"Miss Ludington's Sister" by Edward Bellamy was published in 1884 and is a love story with a twist - actually, more than one twist. It is of just the right length, with enough words used on the description of places and people to portray them vividly, but not with so much detail as to become boring.
A young, beautiful woman with a shiny future ahead of her falls seriously ill. It takes her a long time to recover, and when she does, the illness has taken such a toll on her physically and mentally that she is hardly the same person any more. Her beauty is gone, her colours are faded, and all she wants now is to remember her past self with the happiness of her former life.
The world around her has changed, too; when she timidly starts venturing outside again, she finds her friends from school days are mostly married, have babies, moved away or simply have found other pastimes without her who used to be at the centre of their circle. The village itself is constantly growing and being modernized, so that slowly but surely, everything she knew and loved in her youth is gone.
When she is already in her middle age, she is left a vast fortune, and uses it to act out her dream of restoring the past: On an empty stretch of land, she has the high street of "her" village rebuilt according to her instructions, with every stone, every shrub and tree and every corner just the way they were when she was young and healthy and full of life. She moves into this ghostlike, empty village which becomes the scenery to her reclusive life.
A relative of hers dies, leaving behind a little boy, and the duty to raise the orphan falls on her. Much as she loves the child and treats him like a son, he does not make a difference to her outlook on life, turned backwards instead of towards the future. On the contrary, the little boy loves the life-sized portrait of Miss Ludington's former self from the first moment he sets eyes on it (not knowing who she is), and his love only grows fonder and stronger as he gets older.
Eventually, the boy is grown up, and Miss Ludington in her sixties. He returns from school, reluctant to start any profession or do anything else that will take him away from the empty village and the portrait. Instead, he develops a theory that, if proven true, could mean his abstract love for the girl in the painting can be turned into something real.
How Miss Ludington and her nephew set about to bring the past to real life, and what happens when they do, I will not tell you here. Let me just say that the story managed to surprise me more than once, although some bits were foreseeable.
This free ebook from the kindle shop was one I really enjoyed, and was almost sad to finish. Some information about the author can be found here.