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A Terrible Temptation A Story of To-Day   By: (1814-1884)

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By Charles Reade


THE morning room of a large house in Portman Square, London.

A gentleman in the prime of life stood with his elbow on the broad mantel piece, and made himself agreeable to a young lady, seated a little way off, playing at work.

To the ear he was only conversing, but his eyes dwelt on her with loving admiration all the time. Her posture was favorable to this furtive inspection, for she leaned her fair head over her work with a pretty, modest, demure air, that seemed to say, "I suspect I am being admired: I will not look to see: I might have to check it."

The gentleman's features were ordinary, except his brow that had power in it but he had the beauty of color; his sunburned features glowed with health, and his eye was bright. On the whole, rather good looking when he smiled, but ugly when he frowned; for his frown was a scowl, and betrayed a remarkable power of hating.

Miss Arabella Bruce was a beauty. She had glorious masses of dark red hair, and a dazzling white neck to set it off; large, dove like eyes, and a blooming oval face, which would have been classical if her lips had been thin and finely chiseled; but here came in her Anglo Saxon breed, and spared society a Minerva by giving her two full and rosy lips. They made a smallish mouth at rest, but parted ever so wide when they smiled, and ravished the beholder with long, even rows of dazzling white teeth.

Her figure was tall and rather slim, but not at all commanding. There are people whose very bodies express character; and this tall, supple, graceful frame of Bella Bruce breathed womanly subservience; so did her gestures. She would take up or put down her own scissors half timidly, and look around before threading her needle, as if to see whether any soul objected. Her favorite word was "May I?" with a stress on the "May," and she used it where most girls would say "I will," or nothing, and do it.

Mr. Richard Bassett was in love with her, and also conscious that her fifteen thousand pounds would be a fine addition to his present income, which was small, though his distant expectations were great. As he had known her but one month, and she seemed rather amiable than inflammable, he had the prudence to proceed by degrees; and that is why, though his eyes gloated on her, he merely regaled her with the gossip of the day, not worth recording here. But when he had actually taken his hat to go, Bella Bruce put him a question that had been on her mind the whole time, for which reason she had reserved it to the very last moment.

"Is Sir Charles Bassett in town?" said she, mighty carelessly, but bending a little lower over her embroidery.

"Don't know," said Richard Bassett, with such a sudden brevity and asperity that Miss Bruce looked up and opened her lovely eyes. Mr. Richard Bassett replied to this mute inquiry, "We don't speak." Then, after a pause, "He has robbed me of my inheritance."

"Oh, Mr. Bassett!"

"Yes, Miss Bruce, the Bassett and Huntercombe estates were mine by right of birth. My father was the eldest son, and they were entailed on him. But Sir Charles's father persuaded my old, doting grandfather to cut off the entail, and settle the estates on him and his heirs; and so they robbed me of every acre they could. Luckily my little estate of Highmore was settled on my mother and her issue too tight for the villains to undo."

These harsh expressions, applied to his own kin, and the abruptness and heat they were uttered with, surprised and repelled his gentle listener. She shrank a little away from him. He observed it. She replied not to his words, but to her own thought:

"But, after all, it does seem hard." She added, with a little fervor, "But it wasn't poor Sir Charles's doing, after all."

"He is content to reap the benefit," said Richard Bassett, sternly.

Then, finding he was making a sorry impression, he tried to get away from the subject... Continue reading book >>

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