The Truants

Chapter XXVI

Bad News for Pamela

A.E.W. Mason

WARRISDEN struck his camp early the next morning, and set out for the rail-head. Thence he travelled to Oran. At Oran he was fortunate enough to find a steamer of the Lambert Line in the harbour, which was preparing to sail that afternoon for Tangier. Warrisden had three hours to pass in Oran. He went at once to the post-office and despatched his telegram to Pamela Mardale at the Villa Pontignard. The telegram informed her that Tony Stretton was returning, though his journey might take longer than she would naturally expect; and, secondly, that he himself was sailing that day for Tangier, whither any message should be sent at once to await his arrival at the English post-office. The telegram was couched in vague phrases. Tony Stretton, for instance, was called “The Truant.” Pamela became more and more disquieted by the vagueness of its wording. She pondered, and in vain, why in the world Warrisden must be sailing to Tangier. It seemed certain that there were difficulties in the way of Tony’s home-coming which she had not foreseen, and at the nature of which she could not conjecture. She sent off a reply to Tangier—

“Bring truant to Roquebrune as soon as possible.”

For, on thinking over the new aspect which her problem presented, now that Lionel Callon had come to the Riviera, she had come to the conclusion that this was the safest plan.

If Millie Stretton did not come to the south of France, no harm would have been done; whereas, if she did, and Tony went straight home to England, the last chance of saving her would be lost.

This message, however, did little to reassure Pamela. For the more she thought of Warrisden’s telegram, the more she was troubled. Tony was returning. Yes, that was something—that was a great thing. But he was going to take a long time in returning, and, to Pamela’s apprehension, there was no long time to spare. And the day after she had received the telegram she came upon still stronger reasons for disquietude.

She went down to Monte Carlo in the morning, and again saw Lionel Callon upon the terrace, and again noticed that he was alone. Yet on the whole she was not surprised. Millie Stretton’s name figured as yet in no visitors’ list, and Pamela was quite sure that if Millie Stretton had come south the name would have been inserted. It was impossible that Millie Stretton could come to Monte Carlo, or to, indeed, any hotel upon the Riviera, under a false name. She could not but meet acquaintances and friends at every step, during this season of the year. To assume a name which was not hers would be an act of stupidity too gross. None the less Pamela was relieved. She avoided Callon’s notice, and acting upon a sudden impulse, went out from the garden, hired a carriage, and ordered the coachman to drive along the lower Corniche Road in the direction of Beaulieu.

Pamela was growing harassed and anxious. The days were passing, and no message had yet come from Alan Warrisden. She suspected the presence of Lionel Callon on the Riviera more and more. More and more she dreaded the arrival of Millie Stretton. There was nothing now which she could do. She had that hard lot which falls to women, the lot of waiting. But she could not wait with folded hands. She must be doing something; even though that something were altogether trivial and useless, it still helped her through the hours. In this spirit she drove out from Monte Carlo at twelve o’clock, without a thought that her drive was to assist her toward the end on which she had set her heart.

She drove past the back of the big hotel at Eze. Just beyond, a deep gorge runs from the hills straight down to the sea. The road carves round the head of the gorge and bends again to the shore. Pamela drove round the gorge, and coming again to the shore, went forward by the side of the sea. After a few minutes she bade the driver stop. In front of her the road rose a little, and then on the other side of the crest dipped down a steep hill. On her left a pair of iron gates stood open. From those gates a carriage-drive ran in two zigzags between borders of flowers down to an open gravel space in front of a long one-storied building. The building faced upon the road, but at a lower level, so that even the flat roof was below Pamela. The building was prettily built, and roses and magnolias climbed against the walls, making it gay. The door in the middle stood open, but there was no sign of life about the house. Pamela sat gazing down into the garden, with its bushes and brightly-coloured flowers.

Pamela spoke to the driver.

“What place is this?” she asked.

“It was only built last year,” the man replied, and he told her enough for her to know that this was the Réserve at which Lionel Callon was staying.

“Few people come here?” said Pamela.

“It is not known yet,” replied the driver. “It is such a little while since it has been opened.”

The sun was bright. Beyond the Réserve the Mediterranean rippled and sparkled—here the deepest blue, there breaking into points of golden light. The Réserve itself had the look of a country house in a rich garden of flowers tended with love. In the noonday the spot was very quiet and still. Yet to Pamela it had the most sinister aspect. It stood in a solitary position, just beneath the road. In its very quietude there was to her harassed thoughts something clandestine.

She knew that Callon was in Monte Carlo. She told her driver to drive down to the door, and at the door she stepped down and walked into the building. A large dining-room opened out before her in which two waiters lounged. There were no visitors. The waiters came forward. “Would Madame take luncheon in the room, or on the terrace at the back over the sea?”

“On the terrace,” Pamela replied.

She lunched quite alone on a broad, flagged terrace, with the sea gently breaking at its foot. The greater portion of the building was occupied by the restaurant, but at one end Pamela noticed a couple of French windows. She remarked to the waiter who served her upon the absence of any visitors but herself.

“It is only this season, Madame, that the restaurant is open,” he replied.

“Can people stay here?” she asked.

“Yes. There are two suites of rooms. One is occupied; but the other is vacant, if Madame would care to see it.”

Pamela rose and followed him. He opened one of the French windows. A dining-room furnished with elegance, and lightly decorated; a sitting-room, and a bedroom comprised the suite. Pamela came back to the terrace. She was disquieted. It was impossible, of course, that Millie Stretton should stay at the Réserve; but the whole look of the place troubled her.

She mounted into her carriage and drove back. In front of her the great hotel of Eze stood high upon a promontory above the railway. A thought came to Pamela. She drove back round the head of the gorge, and when she came to the hotel she bade the coachman drive in. In the open space in front of the hotel she took tea. She could not see the restaurant itself, but she could see the road rising to the little hill-crest beside it. It was very near, she thought. She went into the hotel, and asked boldly at the office—

“When do you expect Lady Stretton?”

“Lady Stretton?” The clerk in the office looked up his books. “In three weeks, Madame,” he said. “She has engaged her rooms from the 31st.”

“Thank you,” said Pamela.

She mounted into her carriage and drove back to Monte Carlo. So Millie Stretton was coming to the Riviera after all. She had refused to come with Pamela, yet she was coming by herself. She had declared she would not leave England this spring. But she had made that declaration before Lionel Callon had returned from Chili. Now Callon was here, and she was following. Pamela could not doubt that her coming was part of a concerted plan. The very choice of the hotel helped to convince her. It was so near to that at which Callon was staying. Twenty minutes’ walk at the most would separate them. Moreover, why should Callon choose that lonely restaurant without some particular, nay, some secret object? No one, it seemed, visited it in the day; no one but he slept there at night. Callon was not the man to fall in love with solitude. And if he had wished for solitude he would not have come to the Riviera at all. Besides, he spent his days in Monte Carlo, as Pamela well knew. No, it was not loneliness at which he aimed, but secrecy. That was it—secrecy. Pamela’s heart sank within her. She had a momentary thought that she would disclose her presence to Lionel Callon, and dismissed it. The disclosure would alter Callon’s plan, that was all; it would not hinder the fulfilment. It would drive Millie and him from the Riviera—it would not prevent them from meeting somewhere else. It would be better, indeed, that, if meet they must, they should meet under her eyes. For some accident might happen, some unforeseen opportunity occur of which she could take advantage to separate them. It was not known to Callon that she was on the spot. After all, that was an advantage. She must meet secrecy with secrecy. She urged her coachman to quicken his pace. She drove straight to the post-office at Monte Carlo. Thence she despatched a second telegram to Alan Warrisden at Tangier.

“Do not fail to arrive by the 31st,” she telegraphed; and upon that took the train back to Roquebrune. She could do no more now; but the knowledge that she could do no more only aggravated her fears. Questions which could not be answered thronged upon her mind. “Would the telegram reach Tangier in time? What was Alan Warrisden doing at Tangier at all? What hindered them coming straight from Algeria to France?” Well, there were three weeks still. She sent up her prayer that those three weeks might bring Tony Stretton back, that Millie might be saved for him. She walked up the steps from Roquebrune station very slowly. She did not look up as she climbed. Had she done so she might, perhaps, have seen a head above the parapet in the little square where the school-house stood; and she would certainly have seen that head suddenly withdrawn as her head was raised. M. Giraud was watching her furtively, as he had done many a time since she had come to Roquebrune, taking care that she should not see him. He watched her now, noticing that she walked with the same lagging, weary step as when he had last seen her on that path so many years ago. But as he watched she stopped, and, turning about, looked southwards across the sea, and stood there for an appreciable time. When she turned again and once more mounted the steps, it seemed to him that the weariness had gone. She walked buoyantly, like one full of faith, full of hope; and he caught a glimpse of her face. It seemed to him that it had become transfigured, and that the eyes were looking at some vision which was visible to her eyes alone. Pamela had come back. Indeed, at the end of all her perplexities and conjectures, to the belief born of her new love, that somehow the world would right itself, that somehow in a short while she would hear whispered upon the wind, answered by the ripples of the sea, and confirmed by the one voice she longed to hear, the sentinel’s cry, “All’s well.”

The messages which Pamela had sent to Warrisden reached him at Tangier. He found them both waiting for him the day after they had been sent. He had twenty days in front of him. If Tony kept to his time, twenty days would serve. He hired a camp outfit, and the best mules to be obtained in Tangier on that day. The same evening he bought a couple of barbs, well recommended to him for speed and endurance.

“They will amble at six miles an hour for ten hours a day,” said one whose advice he sought. Warrisden discounted the statement, but bought the barbs. Early the next morning he set out for Fez.

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