An Ambitious Man (Chapter 2, page 2 of 4)


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Chapter 2

Instead of offering her house for sale, she offered "Rooms to Let,"
and turned the family mansion into a fashionable lodging-house.

Its central location, and its adjacence to several restaurants and
boarding houses, rendered it a convenient place for business people
to lodge, and the handsome widow found no trouble in filling her
rooms with desirable and well-paying patrons. In a spirit of fun,
people began to speak of the old Brown mansion as "The Palace," and
in a short time the lodging-house was known by that name, just as its
mistress was known as "Baroness Brown."

The Palace yielded the Baroness something like two hundred dollars a
month, and cost her only the wages and keeping of three servants; or
rather the wages of two and the keeping of three; for to Berene
Dumont, her maid and personal attendant, she paid no wages.

The Baroness did not rise till noon, and she always breakfasted in
bed. Sometimes she remained in her room till mid-afternoon. Berene
served her breakfast and lunch, and looked after the servants to see
that the lodgers' rooms were all in order. These were the services
for which she was given a home. But in truth the young woman did
much more than this; she acted also as seamstress and milliner for
her mistress, and attended to the marketing and ran errands for her.
If ever a girl paid full price for her keeping, it was Berene, and
yet the Baroness spoke frequently of "giving the poor thing a home."

It had all come about in this way. Pierre Dumont kept a second-hand
book store in Beryngford. He was French, and the national
characteristic of frugality had assumed the shape of avarice in his
nature. He was, too, a petty tyrant and a cruel husband and father
when under the influence of absinthe, a state in which he was usually
to be found.

Berene was an only child, and her mother, whom she worshipped, said,
when dying, "Take care of your poor father, Berene. Do everything
you can to make him happy. Never desert him."

Berene was fourteen at that time. She had never been at school, but
she had been taught to read and write both French and English, for
her mother was an American girl who had been disinherited by her
grandparents, with whom she lived, for eloping with her French
teacher--Pierre Dumont. Rheumatism and absinthe turned the French
professor into a shopkeeper before Berene was born. The grandparents
had died without forgiving their granddaughter, and, much as the
unhappy woman regretted her foolish marriage, she remained a patient
and devoted wife to the end of her life, and imposed the same
patience and devotion when dying on her daughter.

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