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Chapter NumberXVIII
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-06-11
Page Number745
Word Count3628
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?



IN that one moment of supreme suspense Constance felt as if the very light was gone from heaven. A moment before and she was tripping along light-hearted, philosophising on the power

of externals to make us happy; now, ah* knew that ahe oould never be happy again. Though she listened with the Intenaest anxiety for the voice that waa to reply, ahe knew it would be Cyril's voice. Bva let go her mother's hand and grasped her dress, looking up into her face. She was just going to ask her mother to turn back, when Constanoe's stern imperious "Hushl" stopped her. She remained mute—too frightened to say • word; her mother's voice was strange to her. Poor little Eva! In the agony of that moment even she was forgotten. Constance was un* eonsoious of the baby hands that grasped her. M Take oare what you aay; you may go too far." Yes, it was Cyril's voice. He spoke low and aternly. " Too far! too far! Are you threatening me ? Tou may well fear that I should go too far, for I can go much farther than you think. You have east me aside once, Cyril, but you are in my power now." All power of motion, all life, all consciousness save the consciousness of unutterable misery, had left Constance. She stood there and listened—not because she wanted to hear what then was yet to follow, but because she could not move. "Go, Alice; for God's sake, go!" were the next words. That was all Cyril said; but the tone bore witness that he would not oontrol himself much longer. M No, I will not go. I know that is what you wish, selfish and cruel as you are. You are afraid that Constance should know—poor Con* stance—poor fool! It would have been much better for her if she had married John Poynton." Cyril started a little, but did not speak. There was silence for a few moments, broken only by the crushing and breaking of the leaves between Cyril's fingers as he lay on the ground beside thepooL MI have often watched Constance when she was looking at you," Alice went on, "and I pitied her. Yes; I—the homeless friendless teacher—pitied your wife. There is suoh a little iking between her and misery—just my will— tad If you go too far even my pity for her will pot save her." Alice waited again, but still Cyril was silent Whether he would not or dared not trust himself to speak Alice did not know; but that apparent aalmness made her nearly mad. M How would you look if I went and told her that you married her for her money—and uhyt Because you had got possession of it, and would sot give it up." Alice had effected her purpose at last Cyril sprang to his feet His eyes were gleaming, his hands trembled. *• We have had enough of this, Alice ; let us go in." He spoke quite quietly, but there was ?amething in his looks that frightened Alice, though she was not easily daunted. Now, though ?he half repented what she had done, she deter* alveA to owry it through. CyrU b*d undon»iu

a few minute* that afternoon all the results of his effort* at self-restraint in the past month*. In a moment of passion he had told Alice that he loved her, and that he would never ?cc her again. What Alice had promised to herself she did not distinctly know; but to be caat off again—to be told that he would never see her more—the very words that he had written before —wrought her to madness. If Cyril could treat her so lightly, then he should know what power she possessed. If he had never uttered those rash words—if he had eon* tinued as before, halting perhaps between friend and lover—all would have been well. She knew the possible and the impossible, and she would have been satisfied ; but that he should have dared to insult her with an open declaration of love and with desertion in one breath—it was too much. " No, you shall hear me first, and then you will know better how to treat me in the future. I know all the story of your marriage. I know of the secret trust. I know that at the end of the four years Constance should have had back her inheritance, I know that Mr. Duohesne thought you a man of honour, and that you are a miser* able coward. Tou oould not relinquish the in* heritance, and you feared to keep it* and there fore you cast me off and married Constance, and so forsooth honour and happiness went hand in hand. Great happiness certainly ! I think Con* stance is beginning to know you, but not as I know you. Now will you tell me that though you love me you will never see me again I" And Alice turned sharply round and looked defiantly into his face. It was a strange action, and even when she did it her lips twitched. She loved the man in spit* of his callous indifference to her happiness.. One word and she would have fallen at. his feet and vowed that the fatal secret should never pass her lips again, ay I and have kept her vow too. But Cyril was insensible to the love. He was pulsating with dread in every nerve. The story, the horrible story, of the will that he thought unknown to every living creature ezoept himself, thrust on him so dearly and sharply without word or warning ( If Alice knew—and evi dently she did know all about it—who else knew it besides! How did it come to light T What should he do ? Where should he turn 1 Could it be kept a secret still, or must Constance know of his perfidy—and not Constance only but all the world ? All this passed through bis mind before Alice had finished speaking. M How did you come to hear this absurd story, Alice t" he asked. He spoke very quietly still as he had done throughout, in .fact as he always did—for Cyril was essentially quiet and unde , monstrative. " Mr. White's clerk told me," Alice answered briefly. "He saw the rough copy by chance. He fell in love with me after my husband died," she added shrugging her shoulders as if with aversion at the remembrance; "and as one in ducement to make me listen to his suit he told me this secret He knew I had been engaged to you, and I suppose he thought it would help to wipe out any lingering affection." The words sounded ironical, but there was no thought of irony in Alice at that moment. She was thinking of the past, and how in spite of every* thing she must always love CyriL Cyril's looks shocked Alice as she glanced in his face again. She repented of her revenge already. He looked as if Nemesis had overtaken him, and truly it was Nemesis, the Nemesis he had most dreaded—this hearing of his hidden sin in the public places. He was trembling visibly, and seemed as if he must have fallen. He made a great effort to recover himself ; he was determined to know exactly what he had to fear so far as Alice was concerned, and what he wasted to know he must know now, for surely he and Alice oould never meet again. So dif ferent were the thoughts of the man and the woman I He, man-like, intent only on himself; she, already repentant of her vengeance, forgetful of his offence, and thinking of him. "Is the man who told you this story alive still!" he said, the words seeming to come with great effort from between his parched lips. " No, he died two years ago." Cyril gave a deep sigh. It was a great relief, and yet how many more might not still be in the secret? They stood quite motionless for a few moments, both engaged in retrospect Alice's hand still rested on his arm ; he had not thrown it off. And all this time Constance wss standing only a few feet distant, trying to go forward and yet unable to move. Eva, frightened at her mother's manner, still clung to her and watched her. She had forgotten all about the rushes she had come for, she was so utterly absorbed in watching the mother who for the only time in her life was utterly oblivious of her. " Constance must never hear this ridioulous story," said Cyril in the same constrained voice ; it would " | Before he had completed the sentence there was a crackling of branches and dead leaves ; both looked round in alarm, and saw Constance stand* ing in the little opening that was the only way down to the pooL She was perfectly white ; her lips, which had a strange blue tinge, were com* pressed firmly, and she had to make several' efforts before any sound came from them. " I know all," she said very quietly. NI have heard all, Cyril." Cyril made a spring as if to catch her in his arms, but she eluded him. In her hasty move* ment she tripped, and Eva, who was still clinging to her, fell over a small piece of rook that jutted over the pool, and was immersed in the water. It was merely for a second; there was scarcely time for her clothes to get wet before Cyril had her in his arms. Constance, who had not uttered a sound when she saw the child fall, now almost snatched her from her father's grasp. The very manner told how she felt his touch to be pollution. Perhaps nothing she could have said could have given him such a heart-thrust as that simple act She caught the child "from him, and pressing it to her bosom harried sway. That was all—not a rebuke—not a reproach, Cyril stood perfectly still, gaaing at the place at which his wife hsd vanished. Alice gaaed at him. At last she moved ; to leave the pool she must pass him. Then, amidst all the pain and anger ud repentance, a]l the passionate love

which it was this man's fate to inspire welled to her heart. * "Oh ( Cyril," she cried, throwing herself for ward so that her head rested on his folded arms, " what have I done 1" " Ara you satisfied ?" he said calmly as he made an effort to free himself. Alice quivered with pain at his impatient movement, and as he shook hsr from him, and she vanished at the spot at which Constance had done, he threw him self down on the ground and lay for several hours with such a stream of thought surging through his brain that he had no idea of time ; and when the servants came to find him, to tell him that his child was dying, he got up and looked round in surprise; it was nearly dark, and when he had thrown himself down it was high noonday. They bad to tell him twice before he seemed to comprehend; then, though he answered nothing, he strode up to the house. He had thought the torment he suffered was the utmost he was cap* able of enduring, and here already it was added to. In a moment all the love for his little child which the events of the last few weeks had seemed to deaden rose with renewed life. To lose her too I The memory of Constance's look as she snatched the child from him came over him with a fresh flood of bitterness. He hurried to the room where Eva was. Con stance never moved or looked up when he entered. She was leaning over the bed with Eva in her arms. The sight of that room was seared into bis brain—* bitter memory for after years. He looked at nothing, he was insensible to all out* ward objects, and yet unconsciously and without any effort of bis own every little detail was burned into his brain. The dimly-lighted room, the little white bed, the childish articles of dress which lay scattered here and there, unnoticed in the agonised hurry in which every thought and look was fixed on the little sufferer; the doll on which its little mistress generally lavished so much fond affection now lying at the foot of the bed unheeded; the glasses and spoons with which remedy after remedy had been administered in vain; the grave face of Dr. Pemberton as he stood beside the bed, looking from the little patient to the mother, whose face told of agony too deep for words. Old Bruce was there too—faithful, patient, true as ever—and at the moment when Cyril entered he had slowly pat his two great paws on the bedside as if to ascertain for himself if there was hope. No one rebuked him, no one noticed him; the little hands that were wont to twine themselves in his black curly hair were clenched and motionless; and Bruce slid down again and took up his old position at a little distance, where he could see all that passed.

• - GhaftzbXlX. E*a wu lying still and quiet, the little heaving breast and short laboured breath alone telling that life yet remained. She waa co purely, transparently, white that the great crimson •tain on the pillow seemed fraught with horror. Coald violence indeed hare sapped that tender life-blood? Bait it wm no violence — nothing bat the effect of that sodden pinnae into the oold water that jhad brooght on the fit of ooughing which had don* all the mischief. It was.the one thing whick tbe doctor* had always feared ; it waa that for dread of which Conatanoe bad scarcely ever suffered the child to be out of her sight—a sudden fright; and now—now she had done it herself ; it waa her own handiwork—the effects of that sadden movement when she had been heedless of everything except her own anguish. _ What thought! passed through Constance's mind as she hung over her child during that fatal night who could divine f Bat the keen agony she had just gone through deadened even the grief of losing Eva. Bhe had suffered to the utmost of her capacity for suffering, and now she was almost indifferent; better perhaps that the child should go rather than be left to suffer as her mother suffered; and Conatanoe bent closer over the white brow that waa now damp and clammy, and looked into the eyea that now and again unclosed themselves to look into hers. The worst! was over—the struggle and the suffering— and now it was only the exhaustion that preceded death. The best physician in London had been vent for, but the mother knew well enough his help would be of no avail; the little life was ebbing too fast for telegrams and express trains to keep pace with it All this Cyril saw in the moment that elapsed between his standiag in the doorway and his approach to the bed. MEvk,mydarling,"hemurmuredashebentdown over her; his face touched Constancy's, and she 1 did not move—just that once—for that last time. His voice seemed to penetrate the little half deafened ears. Eva opened her eyes slowly and looked at him. She seemed to know him. There was a slight quiver of the lips as if they tried to utter a farewell, and then, as in agony Constance bent nearer stfll, a faint struggle for breath, and Eva was still—for ever. A few minutes of that utter silence—the silence that follows death—a silence unlike any other—and then, very gently but very firmly, Dr. Pemberton came forward and disengaged Constance's arm from her dead child. She permitted him to do it—but when be would have led her from the room she resisted. " Not yet; leave us a little," she said faintly; and,the doctor, not knowing of the tragedy that bad been enacted, thought that husband and wife wished to be alone together, and therefore left And so they did wish to be alone, but not as the doctor thought Cyril still lay with his head, on the pillow beside Eva, just where he had let it fall when she died, but Constance stood erect Her presenoe roused him at last, and he looked up with an air aa of shrinking from her. She still stood on the opposite side of the bed, and now she held out her hand across the dead body of their child. M Good-bye, CyriL" It was all she said, but the three words were enough. Cyril knew it was farewell for ever— farewell over the one great bond of union which had taken to itself flight—farewell to the great love she had lavished on him—farewell to the trust in the honour on which she would have staked her life. As aeon aa the funeral was over Constance went back to bar old home at Thames Dittos, withnooompanioobutbwfaltbinlßruoe. Gait

off by her father, unloved of her husband, bereft of her child—was life indeed worth living ? Soon after their separation Cyril wrote to Con* atance giving a plain and simple account of the occurrences connected with her father's wilL He did not strive to extenuate anything. For once in hia life he compelled himself to behold him self as he really was. He enclosed the secret will, which he had not destroyed, and offered to take all the legal measures necessary to place her in possession of her fortune. Thia Constance flatly refused. The money part of the business seemed to her so infinitely small and paltry compared to the deceit of which she had been the victim. He might keep the money and welcome, but could he give her back her love and belief in him ? Cyril, however, would not listen to such reasoning. He did not publicly produce the secret will, because he dreaded the world's talk for her aa well as for himself; he knew it would be no solace to her to hear her husband's con demnation. So he made a settlement of the whole of Mr. Duchesne's money on Constance, reserving to himself only the once despised £10,000. The world was loud in its praises of poor Mr. Montgomery's generosity. It was so like him, so Quixotic, so characteristic of the man! Fortunately Cyri) did not hear the world's opinion on him and his proceedings ; he went abroad immediately after the separation, and Constance heard of him from time to time in remote spots unfrequented by travellers. After a time Bhe heard that bis health was failing, and that he began to look a prematurely aged man. His suffering added to the burden of her sorrows, and the would not allow herself to dwell on it. For some time after Eva's death and her separa tion from her husband she had been too com pletely crushed to be able to make any effort to rotue herself. Her physical health too suffered, and it was difficult to recognise in the grave taciturn gray-haired woman the once brilliant Constance Ducbesne. But Constance was of too strong a nature to yield wholly to the blow that had blighted her life. As her health returned she set herself to thinking seriously as to her future. Happy, she could never be again, but Bhe might find content and occupation in making others happy. To her, life had proved itself not worth the living ; the suffering had far exceeded the joy; but with others it might be different, and it should not be for want of help where she could give it This resolution was the outcome of a long struggle. Constance, though not a highly edu cated woman, had considerable mental power. "When once roused to the necessity for any course she examined the ciroumstances thoroughly, and with a keen common sense that delighted Dr. Pemberton, who was now her chief friend and counsellor. The worthy doctor had come to know many of the secrets of the household he had so long attended professionally; he had becu the medium in all arrangements that the separa tion of Constance and Cyril necessitated, and he had a hold on her gratitude that no other could attain to for the care and attention he had shown to her child. Now she consulted him about - everything. To a certain extent her confidence in her own judgment had vanished, and when she bad decided that to endure her life it wm necessary for her to make some active effort to give to others the happiness that had been denied to her, the doctor not only commended her deci sion but put her in the way to give it practical results. The doctor was a benevolent man, and he had a hobby. After the conversation with Constance, in which she had told him of her determination to shape out some course of active work for the benefit of others, in order to endure the burden of her own life, it flashed on him as a revelation that here was the very woman to carry out his work, and there was the very work fitted for the woman. " Eureka!" he exclaimed as he slapped hia knee—his usual demonstration of exceeding satisfaction—" I have found it, and to think that it should never have occurred to me before." Now the doctor's hobby was emigration. (to be continued. #