The Truants

Chapter XXXIV

The Next Morning

A.E.W. Mason

THERE WAS another who kept a vigil all the night. In the Villa Pontignard Pamela Mardale saw from her window the morning break, and wondered in dread what had happened upon that broad terrace by the sea. She dressed and went down into the garden. As yet the world was grey and cool, and something of its quietude entered into her and gave her peace. A light mist hung over the sea, birds sang sweetly in the trees, and from the chimneys of Roquebrune the blue smoke began to coil. In the homely suggestions of that blue smoke Pamela found a comfort. She watched it for a while, and then there came a flush of rose upon the crests of the hills. The mist was swept away from the floor of the sea, shadows and light suddenly ran down the hillsides, and the waves danced with a sparkle of gold. The sun had risen. Pamela saw a man coming up the open slope from Roquebrune to the villa. It was M. Giraud. She ran to the gate and met him there.

“Well?” she asked. And he answered sadly—

“I arrived too late.”

The colour went from Pamela’s cheeks. She set a hand upon the gate to steady herself. There was an expression of utter consternation on her face.

“Too late, I mean,” the schoolmaster explained hurriedly, “to help you, to be of any real service to you. But the harm done is perhaps not so great as you fear.”

He described to her what he had seen—Lionel Callon lying outstretched and insensible upon the pavement, Tony and Millie Stretton within the room.

“We removed M. Callon to his bedroom,” he said. “Then I fetched a doctor. M. Callon will recover—it is a concussion of the brain. He will be ill for a little time, but he will get well.”

“And the man and the woman?” Pamela asked eagerly. “The two within the room? What of them?”

“They were standing opposite to one another.” The schoolmaster had not seen Millie on her knees. “A chair was overturned, the chair on which she had sat. She was in great distress, and, I think, afraid; but he spoke quietly.” He described how he had offered Tony the letter, and how Tony had closed the door of the room upon the waiters.

“The manager did not know what to do, whether to send for help or not. But I did not think that there was any danger to the woman in the room, and I urged him to do nothing.”

“Thank you,” said Pamela, gratefully. “Indeed, you were in time to help me.”

But even then she did not know how much she was indebted to the schoolmaster’s advice. She was thinking of the scandal which must have arisen had the police been called in, of the publication of Millie’s folly to the world of her acquaintances. That was prevented now. If Tony took back his wife—as with all her heart she hoped he would—he would not, at all events, take back one of whom gossip would be speaking with a slighting tongue. She was not aware that Tony had deserted from the Legion to keep his tryst upon the thirty-first of the month. Afterwards, when she did learn this, she was glad that she had not lacked warmth when she had expressed her gratitude to M. Giraud. A look of pleasure came into the schoolmaster’s face.

“I am very glad,” he said. “When I brought the doctor back the two within the room were talking quietly together; we could hear their voices through the door. So I came away. I walked up to the villa here. But it was already late, and the lights were out—except in one room on an upper floor looking over the sea—that room,” and he pointed to a window.

“Yes, that is my room,” said Pamela.

“I thought it was likely to be yours, and I hesitated whether I should fling up a stone; but I was not sure that it was your room. So I determined to wait until the morning. I am sorry, for you have been very anxious and have not slept—I can see that. I could have saved you some hours of anxiety.”

Pamela laughed in friendliness, and the laugh told him surely that her distress had gone from her.

“That does not matter,” she said. “You have brought me very good news. I could well afford to wait for it.”

The schoolmaster remained in an awkward hesitation at the gate; it was clear that he had something more to say. It was no less clear that he found the utterance of it very difficult. Pamela guessed what was in his mind, and, after her own fashion, she helped him to speak it. She opened the gate, which up till now had stood closed between them.

“Come in for a little while, won’t you?” she said; and she led the way through the garden to that narrow corner on the bluff of the hill which had so many associations for them both. If M. Giraud meant to say what she thought he did, here was the one place where utterance would be easy. Here they had interchanged, in other times, their innermost thoughts, their most sacred confidences. The stone parapet, the bench, the plot of grass, the cedar in the angle of the corner—among these familiar things memories must throb for him even as they did for her. Pamela sat down upon the parapet and, leaning over, gazed into the torrent far below. She wished him to take his time. She had a thought that even if he had not in his mind that utterance which she hoped to hear, the recollection of those other days, vividly renewed, might suggest it. And in a moment or two he spoke.

“It is true, mademoiselle, that I was of service to you last night?”

“Yes,” replied Pamela, gently; “that is quite true.”

“I am glad,” he continued. “I shall have that to remember. I do not suppose that I shall see you often any more. Very likely you will not come back to Roquebrune—very likely I shall never see you again. And if I do not, I should like you to know that last night will make a difference to me.”

He was now speaking with a simple directness. Pamela raised her face towards his. He could see that his words greatly rejoiced her; a very tender smile was upon her lips, and her eyes shone. There were tears in them.

“I am so glad,” she said.

“I resented your coming to me at first,” he went on—“I was a fool; I am now most grateful that you did come. I learnt that you had at last found the happiness which I think you have always deserved. You know I have always thought that it is a bad thing when such a one as you is wasted upon loneliness and misery—the world is not so rich that it can afford such waste. And if only because you told me that a change had come for you, I should be grateful for the visit which you paid me. But there is more. You spoke a very true word last night when you told me it was a help to be needed by those one needs.”

“You think that too?” said Pamela.

“Yes, now I do,” he answered. “It will always be a great pride to me that you needed me. I shall never forget that you knocked upon my door one dark night in great distress. I shall never forget your face, as I saw it framed in the light when I came out into the porch. I shall never forget that you stood within my room, and called upon me, in the name of our old comradeship, to rise up and help you. I think my room will be hallowed by that recollection.” And he lowered his voice suddenly and said, “I think I shall see you as I saw you when I opened the door, between myself and the threshold of the wineshop; that is what I meant to say.”

He held out his hand, and, as Pamela took it, he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.

“Good-bye,” he said; and turning away quickly he left her up in the place where she had known the best of him, and went down to his schoolroom in the square of Roquebrune. Very soon the sing-song of the children’s voices was droning from the open windows.

Pamela remained upon the terrace. The breaking of old ties is always a melancholy business, and here was one broken to-day. It was very unlikely, she thought, that she would ever see her friend the little schoolmaster again. She would be returning to England immediately, and she would not come back to the Villa Pontignard.

She was still in that corner of the garden when another visitor called upon her. She heard his footsteps on the gravel of the path, and, looking up, saw Warrisden approaching her. She rose from the parapet and went forward to meet him. She understood that he had come with his old question, and she spoke first. The question could wait just for a little while.

“You have seen Tony?” she asked.

“Yes; late last night,” he replied. “I waited at the hotel for him. He said nothing more than ‘Good night,’ and went at once to his room.”

“And this morning?”

“This morning,” said Warrisden, “he has gone. I did not see him. He went away with his luggage before I was up, and he left no message.”

Pamela stood thoughtful and silent.

“It is the best thing he could have done,” Warrisden continued; “for he is not safe in France.”

“Not safe?”

“No. Did he not tell you? He deserted from the French Legion. It was the only way in which he could reach Roquebrune by the date you named.”

Pamela was startled, but she was startled into activity.

“Will you wait for me here?” she said. “I will get my hat.”

She ran into the villa, and coming out again said, “Let us go down to the station.”

They hurried down the steep flight of steps. At the station Warrisden asked, “Shall I book to Monte Carlo?”

“No; to Eze,” she replied.

She hardly spoke at all during the journey; and Warrisden kept his question in reserve—this was plainly no time to utter it. Pamela walked at once to the hotel.

“Is Lady Stretton in?” she asked; and the porter replied—

“No, Madame. She left for England an hour ago.”

“Alone?” asked Pamela.

“No. A gentleman came and took her away.”

Pamela turned towards Warrisden with a look of great joy upon her face.

“They have gone together,” she cried. “He has taken his risks. He has not forgotten that lesson learnt on the North Sea. I had a fear this morning that he had.”

“And you?” said Warrisden, putting his question at last.

Pamela moved away from the door until they were out of earshot. Then she said—

“I will take my risks too.” Her eyes dwelt quietly upon her companion, and she added, “And I think the risks are very small.”

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