Penn Library
CETI: Center for Electronic Text & Image

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

Chapter XIV
Back Forward

FE Index MS Index

SHE was aware of her drowsy, supine              [FE]   [MS]
dependence on Maggie. At first her
perishing self asserted itself in an increased
reserve and arrogance. Thus she pro-
tected herself from her own censure. She
had still a feeling of satisfaction in her
exclusiveness, her power not to call on
new people.
  'I think,' Lizzie Pierce said, 'you
might have called on the Brailsfords.'
  'Why should I? I should have nothing                  [MS]
in common with such people.'
  'Well, considering that Mr Brailsford
writes in The Spectator--'
  Harriett called. She put on her gray
silk and her soft white mohair shawl,            [FE]
and her wide black hat tied under her
chin, and called. It was on a Saturday.
The Brailsfords' room was full of visitors,
men and women, talking excitedly.
Dorothy was not there--Dorothy was
married. Mimi was not there--Mimi
was dead.
  Harriett made her way between the
chairs, dim-eyed, upright, and stiff in
her white shawl. She apologised for
having waited seven years before calling.
... 'Never go anywhere.... Quite
a recluse since my father's death. He
was Hilton Frean.'
  'Yes?' Mrs Brailsford's eyes were
sweetly interrogative.
  'But as we are such near neighbours I
felt that I must break my rule.'
  Mrs Brailsford smiled in vague benevo-         [FE]
lence; yet as if she thought that Miss
Frean's feeling and her action were un-
necessary. After seven years. And pre-
sently Harriett found herself alone in her
  She tried to talk to Mr Brailsford when               [MS]
he handed her the tea and bread and
butter. 'My father,' she said, 'was con-
nected with The Spectator for many years.
He was Hilton Frean.'
  'Indeed? I'm afraid Idon't remember.'
  She could get nothing out of him, out
of his lean, ironical face, his eyes screwed
up behind his glasses, benevolent, amused
at her. She was nobody in that roomful
of keen, intellectual people; nobody;
nothing but an unnecessary little old lady
who had come there uninvited.
  Her second call was not returned. She          [FE]
heard that the Brailsfords were exclusive;
they wouldn't know anybody out of their
own set. Harriett explained her position
thus: 'No. I didn't keep it up. We
have nothing in common.'
  She was oldold. She had nothing
in common with youth, nothing in
common with middle-age, with intellectual
exclusive people connected with The Spec-
tator. She said, 'The Spectator is not
what it used to be in my father's time.'

  Harriett Frean was not what she used
to be. She was aware of the creeping
fret, the poisons and obstructions of decay.            [MS]
It was as if she had parted with her own
light, elastic body, and succeeded to some-
body else's that was all bone, heavy, stiff,
irresponsive to her will. Her brain felt         [FE]
swollen and brittle, she had a feeling of
tiredness in her face, of infirmity about
her mouth. Her looking-glass showed
her the fallen yellow skin, the furrowed
lines of age.
  Her head dropped, drowsy, giddy over
the week's accounts. She gave up even the
semblance of her housekeeping, and be-
came permanently dependent on Maggie.
She was happy in the surrender of her
responsibility, of the grown-up self she
had maintained with so much effort,
clinging to Maggie, submitting to Maggie,
as she had clung and submitted to her
  Her affection concentrated on two ob-
jects, the house and Maggie, Maggie and
the house. The house had become a
part of herself, an extension of her body,       [FE]
a protective shell. She was uneasy when
away from it. The thought of it drew
her with passion: the low brown wall
with the railing, the flagged path from the
little green gate to the front door. The
square brown front; the two oblong,
white-framed windows, the dark green
trellis porch between; the three windows
above. And the clipped privet bush by                   [MS]
the trellis and the may-tree by the gate.
  She no longer enjoyed visiting her
friends. She set out in peevish resignation,
leaving her house, and when she had sat
half an hour with Lizzie or Sarah or
Connie she would begin to-fidget, miser-
able till she got back to it again; to the
house and Maggie.
  She was glad enough when Lizzie came
to her; she still liked Lizzie best. They        [FE]
would sit together, one on each side of
the fireplace, talking. Harriett's voice
came thinly through her thin lips, precise
yet plaintive, Lizzie's finished with a snap
of the bent-in jaws.
  'Do you remember those little round
hats we used to wear? You had one
exactly like mine. Connie wouldn't wear
  'We were wild young things,' said
  'I was wilder than you.... A little
audacious thing.'
  'And look at us nowwe couldn't
say "Bo" to a goose.... Well, we
may be thankful we haven't gone stout
like Connie Pennefather.'
  'Or poor Sarah. That stoop.'
  They drew themselves up. Their                 [FE]
straight, slender shoulders rebuked Con-
nie's obesity, and Sarah's bent back, her               [MS]
bodice stretched hump-wise from the
stuck-out ridges of her stays.
  Harriett was glad when Lizzie went and
left her to Maggie and the house. She
always hoped she wouldn't stay for tea,
so that Maggie might not have an extra
cup and plate to wash.
  The years passed: the sixty-third, sixty-
fourth; sixty-fifth; their monotony miti-
gated by long spells of torpor and the
sheer rapidity of time. Her mind was
carried on, empty, in empty, flying time.
She had a feeling of dryness and dis-
tension in all her being, and a sort of
crepitation in her brain, irritating her to
yawning fits. After meals, sitting in her
arm-chair, her book would drop from             [FE]
her hands and her mind would slip from
drowsiness into stupor. There was some-
thing voluptuous about the beginning of
this state; she would give herself up to it
with an animal pleasure and content.
  Sometimes, for long periods, her mind
would go backwards, returning, always
returning to the house in Black's Lane.
She would see the row of elms and the
white wall at the end with the green
balcony hung out like a bird-cage above
the green door. She would see herself,
a girl wearing a big chignon and a little               [MS]
round hat; or sitting in the curly chair
with her feet on the white rug; and her
father, slender and straight, smiling half-
amused, while her mother read aloud to
them. Or she was a child in a black silk
apron going up Black's Lane. Little             [FE]
audacious thing. She had a fondness
and admiration for this child and her
audacity. And always she saw her mother,
with her sweet face between the long
hanging curls, coming down the garden
path, in a wide silver-gray gown trimmed
with narrow bands of black velvet. And
she would wake up, surprised to find
herself sitting in a strange room, dressed
in a gown with strange sleeves that ended
in old wrinkled hands; for the book that
lay in her lap was Longfellow, open at
  One day she made Maggie pull off the
old, washed-out cretonne covers, exposing
the faded blue rep. She was back in the
drawing-room of her youth. Only one
tiling was missing. She went upstairs
and took the blue egg out of the spare          [FE]
room and set it in its place on the marble-
topped table. She sat gazing at it a long
time in happy, child-like satisfaction.                 [MS]
The blue egg gave reality to her return.
  When she saw Maggie coming in with
the tea and buttered scones she thought
of her mother.

  Three more years. Harriett was sixty-
  She had a faint recollection of having
given Maggie notice, long ago, there, in
the dining-room. Maggie had stood on
the hearth-rug, in her large white apron,
crying. She was crying now.
  She said she must leave and go and
take care of her mother. 'Mother's
getting very feeble now.'
  'I'm getting very feeble, too, Maggie.        [FE]
It's cruel and unkind of you to leave me.'
  'I'm sorry, ma'am. I can't help it.'
  She moved about the room, sniffing and
sobbing as she dusted. Harriett couldn't
bear it any more. 'If you can't control
yourself,' she said, 'go into the kitchen.'
Maggie went.
  Harriett sat before the fire in her chair,
straight and stiff, making no sound. Now
and then her eyelids shook, fluttered red
rims; slow, scanty tears oozed and fell,
their trail glistening in the long furrows
of her cheeks.

Table of Contents Section Index Previous Next

First Edition Index Manuscript Index