The Folly of Others/Two Women

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TWO WOMEN.

“WELL, Max, you are as extraordinary as ever, I see," said Mrs. Saville. "May I come in, really? It's all very well to say you're glad to see me, but you don't look it."

Maxine drew back, with a glance at her clay-daubed apron and fingers.

"I'm not fit to see anyone. But if you aren't afraid for your gown——"

"Oh, I'll risk it, if you have a single corner that isn't full of mud-pies and parrots. You may believe I'm going to stay and see you after taking all this trouble to hunt you up. Why haven't you been to see me? Did you get my note?"

"Yes, I got it," said Maxine, closing the door.

Mrs. Saville gathered up her elaborate mauve skirts and crossed the bare floor to the divan, before which lay a Bokhara rug. A tea table and two or three chairs gave a habitable look to this one corner. The rest of the place was a confused litter of plaster casts, clay models, drawings in charcoal and chalk, and queer wooden shapes. An Angora cat sprawled on the rug, between a green-and-gold parrot chained to a perch and a dejected crow in a cage. A beautiful window, in tones of gold and reddish violet, cast a warm light above the woman in mauve and the deep red of the prayer-carpet.

"Go on with your work, Maxine. Pray don't let me interrupt you," said Mrs. Saville ironically. "You must be very busy, indeed, since you couldn't find time to stop at my hotel for ten minutes. I didn't expect any of you to come down and receive me with open arms at the pier; but I must say I didn't look for this sort of a welcome, either!"

"I know; I meant to come; I was going to-morrow."

"Were you, really? And my aunt, am I to have the pleasure of seeing her also?"

"Mother's in the country. She went two weeks ago, to get the house in order. We have asked a lot of people for this next month."

"Well, I suppose I shall have to forgive you—put up with your oddities, just as I used. I don't believe you've worn off any of the angles, Max, in these two years. You've changed, though. Sit down, where I can look at you without breaking my neck. I believe actually you've grown."

"No,", said Maxine. She looked absently about. "Have you had luncheon?" she asked abruptly.

"Luncheon? Why, it's after five o'clock. Haven't you lunched, pray?"

"No, I believe not. I've been hard at work." Maxine opened the door into the corridor and brought in a paper box, which proved to contain two sandwiches, a pickle, and a piece of apple pie. "My usual mid-day meal," she said, lighting the alcohol lamp under the tea kettle.

"It can't be called luxurious," observed Mrs. Saville. "But It's just like you. And this place—what a barn!"

"It's a workshop."

Maxine disappeared behind a screen, and came back without her apron and with clean hands. She brought a damp cloth and threw it over a clay bust, which stood on a pedestal in the middle of the room.

"Oh, is that what you were working on? I want to see it—everything you've done! I hear you are getting on beautifully—having no end of a success!"

"I've done a good many portrait busts," said Maxine indifferently. "It's rather a fad—all the women I know come and order them. Next year I suppose it will be miniatures, and then I shall retire again into my native obscurity. Won't you have a sandwich?"

"No, thank you. Nor tea either—I hate the washy stuff. But why talk in that way? I know you're awfully ambitious—or you used to be. Surely you haven't given up all our grand ideas? And all these things aren't portrait busts?"

"No. But it takes forever to do anything worth while. I'm just pegging away as I have been for four years. It's inglorious and not very interesting. Tell me about yourself."

Maxine rummaged under a heap of illustrated papers at the foot of the divan and extracted a gilt wicker-work box tied up with violet ribbons.

"It's some candy—I never eat it. But you do, if I remember."

"I dearly love it, and this looks good. One of your admirers, I suppose—have you as many as ever? You're even better looking than you used to be. I like your hair brushed straight back that way. I always did admire big women and black hair."

Mrs. Saville herself was small and intentionally blond. Her brown hair, several shades lighter than her eyes, had been artistically touched up. Her delicate color was a little faded. Holding the small gilt tongs daintily in her gloved fingers, she picked out all the sugared cherries from the top of the box and ate them first.

"About myself?" she said, carelessly. "Oh, I've been living in Paris, you know, this last year. And I got homesick. I've come back for a good long rest. Aren't you charmed? I'm going to Boston, to stay with mother. She isn't well."

"You must make us a visit this summer," said Maxine, "when there are some people there to amuse you. Are you as fond as ever of being amused?"

"More so. But somehow I find fewer things amuse me. I suppose it's a sign of advancing age. I can't take as much trouble about people as I used to."

"As you used to?" said her cousin, with a half visible smile. "Was that so much?"

"Well, yes—more than they were worth sometimes. But then I played for the game more than the candle."

A slight awkward pause succeeded Mrs. Saville's words. Maxine's question seemed to give it an intentional emphasis.

"Did George come with you?" she asked. There was something hard in the steady scrutiny of her blue eyes and in her faint smile.

"No, indeed. Didn't I write you that I was alone? George has gone to Greece to write some articles for a London syndicate. He's done nothing but scribble and burrow in blue books for the last year. As though he really cared a cent about English politics!"

"Well, I suppose that's his way of amusing himself," said Maxine, dropping three lumps of sugar in to her cup. "Just as mine is mussing with wet clay and yours——"

"Getting my own way, I suppose. Mine doesn't agree with his, at any rate. Maxine, you and the rest of the family might as well understand it at once—we've agreed to disagree. Think what you please, but don't any of you argue with me—it's all quite settled. I shall have to break it to mother—that will be quite enough without having to convince anyone else."

"So soon?" said Maxine, almost inaudibly, stirring the slice of lemon in her tea round and round.

"Soon? I knew it months ago. You've no idea how quickly one makes up one's mind—to disagree. George and I never could get on—we haven't an idea in common. And the worst of it is, I knew that before I married him."

Mrs. Saville shook the chocolates about in the box and pounced on one here and there.

"You aren't surprised," she said, angrily. "I believe you've been waiting all this time for me to come and tell you!"

"Why, no. It was a love match, surely," said Maxine slowly. "It ought to have ended 'And they were happy ever after.’"

"You know better. Love isn't everything. I do care for George still, but I can never live with him again. If s like a file on a grindstone—oh!"

Mrs. Saville pulled off her gloves and began to slip the diamonds and sapphires off and on her thin, nervous fingers.

"It was simply impossible. You ought to thank me, Maxine, for saving you from marrying him!"

The girl set down her cup on the table. She was cool and inscrutable, but she clasped her strong hands over her knee to hide their trembling.

"I ought to thank you?"

"Oh, I know you never have forgiven me. I understand a great many things now that I didn't before. I have thought a good deal about you, Maxine, lately. I believe I'm afraid of you."

Mrs. Saville made this confession with a little hysterical laugh, and Maxine smiled mechanically.

"I shouldn't have suspected you of so much imagination. I thought you were one of those lucky people who haven't any."

"It isn't imagination. Simply I never thought about you at all—until lately—and now when I do, I see it all clearly enough."

"More and more mystery! What do you see?"

"Oh, never mind. I didn't come here to be emotional and maudlin." Mrs. Saville got up and began to wander about the room, swishing her light gown carelessly over the floor. "I came to break the great news, and to abuse you for not leaving a card on me, and to tell you that I'm going on to Boston to-morrow. I shall take mother back to Paris with me. I have a dear little entresol and no end of jolly people. You must come and visit me some time. … George lives in London with his syndicate."

"Well, and is that your plan of life?" demanded Maxine, looking up from under her stony brows like a classic fate. "It doesn't seem to me a very cheerful one."

"Life is a compromise. It's better to do without some things you would like than to put up with things you hate. I hate George's way of wearing his hair, and his boots, and his calling me 'Frances.' Why couldn't he call me Frank, as everybody else does? He used to call you 'Max.’"

Maxine laughed suddenly and got up, stretching her arms over her head.

"How trivial you make it seem!"

"Well, it is trivial. Don't you know It's the little things that count and pile up and finally crush you? Can you imagine living with a person who keeps you constantly in a state of exasperation and quarrels? It's like having a pin eternally jabbing you. Life narrows down into just the question of getting rid of that pin."

"I'm sorry," said Maxine, in her slow, grave voice.

Mrs. Saville, moving restlessly about, stopped below a shelf crowded with things in plaster and clay. She pointed upward.

"There—I wondered if I should see that here! Why have you tucked it away in a corner? Everybody says it's clever."

Maxine came and took down the little statuette—a Love with empty hands looking down at the roses lying at his feet.

"This is only a cast—it's broken, see."

"Yes, you sent us the marble! I suspected you then, but in the whirl of the wedding and going away, I hadn't time to think. I believe George found you out before I did—if he didn't know you from the first!"

"Oh, you are making a drama out of it," said Maxine. Mrs. Saville took the statuette from her and looked at it curiously.

"We had quite a scene over it when—when George started for Greece. I wanted him to keep it—he insisted that I should. It would have been rather absurd, wouldn't it, to carry such an object about in his camp-trunk? I couldn't help laughing. But I hated the thing. So I gave it away—to an art student I knew there—a shabby American—she admired it hugely. And there's an end of your wedding present, Maxine, dear!"

"Poor little Love," said the girl, and she set her statuette back on the shelf. "There were thorns in the roses."

"I suppose one never sees them till—one has felt them. Oh, I am punished for having been a fool. I can't understand, now—I was swept off my feet. I never meant to break your engagement. I never meant—till the very end—to marry him."

"It's rather late to say that, isn't it? And what difference does it make—what you meant?"

"I can't help wondering why you broke off so sharply. You took it all so seriously——"

"Seriously? Why—he fell in love with you—that was all. What else was there to do?"

"Oh, it was your pride. You couldn't bear to think I had been able to draw him away from you—for a moment—and so—you forced me to bind myself—you made him think that he was bound! You never cared for him—you hated me for hurting you—you knew I had never meant to marry him!" Mrs. Saville's voice thrilled with emotion; there were tears in her eyes.

"How could I know what you meant?" said Maxine in her deep tone. "I thought he loved you. I believed you cared for him. What else could I think? Would you have shaken him off, after all—laughed at him, and at me? You were too little, too weak, to play such a game. If you meant nothing else, it's only right that you should suffer—a little."

"He would have gone back, if you would have let him. You would not give me time to think! You did it deliberately—in anger—you hoped I should not be happy!"

"No—can't you understand? Are you too small, too selfish, to understand? I—loved him. You took him away from me. I—wanted him to be——"

"No, Maxine. You hated him! You knew he wouldn't be happy—with me. What else could that mean—the faded roses, the thorns? You were laughing then, at me—at us both, in our Fool's Paradise! But I haven't always been a fool. I can use my eyes now, when it's—too late. I can see through you, Max! Where are my gloves—I'm going. You have made me cry. I hope you are satisfied. I look like a fright when I cry."

Mrs. Saville pulled her veil over her face and looked about vainly for a mirror.

"I'm sorry," murmured Maxine, and she let her cousin go without another word. Then she locked the door, lifted the damp cloth off the bust of clay, and took up her modelling tools. But it had grown too dark to work.