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)
On the beach at Sidmouth, about noon one day in the last week of November, a day of almost brilliant sunshine despite the season, with a light dry west wind crinkling the surface of the sea, Mary and Constance, with Fan between them, were seated on a heap of shingle sheltered from the wind by a sloping bank. Constance, with hands folded over the closed book on her lap, sat idly gazing on the blue expanse of water, watching the white little wave-crests that formed only to vanish so quickly. The quiet restful life she had experienced since Merton's death had had its effect; her form had partially recovered its roundness, her face something of that rich brown tint that had given a peculiar character to her beauty; the melancholy in her tender eyes was no longer "o'erlaid with black," but was more like the clear dark of early morning that tells of the passing of night and of the long day that is to be. She was like the Constance of the old days at Eyethorne, and yet unlike; something had
been lost, something gained; for Nature, archaeologist and artist, is wiser than man in her restorations, restoring never on the old vanished lines. She was changed, but unhappy experience had left no permanent bitterness in her heart, nor made her world-weary, nor cynical, nor discontented; life's unutterable sadness had only served to deepen her love and widen her sympathies. And this was pure gain, compensation for the loss of that which had vanished and would not return--the virgin freshness when the tender early light is in the eye, and the lips are dewy, and no flower has yet perished in the heart.
To Fan at her side, interested in her novel, yet glancing up from time to time to see what her friends were doing, and perhaps make a random guess at their thoughts, these weeks of country and seaside life with those she loved had added a new brightness to her refined and delicate face. The autumn sunshine had not embrowned the transparent skin, but the red of the lips seemed deeper, and the ethereal almond-blossom tint on the cheeks less uncertain.
Mary was not reading, nor thinking apparently, but sat idly humming a tune and picking up pebbles only to throw them from her. She appeared to have no care at her heart, to be satisfied with the mere fact of existence while the sun shone as it did today, and wind and waters made music. That beautiful red colour that seldom failed her looked richer than ever on her cheeks; her abundant black hair hung loose on her back to dry in the wind. For she was a great sea-bather, and while the wintry cold of the water repelled her companions, she enjoyed her daily swim, sometimes creating alarm by her boldness in going far out to battle with the rough waves.
First there had been a pleasant fortnight at Eyethorne; and during those days of close intimacy in the Churtons' small house and out of doors, the kindly feelings Mary and Constance had begun to experience towards each other in London had ripened to a friendship so close that Fan might very well have been made a little jealous at it if she had been that way predisposed. She only felt that the highest object of her ambitions had been gained, that her happiness was complete. There was nothing more to be desired. The present was enough for her; if she thought of the future at all it was only in a vague way, as she might think of the French coast opposite, too far off to be visible, but where she would perhaps set her foot in other years.
At Eyethorne many letters had come to them all. Letters from Arthur Eden, who spoke of returning soon from Continental wanderings, and of coming down to see his sister in the country. And from Captain Horton, also to Fan, with one at last to Mary, begging them to allow him to come down from London to spend a few days with them. And from Mr. Northcott to Constance--letters full of friendliest feeling, no longer resented, and of some speculative matter; for these two had discovered an infinite number of deep questions that called for discussion. To those questions that concerned the spirit and were of first importance, the first place was given; but there were also worldly affairs to correspond about, for Constance had sent her manuscript to the curate for his opinion, and he had kept it some time to get another (more impartial) opinion, and now wished to submit it to a publisher. He had also expressed the intention of visiting Eyethorne shortly.
Eventually he came; he even preached once more in the old familiar pulpit at the invitation of the vicar, who had not treated him too well. On the Saturday evening before preaching, he said to Constance:
"Once I was eager to persuade you to come to church to hear me; will you think it strange if I ask you not to come on this occasion?"
"Why?" she returned, looking anxiously at him. "Do you mean that you are going to make some allusion to--"
"No, Constance. But my discourse will be Mi, and what I have seen there. I shall talk not of ancient things but of the present--that sad present we both know. You can realise it all so vividly--it will be painful to you."
"I had made up my mind to go. Thank you for warning me, but I shall go all the same."
"I am glad."
"You must not jump to any conclusions, Harold," she said, glancing at him.
"No," he replied, and went away with a shadow on his face that was scarcely a shadow.
After all, she was able to listen to his sermon with outward calm. But it was a happiness to Mrs. Churton when Wood End House sent so large a contingent of worshippers to the village church, where the pew in which she had sat alone on so many Sundays--poor Mr. Churton's increasing ailments having prevented him from accompanying her--was so well filled. Glancing about her, as was her custom, to note which of her poor were present and which absent, she was surprised to see the carpenter Cawood, with his wife and little ones, his eyes resting on the young girl at her side, and it made her glad to think that she had not perhaps angled in vain for this catcher of silly fish.
The curate had not been long in the village before Tom Starbrow appeared and established himself at the "Eyethorne Inn"; but most of his time was spent at Wood End House, and in long drives and rambles with his sister and Fan. Then had come the migration to Sidmouth, Tom and the curate accompanying the ladies. Shortly afterwards Fan heard from her brother; he was back in London, and proposed running down to pay her a visit. It was a pleasant letter he wrote, and she had no fear of meeting him now; he had recovered from his madness, or, to put it another way, from a feeling that was not convenient.
"Have you answered your brother yet?" said Mary, the morning after Arthur's letter had been received. "I am awfully anxious to see him."
"No, not yet; I wish to ask you something first. Arthur says he will come down as soon as he gets my reply. And--I should like Captain Horton to come with him."
"They are strangers to each other, I believe," said Mary coldly.
"Yes, I know, but my idea was to send a note to Captain Horton at the same time, asking him to call on Arthur at his rooms, and arrange to come down with him. But I must ask your consent first."
"Why my consent? Your brother is coming at your invitation, and I suppose you have the same right you exercise in his case to ask anyone you like without my permission. You may if you think proper invite all the people you have ever met in London, and tell them to bring their relations and friends with them. I am not the proprietor of Sidmouth."
"But, Mary, the cases are so different. You know Captain Horton, and though he is my friend, and I consider myself greatly in his debt--" The other laughed scornfully. "Still, I should not think of asking him to come unless you were willing to meet him."
"My knowing him makes no difference. I happen to be perfectly indifferent, and care as little whether he comes or not as if he were an absolute stranger. Less, in fact, for your brother is a stranger to me, and I am anxious to meet him."
Fan reflected a little, then, with a smiling look and pleading tone, she said:
"If you are really quite indifferent about it, Mary, you will not refuse to let me couple your name with mine when I ask him to come down. That would be nothing more than common politeness, I think."
"Use my name? I shall consent to nothing of the sort!" But as she turned to leave the room Fan caught her hand and pulled her back.
"Don't go yet, Mary dear," she said; "we have not yet quite settled what to do."
The other looked at her, a little frown on her forehead, a half-smile on her lips.
"Very well, Fan, hear my last word, then take your own course. I quite understand your wheedling ways, and I have so often given way that you
have come to think you can do just what you like with me. You have yet to learn that when my mind is once made up about anything you might just as well attempt to move the Monument as to move me. You shall not couple my name with yours; and if you are going to ask Captain Horton down here, I advise you, to prevent mistakes, to inform him that I distinctly refuse to join you in the invitation."
Fan, without replying, sat down before her writing-case. The other paused at the door, and after hesitating a few moments came back and put her hands on the girl's shoulder.
"I know exactly what you are going to do, Fan," she spoke, "for you are perfectly transparent, and I can read you like a book. You are going to write one of your very simple candid letters to tell him what I have said, and then finish by asking him to come down with Mr. Eden."
"Yes, that is what I am going to do."
"Then, my dear girl, I should like to ask you a simple straightforward question: What is your motive in acting in this way?"
"My motive, Mary! Just now you said you could read me like a book; must I begin to think that you boast a little too much--or are you only pretending to be ignorant?"
"You grow impertinent, Miss Eden," said the other with a laugh. "But if your motive is what I imagine, then, thank goodness, your efforts are wasted. Listen to this. If, instead of being a young innocent girl, you were an ancient, shrivelled-up, worldly-minded woman, with a dried-up puff-ball full of blue dust for a heart, and a scheming brain manufactured by Maskelyne and Cook; and if you had Captain Horton for a son, and had singled me out for his victim, you could not have done more to put me in his power."
Fan glanced into her face, then dropped her eyes and turned crimson.
"Have I frightened the shy little innocent? Doesn't she like to have her wicked little plans exposed?" said the other mockingly.
"Can you not read me better, Mary?" said Fan; but her face was still bent over her writing-case, nor would she say more, although the other stood by waiting.
Nor would Mary question her any further. She had said too much already, and shame made her silent.
When Captain Horton read her letter one thing only surprised him--the reality and completeness of the forgiveness he had won from the girl, her faith in his better nature, the single-hearted friendship she freely gave him. He could never cease to be surprised at it. Mary's attitude, so faithfully reported, did not surprise or discourage him; hers was a more
complex nature: she had given him her hand, and he believed that in spite of everything something of the old wayward passion still existed in her heart. The opportunity of meeting her again, where he might be with her a great deal, was not to be neglected, and he did not greatly fear the result.
Two or three days later he arrived with Arthur Eden at Sidmouth, so that the party now numbered seven. It was a pleasant gathering, for Mary did not quarrel with Fan for what she had done; nor was Tom Starbrow unfriendly towards his sister's lover; and as to Eden, he had grafted a new and better stock on that wild olive that had flourished so vigorously; and it thus came to pass that they spent an unclouded fortnight together. But that is perhaps saying a little too much. Four men and three women, so that when they broke up there was one dame always attended by two cavaliers: strange to say, Fan was always the favoured one. For some occult reason no one contested the curate's right to have Constance all to himself on such occasions; for what right had he, a religious man, to monopolise this pretty infidel? Then, too, she was a widow, entitled by prescription to the largest share of attention; nevertheless, the curate was allowed to have her all to himself whenever the party broke up into couples and one inconvenient triplet.
Arthur Eden was most inconsiderate. There were whispers and signs for those who had ears to hear and eyes to see, but he chose not to see and hear. On all occasions when he found an opportunity or could make one, he took possession of Miss Starbrow; while she, on her part, appeared willing enough to be taken possession of by him. Their sudden liking to each other seemed strange, considering the great difference in their dispositions; but about the fact there was no mistake, they were constantly absent together on long drives and walks, exploring the adjacent country, lunching at distant rural villages, and coming home to dinner glowing with health and happy as young lovers.
And while these two were thus taken up with each other, and the curate and widow soberly paced the cliffs or sat on the beach discoursing together of lofty matters--of the mysteries of our being and the hunger of the spirit, and argued of fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute,
wandering through eternity without lighting on any fresh discovery of importance in that extensive field--Fan not infrequently found herself taking part in a somewhat monotonous trio, with the Captain, baritone, or basso rather, for he was rather depressed in mind, and Tom, tenor, an artist who sang with feeling, but with insufficient control over his voice.
And one day this gentle maiden, having got her brother all to herself, began "at him":
"I am very glad, Arthur, that you and Mary are such good friends."
"I'm so glad that you are glad that I'm glad," he returned airily, quoting Mallock.
"At the same time--"
"Oh, yes, now you are going to say something to spoil it all, I suppose," he interrupted.
"I can't help thinking that it is not quite fair to the others to carry her off day after day--especially after she has not been with her brother for so long a time."
"Ah, yes, her brother! Poor girl, I'm afraid you've been sadly bored. We must somehow manage to reshuffle the cards. Starbrow might have a turn at Constance, while you could try Northcott. Would that be better?"
"No," she replied gravely, colouring a little, and with a troubled glance at his face. "I am thinking principally of Mary and Captain Horton. I know that he would like to see a little more of her, and--I don't quite see the justice of your monopolising her."
"And why should I give way to Captain Horton, or to any man? That's not the way to win a lady's favour. I understand that you look on Miss Starbrow as a species of goddess; don't you think it would be a grand thing to be sister-in-law to one of the immortals?"
"She could not be more to me than she is; but that you have any feeling of that kind for Mary, I don't believe, Arthur."
"You are right," he replied, with a laugh. "I am not sure that wooing Mary would be an altogether pleasant process; but as a friend she is a treasure--the chummiest woman I ever came across."
He did not tell her that the strongest bond between them was their feeling for Fan herself. He, on his part, felt that he could never be sufficiently grateful to the woman who had rescued his half-sister from such a depth of destitution and misery, and had protected and loved her; she, on hers, could not sufficiently admire him for the way in which he had acted, in spite of social prejudices as strong almost as instincts, when he had once discovered a sister in the poor shop-girl. At different periods and in different ways they had both treated her badly; but the something of remorse they could not help feeling on that account only served to increase their present love and care for her.
At length, one day during one of their expeditions, Arthur spoke to Mary on a subject about which he had kept silence all along. Replying to a remark she had made about his resemblance to the girl, he said, "Everything I resemble her in is inherited from my grandmother on my
father's side." Then he began to laugh.
"I don't quite see where the laugh comes in," said Mary, who had pricked up her ears at the mention of his grandmother, for she had been waiting to hear him say something about his relations.
"No, but you would see it if you knew my aunt--my father's sister--and had heard what passed between us about Fan. She is a widow, and lives in Kensington with her two daughters--both pretty, clever girls, I think, though they are my cousins. Let me tell you about her. She is a dear good creature, and I am awfully fond of her; very religious too, but what the world thinks and says, and what it will say, is as much to her as what her Bible says, although it would shock her very much to hear me say so. When I made the discovery that Fan was my half-sister, I told aunt all about it. She was greatly troubled in her mind, and I suppose that her mental picture of the girl must have been rather a disagreeable one; but she asked no questions on the point, and I gave her no information. She said that it was right to provide for her, and so on, but that it would be a great mistake to make her take the family name, or to bring her forward in any way. After a few days she wrote to me asking what I had done or was going to do about it. I replied that Fan was my father's daughter, and as much to me as if we had been born of one mother as well, and that I had nothing more to say. Then I got letter after letter, reasoning with me about my quixotic ideas, and trying to convince me that my action would only result in spoiling the girl, and in creating a coldness between myself and relations. It was rather hard, because I am really fond of my aunt and my cousins. My only answer to all her letters was to give her an account of that dream or fancy of my father's; her reply was that that made no difference, that I would do the girl no good by dragging her among people she was not fitted to associate with.
"So the matter rested until my return to England, when I called to see her. She was still anxious, and at once asked me if I had come round to her view. I said no. At last, finding that I was not to be moved, she asked me to let her see the girl--she did not wish her daughters to see her. I declined, and that brought us to a deadlock. She informed me that there was nothing more to be said, but she couldn't help saying more, and asked me what I intended doing about it. Nothing, I answered; since she refused to countenance Fan, there was nothing I could do. Not quite satisfied, she asked whether this disagreement between us would make any
difference. I said that it would make all the difference in the world. She was angry at that, but got over it by the time my visit came to an end, and she asked me very sweetly when I was going to see her again. I laughed, and said that after she had turned me, quixotic ideas and all, out of her house, I could not very well return. It distressed her very much; for she knows that I am not all softness, that I can sometimes stick to a resolution. Then at last came the question that should have come first: What was this poor girl of the lower orders about whom I had lost my reason like?
"Before finishing I must tell you something about that grandmother I have mentioned. She was a gentle, lovely woman, just such a one as Fan in character, and her memory is almost worshipped by my aunt. And Fan is exactly like what she was when a girl. I knew that my aunt possessed an exquisite miniature portrait of her taken before her marriage, which I had not seen for a long time. I asked her to let me look at it, and one
of the girls went and fetched it. 'This,' I said, 'allowing for the different arrangement of the hair, might be a portrait of Fan; and in character, the resemblance is as great as in face. I believe that my grandmother's soul has come back to earth.'
"'Arthur, I can't believe you!' she exclaimed. 'It is wicked of you to compare this poor girl, the child of a person of the lower classes, to my mother--a most heavenly-minded woman!' I only laughed, and then they begged me to show them a photograph of Fan. I hadn't one to show, but I got back that picture you have heard about, and forwarded it to Kensington. Now my aunt and cousins are most anxious to see the girl, and are rather vexed with me because I am taking my time about it. Now you know, Mary, why I laughed."
"My dear boy," she said, putting her hand in his, "I thought well of you before, but better now; you have acted nobly."
"Oh please don't say that. Besides--I think I am too old to be called a boy--especially by a girl."
Mary laughed. "And you can tell me all this and keep it from Fan, when it would make her so unutterably happy!"
"She will know it all in good time. It will be a pleasant little surprise when she is back in London. I have sent my aunt to confer with Mr. Travers, and his account of Fan has quite excited her."
From all this it will be seen, that if Captain Horton feared Eden's rivalry, he imagined a vain thing. But it was natural that he should be disquieted. His only season of pleasure was at the end of the day, when a reunion took place; for then Mary would lay aside her coldness, and sing duets with him and talk in the old familiar way. But his opportunity came at last.
Arthur took Fan to Exeter one morning to show her the cathedral, and at the same time to pay a visit to an old school-fellow who had a curacy there. Tom Starbrow went with them, and they were absent all day. Constance occupied herself with her writing, and Mary would not leave the house alone, but towards evening they went out for a walk on the cliff together, and there they were unexpectedly joined by Captain Horton and Mr. Northcott, who had apparently been consoling each other. The curate and Constance had some literary matters to discuss, and presently drifted away from the others. Then Mary's face lost its gaiety; even the rich colour faded from her cheeks; she was silent and distressed, then finally grew cold and hard.
"Shall we sit here and rest for a few minutes?" he said at length, as they came to an old bench on the cliff overlooking the sea.
"I am not tired, thank you."
"But I am, Mary. Or at all events I have an uncomfortable sensation just now, and should like to sit down if you don't mind."
She sat down without reply, and began gazing seawards, still with that cloud on her face.
"May I speak to you now, Mary?"
"You may speak, but I warn you not to."
"And if I speak of other things?"
"Then I shouldn't mind."
"When you said you forgave me, did you in very truth forgive?"
"And if I say no more now, will it be better for me afterwards?"
"No, I cannot say that."
But she remained silent, still gazing seawards.
"Will you not say?"
"I warned you not to speak."
"But it is horrible--this silence and suspense."
"We all have to bear horrible things--worse things than this."
"I understand you. I believed you when you told me what you did just now--of the past."
"What then?" she questioned, turning her eyes full on him for the first time. For a moment their eyes met; then his dropped and hers were again turned towards the sea.
"Is it possible, Mary, for us to be together, for our eyes to meet, our hands to touch, without a return of that feeling you once had for me--that was strong in you before some devil out of hell caused me to offend you?"
"Quite possible--that is a short answer to a long speech. It does not seem quite fair to try and shuffle the responsibility of your actions on to some poor imaginary devil."
"It was a mere figure of speech. Why should you allude to things that are forgiven?"
"You alluded to them yourself. You know that they cannot be forgotten. What do you expect? Let me also talk to you in figurative language. It happens sometimes that a tree is struck by lightning and killed in an instant--leaf, branch, and root--killed and turned to dust and ashes."
"And still there may be a living rootlet left in the soil, which will sprout and renew the dead tree in time."
She glanced at him again and was silent. She had spoken falsely; the words which she had spoken to herself on a former occasion, when struggling against the revival of the old feeling, he had now used against her.
"Will you tell me, Mary, that there is not one living rootlet left?"
She was silent for some moments; then, feeling the blood forsake her cheeks, replied deliberately, "Not one. Can I speak plainer?"
He, too, grew white as she spoke, and was silent for a while, then said, "Mary, has some new growth taken the place of the old roots, which you say were killed and turned to ashes? There would be a hollow place where they existed--an emptiness which is hateful to Nature."
"Still pounding away at the same metaphor!" she returned, trying with poor success to speak in a mocking tone, and laughing in a strange, almost hysterical way.
"Yes, still at the same metaphor," he returned, with a keen glance at her face. Her tone, her strained laughter, something in her expression, told him that she had spoken falsely--that he might still hope. "You have not answered my question, Mary."
"You have no right to expect an answer," she returned, angry at her own weakness and his keenness in detecting it. "But I don't mind telling you that no other growth has occupied that hollow empty place you described." Her voice had recovered its steadiness, and growing bolder she added, "I don't believe that Nature really hates hollow empty places, as you say--the world itself is hollow. Anyhow, it doesn't matter to me in the least what she hates or likes: Nature is Nature, and I am I."
"But answer me this: If you can suffer me, are not my chances equally good with those of any other man?"
"Jack, I am getting heartily tired of this. Why do you keep on harking back to the subject when I have spoken so plainly? Whether I shall ever feel towards any other man as I did towards you, to my sorrow, I cannot say; but this I can say, even if that dead feeling I once had for you should come to life again, it would avail you nothing. I shall say no more--except one thing, which you had better know. I shall always be friendly, and shall never think about the past unless you yourself remind me of it, as you did just now. This much you owe to Fan."
He took the proffered hand in his, and bending, touched his lips to it. Then they rose and walked on in silence--she grave, yet with a feeling of triumph in her heart, for the feared moment had come, and she had not been weak, and the cup of shame had passed for ever from her lips; he profoundly sad, for it had been revealed to him that the old feeling, in spite of her denial, was not wholly dead, and yet he knew that he had lost her.
Meanwhile that important literary matter was being discussed on another portion of the cliff by the curate and Constance. It referred to , which he had submitted to a publisher, who had offered a small sum for the copyright. The book, the publisher had said, was moderately good, but it formed only one volume; readers preferred their novels in three volumes, even if they had to put up with inferior quality. Besides, there was always a considerable risk in bringing out a book by an unknown hand, with more in the same strain of explanation of the smallness of the sum offered for the manuscript. The price being so small, Constance was not strongly tempted to accept it. Then she wanted to get the manuscript back. The thought of appearing as a competitor for public favour in the novel-writing line began to produce a nervousness in her similar to the stage-fright of young actors on their first appearance. She had not taken pains enough, and could improve the work by introducing new and better scenes; she had imprudently said things she ought not to have said, and could imagine the reviewers (orthodox to a man) tearing her book to pieces in a fine rage, and scattering its leaves to the four winds of heaven.
Mr. Northcott smiled at her fears. He maintained that the one fault of the book was that the style was too good--for a novel. It was not well, he said, to write too well. On the contrary, a certain roughness and carelessness had their advantage, especially with critical readers, and served to show the hand of the professed novelist who, sick or well, in the spirit or not, fills his twenty-four or thirty-six quarto pages per diem. A polished style, on the other hand, exhibited care and looked amateurish. He had no very great opinion of this kind of writing, and advised her to get rid of the delusion that when she wrote a novel she made literature. To clinch the argument, he proceeded to put a series of uncomfortable questions to her. Did she expect to live by novel-writing? How long would it take her to write three volumes? How long could she maintain existence on the market price of a three-volume novel? It was clear that, unless she was prepared to live on bread-and-cheese, she could not afford to re-write anything. As for the reviewers, if they found her book tiresome, they would dismiss it in a couple of colourless or perhaps contemptuous paragraphs; if they found it interesting, they would recommend it; but about her religious opinions expressed in it they would not think it necessary to say anything.
When this matter had been settled, and she had agreed, albeit with some misgivings, to accept the publisher's offer and let the book take its chance, they passed to other subjects.
"I shall feel it most," said Constance, referring to his intended departure on the morrow.
"These words," he returned, "will be a comfort to me when I am back in London, after the peaceful days we have spent together."
"You needed this holiday more than any of us, Harold. I am glad it has given you fresh strength for your sad toiling life in town."
"Not sad, Constance, so long as I have your sympathy."
"You know that you always have that. It is little to give when I think of all you were to me--to us, at that dark period of our life." She turned her face from him.
"Do you call it little, Constance?" He spoke with an intensity of feeling that made his voice tremble. "It is inexpressibly dear to me; it sweetens existence; without it I know that my life would be dark indeed."
"Dark, Harold! For me, and all who think with me, there is nothing to guide but the light of nature that cannot satisfy you--that you regard as a pale false light; it is not strange, therefore, that we make so much of human sympathy and affection--that it sustains us. But if there is any reality in that divine grace supposed to be given to those who are able to believe in certain things, in spite of reason, then you are surely wrong in speaking as you do."
Her earnestness, a something of bitterness imparted into her words, seemed strange, considering that as a rule she avoided discussions of this kind. Now she appeared eager for the fray; but it was a fictitious eagerness, a great fear had come into her heart, and she was anxious to turn the current of his thoughts from personal and therefore dangerous subjects.
"I do not know--I cannot say," he returned, evading the point. "I only know that we are no longer like soldiers in opposing camps. Perhaps I have had some influence on you--everything we do and say must in some degree affect those around us. I know that you have greatly changed me. Your words, and more than your words, the lesson of your life, has sunk into my heart, and I cannot rebuke you. For though you have not Christ's Name on your lips, the spirit which gives to the Christian religion its deathless vitality is in your soul, and shines in your whole life."
They walked on in silence, he overcome with deep feeling, she unable to reply, still apprehending danger. Then sinking his voice, he said:
"Your heart does not blame, do not let your reason blame me for thinking so much of your sympathy." After a while he went on, his voice still lower and faltering, as if hope faltered--"Constance, you have done so much for me.... You have made my life so much more to me than it was.... Will you do more still? ... Will you let me think that the sympathy, the affection you have so long felt for me, may in time ripen to another feeling which will make us even more to each other than we are now?"
His voice had grown husky and had fallen almost to a whisper at the end. They were standing now, she pale and trembling, tears gathering in her eyes, her fingers clasped together before her.
"Oh, I am to blame for this," she spoke at last with passion. "But your kindness was more to me than wine to the faint, and I believed--I flattered myself that it was nothing more than Christian kindness, that it never would, never could be more. I might have known--I might have known! Harold, if you knew the pain I suffer, you would try for my sake as well as your own to put this thought from you. The power to feel as you would wish has gone from me--it is dead and can never live again. Ah, why has this trouble come to divide us when our friendship was so sweet--so much to me!"
Every word she had spoken had pierced him; but at the end his spirit suddenly shook off despondency, and he returned eagerly, "Constance, do not say that it will divide us. Nothing can ever change the feelings of deep esteem and affection I have had for you since I first knew you at Eyethorne; nothing can make your sympathy less to me than it has been in the past. Can you not forgive me for the pain I have caused you, and promise that you will not be less my friend than you have been up till now?"
Strangely enough, the very declaration that her power to feel as he wished was dead, and could not live again, which might well have made his case seem hopeless, had served to inspire him with fresh hope; and while begging for a continuance of her friendship he had said to himself, "Once I shilly-shallied, and was too late; now I have spoken too soon; but my time will come, for so long as the heart beats its power to love cannot be dead."
She could not read his thoughts; his words relieved and made her glad, and she freely gave him her hand in token of continued friendship and intimacy, just about the time when Captain Horton, with no secret hope in his heart, was touching his red moustache to Mary's wash-leather glove.