|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||Constance Duchesne: Is Life Worth the Living?|
Constance Duchesne: Is Life Worth the Living?
"Five years to-day since we were married, Cyril," said Constance, as she entered the breakfast-room bright and cheery with a quiet fire and hissing urn.
"Isit ? Ib thia our wedding-day?" He spoke not carelessly but still with a great languor, that chilled Constance as the gray cheerless morning had not been able to do. " Tea; I wanted to see if you remembered it; but you did not, so I had to remind you after aIL" She came to where he stood before the fire, and laying her hand on his Bhoulder put up her face to be kissed. She tried not to seem hurt at his indifference, but she could not repress a little sigh as she turned away after he had kissed her in his quiet fashion. She had learned long before this that Cyril did not love her as she loved him ; but on that particular morning his manner made the rankling arrow go further home. The entrance of the little Kva madeawelcomediveraion to her thoughts. The child rushed to her im petuously the moment the nurse opened the door for her. "My treasure I" said Constance, almost de vouring her with caresses. Cyril came from his place before the fire to • have his share of the kisses Eva was showering npon her mother. Thia was the one grand bond between husband and wife—this little fragile
chM ; bo fragile and delicate that many times they had stood together over her thinking that ?he moat be taken from them aa their two other little ones had been ; but she rallied, and at each recovery of their treasure she seemed more precious to them than she had ever been before. If Eva had been spoilable, spoiled she must have been, for both father and mother fairly idolised her. Her entrance hud quite roused Cyril, and he laughed and talked and played with and teased her till he had talked himself into good spirits— a by no means constant mood with him now. He had changed a good deal since he married. Much of his old light-heartedness had gone; he was alwaya kind and affectionate to Constance, but Constance felt—as what woman who loved would not?—that there was something wanting. He loved her, but it was not with the love for whioh her heart craved. Constance felt her affection thrown back upon herself, and it had reacted unfavourably upon her with regard to her husband. Her manner unoonsciously became colder and more constrained, and though often ?he longed to hurry to him when she heard him come home after some short absence she com* polled herself to stay where she was. She dreaded his cold greeting and his indifferent careless kiss. He on his side thought it was some of the oM pride that insisted he should go to her; and so gradually a kind of coldness had grown up between them, whioh only the mutual love and anxiety for their little girl kept from increasing. " I should like to have spent Christmas here," ?aid Cyril one evening early in December. They were staying at Torrington Park, the residence on the famous Berkshire estates which had had such influence on the destiny of both husband and wife. They were alone; for though they were very hospitable, and enjoyed a good reputation among their country neighbours for the number and liberality of their entertain* monta, neither Cyril nor Constance liked that perpetual stream of society which it is the fashion to keep up in some country houses. Constance managed capitally to "i^"Wn her husband's prestige among their large circle-of acquaintance, and yet to arrange to have a large portion of their time unrestrained by the /presence of visitors. They had had » very large party staying in the house a little while before, and the succession of dinners, balls, and hunt ; breakfasts had been unfailing, and appeared to have given general satisfaction. Now they were i alone—A season which, in spite of all the shadows I that lay on their wedded life, both of them enjoyed intensely. Constance was always happy ! whan Cyril was by, though she made no sign; ; wen in his darkest moods she hovered near him, I more than repaid for her long watching and j wafting when he gave her some loving words; but so strong a constraint her fatal pride made her put upon her feelings that Cyril little , thought of the keen happiness he caused, or the poignant grief. He was in a more chatty mood than usual on this special evening. They had been discussing the necessity of wintering abroad for little Eva's sake, and the conversation had drifted to the time of their honeymoon and the scenes they lingered over together. They had not been •broad onoe since then. Cyril had literally been everywhere, and Constance was indifferent to I everything save the pleasure of her husband and the health of her little girL Constance had never been of a selfish disposition, though dreum* stances had given her little to think of or to do . for save herself ; now, while she retained, or even increased, the coldness of her demeanour (whioh made the outer world condemn her as absorbed in self), probably no person thought less of her* self and her own personal likings or dislikings than Constance Montgomery. Hers was a fine, loving, womanly character stunted and warped for want of nourishment. "Too much alone" might have been Constance Montgomery's motto. "I don't think we ought to risk it, Cyril," said Constance, in answer to her husband's remark. " Eva's cough is beginning again." "Is it?" said Cyril anxiously; "I had not noticed it." He was roused the moment there was question of danger for his little daughter. He got up from, his easy chair and came and stood before the fire close to CimsUnoe. The room was the perfection of English comfort, spacious but not too large, brightly i lighted, and with the great logs upon the hearth sending a flickering blase that danced and sparkled as if in defiance of the superior brilliancy of lamps and candles. It was furnished with admirable taste—in suoh Bubdued harmony that while the whole made a perfect soene of elegance and comfort not one single article stood forth in undue prominence. " Did you ask Dr. Pemberton his opinion f "No, not to-day; but yon know he has fre quently advised us to take her to the South." " We had better go at once, then," said Cyrfl. "I did not think she was worse," he added un easily. " When shall we start?" " There is no need for immediate hurry. If we go at the end of the month that will be soon enough." But Cyril, man-like, could not look at things in such deliberate manner. The bare idea that the child was worse alarmed him beyond measure, and he worked himself up to suoh a pitch of anxiety on her account that it was decided that Constance and Eva should start the next day, and that he should join them as soon as possible. So Chrißtmas-day found them es tablished under the bright blue skies of the picturesque little town of Pan, with its mag* nificent panorama of snow-capped mountains towering above the rich green coteaux of the Southern vineyards. Constance had not visited the Pyrenees before, and she felt as if she could never tire of the lovely scene. Day after day she went to the gardens of the fine old chateau, the birthplace of France's greatest king, and gased on the rich country that lay stretched out an all sides — the great white roads leading to the different quarters broad and white and straight as an arrow's flight, whilst the dark ice-cold Qave meandered here and there in its way down from its cradle in the snowy mountains as though to show how it disdained the line-and*plummet rule of man. Eva soon lost her cough in the pure dry air of the Pyrenees, and was able to go with her father and mother in their short excursions into the mountains. Young as she was she seemed en*
tranced by the beautiful scenery. Constance of tea watched her anxiously aa the Urge bright eyes looked eagerly around and then came back wistfully to her mother's face aa though asking for sympathy. Her heart sank within her as she watched the child: it was not natural. The amendment in the bodily health did not reconcile her to the abnormal mental growth—she felt that it boded ill. She did not tell Cyril of her fear; he was ao nervouß and anziouß about the child. She bore her burden in secret as she had learned to do many a one, but she rarely let Eva out of her sight. They neither of them entered into society— there were no calls on them to do so in this little out-of-the-way corner of the world. They were free to come and go at their own pleasure and to follow the bent of their inclinations, and those pointed to a quiet jog-trot life varied by little jaunts to the moat beautiful spots in the vioinity, ao easy of acoess that they could take Eva with them. Constance often looked through the long vista of blank dreary after years to this winter in the South of France—in spite of her anxiety on account of Eva's health the brightest and happiest season of her life. When the Montgomery a came back to England they decided to spend a few weeks in London. It was juit the height of the season, and though Constance did not take the slightest pleasure in the whirl of dissipation in which they were im mediately engaged she was glad to have the op* portunity of privately consulting a physician with regard to Eva. Her anxiety about the child was considerably lessened by the great man's opinion. She only required care, and studiously to be kept from excitement. In every way to be kept to baby-life pure and simple. Her dog and her doll to be her sole amusements. Bruce, though getting rather old, and much more demure in his ways than in the Thames Ditton days, was always ready to respond to Eva's rather exacting demands. He patiently ensured being covered up and put to bed twenty times a day ; only now and then bis great intelli . gent eyes used pleadingly to say that he thought all that kind of thing rather hard lines at his time of life. Constance took him with her every* where in spite of all obstacles and objections. M You will have that dog run over some day, Constance," said Cyril angrily. "It is absurd to let him follow you about everywhere as you do." They were crossing into Hyde Park just by the Marble Arch; it required great skill to steer safely between the streams of carriages. Con atanoe was always rather nervous about crossing the street, and hung back just when she should have hurried forward. Cyril had dragged her on. and if the coachman of a passing carnage had not pulled up his hones there must inevitably have been an accident In the height of her terror Conatanoe looked round for Bruce, and saw him as aha thought under the carriage wheels. She had not been able to resist a slight scream, which added to Cyril's anger. However, Bruce got off scot free too, and so Constance was able to endure her scolding with equanimity. MI did not know he had come till we were somediatanoe from home," said Constance quietly. Bruce was a bone of contention between hus band and wife. Cyril did not like dumb animal", and he had a special spite against Bruce, who would never, fond as he was of Constance, acknowledge him in any way. Perhaps with the quick perception of character which our dumb friends indubitably have he knew that Cyril was uncertain and unreliable. Bruce was never actively disagreeable to his reputed master, but he Just quietly ignored him. Constance patted the head of her favourite aa he trotted up to her side to tell that he was safe, and hoped that Cyril would take no further notice of him. She wished the dog had not come, for he kept her in a constant fidget; the park was crowded, and it was almost impossible to get along. " I wonder there are not more accidents," said Constance, as they stood still for a moment before attempting to cross the Bow. The words were scarcely out of her mouth when a wild shriek was heard ; there was a cloud of dust, a rush, and then a little crowd gathered, which in two or three minutes became a large one. At the first sound Cyril had leapt from her side. She tried to keep him hi sight, but in two seconds he was lost to view. She followed — all fear of the dreaded crossing swept away — and narrowly escaped being knocked down; but she flew on, just in time to see a woman lying in the dust, and Cyril hanging on to the bridle of a great black horse. The horse swerved viciously, and Cyril fell Constance shrieked and darted forward, but a strong arm held her back. M He's not hurt, mum/ said the man who had stayed her progress. In a moment Cyril was on his feet again. The rider of the horse had dismounted, and there was a fierce colloquy with the police. Then shaking herself free Constance rushed to her husband. " I'm all right," he called out as he saw her. He went to assist in lifting the lady, who, whether much hurt or not, was still lying on the ground insensible, and Constance followed. The woman was lying so that her face was covered when first approached. When they lifted her up, Constance and Cyril at the same moment recognised Alice Viner—or Alice Bernard rather. A short exclamation escaped Constance, and ahe looked at CyriL He was still looking at Alice, as if he could not believe his eyes. " We had better take her home, hadn't we 1" he said hastily to her in an undertone. He said it ao much as a matter of course—he was so perfectly cool and unexcited about it—that even if it had occurred to Constance to be uneasy at this meeting of his old lover his manner would have removed it. And Cyril really was indifferent —shocked of course at the accident, and anxious to render her every assistance, but not appa rently more interested than he would have been in any one else who was thrown on him for help. Constance had not the least spark of jealousy in her nature. She was too pure and noble her self to think ill of others, and the start that Bhe gave when she Baw Alice was caused Bimply by surprise. It was painful surprise; everything connected with Alice Viner in the past belonged to the black page of Constance's life, the time of her father's death. She had quite recovered herself by the time they had got Alice into a cab, and was bending over her tenderly when at last she opened her eyes. Cyril got in with them, glad to esoape from
hia conspicuous position and the stream of re marks, partly laudatory partly quizzical, which the young Btreet Arabs were lavishing on him freely. Of course a large crowd had gathered, to whom the smallest cause for excitement was welcome; but even before Alice had recovered consciousness the interest was over; the little street boys went back to their marbles, the men lounged away with their hands in their pockets ; and, as to the stream of fashion that galloped and trotted past, they had not troubled them selves even to turn their heads. " Some acci* dent I suppose," and the remark exhausted their curiosity. If it had not been for the Montgomery* Alice must have been carried to the hospital, and there have taken her chance—attended to when the busy surgeons had time, and restored to health if possible; if not, hurried out of the way as one of those whose friends could not be found. At this time Alice Bernard was really without friend*. Her marriage, which had turned out very unhappily, had not even brought her wealth. Her husband had bat the whole of his property by the failure of a bank in which he was the principal partner. Distress of mind had brought on illness, and he died within a year of their marriage. Mrs. Viner was dead too. So Alice was left quite alone—to earn her bread as she beat could. Her baby who was born after its father's death lived but a few weeks, and Alice, who only regarded the tiny thing as a relic of a husband the had never cared for, scarcely repined. It would have been a great hindrance to her in her new voca* tion. She came up to London, and by the help of a singing master who had given her lessons in more prosperous days she succeeded in getting tome pupflfl. It was hard work and little pay. All this of course Constance only came to know by degrees, but the patent facts of poverty and privation were written on her worn face and shabby dress. As Constance sat by her in the cab she noticed ail this, and she thought how different their lots had been. At one time Alice, though not rich, had seemed in every other respect more favoured., than Constance, and now—and Constance look«jsjj up and caught Cyril's eye. - ' .J "That's my good little wife," he said a»*bp4 helped her out of the cab. «-v..-. il Constance was more than repaid for over* coming the little, very little, repugnance she had felt to bringing Alice to her home. She re* doubled her attention to the invalid, and when Alice at last was fully restored to consciousness and understood what had happened and where she was she looked at Constance with gratitude not unmixed with surprise. The tint sensa> tion was not altogether pleasurable. Constance had won what she had lost; and unhappily, in spite of all the long years and all the unkindnees, Alice still loved CyriL She felt it would have been better for her to have been succoured by any one else rather than by the Montgomery*. Of course she was not so ungracious as to make her feelings apparent, but she could not help shrinking a little from Constance, on whose arm her head was lying. Constance, ahe thought. had neglected and ignored her through all that time of poverty and trial. She had not even answered the letter of condolence she wrote her at the time of Mr. Duchesne's death. It seemed as though directly her engagement with Cyril was broken off Constance had wished her to understand that the intimacy between them was at end. Now, in her lowest depth, Constance oame forward to gloat over her destitution; perhaps to flaunt before her her husband's love, her wealth and happiness. This was how Alice regarded it all just at first; but Constance's delicate kindness and gentle nursing soon subdued the first harsh feelings. Constance told her, with truth, that she hail often wished to hear from her, but that as she had never written after the rupture of her engagement she thought the unwillingness for further intercourse was upon her side. And then they found that Alice had written and her letter had never reached Constance; in the time of confusion following Mr. Ducheane's death it was quite possible it had been overlooked. Before Constance left Alice's room full con* Science and kind feeling had been established between them, and with a light heart Constance went to look after her husband. Cyril had not been hurt in the least by his plucky adventure, and now that he had removed all signs of his encounter with mother earth he looked even handsomer than usual Constance thought. She gave him a hurried account of her chat with Alice and their mutual revelation, and then she was going off to the nursery when she stopped short. " Oh, Cyril, I have never thought once about Bruce. Where can he be ? I hope he did not get hurt" " Oh, Bruce is all right you may be sure," said Cyril carelessly. Constance did not ask for sympathy in that auarter; she knew better. But she went into lie hall to inquire of the servants. The first thing she saw was Bruce himself lying on hia favourite mat He had only just come home, and was evidently fatigued and exhausted. He had lost hia mistress, and had spent a long time hunting for her. Constance was quite rejoiced to find him safe, and she ran rapidly up Btairs to Eva's room, followed by her big dog. Chapter XV. It was nearly a week before Alice was able to leave her room ; truth to tell, Bhe was in no hurry to get well. Her health bad really suffered from the drudgery, added to the poor living, which had been her lot for the last five years. Constance was the kindest and most considerate of nurses, and Bhe thoroughly appreciated the unaccustomed luxury of being waited on. As Bhe was too ill to join the family party she saw nothing of Cyril, and bo nothing could occur to vex Constance. Alice, judging others by her own nature, still felt half surprised that Constance should be so generously kind to her husband's old love. True, Constance was the successful rival—she had won the prize; but Alice had been his first love, and, as Constance knew well enough, he had been passionately attached to her in the days that were gone by. It was Alice's motto always to "take the goods the gods provided," and so Bhe took thiß brief respite from her weary work and enjoyed it, and kept her wonderment at Constance's kindneaß well in the background,
She was almost tony when the doctor pro* nounced her well enough to go for a drive; that meant that her holiday wu nearly over. " Heigh ho!" sighed Alice, as she put on her bonnet and surveyed herself reflectively in the glass. " Well! it is no use to anticipate the bad times ; wait till they come back. I with I had a better bonnet; this one is scarcely fit to go out in." It was undeniably maty and old, and no matter how Alice coaxed it into shape it would look shabby. "Itis no use looking back either," reflected the deep philosopher; " but once upon a time I was as well dressed as Constance. What a difference !" And she gazed at herself earnestly, not with regret at the thin cheeks and faded hair,- but calmly and dispassionately so as to give her a real knowledge of herself. The impression did not raise her spirits, and Constance found her lying back in her chair, looking so worn and weary that she was afraid the doctor had overrated her strength, and that she was really not well enough to go out. " I shall enjoy the drive; I shall be better for getting into the air," she said in reply to Con stance's anxious inquiries. She had too much tact to make any remark to Constance on the shabbiness of her apparel; but Constance divined her thoughts of course, woman-like. She taw that Alice waa very badly dressed; in old times Alice had been inclined to be extravagant, and what she could not have in expensive materials she made np by the freshness and good taste of her toilettes. Cyril was waiting to help her into the carriage ; she had only seen him once before since the accident. " Don't hurry," he said gently is Alice went hastily along the hall and staggered a little. He assisted her into the carriage and placed the shawls and wraps round her very carefully— perhaps with a shade more assiduity than was absolutely necessary; then he helped Constance in, and the two ladies drove oft; Cyril stood watching till they were quite out of sight. He was taking his turn at philosophical reflection. Either the original subject or the conclusions he drew from it were not agreeable, for he looked very grave as he slowly went back into the house. Very soon after this Alice returned to her lodgings ; but Constance had made her promise to give up her pupils for a time and come and pay them a long visit as soon as they went back to Berkshire. They never went to Thames Ditton now; Cyril had a dislike to the place, and declared that it was unhealthy for Eva because it was low and damp. Constance gave way, as she did in most things; never was a woman more changed by marriage than Constance Montgomery. Her father used to tell her she had concentrated all the stubbornness of her race in her own person ; but Cyril had no occasion to complain. Whatever he willed she willed. She was scarcely aware herself how entirely every thought and desire was centred in her husband. Nevertheless she knew that her love was not very warmly repaid, Cyril was always kind to her, but he was very often indifferent. (to bx continued.)