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Chapter NumberVII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20706800
Full Date1881-05-07
Page Number585
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Word Count4561
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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?

CHAPTER VII.

BY "ONYX."

THE telegram which Mr. White despatched to Cyril was more fortunate; Cyril was at his hotel when it arrived. The summons was urgent, and Cyril was only too glad to obey it—glad of any

imperative necessity for action —glad of anything that could divert hia thoughts from bis own private affairs; for in spite of Constance's opinion as to the suitability of his choice Cyril was very deeply in love, and now he rejoiced at having to go to England, because it took him near to Alice. In fact, in a few minutes he had almost lost sight of the real object of his journey in his delight in having a good excuse for his return. "I can just catch the tidal train to night," he muttered, looking at bis watch. A few minutes to make his final arrangements, and Cyril was in a fiacre hurrying to the Station dv Nord, and before the early hours of the morning had well commenced he was in London—London •sleep, and yet not still, for the cessation of the shrillest noises only makes the dull roar of the heavy traffic which never ceases in that mighty centre of civilisation the more perceptible. It was chill and raw and dreary; a drizzling rain fell, and the sky was leaden. Cyril felt his spirits descend to their lowest ebb. Certainly no good could come of this journey, taken under such unfavourable auspices. There was no train to Thames Ditton for several- hours; so he betook himself to an hotel and went to bed. To bed—but not to sleep. His journey, instead of tiring, seemed only to have added excitement to the fever that was on him before. He turned and twisted and tried to reason him* ?elf out of the sense of impending evil which clung to him so persistently. It was only the effects of the miserable weather, he argued. He knew he was keenly alive to the influence of external things, as persons of his impressionable temperament so often are; but it was all in vain. He felt certain that some evil thing was going to happen. At last, quite exhausted with wrestling with his forebodings, he fell asleep, and slept so heavily that it was nearly noon before he awoke. At first he was confused aa to where he was •nd how he got there. Alice and his uncle got curiously mixed up in his brain. Then he remem bered his urgent summons, and frowned as he looked at hia watch to see how much of the morning had already slipped away. It was nearly lunch time when he reached Thames Ditton. "How is my uncle, Barnes?" he said the moment he entered the hall. "Very poorly like, Mr. Cyril," replied the old man. "I am glad you've come. He has been expecting you all the morning." " I overslept myself after the journey. Is Miss Constance at home ?" "Mo, sir. She went away yesterday, and won't be back till Monday anyway. It it a pity, for I think it fidgets master; he keeps looking for her, like." Cyril hurried to the library, and found his ancle lying on the sofa, looking very ill and feeble. "I'm glad you have come, Cyril," he said, after the first salutations were over. " I have something important to say to you, and I want to get it done before—to get it off my mind, I mean," he said, correcting himself, as if fearing that Cyril might put the construction on his words whioh he was conscious was in hia own mind. "I wi do whatever I can for you," said Cyril gently. One of the best points in Cyril's character was bis chivalrous devotion to those in trouble. No matter whether it was the weakness of woman hood, or the feebleness of age, or the desolation of poverty, wherever the need for his help was Cyril gave it; and the manner in which he gave it made those who received it feel a pleasure to be beholden to him. No woman could have helped his uncle more tenderly to move from his recumbent position, or could have arranged the pillows more deftly for his comfort, than Cyril did now, and all this not with the patronising air of the strong helping the weak, but as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to do, and as though his whole heart was in his task. It was this manner that made Cyril such a general favourite, and it was this manner which, while she could escape the influence of it, made Constance look superciliously down on the man who could trouble himself about such little matters. When Mr. Duchesne was at last comfortably settled he entered upon the business for which Cyril was wanted. Cyril listened in perfect silence while his uncle told him of the occurrences of the last few days, and of the change which they had caused, never interrupting by a word or look. When the story was ended he was almost as white as his uncle himself. He could not analyse his emotions. He knew not whether he felt joy or sorrow. His feelings for Alice—his contem plation of her delight at his good fortune—pulled him one way, and his feelings for Constance the other. When he recovered himself a little he began feebly to urge on Mr. Duchesne the hastiness of his treatment of Constance; but hia uncle checked him at once. " I can manage my own affairs still," he said, and the drawn features assumed a sternness that added to their dignity, though the emotion Bhowed more plainly than ever the ravages of disease. " All I ask from you is that you will prove worthy of my trust. I havn trusted you as I have never trusted a man before. Give me your solemn word that you will faithfully carry out my wishes." "I promise," said Cyril solemnly. He was quite overcome by his uncle's impressive mannen

A more manly nature would not hare yielded so weakly. If he had refused to do his part hia uncle must perforce have altered hia intentions, and Constance would not have been robbed of that which waa justly hen. But, as we hare said, Cyril waa easily influenced. The earnestness with which Mr. Duchesne had impressed on him the absolute necessity of his doing his share in the carrying out of the programme, and the manner in which he took Cyril's concurrence for granted, quite blinded him to the possibility of refusing, and to the duty that devolved on him of protecting Constance's interests against her father. Cyril could only see things from the point of view in which they were presented to him aa long aa the particular phase of feeling lasted. At that moment he thought of nothing but the intensity of his uncle's desire that he should carry out hia wishes; he did not see either the absurdity or the enormity of the scheme. Before Mr. White arrived he had promised solemnly to carry out in their integrity hit uncle'a instructions, and what he promised he fully meant to perform. When Mr. White came he desired to see Cyril alone before he went to Mr. Duchesne, and he expressed very freely to the youDg man his opinion aa to his client's last proceeding, and the course which in his opinion Cyril ought to take. " I have promised my uncle to carry out his wishes, and of course I shall do so," said Cyril haughtily. " It would have been better if you had tried to make him change them," said the lawyer. Cyril did not choose to tell him that he had feebly remonstrated with his uncle, but in vain. The tone Mr. White had adopted at their interview was unfortunate; it hurt Cyril's pride, and it operated unfavourably for Constance in many ways. The dislike that arose between the two men during that interview was mutual. Cyril thought Mr. White presuming ; and the lawyer, when he looked at the young man's handsome irresolute mouth, decided that when the moment of trial came Cyril would be found wanting. "It is the most monstrous scheme that was ever mooted," he said, as he brought the inter view between himself and Cyril to a close. " I would wash my hands of the whole matter, only I know Mr. Duchesne too well to think that he would let any difficulty stand in his way when he had once made up hia mind. If I did not do it he would go to some one else who would be less interested to protect the girl than I am." Cyril chose to treat this speech as a soliloquy, and took not the smallest notice of it He opened the door in silence and preceded Mr. White to his uncle's room. The business was over at last. The wills were signed; one was given into Mr. White's keeping, and the other—the secret document—was handed over to CyriL " I trust you implicitly," said Mr. Duchesne as he himself gave the important paper into his hand. MI will prove worthy of your trust, uncle," said Cyril reverently. Mr. White looked on and frowned. "It shall not be my fault if you are not," he thought to himself; but he said nothing—only opened his black bag and looked to see that the rough draft of the private deed was safe within. Mr. White remained talking to his client some time after Cyril left them. He was surprised that Constance had not come after receiving his telegram. "The breach between them must have been graver even than I thought," he reflected. He made no comment on her absence to Mr. Duchesne, who seemed stronger than on the preceding day. " By the way, Mr. Poynton must be due," he said to Mr. White after a long talk. "Yes, he should be here now," replied the lawyer, consulting his watch. Mr. Duchesne rang the bell, but before the servant appeared the sound of carriage wheels driving swiftly up the avenue was heard. " There he is. I hope Cyril will go to receive him; I forgot to tell him of bis coming," said Mr. Duohesne anxiously. Cyril was well to the fore. He had been walking up and down the terrace in front of the house, still deep in thought, and though he had not been told of his expected visit he knew by instinct that the stranger was Mr. Poynton.

Chapter VIII. The name of Poynton was associated with important issues at that moment, and Cyril re oeived his uncle's guest in his most courteous manner. After a short time spent in the half formal chit-chat which preludes the commence* ment of the tenderest friendship Cyril saw Mr. White leave the house. " My uncle is at liberty now, and will like to receive you," he said to Mr. Poynton. " I will tell him you nave arrived. He has been so unwell to-day that he has not left his room." Mr. Poynton assented, and Cyril disappeared. Mr. Poynton amused himself in his absence by looking round the room. Himself of an emi nently cultured taste, he could appreciate the signs of it in others. The admirable manner in which the gleaming marble statuettes were placed either amidst the foliage of the rare exotics that had been brought from their home in the conservatory for a brief space, according as Constance's taste dictated, or against the rich background of the oaken panels; the choice water-colours that adorned the walla, each one a masterpiece; the noble bronzes and the splendid specimens of Sevres china that seemed each to be placed in the spot which was designed especially for it; all charmed Mr. Poynton, and he divined that the woman who had arranged that room must have a taste as refined as his own. He had often heard of Miss Ducheane, but more stress had been laid on her pride and hauteur than on her other accomplishments. He was glad to think that now he should have an opportunity of judging for himself. He was not very favourably disposed towards either of the two relatives, and he was quite as alive as whs Constaßce to the fact that they only acknowledged the relation when to a certain extent he had them in his power. Cyril had not told him of his cousin's absence, and bo specula tion as to thfl manner of their meeting miugled largely with his admiration of her arrangements. At first he was quite occupied and amused by inspecting the various art treasures ; then he went to the window and admired the view. It

mi a still warm day, and the river ran placidly on it* way like a silver thread. After a prolonged gaze at the river Mr. Poynton took out his watch; more than half an hour had elapsed since Cyril left him, and he began to chafe a little at the delay. It was scarcely the politeness he wou'd have expected from the tenour of his host's letter giviDg him the invitation. He yawned and walked up and down the room. Another quarter of an hour passed, still no one came. He fancied he heard a bustling noise in a distant part of the house. There was swift running up and down stairs and he had heard sounds of horses' feet several times, though no one had passed before the window. He was getting really impatient, and was on the point of ringing the bell and desiring the servant to Bhow him to his room, when hurried footsteps crossed the ball; the door was rapidly opened, and a lady with a pale face and bonnet half hanging from her shoulders rushed in. She glanced neither to right nor to left, and so rapid were her movements that her foot caught in some article of furniture and she fell forward. She tried to save herself by grasping at a mosaic table that stood close by, but the momentum was too great; over went the table, upsetting in its fall a pedefltal on whioh stood a large parian group, and in a second parian st>tue, mosaic, and vases all lay shattered on the ground. The lady did not fall, for swift as light Mr. Poynton darted forward and caught her in his strong arms. He relinquished his hold instantly and retreated a few steps, as if asking pardon for what he had done. The moment Constance was firm on her feet again she drew herself up in her most stately manner; she knew by instinct that tho man before her was the detested Mr. Poynton, and, deeply as she was engrossed by other thoughts, the idea that he should have dared to take her in his arms, even to save her from an accident, brought the rich blood surging to her cheek. If she hated him before she hated him a thousand times more now. John Poynton still stood at a little distance waiting for her to speak, but she did not so much as condescend to acknowledge his presence or his help. She only gathered her dress together to escape the shattered treasures, swept across the room, and disappeared by the opposite door. All this had passed so rapidly that John Poynton had scarcely time to glance at her before Bhe was gone. Then as he realised the situation a queer expression of amusement passed over his fac9. He had imagined several ways in which his introduction to Miss Duchesne might take place, but he bad never imagined such a strange one as that. Her hauteur did not remove the prejudice he had against her ; he was indig nant with her for her haughty ignoring of his presence ; but in spite of resentment and indig nation his arms still tingled at their momentary contact with that Boft burden, and he was obliged to confess that, whatever her other qualities might be, he had never met any one so exqui sitely and superlatively beautiful as his newly* found relative Constance Duchesne. He was still dwelling on the picture that had impressed itself so deeply on his fancy when Cyril came hurrying in. " Has Constance—has Miss Duchesne gone to her father ?" he asked hurriedly. " A lady passed through the room and went out by that door," replied Mr. Poynton rather coldly. Cyril's quick ear detected annoyance in the tone. " You must think us intolerably rude, Poynton. I ought to have come to you before. My uncle has been stricken with paralysis since you entered the house. The doctor has not arrived yet, and everything is in confusion." Mr. Poynton expressed his sympathy. " The best thing I can do is to go back at once, unless I can be of any service," he said. " No; stay for a little while—we may be thankful for your help. Tho doctors cannot be much longer," and without further ceremony he left John Poynton to ponder on the strange events whioh heralded his first introduction to the Duchesnes, while he hastened back to his uncle's room. He found Constance there, hang, ing over her father in silence. Her face spoke for her and told her suffering, it was so liuedand drawn. He quite started when he saw her; instead of the bright proud girl he had left a week ago he found an old grief-stricken woman. Whatever were Constance's feelings as she hung over her father Bhe did not give expression to them. The bustle and confusion that had prevailed when her father's Beizure was first dis covered had given place to order and quietness as Boon as she arrived. She had great influence over all with whom she came in contact, as have all strong characters. She had a wonderful talent for administration ; the confusion ceased and all seemed to fall into their places a3 soon as Bhe appeared. Whether it was a help to her endurance, or whether it was a terrible addition to her misery, to find her father totally uncon* Bcious she never said. The servants, who had been buzzing like bees about tho room, all iutent on doing something and all getting iuto one another's way, withdrew at once as Constance, white as the purest marble, entered. She went to the sofa on which her father had been lifted and took her place beside him, giving her orders as calmly and distinctly as if her heart was not almost breaking with remorse and grief. For the next terrible four-and* twenty hours Bhe remained in the same place, with her eyes constantly fixed upon her father's face, leßt at somo moment consciousness might return, and she uot catch the first feeble glanco. The doctors told her it was not likely—they ex* pected that he would pass from his then Btate of insensibility to the still deeper unconßcioußnesg of death ; but Constance, though Bhe heard them, would not believe ; she hoped against hope. Sho longed so intensely to have one more fond word from him—to hear him say that he forgave her—or at least to see him look at her once more—to receive his dying kiss. She felt as if he could not die without bidding her farewell. Surely that could not have been the last kiss and the last word when Bhe ran back to Bay good-bye again before Bhe went away ! Truly the fore boding that prepsed so heavily upon her was to be fulfilled more terribly than Bhe had ever dreamed. If she could only have lived that last week over again I and her face contracted with

pain as she reviewed the hut scenes with her father. She was already learning the meaning of those bitter words : Oh, if she could only have known ! All through the long night, through the still longer day, on into the dreary night again, Con* stance knelt there, thinking thoughts that Beamed to burn into her brain; then a movement startled her, a very feeble movement; a fluttering of the eyelids, a deep-drawn sigh, told Constance that her hope was vain, for George Duchesne, with all his sorrow .and his sins, was at rest for ever. Of the week that intervened between his death and the funeral Constance could never give ac count. Her feelings were lacerated to such an extent that, though taking her part as mistress, she was utterly unconscious of what was passing around her. She gave her orders mechanically, and went about tho house with little difference to ordinary seasons. In after days Constance was thankful for that week, which was given up wholly and unreservedly to grief. No bitterness entered into it—the cause of the quarrel was well nigh forgotten in grief for the quarrel itself. She only bemoaned herself that her evil temper had taken her away from her father in those last precious hours of his life, and she had reproached herself bitterly when old Barnes told her how the master had seemed to watch for her in those hut days. But the revulsion was to come. She could scarcely credit her own ears when they were assembled in the drawing-room after the funeral and Mr. White read out the will. That her fatker should so heavily have punished •—that he should really have carried out hi* angry threat, and that so quickly, she could not realise. It was not the loss of the fortune that troubled her, though Constance was no bread and-butter mias to look upon money as a matter of no consequence ; it was the hard bitter feeling Which had prompted it that crushed her. She had not believed him capable of such cruelty in spite of all that had passed, and the grief that had prostrated her before was now mingled with pain and anger. Mr. Poynton, who had left the house imme diately after Mr. Duchesne's death, had been invited to be present at the funeral, and had been introduced to Constance by Cjril immediately on her entering the drawing-room. She had received him languidly. She was scarcely con scious that the man whom Cyril led up to her was the one round whose name at one time so many angry feelings had been woven. She had said once she wished she had never heard his name. She little thought that her father's reply waa to prove so true. The cause of all her trouble was almost blotted out, swallowed up in the great trouble itself, and the strange encounter in the drawing-room a few days before did not even recur to her. But Mr. Poynton thought of it, and as he looked at her in her deep mourning, with the Hstlesa indifferent air, bo changed from the proud hauteur that had angered him before, to his intense admiration for her beauty was added the tenderest pity. He watched her as she listened to the harsh terms of her father's will, and though she sat utterly unmoved —not even by the closer compression of her thin lips showing sign that the stab had gone home—he thought that the mimic scene of ruin amidst whioh he had first met her waa the precursor of that around her now. When Mr. White finished reading there was utter silence. No one spoke. All ejes were fixed on the ground, on the wall, anywhere but upon the orphan girl upon whom such a cruel sentence had just been passed. Constance waited a minute or two, as if giving time for any further business in whioh she might have to take part, and then she rose to leave the room. Mr. White opened the door for her and held out his hand. He looked anxiously in her face. Though he knew Constance was capable of great self-possession he feared that the strain on her might be more than she could bear. Apparently the firm expression reassured him ; she did not look at him, but she took the hand he held out and grasped it warmly. When the door closed behind her there was still a momentary silence, and then a general sigh of relief. " Shameful 1" " Scandalous I" were whispered from one to another. Mr. White returned to his chair and took up the will again. Though he said nothing it was plain enough that he sympathised fully with the general sentiment. Cyril had sat throughout the reading of the will with his face buried in his hands. He felt as if he were a criminal. When the general company rose he rose too. tt was awkward for every one. They ought to have congratulated him, but the thought of all was for Constance—Cyril was a usurper. He must be satisfied with his material good fortune, for the sympathy and good wishes of his neigh bours could not flow in his direction just yet. Cyril bore it all as well as he could. He waa angry with himself and with every one else, but above all with his dead uncle. What right had he to demand Buch a sacrifice from him! for sacrifice, now that the play began, he felt it to be. What was the use to him of the four years' tenure of Constance's fortune ? It could do him no real good—only make the poverty to which he would have to return the more hateful; and meanwhile he incurred the dislike and ill will of his neighbours. The manner of their reception of the newß of his inheritance had been a very bitter pill to him. He had not looked up, but he had felt sympathetically the anger that the disposition of his uncle's fortune had cli sited. To Cyril, to whom popularity was as the breath of his nostrils, even the possession of wealth would scarcely atone for the loss of it. He had wished, a? he had wished before, and was often doomed to wish again, that he had not been bo weak. He ought to have withstood his uncle and not have allowed himself to be made the instrument of vengeance. He quite dreaded to meet Constance. Ho was thankful when every body went away. It was unendurable to have to play the host just then. As soon as the last guest had departed he went out; he longed to be alone in the cool fresh air. The trouble and turmoil of the last few days had almost banished his love troubles from his mind, but they fermented underneath the rest and added to their bitterness. If all had been well

between him and Alice there would have been a bright lining to the dark cloud at all event*; the passing richee would have made the commence ment of their married life very pleasant But that was over, and Cyril pasted his hand wearily over Us forehead. All this trouble was making him feel quite old. It was evening befoie he went into the house again. He hoped Constance would come down soon and he could meet her in the deepening twilight; he dreaded the indignant flash that possibly awaited him. (TO BE CONTINUED.)