Penn Library
CETI: Center for Electronic Text & Image

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

Chapter XIII
Back Forward

FE Index MS Index


NEW people had come to the house next            [FE]   [MS]
door. Harriett saw a pretty girl going in
and out. She had not called; she was
not going to call. Their cat came over
the garden wall and bit off the blades of
the irises. When he sat down on the
mignonette Harriett sent a note round by
Maggie: 'Miss Frean presents her compli-
ments to the lady next door and would
be glad if she would restrain her cat.'
  Five minutes later the pretty girl ap-
peared with the cat in her arms.
  'I've brought Mimi,' she said. 'I
want you to see what a darling he is.'
  Mimi, a Persian, all orange on the top
and snow white underneath, climbed her           [FE]
breast to hang flattened out against her
shoulder, long, the great plume of his
tail fanning her. She swung round to
show the innocence of his amber eyes and
the pink arch of his mouth supporting
his pink nose.
  'I want to see my mignonette,' said
Harriett. They stood together by the
crushed ring where Mimi had made his
bed.
  The pretty girl said she was sorry.                   [MS]
'But, you see, we can't restrain him. I
don't know what's to be done.... Un-
less you kept a cat yourself; then you
won't mind.'
  'But,' Harriett said, 'I don't like cats.'
  'Oh, why not? '
  Harriett knew why. A cat was a
compromise, a substitute, a subterfuge.          [FE]
Her pride couldn't stoop. She was afraid
of Mimi, of his enchanting play, and the
soft white fur of his stomach. Maggie's
baby. So she said, 'Because they destroy
the beds. And they kill birds.'
  The pretty girl's chin burrowed in
Mimi's neck. 'You won't throw stones
at him?' she said.
  'No, I wouldn't hurt him.... What
did you say his name was?'
  'Mimi.'
  Harriett softened. She remembered.
'When I was a little girl I had a cat
called Mimi. White Angora. Very hand-
some. And your name is--'
  'Brailsford. I'm Dorothy.'
  Next time, when Mimi jumped on the
lupins and broke them down, Dorothy
came again and said she was sorry. And           [FE]
she stayed to tea. Harriett revealed herself.
  'My father was Hilton Frean.' She                     [MS]
had noticed for the last fifteen years
that people showed no interest when she
told them that. They even stared as
though she had said something that had
no sense in it. Dorothy said, 'How nice ? '
  'Nice?'
  'I mean it must have been nice to have
him for your father.... You don't mind
my coming into your garden last thing to
catch Mimi?'
  Harriett felt a sudden yearning for
Dorothy. She saw a pleasure, a happiness,
in her coming. She wasn't going to call,
but she sent little notes in to Dorothy
asking her to come to tea.
  Dorothy declined.
  But every evening, towards bed-time,           [FE]
she came into the garden to catch Mimi.
Through the window Harriett could hear
her calling: 'Mimi! Mimi!' She could
see her in her white frock, moving about,
hovering ready to pounce as Mimi dashed
from the bushes. She thought: 'She
walks into my garden as if it was her
own. But she won't make a friend of
me. She's young, and I'm old.'
  She had a piece of wire netting put
up along the wall to keep Mimi out.                     [MS]
  'That's the end of it,' she said. She
could never think of the young girl
without a pang of sadness and resentment.

  Fifty-five. Sixty.
  In her sixty-second year Harriett had
her first bad illness.
  It was so like Sarah Barmby. Sarah got         [FE]
influenza and regarded it as a common
cold, and gave it to Harriett who regarded
it as a common cold and got pleurisy.
  When the pain was over she enjoyed her
illness, the peace and rest of lying there,
supported by the bed, holding out her
lean arms to be washed by Maggie;
closing her eyes in bliss while Maggie
combed and brushed and plaited her fine
gray hair. She liked having the same food
at the same hours. She would look up,
smiling weakly, when Maggie came at
bed-time with the little tray. 'What
have you brought me, now, Maggie?'
  ' Benger's Food, ma'am.'
  She wanted it to be always Benger's
Food at bed-time. She lived by habit, by                [MS]
the punctual fulfilment of her expectation.
She loved the doctor's visits at twelve          [FE]
o'clock, his air of brooding absorption in
her case, his consultations with Maggie,
the seriousness and sanctity he attached
to the humblest details of her existence.
  Above all, she loved the comfort
and protection of Maggie, the sight of
Maggie's broad, tender face as it bent
over her, the feeling of Maggie's strong
arms as they supported her, the hovering
pressure of the firm, broad body in the
clean white apron and the cap. Her
eyes rested on it with affection; she found
shelter in Maggie as she had found it
in her mother.
  One day she said, 'Why did you come
to me, Maggie? Couldn't you have
found a better place?'
  'There was many wanted me. But I
came to you, ma'am, because you seemed           [FE]
to sort of need me most. I dearly love
looking after people. Old ladies and
children. And gentlemen, if they're ill
enough,' Maggie said.
  'You're a good girl, Maggie.'
  She had forgotten. The image of
Maggie's baby was dead, hidden, buried
deep down in her mind. She closed her                   [MS]
eyes. Her head was thrown back, motion-
less, ecstatic under Maggie's flickering
fingers as they plaited her thin wisps of
hair.

  Out of the peace of illness she entered
on the misery and long labour of con-
valescence. The first time Maggie left
her to dress herself she wept. She didn't
want to get well. She could see nothing
in recovery but the end of privilege and         [FE]
prestige, the obligation to return to a 
task she was tired of, a difficult and
terrifying task.
  By summer she was up and (tremulously)
about again.

Table of Contents Section Index Previous Next

First Edition Index Manuscript Index


CETI Home