In both "At the Cadian Ball" and "The Other Two," we meet women who arrange, manage, and control their men. They are self-possessed people who know how to get what they want. A more negative perspective would see them as manipulative. A patriarchal reading might view the women's talents as "natural," and might understand them as exemplifying the nature of all women, but we as modern readers recognize these behaviors not as "natural," but as products of societies that dictate that women find and hold men by behaving in scripted ways.
Bobinot loves Calixta, the sexually alluring Creole. He thinks she has the "bluest, the drowsiest eyes" and lovely hair. Her voice is "like a rich contralto song" that must have "been taught by Satan." When he hears that his rival Alcee may be at the upcoming Cadian ball, he decides to be there, knowing Alcee is a threat.
Clarisse, goddaughter to Alcee's mother, lives in the house with Alcee and her godmother. Alcee loves her, thinking she is "dainty as a lily; hardy as a sunflower; slim, tall, graceful, like one of the reeds that grew in the marsh. Cold and kind and cruel ..." He declares his love to her but she pushes him away with "the chill of her calm, clear eyes." Then, his rice crop is ruined by a cyclone. Clarisse's "heart melted with tenderness" after the disaster, but now he turns away with "mute indifference." Later, when praying in the moonlight, she sees him leave for the ball. Arriving there, Alcee tries to get Calixta to run off with him--the two have a past. Calixta is clearly attracted to him. "Calixta's senses were reeling; and they well-nigh left her when she felt Alcee's lips brush her ear."
Clarisse shows up at the ball. She says Alcee must come with her, but won't explain why. Alcee leaves with her, forgetting Calixta. At this point, Calixta accepts Bobinot's marriage offer, filling him with joy. She is indifferent.
Meanwhile, when Alcee and Clarisse stop to rest the horses, Clarisse says she came because she couldn't stand that Alcee was gone. "She had her face hidden in her arm that she was resting against the saddle when she said that." When she says that she loves him, Alcee thinks:
Calixta was like a myth, now. The one, only, great reality in the world was Clarisse standing before him, telling him that she loved him.
Both men ignore how the women turn from them or hide their faces, preferring to believe in their illusions about them, to believe they are loved.
In Wharton's story, Mr. Waythorn idealizes his wife. Alice Waythorn has, he contends, "perfectly balanced nerves." Alice, Waythorn thinks, has "a richer, warmer nature than his own."
After he allows her first husband, Haskett, to come visit because their daughter Lily is sick: "Her [Alice's]face cleared at once, and as she looked at him across the flowers, between the rosy candle-shades, he saw her lips waver back into a smile."
He calls her "serene and unruffled," "happy" to be with him, "soft and girlish":
She seemed a creature all compact of harmonies. As the thought of Haskett receded, Waythorn felt himself yielding again to the joy of possessorship. They were his, those white hands with their flitting motions, his the light haze of hair, the lips and eyes. . . .
But as her former two husbands reenter her life, her facade slips. For example, she blushes when she puts cognac in Waythorn's coffee in error.
Waythorn also gets hints that Alice left her second husband, Varick, over lack of money, hardly sweet or ideal behavior.
Alice had also intimated that the first husband, Haskett, was a brute. Waythorn starts to realize, however, that Alice might have brutalized him instead and been a social climber. He sees that Haskett is "timid." He starts to resent Alice's "tact" and now sees her as juggler juggling "blunt knives" that will "never cut her." He wonders, however, as his illusions fade in the end, "if it were not better to own a third of a wife who knew how to make a man happy than a whole one who had lacked opportunity to acquire the art."
Both stories show women playing traditional roles, be it temptress or sweet, virginal lover, to get and/or hold their men. These stories are a critique of societies that encourage women to adopt these roles to get ahead and of the illusions men persist in holding about women and women's "nature."