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An Ambitious Man By Ella Wheeler Wilcox Characters: 8662

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Preston Cheney turned as he ran down the steps of a handsome house on "The Boulevard," waving a second adieu to a young woman framed between the lace curtains of the window. Then he hurried down the street and out of view. The young woman watched him with a gleam of satisfaction in her pale blue eyes. A fine-looking young fellow, whose Roman nose and strong jaw belied the softly curved mouth with its sensitive darts at the corners; it was strange that something warmer than satisfaction did not shine upon the face of the woman whom he had just asked to be his wife.

But Mabel Lawrence was one of those women who are never swayed by any passion stronger than worldly ambition, never burned by any fires other than those of jealousy or anger. Her meagre nature was truly depicted in her meagre face. Nature is ofttimes a great lair and a cruel jester, giving to the cold and vapid woman the face and form of a sensuous siren, and concealing a heart of volcanic fires, or the soul of a Phryne, under the exterior of a spinster. But the old dame had been wholly frank in forming Miss Lawrence. The thin, flat chest and narrow shoulders, the angular elbows and prominent shoulder-blades, the sallow skin and sharp features, the deeply set, pale blue eyes, and the lustreless, ashen hair, were all truthful exponents of the unfurnished rooms in her vacant heart and soul places.

Miss Lawrence turned from the window, and trailed her long silken train across the rich carpet, seating herself before the open fireplace. It was an appropriate time and situation for a maiden's tender dreams; only a few hours had passed since the handsomest and most brilliant young man in that thriving eastern town had asked her to be his wife, and placed the kiss of betrothal upon her virgin lips. Yet it was with a sense of triumph and relief, rather than with tenderness and rapture, that the young woman meditated upon the situation-triumph over other women who had shown a decided interest in Mr Cheney, since his arrival in the place more than eighteen months ago, and relief that the dreaded r?le of spinster was not to be her part in life's drama.

Miss Lawrence was twenty-six-one year older than her fiancé; and she had never received a proposal of marriage or listened to a word of love in her life before. Let me transpose that phrase-she had never before received a proposal of marriage, and had never in her life listened to a word of love; for Preston had not spoken of love. She knew that he did not love her. She knew that he had sought her hand wholly from ambitious motives. She was the daughter of the Hon. Sylvester Lawrence, lawyer, judge, state senator, and proposed candidate for lieutenant-governor in the coming campaign. She was the only heir to his large fortune.

Preston Cheney was a penniless young man from the West. A self-made youth, with an unusual brain and an overwhelming ambition, he had risen from chore boy on a western farm to printer's apprentice in a small town, thence to reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent, and after two or three years of travel gained in this manner he had come to Beryngford and bought out a struggling morning paper, which was making a mad effort to keep alive, changed its political tendencies, infused it with western activity and filled it with cosmopolitan news, and now, after eighteen months, the young man found himself coming abreast of his two long established rivals in the editorial field. This success was but an incentive to his overwhelming ambition for place, power and riches. He had seen just enough of life and of the world to estimate these things at double their value; and he was, beside, looking at life through the magnifying glass of youth. The Creator intended us to gaze on worldly possessions and selfish ambitions through the small end of the lorgnette, but youth invariably inverts the glass.

To the young editor, the brief years behind him seemed like a long hard pull up a steep and rocky cliff. From the point to which he had attained, the summit of his desires looked very far away, much farther than the level from which he had arisen. To rise to that summit single-handed and alone would require unremitting effort through the very best years of his manhood. His brain, his strength, his ability, his ambitions, what were the

y all in the strife after place and power, compared to the money of some commonplace adversary? Preston Cheney, the native-born American directly descended from a Revolutionary soldier, would be handicapped in the race with some Michael Murphy whose father had made a fortune in the saloon business, or who had himself acquired a competency as a police officer.

America was not the same country which gave men like Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley a chance to rise from the lower ranks to the highest places before they reached middle life. It was no longer a land where merit strove with merit, and the prize fell to the most earnest and the most gifted. The tremendous influx of foreign population since the war of the Rebellion and the right of franchise given unreservedly to the illiterate and the vicious rendered the ambitious American youth now a toy in the hands of aliens, and position a thing to be bought at the price set by un-American masses.

Thoughts like these had more and more with each year filled the mind of Preston Cheney, until, like the falling of stones and earth into a river bed, they changed the naturally direct current of his impulses into another channel. Why not further his life purpose by an ambitious marriage? The first time the thought entered his mind he had cast it out as something unclean and unworthy of his manhood. Marriage was a holy estate, he said to himself, a sacrament to be entered into with reverence, and sanctified by love. He must love the woman who was to be the companion of his life, the mother of his children.

Then he looked about among his early friends who had married, as nearly all the young men of the middle classes in America do marry, for love, or what they believed to be love. There was Tom Somers-a splendid lad, full of life, hope and ambition when he married Carrie Towne, the prettiest girl in Vandalia. Well, what was he now, after seven years? A broken-spirited man, with a sickly, complaining wife and a brood of ill-clad children. Harry Walters, the most infatuated lover he had ever seen, was divorced after five years of discordant marriage.

Charlie St Clair was flagrantly unfaithful to the girl he had pursued three years with his ardent wooings before she yielded to his suit. Certainly none of these love marriages were examples for him to follow. And in the midst of these reveries and reflections, Preston Cheney came to Beryngford, and met Sylvester Lawrence and his daughter Mabel. He met also Berene Dumont. Had he not met the latter woman he would not have succumbed-so soon at least-to the temptation held out by the former to advance his ambitious aims.

He would have hesitated, considered, and reconsidered, and without doubt his better nature and his good taste would have prevailed. But when fate threw Berene Dumont in his way, and circumstances brought about his close associations with her for many months, there seemed but one way of escape from the Scylla of his desires, and that was to the Charybdis of a marriage with Miss Lawrence.

Miss Lawrence was not aware of the part Berene Dumont had played in her engagement, but she knew perfectly the part her father's influence and wealth had played; but she was quite content with affairs as they were, and it mattered little to her what had brought them about. To be married, rather than to be loved, had been her ambition since she left school; being incapable of loving, she was incapable of appreciating the passion in any of its phases. It had always seemed to her that a great deal of nonsense was written and talked about love. She thought demonstrative people very vulgar, and believed kissing a means of conveying germs of disease.

But to be a married woman, with an establishment of her own, and a husband to exhibit to her friends, was necessary to the maintenance of her pride.

When Miss Lawrence's mother, a nervous invalid, was informed of her daughter's engagement, she burst into tears, as over a lamb offered on the altar of sacrifice; and Judge Lawrence pressed a kiss on the lobe of Mabel's left ear which she offered him, and told her she had won a prize in the market. But as he sat alone over his cigar that night, he sighed heavily, and said to himself, "Poor fellow, I wish Mabel were not so much like her mother."

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