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

The truants; a novel online

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She could not say a word openly.

She raised her head and spoke to her maid.

" Which is Mrs. Stretton's room ? " And when she had
the answer she rose from her chair and stood, a figure of
indecision. She did not plead that John Mudge had ex-
aggerated the danger ; for she had herself foreseen it long-
ago, before Millie's marriage — even before Millie's engage-
ment. It was just because she had foreseen it that she had
used the words which had so rankled in Tony's memory.
Bitterly she regretted that she had ever used them ; greatly
she wished that she could doubt their wisdom. But she
could not. Let Millie's husband leave her, she would grieve
with all the strength of her nature ; let him come back soon,
she would welcome him with a joy as great. Yes ; but he


must come back soon. Oohcrwise she would grow used to
his absence ; she would find his return an embarrassment,
for it would be the return of a stranger with the prerogative
of a husband ; she might even have given to another the
place he once held in her thoughts. And the other might
be a Lionel Callon. For this was Millicent's character.
She yielded too easily to affection, and she did not readily
distinguish between affection and the show of it. She
paddled in the shallows of passion, and flattered herself that
she was swimming in the depths. Grief she was capable
of — yes ; but a torrent of tears obliterated it. Joy she
knew ; but it was a thrill with her lasting an hour.

Pamela walked along the passage and knocked at
Millicent's door, saying who she was. Millicent opened the
door, and received her friend with some constraint.

" Can I come in ? " said Pamela.

" Of course," said Millie.

They sat opposite to one another on each side of the fire.

"I wanted to see you before I went to bed," said
Pamela. " You have not told me lately in your letters how
Tony is getting on."

Millie raised her hand to shield her face from the blaze
of the fire. She happened to shade it also from the eyes of
Pamela ; and she made no reply.

" Is he still in New York ? " Pamela asked ; and then
Millie replied.

" I do not know," she answered slowly. She let her
band fall, and looked straight and defiantly at her friend.

" I have not heard from him for a long while," she
added ; and as she spoke there crept into her face a look of

( n )


Gideon's fleece

Millicent was reluctant to add any word of explanation.
She sat with her eyes upon the fire, waiting, it seemed, until
Pamela should see fit to go. But Pamela remained, and of
the two women she was the stronger in will and character.
She sat, with her eyes quietly resting upon M illicent's face ;
and in a little while Millicent began reluctantly to speak.
As she spoke the disdainful droop of her lips became more
pronounced, and her words were uttered in a note of

" He would stay to retrieve his failure. You remember ? "
she said.

" Yes," replied Pamela.

" I wrote to him again and again to come home, but he
would not. I couldn't make him see that he wasn't really a
match for the people he must compete with."

Pamela nodded her head.

" You wrote that to him ? "

Millicent lifted her face to Pamela's.

" I put it, of course, with less frankness. I offered him,
besides, the rest of my money, so that he might try again ;
but he refused to take a farthing more. It was unreason-
able, don't you think ? I could have got on without it, but
he couldn't. I was very sorry for him."

" And you expressed your pity, too ? " asked Pamela.

" Yes, indeed," said Millicent, eagerly. " But he never
would accept it. He replied cheerfully that something was


sure to happen soon, that he would be sure to find an opening
soon. But, of course, he never did. It was not likely that
with his inexperience he ever would."

Tony's own words had recoiled upon him. On the
evening when he had first broached his plan to Millicent in
Berkeley Square, he had laid before her, amongst others,
this very obstacle, thinking that she ought to be aware of it,
and never doubting but that he would surmount it. The
honesty of his nature had bidden him speak all that he had
thought, and he had spoken without a suspicion that his
very frankness might put in her mind an argument to
belittle him. He had seemed strong then, because he knew
the difficulties, and counted them up when she omitted
them. His image was all the more pale and ineffectual now
because, foreknowing them well, he had not mastered them.

" I wrote to him at last that it wasn't any use for him to
go on with the struggle. He would not tell me how he
lived, or even where. I had to send my letters to a post-
office, and he called for them. He must be living in want,
in misery. I wrote to him that I had guessed as much
from his very reticence, and I said how sorry I was. Yet,
in spite of what I wrote," and here her voice hardened a
little ; she showed herself as a woman really aggrieved, " in
spite of what I wrote, he answered me in a quite short letter,
saying that I must not expect to hear from him again until
he had recovered from his defeat and was re-established in
my eyes. I can't understand that, can you ? "

" I think so," Pamela answered. She spoke gently.
For there was something to be said upon Millicent's side.
The sudden collapse of her exaggerated hopes, the dreary
life she led, and her natural disappointment at the failure of
the man whom she had married, when once he stepped down
into the arena to combat with his fellow-men. These
things could not fail to provoke, in a nature so easily
swayed from extreme to extreme as Millicent's, impatience,
anger, and a sense of grievance. Pamela could hold the


balance fairly enough to understand that. But chiefly she
was thinking of Tony — Tony hidden away in some lodging
in New York, a lodging so squalid that he would not give
the address, and vainly seeking for an opportunity whereby
lie would make a rapid fortune ; very likely going short of
food, and returning home at night to read over a letter
from his wife of which every line cried out to him, with a
contemptuous pity, " You are a failure. You are a failure.
Come home." Pamela's heart went out in pity, too. But
there was no contempt in her pity. She could not but
admire the perseverance with which, on this, the first time
that he had ever walked hand in hand with misery, he
endured its companionship.

" I think I understand," she said. " You say he answered
you in that short way in spite of what you wrote. I think
it was not in spite of, but because "

Millie Stretton shook her head.

" No, that's not the reason," she replied. She gave one
herself, and it fairly startled Pamela. " Tony no longer
cares for me. He means to go out of my life altogether."

Pamela remembered what store Tony had always set upon
his wife, how he had spoken of her that July morning in the
park, and how he had looked at the moment when he spoke.
It was just because he cared so much that he had taken his
wild leap into the dark. That, at all events, she believed,
and in such a strain she replied. But Millicent would not
be persuaded.

" Before Tony went away," she said stubbornly, " he let
me see that he no longer cared. He was losing the associa-
tions which used to be vivid in his memory. Our marriage
had just become a dull, ordinary thing. He had lost the
spirit in which he entered into it."

Again Tony's indiscreet frankness had done him wrong.
The coon song, which was always to be associated in his mind
with the summer night, and the islets in the sea, and the
broad stretch of water trembling away in the moonlight


across to the lights of the yachts in Oban Bay, had become
a mere coon song " sung by some one." Millicent had often
remembered and reflected upon that unfortunate sentence,
and as her disappointment in Tony increased and the pitying
contempt gradually crept into her mind, she read into it
more and more of what Tony had not meant.

" I am sure you are wrong," said Pamela, very earnestly.
" He went away because he cared. He went away to keep
your married life and his from fading away into the colour-
less, dull, ordinary thing it so frequently becomes. He has
lost ground by his failure. No doubt your own letters have
shown that ; and he is silent now in order to keep what he
ha3. You have said it yourself. He will not write until he
is able to re-establish himself in your thoughts."

But would Tony succeed ? Could he succeed ? The
questions forced themselves into her mind even while she
was speaking, and she carried them back to her room. The
chances were all against him. Even if he retrieved his failure,
it would be a long time before that result was reached — too
long, perhaps, when his wife was Millicent, and such creatures
as Lionel Callon walked about the world. And he might
never succeed at all, he was so badly handicapped.

Pamela was sorely tempted to leave the entanglement
alone to unravel itself. There was something which she
could do. She was too honest to close her eyes to that.
But her own history rose up against her and shook a warning
linger. It had a message to her cars never so loudly
repeated as on this night. " Don't move a step. Look on !
Look on ! " She knew herself well. She was by nature a
partisan. Let her take this trouble in hand ami strive to set
it right, her whole heart would soon be set upon Bnocess.
She was fond of Millicent already ; she would become fonder
kl ill in the effort to save her. She liked Tony very much.
The thought of him stoutly perBerering, clinging to his one
ambition to keep his married life a bright and real thing in
spile of want and poverty — and even his wife's contempt,


appealed to her with a poignant strength. But she might
fail. She had eaten of failure once, and, after all these
years, the taste of it was still most bitter in her mouth.

She fought her battle out over her dying fire, and at the
end two thoughts stood out clearly in her mind. She had
given her promise to Tony to be a good friend to his wife,
and there was one thing which she could do in fulfilment of
her promise.

She walked over to her window and flung it open. She
was of the women who look for signs ; no story quite
appealed to her like the story of Gideon's Fleece. She
looked for a sign now quite seriously. If a thaw had set in,
why, the world was going a little better with her, and perhaps
she might succeed. But the earth was iron-bound, and in
the still night she could hear a dry twig here and there
snapping in the frost. No, the world was not going well.
She decided to wait until things improved.

But next day matters were worse. For one thing John
Mudge went away, and he was the only person in the house
who interested her at all. Furthermore, Lionel Gallon stayed,
and he announced some news.

" I have been chosen to stand for Parliament at the next
election," he said ; and he named an important constituency.
Pamela noticed the look of gratification, almost of pride,
which shone at once on Millie's face, and her heart sank.
She interpreted Millie's thought, and accurately. Here was
a successful man, a man who had got on without oppor-
tunities or means, simply by his own abilities ; and there,
far away in New York, was her failure of a husband.
Moreover, Callon and Millicent were much together ; they
had even small secrets, to which in conversation they referred.
The world was not going well with Pamela, and she waited
for the fleece to be wet with dew.

After four days, however, the frost showed signs of
breaking. A thaw actually set in that evening, and on the
next morning two pieces of good news arrived. In the first


place, Pamela received a letter from Alan Warrisden. There
was nothing of importance in it, but it gave her his actual
^ address. In the second, Millie told Frances Millingham that
she had received news that Sir John Stretton was really
failing, and although there was no immediate danger, she
must hold herself in readiness to return to town. This to
Pamela was really the best news of all. This morning, at
all events, Gideon's Fleece was wet. She looked out some
trains in the railway guide, and then sent a telegram to
Warrisden to come by a morning train. She would meet
him at the railway station. The one step in her power she
was thus resolved to take.

( 77 )



Ox the crest of that hill which was visible from the upper
windows of Whitewebs, a village straggled for a mile ; and
all day in the cottages the looms were heard. The sound of
looms, indeed, was always associated with that village in the
minds of Pamela Mardale and Alan Warrisden, though they
drove along its broad street but once, and a few hours
included all their visit. Those few hours, however, were
rich with consequence. For Pamela asked for help that day,
and, in the mere asking, gave, as women must ; and she
neither asked nor gave in ignorance of what she did. The
request might be small, the gift small, too ; but it set her
and her friend in a new relation each to each, it linked them
in a common effort, it brought a new and a sweet intimacy
into both their lives. So that the noise of a loom was
never heard by them in the after times but there rose before
their eyes, visible as a picture, that grey chill day of February,
the red-brick houses crowding on the broad street in a
picturesque irregularity, and the three tall poplars tossing
in the wind. The recollection brought always a smile of
tenderness to their faces ; and in their thoughts they had for
the village a strange and fanciful name. It was just a
little Leicestershire village perched upon a hill, the village
of looms, the village of the three poplars. But they called
it Quetta.

At the very end of the street, and exactly opposite to the
small house from whose garden the poplars rose, there stood


an inn. It was on the edge of the hill, for just beyond the
road dipped steeply down between high hedges of brambles
and elder trees, and, turning at the bottom of the incline,
wound thence through woods and level meadows towards
Leicester. It was the old coach road, and the great paved
yard of the inn and the long line of disused stables had once
been noisy with the shouts of ostlers and the crack of whips.
Now only the carrier's cart drove twice a week down the
steep road to Leicester, and a faint whistle from the low-lying
land and a trail of smoke showed where now the traffic ran.
On the platform of the little roadside station, three miles
from the village, Pamela met Alan Warrisden on the morning
after she had sent off her telegram. She had a trap waiting
at the door, and as they mounted into it she said —

" I rode over to the village this morning and hired this
dog-cart at the inn. I am not expected to be back at
Whitewebs until the afternoon ; so I thought we might
lunch at the inn, and then a man can drive you back to the
station, while I ride home again."

" It was bad going for a horse, wasn't it ? " said

The thaw had fairly set in ; the roads, still hard as
cement, ran with water, and were most slippery. On each
side patches of snow hung upon the banks half melted, and
the air was raw.

"Yes, it was bad going," Pamela admitted. "But I
could not wait. It was necessary that I should see you

She said no more at the moment, and Warrisden was
content to sit by her side as she drove, and wait. The road
ran in a broad straight line over the sloping ground. There
was no vehicle, not even another person, moving along it.
AVarrisden could see the line of houses ahead, huddled against
the sky, the spire of a church, and on his right the three
sentinel poplars. He was to see them all that afternoon.

Pamela drove straight to the inn, where she had already


ordered luncheon ; and it was not until luncheon was over
that she drew up her chair to the fire and spoke.

" Won't you smoke ? " she said first of all. " I want you
to listen to me."

Warrisden lit a pipe and listened.

" It is right that I should be very frank with you," she
went on, " for I am going to ask you to help me."

" You need me, then ? " said Warrisden. There was a
leap in his voice which brought the colour to her cheeks.

" Very much," she said ; and, with a smile, she asked,
<k Are you glad ?"

" Yes," be answered simply.

" Yet the help may be difficult for you to give. It may
occupy a long time besides. I am not asking you for a mere
hour or a day."

The warning only brought a smile to Warrisden's face.

" I don't think you understand," he said, " how much one
wants to be needed by those one needs."

Indeed, even when that simple truth was spoken to her,
it took Pamela a little while to weigh it in her thoughts and
give it credence. She had travelled a long distance during
these last years down her solitary road. She began to under-
stand that now. To need — actually to need people, to feel a
joy in being needed — here were emotions, familiar to most,
and no doubt at one time familiar to her, which were, never-
theless, now very new and strange. At present she only
needed. Would a time come when she would go further
still ? When she would feel a joy in being needed ? The
question flashed across her mind.

" Yes," she admitted, " no doubt that is true. But none
the less there must be no misunderstanding between you and
me. I speak of myself, although it is not for myself that I
need your help ; but I am not blind. I know it will be for
my sake that you give it, and I do not want you to give it
in any ignorance of me, or, perhaps " — and she glanced at
him almost shyly — " or, perhaps, expecting too much."


Warrisden made no other answer than to lean forward in
his chair, with his eyes upon Pamela's face. She was going
to explain that isolation of hers which had so baffled him.
He would not for worlds have interrupted her lest he should
check the utterance on her lips. He saw clearly enough that
she was taking a great step for her, a step, too, which meant
much to him. The actual explanation was not the important
thing. That she should confide it of her own accord — there
was the real and valuable sign. As she began to speak again,
diffidence was even audible in her voice. She almost awaited
his judgment.

" I must tell you something which I thought never to tell
to any one," she said. " I meant to carry it as my secret
out with me at the end of my life. I have been looking on
all these last years. You noticed that ; you thought perhaps
I was just obeying my nature. But I wasn't. I did not
begin life looking on. I began it as eager, as expectant of
what life could give me as any girl that was ever born. And
I had just my first season, that was all." She smiled rather
wistfully as her thoughts went back to it. " I enjoyed my
first season. I had hardly ever been in London before. I
was eighteen ; and everybody was very nice to me. At the
end of July I went to stay for a month with some friends of
mine on the coast of Devonshire, and — some one else stayed
there, too. His name does not matter. I had met him
during the season a good deal, but until he came down to
Devonshire I had not thought of him more than as a friend.
He was a little older than myself, not very much, and just as
poor. He had no prospects, and his profession was diplomacy.
... So that there was no possibility from the first. He
meant never to say anything ; but there came an hour, and
the truth was out between us."

She stopped and gazed into the fire. The waters of the
Channel ran in sunlit ripples before her eyes ; the red rocks
of Bigbury Bay curved warmly out on her right and her left ;
further away the towering headlands loomed misty in the hot,


still August air. A white yacht, her sails hardly drawing,
moved slowly westwards ; the black smoke of a steamer
stained the sky far out ; and on the beach there were just
two figures visible— herself and the man who had not meant
to speak.

" We parted at once," she went on. " He was appointed
a consul in West Africa. I think — indeed I know — that he
hoped to rise more quickly that way. But trouble came and
he was killed. Because of that one hour, you see, when he
spoke what he did not mean to speak, he was killed." It
seemed that there was the whole story told. But Pamela
had not told it all, and never did ; for her mother had played
a part in its unfolding. It was Mrs. Mardale's ambition that
her daughter should make a great marriage ; it was her
daughter's misfortune that she knew little of her daughter's
character. Mrs. Mardale had remarked the growing friend-
ship between Pamela and the man, she had realised that
marriage was quite impossible, and she had thought, with her
short-sighted ingenuity, that if Pamela fell in love and found
love to be a thing of fruitless trouble, she would come the
sooner to take a sensible view of the world and marry where
marriage was to her worldly advantage. She thus had en-
couraged the couple to a greater friendliness, throwing them
together when she could have hindered their companionship ;
she had even urged Pamela to accept that invitation to Devon-
shire, knowing who would be the other guests. She was
disappointed afterwards when Pamela did not take the sensible
view ; but she did not blame herself at all. For she knew
nothing of the suffering which her plan had brought about.
Pamela had kept her secret. Even the months of ill -health
which followed upon that first season had not opened the
mother's eyes, and certainly she never suspected the weary
nights of sleeplessness and aching misery which Pamela
endured. Some hint of the pain of that bad past time,
however, Pamela now gave to Warrisden.

" I stayed as much at home in Leicestershire as possible,"



she said. " You see there were my horses there ; but even
with them I was very lonely. The time was long in passing,
and it wasn't pleasant to think that there would be so much
of it yet, before it passed altogether. I went up to London
for the season each year, and I went out a great deal. It
helped me to keep from thinking."

The very simplicity with which she spoke gave an intensity
to her words. There was no affectation in Pamela Mardale.
Warrisden was able to fill out her hints, to understand her

" All this is a great surprise to me," he said. " I have
thought of you always as one who had never known either
great troubles or great joys. I have hoped that some day
you would wake, that I should find you looking out on the
world with the eagerness of youth. But I believed eagerness
would be a new thing to you."

He looked at her as she sat. The firelight was bright
upon her face, and touched her hair with light ; her dark
eyes shone ; and his thought was that which the schoolmaster
at Roquebrune had once sadly pondered. It seemed need-
lessly cruel, needlessly wanton that a girl so equipped for
happiness should, in her very first season, when the world
was opening like a fairyland, have been blindly struck down.
There were so many others who would have felt the blow less
poignantly. She might surely have been spared.

" You can guess, now," said Pamela, " why I have so
persistently looked on. I determined that I would never go
through such distress again. I felt that I would not dare to
face it again." She suddenly covered her face with her hands.
" I don't think I could," she cried in a low, piteous voice.
" I don't know what I would do," as though once more the
misery of that time were closing upon her, so vivid were her

And once more Warrisden felt, as he watched her, the
hi iock of a surprise. He had thought her too sedate, too
womanly for her years, and here she sal shrinking in a positive


terror, like any child, from the imagined recurrence of her
years of trouble. Warrisden was moved as he had seldom
been. But he sat quite still, saying no word ; and in a little
while she took her hands from her face and went on —

" My life was over, you see, at the very beginning, and I
was resolved it should be over. For the future I would get
interested only in trifling, unimportant things ; no one should
ever be more to me than a friend whom I could relinquish ;
I would merely look on. I should grow narrow, no doubt,
and selfish." And, as Warrisden started, a smile came on to
her face. " Yes, you have been thinking that, too, and you
were right. But I didn't mind. I meant to take no risks.

Online LibraryA. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley) MasonThe truants; a novel → online text (page 6 of 26)