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

The truants; a novel online

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" It's all over," she said. " The friend was a swindler.
He left the train at a station on the way and disappeared.
Tony went on, but there was no farm. He is back in New

" But the man can be found ? "

" He belongs to a gang. There is little chance, and Tony
has no money. He will take no more of mine."

" He is coming home, then ? " said Pamela.

" No ; he means to stay and retrieve his failures."

Pamela said nothing, and Millicent appealed to her.
" He will do that, don't you think ? Men have started
badly before, and have succeeded, and have not taken so very
long to succeed."


" No doubt," said Pamela ; and she spoke with what
hopefulness she could. But she remembered Tony Stretton.
Simplicity and good-humour were amongst his chief qualities ;
he was a loyal friend, and he had pluck. Was that enough ?
On the other hand, he had little knowledge and little expe-
rience. The schoolmaster of Roquebrune and Tony Stretton
stood side by side in her thoughts. She was not, however,
to be put to the task of inventing encouragements. For
before she could open her lips again, Millicent said gently —

" Will you mind if I ask to be left alone ? Come again as

soon as you can. But this afternoon " Her voice

broke so that she could not finish her sentence, and she
turned hastily away. However, she recovered her self-control
and went down the stairs with Pamela, and as they came
into the hall their eyes turned to the library door, and then
they looked at one another. Both remembered the conversa-
tion they had had within that room.

" What if you told Sir John ? " said Pamela. " It seems
that he does after all care."

" It would be of no use," said Millicent, shaking her
head. " He would only say, ' Let him come home,' and
Tony will not. Besides, I never see him now."

" Never ?" exclaimed Pamela.

" No ; he does not leave his room." She lowered her
voice. " I do not believe he ever will leave it again. It's
not that he's really ill, his doctor tells me, but he's slowly
letting himself go."

Pamela answered absently. Sir John Stretton and his
ailments played a small part in her thoughts. It seemed
that the library was again to become typical of the house,
typical of the life its inhabitants led. Nothing was to
happen, then. There was to be a mere waiting for things
to cease.

But a second letter was lying upstairs unopened on the
table, and that letter, harmless as it appeared, was strangely
to influence Millicent Stretton's life. It was many hours


afterwards when Millicent opened it, and, compared with the
heavy tidings she had by the same post received, it seemed
utterly trifling and unimportant. It was no more indeed
than the invitation from Frances Millingham of which
Pamela had spoken. Pamela forgot it altogether when she
heard the news which Tony had sent, but she was to be
affected by it too. For she had made a promise to Tony
Stretton, and, as he had foreseen, she would at any cost
fulfil it.




Whitewebs, Frances Millingham's house in Leicestershire,
was a long white building with many level windows. The
square main block of the building rose in the centre two
storeys high, and on each side a wing of one storey projected.
Behind the house a broad lawn sloped to the bank of a clear
and shallow trout stream, with an avenue of old elms upon
its left, and a rose garden upon its right. In front of the
house a paddock made a ring of green, and round this ring
the carriage drive circled from a white five-barred gate.
Whitewebs stood in a flat grass country. From the upper
windows you looked over a wide plain of meadows and old
trees, so level that you had on a misty day almost an illusion
of a smooth sea and the masts of ships ; from the lower, you
saw just as far as the nearest hedgerow, except in one quarter
of the compass. For to the south-west the ground rose very
far away, and at the limit of view three tall poplars, set in a
tiny garden on the hill's crest, stood clearly out against the
sky like sentinels upon a frontier. These three landmarks
were visible for many miles around. Pamela, however, saw
nothing of them as she was driven over the three miles from
the station to Whitewebs.

It was late on a February evening, and already dark.
The snow had fallen heavily during the last week, and as
Pamela looked out through the carriage windows she saw
that the ground glimmered white on every side ; above the
ground a mist thickened the night air, and the cold was


piercing. When she reached the house she found that
Frances Millingham was waiting for her alone in the big
inner hall, with tea ready ; and the first question which she
asked of her hostess was —

" Is Millie Stretton here ? "

" Yes," replied Frances Millingham. " She has been
here a week."

" I couldn't come before," said Pamela, rather remorse-
fully. " My father was at home alone. How is Millie ? I
have not seen her for a long time. Is she enjoying
herself ? "

Pamela's conscience had been reproaching her all that
afternoon. She could plead in her own behalf that after the
arrival of Tony's letter with its message of failure, she had
deferred her visit into the country and had stayed in London
for a week. But she had not returned to London since, and
consequently she had not seen her friend. She had heard
regularly from her, it is true ; she also knew that there was
yet no likelihood of the hoped-for change in the life of that
isolated household in Berkeley Square. But there had been
certain omissions of late in Millicent's letters which began to
make Pamela anxious.

" Yes," Frances Millingham replied ; " she seems to be
happy enough."

Lady Millingham related the names of her guests. There
were twelve in all, but the first ten may be omitted, for they
are in no way concerned with Pamela's history. The eleventh
name, however, was that of a friend.

" John Madge is here, too," said Frances Millingham ;
and Pamela said, with a smile —

" I like him."

John Mudge was that elderly man whom Allan "Warrisden
had seen with Pamela at Lady Millingham's dance, the man
with no pleasure in his face. " And Mr. Lionel Callon,"
said Frances ; " you know him."

" Do I ? " asked Pamela.


" At all events, he knows you."

It was no doubt a consequence of Pamela's deliberate plan
never to be more than an onlooker, that people who did not
arouse her active interest passed in and out of her acquaint-
anceship like shadows upon a mirror. It might be that she
had met Lionel Callon. She could not remember.

" A quarter past seven," said Frances Milliugham,
glancing at the clock. " "We dine at eight."

Pamela dressed quickly in the hope that she might gain
a few minutes before dinner wherein to talk to Millicent. She
came down the stairs with this object a good quarter of an
hour before eight, but she was to be disappointed. The
stairs descended into the big inner hall of the house, and just
below the roof of the hall they took a bend. As Pamela
came round this bend the hall was exposed to her eyes, and
she saw, below her, not Millicent at all, but the figure of a
man. He was standing by the fireplace, on her left hand as
she descended, looking into the fire indeed, so that his back
was towards her. But at the rustle of her frock he swung
round quickly and looked up. He now moved a few steps
towards the foot of the stairs with a particular eagerness.
Pamela at that moment had just come round the bend, and
was on the small platform from which the final flight of steps
began. The staircase was dimly lit, and the panelling of the
wall against which it rested dark. Pamela took a step or two
downwards, and the light of the hall struck upon her face.
The man came instantly to a dead stop, and a passing dis-
appointment was visible upon his upturned face. It was
evident that he was expecting some one else. Pamela on her
side was disappointed, too, for she had hoped to find Millicent.
She went down the stairs and stopped on the third step from
the bottom.

" How do you do, Miss Mardale ? " said the man. " You
have arrived at last."

The man was Lionel Callon. Pamela recognised him
now that they stood face to face ; she had met him, but she


had retained no impression of him in her memory. For the
future, however, she would retain a very distinct impression.
For her instincts told her at once and clearly that she
thoroughly disliked the man. He was thirty-three in years,
and looked a trifle younger, although his hair was turning
grey. He was clean shaven, handsome beyond most men,
and while his features were of a classical regularity and of
an almost feminine delicacy, they were still not without
character. There was determination in his face, and his
eyes were naturally watchful. It was his manner which
prompted Pamela's instinct of dislike. Assurance gave to
it a hint of arrogance ; familiarity made it distasteful. He
might have been her host from the warmth of his welcome.
Pamela put on her sedatest air.

" I am quite well," she said, with just sufficient surprise
to suggest the question, " "What in the world has my health
to do with you ? " She came down the three steps, and
added, " We are the first, I suppose."

" There may be others in the drawing-room," said Gallon,
with a glance towards the open door. But Pamela did not
take the hint. For one thing no sound of any voice was
audible in that room ; for another Mr. Callon was plainly
anxious to be rid of her. Even as he was speaking his glance
strayed past her up the staircase. Pamela disliked him ; she
was, besides, disappointed by him of that private talk with
Millicent which she desired. She was in a mood for mischief.
She changed her manner at once, and, crossing over to the
fireplace, engaged Mr. Callon in conversation with the utmost
cordiality, and as she talked she began to be amused. Callon
became positively uneasy ; he could not keep still, he answered
her at random. For instance, she put to him a question
about the number of guests in the house. He did not answer
at all for a moment or two, and when he did speak, it was to
say, " Will the frost hold, do you think ? "

" There's no sign of a thaw to-night," replied Pamela ;
and the sounds for which both were listening became audible


— the shutting of a door on the landing above, and then the
rustle of a frock upon the stairs. Mr. Callon was evidently at
his wits' end what to do ; and Pamela, taking her elbow from
the mantelpiece, said, with great sympathy —

" One feels a little in the way "

" Oh, not at all, Miss Mardale," Callon answered hurriedly,
with a flustered air.

Pamela looked at her companion with the blankest stare
of surprise.

" I was going to say, when you interrupted me," she went
on, " that one feels a little in the wav when one has brought a
couple of horses, as I have, and the frost holds."

Callon grew red. He had fallen into a trap ; his very
hurry to interrupt what appeared to be almost an apology
betrayed that the lady upon the stairs and Mr. Lionel Callon
had arranged to come down early. He had protested over-
much. However, he looked Pamela steadily in the face, and
said —

" I beg your pardon, Miss Mardale."

He spoke loudly, rather too loudly for the ears of
any one so near to him as Pamela. The sentence, too, was
uttered with a note of warning. There was even a sugges-
tion of command. The command was obeyed by the lady
on the stairs, for all at once the frock ceased to rustle, and
there was silence. Lionel Callon kept his eyes fixed upon
Pamela's face, but she did not look towards the stairs, and in
a little while again the sound was heard. But it diminished.
The lady upon the stairs was ascending, and a few minutes
afterwards a door closed overhead. She had beaten a retreat.

Callon could not quite keep the relief which he felt out
of his eyes or the smile from his lips. Pamela noticed the
change with amusement. She was not in the mind to spare
him uneasiness, and she said, looking at the wall above the
mantelpiece —

" This is an old mirror, don't you thiuk ? From what
period would you date it ? "


Gallon's thoughts had been so intent upon the stairs that
he had paid no heed to the ornaments above the mantelshelf.
Now, however, he took note of them with a face grown at
once anxious. The mirror was of an oval shape and framed
in gold. Under the pretence of admiring it, he moved and
stood behind Pamela, looking into the mirror over her
shoulder, seeing what she could see, and wondering how
much she had seen. He was to some extent relieved. The
stairs were ill-lighted, the panelling of the wall dark
mahogany ; moreover, the stairs bent round into the hall
just below the level of the roof, and at the bend the lady on
the stairs had stopped. Pamela could not have seen her
face. Pamela, indeed, had seen nothing more than a black
satin slipper arrested in the act of taking a step, and a black
gown with some touches of red at the waist. She had, how-
ever, noticed the attitude of the wearer of the dress when
the warning voice had brought her to a stop. The- lady had
stooped down and had cautiously peered into the hall. In
this attitude she had been able to see, and yet had avoided
being seen.

Pamela, however, did not relieve Mr. Callon of his
suspense. She walked into the drawing-room and waited,
with an amused curiosity, for the appearance of the black
dress. It was long in coming, however. Pamela had no
doubt that it would come last, and in a hurry, as though its
wearer had been late in dressing. But Pamela was wrong.
Millicent Stretton came into the room dressed in a frock of
white lace, and at once dinner was announced. Pamela
tinned to Frances Millingham with a startled face —

" Are we all here ? "

Frances Millingham looked round.

" Yes ; " and Lord Millingham at that moment offered
his arm to Pamela. As she took it, she looked at Millicent,
who was just rising from her chair. Millicent was wearing
with her white dress black shoes and stockings. She might
be wearing them deliberately, of course ; on the other hand,


she might be wearing them because she had not had time to
change them. It was Milliccnt, certainly, who had come
down last. " I beg your pardon, Miss Mardale," Gallon had
said, and it was upon the " Miss Mardale " that his voice
had risen. The emphasis of his warning had been laid upon
the name.

As she placed her hand on her host's arm, Pamela said —

" It was very kind of Frances to ask Millie Stretton here."

" Oh no," Lord Millingham replied. " You see, Frances
knew her. "We all knew, besides, that she is a great friend
of yours."

" Yes," said Pamela ; " I suppose everybody here knows
that ? "

" Mrs. Stretton has talked of it," he answered, with a

The " Miss Mardale " might be a warning, then, to
Millicent that her friend had arrived — was actually then in
the hall. There was certainly no one but Millicent in that
house who could have been conscious of any need to shrink
back at the warning, who would have changed her dress to
prevent a recognition ; and Millicent herself need not have
feared the warning had there not been something to conceal
— something to conceal especially from Pamela, who had
said, " I have promised your husband I would be your
friend." There was the heart of Pamela's trouble.

She gazed down the two lines of people at the dinner-
table, hoping against hope that she had overlooked some one.
There was no one wearing a black gown. All Pamela's
amusement in outwitting Gallon had long si nee vanished.
If Tony had only taken her advice without question, Bhe
thought. " Millie's hnsband should never leave her. If he
goes away he should take her with him." The words rang
in her mind all through dinner like the refrain of a song of
which one cannot get rid. And at the back of her thoughts
there steadily grew and grew a great regret that she had
ever promised Tony to befriend his wife.


That Millicent was the lady on the stairs she no longer
dared to doubt. Had she doubted, her suspicions would
have been confirmed immediately dinner was over. In the
drawing-room Millicent avoided any chance of a private
conversation, and since they had not met for so long such
avoidance was unnatural. Pamela, however, made no effort
to separate her friend from the other women. She had a
plan in her mind, and in pursuit of it she occupied a sofa,
upon which there was just room for two. She sat in the
middle of the sofa, so that no one else could sit on it, and
just waited until the men came in. Some of them crossed
at once to Pamela, but she did not budge an inch. They
were compelled to stand. Finally, Mr. Mudge approached
her, and immediately she moved into one corner and bade
him take the other. Mr. Mudge accepted the position with
alacrity. The others began to move away ; a couple of
card-tables were made up. Pamela and John Mudge were
left alone.

" You know every one here ? " she asked.

"No, very few."

" Mr. Callon, at all events ? "

Mr. Mudge glanced shrewdly at his questioner.

" Yes, I know him slightly," he answered.

" Tell me what you know."

Mr. Mudge sat for a moment or two with his hands
upon his knees and his eyes staring in front of him. Pamela
knew his history, and esteemed his judgment. He had
built up a great contracting business from the poorest
beginnings, and he remained without bombast or arrogance.
He was to be met nowadays in many houses, and, while he
had acquired manners, he had lost nothing of his simplicity.
The journey from the Seven Dials to Belgrave Square is a
test of furnace heat, and John Mudge had betrayed no flaws.
There was a certain forlornness, too, in his manner which
appealed particularly to Pamela. She guessed that the
apples, for which through a lifetime he had grasped, had



crumbled into ashes between his fingers. Sympathy taught
her that the man was lonely. He wandered through the
world amidst a throng of acquaintances ; but how many
friends had he, she wondered? She did not interrupt his
reflections, and he turned to her at last, with an air of

" I am on strange ground here," he said, " as you know.
I am the outsider ; and when I am on strange ground I go
warily. If I am asked what I think of this man or that I
make it a rule to praise."

" Yes ; but not to me," said Pamela, with a smile. " I
want to know the truth to-night."

Mudge looked at her deliberately, and no less deliberately
he spoke —

" And I think you ought to know the truth to-night."

Mudge, then, like the rest, knew that she was Millicent's
friend. Was it for that reason that she ought to know the
truth ?

" I know Gallon a little," he went on, " but I know a
good deal about him. Like most of the men who know him
I dislike him heartily. Women, on the other hand, like
hiin, Miss Mardale — like him too well. Women make
extraordinary mistakes over men just as men do over women.
They can be very blind — like your friend "

Mudge paused for an appreciable time. Then he went
on steadily —

" Like your friend Lady Millingham, who invites him

Pamela was grateful for the delicacy with which the
warning was conveyed, but she did not misunderstand it.
She had been told indirectly, but no less definitely on that
account, that Millie was entangled.

" Callon has good looks, of course," continued Mudge ;
and Pamela uttered a little exclamation of contempt.
Mudge smiled, but rather sadly.

" Oh, it's something. All people have not your haughty


indifference to good looks. He is tall, he has a face which
is a face and not a pudding. It's a good deal, Miss

Pamela looked in surprise at the stout, heavily -built bald
man who spoke. That he should ever have given a thought
to how he looked was a new idea to her. It struck her as

" But he is not merely good-looking. He is clever, per-
sistent besides, and, so far as I can judge, untroubled by a
single scrapie in the management of his life. Altogether,
Miss Mardale, a dangerous man. How does he live ? " he
asked suddenly.

" I neither know nor care," said Pamela.
"Ah, but you should care," replied Mudge. "The
answer is instructive. He has a small income — two hundred
a year, perhaps ; a mere nothing compared with what he
spends — and he never does an hour's work, as we understand
work. Yet he pays his card debts at his club, and they are
sometimes heavy, and he wants for nothing. How is it
done ? He has no prospect of an inheritance, so post-obits
are not the explanation."

Mr. Mudge leaned back in his chair and waited. Pamela
turned the question over in her mind.
" I can't guess how it's done," she said.
"And I can do no more than hint the answer," he
replied. " He rides one woman's horses, he drives another
woman's phaeton, he is always on hand to take a third to a
theatre, or to make up a luncheon party with a fourth.
Shall we say he borrows money from a fifth ? Shall we be
wrong in saying it ? " And suddenly Mr. Mudge exclaimed,
with a heat and scorn which Pamela had never heard from
him before, " A very contemptible existence, anyway, Miss
Mardale. But the man's not to be despised, mind. No,
that's the worst of it. Some day, perhaps, a strong man
will rise up and set his foot on him. Till that time he is to
be feared." And when Pamela by a gesture rejected the


word, Madge repeated it. " Yes, feared. He makes liis
plans, Miss Mardale. Take a purely imaginary case," and
somehow, although he laid no ironic stress on the word
imaginary, and accompanied it with no look, but sat gazing
straight in front of him, Pamela was aware that it was a
real case he was going to cite. " Imagine a young and
pretty woman coming to a house where most of the guests
were strangers to her ; imagine her to be of a friendly, un-
suspecting temperament, rather lonely, perhaps, and either
unmarried or separated for a time from her husband. Add
that she will one day be very rich, or that her husband will
be. Such a woman might be his prey, unless "

Pamela looked up inquiringly.

" Unless she had good friends to help her."

Pamela's face, distressed before, grew yet more troubled
now. The burden of her promise was being forced upon
her back. It seemed she was not for one moment to be
allowed to forget it.

"I'll tell you my philosophy, Miss Mardale," Mudge
continued, " and I have inferred it from what I have seen.
I do not believe that any man really comes to good unless
he has started in life with the ambition to make a career for
himself, with no help other than his hands and his brains
afford. Later on he will learn that women can be most
helpful ; later on, as he gets towards middle life, as the
years shorten and shorten, he will see that he must use
whatever extraneous assistance comes his way. But he will
begin with a fearless ambition to suffice with his own hands
and head." Mr. Mudge dropped from the high level of his
earnestness. He looked towards Lionel Callon, who was
seated at a card-table, and the contempt again crept into his
voice. "Now that man began life meaning to use all
people he met, and especially women. "Women were to be
his implements." Mr. Mudge smiled suddenly. " He's
listening," he said.

" But he is too far away to hear," replied Pamela,


" Xo doubt ; but he knows we are speaking of hirn.
Look, his attitude shows it. This, you see, is his battle-
ground, and he knows the arts of his particular warfare.
A drawing-room ! Mr. Lionel Callon fights among the
teacups. Cajolery first, and God knows by what means
afterwards. But he wins, Miss Mardale ; don't close your
eyes to that ! Look, I told you he was listening. The
rubber's over, and he's coming towards us. Oh, he's alert
upon his battle-ground ! He knows what men think of
him. He's afraid lest I should tell what men think to you.
But he comes too late."

Callon crossed to the sofa, and stood talking there until
Frances Millingham rose. Pamela turned to Mr. Mudge as
she got up.

" I thank you very much," she said gratefully.

Mr. Mudge smiled.

" Xo need for thanks," said he. " I am very glad you
came to-night, for I go away to-morrow."

Pamela went to her room and sat down before the fire.
What was to be done, she wondered ? She could not get
Lionel Callon sent away from the house. It would be no
use even if she could, since Millie had an address in town.

Online LibraryA. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley) MasonThe truants; a novel → online text (page 5 of 26)