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Literary Adventures

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)

Chapter 45

Returned from her visit, Miss Starbrow appeared for a time to have recovered her serenity, and proceeded to change her dress for dinner, softly humming an air to herself as she moved about the room. "Poor Fan," she said, "how barbarous of me to treat her in that way--to say that I almost hated her! No wonder she refused to forgive me; but her resentment will not last long. And she does not know--she does not know." And then suddenly, all the colour fading from her cheeks again, she burst into a passion of weeping, violent as a tropical storm when the air has been overcharged with electricity. It was quickly over, and she dressed herself, and went down to her solitary dinner. After sitting for a few minutes at the table, playing with her spoon, she rose and ordered the servant to take the dinner away--she had no appetite. The lamps were lighted in the drawing-room, and for some time she moved about the floor, pausing at times to take up a novel she had been reading from the table, only to throw it down again. Then she would go to the piano, and without sitting down, touch the keys lightly. She was and she was not in a mood to play. She was not in voice, and could not sing. And at last she went away to a corner of the room which was most in shadow, and sat down on a couch, and covered her eyes with her hand to shut out the lamplight. "If he knew how it is with me tonight he would certainly be here," she said. "And then it would all be over soon. But he does not know--thank God!... Oh, what a fool I was to call him 'Jack'! That was the greatest mistake I made. But there is no help for it now--he knows what I feel, and nothing, nothing can save me. Nothing, if he were to come now. I wish he would come. If he knows that I am at his mercy why does he not come? No, he will not come. He is satisfied; he has got so much today--so much more than he had looked to get for a long time to come. He will wait quietly now for fear of overdoing it. Until Christmas probably, and then he will send a little gift, perhaps write me a letter. And that is so far off--three months and a half--time enough to breathe and think."

Just then a visitor's knock sounded loud at the door, and she started to her feet, white and trembling with agitation. "Oh, my God! he has come--he has guessed!" she exclaimed, pressing her hand on her throbbing breast.

But it was a false alarm. The visitor proved to be a young gentleman named Theed, aged about twenty-one, who was devoted to music and sometimes sang duets with her. She would have none of his duets tonight. She scarcely smiled when receiving him, and would scarcely condescend to talk to him. She was in no mood for talking with this immature young man--this boy, who came with his prattle when she wished to be alone. It was very uncomfortable for him.

"I hope you are not feeling unwell, Miss Starbrow," he ventured to remark.

"Feeling sick, the Americans say," she corrected scornfully. "Do I look it?"

"You look rather pale, I think," he returned, a little frightened.

"Do I?" glancing at the mirror. "Ah, yes, that is because I am out of rouge. I only use one kind; it is sent to me from Paris, and I let it get too low before ordering a fresh supply."

He laughed incredulously.

Miss Starbrow looked offended. "Are you so shortsighted and so innocent as to imagine that the colour you generally see on my face is natural, Mr. Theed? What a vulgar blowzy person you must have thought me! If I had such a colour naturally, I should of course use blanc de perle or something to hide it. There is a considerable difference--even a very young man might see it, I should think--between rouge and the crude blazing red that nature daubs on a milkmaid's cheeks."

He did not quite know how to take it, and changed the conversation, only to get snubbed and mystified in the same way about other things, until he was made thoroughly miserable; and in watching his misery she experienced a secret savage kind of pleasure.

No sooner had he gone than she sat down to the piano, and began singing, song after song, as she had never sung before--English, German, French, Italian--songs of passion and of pain--Beethoven's Kennst du das Land, and Spohr's Rose softly blooming, and Blumenthal's Old, Old Story, and then Il Segreto and O mio Fernando and Stride la vampa, and rising to heights she seldom attempted, Modi ab modi and Ab fors' e lui che l'anima; pouring forth without restraint all the long-pent yearing of her heart, all the madness and misery of a desire which might be expressed in no other way; until outside in the street the passers-by slackened their steps and lingered before the windows, wondering at that strange storm of melody. And at last, as an appropriate ending to such a storm, Domencio Thorner's Se solitaria preghi la sera--that perfect echo of the heart's most importunate feeling, and its fluctuatons, when plangent passion sinks its voice like the sea, rocking itself to rest, and nearly finds forgetful calm; until suddenly the old pain revives--the pain that cannot keep silence, the hunger of the heart, the everlasting sorrow--and swells again in great and greater waves of melody.

There could be no other song after that. She shut the piano with a bang, which caused the servants standing close to the door outside to jump and steal hurriedly away on tiptoe to the kitchen.

Only ten o'clock! How was she to get through this longest evening of her life? So early, but too late now to expect anyone; and as it grew later that faintness of her heart, that trembling of her knees, which had made her hold on to a chair for support--that shadow which his expected coming had cast on her heart--passed off, and she was so strong and so full of energy that it was a torture to her.

Alone there, shut up in her drawing-room, what could she do with her overflowing strength? She could have scaled the highest mountain in the world, and carried Mr. Whymper up in her arms; and there was nothing to do but to read a novel, and then go to bed. She rose and angrily pushed a chair or two out of the way to make a clear space, and then paced the floor up and down, up and down, like some stately caged animal of the feline kind, her lustrous eyes and dry pale lips showing the dull rage in her heart. When eleven struck she rang the bell violently for the servants to turn off the gas, and went to her room, slamming the doors after her. After partly undressing she sat pondering for some time, and then rose suddenly with a little laugh, and got her writing-case and took paper and pen, and sat herself down to compose a letter. "Your time has passed, Jack," she said. "I shall never make that mistake again. No, I shall not bide your time. I shall use the opportunity you have given me--poor fool!--and save myself. I shall write to Tom and confess my weakness to him, and then all danger will be over. Poor old Tom, I deserved all he said and more, and can easily forgive him tonight. And then, Captain Jack, you can 'God-bless-you-for-that-Mary' me as much as you like, and shed virtuous tears, and toil on in the straight and narrow path until your red moustache turns white; and all the angels in heaven may rejoice over your repentance if they like. I shall not rejoice or have anything more to do with you." But though the pen was dashed spitefully into the ink many times, the ink dried from it again, and the letter was not written; and at last she flung the pen down and went to bed.

There was no rest to be got there; she tossed and turned from side to side, and flung her arms about this way and that, and finding the bedclothes too oppressive kicked them off. At length the bedroom clock told the hour of twelve in its slow soft musical language. And still she tossed and turned until it struck one. She rose and drew aside the window-curtains to let the pale starlight shine into the room, and then going back to bed sat propped up with the pillows. "Must I really wait all that time," she said, "sitting still, eating my own heart--wait through half of September, October, November, December--only to put my neck under the yoke at last? Only to give myself meekly to one I shall never look upon, even if I look on him every hour of every day to the end of my days, without remembering the past? without remembering to what a depth I have fallen--despising myself without recalling all the hatred and the loathing I have felt for my lord and master! Oh, what a poor weak, vile thing I am! No wonder I hate and despise women generally, knowing what I am myself--a woman! Yes, a very woman--the plaything, the creature, the slave of a man! Let him only be a man and show his manhood somehow, by virtue or by vice, by god-like deeds or by crimes, be they black as night, and she must be his slave. Yes, I know, 'Hell has no fury like a woman scorned'; but did he know, Congreve, or whoever it was, what a poor contemptible thing that fury is? A little outburst of insanity, such as scores of miserable wretches experience any day at Hanwell, and are strapped down, or thrust into a padded room, have cold water dashed over them, until the fit is passed. No doubt she will do any mad thing while it lasts, things that no man would do, but it is quickly over, this contemptible short-lived fury; and then she is a woman again, ready to drag herself through the mire for her tyrant, ready to kiss the brutal hand that has smitten her--to watch and wait and pine and pray for a smile from the lying bestial lips, as the humble Christian prays for heaven! A woman--oh, what a poor thing it is!"

The clock struck two. The sound started her, and changed the current of her thoughts. "Even now it is not too late to write," she said. "The pillar-boxes are cleared at three o'clock, the letter would be re-posted to him tomorrow, and if he is in America he would get it in eight or nine days." She got out of bed, lit a candle, and sat down again to her letter, and this time she succeeded in writing it, but it was not the letter she had meant to write.

MY DEAR TOM [the letter ran],--If you are willing to let bygones be bygones I shall be very glad. I told you when we parted that I would never speak to you again, but I of course meant not until you made some advance and expressed sorrow for what you said to me; but I have altered my mind now, as I have a perfect right to do. At the same time I wish you to understand that I do not acknowledge having been in the wrong. On the contrary, I still hold, and always shall, that no one has any right to assume airs or authority over me, and dictate to me as you did. I should not suffer it from a husband, if I ever do such a foolish thing as to marry, certainly not from a brother. The others always went on the idea that they could dictate to me with impunity, but I suppose they see their mistake now, when I will not have anything to do with them, and ignore them altogether. You were always different and took my part, I must say, and I have never forgotten it, and it was therefore very strange to have you assuming that lofty tone, and interfering in my private affairs. For that is what it comes to, Tom, however you may try to disguise it and make out that it was a different matter. I do not wish to be unfriendly with you, as if you were no better than the other Starbrows; and I should be so glad if it could be the same as it was before this unhappy quarrel. For though I will never be dictated to by anyone about anything, it is a very good and pleasant thing to have someone in the world who is not actuated by mercenary motives to love and trust and confide in.

If you have recovered from the unbrotherly temper you were in by this time, and have made the discovery that you were entirely to blame in that affair, and as unreasonable as even the best of men can't help being sometimes, I shall be very glad to see you on your return to England.

I hope you are enjoying your travels, and that you find the Murracan language easier to understand, if not to speak, than the French or German; also I sincerely hope that one effect of your trip will be to make you detest the Yankees as heartily as I do.

Your loving Sister,

Mary Starbrow.

P.S.--Do not delay to come to me when you arrive, as I am most anxious to consult you about something, and shall also have some news which you will perhaps be pleased to hear. You will probably find me at home in London.

She had written the letter rapidly, and then, as if afraid of again changing her mind about it, thrust it unread into the envelope, and directed it to her brother's London agent, to be forwarded immediately. Then she went to the window and raised the sash to look out and listen. There was no sound at that hour except the occasional faintly-heard distant rattling of a cab. Only half-past two! What should she do to pass the time before three o'clock? Smiling to herself she went back to the table, and still pausing at intervals to listen, wrote a note to Fan.

Darling Fan,--I am so sorry--so very sorry that I grieved you today--I mean yesterday--with my unkind words, and again ask your forgiveness. I know that you will forgive me, dearest, and perhaps you forgave me before closing your eyes in sleep, for you must be sleeping now. But when I meet you tomorrow--I mean today--and see forgiveness in your sweet eyes, I shall be as glad as if I had hoped for no such sweet thing. Since I parted from you I have felt very unhappy about different things--too unhappy to sleep. It is now forty minutes past two, and if this letter is posted by three you will get it in the morning. I have my bedroom window open so as to hear if a policeman passes; but if one should not pass I will just slip an ulster over my nightdress and run to the pillar-box myself. Good-night, darling--I mean good-morning.


P.S.--It has been raining, I fancy, as the pavement looks wet, and it seems cold too; but as a little penance for my unkindness to you, I shall run to the post with bare feet. But be not alarmed, child; if inflammation of the lungs carries me off in three weeks' time I shall not be vexed with you, but shall look down smilingly from the sky, and select one of the prettiest stars there to drop it down on your forehead.

That little penance was not required; before many minutes had elapsed the slow, measured, elephantine tread of the perambulating night-policeman woke the sullen echoes of Dawson Place, and if there were any evil-doers lurking thereabouts, caused them to melt away into the dim shadows. Taking her letters, a candle, and a shilling which she had in readiness, Miss Starbrow ran down to the door, opened it softly and called the man to her, and gave him the letters to post and the shilling for himself. And then, feeling greatly relieved and very sleepy, she went back to bed, and tossed no more.


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