Chapter 20707431

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Chapter NumberXVI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20707431
Full Date1881-06-04
Page Number713
Corrections0
Word Count4602
IllustratedN
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?

CHAPTER XVI.

BY "ONYX.'

AFTER they had been in the country about a week Alice arrived. Constance had intended to go to meet her at the station, but Eva had been ill all the previous night, and she would not

leave her, so she asked Cyril to go instead. He oomplied rather unwillingly; he did not wish to have a long tete-a-t«ie with Alice. Mrs. Bernard was in high spirits ; Cyril was quits struck by the change in her. She laughed and chatted so gaily that Cyril waa quite sur prised when, he found himself at the lodge gates. Alice was looking forward to a real holiday, and, philosopher as she prided herself upon being, she meant thoroughly to eDJoy it and fling all care to the idle winds. She was a woman not easily crushed ; while the burden was on her she succumbed, but the moment the pressure was removed Bhe rose up like a cork. Now she felt as gay an a lark. No more Hinging lessons for a whole three mouths; no more scanty solitary meals in that impecunious-looking room ; no more trudgiug to aud fro through squalid Btruets and crowded thoroughfare*. Alice resembled Cyril iv her keen appreciation of creature comfort, and that she was going to enjoy the luxuries of a wealthy household for a season had not the smallest share in causing her high spirits. Constance came to meet them in the hall, and almost started with surprise to see the change that the few days had effected in her friend. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks were pink, and though Bhe still wore black it was fresh and new and fashionably made, and the thick coil of brown plaits that had always been Alice's prido looked as glossy as ever. Constance, on the contrary, was not looking so well as she had done when in London ; she had been up a great part of the night with Eva, and her faoe had a drawn anxious look that contrasted badly with Alice's pink cheeks. " Are you not over anxious V said Alice kindly as, after showing her to her own room, Constance took her to see Eva. The tone bespoke genuine feeling. Alice was truly sorry for the worn weary-looking mother. Now that her own immediate troubles were removed Bhe could sympathise with those of others, and Bhe felt more kindly towards Con stance than she had ever done before as she watched her bend down to hide the tears that she vainly Btrove to keop from falling. Alice had borne the loss of her own child very resignedly, but this woman before her evidently put all the rest of her abuudunt blessings iv the scale aud counted (them as nothing compared to this little

flickering life that seemed so uncertain whether to stay or flit away. "I am afraid not," said Constance with quivering lips, kissing the golden curls. Alice played with and amused the child bo successfully that Eva sat up in bed and looked quite bright Alice had a very happy manner when she chose to exert herself, and this afternoon she did choose to exert herself to the utmost. They stayed with Eva till the bell rang to dress for dinner, and when they went down stairs Con stance felt a little happier about her baby, who she thought aeemed better. Two or three guests had been invited to dinner to meet Mrs. Bernard, and all ware charmed by the bright vivacious young widow, whom Constance introduced as an old school friend. They had music and singing in the evening, and Alice's voice was greatly admired. She was happy and elated, and sang her best Constance lay back in her easy chair watching and wondering. She declined to sing; her heart was too neavy for that—heavy with fear and pain. She seemed to be in a dream—Alice's voice took her back to the old days at Thames Ditton. Once Alice began to sing a song that had been a great favourite with Mr. Puchesne, when, after a few bars, she stopped abruptly. Constance thought it was at a signal from her husband. He had thought of her, then, amidst all the gay chatter, and remembered what a strain it would be to her feelings to hear that song, and Constance felt grateful to him. Once she had met his eye, and he was looking at her with a vexed air, which Constance under* Stood. She knew she wss leoking old and worn, and that Cyril with his keen eathetic tastes marked it and was annoyed. Once in the course of the evening Alice was standing near her and opposite a pier-glass. Simultaneously they each looked in it, and in the glass met each other's eyes. Alice laughed merrily: "Look on'this picture and on that," she said jokingly. The words were spoken in fun, and ConsUnoe knew it; nevertheless they jarred on her. Alice looked so bright, and she so sad. She was never more thankful for an evening to come to an end. Ab soon as she decently could after the company had separated she said " Good night" to Alice, and hurried to the nursery. To her surprise Cyril was there before her. "You looked to unhappy I was afraid Eva was worse," he said as she came in; "but I really think she looks better. I think you are over anxious, Constance." Alice's very words 1 "I only hope I am," said Constance quietly. " I feel very much tempted to take her abroad •gain." " Did Dr. Pemberton advise it V " No; he says there is no necessity while the weather keeps so mild—though of coarse it could do no harm." " No, of course not," said Cyril in a musing tone. He stood fondling Eva for a little while, and then went into his dressing-room. Next morning was bright and sunshiny; the birds poured forth a torrent of song that reminded Constance of the previous evening, and she thought to herself that the notes of the un tutored feathered songsters were far more beautiful and more innocent than any that came from human throats. The bright weather seemed to have its effect on the little invalid. The improvement that Constance thought she saw the night before was more marked in the morning—and the mother's spirits rose too. Eva got so much better that all idea of going abroad was abandoned for the present, and Con. stance could join with a light heart in all the amusements that were going on. It was a very gay time; the weather was delightful, and the county people round were at their respective country houses. With money, health, and leisure it is not difficult to make life pleasant, and Alice acknowledged to herself that this was the very pleasantest portion of hen that she bad ever yet spent. Her host and hostess vied with each other in their kindness to her, trying to make her forget the troubled past; the neighbours were charmed with her bright vivacity—no rural party was complete without Mrs. Bernard, and Alice really began to look so young and pretty that even Constance, who was not much in the habit of speculating about her friends' private affairs, thought it was very likely Alice would soon marry again. Alice gave herself up to unrestrained enjoy ment. She knew it could not last for ever—not even for very long ; " but, pshaw I sufficient for the day is the evil thereof," she Baid to herself as usual; " make hay while the sun shines. I have hud trouble enough, aud may-be there's plenty more iv store;" and bo she laughed and chatted with tho werrieat. Her voice improved in "limbro;" she sang so exquisitely that the idleat and noisiest party hußbed into silence as they liatenod. As for Cyril, h« hung over the piano for bourn together; but, iustead of soothing, the perfect hurmouy seemed to have a depressing effect. Aa tho weeks flew by, and Alice grew brighter and livelier day by day, Cyril grew more Bilent. Alice did not soem to notice the change, but Constance observed it with anxiety. She longed to be alone with her husband again ; then they might fall into the old calm routine, which, if not perfect happiness, was yet devoid of anxiety. She scarcely owned to herself that she would be glad when her visitor went, but some times she wondered if Alico ever meant to suggest that it was time for her to leave. In some way or other it had come about that Cyril and Alice were constant companions in all kinds of expeditions from which Constance was neces sarily Bhut off bocause of her care of Eva. It was never planned so in the least; it all hap pened by chance apparently; but Constance had never felt so lonely since her father's death—not even in the first days of hor orphaned girlhood— as she did now at this latter part of Alice Bernard's visit Two or threo times she had mode Home remarks to Cyril about their autumn plans, but Cyril carefully avoided all mention of Alice, which it had been Constance's intention to bring about. He never made the most distant allusion to her when she was not present, and Constance know hor husband well enough to know that there was some reason for his avoid ance ; the matter was distasteful to him, and he always avoided anything uupluasuut, aa by this

I time Constance well know. She ooald Me that 1 Cyril waa getting more irritable and unoertain in his temper day by day—even little Eva in* I etinctively felt the change, and instead of running to her father for the ready caress aa she used to do she now clung to her mother with ul eye*. Meanwhile Cyril was taking himself to task very warmly—a most unusual proceeding with him. He waa far more anxious that Alice should go than was Constance, and yet, though he knew it waa bia duty to put an end to the present •tate of things, he could not muster up the ' neoeasary courage. As usual he let himself drift on from day to day; he made no resolve, but left everything to chance. He felt that Alice waa gaining her old ascendancy over him ; he could not forget that she waa the woman he had first loved—nay, had never really ceased to love—and whom he had used very cruelly; and be knew that he ought to make a desperate effort to free himself from the fascination which he felt was gaining hold before it waa too late. That he had used her ill Alice took care he should remember, and so from one reason and another » kind of understanding had grown between them. They never spoke of the past, but it waa always present to them. In vain Cyru strove against the hold Alice waa gaining on him. In vain he went away for a, week or two at a time, hoping that on his return Alice would have taken her departure. He hated himself for his weaknw, and yet he could not shake it off. Then he would give way to one of bis fits of deep despondency, and even Alice oould not wring a word or a smile from him. There waa not so much gaiety now as there had been; people had exhausted the simple pleasures of country life, and had rushed off to the Continent or to the watering places. And so the beat part of the summer passed away, and Constance was beginning to be really anxioua to take Sva away from England. She hesitated about speaking to Cyril; the last time ahe had broached the subject he had stopped her abruptly, and it seemed lately as if she seldom had aa opportunity of speaking to her huabaad alone. At last, however, Constance determined to make » stand. It was already the middle of October, and ahe would not risk keeping Eva any longer in England. No matter how other arrange* ments fared, she and Kva would go to Pau within the next fortnight " It must be so, Cyril," she said one evening when by a rare chance they were alone together • and she told him of her determination. "I oannot risk Eva'a health for any consideration." "Of course not; why should you ?" he replied. He was not indifferent; but Conatance remem. bered his anxious impatience last yew about the child, and marked the change. "Shall you be able to come too t" she asked after a moment's pause. She tried to say it in an indifferent manner, but her heart beat rapidly. She was wondering what Cyril meant to do. "Tea, I think so," he answered carelessly. "At any rate I will take you there ; if I have anything particular to see about I can come back." Constance longed to say, "Aud how about Alice f" but her lips would not shape the words. Cyril went on talking about some plans for improvements at Thames Dittoc which they intended to have made, and Constance sat and listened and managed to answer coherently, while all the time her thoughts were busy with the past. The very name of Thames Ditton always awoke a train of painful thought. Without any further discussion Constance made arrangements for her departure. She mentioned her intention in a casual manner at the breakfast table, and the news had the desired effect. Alice at once atated her intention to leave Torrington at the end of the week. Very little was said about the dispersion of the little party; it was tacitly accepted as a thing inevitable. The fine autumn weather was beginning to break up; heavy showers were of frequent oc currence, and the damp smell from the thickly fallen leaves told Constance that ahe must delay no longer. Once or twice she felt very much inclined to anticipate the date fixed for .her departure, but, even though Eva visibly required the change, some spell detained her. Cyril was in one of hU strange silent moods. He was away from the house almost the whole of the day, and even when he returned at night spoke little to either of them. Alice tried to lure him into conversation, with the brilliint chat and banter that he usually enjoyed. She sang his favourite Bongs with her utmost power, so that in the large silent drawing-room her mag nificent voice flooded and filled every corner with exquisite melody; but she might have spared herself the trouble, for he scarcely re sponded to the conversation, and was as unmoved by the music as though he had been deaf. Constance watched him anxiously, though she carefully strove to avoid all appearance of so doing, but she neither talked to him nor sang. Sho loved him as passionately as ever in her heart of hearts. She acknowledged to herself that ahe was unhappy—that sometimes the kind looks and words for which her soul hungered were given to another. She was not jealous of Alice; only she pined for her husband's love, which now she felt more keenly than ever she had never had, and it seemed as if the visit of his old love had, without any fault of his or hen, brought the fact more painfully before her. So Constance sat silent, with her bead resting on her hand, looking out into the garden, that was quiet and gray now, the roses gone, the leaves fallen—the time of gradual decay, the saddest time of all the year —far sadder than when death has come and wrapped all nature in his still white mantle of December snow. The memory came back to her then of the evening a little while before Cyril had asked her to be his wife, when ahe had stood on the terrace at Thames Ditton and looked into the mystery of the starry heavens, and wondered —and wondered whether life was indeed worth the living. Then, in the days that came after that, she bad _ answered tho question eagerly in the affirmative; with Cyril by her aide life must Burely always be sweet. Now Cyril was her husband ; she had one child — how unspeakably precious! what unknown depths of tenderness that little life had sounded none but a mother's heart could know. She had health, pimition, wealth—nearly every gift that could make life preciouß; and yet as she looked out into the gray garden the old weary questioning came book again. She retraced

the history of her put life—the joyous child hood, the petted and indulged young girl, h«r father 1! idol till that unhappy day. She seemed to hear hia angry words over again as vehemently he inauted on her receiving Mr. Foynton. " You may have cause to wish you had never heard hia name," he had said in reply to her passionate outburst. He had given her the cause to hate John Poynton that was in his thought when he •poke ; but it had not had the effect he expected. No matter what painful associations were con nected with John Poynton she could never regret the day that had made him known to her. It was strange that the remembrance of him should come so forcibly to her on this night—it was not often he was in her thoughts. She valued his friendship, though they were never likely to meet again; but his life was apart from hers. Life had taken a new and fuller meaning to Constance since the days when she had known him—the soul had come to Undine, and with the fuller life had come the greater capacity for suffering. Did this strange oppression forebod* some new calamity? Was the need about to come when she should want John Poynton'a friendship, that the memory of him should come so vividly upon her ? They had not had the lamps brought in, for the evenings though chilly were still light, and the great wood fire which gave out such a ruddy glow was the light Alice loved best to sing by. Constanoe^sat and pondered, till Alice, either by accident or some subtle sympathy, broke out into the deep strange melody of the Cradle Song. That was the last feather added to th« camel's burden. That mournful music seemed to render the subject of her thoughts visible before her. Again she was a girl in the great drawing-room at Thames Ditton. She saw Cyril come in from posting the fatal letters, and pass her by unnoticed as he hurried to hang over Alice while she sang. She remembered the sharp pang that had come to her then. The positions were changed now; she was the wife and mother; but her pain came to such a climax at she listened to the Cradle Song that she could have disgraced herself and cried aloud. She restrained herself, as she always did, and making a desperate effort rose from her seat. "That is a splendid song, Alice," she said quite calmly, approaching the piano as Alioe let the last sad notes die on the air. "Yes, I think I like it best of all," Alioe replied. Alioe had sobered down too; the de pression of her companions affected her. She ceased to linger for a few words of conversation between each song as she had done at the begin* ning of the evening, and sang on without pause or intermission, fading into • sadder and subtler ?train of melody, till she finished with the Cradle Song. Cyril got up as Constance approached Alioe, and went towards the fire; he too seemed to strive to shake off an incubus of care. Then Alice left the piano, and all three 6tood before the fire and talked. It was a constrained and spasmodic conversation, and Constance, who still felt ill and oppressed, asked Cyril to ring for lights. It was a relief when the lamps were brought in and the shutters dosed out the misty twilight and the sad gray garden. But, as if to prevent the inside comfort from making them forget the gloom without, the wind, which had been fitful all day, now rose in fierce gusts and whistled round the ivy-covered wall and through the columns. The same thought came to husband and wife as in silence they listened to it sighing and moaning like a living thing in pain: "Eva ought to have been taken to a warmer climate before this." But, as if under some spell, though both thought of their child, neither ?poke—there seemed to be something between them that prevented all sympathy. They talked idly of a book they had been reading. Alice started the conversation in a dreary desultory manner, and they continued it till the time came to go to bed.

Chapter XVII. The next morning broke dear and calm; though there were no flowers in the garden, and the trees were almost bare, the sun shone brightly and the wind had fallen. There was only one more day for Eva to be exposed to the damp thick air. It was Tuesday, and on Thurs day they were to start for Pau. Eva seemed flushed and feverish as she* sat up in her little bed. She bad coughed a good deal during the night. Constance looked at hor anxiously. The great blue eyes appeared larger than ever, and on this morning they had the wistful far-off look that always sent a chill to Constance's very souL " Only one more day, my darling," she said as she drew her towards her and passed hor fingers through the golden curia; "only one more day, and then we will go to the nice old home in the mountain; do you remember V . Yes, Eva remembered it all, and was quite excited by the thought of the journey. She even forgot her new reserve with her father, and chatted away all breakfast time. Constance had been busy in her owu room all the morning with preparations for their journey, and directly after luncheon Eva fell asleep. It was rather an unusual thing for the chili to do, and made Constance uneasy. She fancied her breathing was more laboured than uauaL After watching for some time she made herself so miserable that she went down stairs to fiud Alice, who with all her failings was always very sym pathetic. She wanted to hear what she thought of the child's looks. Alice was not in the morn ing room or in her bedroom, bo Constance con cluded that she had gone out. Alice had become bo completely one of the family during her long visit that she made her own plans and went her own ways without ceremony. She and Con stance had lunched* together, but nothing par ticular had been Bettled as to the disposal of the remainder of the day. In spite of all Constance's vague uneasiness she and Alice were just as good friends as ever. Constance was too generous to revenge on Alice by any show of unkindness the fact that one had the power to amuse her hus band more than she had herself ; and to do Alice justice she took great care to show her gratitude to Conßtance by every meanß in her power— Bave one. Cyril had gone out after breakfast and had not returned, bo Constance found no one to share her anxiety, and, after glancing into the rooms bliu passed to see if by chance Alice Bhould bo there,

•he had to go back to Eva alone. By this time, however, Eva was awake, and though her colour was still very bright and her breathiDg quick she did not seem worse than usual, and Constance gladly thought she had been frightened for no reason. Eva was delighted when her mamma proposed to take her out for a little walk; it waa a treat she had not had for some days, for it had been cold and Constance had kept her withindoors. " Let's go down to the little pool, mamma," Eva pleaded. Constance thought it was too damp, but Eva begged so hard to be allowed to get a few rushes —just a very few—that Constance yielded. Eva ran merrily before her through the gardens ; it was a very bright afternoon, and the sunshine aud Eva's delight at being out of doors again raised Constance's spirits. She felt lighter hearted than she had done for manyaday, and was thoroughly ashamed of her morbid fit the evening before. Then everything around had seemed to herald trouble—all was dim, dreary, and indis tinct ; now the gardens that had looked so gray and chill were bright with the autumn sunshine, the birds twittered on the branches. M How very material we are," thought Conatanoe ; "a change in the weather and we rush from grave to gay all at a bound. Last night everything seemed to portend trouble, to-day because the sun shine* I feel as bright and light as if trouble could never touch me." She watohed Eva as she tripped lightly on before, followed as usual by Bruce; she felt sorry when they entered the shrubbery, it was dark and shady, and shut out the joyous sun shine. However, Eva must have her way, and Constanoe followed. The little lake was in a valley in the shrub bery, and was so completely shut in by over hanging shrubs and trees that, till you stood actually on its shores, it was not to be seen. Eva knew the path well, and was hurrying on when suddenly she stopped; she heard voices, and being very timid waited for her mother to over take her. Constanoe held out her hand, whioh Eva caught, and they proceeded down the little path together. She had not known what had startled Eva, but now she herself heard the murmur of voices—some one was at the pooL Constanoe was on the point of turning back, for the path they were in led only to the pool, which although it was in the private grounds was open to the public. Both Constanoe and Cyril were very liberal in their ideas, and liked others to enjoy the various beauties of their pos session as well as themselves ; in fact up to the very gardens in front of the windows the country people were free to come and go, and though they did not very largely make use of their privi lege it was no uncommon thing to find a couple of lovers taking a ramble through the shrubbery. Constance thought it was some suoh interesting couple at the pool now, and was turning away when some words spoken more distinctly than the rest made her hesitate. Surely she knew the voice. She listened. The conversation was continued, but in so low a tone that for a time she oould distinguish nothing. Then the voices rose again. " It is cowardly of you ; you deceive your wife and you deoeive me." The words were literally hissed out; the speaker's passion was so intense it seemed almost to prevent her utterance. Constance stood still, rooted to the spot She scarcely comprehended the import of the words; but she recognised Alice's voice. Could it be her husband to whom the wordß were addressed ? (to be continued.) ?