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 unbroken greyness out of doors, and the gusty wind sending the dead curled-up leaves whirling through the chilly air, or racing over the pavement of Dawson Place, made Miss Starbrow's dining-room look very warm and pleasant one morning early in the month of October. The fire burning brightly in the grate, and the great white and yellow chrysanthemums in the blue pot on the breakfast-table, spoke of autumn and coming cold; and the fire and the misty flowers in their colours looked in harmony with the lady's warm terra-cotta red dressing-gown, trimmed with slaty-grey velvet; in harmony also with her face, so richly tinted and so soft in its expression, as she sat there leisurely sipping her coffee and reading a very long letter which the morning post had brought her. The letter was as follows:
DEAR MARY,--We have now been here a whole week, and I have more to tell you than I ever put in one letter before. Why do we always say that time flies quickly when we are happy? I am happiest in the country, and yet the days here seem so much longer than in town; and I seem to have lived a whole month in one week, and yet it has been such an exceedingly
happy one. How fresh and peaceful and homelike it all seemed to me when we arrived! It was like coming back to my birthplace once more, and having all the sensations of a happy childhood returning to me. My happy childhood began so late!
But I must begin at the beginning and tell you everything. At first it was a little distressing. In the house, I mean, for out of doors there could be no change. You can't imagine how beautiful the woods look in their brown and yellow foliage. And the poor people I used to visit all seemed so glad to see me again, and all called me "Miss Affleck," which made it like old times. But Mrs. Churton received us almost as if we were strangers, and I could see that she had not got over the unhappiness both Constance and I had caused her. She was not unkind or cold, but she was not motherly; and while she studied to make us comfortable, she spoke little, and did not seem to take any interest in our affairs, and left us very much to ourselves. It seemed so unnatural. And one morning, when we had been three days in the house, she was not well enough to go out after breakfast, and Constance offered to go and do something for her in the village. She consented a little stiffly, and when we were left alone together I felt very uncomfortable, and at last sat down by her and took her hand in mine. She looked surprised but said nothing, which made it harder for me; but after a moment I got courage to say that it grieved me to see her looking so sad and ill, and that during all the time since I left Eyethorne I had never ceased to think of her and to remember that she had made me look on her as a mother. Then she began to cry; and afterwards we sat talking together for a long time--quite an hour, I think--and I told her all about our hard life in town, and she was astonished and deeply pained to hear what Constance had gone through. For she knew nothing about it; she only knew that her daughter had married Merton and was a widow and poor. I am so glad I told her, though it made her unhappy at first, because it has made such a difference. When Constance at last came in and found us still sitting there together, Mrs. Churton got up and put her arms round her and kissed her, but was unable to speak for crying. Since then she has been so different to both of us; and when she questioned me about spiritual things she seemed quite surprised and pleased to find that I was not an infidel, and no worse than when I was with her. I think that in her own heart she sets it down to Constance not having exerted herself to convert me, thinking, I suppose, that it would have been very easy to have done so. There is no harm in her thinking that, only it is not true. Now she even speaks to Constance on such subjects, and tries to win her back to her old beliefs; and although Constance does not say much, for she knows how useless it would be, she listens very quietly to everything, and without any sign of impatience.
With so much to make me happy, will you think me very greedy and discontented if I say that I should like to be still happier? I confess that there are several little, or big, things I still wish and hope for every day, and without them I cannot feel altogether contented. I must name two or three of them to you, but I am afraid to begin with the most important. I must slowly work up to that at the end. Arthur has not yet returned to England, and I am so anxious to see him again; but he says nothing definite in his letters about returning. I have just had a letter from him, which I shall show you when I see you, for he speaks of you in it. After all I have told him about you he must feel that he knows you very well.
Another thing. Since we have been here Constance has read me the first chapters of the book she is writing. It is a very beautiful story, I think; but it will be her first book, and as her name is unknown, she is afraid that the publishers will not have it. That is one thing that troubles me, for she says she must make her living by writing, and I am almost as anxious as she is herself about it.
Another thing is about you, Mary. Why, when we love each other so much--for you can't deny that you love me as much as I do you, and I know how much that is--why must we keep apart just now, when you can so easily get into a train and come to me? To us I should say, for I know how glad Constance would be to have you here. Dear Mary, will you come, if only for a fortnight--if only for a week? You remember that you wanted to go to the seaside or somewhere with me. Well, if you will come and join us here we might afterwards all go to Sidmouth for a short (or long) stay; for you and I together would be able to persuade Constance to go with us. My wish is so strong that it has made me believe you will come, and I have even spoken to Constance and Mrs. Churton about it, and they would give you a nice room; and you would be my guest, Mary; and if you should object to that, then you could pay Mrs. Churton for yourself. I have a great many other things to say to you, but shall not write them, in the hope that you will come to hear them from my lips. Only one thing I must mention, because it might vex you, and had therefore best be written. You must not think because I go back to the subject that I have any doubt about Tom being in the wrong in that quarrel you told me about; but I must say again, Mary, that if he was in the wrong, it is for you rather than for him to make the first advance. I would rather people offended me sometimes than not to have the pleasure of forgiving. Forgive me, dearest Mary, for saying this; but I can say it better than another, since no one in the world knows so well as I do how good you are.
And now, dearest Mary, good-bye, and come--come to your loving
She had read this letter once, and now while sipping her second cup of coffee was reading it again, when the door opened and Tom Starbrow walked into the room.
"Good-morning, Mary," he said, coming forward and coolly sitting down at some distance from her.
She had not heard him knock, and his sudden appearance made her start and the colour forsake her cheeks; but in a moment she recovered her composure, and returned, "Good-morning, Tom, will you have some breakfast?"
"No, thanks. I breakfasted quite early at Euston. I came up by a night train, and might have been here an hour or two ago, but preferred to wait until your usual getting-up hour."
"I suppose you got my letter in America?"
"Yes, I am here in answer to your letter."
"It was very good of you to come so soon, especially as it was entirely about my private affairs."
"I could not know that, Mary. That high and mighty letter of yours told me nothing except what I knew already--that I have a sister. In the postscript you said you wished to consult me about something, and had things to tell me. Your letter reached me in Canada. I was just getting ready to return to New York, and had made up my mind to go to California; then down the Pacific coast to Chili, and from there over the Andes, and across country to Buenos Ayres on the Atlantic side, and then by water to Brazil, and afterwards home. After getting your letter I came straight to England."
"I should think that after coming all that distance you might at least have shaken hands with your sister."
"No, Mary, the time to shake hands has not yet come; that you must know very well. You did not say in your letter what you had to tell me, but only that you had something to tell me; remembering what we parted in anger about, and knowing that you know how deeply I feel on that subject, I naturally concluded that you wished to see me about it. I do not wish to be trifled with."
"I am not accustomed to trifle with you or with anyone," retorted his sister with temper. "If your imagination is too lively, I am not to blame for it. I asked you to come and see me on your return to England, not to rush back in hot haste from America as if on a matter of life and death. It is quite a new thing for you to be so impetuous."
"Is that all you have to say to me then--have you brought me here only to talk to me in the old strain?"
"I have--I had a great many things to say to you, but was in no hurry to say them; and since you have come in this very uncomfortable frame of mind I think it best to hold my peace. My principal object in writing was to show you that I did not wish to be unfriendly."
He got up from his chair, looking deeply disappointed, even angry, and moved restlessly about for a minute or two. Near the door he paused as if in doubt whether to go away at once without more words or not. Finally he returned and sat down again. "Mary," he said, "you have not treated me well; but I am now here in answer to your letter. Perhaps I was mistaken in its meaning, but I have no wish to make our quarrel worse than it is. Let me hear what you have to say to me; and if you require my advice or assistance, you shall certainly have it. If I cannot feel towards you as I did in the good old times, I shall, at any rate, not forget that you are my sister."
"That's a good old sensible boy," she returned, smiling. "But, Tom, before we begin talking I should like you to read this letter, which I was reading when you came in so suddenly. Probably you noticed that I took what you said just now very meekly; well, that was the effect of reading this letter, it is written in such a gentle soothing spirit. If you will read it it might have the same quieting effect on your nerves as it did on mine."
He took the letter without a smile, glanced at a sentence here and there, and looked at the name at the end. "Pooh!" he exclaimed, "do you really wish me to wade through eight closely-written pages of this sort of stuff --the outpourings of a sentimental young lady? I see nothing in it except the very eccentric handwriting, and the fact that this Frances Eden--girl or woman--doesn't put the gist of the matter into a postscript."
"You needn't sneer. And you won't read it? Frances Eden is Fan."
"Fan--your Fan! Fan Affleck! Is she married then?"
"No, only changed her name to Eden--it was her father's name. Give me the letter back."
"Not till I have read it," he calmly returned. "Mary," he said at last, looking up, "this letter more than justifies what I have said to you dozens of times. No sweeter spirit ever existed."
"All that about the outpourings of a sentimental girl or woman?"
"I could never have said that if I had read the letter."
"And the eccentric writing--you admire that now, I suppose?"
"I do. I never saw more beautiful writing in my life."
"You needn't laugh," he said. "If I were you I should feel more inclined to cry. Tell me honestly now, from your heart, do you feel no remorse when you remember how you treated that girl--the girl who wrote you this letter; that I first saw in this room, standing there in a green dress with a great bunch of daffodils in her hand, and looking shyly at me from under those dark eyelashes? I thought then that I had never seen such tender, beautiful eyes in my life. Come, Mary, don't be too proud to acknowledge that you acted very harshly--very unjustly."
"No, Tom, I acted justly; she brought it on herself. But I did not act mercifully, and I will tell you why. When I threatened to cast her off I spoke in anger--I had good reasons to be angry with her--but I should not have done it; I should only have taken her away from those Churton people, and kept her in London, or sent her elsewhere. But my words brought that storm from you on my head, and that settled it; after that I could not do less than what I had threatened to do."
"If that is really so I am very sorry," he said. "But all's well that ends well; only I must say, Mary, that it was unkind of you to receive me as you did and tease me so before telling me that you were in correspondence with the girl once more."
"You are making a great mistake, I only tease those I like; but as for you, you have not even apologised to me yet, and I should not think of being so friendly with you as to tease you."
He laughed, and going to her side caught her in his strong arms and kissed her in spite of her resistance.
The resistance had not been great, but presently she wiped the cheek he had kissed, and said with a look of returning indignation, "I should not have allowed you to kiss me if I had remembered that you have never apologised for the insulting language you used to me at Ravenna, when you called me a demon."
"Did I call you a demon at Ravenna?"
"Yes, you did."
"Then, Mary, I am heartily ashamed of myself and beg your pardon now. There can be no justification, but at the same time--"
"You wish to justify yourself."
"No, no, certainly not; but I was scarcely myself at that moment, and you certainly did your best to vex me about Fan and other matters."
"What do you mean by other matters?"
"You know that I am alluding to Mr. Yewdell, and the way you treated him. I could not have believed it of you. I began to think that I had the most--well, capricious woman in all Europe for a sister."
"No, it is not poor man in this case, but poor woman. For you contemptuously flung away the best chance of happiness that ever came to you. I dare say that you have had offers in plenty--you have some money, and therefore of course you would get offers--but not from Yewdells. That could not happen to you more than once in your life. A better-hearted fellow, a truer man--"
"Call him a Nature's nobleman at once and have done with it."
"Yes, a Nature's nobleman; you couldn't have described him better. A man I should have been proud to call a brother, and who loved you not for your miserable pelf, for that was nothing to him, but for yourself, and with a good honest love. And he would have made you happy, Mary, not by giving way to you as you might imagine from his unfailing good temper and gentleness, but by being your master. For that is what you want, Mary--a man that will rule you. And Yewdell was that sort of man, gentle but firm--"
"Oh, do be original, Tom, and say something pretty about a steel hand under a silk glove."
"Ah, well, you may scoff if you like, but perhaps you regret now that you went so far with him. A mercenary man, or even a mean-spirited man, would have put up with it perhaps, and followed you still. He respected himself too much to do that. He paid you the greatest compliment a man has it in his power to pay a woman, and you did not know how to appreciate it. You scorned him, and he turned away from you for ever. If you were to go to him now, though you cast yourself on your knees before him, to ask him to renew that offer, he would look at you with stony eyes and pass on--"
"Stony fiddlesticks! That just shows, Tom, how well you know your own sex. Why, Mr. Yewdell and I are the best friends in the world, and he writes to me almost every week, and very nice letters, only too long, I think."
Her brother stared at her and almost gasped with astonishment.
"Well, I am surprised and glad," he said, recovering his speech at last. "It was worth crossing the Atlantic only to hear this."
"Don't make any mistake, Tom. I am no more in love with him now than when we were in Italy together."
"All right, Mary. In future I shall do nothing but abuse him, and then perhaps it will all come right in the end. And now about this letter from Fan. Will you go down to that place where she is staying?"
"I don't know, I should like to go. I have not yet made up my mind."
"Do go, Mary; and then I might run down and put up for a day or two at the 'Cow and Harrow,' or whatever the local inn calls itself, to have a stroll with you among those brown and yellow woods she writes about."
She did not answer his words. He was standing on the hearthrug watching her face, and noticed the change, the hesitancy and softness which had come over it.
"You are fonder now than ever of this girl," he said. "She draws you to her. Confess, Mary, that she has great influence over you, and that she is doing you good."
Her lips quivered a little, and she half averted her face.
"Yes, she draws me to her, and I cannot resist her. But I don't know about her doing me good, unless it be a good of which evil may come."
"What do you mean, Mary? There is something on your mind. Don't be afraid to confide in me."
She got up and came to his side; she could not speak sitting there with his eyes on her.
"Do you remember the confession I made to you when we were at Naples? When you spoke to me about Yewdell, and I said that I never wished to marry? I confessed that I had allowed myself to love a man, knowing him to be no good man. But in spite of reason I loved him, and did not believe him altogether bad--not too bad to be my husband. Then something
happened--I found out something about him which killed my love, or changed it to hatred rather. I despised myself for having given him my heart, and was free again as if I had never seen him. I even thought that I might some day love someone else, only that the time had not yet come. But what will you think of the sequel? I did not tell you when I discovered his true character that Fan was living with me, and knew the whole affair--knew all that I knew--and that--she was very deeply affected by it. Now, since Fan and I have been thrown together once more, she has accidentally met this man again, and has persuaded herself that he has repented of his evil courses, and she has forgiven him, and become friendly with him, and, what is worse, has set her heart on making me forgive him."
"It is heavenly to forgive, Mary."
"Yes, very likely; in her case it might be right enough; she is only acting according to her--"
"Fanlights," interrupted her brother. "But to what does all this tend? If you feel inclined to forgive this man his past sins you can do so, I suppose, without throwing yourself into his arms."
"The trouble is, Tom, that I can't separate the two things. No sooner did Fan begin to speak to me again of him, telling me about his new changed life, and insinuating that it would be a gracious and noble thing in me to forgive him, than all the old feeling came back to me. I have fought against it with my whole strength, but what is reason against a feeling like that! And then most unhappily I met him by chance, and--and I gave him my hand and forgave him, and even called him by his Christian name as I had been accustomed to do. And now I feel that--I cannot resist him."
"Good heavens, Mary, are you such a slave to a feeling as that! Who is this man--what is he like, and how does he live?"
"He is a gentleman, and was in the army, but is now on the Stock Exchange, and winning his way, I hear, in the world. He is about thirty-five, tall, very good-looking--I think; and he is also a cultivated man, and has a very fine voice. Even before I had that feeling for him I liked him more than any man I ever knew. Perhaps," she added with a little anxious laugh, "the reason I loved him was because I knew that--if I ever married him--he--would rule me."
Her brother considered for some time. "I remember what you told me, Mary. You said that this man had proved himself a scoundrel, but you sometimes use extravagant language. Now there are a great many bad things a man may do, and yet not be hopelessly bad. Passion gets the mastery, the moral feelings may for a time appear obliterated; but in time they revive--like that feeling of yours; and one who has seemed a bad man may settle down at last into a rather good fellow. Confide in me, Mary--I will not judge harshly. Let me hear the very worst you know of him."
She shook her head, smiling a little.
"You will not? Then how am I to help you, and why have you told me so much?"
"My trouble is that you can't help me, Tom. My belief is that no man who is worth anything ever changes. His circumstances change and he adapts himself to them, but that is all on the surface. Can you imagine your Mr. Yewdell something vile, degenerate, weak--a gambler, a noisy fool, a braggart, a tippler--"
"Good heavens, no!"
She laughed. "Nor can I imagine the man we are talking of a good man; nor can I believe that there is any change in him. If I had thought that--if I had taken Fan's views, I should not have forgiven him. Then I should not have been in danger. As it is--" She did not finish the sentence.
"As it is you are in danger, and deliberately refuse to let me help you." Then in a kind of despair, he added, "I know how headstrong you are, and that the slightest show of opposition only makes matters worse--what can I do?"
"Nothing," she answered in a very low voice. "But, Tom, you must know that it was hard for me to write you that letter, and that it has been harder still to make this confession. Can't you see what I mean? Well, I mean that I find it very refreshing to have a good talk with you. I hope you are not going to disappear into space again as soon as our conversation is over."
"No," he returned with a slight laugh, and a glance at her downcast eyes, "I am an idle man just now, and intend making a long stay in London."