Behind a Mask. Or, A Woman’s Power - Louisa May Alcott - ebook
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Originally published in 1866 under the pseudonym „A. M. Barnard.” Louisa May Alcott’s novel of romance and sexual intrigue is one of her lesser-known gems. „Behind a Mask, or A Woman Power” is a controversial novella; its tone and characterizations strike a markedly different chord from her best-known works, such as „Little Women” and „Little Men”. The plot of the novella is focused upon Jean Muir, who works as a governess for one of the rich families of Coventry to their sixteen-year-old daughter. She employs intrigues and manipulation to gain success in the society, starting from the family she works for. But is the beguiling Miss Muir all that she seems to be? Alcott beautifully delivers a sick and twisted tale of a woman and her arts. She put a completely new spin on Victorian literature, which could only be accomplished in American.

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Liczba stron: 204

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Contents

Chapter I. JEAN MUIR

Chapter II. A GOOD BEGINNING

Chapter III. PASSION AND PIQUE

Chapter IV. A DISCOVERY

Chapter V. HOW THE GIRL DID IT

Chapter VI. ON THE WATCH

Chapter VII. THE LAST CHANCE

Chapter VIII. SUSPENSE

Chapter IX. LADY COVENTRY

Chapter I. JEAN MUIR

“Has she come?”

“No, Mamma, not yet.”

“I wish it were well over. The thought of it worries and excites me. A cushion for my back, Bella.”

And poor, peevish Mrs. Coventry sank into an easy chair with a nervous sigh and the air of a martyr, while her pretty daughter hovered about her with affectionate solicitude.

“Who are they talking of, Lucia?” asked the languid young man lounging on a couch near his cousin, who bent over her tapestry work with a happy smile on her usually haughty face.

“The new governess, Miss Muir. Shall I tell you about her?”

“No, thank you. I have an inveterate aversion to the whole tribe. I’ve often thanked heaven that I had but one sister, and she a spoiled child, so that I have escaped the infliction of a governess so long.”

“How will you bear it now?” asked Lucia.

“Leave the house while she is in it.”

“No, you won’t. You’re too lazy, Gerald,” called out a younger and more energetic man, from the recess where he stood teasing his dogs.

“I’ll give her a three days’ trial; if she proves endurable I shall not disturb myself; if, as I am sure, she is a bore, I’m off anywhere, anywhere out of her way.”

“I beg you won’t talk in that depressing manner, boys. I dread the coming of a stranger more than you possibly can, but Bella must not be neglected; so I have nerved myself to endure this woman, and Lucia is good enough to say she will attend to her after tonight.”

“Don’t be troubled, Mamma. She is a nice person, I dare say, and when once we are used to her, I’ve no doubt we shall be glad to have her, it’s so dull here just now. Lady Sydney said she was a quiet, accomplished, amiable girl, who needed a home, and would be a help to poor stupid me, so try to like her for my sake.”

“I will, dear, but isn’t it getting late? I do hope nothing has happened. Did you tell them to send a carriage to the station for her, Gerald?”

“I forgot it. But it’s not far, it won’t hurt her to walk” was the languid reply.

“It was indolence, not forgetfulness, I know. I’m very sorry; she will think it so rude to leave her to find her way so late. Do go and see to it, Ned.”

“Too late, Bella, the train was in some time ago. Give your orders to me next time. Mother and I’ll see that they are obeyed,” said Edward.

“Ned is just at an age to make a fool of himself for any girl who comes in his way. Have a care of the governess, Lucia, or she will bewitch him.”

Gerald spoke in a satirical whisper, but his brother heard him and answered with a good-humored laugh.

“I wish there was any hope of your making a fool of yourself in that way, old fellow. Set me a good example, and I promise to follow it. As for the governess, she is a woman, and should be treated with common civility. I should say a little extra kindness wouldn’t be amiss, either, because she is poor, and a stranger.”

“That is my dear, good-hearted Ned! We’ll stand by poor little Muir, won’t we?” And running to her brother, Bella stood on tiptoe to offer him a kiss which he could not refuse, for the rosy lips were pursed up invitingly, and the bright eyes full of sisterly affection.

“I do hope she has come, for, when I make an effort to see anyone, I hate to make it in vain. Punctuality is such a virtue, and I know this woman hasn’t got it, for she promised to be here at seven, and now it is long after,” began Mrs. Coventry, in an injured tone.

Before she could get breath for another complaint, the clock struck seven and the doorbell rang.

“There she is!” cried Bella, and turned toward the door as if to go and meet the newcomer.

But Lucia arrested her, saying authoritatively, “Stay here, child. It is her place to come to you, not yours to go to her.”

“Miss Muir,” announced a servant, and a little black-robed figure stood in the doorway. For an instant no one stirred, and the governess had time to see and be seen before a word was uttered. All looked at her, and she cast on the household group a keen glance that impressed them curiously; then her eyes fell, and bowing slightly she walked in. Edward came forward and received her with the frank cordiality which nothing could daunt or chill.

“Mother, this is the lady whom you expected. Miss Muir, allow me to apologize for our apparent neglect in not sending for you. There was a mistake about the carriage, or, rather, the lazy fellow to whom the order was given forgot it. Bella, come here.”

“Thank you, no apology is needed. I did not expect to be sent for.” And the governess meekly sat down without lifting her eyes.

“I am glad to see you. Let me take your things,” said Bella, rather shyly, for Gerald, still lounging, watched the fireside group with languid interest, and Lucia never stirred. Mrs. Coventry took a second survey and began:

“You were punctual, Miss Muir, which pleases me. I’m a sad invalid, as Lady Sydney told you, I hope; so that Miss Coventry’s lessons will be directed by my niece, and you will go to her for directions, as she knows what I wish. You will excuse me if I ask you a few questions, for Lady Sydney’s note was very brief, and I left everything to her judgment.”

“Ask anything you like, madam,” answered the soft, sad voice.

“You are Scotch, I believe.”

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