MILLIE’S enthusiasm for her husband’s plan increased each day. The picture which his halting phrases evoked for her, of a little farm very far away under Southern skies, charmed her more by reason of its novelty than either she or Tony quite understood. In the evenings of the following week, long after the footsteps overhead had ceased, they sat choosing the site of their house and building it. It was to be the exact opposite of their house of bondage. The windows should look out over rolling country, the simple decorations should be bright of colour, and through every cranny the sun should find its way. Millie’s hopes, indeed, easily outran her husband’s. She counted the house already built, and the door open for her coming. Colour and light bathed it in beauty.
“There’s my little fortune, Tony,” she said, when once or twice he tried to check the leap of her anticipations; “that will provide the capital.”
“I knew you would offer it,” Tony replied simply. “Your help will shorten our separation by a good deal. So I’ll take half.”
“All!” cried Millie.
“And what would you do when you wanted a new frock?” asked Tony, with a smile.
Millie shrugged her shoulders.
“I shall join you so soon,” she said.
It dawned upon Tony that she was making too little of the burden which she would be called upon to bear—the burden of dull lonely months in that great shabby house.
“It will be a little while before I can send for you, Millie,” he protested. But she paid no heed to the protest. She fetched her bank book and added up the figures.
“I have three thousand pounds,” she said.
“I’ll borrow half,” he repeated. “Of course, I am only borrowing. Should things go wrong with me, you are sure to get it back in the end.”
They drove down to Millie’s bank the next morning, and fifteen hundred pounds were transferred to his account.
“Meanwhile,” said Tony, as they came out of the door into Pall Mall, “we have not yet settled where our farm is to be. I think I will go and see Chase.”
“The man in Stepney Green?” Millie asked.
“Yes. He’s the man to help us.”
Tony called a cab and drove off. It was late in the afternoon when he returned, and he had no opportunity to tell his wife the results of his visit before dinner was announced. Millie was in a fever to hear his news. Never, even in this house, had an evening seemed so long. Sir John sat upright in his high-backed chair, and, as was his custom, bade her read aloud the evening paper. But that task was beyond her. She pleaded a headache and escaped. It seemed to her that hours passed before Tony rejoined her. She had come to dread with an intense fear that some hindrance would, at any moment, stop their plan.
“Well?” she asked eagerly, when Tony at last came into their sitting-room.
“It’s to be horses in Kentucky,” answered Tony. “Farming wants more knowledge and a long apprenticeship; but I know a little about horses.”
“Splendid!” cried Millie. “You will go soon?”
“In a week. A week is all I need.”
Millie was quiet for a little while. Then she asked, with an anxious look—
“When do you mean to tell your father?”
“Don’t,” said she. She saw his face cloud, she was well aware of his dislike of secrecies, but she was too much afraid that, somehow, at the last moment an insuperable obstacle would bar the way. “Don’t tell him at all,” she went on. “Leave a note for him. I will see that it is given to him after you have gone. Then he can’t stop you. Please do this, I ask you.”
“How can he stop me?
“I don’t know; but I am afraid that he will. He could threaten to disinherit you; if you disobeyed, he might carry out the threat. Give him no opportunity to threaten.”
Very reluctantly Tony consented. He had all a man’s objections to concealments, she all a woman’s liking for them; but she prevailed, and since the moment of separation was very near, they began to retrace their steps through the years of their married life, and back beyond them to the days of their first acquaintance. Thus it happened that Millie mentioned the name of Pamela Mardale, and suddenly Tony drew himself upright in his chair.
“Is she in town, I wonder?” he asked, rather of himself than of his wife.
“Most likely,” Millie replied. “Why?”
“I think I must try to see her before I go,” said Tony, thoughtfully; and more than once during the evening he looked with anxiety towards his wife; but in his look there was some perplexity too.
He tried next day; for he borrowed a horse from a friend, and rode out into the Row at eleven o’clock. As he passed through the gates of Hyde Park, he saw Pamela turning her horse on the edge of the sand. She saw him at the same moment and waited.
“You are a stranger here,” she said, with a smile, as he joined her.
“Here and everywhere,” he replied. “I came out on purpose to find you.”
Pamela glanced at Tony curiously. Only a few days had passed since Warrisden had pointed out the truants from the window of Lady Millingham’s house, and had speculated upon the seclusion of their lives. The memory of that evening was still fresh in her mind.
“I want to ask you a question.”
“Ask it and I’ll answer,” she replied carelessly.
“You were Millie’s bridesmaid?”
“You saw a good deal of her before we were married?”
They were riding down the Row at a walk under the trees, Pamela wondering to what these questions were to lead, Tony slowly formulating the point which troubled him.
“Before Millie and I were engaged,” he went on, “before indeed there was any likelihood of our being engaged, you once said to me something about her.”
“Yes. I remembered it last night. And it rather worries me. I should like you to explain what you meant. You said, ‘The man who marries her should never leave her. If he goes away shooting big game, he should take her with him. On no account must she be left behind.’”
It was a day cloudless and bright. Over towards the Serpentine the heat filled the air with a soft screen of mist, and at the bottom of the Row the rhododendrons glowed. As Pamela and Tony went forward at a walk the sunlight slanting through the leaves now shone upon their faces and now left them in shade. And when it fell bright upon Pamela it lit up a countenance which was greatly troubled. She did not, however, deny that she had used the words. She did not pretend that she had forgotten their application.
“You remember what I said?” she remarked. “It is a long while ago.”
“Before that,” he explained, “I had begun to notice all that was said of Millie.”
“I spoke the words generally, perhaps too carelessly.”
“Yet not without a reason,” Tony insisted. “That’s not your way.”
Pamela made no reply for a moment or two. Then she patted her horse’s head, and said softly—
“Not without a reason.” She admitted his contention frankly. She did more, for she turned in her saddle towards him and, looking straight into his face, said—
“I was not giving you advice at the time. But, had I been, I should have said just those words. I say them again now.”
Tony put his question very earnestly. He held Pamela in a great respect, believing her clear-sighted beyond her fellows. He was indeed a little timid in her presence as a rule, for she overawed him, though all unconsciously. Nothing of this timidity, however, showed now. “That was what I came out to ask you. Why?”
Again Pamela attempted no evasion.
“I can’t tell you,” she said quietly.
“I break the promise.”
Tony looked wistfully at his companion. That the perplexing words had been spoken with a definite meaning he had felt sure from the moment when he had remembered them. And her refusal to explain proved to him that the meaning was a very serious one—one indeed which he ought to know and take into account.
“I ask you to explain,” he urged, “because I am going away, and I am leaving Millie behind.”
Pamela was startled. She turned quickly towards him.
“Must you?” she said, and before he could answer she recovered from her surprise. “Never mind,” she continued; “shall we ride on?” and she put her horse to a trot. It was not her business to advise or to interfere. She had said too much already. She meant to remain the looker-on.
Stretton, however, was not upon this occasion to be so easily suppressed. He kept level with her, and as they rode he told her something of the life which Millie and he had led in the big lonely house in Berkeley Square; and in spite of herself Pamela was interested. She had a sudden wish that Alan Warrisden was riding with them too, so that he might hear his mystery resolved; she had a sudden vision of his face, keen as a boy’s, as he listened.
“I saw Millie and you a few nights ago. I was at a dance close by, and I was surprised to see you. I thought you had left London,” she said.
“No; but I am leaving,” Stretton returned; and he went on to describe that idyllic future which Millie and he had allotted to themselves. The summer sunlight was golden in the air about them; already it seemed that new fresh life was beginning. “I shall breed horses in Kentucky. I was recommended to it by an East End parson called Chase, who runs a mission on Stepney Green. I used to keep order in a billiard room at his mission one night a week, when I was quartered at the Tower. A queer sort of creature, Chase; but his judgment’s good, and of course he is always meeting all sorts of people.”
“Chase?” Pamela repeated; and she retained the name in her memory.
“But he doesn’t know Millie,” said Stretton, “and you do. And so what you said troubles me very much. If I go away remembering your words and not understanding them, I shall go away uneasy. I shall remain uneasy.”
“I am sorry,” Pamela replied. “I broke a rule of mine in saying what I did, a rule not to interfere. And I see now that I did very wrong in breaking it. I will not break it again. You must forget my words.”
There was a quiet decision in her manner which warned Tony that no persuasions would induce her to explain. He gave up his attempt and turned to another subject.
“I have something else to ask—not a question this time, but a favour. You could be a very staunch friend, Miss Mardale, if you chose. Millie will be lonely after I have gone. You were a great friend of hers once—be a friend of hers again.”
Pamela hesitated. The promise which he sought on the face of it no doubt looked easy of fulfilment. But Tony Stretton had been right in one conjecture. She had spoken the words which troubled him from a definite reason, and that reason assured her now that this promise might lay upon her a burden, and a burden of a heavy kind. And she shrank from all burdens. On the other hand, there was no doubt that she had caused Tony much uneasiness. He would go away, on a task which, as she saw very clearly, would be more arduous by far than even he suspected—he would go away troubled and perplexed. That could not be helped. But she might lighten the trouble, and make the perplexity less insistent, if she granted the favour which he sought. It seemed churlish to refuse.
“Very well,” she said reluctantly. “I promise.”
Already Tony’s face showed his relief. She had given her promise reluctantly, but she would keep it now. Of that he felt assured, and, bidding her good-bye, he turned his horse and cantered back.
Pamela rode homewards more slowly. She had proposed to keep clear of entanglements and responsibilities, and, behold! the meshes were about her. She had undertaken a trust. In spite of herself she had ceased to be the looker-on.