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)
Fan resolved to employ Captain Horton again, and as it was too late in the day to see him at his office on her way home, she wrote that evening, asking him to find her a suitable house near East London, removed from other houses, with garden and trees about it, and with two cool rooms for her friends on the ground floor, and a room for herself. She knew, she
wrote, that she was putting him to great inconvenience, but felt sure that he would be glad to serve her.
When the next day came she began to be sorely troubled in her mind; or rather the trouble which had been in it ever since her return from Kingston, and which she had tried not to think about, had to be faced, and it looked somewhat formidable. For she had not yet seen Mary, in
spite of her promise made at their last parting to go to her immediately on her return from Kingston. But much had happened since their parting: she had met and had become friendly with the man that Mary hated with a great hatred; and she feared that when she came to relate these things, which would have to be related, there would be a storm. But she could no
longer delay to encounter it, and Fan knew, better than most perhaps, how to bow her head and escape harm; and so, putting a bold face on it--though it was not a very bold face--she got into a cab about noon and had herself driven to Dawson Place.
Her friend received her in a strangely quiet way, with just a kiss which was not warm, a few commonplace words of welcome, and a smile which did not linger long on her lips.
"Why are you so cold, Mary?"
"Why are you shamefaced, Fan?"
"Am I shamefaced? I did not know."
"Yes, and I can guess the reason. You did not keep your word to me, though you knew how anxious I was to see you at the end of your fortnight at Kingston; and the reason is that you have something on your mind which you fear to tell me--which you are ashamed to tell."
"No, Mary, that is not so. I am not ashamed, but----"
"Oh yes, of course, I quite understand--but!"
"Dear Mary, if you will be a little patient with me you shall know everything I have to tell, and then you will know exactly why I didn't come to you the moment I got back to town. For the last two or three days I have been in pursuit of the Chances, and have at last found them."
"How did you find them?"
"It is a very long story, Mary, and someone you know and that you are not friendly with is mixed up with it. I met him accidentally at Kingston, where there was a dinner-party and he was among the guests. Mrs. Travers introduced him to me, and he took me in to dinner; and it was very painful to me--to both of us; but after a time a thought came into my head--Mary, listen to me, I can't tell you how it all came about--how I found Constance--without speaking of him. Don't you think it would be better to tell you everything, from my first chance meeting with him, and all that was said as well as I can remember it now?"
Miss Starbrow had listened quietly, with averted face, which Fan imagined must have grown very black; she was silent for some time, and at last replied:
"Fan, I can hardly credit my own senses when you talk in that calm way about a person who--of course I know who you mean. What are you made of, I wonder--are you merely a wax figure and not a human being at all? Once I imagined that you loved me, but now I see what a delusion it was; only those who can hate are able to love, and you are as incapable of the one as of the other."
After delivering herself of this protest she half turned her back on her friend, and for a time there was silence between them, and then Fan spoke.
"Mary, you have not yet answered me; am I to tell you about it or not?"
"You can tell me what you like; I have no power to prevent you from speaking. But I give you a fair warning. I know, and it would be useless to try to hide it, that you have great power over me, and that I could make any sacrifice, and do anything within reason for you, and be glad to do it. But if you go too far--if you attempt to work on my feelings about this--this person, or try to make me think that he is not--what I think him, I shall simply get up and walk out of the room."
"You need not have said all that, Mary--I am not trying to work on your feelings. I simply wanted to tell you what happened, and--how he came to be mixed up with it."
As the other did not reply, she began her story, and related what had happened at the Travers' dinner-party faithfully; although she was as unable now to give a reason for her own strange behaviour as she had been to answer Captain Horton when he had asked her what she had to say to him.
At length she paused.
"Have you finished?" said Mary sharply, but the sharpness this time did not have the true ring.
"No. If your name was mentioned, Mary, must I omit that part?--because I wish to tell you everything just as it happened."
"You can tell me what you like so long as you observe my conditions."
But when the story was all finished she only remarked, although speaking now without any real or affected asperity:
"I am really sorry for your friend Mrs. Chance. I could not wish an enemy a greater misfortune than to be tied for life to such a one as Merton. Poor country girl, ignorant of the world--what a terrible mistake she made!"
She was in a much better temper now, willing to discuss the details of the expedition, to give her friend advice, and help with money if it should be needed. Fan was surprised and delighted at the change in her, and at last they parted very pleasantly.
"If you can find time before leaving town, Fan, come and say good-bye. I shall be at home in the afternoon tomorrow and next day, and then you can tell me all your arrangements."
By the first post on the following morning she received a letter from the Captain, who had taken a day from the office to look for a place, and had succeeded in finding a pleasant farm-house, within easy distance of Mile End and about a mile from Edmonton, as rural a spot in appearance as one could wish to be in. He had also exceeded his instructions by engaging a covered van, with easy springs, to convey the invalid to his new home. The letter contained full particulars, and concluded with an expression of the sincere pleasure the writer felt at having received this additional proof of Miss Eden's friendly feelings towards him, and with the hope that the change of air would benefit his poor old friend Merton Chance.
Fan replied at once, asking him to send the van next day at noon to Mile End. Then she telegraphed to the people of the house to have the rooms ready for them on the morrow, and also wrote to Constance to inform her of the arrangements that had been made; and the rest of the day was spent in preparing for her sojourn in the country.
In the evening she went to Dawson Place to see and say good-bye to her friend. Mary was at home, and glad to see her.
"My dear Fan," she said, embracing the girl, "I have had two or three callers this evening, and was not at home to them only because I thought you might turn up, and I wished to have you all to myself for a little while before you leave. Goodness only knows when we shall meet again!"
"Why, Mary, are you thinking of going away for a long time? I hope not."
"Well, I don't know what I'm thinking of. Of course it's very disgusting and unnatural to be in London at this time of the year; but the worst of the matter is, I had hoped to get you to go somewhere with me. But now this affair has completely thrown me out. Have you made your arrangements?"
"Yes, I got the letter I expected this morning, and it explains everything. You had better read it for yourself."
Mary pushed the letter back with an indignant gesture.
"Oh, very well," returned Fan, not greatly disconcerted. "Then I suppose I can read it to you, as it tells just what arrangements have been made."
The other frowned but said nothing, and Fan proceeded to read the letter. Mary made no remark on its contents; but when she went on to speak of other things, there was no trace of displeasure in her voice. They were together until about ten o'clock, and then, after taking some refreshment, Fan rose to go. But the parting was not to be a hurried one; her friend embraced and clung to her with more than her usual warmth.
"Mary dear," said Fan, bending back her head so as to look into her friend's face, "you were very angry with me yesterday, but today--now you love me as much as you ever did. Is it not so?"
"Yes, Fan, I think I love you more tonight than ever. I know I cling to you more and seem afraid to lose you from my sight. But you must not get any false ideas into your head."
"To prevent that, Mary, you must tell me why you cling to me tonight?"
"Because--Fan, is it necessary that I should tell you something which I have a dim, vague idea that you already know? Is it known to you, dear girl, that in all our hearts there are things our lips refuse to speak, even to those who are nearest and dearest to our souls? Did you feel that, Fan, when you came to me again, after so long a time, and told me all--all that had befallen you since our parting?"
Fan reddened, but her lips remained closed.
"That which my lips refuse to speak you cannot know," continued Mary; "but there is another simple reason I can give you. I cling to you because you are going away to be with people I am not in sympathy with. As far as giving poor miserable Merton a chance to live, I dare say you are doing only what is right, but----"
Fan stopped her mouth. "You shall say no more, Mary. Long, long ago you thought that because I and Constance were friends I could not have the same feeling I had had for you. Oh, what a mistake you made! Nothing, nothing could ever make you less dear to me. Even if you should break with me again and refuse to see me--"
"And that is what I fear, Fan; I really do fear it, when it is actually in your heart to get me to forgive things which it would be unnatural and shameful to forgive. I must warn you again, Fan, if you cannot pluck that thought out of your heart, if I cannot have you without that man's existence being constantly brought to my mind, that there will be a fatal rupture between us, and that it will never be healed."
Fan drew back a little and looked with a strange, questioning gaze into her friend's face; but Mary, for once, instead of boldly meeting the look, dropped her eyes and reddened a little.
"There will never, never be any rupture, Mary. If you were to shut your door against me, I would come and sit down on the doorstep, which I once--"
"Be quiet!" exclaimed Mary, with sudden passion. "How can you have the courage to speak of such things! The little consideration! If your memory of the past is so faithful--so--so unforgetting, I dare say you can remember only too well that I once--"
"You must be quiet now," said Fan, stopping her friend's mouth with her hand for the second time, and with a strange little laugh that was half sob. "I only remember, Mary darling, that I was homeless, hungry, in rags, and that you took me in, and were friend and sister and mother to me. Promise, promise that you will never quarrel with me."
"Never, Fan--unless you, with your wild altruism, drive me to it."
Fan went home, wondering all the way what her wild altruism was, ashamed of her ignorance. She looked in her dictionary, but it was an old cheap one, and the strange word was not in it. Perhaps Mary had coined it. As to that she would consult Constance, who knew everything.