Portia’s hard little laugh cut like a knife. “I ought to believe that,” she said. “I’ve told myself so enough times. But it’s not true. I wonder why you should have thought of that—why it occurred to you that a cold-blooded fish like me should want to marry?”
Rose didn’t try to answer. She waited.
“You have always thought me cold,” Portia said. “So has mother. I’m not, really. I’m—the other way. I don’t believe there ever was a girl that wanted love and marriage more than I. But I didn’t attract anybody. I was working pretty hard, of course, and that left me too tired to go out and play—left me a little cross and acid most of the time. But I don’t believe that was the whole reason. It wouldn’t have worked out that way with you. But nobody ever saw me at all. The men I was introduced to forgot me—were polite to me—got away as soon as they could. They were always craning around for a look at somebody else. The few men—the two or three who weren’t like that, weren’t good enough. But a man did want me to marry him at last, and for a while I thought I would. Just—just for the sake of marrying somebody. He wasn’t much, but he was some one. But I knew I’d come to hate him for not being some one else and I couldn’t make up my mind to it. So I took you on instead.
“I stopped hoping, you see, and tried to forget all about it—tried to crowd it out of my life. I said I’d make my work a substitute for it. And, in a way, I succeeded. The work opened up and got more interesting as it got bigger. It wasn’t just selling four-dollar candlesticks and crickets and blue glass flower-holders. I was beginning to get real jobs to do—big jobs for big people, and it was exciting. That made it easier to forget. I was beginning to think that some day I’d earn my way into the open big sort of life that your new friends have had for nothing.
“And then, a week ago, there came the doctor and cut off that chance. Oh, there’s no way out, I know that! That’s the way the pattern was cut, I suppose, in the beginning. I’ve always suspected the cosmic Dressmaker of having a sense of humor. Now I know it. I’m the lucky one who isn’t going to have to wade through the slush any more. I’m to go out to southern California and live in a nice little bungalow and be a nurse for five or ten years, and then I’m going to be left alone in genteel poverty, without an interest in the world, and too tired to make any. And I’ll probably live to eighty.
“And yet,”—she leaned suddenly forward, and the passion that had been suppressed in her voice till now, leaped up into flame—“and yet, can you tell me what I could have done differently? I’ve lived the kind of life they preach about—a life of noble sacrifice. It hasn’t ennobled me. It’s made me petty—mean—sour. It’s withered me up. Look at the difference between us! Look at you with your big free spaciousness—your power of loving and attracting love! Why, you even love me, now, in spite of all I’ve said this morning. I’ve envied you that—I’ve almost hated you for it.