“Oh, grandmamma, how unkind you are,” says Marion, bursting into tears. But Vera only laughs lazily and amusedly, she is so used to it all! It does not disturb her.
“Is she to be mistress here, I ask, or am I?” continues Mrs. Daintree, furiously.
“Marion is the mistress here,” says Vera, boldly; “neither you nor I have any authority in her house or over her children.” And then the old lady gathers up her work and sails majestically from the room, followed by her weak, trembling daughter-in-law, bent on reconciliation, on cajolement, on laying herself down for her own sins, and her sister’s as well, before the avenging genius of her life.
The clergyman stands by the hearth with his head bent and his hands behind him. He sighs wearily.
Vera creeps up to him and lays her hand softly upon his coat sleeve.
“I am a firebrand, am I not, Eustace?”
“My dear, no, not that; but if you could try a little to keep the peace!” He stayed the caressing hand within his own and looked at her tenderly. His face is a good one, but not a handsome one; and, as he looks at his wife’s young sister, it is softened into its best and kindest. Who can resist Vera, when she looks gentle and humble, with that rare light in her dark eyes?
“Vera, why don’t you look like that at Mr. Gisburne?” he says, smiling.
“Oh, Eustace! am I indeed a burden to you, as your mother says?” she exclaims, evasively.
“No, no, my dear, but it seems hard for you here; a home of your own might be happier for you; and Gisburne is a good man.”
“I don’t like good men who are poor!” says Vera, with a little grimace.
Her brother-in-law looks shocked. “Why do you say such hard worldly things, Vera? You do not really mean them.”
“Don’t I? Eustace, look at me: do I look like a poor clergyman’s wife? Do survey me dispassionately.” She holds herself at arm’s length from him, and looks comically up and down the length of her gray skirts. “Think of the yards and yards of stuff it takes to clothe me; and should not a woman as tall as I am be always in velvet and point lace, Eustace? What is the good of condemning myself to workhouse sheeting for the rest of my days?”
Mr. Daintree looks at her admiringly; he has learnt to love her; this beautiful southern flower that has come to blossom in his home. Women will be hard enough on Vera through her life—men, never.
“You have great gifts and great temptations, my child,” he says, solemnly. “I pray that I may be enabled to do my duty to you. Do not say you do not like good men, Vera, it pains me to hear you say it.”
“I like one good man, and his name is Eustace Daintree!” she answers, softly; “is not that a hopeful sign?”
“You are a little flatterer, Vera,” he says, kissing her; but, though he is a middle-aged clergyman and her brother-in-law, he is by no means impervious to the flattery.