Chapter 13

Dire was his thought, who first in poison steep’d
The weapon form’d for slaughter—direr his,
And worthier of damnation, who instill’d
The mortal venom in the social cup,
To fill the veins with death instead of life.


“Upon my word, Mr. Francis Osbaldistone,” said Miss Vernon, with the air of one who thought herself fully entitled to assume the privilege of ironical reproach, which she was pleased to exert, “your character improves upon us, sir—I could not have thought that it was in you. Yesterday might be considered as your assay-piece, to prove yourself entitled to be free of the corporation of Osbaldistone Hall. But it was a masterpiece.”

“I am quite sensible of my ill-breeding, Miss Vernon, and I can only say for myself, that I had received some communications by which my spirits were unusually agitated. I am conscious I was impertinent and absurd.”

“You do yourself great injustice,” said the merciless monitor—“you have contrived, by what I saw and have since heard, to exhibit in the course of one evening a happy display of all the various masterly qualifications which distinguish your several cousins;—the gentle and generous temper of the benevolent Rashleigh,—the temperance of Percie,—the cool courage of Thorncliff,—John’s skill in dog-breaking,—Dickon’s aptitude to betting,—all exhibited by the single individual Mr. Francis, and that with a selection of time, place, and circumstance, worthy the taste and sagacity of the sapient Wilfred.”

“Have a little mercy, Miss Vernon,” said I; for I confess I thought the schooling as severe as the case merited, especially considering from what quarter it came, “and forgive me if I suggest, as an excuse for follies I am not usually guilty of, the custom of this house and country. I am far from approving of it; but we have Shakspeare’s authority for saying, that good wine is a good familiar creature, and that any man living may be overtaken at some time.”

“Ay, Mr. Francis, but he places the panegyric and the apology in the mouth of the greatest villain his pencil has drawn. I will not, however, abuse the advantage your quotation has given me, by overwhelming you with the refutation with which the victim Cassio replies to the tempter Iago. I only wish you to know, that there is one person at least sorry to see a youth of talents and expectations sink into the slough, in which the inhabitants of this house are nightly wallowing.”

“I have but wet my shoe, I assure you, Miss Vernon, and am too sensible of the filth of the puddle to step farther in.”

“If such be your resolution,” she replied, “it is a wise one. But I was so much vexed at what I heard, that your concerns have pressed before my own.—You behaved to me yesterday, during dinner, as if something had been told you which lessened or lowered me in your opinion—I beg leave to ask you what it was?”

I was stupefied—the direct bluntness of the demand was much in the style one gentleman uses to another, when requesting explanation of any part of his conduct in a goodhumoured yet determined manner, and was totally devoid of the circumlocutions, shadings, softenings, and periphrasis, which usually accompany explanations betwixt persons of different sexes in the higher orders of society.

I remained completely embarrassed; for it pressed on my recollection, that Rashleigh’s communications, supposing them to be correct, ought to have rendered Miss Vernon rather an object of my compassion, than of my pettish resentment; and had they furnished the best apology possible for my own conduct, still I must have had the utmost difficulty in detailing what inferred such necessary and natural offence to Miss Vernon’s feelings. She observed my hesitation, and proceeded in a tone somewhat more peremptory, but still temperate and civil.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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