Life and Death of Harriett Frean
by May Sinclair
“Pussycat, Pussycat, where have you been?”
“I've been to London, to see the Queen.”
“Pussycat, Pussycat, what did you there?”
“I caught a little mouse under the chair,”
Her mother said it three times. And each time the Baby Harriett
laughed. The sound of her laugh was so funny that she laughed again at
that; she kept on laughing, with shriller and shriller squeals.
“I wonder why she thinks it's funny,” her mother said.
Her father considered it. “I don't know. The cat perhaps. The cat
and the Queen. But no; that isn't funny.”
“She sees something in it we don't see, bless her,” said her mother.
Each kissed her in turn, and the Baby Harriett stopped laughing
“Mamma, did Pussycat see the Queen?”
“No,” said Mamma. “Just when the Queen was passing the little mouse
came out of its hole and ran under the chair. That's what Pussycat
Every evening before bedtime she said the same rhyme, and Harriett
asked the same question.
When Nurse had gone she would lie still in her cot, waiting. The
door would open, the big pointed shadow would move over the ceiling,
the lattice shadow of the fireguard would fade and go away, and Mamma
would come in carrying the lighted candle. Her face shone white between
her long, hanging curls. She would stoop over the cot and lift Harriett
up, and her face would be hidden in curls. That was the
kiss-me-to-sleep kiss. And when she had gone Harriett lay still again,
waiting. Presently Papa would come in, large and dark in the firelight.
He stooped and she leapt up into his arms. That was the kiss-me-awake
kiss; it was their secret.
Then they played. Papa was the Pussycat and she was the little mouse
in her hole under the bed-clothes. They played till Papa said, “No
more!” and tucked the blankets tight in.
“Now you're kissing like Mamma——”
Hours afterwards they would come again together and stoop over the
cot and she wouldn't see them; they would kiss her with soft, light
kisses, and she wouldn't know.
She thought: To-night I'll stay awake and see them. But she never
did. Only once she dreamed that she heard footsteps and saw the lighted
candle, going out of the room; going, going away.
The blue egg stood on the marble top of the cabinet where you could
see it from everywhere; it was supported by a gold waistband, by gold
hoops and gold legs, and it wore a gold ball with a frill round it like
a crown. You would never have guessed what was inside it. You touched a
spring in its waistband and it flew open, and then it was a workbox.
Gold scissors and thimble and stiletto sitting up in holes cut in white
The blue egg was the first thing she thought of when she came into
the room. There was nothing like that in Connie Hancock's Papa's house.
It belonged to Mamma.
Harriett thought: If only she could have a birthday and wake up and
find that the blue egg belonged to her——
Ida, the wax doll, sat on the drawing-room sofa, dressed ready for
the birthday. The darling had real person's eyes made of glass, and
real eyelashes and hair. Little finger and toenails were marked in the
wax, and she smelt of the lavender her clothes were laid in.
But Emily, the new birthday doll, smelt of composition and of gum
and hay; she had flat, painted hair and eyes, and a foolish look on her
face, like Nurse's aunt, Mrs. Spinker, when she said “Lawk-a-daisy!”
Although Papa had given her Emily, she could never feel for her the
real, loving love she felt for Ida.
And her mother had told her that she must lend Ida to Connie Hancock
if Connie wanted her.
Mamma couldn't see that such a thing was not possible.
“My darling, you mustn't be selfish. You must do what your little
But she had to; and she was sent out of the room because she cried.
It was much nicer upstairs in the nursery with Mimi, the Angora cat.
Mimi knew that something sorrowful had happened. He sat still, just
lifting the root of his tail as you stroked him. If only she could have
stayed there with Mimi; but in the end she had to go back to the
If only she could have told Mamma what it felt like to see Connie
with Ida in her arms, squeezing her tight to her chest and patting her
as if Ida had been her child. She kept on saying to herself that
Mamma didn't know; she didn't know what she had done. And when it was
all over she took the wax doll and put her in the long narrow box she
had come in, and buried her in the bottom drawer in the spare-room
wardrobe. She thought: If I can't have her to myself I won't have her
at all. I've got Emily. I shall just have to pretend she's not an
She pretended Ida was dead; lying in her pasteboard coffin and
buried in the wardrobe cemetery.
It was hard work pretending that Emily didn't look like Mrs.
She had a belief that her father's house was nicer than other
people's houses. It stood off from the high road, in Black's Lane, at
the head of the town. You came to it by a row of tall elms standing up
along Mr. Hancock's wall. Behind the last tree its slender white end
went straight up from the pavement, hanging out a green balcony like a
bird cage above the green door.
The lane turned sharp there and went on, and the long brown garden
wall went with it. Behind the wall the lawn flowed down from the white
house and the green veranda to the cedar tree at the bottom. Beyond the
lawn was the kitchen garden, and beyond the kitchen garden the orchard;
little crippled apple trees bending down in the long grass.
She was glad to come back to the house after the walk with Eliza,
the nurse, or Annie, the housemaid; to go through all the rooms looking
for Mimi; looking for Mamma, telling her what had happened.
“Mamma, the red-haired woman in the sweetie shop has got a little
baby, and its hair's red, too.... Some day I shall have a little baby.
I shall dress him in a long gown——-”
“Robe, with bands of lace all down it, as long as that; and a
white christening cloak sewn with white roses. Won't he look sweet?”
“He shall have lots of hair. I shan't love him if he hasn't.”
“Oh, yes, you will.”
“No. He must have thick, flossy hair like Mimi, so that I can stroke
him. Which would you rather have, a little girl or a little boy?”
“Well—what do you think——?”
“I think—perhaps I'd rather have a little girl.”
She would be like Mamma, and her little girl would be like herself.
She couldn't think of it any other way.
The school-treat was held in Mr. Hancock's field. All afternoon she
had been with the children, playing Oranges and lemons, A ring, a ring
of roses, and Here we come gathering nuts in May, nuts in May,
nuts in May: over and over again. And she had helped her mother to
hand cake and buns at the infants' table.
The guest-children's tea was served last of all, up on the lawn
under the immense, brown brick, many windowed house. There wasn't room
for everybody at the table, so the girls sat down first and the boys
waited for their turn. Some of them were pushing and snatching.
She knew what she would have. She would begin with a bun, and go on
through two sorts of jam to Madeira cake, and end with raspberries and
cream. Or perhaps it would be safer to begin with raspberries and
cream. She kept her face very still, so as not to look greedy, and
tried not to stare at the Madeira cake lest people should see she was
thinking of it. Mrs. Hancock had given her somebody else's crumby
plate. She thought: I'm not greedy. I'm really and truly hungry. She
could draw herself in at the waist with a flat, exhausted feeling, like
the two ends of a concertina coming together.
She was doing this when she saw her mother standing on the other
side of the table, looking at her and making signs.
“If you've finished, Hatty, you'd better get up and let that little
boy have something.”
They were all turning round and looking at her. And there was the
crumby plate before her. They were thinking: “That greedy little girl
has gone on and on eating.” She got up suddenly, not speaking, and left
the table, the Madeira cake and the raspberries and cream. She could
feel her skin all hot and wet with shame.
And now she was sitting up in the drawing-room at home. Her mother
had brought her a piece of seed-cake and a cup of milk with the cream
on it. Mamma's soft eyes kissed her as they watched her eating her cake
with short crumbly bites, like a little cat. Mamma's eyes made her feel
so good, so good.
“Why didn't you tell me you hadn't finished?”
“Finished? I hadn't even begun”
“Oh-h, darling, why didn't you tell me?”
“Because I—I don't know.”
“Well, I'm glad my little girl didn't snatch and push. It's better
to go without than to take from other people. That's ugly.”
Ugly. Being naughty was just that. Doing ugly things. Being good was
being beautiful like Mamma. She wanted to be like her mother. Sitting
up there and being good felt delicious. And the smooth cream with the
milk running under it, thin and cold, was delicious too.
Suddenly a thought came rushing at her. There was God and there was
Jesus. But even God and Jesus were not more beautiful than Mamma. They
“You mustn't say things like that, Hatty; you mustn't, really. It
might make something happen.”
“Oh, no, it won't. You don't suppose they're listening all the
Saying things like that made you feel good and at the same time
naughty, which was more exciting than only being one or the other. But
Mamma's frightened face spoiled it. What did she think—what did she
think God would do?
At the bottom of the orchard a door in the wall opened into Black's
Lane, below the three tall elms.
She couldn't believe she was really walking there by herself. It had
come all of a sudden, the thought that she must do it, that she
must go out into the lane; and when she found the door unlatched,
something seemed to take hold of her and push her out. She was
forbidden to go into Black's Lane; she was not even allowed to walk
there with Annie.
She kept on saying to herself: “I'm in the lane. I'm in the lane.
I'm disobeying Mamma.”
Nothing could undo that. She had disobeyed by just standing outside
the orchard door. Disobedience was such a big and awful thing that it
was waste not to do something big and awful with it. So she went on, up
and up, past the three tall elms. She was a big girl, wearing black
silk aprons and learning French. Walking by herself. When she arched
her back and stuck her stomach out she felt like a tall lady in a
crinoline and shawl. She swung her hips and made her skirts fly out.
That was her grown-up crinoline, swing-swinging as she went.
At the turn the cow's parsley and rose campion began; on each side a
long trail of white froth with the red tops of the campion pricking
through. She made herself a nosegay.
Past the second turn you came to the waste ground covered with old
boots and rusted, crumpled tins. The little dirty brown house stood
there behind the rickety blue palings; narrow, like the piece of a
house that has been cut in two. It hid, stooping under the ivy bush on
its roof. It was not like the houses people live in; there was
something queer, some secret, frightening thing about it.
The man came out and went to the gate and stood there. He was
the frightening thing. When he saw her he stepped back and crouched
behind the palings, ready to jump out.
She turned slowly, as if she had thought of something. She mustn't
run. She must not run. If she ran he would come after her.
Her mother was coming down the garden walk, tall and beautiful in
her silver-gray gown with the bands of black velvet on the flounces and
the sleeves; her wide, hooped skirts swung, brushing the flower
She ran up to her, crying, “Mamma, I went up the lane where you told
me not to.”
“No, Hatty, no; you didn't.”
You could see she wasn't angry. She was frightened.
“I did. I did.”
Her mother took the bunch of flowers out of her hand and looked at
it. “Yes,” she said, “that's where the dark-red campion grows.”
She was holding the flowers up to her face. It was awful, for you
could see her mouth thicken and redden over its edges and shake. She
hid it behind the flowers. And somehow you knew it wasn't your
naughtiness that made her cry. There was something more.
She was saying in a thick, soft voice, “It was wrong of you, my
Suddenly she bent her tall straightness. “Rose campion,” she said,
parting the stems with her long, thin fingers. “Look, Hatty, how
beautiful they are. Run away and put the poor things in water.”
She was so quiet, so quiet, and her quietness hurt far more than if
she had been angry.
She must have gone straight back into the house to Papa. Harriett
knew, because he sent for her. He was quiet, too.... That was the
little, hiding voice he told you secrets in.... She stood close up to
him, between his knees, and his arm went loosely round her to keep her
there while he looked into her eyes. You could smell tobacco, and the
queer, clean man's smell that came up out of him from his collar. He
wasn't smiling; but somehow his eyes looked kinder than if they had
“Why did you do it, Hatty?”
“Because—I wanted to see what it would feel like.”
“You mustn't do it again. Do you hear?—you mustn't do it.”
“Why? Because it makes your mother unhappy. That's enough why.”
But there was something more. Mamma had been frightened. Something
to do with the frightening man in the lane.
“Why does it make her?”
She knew; she knew; but she wanted to see what he would say.
“I said that was enough.... Do you know what you've been guilty of?”
“More than that. Breaking trust. Meanness. It was mean and
dishonorable of you when you knew you wouldn't be punished.”
“Isn't there to be a punishment?”
“No. People are punished to make them remember. We want you to
forget.” His arm tightened, drawing her closer. And the kind, secret
voice went on. “Forget ugly things. Understand, Hatty, nothing is
forbidden. We don't forbid, because we trust you to do what we wish. To
behave beautifully.... There, there.”
She hid her face on his breast against his tickly coat, and cried.
She would always have to do what they wanted; the unhappiness of not
doing it was more than she could bear. All very well to say there would
be no punishment; their unhappiness was the punishment.
It hurt more than anything. It kept on hurting when she thought
The first minute of to-morrow she would begin behaving beautifully;
as beautifully as she could. They wanted you to; they wanted it more
than anything because they were so beautiful. So good. So wise.
But three years went before Harriett understood how wise they had
been, and why her mother took her again and again into Black's Lane to
pick red campion, so that it was always the red campion she remembered.
They must have known all the time about Black's Lane; Annie, the
housemaid, used to say it was a bad place; something had happened to a
little girl there. Annie hushed and reddened and wouldn't tell you what
it was. Then one day, when she was thirteen, standing by the apple
tree, Connie Hancock told her. A secret... Behind the dirty blue
palings... She shut her eyes, squeezing the lids down, frightened. But
when she thought of the lane she could see nothing but the green banks,
the three tall elms, and the red campion pricking through the white
froth of the cow's parsley; her mother stood on the garden walk in her
wide, swinging gown; she was holding the red and white flowers up to
her face and saying, “Look, how beautiful they are.”
She saw her all the time while Connie was telling her the secret.
She wanted to get up and go to her. Connie knew what it meant when you
stiffened suddenly and made yourself tall and cold and silent. The cold
silence would frighten her and she would go away. Then, Harriett
thought, she could get back to her mother and Longfellow.
Every afternoon, through the hours before her father came home, she
sat in the cool, green-lighted drawing-room reading Evangeline
aloud to her mother. When they came to the beautiful places they looked
at each other and smiled.
She passed through her fourteenth year sedately, to the sound of
Evangeline. Her upright body, her lifted, delicately obstinate,
rather wistful face expressed her small, conscious determination to be
good. She was silent with emotion when Mrs. Hancock told her she was
growing like her mother.
Connie Hancock was her friend.
She had once been a slender, wide-mouthed child, top-heavy with her
damp clumps of hair. Now she was squaring and thickening and looking
horrid, like Mr. Hancock. Beside her Harriett felt tall and elegant and
Mamma didn't know what Connie was really like; it was one of those
things you couldn't tell her. She said Connie would grow out of it.
Meanwhile you could see he wouldn't. Mr. Hancock had red
whiskers, and his face squatted down in his collar, instead of rising
nobly up out of it like Papa's. It looked as if it was thinking things
that made its eyes bulge and its mouth curl over and slide like a drawn
loop. When you talked about Mr. Hancock, Papa gave a funny laugh as if
he was something improper. He said Connie ought to have red whiskers.
Mrs. Hancock, Connie's mother, was Mamma's dearest friend. That was
why there had always been Connie. She could remember her, squirming and
spluttering in her high nursery chair. And there had always been Mrs.
Hancock, refined and mournful, looking at you with gentle, disappointed
She was glad that Connie hadn't been sent to her boarding-school, so
that nothing could come between her and Priscilla Heaven.
Priscilla was her real friend.
It had begun in her third term, when Priscilla first came to the
school, unhappy and shy, afraid of the new faces. Harriett took her to
She was thin, thin, in her shabby black velvet jacket. She stood
looking at herself in the greenish glass over the yellow-painted chest
of drawers. Her heavy black hair had dragged the net and broken it. She
put up her thin arms, helpless.
“They'll never keep me,” she said. “I'm so untidy.”
“It wants more pins,” said Harriett. “Ever so many more pins. If you
put them in head downwards they'll fall out. I'll show you.”
Priscilla trembled with joy when Harriett asked her to walk with
her; she had been afraid of her at first because she behaved so
Soon they were always together. They sat side by side at the dinner
table and in school, black head and golden brown leaning to each other
over the same book; they walked side by side in the packed procession,
going two by two. They slept in the same room, the two white beds drawn
close together; a white dimity curtain hung between; they drew it back
so that they could see each other lying there in the summer dusk and in
the clear mornings when they waked.
Harriett loved Priscilla's odd, dusk-white face; her long hound's
nose, seeking; her wide mouth, restless between her shallow, fragile
jaws; her eyes, black, cleared with spots of jade gray, prominent,
showing white rims when she was startled. She started at sudden noises;
she quivered and stared when you caught her dreaming; she cried when
the organ burst out triumphantly in church. You had to take care every
minute that you didn't hurt her.
She cried when term ended and she had to go home. Priscilla's home
was horrible. Her father drank, her mother fretted; they were poor; a
rich aunt paid for her schooling.
When the last midsummer holidays came she spent them with Harriett.
“Oh-h-h!” Prissie drew in her breath when she heard they were to
sleep together in the big bed in the spare room. She went about looking
at things, curious, touching them softly as if they were sacred. She
loved the two rough-coated china lambs on the chimney-piece, and
“Oh—the dear little china boxes with the flowers sitting up on them.”
But when the bell rang she stood quivering in the doorway.
“I'm afraid of your father and mother, Hatty. They won't like me. I
know they won't like me.”
“They will. They'll love you,” Hatty said.
And they did. They were sorry for the little white-faced,
It was their last night. Priscilla wasn't going back to school
again. Her aunt, she said, was only paying for a year. They lay
together in the big bed, dim, face to face, talking.
“Hatty—if you wanted to do something most awfully, more than
anything else in the world, and it was wrong, would you be able not to
“I hope so. I think I would, because I'd know if I did it
would make Papa and Mamma unhappy.”
“Yes, but suppose it was giving up something you wanted, something
you loved more than them—could you?”
“Yes. If it was wrong for me to have it. And I couldn't love
anything more than them.”
“But if you did, you'd give it up.”
“I'd have to.”
“Oh, yes, you could if I could.”
“How do you know you couldn't?”
“Because I haven't. I—I oughtn't to have gone on staying here. My
father's ill. They wanted me to go to them and I wouldn't go.”
“There, you see. But I couldn't. I couldn't. I was so happy here
with you. I couldn't give it up.”
“If your father had been like Papa you would have.”
“Yes. I'd do anything for him, because he's your father. It's
you I couldn't give up.”
“You'll have to some day.”
“When somebody else comes. When you're married.”
“I shall never marry. Never. I shall never want anybody but you. If
we could always be together.... I can't think why people marry,
“Still,” Hatty said, “they do.”
“It's because they haven't ever cared as you and me care.... Hatty,
if I don't marry anybody, you won't, will you?”
“I'm not thinking of marrying anybody.”
“No. But promise, promise on your honor you won't ever.”
“I'd rather not promise. You see, I might. I shall love you
all the same, Priscilla, all my life.”
“No, you won't. It'll all be different. I love you more than you
love me. But I shall love you all my life and it won't be different. I
shall never marry.”
“Perhaps I shan't, either,” Harriett said.
They exchanged gifts. Harriett gave Priscilla a rosewood writing
desk inlaid with mother-o'-pearl, and Priscilla gave Harriett a pocket-handkerchief case she had made herself of fine gray canvas embroidered
with blue flowers like a sampler and lined with blue and white plaid
silk. On the top part you read “Pocket handkerchiefs” in blue
lettering, and on the bottom “Harriett Frean,” and, tucked away in one
corner, “Priscilla Heaven: September, 1861.”
She remembered the conversation. Her father sitting, straight and
slender, in his chair, talking in that quiet voice of his that never
went sharp or deep or quavering, that paused now and then on an amused
inflection, his long lips straightening between the perpendicular
grooves of his smile. She loved his straight, slender face,
clean-shaven, the straight, slightly jutting jaw, the dark-blue
flattish eyes under the black eyebrows, the silver-grizzled hair that
fitted close like a cap, curling in a silver brim above his ears.
He was talking about his business as if more than anything it amused
“There's nothing gross and material about stock-broking. It's like
pure mathematics. You're dealing in abstractions, ideal values, all the
time. You calculate—in curves.” His hand, holding the unlit cigar,
drew a curve, a long graceful one, in mid-air. “You know what's going
to happen all the time.
“... The excitement begins when you don't quite know and you risk
it; when it's getting dangerous.
“... The higher mathematics of the game. If you can afford them; if
you haven't a wife and family—I can see the fascination....”
He sat holding his cigar in one hand, looking at it without seeing
it, seeing the fascination and smiling at it, amused and secure.
And her mother, bending over her bead-work, smiled too, out of their
happiness, their security.
He would lean back, smoking his cigar and looking at them out of
contented, half-shut eyes, as they stitched, one at each end of the
long canvas fender stool. He was waiting, he said, for the moment when
their heads would come bumping together in the middle.
Sometimes they would sit like that, not exchanging ideas, exchanging
only the sense of each other's presence, a secure, profound
satisfaction that belonged as much to their bodies as their minds; it
rippled on their faces with their quiet smiling, it breathed with their
breath. Sometimes she or her mother read aloud, Mrs. Browning or
Charles Dickens; or the biography of some Great Man, sitting there in
the velvet-curtained room or out on the lawn under the cedar tree. A
motionless communion broken by walks in the sweet-smelling fields and
deep, elm-screened lanes. And there were short journeys into London to
a lecture or a concert, and now and then the surprise and excitement of
One day her mother smoothed out her long, hanging curls and tucked
them away under a net. Harriett had a little shock of dismay and
resentment, hating change.
And the long, long Sundays spaced the weeks and the months, hushed
and sweet and rather enervating, yet with a sort of thrill in them as
if somewhere the music of the church organ went on vibrating. Her
mother had some secret: some happy sense of God that she gave to you
and you took from her as you took food and clothing, but not quite
knowing what it was, feeling that there was something more in it, some
hidden gladness, some perfection that you missed.
Her father had his secret too. She felt that it was harder, somehow,
darker and dangerous. He read dangerous books: Darwin and Huxley and
Herbert Spencer. Sometimes he talked about them.
“There's a sort of fascination in seeing how far you can go.... The
fascination of truth might be just that—the risk that, after all, it
mayn't be true, that you may have to go farther and farther, perhaps
never come back.”
Her mother looked up with her bright, still eyes.
“I trust the truth. I know that, however far you go, you'll come
back some day.”
“I believe you see all of them—Darwin and Huxley and Herbert
Spencer— coming back,” he said.
“Yes, I do.”
His eyes smiled, loving her. But you could see it amused him, too,
to think of them, all those reckless, courageous thinkers, coming back,
to share her secret. His thinking was just a dangerous game he played.
She looked at her father with a kind of awe as he sat there, reading
his book, in danger and yet safe.
She wanted to know what that fascination was. She took down Herbert
Spencer and tried to read him. She made a point of finishing every book
she had begun, for her pride couldn't bear being beaten. Her head grew
hot and heavy: she read the same sentences over and over again; they
had no meaning; she couldn't understand a single word of Herbert
Spencer. He had beaten her. As she put the book back in its place she
said to herself: “I mustn't. If I go on, if I get to the interesting
part I may lose my faith.” And soon she made herself believe that this
was really the reason why she had given it up.
Besides Connie Hancock there were Lizzie Pierce and Sarah Barmby.
Exquisite pleasure to walk with Lizzie Pierce. Lizzie's walk was a
sliding, swooping dance of little pointed feet, always as if she were
going out to meet somebody, her sharp, black-eyed face darting and
“My dear, he kept on doing this” (Lizzie did it) “as
if he was trying to sit on himself to keep him from flying off into
space like a cork. Fancy proposing on three tumblers of soda water! I
might have been Mrs. Pennefather but for that.”
Lizzie went about laughing, laughing at everybody, looking for
something to laugh at everywhere. Now and then she would stop suddenly
to contemplate the vision she had created.
“If Connie didn't wear a bustle—or, oh my dear, if Mr. Hancock
“Mr. Hancock!” Clear, firm laughter, chiming and tinkling.
“Goodness! To think how many ridiculous people there are in the
“I believe you see something ridiculous in me.”
“Only when—only when——”
She swung her parasol in time to her sing-song. She wouldn't say
“Lizzie—not—not when I'm in my black lace fichu and the
little round hat?”
“Oh, dear me—no. Not then.”
The little round hat, Lizzie wore one like it herself, tilted
forward, perched on her chignon.
“Well, then——” she pleaded.
Lizzie's face darted its teasing, mysterious smile.
She loved Lizzie best of her friends after Priscilla. She loved her
mockery and her teasing wit.
And there was Lizzie's friend, Sarah Barmby, who lived in one of
those little shabby villas on the London road and looked after her
father. She moved about the villa in an unseeing, shambling way,
hitting herself against the furniture. Her face was heavy with a
gentle, brooding goodness, and she had little eyes that blinked and
twinkled in the heaviness, as if something amused her. At first you
kept on wondering what the joke was, till you saw it was only a habit
Sarah had. She came when she could spare time from her father.
Next to Lizzie, Harriett loved Sarah. She loved her goodness.
And Connie Hancock, bouncing about hospitably in the large, rich
house. Tea-parties and dances at the Hancocks'.
She wasn't sure that she liked dancing. There was something
obscurely dangerous about it. She was afraid of being lifted off her
feet and swung on and on, away from her safe, happy life. She was stiff
and abrupt with her partners, convinced that none of those men who
liked Connie Hancock could like her, and anxious to show them that she
didn't expect them to. She was afraid of what they were thinking. And
she would slip away early, running down the garden to the gate at the
bottom of the lane where her father waited for her. She loved the still
coldness of the night under the elms, and the strong, tight feel of her
father's arm when she hung on it leaning towards him, and his “There we
are” as he drew her closer. Her mother would look up from the sofa and
ask always the same question, “Well, did anything nice happen?”
Till at last she answered, “No. Did you think it would, Mamma?”
“You never know,” said her mother.
“I know everything.”
“Everything that could happen at the Hancocks' dances.”
Her mother shook her head at her. She knew that in secret Mamma was
glad; but she answered the reproof.
“It's mean of me to say that when I've eaten four of their ices.
They were strawberry, and chocolate and vanilla, all in one.”
“Well, they won't last much longer.”
“Not at that rate,” her father said.
“I meant the dances,” said her mother.
And sure enough, soon after Connie's engagement to young Mr.
Pennefather, they ceased.
And the three friends, Connie and Sarah and Lizzie, came and went.
She loved them; and yet when they were there they broke something,
something secret and precious between her and her father and mother,
and when they were gone she felt the stir, the happy movement of coming
together again, drawing in close, close, after the break.
“We only want each other.” Nobody else really mattered, not even
Year after year the same. Her mother parted her hair into two sleek
wings; she wore a rosette and lappets of black velvet and lace on a
glistening beetle-backed chignon. And Harriett felt again her shock of
resentment. She hated to think of her mother subject to change and
And Priscilla came year after year, still loving, still protesting
that she would never marry. Yet they were glad when even Priscilla had
gone and left them to each other. Only each other, year after year the
Priscilla's last visit was followed by another passionate vow that
she would never marry. Then within three weeks she wrote again, telling
of her engagement to Robin Lethbridge.
“... I haven't known him very long, and Mamma says it's too soon;
but he makes me feel as if I had known him all my life. I know I said I
wouldn't, but I couldn't tell; I didn't know it would be so different.
I couldn't have believed that anybody could be so happy. You won't
mind, Hatty. We can love each other just the same....”
Incredible that Priscilla, who could be so beaten down and crushed
by suffering, should have risen to such an ecstasy. Her letters had a
swinging lilt, a hurried beat, like a song bursting, a heart beating
for joy too fast.
It would have to be a long engagement. Robin was in a provincial
bank, he had his way to make. Then, a year later, Prissy wrote and told
them that Robin had got a post in Parson's Bank in the City. He didn't
know a soul in London. Would they be kind to him and let him come to
them sometimes, on Saturdays and Sundays?
He came one Sunday. Harriett had wondered what he would be like, and
he was tall, slender-waisted, wide-shouldered; he had a square, very
white forehead; his brown hair was parted on one side, half curling at
the tips above his ears. His eyes—thin, black crystal, shining,
turning, showing speckles of brown and gray; perfectly set under
straight eyebrows laid very black on the white skin. His round, pouting
chin had a dent in it. The face in between was thin and irregular; the
nose straight and serious and rather long in profile, with a dip and a
rise at three-quarters; in full face straight again but shortened. His
eyes had another meaning, deeper and steadier than his fine slender
mouth; but it was the mouth that made you look at him. One arch of the
bow was higher than the other; now and then it quivered with an uneven,
sensitive movement of its own.
She noticed his mouth's little dragging droop at the corners and
thought: “Oh, you're cross. If you're cross with Prissie—if you make
her unhappy” —but when he caught her looking at him the cross lips
drew back in a sudden, white, confiding smile. And when he spoke she
understood why he had been irresistible to Priscilla.
He had come three Sundays now, four perhaps; she had lost count.
They were all sitting out on the lawn under the cedar. Suddenly, as if
he had only just thought of it, he said:
“It's extraordinarily good of you to have me.”
“Oh, well,” her mother said, “Prissie is Hatty's greatest friend.”
“I supposed that was why you do it.”
He didn't want it to be that. He wanted it to be himself. Himself.
He was proud. He didn't like to owe anything to other people, not even
Her father smiled at him. “You must give us time.”
He would never give it or take it. You could see him tearing at
things in his impatience, to know them, to make them give themselves up
to him at once. He came rushing to give himself up, all in a minute, to
make himself known.
“It isn't fair,” he said. “I know you so much better than you know
me. Priscilla's always talking about you. But you don't know anything
“No. We've got all the excitement.”
“And the risk, sir.”
“And, of course, the risk.” He liked him.
She could talk to Robin Lethbridge as she couldn't talk to Connie
Hancock's young men. She wasn't afraid of what he was thinking. She was
safe with him, he belonged to Priscilla Heaven. He liked her because he
loved Priscilla; but he wanted her to like him, not because of
Priscilla, but for himself.
She talked about Priscilla: “I never saw anybody so loving. It used
to frighten me; because you can hurt her so easily.”
“Yes. Poor little Prissie, she's very vulnerable,” he said.
When Priscilla came to stay it was almost painful. Her eyes clung to
him, and wouldn't let him go. If he left the room she was restless,
unhappy till he came back. She went out for long walks with him and
returned silent, with a tired, beaten look. She would lie on the sofa,
and he would hang over her, gazing at her with strained, unhappy eyes.
After she had gone he kept on coming more than ever, and he stayed
overnight. Harriett had to walk with him now. He wanted to talk, to
talk about himself, endlessly.
When she looked in the glass she saw a face she didn't know:
bright-eyed, flushed, pretty. The little arrogant lift had gone. As if
it had been somebody else's face she asked herself, in wonder, without
rancor, why nobody had ever cared for it. Why? Why? She could see her
father looking at her, intent, as if he wondered. And one day her
mother said, “Do you think you ought to see so much of Robin? Do you
think it's quite fair to Prissie?”
“Oh—Mamma! ... I wouldn't. I haven't——”
“I know. You couldn't if you would, Hatty. You would always behave
beautifully. But are you so sure about Robin?”
“Oh, he couldn't care for anybody but Prissie. It's
only because he's so safe with me, because he knows I don't and he
The wedding day was fixed for July. After all, they were going to
risk it. By the middle of June the wedding presents began to come in.
Harriett and Robin Lethbridge were walking up Black's Lane. The
hedges were a white bridal froth of cow's parsley. Every now and then
she swerved aside to pick the red campion.
He spoke suddenly. “Do you know what a dear little face you have,
Hatty? It's so clear and still and it behaves so beautifully.”
She thought of Prissie's face, dark and restless, never clear, never
“You're not a bit like what I expected. Prissie doesn't know what
you are. You don't know yourself.”
“I know what she is.”
His mouth's uneven quiver beat in and out like a pulse.
“Don't talk to me about Prissie!”
Then he got it out. He tore it out of himself. He loved her.
“Oh, Robin——” Her fingers loosened in her dismay; she went
dropping red campion.
It was no use, he said, to think about Prissie. He couldn't marry
her. He couldn't marry anybody but Hatty; Hatty must marry him.
“You can't say you don't love me, Hatty.”
No. She couldn't say it; for it wouldn't be true.
“I can't. I'd be doing wrong, Robin. I feel all the time as if she
belonged to you; as if she were married to you.”
“But she isn't. It isn't the same thing.”
“To me it is. You can't undo it. It would be too dishonorable.”
“Not half so dishonorable as marrying her when I don't love her.”
“Yes. As long as she loves you. She hasn't anybody but you. She was
so happy. So happy. Think of the cruelty of it. Think what we should
send her back to.”
“You think of Prissie. You don't think of me.”
“Because it would kill her.”
“How about you?”
“It can't kill us, because we know we love each other. Nothing can
take that from us.”
“But I couldn't be happy with her, Hatty. She wears me out. She's so
“We couldn't be happy, Robin. We should always be thinking of
what we did to her. How could we be happy?”
“You know how.”
“Well, even if we were, we've no right to get our happiness out of
“Oh, Hatty, why are you so good, so good?”
“I'm not good. It's only—there are some things you can't do. We
couldn't. We couldn't.”
“No,” he said at last. “I don't suppose we could. Whatever it's like
I've got to go through with it.”
He didn't stay that night.
She was crouching on the floor beside her father, her arm thrown
across his knees. Her mother had left them there.
“Papa—do you know?”
“Your mother told me.... You've done the right thing.”
“You don't think I've been cruel? He said I didn't think of him.”
“Oh, no, you couldn't do anything else.”
She couldn't. She couldn't. It was no use thinking about him. Yet
night after night, for weeks and months, she thought, and cried herself
By day she suffered from Lizzie's sharp eyes and Sarah's brooding
pity and Connie Pennefather's callous, married stare. Only with her
father and mother she had peace.
Towards spring Harriett showed signs of depression, and they took
her to the south of France and to Bordighera and Rome. In Rome she
recovered. Rome was one of those places you ought to see; she had
always been anxious to do the right thing. In the little Pension in the
Via Babuino she had a sense of her own importance and the importance of
her father and mother. They were Mr. and Mrs. Hilton Frean, and Miss
Harriett Frean, seeing Rome.
After their return in the summer he began to write his book, The
Social Order. There were things that had to be said; it did not
much matter who said them provided they were said plainly. He dreamed
of a new Social State, society governing itself without
representatives. For a long time they lived on the interest and
excitement of the book, and when it came out Harriett pasted all his
reviews very neatly into an album. He had the air of not taking them
quite seriously; but he subscribed to The Spectator, and
sometimes an article appeared there understood to have been written by
And they went abroad again every year. They went to Florence and
came home and read Romola and Mrs. Browning and Dante and The
Spectator; they went to Assisi and read the Little Flowers of
Saint Francis; they went to Venice and read Ruskin and The
Spectator; they went to Rome again and read Gibbon's Decline and
Fall of the Roman Empire. Harriett said, “We should have enjoyed
Rome more if we had read Gibbon,” and her mother replied that they
would not have enjoyed Gibbon so much if they had not seen Rome.
Harriett did not really enjoy him; but she enjoyed the sound of her own
voice reading out the great sentences and the rolling Latin names.
She had brought back photographs of the Colosseum and the Forum and
of Botticelli's Spring, and a della Robbia Madonna in a shrine
of fruit and flowers, and hung them in the drawing-room. And when she
saw the blue egg in its gilt frame standing on the marble-topped table,
she wondered how she had ever loved it, and wished it were not there.
It had been one of Mamma's wedding presents. Mrs. Hancock had given it
her; but Mr. Hancock must have bought it.
Harriett's face had taken on again its arrogant lift. She esteemed
herself justly. She knew she was superior to the Hancocks and the Penne
fathers and to Lizzie Pierce and Sarah Barmby; even to Priscilla. When
she thought of Robin and how she had given him up she felt a thrill of
pleasure in her beautiful behavior, and a thrill of pride in
remembering that he had loved her more than Priscilla. Her mind refused
to think of Robin married.
Two, three, five years passed, with a perceptible acceleration, and
Harriett was now thirty.
She had not seen them since the wedding day. Robin had gone back to
his own town; he was cashier in a big bank there. For four years
Prissie's letters came regularly every month or so, then ceased
Then Robin wrote and told her of Prissie's illness. A mysterious
paralysis. It had begun with fits of giddiness in the street; Prissie
would turn round and round on the pavement; then falling fits; and now
both legs were paralyzed, but Robin thought she was gradually
recovering the use of her hands.
Harriett did not cry. The shock of it stopped her tears. She tried
to see it and couldn't. Poor little Prissie. How terrible. She kept on
saying to herself she couldn't bear to think of Prissie paralyzed. Poor
And poor Robin——
Paralysis. She saw the paralysis coming between them, separating
them, and inside her the secret pain was soothed. She need not think of
Robin married any more.
She was going to stay with them. Robin had written the letter. He
said Prissie wanted her. When she met him on the platform she had a
little shock at seeing him changed. Changed. His face was fuller, and a
dark mustache hid the sensitive, uneven, pulsing lip. His mouth was
dragged down further at the corners. But he was the same Robin. In the
cab, going to the house, he sat silent, breathing hard; she felt the
tremor of his consciousness and knew that he still loved her; more than
he loved Priscilla. Poor little Prissie. How terrible!
Priscilla sat by the fireplace in a wheel chair. She became agitated
when she saw Harriett; her arms shook as she lifted them for the
“Hatty—you've hardly changed a bit.” Her voice shook.
Poor little Prissie. She was thin, thinner than ever, and stiff as
if she had withered. Her face was sallow and dry, and the luster had
gone from her black hair. Her wide mouth twitched and wavered, wavered
and twitched. Though it was warm summer she sat by a blazing fire with
the windows behind her shut.
Through dinner Harriett and Robin were silent and constrained. She
tried not to see Prissie shaking and jerking and spilling soup down the
front of her gown. Robin's face was smooth and blank; he pretended to
be absorbed in his food, so as not to look at Prissie. It was as if
Prissie's old restlessness had grown into that ceaseless jerking and
twitching. And her eyes fastened on Robin; they clung to him and
wouldn't let him go. She kept on asking him to do things for her.
“Robin, you might get me my shawl;” and Robin would go and get the
shawl and put it round her. Whenever he did anything for her Prissie's
face would settle down into a quivering, deep content.
At nine o'clock he lifted her out of her wheel chair. Harriett saw
his stoop, and the taut, braced power of his back as he lifted. Prissie
lay in his arms with rigid limbs hanging from loose attachments, inert,
like a doll. As he carried her upstairs to bed her face had a queer,
exalted look of pleasure and of triumph.
Harriett and Robin sat alone together in his study.
“How long is it since we've seen each other?”
“Five years, Robin.”
“It isn't. It can't be.”
“I suppose it is. But I can't believe it. I can't believe I'm
married. I can't believe Prissie's ill. It doesn't seem real with you
“Nothing's changed, Robin, except that you're more serious.”
“Nothing's changed, except that I'm more serious than ever.... Do
you still do the same things? Do you still sit in the curly chair,
holding your work up to your chin with your little pointed hands like a
squirrel? Do you still see the same people?”
“I don't make new friends, Robin.”
He seemed to settle down after that, smiling at his own thoughts,
Lying in her bed in the spare room, Harriett heard the opening and
shutting of Robin's door. She still thought of Prissie's paralysis as
separating them, still felt inside her a secret, unacknowledged
satisfaction. Poor little Prissie. How terrible. Her pity for Priscilla
went through and through her in wave after wave. Her pity was sad and
beautiful and at the same time it appeased her pain.
In the morning Priscilla told her about her illness. The doctors
didn't understand it. She ought to have had a stroke and she hadn't had
one. There was no reason why she shouldn't walk except that she
couldn't. It seemed to give her pleasure to go over it, from her first
turning round and round in the street (with helpless, shaking laughter
at the queerness of it), to the moment when Robin bought her the wheel
chair.... Robin ... Robin ...
“I minded most because of Robin. It's such an awful illness,
Hatty. I can't move when I'm in bed. Robin has to get up and turn me a
dozen times in one night.... Robin's a perfect saint. He does
everything for me.” Prissie's voice and her face softened and thickened
with voluptuous content.
“... Do you know, Hatty, I had a little baby. It died the day it was
born.... Perhaps some day I shall have another.”
Harriett was aware of a sudden tightening of her heart, of a
creeping depression that weighed on her brain and worried it. She
thought this was her pity for Priscilla.
Her third night. All evening Robin had been moody and morose. He
would hardly speak to either Harriett or Priscilla. When Priscilla
asked him to do anything for her he got up heavily, pulling himself
together with a sigh, with a look of weary, irritated patience.
Prissie wheeled herself out of the study into the drawing-room,
beckoning Harriett to follow. She had the air of saving Robin from
Harriett, of intimating that his grumpiness was Harriett's fault. “He
doesn't want to be bothered,” she said.
She sat up till eleven, so that Robin shouldn't be thrown with
Harriett in the last hours.
Half the night Harriett's thoughts ran on, now in a darkness, now in
thin flashes of light. “Supposing, after all, Robin wasn't happy?
Supposing he can't stand it? Supposing.... But why is he angry with
me?” Then a clear thought: “He's angry with me because he can't be
angry with Priscilla.” And clearer. “He's angry with me because I made
him marry her.”
She stopped the running and meditated with a steady, hard
deliberation. She thought of her deep, spiritual love for Robin; of
Robin's deep spiritual love for her; of his strength in shouldering his
burden. It was through her renunciation that he had grown so strong, so
pure, so good.
Something had gone wrong with Prissie. Robin, coming home early on
Saturday afternoon, had taken Harriett for a walk. All evening and all
through Sunday it was Priscilla who sulked and snapped when Harriett
spoke to her.
On Monday morning she was ill, and Robin ordered her to stay in bed.
Monday was Harriett's last night. Priscilla stayed in bed till six
o'clock, when she heard Robin come in; then she insisted on being
dressed and carried downstairs. Harriett heard her calling to Robin,
and Robin saying, “I told you you weren't to get up till
to-morrow,” and a sound like Prissie crying.
At dinner she shook and jerked and spilt things worse than ever.
Robin gloomed at her. “You know you ought to be in bed. You'll go at
“If I go, you'll go. You've got a headache.”
“I should think I had, sitting in this furnace.”
The heat of the dining room oppressed him, but they sat on there
after dinner because Prissie loved the heat. Robin's pale, blank face
had a sick look, a deadly smoothness. He had to lie down on the sofa in
When the clock struck nine he sighed and got up, dragging himself as
if the weight of his body was more than he could bear. He stooped over
Prissie, and lifted her.
“Robin—you can't. You're dropping to pieces.”
“I'm all right.” He heaved her up with one tremendous, irritated
effort, and carried her upstairs, fast, as if he wanted to be done with
it. Through the open doors Harriett could hear Prissie's pleading
whine, and Robin's voice, hard and controlled. Presently he came back
to her and they went into his study. They could breathe there, he said.
They sat without speaking for a little time. The silence of
Prissie's room overhead came between them.
Robin spoke first. “I'm afraid it hasn't been very gay for you with
poor Prissie in this state.”
“Poor Prissie? She's very happy, Robin.”
He stared at her. His eyes, round and full and steady, taxed her
with falsehood, with hypocrisy.
“You don't suppose I'm not, do you?”
“No.” There was a movement in her throat as though she swallowed
something hard. “No. I want you to be happy.”
“You don't. You want me to be rather miserable.”
“Robin!” She contrived a sound like laughter. But Robin
didn't laugh; his eyes, morose and cynical, held her there.
“That's what you want.... At least I hope you do. If you didn't——”
She fenced off the danger. “Do you want me to be
At that he laughed out. “No. I don't. I don't care how happy you
She took the pain of it: the pain he meant to give her.
That evening he hung over Priscilla with a deliberate, exaggerated
“Dear.... Dearest....” He spoke the words to Priscilla, but he sent
out his voice to Harriett. She could feel its false precision, its
intention, its repulse of her.
She was glad to be gone.
Eighteen seventy-nine: it was the year her father lost his money.
Harriett was nearly thirty-five.
She remembered the day, late in November, when they heard him coming
home from the office early. Her mother raised her head and said,
“That's your father, Harriett. He must be ill.” She always thought of
seventy-nine as one continuous November.
Her father and mother were alone in the study for a long time; she
remembered Annie going in with the lamp and coming out and whispering
that they wanted her. She found them sitting in the lamplight alone,
close together, holding each other's hands; their faces had a strange,
“Harriett, my dear, I've lost every shilling I possessed, and here's
your mother saying she doesn't mind.”
He began to explain in his quiet voice. “When all the creditors are
paid in full there'll be nothing but your mother's two hundred a year.
And the insurance money when I'm gone.”
“Oh, Papa, how terrible——”
“I mean the insurance. It's gambling with your life.”
“My dear, if that was all I'd gambled with——”
It seemed that half his capital had gone in what he called “the
higher mathematics of the game.” The creditors would get the rest.
“We shall be no worse off,” her mother said, “than we were when we
began. We were very happy then.”
“We. How about Harriett?”
“Harriett isn't going to mind.”
“You're not—going—to mind.... We shall have to sell this house and
live in a smaller one. And I can't take my business up again.”
“My dear, I'm glad and thankful you've done with that dreadful,
“I'd no business to play it.... But, after holding myself in all
those years, there was a sort of fascination.”
One of the creditors, Mr. Hichens, gave him work in his office. He
was now Mr. Hichens's clerk. He went to Mr. Hichens as he had gone to
his own great business, upright and alert, handsome in his dark-gray
overcoat with the black velvet collar, faintly amused at himself. You
would never have known that anything had happened.
Strange that at the same time Mr. Hancock should have lost money, a
great deal of money, more money than Papa. He seemed determined that
everybody should know it; you couldn't pass him in the road without
knowing. He met you with his swollen, red face hanging; ashamed and
miserable, and angry as if it had been your fault.
One day Harriett came in to her father and mother with the news.
“Did you know that Mr. Hancock's sold his horses? And he's going to
give up the house.”
Her mother signed to her to be silent, frowning and shaking her head
and glancing at her father. He got up suddenly and left the room.
“He's worrying himself to death about Mr. Hancock,” she said.
“I didn't know he cared for him like that, Mamma.”
“Oh, well, he's known him thirty years, and it's a very dreadful
thing he should have to give up his house.”
“It's not worse for him than it is for Papa.”
“It's ever so much worse. He isn't like your father. He can't be
happy without his big house and his carriages and horses. He'll feel so
small and unimportant.”
“Well, then, it serves him right.”
“Don't say that. It is what he cares for and he's lost it.”
“He's no business to behave as if it was Papa's fault,” said
Harriett. She had no patience with the odious little man. She thought
of her father's face, her father's body, straight and calm, and his
soul so far above that mean trouble of Mr. Hancock's, that vulgar
Yet inside him he fretted. And, suddenly, he began to sink. He
turned faint after the least exertion and had to leave off going to Mr.
Hichens. And by the spring of eighteen eighty he was upstairs in his
room, too ill to be moved. That was just after Mr. Hichens had bought
the house and wanted to come into it. He lay, patient, in the big white
bed, smiling his faint, amused smile when he thought of Mr. Hichens.
It was awful to Harriett that her father should be ill, lying there
at their mercy. She couldn't get over her sense of his parenthood, his
authority. When he was obstinate, and insisted on exerting himself, she
gave in. She was a bad nurse, because she couldn't set herself against
his will. And when she had him under her hands to strip and wash him,
she felt that she was doing something outrageous and impious; she set
about it with a flaming face and fumbling hands. “Your mother does it
better,” he said gently. But she could not get her mother's feeling of
him as a helpless, dependent thing.
Mr. Hichens called every week to inquire. “Poor man, he wants to
know when he can have his house. Why will he always come on my
good days? He isn't giving himself a chance.”
He still had good days, days when he could be helped out of bed to
sit in his chair. “This sort of game may go on for ever,” he said. He
began to worry seriously about keeping Mr. Hichens out of his house.
“It isn't decent of me. It isn't decent.”
Harriett was ill with the strain of it. She had to go away for a
fortnight with Lizzie Pierce, and Sarah Barmby stayed with her mother.
Mrs. Barmby had died the year before. When Harriett got back her father
was making plans for his removal.
“Why have you all made up your minds that it'll kill me to remove
me? It won't. The men can take everything out but me and my bed and
that chair. And when they've got all the things into the other house
they can come back for the chair and me. And I can sit in the chair
while they're bringing the bed. It's quite simple. It only wants a
Then, while they wondered whether they might risk it, he got worse.
He lay propped up, rigid, his arms stretched out by his side, afraid to
lift a hand because of the violent movements of his heart. His face had
a patient, expectant look, as if he waited for them to do something.
They couldn't do anything. There would be no more rallies. He might
die any day now, the doctor said.
“He may die any minute. I certainly don't expect him to live through
Harriett followed her mother back into the room. He was sitting up
in his attitude of rigid expectancy; no movement but the quivering of
his night- shirt above his heart.
“The doctor's been gone a long time, hasn't he?” he said.
Harriett was silent. She didn't understand. Her mother was looking
at her with a serene comprehension and compassion.
“Poor Hatty,” he said, “she can't tell a lie to save my life.”
He smiled as if he was thinking of something that amused him.
“You should consider other people, my dear. Not just your own
selfish feelings.... You ought to write and tell Mr. Hichens.”
Her mother gave a short sobbing laugh. “Oh, you darling,” she said.
He lay still. Then suddenly he began pressing hard on the mattress
with both hands, bracing himself up in the bed. Her mother leaned
closer towards him. He threw himself over slantways, and with his head
bent as if it was broken, dropped into her arms.
Harriett wondered why he was making that queer grating and coughing
noise. Three times.
Her mother called softly to her—“Harriett.”
She began to tremble.
Her mother had some secret that she 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 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 Barmby lived now.
Her mother said, “Do you think you'd like to live in Sidmouth, near
They had stayed one summer at Sidmouth with Aunt Harriett. She
remembered 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 would never say. She would have to find out somehow.
“Well—what do you think?”
“It would be leaving all your friends, Hatty.”
“My friends—yes. But——”
Lizzie and Sarah and Connie Pennefather. She could live without
them. “Oh, there's Mrs. Hancock.”
“Well——” Her mother's voice suggested 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 Harriett.”
She was afraid to say more than that 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 concerts. We couldn't afford to
come up and down.”
“No. We couldn't.”
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 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
Her mother's face was quiet and content. She hadn't guessed.
They left the white house with the green balcony hung out like a
birdcage at the side, and turned into the cottage at Hampstead. The
rooms were small and rather dark, and the furniture they 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 me.”
“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 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
“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
“Harriett, I think you ought to see more of your friends, dear.”
“Because you'll want them after I'm gone.”
“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 together. They had
told Sarah that they didn't want anybody to call. They were Hilton
Frean's wife and daughter. “After our wonderful life with him,” they
said, “you'll understand, Sarah, that we don't want people.” And if
Harriett was introduced to any stranger she accounted for herself
arrogantly: “My father was Hilton Frean.”
They were collecting his Remains for publication.
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 mother fainted. That was the
beginning of her illness, February, eighteen eighty-three. First came
the long months of weakness; then the months and months of sickness;
then the pain; the pain she had been hiding, that she couldn't hide any
They knew what it was now: that horrible thing that even the doctors
were afraid to name. They called it “something malignant.” When the
friends— Mrs. Hancock, Connie Pennefather, Lizzie, and Sarah—called
to inquire, Harriett wouldn't tell them what it was; she pretended that
she didn't know, that the doctors weren't sure; she covered it up 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 operation. There was one chance for
her in a hundred if they had Sir James Pargeter: one chance. She might
die of it; she might die under the anaesthetic; 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
“How do you know what it would cost?”
“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. 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 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 experiments, those doctors. They're dying to get their knives into
me. Don't let them.”
Gradually, day by day, Harriett weakened. Her mother's frightened
voice tore at her, broke her down. Supposing 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
When the three friends came, Harriett said, “I shall be glad and
thankful when it's all over. I couldn't want to keep her with me, just
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 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
On the day her mother died she told herself she was glad and
thankful. She met her friends with a little quiet, composed face,
saying, “I'm glad and thankful she's at peace.” But she wasn't
thankful; she wasn't glad. She wanted her back again. And she
reproached herself, one minute for having been glad, and the next for
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
“I sometimes think, Hatty,” said Mrs. Hancock, melancholy and
condoling, “that it would have been very different if your poor mother
could have had her wish.”
“Her wish to live in Sidmouth, near your Aunt Harriett.”
And Sarah Barmby, sympathizing heavily, stopping short and brooding,
trying to think of something to say: “If the operation had only been
done three years 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?”
“She never said a word.”
“Oh, well, she wouldn't hear of it, even then when they didn't give
her two years to live.”
Three years? She had had it three years 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
She had been thinking of the hundred pounds.
To have known about it three years and 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. She had known she would have him again so soon. Not two
“If I'd been them,” Lizzie was saying, “I'd have bitten my tongue
out before I told you. It's no use worrying, Hatty. You did everything
that could be done.”
“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
In all her previsions of the event she had seen herself surviving as
the same Harriett Frean with the addition of an overwhelming grief. She
was horrified at this image of herself persisting beside her mother's
place empty in space and time.
But she was not there. Through her absorption in her mother, some
large, essential part of herself had gone. It had not been so when her
father died; what he had absorbed was given back to her, transferred to
her mother. All her memories of her mother were joined to the memory of
this now irrecoverable self.
She tried to reinstate herself through grief; she sheltered behind
her bereavement, affecting a more profound seclusion, abhorring
strangers; she was more than ever the reserved, fastidious daughter of
Hilton Frean. She had always thought of herself as different from
Connie and Sarah, living with a superior, intellectual life. She turned
to the books she had read with her mother, Dante, Browning, Carlyle,
and Ruskin, the biographies of Great Men, trying to retrace the
footsteps of her lost self, to revive the forgotten thrill. But it was
no use. One day she found herself reading the Dedication of The Ring
and the Book over and over again, without taking in its meaning,
without any remembrance of its poignant secret. “'And all a wonder and
a wild desire'—Mamma loved that.” She thought she loved it too; but
what she loved was the dark-green book she had seen in her mother's
long, white hands, and the sound of her mother's voice reading. She had
followed her mother's mind with strained attention and anxiety, smiling
when she smiled, but with no delight and no admiration of her own.
If only she could have remembered. It was only through memory that
she could reinstate herself.
She had a horror of the empty house. Her friends advised her to
leave it, but she had a horror of removal, of change. She loved the
rooms that had held her mother, the chair she had sat on, the white,
fluted cup she had drunk from in her illness. She clung to the image of
her mother; and always beside it, shadowy and pathetic, she discerned
the image of her lost self.
When the horror of emptiness came over her, she dressed herself in
her black, with delicate care and precision, and visited her friends.
Even in moments of no intention she would find herself knocking at
Lizzie's door or Sarah's or Connie Pennefather's. If they were not in
she would call again and again, till she found them. She would sit for
hours, talking, spinning out the time.
She began to look forward to these visits.
Wonderful. The sweet peas she had planted had come up.
Hitherto Harriett had looked on the house and garden as parts of the
space that contained her without belonging to her. She had had no sense
of possession. This morning she was arrested by the thought that the
plot she had planted was hers. The house and garden were hers. She
began to take an interest in them. She found that by a system of
punctual movements she could give to her existence the reasonable
appearance of an aim.
Next spring, a year after her mother's death, she felt the vague
stirring of her individual soul. She was free to choose her own vicar;
she left her mother's Dr. Braithwaite, who was broad and twice married,
and went to Canon Wrench, who was unmarried and high. There was
something stimulating in the short, happy service, the rich music, the
incense, and the processions. She made new covers for the drawing-room,
in cretonne, a gay pattern of pomegranate and blue-green leaves. And as
she had always had the cutlets broiled plain because her mother liked
them that way, now she had them breaded.
And Mrs. Hancock wanted to know why Harriett had forsaken her
dear mother's church; and when Connie Pennefather saw the covers she
told Harriett she was lucky to be able to afford new cretonne. It was
more than she could; she seemed to think Harriett had no
business to afford it. As for the breaded cutlets, Hannah opened her
eyes and said, “That was how the mistress always had them, ma'am, when
you was away.”
One day she took the blue egg out of the drawing-room and stuck it
on the chimney-piece in the spare room. When she remembered how she
used to love it she felt that she had done something cruel and
iniquitous, but necessary to the soul.
She was taking out novels from the circulating library now. Not, she
explained, for her serious reading. Her serious reading, her Dante, her
Browning, her Great Man, lay always on the table ready to her hand
(beside a copy of The Social Order and the Remains of
Hilton Frean) while secretly and half-ashamed she played with some
frivolous tale. She was satisfied with anything that ended happily and
had nothing in it that was unpleasant, or difficult, demanding thought.
She exalted her preferences into high canons. A novel ought to
conform to her requirements. A novelist (she thought of him with some
asperity) had no right to be obscure, or depressing, or to add needless
unpleasantness to the unpleasantness that had to be. The Great Men
didn't do it.
She spoke of George Eliot and Dickens and Mr. Thackeray.
Lizzie Pierce had a provoking way of smiling at Harriett, as if she
found her ridiculous. And Harriett had no patience with Lizzie's
affectation in wanting to be modern, her vanity in trying to be young,
her middle-aged raptures over the work—often unpleasant—of writers
too young to be worth serious consideration. They had long arguments in
which Harriett, beaten, retired behind The Social Order and the
“It's silly,” Lizzie said, “not to be able to look at a new thing
because it's new. That's the way you grow old.”
“It's sillier,” Harriett said, “to be always running after new
things because you think that's the way to look young. I've no wish to
appear younger than I am.”
“I've no wish to appear suffering from senile decay.”
“There is a standard.” Harriett lifted her obstinate and
arrogant chin. “You forget that I'm Hilton Frean's daughter.”
“I'm William Pierce's, but that hasn't prevented my being myself.”
Lizzie's mind had grown keener in her sharp middle age. As it played
about her, Harriett cowered; it was like being exposed, naked, to a
cutting wind. Her mind ran back to her father and mother, longing, like
a child, for their shelter and support, for the blessed assurance of
At her worst she could still think with pleasure of the beauty of
the act which had given Robin to Priscilla.
“My dear Harriett: Thank you for your kind letter of sympathy.
Although we had expected the end for many weeks poor Prissie's death
came to us as a great shock. But for her it was a blessed release, and
we can only be thankful. You who knew her will realize the depth and
extent of my bereavement. I have lost the dearest and most loving wife
man ever had....”
Poor little Prissie. She couldn't bear to think she would never see
Six months later Robin wrote again, from Sidmouth.
“Dear Harriett: Priscilla left you this locket in her will as a
remembrance. I would have sent it before but that I couldn't bear to
part with her things all at once.
“I take this opportunity of telling you that I am going to be
Her heart heaved and closed. She could never have believed she could
have felt such a pang.
“The lady is Miss Beatrice Walker, the devoted nurse who was with my
dear wife all through her last illness. This step may seem strange and
precipitate, coming so soon after her death; but I am urged to do it by
the precarious state of my own health and by the knowledge that we are
fulfilling poor Prissie's dying wish....”
Poor Prissie's dying wish. After what she had done for Prissie, if
she had a dying wish—But neither of them had thought of her.
Robin had forgotten her.... Forgotten.... Forgotten.
But no. Priscilla had remembered. She had left her the locket with
his hair in it. She had remembered and she had been afraid; jealous of
her. She couldn't bear to think that Robin might marry her, even after
she was dead. She had made him marry this Walker woman so that he
Oh, but he wouldn't. Not after twenty years.
“I didn't really think he would.”
She was forty-five, her face was lined and pitted and her hair was
dust color, streaked with gray: and she could only think of Robin as
she had last seen him, young: a young face; a young body; young,
shining eyes. He would want to marry a young woman. He had been in love
with this Walker woman, and Prissie had known it. She could see Prissie
lying in her bed, helpless, looking at them over the edge of the white
sheet. She had known that as soon as she was dead, before the sods
closed over her grave, they would marry. Nothing could stop them. And
she had tried to make herself believe it was her wish, her doing, not
theirs. Poor little Prissie.
She understood that Robin had been staying in Sidmouth for his
A year later, Harriett, run down, was ordered to the seaside. She
went to Sidmouth. She told herself that she wanted to see the place
where she had been so happy with her mother, where poor Aunt Harriett
Looking through the local paper she found in the list of residents:
Sidcote—Mr. and Mrs. Robert Lethbridge and Miss Walker. She wrote to
Robin and asked if she might call on his wife.
A mile of hot road through the town and inland brought her to a door
in a lane and a thatched cottage with a little lawn behind it. From the
doorstep she could see two figures, a man and a woman, lying back in
garden chairs. Inside the house she heard the persistent, energetic
sound of hammering. The woman got up and came to her. She was young,
pink-faced and golden-haired, and she said she was Miss Walker, Mrs.
A tall, lean, gray man rose from the garden chair, slowly, dragging
himself with an invalid air. His eyes stared, groping, blurred films
that trembled between the pouch and droop of the lids; long cheeks,
deep grooved, dropped to the infirm mouth that sagged under the limp
mustache. That was Robin.
He became agitated when he saw her. “Poor Robin,” she thought. “All
these years, and it's too much for him, seeing me.” Presently he
dragged himself from the lawn to the house and disappeared through the
French window where the hammering came from.
“Have I frightened him away?” she said.
“Oh, no, he's always like that when he sees strange faces.”
“My face isn't exactly strange.”
“Well, he must have thought it was.”
A sudden chill crept through her.
“He'll be all right when he gets used to you,” Miss Walker said.
The strange face of Miss Walker chilled her. A strange young woman,
living close to Robin, protecting him, explaining Robin's ways.
The sound of hammering ceased. Through the long, open window she saw
a woman rise up from the floor and shed a white apron. She came down
the lawn to them, with raised arms, patting disordered hair; large, a
full, firm figure clipped in blue linen. A full-blown face, bluish
pink; thick gray eyes slightly protruding; a thick mouth, solid and
firm and kind. That was Robin's wife. Her sister was slighter, fresher,
a good ten years younger, Harriett thought.
“Excuse me, we're only just settling in. I was nailing down the
carpet in Robin's study.”
Her lips were so thick that they moved stiffly when she spoke or
smiled. She panted a little as if from extreme exertion.
When they were all seated Mrs. Lethbridge addressed her sister.
“Robin was quite right. It looks much better turned the other
“Do you mean to say he made you take it all up and put it down
“What's the use?... Miss Frean, you don't know what it is to have a
husband who will have things just so.”
“She had to mow the lawn this morning because Robin can't bear to
see one blade of grass higher than another.”
“Is he as particular as all that?”
“I assure you, Miss Frean, he is,” Miss Walker informed her.
“He wasn't when I knew him,” Harriett said.
“Ah—my sister spoils him.”
Mrs. Lethbridge wondered why he hadn't come out again.
“I think,” Harriett said, “perhaps he'll come if I go.”
“Oh, you mustn't go. It's good for him to see people. Takes him out
“He'll turn up all right,” Miss Walker said, “when he hears the
And at four o'clock when the teacups came, Robin turned up, dragging
himself slowly from the house to the lawn. He blinked and quivered with
agitation; Harriett saw he was annoyed, not with her, and not with Miss
Walker, but with his wife.
“Beatrice, what have you done with my new bottle of medicine?”
“You've done nothing, when you know you poured out my last dose at
“Why, hasn't it come?”
“No. It hasn't.”
“But Cissy ordered it this morning.”
“I didn't,” Cissy said. “I forgot.”
“You needn't blame Cissy. You ought to have seen to it yourself....
She was a good nurse, Harriett, before she was my wife.”
“My dear, your nurse had nothing else to do. Your wife has to clean
and mend for you, and cook your dinner and mow the lawn and nail the
carpets down.” While she said it she looked at Robin as if she adored
All through tea time he talked about his health and about the
sanitary dustbin they hadn't got. Something had happened to him. It
wasn't like him to be wrapped up in himself and to talk about dustbins.
He spoke to his wife as if she had been his valet. He didn't see that
she was perspiring, worn out by her struggle with the carpet.
“Just go and fetch me another cushion, Beatrice.”
She rose with tired patience.
“You might let her have her tea in peace,” Miss Walker said, but she
was gone before they could stop her.
When Harriett left she went with her to the garden gate, panting as
she walked. Harriett noticed pale, blurred lines on the edges of her
lips. She thought: She isn't a bit strong. She praised the garden.
Mrs. Lethbridge smiled. “Robin loves it.... But you should have seen
it at five o'clock this morning.”
“Yes. I always get up at five to make Robin a cup of tea.”
Harriett's last evening. She was dining at Sidcote. On her way there
she had overtaken Robin's wife wheeling Robin in a bath chair. Beatrice
had panted and perspired and had made mute signs to Harriett not to
take any notice. She had had to go and lie down till Robin sent for her
to find his cigarette case. Now she was in the kitchen cooking Robin's
part of the dinner while he lay down in his study. Harriett talked to
Miss Walker in the garden.
“It's been very kind of you to have us so much.”
“Oh, but we've loved having you. It's so good for Beatie. Gives her
a rest from Robin.... I don't mean that she wants a rest. But, you see,
she's not well. She looks a big, strong, bouncing thing, but she isn't.
Her heart's weak. She oughtn't to be doing what she does.”
“Doesn't Robin see it?”
“He doesn't see anything. He never knows when she's tired or got a
headache. She'll drop dead before he'll see it. He's utterly selfish,
Miss Frean. Wrapt up in himself and his horrid little ailments.
Whatever happens to Beatie he must have his sweetbread, and his soup at
eleven and his tea at five in the morning..
“... I suppose you think I might help more?”
“Well——” Harriett did think it.
“Well, I just won't. I won't encourage Robin. He ought to get her a
proper servant and a man for the garden and the bath chair. I wish
you'd give him a hint. Tell him she isn't strong. I can't. She'd snap
my head off. Would you mind?”
Harriett didn't mind. She didn't mind what she said. She wouldn't be
saying it to Robin, but to the contemptible thing that had taken
Robin's place. She still saw Robin as a young man, with young, shining
eyes, who came rushing to give himself up at once, to make himself
known. She had no affection for this selfish invalid, this weak,
Poor Beatrice. She was sorry for Beatrice. She resented his behavior
to Beatrice. She told herself she wouldn't be Beatrice, she wouldn't be
Robin's wife for the world. Her pity for Beatrice gave her a secret
pleasure and satisfaction.
After dinner she sat out in the garden talking to Robin's wife,
while Cissy Walker played draughts with Robin in his study, giving
Beatrice a rest from him. They talked about Robin.
“You knew him when he was young, didn't you? What was he like?”
She didn't want to tell her. She wanted to keep the young, shining
Robin to herself. She also wanted to show that she had known him, that
she had known a Robin that Beatrice would never know. Therefore she
“My poor Robin.” Beatrice gazed wistfully, trying to see this Robin
that Priscilla had taken from her, that Harriett had known. Then she
turned her back.
“It doesn't matter. I've married the man I wanted.” She let herself
go. “Cissy says I've spoiled him. That isn't true. It was his first
wife who spoiled him. She made a nervous wreck of him.”
“He was devoted to her.”
“Yes. And he's paying for his devotion now. She wore him out....
Cissy says he's selfish. If he is, it's because he's used up all his
unselfishness. He was living on his moral capital.... I feel as if I
couldn't do too much for him after what he did. Cissy doesn't know how
awful his life was with Priscilla. She was the most exacting——”
“She was my friend.”
“Wasn't Robin your friend, too?”
“Yes. But poor Prissie, she was paralyzed.”
“It wasn't paralysis.”
“What was it then?”
“Pure hysteria. Robin wasn't in love with her, and she knew it. She
developed that illness so that she might have a hold on him, get his
attention fastened on her somehow. I don't say she could help it. She
couldn't. But that's what it was.”
“Well, she died of it.”
“No. She died of pneumonia after influenza. I'm not blaming Prissie.
She was pitiable. But he ought never to have married her.”
“I don't think you ought to say that.”
“You know what he was,” said Robin's wife. “And look at him now.”
But Harriett's mind refused, obstinately, to connect the two Robins
She remembered that she had to speak to Robin. They went together
into his study. Cissy sent her a look, a signal, and rose; she stood by
“Beatie, you might come here a minute.”
Harriett was alone with Robin.
“Well, Harriett, we haven't been able to do much for you. In my
“You'll get better.”
“Never. I'm done for, Harriett. I don't complain.”
“You've got a devoted wife, Robin.”
“Yes. Poor girl, she does what she can.”
“She does too much.”
“My dear woman, she wouldn't be happy if she didn't.”
“It isn't good for her. Does it never strike you that she's not
“Not strong? She's—she's almost indecently robust. What wouldn't I
give to have her strength!”
She looked at him, at the lean figure sunk in the armchair, at the
dragged, infirm face, the blurred, owlish eyes, the expression of
abject self-pity, of self-absorption. That was Robin.
The awful thing was that she couldn't love him, couldn't go on being
faithful. This injured her self-esteem.
Her old servant, Hannah, had gone, and her new servant, Maggie, had
had a baby.
After the first shock and three months' loss of Maggie, it occurred
to Harriett that the beautiful thing would be to take Maggie back and
let her have the baby with her, since she couldn't leave it.
The baby lay in his cradle in the kitchen, black-eyed and rosy,
doubling up his fat, naked knees, smiling his crooked smile, and saying
things to himself. Harriett had to see him every time she came into the
kitchen. Sometimes she heard him cry, an intolerable cry, tearing the
nerves and heart. And sometimes she saw Maggie unbutton her black gown
in a hurry and put out her white, rose-pointed breast to still his cry.
Harriett couldn't bear it. She could not bear it.
She decided that Maggie must go. Maggie was not doing her work
properly. Harriett found flue under the bed.
“I'm sure,” Maggie said, “I'm doing no worse than I did, ma'am, and
you usedn't to complain.”
“No worse isn't good enough, Maggie. I think you might have tried to
please me. It isn't every one who would have taken you in the
“If you think that, ma'am, it's very cruel and unkind of you to send
“You've only yourself to thank. There's no more to be said.”
“No, ma'am. I understand why I'm leaving. It's because of Baby. You
don't want to 'ave 'im, and I think you might have said so before.”
That day month Maggie packed her brown-painted wooden box and the
cradle and the perambulator. The greengrocer took them away on a
handcart. Through the drawing-room window Harriett saw Maggie going
away, carrying the baby, pink and round in his white-knitted cap, his
fat hips bulging over her arm under his white shawl. The gate fell to
behind them. The click struck at Harriett's heart.
Three months later Maggie turned up again in a black hat and gown
for best, red-eyed and humble.
“I came to see, ma'am, whether you'd take me back, as I 'aven't got
“You haven't got him?”
“'E died, ma'am, last month. I'd put him with a woman in the
country. She was highly recommended to me. Very highly recommended she
was, and I paid her six shillings a week. But I think she must 'ave
done something she shouldn't.”
“Oh, Maggie, you don't mean she was cruel to him?”
“No, ma'am. She was very fond of him. Everybody was fond of Baby.
But whether it was the food she gave him or what, 'e was that wasted
you wouldn't have known him. You remember what he was like when he was
She remembered. She remembered. Fat and round in his white shawl and
knitted cap when Maggie carried him down the garden path.
“I should think she'd a done something, shouldn't you, ma'am?”
She thought: No. No. It was I who did it when I sent him away.
“I don't know, Maggie. I'm afraid it's been very terrible for you.”
“Yes, ma'am.... I wondered whether you'd give me another trial,
“Are you quite sure you want to come to me, Maggie?”
“Yes'm.... I'm sure you'd a kept him if you could have borne to see
“You know, Maggie, that was not the reason why you left. If I
take you back you must try not to be careless and forgetful.”
“I shan't 'ave nothing to make me. Before, it was first Baby's
father and then 'im.”
She could see that Maggie didn't hold her responsible. After all,
why should she? If Maggie had made bad arrangements for her baby,
Maggie was responsible.
She went round to Lizzie and Sarah to see what they thought. Sarah
thought: Well—it was rather a difficult question, and Harriett
resented her hesitation.
“Not at all. It rested with Maggie to go or stay. If she was
incompetent I wasn't bound to keep her just because she'd had a baby.
At that rate I should have been completely in her power.”
Lizzie said she thought Maggie's baby would have died in any case,
and they both hoped that Harriett wasn't going to be morbid about it.
Harriett felt sustained. She wasn't going to be morbid. All the
same, the episode left her with a feeling of insecurity.
The young girl, Robin's niece, had come 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 happiness at the poor child's
“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 never in love with any other
“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 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
“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 insulted Aunt Prissie.”
“Insulted her? My dear Mona!”
“It was an insult, handing her over to a man who couldn't love her
even with his body. Aunt Prissie was the miserablest 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
sentimentalizing about it.”
The young girl rose, flinging her scarf over her shoulders with a
“There's no common sense in it.”
“No common sense, perhaps.”
“It's a jolly sight better than sentiment when it comes to
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 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? 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 physical sense of shrinkage, the crumbling away, bit by bit, of
her beautiful and honorable 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 demanding less and less effort of attention. And always her
inability to concentrate appeared to her as a just demand for clarity:
“The man has no business to write so that I can't understand
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 primulas, 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 Pennefather
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 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
Harriett's irritation mounted up and up.
And one day she quarreled with Connie.
Connie had been telling one of her stories; leaning a little
sideways, her skirt stretched tight between her fat, parted knees, the
broad roll of her smile sliding greasily. She had “grown out of it” in
her young womanhood, and now in 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 daresay he thinks things about me.”
“He thinks you were always an incurable old maid, my dear.”
“Did he think my father was an old 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
“I don't know what you mean. But all my father's creditors were paid
in full. You know that.”
“I didn'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.... 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
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 have died.”
Connie stared stupidly at Harriett, not taking it in. Presently she
got up and left her. She moved clumsily, her broad 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 shows what Connie is.”
It showed her father as he was, too. Not wise. Not wise all the
time. Courageous, 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.
New people had come to the house next 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 compliments to the lady next door
and would be glad if she would restrain her cat.”
Five minutes later the pretty girl appeared with the cat in her
“I've brought Mimi,” she said. “I want you to see what a darling he
Mimi, a Persian, all orange on the top and snow white underneath,
climbed her 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 you 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. “But, you see, we can't
restrain him. I don't know what's to be done.... Unless 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. 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?”
Harriett softened. She remembered. “When I was a little girl I had a
cat called Mimi. White Angora. Very handsome. 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 she stayed to tea.
Harriett revealed herself.
“My father was Hilton Frean.” She 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.”
“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.
But every evening, towards bedtime, 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
“That's the end of it,” she said. She could never think of the young
girl without a pang of sadness and resentment.
In her sixty-second year Harriett had her first bad illness.
It was so like Sarah Barmby. Sarah got 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 bedtime with the little tray. “What have you brought me now,
“Benger's Food, ma'am.”
She wanted it to be always Benger's Food at bedtime. She lived by
habit, by the punctual fulfillment of her expectation. She loved the
doctor's visits at twelve 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 to sort of need me most. I dearly love looking after people. Old
ladies and children. And gentlemen, if they're ill enough,” Maggie
“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 eyes. Her head was thrown
back, motionless, 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 labor
of convalescence. 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 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.
She was aware of her drowsy, supine dependence on Maggie. At first
her perishing self asserted itself in an increased reserve and
arrogance. Thus she protected 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
“Why should I? I should have nothing 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, 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 apologized 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 neighbors I felt that I must break my
Mrs. Brailsford smiled in vague benevolence; yet as if she thought
that Miss Frean's feeling and her action were unnecessary. After seven
years. And presently Harriett found herself alone in her corner.
She tried to talk to Mr. Brailsford when he handed her the tea and
bread and butter. “My father,” she said, “was connected with The
Spectator for many years. He was Hilton Frean.”
“Indeed? I'm afraid I—don'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
Her second call was not returned. She 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 old—old. She had nothing in common with youth, nothing in
common with middle age, with intellectual, exclusive people connected
with The Spectator. 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. It was as if she
had parted with her own light, elastic body, and succeeded to somebody
else's that was all bone, heavy, stiff, irresponsive to her will. Her
brain felt 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 became 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 mother.
Her affection concentrated on two objects, the house and Maggie,
Maggie and the house. The house had become a part of herself, an
extension of her body, 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 the trellis and the may tree by the
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, miserable 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 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 couldn't wear them.”
“We were wild young things,” said Lizzie. “I was wilder than you....
A little audacious thing.”
“And look at us now—we 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 straight, slender shoulders rebuked
Connie's obesity, and Sarah's bent back, her 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 mitigated 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 distension in all her being, and a sort of
crepitation in her brain, irritating her to yawning fits. After meals,
sitting in her armchair, her book would drop from her hands and her
mind would slip from drowsiness into stupor. There was something
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 birdcage above the green door. She would see herself, a girl
wearing a big chignon and a little 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
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 thing was missing. She went upstairs and took
the blue egg out of the spare 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. 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-eight. She had a faint
recollection of having given Maggie notice, long ago, there, in the
dining room. Maggie had stood on the hearthrug, 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. 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.
The door of the specialist's house had shut behind them with a soft,
Lizzie Pierce and Harriett sat in the taxicab, holding each other's
hands. Harriett spoke.
“He says I've got what Mamma had.”
Lizzie blinked away her tears; her hand loosened and tightened on
Harriett's with a nervous clutch.
Harriett felt nothing but a strange, solemn excitement and
exaltation. She was raised to her mother's eminence in pain. With every
stab she would live again in her mother. She had what her mother had.
Only she would have an operation. This different thing was what she
dreaded, the thing her mother hadn't had, and the going away into the
hospital, to live exposed in the free ward among other people. That was
what she minded most. That and leaving her house, and Maggie's leaving.
She cried when she saw Maggie standing at the gate in her white
apron as the taxicab took her away. She thought, “When I come back
again she won't be there.” Yet somehow she felt that it wouldn't
happen; it was impossible that she should come back and not find Maggie
She lay in her white bed in the white-curtained cubicle. Lizzie was
paying for the cubicle. Kind Lizzie. Kind. Kind.
She wasn't afraid of the operation. It would happen in the morning.
Only one thing worried her. Something Connie had told her. Under the
anaesthetic you said things. Shocking, indecent things. But there
wasn't anything she could say. She didn't know anything.... Yes. She
did. There were Connie's stories. And Black's Lane. Behind the dirty
blue palings in Black's Lane.
The nurses comforted her. They said if you kept your mouth tight
shut, up to the last minute before the operation, if you didn't say one
word you were all right.
She thought about it after she woke in the morning. For a whole hour
before the operation she refused to speak, nodding and shaking her
head, communicating by gestures. She walked down the wide corridor of
the ward on her way to the theatre, very upright in her white flannel
dressing gown, with her chin held high and a look of exaltation on her
face. There were convalescents in the corridor. They saw her. The
curtains before some of the cubicles were parted; the patients saw her;
they knew what she was going to. Her exaltation mounted.
She came into the theatre. It was all white. White. White tiles.
Rows of little slender knives on a glass shelf, under glass, shining. A
white sink in the corner. A mixed smell of iodine and ether. The
surgeon wore a white coat. Harriett made her tight lips tighter.
She climbed on to the white enamel table, and lay down, drawing her
dressing gown straight about her knees. She had not said one word.
* * * * *
She had behaved beautifully.
The pain in her body came up, wave after wave, burning. It swelled,
tightening, stretching out her wounded flesh.
She knew that the little man they called the doctor was really Mr.
Hancock. They oughtn't to have let him in. She cried out. “Take him
away. Don't let him touch me;” but nobody took any notice.
“It isn't right,” she said. “He oughtn't to do it. Not to any
woman. If it was known he would be punished.”
And there was Maggie by the curtain, crying.
“That's Maggie. She's crying because she thinks I killed her baby.”
The ice bag laid across her body stirred like a live thing as the
ice melted, then it settled and was still. She put her hand down and
felt the smooth, cold oilskin distended with water.
“There's a dead baby in the bed. Red hair. They ought to have taken
it away,” she said. “Maggie had a baby once. She took it up the lane to
the place where the man is; and they put it behind the palings. Dirty
“...Pussycat. Pussycat, what did you there? Pussy. Prissie.
Prissiecat. Poor Prissie. She never goes to bed. She can't get up out
of the chair.”
A figure in white, with a stiff white cap, stood by the bed. She
named it, fixed it in her mind. Nurse. Nurse—that was what it was. She
spoke to it. “It's sad—sad to go through so much pain and then to have
a dead baby.”
The white curtain walls of the cubicle contracted, closed in on her.
She was lying at the bottom of her white-curtained nursery cot. She
felt weak and diminished, small, like a very little child.
The front curtains parted, showing the blond light of the corridor
beyond. She saw the nursery door open and the light from the candle
moved across the ceiling. The gap was filled by the heavy form, the
obscene yet sorrowful face of Connie Pennefather.
Harriett looked at it. She smiled with a sudden ecstatic wonder and