Chapter 20706641

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Chapter NumberV
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-04-30
Page Number553
Word Count4403
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleConstance Duchesne: Is Life Worth the Living?
article text

The Storyteller.

Constance Duchesne: Is Life- Worth the Living?



THERE days after Mr. Ducheane had despatched his invitation to Mr. Poynton the answer to it arrived. Mr. Duchesne and Constance were breakfasting alone. Alice was gone home, and

Cyril had left with her. "From Mr. Poynton," Mr. Duchesne said, m he handed the letter to Constance, who took it in silence and glanced down it Her lip onrled •a the read. She thought no better of John Poynton for the oordial manner in which he responded to his kinsman's tardy overtures. "A mean toadying nature," she thought to herself ; "or else so crushed and kept down by poverty that it has lost the power to rise ;" and ahe pictured to herself what would have been her reception of such ill-timed advances. There wu a very bright sparkle in her eye and a flush on her cheek that morning, which her father, when he observed it, attributed to excitement on Mr. Poynton's account There was peace between father and daughter now apparently, though there had been no ex planation or reconciliation, and no stranger would have detected any difference between their de meanour to one another now and what it had been a week ago. But though outwardly all was smooth, the breach had not been dosed. Till that moment Mr. Poynton's name had not been mentioned between them, but each felt the change—the old happy confidence was gone. Conatanoe talked to her father and waited on him as usual, but she was very glad that she had been the first in the breakfast-room that morning. Time was when the news contained in the morning's budget would have been carried straight to her father to be discussed with him and to hear what he thought best to do; but, as has been remarked, all that was over; Constance had learned that ahe mast stand alone, and for such a nature as hers the lesson once set before it was never to be set aside, but to be conned over and mastered. Mr. Poynton's letter was by no means the most important one in Constance's eyes. Among the letters addressed to her was one from Cyril. She took it up the first, and opened it hastily. It was very rarely he wrote to her—they saw one another so frequently that there was no need, and Cyril detested letter-writing. Constance was curious to see what reason had made him write now. She had been thinking a great deal about him lately for many reasons. Bis letter was very short He just wrote to tell her that he would not be down at the Manor House on Sunday as usuaL as he would be in Paris before she received his letter. "We have had a serious quarrel, Alice and 1, and it may be some time before I come back to England—perhaps I may never come." This was in a postscript, m which, following the fashion of the other sex, Cyril had put the weightiest matter. The colour rose in Constance's face as she read, and she sat down with the open letter in her hand to think. La Rochefoucauld says that there is always something pleasant to us in the misfortunes of our friends. There is a great deal of truth in the observation, as there v in most of the witty Frenchman's bitter sayiugs. Cyril's trouble could not have cut Constanoe very deeply, for when, after carefully folding the letter and placing it in her pocket, she turned to rearrange a vase of flowers that stood on the breakfast table she looked brighter and better than she bad done for many a long day. She was slow at her task, and she did not manage it so skilfully as usual She was busy mentally writing the answer to Cyril. Of course she sympathised with him deeply and felt much for his pain. She wu sure it must be Alice's fault; but perhaps it would all prove to be for the best—not a very novel line of argument, but Constance felt the force of it very strongly. She was sure it would be very much better for Cyril to be free from an engage* ment with one so little worthy of him as Alice. Cyril, she thought, wanted some one who would bring ont the nobler qualities of his character, and that the weak frivolous disposition of Alice Viner could never do. So utterly engrossed was she by her own private news that she had totally forgotten all about her father's affairs, and she had to make quite an effort to collect her thoughts when Mr. Duchesne handed her Mr. Poynton's letter. "He will oome on Saturday," she said re flectively as she laid down the letter. She had quite got the matter in hand again now—even tiie subject of Cyril's broken engagement was dismissed for a little time. The colour faded from her cheek, and her delicate lips were drawn almost into a straight line, as her manner was when much annoyed. Mr. Duohesne did not say another word, but went on reading his letters. It was no uncommon thing for them to breakfast in silence, for they were neither of them great talkers. When the meal was over Mr. Duchesne rose from the table and went back to his study. It struck Constance that her father walked more feebly than usual, but in the anxious thoughts that possessed her then she did not take much notice of the matter, though afterwards it came back to her with painful force. He did not complain of bis health, and they passed the day much as usual The next day was Thursday, and Constance remarked carelessly that she was going on Friday to spend a few days with her aunt, Mrs. Foxton. She did not exactly ask permission, but she said it in a way that gave Mr. Duchesne an opportunity of objecting if he had chosen to do bo. He did not choose, however, but allowed the remark to pass in silence. It was not a comfortable day for either of them—each wished that things had not gone so far, and each decided that it was impossible now to give way. Con stance almost hoped something would happen that would absolutely compel her to stay at home, even though staying meant receiving the obnoxious Mr. Poynton. She had a presentiment of trouble in the immediate future. She could not account to herßelf for it, and wrestled with the feeling. She had a horror of superstitions, aqd. would no more have put faith in the poesi-

bility of ooming event* outing their shadows before than she would have believed in a vulgar gboat story. In spite of all her philosophy ahe was still so restless and uncomfortable, without exactly knowing why, that Cyril's love affaire were east into the background, and she actually put off answering his letter till the morning on which aha was going away. The one ahe wrote then wm very different to the one ahe had written in imagination while ahe arranged the flowers on the breakfast-table. It was as short nearly as his own, and at the end curtly ex pressed a hope that all would come right again "in time." There was a something in it, short and meagre as it was, that stung Cyril when he read it, and he crushed it in his hand and then tore it into ahreds. The spirit that was upon her when ahe wrote had entered unconsciously into her letter, and it was not a happy spirit There was a shadow on Constance's face the next morning as ahe drove to the railway-station that lent a new charm to her beauty. Generally she was too oalm and composed—"too cold" was the general verdict; but on Friday morning this sadness that had come over her as she bade her father farewell had given to her perfectly-cut features the expression that was sometimes lacking. Constance as yet was like Undine before ahe married the mortal. Her soul had not come to her. She was beautiful and young and rich and happy, but there was a something wanting. She-was conscious of it herself, but without knowing*what it was, and she craved for the fuller life, though it was to come to her with pain and anguish; and though, when it should be given her with its bitter knowledge and its un utterable grief, Bhe would cry out as so many have done before, and so many will do again— "To what good is it all t What is the object of this struggle I What is the hidden purpose of this misery T" Though Constance only intended to be a few days from home—just so many as Mr. Poynton stayed at the Manor House—Bhe had felt a pang at saying good-bye to her father that she had never experienced before. She felt as if the were deserting him, and actually when she got to the hall door turned back, on pretext of having forgotten something, and said good-bye to him ftgwii Mr. Duohesne looked a little surprised when she came back and kissed him the second time— they were both very chary of unnecessary demonstrations of afftation. He made no remark, however, but watched her till the door closed behind her, and then he sighed heavily. If Constance had heard the sigh, in spite of all her pride she would have asked him if he minded her leaving him, and on the least bint would have given up her visit; but Mr. Duchesne was as proud as she was, and reserved all appearance of regret till she was gone. His eyes followed her as she left the room, then he got up feebly and went to the window and watched her down the flight of steps into the pony carriage. He stood looking till long after she whs out of tight, and then he sighed heavily again, and went back to his easy-chair. He then summoned Howard, the bailiff, and talked business with him, but felt that he could not concentrate bis attention as usual; so Howard was dismissed, not having gained much from the interview with his employer; and then Mr. Duchesne lay back in his chair and gave himself up to doing nothing. Mr. White was to come that morning, and till he had discussed matters with the clear-headed lawyer it was useless even to try to think. Constance did not know of Mr. White's in tended visit, and when ahe met the solitary fly that the railway-station boasted she looked curiously to see the occupant. Mr. White had recognised her before, and was looking out to salute her. She flushed crimson when she saw him. It flashed upon her that her father had waited for her to go to put his threat into execution. She could scarcely return Mr. White's salutation, so greatly was Bhe startled, and the lawyer was surprised at the haughty bow he received. Generally Constance was very gracious to him. This meeting with the lawyer turned all the lingering tenderness towards her father to bitter* ness. So engrossed was she with her angry thoughts that she actually drove past the railway station, and if the shrill whistle of an approaching train had not startled the horses, and so given the groom an opportunity to remark humbly that the up-train was due in a few minutes, Constance might have driven about for all the rest of the morning, not knowing and not caring what she did or where she went. The inter ruption was fortunate both for the ponies and the groom, who might not have appreciated such aimless wanderings. Constance turned the horses sharply round when the man spoke. She got out hastily and entered the railway-station, while he stood gazing after her and waiting till it should please the porter to come out and fetch the portmanteau. James scratched his head and whistled as he waited and speculated. "Something must have gone very wrong indeed to put Miss Duohesne out like that," he thought to himself. She was generally very pleasant-spoken to all the servants, especially to James, whose par ticular charge the pet ponies were; but to-day she had not said a word, nor had she even patted her favourites, and even Bruce, her great New* foundland dog was told to go home quite sharply. Poor Bruce looked, as aggrieved as James—he understood the tone as well as James did, and as he had neither stolen a bone nor worried a little dog (his two most frequent mis demeanours) he did not at all understand why he should be spoken to like that. He too watched Constance disappear into the station, but instead of wagging his tail and taking a joyous leave as usual he kept his bushy appendage well down between his legs, and he nearly reached home again before it recovered its usual level and he his usual spirits. " There is somethiag wrong somewhere," said James to himself ; and with that astute observa tion and a nod of his head in the direction of the railway-station he drove slowly away, Bruce following. Chapter VI. "It is a Btrange project, and open to very grave objections, said Mr. White slowly. He threw himself further back in his chair and ex amined his well-trimmed finger-nails as he spoke.

Having hid an excellent luncheon, which he had eaten with a good appetite, he ought now to have been in very good humour, and under ordi* nary drcumatanoes would hare been. But the circumstance* were not ordinary. The terms on which he stood with Mr. Ducheane differed from those between most solicitors and clients. For several generations the two families had held the same respective positions to each other. Mr. White had a real personal regard for his gene rally inaccessible and unmanageable client, and he regarded Constance with almost fatherly affection. This project to punish Constances disobedience of which Mr. Ducheane had just told him had caused him actual pain. He com prehended how acutely her father's conduct must have stung the high-spirited girL He un deratood now the reason of her unusual manner to him in the morning; probably she thought he was coming to aid and abet her father in his schemes. He sympathised with her in her indig* nant refusal to meet Mr. Poynton after all that she had learned. It was just what he would have expected from her. Mr. Ducheane had been very frank ; he had not kept back or softened ' down a single detail of his quarrel with his daughter. So far as he could recollect he told it to his lawyer word for word. He was too clear sighted a man himself not to know that if he wanted good advice he must put his adviser in full possession of the facts, even though they went against himself. Mr. White had listened patiently, only putting a question here and there. The story had quite spoiled the effects of the good luncheon, which Mr. Ducheßne had wisely had served before they entered upon business. The wine remained un* tasted on the table between them, while Mr. White lay back and pondered. "It is n strange project," he said again, as, after listening to the history of Constance's dis obedience, Mr. Duohesne unfolded his intentions with regard to the disposal of his property; " very strange indeed." " I know that—l know everything that can be said against it. I know all that you can urge in Constance's favour. I have thought of every* thing," was the reply. Mr. Duohesne spoke peevishly as he held his thin shrivelled hands over the fire which even on' that bright summer day he had caused to be lighted. He was always oold now, and the feeble look which Constance had notioed two days before had increased. " You are trusting implicitly to the honour of a young untried man," returned Mr. White. "I know that" " Are you confident that he is worthy of your trust ? Will he carry out your will when there is no power to oompel him ?" " I shall take care there is power to compel him," replied Mr. Duohesne sharply. "Ton will know everything; you can expose him it he should fail" The lawyer shook bis head. He heartily dis approved Mr. Duchesne's conduct throughout the whole affair; it was sot even what he would have expected of him—for he, like Constance, regarded the overtures to Mr. Poynton as a» unworthy truckling to wealth. However, be knew it was useless to oppose ; the stubbornness' of the Duohesneß was a proverb in the old-estab* lithed firm, and he knew too that on this one matter of re-purchasing the estate his client was hardly sane. Mr. Duohesne waited a little to allow Mr. White time to reply, but no reply being forth* coming he struck the table impatiently. " Now draw out my instructions," he said. Mr. White drew pen and ink towards him; then he poured out a glass of wine, drank it off, and looked steadily into the fire. All this time Mr. Ducheane curbed his fm* , patience as well as he could. Domineering and intolerant as he was, he knew the quiet placid looking man opposite could have his own way too when he was so pleased, and It would not have suited him to quarrel with Mr. White just then, even temporarily ; so he restrained his im patience as best he could, and thrummed on the table ; he next warmed his hands over the fire, and then pushed the other decanter towards Mr. White. " I scarcely know how to word it, that is the truth," said the lawyer at length, not taking soy notioe of his host's movement. " Pshaw 1 that is a strange confession for * lawyer to make," said Mr. Duchesne. "It is a strange will for a father to dictate," remarked Mr. White severely. If he did carry out his client's instructions the latter should get no sympathy or assistance from, him, of that he was determined. He would pro* tect Constance's interest to the very utmost. He thought for a little longer, and then began to write. It was a Btrange disposition of property, as he truly said. The Berkshire estates were to be bought back immediately, at any cost, pro* vided Mr. Poynton could be persuaded to sell— the purchase if not completed before the tes tator's death was to be carried out by his exe cutors. Cecil Montgomery was appointed sole heir. "My daughter Constance will understand the reason of these alterations in my will," said Mr. Duohesne slowly. (He insisted on dictating this portion of the will himself.) "She is amply provided for by her mother's settlement, in addi* tion to which I bequeath to her the Thames Ditton Manor House and grounds." The lawyer wrote as he dictated. "It is a hard sentence ; the punishment is greater thaa the fault," he said as he finished writing, and pußhed the paper away impatiently. Mr. Duchesne took it up and read it over care* fully. " That will do," he said. " Now for the secret will." This second and more important document was. to be made known to no one but Cyril Mont gomery and Mr. White himeelf. It waa certainty a strange arrangement: it enjoined that at the end of four years, from the day of the testator's death, Cyril, who up to that time wonld have been known as sole heir, should make over to his cousin, Constance Duchesne, the whole of the property to which she was rightful heir—less £10,000, which was given to Cyril wholly and unreservedly. If Constance should marry John Poynton before the expiration of that time Cyril was enjoined to make known this Eecret will on her wedding day, and to hand over to her her estate*. This curious document concluded by

inTokiog a blessing enhisdearly-beloved daughter Constance, to whom he had given this severe lemn as a warning to cultivate a more yielding and loving temper, and an earnest injunction to his nephew Cyril to carry out his portion of the trust in good faith—urging the complete confi dence that he reposed in his honour as a reason for his proving himself worthy of it "That is all?" said Mr. White, as with a long, drawn sigh he lifted his head from the paper over which he had been bending. Mr. Duohesne made no reply; he waa crouch inn over the fire with a vacant air. Mr White regarded him uneasily. He got np from the chair he had been occupying and came closer to bis client. "I will let yon have these papers at the be* ginning of the week," he said. His movement aroused Mr. Duehesne, as he meant it should. "No, no, that would be too late," be replied with a wild anxious look. Then recovering him* ?elf he added, with a kind of apologetic smile, MI mean I wish them done at once. I must sign them now." " That is impossible," replied Mr. White. " I have business in town which I cannot put oft I most catch the next train, and it would take aw some time to get these documents ready." MWhat will be the earliest then?" the old man asked eagerly. " To-morrow. I will run down with them to* morrow afternoon. By the way. where is Mr. Montgomery ? He should be here to receive the will in my presence. It might be necessary even to have another witness," he added musingly. "Cyril is in Paris," said Mr. Duehesne, taking no notice of the last part of the lawyer's speech. M Send for him to come at once." Mr. White stood ruminating for a few minutes longer, and when he again turned to address Mr. Duohesne he observed the same vacant expres sion stealing over his face which he had noticed before. MI don't think you are looking very well," he laid, gently laying his hand on Mr. Duohesne's •boulder to rouse his attention. They were such old acquaintances that the familiarity was ex cusable. M You ought to see the doctor. At our time of life we. cannot afford to neglect any little ?fluents, you know," he continued in a half joking manner. "No doctor can do me any good," said Mr. Doohesne in a low tone. He had banished the vacant expression again, but his face looked very wan and drawn. "When this business is con cluded I shall be all right again." "How long will Miss Duohesne be away?" persisted the lawyer. He was becoming really alarmed—the traces of serious illness were so apparent; ha wondered he had not noticed them " I scarcely know—not long, I think." The old man sighed and turned away. He did not wish to talk of Constanoe just then. H Wall, I will bring these papers for you to sign to-morrow" said Mr. White, observing the evident unwillingness of his client to speak on any subject except the immediate business that brought him down. Mr. Duohesne thanked him as he took his leave, but in a listless sort of way as if he waa ?oaraely oontdous of what he was saying, and Mr. White watched his friend uneasily as he sank back in his chair apparently exhausted. As he went out Mr. White asked Barnes where Miss Duchesae was staying. "I shall telegraph for her to come home. I don't think Mr. Duohesne is well," he said musingly after Barnes had told him the address. The old retainer looked up anxiously. With all their faults the Duohesnes were good masters, and their servant* stayed with them from gene* ration to generation. MI have noticed that master was looking very bad these last three or four days," he said in reply to Mr. White. Although there were only a few minutes to spare when he reaohed the railway station, Mr. White made time to despatch two telegrams— one to Cyril Montgomery and one to Constance. The one to Constanoe reached Orosvenor* square and was placed on the table in Constance's 1 room within an hour of the time of its despatch, and there it remained unopened and unread till the afternoon of the following day, when Con* stance returned with her aunt from some rural festivities. Constance hated the sight of a telegram for many a long day after; the thin blue paper seemed always to toll the same tale: Too late I too late! (TO BE OOHTINUED.)

Students of Roman history cannot fail to be interested in a statement that recently fell from the lips of Senator Windom, Minn., respecting the mechanical capacities of the Roman fleet two thousand years ago. Thu erudite gentleman, having been elected chairman of the committee appointed to consider the regulation of the great American rivers in such sort as to facilitate their navigation, delivered an impassioned oration at the first committee meeting, in which he drew an eloquent comparison between the grain fleets that would be enabled to issue from the Missis* sippi to all parts of the globe, and the convoys of corn-laden vessels that in days of yore supplied mighty Rome with cereals from Egypt. " When," he exclaimed, "one of these Egyptian convoys was expected to arrive, the stately Roman ?teamen, gaily dressed in many-coloured bunting, ?allied forth from the Eternal City's port in order to pick up the slower sailing vessels and conduct them safely into the Tiber's mouth 1" Borne disorder in the proceedings of the com mittee was occasioned by the learned senator's authoritative attribution of steam power to the war galleys of the Csesars. Mr. Windom, after in vain endeavouring to regain the attention of his fellow-commissioners, sit down amidst shouts of merriment. Thereupon the representative of lowa arose and addressed the meeting with satur nine gravity to the following effect:—" For my part, gentlemen, I believe the senator's story is correct We must not rashly reject anecdotes of this description. Why, I have an illustrated Bible at home in which Cain is drawn shooting his brother Abel witk a long rifle. That event can give point to the senator's Roman steam galleys anyhow 1"