I have already told you, my dear Tresham, what probably was no news to you, that my principal fault was an unconquerable pitch of pride, which exposed me to frequent mortification. I had not even whispered to myself, that I loved Diana Vernon; yet no sooner did I hear Rashleigh talk of her as a prize which he might stoop to carry off, or neglect, at his pleasure, than every step which the poor girl had taken, in the innocence and openness of her heart, to form a sort of friendship with me, seemed in my eyes the most insulting coquetry. Soh! she would secure me as a pis aller, I suppose, in case Mr. Rashleigh Osbaldistone should not take compassion upon her! but I will satisfy her that I am not a person to be trepanned in that mannerI will make her sensible that I see through her arts, and that I scorn them.
I did not reflect for a moment, that all this indignation, which I had no right whatever to entertain, proved that I was anything but indifferent to Miss Vernons charms; and I sate down to table in high ill-humour with her and all the daughters of Eve.
Miss Vernon heard me, with surprise, return ungracious answers to one or two playful strokes of satire which she threw out with her usual freedom of speech; but, having no suspicion that offence was meant, she only replied to my rude repartees with jests somewhat similar, but polished by her good temper, though pointed by her wit. At length she perceived I was really out of humour, and answered one of my rude speeches thus:
They say, Mr. Frank, that one may gather sense from foolsI heard cousin Wilfred refuse to play any longer at cudgels the other day with cousin Thornie, because cousin Thornie got angry, and struck harder than the rules of amicable combat, it seems, permitted. Were I to break your head in good earnest, quoth honest Wilfred, I care not how angry you are, for I should do it so much the more easily;but its hard I should get raps over the costard, and only pay you back in make-believesDo you understand the moral of this, Frank?
I have never felt myself under the necessity, madam, of studying how to extract the slender portion of sense with which this family season their conversation.
Necessity! and madam!You surprise me, Mr. Osbaldistone.
I am unfortunate in doing so.
Am I to suppose that this capricious tone is serious; or is it only assumed, to make your good-humour more valuable?
You have a right to the attention of so many gentlemen in this family, Miss Vernon, that it cannot be worth your while to inquire into the cause of my stupidity and bad spirits.
What! she said, am I to understand, then, that you have deserted my faction, and gone over to the enemy?
Then, looking across the table, and observing that Rashleigh, who was seated opposite, was watching us with a singular expression of interest on his harsh features, she continued,
Well, thank Heaven, and the unprotected state which has taught me endurance, I do not take offence easily; and that I may not be forced to quarrel, whether I like it or no, I have the honour, earlier than usual, to wish you a happy digestion of your dinner and your bad humour.
And she left the table accordingly.
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