Chapter 918108

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Chapter NumberI.
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article918108
Full Date1881-04-16
Page Number3
Corrections24
Word Count4783
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-03-03
Newspaper TitleThe Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933)
Trove TitleConstance Duchesne: Is Life Worth the Living?
article text

Constance Duchesne : Is Life

Worth the Living?

By " Onyx."

Chapter I.

IT was the morning of a glorious summer day, one of those exquisitely bright and balmy days in early summer which, when they do come, justify the Englishman in his attachment to his island home, climate and all, inconceivable as the fact may appear to strangers aud aliens ; for foreigners sometimes have the audacity to assert that a climate cannot be good thai has only tliree weeks of summer, leaving the other forty- nine to the undivided possession of cold and rain.

However, the particular morning of which we write was, incontestably, perfection ; the sky so blue, the air so soft, the sunlight so bright, and the vividness of colouring so rich, that on such a morning to lie on one's back on the grass and to look upward through the thick branches of the stately elms to the blue sky beyond, which formed the leaf as it were in Nature's scrap-book, was pleasant enough to justify the burden of every-day existence. The mere fact of being alive is a happiness in such weather and such scenes; even middle-aged blood bounds a little more quickly, and middle-aged feet fall a little more springily on tho sward, on

such a day.

The birds sang in the branches of the trees ; the tiny fishes leapt in and out of the water, as if they too enjoyed the sunlight glittering on the river; everything animate and inanimate re- flected the brightness of the morning except the faces of the occupants of the pony carriage which was driving rapidly along the river bank : all this beauty and brightness had not been able to enliven them. They drove on in utter silence, looking neither to the right nor to the left. Perhaps familiarity had robbed the scene of its charm - and yet it is very pretty, that drive by the river between Thames Ditton and Esher ; pretty enough to attract one's notice though one had seen it a hundred times. There, the Thames ia still a gentle placid stream studded with little islands, among which old gentlemen fish inde- fatigably in their punts - "a hook at one end of the line and a fool at the other," but still a happy fool, supported through the heat and labour of the day by the fond thought that perhaps before nightfall he may catch a trout. If by some wonderful stroke of fortune he succeeds in capturing a pike he is made a happy man for a week at least, and possibly has the horrid thing stuffed and baked, and eaten with port-wine sauce - which is delicious, and to a certain extent disguises tho strong flavour of the pike.

The lady and gentleman in the pony carriage passed all these pleasant scenes without making a remark ; they scarcely glanced at the pretty reach of the river which a sudden turn in the road brought to their view. So indifferent were they, or so absorbed in their own affairs, that they did not even perceive the hearty salutation of a stout old gentleman in his fishing punt who was waving his red silk pocket-handkerchief to theia vigorously, till, seeing his efforts were un- observed, he caught up the scarlet flag and, turning it to its more normal use, mopped his forehead with it and safely deposited it in his hat. They did not notice the play of the sparkling water where the current broke over some large stones at the edge of the stream, making the forget-me-nots which grew in clusters there bend their turquoise heads. The contrast of the calm placid aspect of the river at this spot to that which it presented a few miles further down, where wharves and walls and bridge-piers took the place of the forgot-me-nots aud rushes, and the bright sparkling water was dark and turgid ; where ships and steamers and barges in never-ending stream took the place of old gentlemen serenely fishing in their punts ; where a glance on either side showed the white masts of ships extending far into the land - a very forest of shipping ; where every inch of rirerbank was alive and seething with humanity, and where the numerous bridges carried a living stream across both day and night - the thought of all this contrast struck them no more than did the beauty of the morning ; they were indif- ferent to all external things - quite self-absorbed, wrapped in the clouds of their own lives.

Constance Duchesne had just been trying conclusions with her father - a matter of not very unfrequent occurrence ; for, proud and un- yielding as Mr. Duchesne was known to be, Constance was in these respects his match. She was his only child ; her mother died while she was still a baby, and ever since she had been her father's pet and constant companion. At first she was his plaything, then his idol, and finally his tyrant. As a rule Mr. Duchesne was well pleased to let her have her will, and the cold impracticable man was as wax in the hands of this girl of nineteen. But there were some matters on which he was quite beyond her control, and the subject in dispute to-day was

one of them.

The Duchesnes were an old, and till recently a

very wealthy, family. The extravagance of the present George Duchesue's grandfather had caused the alienation of some large estates in Berkshire, and it had been the one object in life of the next possessor to amass sufficient capital to buy back the old inheritance. His son had been carefully imbued with the same idea, and George Duchesne had striven hard in his turn to impress it on his daughter Constance ; but, woman-like, she rebelled against the wisdom of her ancestors, and could not be made to regard the possession of the ancient patrimony as the summum bonum of happiness. They were quite happy without the Berkshire property, she argued, when some specially-desired gratification was denied her for the sake of the often-spoken- of project. Sometimes she gained her own way, but more often she had to yield ; so that the mere name of Torrington Park came to embody to her nothing but annoyance and disappoint- ment. But the Berkshire property had not done its worst with her yet.

About ten years ago Mr. Duchesne, by dint of strict economy and much clever management, had got together the sum needful for the coveted purchase. But an unexpected obstacle arose. The new possessor, who up to that time had always expressed himself as willing to negotiate, now professed to have some cause for complaint against the ancient family, and positively refused to treat. Mr Duchesne was furious. Never in all his life had he met with such a rebuff. He fretted and fumed to such an extent that he nearly brought on a fit of apoplexy, and his temper, never very good, became so intolerable that his equals avoided him, and his unfortunate dependants, who could not help themselves, dreaded to go into his presence. Even Constance came in for her share of his anger. Child as she was, her father had made her his confidante throughout, and, child-like, she had ventured to treat the matter as a light one. Till then she mu not known how deeply her father had the project at heart, nor had she any idea that on that one subject she was as utterly powerless to persuade him as was anybody else.

Atter the refusal of the owner of the Torring- ton Park estates to part with them Mr. Duchesne withdrew himself more and more from society. In fact it is scarcely true to say he withdrew himself, for the outburst of temper which he had permitted himself at the first brunt of the dis- appointment gradually developed into a churlish moroseness so intolerable that it roquired great regard for the exponent of it to enable the outer world to endure it. Society does not trouble much about those who do not trouble about it ; and so gradually Mr Duchesne's name ceased to be heard at the county gatherings, and he was left out in the cold. This did not annoy him at all. He had never courted popularity; he was too proud even to care for it. The ordinary amuse- ments of his "set" had few charms for him ; ana tims it had happened that by the time Con-

stance was grown up - when for her sake he would have wished for a little more amusement - they had come to be regarded as recluses, and no one except his nephew Cyril Montgomery, his widow sister Mrs Foxton, and a few old friends,

ever went Ditton Manor House,

Constance dld not miss society, because she had never known it. She was quite happy in the life she led - a quiet country life, with its riding, driving and gardening, and an occasional trip to the Continent when the whim of travel- ing seized her father, These were the holiday times of Constance's quiet life. She appreciated the pleasures of travelling with a keenness that her father watched with delight. She observed

everything, and enjoyed all. Fatigue, discomfort,

night travelling, sea-sickness even, Constance declared were no ills at all - nothing to be for a moment weighed against the intense pleasure of " moving on," and seeing new things and new

places.

Constance had been meditating the last few days on the possibility of persuading her father to make another trip. With all her power over him she had to use it diplomatically. It did not answer at all to be imperative with Mr. Duchesne ; he had to be brought round gently to the desired point ; and, though Constance would have indignantly denied any imputation of scheming, she acknowledged that she had to "manage" her father sometimes. That is to say she acknowledged it to her cousin Cyril - for, as we have said, Constance had few associates, and her great pride made her reserved even with them.

Chapter II.

Constance had risen that morning with the full intention of sounding her father on the subject. It was a lovely day. Her father would be sure to wish her to drive him out, and that was always Constance's opportunity.

So she had started with fair weather as she thought, but a very short space of time sufficed to uudeceive her. Her father was cross, un- deniably cross and ill-tempered even for him ; and then it came out that Howard, the bailiff, who had just returned from a visit to some property in Ireland, had brought the usual budget of news that comes from that un- fortunate island : Tenants who could not pay, and farms that were not worked, and houses that were going to ruin ; in brief, no money for the which he had gone, and great demands for money which Mr. Duchesne was determined not to supply. 0f all this unfortunate business Con- stance was soon made aware, for not only did her father keep no details of his affairs from her, but in fact found it a great relief to talk them over with her, for Constance, young as she was, had a clear head and good judgment ; more than once her father had acted by her advice, greatly to the advantage of all parties concerned. On this occassion Constance listened attentively and made comments and suggestions, till the cloud cleared from her father's fallen brow and he began

to look less care-worn.

Constance rejoiced - both for his sake and her own ; she really loved to be of use to him, and she hoped too that when these tiresome matters were disposed of she would be able to broach her own little affair. So when at last she had be- guiled her father into a smile she thought the morning's troubles were over. Poor Constance ! alas ! they had not well begun - there was much

worse behind.

"I have had a letter from Mr. White too, Constance ; some strange news ; it will astonish you veiy much," Mr. Duchesne said after the long pause that succeeded the settlement of the Irish question, and while Constance was reflect- ing how to bring the conversation round to the desired point.

"It astonishes me that Mr. White could have given news at all, papa," said Coustauco laughing ; "he always seems as dry as dust."

" This is no laughing matter, I can assure you," said Mr. Duchesne gravely, not answering at all to the attempt at liveliness that poor Con- stance made. "The Tollington property has changed hands again - Mr. Grenfell is dead."

" Dead !" echoed Constance, now quite roused to attention - " dead ! why it is not a month ago that thoy celebrated his coming of ago."

" He is dead," said her father gravely ; * " drowned while out yachting, and more strange

still his cousin, who was next heir to the property,

was drowned at the same time."

"How terrible !" said Constance, thinking not at all about the succession of the Berkshire estates but of the hard fate that had cut off two young lives.

"That makes the third death in the family within síx months," continued Mr. Duchesne ; "and now who do you think holds all the pro- perty!"

" I am sure I do not know," said Constance, gathering up the reins, which she had allowed to slacken as she sat absorbed in her reflections. She spoke not indifferently but absently, and her manner vexed her father, already not in a too equable state of mind.

"You seem as if you did not care to know either," he said half angrily.

" Oh yes, I do, papa," This was true in one sense, though not in another. She wished to

kuow because her father was so deeply interested in the matter ; but if she could have had her own way she would never have heard the name of the Torrington estates again. They were associated with nothing but trouble and vexation. They invariably recalled that bad time ten years ago when she had learned, or thought, that her father cared more for the estates than he did for her. The wound had healed up long since, but the scar remained. She still had to listen to plans and to forego pleasures in order to further the purchase some day or other of that dreadful

property.

"John Poynton has come into possession," said Mr. Duchesne. He spoke very slowly, as if he wished Constance fully to comprehend the import of his words.

"Oh papa! that is strange indeed." She was not at all indifferent now, but her thoughts were running in a different groove from her father's. It was strange that the man who had been poor and harassed and trammelled for so many years, whom she had always heard spoken of with contempt as a " ne'er-do-well," a man who could never make his way - a poor relation par excellence - should at one step come into such a fortune, while the late owner, the boy on whom fortune seemed to have showered every good gift, should be lying cold and stiff - it was such a contrast, such a sudden change, Constance would have gone on for a long while picturing to herself the scenes conjured up by her father's words had not Mr. Duchesne interrupted her meditation by saying irritably :

" Do you know what I mean to do, Constanco?" " No, papa."

" I mean to write to Poynton at once to ask him to make our house his home till he has time to look round a little. I may be of use to him. Of course he has had no experience in the management of property," he added a little pompously.

"Papal" exclaimed Constance, now roused in good earnest ; " surely you will never think of asking Mr. Poynton here after -" She hesitated, but her father finished the sentence for her :

"After refusing to lend him the money he asked for a little while ago, you mean. Yes, of course I do. Things have changed. He could not expect me to lend him money then. He had no security to offer, nor the likelihood of having any. It was preposterous of him to ask it. I

did not even know him."

" No, and would not know him now if he were still a poor man," said Constance. She half repented before the words were well out of her lips. Her father was not in a mood to bear any irritation. But she could not restrain herself ; it seemed to her a mean thing to do. Constance's pride was of a nobler mould than her father's. She valued wealth and position, but she would not have sacrificed an iota of her self-respect for either. Mr. Duchesne felt otherwise. Anything, everything, to gain the desired end. In fact he had dwelt so much on regaining the lost estates to the exclusion of everything else that the idea had become a kind of fetish to him, and he had ceased to be able to regard other things in their

just relation to this one hobby. He looked very angrily at Constance as she made her un- lucky observation, and his look forcibly recalled to her mind that one grand occasion of difference between them ten years ago.

"No matter what I should or should not have done under certain circumstances," he said rather loftily ; " I know quite well what I mean to do now, and I espect you to assist me, Constance, if I should require it."

Constance opened her eyes, but made no reply. She did not in the least comprehend the workings of her father's mind.

" I shall ask him to the Manor House, and then I shall be able to judge for myself whether he's likely to sell the estates or not," continued Mr. Duchesne. "I doubt whether White managed the old man properly. Perhaps if I had made the overtures myself he might have been brought round. However," he continued, breaking from the meditative strain into which ho had been lapsing, "it is no use thinking about the past except to gather experience for the future. I let White manage for me last time ; this time I shall take the business in my own hands. I espect Poynton will be only too glad to sell. What do these new men want with land ! Money, money, is the thing for them, and I am willing to exceed the sum I at first offered pro- vided I can get the old place back before I die."

" But you might purchase it back too dearly,

papa," began Constance.

"Leave that to me," interrupted Mr. Duchesne ; " I have not saved and managed as I have done, not to have a good sum put by by this time ; there is plenty to buy back the old place and for you too, Constance.

" I don't mean that, papa," said Constance, the bright colour mounting to her cheek, and her eye sparkling with anger at tho bare idea that her father could think she was so mercenary ; " I mean that it would be paying too dearly, even to got back the estates, to bow and cringe to a man you know nothing of, whom you have repulsed and almost insulted in his poverty, and who may be, for all you know about him, a man with whom you would not choose to associate.

" What do you mean, Constance ?" exclaimed Mr. Duchesne sitting forward in the carriage and looking into her face. The anger that had been simmering the whole morning was now brought to boiling point by Constance's daring words. " Are you going to teach me what it is best for me to do ? how dare you speak to me in that way!"

Constance bit her lip, and was silent.

" What do you know about the world's ways I should like to know," Mr. Ducucbuo went on getting more angry every moment, " to talk to me about bowing and cringing ! It has come to a pretty state of things truly when I should have to learn from you how to maintain my dignity."

" It is not dignified to rnake advances to a man the moment he is in a position to advance your interests, when you not only ignored him but rebuffed him before," said Constance staunchly.

Of course Constance ought not to have spoken so. Of course she should have held her tongue - she was too young to take such a tone ; but her father had been in tho habit of consulting her on all things ; he treated her like an equal ; she was his hourly compauiou ; if now she asserted the privileges he had given her, or even trespassed on them, he should have been gener- ous enough to forgive her and to overlook it. So no doubt he would have done on any other matter, but on this one he was not reasonable,

aud Constance was sore.

Words ran high - higher than was seemly between father and daughter - and in his anger Mr. Duchesne let escape him the plan which he had been nursing in secret ever since old Mr. Dixon had died, and the estates had come into possession of a young unmarried man - namely, that the owner of Torrington Park should marry Constance, and so money and land, and name, and houses, should all be kept together. Young

Grenfell's death had disconcerted him for a moment, but only for a moment. He reflected that he had but to substitute John Poynton for George Grenfell and the thing was done. He had not had the slightest intention of letting Constance know this part of his plans, but his passion had thrown him off his guard, and in the angry vehemence with which he asserted his in- tention to cultivate the new owner's acquaintance he let slip the further project that he had in view.

He only gave the vaguest hint at it even then, but Constance, who was fairly roused, caught at it instantly.

" Then you would even sell me for the sake of that vile inheritance," she said through her firmly compressed lips ; and she gave the ponies such a lash that they plunged and reared, and it was some time before she had them under control again.

They were compelled to keep silence while the ponies floundered and kicked, and when she had got them quiet again Constance was still white with anger.

'' You talk like a fool, Constance," her father said, as she lashed the ponies.

That epithet from one usually so choice and careful in his expression did not help to soothe Constance. Again she was experiencing that bitter knowledge that she was not the first object in her father's heart - that between her and the place she coveted came that miserable inheri- tance. He would sacrifice even her happiness to that. So hurt and maddened was she with the smart that she gave free run to her tongue. She declared that if her father insisted on his inten- tion of inviting Mr. Poynton she would leave the house the day he entered it. She would not know him, she would not speak to him ; no power on earth could compel her.

And then her father - heo too wrought up to such a pitch of anger that he scarcely know what ho said or did - threatened her with disinheri- tance " Ah, and I mean it too ; nothing, not even you, Constance, shall come between me and tho accomplishment of the object of my life and of my father's life. If you resist me then Cyril must take your place."

To this Constance did not reply a single word. The flush had gone from her check and the sparkle from her eye ; she was as white as death. She was not angry now, but she was cut to the heart. Let Cyril have her inheritance and wel- come ; it was not that which crushed her.

Mr. Duchesne sat after that last storm of words looking straight before him. He had not glanced at Constance after his threat ; in his anger he had said more than he meant, but still he was very very angry after his last words. They drove on in perfect silonce till they came to a place vvhero four roads met.

" Shall we go home, papa ?" said Constance. Tier voico was clear, perfectly modulated, and passionless, not a bit like Constance's usually soft ringing tones.

" As you like, Constance," replied her father, still without looking at her.

She made no answer, but the ponies' heads were deftly turned, and they drove towards home. It was not much wonder after such a burst of angry passion that the quiet beauty of the time should pass unnoticed.

After thoy had entered the lodge gates and were driving up the long carriage sweep that led to the house, Mr. Duchesne laid his hand upon his daughter's arm as if to check her pace.

"Do you understand what I mean, Constance ?" he asked in a calm voice ; but the anger that he could still scarcely keep under control had brought a sharp red tinge to his shrunken cheek. " Do you distinctly understand my wish in this

matter ?"

" I think I do, papa," replied Constance in the same passionless voice in which she had asked him if they should go home.

"And do you intend to thwart me still ?"

" I do not wish to thwart you, but I will not meet Mr. Poynton."

Mr. Duchesne made no reply, and Constance drew the horses up sharply at the hall door.

" Late for luncheon again !" exclaimed a young man who had been watching their arrival from the window of the morning room, and who now came forward with a graceful indolent air to help them from the carriage. But Constance was in no humour to be waited on in that nonchalant

manner.

" Better help papa, Cyril," she said curtly as she flung down the reins and stepped lightly out of the opposite side of the carriage.

Cyril did not seem to be the least annoyed at his rebuff. Ho helped his uncle to descend with a gentle care which contrasted strongly with his daughter's apparent indifference. Perhaps the old man felt it, for he glanced at Constance, who stood by the ponies patting and caressing them, and a troubled expression came into his dim gray

eyes.

Constance occupied herself with the ponies till her father and cousin had ascended the steps and crossed the hall ; then she entered the house.

" Constance, come here. I want you," cried a merry voice from an adjoining room.

But Constance was in no mood for chit-chat, and passing on as if she had not heard she went

to her own room.

(TO BE CONTINUED.)

The following story is told of a counsel who was taken down very neatly by a witness whom he was browbeating. It was necessary to the counsel's cause to make the witness in question, who was an aged man, break down. The following diologue ensued :-Counsel : " How old are you ?" Witness: " Seventy-two years." Counsel :" Your memory of course is not so vivid as it was twenty years ago!" Witness: "I think it is." Counsel: "State some circumstance which occurred, say, twelve years ago, and we shall be able to judge whether your memory is unimpaired." Witness : " I appeal to the Court ; I refuse to be interro- gated in this manner." The Judge: "You had better answer the question." Witness : " Well, sir, if you compel me me to do it, I will. About twelve years ago you" - addressing the counsel " studied in Mr. B.'s office." Counsel : " Yes." Witness: "At that time your father came into my office and said to me, ' Mr. D., my son is to be examined to-morrow, and I wish you to lend me £5 to buy him a suit of clothes.' I advanced the money, and from that day to this it has never been repaid. I remember it as though it was yesterday." Counsel, considerably abashed: "That will do, sir; you may go down."