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

Chapter XII
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THE young girl, Robin's niece, had come          [FE]   [MS]
again, bright-eyed, eager, and hungry,
grateful for Sunday supper.
  Harriett was getting used to these
appearances, spread over three years, since
Robin's wife had asked her to be kind to
Mona Floyd. Mona had come this time
to tell her of her engagement to Geoffrey
Carter. The news shocked Harriett
intensely.
  'But, my dear, you told me he was going
to marry your little friend, Amy--Amy
Lambert. What does Amy say to it?'
  ' What can she say? I know it's a bit
rough on her--'
  'You know; and yet you'll take your            [FE]
happiness at the poor child's expense.'
  'We've got to. We can't do anything
else.'
  'Oh, my dear--' If she could stop
it.... An inspiration came.' I knew
a girl once who might have done what
you're doing, only she wouldn't. She
gave the man up rather than hurt her
friend. She couldn't do anything else.'
  'How much was he in love with her?'
  'I don't know how much. He was                        [MS]
never in love with any other woman.'
  'Then she was a fool. A silly fool.
Didn't she think of him?'
  'Didn't she think?'
  'No. She didn't. She thought of
herself. Of her own moral beauty. She
was a selfish fool.'
  'She asked the best and wisest man she         [FE]
knew, and he told her she couldn't do
anything else.'
  'The best and wisest man--oh, Lord!'
  'That was my own father, Mona, Hilton
Frean.'
  'Then it was you. You and Uncle
Robin and Aunt Prissie.'
  Harriett's face smiled its straight, thin-
lipped smile, the worn, grooved chin
arrogantly lifted.
  'How could you?'
  'I could because I was brought up
not to think of myself before other people.'
  'Then it wasn't even your own idea.
You sacrificed him to somebody else's.
You made three people miserable just
for that. Four, if you count Aunt Beatie.'
  'There was Prissie. I did it for her.'
  'What did you do for her? You                  [FE]
insulted Aunt Prissie.'
  'Insulted her? My dear Mona!'                         [MS]
  'It was an insult, handing her over to
a man who couldn't love her even with
his body. Aunt Prissie was the miser-
ablest of the lot. Do you suppose he
didn't take it out of her?'
  'He never let her know.'
  'Oh, didn't he! She knew all right.
That's how she got her illness. And
it's how he got his. And he'll kill Aunt
Beatie. He's taking it out of her now.
Look at the awful suffering. And you
can go on sentimentalising about it.'
  The young girl rose, flinging her scarf
over her shoulders with a violent gesture.
  'There's no common sense in it.'
  'No common sense, perhaps.'
  'It's a jolly sight better than sentiment      [FE]
when it comes to marrying.'
  They kissed. Mona turned at the
doorway.
  'I say--did he go on caring for you ? '
  'Sometimes I think he did. Sometimes
I think he hated me.'
  'Of course he hated you, after what
you'd let him in for.' she paused. 'You
don't mind my telling you the truth, do
you?'
  . . . Harriett sat a long time, her                   [MS]
hands folded on her lap, her eyes staring
into the room, trying to see the truth.
She saw the girl, Robin's niece, in her
young indignation, her tender brilliance
suddenly hard, suddenly cruel, flashing
out the truth. Was it true that she had
sacrificed Robin and Priscilla and Beatrice
to her parents' idea of moral beauty?            [FE]
Was it true that this idea had been all
wrong? That she might have married
Robin and been happy and been right?
  'I don't care. If it was to be done
again to-morrow I'd do it.'
  But the beauty of that unique act no
longer appeared to her as it once was,
uplifting, consoling, incorruptible.

  The years passed. They went with an
incredible rapidity, and Harriett was now
fifty.
  The feeling of insecurity had grown on
her. It had something to do with Mona,
with Maggie and Maggie's baby. She
had no clear illumination, only a mournful
acquiescence in her own futility, an almost             [MS]
physical sense of shrinkage, the crumbling
away, bit by bit, of her beautiful and           [FE]
honourable self, dying with the objects
of its three profound affections: her father,
her mother, Robin. Gradually the image
of the middle-aged Robin had effaced his
youth.
  She read more and more novels from
the circulating libraries, of a kind demand-
ing less and less effort of attention. And
always her inability to concentrate ap-
peared to her as a just demand for clarity:
'The man has no business to write so that
I can't understand him.'
  She laid in a weekly stock of opinions
from The Spectator, and by this means
contrived a semblance of intellectual life.
  She was appeased more and more by
the rhythm of the seasons, of the weeks,
of day and night, by the first coming up
of the pink and wine-brown velvet prim-          [FE]
ulas, by the pungent, burnt smell of her
morning coffee, the smell of a midday
stew, of hot cakes baking for tea-time;
by the lighting of the lamp, the lighting
of autumn fires, the round of her visits.
She waited with a strained, expectant
desire for the moment when it would be
time to see Lizzie or Sarah or Connie                   [MS]
Pennefather again.
  Seeing them was a habit she couldn't
get over. But it no longer gave her keen
pleasure. She told herself that her three
friends were deteriorating in their middle-
age. Lizzie's sharp face darted malice;
her tongue was whipcord; she knew where
to flick; the small gleam of her eyes, the
snap of her nutcracker jaws irritated
Harriett. Sarah was slow; slow. She
took no care of her face and figure. As          [FE]
Lizzie put it, Sarah's appearance was an
outrage on her contemporaries. 'She
makes us feel so old.'
  And Connie--the very rucking of
Connie's coat about her broad hips irritated
Harriett. She had a way of staring over
her fat cheeks at Harriett's old suits,
mistaking them for new ones, and saying
the same exasperating thing. 'You're
lucky to be able to afford it. I can't.'
  Harriett's irritation mounted up and up.

  And one day she quarrelled with Connie.
Connie had been telling one of her
stories; leaning a little sideways, her skirt
stretched tight between her fat, parted                 [MS]
knees, the broad roll of her smile sliding
greasily. She had 'grown out of it'
in her young womanhood, and now in             [FE]
her middle-age she had come back to it
again. She was just like her father.
  'Connie, how can you be so coarse?'
  'I beg pardon. I forgot you were
always better than everybody else.'
  'I'm not better than everybody else.
I've only been brought up better than
some people. My father would have died
rather than have told a story like that.'
  'I suppose that's a dig at my parents.'
  'I never said anything about your
parents.'
  'I know the things you think about my
father.'
  'Well--I dare say he thinks things
about me.'
  'He thinks you were always an incurable
old maid, my dear.'
  'Did he think my father was an old           [FE]
maid?'
  'I never heard him say one unkind
word about your father.'
  'I should hope not indeed.'
  'Unkind things were said. Not by
him. Though he might have been for-
given--
  'I don't know what you mean. But all                  [MS]
my father's creditors were paid in full.
You know that.'
  'I don't know it.'
  'You know it now. Was your father
one of them?'
  'No. It was as bad for him as if he
had been, though.'
  'How do you make that out ? '
  'Well, my dear, if he hadn't taken your
father's advice he might have been a
rich man now instead of a poor one....         [FE]
He invested all his money as he told him.'
  'In my father's things ? '
  'In things he was interested in. And
he lost it.'
  'It shows how he must have trusted
him.'
  'He wasn't the only one who was
ruined by his trust.'
  Harriett blinked. Her mind swerved
from the blow. 'I think you must be
mistaken,' she said.
  'I'm less likely to be mistaken than
you, my dear, though he was your
father.'
  Harriett sat up, straight and stiff. 'Well,
your father's alive, and he's dead.'
  'I don't see what that has to do with it.'
  'Don't you? If it had happened the
other way about, your father wouldn't          [FE]
have died.'
  Connie stared stupidly at Harriett, not
taking it in. Presently she got up and
left her. She moved clumsily, her broad                [MS]
hips shaking.
  Harriett put on her hat and went round
to Lizzie and Sarah in turn. They would
know whether it were true or not. They
would know whether Mr Hancock had
been ruined by his own fault or Papa's.
  Sarah was sorry. She picked up a fold
of her skirt and crumpled it in her fingers,
and said over and over again, 'She
oughtn't to have told you.' But she
didn't say it wasn't true. Neither did
Lizzie, though her tongue was a whip
for Connie.
  'Because you can't stand her dirty
stories she goes and tells you this. It        [FE]
shows what Connie is.'
  It showed her father as he was, too.
Not wise. Not wise all the time. Cour-
ageous, always, loving danger, intolerant
of security, wild under all his quietness
and gentleness, taking madder and madder
risks, playing his game with an awful,
cool recklessness. Then letting other
people in; ruining Mr Hancock, the little
man he used to laugh at. And it had
killed him. He hadn't been sorry for
Mamma, because he knew she was glad
the mad game was over; but he had
thought and thought about him, the little
dirty man, until he had died of thinking.

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