The Old Wives' Tale - by Arnold Bennett
"WELL!" cried Constance. "Did you ever see such a thing?"
While Sophia, short of adequate words, flushed and bit her lip.
With the profound, instinctive cruelty of youth, Constance and
Sophia had assembled in their favourite haunt, the show-room,
expressly to deride Maggie in her new clothes. They obscurely
thought that a woman so ugly and soiled as Maggie was, had no right
to possess new clothes. Even her desire to take the air of a
Thursday afternoon seemed to them unnatural and somewhat
reprehensible. Why should she want to stir out of her kitchen? As
for her tender yearnings, they positively grudged these to Maggie.
That Maggie should give rein to chaste passion was more than
grotesque; it was offensive and wicked. But let it not for an
instant be doubted that they were nice, kind-hearted, well-
behaved, and delightful girls! Because they were but they were not
"It's too ridiculous!" said Sophia, severely. She had youth,
beauty, and rank in her favour. And to her it really was
"Poor old Maggie!" Constance murmured. Constance was foolishly
good-natured, a perfect manufactory of excuses for other people;
and her benevolence was eternally rising up and overpowering her
"What time did mother say she should be back?" Sophia asked.
"Not until supper."
"Oh! Hallelujah!" Sophia burst out, clasping her hands in joy. And
they both slid down from the counter just as if they had been
little boys, and not, as their mother called them, "great girls."