“Go!” he said. “Where?”
“To that ball.”
“What ball?” The question was rhetorical. He knew.
“I believe she’s dressing up-stairs—now.”
“Then tell her to undress, confound her!” The City had been thoroughly annoying that day, and he was angry from the outset.
Miss Stanley reflected on this proposal for a moment.
“I don’t think she will,” she said.
“She must,” said Mr. Stanley, and went into his study. His sister followed. “She can’t go now. She’ll have to wait for dinner,” he said, uncomfortably.
“She’s going to have some sort of meal with the Widgetts down the Avenue, and go up with them.
“She told you that?”
“But why didn’t you prohibit once for all the whole thing? How dared she tell you that?”
“Out of defiance. She just sat and told me that was her arrangement. I’ve never seen her quite so sure of herself.”
“What did you say?”
“I said, ‘My dear Veronica! how can you think of such things?’”
“She had two more cups of tea and some cake, and told me of her walk.”
“She’ll meet somebody one of these days—walking about like that.”
“She didn’t say she’d met any one.”
“But didn’t you say some more about that ball?”
“I said everything I could say as soon as I realized she was trying to avoid the topic. I said, ’It is no use your telling me about this walk and pretend I’ve been told about the ball, because you haven’t. Your father has forbidden you to go!’”
“She said, ’I hate being horrid to you and father, but I feel it my duty to go to that ball!’”
“Felt it her duty!”
“‘Very well,’ I said, ’then I wash my hands of the whole business. Your disobedience be upon your own head.’”
“But that is flat rebellion!” said Mr. Stanley, standing on the hearthrug with his back to the unlit gas-fire. “You ought at once—you ought at once to have told her that. What duty does a girl owe to any one before her father? Obedience to him, that is surely the first law. What can she put before that?” His voice began to rise. “One would think I had said nothing about the matter. One would think I had agreed to her going. I suppose this is what she learns in her infernal London colleges. I suppose this is the sort of damned rubbish—”
“Oh! Ssh, Peter!” cried Miss Stanley.
He stopped abruptly. In the pause a door could be heard opening and closing on the landing up-stairs. Then light footsteps became audible, descending the staircase with a certain deliberation and a faint rustle of skirts.
“Tell her,” said Mr. Stanley, with an imperious gesture, “to come in here.”
Miss Stanley emerged from the study and stood watching Ann Veronica descend.