Chapter 20706953

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Chapter NumberIX
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-05-14
Page Number617
Word Count4486
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?


DURING the long weary evening that followed the day of her father's funeral Constance stood at the window of her own room passing and repassing in her mind the miserable scenes of the


last week. She thought of the day (so recent, and yet that now seemed so far off) when she had stood watching Alice and Cyril on the terrace. It was the first day of the quarrel with her father, the last on which he ever entered her room. Whether, if she could have lived that day over again, she would have acted differently she was not sure. In the first days after her father's death ahe would have given all that she possessed to recall that time—neither pride nor dignity should have come between her and her father's love—but after the reading of the will a revulaion of feeling had come. If on bis very deathbed— for from all she could gather she felt sure that he thought his illness would be fatal—he could ?pura her as he had done, he was not worthy of the love she had lavished so abundantly upon him. It was the worst of all her misery, this feeling of resentment against her dead father. The evening light was falling fast; already the objects in the room were gray and indistinct. She shivered as she turnod from the window. It would have been a relief to have had a fire and candles; but she had desired that no one should interrupt her, and she had not energy enough to ring for them. She let herself fall into her favourite chair, and then began again the weary musing. It was very unlike the usual decision of her character. She used to quote her favourite lines of Longfellow—"Let us be up and doing"—" Let the dead past bury its dead;" till Cyril vowed that he wished the lines were buried too before ever they appeared in print—for he knew well enough to whom they wen meant to apply; but on thii night Con-

stance seemed to be enacting Cyril's part—«ht could not act, she coold not decide on anything ; her mind refused to obey her will, and went wearily backwards and forwards over the same ground—a mental treadmill. At last, thoroughly worn out, she fell asleep, and it was nearly day break when she woke, cold and numb with the uncomfortable position in which she had fallen, to find that she had not been in bed at all. She roused herself at last, and crawled to her own room. No wonder Mr. White thought her looking very ill when he came early the next morning to make some of those arrangements which must be made no matter how the aching heart recoils from the intrusion on its grief. Never in all his long experience had he felt so inclined to break his trust. He liked Constance, and respected her for her truly noble character, which in his capacity of confidential man of business to her father he had had so many opportunities of ob serving. He knew well enough where the stab lay. He did not insult her by thinking that it it was regret for the lost fortune which was the cause of the haggard look and weary air. The loss of esteem for one so dearly loved—the rough tearing asunder of the belief in his love for her—this was the wound, as he well knew. He did not attempt to sympathise—he went straight to business ; and it was the kindest thing he could do. Constance was interested in her possessions, not for the wealth's sake, but for the sake of the human beings who lived on them, and for whose welfare she thought and planned continually. " I am glad I shall not have to give up the Manor House," she said as they came to the conclusion of their business. It was the only allusion she had made to the new destination of the property, "So am I," said Mr. White heartily; "it would have been bad for your tenants." " Oh, Cyril would have been good to them," she said, more eagerly than she had spoken at all during their interview. " I know Cyril would have carried out my wishes in every respect" Mr. White shrugged his shoulders without replying; he could not think well of Cyril Montgomery, and he was not quite pleased to see the interest Constance showed in the man who had supplanted her. Then Mr. White took his leave, and Constance went down stairs. She dreaded this interview as much as Cyril; but it had to be gone through, and with returning day light some of her usual energy and decision had returned. Cyril met her at the library door and they went in together. He was far more agitated and confused than she was, of course; for in just this one thing women are superior to men—at the most critical moments they can look as un concerned as possible, while the poor masculine atom of humanity is stammering and fidgeting, and showing by his red face and his pulling of his whiskers that all is not right within. "Can you forgive me, Constance?" he said, holding both her hands in his, and looking down on her with those deep gray eyes which all his young lady friends felt so irresistible. " There is nothing to forgive," said Constance, looking up frankly in his face. " I feel quite sure that you knew nothing about it." Cyril started a little. He forgot that Constance did not know what had passed between her father and himself. Of course she believed that he, like herself, heard of the disposition of the property for the first time when the will was read. He was too confused to say anything, and so he let the opportunity pass, and left Constance In the belief that he was utterly passive in the matter, and ignorant of it. It was just like Cyril—this weak acceptance of any chance of escaping an unpleasant truth. He was glad that she should think as she did, for the more he reflected on the position in which he was plaoed the more he hated it. "Itis a strange and cruel thing!" he added passionately after an awkward pause, in which all these thoughts had beeen passing through his mind. Constance withdrew one of the hands which he still held, and laid it gently to his lips, saying: "We will never speak of it, please, CyriL" The drawn pained look which Cyril's warm greeting had for a moment dispelled now gathered on her face again, and he saw now how worn and ill she looked. He kissed the hand that touched him so lightly—how could he do less? He wished Constance was not so cold and proud; then he could have taken her in his arms and kissed her. It would have been the easiest and moat natural thing to do; then he could have told her everything, and it would have solved all these difficulties. But Constance was not like other women, and, cousins though they were, she had always kept him on his good behaviour, though she was much gentler to Cyril than to any otljpr living being. Handsome and much admired as Cyril was, he was not a bit of a coxcomb, and he never suspected for a moment that Constance cared for him more than he did for her, or indeed half so much. If he had been asked he would have said that Constance was utterly cold and indifferent to all the world, and that he would be a bold man who would attempt to make love to her. And so we mis judge others, and act towards them on our own false conceptions of their character. Constance permitted him to kiss her hand without any sign of pleasure or vexation ; if it had been brushed by her own dress Bhe could not have shown more utter indifference. Then she withdrew a little from him, and they began to speak on other subjeots. But there was an awkward constraint between them, and Cyril web glad when Con stance said she must leave him to write letters. "Yes, I have some letterß too to get through," said Cyril, " before I am oft" " Off 1" repeated Constance ; " where are you going?" "I am going back to Paris to-night, unless you want me to stay here. Is there anything I can do to help you ?" he added quickly as he saw a shade of disappointment on her face. " No, nothing," said Constance quietly. " Mr. White will attend to everything for me." But she felt hurt Cyril—the one friend she had left—need not have deserted her so quickly. Cyril saw from her manner that Bhe was vexed •bout something, and thought she desired to be alone. He was a little hurt on his part that she had not said a word about Alice. " Bhe U too I

mach engroMed with bear own affairs," he said to himself; "I am best away." And bo Conatanee never knew that Cyril had been to see Alioe in the midat of all tbia trouble, and that the quarrel had been partially patched up. Conatanee came down to luncheon for the first time since her father's death. Mr. White waa there too. A worae.aasorted trio, or one leaa inclined to talk with each other, it would have been impoaaible to find. The conversation went by flta and starts. Mr. White bore the brant of it, and turned it on the subject of the responsi bilities of large landholders towards their tenants. It was not a well-chosen subject for the present company; it struck harshly on the ear of Cyril, and Constance felt the subject painfuL But Mr. White never troubled much about con gruities; he was a plain straightforward man who gave all the powers of his mind to one subject at a time, and whether those tallied with collateral considerations he never stayed to inquire. At that time he waa greatly exercised about Mr. Ducheane'a will, and was anxious above all things that during the four years of Cyril's tenure nothing Bhould be done to change the excellent order in which the estates were. " You have a great responsibility," he said in conclusion to a long speeoh on the subject—" a great trust," he reiterated, as though the words struck him, and he looked significantly at CyriL Cyril frowned; the matter and the manner were alike distasteful. To his uncle's pleading tones he might respond, but as for this lawyer he would soon let him know that he was not to interfere. In fact the thought crossed his mind that he would ahunt Mr. White altogether and employ another man. Constance took little notice of what was passing: the knowledge that would have given the key to the by - play was hidden from her. She saw that Cyril was annoyed at the lecturing manner assumed by Mr. White; so she rose from the table to put an end to the con versation as soon as possible. Soon after Mr. White went away, and then Cyril looked at his watch and said he must go too, and Constance was left alone. Constance felt her heart sink a little as she watched them drive off. She felt as if she were deserted indeed, and when Bruce, who had stolen into the room, and had on not being peremptorily ordered out walked noiselessly up to his mistress and put his cold nose under her hand, she felt quite grateful to him. " You are the most faithful of them all, old dog," she said, as she laid her white face on his- black curly head. Bruce wagged his tail gently as if in mute confirmation of his mistress's speech, and looked so eloquently into her face that his dumb sym pathy did what all the rest had failed to do—he broke down the hard stern mask that she had compelled herself to wear, and for the first time since her father's funeral she bowed down her head and wept bitterly. Bruce had his reward ; from that day he was free to roam the house at will—a thing he had never been permitted to do before. Into drawing room, library, boudoir, he .followed his mistress like her shadow, and wherever Constance was there was Bruce also. Chapter X* Thbb years had passed since Mr. Duchesne's death. Nothing had changed greatly in that time. Constance was Constance Duchesne still in spite of many offers to make her Constance somebody else. Alice Viner was still unmarried. The breach between her and Cyril had been partly healed, as was said before, and a kind of half-and*balf engagement still existed between them. Alioe would willingly have had it other wise, but Cyril was thoroughly enjoying his existenoe as a free and rich man, and had no in clination to enter into bonds of any kind. Con stance had never heard or seen anything of Alice since her father's death, and she rarely heard from Cyril, aud then only short notes passed on matters of business. She was ignorant as to whether they had been reconciled or not. Only once had Cyril gone to the Manor House again after his uncle's death, and then he thought Constance's manner towards him colder than it had ever been before. He felt pained and hurt, and resolved not to go again ; and gradually the thought of Constance had come only to be asso ciated with unpleasant thoughts—the wrong he had done her by his weak yielding to bis uncle's will, and the disagreeable remembrance that the time of restitution was drawing near. Cyril scowled when he thought of it The pleasures of wealth are great, and he had drunk freely of them. There was scarcely an Art Gallery in Europe that he had not visited, or a classic scene that he had not gazed on. He had scoured the Old World and the New, and the picture-house of his memory was stored with visions of the immensity of the Andes and the picturesque beauties of the Pyrenees. He had not, as too many young men do, prostrated his intellect to sensual pleasures ; he had enjoyed freely and largely, but it was in a manner to which he could never be ashamed to own ; and now at the age of three*and-thirty Cyril found himself at the pinnacle of enjoyment. A magnificent physique; a face whose mere appearance in a drawing-room caused a flutter among the ladies; perfect taste and thorough knowledge of art such as it is given to few men to possess ; a keen enjoyment of popularity, and the gratification of it to its highest point; a favourite alike among his peers and dependants ; with the reputation of immense wealth, and the knowledge that he had but to throw the handkerchief at the fairest-, of the fair girls who gathered round him to be accepted ; the feeling that he had but to desire a thing to procure it; and—that in a year from that time he would be—a beggar: it was no wonder he had not liked to think of Constance, and that as the evil tine came near and more near the more intolerable the thought of her and of his trust became. These thoughts had been brought into more prominence than usual by a letter from Alice, who wrote pressingly for him to put an end to the uncertainty in which she lived. Cyril had thrown the letter on the fire, and would willingly have dismissed the unpleasant subject from his mind, but it had struck a chord that vibrated incessantly. Marry her while he was in the enjoyment of this wealth he would not—he was much too selfish for that; besides, the first flush of his passion had died off, and though he tacitly accepted Alioe as his fate he was by no

means ardent about it He would not marry her during the next year of his good luck, and after that—that " after that" was the bite noir of Cyril's existence—the rose-crowned skeleton at the feast What was to come after that he could not picture. He would have liked to have taken counsel, but he dared not —he must not give another possession of his secret, in case—in case he dared not own to himself what. But that night it had flashed across his mind that trusts were sometimes broken. He wondered who knew the secret besides Mr. White. Was there any other document besides that in his own poßseision ? He had never answered these questions to him* self— scarcely, in fact, had they shaped them selves in his mind—they only floated in his brain—vague shadowy phantoms; things pos sible, but not to be glanced at even. Let bo what would be ; it was no use diving into the future. Fate would shape itself in her own way; bettor live on and wait and see. And bo, as usual, Cyril took no definite action, nor did he even decide on any future plan ; he enjoyed the present And perhaps he was wise after all. What is the use of blackening the present with the thought of what may come ? There is much to be said in favour of the small boy who plucked the plums out of the pie and ate them first of all; probably he knew that discovery or even stomach-ache might intervene before the time came to get through all that heavy paste. When good and bad are present, by all means secure the good, and then wade through the paste afterward if strength and opportunity permit So Cyril determined to eat all the plums out of his pudding, and set about doing it methodically till that letter of Alice came and would not let him get it out of his head. He walked up and down the garden of the Palais Royal— for be had drifted back to Paris, his most frequent anchorage ; and, for a wonder, did not join any of his numerous acquaintances. He was moody—a most unusual thing for him. It was just 6 o'clock, and the restaurants were in full swing preparing for the grand business of the day. Streams of people filed up the Arcade and vanished through the different portals; they sorted themselves out unerringly—the deux* franc and trois-frano people each went their several ways, while the upper ten sauntered languidly towards Les Trois Freres. The band had taken possession of the gardens, the windows were all flung open wide, while soul* inspiring sounds and hunger-inspiring vapours contended for mastery in the dinner-eating music-loving animal called man. Cyril passed all these enticing doorways with* out entering, though he was generally very par* ticular about the dinner hour. He did not glance at the Trois Frires, but made his way deftly and almost unconsciously amidst the myriad little marble tables, which were then but sparsely occupied, but in another hour would be thronged by the viand-devouring mob above, who would come here to take the cafe* and petit verre which was to put order in the medley of their inrides and help them to digest it The dazzling <Stalage in the jewellers' shops he never glanced at, but walked blindly on impervious to the bright and merry influence of the French dinner hoar, thinking seriously, for onoe, how he was to set about eating that paste. By merest chance—for he had not the slight* est intention of going home at that hour—he passed by his hotel, and mechanically went in. 41 Another letter for monsieur," exclaimed the concierge as he saw Cyril enter, and forthwith began a voluble explanation and apology for the fact that the letter had not been taken to his apparkment with the rest *No matter," saidCjril carelessly. He turned it over. How strange that it should follow the tenour of his thoughts! On the envelope was the stamp of Mr. White's firm. Ihe letter was from Mr. Rogers, the junior partner, informing him of the sudden death of Mr. White. " I wonder if Rogers knows !"—the thought came unbidden, and Cyril flushed with shame, although he was alone. The news (he letter con tained was not unwelcome. Cyril bad never overcome his dislike for Mr. White. He flung himself on an easy chair and brooded for more than an hour. Then he roused himself and began to feel hungry, and recollected that it was past his usual time for dinner. He went out and dined, and after that important business was concluded he felt better. The fact that a good dinner has the effect of giving a very silvery lining to every cloud has been remarked on too often to need repetition, and Cyril was another man; and as he had dined very well— lot Cyril was as well versed in the art of dining as in any other— he felt very much bettor, and then thoughts of Alice and Constance, of Mr. White and trust money, all retired to the innermost recesses of his brain, to be kept there as long as possible. But this day, or this night rather, fate was against him. After his dinner, and after his cafo", and after his cigar, he strolled with some friends along the Boulevards. It was a repeti tion of the same gaiety and the same brightness; the same flutter of enjoyment that the Palais Royal had displayed a few hours before, only the shops were more imposing, and the coup devil more magnificent; far away, as far as the Arch of the Star, the lamps of a stream of vehicles formed an ever-moving coruscation of stars, aa they drove up and down the Champs Elyse'eg, till across the broad sweep of the Place de la Concord they reached the long line of boule vards, whose glitter ot gas and mirrors made the scene as bright and light as day. There were the same groups at the little marble tables, the same gazers into the Bplendour of the magarins, the same wanderers seated on the thickly pre* vided benches near the road aide, the same hum of voices, and the same exaltation of spirit which seems to make the mere fact of existence a bless ing and a privilege which one finds no where so vividly as in Paris. Cyril and his friends had just reached that most aristocratic of the long Use of boulevards, the Boulevard dcs Italiens, when his eye was caught by a group standing before a window in which some magnificent vases of porphyry were displayed. He almost started—every event ran into the same groove this night. Yes, there was no mistaking that figure at once bo graceful and so haughty. No one but Constance Duchesne could pose like that The lady moved slightly, turning her face towards Cytil, and a flush ro*e to bit cheek, The nest moment he recognjifld

in the gentleman who escorted the two ladies John Poynton. The elderly lady who completed the trio was Mrs. Foxton, who had been living with Constance ever since her father's death. For a moment Cyril was undetermined what to do. Should he avoid them ? But tha oppor tunity to do bo was do longer hia ; Mr. Poynton's eye had met his in that momentary glance, and had recognised him, and Cyril could tell by his manner that he was telling Constance. So, making a virtue of necessity, Cyril quitted his companions and advanced towards the group. He had been in a bad temper since the receipt of Alice's letter, and the discovery that^ John Poynton waa on such intimate terms with bis cousin did not improve it Constance came forward to meet him with out stretched hand and a bright smile on her faoe, and Cyril saw instantly how wonderfully her beauty had improved since he last saw her. The worn haggard look had passed away, and the smooth round cheek, with the exquisitely bright colour that the pleasure of meeting him had called up, shone like polished ivory. Her tall lithe figure seemed scarcely to tread the earth. She was buoyant with youth and health and happiness. Whatever dark clouds had descended on Con stance Duchesne's life before this had passed away. To her at this time, though it had no very decided object, life seemed well worth the living. It was the happiness that perfect health oombfned with absolute freedom from care gives to a finely-balanced mind. That she had no one dependent on her, no one to cling closely to, no one to whom she was first in all the world, did not weigh very heavily on Constance yet. Once for a little time she had repined at her lot and felt it barren ; that was when Cyril and Alice were engaged—it was part of a dark cruel time, and the remembrance and the repining had been banished together. Now Constance waa living in the present and enjoying it. If the boul had not come to Undine yet, neither ,had the great yearning for it—it had given some preliminary throes once, but they had only been the fore runners of the new birth. ' " Why it is quite a wonder you condescended to recognise us at all, Cyril," she said half laughing. " I feel quite flattered at the unexpected atten tion, though certainly you did not have very far to come—not so far as Thames Ditton." Cyril frowned, and muttered something about engagements and travelling. He felt ashamed of the way in which he had held aloof, and Con stance's light way of taking his desertion piqued him considerably. " You have plenty of people to take care of you it teems/he replied in a tone that be tokened annoyance, though he still held her hand In his. "I did not flatter myself you would even notice whether I came or not" Constance looked at him for a second, and there was the faintest elevation of her eyebrows aa she withdrew her hand, whether in disgust or sur prise Cyril did not feel sure. At any rate the Eleatant chatty mood in which she had greeted im vanished, and the conversation took a matter-of-fact form, in which Mr. Foxton took a large share. Mr. Poynton said very little. Cyril's Appearance on the scene was quite as unwelcome to him aa his was to Cyril. It spoiled the plea* sure of his evening, and while the rest were talk* log for talking"* sake he withdrew a little and entered into a hot disoussion with himself. (to bi continued.)