he knew that she was his child, and the child of Margaret Affleck. She was crying piteously, and wringing her hands and imploring him to deliver her from her misery; and in his struggling efforts to go to her he woke.
"This dream, as I said, returned to him night after night, and so preyed on his mind that he interpreted it as a command from some Superior Power to seek out this lost child and save her. I tried my best to argue him out of his delusion, for I was convinced that it was nothing more; but seeing him so determined, and so fully persuaded in his own mind that unless he made atonement his sins would not be forgiven, I gave way, and had inquiries made in various directions. I advertised for Margaret Affleck; for I could not, of course, advertise for a child of whose existence there was not any evidence. But though we advertised a great many times both in the London and Norfolk papers--Colonel Eden remembered that the girl belonged to Norfolk--we could not find the right person. Colonel Eden, however, still clung to the belief that the daughter he believed in would eventually be found, and he even contemplated adding a clause to his will, in which everything was left unconditionally to his son, to make provision for her. This intention was not carried out, but shortly before his death he told me that he had left a sealed letter for his son, who was abroad at the time, informing him of the dream, or revelation, and asking him to continue the search, and to provide generously for the child when she should be found. He never for a moment seemed to doubt that she would be found; but his belief was that we would find in her not, my dear girl, one like yourself--fresh and unsullied as the flower in your hand, beautiful in spirit as in person."
"What did he believe you would find? Will you please tell me, Mr. Travers?" said Fan, a tremor in her voice.
"He believed when he had that dream that you were in the lowest depths of poverty--in misery, and exposed to all the dangers and temptations which surround a destitute young girl, motherless perhaps, and friendless, and homeless, in London. Dear child, I cannot tell you all or what he feared," he finished, putting his hand lightly on her shoulder.
There were tears in her eyes, and she averted her face to hide the rush of crimson to her cheeks.
Mr. Travers continued: "The news of Colonel Eden's death reached Arthur in Mexico, and he came home at once. He showed me the letter I have mentioned, and asked me to advise him what to do. But from the first he had taken the same view of the matter which I had taken, and which I suppose that ninety-nine men out of every hundred would take, and I must say that he did not do much to find the girl, nor was there anything to be done after our advertisements had failed. The rest of the story you know, Miss Eden. When I last saw your brother I told him that after making your acquaintance, if I found you what he had painted, I should in all probability tell you this story, and he made no objection. I fear it has given you pain, still it was best that you should know it. And perhaps now you will not think that your brother was wrong in opening his heart to me."
"No, I think he was right, and I am very, very grateful to you for telling me about my father." After a while she continued: "But, Mr. Travers, I hardly know what to say about the dream. I have heard and read of such things, and--I was just what he imagined--just like the girl he saw in his dream. And when my life was so miserable, if I had known where to find him--if mother could have told me--I should have gone to him to ask him to save me. But--how can I say it? Don't you think, Mr. Travers, that if dreams and warnings were sent to us--if good spirits could let us know things in that way and tell us what to do, that it would happen oftener? ... There are always so many in distress and danger, and sometimes so little is needed to save one--a few pence, a few kind words--and yet how many fall, how many die! Even in the Regent's Canal how many poor women throw their lives away--and nothing saves them.... I am not glad to hear that it was a dream that first made my father wish to find mother--and me. I should have preferred to hear that he thought of her--of us, before he fell into such bad health, and when he was strong and happy.... Do you think his dream was sent from heaven, Mr. Travers?"
"I am not prepared to express an opinion as to that, Miss Eden," he replied, with a grave smile. "But I have been listening to your words with great interest and a little surprise. Most young ladies, I fancy, would have been deeply impressed with such a narrative, and they would
readily and gladly have adopted the view that some supernatural agency had been concerned in the matter. You, strange to say, do not seem to look on yourself as a special favourite of the powers above, and think that others have as much right as yourself to be rescued miraculously from perils and sufferings. Well--you have not a romantic mind, Miss
"No, I don't think I have--I have had the same thing said to me two or three times before," replied Fan naively. "But I wish you would tell me more about my father when he was healthy and happy. Was he really as handsome as he looks in the portrait? It seems so life-like that when I am looking at it I can hardly realise that he is not somewhere living on the earth, that I shall never hold his hand and hear his voice."
The old lawyer was quite ready to gratify her curiosity on the point, and told her a great deal about her father's life. "There is one thing I omitted to mention before," he said at the end. "Your brother would gladly do anything in his power to make you happy; at the same time he wishes you to understand that in providing for you he is only carrying out his father's intentions, and that you will owe it to your father, and not to him."
"But I shall still feel the same gratitude to my brother, Mr. Travers."
"Well, no harm can come of that, and--we cannot help our feelings. Just now it is your brother's fancy to leave you in ignorance of the amount of your income, which I think you will find sufficient. For a year or so you have as it were carte blanche to do what you like in the way of spending, and if you should exceed your income by fifty or a hundred pounds I don't think anything alarming will happen. And now, Miss Eden, is there nothing I can do for you? Nothing you would like to ask my advice about?"
"Oh yes, thank you, there is one thing," and she told him all about her friend Constance, and her anxiety to find her.
Mr. Travers made a note of the matter. "There will be no difficulty in finding them," he said. "I shall have inquiries made tomorrow. I hope," he added with a smile, "you are not going to become a convert to Mr. Merton Chance's doctrines."
"Oh no," she replied laughing. "My only wish is to find Mrs. Chance. Mrs. Churton once said, when she was a little vexed with me, that it was like pouring water on a duck's back to give me religious instruction. I am sure that if Mr. Chance ever speaks to me about his new beliefs I shall have my feathers well oiled."
Meanwhile Mrs. Travers had been keeping the luncheon back, and watching them engaged in that long conversation from her seat at the window. The good woman had been the wife of her husband for a great many years, but she had not yet outlived that natural belief that a wife has to "know everything" her husband knows; and she had guessed that those two were discussing secret matters which they had no intention of imparting to her. A woman has a faculty about such things which corresponds to scent in the terrier; the little mystery is there--the small rodent lurks behind the wainscot; she is consumed with a desire to get at it--to worry its life out; and if it refuse to leave its hiding-place she cannot rest and be satisfied. It was her nature; and though she asked no questions, knowing that her husband was not to be caught in that way, he did not fail to remark the slight frost which had fallen on her manner and her
polite and distant tone towards their guest. Well aware of the cause, and too old to be annoyed, it only gave him a little secret amusement. He had warned the girl, and that was enough. The little chill would pass off in time, and no harm would result.
It did not pass off quickly, however, but lasted three or four days, during which time Mrs. Travers was somewhat distant in her manner, and declined Fan's offer to read to her; and Fan remarked the change, but was at a loss to account for it. But one day, after lunch, when they rose from the table, she said, "Oh, Mrs. Travers, do you know that the Pic. is in the drawing-room? I have been anxiously waiting since Saturday to know what the last 'Eastern Idyll' is about."
"And why have you not read it, Miss Eden?" said the other, a little stiffly.
"I thought that you would perhaps let me read it to you--I did not wish to read it first."
The good woman smiled and consented. Her sight was not good, and the sketches were always printed in a painfully small type; and besides, they seemed different to her when the girl read them; her low musical voice, so clear and penetrating, yet pathetic, had seemed to interpret the writer's feeling so well. And so the frost melted, and she became more kind and friendly than ever.
Mr. Travers, much to his own surprise, failed to discover Fan's lost friends. One thing he had done was to send a clerk to the office of the paper with the singular title to ask for Mr. Chance's address. The answer he received from a not over-polite gentleman he met there was, "We don't know nothing about Mr. Merton Chance in this horfice, and don't want to,
Mr. Travers had to confess that he could not find Merton Chance.