Chapter 912641

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Chapter NumberVII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article912641
Full Date1881-05-07
Page Number3
Corrections1
Word Count4788
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Last Corrected2009-12-27
Newspaper TitleThe Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933)
Trove TitleConstance Duchesne: Is Life Worth the Living?
article text

Constance Vuchcsue : Is Lile

Worth the Living?

By "Onyx."

Ciiatter VII.

The telegram which Mr. White despatched to

r"il was more fortunate ; Cyril was at his hotel j when it arrived. The summons was urgent, and Crril was only too glad to obey it-glad of any imperative necessity for action-glad of anything that could divert his thuuehts from his own nrivato affairs; for in spite of Constance's opinion as to the suitability of his ohoice Cyril was very deeply in love, and now he rejoiced at having to go to England, because it took him nfnr to Alice. In fact, in a few miuutes he had almost lost sight of the real object of his journey in his delight in having a good excuse for hÍ3 return. "I oan Jllst c»tcu tD0 tidal train to- night " he muttered, looking at his watch. A few minutes to make his final arrangements, and Cyril was in a fiacre hurrying to tho Station du Nord and bofore the early hours of the morning had well commenced ho was in London-Loudon asleep and yet not still, for the cessation of the shrillest noises only makes the dull roar of the heavy traffic which never ceases in that mighty centre of civilisation the more perceptible. It was chill and raw and dreary ; a drizzling raiu /eil and the sky was leaden. Cyril felt his spirits descend to their lowest ebb. Certainly no good could come of this journey, taken uuder such unfavourable auspices. There was no train to Thames Ditton for several hours ; bo ho betook himself to an hotel nud went to bed.

To bed-but not to sleep. His journey, instead of tiring, Beenied only to have added excitement to the fever that was on him before. He turned and twisted and tried to reason him- self out of the Bonse of impending evil which clung to him so persistently. It was only the effects of the miserable weather, he argued. He knew ho was keenly alive to the influence of external things, as persons of his impressionable temperament so often aro ; but it was all in vain. He felt certain that some evil thing was goiDg to happen. At last, quite exhausted with wrestling with his forebodings, he fell asleep, and slept so heavily that it was nearly noon before he awoke.

At first he was confused as to where he was and how he got thero. Alice and his uncle got curiously mixed up in his brain. Then he remem- bered his urgent summons, and frowned as he looked at his watch to see how much of the morning had already slipped away. It was nearly lunch time when he reached Thames Ditton.

"How is my uncle, Barnes ?" he said the moment he entered the hall.

"Very poorly like, Mr. Cyril," replied the old man. " I am glad you've come. He has been expecting you all the morning."

"I overslept myself after the journey. Is Miss Constance at home ?"

"No, sir. She went away yesterday, and won't bo back till Monday anyway. It ia a pity, for I think it fidgets master ; he keeps looking for her, like."

Cyril hurried to the library, and found his uncle lyiug on the sofa, looking very ill and feeble.

"I'm glad you have come, Cyril," ho said, after the first salutations were over. " I have something important to say to you, and I want to got it done before-to get it off my mind, I meau," he said, correcting himself, as if fearing that Cyril might put the construction on his words which he was conscious was in his own

mind.

"I wl :lo whatever I can for you," said Cyril gently.

One of the best points in Cyril's character was his chivalrous devotion to those iu trouble. No matter whether it was tho weakness of woman- hood, or the feebleness of age, or the desolation of poverty, wherever the need for his help was Cyril gave it ; and the manner in which he gave it made those who received it feel a pleasure to

be beholden to him. No woman could have helped his uncle more tenderly to move from his recumbent position, or could have arranged the pillows more deftly for his comfort, than Cyril did cow, and all this not with the patronising air of the strong helping tho weak, but as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to do, and as though his whole heart was in his task. It was this manuer that made Cyril such a general favourite, au 1 it was this manner which, while she could escape the influence of it, made Constance look superciliously down on the man who could trouble himself about such little

matters.

When Mr. Duchesne was at last comfortably fettled he entered upon the business for which Cyril was wanted. Cyril listened in perfect

sileuco while his uncle told him of the occurrences

of the last few days, and of the change which they had caused, never interrupting by a word

or look.

When the story was ended he was almost as white aB his uncle himself. He could not analyse his emotions. Ho know not whether ho felt joy or Borrow. His feelings for Alice-his contem- plation of her delight at his good fortune-pulled him one way, and his feelings for Constance the

other.

When he recovered himself a little he began feebly to urge on Mr. Duchesne the hastiness of his treatment of Constance ; but his undo

checked him at once.

"I can manage my own affairs still," he Baid, and the drawn features assumed a sternness that added to their dignity, though the emotion showed more plainly than ever the ravages of disease. " All I ask from you is that you will prove worthy of my trust. I havn trusted you as I have never trusted a man before. Give me your solemn word that you will faithfully carry out my wishes."

"I promise," said Cyril solemnly. He was quite overcome by his uncle's impressive manner.

A more manly nature would not have yielded so weakly. If he had refused to do his part his uncle must perforce have altered Mb intentions, and Constance would not have been robbed of that which was justly here. But, as we have said, Cyril was easily influenced. The earnestness with which Mr. Duehesno had impressed on him the absolute necessity of his doing his share in the carrying out of the programme, and the manner in which he took Cyril's concurrence for fronted, quite blinded him to the possibility of refusing, and to the duty that devolved on him of protecting Constance's interests against her father. Cyril could only Bee thiugs from the point of view in which they were presented to him as long as the particular phase of feeling astcd. At that moment he thought of nothing hut the intensity of his uncle's desire that he should carry out his wishes ; he did not see either the absurdity or the enormity of the

scheme.

Before Mr. White arrived he had promised solemnly to carry out in their integrity his uncle's instructions, and what he promised he fully meant to perform.

When Mr. White came he desired to Bee Cyril alone before he went to Mr. Duchesne, and he expressed very freely to the young man his opimon as to his client's last proceeding, and the course which in his opinion Cyril ought to take.

I have promised my uncle to carry out his wishes, and of course I shall do so," Baid Cyril

haughtily.

" It would have been better if you had tried to dake him change them," said the lawyer.

Cyril did not choose to tell him that he < pa feebly remonstrated with his uncle, but w vam. The tone Mr. White had adopted « their interview was unfortunate ; it hurt tyru a pride, and it operated unfavourably for j-onstauce in many ways. The dislike that aroBe between the two men during that interview was Mutual. Cyril thought Mr. White presuming ; and the lawyer, when he looked at the young wan s handsome irresolute mouth, decided that Jfuen the moment of trial came Cyril would be lound wanting.

It is the most monstrous scheme that was eyer mooted," ho said, as he brought the inter- view between himself and Cyril to a close. " I ^ou.d wash my hands of the whole matter, only * ,?w, Mr- Duchesne too well to think that ho «mid let any difficulty stand in his way when oe had once made up his mind. If I did not do i e. w°uld go to some one else who would be .*=3 interested to protect the girl than I am."

.nV'V"' c'1 »o to treat this speech aä a soliloquy, on a Udt tlle emaIleat notice of it. He

peucd the door in silence and preceded Mr. *> lute to his uncle's room.

. ,iüíj business was over at last. The wills were ' t'ped; one was given into jjr_ T¡Y-jj¡te.g keepiug, m the other-the secret document-was handed over to Cyril.

i , í trust y°u implicitly," said Mr. Duchesne as w wmself gave the important paper into hi3 hand. simV.Wi-, prove worthy of your trust, uncle," »aid Cyril reverently.

Mr. White looked on and frowned. " It shall

not be my fault if you are not," he thought to himself ; but he said nothing-only opened his black bag and looked to see that the rough draft of the private deed was safe within.

Mr. White remained talking to his client some time after Cyril left them. He was surprised that Constance had not come after receiving his telegram. "The breach between them must have been graver even thau I thought," he

reflected. Ho made no commeut on Mer absence to Mr. Duche3ue, who seemed stronger thau on the preceding day.

" By tho way, Mr. Poynton must bo due," ho said to Mr. White after a long talk.

" Yes, he should be hore now," replied the lawyer, consulting his watch.

Mr. Duchesne raug the boll, but before the servant appeared the sound of carriage wheels driving swiftly up tho avenue was heard.

" There he is. I hope Cyril will go to receive him ; I forgot to tell him of his coming," said Mr. Duchesne anxiously.

Cyril was well to the fore. He had been ' walking up and down the terrace in front of the house, still deep in thought, and though he had not been told of his expected visit ho kuow by instinct that the stranger was Mr. Poynton.

Chapter VIII.

The nama of Poynton was associated with important issues at that moment, aud Cyril re- ceived his uncle's guest in his most courteous manner. After a short time spent in the half formal chit-chat which preludes the commence- ment of the teuderest friendship Cyril saw Mr.

White leave the house.

" My uncle is at liberty now, and will like to receive you," he said to Mr. Poynton. " I will tell him you have arrived. He has been so unwell to-day that he has not loft his room."

Mr. Poynton assented, and Cyril disappeared. Mr. Poynton amused himself in his absence by looking round the room. Himself of au emi- nently cultured taste, he could appreciate the signs of it in others. Tho admirable manner in which tho gleaming marble statuettes were placed either amidst the foliage of the raro exotica that had been brought from their home in the conservatory for a brief space, according as Coustanco's taste dictated, or againBt the rich background of the oaken panels ; the choice water-colours that ndorned the walls, each ono a masterpiece ; the noble bronzes and the splendid specimens of Sevres china that seemed each to be placed in the spot which was designed especially L>r it ; all charmed Mr. Poynton, and he divined that the woman who had arranged that room uiu:t have a tasto as rofined as his own. He had often heard of Miss Duchesne, but more Btress had been laid on her pride and hauteur than on her other accomplishments. He was glad to think that now he should have an opportunity of judging for himself. Ho was not very favourably disposed towards either of the two relatives, and ho was quite as alivo us was Constance to the fact that they only acknowledged the relation when to a certain extent he had thom in his power. Cyril had not told him of his cousin's absence, and so specula- tion as to the manner of their meeting mingled largely with his admiration of her arrangements. At first be was quite occupied and amused by inspecting the various art treasuies ; then he went to the window and admired the view. It

was a still Twarm day, and the river ran placidly on its way like a silver throad.

After a prolonged gaze at the river Mr. Poynton took out his watch ; more than half an hour had elapsed since Cyril left him, and he began to chafe a littlo at tho delay. It was scarcely tho politeness he would have expected from the tonour of his host's letter giving him the invitation. Ho yawned and walked up and down the room. Another quarter of an hour passed, still no one carno. Ho fancied ho heard a bustling noise in a distant part of the house. There waB Bwif t running up and down stairs and he had heard sounds of horses' feet several

times, though no one had passed before the

window.

Ho was getting really impatient, and was on the poiut of ringing tho bell and desiring the servant to show him to his room, when hurried footsteps crossed the hall ; the door waB rapidly opened, and a lady with a palo face and bonnet half hanging from her shoulders rushed in. She glanced neither to right nor to left, and bo rapid were her movements that her foot caught in some article of furniture and sho fell forward. She tried to save herself by grasping at a mosaic table that stood close by, but the momentum was too groat ; over went the table, upsetting in its fail a pedestal on which Btood a largo parian group, and in a second parian Btituo, mosaic, and vases all lay shattered on the ground. The lady did not fall, for swift as light Mr. Poynton darted forward aud caught her in his stroug arms. He relinquished his hold instantly and rotreated a few Bteps, as if asking pardon for

what ho had done.

Tho moment Constance was firm on her feet again bIio drew herself up in her most Btately manner ; she knew by instinct that tho man before her was the detested Mr. Poynton, and, deeply as bIib was engrossed by other thoughts, the idea that he should liavo dared to take her in his arms, even to save her from an accident, brought the rich blood surging to her cheek. If she hated him before bIio hated him a thousand times more now.

John Poynton still stood at a little distance waiting for her to speak, but she did not so much as condescend to acknowledge his presence or his help. She only gathered her dreBB together to escape the shattered treasures, swept acroBB the room, and disappeared by the oppoBito

door.

All this had passed bo rapidly that John Poynton had scarcely time to glance at her before she was gone. Then as he realised the situation a queer expression of amusement passed over bia faca. He had imarjined several ways in which his introduction to Miss Dúcheme might take place, but he had never imagined such a strango one as that. Her hauteur did not remove the prejudice he had against her ; he was indig- nant with her for her haughty ignoriug of his presence ; but in spite of resentment and indig- nation his arms still tingled at their momentary contact with that soft burden, and he was obliged to confess that, whatever her other qualities might bo, he had never met any one bo exqui- sitely and superlatively beautiful as his newly found relative Constance Duchesne.

He was still dwelling on the picture that had impressed itself so deeply on his fancy when Cyril came hurrying in.

" Has Constance-has Miss Duchesne gone to her father ?" he asked hurriedly.

" A lady passed through the room and went out by that door," replied Mr. Poynton rather coldly.

Cyril's quick ear detected annoyance in the tone. " You mußt think us intolerably rude, Poynton. I ought to have come to you before. My uncle has been stricken with paralysis since you entered the house. The doctor haB not arrived yet, and everything is in coufuaion."

Mr. Poynton expressed his sympathy. " The best thing I can do is to go back at once, unless I can be of any service," he said.

" No ; stay for a little while-we may bo thankful for your help. The doctors cannot be muoh longer," and without further ceremony he left Johu Poynton to ponder on the strange events which heralded his first introduction to the Duchesne3, while he hastened back to hU uncle'B room. He found Constance there, hang- ing over her father in silence. Her face spoke for her and told her suffering, it was so lined and drawn. He quite started when he saw her; instead of the bright proud girl he had left a week ago he found an old grief-stricken woman.

Whatever were Constance's feelings as she hung over her father she did not give expression to them. The bustle and confusion that had

prevailed when her father's seizure waB first dis- covered had given place to Older and quietness as soon aB ehe arrived. She had great influence over all with whom Ehe came in contact, as have all strong characters. She had a wonderful talent for administration ; the confusion ceased and all seemed to fall into their places as Boon aB she appeared. Whether it was a help to her endurance, or whether it was a terrible addition to her misery, to find her father totally uncon-

scious she never said.

The servants, who had been buzzing like bees about the room, all intent on doing something and all getting into one another's way, withdrew at once as Constance, white as the purest marblo, entered. She went to the sofa on which her father had been lifted and took her place beside him, giving her orders as calmly and distinctly as if her heart was not almost breaking with remorse and grief. For the next terrible four-and twenty hours she remained in the Barne place, with her eyes constantly fixed upon her father'a

face, lest at somo moment consciousness might j return, and she not catch the first feoble glance. { The doctors told her it was not likely-they ex- pected that he would pass from his then state of insensibility to the still deeper unconsciousness of death ; but Constance, though she heard thom, would not believe ; she hoped against hope. She longed so intensely to havo one more fond word from him-to hear him say that he forgave her-or at least to see him look at her once more-to receive his dying kia«. She felt as if he could not die without bidding her farewell. Surely that could not havo been the last kiss and the last word when Bhe ran back to say good-bye again bofore she went away ! Truly the fore- boding that pressed so heavily upon her waa to be fulfilled more terribly tuan ? she had ever dreamed. If Bhe could only have lived that last week over again I and her face contracted with pain as ahe reviewed the last seoues with hor father. She was already learning tho meaning of those bitter words : Oh, if she could only have known I

All through tho long night, through the still longer day, on into the dreary night again, Con- stance knelt there, thinking thoughts that seemed to burn into her brain ; theu a movement startled her, a very feeble movement ; a tluttering of the eyelids, a deep-drawn sigh, told Constance that her hope was vain, for George Duchesne, with all his sorrow and his sins, was at rest for ever.

Of the week that intervened between his death and the funeral Constance could never give ac- count. Her feelings vvero lacerated to such an extent that, though taking her part as mistress, she waB utterly unconscious of what was passing around hor. She gave her orders mechanically,

and went about the house with little difference to ordinary seasons. In after days Constance was thankful for that week, which was given up wholly and unreservedly to grief. No bitterness entered into it-the cause of the quarrel wns well nigh forgotten in grief for the quarrel itself. She only bemoaned herself that her evil temper had taken her away from her father in those last precious hours of his life, and she had roproached herself bitterly when old Barnes told her how the master had seemed to watch for her in thoBe last days.

But tho revulsion waa to come.

She could scarcely credit her own ears when they were assembled in the drawing-room after

the funeral and Mr. White read out tho will. That her father should so heavily have punished -that ho should really havo carried out his augry threat, and that so quickly, she could not realise. It was not the loss of the fortuno that troubled her, though Constance was no bread and-butter mi's to look upon money as a matter of no consequeuco ; it was the hard bitter feeling which had prompted it that crushed her, Sho had not believed him capablo of such cruelty in spite of all that had passed, and the grief that had proBtrnted hor before waB now mingled with pain and auger.

Mr. Poynton, who had left the house imme- diately after Mr. Duchesne's death, had been invited to bo present at the funeral, and had boon introduced to Coustance by Cyril immediately on her entering the drawing-room. She had received him languidly. She was scarcely con- scious that the man whom Cyril led up to her was the one round whose name at one time so

many angry feelings had beon woven. She had

said once she wished she had never heard his

name. She little thought that her father's reply was to prove so truo. The causo of all her trouble was almost blotted out, swallowed up in the great troublo itself, and the strange encounter in the drawing-room a few dayd before did not

oven recur to her.

But Mr. Poynton thought of it, and as ho looked at hor in her deep mourning, with tho lUtless iudllferent air, so changed from the proud hauteur that had angered bim before, to his iutense admiration for her beauty was added the tenderest pity. Ho watched her iib she listened to the harsh terms of her father's will, and though sho sat utterly unmoved-not oven by tho closer compression of her thin lips showing Bigu that tho stab had gone home-he thought that the mimic scene of ruin amidst which ho had first met her was the precursor of that

around hor now.

When Mr. White finished reading there was utter silence. No one spoke. All eyes vvero fixed on the ground, on the wall, anywhere but upon tho orphan girl upon whom such a cruel scuteuce had just boen passed.

Constniico waited a minute or two, as if giving time for any further business in which Bhe might have to tako part, and then Bhe rose to leave the

room.

Mr. Whito opened the door for her and held out his baud. Hu looked anxiously in her face. Though ho knew Constance was capable of great self-posaesBiou ho feared that the strain on her might bo more than Bhe could bear. Apparently the firm expression reassured him ; sho did not look at him, but she took the hand he hold out and graBped it warmly.

When tho door closed behind her there was still a momentary silence, and thon a general Bigh of relief. " Shameful !" " Scandalous I" were whispered from one to another.

Mr. White returned to his chair and took up the will again. Though ho said nothing it was plain enough that he sympathised fully with the general sentiment.

Cyril had Bat throughout the reading of tho will with his face buriod in his hands. He felt nB if he were a criminal.

When tho general company rose he rose too. It was awkward for eveiy one. They ought to have congratulated him, but the thought of all was for Constance-Cyril waa a usurper. Ho must be satisfied with his material good fortune, for the sympathy and good wisheB of his neigh- bours could not flow iu his direction just yet.

Cyril bore it all as well as he could. Ho was angry with himself and with every one else, but above all with his dead uncle. What right had he to demand such a sacrifice from him ? for sacrifice, now that the play began, he felt it to be. What was the use to bim of the four years'

tenure of Constance's fortune ? It could do him no real good-only make the poverty to which he would have to return the more hateful ; and meanwhile he incurred the dislike and ill will of his neighbours. The manner of their reception of the nowa of his inheritance had been a very bitter pill to him. He had not looked up, but he had felt sympathetically the anger that the disposition of his uncle's fortuuo had elicited. To Cyril, to whom popularity was as the breath of his noatrÜB, eveu the possession of wealth would scarcely atone for the loss of it. Ho had wished, as he had wished before, and was often doomed to wish again, that ho had not been bo weak. Ho ought to have withstood his uucle and not have allowed himself to be made the instrument of vengeance. He quite dreaded to meet Constance. He waB thankful when every- body went away. It was unendurable to have to play the host just then.

As soon as the last guest had departed he went out ; he longed to be alone in the cool fresh air. The trouble and turmoil of the last few days had almost banished his love troubles from his mind, but they fermented underneath the rest and added to their bitterness. If all had been well between him and Alice there would have been a bright lining to the dark cloud at all events ; the passing riches would have made the commence- ment of their married life very pleasant. But that was over, and Cyril paBSed his hand wearily over his forehead. All this trouble waB making him feel quite old.

It was evening befoie he went into the house again. He hoped Constance would come down soon and he could meet her in the deepening twilight ; be dreaded tho indignant flash that possibly awaited him.

(to bc costisueo.)

A Terrible Joke.-It was a thoughtless act ; he meant it only in fun ; but see what he did : Four years ago a schoolboy in Monroe County, Ind., threw a dead rattlesnake around the neck of a little girl, and it has made ber permanently insane. During all this time ahe has recognised no one, but daily sits with her slate on her lap, marking out the same figures Bhe had been given as a lesson at school on the fateful day, occasionally crying out, " Take the snake away !"

Unconscious Wit.-An English waiter waa both witty and sarcastic, and didn't know the fact : " Do you call that a veal cutlet, waiter ?" said a London exquisite, one of the moBt delicate typo even in that favoured region of exquisites, the West End. " Why, sir, auch a veal cutlet as that is an insult to every Belf-respecting calf in the British Empire I" The waiter hung his head in very shame for a moment, and then replied, in tho language of humbleBt apology, _" I really didn't intend to insult you, sir,"