The Truants

Chapter XXIX

Pamela Meets a Stranger

A.E.W. Mason

MEANWHILE Pamela waited at the Villa Pontignard, swinging from hope to fear, and from fear again to hope. The days chased one another. She watched the arrival of each train from Marseilles at the little station below, with an expectant heart; and long after it had departed towards Italy, she kept within her vision the pathway up the hillside to the villa. But the travellers did not return. Expectation and disappointment walked alternately at her elbow all the day, and each day seemed endless. Yet, when the next day came, it had come all too quickly. Every morning it seemed to her, as she turned her calendar, that the days chased one another, racing to the month’s end; every evening, tired out with her vigil, she wondered how they could pass so slowly. The thirty-first of the month dawned at last. At some time on this day Millie Stretton would arrive at Eze. She thought of it, as she rose, with a sinking heart; and then thrust thought aside. She dared not confront the possibility that the trains might stop at Roquebrune, and move on to Italy and discharge no passengers upon the platform. She dared not recognise her dread that this day might close and the darkness come as fruitlessly as all the rest. It was her last day of hope. Lionel Callon was waiting. Millie Stretton was arriving. To-morrow, Tony might come, but he would come too late. Pamela lived in suspense. Somehow the morning passed. The afternoon Rapide swept through towards Mentone. Pamela saw the smoke of the engine from her terrace, and knew that upon that train had come the passenger from England. Half an hour ago Millie had most likely stepped from her carriage on to the platform at Eze. And still Tony Stretton and Warrisden lingered.

Towards dusk she began to despair. In a little while another train was due. She heard its whistle, saw it stop at the station, and waited with her eyes fixed upon the hillside path. No one appeared upon it. She turned and went into the house. She thought for a moment of going herself to Eze, thrusting herself upon Millie at the cost of any snub; and while she debated whether the plan could at all avail, the door was opened, a servant spoke some words about a visitor, and a man entered the room. Pamela started to her feet. The man stood in the twilight of the room: his back was against the light of the window. Pamela could not see his face. But it was not Warrisden, so much she knew at once. It could only be Tony Stretton.

“So you have come,” she cried. “At last! I had given up hope.”

She advanced and held out her hand. And some reserve in Tony’s attitude, something of coldness in the manner with which he took her hand, checked and chilled her.

“It is you?” she asked. “I watched the path. The train has gone some while.”

“Yes, it is I,” he replied. “I had to inquire my way at the village. This is the first time I ever came to Roquebrune.”

Still more than the touch of his hand and the reserve of his manner, the cold reticence of his voice chilled her. She turned to the servant abruptly—

“Bring lamps,” she said. She felt the need to see Tony Stretton’s face. She had looked forward so eagerly to his coming; she had hoped for it, and despaired of it with so full a heart; and now he had come, and with him there had come, most unexpectedly, disappointment. She had expected ardour, and there was only, as it seemed, indifference and stolidity. She was prepared for a host of questions to be tumbled out upon her in so swift a succession that no time was given to her for an answer to any one of them; and he stood before her, seemingly cold as stone. Had he ceased to care for Millie, she wondered?

“You have come as quickly as you could?” she asked, trying to read his features in the obscurity.

“I have not lost a moment since I received your letter,” he answered.

She caught at the words, “your letter.” Perhaps there lay the reason for his reserve. She had written frankly, perhaps too frankly she feared at this moment. Had the letter suddenly killed his love for Millie? Such things, no doubt, could happen—had happened. Disillusion might have withered it like a swift shaft of lightning.

“My letter,” she said. “You must not exaggerate its meaning. You read it carefully?”

“Very carefully.”

“And I wrote it carefully,” she went on, pleading with his indifference; “very carefully.”

“It contains the truth,” said Tony; “I did not doubt that.”

“Yes; but it contains all the truth,” she urged. “You must not doubt that either. Remember, you yourself are to blame. I wrote that, didn’t I? I meant it.”

“Yes, you wrote that,” answered Tony. “I am not denying that you are right. It may well be that I am to blame. It may well be that you, too, are not quite free from blame. Had you told me that morning, when we rode together in the Row, what you had really meant when you said that I ought never to leave my wife——” And at that Pamela interrupted him—

“Would you have stayed if I had explained?” she cried. And Tony for a moment was silent. Then he answered slowly—

“No; for I should not have believed you.” And then he moved for the first time since he had entered the room. “However, it can do neither of us any good to discuss what we might have done had we known then what we know now.”

He stopped as the door opened. The lamps were brought in and set upon the tables. Tony waited until the servant had gone out, and the door was closed again; then he said—

“You sent a telegram. I am here in answer to it. I was to be at Roquebrune on the thirty-first. This is the thirty-first. Am I in time?”

“Yes,” said Pamela.

She could now see Tony clearly; and of one thing she at once was sure. She had been misled by the twilight of the room. Tony, at all events, was not indifferent. He stood before her travel-stained and worn. His face was haggard and thin; his eyes very tired, like the eyes of an old man; there were flecks of grey in his hair, and lines about his eyes. These changes she noticed, and took them at their true value. They were signs of the hard life he had lived during these years, and of the quick, arduous journey which he had made. But there was more. If Tony had spoken with a measured voice, it was in order that he might control himself the better. If he had stood without gesture or motion, it was because he felt the need to keep himself in hand. So much Pamela clearly saw. Tony was labouring under a strong emotion.

“Yes you are in time,” she cried; and now her heart was glad. “I was so set on saving both your lives, in keeping you and Millie for each other. Of late, since you did not come, my faith faltered a little. But it should not have faltered. You are here! You are here!”

“My wife is here, too?” asked Tony, coldly; and Pamela’s enthusiasm again was checked. “Where is she?”

“She arrives in the south of France to-day. She stops at Eze. She should be there now.”

She had hoped to see the blood pulse into his face, and some look of gladness dawn suddenly in his eyes, some smile of forgiveness alter the stern set of his lips. But again she was disappointed.

Tony seemed to put his wife out of his thoughts.

“And since your message was so urgent,” he continued deliberately, “it follows that Callon comes to-day as well,” and he repeated the name in a singularly soft, slow, and almost caressing voice. “Lionel Callon,” he said.

And at once Pamela was desperately afraid. It needed just that name uttered in just that way to explain to her completely the emotion which Tony so resolutely controlled. She looked at him aghast. She had planned to bring back Tony to Millie and his home. The Tony Stretton whom she had known of old, the good-natured, kindly man who loved his wife, whom all men liked and none feared. And lo! she had brought back a stranger. And the stranger was dangerous. He was thrilling with anger, he was anticipating his meeting with Lionel Callon with a relish which, to Pamela, was dreadful.

“No,” she exclaimed eagerly. “Mr. Callon has been here all this while, and Millie only comes to-day.”

“Callon has been waiting for her, then?” he asked implacably.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Pamela exclaimed in despair. “I have not spoken to him. How should I know?”

“Yet you have no doubts.”

“Well, then, no,” she said, “I have no doubt that he is waiting here for Millie. But she only arrives to-day. They have not met until to-day. That is why I sent the telegram.”

Tony nodded his head.

“So that I might be present at the meeting?”

And Pamela could have cried out aloud. She had not thought, she had not foreseen. She had fixed all her hopes on saving Millie. Set upon that, she had not understood that other and dreadful consequences might ensue. These consequences were vivid enough before her eyes now. All three would meet—Tony, Millie, and Lionel Callon. What would follow? What might not follow? Pamela closed her eyes. Her heart sank; she felt faint at the thought of what she had so blindly brought about.

“Tony!” she exclaimed. She wrung her hands together, pleading with him in short and broken sentences. “Don’t think of him!. . . Think of Millie. You can gain her back!. . . I am very sure. . . . I wrote that to you, didn’t I? . . . Mr. Callon. . . . It is not worth while. . . . He is of no account. . . . Millie was lonely, that was all. . . . There would be a scandal, at the best. . . . ” And Tony laughed harshly.

“Oh, it is not worth while,” she cried again piteously, and yet again, “it is not worth while.”

“Yet I am anxious to meet him,” said Tony.

Suddenly Pamela looked over his shoulder to the door, and, for a moment, hope brightened on her face. But Stretton understood the look, and replied to it.

“No, Warrisden is not here. I left him behind with our luggage at Monte Carlo.”

“Why did he stay?” cried Pamela, as again her hopes fell.

“He could hardly refuse. This is my affair, not his. I claimed to-night. He will come to you, no doubt, tomorrow.”

“You meant him to stay behind, then?”

“I meant to see you alone,” said Tony; and Pamela dared question him no more, though the questions thronged in her mind and tortured her. Was it only because he wished to see her alone that he left Warrisden behind? Was it not also so that he might not be hampered afterwards? Was it only so that another might not know of the trouble between himself and Millie? Or was it not so that another might not be on hand to hinder him from exacting retribution? Pamela was appalled. Tony was angry—yes, that was natural enough. She would not have felt half her present distress if he had shown his passion in tempestuous words, if he had threatened, if he had raved. But there was so much deliberation in his anger, he had it so completely in control; it was an instrument which he meant to use, not a fever which might master him for a moment and let him go.

“You are so changed,” she cried. “I did not think of that when I wrote to you. But, of course, these years and the Foreign Legion could not but change you.”

She moved away, and sat down holding her head between her hands. Stretton did not answer her words in any way. He moved towards her, and asked—

“Is Callon, too, at Eze?”

“No, no,” she cried, raising her head, thankful, at last, that here was some small point on which she could attenuate his suspicions. “You are making too much of the trouble.”

“Yet you wrote the letter to me. You also sent the telegram. You sent me neither the one nor the other without good reason.” And Pamela dropped her eyes again from his face.

“If Callon is not at Eze,” he insisted, “he is close by!”

Pamela did not answer. She sat trying to compose her thoughts. Suppose that she refused to answer, Tony would go to Eze. He might find Millie and Callon there. On the other hand, it was unlikely that he would. Pamela had seen that quiet, solitary restaurant by the sea where Callon lodged. It was there that they would be, she had no doubt.

“Where is Callon?” asked Tony. “Where does he stay?”

Pamela closed her ears to the question, working still at the stern problem of her answer. If she refused to tell him what he asked, Millie and Callon might escape for to-night. That was possible. But, then, to-morrow would come. Tony must meet them to-morrow in any case, and to-morrow might be too late.

“I will tell you,” she answered, and she described the place. And in another minute she was alone. She heard the front door close, she heard Tony’s step upon the gravel of the garden path, and then all was silent. She sat holding her throbbing temples in her hands. Visions rose before her eyes, and her fear made them extraordinarily luminous and vivid. She saw that broad, quiet terrace over the sea where she had lunched, the lonely restaurant, the windows of that suite of rooms open on to the terrace. A broad column of light streamed out from the window in her vision. She could almost hear voices and the sound of laughter, she imagined the laughter all struck dumb, and thereafter a cry of horror stabbing the night. The very silence of the villa became a torture to her. She rose and walked restlessly about the room. If she could only have reached Warrisden! But she did not even know to which hotel in all the hotels of Monte Carlo he had gone. Tony might have told her that, had she kept her wits about her and put the question with discretion. But she had not. She had no doubt that Stretton had purposely left him behind. Tony wished for no restraining hand, when at last he came face to face with Lionel Callon. She sat down, and tried to reason out what would happen. Tony would go first to Eze. Would he find Millie there? Perhaps. Most likely he would not. He would go on then to the restaurant on the Corniche road. But he would have wasted some time. It might be only a little time, still, however short it was, what was waste of time to Tony might be gain of time to her—if only she could find a messenger.

Suddenly she stood up. There was a messenger, under her very hand. She scribbled a note to Lionel Callon, hardly knowing what she wrote. She bade him go the instant when he received it, go at all costs without a moment’s delay. Then, taking the note in her hand, she ran from the villa down the road to Roquebrune.

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