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An ambitious man


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Title:AnAmbitiousMan

Author:EllaWheelerWilcox

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Language:English
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Transcribedfromthe1914Gay&HancockLtd.editionbyDavidPrice,email
ccx074@pglaf.org



AN

AMBITIOUSMAN
BY

ELLAWHEELERWILCOX
Decorativegraphic
LONDON

GAY&HANCOCKLTD.
12AND13HENRIETTASTREET,STRAND

1914
[AllRightsReserved]

FirstEdition1908
PopularEdition1914


CHAPTERI
PRESTONCHENEYturnedasherandownthestepsofahandsomehouseon“The
Boulevard,”wavingasecondadieutoayoungwomanframedbetweenthelace
curtainsofthewindow.Thenhehurrieddownthestreetandoutofview.The
youngwomanwatchedhimwithagleamofsatisfactioninherpaleblueeyes.A
fine-lookingyoungfellow,whoseRomannoseandstrongjawbeliedthesoftly
curvedmouthwithitssensitivedartsatthecorners;itwasstrangethat
somethingwarmerthansatisfactiondidnotshineuponthefaceofthewoman
whomhehadjustaskedtobehiswife.
ButMabelLawrencewasoneofthosewomenwhoareneverswayedbyany
passionstrongerthanworldlyambition,neverburnedbyanyfiresotherthan
thoseofjealousyoranger.Hermeagrenaturewastrulydepictedinhermeagre
face.Natureisofttimesagreatlairandacrueljester,givingtothecoldand
vapidwomanthefaceandformofasensuoussiren,andconcealingaheartof
volcanicfires,orthesoulofaPhryne,undertheexteriorofaspinster.Butthe
olddamehadbeenwhollyfrankinformingMissLawrence.Thethin,flatchest
andnarrowshoulders,theangularelbowsandprominentshoulder-blades,the
sallowskinandsharpfeatures,thedeeplyset,paleblueeyes,andthelustreless,
ashenhair,werealltruthfulexponentsoftheunfurnishedroomsinhervacant


heartandsoulplaces.
MissLawrenceturnedfromthewindow,andtrailedherlongsilkentrainacross
therichcarpet,seatingherselfbeforetheopenfireplace.Itwasanappropriate
timeandsituationforamaiden’stenderdreams;onlyafewhourshadpassed
sincethehandsomestandmostbrilliantyoungmaninthatthrivingeasterntown
hadaskedhertobehiswife,andplacedthekissofbetrothaluponhervirgin
lips.Yetitwaswithasenseoftriumphandrelief,ratherthanwithtenderness
andrapture,thattheyoungwomanmeditateduponthesituation—triumphover
otherwomenwhohadshownadecidedinterestinMrCheney,sincehisarrival
intheplacemorethaneighteenmonthsago,andreliefthatthedreadedrôleof
spinsterwasnottobeherpartinlife’sdrama.


MissLawrencewastwenty-six—oneyearolderthanherfiancé;andshehad
neverreceivedaproposalofmarriageorlistenedtoawordofloveinherlife
before.Letmetransposethatphrase—shehadneverbeforereceivedaproposal
ofmarriage,andhadneverinherlifelistenedtoawordoflove;forPrestonhad
notspokenoflove.Sheknewthathedidnotloveher.Sheknewthathehad
soughtherhandwhollyfromambitiousmotives.Shewasthedaughterofthe
Hon.SylvesterLawrence,lawyer,judge,statesenator,andproposedcandidate
forlieutenant-governorinthecomingcampaign.Shewastheonlyheirtohis
largefortune.
PrestonCheneywasapennilessyoungmanfromtheWest.Aself-madeyouth,
withanunusualbrainandanoverwhelmingambition,hehadrisenfromchore
boyonawesternfarmtoprinter’sapprenticeinasmalltown,thencetoreporter,
cityeditor,foreigncorrespondent,andaftertwoorthreeyearsoftravelgainedin
thismannerhehadcometoBeryngfordandboughtoutastrugglingmorning
paper,whichwasmakingamadefforttokeepalive,changeditspolitical
tendencies,infuseditwithwesternactivityandfilleditwithcosmopolitannews,
andnow,aftereighteenmonths,theyoungmanfoundhimselfcomingabreastof
histwolongestablishedrivalsintheeditorialfield.Thissuccesswasbutan
incentivetohisoverwhelmingambitionforplace,powerandriches.Hehad
seenjustenoughoflifeandoftheworldtoestimatethesethingsatdoubletheir
value;andhewas,beside,lookingatlifethroughthemagnifyingglassofyouth.
TheCreatorintendedustogazeonworldlypossessionsandselfishambitions
throughthesmallendofthelorgnette,butyouthinvariablyinvertstheglass.
Totheyoungeditor,thebriefyearsbehindhimseemedlikealonghardpullupa
steepandrockycliff.Fromthepointtowhichhehadattained,thesummitofhis
desireslookedveryfaraway,muchfartherthanthelevelfromwhichhehad
arisen.Torisetothatsummitsingle-handedandalonewouldrequire
unremittingeffortthroughtheverybestyearsofhismanhood.Hisbrain,his
strength,hisability,hisambitions,whatweretheyallinthestrifeafterplaceand
power,comparedtothemoneyofsomecommonplaceadversary?Preston
Cheney,thenative-bornAmericandirectlydescendedfromaRevolutionary
soldier,wouldbehandicappedintheracewithsomeMichaelMurphywhose
fatherhadmadeafortuneinthesaloonbusiness,orwhohadhimselfacquireda
competencyasapoliceofficer.
AmericawasnotthesamecountrywhichgavemenlikeBenjaminFranklin,
AbrahamLincolnandHoraceGreeleyachancetorisefromthelowerranksto
thehighestplacesbeforetheyreachedmiddlelife.Itwasnolongeralandwhere


meritstrovewithmerit,andtheprizefelltothemostearnestandthemost
gifted.Thetremendousinfluxofforeignpopulationsincethewarofthe
Rebellionandtherightoffranchisegivenunreservedlytotheilliterateandthe
viciousrenderedtheambitiousAmericanyouthnowatoyinthehandsofaliens,
andpositionathingtobeboughtatthepricesetbyun-Americanmasses.
ThoughtslikethesehadmoreandmorewitheachyearfilledthemindofPreston
Cheney,until,likethefallingofstonesandearthintoariverbed,theychanged
thenaturallydirectcurrentofhisimpulsesintoanotherchannel.Whynot
furtherhislifepurposebyanambitiousmarriage?Thefirsttimethethought
enteredhismindhehadcastitoutassomethinguncleanandunworthyofhis
manhood.Marriagewasaholyestate,hesaidtohimself,asacramenttobe
enteredintowithreverence,andsanctifiedbylove.Hemustlovethewoman
whowastobethecompanionofhislife,themotherofhischildren.
Thenhelookedaboutamonghisearlyfriendswhohadmarried,asnearlyallthe
youngmenofthemiddleclassesinAmericadomarry,forlove,orwhatthey
believedtobelove.TherewasTomSomers—asplendidlad,fulloflife,hope
andambitionwhenhemarriedCarrieTowne,theprettiestgirlinVandalia.Well,
whatwashenow,aftersevenyears?Abroken-spiritedman,withasickly,
complainingwifeandabroodofill-cladchildren.HarryWalters,themost
infatuatedloverhehadeverseen,wasdivorcedafterfiveyearsofdiscordant
marriage.
CharlieStClairwasflagrantlyunfaithfultothegirlhehadpursuedthreeyears
withhisardentwooingsbeforesheyieldedtohissuit.Certainlynoneofthese
lovemarriageswereexamplesforhimtofollow.Andinthemidstofthese
reveriesandreflections,PrestonCheneycametoBeryngford,andmetSylvester
LawrenceandhisdaughterMabel.HemetalsoBereneDumont.Hadhenot
metthelatterwomanhewouldnothavesuccumbed—sosoonatleast—tothe
temptationheldoutbytheformertoadvancehisambitiousaims.
Hewouldhavehesitated,considered,andreconsidered,andwithoutdoubthis
betternatureandhisgoodtastewouldhaveprevailed.Butwhenfatethrew
BereneDumontinhisway,andcircumstancesbroughtabouthisclose
associationswithherformanymonths,thereseemedbutonewayofescape
fromtheScyllaofhisdesires,andthatwastotheCharybdisofamarriagewith
MissLawrence.
MissLawrencewasnotawareofthepartBereneDumonthadplayedinher


engagement,butsheknewperfectlythepartherfather’sinfluenceandwealth
hadplayed;butshewasquitecontentwithaffairsastheywere,anditmattered
littletoherwhathadbroughtthemabout.Tobemarried,ratherthantobeloved,
hadbeenherambitionsincesheleftschool;beingincapableofloving,shewas
incapableofappreciatingthepassioninanyofitsphases.Ithadalwaysseemed
toherthatagreatdealofnonsensewaswrittenandtalkedaboutlove.She
thoughtdemonstrativepeopleveryvulgar,andbelievedkissingameansof
conveyinggermsofdisease.
Buttobeamarriedwoman,withanestablishmentofherown,andahusbandto
exhibittoherfriends,wasnecessarytothemaintenanceofherpride.
WhenMissLawrence’smother,anervousinvalid,wasinformedofher
daughter’sengagement,sheburstintotears,asoveralambofferedonthealtar
ofsacrifice;andJudgeLawrencepressedakissonthelobeofMabel’sleftear
whichsheofferedhim,andtoldhershehadwonaprizeinthemarket.Butashe
sataloneoverhiscigarthatnight,hesighedheavily,andsaidtohimself,“Poor
fellow,IwishMabelwerenotsomuchlikehermother.”


CHAPTERII
“BARONESSBROWN”wasadistinctivefigureinBeryngford.Shecametothe
placefromforeignpartssomethreeyearsbeforethearrivalofPrestonCheney,
andbroughtservants,carriagesandhorses,andestablishedherselfinavery
handsomehousewhichsherentedforatermofyears.Herarrivalinthisquiet
villagetownwasofcoursethesensationofthehour,orratheroftheyear.She
wasknownasBaronessLeFevre—anAmericanwidowofaFrenchbaron.
Large,voluptuous,blonde,andhandsomeaccordingtothepopularideaof
beauty,distinctlyamiable,affableandverycharitable,shebecameatoncethe
fashion.
Invitationstoherhousewereeagerlysoughtafter,andherentertainmentswere
describedincolumnarticlesbythepress.
Thisstateofthingscontinuedonlysixmonths,however.Thenitbegantobe
whisperedaboutthattheBaronesswasinarrearsforherrent.Severalofher
servantshadgoneawayinahighstateoftemperatthetitledmistresswhohad
failedtopaythemacentofwagessincetheycametothecountrywithher;and
onedaytheneighbourssawherfinecarriagehorsesledawaybythesheriff.
Aweeklatersocietywaselectrifiedbytheannouncementofthemarriageof
BaronessLeFevretoMrBrown,awealthywidowerwhoownedthebestshoe
storeinBeryngford.
MrBrownownedtenchildrenalso,buttheyoungestwasaboyofsixteen,
absentincollege.Theothernineweremarriedandsettledincomfortable
homes.
MrBrowndiedattheexpirationofayear.Thisoneyearhadtaughthimmoreof
womankindthanhehadlearnedinallhissixtyandnineyearsbefore;and,
feelingthatitisnevertoolatetoprofitbylearning,MrBrowndiscreetlymade
hiswill,leavingallhispropertysavethewidow’s“thirds”equallydivided
amonghistenchildren.


TheBaronessmadeafutileefforttobreakthewill,onthegroundthathewasnot
ofsoundmindwhenitwasdrawnup;buttheeffortcostherseveralhundredof
herfewthousanddollarsandtheincreasedenmityofthetenBrownchildren,
andavailedhernothing.Animportantpartofthewidow’sthirdwastheBrown
mansion,alarge,commodioushousebuiltmanyyearsbefore,whenthevillage
wasbutacountrytown.EverybodysupposedtheBaroness,asshewasstill
called,halfinderisionandhalffromtheAmericanloveofmouthingatitle,
wouldofferthishouseforsale,anddepartforfreshfieldsandpasturesnew.But
theBaronessneverdidwhatshewasexpectedtodo.
Insteadofofferingherhouseforsale,sheoffered“RoomstoLet,”andturnedthe
familymansionintoafashionablelodging-house.
Itscentrallocation,anditsadjacencetoseveralrestaurantsandboardinghouses,
rendereditaconvenientplaceforbusinesspeopletolodge,andthehandsome
widowfoundnotroubleinfillingherroomswithdesirableandwell-paying
patrons.Inaspiritoffun,peoplebegantospeakoftheoldBrownmansionas
“ThePalace,”andinashorttimethelodging-housewasknownbythatname,
justasitsmistresswasknownas“BaronessBrown.”
ThePalaceyieldedtheBaronesssomethingliketwohundreddollarsamonth,
andcostheronlythewagesandkeepingofthreeservants;orratherthewagesof
twoandthekeepingofthree;fortoBereneDumont,hermaidandpersonal
attendant,shepaidnowages.
TheBaronessdidnotrisetillnoon,andshealwaysbreakfastedinbed.
Sometimessheremainedinherroomtillmid-afternoon.Bereneservedher
breakfastandlunch,andlookedaftertheservantstoseethatthelodgers’rooms
wereallinorder.Theseweretheservicesforwhichshewasgivenahome.But
intruththeyoungwomandidmuchmorethanthis;sheactedalsoasseamstress
andmillinerforhermistress,andattendedtothemarketingandranerrandsfor
her.Ifeveragirlpaidfullpriceforherkeeping,itwasBerene,andyetthe
Baronessspokefrequentlyof“givingthepoorthingahome.”
Ithadallcomeaboutinthisway.PierreDumontkeptasecond-handbookstore
inBeryngford.HewasFrench,andthenationalcharacteristicoffrugalityhad
assumedtheshapeofavariceinhisnature.Hewas,too,apettytyrantanda
cruelhusbandandfatherwhenundertheinfluenceofabsinthe,astateinwhich
hewasusuallytobefound.
Berenewasanonlychild,andhermother,whomsheworshipped,said,when


dying,“Takecareofyourpoorfather,Berene.Doeverythingyoucantomake
himhappy.Neverdeserthim.”
Berenewasfourteenatthattime.Shehadneverbeenatschool,butshehad
beentaughttoreadandwritebothFrenchandEnglish,forhermotherwasan
Americangirlwhohadbeendisinheritedbyhergrandparents,withwhomshe
lived,forelopingwithherFrenchteacher—PierreDumont.Rheumatismand
absintheturnedtheFrenchprofessorintoashopkeeperbeforeBerenewasborn.
Thegrandparentshaddiedwithoutforgivingtheirgranddaughter,and,muchas
theunhappywomanregrettedherfoolishmarriage,sheremainedapatientand
devotedwifetotheendofherlife,andimposedthesamepatienceanddevotion
whendyingonherdaughter.
Atsixteen,Berenewasaskedtosacrificeherselfonthealtarofmarriagetoa
manthreetimesherage;oneJacquesLetellier,whoofferedgenerouslytotake
theyounggirlaspaymentforadebtowedbyhisconvivialcomrade,M.
Dumont.Bereneweptandbeggedpiteouslytobesparedthishorriblesacrifice
ofheryounglife,whereuponPierreDumontseizedhisrazorandthreatened
suicideastheotheralternativefromthedishonourofdebt,andBereneinterror
yieldedherwordandherselfthenextdaytothedebasingmockeryofmarriage
withadepravedoldgamblerandroué.
SixmonthslaterJacquesLetellierdiedinafitofapoplexyandBerenewasfreed
fromherchains;butfreedonlytokeeponinalifeofmartyrdomasservantand
slavetothecapricesofherfather,untilhisdeath.Whenhewasfinallywell
buriedundersixfeetofearth,Berenefoundherselftwentyyearsofage,alonein
theworldwithjustonethousanddollarsinmoney,thepricebroughtbyher
father’seffects.
Withouteducationoraccomplishments,shewasthepossessorofyouth,health,
charm,andavoiceofwonderfulbeautyandpower;avoicewhichitwasher
dreamtocultivate,anduseasameansofsupport.Buthowcouldsheever
cultivateit?Thethousanddollarsinherpossessionwas,sheknew,butadropin
theoceanofexpenseamusicaleducationwouldentail.Andshemustkeepthat
moneyuntilshefoundsomewaybywhichtosupportherself.
BaronessBrownhadattendedthesaleofoldDumont’seffects.Shehadoften
noticedtheyounggirlintheshop,andinthestreet,andhadbeenstruckwiththe
peculiareleganceandrefinementofherappearance.Hersimplelawnorprint
gownsweremadeandworninamannerbefittingaprincess.Hernailswere


carefullykept,despiteallthehouseholddrudgerywhichdevolveduponher.
TheBaronesswasashrewdwomanandacleverreasoner.Sheneededathrifty,
prudentpersoninherhousetolookafterthings,andtoattendtoherpersonal
needs.SinceshehadopenedthePalaceasalodging-house,thisneedhadstared
herintheface.Servantsdidverywellintheirplaces,butthepersonshe
requiredwasofanotherandsuperiororder,andonlytobeobtainedbyaccident
orbyadvertisingandthepayingofalargesalary.NowtheBaronesshadbeenin
thehabitofthinkingthatherbeautyandamiabilitywerequiteequivalenttoany
favoursshereceivedfromhumanityatlarge.Eversinceshewasaplumpgirlin
shortdresses,shehadlearnedthatsmilesandcomplimentsfromherlipswould
purchaseherfriendsofbothsexes,whowoulddodisagreeabledutiesforher.
Shehadnevermadeitacustomtopayoutmoneyforanyserviceshecould
obtainotherwise.Sonowasshelookedonthisyoungwomanwho,thougha
widow,seemedstillamerechild,itoccurredtoherthatFatehadwithitsusual
kindnessthrowninherpaththeverypersonsheneeded.
SheofferedBerene“ahome”atthePalaceinreturnforafewsmallservices.
Thelonelygirl,whosestrangelysolitarylifewithheroldfatherhadexcludedher
fromallsocialrelationsoutside,graspedatthisofferfromthehandsomelady
whomshehadlongadmiredfromadistance,andwenttomakeherhomeatthe
Palace.


CHAPTERIII
BERENEhadbeenseveralmonthsinhernewhomewhenPrestonCheneycameto
lodgeatthePalace.
Hemetheronthestairwaythefirstmorningafterhisarrival,ashewas
descendingtothestreetdoor.
Bringingupatraycoveredwithasnowynapkin,shesteppedtoonesideand
paused,tomakeroomforhimtopass.
Prestonwasnotoneofthoseyoungmenwhofindpastimeinflirtationswith
nurserymaidsorkitchengirls.Theverythoughtofitoffendedhisgoodtaste.
Once,inlisteningtotheboastfultalesofamodernDonJuan,whowasrelating
hisgallantadventureswithahandsomewaitergirlatahotel,Prestonhad
remarked,“Iwouldassoonthinkofusingmydinnernapkinforanecktie,as
findingromancewithaservantgirl.”
Yetheappreciatedasnowy,well-laundriednapkininitsplace,andhewasmost
considerateandthoughtfulinhistreatmentofservants.
HesupposedBerenetobeanupperservantofthehouse,andyet,asheglanced
ather,astrangeandunaccountablefeelingofinterestseizeduponhim.The
creamypallorofherskin,colourlesssaveforthefullredlips,thedarkeyesfull
ofunutterablelonging,thearistocraticpoiseofthehead,thesoftlyrounded
figure,elegantinitssimplegownandapron,allimpressedhimashehadnever
beforebeenimpressedbyanywoman.
Itwasseveraldaysbeforehechancedtoseeheragain,andthenonlyfora
momentasshepassedthroughthehall;butheheardatrillofsongfromherlips,
whichaddedtohisinterestandcuriosity.“Thatgirlisnocommonservant,”he
saidtohimself,andheresolvedtolearnmoreabouther.
IthadbeenthecustomoftheBaronesstokeepherselfquitehiddenfromher
lodgers.Theyseldomsawher,afterthefirstbusinessinterview.Thereforeit


wasamatterofsurprisetotheyoungeditorwhenhecamehomefromhisoffice
onenight,justaftertwelveo’clock,andfoundthemistressofthemansion
standinginthehallbytheregister,incharmingeveningattire.
Shesmileduponhimradiantly.“Ihavejustcomeinfromabenefitconcert,”she
said,“andIamashungryasabear.NowIcannotendureeatingaloneatnight.
Iknewitwasnearyourhourtoreturn,soIwaitedforyou.Willyougodownto
thedining-roomwithmeandhaveaWelshrarebit?Iamgoingtomakeonein
mychafingdish.”
Theyoungmanhidhissurpriseunderagallantsmile,andofferingtheBaroness
hisarmdescendedtothebasementdining-roomwithher.Hehadheardmuch
aboutthecomplicatedlifeofthiswoman,andhefeltacertainamountofnatural
curiosityinregardtoher.Hehadmetherbutonce,andthatwasontheday
whenhehadcalledtoengagehisroom,alittlemorethantwoweekspast.
HehadthoughtheranexcellenttypeofthesuccessfulAmericanadventuresson
thatoccasion,andherquietanddulllifeinthisordinarytownpuzzledhim.He
couldnotimagineawomanofthatorderexistingawholeyearwithoutan
adventure;asaruleheknewthatthoseblondewomenwithlargehipsandbusts,
andsmallwaistsandfeet,areasunabletolivewithoutexcitementasafish
withoutwater.
Yet,sincethedeathofMrBrown,morethanayearpast,theBaronesshadlived
thelifeofarecluse.Itpuzzledhim,asastudentofhumannature.
But,infact,theBaronesswasaskilledgeneralinplanninghercampaigns.She
seldomplungedintoactionunprepared.
Sheknewfromexperiencethatshecouldnotliveinalargecityandnotusean
enormousamountofmoney.
Shewastiredoftakinggreatrisks,andsheknewthatwithouttheaidofmoney
andafinewardrobeshewasnotabletoattractmenasshehaddonetenyears
before.
AslongassheremainedinBeryngfordshewouldbeaddingtoherincomeevery
month,andsavingthefewthousandsshepossessed.Shewouldbesavingher
beauty,too,bykeepingearlyhoursandlivingatemperatelife;andifshe
carefullyavoidedanynewscandal,herpastadventureswouldbediminthe
mindsofpeoplewhen,afterayearortwomoreofretirementandretrenchment,


shesalliedforthtonewfields,underanewname,ifneedbe,andwitha
comfortablyfilledpurse.
ItwasinthismannerthattheBaronesshadreasoned;butfromthehourshefirst
sawPrestonCheney,herresolutionswavered.Heimpressedhermostagreeably;
andafterlearningabouthimfromthedailypapers,andhearinghimspokenofas
avaluableacquisitiontoBeryngford’sintellectualsociety,theBaronessdecided
tocomeoutofherretirementandenterthelistsinadvanceofotherwomenwho
wouldseektoattractthisnewcomer.
Tothefadingbeautyinherlatethirties,amanintheearlytwentiespossessesa
peculiarfascination;andtotheBaroness,clothedinweedsforahusbandwho
diedontheeveofhisseventiethbirthday,thepossibilityofwinningayoung
manlikePrestonCheneyoverbalancedallotherconsiderationsinhermind.She
hadneverbeenavulgarcoquettetowhomallmenwereprey.Shehadalways
beenmoreorlessdiscriminating.Amanmustbeeitherveryattractiveorvery
richtowinherregard.MrBrownhadbeenveryrich,andPrestonCheneywas
veryattractive.
“Heismorethanattractive,heispositivelyfascinating,”shesaidtoherselfin
thesolitudeofherroomafterthetête-à-têteovertheWelshrarebitthatevening.
“Idon’tknowwhenIhavefeltsuchapleasureinaman’spresence.Notsince
—”ButtheBaronessdidnotallowherselftogobacksofar.“Ifthereisany
fruitIdetest,itisdates,”sheoftensaidlaughingly.“Somepeopledelightina
goodmemory—Idelightinagoodforgettoryofthepast,withitstelltale
milestonesofbirthdaysandanniversariesofmarriages,deathsanddivorces.”
“MrCheneysaidIlookedveryyoungtohavebeentwicemarried.Twice!”and
shelaughedaloudbeforehermirror,revealingthepinkarchofhermouth,and
twoperfectsetsofyellow-whiteteeth,withonlyoneblemishingspotofgold
visible.“Iwonderifhemeantit,though?”shemused.“AndthefactthatIdo
wonderisthesureproofthatIamreallyinterestedinthisman.Asarule,I
neverbelieveawordmensay,thoughIdelightintheirflatteryallthesame.It
makesmefeelcomfortableevenwhenIknowtheyarelying.ButIshouldreally
feelhurtifIthoughtMrCheneyhadnotmeantwhathesaid.Idon’tbelievehe
knowsmuchaboutwomen,orabouthimselflowerthanhisbrain.Hehasnever
studiedhisheart.Heisallambition.Ifanambitiousandunsophisticatedyouth
oftwenty-fiveortwenty-eightdoesgetinfatuatedwithawomanofmyage—he
isaperfecttoyinherhands.Ah,well,weshallseewhatweshallsee.”Andthe
Baronessfinishedhermassageincoldcream,andputherblondeheadonthe


pillowandwentsoundasleep.
Afterthatfirsttête-à-têtesupperthefairwidowmanagedtoseePrestonatleast
onceortwiceaweek.Shesentforhimtoaskhisadviceonbusinessmatters,
sheaskedhimtoaidherinchangingthepositionofthefurnitureinaroomwhen
theservantswereallbusy,andsheinvitedhimtoherprivateparlourforlunch
everySundayafternoon.Itwasduringoneofthesechatsovercakeandwine
thattheyoungmanspokeofBerene.TheBaronesshaddroppedsomeremarks
aboutherservants,andPrestonsaid,inacasualtoneofvoicewhichhidthereal
interesthefeltinthesubject,“Bytheway,oneofyourservantshasquitean
unusualvoice.Ihaveheardhersingingaboutthehallsafewtimes,anditseems
tomeshehasrealtalent.”
“Oh,thatisMissDumont—BereneDumont—sheisnotanabsoluteservant,”
theBaronessreplied;“sheisamostunfortunateyoungwomantowhommy
heartwentoutinpity,andIhavegivenherahome.Sheisreallyawidow,
thoughsherefusestouseherdeadhusband’sname.”
“Awidow?”repeatedPrestonwithsurpriseandaqueersensationofannoyance
athisheart;“why,fromtheglimpseIhadofherIthoughtherayounggirl.”
“Sosheis,notovertwenty-oneatmost,andwoefullyignorantforthatage,”the
Baronesssaid,andthensheproceededtooutlineBerene’shistory,layingagood
dealofstressuponherowncharitableactingivingthegirlahome.
“Sheissoignorantoflife,despitethefactthatshehasbeenmarried,andsheis
souneducatedandhelpless,Icouldnotbeartoseehercastintothepathof
designingpeople,”theBaronesssaid.“Shehasastrongcravingforan
education,andIgivehergoodbookstoread,andgoodadvicetoponderover,
andIhopeintimetocomeshewillmarrysomehonestfellowandsettledownto
aquiet,happyhomelife.Themanwhobringsusbutterandeggsfromthe
countryisquitefascinatedwithher,butshedoesnotdeignhimaglance.”And
thentheBaronesstalkedofotherthings.
ButthehistoryhehadheardremainedinPrestonCheney’smindandhecould
notdrivethethoughtofthisgirlaway.Nowonderhereyesweresad!Better
bloodraninherveinsthancoursedunderthepinkfleshoftheBaroness,he
wouldwager;shewastheunfortunatevictimofacombinationofcircumstances,
whichhaddefraudedheroftheadvantagesofyouth.
Hespokewithherinthehallonemorningnotlongafterthat;andthenitgrewto


beadailyoccurrencethathetalkedwithherafewmoments,andbeforemany
weekshadpassedtheyoungmanapproachedtheBaronesswitharequest.
“IhavebecomeinterestedinyourprotégéeMissDumont,”hesaid.“Youhave
donesomuchforherthatyouhavestirredmybetternatureandmademe
anxioustoemulateyourexample.IntalkingwithherinthehallonedayI
learnedhergreatdesireforabettereducation,andheranxietytoearnmoney.
NowithasoccurredtomethatImightaidherinbothways.Weneedtwoor
threemoregirlsinouroffice.Weneedonemoreinthetype-settingdepartment.
AsTheClarionisamorningpaper,andyouneverneedMissDumont’sservices
afterfiveo’clock,shecouldworkafewhoursintheoffice,earnasmallsalary,
andgainsomethinginthewayofaneducationalso,ifshewereambitious
enoughtodoso.Nearlyallmyearlyeducationwasgainedasaprinter.She
tellsmesheisfaultyinthematterofspelling,andthiswouldbeexcellent
trainingforher.Youhave,dearmadam,inspiredthegirlwithadesireformore
knowledge,andIhopeyouwillletmecarryonthegoodworkyouhavebegun.”
Prestonhadapproachedthematterinawaythatcouldnotfailtobringsuccess—
byflatteringthevanityandprideoftheBaroness.Soelatedwasshewiththe
agreeablereferencestoherself,thatsheneversuspectedtheyoungman’sdeep
personalinterestinthegirl.Shebelievedinthebeginningthathewasshowing
Berenethiskindattentionsolelytopleasethemistress.
Bereneenteredtheofficeastype-setter,andmadesuchastonishingprogressthat
shewaspromotedtothepositionofproof-readereresixmonthshadpassed.
Andhourbyhour,daybyday,weekbyweek,thestrangeinfluencewhichshe
hadexertedonheremployer,fromthefirstmomentoftheirmeeting,grewand
strengthened,untilherealisedwithasuddenterrorthathiswholebeingwas
becomingabsorbedbyanintensepassionforthegirl.
MeantimetheBaronesswasgrowingembarrassinginherattentions.Theyoung
manwasnotconceited,norpronetoregardhimselfasanobjectofworshipto
thefairsex.HehadduringthefirstfewmonthsbelievedtheBaronesstobe
amusingherselfwithhissociety.Hehadnotflatteredhimselfthatawomanof
herage,whohadseensomuchoftheworld,andwhoseambitionswereso
unmistakable,couldregardhimotherwisethanasadiversion.
Butoflatethetruthhadforceditselfuponhimthatthewomanwishedto
entanglehiminaseriousaffair.Hecouldnotaffordtojeopardisehisreputation
attheveryoutsetofhiscareerbyanysuchentanglement,orbytheappearance


ofone.HecastaboutforsomeexcusetoleavethePalace,yetthiswould
separatehiminameasurefromhisassociationwithBerene,besideincurringthe
enmityoftheBaroness,andpossiblycausingBerenetosufferfromherangeras
well.
Heseemedtobecaughtlikeaflyinanet.Andagainthethoughtofhisfuture
andhisambitionsconfrontedhim,andhefeltabashedinhisowneyes,ashe
realisedhowfarawaytheseambitionshadseemedoflate,sincehehadallowed
hisemotionstooverrulehisbrain.
WhatwasthisignorantdaughterofaFrenchprofessor,thatsheshouldstand
betweenhimandglory,richesandpower?Desperatediseasesneededdesperate
remedies.HehadbeenanoccasionalcallerattheLawrencehomesteadever
sincehecametoBeryngford.Withoutbeingconceitedonthesubject,he
realisedthatMabelLawrencewouldnotrejecthimasasuitor.
Themasculinepartyisverydull,orthefeminineverydeceptive,whenaman
makesamistakeinhisimpressionsonthissubject.
Thatafternoontheyoungeditorlefthisofficeatfiveo’clockandaskedMiss
Lawrencetobehiswife.


CHAPTERIV
PRESTONCHENEYwalkedbrisklydownthestreetafterhelefthisfiancée,hissteps
directedtowardthePalace.Itwasseveno’clock,andheknewtheBaroness
wouldbeathome.
Hehaddetermineduponheroictreatmentforhisownmentaldisease(ashe
regardedhispeculiarsentimentstowardBereneDumont),andhehaddecided
uponasimilarcourseoftreatmentfortheBaroness.
Hewouldconfidehisengagementtoheratonce,andthusputanendtohis
embarrassingpositioninthePalace,aswellastoestablishhisbetrothalasafact
—andtoforcehimselftosoregardit.Itwasstrangereasoningforayoungman
intheveryfirsthourofhisnewrôleofbridegroomelect,butthisparticular
groomelecthaddeliberatelyplacedhimselfinapeculiarposition,andhis
reasoningwasnot,ofcourse,thatofanardentandhappylover.
Alreadyhewasgalledbyhisnewfetters;alreadyhewasfeelingasenseof
repulsiontowardthewomanhehadaskedtobehiswife:andbecauseofthese
feelingshewasmoreeagertonailhimselfhandandfoottothecrosshehad
builded.
HewasobligedtowaitsometimebeforetheBaronesscameintothereceptionroom;andwhenshecameheobservedthatshehadmadeanelaboratetoiletin
hishonour.Hersumptuousshouldersbillowedoverthelow-cutbluecorsage
likeapple-dumplingsoverachinadish.Herwaistwasdrawnintoanhourglass
taper,whileheramplehipsspreadoutbeneathliketheheavymasonworkwhich
supportsaslendercolumn.Tinyfeetencasedinprettyslipperspeepingfrom
beneathhersilkenskirtslookedoddlyoutofproportionwiththerestofher
generouspersonality,andremindedPrestonofthegrotesquecutsinthe
humorousweeklies,wherewell-knownpoliticianswererepresentedwithlarge
headsandsmallextremities.Artisticbynature,andwithaneyetoform,hehad
neveradmiredtheBaroness’stypeofbeauty,whichwasthethemeofadmiration
fornearlyeveryothermaninBeryngford.Herface,withitsinfantinecolouring,


itslarge,innocentazureeyes,anditsshortretrousséfeatures,heconcededtobe
captivatinglypretty,however,anditseemedunusuallysothisevening.Perhaps
becausehehadsorecentlylookeduponthesharp,sallowfaceofhisfiancée.
Prestonfrequentlycametohisroomaboutthishour,afterhavingdinedand
beforegoingtotheofficeforhisfinalduties;butheseldomsawtheBaronesson
theseoccasions,unlessthroughherowndesign.
“Youweresurprisedtoreceivemymessage,nodoubt,sayingIwishedtosee
you,”hebegan.“ButIhavesomethingIfeelIoughttotellyou,asitmaymake
somechangesinmyhabits,andwillofcourseeventuallytakemeawayfrom
thesepleasantassociations.”Hepausedforasecond,andtheBaroness,whohad
seatedherselfonthedivanathisside,leanedforwardandlookedinquiringlyin
hisface.
“Youaregoingaway?”sheasked,withatremorinhervoice.“Isitnotvery
sudden?”
“No,Iamnotgoingaway,”hereplied,“notfromBeryngford—butIshall
doubtlessleaveyourhouseeremanymonths.Iamengagedtobemarriedto
MissMabelLawrence.YouarethefirstpersontowhomIhaveimpartedthe
news,butyouhavebeensokind,andIfeelthatyououghttoknowitintimeto
secureadesirabletenantformyroom.”
Againtherewasapause.TherosyfaceoftheBaronesshadgrownquitepale,
andanunpleasantexpressionhadsettledaboutthecornersofhersmallmouth.
Shewavedafeatherfantoandfrolanguidly.Thenshegaveaslightlaughand
said:
“Well,ImustconfessthatIamsurprised.MissLawrenceisthelastwomanin
theworldwhomIwouldhaveimaginedyoutoselectasawife.YetI
congratulateyouonyourgoodsense.Youareveryambitious,andyoucanrise
togreatdistinctionifyouhavetherightinfluencetoaidyou.JudgeLawrence,
withhiswealthandposition,isofallmentheonewhocanadvanceyour
interests,andwhatmorenaturalthanthatheshouldadvancetheinterestsofhis
son-in-law?YouareaverywiseyouthandIagaincongratulateyou.No
romanticfollywilleverruinyourlife.”
Therewasironyandridiculeinhervoiceandface,andtheyoungmanfelthis
cheektinglewithangerandhumiliation.TheBaronesshadreadhimlikean
openbook—aseveryoneelsedoubtlesswoulddo.Itwasbitterlygallingtohis


pride,buttherewasnothingtodo,savetokeepaboldfront,andcarryouthis
rôlewithasmuchdignityaspossible.
Herose,spokeafewformalwordsofthankstotheBaronessforherkindnessto
him,andbowedhimselffromherpresence,carryingwithhimdownthestreet
thememoryofhermockingeyes.
Asheenteredhisprivateoffice,hewasamazedtoseeBereneDumontsittingin
hischairfastasleep,herheadframedbyherfoldedarms,whichrestedonhis
desk.Againstthedarkmaroonofhersleeve,herclassicfacewasoutlinedlikea
marblestatuette.Herlonglashesswepthercheek,andintheattitudeinwhich
shesat,hergraceful,perfectly-proportionedfiguredisplayedeachbeautiful
curvetothebestadvantage.
Toanoblenature,thesightofevenanenemyasleep,awakessoftening
emotions,whilethesightofalovedbeingintheunconsciousnessofslumber
stirsthefountainofaffectiontoitsverydepths.
Astheyoungeditorlookeduponthegirlbeforehim,apassionofyearninglove
tookpossessionofhim.Awilddesiretoseizeherinhisarmsandcoverherpale
facewithkisses,madehisheartthrobtosuffocationandbroughtcoldbeadsto
hisbrow;andjustasthesefeelingsgainedanalmostuncontrollabledominion
overhisreason,willandjudgment,thegirlawokeandstartedtoherfeetin
confusion.
“Oh,MrCheney,prayforgiveme!”shecried,lookingmorebeautifulthanever
withtheflushwhichoverspreadherface.“Icameintoaskaboutawordinyour
editorialwhichIcouldnotdecipher.Iwaitedforyou,asIfeltsureyouwould
beinshortly—andIwassotiredIsatdownforjustasecondtorest—andthatis
allIknewaboutit.Youmustforgiveme,sir!—Ididnotmeantointrude.”
Herconfusion,herappealingeyes,hermagneticvoicewereallfueltothefire
ragingintheyoungman’sheart.Nowthatshewasforeverlosttohimthrough
hisowndeliberateaction,sheseemedtenfoldmoredearandtobedesired.
Brain,soul,andbodyallseemedtocraveher;hetookastepforward,anddrew
inaquickbreathasiftospeak;andthenasuddensenseofhisowndanger,and
anoverwhelmingdisgustforhisweaknesssweptoverhim,andtheintense
passionthegirlhadarousedinhisheartchangedtounreasonableanger.
“MissDumont,”hesaidcoldly,“Ithinkwewillhavetodispensewithyour
servicesafterto-night.Yourdutiesareevidentlytoohardforyou.Youcan


leavetheofficeatanytimeyouwish.Good-night.”
Thegirlshrankasifhehadstruckher,lookedupathimwithwide,wondering
eyes,waitedforamomentasifexpectingtoberecalled,then,asMrCheney
wheeledhischairaboutandturnedhisbackuponher,shesuddenlyspedaway
withoutaword.
Shelefttheofficeafewmomentslater;butitwasnotuntilaftereleveno’clock
thatshedraggedherselfuptwoflightsofstairstowardherroomontheattic
flooratthePalace.Shehadbeenwalkingthestreetslikeamadcreatureallthat
interveningtime,tryingtostilltheagonisingpaininherheart.PrestonCheney
hadlongbeenheridealofallthatwasnoble,grandandgood,sheworshipped
himasdevoutpagansworshippedtheirsacredidols;and,withoutknowingit,
shegavehimtheabsorbingpassionwhichanintensewomangivestoherlover.
Itwasonlynowthathehadtreatedherwithsuchroughbrutality,anddischarged
herfromhisemployforsoslightacause,thattheknowledgeburstuponher
torturedheartofallhewastoher.
Shepausedatthefootofthethirdandlastflightofstairswithastrangedizziness
inherheadandasinkingsensationatherheart.
Alittlelessthanhalf-an-hourafterwardsPrestonCheneyunlockedthestreet
doorandcameinforthenight.Hehaddonedoublehisusualamountofwork
andhadfinishedhisdutiesearlierthanusual.Toavoidthinkingafterhesent
Bereneaway,hehadturnedtohisdeskandplungedintohislabourwithfeverish
intensity.Hewroteaparticularlysavageeditorialonthematterofoverimmigration,andhisleadersonpoliticalquestionsofthedaywerealltinctured
withabitternessandsarcasmquitenewtohispen.Atmidnightthatpen
droppedfromhisnervelesshand,andhemadehiswaytowardthePalaceina
mostunenviablestateofmindandbody.
YethebelievedhehaddonetherightthingbothinengaginghimselftoMiss
LawrenceandindischargingBerene.Herconstantpresenceabouttheoffice
wasofallthingsthemostundesirableinhisnewposition.
“ButImighthavedoneitinadecentmannerifIhadnotlostallcontrolof
myself,”hesaidashewalkedhome.“ItwasbrutalthewayIspoketoher;poor
child,shelookedasifIhadbeatherwithabludgeon.Well,itisjustaswell
perhapsthatIgavehergoodreasontodespiseme.”


SinceBerenehadgoneintotheyoungman’sofficeasanemployéhergoodtaste
andanotherreasonhadcausedhertoavoidhimasmuchaspossibleinthe
house.Heseldomsawmorethanapassingglimpseofherinthehalls,and
frequentlywholedayselapsedthathemetheronlyintheoffice.Theyoungman
neversuspectedthatthisfactwasdueingreatparttothesuggestionofjealousy
inthemanneroftheBaronesstowardtheyounggirleverafterhehadshownso
muchinterestinherwelfare.Sensitivetothementalatmosphereabouther,asa
windharptothelightestbreeze,Berenefeltthisunexpressedsentimentinthe
breastofher“benefactress”andstrovetoavoidanythingwhichcouldaggravate
it.
Withalaggingstepandalistlessair,Prestonmadehiswayupthefirstoftwo
flightsofstairswhichintervenedbetweenthestreetdoorandhisroom.Thefirst
floorwasindarkness;butintheupperhalladimlightwasalwaysleftburning
untilhisreturn.Ashereachedthelanding,hewasstartledtoseeawoman’s
formlyingatthefootoftheatticstairs,butafewfeetfromthedoorofhis
room.Stoopingdown,heutteredasuddenexclamationofpainedsurprise,forit
wasuponthepallid,unconsciousfaceofBereneDumontthathiseyesfell.He
liftedthelithefigureinhissinewyarms,andwithlight,rapidstepsboreherup
thestairsandinthroughtheopendoorofherroom.
“Ifsheisdead,Iamhermurderer,”hethought.Butatthatmomentsheopened
hereyesandlookedfullintohis,withagazewhichmadehisimpetuous,
uncontrolledheartforgetthatanyoneoranythingexistedonearthbutthisgirl
andhisloveforher.


CHAPTERV
ONEofthegreatestfactorsinthepreservationoftheBaroness’sbeautyhadbeen
herabilitytosleepunderallconditions.Thewomanwhocananddoessleep
eightorninehoursoutofeachtwenty-fouriswellarmedagainsttheonslaught
oftimeandtrouble.
Tosaythatsuchwomendonotpossessheartenoughorfeelingenoughtosuffer
isofttimesmostuntrue.
Insomniaisadiseaseofthenervesorofthestomach,ratherthantheresultof
extremeemotion.Sometimesthepeoplewhosleepthemostprofoundlyatnight
intimesofsorrow,sufferthemoreintenselyduringtheirwakinghours.
Disguisedasafriend,deceitfulSlumbercomestothemonlytostrengthentheir
powersofsuffering,andtolendanewedgetopain.
TheBaronesswasnotwithoutfeeling.Hertemperamentwasfarfrom
phlegmatic.Shehadexperiencedgreatcyclonesofgriefandlossinhervaried
career,thoughmanyyearshadelapsedsinceshehadknownwhattheFrenchcall
a“whitenight.”
ButthenightfollowingherinterviewwithPrestonCheneysheneverclosedher
eyesinsleep.Itwasinvainthatshetriedallknownrecipesforproducing
slumber.Shesaidthealphabetbackwardtentimes;shecountedonethousand;
sheconjuredupvisionsofsheepjumpingthetime-honouredfenceinbattalions,
yetthesleepgodneveroncedrewnear.
“Iamcertainlyabrilliantillustrationofthesayingthatthereisnofoollikean
oldfool,”shesaidtoherselfasthenightworeon,andthestrangesensationof
painandlosswhichPrestonCheney’sunexpectedannouncementhadcausedher
gnawedatherbreastlikearatinawainscot.
Thatshehadbeenunusuallyinterestedintheyoungeditorsheknewfromthe
first;thatshehadbeenmortallywoundedbyCupid’sshaftsheonlynow
discovered.Shehadpassedthroughadivorce,two“affairs”andalegitimate


widowhood,withoutfeelinganyofthekeenemotionswhichnowdrovesleep
fromhereyes.Alongtimeago,longerthanshecaredtoremember,shehad
experiencedsuchemotions,butshehadsupposedsuchfollyonlypossibleinthe
hightideofearlyyouth.Itwasabsurd,naymore,itwasridiculoustolieawake
athertimeoflifethinkingaboutapennilesscountryyouthwhosemothershe
mightalmosthavebeen.InthisbitterlyfrankfashiontheBaronessreasoned
withherselfasshelayquitestillinherluxuriousbed,andtriedtosleep.
Yetdespiteherfrankness,herphilosophyandherreasoning,theraspinghurtat
herheartremained—ahurtsocruelitseemedtohertheendofallpeaceor
pleasureinlife.
ItishardertobearthesuffocatingheatofalateSeptemberdaywhichtheyear
sometimesbrings,thanalltheburningJunesuns.
TheBaronessheardtheclickofPreston’skeyinthestreetdoor,andshelistened
tohisslowstepasheascendedthestairs.Sheheardhimpause,too,andwaited
forthesoundoftheopeningofhisroomdoor,whichwassituatedexactlyabove
herown.Butshelistenedinvain,herears,brainandheartonthealertwith
surprise,curiosity,andatlastsuspicion.TheBaronesswasasfullofcuriosityas
acat.
Itwasnotuntiljustbeforedawnthatsheheardhisstepinthehall,andhisdoor
openandclose.
Anhourlaterasharpringcameatthestreetdoorbell.AmessageforMr
Preston,theservantsaid,inanswertohermistress’squestionasshedescended
fromtheroomabove.
“WasMrPrestonawakewhenyourappedonhisdoor?”askedtheBaroness.
“Yes,madame,awakeanddressed.”
MrPrestonranhurriedlythroughthehallsandouttothestreetamomentlater;
andtheBaroness,clothedinadressing-gownandsilkenslippers,tiptoedlightly
tohisroom.Thebedhadnotbeenoccupiedthewholenight.Onthetablelaya
notewhichtheyoungmanhadbegunwheninterruptedbythemessagewhichhe
hadthrowndownbesideit.
TheBaronessglancedatthenote,onwhichtheinkwasstillmoist,andread,
“MydearMissLawrence,Iwantyoutoreleasemefromthetiesformedonly
yesterday—Iambaselyunworthy—”herethenoteended.Shenowturnedher


attentiontothemessagewhichhadpreventedthecompletionoftheletter.Itwas
signedbyJudgeLawrenceandranasfollows:—
“MYDEARBOY,—Mywifewastakenmortallyillthismorningjustbefore
daybreak.Shecannotlivemanyhours,ourphysiciansays.Mabelisina
stateofcompletenervousprostrationcausedbytheshockofthiscalamity.
Iwishyouwouldcometousatonce.Ifearformydearchild’sreason
unlessyouproveabletocalmandquietherthroughthisordeal.Hasten
then,mydearson;everymomentbeforeyouarrivewillseemanageof
sorrowandanxietytome.
“S.LAWRENCE.”
AstrangesmilecurvedthecornersoftheBaroness’slipsasshefinishedreading
thisnoteandtiptoeddownthestairstoherownroomagain.
Meantimethehourforherhotwaterarrived,andBerenedidnotappear.The
Baronessdrankaquartofhotwatereverymorningasatonicforhersystem,and
anotherquartafterbreakfasttoreduceherflesh.Herexcellentdigestivepowers
andtheclearconditionofherbloodsheattributedlargelytothishabit.
Afterafewmomentssherangthebellvigorously.Maggie,thechambermaid,
cameinanswertothecall.
“PleaseaskMissDumont”(Berenewasalwaysknowntotheotherservantsas
MissDumont)“tohurrywiththehotwater,”theBaronesssaid.
“MissDumonthasnotyetcomedownstairs,madame.”
“Notcomedown?Thenwillyoupleasecallher,Maggie?”
TheBaronesswasalwayspolitetoherservants.Shehadobservedthata
graciousnessofspeechtowardherservantsoftenmadeupforadeficiencyin
wages.MaggieascendedtoMissDumont’sroom,andreturnedwiththe
informationthatMissDumonthadasevereheadache,andbeggedthe
indulgenceofmadamethismorning.
AgainthatstrangesmilecurvedthecornersoftheBaroness’slips.
Maggiewasrequestedtobringuphotwaterandcoffee,andgreatwasher
surprisetofindtheBaronessmovingabouttheroomwhensheappearedwiththe
tray.


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