|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||Constance Duchesne: Is Life Worth the Living?|
Constance Duchesne: Is Life Worth the Living?
JOHN POYNTON did not disguise from himself that he loved Constance Duchesne. From the memorable day in which he had caught her in his arms to save her from falling, till this night
when he watched her graceful figure as ah* threaded her way along the crowded Pariaian boulevard, she had scarcely ever been absent from his thought*. At first it was a kind of unwilling fascination; he disliked the cold proud hauteur of her mancer. The way in which she had treated him on the two or three occasions when it had been necessary for them to meet in order to facilitate the carrying out of her father's wishes with regard to the Berkshire estates had annoyed him extremely. It was more than pride—it was supercilious arrogance, he thought, assumed because she did not con* sider him her equal. So thoroughly disgusted was he after the second interview that he went to Mr. White and told him that he had changed his mind and that he would not proceed with the negotiations. Mr. White regarded him keenly. He had noticed the unusually haughty manner with which Constance had refused some slight civility from him; and without asking questions he divined the reason that was actuating Mr. Poynton. He pondered a little before replying. " I should be very sorry if anything occurred to break off this arrangement," be said slowly. "My client and friend was so infatuated in his desire to re-possess himself of the old estates— or rather that they should return to the family," he said, correcting himself—"that oat of regard for him I will do my utmost to dissuade you from your intended course. Mr. Duchesne sacri ficed for this cherished object all that was, dearest to him on earth. I cannot excuse him for what he did-—I reprobated his conduot then as I do now—but knowing him as I did I should not feel as if I had done my* duty to my old friend if I did not tell you everything connected with the affair which might incline you to fulfil hi* wishes. Mr. Poynton sat down again on the chair from which he had risen, and looked in surprise at the lawyer. Emotion is not what men of the law are extravagant in, but the old lawyer was visibly moved now. He thought he held Constance's destiny in his hands, for he had observed Mr. Poynton's manner when in her presenoe, and had concluded that there would be no obstacle on his side to carrying out Mr. Duohesne's project of marriage between the two. For her sake he meant to put this man in full possession of all the facts connected with that unhappy w^U, barring, of course, that part which con- • oeroed Cyril Montgomery. Never had Mr. White a more attentive listener than he found in John Poynton that day. His . scheme succeeded beyond hi* hope* He could see' by the workings of the mouth under the bushy ? beard how intensely his heart* sympathised with Constance. In spite of the fascination which < Constance Duchesne possessed for him she had j been associated in the only half suppressed ; feelings of disgust with which he had receeived Mr. Duchesne's too pressing advances after his accession to the property—and all the time she had been fighting against it!—fighting so that she fell a victim to her honest pride. He, judging by his own feelings of delicacy, could comprehend her outraged delicacy. So that was the secret of her repellent manner—the manner that he had interpreted to mean her own superiority I He breathed a sigh of relief as he listened. In his keen regret at having so mis* \ judged her he rushed to the opposite extreme he gave rein to the admiration which had pos sessed him on the first day of their meeting, and all that she did, and all that she refrained from doing, was now alike admirable in his eyes. Mr. White had shown great diplomacy in his treatment of his new client. The way was all dear before John Poynton now. No matter whether Constance spurned his most common place civilities, he could forgive her, and for her sake, if for no other reason, her father's life-long ' ambition should be realised. With these new feelings the transaction of the business was greatly simplified. The purchase of the property was' consummated, and then Mr. Poynton with* -drew himself completely from the little party at the Manor House. Constance had formally thanked him at their last meeting when Mr. White informed her that her father's great ' desire was effected, and that the Berkshire estates were added to the rest of the Duchesne possessions ; but she had not invited him to call again, or in any way expressed her desire of continuing the acquaintance. Mr. Poynton thought he oould understand the reason for that. If her pride had taken alarm at being thrust upon when she was an heiress, she would certainly give him no excuse to think for an instant that he would be welcome now she was comparatively speaking poor. He wisely decided that the best thing to do was to keep away till the soreness of the wound was healed. He had only known her surrounded by trouble and desolation ; perhaps in the renewal of their acquaintance he might be more fortunate. John Poynton was six-and-thirty years of age—much too old to become very love-sick. He never forgot Constance for a moment, but he could live his life independent of her presence. A great part of his life had been passed in poverty, struggling to maintain his mother and an invalid sister. Death had released him from these burdens (which in truth had been no burdens to him), and, in a very little while after, the death of young Qrenfell put him in possession of immense wealth. It seemed hard that it should come when there was no one to share it with him or to sympathise in his good fortune—a tithe of the money then would have released him from many an anxious hour. Mr. Poynton was a barrister by profession, but briefs were few and far between, and he had to trust to his pen to procure enough to live upon. The struggle had been very severe, but it was not without its reward; from an ardent, impetuous, hot-blooded youth, John Poynton had become a
quiet bat intensely resolute and determined man. Hia keen intellect had been curbed and compelled to concentrate itself. To the dilettante, amusing, half-sensuous life whioh had such charms for Cyril Montgomery, John Poynton was utterly indifferent; whatever he did must have a definite object. He had met Constanoe Duohesne again after the lapse of nearly three yean, quite by chance, at the house of a mutual friend in London. This had happened only six months before Cyril found them all together in Paris. Mr. Poynton had made very good use of his time. He had not forced his attention on Constance, but he had made her see, by every delicate attention that it was in bis power to show, that he ardently desired her friendship. Constanoe had not responded warmly at first—the old prejudice was strong upon her; but John Poynton bided his time. Each occasion on which Constance saw him she was foroed to acknowledge that he was a man who improved upon acquaintance. Some of the old soreness that had been associated with his name was passing away; she could see him enter the room without thinking of her father's last days, and by degrees she learned to look forward to his visits and to defer any small matter till he should pronounce an opinion on it In fact she learned to feel, as most of the eligible young ladies of that season who had been ad* mitted to his acquaintance had felt long ago, that John Poynton was a man of whose affection any woman might be justly proud. The meeting at Paris was not entirely so accidental as Constance imagined. Mr. Poynton had got wind of the intention of Mrs. Foxton and Constanoe to spend a month in Paris with some relations of the former, and could not resist the temptation to visit the gay capital at the same time, feeling certain that the various pleaanrings and .excursions which were sure to be part of the month's programme would give him the opportunity of seeing Constance in a more familiar and less restrained manner than he could do at Thames Ditton or in London. He had marked Constance's bright blush when she greeted Cyril with some bitterness of spirit. He looked with admiration—in whioh some envy mingled—at the elegant and handsome man who sauntered with such superb indifferenoe beside bis cousin, permitting her to take the burden of the conversation, and only responding by a careless and indifferent assent^ and he felt very much inclined to make his adienx and leave company in which he was evidently <fa trop. A better feeling prevailed, however. The ladies had left their party to take a stroll under his escort, and it behoved him to see them safely back to their hotel. Jt was rather a relief to all parties when Mrs. Foxton declared that she could walk no more, and they turned their footsteps to that refuge of their compatriots in Pans, the Rue de la Paix. There the quartette separated, not one of them (except placid old Mrs. Foxton, who was long past the time of being pleated or vexed by amatory influences) quite so happy as when they met, and each one doomed to turn and twist and tumble in their several beds before it should be time to get up and face the new day whose dawn was just then breaking. ChaHbb XIL That day happened to be Sunday and a very important Sunday in the French almanac; not by reason of the potence of the saint whose special day it was, or because of any memorable event whioh had happened on that day in ages past and gone, when the French were a placid people, obeying their sovereigns and permitting their history to be a bare record of the triumphs and defeats of their monarchs—very unlike the habits they have made for themselves in this present century—but because this Sunday was the day of the Grand Prix—the race par txedlenu copied from, and as Frenchmen fondly believe • excelling, the Derby of their neighbours. Con* stanoe had struggled hard against the impro priety (to call it by no stronger name) of going to races on Sunday, but the friends of Mrs. Foxton, who were greatly " acclimatised," laughed at her scruples and would on no account permit her to lose the chanoe of seeing such a splendid sight In vain Constanoe looked for support from Mrs. Foxton. That good lady said, as usual, "Just whatever you like, my dear." Then she had asked for Mr. Poynton's aid, but he only laughed. He knew too much of the world to draw a very marked line of differ* ence between the heinousness of taking up a good book on Sunday afternoon and going sound asleep during the perusal thereof, as they do in England, or pulling down the blinds and getting finely, drunk behind them, as they do in Scot land, and going for an outing as they do in France. " If racing is wrong on Sunday it is wrong on any day," he said when Constance pressed him very hard; " once acknowledge that racing is to be permitted, and it may as well be on the first day of the week as any other." "But Sunday is not for amusement—it is given for a far higher purpose," urged Constance. " We cannot pray all day long," said the im* pregnable John. So as all her world was against her, and Con* stanoe was not very straight-laced in her religious views, to the races they decided to go. Cyril had been told of the arrangement the preceding evening, and in a tacit manner, without exactly being bidden or invited, it was settled that he should accompany them. So about noon, when Paris had washed and dressed itself and had been to the barber's, and also to mass, and when every man, woman, and child was wending bit or her way to the course; when every fiacre was hired and every railway-carriage thronged ; when monsieur and madame, and that one inevi table little boy who is the sole representative of the quiverful in all well-regulated bourgeois families, with their baskets and their umbrellas and their happy eager brown faces, were already far on their road to the Bois de Boulogne, Cyril drove up in the elegantly-appointed equipage which he always kept in Paris. Mr. Poynton was there before him, in a hired conveyance with a pair of gray horses, whioh looked very shabby by the side of Cyril's thoroughbreds. Mrs. Foxton's friends had also their own carriage, ho that there was a little cavalcade when they at last Bet off. Some of the ladies were not quite ready, of course, and Cyril, who was by no means in his usual good temper, fidgeted and grumbled. Mr. Poynton took the delay philosophically; he was not in a more happy state of mind than Cyril,
bat ha concealed his feelings better. Several yosng men belonging to the party loitered with them in the courtyard, all in a fever to be off. At last the ladies appeared, and there was a little confusion as to who tho«ld go with whom. Poynton had, up to the evening before, confi dently counted on having Constance as his companion—in fact he had hunted and toiled hard to secure the Bhabby grays expressly for that purpose—for Constance had been late in deciding whether she would go or not Now when she appeared he advanced a little, but Cyril was too quick for him. v You must let me drive yon, Constance ; you will enjoy a drive behind those ponies, I know," he said, claiming herinhis old unceremonious way. Constance half glanced at Mr. Poyntou. He was looking steadily, almost eagerly, at her. But Cyril touched her arm. "Jump up, Constance," he said. And Constance yielded. She hated herself for her weakness, and yet she could not help it. No matter how irritable, how neglectful, Cyril was, no one had the power over her he possessed. " I had half promised Mr. Poynton to drivt with him," she said, hanging back from bis impatient arm. " Pshaw! what nonsense; why yon most have changed greatly, Constance, if you could drive such a wretched pair of screws as that" "I have changed," thought Constance to herself, " and so hay* you;" but aloud she said nothing—only allowed Cyril to help her up. In a few minutes the whole party were dis posed of and were dashing along in good style up the thronged vista of the Champs Elysees. That day was a memorable one to several of the party. Constance forgot all about the stings of conscience that she expected to feel while spending Sunday afternoon in such a repre hensible manner, and her cheek flushed and her eyes brightened as Cyril, throwing off by degrees bis anxieties and ill humour, chatted and laughed and joked like the Cyril she had known of old— the old old Cyril, such as he had never been since his engagement to Alice Viner, and less still since that unhappy will of her father's had raised a barrier between them. True, the barrier had been of his making—not of hers. She had felt no anger, no bitterness; never for a moment bad she blamed him for the wrong which had been gain to him and loss to her; but he had felt that he deserved her anger and contempt, and so had kept away. To-day he seemed to have struck a new key. He was gay and bright and happy, and, as Constance felt instinctively, a warmer feeling mingled with the gaiety. Was he still engaged to Alice? she wondered. She had never heard from Alice, and Cyril had always maintained such a reserve upon the subject sinoe that one letter he wrote her announcing the rupture of their engagement that Constance did not like to ask him. Cyril on the other hand was communing with himself. Hs thought he loved Constance—nay, he was almost sore of it—and, though he was not a coxcomb in spite of his many temptations, he had come to fanoy that Constance had a slight regard for him. Bhe had changed—she was different to him now to what she had been at Thames Ditton. Her face told its own tale when she first saw him the night before. And suppose it was so—suppose Constance did love him—if they married, her wealth would be his. Or, even why should it be hers at all—why need the secret deed be known ? Its object would be carried out by other and happier means. Yes, it must be kept a secret if he was ever to wed Constance; for to be her suitor as a beggar—* claimant for a share in the spoil which he had so long enjoyed—no, that could never be. The indignity and horror at the thought made him give his horses a sharp huh, and the highly* bred animals, resenting the impertinence, kicked and plunged in a manner that threatened to give a disagreeable ending to the day's pleasure. Constance sat immovable—without a word or a sound—but she was pale to the very lips. " I am so sorry, Constance," said Cyril peni tently, when he had quieted them again; " I would not have startled you like that for all the world." " I am all right now," said Constance faintly, and she tried to bear out her words, but her lip quivered, and, whether it was from the emotion of the day or the fright alone, in spite of all her efforts the tears gathered in her eyes. Cyril was very serious now. He had never before seen Constance cry. Constance was furious with herself. Not for anything would she have Cyril see her weakness. But he did see it, and it had a greater share than anything else in that day's work. As he watched her his heart beat tamultu ously. Long ago if she would have let him see a sign of yielding he would have been at her feet But she was always strong and cold and proud and self-contained ; he scarcely believed those great eyes were capable of tears ; and Cyril, who loved emotion and agitation, and the thousand and one moods that so many women show, thought Constance wanted tenderness of heart In spite of the fright with the horses, and the enormity of attending races on Sunday, Con* stance always looked back to that day as the happiest of her life. Cyril made no professions, but when his eyes met hers, as they did only too frequently, they told their own tale without need of words. Constance thought she knew that Cyril loved her, and Cyril told himself that he loved Constance and always had done, and that it was only her own coldness that had pre vented him from recognising his feelings for her long before. Both of them forgot all about poor Alice, and Mr. Poynton shared no better. Con stance forgot even to wait and say good-bye to him when they got home. He was slower in getting back with the Bhabby grays than Cyril had been with his spirited thoroughbreds. She went into the house and to her own room, and sat down absently without ever thinking of him, and Mr. Poynton looked round the courtyard with a disappointed air, and compressed bis thin lips yet more closely. "You look quite tired," said good-natured Mrs. Foxton. " No, no, not a bit," he answered ; "we have had a capital day." Then he went off to his hotel, and decided that he would wait yet another day in Paris, and then, if things were going to happen as he believed they were, he would go away and never see Constance Dv« chesne again.
And meanwhile Constance was thinking of Cyril, and Cyril was thinking of Mr. White and his well-known reticence, and wondering, won dering whether And Alice Yiner was aittiog in her imall room at home and thinking about Cyril—wondering whether he would ever com* back to her again. He had not answered her letter, and the suspense was wearing. And so all these four were at cross purposes, and each was drifting on, unknowing and heed leas, to play his or her part in this curious mttddle called the world, where all an striving and none are satisfied. Chapter XIIL A whol» week passed after the day of the Grand Prix, and still Mr. Poynton remained in Paris. It was very unlike his usual resolute decision ; he was surprised at it himself, and yet he could not go away. It was scarcely possible for Constanoe to be unconscious of the chain thai bound him to her side. Though he was unde monstrative in the extreme, and guarded to his utmost against showing his feelings, a thousand trifles light as air told Constance it was the old old story. She knew it, and bemoaned it heartily. She took herself to task for having permitted the intimsoy to grow between them. She knew right well that if Cyril had not appeared upon the scene with his altered demeanour and seductive ways the relations between Mr. Poynton and herself might have leen.different She respected him beyond any man she knew, not excepting Cyril, and she knew instinctively the deep devo tion be cherished for her. Meanwhile, if neither Constance nor Mr. Poyn ton was at ease, Cyril was far less so. After the day that they had all gone to the races together he had relapsed into the moody fit in which he had been when Constance first met him. Alice's note still remained unanswered, and on the Wednesday another letter came, written ia the very depths of despair. A suitor for her hand had appeared, and her mother was using her utmost influence to persuade her to accept him, and to throw off Cyril who had treated her so iIL Alice was staunch, but she entreated Cyril to write her such a letter as she oouldshow her mother. "In spite of all that you have made me suffer, you know well enough that I can never love any one but you. Do be merciful to me, Cyril I" and so the letter ended. Cyril did not go near Constance that day. He shut himself up in his room. His miserable vacillation had brought him trouble indeed. How he repented that he had ever renewed the engagement with Alice t One thing he was re solved upon, and that was that before post time that night his answer to Alice should be written. He begau his task, but he tore up sheet after sheet ot paper—so impossible was it for him to put in words that should not sound too harsh what he was determined to say. He felt it was a mean and a cowardly thing to treat Alice as he was doing. Bat the golden prise that went with Constance tamed the scale. He persuaded himself at the moment that though ha honour was to Alice his love was to Constance. He tried not to think of the reason that was influencing him. He strove hard to make himself believe that it was only his wavering affection. He grieved for the. pain that he was bound to inflict, "bub it Is better that the change should come now than afterwards," he muttered to himself. Ominous words, theugh in a very different sense to what Cyril meant when he uttered them. At last he finished his letter—he did not dare to read it over, but placed it in the envelope while the ink was still wet About three months afterwards he saw the notice of her marriage in the paper to a Mr. Bernard. "She has not been long for- Ctting me," he thought to himself ; "perhaps it as well;" and he gave a long sigh which it was well for his prospects with Constanoe that •he did not hear. He took care that she should •cc the paper which contained the notice of Alice's marriage. She saw it, but made no remark about it; neither did he. All this time he had made no definite progress in his courtship. When the month's visit to Paris came to an end he followed his cousin to England, and resumed the old habit of dropping in at the Manor House at any hour of the day. Constanoe was glad that they should be on the old footing once more, but she felt keenly that the resumption of old habits is not sufficient to bring back the old gladness. Cyril's manner pußued her; sometimes he hung over her with a devotion that it was impossible to misunder stand, at others he was cold and distant Yet, with it all, he was almost a daily visitor, and, half to her amusement, Constance found that she could not do anything to annoy him so much as to allude to John Poynton. Mr. Poynton had left Paris a week before they did. Constanoe was glad when he went Though he said nothing, his presence felt like a reproach. v If I can ever be of service to you you must let me know," he said as he relinquished her hand at parting. Constance answered lightly, and turned away to say something to Cyril, who stood beside her. She could never want another friend while she had Cyril she thought Love is truly very selfish. She might have given her undivided attention to John Poynton for those last two minutes; but she scarcely seemed to heed his departure, bo absorbed was she in CyriL Mr. Poynton felt her indifference keenly. It was not pique that made him feel that ahe had chosen the least worthy of her wooers* In spite of his handsome exterior and pleasant ways John Poynton had weighed Cyril with an eyeto which love lent sharpness, and had found him wanting. " She may want a friend yet," he said to himself as he went his way. A lonely way, as it seemed it was John Poynton's fate always to travel. To some men love is given on all sides, to others it is the will-of-the-wisp, that, devoutly wished for and deserved, always eludes their grasp ; and so it was with John Poynton. Hummer came round again—the fourth Bum mer since Mr. Ducheene's decease. On the evening before the anniversary of her father's death Constance stood alone upon the terrace. She felt weary and dejected, tired almost of her life. This season was always especially painful to her, but this year it seemed mure d Btressiug than it had ever done before. Cyril had been with her the greater part of the day, but instead of oheering her his intense depression had added
toiler own. It was a relief when he went away, and she was left free to go her own way and think her own thoughts unrestrained by any presence save that of good stupid Mrs. Foxton. She could not account for Cyril's extreme gloom, and it troubled her. On this particular day it had been worse than ever, and she was puzzled to divine the reason. It could not be anything connected with her father's death—he had no reasons for self-reproach as she had, for he had been kind and attentive to him to the very last It could not be on the score of money, for, with all his lavish expenditure, she knew he kept well within his income. Nevertheless that he was profoundly troubled was evident, and her anxiety for him mingled with the weariness that she felt on her own account She was only four-and-twenty, and yet she leaned her head against the stone pillar of the portico and thought to herself that life was not worth the living. What was the object of it all t What was the good of it ? She had no pressing trouble, only the negation of all pleasure, and the old wearing stinp of conscience for her conduct to her father. Her resentment against him had almost died out * I wonder if it will be always like this V she thought to herself, as she gaaed into the great dark expanse before her, spangled and glittering with myriad stars. No answer came, only faithful Bruce put his cold nose into her hand. He knew by instinct when his mis tress was unhappy, and if he could not comfort he sympathised. In after years Constance often thought of that evening. Cyril thought of it too, for it was the acme of his suspense and fear. What would the next day bring forth f What should be his own con duct f—for even up to this supreme moment Cyril was undecided. Fate must decide for him; he could take no resolute action—only wait and see. He did wait A week passed % month. All this time he had gone to Thames Ditton very seldom; he could not meet Constance's question ing eye and anxious face. Surely If Mr. White had made Rogers his confidant some steps for the prosecution of the trust would have been taken before this! Another month passed away, and still no sign. Cyril began to breathe more freely. He felt convinced that no one living but himself knew of that extraordinary will of Mr. Duohesne, or of the restitution that he had vowed to make. And; now that so long a time had passed since the date when he should have made over to Con stanoe the property that was justly hers, he had. put it out of his power to do so, or he per suaded himself that he had. It was impossible now that he should toll Constance of her father's last desire. What reason could he give her for the delay? There remained only one course open to him now—to marry Constance, and thus restore to her her inheritance without declaring his own viUany. When at length he had come to this decision he brightened up. The course that he deluded himself with thinking was the only one open to him was pleasant enough. He took his uncle's will from bis desk and was on the point of striking a match to set light to it when he hesitated ;" Not till our wedding day," he thought to himself. " Then when the resti tution is really made, though hi a different fashion to what was|intended, I will destroy it It would not be safe to keep it after," he reflected with a smile, M for wives have an odd way, they •ay, of ferreting out a man's secrets, ana Con- > stance must never know." The bare possibility was terrible, and again he took up the match* but the first resolution prevailed, and the will went into his desk again. He tried to imagine what would be the result if by any mishap It should come to Constance's knowledge. Would her pride revolt at his deceit ? or would her love for him prevail over her anger? He was not mure. After this day a change came over CyriL He believed that all fear of exposure had passed away, and with his facile temperament he gave himself up entirely to the pleasure of the course he had marked out for himself. He really loved Constance, and he persuaded himself that he loved her more than he really did. The thought of his perfidy to Alice he studiously banished. She was married, and if not happily, as he had some reason to suspect, she had only herself to blame for it, or her mother. As for that excuse of poverty, it was absurd ; she could have gone out as a governess, as other girls did. He began his wooing in good earnest, and the black cloud passed away from Constance. She ceased to ask herself what was the use of her life. She forgot the dreary time after her father's death. Everything was bright and beautiful, and the world—her world—was bathed in golden sunshine. The wooing was not a very long one. There was no reason to delay their marriage, and while the yellow fogs ef November were hanging thickly over London, and invading even the seclusion of Thames Ditton, Cyril and Constanoe were wandering together amidst the wondrous ruins of old Rome—forgetful of the past and heedless of the future—absorbed in their present happi ness. [TO BE OOBTIItUZD.]
A California Bargain.—The other day one of Frisco's most esteemed young burglars was by some oversight arrested and fined for creating a disturbance. In default of the fine he was to stay in gaol thirty days. The prisoner was deeply humiliated by this sentence, as "burgling" has been so dull recently that he was not in funds. He sent, however, for a well-known Pine-Btreet broker.. " Mr. 8.," said the burglar —they were old college chums—" I want to make you a business proposition. Last month your house was entered and robbed of a fine breech-loader gun, a stem-winder watch, and a pair of diamond studs." "Yes. Weill" " Well, I took 'em ; but you can't prove it Now, if you will pay my present fine I'll return you the gun or the watch—take your choice." " I'll tell you what I'll do," said the broker, after a second's reflection—" I'll do it for the gun and the studs." "Couldn't possibly," replied the crowbar artist. " I want the Btuds to wear at a dinner tho boys are getting up. But I tell you what I will do. My dress vest buttons up pretty high ; I can get nlong with one stud ; so I'll let yon have the other. Now, what d'ye say?" " It's a go I" said the broker ; and he passed out and settled up.-