An Ambitious Man (Chapter 5, page 2 of 6)


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Chapter 5

It is harder to bear the suffocating heat of a late September day
which the year sometimes brings, than all the burning June suns.

The Baroness heard the click of Preston's key in the street door, and
she listened to his slow step as he ascended the stairs. She heard
him pause, too, and waited for the sound of the opening of his room
door, which was situated exactly above her own. But she listened in
vain, her ears, brain and heart on the alert with surprise,
curiosity, and at last suspicion. The Baroness was as full of
curiosity as a cat.

It was not until just before dawn that she heard his step in the
hall, and his door open and close.

An hour later a sharp ring came at the street door bell. A message
for Mr Preston, the servant said, in answer to her mistress's
question as she descended from the room above.

"Was Mr Preston awake when you rapped on his door?" asked the
Baroness.

"Yes, madame, awake and dressed."

Mr Preston ran hurriedly through the halls and out to the street a
moment later; and the Baroness, clothed in a dressing-gown and silken
slippers, tiptoed lightly to his room. The bed had not been occupied
the whole night. On the table lay a note which the young man had
begun when interrupted by the message which he had thrown down beside
it.

The Baroness glanced at the note, on which the ink was still moist,
and read, "My dear Miss Lawrence, I want you to release me from the
ties formed only yesterday--I am basely unworthy--" here the note
ended. She now turned her attention to the message which had
prevented the completion of the letter. It was signed by Judge
Lawrence and ran as follows:-

"My Dear Boy,--My wife was taken mortally ill this morning just
before daybreak. She cannot live many hours, our physician says.
Mabel is in a state of complete nervous prostration caused by the
shock of this calamity. I wish you would come to us at once. I fear
for my dear child's reason unless you prove able to calm and quiet
her through this ordeal. Hasten then, my dear son; every moment
before you arrive will seem an age of sorrow and anxiety to me. "S.
LAWRENCE."

A strange smile curved the corners of the Baroness's lips as she
finished reading this note and tiptoed down the stairs to her own
room again.

Meantime the hour for her hot water arrived, and Berene did not
appear. The Baroness drank a quart of hot water every morning as a
tonic for her system, and another quart after breakfast to reduce her
flesh. Her excellent digestive powers and the clear condition of her
blood she attributed largely to this habit.

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