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

Chapter V
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PRISCILLA'S last visit was followed by           [FE]   [MS]          
another passionate vow that she would
never marry. Then within three weeks
she wrote again, telling of her engagement
to Robin Lethbridge.
  '. . . I haven't known him very long,
and Mamma says it's too soon; but he
makes me feel as if I had known him all
my life. I know I said I wouldn't, but
I couldn't tell; I didn't know it would
be so different. I couldn't have believed
that anybody could be so happy. You
won't mind, Hatty. We can love each
other just the same....'
  Incredible that Priscilla, who could be
so beaten down and crushed by suffering,         [FE]    
should have risen to such an ecstasy. Her
letters had a swinging lilt, a hurried beat,
like a song bursting, a heart beating for
joy too fast.
  It would have to be a long engagement.
Robin was in a provincial bank, he had
his way to make. Then, a year later,
Prissie wrote and told them that Robin
had got a post in Parson's Bank in the
City. He didn't know a soul in London.
Would they be kind to him and let him
come to them sometimes, on Saturdays                    [MS]          
and Sundays?
  He came one Sunday. Harriett had
wondered what he would be like, and he
was tall, slender-waisted, wide-shouldered;
he had a square, very white forehead; his
brown hair was parted on one side, half
curling at the tips above his ears. His          [FE]         
eyes-- thin, black crystal, shining, turning,
showing speckles of brown and gray;
perfectly set under straight eyebrows laid
very black on the white skin. His round,
pouting chin had a dent in it. The face
in between was thin and irregular; the
nose straight and serious and rather long
in profile, with a dip and a rise at three
quarters; in full face straight again but
shortened. His eyes had another meaning,
deeper and steadier than his fine slender
mouth; but it was the mouth that made
you look at him. One arch of the bow
was higher than the other; now and then
it quivered with an uneven, sensitive
movement of its own.
  She noticed his mouth's little dragging
droop at the corners and thought: 'Oh,
you're cross. If you're cross with Prissie       [FE]    
-- if you make her unhappy'-- but when
he caught her looking at him the cross
lips drew back in a sudden, white, con-
fiding smile. And when he spoke she
understood why he had been irresistible                 [MS]          
to Priscilla.
  He had come three Sundays now, four
perhaps; she had lost count. They were
all sitting out on the lawn under the
cedar. Suddenly, as if he had only just
thought of it, he said:--
  'It's extraordinarily good of you to
have me.'
  'Oh, well,' her mother said, 'Prissie is
Hatty's greatest friend.'
  'I supposed that was why you do it.'
  He didn't want it to be that. He
wanted it to be himself. Himself. He
was proud. He didn't like to owe any-            [FE]    
thing to other people, not even to Prissie.
  Her father smiled at him. 'You must
give us time.'
  He would never give it or take it.
You could see him tearing at things in
his impatience, to know them, to make
them give themselves up to him at once.
He came rushing to give himself up, all
in a minute, to make himself known.
  'It isn't fair,' he said, 'I know you
so much better than you know me.
Priscilla's always talking about you. But
you don't know anything about me.'
  'No. We've got all the excitement.'
  'And the risk, sir.'
  'And, of course, the risk.' He liked him.             [MS]          
  She could talk to Robin Lethbridge as
she couldn't talk to Connie Hancock's            [FE]    
young men. She wasn't afraid of what
he was thinking. She was safe with him,
he belonged to Priscilla Heaven. He
liked her because he loved Priscilla; but
he wanted her to like him, not because
of Priscilla, but for himself.
  She talked about Priscilla: 'I never
saw anybody so loving. It used to frighten
me; because you can hurt her so easily.'
  'Yes. Poor little Prissie, she's very
vulnerable,' he said.
  When Priscilla came to stay it was
almost painful. Her eyes clung to him,
and wouldn't let him go. If he left the
room she was restless, unhappy till he
came back. She went out for long walks
with him and returned silent, with a
tired, beaten look. She would lie on the
sofa and he would hang over her, gazing          [FE]    
at her with strained, unhappy eyes.
  After she had gone he kept on coming
more than ever, and he stayed overnight.
Harriett had to walk with him now. He
wanted to talk, to talk about himself,
endlessly.
  When she looked in the glass she saw
a face she didn't know: bright-eyed,
flushed, pretty. The little arrogant lift               [MS]          
had gone. As if it had been somebody
else's face she asked herself, in wonder,
without rancour, why nobody had ever
cared for it. Why? Why? She could
see her father looking at her, intent, as
if he wondered. And one day her mother
said, 'Do you think you ought to see so
much of Robin? Do you think it's quite
fair to Prissie?'
  'Oh--Mamma! . . . I wouldn't. I                [FE]    
haven't--
  'I know. You couldn't if you would,
Hatty. You would always behave beauti-
fully. But are you so sure about Robin?'
  'Oh, he couldn't care for anybody but
Prissie. It's only because he's so safe
with me, because he knows I don't and
he doesn't--
  The wedding day was fixed for July.
After all, they were going to risk it. By
the middle of June the wedding presents
began to come in.
  Harriett and Robin Lethbridge were
walking up Black's Lane. The hedges
were a white bridal froth of cow-parsley.
Every now and then she swerved aside
to pick the red campion.                                [MS]          
  He spoke suddenly. 'Do you know                [FE]    
what a dear little face you have, Hatty ?
It's so clear and still and it behaves so
beautifully.'
  'Does it ?'
  She thought of Prissie's face, dark and
restless, never clear, never still.
  'You're not a bit like what I expected.
Prissie doesn't know what you are. You
don't know yourself.'
  'I know what she is.'
  His mouth's uneven quiver beat in and
out like a pulse.
  'Don't talk to me about Prissie!'
  Then he got it out. He tore it out of
himself. He loved her.
  'Oh, Robin--' Her fingers loosened
in her dismay; she went dropping red
campion.
  It was no use, he said, to think about         [FE]    
Prissie. He couldn't marry her. He
couldn't marry anybody but Hatty;
Hatty must marry him.
  'You can't say you don't love me,
Hatty.'
  No. She couldn't say it; for it wouldn't
be true.
  'Well, then--'
  'I can't. I'd be doing wrong, Robin.
I feel all the time as if she belonged to               [MS]          
you; as if she were married to you.'
  'But she isn't. It isn't the same thing.'
  'To me it is. You can't undo it. It
would be too dishonourable.'
  'Not half so dishonourable as marrying
her when I don't love her.'
  'Yes. As long as she loves you. She
hasn't anybody but you.  She was so
happy. So happy. Think of the cruelty            [FE]    
of it. Think what we should send her
back to.'
  'You think of Prissie. You don't think
of me.'
  'Because it would kill her.'
  'How about you ? '
  'It can't kill us, because we know we
love each other. Nothing can take that
from us.'
  'But I couldn't be happy with her,
Hatty. She wears me out. She's so
restless.'
  'We couldn't be happy, Robin. We
should always be thinking of what we
did to her. How could we be happy ? '
  'You know how.'
  'Well, even if we were, we've no right
to get our happiness out of her suffering.'
  'Oh, Hatty, why are you so good, so            [FE]    
good ? '
  'I'm not good. It's only-- there are                  [MS]          
some things you can't do. We couldn't.
We couldn't.'
  'No,' he said at last. 'I don't suppose
we could. Whatever it's like I've got to
go through with it.'
  He didn't stay that night.
  She was crouching on the floor beside
her father, her arm thrown across his
knees. Her mother had left them there.
  'Papado you know?'
  'Your mother told me.... You've
done the right thing.'
  'You don't think I've been cruel? He
said I didn't think of him.'
  'Oh, no, you couldn't do anything else.'
 She couldn't. She couldn't. It was              [FE]    
no use thinking about him. Yet night
after night, for weeks and months, she
thought, and cried herself to sleep.
  By day she suffered from Lizzie's sharp
eyes and Sarah's brooding pity and
Connie Pennefather's callous, married
stare. Only with her father and another
she had peace.

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