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Chapter NumberXXII
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-06-25
Page Number809
Word Count3309
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?



IT was October when they reached Brisbane, and the summer heat had scarcely begun; but the first aspect of the little town told them that they were in the land of the tropics. The flood

of white light that fell on everything, and that was reflected from road and pavement with an accumulated glare; the white clothing of the men, and their colourless faces ; the dim eves of most of them, that looked as if they had faded from being exposed to too strong a light; the verandahs that stretched all across the paths in front of the shops; the great waving groves of banana leaves, bo massive and luxuriant; and the rich scarlet blossoms of the hibiscus that seemed to flourish everywhere—all told of a scorching sun. Constance was delighted with it all, and would gladly have stayed a few days in the town, but the doctor had arranged for them to go to the Darling Downs at once. There the climate would be more like what they had been accustomed to at home, and the men would be able to get employment in the agricultural labour to which they had been used. Constance was bo much better in every respect for the long sea-voyage that she was able to take a very active part in the settlement of the people Bhe had brought out with her. The active occupation was gradually deadening the morbid anxiety she felt when she first landed to hear from CyriL In spite of all the warnings of common sense she had expected to find a letter from him waiting for her. It seemed so impos* sible that she should be there in a strange land and he send her no word of greeting. The old paying that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" was proving true in her case. In the short intervals of leisure that she could devote to her own affairs Bhe fell more and more into the habit of sitting with folded bands musing— and it was always Cyril—Cyril in the old days when the word "trouble" was without a meaning to either of them ; Cyril when he was engaged to Alice, and Constance felt the first sharp pang of jealousy; Cyril oold and indifferent as he had been at the time of her father's death. Then the happy days in Paris, and, happier than all, the first days of their married life. Could it really be the same Cyril who bung over her so fondly then who had been so cold—so worse than indifferent—so untrue T When Constance came to this point in her retrospect she covered her face and shivered, and hurried back to the work that drowned thought Nevertheless the pioture of Cyril at his best became the prominent

feature in her thoughts; the final scenes she would not dwell upon. His perfidy with regard to her fortune—the deceit which Cyril thought would be unpardonable—she had long ago for given. Constance had learned by bitter experi ence to judge her fellow-mortals mercifully. She knew the indecision which waa the weak spot in Cyril's charaoter, and she could under stand how he had let himself drift along almost unconsciously. All her anger waa gone— the old love was growing stronger day by day— if only she could have been sure that Cyril loved her only, she would have subdued her pride and gone back to him — a great change from the proud Constance Duchesne. John Poynton might well say that the Constance be had known waa dead. Dr. Pemberton wrote regularly every mail; and each time aa Constance tore open her letters her eyes first searched eagerly the sheets to see if her husband's name was mentioned. But the doctor avoided on principle touching all painful topics, of which he believed that this wsa one, and his letters treated of her poor people in Berkshire and Thames Ditton, on the varying fortunes of those she had taken out: and Con stance used to put the letters down with akeen sense of disappointment This atrange distant land made her heart yearn more than ever for her husband. Several times she thought of writing to him, but she did not dare. If Cyril should write her one of those oold self-contained letters—a letter akin to the rebuffs he had given her those later days—she felt aa if she oould not bear it Four months had passed since she had landed in Queensland, and she was looking forward to 1 returning home. She waa only waiting; for the next batch of English letters to make her final arrangements. They came, and Constance scanned them anxiously as usual. There was the doctor's of course, and one from her lawyer; another from her factotum at Thames Ditton; half a dosen I conneoted with the emigration work; and the last of all waa in a bold manly hand that made Constanoe start with surprise. She had seen John Poynton's handwriting frequently, bat for what reason did he write to her now ? She felt he must have some great reason, and her bands shook as she tore the letter open. A. half-ahoct fell out in her husband's writing I For a few moments her agitation was so excessive that she could not see to read it; her head fell forward, and she nearly fainted. Recovering herself she read the few lines, written in a trembling hand, almost without understanding them. Cyril ill with a mortal illness, entreating her to forgive and to come to him before he died I , So violent was the rush of though* that more than an hour passed, and Constance was still holding her husband's letter. She had not yet f lanced at Mr. Poynton's that had enclosed it talf repentant for having forgotten her etaunch friend so long, she took np his letter and read. It was concise and to the purpose, just like John Poynton himself. He had accidentally met Mr. Montgomery abroad (he did not Bay that he had taken a wearisome journey to find him because he had heard he was seriously ill, though Constanoe oould almost read that between the lines), and finding him very ill had remained with him. In the intimacy whioh arose under the circumstances Cyril had given him his con* fidence on many subjects, and now, relying on the old friendship which had so long subsisted between Constance and himself, he dared to join his own petition to her husband's ; he entreated her to come home at once. "But you must come at once," be wrote in conclusion, " for I have grave fears about your husband. Ton will be his best doctor, and it is on your immediate return that I found all my hopes for his recovery." Then there were a few earnest words of admiration for her self-denying work, of the suoorss of whioh Dr. Pemberton continually kept him informed, and he subscribed himself her "faithful friend, John Poynton." Tee, he was a faithful friend indeed! These latter daya had opened Constance's eyes to many things, and she oould understand now what had been dark to her before. She could even see the vivid contrast between the writers of the two letters, and it was not her husband who waa the nobler man ; and yet, woman like, she clung to her love, in spite, nay, perhaps becauie, of bis very faults. From the hour that Constance received these letters she had no thought but how to get home most quickly. She sent a reply by cable, and ! then hurried to Brisbane to catch the first steamer. So far all had gone well with her party. Con stanoe left content and gratitude behind her, and came away blinded by nappy tears called forth by the blessings that had been invoked upon her by her hnmble friends. ChaftrS XXIV. Ok board again, but the parting scene a very different one this time. The few passengers who embarked were going " home," and there were no parting tears—only good wishes and envious desires that those left behind might be as for tunate. Though the went home by the mail route the journey seemed to Constanoe endless. She could not make friends of the passengers or listen to the trifling chat and laughter that went on. Her thoughts were too anxious ; she could not with draw them from Cyril even for a passing hour. She stood looking eagerly towards the bows of the steamer as if her eagerness would lend the vessel speed. The journey came to an end at last They reached Brindisi, and there Constanoe landed. She had had no ohanoe of hearing from Cyril or Mr. Poynton since they had reoeived her answer, but she told them in her telegram of her intended route. Would Cyril be there to meet her ? that was the one thought that occupied her as they neared the port She stood on deck searching with keen eyes for the figure she knew so well, but without success, and her heart sank. Could the worst have happened ? But then John Poynton or the doctor would have come to break the news. "Mrs. Montgomery," said a quiet voice as at length she set foot on shore. She started violently ; in her over-anxiety she had missed Mr. Poynton, who had been watching her all the time. She could not speak to ask for her husband, and John Poynton hastened to tell her that Cyril was as well as usual, but that his

medical attendant had forbidden him to come to meet her. " Hit strength is very much ?battered, and we have to take great care of him," he said. Good John Poynton—always poshed on one side and overlooked ! He had worked for and thought of Constance ever since he left her at Gravesend, and she did not even notice him or give him a word of greeting. It was a rehearsal of the old scene in Paris—the day of the Grand Prix ; it was his lot to love and serve without recompense or acknowledgment. Constance had worked herself to such a pitch of agitation on seeing no appearance of her hus band that the relief from the sudden tension almost overpowered her. She could not speak, but she bowed her head and clutched John Poynton's arm as he led her through the crowd. They soon reached the hotel, and then Mr. Poynton took her upstairs, Constance thought he was going to take her at once to Cyril, but he led her into an empty room, and placing a seat for her said, with so quiet and composed an air that it was almost stern— ".You must subdue all appearance of agitation, Mrs, Montgomery; any excitement for your hus band may prove fatal—remember;" and then he walked to the window and stood looking out into the courtyard, while Constance sat with hands tightly clasped striving to keep down the tumul tuous beating'of her heart and to acquire the self-command that Mr. Poynton expected of her. He stood so long and so quietly that her impatience to be gone helped Constance to recover herself more than anything els*. Perhaps John Poynton had reckoned on that result He turned at a hasty movement from her— " Are you ready ?" he said, with the same grave stern air. "Quit*" It was the first and only word she had spoken to him yet Perhaps it was not only hia desire to suppress her agitation that made John Poynton look grave and stem. He gave her his arm again and took her down a long corridor with rooms on either side. As he laid nis hand on the handle of Cyril's door he turned and looked Constance fully in the face. M Remember I" he said again. Then he opened the door, and looking in to assure himself that Cyril was alone he drew back and let Constance pass in* For two leng hours John Poynton paced up and down the corridor, his arms folded, his h«ad bent forward, chewing the cud of bitter fancy. If John Poynton had ever thought that the object of life was happiness, he might weU have echoed Constance's old words, and said " life is not worth the living ;" but John Poynton came of a sterner school. From his youth up hia life had been self-denial and self •repression—to labour for others, to look for no return. Perhaps those two hours were the culminating point in nia career. He had laboured hard, and hjslabour was so utterly unregarded by her for whom he had striven that not by look or word had she shown herself conscious of his work. At the end of another half-hour the Italian doctor came to pay his daily visit " Has he borne the meeting well P he asked, approaching Mr. Poynton. 61 do not know. I have not liked to inter* rupt them." f< How long has hia wife been with him 1" " More than two hours." The doctor paused a moment "Shall Igo or will you r he said laying his hand on the handle of the door. As Mr. Poynton did not immediately reply the doctor, who was troubled by no scruples of delicacy about intruding on his patient, threw open the door boldly, and John Poynton saw Cyril lying on the sofa, with Constance's arms round him and his head lying on her shoulder. Cyril was so perfectly white and still that for a moment the two beholders thought that their fears had proved true, and that he had suc cumbed to the agitation; but a glance at the wife's face told another story. If ever a woman's countenance told of inward joy and peace Con stance Montgomery's did at that moment The past was forgotten, or if not forgotten remem bered only to make the joy of the present more intense. She had suffered, and the Buffering had strengthened and spiritualised her love ; and, as so often is woman's lot, and sometimes men's too, in her love she found her reward. It was in her own love, and not the worth of the weak erring man beside her, that she had found that perfeothappineas whose stamp was act upon every feature. For some days after Constance's return Mr. Poynton remained with them, and from Cyril Constance learned how true and faithful a friend he had been. "It would have been better for you if you had married Poynton," he said one evening as be lay in his favourite posture, his head resting on her shoulder. " I have been the marplot of your Mfe." Constance quivered with pain as her husband said those vividly remembered words. Cyril had no remembrance that they had ever been uttered before. "Cyril, how can you be so cruel 1" said she, laying her head down and covering her face. Cyril waa very penitent when he saw how he had wounded her ; he seemed as if he could not do enough to atone for the unintentional unkind ness. To see them so utterly absorbed in one another and their newly-found happiness was more than even John Poynton's philosophy could bear ; but it was worse still when he announced his inten. tion of departing, and Cyril remonstrated and begged him not to leave, and Constance sat by and said never a word—nay, John even thought a gleam of satisfaction passed over her face. He was right Constance was still far more in love with Cyril than Cyril waa with her, and she longed to be left quite alone with her husband. It could not be for very long she knew, for the disease that was eating hia life away was gaining ground daily. She could not beg John Poynton to stay ; so he left them and went to England. Dr. Pern berton came to see him, and learnt d with satis faction all the particulars of the teoondliation which had taken place. Constance had asked him to have continued, so far a* was practicable, the work she had begun. Money was to be forthcoming as much as was required, only her personal assistance for a time must be withheld there was a nearer claim upon her now.

Constance had sighed deeply as she had given her menage to Mr. Poynton, and said "for a time she conld not personally help." She felt that perhaps the time was not very far off when again she would need to seek in the relief of others a relief to her own woe. Cyril, however, lingered much longer than the doctors had thought possible. It was the calmest and happiest period of his life—no deceit weigh ing upon him with the daily fear of its discovery —no dark secret to hide from the eyes of his trusting wife—only peace and quietness; and though they did not close their eyes to the doom that was impending, Cyril could speak cheerfully of the time when he should rejoin little Eva, and for his sake Constance strove to be calm and cheerful also. 11 It is not possible." There was a long silence after the words were spoken. Con«tanc« Montgomery was sitting on a garden seat on the terrace at Thames Ditton, and John Poynton was near her leaning against He had waited long and patiently, hoping that perhaps at last his faithful love might be re warded ; but it was not to be. Those four words were the death-knell of his hopes. In fact, he had scarcely hoped—Constance had given him no ground—but he thought it possible. He was quite silent for some time, and so was she ; she was thinking of Cyril, and Poynton was looking straight away into the old-fashioned drawing-room, the scene of their first meeting, and thinking of the memorable day when he caught Constance in his arms to save her from falling, and how from that moment to the present she had been the one sole object of his life. Here was the end of it all; a fitting end, in the very spot whet* it had begun. Both were so engaged with their own thoughts that a long time passed without either nuking an effort to break the tiittiwti The sound of horses' feet coming up the avenue told of the approach of visitors. John Poynton started. Then after listening a moment he came towards Constance and held out his hand. " Good-bye," he said. "Good-bye," Constance echoed, but she trembled in spite of her determination, and the tears filled her eyes. He saw them, and they moved him out of his usual self-possession. "Good-bye," he said again, and he let go her hand and clasped her passionately to him. It was the second time he had held her in his arms, and it was the last ; before the visitors had entered the hall he was far down the shrubbery, and Thames Citton Manor House saw him no more In less than a week from that time he was dead—oneof the victims of a railway accident Constance's white face turned whiter still as she read the terrible account Since the day wtien he had taken her in his arms in that pas sionate farewell he had never been absent from her thoughts. Once she bad taken up her pen to write to him, but had laid it down unused. What wss she going to write to him ? What would she have said, if, instead of dying in that horrible way, he had come to plead his oauftt again ? Only those who know the strange ways of a woman's heart can say. (th* ehd.)