“I certainly was,” I replied, with some embarrassment at the determined suddenness of the question, and then endeavouring to give a complimentary turn to my frank avowal. “How is it possible I should think of anything else, seated as I have the happiness to be?”

She smiled with such an expression of concentrated haughtiness as she alone could have thrown into her countenance. “I must inform you at once, Mr. Osbaldistone, that compliments are entirely lost upon me; do not, therefore, throw away your pretty sayings—they serve fine gentlemen who travel in the country, instead of the toys, beads, and bracelets, which navigators carry to propitiate the savage inhabitants of newly-discovered lands. Do not exhaust your stock in trade—you will find natives in Northumberland to whom your fine things will recommend you—on me they would be utterly thrown away, for I happen to know their real value.”

I was silenced and confounded.

“You remind me at this moment,” said the young lady, resuming her lively and indifferent manner, “of the fairy tale, where the man finds all the money which he had carried to market suddenly changed into pieces of slate. I have cried down and ruined your whole stock of complimentary discourse by one unlucky observation. But, come, never mind it—You are belied, Mr. Osbaldistone, unless you have much better conversation than these fadeurs, which every gentleman with a toupet thinks himself obliged to recite to an unfortunate girl, merely because she is dressed in silk and gauze, while he wears superfine cloth with embroidery. Your natural paces, as any of my five cousins might say, are far preferable to your complimentary amble. Endeavour to forget my unlucky sex; call me Tom Vernon, if you have a mind, but speak to me as you would to a friend and companion; you have no idea how much I shall like you.”

“That would be a bribe indeed,” returned I.

“Again!” replied Miss Vernon, holding up her finger; “I told you I would not bear the shadow of a compliment. And now, when you have pledged my uncle, who threatens you with what he calls a brimmer, I will tell you what you think of me.”

The bumper being pledged by me, as a dutiful nephew, and some other general intercourse of the table having taken place, the continued and business-like clang of knives and forks, and the devotion of cousin Thorncliff on my right hand, and cousin Dickon, who sate on Miss Vernon’s left, to the huge quantities of meat with which they heaped their plates, made them serve as two occasional partitions, separating us from the rest of the company, and leaving us to our tête-à-tête. “And now,” said I, “give me leave to ask you frankly, Miss Vernon, what you suppose I am thinking of you?—I could tell you what I really do think, but you have interdicted praise.”

“I do not want your assistance. I am conjurer enough to tell your thoughts without it. You need not open the casement of your bosom; I see through it. You think me a strange bold girl, half coquette, half romp; desirous of attracting attention by the freedom of her manners and loudness of her conversation, because she is ignorant of what the Spectator calls the softer graces of the sex; and perhaps you think I have some particular plan of storming you into admiration. I should be sorry to shock your self-opinion, but you were never more mistaken. All the confidence I have reposed in you, I would have given as readily to your father, if I thought he could have understood me. I am in this happy family as much secluded from intelligent listeners as Sancho in the Sierra Morena, and when opportunity offers, I must speak or die. I assure you I would not have told you a word of all this curious intelligence, had I cared a pin who knew it or knew it not.”

“It is very cruel in you, Miss Vernon, to take away all particular marks of favour from your communications, but I must receive them on your own terms.—You have not included Mr. Rashleigh Osbaldistone in your domestic sketches.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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