The immense disillusionment that awaited him! The devastating disillusionment! She had a vague desire to run after him, to state her case to him, to wring some understanding from him of what life was to her. She felt a cheat and a sneak to his unsuspecting retreating back.
“But what can one do?” asked Ann Veronica.
She dressed carefully for dinner in a black dress that her father liked, and that made her look serious and responsible. Dinner was quite uneventful. Her father read a draft prospectus warily, and her aunt dropped fragments of her projects for managing while the cook had a holiday. After dinner Ann Veronica went into the drawing-room with Miss Stanley, and her father went up to his den for his pipe and pensive petrography. Later in the evening she heard him whistling, poor man!
She felt very restless and excited. She refused coffee, though she knew that anyhow she was doomed to a sleepless night. She took up one of her father’s novels and put it down again, fretted up to her own room for some work, sat on her bed and meditated upon the room that she was now really abandoning forever, and returned at length with a stocking to darn. Her aunt was making herself cuffs out of little slips of insertion under the newly lit lamp.
Ann Veronica sat down in the other arm-chair and darned badly for a minute or so. Then she looked at her aunt, and traced with a curious eye the careful arrangement of her hair, her sharp nose, the little drooping lines of mouth and chin and cheek.
Her thought spoke aloud. “Were you ever in love, aunt?” she asked.
Her aunt glanced up startled, and then sat very still, with hands that had ceased to work. “What makes you ask such a question, Vee?” she said.
Her aunt answered in a low voice: “I was engaged to him, dear, for seven years, and then he died.”
Ann Veronica made a sympathetic little murmur.
“He was in holy orders, and we were to have been married when he got a living. He was a Wiltshire Edmondshaw, a very old family.”
She sat very still.
Ann Veronica hesitated with a question that had leaped up in her mind, and that she felt was cruel. “Are you sorry you waited, aunt?” she said.
Her aunt was a long time before she answered. “His stipend forbade it,” she said, and seemed to fall into a train of thought. “It would have been rash and unwise,” she said at the end of a meditation. “What he had was altogether insufficient.”
Ann Veronica looked at the mildly pensive gray eyes and the comfortable, rather refined face with a penetrating curiosity. Presently her aunt sighed deeply and looked at the clock. “Time for my Patience,” she said. She got up, put the neat cuffs she had made into her work-basket, and went to the bureau for the little cards in the morocco case. Ann Veronica jumped up to get her the card-table. “I haven’t seen the new Patience, dear,” she said. “May I sit beside you?”