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Title: Life and Death of Harriett Frean
Author: Sinclair, May, 1863-1946
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Life and Death of Harriett Frean" ***

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LIFE AND DEATH OF HARRIETT FREAN

1922

By May Sinclair



I


     "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
suddenly.

"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 saw."

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
velvet.

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 guest
wants."

"I can't."

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 drawing-room.

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 idiot.

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. Spinker.



II


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."

"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?"

"Very 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
couldn't be.

"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 time."

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?

Red campion----

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 borders.

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
darling."

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 smiled.

"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?"

"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?"

"Disobedience."

"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 about
it.

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.



III


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 slender.

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
eyes.

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 her room.

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 beautifully.

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, palpitating
thing.


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 do it?"

"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."

"Hatty--I couldn't."

"Oh, yes, _you_ could if _I_ could."

"No. No...."

"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."

"Oh, Prissie----"

"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--when?"

"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, Hatty."

"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."



IV


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
him.

"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
the play.

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
turning.

"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 did----"

"Mr. _Hancock!_" Clear, firm laughter, chiming and tinkling.

"Goodness! To think how many ridiculous people there are in the world!"

"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 when.

"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."

"_Every_thing?"

"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
Priscilla Heaven.

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 time.

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 same.



V


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 to
Prissie.

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 about
_me_."

"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 doesn't----."

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."

"Does it?"

She thought of Prissie's face, dark and restless, never clear, never
still.

"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.

"Well, then----"

"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
restless."

"_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 her
suffering."

"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 to
sleep.

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.



VI


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 Hilton Frean.

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 abruptly.

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
little Prissie.

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
embrace.

"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."

"It is."

"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 sitting
there."

"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,
appeased....

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 nine."

"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 the
window.

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 miserable, then?"

At that he laughed out. "No. I don't. I don't care how happy you are."

She took the pain of it: the pain he meant to give her.

That evening he hung over Priscilla with a deliberate, exaggerated
tenderness.

"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.



VII


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,
exalted look.

"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----"

"Yes, Hatty."

"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,
dangerous game."

"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 shame.

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 little system."

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 the
night."

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."

"Oh--Papa----"

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.



VIII


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 Aunt
Harriett?"

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 wished."

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
housekeeping."

"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 another
thought.

"Harriett, I think you ought to see more of your friends, dear."

"Why?"

"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
more.

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 anæsthetic; 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
pounds."

"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 torture her.

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
for this."

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 there.

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 wanting her.

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 hundred
pounds.


"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."

"What--what 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 save
her?

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 years----

"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 pounds.



IX


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
_Remains_.

"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
herself.

At her worst she could still think with pleasure of the beauty of the
act which had given Robin to Priscilla.



X


"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 her
again.


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 married
again----"

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
shouldn't----

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 health.

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 had died.

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.
Lethbridge's sister.

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 way."

"Do you mean to say he made you take it all up and put it down again?
Well----"

"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 of
himself."

"He'll turn up all right," Miss Walker said, "when he hears the
teacups."

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?"

"Nothing, dear."

"You've done nothing, when you know you poured out my last dose at
twelve?"

"Why, hasn't it come?"

"No. It hasn't."

"But Cissy ordered it this morning."

"I didn't," Cissy said. "I forgot."

"Oh, Cissy----"

"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 him.

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."

"Five o'clock?"

"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, peevish bully.

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 told her.

"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 and
Priscilla.

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 the
doorway.

"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 beastly
state----"

"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 strong?"

"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.



XI


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
circumstances."

"If you think that, ma'am, it's very cruel and unkind of you to send me
away."

"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 Baby
now."

"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
here."

"I remember."

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, ma'am."

"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 him
about."

"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.



XII


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
expense."

"We've got to. We can't do anything else."

"Oh, my dear----" If she could stop it.... An inspiration came. "I knew
a girl once who might have done what you're doing, only she wouldn't.
She gave the man up rather than hurt her friend. She _couldn't do
anything else_."

"How much was he in love with her?"

"I don't know _how much_. He was never in love with any other woman."

"Then she was a fool. A silly fool. Didn't she think of _him?_"

"Didn't she think!"

"No. She didn't. She thought of herself. Of her own moral beauty. She
was a selfish fool."

"She asked the best and wisest man she knew, and he told her she
couldn't do anything else."

"The best and wisest man--oh, Lord!"

"That was my own father, Mona, Hilton Frean."

"Then it was you. You and Uncle Robin and Aunt Prissie."

Harriett's face smiled its straight, thin-lipped smile, the worn,
grooved chin arrogantly lifted.

"How could you?"

"I could because I was brought up not to think of myself before other
people."

"Then it wasn't even your own idea. You sacrificed him to somebody
else's. You made three people miserable just for that. Four, if you
count Aunt Beatie."

"There was Prissie. I did it for her."

"What did you do for her? You 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
violent gesture.

"There's no common sense in it."

"No _common_ sense, perhaps."

"It's a jolly sight better than sentiment when it comes to marrying."

They kissed. Mona turned at the doorway.

"I say--did he go on caring for you?"

"Sometimes I think he did. Sometimes I think he hated me."

"Of course he hated you, after what you'd let him in for." She paused.
"You don't _mind_ my telling you the truth, do you?"

... Harriett sat a long time, her 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 him."

She laid in a weekly stock of opinions from _The Spectator_, and by this
means contrived a semblance of intellectual life.

She was appeased more and more by the rhythm of the seasons, of
the weeks, of day and night, by the first coming up of the pink and
wine-brown velvet 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 again.

Seeing them was a habit she couldn't get over. But it no longer gave
her keen pleasure. She told herself that her three friends were
deteriorating in their middle age. Lizzie's sharp face darted malice;
her tongue was whipcord; she knew where to flick; the small gleam of
her eyes, the snap of her nutcracker jaws irritated Harriett. Sarah was
slow; slow. She took no care of her face and figure. As Lizzie put it,
Sarah's appearance was an outrage on her contemporaries. "She makes us
feel so old."

And Connie--the very rucking of Connie's coat about her broad hips
irritated Harriett. She had a way of staring over her fat cheeks at
Harriett's old suits, mistaking them for new ones, and saying the same
exasperating thing. "You're lucky to be able to afford it. _I_ can't."

Harriett's irritation mounted up and up.

And one day she 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
forgiven----"

"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_ your
father."

Harriett sat up, straight and stiff. "Well, _your_ father's alive, and
_he's_ dead."

"I don't see what that has to do with it."

"Don't you? If it had happened the other way about, your father wouldn't
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.



XIII


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 arms.

"I've brought Mimi," she said. "I want you to see what a darling he is."

Mimi, a Persian, all orange on the top and snow white underneath,
climbed her 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?"

"Mimi."

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."

_"Nice?"_

"I mean it must have been nice to have him for your father.... You don't
mind my coming into your garden last thing to catch Mimi?"

Harriett felt a sudden yearning for Dorothy. She saw a pleasure, a
happiness, in her coming. She wasn't going to call, but she sent little
notes in to Dorothy asking her to come to tea.

Dorothy declined.

But every evening, towards 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 out.

"That's the end of it," she said. She could never think of the young
girl without a pang of sadness and resentment.


Fifty-five. Sixty.

In her sixty-second year Harriett had her first bad illness.

It was so like Sarah Barmby. Sarah got 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_,
Maggie?"

"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 said.

"You're a good girl, Maggie."

She had forgotten. The image of Maggie's baby was dead, hidden, buried
deep down in her mind. She closed her 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.



XIV


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
Brailsfords."

"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 rule."

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 uninvited.

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 gate.

She no longer enjoyed visiting her friends. She set out in peevish
resignation, leaving her house, and when she had sat half an hour with
Lizzie or Sarah or Connie she would begin to fidget, 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 _Evangeline_.

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.



XV


The door of the specialist's house had shut behind them with a soft,
respectful click.

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 there.


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
anæsthetic 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 blue
palings.

"...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
recognition.

"Mamma----"





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