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

The truants; a novel online

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fulfil themselves in ways which were not hers. She put her-
self now in M. Giraud's place. She imagined him waiting
and waiting at Roquebrune, with his one window on the
outside world closed and shuttered — a man in a darkened
room who most passionately desired the air without. She
said, with a trace of hesitation —

" You say you have needed me very much ? "
'• Oh, have I not?" exclaimed Giraud ; and the very
weariness of his voice would have convinced her, had she
needed conviction. It seemed to express the dilatory passagv
of the years during which he had looked for her coming, anil
had looked in vain.

" Well, then, listen to me," she went on. " I was once
told that to be needed by those whom one needs is a great
comfort. I thought of the saying at the time, and I thought
that it was a true one. Afterwards" — she began to speak


slowly, carefully selecting her words — " it happened that in
my own experience I proved it to be true — at all events, for
me. Is it true for you also ? Think well. If it is not true
I will go away as you bade me at the beginning ; but if it is
true — why, then I may be of some little help to you, and you
will be certainly a great help to me ; for I need you very

M. Giraud looked at her in silence for a little while.
Then he answered her with simplicity, and so, for the first
time during this interview, wore the proper dignity of a man.

" Yes, I will help you," he said. " What can I do ? "

She held out the letter which she had written to Lionel
Callon. She bade him carry it with the best speed he could
10 its destination.

" Lose no time ! " she implored. " I am not sure, but it
may be that one man's life, and the happiness of a man and
a woman besides, all hang upon its quick receipt."

M. Giraud took his hat from the wall and went to the
door. At the door he paused, and standing thus, with an
averted faee, he said in a whisper, recalling the words she
had lately spoken —

" There is one, then, whom you need ? You are no
longer lonely in your thoughts ? I should like to know."

" Yes," Pamela answered gently : " I am no longer lonely
in my thoughts."

" And you are happy ? " he continued. u You were not
happy when you were at Roquebrune last. I should like to
know that you, at all events, are happy now."

" Yes," said Pamela. In the presence of his distress she
rather shrank from acknowledging the change which had
come over her. It seemed cruel ; yet he clearly wished to
know. He clearly would be the happier for knowing.
14 Yes," she said ; "lam happy."

" I am very glad," said M. Giraud, in a low voice ; " I
am very glad." And he went rather quickly out by the




Tony Stretton walked quickly down from the Villa
Pontignard to the station. There he learned that an hour
must elapse before a train to Eze was due. Inaction was at
this moment intolerable to him. Even though he should
get to Eze not a minute the sooner, he must hurry upon his
way. lie could not wait upon this platform for an hour,
suspense so tortured him. He went out upon the road and
began to run. He ran very quickly. The road turned
sharply round the shoulder of a hill, and Stretton saw in
front of him the lights of Monte Carlo. They were buuehed
in great white clusters, they were strung in festoons iu the
square and the streets. They made a golden crescent about
the dark, quiet waters of the bay. Looking down from this
shoulder of the hill upon the town at such an hour one seems
to be looking upon a town of fairyland ; one expects a sweet
and delicate music to float upwards from its houses and
• harm the ears. Tony's one thought was that beyond that
place of lights lay Eze. He came to an electric tram which
was on point of starting. He entered it and it rattled him
quickly down the hill.

At Monte Carlo he sprang into the first carriage which
he saw waiting for a fare, and bade the coachman drive him
quickly out to Eze. The night had come ; above his head
the stars shone very brightly from a dark sky of velvet.
The carriage passed out of the town ; the villus grew more


scarce ; the open road glimmered ahead of him a riband of
white ; the sea murmured languorously upon the shore.

At this moment, in the lonely restaurant towards which
Tony was driving in such haste, Lionel Gallon and Millie
Stretton were sitting down to dinner. The table was laid
in the small, daintily furnished room which opened on to the
terrace. The windows stood wide, and the lazy murmur of
the waves entered in. The white cloth shone with silver, a
great bowl of roses stood in the centre and delicately per-
fumed the air. Thither Millie had come in fulfilment of
that promise made on a midnight of early spring in Regent's
Park. The colour burned prettily on her cheeks, she had
dressed herself in a pink gown of lace, jewels shone on her
arms and at her neck. She was, perhaps, a little feverish in
her gaiety, her laughter was perhaps a little over loud.
Indeed, every now and then her heart sank in fear within
her, and she wished herself far away. But here Lionel
Gallon was at his ease. He knew the methods by which
victory was to be won. There was no suggestion of triumph
in his manner. He was considerate and most deferential,
and with no more than a hint of passion in the deference.

" You have come," he said. His eyes rested upon hers,
and he left them to express his gratitude. He raised her
hand to his lips and gently took the cloak from her shoulders.
" You have had a long journey. But you are not tired."
He placed her chair for her at the table and sat opposite.
He saw that she was uneasy. He spoke no word which
might alarm her.

Meanwhile Tony was drawing nearer. He reached the
hotel at Eze, and drove through its garden to the door.

" Is Lady Stretton in the hotel ? " he asked.

" No, sir. Her ladyship went out to dinner nearly an
hour ago."

" Thank you," said Tony. " She arrived this afternoon,
I think ? "

" Yes, sir. What name shall I give when she returns ? "


" No name," said Tonv. And he ordered his coachman
to drive back to the road.

When he had reached it he directed the man again.

" Towards Beaulieu," he said ; and in a little while, on
his left hand, below the level of the road, he saw the lights
of the Reserve. He stopped at the gate, dismissed his
carriage, and walked down the winding drive to the door.
He walked into the restaurant. It was empty. A waiter
came forward to him.

" I wish you to take me at once to Mr. Callon," he said.
He spoke in a calm, matter-of-fact voice. But the waiter
nevertheless hesitated. Tony wore the clothes in which he
had travelled to Roquebrune. He was covered with dust,
his face was haggard and stem. He had nothing in common
with the dainty little room of lights and flowers and shining
silver, and the smartly dressed couple who were dining there.
The waiter guessed that his irruption would be altogether

" Mr. Gallon ! " he stammered. " He has gone out."

Tony heard the rattle of a metal cover upon a dish. He
looked in the direction whence the sound came — he looked
to the right-hand side of the restaurant. A door stood 0]xm
there, and in the passage beyond the door he saw a waiter
pass carrying the dish. Moreover, the man who had spoken
to him made yet another mistake. He noticed the direction
of Tony's glance, and he made a quick movement as though
lo bar that passage.

44 He is here," said Tonv ; and he thrust the waiter aside.
He crossed the restaurant quickly and entered the passage.
The passage ran parallel to the restaurant ; and, at the end
towards the terrace, there was another door upon the opposite
^i<lr. The waiter with the dish hail his hand upon the door-
handle, but he turned at the sound of Stretton'fl step. He.
too, noticed the disorder of Tony's dress. At the same
moment the man hi the restaurant shouted in a warning
e —


u Jules ! "

Jules stood iu front of the door.

" Monsieur, tins room is private," said be.

"Yet I will take the liberty to intrude," said Tony,

From behind the door there came the sound of a man's
voice which Tony did not know. He had, indeed, never
heard it before. Then a woman's laugh rang out ; and the
sound of it angered Tony beyond endurance. He recognised
it beyond the possibility of mistake. It was his wife who
was laughing so gaily there behind the closed door. He
thought of the years he had spent in the determination to
regain his wife's esteem, to free himself from her contempt.
For the moment he could have laughed bitterly at his per-
sistence as at some egregious folly. It seemed all waste —
waste of time, waste of endeavour, Avaste of suffering. She
was laughing ! And with Lionel Callon fur her companion !
The cold, black nights of the North Sea and its gales ; the
arid sands of the Sahara ; all his long service for her ending
in that crowning act of desertion — the story was clear in his
mind from beginning to end, detailed and complete. And
she was laughing in there with Lionel Callon ! Her laughter
was to him as some biting epigram which epitomised the way
in which she had spent the years of his absence. His anger
got the better of his self-control.

" Stand away," he cried, in a low, savage voice, to the
waiter. And since the man did not instantly move, he seized
him by the shoulders and dragged him from the door.

" Monsieur 1 " the man cried aloud, in a frightened
voice, and the dish which he was carrying fell with a clatter
on to the floor. Inside the room the laughter suddenly
ceased. Tony listened for a second. He could not hear
even a whisper. There was complete silence. He smiled
rather grimly to himself ; he was thinking that this was not,
at all events, the silence of contempt.

Could he have seen through the door into the room he


would have been yet more convinced. All the gaiety vanished
in an instant from Millie's face. She was sitting opposite
the door ; she sat and stared at it in terror. The blood
ebbed from the cheeks, leaving them as white as paper.

" Monsieur 1 " she repeated, in so low a whisper that even
Gallon, on the other side of the small table, hardly heard the
word. Her lips were dry, and she moistened them. " Mon-
sieur ! " she whispered again, and the whisper was a question.
She had no definite suspicion who " Monsieur " was ; she
did not define him as her husband. She only understood
that somehow she was trapped. The sudden clatter of the
dish upon the floor, the loudness of the waiter's cry, which
was not a mere protest, but also a cry of fear, terrified her ;
they implied violence. She was trapped. She sat paralysed
upon her chair, staring across the table over Gallon's shoulder
at the door. Gallon meanwhile said not a word. He had
been sitting with his back to the door, and he twisted round in
his chair. To both of them it seemed ages before the handle
was turned. Yet so short was the interval of time that they
could hardly have reached the terrace through the open
window had they sprung up at the first sound of disturbance.

Thus they were sitting, silent and motionless, when the
door was pushed open, and Tony stood in the doorway. At
the sight of him Millie uttered one loud scream, and clapped
her hands over her face. Callon, on the other hand, started
up on to his feet. As he did so he upset his wine-glass over
the table-cloth ; it fell and splintered on the polished floor.
He turned towards the intruder who so roughly forced his
way into the room. The eyes of that intruder took no
account of him ; they were fixed upon Millie Stretton, as she
sat cowering at the table with her hands before her face.

" What do you want ? " cried Gallon. " You have no
right here ! "

"1 have every right here," said Tony. "That is my
wife ! "

It was blill his wife at whom he looked, not at all


towards Callon. Gallon was startled out of his wits. De-
tection he had always feared ; he had sought to guard
against it by the use of every precaution known to his
devious strategy. But it was detection by Pamela Mardale
and her friends, who had once already laid him by the heels ;
the husband had never entered into his calculations. He
had accepted without question Millie's version of the husband
— he was the man who did not care. In some part of the
world he wandered, but where no one knew ; cut off from
all his friends — indifferent, neglectful, and a fool. Even
now he could not believe. This might be some new trick
of Pamela Mardale's.

" Your wife ! " he exclaimed. " That is not true."
" Not true ? " cried Tony, in a terrible voice. He stretched
out his arm and pointed towards Millie. " Look 1 "

Millie flinched as though she feared a blow. She
dropped her head yet lower. She held her fingers over
her eyelids, closing them tightly. She had looked once
at Tony's face, she dared not look again. She sat in
darkness, trembling. One question was in her mind.
" Would he kill her ? " Callon looked at her as he was
bidden. Millie was wont to speak of her husband
with indifference, and a suggestion of scorn. Yet it was
her manifest terror which now convinced Callon that
the husband was indeed before him. Here the man was,
sprung suddenly out of the dark upon him, not neglectful,
for he had the look of one who has travelled from afar very
quickly, and slept but little on the way ; not indifferent, for
he was white with anger and his eyes were aflame. Callon
cursed the luck which had for a second time brought him
into such ill straits. He measured himself with Tony, and
knew in the instant that he was no match for him. There
was a man, tired, no doubt, and worn, but hard as iron,
supple of muscle and limb, and finely trained to the last
superfluous ounce of flesh ; while he himself was soft with
luxury and good living. He sought to temporise.


u That is no proof," said he. " Any woman might be

startled " And Tony broke fiercely in upon his starn-

mered argument —

" Go out," he cried, " and wait for me ! "

The door was still open. Outside it in the passage the
waiters were clustered, listening. Inside the room IVIillie
was listening. The order, roughly given, was just one which
Callon for very shame could not obey. He would have liked
to obey it, for confronting husbands was never to his liking ;
all his art lay in eluding them.

"Go out!" Tony repeated, and took a step forward.
Callon could not cut so poor a figure as to slink from the
room like a whipped schoolboy. Yet it would have gone
better with him had he eaten his leek and gone.

" It would not be safe to leave you," he babbled. And
suddenly Tony caught him by the throat, struck him upon
the fac:-, and then flung him violently away.

Gallon reeled back through the open windows, slipped
and fell at his full length upon the terrace. His head struck
the stone flags with a horrible sound. He lay quite still in
the strong light which poured from the room ; his eyes were
closed, his face quite bloodless. It was his business, as
Madge had said, to light amongst the teacups.

Tony made no further movement towards him. Tin-
waiters went out on to the terrace and lifted him up and
curried him away. Then Tony turned towards his wife.
She had risen up from her chair and overturned it when
Tony had flung the interloper from the room. She now
crouched shuddering against the wall, with her eyes fixed
in terror npon her husband. Ashe turned towards her sin:
uttered a sob and dropped niton her knees before him. Thai
was the end of all her BCOrn. She kneeled in deadly fear,
admiring him in the very frenzy of her fear. She had no
memory for the contemptuous letters which she had written
and Tony hud carried under his pillow on the North Sen.
Her little deceits and plots and trickeries to hoodwink her


friend6, her little pretence of passion for Lionel Gallon — she
knew at this moment that it never had been more than a
pretence — these were the matters which now she remembered,
and for which she dreaded punishment She was wearing
jewels that night — jewels which Tony had given her in the
good past days when they lived together in the house in
Deanery Street. They shook and glittered upon her hair,
about her neck, upon her bosom and her arms. She kneeled
in her delicate finery of lace and satin in this room of luxury
and bright flowers. There was no need for Tony now to
work to re-establish himself in her thoughts. She reached
out her hands to him in supplication.

" I am not guilty," she moaned. ,; Tony : Tom* ! "




The lnan who was no good had hid triumph then. Only
triumph was not at all in his thoughts.

" Oh, please ! " he said very quietly, " get up from
your knees. I don't like to see you there. It hurts


Millie raised her eyes to him in wonder. He did not
mean to kill her, then. All his violence, it seemed, was
reserved for that poor warrior of the drawing-rooms who had
just been carried away stunned and bleeding from the
terrace. When Tony spoke to her his voice was rather that
of a man very dispirited and sad. He had indeed travelled
through the mountains of Morocco hot with anger against
Gallon the interloper ; but now that he had come face to
face again with Millie, now that he had heard her voice with
its remembered accents, the interloper seemed of little
account, a creature to punish and be done with. The Bad-
ness of his voice penetrated to Millie's heart. .She rose and
nood submissively before him.

In the passage outside the door the waiters were clustered
whispering together. Tony closed the door and shut the
whispers out Upon the terrace, outside the window, a man
was hesitating whether to enter or no. Tony went to the

" Who are you ? " he asked. " What do you want ? "

"I am Griraud, the schoolmaster of Roquebrune," said


the man, timidly. " I bring a letter from Mademoiselle

" Let me see it ! " said Tony ; and he held out his hand
for the letter. He glanced at the superscription and gave it
back. " It is not for me," he said, and M. Giraud went
away from the terrace. Tony turned back to his wife. His
mind was full of a comparison between the ways in which he
and she had each spent the years of absence. For him they
had been years of endeavour, persisted in through failure
and perplexity until success, but for her, was reached. And
how had Millie spent them ? He looked at her sternly, and
she said again in a faltering voice —

" I am innocent, Tony."

And he replied —

"Could you have said as much to-morrow had I not
come back to-night ? "

Millie had no answer to that question — she attempted
none ; and it was even at that moment counted to her credit
by her husband. She stood silent for a while, and only the
murmur of the sea breaking upon the beach filled the room.
A light wind breathed through the open window, cool and
fragrant, and made the shaded candles flicker upon the
table. Millie had her one poor excuse to offer, and she
pleaded it humbly.

" I thought that you had ceased to care what became of
me," she said.

Tony looked sharply at her. She was sincere — surely
she was sincere.

" You thought that ? " he exclaimed ; and he replaced
her chair at the table. " Sit down here ! Let me under-
stand ! You thought that I had ceased to care for you ?
When I ceased to write, I suppose ? "

Millie shook her head.

" Before that ? "

Tony dropped into the chair on which Gallon had been


" Before that ? " he exclaimed in perplexity. " When ?
Tell me ! "

Millie sat over against him at the table.

" Do you remember the evening when you first told me
that you had made up your mind to go away and make a
home for both of us ? It was on that evening. You gave
your reason for going away. We had begun to quarrel —
we were drifting apart. 1 '

" I remember," said Tony ; " but we had not ceased to
care then, neither you nor I. It was just because I feared
that at some time we might cease to care that I was re-
solved to go away."

" Ah," said Millie ; " but already the change had begun.
Yes, yes ! Things winch you thought you never could
remember without a thrill you remembered already with
indifference — you remembered them without being any
longer moved or touclK'd by the associations which they
once had had. I recollect the very words you used. I sat
as still as could be while you spoke them ; but I never forgot
them, Tony. There was a particular instance which you

mentioned — a song " And suddenly Tony laughed ;

but he laughed harshly, and there was no look of amusement
on his face. Millie stared at him in surprise, but he did not
explain, and she went on with her argument.

k - So when you ceased to write I was: still more
convinced that you had reaped to care. When you re-
mained away after your father had died I was yet more

Tony leaned across the white table-cloth with its glitter-
ing silver, and fixed his eyes on her.

" I will tell you why I ceased to write. Every letter
which you wrote to me when I was in New York was more
contemptuous than the letter which had preceded it. I had
failed, and you despised me for my failure. I had allowed

myself to be tricked out of your money " And upon

thnt Millie interrupted him —


" Oh no ! " she cried ; " you must not say that I
despised you for that. No ! That is not fair. I never
thought of the money. I offered you what was left."

Tony had put himself in the wrong here. He recognised
his mistake, he accepted Millie's correction.

" Yes, that is true," he said ; " you offered me all that
was left — but you offered it contemptuously ; you had no
shadow of belief that I would use it to advantage — you had
no faith in me at all. In your eyes I was no good. Mind,
I don't blame you. You were justified, no doubt. I had
set out to make a home for you, as many a man has done
for his wife. Only where they had succeeded I had failed.

If I thought anytliing at all " he said, with an air of


" Well ? " asked Millie.

" I thought you might have expressed your contempt
with a little less of unkindness, or perhaps have hidden it
altogether. You see, I was not having an easy time in New
York, and your letters made it very much harder."

" Oh, Tony," she said, in a low voice of self-reproach.
She was sitting with her hands clenched in front of her upon
the table-cloth, her forehead puckered, and in her eyes a
look of great pain.

" Never mind that," he replied ; and he resumed Ins story.
" I saw then quite clearly that with each letter which you
received from me, each new instalment of my record of
failure — for each letter was just that, wasn't it ? — your
contempt grew. I was determined that if I could help it
your contempt should not embitter all our two lives. So I
ceased to write. For the same reason I staved awav, even
after my father had died. Had I come back then I should
have come back a failure, proved and self -confessed. And
your scorn would have stayed with you. My business
henceforth was to destroy it, to prove to you that after all I
was some good — if not at money-making, at something else.
I resolved that we should not live together again until I


could coine to you and say, ' You have no right to despise
me. Here's the proof.' "

Millie was learning now, even as Tony had learnt a
minute ago. All that he said to her was utterly surprising
and strange. He had been thinking of her, then, all the
time while he was away ! Indifference was in no way the
reason of his absence.

" Oh, why did you not write this to me ? " she cried.
' ; It need not have been a long letter, since you were un-
willing to write. But just this you might have written. It
would have been better, kinder " — and she paused upon the
word, uttering it with hesitation and a shy deprecating
smile, as though aware that she had no claim upon his
kindness. " It would have been kinder than just to leave
me here, not knowing where you were, and thinking what
I did."

" It is true," said Tony, " I might have written. But
would you have believed me if I had ? No."

"Then you might have come to me," she urged.
" Once — just for five minutes — to tell me what you meant
to do."

" I might," Tony agreed ; " in fact, I very nearly did.
I was under the windows of the house in Berkeley Square

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Online LibraryA. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley) MasonThe truants; a novel → online text (page 22 of 26)