“I am Vera,” she said, simply, and there was a little deprecating appeal in the words as though she would have added, “Be my friend.”
He took the hands—soft slender hands that trembled a very little in his grasp—within his own, and some nameless charm in their gentle touch brought a sudden flush into his face, but no appropriate words concerning his pleasure at meeting her, or his gratification at their future relations, fell from Maurice Kynaston’s lips. He only held her thus by her hands, and looked at her—looked at her as if he could never look at her enough—from her head to her feet, and from her feet up again to her head, till a sudden wave of colour flooded her face at the earnestness of his scrutiny.
“Vera—Vera Nevill!” was all he said; and then below his breath, as though his absolute amazement were utterly irrepressible: “By Jove!” And Vera laughed softly at the thoroughly British character of the exclamation.
“How like an Englishman!” she said. “An Italian would have paid me fifty pretty compliments in half the time you have taken just to stare at me!”
“What a charming tableau vivant!” exclaims a voice above them as Mrs. Romer comes down the staircase. “You really look like a scene in a play! Pray don’t let me disturb you.”
“I am making friends with my sister-in-law that is to be, Mrs. Romer,” says Maurice, who has dropped Vera’s hands with a guilty suddenness, and now endeavours to look completely at his ease—an effort in which he signally fails.
“Were you? Dear me! I thought you and Miss Nevill were practising the pose of the ’Huguenots’!”
Now the whole armoury of feminine weapons—impertinence, spite, and bad manners, born of jealousy—is utterly beneath the contempt of such a woman as Vera; but she is no untried, inexperienced country girl such as Mrs. Romer imagines her to be disconcerted or stricken dumb by such an attack. She knew instantly that she had been attacked, and in what manner, and she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself.
“I have never seen that picture, the ‘Huguenots,’ Mrs. Romer,” she said, quietly; “do you think there is a photograph or a print of it at Kynaston, Maurice? If so, you or John must show it to me.”
And how Mrs. Romer hated her then and there, from that very minute until her life’s end, it would not be easy to set forth!
The utter insouciance, the lady-like ignoring of Helen’s impertinence, the quiet assumption of what she knew her own position in the Kynaston family to be, down to the sisterly “Maurice,” whereby she addressed the man whom in public, at least, Mrs. Romer was forced to call by a more formal name—all proved to that astute little woman that Vera Nevill was no ordinary antagonist, no village maiden to be snubbed or patronised at her pleasure, but a woman of the world, who understood how to fight her own battles, and was likely, as she was forced to own to herself, to “give back as good as she got.”