|Newspaper Title||The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933)|
|Trove Title||Constance Duchesne: Is Life Worth the Living?|
Constance l>tichcsne : Is Life
Worth the Living?
IST that one moment of supreme suspense Constance felt as if the very light was gone from heaven. A moment before and she was tripping »long light-hearted, philosophising on the power of externals to mnko us happy ; now, she knew that she could novtr be happy again.
Though she listened with the intensest anxiety ?for tho voico that wes to reply, she knew it would be Cyril's voice.
Eva let go her mnthor's hand and grasped her dress, looking -jp into her face. Sho was just going to atk ber mother to turn back, when Constance's stern imperious " Hush !" stopped her. She remained mute-too frightened to say a word j her mother's voice was strange to her.
Poor little Eva ! In the agony of that moment even she was forgotten. Constance was un- conscious of the baby kandB that grasped her.
"TakO'Carre what you say ; you may go too far." Yes, it was Cyril's voice. He spoke luw and sternly.
" Too Car I too far ! Are you threatening mo 1 You may well fear that I should go too far, for I can go much farther than you think. You have cast mo aside once, Cyril, but you aro 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 warned to hear what there was yet to follow, but becauso she could
41 Go, Alice ; for God's sako, go 1" were the next words. That was all Cyril said ; but the tone bore witneBS that ho would not control himself much longer.
"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 lind married John Poynton."
Cyril started a little, but did not speak. There wa3 silence for a few momentB, broken only by the crushing and breaking of the leaves between Cyril's fingers as he lay on the ground beside the pool.
"I have often watched Constance when she was looking at you," Alice went on, " and I pitied her. Yes; I-the homeless ft ¡end leas teacher-pitied your wife. There is such a little thing between ber and misery-just my will and if you go too far even my pity for her will
not 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 .tlmness made her nearly mad.
" How would you look if I went and told her that you married her for her money-and why! Because you had got possession of it, and would not give it up."
Alice had effected her purpose at last. Cyril sprang to his feet. His eyes were gleaming, his
" We havo had enough of this, Alice ; let us go in." He spoke quite quietly, but there was something iu his looks that frightened Alice, though she waa not easily daunted. Now, though she half repented what she had done, Bhe deter- mined to carry it through. Cyril had undone in a few minutes that afternoon all the results of his efforts at self-restraint in the past months. In a moment of passion he had told Alice that he loved her, and that ho would nover Bee her again. What Alico bud promised to herself she did not distinctly know ; but to be cast off again-to bo told that he would never see her moro-the very words that he had written before-wrought her to mndnesi. If Cyril could treat her so lightly, then ho should know what power sho possessed. If ho had never uttered tlioso rash words-if ho had con-
tinued ns before, halting perhaps between friend and lover-all would havo been well. She knew the possible and the impossible, and sho would have been satisfied ; but that ho 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 heir me first, and then you will
know better how to treat me iu the future. I know all the story of your marriage. I know of tho Beeret trust. I know that at tho end of the four years Constance should have had back hor inheritance. I know that Mr. Duchesue thought you a man of honour, and that you aro a miser- able coward. You could 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 mo that though you love me you will never soe me again ?" And Alice turned sharply round and looked defiantly
into bia face.
It was a strange action, and even when she did it her lip3 twitched. She loved tho man in . Bpite c.f his callous indifférence to her happinesB.
One word and she would have fallen at his feet and vowed that (he fatal secret should never pass her lip3 again, ay ! and have kept her vow too. But Cyril was insensible to the love. He was pulsating with dread in every nerve. The story, tho horrible atory, of tho will that ho thought unknown to every living creature cxeopt himself, thrust on him so clearly and sharply without word or warning ! If Alice know-and evi- dently she did know all about it-who else know it besides ? How did it come to light ? What Bhould ho do ? Where should he turn ? Could it be kept a Beeret still, or must Constance know of his perfidy-and not Constance only but all the world ? All thia passed through hia miud before Alice had finished speaking.
" How did you come to hear this absurd story, Alice ?" 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-
" Mr. Whito's clork told me," Alice answered briefly. " He saw the rough copy by chance. He fell in love with me after my husband diod," she added shrugging her shoulders as if with aversion at the remembrance ; "andas one in- ducement to make me listen to his suit he told mo 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 wordB sounded ironical, but there wai no thought of irony in Alice at that moment She was thinking of the past, and how iu spite of every- thing she must always love Cyril.
Cj'ril's looks shocked Alice as she glanced in his face again. She repented of her revenge already. He looked ns if Nemesis hsd overtaken him, and truly it was Nemesis, the Nemesis he had mo3t dreaded-this hearing of his hidden sin in the public places. He wbb trembling visibly, and seemed as if he must have fallen.
He made a great effort to recover himself ; he was cleteimirri to know exactly what he had to fear so far as Alice was concerned, and what he wanted to know he must know now, for surely he and Alice could never meet again. So dif- ferent were the thoughts of the man and the woman ! Ho, man-like, intent only on himself ; she, already repentant of her vengeance, forgetful of his offence, and thinking of him.
"Is the mau who told you this story alive Btill?" 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 iu retrospect. Alice's hand still rested on his arm ; he had not thrown it off.
And all this time Constanco was 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 ber and watched her. She had forgotten all about the rushes she had como for, she was so utterly absorbed in watching the mother who for the only time ia her life was utterly oblivious of her.
" Constance must never hear this ridiculous story," said Cyril in the same constrained voico ;
Before he had completed the sentence there was a crackling of branches and dead leaves ; both looked mund in alarm, and saw Constance stand- ing in the little opening that was the only way down to the pool. Sho was perfectly white ; her lips, which had a strange blue tinge, were com- pressed firmly, and sha had to make several efforts boforo any sound came from them.
" I kuow all," she said very quio'.ly. "I havo 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 wa3 still clinging
to her, fell over a small piece of rock that jutted over the pool, and was immersed ia the Water. It was morely for a eecond ¡ 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 hia touch to bo pollution. Perhaps nothing she could have said could have given him such a heart-thrust as that simple act. She caught tho child from bim, and pressing it to hor bosom hurried away. That was all-not a rebuke-not a reproach.
Cyi ii Btood perfectly still, gazing at the place at which his wife had vanished. Alice gazed at him. At last she moved ; to leave the pool she must pass him. Tbeu, amidst all tho pniu and anger and repentance, nil the passionate love which it was this man's fate to inspire welled, to
" Oh I Cyril," she cried, throwing herself for- ward so that her head rested on his folded arms,
" what have I done ?"
" Are you satisfied ?" lie said calmly bb he made an effort to freo himself. Alico quivered with pain at his impatient movement, and as he Bhook her from him, and she vanished at the spot at which Constance hiul 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 carne to find him, to tell him that his childwas dying, he got up and looked round in surprise ; it waB neaily dark, and when ho had thrown himself down it was high noonday. They had 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 Hie. To lose her too ! The memory of Constauce'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 o'.er the bed with Eva in her arma. The sight of that room was seared into his brain -a bitter memory for after years. Ho lo jked at nothing, he was insensible to all out- ward objects, and yet unconsciously and without any effort of his own every little dotail was burned into his brain. The dimly-lighted room, the little white bed, the childish articles of dress which lay scattered hore aud there, unnoticed in the agonised hurry in which eveiy thought and look was fixed on the little sufferer ; the doll on which its little mistreps generally lavished so much fond affection now lying at the foot of the bed unheeded ; the glasses and Bpoons with which remedy after remedy had been administered in vain ; the grave face of Dr. Pemberton as he Btood 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 evor-and at the moment when Cyril entered he had slowly put his two great paws ou tho bedside as if to ascertain for himself if there was hopo. No one rebuked him, no one noticed hiui ; the little hands that were wont to twiue themselves in his black curly hair were clenched and motionless ; and Bruce Blid down again aud took up his old position at a little distance, where he could see all that passed.
Eva was lying still and quiet, the little heaving breast and shoit laboured breath alone telling that life yet remained. She was bo purely, transparently, white that the great crimson stain on the pillow Boomed fraught with horror. Could violence indeed have sapped that tender
But it was no violence - nothing but the effect of that sudden plunge into the cold water that had brought on the fit of coughing which had done all the mischief. It was the ouo thing which tho doctors had always feared ; it was that for dread of which Constance had scarcely over suffered the child to bo out of her sight-a sudden fright ; and how-now b1ib had done it herself ; it was her own handiwork-the effects of that sudden movement when she had been heedless of everything except hor own anguish. What thoughts passed through Constance's mind as Bhe hung over her child during that fatal night who could divine ? But the keen agony she had j ust gone through deadened oven the gi ief of losing Eva. She had suffered to the utmost of hor capacity for suffering, and now sho waa almost indifferent ; better perhaps that the child should go rather than be left to suffer as her mother suffered ; and Constance bent closer over the white brow that was now damp and clammy, and looked into tho eyes that now and again unclosed themBelveB to look iuto hera. Tho 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 sent for, but the mother knew well enough his help would be of no avail ; the littlo life was ebbing too fast for telegrams and expresa trains to keep pace with it.
All this Cyril saw in tho moment that elapsed between his standing in the doorway and his approach to the bed.
"Eva, my darling," he murmured as hoben tdown over her ; his face touched Constanco'e, and she did not move-justthot 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 bont nearer still, a faint struggle for breath, and Eva was still-for ever. A few minutes of that utter Bilence-the silenco that follows death-a silence unlike any other-and thou, very gently but very firmly, Dr. Pemberton carno forward and. disengaged Constance's arm from her dead child. She permitted bim to do it-but when he would havo led her from the room she resisted.
" Not yet ; leave us a little," sho said faintly ; and the doctor, not knowing of the tragedy that had 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 besido Eva, just wbero he had let it fall when Bhe died, but Constance
Her presence roused him at last, and he looked up with an air as of shrinking from her. She still stood on the opposite Bide of the bed, and now she held out her hand across the dead body of their child.
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 hor life. '
As soon as the funeral was over Constance went back to hor old home at Thames Ditton, with no companion but her fuithful Bruce. Cast 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- stance 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 his life he compelled himself to behold him- self as he really was. He enclosed the secret will, which be had not destroyed, and offered to take all the legal measures necessary to place her in possession of her fortune.
This Constance flatly refused. The money part of the business teemed to her so infinitely small and paltry compared to the deceit of which sho 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 as well as for himself ; he knew it would be no Eolace to her to hear her husband's con- demnation. So he mado a settlement of the wholo of Mr. Duchesne'8 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 waa so like him, bo Quixotic, so characteristic of the man I
Fortunately Cyril did not hear the world's opinion on him and his proceedings ; he went abroad immediately after the separation, and Constance beard of him from time to time in remote Bpots unfrequented by travellers. After a time she heard that his health was failing, and that he began to look a prematurely aged man. His Buffering added to the burden of her sorrows, aud she would not allow hereelf to dwell on it. For some time after Eva's death and her separa
tion from her husband she bad been too com- pletely crushed to be able to make any effort to rouse herself. Her physical health too suffered, and it was difficult to recogm»e in the grave taciturn gray-haired woman the once brilliant
But Constance was of too strong a nature to yield wholly to the blow thit had blighted her life. Ab her health returned she set herself to thinking seriously as to her future. Hnppy, Bhe could never be again, but she might find content and occupation in making others hnppy. To her, life had proved itself not worth the liviug ; the Bullering had far exceeded tho joy ; but with others it might bo differeut, and it should not bo 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 Bhe examined the circumstances thoroughly, and with a keen common senso that delighted Dr. Pemberton, who was now her chief friend and oounsellor. The worthy doctor had come to know many of the secrets of the household ho had so long attended professionally ; ho had been the medium in all arrangements that the separa- tion of Constance and Cyril necessitated, and ho 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 extont her confidence in her own judgment had vanished, and when she had decided that to enduro her life it was 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 w.iy to give it practical
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 ns a revelation that here was the very woman to carry out his
work, and there was the very work fitted for the
" Eureka !" he exclaimed as ho slapped his 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 de contim;i.d.