May Sinclair.

Life and Death of Harriett Frean online

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By May Sinclair


"Pussycat, Pussycat, where have you been?"
"I've been to London, to see the Queen."
"Pussycat, Pussycat, what did you there?"
"I caught a little mouse under the chair,"

Her mother said it three times. And each time the Baby Harriett laughed.
The sound of her laugh was so funny that she laughed again at that; she
kept on laughing, with shriller and shriller squeals.

"I wonder why she thinks it's funny," her mother said.

Her father considered it. "I don't know. The cat perhaps. The cat and
the Queen. But no; that isn't funny."

"She sees something in it we don't see, bless her," said her mother.

Each kissed her in turn, and the Baby Harriett stopped laughing

"Mamma, _did_ Pussycat see the Queen?"

"No," said Mamma. "Just when the Queen was passing the little mouse came
out of its hole and ran under the chair. That's what Pussycat 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

Then they played. Papa was the Pussycat and she was the little mouse in
her hole under the bed-clothes. They played till Papa said, "_No_ more!"
and tucked the blankets tight in.

"Now you're kissing like Mamma - - "

Hours afterwards they would come again together and stoop over the cot
and she wouldn't see them; they would kiss her with soft, light kisses,
and she wouldn't know.

She thought: To-night I'll stay awake and see them. But she never did.
Only once she dreamed that she heard footsteps and saw the lighted
candle, going out of the room; going, going away.

The blue egg stood on the marble top of the cabinet where you could see
it from everywhere; it was supported by a gold waistband, by gold hoops
and gold legs, and it wore a gold ball with a frill round it like a
crown. You would never have guessed what was inside it. You touched a
spring in its waistband and it flew open, and then it was a workbox.
Gold scissors and thimble and stiletto sitting up in holes cut in white

The blue egg was the first thing she thought of when she came into the
room. There was nothing like that in Connie Hancock's Papa's house. It
belonged to Mamma.

Harriett thought: If only she could have a birthday and wake up and find
that the blue egg belonged to _her_ - -

Ida, the wax doll, sat on the drawing-room sofa, dressed ready for the
birthday. The darling had real person's eyes made of glass, and real
eyelashes and hair. Little finger and toenails were marked in the wax,
and she smelt of the lavender her clothes were laid in.

But Emily, the new birthday doll, smelt of composition and of gum and
hay; she had flat, painted hair and eyes, and a foolish look on her
face, like Nurse's aunt, Mrs. Spinker, when she said "Lawk-a-daisy!"
Although Papa had given her Emily, she could never feel for her the
real, loving love she felt for Ida.

And her mother had told her that she must lend Ida to Connie Hancock if
Connie wanted her.

Mamma couldn't see that such a thing was not possible.

"My darling, you mustn't be selfish. You must do what your little guest

"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.


She had a belief that her father's house was nicer than other people's
houses. It stood off from the high road, in Black's Lane, at the head
of the town. You came to it by a row of tall elms standing up along Mr.
Hancock's wall. Behind the last tree its slender white end went straight
up from the pavement, hanging out a green balcony like a bird cage above
the green door.

The lane turned sharp there and went on, and the long brown garden wall
went with it. Behind the wall the lawn flowed down from the white house
and the green veranda to the cedar tree at the bottom. Beyond the lawn
was the kitchen garden, and beyond the kitchen garden the orchard;
little crippled apple trees bending down in the long grass.

She was glad to come back to the house after the walk with Eliza, the
nurse, or Annie, the housemaid; to go through all the rooms looking for
Mimi; looking for Mamma, telling her what had happened.

"Mamma, the red-haired woman in the sweetie shop has got a little baby,
and its hair's red, too.... Some day I shall have a little baby. I shall
dress him in a long gown - - -"


"Robe, with bands of lace all down it, as long as _that_; and a white
christening cloak sewn with white roses. Won't he look sweet?"

"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

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? Because it makes your mother unhappy. That's enough why."

But there was something more. Mamma had been frightened. Something to do
with the frightening man in the lane.

"Why does it make her?"

She knew; she knew; but she wanted to see what he would say.

"I said that was enough.... Do you know what you've been guilty of?"


"More than that. Breaking trust. Meanness. It was mean and dishonorable
of you when you knew you wouldn't be punished."

"Isn't there to be a punishment?"

"No. People are punished to make them remember. We want you to forget."
His arm tightened, drawing her closer. And the kind, secret voice went
on. "Forget ugly things. Understand, Hatty, nothing is forbidden.
We don't forbid, because we trust you to do what we wish. To behave
beautifully.... There, there."

She hid her face on his breast against his tickly coat, and cried.

She would always have to do what they wanted; the unhappiness of not
doing it was more than she could bear. All very well to say there would
be no punishment; _their_ unhappiness was the punishment.

It hurt more than anything. It kept on hurting when she thought about

The first minute of to-morrow she would begin behaving beautifully; as
beautifully as she could. They wanted you to; they wanted it more than
anything because they were so beautiful. So good. So wise.

But three years went before Harriett understood how wise they had been,
and why her mother took her again and again into Black's Lane to pick
red campion, so that it was always the red campion she remembered. They
must have known all the time about Black's Lane; Annie, the housemaid,
used to say it was a bad place; something had happened to a little girl
there. Annie hushed and reddened and wouldn't tell you what it was.
Then one day, when she was thirteen, standing by the apple tree, Connie
Hancock told her. A secret... Behind the dirty blue palings... She shut
her eyes, squeezing the lids down, frightened. But when she thought of
the lane she could see nothing but the green banks, the three tall
elms, and the red campion pricking through the white froth of the cow's
parsley; her mother stood on the garden walk in her wide, swinging gown;
she was holding the red and white flowers up to her face and saying,
"Look, how _beautiful_ they are."

She saw her all the time while Connie was telling her the secret. She
wanted to get up and go to her. Connie knew what it meant when you
stiffened suddenly and made yourself tall and cold and silent. The
cold silence would frighten her and she would go away. Then, Harriett
thought, she could get back to her mother and Longfellow.

Every afternoon, through the hours before her father came home, she sat
in the cool, green-lighted drawing-room reading _Evangeline_ aloud to
her mother. When they came to the beautiful places they looked at each
other and smiled.

She passed through her fourteenth year sedately, to the sound of
_Evangeline_. Her upright body, her lifted, delicately obstinate, rather
wistful face expressed her small, conscious determination to be good.
She was silent with emotion when Mrs. Hancock told her she was growing
like her mother.


Connie Hancock was her friend.

She had once been a slender, wide-mouthed child, top-heavy with her damp
clumps of hair. Now she was squaring and thickening and looking horrid,
like Mr. Hancock. Beside her Harriett felt tall and elegant and 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

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

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."


She remembered the conversation. Her father sitting, straight and
slender, in his chair, talking in that quiet voice of his that never
went sharp or deep or quavering, that paused now and then on an amused
inflection, his long lips straightening between the perpendicular
grooves of his smile. She loved his straight, slender face,
clean-shaven, the straight, slightly jutting jaw, the dark-blue flattish
eyes under the black eyebrows, the silver-grizzled hair that fitted
close like a cap, curling in a silver brim above his ears.

He was talking about his business as if more than anything it amused

"There's nothing gross and material about stock-broking. It's like pure
mathematics. You're dealing in abstractions, ideal values, all the time.
You calculate - in curves." His hand, holding the unlit cigar, drew a
curve, a long graceful one, in mid-air. "You know what's going to happen
all the time.

"... The excitement begins when you don't quite know and you risk it;
when it's getting dangerous.

"... The higher mathematics of the game. If you can afford them; if you
haven't a wife and family - I can see the fascination...."

He sat holding his cigar in one hand, looking at it without seeing it,
seeing the fascination and smiling at it, amused and secure.

And her mother, bending over her bead-work, smiled too, out of their
happiness, their security.

He would lean back, smoking his cigar and looking at them out of
contented, half-shut eyes, as they stitched, one at each end of the long
canvas fender stool. He was waiting, he said, for the moment when their

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Online LibraryMay SinclairLife and Death of Harriett Frean → online text (page 1 of 5)