Tải bản đầy đủ

A terrible temptation


TheProjectGutenbergEBookofATerribleTemptation,byCharlesReade#12
inourseriesbyCharlesReade
Copyrightlawsarechangingallovertheworld.Besuretocheckthecopyright
lawsforyourcountrybeforedownloadingorredistributingthisoranyother
ProjectGutenbergeBook.
ThisheadershouldbethefirstthingseenwhenviewingthisProjectGutenberg
file.Pleasedonotremoveit.Donotchangeoredittheheaderwithoutwritten
permission.
Pleasereadthe“legalsmallprint,”andotherinformationabouttheeBookand
ProjectGutenbergatthebottomofthisfile.Includedisimportantinformation
aboutyourspecificrightsandrestrictionsinhowthefilemaybeused.Youcan
alsofindoutabouthowtomakeadonationtoProjectGutenberg,andhowtoget
involved.

**WelcomeToTheWorldofFreePlainVanillaElectronicTexts**
**eBooksReadableByBothHumansandByComputers,Since1971**
*****TheseeBooksWerePreparedByThousandsofVolunteers!*****

Title:ATerribleTemptationAStoryofTo-Day
Author:CharlesReade

ReleaseDate:April,2005[EBook#7895][Yes,wearemorethanoneyear
aheadofschedule][ThisfilewasfirstpostedonMay31,2003]
Edition:10
Language:English
Charactersetencoding:ASCII


***STARTOFTHEPROJECTGUTENBERGEBOOKATERRIBLE
TEMPTATION***



ProducedbyJamesRusk



ATerribleTemptation
AStoryofTo-Day


by


CharlesReade

CHAPTERI.
THEmorning-roomofalargehouseinPortmanSquare,London.
Agentlemanintheprimeoflifestoodwithhiselbowonthebroadmantelpiece,
andmadehimselfagreeabletoayounglady,seatedalittlewayoff,playingat
work.
Totheearhewasonlyconversing,buthiseyesdweltonherwithloving
admirationallthetime.Herposturewasfavorabletothisfurtiveinspection,for
sheleanedherfairheadoverherworkwithapretty,modest,demureair,that
seemedtosay,“IsuspectIambeingadmired:Iwillnotlooktosee:Imighthave
tocheckit.”
Thegentleman’sfeatureswereordinary,excepthisbrow—thathadpowerinit—
buthehadthebeautyofcolor;hissunburnedfeaturesglowedwithhealth,and
hiseyewasbright.Onthewhole,rathergood-lookingwhenhesmiled,butugly
whenhefrowned;forhisfrownwasascowl,andbetrayedaremarkablepower
ofhating.


MissArabellaBrucewasabeauty.Shehadgloriousmassesofdarkredhair,and
adazzlingwhitenecktosetitoff;large,dove-likeeyes,andabloomingoval
face,whichwouldhavebeenclassicalifherlipshadbeenthinandfinely
chiseled;butherecameinherAnglo-Saxonbreed,andsparedsocietyaMinerva
bygivinghertwofullandrosylips.Theymadeasmallishmouthatrest,but
partedeversowidewhentheysmiled,andravishedthebeholderwithlong,even
rowsofdazzlingwhiteteeth.
Herfigurewastallandratherslim,butnotatallcommanding.Therearepeople
whoseverybodiesexpresscharacter;andthistall,supple,gracefulframeof
BellaBrucebreathedwomanlysubservience;sodidhergestures.Shewouldtake
uporputdownherownscissorshalftimidly,andlookaroundbeforethreading
herneedle,asiftoseewhetheranysoulobjected.Herfavoritewordwas“May
I?”withastressonthe“May,”andsheuseditwheremostgirlswouldsay“I
will,”ornothing,anddoit.


Mr.RichardBassettwasinlovewithher,andalsoconsciousthatherfifteen
thousandpoundswouldbeafineadditiontohispresentincome,whichwas
small,thoughhisdistantexpectationsweregreat.Ashehadknownherbutone
month,andsheseemedratheramiablethaninflammable,hehadtheprudenceto
proceedbydegrees;andthatiswhy,thoughhiseyesgloatedonher,hemerely
regaledherwiththegossipoftheday,notworthrecordinghere.Butwhenhe
hadactuallytakenhishattogo,BellaBruceputhimaquestionthathadbeenon
hermindthewholetime,forwhichreasonshehadreservedittotheverylast
moment.
“IsSirCharlesBassettintown?”saidshe,mightycarelessly,butbendingalittle
loweroverherembroidery.
“Don’tknow,”saidRichardBassett,withsuchasuddenbrevityandasperitythat
MissBrucelookedupandopenedherlovelyeyes.Mr.RichardBassettrepliedto
thismuteinquiry,“Wedon’tspeak.”Then,afterapause,“Hehasrobbedmeof
myinheritance.”
“Oh,Mr.Bassett!”
“Yes,MissBruce,theBassettandHuntercombeestateswereminebyrightof
birth.Myfatherwastheeldestson,andtheywereentailedonhim.ButSir
Charles’sfatherpersuadedmyold,dotinggrandfathertocutofftheentail,and
settletheestatesonhimandhisheirs;andsotheyrobbedmeofeveryacrethey
could.LuckilymylittleestateofHighmorewassettledonmymotherandher
issuetootightforthevillainstoundo.”
Theseharshexpressions,appliedtohisownkin,andtheabruptnessandheat
theywereutteredwith,surprisedandrepelledhisgentlelistener.Sheshranka
littleawayfromhim.Heobservedit.Sherepliednottohiswords,buttoher
ownthought:
“But,afterall,itdoesseemhard.”Sheadded,withalittlefervor,“Butitwasn’t
poorSirCharles’sdoing,afterall.”
“Heiscontenttoreapthebenefit,”saidRichardBassett,sternly.
Then,findinghewasmakingasorryimpression,hetriedtogetawayfromthe
subject.Isaytried,fortillamancandoublelikeaharehewillnevergetaway
fromhishobby.“Excuseme,”saidhe;“Ioughtnevertospeakaboutit.Letus


talkofsomethingelse.Youcannotenterintomyfeelings;itmakesmyblood
boil.Oh,MissBruce!youcan’tconceivewhatadisinheritedmanfeels—andI
liveattheverydoor:hisoldtrees,thatoughttobemine,flingtheirshadows
overmylittleflowerbeds;thesixtychimneysofHuntercombeHalllookdown
onmycottage;hisacresoflawnrunuptomylittlegarden,andnothingbutahahabetweenus.”
“Itishard,”saidMissBruce,composedly;notthatsheenteredintoahardshipof
thisvulgarsort,butitwashernaturetosootheandpleasepeople.
“Hard!”criedRichardBassett,encouragedbyeventhisfaintsympathy;“it
wouldbeunendurablebutforonething—Ishallhavemyownsomeday.”
“Iamgladofthat,”saidthelady;“buthow?”
“Byoutlivingthewrongfulheir.”
MissBruceturnedpale.Shehadlittleexperienceofmen’spassions.“Oh,Mr.
Bassett!”saidshe—andtherewassomethingpureandholyinthelookofsorrow
andalarmshecastonthepresumptuousspeaker—“praydonotcherishsuch
thoughts.Theywilldoyouharm.Andrememberlifeanddeatharenotinour
hands.Besides—”
“Well?”’
“SirCharlesmight—”
“Well?”
“Mighthenot—marry—andhavechildren?”Thiswithmorehesitationanda
deeperblushthanappearedabsolutelynecessary.
“Oh,there’snofearofthat.Propertyill-gottenneverdescends.Charlesisa
worn-outrake.HewasfastatEton—fastatOxford—fastinLondon.Why,he
lookstenyearsolderthanI,andheisthreeyearsyounger.Hehadafittwoyears
ago.Besides,heisnotamarryingman.BassettandHuntercombewillbemine.
Andoh!MissBruce,ifevertheyaremine—”
“SirCharlesBassett!”trumpetedaservantatthedoor;andthenwaited,
prudently,toknowwhetherhisyounglady,whomhehadcaughtblushingsored


withonegentleman,wouldbeathometoanother.
“Waitamoment,”saidMissBrucetohim.Then,discreetlyignoringwhat
Bassetthadsaidlast,andloweringhervoicealmosttoawhisper,shesaid,
hurriedly:“Youshouldnotblamehimforthefaultsofothers.There—Ihavenot
beenlongacquaintedwitheither,andamlittleentitledtointer—Butitissucha
pityyouarenotfriends.Heisverygood,Iassureyou,andverynice.Letme
reconcileyoutwo.MayI?”
Thiswell-meantpetitionwasutteredverysweetly;and,indeed—ifImaybe
permitted—inawaytodissolveabear.
Butthiswasnotabear,noranythingelsethatisplacable;itwasamanwitha
hobbygrievance;soherepliedincharacter:
“Thatisimpossiblesolongashekeepsmeoutofmyown.”Hehadthegrace,
however,toadd,halfsullenly,“Excuseme;IfeelIhavebeentoovehement.”
MissBruce,thusrepelled,answered,rathercoldly:
“Oh,nevermindthat;itwasverynatural.—Iamathome,then,”saidshetothe
servant.
Mr.Bassetttookthehint,butturnedatthedoor,andsaid,withnolittleagitation,
“Iwasnotawarehevisitsyou.Oneword—don’tlethisill-gottenacresmake
youquiteforgetthedisinheritedone.”Andsohelefther,withanimploring
look.
Shefeltredwithallthis,sosheslippedoutatanotherdoor,tocoolhercheeks
andimprisonastraycurlforSirCharles.
Hestrolledintotheemptyroom,withtheeasy,languidairoffashion.His
featureswerewellcut,andhadsomenobility;buthissicklycomplexionandthe
linesunderhiseyestoldataleofdissipation.Heappearedtenyearsolderthan
hewas,andthoroughlyblase.
YetwhenMissBruceenteredtheroomwithasmileandalittleblush,he
brightenedupandlookedhandsome,andgreetedherwithmomentarywarmth.
Aftertheusualinquiriessheaskedhimifhehadmetanybody.


“Where?”
“Here;justnow.”
“No.”
“What,nobodyatall?”
“Onlymysulkycousin;Idon’tcallhimanybody,”drawledSirCharles,whowas
nowrelapsingintohisnormalconditionofsemi-apathy.
“Oh,”saidMissBrucegayly,“youmustexpecthimtobealittlecross.Itisnot
soverynicetobedisinherited,letmetellyou.”
“Andwhohasdisinheritedthefellow?”
“Iforget;butyoudisinheritedhimamongyou.Nevermind;itcan’tbehelped
now.Whendidyoucomebacktotown?Ididn’tseeyouatLadyd’Arcy’sball,
didI?”
“Youdidnot,unfortunatelyforme;butyouwouldifIhadknownyouweretobe
there.ButaboutRichard:hemaytellyouwhathelikes,buthewasnot
disinherited;hewasboughtout.Thefactis,hisfatherwasuncommonlyfast.My
grandfatherpaidhisdebtsagainandagain;butatlasttheoldgentlemanfoundhe
wasdealingwiththeJewsforhisreversion.Thentherewasanawfulrow.It
endedinmygrandfatheroutbiddingtheJews.Heboughtthereversionofhis
estatefromhisownsonforalargesumofmoney(hehadtoraiseitby
mortgages);thentheycutofftheentailbetweenthem,andheentailedthe
mortgagedestateonhisotherson,andhisgrandson(thatwasme),andonmy
heir-at-law.Richard’sfathersquanderedhisthirtythousandpoundsbeforehe
died;myfatherhusbandedtheestates,gotintoParliament,andtheyputatailto
hisname.”
SirCharlesdeliveredthisversionofthefactswithalanguidcomposurethat
contrasteddeliciouslywithRichard’sheatintellingthestoryhisway(tobesure,
SirCharleshadgotHuntercombeandBassett,anditiseasiertobephilosophical
ontherightsideoftheboundaryhedge),andwoundupwithasortofcorollary:
“DickBassettsuffersbyhisfather’svices,andIprofitbymine’svirtues.
Where’stheinjustice?”


“Nowhere,andthesooneryouarereconciledthebetter.”
SirCharlesdemurred.“Oh,Idon’twanttoquarrelwiththefellow:butheisa
regularthorninmyside,withhislittletrumperyestate,allinbrokenpatches.He
shootsmypheasantsintheunfairestway.”Herethelandedproprietorshowed
realirritation,butonlyforamoment.Heconcludedcalmly,“Thefactis,heis
notquiteagentleman.Fancyhiscomingandwhiningtoyouaboutourfamily
affairs,andthentellingyouafalsehood!”
“No,no;bedidnotmean.Itwashiswayoflookingatthings.Youcanaffordto
forgivehim.”
“Yes,butnotifhesetsyouagainstme.”
“Buthecannotdothat.Themoreanyonewastospeakagainstyou,themoreI
—ofcourse.”
ThisadmissionfiredSirCharles;hedrewnearer,and,thankstohiscousin’s
interference,spokethelanguageoflovemorewarmlyanddirectlythanhehad
everdonebefore.
Theladyblushed,anddefendedherselffeebly.SirCharlesgrewwarmer,andat
lastelicitedfromheratimidbuttenderavowal,thatmadehimsupremelyhappy.
Whenheleftherthisbriefecstasywassucceededbyregretsonaccountofthe
yearshehadwastedinfolliesandintrigues.
Hesmokedfivecigars,andponderedthedifferencebetweenthepurecreature
whonowhonoredhimwithhervirginaffectionsandbeautiesofadifferent
characterwhohadplayedtheirpartsinhisluxuriouslife.
Afterprofounddeliberationhesentforhissolicitor.Theylightedtheinevitable
cigars,andthefollowingobservationsstruggledfeeblyoutalongwiththe
smoke.
“Mr.Oldfield,I’mgoingtobemarried.”
“Gladtohearit,SirCharles.”(Visionofsettlements.)“Itisahightimeyou
were.”(Puff-puff.)


“Wantyouradviceandassistancefirst.”
“Certainly.”
“Mustputdownmypony-carriagenow,youknow.”
“Averyproperretrenchment;butyoucandothatwithoutmyassistance,
“TherewouldbesuretobearowifIdid.Idaresaytherewillbeasitis.Atany
rate,Iwanttodothethinglikeagentleman.”
“Send‘emtoTattersall’s.”(Puff.)
“Andthegirlthatdrivestheminthepark,anddrawsalltheduchessesand
countessesathertail—amItosendhertoTattersall’s?”(Puff.)
“Oh,itisheryouwanttoputdown,then?”
“Why,ofcourse.”

CHAPTERII.
SIRCHARLESandMr.Oldfieldsettledthatlady’sretiringpension,andMr.
Oldfieldtookthememorandahome,withinstructionstoprepareadraftdeedfor
MissSomerset’sapproval.
MeantimeSirCharlesvisitedMissBruceeveryday.Heraffectionsforhimgrew
visibly,forbeingengagedgaveherthecouragetolove.
Mr.Bassettcalledprettyoften;butonedayhemetSirCharlesonthestairs,and
scowled.
Thatscowlcosthimdear,forSirCharlesthereuponrepresentedtoBellathata
manwithagrievanceisaboretotheveryeye,andaskedhertoreceivenomore
visitsfromhisscowlingcousin.Theladysmiled,andsaid,withsoft
complacency,“Iobey.”
SirCharles’sgallantrywasshocked.


“No,don’tsay‘obey.’ItisalittlefavorIventuredtoask.”
“Itislikeyoutoaskwhatyouhavearighttocommand.Ishallbeouttohimin
future,andtoeveryonewhoisdisagreeabletoyou.What!does‘obey’frighten
youfrommylips?Tomeitisthesweetestinthelanguage.Oh,pleaseletme
‘obey’you!MayI?”
Uponthis,asvanityisseldomoutofcall,SirCharlesswelledlikeaturkey-cock,
andloftilyconsentedtoindulgeBellaBruce’sstrangepropensity.Fromthathour
shewasneverathometoMr.Bassett.
Hebegantosuspect;andoneday,afterhehadbeenkeptoutwiththeloud,stolid
“Notathome”ofpracticedmendacity,hewatched,andsawSirCharles
admitted.
Hedivineditallinamoment,andturnedtowormwood.What!washetobe
robbedoftheladyheloved—andherfifteenthousandpounds—bytheveryman
whohadrobbedhimofhisancestralfields?Hedweltonthedoublegrievance
tillitnearlyfrenziedhim.Buthecoulddonothing:itwashisfate.Hisonlyhope
wasthatSirCharles,thearrantflirt,woulddesertthisbeautyafteratime,ashe
hadtheothers.
Butoneafternoon,inthesmoking-roomofhisclub,agentlemansaidtohim,
“SoyourcousinCharlesisengagedtotheYorkshirebeauty,BellBruce?”
“Heisflirtingwithher,Ibelieve,”saidRichard.
“No,no,”saidtheother;“theyareengaged.Iknowitforafact.Theyaretobe
marriednextmonth.”
Mr.RichardBassettdigestedthisfreshpillinmoodysilence,whilethe
gentlemenoftheclubdiscussedtheengagementwitheasylevity.Theysoon
passedtoatopicofwiderinterest,viz.,whowastosucceedSirCharleswithLa
Somerset.Bassettbegantolistenattentively,andlearnedforthefirsttimeSir
CharlesBassett’sconnectionwiththatlady,andalsothatshewasawomanofa
daringnatureandfurioustemper.Atfirsthewasmerelysurprised;butsoon
hatredandjealousywhisperedinhisearthatwiththesematerialsitmustbe
possibletowoundthosewhohadwoundedhim.
Mr.Marsh,ayounggentlemanwitharecedingchin,andamustachebetween


hayandstraw,hadtakengreatcaretoletthemallknowhewasacquaintedwith
MissSomerset.SoRichardgotMarshalone,andsoundedhim.Couldhecall
upontheladywithoutceremony?
“Youwon’tgetin.Herstreetdoorisjollywellguarded,Icantellyou.”
“Iamverycurioustoseeherinherownhouse.”
“Soareagoodmanyfellows.”
“Couldyounotgivemeanintroduction?”
Marshshookhisheadsapientlyforaconsiderabletime,andwithallthis
shaking,asitappeared,outfellwordsofwisdom.“Don’tseeit.I’mawfully
spooneyonhermyself;and,youknow,whenafellowintroducesanotherfellow,
thatfellowalwayscutstheotherout.”Then,descendingfromthewordsofthe
wiseandtheirdarksayingstoapettybutpertinentfact,headded,“Besides,I’m
onlyletinmyselfaboutonceinfivetimes.”
“Shegivesherselfwonderfulairs,itseems,”saidBassett,ratherbitterly.
Marshfiredup.“Sowouldanywomanthatwasasbeautiful,andaswittyandas
muchrunafterassheis.Whysheisaleaderoffashion.Lookatalltheladies
followingherroundthepark.Theyusedtodriveonthenorthsideofthe
Serpentine.Shejustheldupherfinger,andnowtheyhavecuttheSerpentine,
andfollowedhertothesouthdrive.”
“Oh,indeed!”saidBassett.“Ahthenthisisagreatlady;apoorcountrysquire
mustnotventureintoheraugustpresence.”Heturnedsavagelyonhisheel,and
Marshwentandmadesicklymirthathisexpense.
BythismeansthemattersooncametotheearsofoldMr.Woodgate,thefather
ofthatclub,andagenialgossip.HegotholdofBassettinthedinner-roomand
examinedhim.“SoyouwantanintroductiontoLaSomerset,andMarshrefuses
—Marsh,hithertocelebratedforhisweakheadratherthanhishardheart?”
RichardBassettnoddedrathersullenly.Hehadnotbargainedforthisrapid
publicity.
Thevenerablechiefresumed:“WeallconsiderMarsh’sconductunclubableand


athingtobecombinedagainst.Wanted—anAnti-dog-in-the-mangerLeague.I’ll
introduceyoutotheSomerset.”
“What!doyouvisither?”askedBassett,insomeastonishment.
Theoldgentlemanhelduphishandsindrolldisclaimer,andchuckledmerrily
“No,no;Ienjoyfromtheshorethedisastersofmyyouthfulfriends—thatsacred
pleasureisleftme.Doyouseethatelegantcreaturewiththelittleauburnbeard
andmustache,waitingsweetlyforhisdinner.HelaunchedtheSomerset.”
“Launchedher?”
“Yes;butforhimshemighthavewastedhertimebreakingheartsandslapping
facesinsomecountryvillage.Heitwassetherdevastatingsociety;andwithhis
aidsheshalldevastateyou.—Vandeleur,willyoujoinBassettandme?”
Mr.Vandeleur,withreadygrace,saidheshouldbedelighted,andtheydined
togetheraccordingly.
Mr.Vandeleur,sixfeethigh,lank,butgracefulasapanther,andthepinkof
politeness,was,beneathhisvarnish,oneofthewildestyoungmeninLondon—
gambler,horse-racer,libertine,whatnot?—butinsocietycharming,andhis
mannerssingularlyelegantandwinning.Heneverobtrudedhisvicesingood
company;infact,youmightdinewithhimallyourlifeandnotdetecthim.The
youngserpentwastorpidinwine;buthecameout,abitatatime,inthe
sunshineofCigar.
Afterabriskconversationoncurrenttopics,thevenerablechieftoldhimplainly
theywerebothcurioustoknowthehistoryofMissSomerset,andhemusttellit
them.
“Oh,withpleasure,”saidtheobligingyouth.“Letusgointothesmoking-room.”

“Let—me—see.Ipickedherupbythesea-side.Shepromisedwellatfirst.We
putheronmychestnutmare,andsheshowedlotsofcourage,soshesoon
learnedtoride;butshekicked,evendownthere.”
“Kicked!—whom?”


“Kickedallround;Imeanshowedtemper.AndwhenshegottoLondon,andhad
riddenafewtimesinthepark,andswallowedflattery,therewasnoholdingher.
Istoodhercheekforagoodwhile,butatlastItoldtheservantstheymustnot
turnherout,buttheycouldkeepherout.Theysidedwithmeforonce.Shehad
riddenoverthem,aswell.Thefirsttimeshewentouttheyboltedthedoors,and
handedherboxesuptheareasteps.”
“Howdidshetakethat?”
“Easierthanweexpected.Shesaid,‘LuckyforyoubeggarsthatI’malady,or
I’dbreakeveryd—dwindowinthehouse.’”
Thiscausedalaugh.Itsubsided.Thehistorianresumed.
“Nextdayshecooled,andwrotealetter.”
“Toyou?”
“No,tomygroom.Wouldyouliketoseeit?Itisacuriosity.”
Hesentoneoftheclubwaitersforhisservant,andhisservantforhisdesk,and
producedtheletter.
“There!”saidVandeleur.“Shelookslikeaqueen,andstepslikeanempress,and
thisishowshewrites:

“‘DEARJORGE—ihavegotthesak,an’prapsyourturnnex.dearjorgehe
alwaiespromisemethegreyoss,whichnowanossislifeandeathtome.Ifyou
wastoasthimtolendmethegreyhewouldn’trefuseyou,
“‘Yoursrespecfully,
“‘RHODASOMERSET.’”

Whentheletterandthehandwriting,which,unfortunately,Icannotreproduce,
hadbeendulystudiedandapproved,Vandeleurcontinued—


“Now,youknow,shehadhergoodpoints,afterall.Ifanycreaturewasill,she’d
situpallnightandnursethem,andsheusedtogotochurchonSundays,and
comebackwiththestingoutofher;onlythenshewouldpreachtoafellow,and
borehim.Sheisawfullyfondofpreaching.Herdreamistojumponafirst-rate
hunter,andrideacrosscountry,andpreachtothevillages.So,whenGeorge
camegrinningtomewiththeletter,Itoldhimtobuyanewsidesaddleforthe
gray,andtakeherthelot,withmycompliments.Ihadnoticedaslightspavinin
hisnearforeleg.Sherodehimthatverydayinthepark,allalone,andmadesuch
asensationthatnextdaymygraywasstandinginLordHailey’sstables.Butshe
rodeHailey,likemygray,withalongspur,andhecouldn’tstandit.Noneof‘em
couldexceptSirCharlesBassett,andhedoesn’tplayfair—nevergoesnearher.”
“Andthatgiveshimanunfairadvantageoverhisfascinatingpredecessors?”
inquiredthesenior,slyly.
“Ofcourseitdoes,”saidVandeleur,stoutly.“YouaskagirltodineatRichmond
onceamonth,andkeepoutofherwayalltherestofthetime,andgiveherlots
ofmoney—shewillneverquarrelwithyou.”
“Profitbythisinformation,youngman,”saidoldWoodgate,severely;“itcomes
toolateforme.Inmydaythereexistednosuremethodofpleasingthefair.But
nowthatisinvented,alongwitheverythingelse.Richmondand—absence,
equivalentto‘Richmondandvictory!’Now,Bassett,wehaveheardthetruth
fromthefountain-head,anditisratherserious.Sheswears,shekicks,she
preaches.Doyoustilldesireanintroduction?Asforme,mymanlyspiritis
beginningtoquakeatVandeleur’srevelations,andsomelinesofScottrecurto
myGothicmemory—
“‘Fromthechafedtigerrendhisprey,Barthefelldragon’sblightingway,But
shunthatlovelysnare.”’
Bassettreplied,gravely,thathehadnosuchmotiveasMr.Woodgategavehim
creditfor,butstilldesiredtheintroduction.
“Withpleasure,”saidVandeleur;“butitwillbenousetoyou.Shehatesmelike
poison;saysIhavenoheart.Thatiswhatallill-temperedwomensay.”
Notwithstandinghismisgivingstheobligingyouthcalledforwritingmaterials,
andproducedthefollowingepistle—



“DEARMISSSOMERSET—Mr.RichardBassett,acousinofSirCharles,
wishesverymuchtobeintroducedtoyou,andhasbeggedmetoassistinan
objectsolaudable.Ishouldhardlyventuretopresentmyself,and,therefore,
shallfeelsurprisedaswellasflatteredifyouwillreceiveMr.Bassettonmy
introduction,andmyassurancethatheisarespectablecountrygentleman,and
bearsnoresemblanceincharacterto
“Yoursfaithfully,
“ARTHURVANDELEUR.”

NextdayBassettcalledatMissSomerset’shouseinMayFair,anddeliveredhis
introduction.
Hewasadmittedafterashortdelayandenteredthelady’sboudoir.Itwas
Luxury’snest.Thewallswererosecoloredsatin,paddedandpuckered;the
voluminouscurtainswerepalesatin,withfloodsandbillowsofreallace;the
chairsembroidered,thetablesallbuhlandormolu,andthesofasfeltlikelittle
seas.Theladyherself,inadelightfulpeignoir,satnestledcozilyinasortof
ottomanwitharms.Herfinelyformedhand,cloggedwithbrilliants,wasjust
conveyingbrandyandsoda-watertoaveryhandsomemouthwhenRichard
Bassettentered.
Sheraisedherselfsuperbly,butwithoutleavingherseat,andjustlookedata
chairinawaythatseemedtosay,“Ipermityoutositdown;”andthatdone,she
carriedtheglasstoherlipswiththesameadmirablefirmnessofhandshe
showedindriving.Herloftymanner,coupledwithherbeautifulbutrather
haughtyfeatures,smackedofimperialorigin.Yetshewasthewriterto“jorge,”
andfouryearsagoashrimp-girl,runningintotheseawithlegsasbrownasa
berry.
Soswiftlydoesmeritriseinthisworldwhich,nevertheless,somemorosefolk
pretendisawickedone.
Ioughttoexplain,however,thatthishaughtyreceptionwaspartlycausedbya
breachofpropriety.Vandeleuroughtfirsttohavewrittentoherandasked


permissiontopresentRichardBassett.Hehadnobusinesstosendthemanand
theintroductiontogether.ThislawaParliamentofSirenshadpassed,andthe
slightestbreachofitwasabitteroffenseEquilibriumgovernstheworld.These
ladieswereboundtobeoverstrictinsomethingorother,beingjustalittlelaxin
certainthingswhereotherladiesarestrict.
NowBassetthadponderedwellwhatheshouldsay,buthewasdisconcertedby
hersuperbpresenceanddemeanorandherlargegrayeyes,thatrestedsteadily
uponhisface.
However,hebegantomurmurmellifluously.Saidhehadoftenseenherin
public,andadmiredher,anddesiredtomakeheracquaintance,etc.,etc.
“ThenwhydidyounotaskSirCharlestobringyouhere?”saidMissSomerset,
abruptly,andsearchinghimwithhereyes,thatwerenottosaybold,but
singularlybrave,andexaminerspointblank.
“IamnotongoodtermswithSirCharles.Heholdstheestatesthatoughttobe
mine;andnowhehasrobbedmeofmylove.HeisthelastmanintheworldI
wouldaskafavorof.”
“Youcameheretoabusehimbehindhisback,eh?”askedtheladywith
undisguisedcontempt.
Bassettwinced,butkepthistemper.“No,MissSomerset;butyouseemtothink
IoughttohavecometoyouthroughSirCharles.Iwouldnotenteryourhouseif
IdidnotfeelsureIshallnotmeethimhere.”
MissSomersetlookedratherpuzzled.“SirCharlesdoesnotcomehereevery
day,buthecomesnowandthen,andheisalwayswelcome.”
“Yousurpriseme.”
“Thankyou.Nowsomeofmygentlemenfriendsthinkitisawonderhedoesnot
comeeveryminute.”
“Youmistakeme.Whatsurprisesmeisthatyouaresuchgoodfriendsunderthe
circumstances.”
“Circumstances!whatcircumstances?”


“Oh,youknow.Youareinhisconfidence,Ipresume?”—thisrathersatirically.
Sotheladyanswered,defiantly:
“Yes,Iam;heknowsIcanholdmytongue,sohetellsmethingshetellsnobody
else.”
“Then,ifyouareinhisconfidence,youknowheisabouttobemarried.”
“Married!SirCharlesmarried!”
“Inthreeweeks.”
“It’salie!Yougetoutofmyhousethismoment!”
Mr.Bassettcoloredatthisinsult.Herosefromhisseatwithsomelittledignity,
madeheralowbow,andretired.Butherbloodwasup:shemadeawonderful
rush,sweepingdownachairwithherdressasshewent,andcaughthimatthe
door,clutchedhimbytheshoulderandhalfdraggedhimback,andmadehimsit
downagain,whileshestoodoppositehim,withtheknucklesofonehandresting
onthetable.
“Now,”saidshe,panting,“youlookmeinthefaceandsaythatagain.”
“Excuseme;youpunishmetooseverelyfortellingthetruth.”
“Well,Ibegyourpardon—there.Nowtellme—thisinstant.Can’tyouspeak,
man?”Andherknucklesdrummedthetable.
“Heistobemarriedinthreeweeks.”
“Oh!Whoto?”
“AyoungladyIlove.”
“Hername?”
“MissArabellaBruce.”
“Wheredoesshelive?”
“PortmanSquare.”


“I’llstopthatmarriage.”
“How?”askedRichard,eagerly.
“Idon’tknow;thatI’llthinkover.Butheshallnotmarryher—never!”
Bassettsatandlookedupwithalmostasmuchaweascomplacencyatthefury
hehadevoked;forthiswomanwasreallyattimesapoeticimpersonationofthat
fierypassionshewassoapttoindulge.Shestoodbeforehim,hercheekpale,her
eyesglitteringandrovingsavagely,andhernostrilsliterallyexpanding,while
hertallbodyquiveredwithwrath,andherclinchedknucklespatteredonthe
table.
“Heshallnotmarryher.I’llkillhimfirst!”

CHAPTERIII.
RICHARDBASSETTeagerlyofferedhisservicestobreakofftheobnoxious
match.ButMissSomersetwasbeginningtobemortifiedathavingshownso
muchpassionbeforeastranger.
“Whathaveyoutodowithit?”saidshe,sharply.
“Everything.IloveMissBruce.”
“Oh,yes;Iforgotthat.Anythingelse?Thereis,now.Iseeitinyoureye.Whatis
it?”
“SirCharles’sestatesareminebyright,andtheywillreturntomylineifhedoes
notmarryandhaveissue.”
“Oh,Isee.Thatissolikeaman.It’salwayslove,andsomethingmore
important,withyou.Well,givemeyouraddress.I’llwriteifIwantyou.”
“Highlyflattered,”saidBassett,ironically-wrotehisaddressandlefther.
MissSomersetthensatdownandwrote:



“DEARSIRCHARLES—pleasecallhere,Iwanttospeaktoyou.
yoursrespecfuly,
“RHODASOMERSET.”

SirCharlesobeyedthismissive,andtheladyreceivedhimwithagraciousand
smilingmanner,allputonandcatlike.Shetalkedwithhimofindifferentthings
formorethananhour,stillwatchingtoseeifhewouldtellherofhisown
accord.
Whenshewasquitesurehewouldnot,shesaid,
“Doyouknowthere’saridiculousreportaboutthatyouaregoingtobe
married?”
“Indeed!”
“Theyeventellhername—MissBruce.Doyouknowthegirl?”
“Yes.”
“Isshepretty?”
“Very.”
“Modest?”
“Asanangel.”
“Andareyougoingtomarryher?”
“Yes.”
“Thenyouareavillain.”
“ThedeuceIam!”
“Youare,toabandonawomanwhohassacrificedallforyou.”


SirCharleslookedpuzzled,andthensmiled;butwastoopolitetogivehis
thoughtsvent.Norwasitnecessary;MissSomerset,whosebraveeyesneverleft
thepersonshewasspeakingto,firedupatthesmilealone,andsheburstintoa
torrentofremonstrance,nottosayvituperation.SirCharlesendeavoredonceor
twicetostopit,butitwasnottobestopped;soatlasthequietlytookuphishat,
togo.
Hewasarrestedatthedoorbyarustleandafall.Heturnedround,andtherewas
MissSomersetlyingonherback,grindingherwhiteteethandclutchingtheair.
Herantothebellandrangitviolently,thenkneltdownanddidhisbesttokeep
herfromhurtingherself;but,asgenerallyhappensinthesecases,his
interferencemadehermoreviolent.Hehadhardworktokeepherfrombattering
herheadagainstthefloor,andherarmsworkedlikewindmills.
Hearingthebelltuggedsoviolently,aprettypageranheadlongintotheroom—
saw—and;withoutaninstant’sdiminutionofspeed,describedacurve,andran
headlongout,screaming“Polly!Polly!”
Thenextmomentthehousekeeper,anelderlywoman,trottedinatthedoor,saw
hermistress’scondition,andstoodstock-still,calling,“Polly,”butwiththemost
perfecttranquillitythemindcanconceive.
Inranastrappinghousemaid,withblackeyesandbrownarms,wentdownon
herknees,andsaid,firmlythoughrespectfully,“Giveherme,sir.”
Shegotbehindherstrugglingmistress,pulledherupintoherownlap,and
pinnedherbythewristswithavigorousgrasp.
Theladystruggled,andgroundherteethaudibly,andflungherarmsabroad.The
maidappliedallherrusticstrengthandhardermuscletoholdherwithinbounds.
Thefourarmswenttoandfroinamagnificentstruggle,andneithercouldthe
maidholdthemistressstill,northemistressshakeoffthemaid’sgrasp,nor
strikeanythingtohurtherself.
SirCharles,thrustoutoftheplaylookedonwithpityandanxiety,andthelittle
pageatthedoor—combiningartandnature—stuckstock-stillinamilitary
attitude,andblubberedaloud.
Asforthehousekeeper,sheremainedinthemiddleoftheroomwithfolded


arms,andlookeddownonthestrugglewithasingularexpressionof
countenance.Therewasnoagitationwhatever,butasortofthoughtful
examination,halfcynical,halfadmiring.
However,assoonastheboy’ssobsreachedherearshewakenedup,andsaid,
tenderly,“Whatisthechildcryingfor?Runandgetabasinofwater,andflingit
alloverher;thatwillbringhertoinaminute.”
Thepagedepartedswiftlyonthisbenevolenterrand.
Thentheladygaveadeepsigh,andceasedtostruggle.
Nextshestaredinalltheirfaces,andseemedtoreturntoconsciousness.
Nextshespoke,butveryfeebly.“Helpmeup,”shesighed.
SirCharlesandPollyraisedher,andnowtherewasamarvelouschange.The
vigorousvixenwasutterlyweak,andlimpasawettowel—awomanofjelly.As
suchtheyhandledher,anddepositedhergingerlyonthesofa.
Nowthepageraninhastilywiththewater.Upjumpsthepoorlaxsufferer,with
flashingeyes:“Youdarecomenearmewithit!”Thentothefemaleservants:
“Callyourselveswomen,andwatermylilacsilk,nottwohoursold?”Thento
thehousekeeper:“Youoldmonster,youwanteditforyourPolly.Getoutofmy
sight,thelot!”
Then,suddenlyrememberinghowfeebleshewas,shesankinstantlydown,and
turnedpiteouslyandlanguidlytoSirCharles.“Theyeatmybread,androbme,
andhateme,”saidshe,faintly.“Ihavebutonefriendonearth.”Sheleaned
tenderlytowardSirCharlesasthatfriend;butbeforeshequitereachedhimshe
startedback,hereyesfilledwithsuddenhorror.“Andheforsakesme!”she
cried;andsoturnedawayfromhimdespairingly,andbegantocrybitterly,with
headavertedoverthesofa,andonehandhangingbyhersideforSirCharlesto
takeandcomforther.Hetriedtotakeit.Itresisted;and,undercoverofthatlittle
disturbance,theotherhanddexterouslywhippedtwopinsoutofherhair.The
longbrowntresses—allherown—felloverhereyesanddowntoherwaist,and
thepictureofdistressedbeautywascomplete.
Evensodidthewomenofantiquityconquermalepity—_”solutiscrinibus.“_


Tài liệu bạn tìm kiếm đã sẵn sàng tải về

Tải bản đầy đủ ngay

×