An Ambitious Man (Chapter 3, page 2 of 6)

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Chapter 3

The young man hid his surprise under a gallant smile, and offering
the Baroness his arm descended to the basement dining-room with her.
He had heard much about the complicated life of this woman, and he
felt a certain amount of natural curiosity in regard to her. He had
met her but once, and that was on the day when he had called to
engage his room, a little more than two weeks past.

He had thought her an excellent type of the successful American
adventuress on that occasion, and her quiet and dull life in this
ordinary town puzzled him. He could not imagine a woman of that
order existing a whole year without an adventure; as a rule he knew
that those blonde women with large hips and busts, and small waists
and feet, are as unable to live without excitement as a fish without

Yet, since the death of Mr Brown, more than a year past, the Baroness
had lived the life of a recluse. It puzzled him, as a student of
human nature.

But, in fact, the Baroness was a skilled general in planning her
campaigns. She seldom plunged into action unprepared.

She knew from experience that she could not live in a large city and
not use an enormous amount of money.

She was tired of taking great risks, and she knew that without the
aid of money and a fine wardrobe she was not able to attract men as
she had done ten years before.

As long as she remained in Beryngford she would be adding to her
income every month, and saving the few thousands she possessed. She
would be saving her beauty, too, by keeping early hours and living a
temperate life; and if she carefully avoided any new scandal, her
past adventures would be dim in the minds of people when, after a
year or two more of retirement and retrenchment, she sallied forth to
new fields, under a new name, if need be, and with a comfortably
filled purse.

It was in this manner that the Baroness had reasoned; but from the
hour she first saw Preston Cheney, her resolutions wavered. He
impressed her most agreeably; and after learning about him from the
daily papers, and hearing him spoken of as a valuable acquisition to
Beryngford's intellectual society, the Baroness decided to come out
of her retirement and enter the lists in advance of other women who
would seek to attract this newcomer.

To the fading beauty in her late thirties, a man in the early
twenties possesses a peculiar fascination; and to the Baroness,
clothed in weeds for a husband who died on the eve of his seventieth
birthday, the possibility of winning a young man like Preston Cheney
overbalanced all other considerations in her mind. She had never
been a vulgar coquette to whom all men were prey. She had always
been more or less discriminating. A man must be either very
attractive or very rich to win her regard. Mr Brown had been very
rich, and Preston Cheney was very attractive.

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