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   Chapter 6 No.6

An Ambitious Man By Ella Wheeler Wilcox Characters: 5830

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

Whatever hope of escape from his self-imposed bondage Preston Cheney had entertained when he began the note to his fiancée which the Baroness had read, completely vanished during the weeks which followed the death of Mrs Lawrence.

Mabel's nervous condition was alarming, and her father seemed to rely wholly upon his future son-in-law for courage and moral support during the trying ordeal. Like most large men of strong physique, Judge Lawrence was as helpless as an infant in the presence of an ailing woman; and his experience as the husband of a wife whose nerves were the only notable thing about her, had given him an absolute terror of feminine invalids.

Mabel had never been very fond of her mother; she had not been a loving or a dutiful daughter. A petulant child and an irritable, fault-finding young woman, who had often been devoid of sympathy for her parents, she now exhibited such an excess of grief over the death of her mother that her reason seemed to be threatened.

It was, in fact, quite as much anger as grief which caused her nervous paroxysms. Mabel Lawrence had never since her infancy known what it was to be thwarted in a wish. Both parents had been slaves to her slightest caprice and she had ruled the household with a look or a word. Death had suddenly deprived her of a mother who was necessary to her comfort and to whose presence she was accustomed, and her heart was full of angry resentment at the fate which had dared to take away a member of her household. It had never entered her thoughts that death could devastate her home.

Other people lost fathers and mothers, of course; but that Mabel Lawrence could be deprived of a parent seemed incredible. Anger is a strong ingredient in the excessive grief of every selfish nature.

Preston Cheney became more and more disheartened with the prospect of his future, as he studied the character and temperament of his fiancée during her first weeks of loss.

But the net which he had woven was closing closer and closer about him, and every day he became more hopelessly entangled in its meshes.

At the end of one month, the family physician decided that travel and change of air and scene was an imperative necessity for Miss Lawrence. Judge Lawrence was engaged in some important legal matters which rendered an extended journey impossible for him. To trust Mabel in the hands of hired nurses alone, was not advisable. It was her father who suggested an early marriage and a European trip for bride and groom, as the wisest expedient under the circumstances.

Like the prisoner in the iron room, who saw the walls slowly but surely closing in to crush out his life, Preston Cheney saw his wedding day approaching, and knew that his doom was sealed.

There were many desperate hours, when, had he possessed the slightest clue to the hiding-place of Berene Dumont, he would have flown to her, even knowing that

he left disgrace and death behind him. He realised that he now owed a duty to the girl he loved, higher and more imperative by far than any he owed to his fiancée. But he had not the means to employ a detective to find Berene; and he was not sure that, if found, she might not spurn him. He had heard and read of cases where a woman's love had turned to bitter loathing and hatred for the man who had not protected her in a moment of weakness. He could think of no other cause which would lead Berene to disappear in such a mysterious manner at such a time, and so the days passed and he married Mabel Lawrence two months after the death of her mother, and the young couple set forth immediately on extended foreign travels. Fifteen months later they returned to Beryngford with their infant daughter Alice. Mrs Cheney was much improved in health, though still a great sufferer from nervous disorders, a misfortune which the child seemed to inherit. She would lie and scream for hours at a time, clenching her small fists and growing purple in the face, and all efforts of parents, nurses or physicians to soothe her, served only to further increase her frenzy. She screamed and beat the air with her thin arms and legs until nature exhausted itself, then she fell into a heavy slumber and awoke in good spirits.

These attacks came on frequently in the night, and as they rendered Mrs Cheney very "nervous," and caused a panic among the nurses, it devolved upon the unhappy father to endeavour to soothe the violent child. And while he walked the floor with her or leaned over her crib, using all his strong mental powers to control these unfortunate paroxysms, no vision came to him of another child lying cuddled in her mother's arms in a distant town, a child of wonderful beauty and angelic nature, born of love, and inheriting love's divine qualities.

A few months before the young couple returned to their native soil, they received a letter which caused Preston the greatest astonishment, and Mabel some hours of hysterical weeping. This letter was written by Judge Lawrence, and announced his marriage to Baroness Brown. Judge Lawrence had been a widower more than a year when the Baroness took the book of his heart, in which he supposed the hand of romance had long ago written "finis," and turning it to his astonished eyes revealed a whole volume of love's love.

It is in the second reading of their hearts that the majority of men find the most interesting literature.

Before the Baroness had been three months his wife, the long years of martyrdom he had endured as the husband of Mabel's mother seemed like a nightmare dream to Judge Lawrence; and all of life, hope and happiness was embodied in the woman who ruled his destiny with a hypnotic sway no one could dispute, yet a woman whose heart still throbbed with a stubborn and lawless passion for the man who called her husband father.

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