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

The truants; a novel online

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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 act-
ing 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 Gallon
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 build-
ing. 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 it3 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 Reserve at
which Lionel Gallon 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 Reserve the Mediter-
ranean rippled and sparkled — here the deepest blue, there
breaking into points of golden light. The Reserve 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

She knew that Callon was in Monte Carlo. She told her
driver to drive down to the door, and at the door she stepped
clown 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 ten-ace," 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

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 com-
prised the suite. Pamela came back to the terrace. She
was disquieted. It w 7 as impossible, of course, that Millie
Stretton should stay at the Reserve ; 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 Gallon 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

" 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
corning straight from Algeria to France ? " Well, there
were tlnee 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 dis-
counted the statement, but bought the barbs. Early the
nest morning he set out for Fez.



" BALAK ! "

There are two cities of Fez. One is the city of the narrow,
crowded streets, where the cry, "Balakl Balak!" * resounds
all day. Streets, one terms them, since they are the main
thoroughfares tluough which all the merchandise of Morocco
passes out to the four quarters of the compass ; but they are
no wider than the alley-ways of an English village, and in
many places a man may stand in the centre and touch the
wall on either side. These streets are paved with big cobble-
stones, but the stones are broken and displaced by the tramp
of centuries. If mended at all, they are mended with a mill-
stone or any chance slab of rock ; but for the most part they
are left unmended altogether. For that is the fashion in
Morocco. There they build and make, and they do both
things beautifully and well. But they seldom finish ; in a
house, dainty with fountains and arabesques and coloured
tiles, you will still find a corner uncompleted, a pillar which
lacks the delicate fluting of the other pillars, an embrasure
for a clock half ornamented with gold filagree, and half left
plain. And if they seldom finish, they never by any chance
repair. The mansion is built and decorated within ; artists
fit the tiles together in a mosaic of cool colours, and carve,
and gild, and paint the little pieces of cedar- wood, and glue
them into the light and pointed arches ; the rich curtains are
hung, and the master enters into his possession. There
follows the procession of the generations. The tiles crack,

* " Take care ! "

"BALAK!" 257

the woodwork of the arches splits and falls, and the walls
break and crumble. The householder sits indifferent, and
the whole house corrodes. So, in the narrow streets, holes
gape, and the water wears a channel where it wills, and the
mud lies thick and slippery on the rounded stones ; the
streets ran steeply up and down the hills, wind abruptly round
corners, dive into tunnels. Yet men gallop about them on
their sure-footed horses, stumbling, slipping, but seldom
falling. " Balak ! " they cry. " Balak I " and the man on
foot is flung against the wall or jostled out of the way. No
one protests or resents.

A file of donkeys, laden with wood or with grain, so fixed
upon their backs that the load grazes each street wall, blocks
the way. " Balak ! " shouts the donkey-driver. And perhaps
some nobleman of Fez, soft and fat and indolent, in his blue
cloak, who comes pacing on a mule no less fat, preceded by
his servants, must turn or huddle himself into an embrasure.
There are no social distinctions in the alley -ways of Fez. It
may be that one of those donkeys will fall then and there
beneath his load, and refuse to rise. His load will be taken
from his back, and if he still refuse, he will be left just where
he fell, to die. His owner walks on. It is no one's business
to remove the animal. There he lies in the middle of the
street, and to him " Balak " will be called in vain.

A mounted troop of wild Berbers from the hills, with
their long, brass-bound guns slung across their backs, and
gaudy handkerchiefs about their heads, will ride through the
bazaars, ragged of dress and no less ragged in the harness of
their horses. " Balak ! " Very swiftly way is made for
them. Balak, indeed, is the word most often heard in the
streets of Fez.

Those streets wind at times between the walls of gardens,
and if the walls are broken, as surely at some point they
will be, a plot of grass, a grove of orange trees hung with
ruddy fruit, and a clump of asphodel will shine upon the
eyes in that brown and windowless city like a rare jewel.


At times, too, they pass beneath some spacious arch into a
place of width, or cross a bridge where one of the many
streams of the river Fez boils for a moment into the open,
and then swirls away again beneath the houses. But,
chiefly, they run deep beneath the towering walls of houses,
and little of the sunlight visits them ; so that you may
know a man of Fez, even though he be absent from his
town, by the pallor of his face. A householder, moreover,
may build over the street, if he can come to an agreement
with his neighbour on the opposite side, and then the alleys
suddenly become tunnels, and turn upon themselves in the
dark. Or the walls so lean together at the top that barely a
finger's breadth of sky is visible as from the bottom of a

Into this city of dark streets Warrisden came upon an
evening of gloom. The night before he had camped on the
slope of a hill by the village of Segota. Never had he seen
a spot more beautiful. He had looked across the deep valley
at his feet to the great buttress of Jebel Zarhon, on a dark
shoulder of which mountain one small, round, white town was
perched. A long, high range of grey hills — the last barrier
between him and Fez — cleft at one point by the Foad, rose
on the far side of the valley ; and those hills and the fields
beneath, and the solitary crumbling castle which stood in
the bottom amongst the fields, were all magnified and made
beautiful by the mists of evening. The stars had come out
overhead, behind him the lights shone in his tent, and a
cheerful fire crackled in the open near the door. He had
come up quickly from Tangier, and without hindrance, in
spite of warnings that the road was not safe. The next
morning he would be in Fez. It had seemed to him, then,
that fortune was on his side. He drew an augury of success
from the clean briskness of the air. And that confidence
had remained with him in the morning. He had crossed
the valley early, and riding over the long pass on the other
Bide, had seen at last the .snow-crowned spar of the Atlas on

"BALAK!" 259

the further side of the plain of Fez. He had descended
into the plain, which perpetually rose and fell like the
billows of an ocean ; and in the afternoon, from the summit
of one of these billows, he had suddenly seen, not an hour's
journey off, the great city of Fez, with its crenelated walls
and high minarets, a mass of grey and brown, with here and
there a splash of white, and here and there a single palm-
tree, straggling formlessly across the green plain. The sky
had clouded over ; the track was now thronged with caravans
of camels, and mules, and donkeys, and wayfarers on foot
going to and coming from the town ; and before the Bab
Sagma, the great gate looking towards Mikkes, was reached,
the rain was falling.

"Warrisden had sent on the soldier who had ridden with
him from Tangier, to deliver a note to the Consul, and he
waited with his animals and his men for the soldier's return.
The man came towards dusk with word that a house had
been secured in the town, and "Warrisden passed through the
gate and down between the high battlements of the Bugilud
into the old town. And as he passed through the covered
bazaars and the narrow streets, in the gloom of the evening,
while the rain fell drearily from a sullen sky, his confidence
of the morning departed from him, and a great depression
chilled him to the heart. The high, cracked, bulging walla
of the houses, towering up without a window, the shrouded
figures of the passers-by, the falling light, the neglect as of
a city of immemorial age crumbling in decay, made of Fez
to him that night a place of gloom and forbidding mystery.
He was in a mood to doubt whether ever he would look on
Tony Stretton's face again.

In the narrowest of the alleys, where each of his stirrups
touched a wall, his guide stopped. It was almost pitch-dark
here. By throwing back his head, "Warrisden could just see,
far above him, a little slit of light. His guide groped his
way down a passage on the right, and at the end opened
with a key a ponderous black door. "Warrisden stepped over


the sill, and found himself in a tiled court of which the roof
was open to the sky. On the first floor there was a gallery,
and on each of the four sides a long, narrow room, lofty, and
closed with great folding doors, opened on to the gallery. In
one of these rooms Warrisden had his bed set up. He sat
there trying to read by the light of a single candle, and
listening to the drip of the rain.

When he left Tangier, he had twenty-one days before he
need be at Roquebrune in answer to Pamela's summons. He
had looked up the steamers before he started. Four of those
days would be needed to carry them from Tangier to Roque-
brune. He had reached Fez in five, and he thus had twelve
days left. In other words, if Stretton came to Fez within a
week, there should still be time, provided, of course, the road
to the coast was not for the moment cut by rebellious tribes.
That was the danger, as Warrisden 1 s journey had told him.
He discounted the timorous statements of his dragoman,
Ibrahim, but one who knew had warned him at El Ksar.
There was a risk.

The night was cold. Warrisden wrapped himself in a
Moorish jellaba of fine, white wool, but he could not put on
with it the Moorish patience and indifference. The rain
dripped upon the tiles of the court. "Where was Stretton, he
wondered ?

He went to bed, and waked up in the middle of the
night. He had left the great doors of his bedroom open ;
the rain had stopped ; and in the stillness of the night he
heard one loud voice, of an exquisite beauty, vibrating over
the roofs of the sleeping city, as though it spoke from heaven
itself. Warrisden lay listening to it, and interpreting the
words from the modulation of the voice which uttered them.
Now it rang out imperious as a summons, dropping down
through the open roofs to wake the sleepers in their beds.
Now it rose, lyrical and glorious, in a high chant of praise.
Now it became wistful, and trembled away pleading, yet
with a passion of longing in the plea. Warrisden could look

"BALAK!" 261

upwards from his bed through the open roof. The sky was
clear again. Overhead were the bright stars, and this
solitary voice, most musical and strange, ringing out through
the silence.

It was the mueddhin on the tower of the Karueein
Mosque. For five hours before the dawn the praises of
Allah are sung from the summit of the mosque's minaret.
There are ten mueddhins to whom the service is entrusted,
and each sends out his chant above the sleeping city for half
an hour. But in the voice of this, one of the ten whom
"Warrisden heard on the first night when he slept in Fez,
there was a particular quality. He listened for it during the
nights which followed ; expected it, and welcomed its first
note as one welcomes the coming of a friend. It seemed to
him that all the East was in that cry.

It brought back to him sunsets when his camp was
pitched by some little village of tents or thatched mud-
houses surrounded by hedges of aloes and prickly pears — at
Karia Ben Ouder, at Djouma— villages where there was no
mosque at all, but whence none the less the voice of a priest
dispersed its plaintive cry across the empty country of mari-
golds and asphodels, startling the white cow-birds and the

"Warrisden fell to thinking of Tony Stretton. He struck
a match, and looked at his watch. It was close upon the
hour of dawn. Perhaps, just at this moment, by some village
in that wild, dark, mountain country to the south-east, Stretton
stirred in his sleep, and waked to hear some such smnmons
chanted about the village. Perhaps he was even now loading
his mule, and setting forth by the glimmer of the starlight
upon his dangerous road. "Warrisden fell asleep again with
that picture in his mind, and woke to find the sunlight pour-
ing through the square opening of the roof. He drank his
coffee, and mounting a little winding stairway of broken
steps, came out into that other city of Fez, the city of the


Fez is built upon the slope of a hill, and upon some of
the flat roofs "Warrisden looked clown and through the dark
square holes of the openings ; to the parapets of others he
looked up. Upon some there were gardens planted — so, he
thought, must have looked the hanging gardens of Babylon ;
on others, linen was strung out to dry as in some backyard
of England ; the minarets, here inlaid with white and green
tiles, there built simply of bricks and brown plaster, rose
high into the limpid air. And on the towers were the great
nests of storks.

"Warrisden looked abroad, and in the sunlight his hopes
revived. It seemed that it must have been into another town
that he had entered last night. Nowhere could he see the
gash of a street in that plateau of roof-tops — so narrow they
were ; and no noise rose at all, they were so deep. Here the
only sound audible was the chattering of women's voices — for
the roofs are the playgrounds of the women, and "Warrisden
could see them in their coloured handkerchiefs and robes
clustered together, climbing from one house to another with
the help of ladders, visiting their friends. But of all the
clamour which must needs be resounding in those crowded
streets, not even one stray cry of " Balak 1 " reached to this
upper air. Lower down the hill to the east, "Warrisden could
see the city wall and the gate through which Stretton must
pass when he came. And he might come to-day !

That was Warrisden's thought. He went down the stairs,
had his horse brought into the dark street before the door,
and, accompanied by his mchazni, that old soldier who had
ridden with him from Tangier, went out of the city over the
plain towards Sefru. For through that small town of gardens
und fruit at the base of the Atlas spur, Stretton would come.
But he did not come on that day, nor on the next. But, on
the other hand, Ibrahim, "Warrisden's guide, brought bad

He mounted to the roof in the morning, while "Warrisden
sat there after his breakfast, and crouched down behind the

"BALAK!" 263

parapet so that lie might not be seen. For the men leave
the roof-tops to their women-folk, and do not trespass there

" Sir," said he, " the road between Djebel Silfat and
Djebel Zarbon is cut. Word has come into Fez this morn-
ing. The Z'mur have come down from the hills, and sit
across the road, stopping and robbing every one."

Warrisden sat up.

"Are you sure ?" he asked. He was, as he knew, in a
country of liars. Ibrahim, in addition, was a coward in the
country districts, though the best of braggarts at Tangier.
He had ridden on his mule slung about with weapons — a
Spanish rifle on his back, a revolver in his belt, and a
Winchester in his hands ; while between the fingers of his
left hand he carried ready four cartridges — but he was none
the less afraid. However, Warrisden remembered that
mountain pass which led from the plain of the Sebou up to
Segota. It was very lonely, it was narrow, the road looped
perpetually round the bases of the round buttresses of Djebel
Silfat. It would certainly be an awkward place wherein to

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Online LibraryA. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley) MasonThe truants; a novel → online text (page 19 of 26)