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

Chapter VIII
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HER mother had some secret that she              [FE]   [MS]   [WB]
couldn't share. She was wonderful in
her pure, high serenity. Surely she had
some secret. She said he was closer to
her now than he had ever been. And in
her correct, precise answers to the letters
of condolence Harriett wrote: 'I feel
that he is closer to us now than he ever
was.' But she didn't really feel it. She                       [WB]
only felt that to feel it was the beautiful
and proper thing. She looked for her
mother's secret and couldn't find it.
  Meanwhile Mr Hichens had given them
six weeks. They had to decide where
they would go: into Devonshire or into
a cottage at Hampstead where Sarah               [FE]
Barmby lived now.
  Her mother said, 'Do you think you'd                         [WB]
like to live in Sidmouth, near Aunt
  They had stayed one summer at Sid-
mouth with Aunt Harriett. She remem-
bered the red cliffs, the sea, and Aunt
Harriett's garden stuffed with flowers.
They had been happy there. She thought
she would love that: the sea and the red
cliffs and a garden like Aunt Harriett's.
  But she was not sure whether it was
what her mother really wanted. Mamma                    [MS]
would never say. She would have to find
out somehow.
  'Well--what do you think?'
  'It would be leaving all your friends,
  'My friends--yes. But--'                       [FE]
  Lizzie and Sarah and Connie Penne-
father. She could live without them.
' Oh, there's Mrs Hancock.'
  'Well--' Her mother's voice sug-
gested that if she were put to it she could
live without Mrs Hancock.
  And Harriett thought: 'She does want
to go to Sidmouth then.'
  'It would be very nice to be near Aunt
  She was afraid to say more than that                         [WB]
lest she should show her own wish before
she knew her mother's.
  'Aunt Harriett. Yes.... But it's
very far away, Hatty. We should be
cut off from everything. Lectures and                          [WB]
concerts. We couldn't afford to come
up and down.'
  'No. We couldn't.'                             [FE]
  She could see that Mamma did not
really want to live in Sidmouth; she didn't
want to be near Aunt Harriett; she wanted
the cottage at Hampstead and all the
things of their familiar, intellectual life             [MS]
going on and on. After all that was the
way to keep near to Papa, to go on doing
the things they had done together.
  Her mother agreed that it was the way.
  'I can't help feeling,' Harriett said,
'it's what he would have wished.'
  Her mother's face was quiet and con-
tent. She hadn't guessed.

  They left the white house with the
green balcony hung out like a bird-cage                        [WB]
at the side, and turned into the cottage
at Hampstead. The rooms were small
and rather dark, and the furniture they          [FE]
had brought had a squeezed-up, unhappy
look. The blue egg on the marble-topped
table was conspicuous and hateful as it
had never been in the Black's Lane
drawing-room. Harriett and her mother
looked at it.
  'Must it stay there?'
  'I think so. Fanny Hancock gave it
  'Mamma--you know you don't like it.'  
  'No. But after all these years I couldn't
turn the poor thing away.'
  Her mother was an old woman, clinging                [MS]
with an old, stubborn fidelity to the little
things of her past. But Harriett denied
it. 'She's not old,' she said to herself.
'Not really old.'
  'Harriett,' her mother said one day,
'I think you ought to do the house-              [FE]
  'Oh, Mamma, why?' She hated the
idea of this change.
  'Because you'll have to do it some day.'
  She obeyed. But as she went her
rounds and gave her orders she felt that
she was doing something not quite real,
playing at being her mother as she had
played when she was a child. Then her
mother had another thought.
  'Harriett, I think you ought to see
more of your friends, dear.'
  'Because you'll want them after I'm
  'I shall never want anybody but you.'
  And their time went as it had
gone before: in sewing together, reading
together, listening to lectures and concerts     [FE]
together. They had told Sarah that they                         [WB]
didn't want anybody to call. They were
Hilton Frean's wife and daughter. 'After
our wonderful life with him,' they said,               [MS]
'you'll understand, Sarah, that we don't
want people.' And if Harriett was intro-
duced to any stranger she accounted for
herself arrogantly: 'My father was Hilton
  They were collecting his Remains for
  Months passed, years passed, going each
one a little quicker than the last. And
Harriett was thirty-nine.
  One evening, coming out of church, her                        [WB]
mother fainted. That was the beginning
of her illness, February, eighteen eighty-
three. First came the long months of             [FE]
weakness; then the months and months
of sickness; then the pain; the pain she
had been hiding, that she couldn't hide
any more.
  They knew what it was now: that                               [WB]
horrible thing that even the doctors were
afraid to name. They called it 'some-
thing malignant.' When the friends--
Mrs Hancock, Connie Pennefather, Lizzie,
and Sarah--wouldn't tell them what it was; she
pretended that she didn't know, that the
doctors weren't sure; she covered it up                [MS]
from them as if it had been a secret
shame. And they pretended that they
didn't know. But they knew.
  They were talking now about an opera-
tion. There was one chance for her in                           [WB]
a hundred if they had Sir James Pargeter:        [FE]
one chance. She might die of it; she
might die under the anesthetic; she might
die of shock; she was so old and weak.
Still, there was that one chance, if only
she would take it.
  But her mother wouldn't listen. ' My
dear, it would cost a hundred pounds.'
  'How do you know what it would
  'Oh,' she said, 'I know.' she was
smiling above the sheet that was tucked
close up, tight under her chin, shutting
it all down.
  Sir James Pargeter would cost a hundred
 pounds.  Harriett couldn't lay her hands
on the money or on half of it or a quarter.
'That doesn't matter if they think it'll
save you.'
  'They think; they think. But I know.           [FE]           [WB]
I know better than all the doctors.'
  'But Mamma, darling--'
  She urged the operation. Just because it
would be so difficult to raise the hundred             [MS]
pounds she urged it. She wanted to feel
that she had done everything that could
be done, that she had let nothing stand
in the way, that she had shrunk from no
sacrifice. One chance in a hundred. What
was a hundred pounds weighed against
that one chance ? If it had been one in
a thousand she would have said the same.
  'It would be no good, Hatty. I know
it wouldn't. They just love to try experi-
ments, those doctors. They're dying to
get their knives into me. Don't let them.'
  Gradually, day by day, Harriett weak-
ened. Her mother's frightened voice                             [WB]
tore at her, broke her down. Supposing           [FE]
she really died under the operation?
Supposing-- It was cruel to excite
and upset her just for that; it made the
pain worse.
  Either the operation or the pain, going
on and on, stabbing with sharper and
sharper knives; cutting in deeper; all
their care, the antiseptics, the restoratives,
dragging it out, giving it more time to
torture her.
  When the three friends came Harriett
said, 'I shall be glad and thankful when               [MS]
it's all over. I couldn't want to keep her
with me, just for this.'
  Yet she did want it. She was thankful
every morning that she came to her
mother's bed and found her alive, lying
there, looking at her with her wonderful
smile. She was glad because she still            [FE]
had her.
  And now they were giving her morphia.
Under the torpor of the drug her face
changed; the muscles loosened, the flesh
sagged, the widened, swollen mouth hung
open; only the broad beautiful forehead,
the beautiful calm eyebrows were the
same; the face, sallow white, half imbecile,
was a mask flung aside. She couldn't
bear to look at it; it wasn't her mother's
face; her mother had died already under
the morphia. She had a shock every time
she came in and found it still there.
  On the day her mother died she told                           [WB]
herself she was glad and thankful. She
met her friends with a little quiet, com-
posed face, saying, 'I'm glad and thankful
she's at peace.' But she wasn't thankful;
she wasn't glad. She wanted her back             [FE]   [MS] 
again. And she reproached herself, one
minute for having been glad, and the
next for wanting her.
  She consoled herself by thinking of the
sacrifices she had made, how she had
given up Sidmouth, and how willingly
she would have paid the hundred pounds.
  'I sometimes think, Hatty,' said Mrs                          [WB]
Hancock, melancholy and condoling, 'that
it would have been very different if your
poor mother could have had her wish.'
  'What--what wish?'                                            [WB]
  'Her wish to live in Sidmouth, near
your Aunt Harriett.'
  And Sarah Barmby, sympathising
heavily, stopping short and brooding,
trying to think of something to say: 'If the
operation had only been done three years         [FE]
ago when they knew it would save her-
  'Three years ago ? But we didn't know
anything about it then.'
  'She did.... Don't you remember ?
It was when I stayed with her.... Oh,
Hatty, didn't she tell you?'                            [MS]
  'She never said a word.'
  'Oh, well, she wouldn't hear of it,
even then when they didn't give her two                         [WB]
years to live.'
  Three years? She had had it three years                       [WB]
ago.  She had known about it all that
time. Three years ago the operation would
have saved her; she would have been
here now. Why had she refused it when
she knew it would save her?
  She had been thinking of the hundred
  To have known about it three years and         [FE]
said nothing--to have gone believing she
hadn't two years to live--
  That was her secret. That was why
she had been so calm when Papa died.                            [WB]
She had known she would have him again
so soon. Not two years-
  'If I'd been them,' Lizzie was saying,                        [WB]
'I'd have bitten my tongue out before
I told you. It's no use worrying, Hatty.
You did everything that could be done.'                         [WB]
  'I know. I know.'
  She held up her face against them; but
to herself she said that everything had
not been done. Her mother had never
had her wish. And she had died in agony,
so that she, Harriett, might keep her
hundred pounds.

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