A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley) Mason.

The truants; a novel online

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better than you did at the moment when first you were intro-
duced to him. Here, however, was a man who had thought
out his problem — was, moreover, able lucidly to express it.

"Well," said Chase, " you are determined not to go

" Not yet," Stretton corrected.

" What do you propose to do ? "

The question showed how great the change had been,
begun by the hard times in New York, completed by the
eight weeks in the North Sea. For Chase put the question.
He no longer offered advice, understanding that Stretton had
not come to ask for it.

" I propose to enlist in the French Foreign Legion."

Stretton spoke with the most matter-of-fact air imagin-
able ; he might have been naming the house at which he was
to dine the next night. Nevertheless, Chase started out of
his chair ; he stared at his companion in a stupefaction.

" No," said Stretton, calmly ; "I am not off my head,
and I have not been drinking. Sit down again, and think it


Chase obeyed, and Stretton proceeded to expound that
inspiration which had come to him the night before.

" What else should I do ? You know my object now.
I have to re-establish myself in my wife's thoughts. How
else can I do it ? What professions are open to me in which
I could gain, I don't say distinction, but mere recognition ?
I am not a money-maker ; that, at all events, is evident. I
have had experience enough during the last months to know
that if I lived to a thousand I should never make money."

" I think that's true," Chase agreed, thoughtfully.

" Luckily there's no longer any need that I should try.
What then ? Run through the professions, Chase, and find
one, if you can, in which a man at my age — twenty-nine —
with my ignorance, my want of intellect, has a single chance
of success. The bar ? It's laughable. The sea ? I am too
old. The army ? I resigned my commission years ago. So
what then ? "

He waited for Chase to speak, and Chase was silent.
He waited with a smile, knowing that Chase could not

" There must be an alternative," Chase said, doubtfully,
at last.

" Name it, then."

That was just what Chase could not do. He turned in
his mind from this calling to that. There was not one which
did not need a particular education ; there was not one in
which Stretton was likely to succeed. Soldiering or the sea.
These were the two callings for which he was fitted. From
the sea his age debarred him ; from soldiering too, except
in this one way. No, certainly, Stretton was not off his

"How in the world did you think of the Foreign
Legion ? " he asked.

Stretton shrugged his shoulders.

" I thought of most other courses first, and, one by one,
rejected them as impossible. This plan came to me last of


all, and only last night. "We were passing a light-ship. In
a way, you see, we were within sight of home. I was in
despair ; and suddenly the idea flashed upon me, like the
revolving blaze from the light-ship. It is a sound one, I
think. At all events, it is the only one."

" Yes," answered Chase, slowly ; " I suppose there will
be chances, for there's always something stirring on the
Algerian frontier."

" There, or in Siam," said Stretton.

" What arrangements are you making here ? "

" I have written to my lawyers. Millie can do as she
pleases with the income. She has power, too, to sell the
house in Berkeley Square. I made my will, you know, before
I left England."

Chase nodded, and for a while there fell a silence upon
the two friends. A look of envy crept into the face of the
clergyman as he looked at Stretton. He could appreciate
a motive which set a man aiming high. He admired the
persistence with which Stretton nursed it. The plan it had
prompted might be quixotic and quite fruitless, but, at all
events, it was definite ; and a definite scheme of life, based
upon a simple and definite motive, was not so common but
that it was enviable. Stretton was so sure of its wisdom, too.
He had no doubts. He sat in his chair not asking for approval,
not caring for censure ; he had made up his mind. The
image of Stretton, indeed, as he sat in that chair on that
evening, with the firelight playing upon his face, was often
to come to Chase's thoughts.

" There will be great risks," he said. " Risks of death,
of trouble in the battalion."

" I have counted them," Stretton replied ; and he leaned
forward again, with his hands upon his knees. " Oh yes ;
there will be great risks ! But there's a prize, too, propor-
tionate to the risks. Risks I Every one speaks of them,"
he went on, with a laugh of impatience. " But I have been
eight weeks on the Dogger Bank, Chase, and I know — yes,


I know — how to estimate risks. Out there men risk their
lives daily to put a few boxes of fish on board a fish-cutter.
Take the risk half-heartedly and your boat's swamped for a
sure thing ; but take it with all your heart and there are the
fish-boxes to your credit. Well, Millie is my fish-boxes."

He ended with a laugh, and, rising, took his hat.

" Shall I put you up for the night ? " Chase asked.

" No, thanks," said Strctton. " I have got a bed at an
hotel. I have something else to do to-night ; " and a smile,
rather wistful and tender, played about his lips. " Good-
bye ! " He held out his hand, and as Chase took it he went
on, " I am looking forward to the day when I eome back.
My word, how I am looking forward to it ; and I will look
forward each day until it actually, at the long last, comes. It
will have been worth waiting for, Chase, well worth waiting
for, both to Millie and to me."

With that he went away. Chase heard him close the
street door behind him, and his footsteps sound for a moment
or two on the pavement. After all, he thought, a life under
those Algerian skies, a life in the open air, of activity — there
were many worse things, even though it should prove a second

Chase stood for a little before the fire. He crossed slowly
over to that cupboard in the corner at which Stretton's move-
ment in the chair had stayed his hand. Chase looked back
to the armchair, as though he half expected still to see Stretton
sitting there. Then he slowly walked back to the fire, and
left the cupboard locked. Stretton had gone, but he had left
behind him memories which were not to be effaced — the
memory of a great motive and of a sturdy determination to
fulfil it. The two men were never to meet again ; but, in
the after time, more than once, of an evening, Chase's hand
was stayed upon that cupboard door. More than once he
looked back towards the chair as if he expected that again his
friend was waiting for him by the fire.

( 129 )



"While Tony Stretton was thus stating the problem of his
life to Mr. Chase in Stepney Green, Lady Millingham was
entertaining her friends in Berkeley Square. She began the
evening with a dinner-party, at which Pamela Mardale and
John Mudge were present, and she held a reception afterwards.
Many people came, for Frances Millingharn was popular. By
half-past ten the rooms were already over-hot and over-
crowded, and Lady Millingham was enjoying herself to her
heart's content. Mr. Mudge, who stood by himself at the
end of a big drawing-room, close to one of the windows, saw
the tall figure of "Warrisden come in at the door and steadily
push towards Pamela. A few moments later M. de Marnay,
a youthful attache of the French Embassy, approached Mr.
Mudge. M. de Marnay wiped his forehead and looked round
the crowded room.

" A httle is a good thing," said he, " but too much is
enough." And he unlatched and pushed open the window.
As he spoke, Mr. Mudge saw Gallon appear in the doorway.

" Yes," he answered, with a laugh ; " too much is

Mudge watched Callon's movements with his usual
interest. He saw him pass, a supple creature of smiles and
small talk, from woman to woman. How long would he
last in his ignoble career ? Mudsre wondered. Would he
marry in the end some rich and elderly widow ? Or would
the crash come, and parties know Mr. Lionel Gallon no



more ? Madge never saw the man but he had a wish that
he might get a glimpse of him alone in his own rooms, with
the smile dropped from his face, and the unpaid bills piled
upon his mantel-shelf, and his landlord very likely clamour-
ing for the rent. He imagined the face grown all at once
haggard and tired and afraid — afraid with a great fear of
what must happen in a few years at the latest, when, with
middle-age heavy upon his shoulders, he should see his
coevals prospering and himself bankrupt of his stock-in-trade
of good looks, and without one penny to rub against another.
No presage of mind weighed upon Gallon to-night, however,
during his short stay in Frances Millingham's house. For
his stay was short.

As the clock upon the mantelpiece struck eleven, his eyes
were at once lifted to the clock-face, and almost at once he
moved from the lady to whom he was talking and made his
way to the door.

Mr. Madge turned back to the window and pushed it
still more open. It was a clear night of April, and April
had brought with it the warmth of summer. Mr. Mudge
stood at the open window facing the coolness and the quiet
of the square ; and thus by the accident of an overcrowded
room he became the witness of a little episode which might
almost have figured in some bygone comedy of intrigue.

Gallon passed through the line of carriages in the roadway
beneath, and crossed the corner of the square to the pave-
ment on the right-hand side. When he reached the pave-
ment he walked for twenty yards or so in the direction of
Piccadilly, until he came to a large and gloomy house.
There a few shallow steps led from the pavement to the
front door. Gallon mounted the steps, rang the bell, and
was admitted.

There were a few lights in the upper windows and on the
ground floor ; but it was evident that there was no party at
the house. Gallon had mn in to pay a visit. Mr. Mudge,
who had watched this, as it were, the first scene in the


comedy, distinctly heard the door close, and the sound some-
how suggested to him that the time had come for him to go
home to bed. He looked at his watch. It was exactly a
quarter past eleven — exactly, in a word, three-quarters of an
hour since Tony Stretton, who M had something else to do,"
had taken his leave of his friend Chase in Stepney.

Mr. Mudge turned from the window to make his way to
the door, and came face to face with Pamela and Alan
Warrisden. Pamela spoke to him. He had never yet met
Warrisden, and he was now introduced. All three stood and
talked together for a few minutes by the open window. Then
Mudge, in that spirit of curiosity which Callon always
provoked in him, asked abruptly —

" By the way, Miss Mardale, do you happen to know
who lives in that house ? " and he pointed across the corner
of the square to the house into which Callon had disappeared.

Pamela and "Warrisden looked quickly at one another.
Then Pamela turned with great interest to Mr. Mudge.

" Yes, we both know," she answered. " Why do you

ask ? "

" Well, I don't know," said Mudge ; " I think that I

should like to know."

The glance which his two companions had exchanged,
and Pamela's rather eager question, had quickened his
curiosity. But he got no answer for a few moments. Both
Pamela and "Warrisden were looking out towards the house.
They were standing side by side. Mr. Mudge had an intui-
tion that the same thought was passing through both their

" That is where the truants lived last July," said Warris-
den, in a low voice. He spoke to Pamela, not to Mr. Mudge
at all, whose existence seemed for the moment to have been
clean forgotten.

"Yes," Pamela replied softly. "The dark house, where
the truants lived and where " — she looked at Warrisden and
smiled with a great friendliness — " where the new road began.


For it was there really. It's from the steps of the dark
house, not from the three poplars that the new road runs out."

" Yes, that is true," said Warrisden.

And again both were silent.

Mr. Madge broke in upon the silence. " I have no
doubt that the truants lived there, and that the new road
begins at the foot of the steps," he said plaintively ; " but
neither statement adds materially to my knowledge."

Pamela and Warrisden turned to him and laughed. It
was true that they had for a moment forgotten Mr. Mudgc.
The memory of the star-lit night, in last July, when from
this balcony they had watched the truants slip down the
steps and furtively call a cab, was busy in their thoughts.
From that night their alliance had dated, although no
suspicion of it had crossed their minds. It seemed strange
to them now that there had been no premonition.

" Well, who lives there ? " asked Mudge.

But even now he received no answer ; for Warrisden
suddenly exclaimed in a low, startled voice —

" Look ! " and with an instinctive movement he drew
back into the room.

A man was standing in the road looking up at the
windows of the dark house. His face could not be seen
under the shadow of his hat. Pamela peered forward.

" Do you think it's he ? " she asked in a whisper.

" I am not sure," replied Warrisden.

" Oh, I hope so ! I hope so ! "

" I am not sure. Wait ! Wait and look ! " said

In a few moments the man moved. He crossed the road
and stepped on to the pavement. Again he stopped, again
he looked up to the house ; then he walked slowly on. But
he walked northwards, that is, towards the watchers at the

" There's a lamp-post," said Warrisden ; "he will come
within th»' light of it. We shall know."


And the next moment the light fell white and clear upon
Tony Stretton's face.

" He has come back," exclaimed Pamela, joyfully.

" Who ? " asked Mr. Mudge ; " who has come back ? "

This time he was answered.

" Why, Tony Stretton, of course," said Pamela, impatiently.
She was hardly aware of Mr. Mucjge, even while she answered
him ; she was too intent upon Tony Stretton in the square
below. She did not therefore notice that Mudge was startled
by her reply. She did not remark the anxiety in his voice
as he went on —

" And that is Stretton's house ? "


" And his wife, Lady Stretton, is she in London ? Is
she there — now ? "

Mr. Mudge spoke with an excitement of manner which
at any other time must have caused surprise. It passed now
unremarked ; for Warrisden, too, had his preoccupation.
He was neither overjoyed, like Pamela, nor troubled, like
Mr. Mudge ; but as he looked down into the square he was

"Yes," replied Pamela, " Millie Stretton is at home.
Could anything be more fortunate ? "

To Mudge's way of thinking, nothing could be more
unfortunate. Pamela had come late to the play ; Mr. Mudge,
on the other hand, had seen the curtain rise, and had a
clearer knowledge of the plot's development. The husband
outside the house, quite unexpected, quite unsuspicious, and
about to enter ; the wife and the interloper within : here
were the formulas of a comedy of intrigue. Only, Mr. Mudge
doubtfully wondered, after the husband had entered, and when
the great scene took place, would the decorous accent of the
comedy be maintained? Nature was after all a violent
dramatist, with little care for the rules and methods. Of
one thing, at all events, he was quite sure, as he looked at
Pamela : she would find no amusement in the climax. There


was, however, to be an element of novelty, which Mr. Mudge
hud not foreseen.

" What puzzles me, 1 ' said Warrisden, " is that Stretton
does not go in."

Stretton walked up to the corner of the square, turned,
and retraced his steps. Again he approached the steps of
the house. " Now," thought Mr. Mudge, with a good deal
of suspense, " now he will ascend them." Pamela had the
same conviction, but in her case hope inspired it. Tony,
however, merely cast a glance upwards and walked on. They
heard his footsteps for a little while upon the pavement ; then
that sound ceased.

" He has gone," cried Pamela, blankly ; " he has gone
away again."

Mr. Mudge turned to her very seriously.

" Believe me," said he, " nothing better could have

Tony, in fact, had never had a thought of entering the
house. Having this one night in London, he had yielded to
a natural impulse to revisit again the spot where he and
Millie had lived — where she still lived. The bad days of the
quarrels and the indifference and the weariness were forgotten
by him to-night. His thoughts went back to the early days
when they played truant, and truancy was good fun. The
escapes from the house, the little suppers at the Savoy, the
stealthy home-comings, the stumbling up the stairs in the
dailc, laughing and hushing their laughter — upon these
incidents his mind dwelt, wist fully, yet with a great pleasure
and a great hopefulness. Those days were gone, but in
others to come all that was good in them might be repeated.
The good humour, the intimacy, the sufficiency of the two,
each bo the other, might be recovered if oidy he persisted.
To return now, to go in at the door and say, " I have come
home," that would be the mistake which there would be no
retrieving. He was at the cross-ways, and if he took t lie-
wrong road life would not give him the time to retrace his


steps. He walked away, dreaming of the good days to

Meanwhile, Lionel Callon was talking to Millie in that
little sitting-room which had once been hers and Tony's.

Millie was surprised at the lateness of his visit, and when
he was shown into the room she rose at once.

" Something has happened ? " she said.

"No," Callon replied. "I was at Lady Millingham's
party. I suddenly thought of you sitting here alone. I am
tired besides, and overworked. I knew it would be a rest for
me if I could see you and talk to you for a few minutes.
You see, I am selfish."

Millie smiled at him.

" No, kind," said she.

She asked him to sit down.

" You look tired," she added. " How does your election
work go on ? "

Callon related the progress of his campaign, and with an
air of making particular confidences. He could speak without
any reserve to her, he said. He conveyed the impression
that he was making headway against almost insuperable
obstacles. He flattered her, moreover, by a suggestion that
she herself was a great factor in his successes. The mere
knowledge that she wished him well, that perhaps, once or
twice in the day, she gave him a spare thought, helped him
much more than she could imagine. Millie was induced to
believe that, although she sat quietly in London, she was
thus exercising power through Callon in his constituency.

"Of course, I am a poor man," said Callon. "Poverty
hampers one."

" Oh, but you will win," cried Millie Stretton, with a
delighted conviction ; " yes, you will win."

She felt strong, confident — just, in a word, as she had
felt when she had agreed with Tony that he must go away.

" "With your help, yes," he answered ; and the sound of
his voice violated her like a caress. Millie rose from her chair.


At once Callon rose too, and altered his tone.

" You have heard from Sir Anthony Stretton ? " he said.
" Tell me of yourself."

" Yes, I have heard. He will not return yet."

There came a light into Callon's eyes. He raised his
hand to his mouth to hide a smile.

" Few men," he said, with the utmost sympathy, " would
have left you to bear these last weeks alone."

He was standing just behind her, speaking over her
shoulder. He was very still, the house was very silent.
Millie was suddenly aware of danger.

"You must not say that, Mr. Callon," she said rather

And immediately he answered, " I beg your pardon. I
had no idea my sympathy would have seemed to you an

He spoke with a sudden bitterness. Millicent turned
round in surprise. She saw that his face was stern and cold.

" An insult ? " she said, and her voice was troubled.
" No, you and I are friends."

But Callon would have none of these excuses. He had
come to the house deliberately to quarrel. He had a great
faith in the efficacy of quarrels, given the right type of
woman. As Mudge had told Pamela, he knew the tactics of
the particular kind of warfare which he waged. To cause
a woman some pain, to make her think with regret that in
him she had lost a friend ; that would fix him in her thoughts.
So Callon quarrelled. Millie Stretton could not say a word
but he misinterpreted it. Every sentence he cleverly twisted
into an offence.

" I will say good-bye," he said, at length, as though he
had reached the limits of endurance.

Millie Stretton looked at him with troubled eyes.

" I am so sorry it should end like this," she said piteously.
" I don't know why it has."

Callon went out of the room, and closed the door behind


him. Then he let himself into the street. Millie Stretton
would miss him, he felt sure. Her looks, her last words
assured him of that. He would wait now without a move-
ment towards a reconciliation. That must come from her,
it would give him in her eyes a reputation for strength. He
knew the value of that reputation. He had no doubt,
besides, that she would suggest a reconciliation. Other
women might not, but Millie — yes. On the whole, Mr. Callon
was very well content with his night's work. He had taken,
in his way of thinking, a long step. The square was empty,
except for the carriages outside Lady Millingham's door.
Lionel Callon walked briskly home.




Lionel Gallon's visit to Millie Stretton bore, however,
consequences which had not at all entered into his calcula-
tions. He was unaware of the watchers at Lady Millingham's
window ; he had no knowledge of Pamela's promise to Tony
Stretton ; no suspicion, therefore, that she was now passionately
resolved to keep it in the spirit and the letter. He was even
without a thought that his advances towards Millie had at all
been remarked upon or their motive discovered. Ignorance
lulled him into security. But within a short while a
counter-plot was set in train.

The occasion was the first summer meeting on Newmarket
Heath. Pamela Mardale seldom missed a race meeting at
Newmarket dining the spring and summer. There were the
horses, in the first place ; she met her friends besides ; the
heath itself, with its broad expanse and its downs, had for
her eyes a beauty of its own ; and in addition the private
enclosure was separated by the width of the course from the
crowd and clamour of the ring. She attended this particular
meeting, and after the second race was over she happened to
be standing amidst a group of friends within the grove of
trees at the back of the paddock. Outside, upon the heath,
the aii- was clear and bright; a light wind blew pleasantly.
Here the trees were in bud, and the sunlight, split by the
boughs, dappled with light and shadow the glossy coats of
tli^ horses as they were led in and out amongst the boles. A
mare was led past Pamela, and one of her friends said —


" Semiramis. I think she will win this race."

Pamela looked towards the mare, and saw, just beyond
her, Mr. Mudge. He was alone, as he usually was ; and
though he stopped in his walk, now here, now there, to
exchange a word with some aquaintance, he moved on again,
invariably alone. Gradually he drew nearer to the group in
which Pamela was standing, and his face brightened. He
quickened his step ; Pamela, on her side, advanced rather
quickly towards him.

'• You are here ? " she said, with a smile. " I am glad,
though I did not think to meet you."

Mr. Mudge, to tell the truth, though he carried a race-
card in his hand, and glasses slung across his shoulder, had
the disconsolate air of a man conscious that he was out of
place. He answered Pamela, indeed, almost apologetically.

" It is better after all to be here than in London on a day
of summer," he said, and he added, with a shrewd glance at
her, "You have something to say to me — a question to ask."

Pamela looked up at him in surprise.

" Yes, I have. Let us go out."

They walked into the paddock, and thence through the
gate into the enclosure. The enclosure was at this moment
rather empty. Pamela led the way to the rails alongside the

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Online LibraryA. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley) MasonThe truants; a novel → online text (page 10 of 26)