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

The truants; a novel online

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the corner there. His keys are still dangling in the lock,
lie took the decanter and the tumbler out, placed them on
th<; table at his side, sat down in his chair with the apple in
his baud, loaned back and quietly died."

" Yes, no doubt," said the doctor. " But I think here


■will be found the reason why he leaned back and quietly
died," and he touched the decanter. " Opium poisoning.
It may not have been an overdose, but a regular practice."
He went to the door and called for Mrs. Wither. Mrs.
Wither had now returned to the house. When she came
upstairs into the room, he pointed to the decanter.

" Did you ever see this before ? "

" No, sir," she answered.

" Or that cupboard open ? "

" No, it was always locked."

" Quite so," said the doctor. " You had better get some
women to help you here," he went on ; and, with Warris-
den's assistance, he lifted Chase from the chair and carried
him into his bedroom.

" I must give notice to the police," he went on, and
again he appealed to Warrisden. " Do you mind staying in
the house till I come back ? "

"Not at all."

The doctor locked the door of the room and took the key
away with him. Warrisden waited with Princkley in the
dining-room. The doctor had taken away the key. It
seemed that his chance of discovering the secret which was
of so much importance to Pamela and Millie Stretton and
himself had vanished. If only he had come yesterday, or
the day before ! He sat down by the window and gazed out
upon the street. A group of men and women were gathered
in the roadway, looking up at the windows and talking
quietly together. Then Princkley from behind said —

" Some letters came for Chase this morning. They were
not taken up to his room. You had better look at them."

Every one took him for a close friend. Princkley brought
him the letters, and he glanced at the superscriptions lest any
one should wear a look of immediate importance. He held
the letters in his hand and turned them over one by one, and
half-way through the file he stopped. He had come to a
letter written upon thin paper, in a man's handwriting, with


a foreign stamp upon the envelope. The stamp was a French
one, and there was printed upon it : " Poste d'Algerie."

Warrisden examined the post-mark. The letter came
from Ain-Sefra. Warrisden went on with Ins examination
without a word. But his heart quickened. He wondered
whether he had found the clue. Ain-Sefra in Algeria.
Warrisden had never heard of the place before. It might be
a health resort, a wintering place. But this was the month
of August. There would be no visitors at this time to a
health resort in Algeria. He handed the letters back to

" I cannot tell whether they are important or not," he
said. " I knew Chase very slightly. His relations must be
informed. I suppose Mrs. Wither knows where they live."

He took his departure as soon as the doctor had returned
with the police, and drove back to his rooms. A search
through the Encyclopaedia told him nothing of Ain-Sefra ;
but, on the other hand, he could not look at the article on
Algeria without the Foreign Legion leaping to his eyes at
once — so great and magnificent a part it played in the
modern history of that colony. The Foreign Legion !
Warrisden jumped to the conviction that there was the secret
of Tony Stretton's disappearance. Every reason he could
imagine came to his aid. Let a man wish to disappear, as,
from whatsoever reason, Tony Stretton did, where else could
he so completely bury himself and yet live? Hardships?
Dangers ? Yes. But Tony Stretton had braved hardships
and dangers in the North Sea, and had made light of them.
A detachment of the Foreign Legion might well be stationed
at tins oasis of Ain-Sefra, of which his Encyclopaedia knew
nothing. He had no doubt there was a trooper there, serving
under some false name, who would start if the name of
'• Stretton " were suddenly shouted to him behind his back.

Warrisden wrote no"\vord of his conjecture to Pamela ; he
wished to raise no hopes which he could not fulfil. Convinced
as he was, he wished for certain proof. But in fulfilment


of his promise he wrote to Pamela that night. Just a few
lines — nothing more, as she had asked. But in those few
lines he wrote that he would like her to procure for him a
scrap of Tony Stretton's handwriting. Could she do it ? In
a week the scrap of handwriting arrived. "Warrisden, look-
ing at it, knew that the same hand had addressed the envelope
at Ain-Sefra to Mr. Chase.

"Warrisden was ready now, if the summons to service
should come once more from Pamela.




All through that autumn Pamela watched for Tonv's return,
and watched in vain. "Winter came, and with the winter a
letter from Mr. Mudge. Lionel Callon had booked his
passage home on a steamer which sailed on Christmas Eve
from the port of Valparaiso. Pamela received the news one
morning of December. She hunted that day with the Quorn,
and for once her thoughts were set on other matters than this
immediate business. The long grass meadows slipped away
under her horse's feet the while she pondered how once more
the danger of Callon's presence was to be averted. At times
she hoped it would not need averting. Callon had been
eighteen months away, and Millie was quick to forget. But
she was no less quick to respond to a show of affection. Let
Callon lay siege again persistently, and the danger at once
was close. Besides, there were the letters. That he should
have continued to write during the months of his absence was
a sign that he had not forgone his plan of conquest.

Pamela returned home with a scheme floating in her
mind. Some words which her mother had s]>oken at the
breakfast-table had recurred to her, and at tea Pamela revived
the subject.

" Did you say that you would not go to Roquebrune this
winter, mother ? " she asked.

" Yes," Mrs. Mardale replied ; " I have been for so many
winters now. I shall stay in England, for a change. We
can let the Villa Pontignard, no doubt."


" Oh, there is no hurry," said Pamela. She added, " I
shall be going to London to-morrow, but I shall be back in
the evening."

She thought over her plan that evening. Its execution
would cost her something, she realised. For many years she
had not been out of England during the winter. She must
leave her horses behind, and that was no small sacrifice for
Pamela. She had one horse in particular, a big Irish horse,
which had carried her in the days when her troubles were at
their worst. He would follow her about the paddock or the
yard nuzzling against her arm ; a horse of blood and courage,
yet gentle with her, thoughtful and kind for her as only a
horse amongst the animals can be. She must leave him.
On the other hand, her thoughts of late had been turning to
Roquebrune for a particular reason. She had a feeling that
she would rather like to tread again those hill-paths, to see
once more those capes and headlands of which every one was
a landmark of past pain — just as an experiment. She
travelled to London the next day and drove from St. Pancras
into Regent's Park.

Millie Stretton had taken a house on the west side of the

park. It looked east across the water and through the glades

of trees, and in front of it were the open spaces of which

Tony and she had dreamed ; and the sunlight streamed

through the windows and lay in golden splashes on the floors

when there was sunlight in London anywhere at all. "When

she looked from her window on the first morning, she could

not but remember the plans which Tony and she had debated

long ago. They had been so certain of realising them.

Well, they were realised now, for her, at all events. There

was the sunlight piercing through every cranny ; there were

the wide expanses of green, and trees. Only the windows

looked on Regent's Park, and on no wide prairie ; and of the

two who, with so much enthusiasm, had marked out their

imaginary site and built their house, there was only one to

enjoy the fulfilment. Millie Stretton thought of Tony that


morning, but with an effort. "What Pamela had foreseen had
come to pass. He had grown elusive to her thoughts, she
could hardly visualise his person to herself ; he was almost
unreal. Had he walked in at that moment he would have
been irksome to her as a stranger.

It was, however, Pamela Mardale who walked in. She
was shown over the house, and until that ceremony was over
she did not broach the reason for her visit. Then, however,
Millie said with delight —

" It is what I have always wanted — sunlight."

" I came to suggest more sunlight," said Pamela. " There
is our villa at Roquebrune in the south of France. It will
be empty this winter. And I thought that perhaps you and
I might go out there together as soon as Christmas is past."

Millie was standing at the window with her back to
Pamela. Sue turned round quickly.

" But you hate the place," she said.

Pamela answered with sincerity —

" Xone the less I want to go this winter. I want to go
very much. I won't tell you why. I>ut I do want to go.
And I should like you to come with me."

Pamela was anxious to discover whether that villa and its
grounds, and the view from its windows, had still the power
to revive the grief with which they had been so completely
associated in her mind. Hitherto she had shrunk rtom the
very idea of ever revisiting Roquebrune ; of late, however,
since "Warrisden, in a word, had occupied so large a place in
her thoughts, she had wished to put herself to the test, to
understand whether her distress was really and truly dead, or
whether it merely slumbered and could wake again. It was
necessary, for TVarrisden's sake as much as her own, that she
should come to a true knowledge. And nowhere else could
she so certainly acquire it. If the sight of Roquebrune, the
familiar look of the villa's rooms, the familiar paths whereon
she had carried so overcharged a heart, had no longer power
to hurt and pain her, then she would be sure that she could


start her life afresh. It was only fair — so she phrased it in
her thoughts — that she should make the experiment.

Millie turned back to the window.

" I do not think that I shall leave London this
winter," she said. " You see, I have only just got into the

" It might spare you some annoyance," Pamela suggested.

" I don't understand," said Millie.

" The annoyance of having to explain Tony's absence.
He will very likely have returned by the spring."

Millie shrugged her shoulders.

" I have borne that annoyance for two years," she
replied. " I do not think I shall go away this winter."

Was Millie thinking of Gallon's return ? Pamela
wondered. "Was it on his account that she decided to
remain ? Pamela could not ask the question. Her plan
had come to naught, and she returned that afternoon to

Christmas passed, and half-way through the month of
January Callon called, on a dark afternoon, at Millie
Stretton's house. Millie was alone ; she was indeed ex-
pecting him. "When Callon entered the room he found her
standing with her back to the window, her face to the door,
and so she stood, without speaking, for a few moments.

" You have been a long time away," she said, and she
looked at him with curiosity, but with yet more anxiety to
mark any changes which had come in his face.

" Yes," said he, " a long time."

Millie rang the bell and ordered tea to be brought.

" You have not changed," said she.

" Nor you."

Millie had spoken with a noticeable distance in her
manner ; and she had not given him her hand. With
her back towards the light she had allowed very little of
her expression to be visible to her visitor. When tea was
brought in, however, she sat between the fireplace and the


window, and the light fell upon her. Callon sat opposite to

" At last I know that I am at home again," he said, with
a smile. Then he leaned forward and lowered his voice,
ulthough there was no third person in the room. He knew
the value of such tricks. " I have looked forward during
these eighteen months so very much to seeing you again."

Millie's face coloured, but it was with anger rather than
pleasure. There was a hard look upon her face ; her eyes
blamed liim.

" Yet you went away without a word to me," she said.
" You did not come to see me before you went, you never
hinted you were going."

" You thought it unkind ? "

" It was unkind," said Millie.

" But I wrote to you. I have written often."

" In no letter have you told me why you went away,"
said Millie.

" You missed me when I went, then ? "

Millie shrugged her shoulders.

" Well, I had seen a good deal of you. I missed — I
missed — something," she said. Callon drank his tea and
set down his cup.

" I have come to tell you why I went away without a
word. I never mentioned the reason in my letters ; I meant
to tell you it with my lips. I did not go away, I was sr/>f

Millie was perplexed. "Sent away?" she repeated.
" I understood, from what you wrote, that you accepted a
post from Mr. Mudge ? "

" I had to accept it," said Callon. " It was forced on mo.
Mudge was only the instrument to get me out of the way."

" Who sent you away, then ? " asked Millie.

•• A friend of yours — Miss Pamela Mardale."

Millie Stretton leaned back in her chair. "Pamela!"
she cried incredulously. " Pamela sent you away ! Why ? "


"Because she thought that I was seeing too much of

Gallon watched for the effect which his words would
produce. He saw the change come in Millie's face. There
was a new light in her eyes, her face flushed, she was angry ;
and anger was just the feeling he had meant to arouse, anger
against Pamela, anger which would drive Millie towards him.
He had kept his explanation back deliberately until he could
speak it himself. From the moment when he had started
from England he had nursed his determination to tell it to
Millie Stretton. He had been hoodwinked, outwitted by
Pamela and her friend ; he had been banished to Chili for
two years. Very well. But the game was not over yet.
His vanity was hurt as nothing had ever hurt it before.
He was stung to a thirst for revenge. .He would live
frugally, clear off his debts, return to England, and prove
to his enemies the futility of their plan. He thought of
Pamela Mardale ; he imagined her hearing of his departure
and dismissing him straightway contemptuously from her
thoughts. For eighteen months he nursed his anger, and
waited for the moment when he could return. There should
be a surprise for Pamela Mardale. She should understand
that he was a dangerous fellow to attack. Already, within
a day of his landing, he had begun to retaliate. The anger
in Millie Stretton's face was of good augury for him.

" Pamela ! " cried Millie, clenching her hands together
suddenly. " Yes, it was Pamela."

She bethought her of that pressing invitation to the
south of France, an invitation from Pamela who looked on
the shires as the only wintering-place. That was explained
now. Mr. Mudge had informed Pamela, no doubt, that
Lionel Callon was returning. Millie was furious. She
looked on this interference as a gross impertinence.

Callon rose from his chair.

" You can imagine it, was humiliating to me to be
tricked and sent away. But I was helpless. I am a poor


man ; I was in debt. Miss Mardale had an old rich man
devoted to her in Mr. Mudge. He bought np my debts, his
lawyer demanded an immediate settlement of them all, and
I could not immediately settle them. I was threatened with
proceedings, with bankruptcy."

" You should have come to me," cried Millie.

Gallon raised a protesting hand.

" Oh, Lady Stretton, how could I ? " he exclaimed in
reproach. " Think for a moment ! Oh, you would have
offered help at a hint. I know you. You are most kind,
most generous. But think, you are a woman. I am a man.
Oh no ! "

Callon did not mention that Mr. Mudge had compelled
him to accept or refuse the post in Chili with only an hour's
deliberation, and that hour between seven and eight in the
evening. He had thought of calling upon Millie to suggest
in her mind the offer which she had now made, but he had
not had the time. He was glad now. His position was
thereby so much the stronger.

" I had to accept Mudge's offer. Even the acceptance
was made as humiliating as it possibly could be. For Mudge
deliberately let me see that his only motive was to get me
out of the country. He did not care whether I knew his
motive or not. I did not count," he cried, bitterly. " I
was a mere pawn upon a chess-board. I had to withdraw
from my candidature. My career was spoilt. "What did
tluy care — Mr. Mudge and your friend ? I was got out of
your way."

" Oh, oh ! " cried Millie ; and Callon stepped quickly to
her side.

" Imagine what these months have been to me," he went
on. " I was out there in Chili, without friends. I had
nothing to do. Every one else upon the railway had his
work, his definite work, his definite position. I was nothing
at, all, a mere prisoner, in everybody's way, a man utterly
befooled. But that was not the worst of it. Shall I be


frank ? " He made a pretence of hesitation. " I will. I
will take the risk of frankness. I was sent away just when
I had begun to think a great deal about you.'" Millie
Stretton, who had been gazing into her companion's face
with the utmost sympathy, lowered her eyes to the floor.
But she was silent.

" That was the worst," he continued softly. " I was
angry, of course. I knew that I was losing the better part
of two years "

And Millie interrupted him : " How did she know ? "
she exclaimed.

"Who? Oh, Miss Mardale. Do you remember the
evening she came to Whitewebs ? I was waiting for you
in the hall. You came down the stairs and ran up again.
There was a mirror on the mantelpiece. She guessed then.
Afterwards she and Mudge discussed us in the drawing-
room. I saw them."

Millie got up from her chair and moved to the fire-

"It was on my account that you have lost two years,
that your career has been injured," she said, in a low voice.
She was really hurt, really troubled. " I am so very sorry.
What return can I ever make to you ? I will never speak
to Pamela again."

Callon crossed and stood beside her.

" No, don't do that," he said. " It would be — unwise."

Her eyes flashed up to his quickly, and as quickly fell.
The colour slowly deepened in her cheeks.

" What does it matter about my career ? " he continued,
with a smile. " I see you again. If you wish to make me
a return, let me see you very often ! "

He spoke with tenderness, and he was not pretending.
What space did Millie Stretton fill in his thoughts ? She
was pretty, she was sympathetic, she was ready to catch the
mood of her companion. It was not merely an act of retali-
ation which Callon projected. Such love as he had to give


was hers. It was not durable, it was intertwined with mean-
ness, it knew no high aims ; yet, such as it was, it was hers.
It gained, too, a fictitious strength from the mere fact that
he had been deliberately kept from her. The eighteen
months of bondage had given her an importance in his eyes,
had made her more desirable through the very difficulty of
attaining her. Millie allowed him to come again and again.
She had a natural taste for secrecies, and practised them
now, as he bade her do, without any perception of the
humiliation which they involved. If he called at her house,
it was after the dusk had fallen, and when she was at home
to no other visitors. They dined together in the restaurants
of unfashionable hotels, and if she drove to them in her
brougham, she sent it away, and was escorted to her door in
a cab. Callon was a past-master in concealment ; he knew
the public places where the public never is, and rumour did
not couple their names. But secrecy is not for the secret
when the secret ones are a man and a woman. It needs
too much calculation in making appointments, too much
punctuality in keeping them, too close a dependence upon
the probable thing happening at the probable time. Sooner
or later an accident, which could not be foreseen, occurs. It
may be no more than the collision of a cab and the summons
of the driver. Or some one takes, one morning, a walk in
an unaccustomed spot. Or the intriguers fall in quite un-
expectedly with another, who has a secret too, of which they
were not aware. Sooner or later some one knows.

It was the last of these contingencies which brought
about the disclosure in the case of Callon and Millie Stretton.
Six weeks had passed since Gallon's return. It was just a
month from Easter. Millie dined with some friends, and
went with them afterwards to a theatre in the Haymarket.
At the door she sent her carriage home, and when the
performance was over she took a hansom cab. She declined
any escort, and was driven up Regent Street towards her
home. At the corner of Devonshire Street, in Portland


Place, a man loitered upon the pavement with a white scarf
showing above his coat-collar. Millie opened the trap and
spoke to the driver. The cab stopped by the loiterer at the
street corner, who opened the doors and stepped in. The
loiterer was Lionel Callon.

" Drive round Regent's Park," he said.

The cab drove northwards through Park Place and along
the broad road towards Alexandra Gate. The air was
warm, the stars bright overhead, the dark trees lined the
roadway on the left, the road under the wheels was very
white. There was a great peace in the park. It was quite
deserted. In a second it seemed they had come out of the
glare, and the roar of streets, into a land of quiet and cool
gloom. Millie leaned back while Callon talked, and this was
the burden of his talk.

" Let us go to the south of France. I will go first. Do
you follow ! You go for Easter. It will be quite natural.
You stay at Eze, I at the little Reserve by the sea a mile
away. There is a suite of rooms there. No one need know."
Three times the cab drove round the park while Callon
urged, and Millie more and more faintly declined. The
driver sat perched upon his box, certain of a good fare,
indifferent. Inside his cab, on this quiet night, the great
issues of life and honour were debated. Millie had just her
life in her hands. One way or the other, by a 'Yes 1 or a
' No,' she must decide what she would do with it, and, to
whatever decision she came, it must reach out momentous
with consequences and touch other lives beyond hers and
beyond those others, others still. Her husband, her relations,
her friends — not one of them but was concerned in this
midnight drive. It seemed to Millie almost that she heard
them hurrying about the cab, calling to her, reaching out
their hands. So vivid was her thought, that she could
count them, and could recognise their faces. She looked
amongst them for her husband. But Tony was not there.
She could not see him, she could not hear his voice. Round



and round past the trees, on the white road, the cab went
jingling on, the driver, indifferent, upon his perch, the
tempter and the tempted within.

" Your husband does not care," said Callon. " If he did,
would he stay so long away ? "

" No, he does not care," said Millie. If he cared, would
he not be among that suppliant throng which ran about the
cab ? And all at once it seemed that the hurrying footsteps
lagged behind. The voices called more faintly ; she could
not see the outreaching hands.

" No one need know," said Callon.

" Someone always knows," replied Millie.

" What then ? " cried Callon. " If you love, you will
not mind. If you love, you will abandon everytlnng — every-
one. If you love ! "

He had taken the right way to persuade her. Call upon
Millie for a great sacrifice, she would make it, she would
glory in making it, just for the moment. Disenchantment
would come later ; but nothing of it would she foresee. As
she had matched herself with Tony, when first he had
proposed to leave her behind in 'his father's house, so now
she matched herself with Callon, she felt strong.

" Very well," she said. " I will follow."

Callon stopped the cab and got out. As he closed the
doors and told the cabman where to drive, a man, wretchedly
clad, slouched past and turned into the Marylebone Road.

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Online LibraryA. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley) MasonThe truants; a novel → online text (page 15 of 26)