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

The truants; a novel online

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That was all. Sooner or later some one was sure to discover
their secret. It happened that the some one passed them by
Lo-ni^lit .

( 209 )



On the following morning a telegram was brought to Pamela
at her father's house in Leicestershire. It came from Mr.
Mudge, and contained these words : " Important that I
should see you. Coming down. Please be at home at two."
Punctually Mr. Mudge arrived. Pamela received him in
her own sitting-room. She was waiting with a restless
anxiety, and hardly waited for the door to be closed.

" You have bad news for me," she said. " Oh, I know !
You are a busy man. You would not have come down to
me had you not bad news. I am very grateful for your
coming, but you have bad news."

" Yes," said Mr. Mudge, gravely ; " news so bad that you
must ask your other friend to help you. I can do nothing

It cost Mr. Mudge a little to acknowledge that he was of
no avail in this particular instance. He would rather have
served Pamela himself, had it been possible. He was fully
aware of his age, and his looks, and his limitations. He
was quite willing to stand aside for the other friend ; indeed,
he wished, with all his heart, that she should be happy with
some mate of her own people. But at the same time he
wished her to owe as much as possible of her happiness to
him. He was her friend, but there was just that element of
jealousy in his friendship which springs up when the friends
are man and woman. Pamela understood that it meant
some abnegation on his part to bid her call upon another



than liimself . She was still more impressed, in consequence,
with the gravity of the news he had to convey.

" Is it Mr. Callon ? " she asked.

" Yes," he replied. " It is imperative that Sir Anthony
Stretton should return, and return at once. Of that I am
very sure."

" You have seen Mr. Callon ? " asked Pamela.

" And Lady Stretton. They were together."

11 When ? "

" Last night. In Regent's Park."

Pamela hesitated. She was doubtful how to put her
questions. She said —

" And you are sure the trouble is urgent ? "

Mr. Mudge nodded his head.

" Very sure. I saw them together. I saw the look on
Lady Stretton's face. It was a clear night. There was a
lamp too, in the cab. I passed them as Callon got out and
said " Good-night."

Pamela sat down in a chair, and fixed her troubled eyes
on her companion.

" Did they see you ? "

Mr. Mudge smiled.

" No."

" Let me have the whole truth," cried Pamela, " Tell
me the story from the beginning. How you came to see
them—- everything."

Mr. Mudge sat down in his turn. He presented to her a
side of his character which she had not hitherto suspected.
She listened, and was moved to sympathy, as no complaint
could ever have moved her ; and Mr. Mudge was the last
j i Kin to complain. Yet the truth came out clearly. Out-
wardly prosperous and enviable, he had yet inwardly missed
all. A man of so wide a business, so many undertakings, so
occupied a life, it was natural to dissociate him from the
ordinary human sympathies and desires. It seemed that he
could have neither time nor inclination to indulge them.


But here he was, as he had once done before, not merely
admitting their existence within him, but confessing that
v they were far the greater part of him, and that because they
had been thwarted, the prosperous external life of business
to which he seemed so ardently enchained was really of little
account, He spoke very simply. Pamela lost sight of the
business machine altogether. Here was a man, like another,
telling her that through his vain ambitions his life had gone
astray. She found a pathos in the dull and unimpressive
look of him — his bald, uncomely head, his ungraceful figure.
There was a strange contrast between his appearance and
the fanciful antidote for disappointment which had brought
him into Regent's Park when Callon and Lady Stretton
were discussing their future course.

" I told you something of my history at Newmarket," he
said. " You must remember what I told you, or you will
not understand."

" I remember very well," said Pamela, gently. " I think
that I shall understand."

Pamela of late, indeed, had gained much understanding.
Two years ago the other point of view was to her always with-
out interest. As often as not she was unaware that it existed ;
when she was aware, she dismissed it without consideration.
But of late her eyes had learned to soften at the troubles
of others, her mind to be perplexed with their perplexities.

" Yes," said Mudge, nodding his head, with a smile
towards her. " You will understand now."

And he laid so much emphasis upon the word that
Pamela looked up in surprise.

" "Why now ? " she asked.

" Because, recently, imagination has come to you. I
have seen, I have noticed. Imagination, the power to see
clearly, the power to understand — perhaps the greatest gift
which love has in all his big box of gifts."

Pamela coloured at his words. She neither admitted
nor denied the suggestion they contained.


" I have therefore ho fear that you will misunderstand, "
Mr. Mudge insisted. " I told you that my career, such as
it is, has left me a very lonely man amongst a crowd of
acquaintances, who are no more in sympathy with me than I
myself am in sympathy with them. I did not tell you that
I had found a way of alleviation."

"No," said Pamela. She was at a loss to understand
how this statement of her companion was connected with
his detection of Callon and Lady Stretton ; but she had no
doubt there was a connection. Mudge was not of those who
take a pride in disclosing the details of their life and
character in and out of season. If he spoke of himself, he
did so with a definite reason, which bore upon the business
in hand. " No ; on the contrary, you said that you could
not go back and start afresh. You had too much upon your
hands. You were fixed in your isolation."

" I did not even then tell you all the truth. I could
not go back half-way, that is true. I do not think I would
find any comfort in that course even if I could ; but I can
aud I do go back all the way at times. I reconstruct the
days when I was very, very poor, and yet full of hope, full
of confidence. I do not mean that I sit in front of my fire
and tell myself the story. I do much more. I actually live
them over again, so far as I can. That puzzles you," he
said, with a laugh.

Pamela, indeed, was looking at him with a frown of per-
plexity upon her forehead.

" How do you live them again ? " she asked. " I don't

" In this way," said Madge. "I keep an old, worn-out
suit of clothes locked up in a cupboard. Well, when T find
the house too lonely, and my servants, with their noiseless
tread, get on to my nerves, I just put on that suit of clothes
and revisit the old haunts where I used to live forty and
fifty years ago. Often I have come back from a dinner
party, let myself in at my front door, and slipped out of a


side entrance half an hour later on one of my pilgrimages.
You would never know me ; you might toss me a shilling,
that's all. Of course, I have to be careful. I am always
expecting to be taken up as a thief as I slink away from the
house. I would look rather a fool if that happened, wouldn't
I ? " and he laughed. " But it never has yet." He suddenly
turned to her. "I enjoy myself upon those jaunts, you
know ; I really enjoy myself. I like the secrecy. To slip
out of the great, silent house, to get clear away from the
pictures, and the furniture, and the obedience, and to tramp
down into the glare and the noise of the big streets, and to
turn into some pothouse where once, years ago, I used to
take my supper and dream of the future. It's a sort of
hide-and-seek in itself." He laughed again, and then
suddenly became serious. " But it's much more than that
— ever so much more."

" "Where do you go ? " asked Pamela.

" It depends upon the time I have. If it's early I go
down to Deptford, very often. I get into a tram and ride
down a street where I once wandered all night because I
hadn't the price of a lodging. I look at the old cookshop
where I used to flatten my nose against the glass and dream
that I had the run of my teeth. I get down and go into a
public-house, say, with a sanded floor, and have a sausage
and mash and a pot of beer, just as I was doing forty years
ago, when this or that scheme, which turned out well, first
came into my head. But don't misunderstand," Mudge
exclaimed. " I don't set off upon these visits for the satis-
faction of comparing what I was then with what I have
become. It is to get back to what I was then, as nearly as
I can ; to recapture, just for a moment, some of the high
hopes, some of the anticipations of happiness to be won
which I felt in those days ; to forget that the happiness has
never been won, that the high hopes were for things not
worth the trouble spent in acquiring them. I was wet,
very often hungry, always ill-clothed ; but I was happy in


those days, Miss Mardale, though very likely I didn't know
it. I was young, the future was mine, a solid reality ; and
the present — why, that was a time of work and dreams.
There's nothing much better than that combination, Miss
Mardale — work and dreams ! "

He repeated the words wistfully, and was silent for a
moment. No doubt those early struggles had not been so
pleasant as they appeared in the retrospect ; but time had
stripped them of their bitterness and left to Mr. Mudge just
that part of them which was worth remembering.

" I had friends in those days," he went on. " I wonder
what has become of them all ? In all my jaunts I have
never seen one."

" And where else do you go ? " asked Pamela.

" Oh, many places. There's a little narrow market
between Shaftesbury Avenue and Oxford Street, where the
gas-jets flare over the barrows on a Saturday night, and all
the poor people go marketing. That's a haunt of mine. I
was some time, too, when I was young, at work near the
Marylebone Road. There's a tavern near Madame Tussaud's
where I used to go and have supper at the counter in the
public bar. Do you remember the night of Lady Milling-
ham's reception, when we looked out of the window and saw
Sir Anthony Stretton ? Well, I supped at that tavern in
the Marylebone Road on that particular night. I was hard
put to it, too, when I used to work in Marylebone. I slept
for three nights in Regent's Park. There's a coffee-stall
close to the bridge, just outside the park, on the north side."

Pamela started, and Mudge nodded his head.

" Yes ; that is how I came to see Lady Stretton and Mr.
Gallon. A hansom cab drove past me just as I crossed the
road to go out of the gate to the coffee-stall. I noticed it
enough to see that it held a man and a woman in evening
dress, but no more. I stayed at the coffee-stall for a little
while talking with the cabmen and the others who were
about it. and drinking my coffee. As I returned into the


park the cab drove past me again. I thought it was the
same cab, from the casual glance I gave, and with the same
people inside it. They had driven round, were still driving
round. It was a fine night, a night of spring, fresh, and
cool, and very pleasant. I did not wonder ; I rather
sympathised with them," he said, with a smile. " You see,
I have never driven round Regent's Park at night with a
woman I cared for beside me ; " and again the wistful note
was very audible in his voice ; and he added, in a low voice,
" That was not for me."

He shook the wistfulness from him and resumed —

" "Well, as I reached the south side of the park, and was
close by Park Place, the cab came towards me again, and
pulled up. Gallon got out. I saw him clearly. I saw quite
clearly, too, who was within the cab. So you see there is
danger. Mere friends do not drive round and round Regent's
Park at night."

Mr. Mudge rose, and held out his hand.

" I must get back to town. I have a fly waiting to take
me to the station," he said.

Pamela walked with him to the door of the house. As
they stood in the hall she said —

" I thanked yon, before you spoke at all, for putting
your business aside for my sake, and coming down to me. I
thank you still more now, and for another reason. I thank
you for telling me what you have told me about yourself.
Such confessions," and she smiled upon the word, " cannot
be made without great confidence in the one they are made

" I have that confidence," said Mudge.

" I know. I am glad," replied Pamela ; and she re-
sumed : " They cannot be made, either, without creating a
difference. "We no longer stand where we did before they
were made. I always looked upon you as my friend ; but
we are far greater friends now, is not that so ? "

She spoke with great simplicity and feeling, her eyes


glistened a little, and she added, " You are not living now
with merely acquaintances around you."

Mr. Mudge took her hand.

" I am very glad that I came," he said ; and, mounting
into the fly, he drove away.

Pamela went back to the house and wrote out a telegram
to Warrisden. She asked him to come at once to — and then
she paused. Should he come here ? No ; there was another
place, with associations for her which had now grown very
pleasant and sweet to her thoughts. She asked him to meet
her at the place where they had once kept tryst before — the
parlour of the inn upon the hill in the village of the Three
Poplars. Thither she had ridden before from Lady Milling-
ham's house of AYhitewebs. Her own house stood, as it were,
at one end of the base of an obtuse triangle, of which White-
webs made the other end, and the three poplars the apex.

( 217 )



There, accordingly, they met on the following afternoon.
Pamela rode across the level country between the Croft Hill
which overhung her house, and the village. In front of her
the three poplars pointed skywards from the ridge. She was
anxious and troubled. It seemed to her that Millie Stretton
was slipping beyond her reach ; but the sight of those trees
lightened her of some portion of her distress. She was
turning more and more in her thoughts towards Warrisden
whenever trouble knocked upon her door. In the moment
of greatest perplexity his companionship, or even the thought
of it, rested her like sleep. As she came round the bend of
the road at the foot of the hill, she saw him coming down
the slope towards her. She quickened her horse, and trotted
up to him.

" You are here already ? " she said. " I am very glad.
I was not sure that I had allowed you time enough."

" Oh yes," said Warrisden. " I came at once. I guessed
why you wanted me from the choice of our meeting-place.
We meet at Quetta, on the same business which brought us
together at Quetta before. Is not that so ? "

" Yes," said Pamela.

They walked to the door of the inn at the top of the hill.
An ostler took charge of Pamela's horse, and they went
within to the parlour.

" You want me to find Stretton again ? " said Warrisden.

Pamela looked at him remorsefully.


" Well, I do," she answered ; and there was compunction
in the tone of her voice. " I would not ask you unless the
matter was very urgent. I have used you for my needs, I
know, with too little consideration for you, and you very
generously and willingly have allowed me to use yon. So I
am a little ashamed to come to you again."

Here were strange words from Pamela. They were
spoken with hesitation, too, and the colour burned in her
cheeks. Warrisden was surprised to hear them. He laid
his hand upon her arm and gave it a little affectionate shake.

" My dear, I am serving myself," he said, " just as much
as I am serving you. Don't you understand that ? Have
you forgotten our walk under the elms in Lady Millingham's
garden ? If Tony returned, and returned in time, why, then
you might lay your finger on the turnpike gate and let it
swing open of its own accord. I remember what you said.
Tony's return helps me, so I help myself in securing his

Pamela's face softened into a smile.

" Then you really do not mind going ? " she went on.
" I am remorseful, in a way, because I asked you to go once
before in this very room, and nothing came of all your
trouble. I want you to believe now that I could not ask
you again to undergo the same trouble, or even more, as it
may prove, were not the need ever so much more urgent
than it was then."

" I am sorry to hear that the need is more urgent,"
Warrisden replied ; " but, on the other hand, the trouble I
shall have to bear is much less, for I know where Strctton is."

Pamela felt that half of the load of anxiety was taken
from her shoulders.

" You do ? " she exclaimed.

Warrisden nodded.

' ; And what he is doing. He is serving with the Foreign
Legion in Algeria. T thought you might want to lay your
hands on him again, and I wished to be ready. Chance


gave me a clue — an envelope with a postmark. I followed
np the clue by securing an example of Stretton's handwriting.
It was the same handwriting as that which directed the
envelope, so I was sure."

" Thank you," said Pamela. " Indeed, you do not fail
me ; " and her voice was musical with gratitude.

" He was at Ain-Sefra, a little town on the frontier of
Algeria," Warrisden resumed. And Pamela interrupted
him —

" Then I need not make so heavy a demand upon you
after all," she said. " It was only a letter which I was going
to ask you to carry to Tony. Now there is no necessity that
yon should go at all, for I can post it."

She produced the letter from a pocket of her coat as she

" Ah, but will it reach Stretton if you do ? " said

Pamela had already seated herself at the table, and was
drawing the inkstand towards her. She paused at Warrisden's
question, and looked up.

" Surely Ain-Sefra, Algeria, will find him ? "

" "Will it ? " Warrisden repeated. He sat down at the
table opposite to her. " Even if it does, will it reach him in
time ? You say the need is urgent. "Well, it was last
summer when I saw the postmark on the envelope, two days
after we talked together in Lady Millingham's garden. I
had business in London."

" I remember," said Pamela.

" My business was just to find out where Stretton was
hiding himself. He was at Ain-Sefm then ; he may be at
Ain-Sefra now. But it is a small post, and he may not. The
headquarters of the Legion are ?t Sidi Bel-Abbes, in the
north. He may be there, or he may be altogether out of
reach on some Saharan expedition."

There was yet another possibility which occurred to both
their minds at this moment. It was possible that no letter


would ever reach Stretton again ; that "Warrisden, searched
he never so thoroughly, would not be able to find the man
he searched for. There are so many graves in the Sahara.
But neither of them spoke of this possibility, though a quick
look they interchanged revealed to each its presence in the
other's thoughts.

"Besides, he wanted to lie hidden. So much I know,
who know nothing of his story. "Would he have enlisted
under his own name, do you think ? Or even under his own
nationality ? It is not the common practice in the Foreign
Legion. And that's not all. Even were he soldiering openly
under his own name, how will you address your letter with
any likelihood that it will reach him ? Just ' La Legion
Etrangere ' ? We want to know to what section of la Legion
Etrangere he belongs. Is he chasseur, artilleryman, sapper ?
Ferhaps he serves in the cavalry. Then which is his
squadron ? Is he a plain foot soldier ? Then in what
battalion, and what rank does he occupy ? "We cannot
answer any of these questions, and, unanswered, they
certainly delay your letter ; they may prevent it ever reaching
him at all."

Pamela laid down her pen and stared blankly at "Warris-
den. He piled up the objections one by one in front of her
until it seemed she would lose Tony once more from her
sight after she had got him for a moment within her vision.

" So you had better entrust your letter to me," he con-
cluded. " Address it to Stretton under his own name. I
will find him, if he is to be found, never fear. I will find
him very quickly."

Pamela addressed the letter. Yet she held it for a little
time in her hand after it was addressed. All the while
AVarrisden had been speaking she had felt an impulse strong
within her to keep him back ; and it was because of that
impulse, rather than with any thought of Millie Stretton
and the danger in which she stood, that Pamela asked
doubtfully —


" How long will you be ? "

" I should find him within ten days."

Pamela smiled suddenly.

"It is not so very long," said she ; and she handed the
letter across to "Warrisden. " Well, go ! " she cried, with a
certain effort. " Telegraph to me when you have found
Tony. Bring him back, and come back yourself." She
added, in a voice which was very low and wistful, " Please
come back soon I " Then she rose from the table, and
Warrisden put the letter hi his pocket and rose too.

"You will be at home, I suppose, in ten days ? " he said.
And Pamela said quickly, as though some new idea had just
been suggested to her mind —

" Oh, wait a moment ! "

She stood quite still and thoughtful. There was a certain
test by which she had meant to find the soundings of heart.
Here was a good opportunity to apply the test. Warrisden
would be away upon his journey ; she could not help Millie
Stretton now by remaining in England. She determined to
apply the test.

" No," she said slowly. " Telegraph to me at the Villa
Pontignard, Eoquebrune, Alpes Maritimes, France. I shall
be travelling thither immediately."

Her decision was taken upon an instant. It was the
logical outcome of her thoughts and of Warrisden's departure ;
and since Warrisden went because of Millie Stretton, Pamela's
journey to the South of France was due, in a measure, to
that lady, too. Yet no one would have been more astonished
than Millie Stretton had she learned of Pamela's visit at this
time. She would have been quick to change her own plans ;
but she had no knowledge of whither Pamela's thoughts
were leading her. When Callon in the hansom cab had said
to her, "Come South," her first swift reflection had been,
" Pamela will be safe in England." She herself had refused
to go south with Pamela. Pamela's desire to go was to her
mind a mere false pretext to get her away from her one


friend. If she did not go south, she was very sure that
Pamela would not. There had seemed to her no safer place
than the Riviera. But she was wrong. Here, in the village
of the Three Poplars, Pamela had made her decision.

44 I shall go to Roquebrune as soon as I can make
arrangements for a servant or two," she said.

" Roqucbrune," said Warrisden, as he wrote down the
address. 44 I once walked up a long flight of steps to that
village many years ago. Perhaps you were at the villa then.
I wonder. You must have been a little girl. It was one
February. I came over from Monte Carlo, and we walked
up from the station. We met the schoolmaster."

" M. Giraud I " exclaimed Pamela.

" Was that his name ? He had written a little history
of the village and the Corniche road. He took me under
his wing. We went into a wine shop on the first floor of a
house in the middle of the village, and we sat there quite
a long time. He asked us about Paris and London with an
eagerness which was quite pathetic. He came down with us
to the station, and his questions never ceased. I suppose he
was lonely there."

Pamela nodded her head.

" Very. He did not sleep all night for thinking of what
you had told him."

" You were there, then ? " cried Warrisden.

" Yes ; M. Giraud used to read French with me. He
came to me one afternoon quite feverish. Two Englishmen
had come up to Roqucbrune, and had talked to him about the
great towns and the lighted streets. He was always dreaming
of them. Poor man, he is at Roqucbrune still, no doubt."

She spoke with a great tenderness and pity, looking out
of the window, and for the moment altogether lost to her
surroundings. Warrisden roused her from her reverie.

44 1 must be going away."

Pamela's horse was brought to the door, and she mounted.

44 Walk down the hill beside my horse," she said ; 44 just


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Online LibraryA. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley) MasonThe truants; a novel → online text (page 16 of 26)