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The Life and Death of Harriett Frean (1922)
by May Sinclair

Chapter IV
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SHE remembered the conversation. Her             [FE]   [MS]      
father sitting, straight and slender, in his
chair, talking in that quiet voice of his
that never went sharp or deep or quavering,
that paused now and then on an amused
inflection, his long lips straightening be-
tween the perpendicular grooves of his
smile. She loved his straight, slender face,
clean-shaven, the straight, slightly jutting
jaw, the dark-blue flattish eyes under the
black eyebrows, the silver-grizzled hair
that fitted close like a cap, curling in a
silver brim above his ears.
  He was talking about his business as
if more than anything it amused him.
  'There's nothing gross and material            [FE]
about stockbroking. It's like pure mathe-
matics. You're dealing in abstractions,
ideal values, all the time. You calculate
in curves.' His hand, holding the
unlit cigar, drew a curve, a long graceful
one, in mid-air. 'You know what's
going to happen all the time.... The
excitement begins when you don't quite
know and you risk it; when it's getting
dangerous.... The higher mathematics
of the game. If you can afford them; if
you haven't a wife and family I can see                 [MS]      
the fascination....'
  He sat holding his cigar in one hand,
looking at it without seeing it, seeing the
fascination and smiling at it, amused and
  And her mother, bending over her
  bead-work, smiled too, out of their happi-     [FE]
ness, their security.
  He would lean back, smoking his cigar
and looking at them out of contented,
half-shut eyes, as they stitched, one at
each end of the long canvas fender stool.
He was waiting, he said, for the moment
when their heads would come bumping
together in the middle.
  Sometimes they would sit like that, not
exchanging ideas, exchanging only the
sense of each other's presence, a secure,
profound satisfaction that belonged as
much to their bodies as their minds; it
rippled on their faces with their quiet
smiling, it breathed with their breath.
Sometimes she or her mother read aloud,
Mrs Browning or Charles Dickens; or
the biography of some Great Man, sitting
  there in the velvet curtained room or out      [FE]
on the lawn under the cedar tree. A
motionless communion broken by walks
in the sweet smelling fields and deep,
elm-screened lanes. And there were short
journeys into London to a lecture or a
concert, and now and then the surprise
and excitement of the play.
  One day her mother smoothed out her
long, hanging curls and tucked them away
under a net. Harriett had a little shock of
dismay and resentment, hating change.
  And the long, long Sundays spaced the
weeks and the months, hushed and sweet                  [MS]      
and rather enervating, yet with a sort of
thrill in them as if somewhere the music
of the church organ went on vibrating.
Her mother had some secret: some happy
sense of God that she gave to you and you
  took from her as you took food and             [FE]
clothing, but not quite knowing what it
was, feeling that there was something
more in it, some hidden gladness, some
perfection that you missed.
  Her father had his secret too. She
felt that it was harder, somehow, darker
and dangerous. He read dangerous books:
Darwin, and Huxley, and Herbert Spencer.
Sometimes he talked about them.
  'There's a sort of fascination in seeing
how far you can go.... The fascination
of truth might be just thatthe risk that
after all it mayn't be true, that you may
have to go farther and farther, perhaps
never come back.'
  Her mother looked up with her bright,
still eyes.
  'I trust the truth. I know that,
  however far you go, you'll come back           [FE]
some day.'
  'I believe you see all of them-- Darwin,
and Huxley, and Herbert Spencer-- com-
ing back,' he said.
  'Yes, I do.'
  His eyes smiled, loving her. But you
could see it amused him too, to think
of them, all those reckless, courageous
thinkers, coming back, to share her
secret. His thinking was just a dangerous
game he played.
  She looked at her father with a kind
of awe as he sat there, reading his book,               [MS]      
in danger and yet safe.
  She wanted to know what that fascina-
tion was. She took down Herbert Spencer
and tried to read him. She made a point
of finishing every book she had begun,
  for her pride couldn't bear being beaten.      [FE]
Her head grew hot and heavy: she read
the same sentences over and over again;
they had no meaning; she couldn't under-
stand a single word of Herbert Spencer.
He had beaten her. As she put the book
back in its place she said to herself: 'I
mustn't. If I go on, if I get to the
interesting part I may lose my faith.'
And soon she made herself believe that
this was really the reason why she had
given it up.
  Besides Connie Hancock there were
Lizzie Pierce and Sarah Barmby.
  Exquisite pleasure to walk with Lizzie
Pierce. Lizzie's walk was a sliding, swoop-
ing dance of little pointed feet, always as
if she were going out to meet somebody,
  her sharp, black-eyed face darting and         [FE]
   'My dear, he kept on doing this'
(Lizzie did it) 'as if he was trying to sit
on himself to keep him from flying off
into space like a cork. Fancy proposing                 [MS]      
on three tumblers of soda water! I
might have been Mrs Pennefather but
for that.'
   Lizzie went about laughing, laughing at
everybody, looking for something to laugh
at everywhere. Now and then she would
stop suddenly to contemplate the vision
she had created.
   'If Connie didn't wear a bustleor,
oh, my dear, if Mr Hancock did'
   'Mr Hancock!' Clear, firm laughter,
chiming and tinkling.
   'Goodness! To think how many
ridiculous people there are in the               [FE]
  'I believe you see something ridiculous
in me.'
  'Only when--only when--
She swung her parasol in time to her
sing-song. She wouldn't say when.
  'Lizzie--not--not when I'm in my
black lace fichu and the little round hat?'
  'Oh, dear me--no. Not then.'
The little round hat, Lizzie wore one
like it herself, tilted forward, perched on
her chignon.
  'Well, then'--she pleaded.
Lizzie's face darted its teasing, mysteri-
ous smile.
  She loved Lizzie best of her friends                  [MS]      
after Priscilla. She loved her mockery
and her teasing wit.
    And there was Lizzie's friend, Sarah         [FE]
Barmby, who lived in one of those little
shabby villas on the London road and
looked after her father. She moved about
the villa in an unseeing, shambling way,
hitting herself against the furniture. Her
face was heavy with a gentle, brooding
goodness, and she had little eyes that
blinked and twinkled in the heaviness, as
if something amused her. At first you
kept on wondering what the joke was,
till you saw it was only a habit Sarah had.
She came when she could spare time from
her father.
  Next to Lizzie Harriett loved Sarah.
She loved her goodness.
  And Connie Hancock, bouncing about
hospitably in the large, rich house. Tea-
parties and dances at the Hancocks.
    She wasn't sure that she liked dancing.      [FE]
There was something obscurely dangerous
about it. She was afraid of being lifted
off her feet and swung on and on, away
from her safe, happy life. She was stiff
and abrupt with her partners, convinced
that none of those men who liked Connie
Hancock could like her, and anxious to
show them that she didn't expect them to.
She was afraid of what they were thinking.              [MS]      
And she would slip away early, running
down the garden to the gate at the bottom
of the lane where her father waited for
her. She loved the still coldness of the
night under the elms, and the strong,
tight feel of her father's arm when she
hung on it leaning towards him, and his
'There we are!' as he drew her closer.
Her Mother would look up from the sofa
  and ask always the same question, 'Well,       [FE]
did anything nice happen?'
  Till at last she answered, 'No. Did you
think it would, Mamma?'
  'You never know,' said her mother.
  'I know everything.'
  'Everything that could happen at the
Hancocks' dances.'
  Her mother shook her head at her.
She knew that in secret Mamma was glad;
but she answered the reproof.
  'It's mean of me to say that when I've
eaten four of their ices. They were
strawberry, and chocolate and vanilla, all
in one.'
  'Well, they won't last much longer.'
  'Not at that rate,' her father said.
  'I meant the dances,' said her mother.                [MS]      
    And sure enough, soon after Connie's         [FE]
engagement to young Mr Pennefather,
they ceased.

  And the three friends, Connie and
Sarah and Lizzie, came and went. She
loved them; and yet when they were
there they broke something, something
secret and precious between her and her
father and mother, and when they were
gone she felt the stir, the happy move-
ment of coming together again, drawing
in close, close, after the break.
'We only want each other.' Nobody
else really mattered, not even Priscilla
  Year after year the same. Her mother
parted her hair into two sleek wings; she
wore a rosette and lappets of black velvet
  and lace on a glistening beetle-backed         [FE]
chignon. And Harriett felt again her
shock of resentment. She hated to think
of her mother subject to change and time.
  And Priscilla came year after year, still
loving, still protesting that she would
never marry. Yet they were glad when
even Priscilla had gone and left them to
each other. Only each other, year after
year the same.

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