‘Virgie—I am going to be married.’
The shock was a severe one. Virginia’s hands fell, her eyes started, her mouth opened; she became the colour of clay, even her lips losing for the moment all their colour.
‘Married?’ she at length gasped. ‘Who—who is it?’
’Some one you have never heard of. His name is Mr. Edmund Widdowson. He is very well off, and has a house at Herne Hill.’
‘A private gentleman?’
’Yes. He used to be in business, but is retired. Now, I am not going to tell you much more about him until you have made his acquaintance. Don’t ask a lot of questions. You are to come with me this afternoon to his house. He lives alone, but a relative of his, his sister-in-law, is going to be with him to meet us.’
’Oh, but it’s so sudden! I can’t go to pay a call like that at a moment’s notice. Impossible, darling! What does it all mean? You are going to be married, Monica? I can’t understand it. I can’t realize it. Who is this gentleman? How long—’
’No; you won’t get me to tell you more than I have done, till you have seen him.’
’But what have you told me? I couldn’t grasp it. I am quite confused. Mr.—what was the name?’
It took half an hour to familiarize Virginia with the simple fact. When she was convinced of its truth, a paroxysm of delight appeared in her. She laughed, uttered cries of joy, even clapped her hands.
’Monica to be married! A private gentleman—a large fortune! My darling, how shall I ever believe it? Yet I felt so sure that the day would come. What will Alice say? And Rhoda Nunn? Have you— have you ventured to tell her?’
’No, that I haven’t. I want you to do that You shall go and see them to-morrow, as it’s Sunday.’
’Oh, the delight! Alice won’t be able to contain herself. We always said the day would come.’
’You won’t have any more anxieties, Virgie. You can take the school or not, as you like. Mr. Widdowson—’
‘Oh, my dear,’ interposed Virginia, with sudden dignity, ’we shall certainly open the school. We have made up our minds; that is to be our life’s work. It is far, far more than a mere means of subsistence. But perhaps we shall not need to hurry. Everything can be matured at our leisure. If you would only just tell me, darling, when you were first introduced?’
Monica laughed gaily, and refused to explain. It was time for Virginia to make herself ready, and here arose a new perturbation; what had she suitable for wear under such circumstances? Monica had decked herself a little, and helped the other to make the best of her narrow resources. At four o’clock they set out.
When they reached the house at Herne Hill the sisters were both in a state of nervous tremor. Monica had only the vaguest idea of the kind of person Mrs. Luke Widdowson would prove to be, and Virginia seemed to herself to be walking in a dream.