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.