“What time is it, Vera?”
“A quarter to twelve.”
“Almost time to dress; I’ve only ten more cards to fill up. What are you going to wear—white?”
Vera shivers. “Look how the dust is flying—it must be dreadfully cold out—I should like to put on a fur jacket.”
“Do,” says the elder lady, energetically. “It will be original, and attract attention. Not that you could well be more stared at than you are.”
Vera smiles, and does not answer.
Mrs. Hazeldine goes on with her task.
“There! that’s done!” she cries, at last, getting up from the table, and piling her notes up in a heap on one side of it. “Now, I am at your orders.”
She comes forward into the room—a pretty, dark-eyed, oval-faced woman, with a figure in which her dressmaker has understood how to supplement all that nature has but imperfectly carried out. A woman with restless movements and an ever-ready tongue—a thorough daughter of the London world she lives in.
Vera leans her head back in her chair, and looks at her. “Cissy,” she says, “I must really go home, I have been with you a month to-day.”
“Go home! certainly not, my dear. Don’t you know that I have sworn to find you a husband before the season is out? I must really get you married, Vera. I have half a mind,” she adds, reflectively, as she smooths down her shining brown hair at the glass, and contemplates, not ill satisfied, her image there—“I have really half a mind to let you have the boy if I could manage to spare him.”
“Do you think he would make a devoted husband?” asks Vera, with a lazy smile.
“My dear child, don’t be a fool. What is the use of devotion in a husband? All one wants is a good fellow, who will let one alone. After all, the boy might not answer. I am afraid, Vera,” turning round suddenly upon her, “I am very much afraid that boy is in love with you; it’s horrid of you to take him from me, because he is so useful, and I really can’t well do without him. I am going to pay him out to-night though: he is to sit opposite you at dinner; he will only be able to gaze at you.”
“That is hard upon us both.”
“Pooh! don’t waste your time upon him. I shall do better than that for you; he is an eldest son, it is true, but Sir Charles looks as young as his son, and is quite as likely to live as long. It is only married women who can afford the luxury of ineligibles. Go and dress, child.”
Half-an-hour later Mrs. Hazeldine and Miss Nevill are to be found upon two chairs on the broad and shady side of the Row, where a small crowd of men is already gathered around them.
Vera, coming up a stranger, and self-invited to the house of her old acquaintance a few weeks ago, had already created a sensation in London. Her rare beauty, the strange charm of her quiet, listless manner, the shade of melancholy which had of late imperceptibly crept over her, aroused a keen admiration and interest in her, even in that city, which more than all others is satiated with its manifold types of beautiful women.