“Oh, perhaps,” said Portia indifferently. “I wouldn’t worry about that, though. Because really, child, you had no more chance of growing up to be a lawyer and a leader of the ‘Cause’ than I have of getting to be a brigadier-general.”
Rose stopped brushing her hair and demanded to be told why not. She had been getting on all right up to now, hadn’t she?
“Why, just think,” said Portia, “what mother herself had gone through when she was your age; put herself through college because her father didn’t believe in ’higher education’—practically disowned her. She’d taught six months in that awful school—remember?—she was used to being abused and ridiculed. And she was working hard enough to have killed a camel. But you!... Why, Lamb, you’ve never really had to do anything in your life. If you felt like it, all right—and equally all right if you didn’t. You’ve never been hurt—never even been frightened. You wouldn’t know what they felt like. And the result is ...”
Portia drew in a long puff, then eyed her cigarette thoughtfully through the slowly expelled smoke. “The result is,” she concluded, “that you have grown up into a big, splendid, fearless, confiding creature that it’s perfectly inevitable some man like Rodney Aldrich would go straight out of his head about. And there you are.”
A troubled questioning look came into the younger sister’s eyes. “I’ve been lazy and selfish, I know,” she said. “Perhaps more than I thought. I haven’t meant to be. But ... Do you think I’m any good at all?”
“That’s the real injustice of it,” said Portia; “that you are. You’ve stayed big and simple. It couldn’t possibly occur to you now to say to yourself, ’Poor old Portia! She’s always been jealous because mother liked me best, and now she’s just green with envy because I’m going to marry Rodney Aldrich.’”
She wouldn’t stop to hear Rose’s protest. “I know it couldn’t,” she went on. “That’s what I say. And yet there’s more than a little truth in it, I suppose. Oh, I don’t mean I’m sorry you’re going to be happy—I believe you are, you know. I’m just a little sorry for myself. Curious, anyway, to see where I’ve missed all the big important things you’ve kept. I’ve been afraid of my instincts, I suppose. Never able to take a leap because I’ve always stopped to look, first. I’m too narrow between the cheek-bones, perhaps. Anyhow, here I stay, grinding along, wondering what it’s all about and what after all’s the use.... While you, you baby! are going to find out.”
What Rose wanted to do was to gather her sister up in her arms and kiss her. But the faint ironic smile on Portia’s fine lips, the twist of her eyebrows, the poise of her body as she sat up in bed watching the blue-brown smoke rising in a straight thin line from her diminishing cigarette, combined to make such a demonstration altogether impossible.
“Mother thinks, I guess,” she said, to break the silence, “that I ought to have looked a little longer. She thinks Rodney would have ‘wanted’ me more, if I hadn’t thrown myself at him like that.”