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   Chapter 21 No.21

An Ambitious Man By Ella Wheeler Wilcox Characters: 7678

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Joy Irving had unpacked her trunks and set her small apartment to rights, when the postman's ring sounded, and a moment later a letter was slipped under her door.

She picked it up, and recognised Arthur Stuart's penmanship. She sat down, holding the unopened letter in her hands.

"It is Arthur's message, appointing a time and place for our meeting," she said to herself. "How long ago that strange interview with him seems!-yet it was only yesterday. How utterly the whole of life has changed for me since then! The universe seems larger, God nearer, and life grander. I am as one who slept and dreamed of darkness and sorrow, and awakes to light and joy."

But when she opened the envelope and read the few hastily written lines within, an exclamation of surprise escaped her lips. It was a brief note from Arthur Stuart and began abruptly without an address (a manner more suggestive of strong passion than any endearing words).

"The first item which my eye fell upon in the telegraphic column of the morning paper, was the death of my wife in the Retreat for the Insane. I leave by the first express to bring her body here for burial.

"A merciful providence has saved us the necessity of defying the laws of God or man, and opened the way for me to claim you before all the world as my worshipped wife so soon as propriety will permit.

"I shall see you at any hour you may indicate after to-morrow, for a brief interview.

"Arthur Emerson Stuart."

Joy held the letter in her hand a long time, lost in profound reflection. Then she sat down to her desk and wrote three letters; one was to Mrs Lawrence; one to the chairman of the church committee, who had requested her resignation; the third was to Mr Stuart, and read thus:

"My dear Mr Stuart,-Many strange things have occurred to me since I saw you. I have learned the name of my father, and this knowledge reveals the fact to me that your unfortunate wife was my half-sister. I have learned, too, that the loss of my position here as organist is not due to the narrow prejudice of the committee regarding the shadow on my birth, but to malicious stories put in circulation by Mrs Lawrence, relating to me.

"Infamous and libellous tales regarding my life have been told, and must be refuted. I have written to Mrs Lawrence demanding a letter from her, clearing my personal character, or giving her the alternative of appearing in court to answer the charge of defamation of character. I have also written to the church committee requesting them to meet me here in my apartments to-morrow, and explain their demand for my resignation.

"I now write to you my last letter and my farewell.

"In the overwrought and desperate mood in which you found me, it did not seem a sin for me to go away with the man who loved me and whom I loved, before false ideas of life and false ideas of duty made him the husband of another. Conscious that your wife was a hopeless lunatic whose present or future could in no way be influenced by our actions, I reasoned that we wronged no one in taking the happiness so long denied us.

"The last three years of my life have been full of desolation and sorrow. From the day my mother died, the stars of light which had gemmed the firmament for me, seemed one by one to be obliterated, until I stood in utter darkness. You found me in the very blackest hour of all-and you seemed a shining sun to me.

"Yet so soon as my tired brain and sorrow-worn heart were able to think and reason, I realised that it was not the man I had worshipped as an ideal, who had come to me and asked me to lower my standard of womanhood. It was another and less worthy man-and this other was to be my companion through time, and perhaps eternity. When I learned that your insane wife was my sister, and that knowing this fact you yet planned

our flight, an indescribable feeling of repulsion awoke in my heart.

"I confess that this arose more from a sentiment than a principle. The relationship of your wife to me made the contemplated sin no greater, but rendered it more tasteless.

"Had I gone away with you as I consented to do, the world would have said, she but follows her fatal inheritance-like mother like daughter. There were some bitter rebellious hours, when that thought came to me. But to-day light has shone upon me, and I know there is a law of Divine Heredity which is greater and more powerful than any tendency we derive from parents or grandparents. I have believed much in creeds all my life; and in the hour of great trials I found I was leaning on broken reeds. I have now ceased to look to men or books for truth-I have found it in my own soul. I acknowledge no unfortunate tendencies from any earthly inheritance; centuries of sinful or weak ancestors are as nothing beside the God within. The divine and immortal me is older than my ancestral tree; it is as old as the universe. It is as old as the first great Cause of which it is a part. Strong with this consciousness, I am prepared to meet the world alone, and unafraid from this day onward. When I think of the optimistic temperament, the good brain, and the vigorous body which were naturally mine, and then of the wretched being who was my legitimate sister, I know that I was rightly generated, however unfortunately born, just as she was wrongly generated though legally born.

"My father, I am told, married into a family whose crest is traced back to the tenth century. I carry a coat-of-arms older yet-the Cross; it dates back eighteen hundred years-yes, many thousand years, and so I feel myself the nobler of the two. Had you been more of a disciple of Christ, and less of a disciple of man, you would have realised this truth long ago, as I realise it to-day. No man should dare stand before his fellows as a revealer of divine knowledge until he has penetrated the inmost recesses of his own soul, and found God's holy image there; and until he can show others the way to the same wonderful discovery. The God you worshipped was far away in the heavens, so far that he could not come to you and save you from your baser self in the hour of temptation. But the true God has been miraculously revealed to me. He dwells within; one who has found Him, will never debase His temple.

"Though there is no legal obstacle now in the path to our union, there is a spiritual one which is insurmountable. I no longer love you. I am sorry for you, but that is all. You belonged to my yesterday-you can have no part in my to-day. The man who tempted me in my weak hour to go lower, could not help me to go higher. And my face is set toward the heights.

"I must prove to that world that a child born under the shadow of shame, and of two weak, uncontrolled parents, can be virtuous, strong, brave and sensible. That she can conquer passion and impulse, by the use of her divine inheritance of will; and that she can compel the respect of the public by her discreet life and lofty ideals.

"I shall stay in this place until I have vindicated my name and character from every aspersion cast upon them. I shall retain my position of organist, and retain it until I have accumulated sufficient means to go abroad and prepare myself for the musical career in which I know I can excel. I am young, strong and ambitious. My unusual sorrows will give me greater power of character if I accept them as spiritual tonics-bitter but strengthening.

"Farewell, and may God be with you.

"Joy Irving."

When the rector of St Blank's returned from the Beryngford Cemetery, where he had placed the body of his wife beside her father, he found this letter lying on his table in the hotel.

THE END

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