Wisteria sank back to her chair as he left the room, holding her wrist in her opposite hand. He kissed my hand.
That was a signal, an unambiguous signal. A noble only kissed a woman’s hand if they were related, long acquaintances, or…as a token of respect. Lord Nikola had not kissed her hand when they were introduced, so it was not a gesture he used trivially, or done from respect for her position or family. Something had happened during that strange terrible interview that made him…respect…her?
That can’t be right. I must be missing something. Sarcasm? She closed her eyes and leaned back. Yes, probably sarcasm. He was sarcastic when he said he’d call, and kissed my hand. Perhaps even when he said he wasn’t offended. She hadn’t noticed anything about his tone or expression, but she wouldn’t, would she?
“Do you want to be a spinster, Wisteria?” Her father re-entered the parlor. The maid was mopping tea from the expensive Ascension rug.
“No.” Wisteria folded her hands in her lap, not opening her eyes. “But it would probably be for the best if I did.”
Her father sighed. “I know you are not this stupid, Wisteria. By the three thousand, what possessed you to put that in writing? Why would you bring up a thing like that?”
“Mother said it was not a subject to be spoken of: how else might I communicate about it, then?” Wisteria asked, opening her eyes.
Mr. Vasilver put his face in his hands. “You don’t, girl!”
“…but the purpose of this meeting was to explore the possibility of an engagement.”
“An engagement, Wisteria! Between people! We’re not – not talking about breeding dogs here!”
What’s the difference? We all reproduce by the same mechanisms. “Then who does discuss these details? Are they settled through intermediaries?”
“No one! Ever! Reproduction is not a fit topic for a gentlewoman. You know this perfectly well! Even all those articles about business – Wisteria, it’s crass. This simply is not how civilized people handle intimate affairs.”
Wisteria looked at her father, as if she could make this conversation resolve into reason by sheer force of will. It had never worked before. “But these are vital aspects of marriage. If one cannot discuss them, what’s the point in meeting at all? This is like trying to decide what to have for dinner without mentioning food. ‘I know, let’s use the china with the gold rims tonight. And, oh, make sure there’s enough forks for everyone.’ As if that were the key choice.”
“How can someone so intelligent be so stupid? This is not how it’s done!”
“Because it isn’t! You’re twenty-six, not six! How can you pretend not to know this?”
Wisteria stared at the wall, her ear turned to him as if the problem was with her hearing and not her comprehension. ‘Because it isn’t.’ Because everyone understands that it isn’t. Until the moment that it suddenly is. And to everyone but me, it’s so stupid, so obvious that this is how things work, that they can’t imagine how to explain it. Grief overwhelmed her; she could not bear to try yet again to pass a barrier tangible only to her. With an effort, she rose to her feet, curtsied to her father, and withdrew.