Chapter 20706503

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Chapter NumberIII
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-04-23
Page Number521
Word Count3480
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleConstance Duchesne: Is Life Worth the Living?
article text

The Storyteller.

Constance Dachesne: Is Life Worth the Living?



"WHY did you not come when I called you, Constance?" said Alice Viner, when they were all—seated at luncheon. "I wanted to show you a most lovely sketch that Cyril made this

mowing." Alioe Vin«r wh the daughter of a widow lady, and waa engaged to Cyril Montgomery, Mr. Duohesne's nephew. Consequently she was a frequent visitor at the house, and Constance did not think it nucamry to make conversation on her account , M Did you!" the aaid languidly, after leaving iqeh a pause before her reply aa showed that aba did not take the slightest interest in the matter, and did not wish the trouble of talking. Bat Alioe was not easily silenced. " Did you evet know anyone so unsympathetic 1" Bhe ex* claimed merrily. "I will not show her that sketch now, Cyril, just to punish her." M Not a very severe punishment," said Cyril good'bnmouredly. He saw that some very serious quarrel had arisen between father and daughter, and though he knew it waa hopeless for any third person to try to make peace between two such stubborn wills he was anxious that at all events nothing should be said or done to increase the breach. Alice was not very ob servant or discreet, and he was afraid she might make some ill-timed remark upon the evident ill temper of host and hostess, so he took the harden of conversation upon himself and kept Alioe engaged. Mr. Duebeene did not speak during the whole time of luncheon, exoept once to thank Cyril for rendering him some small service. The tone in which he thanked him struck Cyril—there was a significance in it that made him notice that it was his daughter's place and usual habit to perform the little service which he had just rendered. Perhaps Constanoe noticed it too, for her eye met Cyril's, and there was an angry sparkle in it that Cyril could not understand. Mr. Duchesne never made a greater mistake * in all his life than when he threatened Constance with disinheritance as a means of bowing her to his wilL It roused all the evil spirit of her race, and to tho quick thought which linked her cousin's name with the word "disinheritance" Cyril owed the rebuff at the door and the sparkling glance at luncheon. Cyril was much too indolent to try and find out anything that waa not told him ; so, having done even more than his wont in engaging Alice's attention during luncheon, and seeing that Constanoe was still in a bad temper, as soon as she gave the signal to move he rose from the table and sauntered out on the terrace to smoke his cigar. Alice followed him, and Constance soon heard them laughing and chatting merrily as they pasted up and down. Their light-heartedness seamed terribly discordant to her at that moment, and, after bearing it a little while because she was too listless to move from the table where Bhe had been sitting with her head buried in her hand, she got up and went wearily to her own room. Even from there she could see and hear Cyril and Alice, and, as if fasci nated, she watched them still, againßt her will. Though Cyril and disinheritance were now linked together in her thoughts, she was too generous to feel sore against him for an offence of whUa ho wh utterly ignorant.

Constance's feelings with regard to her cousin Cyril Montgomery were of a Tory mixed nature. If the had been asked, she would hare Mid she was aa utterly indifferent to him as to any other of her very few gentlemen acquaintance. Con stance had a great scorn for love-making in all its forms, and believed herself quite removed from such absurd frailties. Of course she had a cousinly regard for Cyril Montgomery; she had known him since she had known anyone, and Cyril was handsome and courteous and brave and gentle—in fact, as Constance believed, a man tant pcir tt tan* reproehe —but there was one flaw in him—one which to a mind of Con stance's mould more than counterbalanced all this perfection: Cyril was weak. Constance, keenly alive as she was, perhaps almost uncon sciously, to his good qualities, was bound to acknowledge this; over and over again had he vexed her beyond endurance by his vacillation. "Cyril is as weak as water," she had often taid | to herself; and she believed that she looked I down from her high pedestal and judged him quite impartially. His engagement to Alice Viner had caused her a sharp pang; but the pang was entirely on Cyril's account, she felt convinced. She was grieved that Cyril should have made such a mistake—for she felt sure that it wo* a mistake. Alice was in no respect his equal. Her high spirits and her pretty face were her sole attractions. Constance had known Alice for some time, but Cyril bad only made her ac quaintance recently. He had fallen headlong in love directly he saw her, proposed to her at the end of a two months' acquaintance, and they were to be married almost immediately. After the engagement Constance had been a little more curt in her manner to Cyril, and a little more kind in her manner to Alice; this latter she thought her bounden duty for their future relationship's sake. Alice was grateful for Con stance's kindness, but she did not trouble her very often with her company. There were few points of sympathy between them, and except when Cyril was staying at the Manor House and asked her to go there with him she and Constance seldom met. Constance was too cold and self contained for Alice, and Alice was too childish and flighty for Constance. At this moment Constance did what she had never done before: she envied Alice Viner. The latter was so gay, so light-hearted, so perfectly happy in Cyril's love, and he wa« so devoted to her; and for the first time in her life Constance felt as if her lot was hard. Before this time the very fulness of her father's love had satisfied her—she had not wished or asked for more—but to-day she had learned that there were bounds to that love, and that those bounds were more restricted than she had thought; and she envied Alioe her lover's devotion. She was still watching the happy couple on the terraoe when the door of the room was gently opened. So deep in thought was she that she did not hear it. She started when her father spoke, and looked genuinely surprised ; it was so rarely that he came to find her there. He was still very pale, and seemed more infirm than usual. It touched Constanoe to see him look so ill, and she hastened to place a chair for him. Now was the moment for him to have relaxed his sternness. Constance was pining for his love; if he would but have'caressed her now instead of threatening he could have made her do just what he chose, and saved both of them much misery. But the Duchesne temper was raised. The time that Mr. Duohesne had passed alone in angry meditation had only confirmed him in his intention and increased his anger against Constance for daring to oppose it At this moment nothing but complete submission on her side, without any yielding on his, would have availed, and that Constanoe, though in a much more submissive mood than that in which she had been a few hours ago, was far from pre pared for. Her father's threat of disinheritance made her regard her opposition to his scheme as a matter of principle: she thought he was de grading himself by making these advances to Mr. Poynton, and that it was her duty to turn him, if possible, from a oourse which he would afterwards repent of. As to the project of marrying her as an appendage to the land, she would not allow herself to think of it. It brought the crimson to her face to remember it. If her father had no regard for her womanly delicacy she must protect herself, no matter what the consequence. After the revelation of the morning, no power on earth should compel her to meet Mr. Poynton. " Are you going to write to Mr. Poynton for me, Constance ?" Mr. Duohesne said, as he took the chair she gave him; M there is only half an hour before post time." Constance was in the habit of writing all her father's letters for him, and generally enjoyed her duties as amanuensis. She paused a minute before replying. She had been arranging a cushion for her father, but at the tope in which he spoke she left his chair and went hack to the window. "No, papa, I will jjot write," she answered 'quietly. The determination in his daughter's voice roused Mr. Duchesne's anger to such a pitch that he almost lost the power of speech, he was in such a towering passion. He rose very slowly from his chair. " Constance, understand me once for all," he said ; " Mr. Poynton comes here, whether you write to him or I do." " I will not meet him, and I tell you, papa, that I will not write to Mr. Poynton—will not have anything to do with him. I wish I had never heard his name," she added bitterly. "Perhaps you will have good cause to say that," said Mr. Duohesne, now losing all command of himself, " for if you dare to thwart me, Constance, I will do what I told you this morning, I will make Cyril my heir—l will take good care he shall not oppose me," he added, striking his hand on the table so heavily that a fragile specimen vase, top-heavy with a mag nificent damask rose, fell over with a tiny crash. "Do you understand me ?" he continued, as Constance still remained silent. " Quite," was the calm reply. Her father looked at her steadily —he scarcely expected Buch determination. She met his eye calmly; there was nothing defiant or unseemly in her manner. It seemed strange, even to Constanoe herself, that she should remain so unmoved at such • crisis, Generally she find up under

much more trivial provocation. The difference between the two character* mi very marked at this moment; both were equally determined and equally capable of maintaining their ground, bat it was the old man who displayed all the paaaion and all the vehemence. This girl with her pale face and erect figure was totally un moved. If she had been a marble statue ahe could not have ahown leaa animation; but, though outwardly so passive, her mind was very busily at work. She knew her father was quite capable 61 carrying out his threat, and even while he spoke ahe was scanning the future and again comparing her lot with Alice Viaer's. To the one everything was to be granted, from the other everything taken away. Mr. Duoheane stood a few minutes longer silently regarding his daughter. His ordinarily pale face was deeply flushed, and his eyes, though sparkling with anger, seemed sunk into his head. He had worked himself up to such a pitch of fury that he was almost losing consciousness of the actual cause of dispute, and regarded Con stance as then and there in her own person coming as an obstacle between him and his cherished design. These furious outbursts of temper had become so habitual to him now, and their effect on his health was so injurious, that Constance, hurt and angry as she was, almost forgot her own cause for anger in anxiety for him. She came towards him to urge him to sit down, for he was trembling visibly, but he waved her off. He would not let her touch him, though he stumbled and nearly fell as he turned to leave the room. Constance watched him, still in silence, till he disappeared along the corridor. She was almost inclined to go after him even then, and tell him that she would do as he wished, for she loved him dearly, and her fears for his health almost outweighed her anger; but the terrible thought that to submit now might be sealing her fate to she knew not what in the future held her back. CfUPralV. I» Mr. Duchesne had only had resolution enough to have kept his own counsel that morning about the marriage project all would have been well. However repugnant it might have been to her to see her father descend from the high position which he had always maintained to curry favour with a man whom he had re pulsed and insulted in his poverty she would have given way; but when he told her that she was to be part of the bargain—a portion of that which was to go in exchange for the property — it was too much. Nol even for his sake she could sot submit to that As to his threat about making Cyril his heir, that only affected her as regarded her father's feelings towards her. Constanoe was by no means ignorant of the ad vantages of wealth. She was perfectly aware of the difference in position between the heiress of the Duohesnes and the daughter of the defunct half-pay officer Captain Viner, even while she envied her and thought her lot more rich in blessings than her own; but she knew she was amply provided for by her mother's settlement, and that, independently of her father, she wss rich. After her father had gone Constance went back to her station at the window, and a little bitterness mingled with her anxiety. She watched Cyril and Alice, but half unconsciously. She was following up two trains of thought at once—their happy future, and what course she should take if Mr. Poynton accepted her father's invitation. That he would invite him she knew her father too well to doubt. Constance remained in her own room all that afternoon. She could not summon up resolution to join Cyril and Alice, who she knew were lingering about waiting for her. The time went very slowly. It was the moat dreary day she had ever spent. In vain she tried to occupy herself to prevent her thoughts from for ever dwelling on the one subject; she could not command her attention. When she went into the drawing-room before dinner she found only Alice there. " Cyril has to go to town at once," she said in answer to Constance's glance round the room. " Mr. Duchesne has missed the post, and he has some important letters that he wants Cyril to take for him." * Oh!" said Constanoe. She did not ask what the letters were. " Will not Cyril have time to take dinner first f "Tea, of course I shall," Cyril answered for himself as he came into the room; " there is twenty minutes before the train starts: ten for dinner and ten for the ride." "You cannot do it in that," said Constance. "Whatdo you mean?" said Cyril laughing ; «the distance or the dinner ?" " Neither the one nor the other." " Well, we will soon see about the dinner, and Black Bess will easily decide about the other," replied Cyril; " but let's begin at once. Isn't dinner ready yet, Barnes I" he said, as the old butler appeared in the halL " It is just served, sir," replied Barnes. Cyril laughingly offered an arm to each of the young ladies, and they went into the dining* room together. " Uncle is not coming down, Barnes; send James to him," Cyril said as he took his seat. Constance heard in silence. It was a very unusual thing for Mr. Duchesne to remain away from dinner. Constance had almost made up her mind to rise from the table and to go to him herself, when she caught sight of the letters Cyril had to post He had put them down beside her, and Constance saw that one was addressed to Mr. Poynton, and one to old Mr. White, her father's lawyer and trusted friend. The sight bound her to her seat, and took away whatever little appetite she might have had. " I declare you are both very uninteresting," said Alice, as in silence they discussed the soup; "Cyril is only intent on getting his dinner down as quickly as possible, and Constance has scarcely opened her mouth since breakfast." Cyril darted a reproving look at Alice, but it was of no use ; if she saw it she did not take any notioe of it Alice hated dulness, of which Con stance had given her more than a fair share during the last few days, and this day was quite a climax. Constance did not eren trouble herself to reply for some time. "I cannot always laugh, Alice," she said at length. There was jnst sufficient stress laid upon the adyarb to make it observable that she thought Alice oould always laugh. However, if

the hoped it would be a cheek on her visitor's gaiety sbe was mistaken. Alice kept up her chatter till Cyril went off; then she coaxed Constance into the drawing-room to sing. Con* stance loved made dearly, and she forgot her troubles for a time as she and Alice Bang duet after duet She sang well, but Alice aang far better, and Constance often wondered how, with her shallow nature, Alice could put such deep pathos into her songs. With apparently no capacity for deep emotion herself, she could sway her audience at will—now to the height of the wildest gaiety, now to the depths of the moot passionate despair. After a time Constance gave up singing herself and aat listening to Alice. That just suited the latter; she liked a listener, and though she and Constance never "got on" together she had a great respect for her, and thought more of her own talent when she saw the power it possessed to move Constance. This evening she seemed to excel herself, and when at the very last she sang Mendelssoh s " Cradle Song" the melody stole over Constance with a strange effect. She felt as if the strain that had been upon her all day was relaxed, and ns she sat with her head turned from Alice resting in her hand the tears that were very rare with Constance trickled Blowly down her cheeks. _ She brushed them away as she heard Cyril's voice in the hall. He had come back from town, and was singing Alice's song in an undertone. He came straight to the piano, and hung over her till she had finished. Constance had not moved, and her face was turned from them, but in the pier glass opposite she could see their reflection, and, as she watched Cyril's devotion and tender* ness to the woman who was to be bis wife, the soothing effects of the song were swept away. There were no more team—these to a nature like that of Constance told of the passing away of grief—but there was a great pain, almost a physical one it seemed, and Constance pressed her hand upon her side, and turned so that she should not be able to see CyriL He had taken no notice of her when he came in—had not even looked to Bee whether she was in the room or not She need not have wiped away the tears so hurriedly—there was no fear of his seeing them. She was absolutely nothing in his eyes. Poor Constance! She who had known him all her life, who had stood between him and her father's anger time after time, bravely taking upon herself the outburst of rage which would be the result of some of Cyril's escapades, was now utterly forgotten, so absorbed was he in this girl who had neither heart nor mind— at least bo Constance harshly decided in her pain. After a little while she got up noiselessly and went out. She would not go back to her own room ; she felt as if it had been a prison to her all day. She went out on to the terrace'and paced up and down, gazing intently into the starry heavens, full of strange questionings which, would not shape themselves in words—full of a strange unrest! Some chords Bad been struck in her nature this day that had never been struck before, and their vibration left her dozed and trembling—desiring with a passionate desire, and dreading with a vague but intense dread. (TO BE CONTINUED.)