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

The truants; a novel online

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course, and chose a place where they were out of the hearing
of any bystander.

" You remember the evening at Frances Millingham's ? "
she asked. She had not seen Mr. Mudge since that date.

Mr. Mudge replied immediately.

" Yes ; Sir Anthony Stretton " — and the name struck so
oddly upon Pamela's ears that, serious as at this moment she
was, she laughed. " Sir Anthony Stretton turned away from
the steps of his house. You were distressed, Miss Mardale :
I, on the contrary, said that nothing better could have
happened. You wish to ask me why I said that ? "

" Yes," said Pamela ; " I am very anxious to know.
Millie is my friend. I am, in a sort of way, too, responsible


for her ; " and as Mr. Mudge looked surprised, she repeated
the word — " Yes, responsible. And I am rather troubled."
She spoke with a little hesitation. There was a frown upon
her forehead, a look of perplexity in her dark eyes. She was
reluctant to admit that her friend was in any danger or
needed any protection from her own weakness. The free-
masonry of her sex impelled her to silence. On the other
hand, she was at her wits' end what to do. And she had
confidence in her companion's discretion ; she determined to
speak frankly.

" It is not only your remark which troubles me," she
said, " but I called on Millie the next afternoon."

" Oh, you did ? " exclaimed Mr. Mudge.

" Yes ; I asked after Tony. Millie had not seen him,
and did not expect him. She showed me letters from his
solicitors empowering her to do what she liked with the
house and income, and a short fetter from Tony himself,
written on the Perseverance, to the same effect."

She did not explain to Mr. Mudge what the Perseverance
was, and he asked no questions.

" I told Millie," she continued, " that Tony had returned,
but she refused to believe it. I told her when and where I
had seen him."

" You did that ? " said Mr. Mudge. " Wait a moment."
He saw and understood Pamela's reluctance to speak. He
determined to help her out. " Let me describe to you what
followed. She stared blankly at you and asked you to repeat
what you had said ? "

" Yes," replied Pamela, in surprise ; " that is just what
she did."

" And when you had repeated it, she turned a little pale,
perhaps was disconcerted, perhaps a little — afraid."

" Yes, it is that which troubles me," Pamela cried, in a
low voice. " She was afraid. I would have given much to
have doubted it. I could not ; her eyes betrayed it, her face,
her whole attitude. She was afraid."


Mr. Madge nodded his head, and went quietly on —

" And when she had recovered a little from her fear she
questioned you closely as to the time when you first saw
Stretton outside the house, and the time when he went away."

He spoke with so much certitude that he might have been
present at the interview.

" I told her that it was some little time after eleven
when he came, and that he only stayed a few minutes,"
answered Pamela.

" And at that," rejoined Mr. Mudge, " Lady Stretton's
anxiety diminished."

" Yes, that is true, too," Pamela admitted ; and she
turned her face to him with its troubled appeal. " Why
was she afraid ? For, since you have guessed that she was,
you must know the reason which she had for fear. Why was
it so fortunate that Tony Stretton did not mount the steps
of the house and ring the bell ? "

Mr. Mudge answered her immediately, and very quietly.

" Because Lionel Gallon was inside the house."

A great sympathy made his voice gentle — sympathy for
Pamela. None the less the words hurt her cruelly. She
turned away from him so that he might not see her face, and
stood gazing down the course through a mist. Bitter
disappointment was hers at that moment. She was by nature
a partisan. The thing which she did crept closer to her
heart by the mere act of doing it. She knew it, and it was
just her knowledge which had so long kept her to inaction.
Now her thoughts were passionately set on saving Millie,
and here came news to her which brought her to the brink
of despair. She blamed Tony. "Why did he ever go
away ? " she cried. " Why, when he had come back, did he
not stay ?'" And at once she saw the futility of her outcry.
Tony, Millie, Lionel Gallon — what was the use of blaming
them ? They acted as their characters impelled them. She
had to do her best to remedy the evil which the clash of
these three characters had produced. "What can be clone ?"


she asked of herself. There was one course open certainly.
She could summon "Warrisden again, send him out a second
time in search of Tony Stretton, and make him the bearer,
not of an excuse, but of the whole truth. Only she dreaded
the outcome ; she shrank from telling Tony the truth, fearing
that he would exaggerate it. " Can nothing be done ? " she
asked, again in despair, and this time she asked the question
aloud, and turned to Mr. Mudge.

Mudge had been quietly waiting for it.

'• Yes," he answered, "something can be done. I should
not have told you, Miss Mardale, what I knew unless I had
already hit upon a means to avert the peril ; for I am aware
how much my news must grieve you."

Pamela looked at Mr. Mudge in surprise. It had not
occurred to her at all that he could have solved the problem.

" What can I do ? " she asked.

" You can leave the whole trouble in my hands for a
few days."

Pamela was silent for a little while ; then she answered
doubtfully —

" It is most kind of you to offer me your help."

Mr. Mudge shook his head at Pamela with a certain

"There's no kindness in it at all," he said ; "but I quite
understand your hesitation, Miss Mardale. You were sur-
prised that I should offer you help, just as you were surprised
to sec me here. Although I move in your world I am not
of it. Its traditions, its instincts, even its methods of thought
— to all of these I am a stranger. I am just a passing
visitor who, for the time of his stay, is made an honorary
member of your club. He meets with every civility, every
kindness ; but he is not inside, so that when he suddenly
(•nines forward and offers you help in a matter where other
members of your club arc concerned, you naturally pause."

Pamela made a gesture of dissent ; but Mr. Mudge gently
insisted —


" Let me finish. I want you to understand equally well
why I offer you help which may very likely seem to you an

" No, indeed," said Pamela ; " on the contrary, I am
very grateful."

Others were approaching the spot where they stood.
They turned and walked slowly over the grass away from the

" There is no need that you should be," Mudge con-
tinued ; " you will see that, if you listen." And in a few
words he told her at last something of his own career. " I
sprang from a Deptford gutter, with one thought — to get on,
and get on, and get on. I moved from Deptford to Peckham.
There I married. I moved from Peckham to a residential
suburb in the south-west. There my wife died. Looking
back now, I am afraid that in my haste to get on I rather
neglected my wife's happiness. You see I am frank with
you. From the residential suburb I moved into the Cromwell
Pioad, from the Cromwell Road to Grosvenor Square. I do
not think that I was just a snob ; but I wanted to have the
very best of what was going. There is a difference. A few
years ago I found myself at the point which I had aimed to
reach, and, as I have told you, it is a position of many
acquaintances and much loneliness. You might say that I
could give it up and retire into the country. But I have
too many undertakings on my hands ; besides, I am too
tired to start again, so I remain. But I think you will
understand that it will be a real pleasure to me to help you.
I have not so many friends that I can afford to lose the
opportunity of doing one of them a service."

Pamela heard him to the end without any interruption ;
but when he had finished she said, with a smile —

" You are quite wrong about the reason for my hesita-
tion. I asked a friend of mine a few weeks ago to help me,
and he gave me the best of help at once. Even the best of
help fails at times, and my friend did. I was wondering


merely whether it would not be a little disloyal to him if I
now accepted yours, for I know he would be grieved if I went
to any one but hiin."

" I see," said Mr. Mudge ; " but I think that I can give
you help which no one else can."

It was clear from his quiet persistence that he had a
definite plan. Famela stopped and faced him.

" Yery well," she said. " I leave the whole matter for a
little while in your hands."

" Thank you," said Mr. Mudge ; and he looked up towards
the course. " There are the horses going down."

A sudden thought occurred to Pamela. She opened the
purse she carried on her wrist, and took out a couple of

" Put this on Semiramis for me, please," she said, with a
laugh. " Be quick, if you will, and come back."

Though she laughed she was still most urgent he should
go. Mr. Mudge hurried across the course, made the bet,
and returned. Pamela watched the race with an eagerness
which astonished Mr. Mudge, so completely did she seem to
have forgotten all that had troubled her a minute ago. But
he did not understand Pamela. She was, after her custom,
Beeking for a sign, and when Semiramis galloped in a winner
by a neck, she turned with a hopeful smile to her com-
panion —

" We shall win too."

" I think so," Mudge replied, and he laughed. " Do you
know what I think of Lionel Callon, Miss Mardale ? The
words arc not mine, but the sentiment is unexceptionable.
A little may be a good thing, but too much is enough."

( 145 )



It was midday at Sidi Bel-Abbes in Algeria. Two French
officers were sitting in front of a cafe at the .wide cross-roads
in the centre of the town. One of them was Captain
Tavernay, a man of forty-seven, tall, thin, with a brown
face worn and tired by the campaigns of thirty years, the
other a young lieutenant, M. Laurent, fresh and pink, who
seemed to hare been passed out but yesterday from the
school of St. Cyr. Captain Tavernay picked up his cap
from the iron table in front of him and settled it upon his
grizzled head. Outside the town trees clustered thickly,
farms were half -hidden amongst groves of fig-trees and hedges
of aloes. Here there was no foliage. The streets were very
quiet, the sunlight lay in dazzling pools of gold upon the
sand of the roads, the white houses glittered under a blue,
cloudless sky. In front of the two officers, some miles away,
the bare cone of Jebel Tessalah sprang upwards from a range
of hills dominating the town, and a speck of white upon its
shoulder showed where a village perched. Captain Tavernay
sat looking out towards the mountain with the lids half-
closed upon his eyes. Then he rose deliberately from his

" If we walk to the station," he said, "we shall just meet
the train from Oran. A batch of thirty recruits is coming
in by it. Let us walk to the station, Laurent."

Lieutenant Laurent dropped the end of his cigarette on
to the ground and stood up reluctantly.



" As you will, Captain," he answered. " But we should
see the animals soon enough at the barracks."

The words were spoken in a voice which was almost, and
with a shrug of the shoulders which was quite, contemptuous.
The day was hot, and Lieutenant Laurent unwilling to move
from his coffee and the shade into that burning sunlight.
Captain Tavernay gazed mildly at his youthful junior.
Long experience had taught him to leave much to time and
little to argument. For himself he loved his legionaries.
He had a smile of indulgence for their faults even while he
punished them ; and though his face seldom showed the
smile, and his punishments were not unjustly light, the
culprits none the less knew it was there, hidden somewhere
close to his heart. But then he had seen his men in action,
and Lieutenant Laurent had not. That made all the
difference. The Foreign Legion certainly did not show at
its best in a cantonment. Amongst that motley assemblage
— twelve thousand men, distinct in nationality as in character,
flung together pell-mell, negroes and whites, criminals, adven-
turers, silent unknown men, haunted by memories of other
days or tortured by remorse — a garrison town with its
monotony and its absinthe played havoc. An Abyssinian
rubbed shoulders in the ranks with a scholar who spoke nine
languages ; a tenor from the Theatre de la Monnaie at
Brussels with an unfrocked priest. Often enough Captain
Tavernay had seen one of liis legionaries sitting alone hour
after hour at his little table outside a cafe, steadily drinking
glass after glass of absinthe, rising mechanically to salute
his officer, and sinking back among his impenetrable secrets.
Was he dreaming of the other days, the laughter and the
flowers, the white shoulders of women ? Was he again
placing that last stake upon the red which had sent him
straight from the table to the nearest French depot ? Was
he living again some tragic crisis of love in which all at
once he had learned that he had been befooled and derided ?
Captain Tavernay never passed such a man but he longed to


sit down by his side and say, " My friend, share your secret
with me ; so will it be easier to bear." But the etiquette
of the Foreigh Legion forbade. Captain Tavernay merely
returned the salute and passed on, knowing that very likely
his legionary would pass the night in the guard-room and
the next week in the cells. No ; the town of Sidi Bel-Abbes
was not the place wherein to learn the mettle of the legionary.
Away to the south there, beyond the forest of trees on the
horizon's line, things were different. Let Lieutenant Laurent
see the men in their bivouacs at night under the stars, and
witness their prowess under arms, ces onimaiu would soon
become mes en f ants.

Therefore he answered Lieutenant Laurent in the mildest

" We shall see them at the barracks, it is true. But you
are wrong when you say that it will be soon enough. At
the barracks they will be prepared for us, they will have
their little stories ready for us, they will be armed witli
discretion. But let us see them descend from the train, let
us watch their first look round at their new home, their new
fatherland. We may learn a little, and if it is ever so little
it will help us to know them the better afterwards. And at
the worst it will be an amusing exercise in psychology."

They walked away from the cafe, and strolled down the
Rue de Mascara under the shady avenue of trees, Tavernay
moving with a long, indolent stride, which covered a deal
of ground with a surprising rapidity, Laurent fidgeting along
discontentedly at his side. M. Laurent was beginning, in
fact, to regret the hurry with which he had sought a com-
mission in the Foreign Legion. M. Laurent had, a few
months ago, in Paris, imagined himself to be irrevocably in
love with the wife of one of his friends, a lady at once
beautiful and mature ; M. Laurent had declared his passion
upon a suitable occasion ; M. Laurent had been snubbed for
his pains ; M. Laurent in a fit of pique had sought the consola-
tion of another climate and foreign service ; and M. Laurent


was now quickly realising that he was not nearly so heart-
broken as he had fancied himself to be. Already while he
walked to the station he was thinking that, after all, Paris
was endurable, even though one particular woman could
not refrain from a little smile of amusement when he crossed
her path.

Captain Tavernay had timed their walk accurately. For
as they reached the station the train was signalled.

" Let us stand here, behind these cases," said Tavernay.
" We shall see and not be seen."

In a few moments the train moved slowly in and stopped.
From the furthermost carriage the detachment descended,
and, following a sous-officier in the uniform of the Legion,
walked towards the cases behind which Tavernay and his
companion were concealed. In front came two youths, fair
of complexion and of hair, dressed neatly, well shod, who
walked with a timidity of manner as though they expected
to be questioned and sent packing.

" Who can they be ? " asked Laurent. " They are

"Yet they will give their age as eighteen," replied
Tavernay, and his voice trembled ever so slightly ; " and we
shall ask no questions."

" But they bear no marks of misery. They are not poor.
Whence can they come ? " Laurent repeated.

" I can tell you that," said Tavernay. He was much
moved. He spoke with a deep note of reverence. " They
come from Alsace or Lorraine. We get many such. They
will not serve Germany. At all costs they ivill serve

Lieutenant Laurent was humbled. Here was a higher
motive than pique, here was a devotion which would not so
quickly tire of discipline and service. He gazed with a
momentary feeling of envy at these two youths who insisted,
at so high a price, on being his compatriots.

" You see," said Tavernay, with a smile, " it was worth


while to come to the station and see the recruits arrive, even
on so hot a day as this."

" Yes," replied Laurent ; and then "look ! "

Following the two youths walked a man tall and powerful,
with the long, loose stride of one well versed in sports. He
held his head erect, and walked defiantly, daring you to
question him. His hands were long and slender, well-kept,
unused to labour, his face aquiline and refined. He looked
about thirty-five years old. He wore a light overcoat of a
fine material, which hung open, and underneath the overcoat
he was attired in evening dress. It was his dress which had
riveted Laurent's attention ; and certainly nothing could
have seemed more bizarre, more strangely out of place. The
hot African sun poured down out of a cloudless sky ; and
a new recruit for the Foreign Legion stepped out of a railway
carriage as though he had come straight from a ball-room.
What sudden disaster could have overtaken him ? In what
tragedy had he borne a part ? Even Laurent's imagination
was stimulated into speculation. As the man passed him,
Laurent saw that his tie was creased and dusty, his shirt-
front rumpled and soiled. That must needs have been. At
some early hour on a spring morning, some four or five days
ago, this man must have rushed into the guard-room of a
barrack-square in some town of France. Laurent turned to
Tavernay eagerly —

kl What do you make of him ? "

Tavernay shrugged his shoulders.

" A man of fashion, who has made a fool of himself.
They make good soldiers as a rule."

" But he will repent ! "

" He has already had the time, and he has not. There
is no escort for recruits until they reach Marseilles. Suppose
that he enlisted in Paris. He is given the fare. At any
station between Paris and Marseilles he could have got out
and returned."

The man in evening-dress walked on. There were dark


shadows under his eyes, the eyes themselves were sombre and

" We shall know something of him soon," said Tavernay.
He watched his recruit with so composed an air that Laurent
cried out —

'• Can nothing astonish you ? "

"Yery little," answered Tavernay, phlegmatically.
" Listen, my friend. One day, some years ago, a captain of
Hussars landed at Oran. He came to Bel-Abbes with a
letter of introduction to mo. He stayed with me. He
expressed a wish to see my men on parade. I turned them
out. He came to the parade-ground and inspected them.
As he passed along the ranks he suddenly stopped in front
of an old soldier with fifteen years' service in the Legion,
] i inch of which fifteen years had been passed in the cells.
The old soldier was a drunkard — oh, but a confirmed
drunkard. Well, in front of this man my young Captain
with the curled moustaches stopped — stopped and turned
very pale. But he did not speak. My soldier looked at him
respectfully, and the Captain continued his inspection.
Well, they were father and son — that is all. Why should
anything astonish me?" and Captain Tavernay struck a
match and lighted a cigarette.

The match, however, attracted attention to the presence
of the officers. Four men who marched, keeping time with
their feet and holding their hands stiffly at their sides, saw
the flame and remarked the uniforms. Their hands rose at
once to the salute.

"Ah! German deserters," said Tavernay. '"They fight

Others followed, men in rags and out of shoe-leather,
outcasts and fugitives ; and behind them came one who was
different. He was tall and well-knit, with a frank open face,
not particularly intellectual, on the other hand not irretriev-
ably stupid. He was dressed in a double-breasted, blue-serge
suit, and as he walked he now and then gave a twist to Lis


fair moustache, as though he were uneasy and embarrassed.
Captain Tavernay ran his eyes over him with the look of a

" Aha ! " said he, with a chuckle of satisfaction. " The
true legionary ! Hard, finely trained, he has done work too.
Yes ! You see, Laurent, he is a little ashamed, a little self-
conscious. He feels that he is looking a fool. I wonder
what nationality he will claim.'"

" He comes from the North," said Lament. " Possibly
from Normandy."

" Oh, I know what he is," returned Tavernay. " I am
wondering only what he will claim to be. Let us go outside
and see."

Tavernay led the way to the platform. Outside, in front
of the station, the sous-qfficier marshalled his men in a line.
They looked a strange body of men as they stood there,
blinking in the strong sunlight. The man in the ruffled silk
hat and the dress-suit toed the line beside a bundle of rags ;
the German deserters rubbed elbows with the " true legion-
ary " in the blue serge. Those thirty men represented types
of almost all the social grades, and to a man they were
seeking the shelter of anonymity in that monastery of action,
the Foreign Legion.

" Answer to your names," said the sous-officier, and from
a paper in his hand he began to read. The answers came
back, ludicrous in their untruth. A French name would be

" Montaubon."

And a German voice replied —

" Present."

" Ohlsen," cried the sous-officier, and no answer was given.
" Ohlsen," he repeated sharply. " Is not Ohlsen here ? "

And suddenly the face of the man in the serge suit
flashed, and he answered hurriedly —

11 Present."

Even the sous-officier burst into a laugh. The reason for


the pause was too obvious ; " Ohlsen " had forgotten that
Ohlsen was now his name.

" My lad, you must keep your ears open," said the sous-
officier. " Now, attention. Fours right. March ! "

And the detachment marched off towards the barracks.

" Ohlsen," said Tavernay, and he shrugged his shoulders.
•• "Well, what does it matter ? Come ! "

" Ohlsen " was Tony Stretton, and all the way along the
Rue Daya to the barracks he was longing for the moment
when he would put on the uniform and cease to figure
ridiculously in this grotesque procession. None the less he
had to wait with the others, drawn up in the barrack-square
until Captain Tavernay returned. The Captain went to his
office, and thither the recruits were marched. One by one
they entered in at the door, answered his questions, and were
sent off to the regimental tailor. Tony Stretton was the last.

" Name ? " asked Tavernay.

" Hans Ohlsen."

" Town of enlistment ? "

" Marseilles."

Tavernay compared the answers with some writing on a
sheet of paper.

" Yes, Marseilles. Passed by the doctor Paul as sound of
body. Yes," and he resumed his questions.

" Nationality ? "

" Swede."

Captain Tavernay had a smattering of most languages,
and he was greatly inclined to try his new recruit with a few
questions in the Swedish tongue. But the etiquette of the
Legion forbade. He went on without a smile —

" Age ? "

" Thirty."

" Vocation ? "

" Fisherman."

Captain Tavernay looked up. This time he could not
help smiling.


" "Well, it is as good as any other," said he ; and suddenly
there was a sound of cries, and three soldiers burst out of a
narrow entrance on the further side of the parade-ground
and came running across the square to the Captain's quarters.
Both Tavernay and Stretton looked through the door. There
was not a tree in that great square ; the sunlight poured
down upon the bare brown space with a blinding fierceness.

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Online LibraryA. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley) MasonThe truants; a novel → online text (page 11 of 26)