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)
For the next two days Fan was continually on the tiptoe of expectation, shortening her walks for fear of missing Mary, and not going to Dawson Place, and still her friend came not. On the third day she came about three o'clock in the afternoon, when Fan by chance happened to be out.
Miss Starbrow, on hearing at the door that Miss Eden was not at home, considered for a few moments, and then sent up her card to Constance, who was greatly surprised to see it, for Fan had said nothing to make her expect such a visit. She concluded that it was for Fan, and that Miss Starbrow wished to wait or leave some message for her. In the sitting-room they met, Constance slightly nervous and looking pale in her mourning, and regarded each other with no little curiosity.
"I am sorry Fan is out," said Constance, "but if you do not mind waiting for her she will perhaps come in soon."
"I shall be glad to see her--she has forsaken me for the last few days. But I called today to see you, Mrs. Chance."
Constance looked surprised. "Thank you, Miss Starbrow, it is very kind of you," she answered quietly.
There was a slight shadow on the other's face; she had come only to please Fan, and was not at ease with this woman, who was a stranger to her, and perhaps resented her visit. Then she remembered that Constance had become acquainted with Merton Chance only through Fan's having seen him once at her house, reflecting with a feeling of mingled wonder and compassion that through so trivial a circumstance this poor girl's life had been so darkly clouded. They had sat for some moments in silence when Miss Starbrow, with a softened look in her eyes and in a gentler tone, spoke again.
"We have met only once before," she said, "and that is a long time ago, but I have heard so much of you from Fan that I cannot think of you as a stranger, and the change I see in you reminds me strongly of all you have suffered since."
"Yes, I suppose I must seem greatly changed," returned the other, not speaking so coldly as at first. Then, with a searching glance at her visitor's face, she added, "You knew my husband before I did, Miss Starbrow."
Ever since her marriage she had been haunted with the thought that there had been something more than a mere acquaintance between Merton and this lady. Her husband himself had given her that suspicion by the disparaging way he had invariably spoken of her, and his desire to know everything that Fan had said about her. That Fan had never told her anything was no proof that there was nothing to tell, since the girl was strangely close about some things.
"Yes," returned Miss Starbrow, noting and perhaps rightly interpreting the other's look. "He used occasionally to come to my house on Wednesday evenings. I never saw him except at these little gatherings, but I liked him very much and admired his talents. I was deeply shocked to hear of his death."
Constance dropped her eyes, which had grown slightly dim. "Your words sound sincere," she returned.
"That is a strange thing to say, I think," returned Miss Starbrow quickly. "It is not my custom to be insincere." And then her sincerity almost compelled her to add, "But about your late husband I have said too much." For that was what she felt, and it vexed her soul to have to utter polite falsehoods.
"I fear I did not express myself well," apologised Constance. "But I have grown a little morbid, perhaps, through knowing that the few friends I have, who knew my husband, had formed a somewhat disparaging and greatly mistaken opinion of him. I am sorry they knew him so little; but it is perhaps natural for us to think little of any man until he succeeds. What I meant to say was that your words did not sound as if they came only from your lips."
"Perhaps you are a little morbid, Mrs. Chance--forgive me for saying it. For after all what does it matter what people say or think about any of us? I dare say that if your husband had by chance invented a new button-hook or something, and had been paid fifty thousand pounds for the patent, or if someone had died and left him a fortune, people would have seen all the good that was in him and more."
"Yes, I suppose so. And yet it seems a cynical view to take. I should like to believe that it is not necessary to be wealthy, or famous, or distinguished in any way above my fellows, in order to win hearts--to make others know me as I know myself."
"Perhaps the view I took was cynical, Mrs. Chance. At all events, without being either wealthy or famous, you have won at least one friend who seems to know you well, and loves you with her whole heart."
Again Constance looked searchingly at her, remembering that old jealousy of her visitor, and not quite sure that the words had not been spoken merely to draw her out. And Mary guessed her thought and frowned again.
"Yes," quickly returned Constance, casting her suspicion away, "I have in Fan a friend indeed. A sweeter, more candid and loving spirit it would be impossible to find on earth. Not only does she greatly love, but there is also in her a rare faculty of inspiring love in those she encounters."
"Yes, I know that," said Mary, thinking how much better she knew it than the other, and of the two distinct kinds of love it had been Fan's fortune to inspire.
"I blame myself greatly for having kept away from her for so long," continued Constance. "But she is very tenacious. It has sometimes seemed strange to me that one so impressionable and clinging as she is should be so unchangeable in her affections."
"Yes, I think she is that."
"You have reason to think it, Miss Starbrow. You have, and always have had, the first place in her heart, and her feelings towards you have never changed in the least from the first."
"You wish to remind me that my feelings have changed, and that more than once," returned the other, with some slight asperity.
"No, please do not imagine that, Miss Starbrow. But it is well that you should know from me, since Fan will probably never tell it, that when that letter from you came to her at Eyethorne, the only anger she displayed was at hearing unkind words spoken of you."
"But who spoke unkind words of me?"
"You are certainly frank, Mrs. Chance."
"Am I too frank? I could not help telling you this; now that we have met again my conscience would not let me keep silence. I spoke then hastily, angrily, and, I am glad now to be able to confess, unjustly."
"That I cannot say, but I like you all the better for your frankness, and I hope that you will let me be your friend."
Constance turned her face, smiling and flushed with pleasure at the words; their eyes met, then their hands.
When Fan returned shortly afterwards she found them sitting side by side on the sofa, conversing like old and intimate friends, and it was a happy moment to her, as her heart had been long set on bringing them together. But she had little time to taste this new happiness; hardly had she kissed Mary and expressed her pleasure at seeing her, when the servant came up with a visitor's card, and the visitor himself quickly followed, and almost before Fan had read the name, Captain Horton was in the room. Constance, as it happened, knew nothing about him except that he was a friend of Fan's, whom he had met formerly at Miss Starbrow's house, but his sudden unexpected entrance had an almost paralysing effect on the
other two. Fan advanced to meet him, but pale and agitated, and then Mary also rose from her seat, her face becoming livid, and seizing Fan by the arm drew her back; while the visitor, the smile with which he had entered gone from his face, stood still in the middle of the room, his eyes fixed on the white angry countenance before him.
For days past, ever since Fan's return to London after Merton's funeral, Mary had been impatiently waiting to hear this man's name spoken again--to hear Fan say favourable things of him, and plead for pardon; and because the wished words had not been spoken, she had felt secretly unhappy, and even vexed, with the girl for her silence. Again and again it had been on her lips to ask, "How are you getting on with that charming new friend of yours?" but for very shame she had held her peace. And now that the thing she had wished had come to her--that the man she had secretly pined to see was in her presence--all that softness she had lamented, or had pretended to herself to lament, was gone in one moment. For her first thought was that his coming at that moment had been prearranged, that Fan had planned to bring about the reconciliation in her own way; and that was more than she could stand. In time the reconciliation would have come, but as she would have it, slowly, little by little, and her forgiveness would be given reluctantly, not forced from her as it were by violence. Now she could only remember the treatment she had received at his hands--the insult, the outrage, and his audacity in thus coming on her by surprise stung and roused all the virago in her.
"Fan, I see it all now," she exclaimed, her voice ringing clear and incisive. "I see through the hypocritical reason you had for asking me to come here. But you will gain nothing by this mean trick to bring me and that man together. It was a plot between you two, and the result will be a breach between us, and nothing more."
Constance had also risen now, and was regarding them with undisguised astonishment.
"A plot, Mary! Oh, what a mistake you are making! I have not seen Captain Horton for weeks, and had no idea that he meant to call on me here. Your visit was also unexpected, Mary, and it surprised me when I came in and found you here a few minutes ago."
"Then I have made a mistake--I have done you an injustice and must ask your forgiveness. But you know, Fan, what I feel about Captain Horton, and that it is impossible for me to remain for a moment under the same roof with him, and you and Mrs. Chance must not think it strange if I leave you now."
"No, Miss Starbrow, you shall not cut your visit short on my account," said the Captain, speaking for the first time and very quietly. "I did not expect you here, and if my presence in the room for a few moments would be so obnoxious to you I shall of course go away."
"I am so sorry it has happened," said Fan.
But Miss Starbrow was not willing to let him depart before giving him another taste of her resentment. "Did you imagine, sir, that your presence could be anything but obnoxious to me?" she retorted. "Did you think I had forgotten?"
"No, not that," he replied.
"What then?" came the quick answer, the sharp tone cutting the senses like a lash.
He hesitated, glancing at her with troubled eyes, and then replied--"I thought, Miss Starbrow, that when you heard that I was trying to live down the past--trying very hard and not unsuccessfully as I imagined--it would have made some difference in your feelings towards me. To win your forgiveness for the wrong I did you has been the one motive I have had for all my strivings since I last saw you. That has been the goal I have had before me--that only. Latterly I have hoped that Miss Eden, who had as much reason to regard me with enmity as yourself, would be my intercessor with you. By a most unhappy chance we have met too soon, and I regret it, I cannot say how much; for you make the task I have set myself seem so much harder than before that I almost despair."
She made no reply, but after one keen glance at his face turned aside, and stood waiting impatiently, it seemed, for him to go.
He then expressed his regrets to Fan for having come without first writing to ask her permission, and after shaking hands with her and bowing to Constance, turned away. As he moved across the floor Fan kept her eye fixed on Mary's face, and seemed at last about to make an appeal to her, when Constance, standing by her side, and also observing Mary, touched her hand to restrain her.
"Captain Horton," spoke Mary, and he at once turned back from the door and faced her. "You have come here to see Miss Eden, and I do not wish to drive you away before you have spoken to her. I suppose we can sit in the same room for a few minutes longer."
"Thank you," he replied, and coming back took a seat at Fan's side.
Mary on her part returned to the sofa and attempted to renew her interrupted conversation with Constance. It was, however, a most uncomfortable quartette, for Captain Horton gave only half his attention to Fan, and seemed anxious not to lose any of Mary's low-spoken words;
while Mary on her side listened as much or more to the other two as to Constance. In a few minutes the visitor rose to go, and after shaking hands a second time with Fan, turned towards the other ladies and included them both in a bow, when Constance stood up and held out her
hand to him. As he advanced to her Mary also rose to her feet, as if anxious to keep the hem of her dress out of his way, and stood with averted face. From Constance, after he had shaken hands with her, he glanced at the other's face, still averted, which had grown so strangely
white and still, and for a moment longer hesitated. Then the face turned to him, and their eyes met, each trying as it were to fathom the other's thought, and Mary's lips quivered, and putting out her hand she spoke with trembling voice--"Captain Horton--Jack--for Fan's sake--I forgive you."
"God bless you for that, Mary," he said in a low voice, taking her hand and bending lower and lower until his lips touched her fingers. Next moment he was gone from the room.
Mary dropped back on to the sofa, and covered her eyes with her hand: then Constance, seeing Fan approaching her, left the room.
"Dear Mary, I am so glad," said the girl, putting her hand on the other's shoulder.
But Mary started as if stung, and shook the hand off. "I don't want your caresses," she said, after hastily glancing round the room to make sure that Constance was not in it. "I am not glad, I can assure you. I was wrong to say that you had plotted to get me to meet him; it was not the literal truth, but I had good grounds to think it. All that has happened has been through your machinations. I should have gone on hating him always if you had not worked on my feelings in that way. You have made me forgive that man, and I almost hate you for it. If the result should be something you little expect--if it brings an end to our friendship--you will only have yourself to thank for it."
Fan looked hurt at the words, but made no reply. Mary sat for some time in sullen silence, and then rose to go.
"I can't stay any longer," she said. "I feel too much disgusted with myself for having been such a fool to remain any longer with you." Then, in a burst of passion, she added, "And that girl--Mrs. Chance--unless she is as pitifully meek and lamb-like as yourself, what a contemptible creature she must think me! Of course you have told her the whole delightful story. And she probably thinks that I am still--fond of him! It is horrible to think of it. For your sake I forgave him, but I wish I had died first."
Fan caught her by the hand. "Mary, are you mad?" she exclaimed. "Oh, what a poor opinion you must have of me if you imagine that I have ever whispered a word to Constance about that affair."
"Oh, you haven't!" said Mary beginning to smooth her ruffled plumes. "Well, I'm sorry I said it; but what explanations are you going to give of this scene? It must have surprised her very much."
"I shall simply tell her that you were deeply offended at something you had heard about Captain Horton, and had resolved never to see him again--never to forgive him."
"That's all very well about me; but he said in her hearing some rubbish about you being his intercessor, and that he had been as much your enemy as mine. What will you say about that?"
"Nothing. I'm not a child, Mary, to be made to tell things I don't wish to speak about. But you don't know Constance, or you would not think her capable of questioning me."
"Then, dear Fan, I must ask you again to forgive me. I ought to have known you better than to fear such a thing for a moment. But, Fan, you must make some allowance; it was so horrible trying to meet him in that way, and--my anger got the better of me, and one is always unjust at such times. They say," she added with a little laugh, "that an angry woman's instinct is always to turn and rend somebody, and after he had gone I had nobody but you to rend."
Her temper had suddenly changed; she was smiling and gracious and bright-eyed, and full of rich colour again.
"Then, Mary, you will stay a little longer and take tea with us?" said Fan quietly, but about forgiveness she said nothing.
Just then Constance came back to the room.
"Oh, Mrs. Chance," said Mary, "I have been waiting to say good-bye to you, and--to apologise to you for having made such a scene the first time we have been together. I am really ashamed of myself, but Fan will tell you"--glancing at the girl--"that I had only too good reason to be deeply offended with that--with Captain Horton. Fan wants me to stay to tea, but I will do so only on the condition that you both take tea with me at Dawson Place tomorrow afternoon."
Constance agreed gladly; Fan less gladly, which caused Mary to look searchingly at her. During tea she continued in the same agreeable temper, evidently anxious only to do away with the unpleasant impression she had made on Mrs. Chance by her disordered manner and language, which had contrasted badly with the Captain\'s quiet dignity.
Finally, when she took her departure, Fan, still strangely quiet and grave-eyed, accompanied her to the door. "Thank you so much for coming, Mary," she said, a little coldly. They were standing in the hall, and the other attentively studied her face for some moments.
"Are you still so deeply offended with me?" she said. "Can you not forgive me, Fan?"
"Not now, Mary," the other returned, casting down her eyes. "I can't forgive you just yet for treating me in that way--for saying such things to me. I shall try to forget it before tomorrow."
Mary made no reply, nor did she move; and Fan, after waiting some time, looked at her, not as she had expected, to find her friend's eyes fixed on her own, but to see them cast down and full of tears.
"I am sorry you are crying, dear Mary," she said, with a slight tremor in her voice. "But--it can make no difference--I mean just now. I feel that I cannot forgive you now."
"How unfeeling you are, Fan! Do you remember what you said the other night, that if I shut my door against you you would come and sit on the doorstep?"
"Yes, I remember very well."
"And it makes no difference?"
"No, not now."
"And I have so often treated you badly--so badly, and you have always been ready to forgive me. Shall I tell you all the wicked things I have done for which you have forgiven me?"
"No, you need not tell me. When you have treated me unkindly I have always felt that there was something to be said for you--that it was a mistake, and that I was partly to blame. But this is different. You said a little while ago that you turned on me, when you were angry with someone else, simply because I happened to be there for you to rend. That is what I thought too."
"If I were to go down on my knees to you, would you forgive me?" said Mary, with a slight smile, but still speaking with that unaccustomed meekness.
"No, I should turn round and leave you. I do not wish to be mocked at."
Mary looked at her wonderingly. "Dear child, I am not mocking, heaven knows. Will you not kiss me good-bye?"
Fan kissed her readily, but with no warmth, and murmured, "Good-bye, Mary."
And even after that the other still lingered a few moments in the hall, and then, glancing again at Fan's face and seeing no change, she opened the door and passed out.