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

The truants; a novel online

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"A home of great troubles?" she repeated, speaking
lightly. "Not for all. You are serious, my friend, tins
afternoon, and you should not be, for have I not come

back ? " ,

The schoolmaster was not deceived by her evasion-
There had come a gravity into her manner, and a


womanliness into her face, in a degree more than natural
at her years.

" Let us talk of you for a change," said she.

" "Well, and what shall we say ? " asked Giraud, and a
constraint fell upon them both.

"We must forget those fine plans," he continued at
length. " Is it not so ? I think I have learnt that too
from you."

" I hare said nothing," she interrupted quickly.

" Precisely," said he, with a smile. " The school at
Roquebrune will send no Deputy to Paris."

" Oh ! why not ? " said Pamela, but there was no con-
viction in her voice. Giraud was not of the stern stuff

" To break bis birtb's invidious bar."

He had longings, but there was the end.

"At all events," she said, turning to him with a great
earnestness, " we shall be friends always, whatever happens."

The words were the death-knell to the schoolmaster's
aspirations. They conveyed so much more than was actually
said. He took them bravely enough.

" That is a good thing," he said in all sincerity. " If I
stay here all my life, I shall still have the memory of the
years when I taught you history. I shall know, though I
do not see you, that we are friends. It is a great thing
for me."

"For me, too," said Pamela, looking straight into his
eyes, and she meant her words no less than he had meant
his. Yet to both they had the sound of a farewell. And in
a way they were. They were the farewell to the afternoons
upon the terrace, they closed the door upon their house of

Giraud leaned that evening over the parapet in the little
square of Roquebrune. The Mediterranean lay dark and
quiet far below, the terrace of Monte Carlo glowed, and the
red signal-lamps pointed out the way to Paris. But he was


no longer thinking of bis fallen plans. He was thinking of
the girl up there in the villa who had been struck by some
blind blow of Destiny, who had grown a woman before her
time. It was a pity, it was a loss in the general sum of
things which make for joy.

He had of course only his suspicions to go upon. But
they were soon strengthened. For Pamela fell into ill-health,
and the period of ill-health lasted all that winter. After
those two years had passed, she disappeared for a while
altogether out of Giraud's sight. She came no more to the
Villa Pontignard, but stayed with her father and her horses
at her home in Leicestershire. Her mother came alone to

( 15 )



Alan Waerisden was one of the two men who Lad walked
up to Roquebrune on that afternoon of which M. Giraud
spoke. But it was not until Pamela had reached the age of
twenty that he made her acquaintance at Lady Millingham's
house in Berkeley Square. He took her down to dinner, and,
to tell the truth, paid no particular attention either to her
looks or her conversation. His neighbour upon the other
side happened to be a friend whom he had not seen for some
while, and for a good part of the dinner he talked to her. A
few days afterwards, however, he called upon Lady Milling-
ham, and she asked at once quite eagerly —

" Well, what did you think of Pamela Mardale ? "
Warrisden was rather at a loss. He was evidently
expected to answer with enthusiasm, and he had not any
very definite recollections on which enthusiasm could be
based. He did his best, however ; but he was unconvincing.
Lady Millingham shrugged her shoulders and frowned. She
had been married precisely a year, and was engaged in plans
for marrying off all her friends with the greatest possible

" I shall send you in with somebody quite old the next
time you dine here," she said severely, and she discoursed at
some length upon Pamela's charms. " She loves horses, and
yet she's not a bit horsey," she said in conclusion, " and
there's really nothing better than that. And just heaps of
men have wanted to marry her." She leaned back against


her sofa and contemplated Warrisden with silent scorn. She
had set her heart upon this marriage more than upon any
other. Of all the possible marriages in London, there was
not one, to her mind, so suitable as this. Pamela Mardale
came of one of the oldest families of commoners in Leicester-
shire. The family was not well off, the estate had shrunk
year by year, and what was left was mortgaged, owing in
some degree to that villa at Roquebrnne upon which Mrs.
Mardale°insisted. Warrisden, on the other hand, was more
than well off, his family was known, and at the age of twenty-
eight he was still dividing his life between the season in
London and shooting expeditions about the world. And he
had the look of a man who might do something more.

That visit had its results. Warrisden met Pamela Mar-
dale again and realised that Lady Millingham's indignation
had been justified. At the end of that season he proposed,
and was gently refused. But if he was slow to move, he
was also firm to persevere. He hunted with the Quorn that
winter, and during the following season he was persistently
but unobtrusively at her elbow ; so that Pamela came, at all
events, to count upon him as a most reliable friend. Having
duly achieved that place in her thoughts, he disappeared for
ten months and returned to town one afternoon in the last
week of June. There were letters waiting for him in his
rooms, and amongst them a card from Lady Millingham
inviting him to a dance upon that night. At eleven o'clock
his coupe turned out of Piccadilly and entered Berkeley
Square. At the bottom of the square the lighted windows
of the house blazed out upon the night, the balconies were
banked! with flowers, and behind the flowers, silhouetted
against the light, were visible the thronged faces of men and
women. "Warrisden leaned forward, scrutinising the shapes
of the heads, the contours of the faces. His sight, sharpened
by long practice over wide horizons, was of the keenest ; he
could see, even at that distance, the flash of jewels on neck
and shoulder. But the face he looked fur was not there.


Lad}' Millinghani, however, set his mind at case.

k> You are back, then ? " she cried.

" This afternoon."

" You will find friends here."

Warrisden passed on into the reception rooms. It seemed
to him indeed that all the friends he had ever made were
gathered to this one house on this particular evening. He
was a tall man, and his height made him noticeable upon
most occasions. lie was the more noticeable now by reason
of his sunburn and a certain look of exhilaration upon his
face. The season was drawing to its end, and brown faces
were not so usual but that the eyes turned to them. He
spoke, however, the fewest possible words to the men who
greeted him, and he did not meet the eyes of any woman.
Yet he saw the women, and was in definite quest of one of
them. That might have been noticed by a careful observer,
for whenever he saw a man older than the rest talking to a
girl he quickened his pace that he might the sooner see that
girl's face. He barely looked into the ball-room at all, but
kept to the corridors, and, at last, in a doorway, came face to
face with Pamela Mardale. He saw her face light up, and
the hand held out to him was even eagerly extended.

" Have you a dance to spare ? "

Pamela looked quickly round upon her neighbours.

" Yes, this one," she answered. She bowed to her com-
panion, a man, as "Warrisden expected, much older than
herself, and led the way at once towards the balcony.
"Warrisden saw a youth emerge from the throng and come
towards them. Pamela was tall, and she used her height at
this moment. She looked him in the face with so serene an
indifference that the youth drew back disconcerted. Pamela
was deliberately cutting her partners.

Another man might have built upon the act, but "Warrisden
was shrewd, and shrewdness had taught him long since to
go warily in thought where Pamela Mardale was concerned.
She might merely be angry. He walked by her side and said



nothing Even when they were seated on the balcony, he
Mt t for her to speak first. She was sitting upon the out-
de tainst the railing, so that the light from the windows
streamed full npon her face. He watched it looking for the
cLTe which he desired. But it had still the one fault he
found with it. It was still too sedate, too womanly for her
vears happened that they had found a comer where

£ made'a" sort of screen, and they could talk in low
mines without being overheard.

« I heard of you," she said. " You were shooting wood-

cock in Dalmatia."

" That was at Christmas."

" Yes. You were hurt there."

« Not seriously," he replied. " A sheep-do- attacked me.
Thev are savage brutes, and indeed they have to be there
are so many wolves. The worst of it is, if you are attacked,
von mustn't kill the dog, or there's trouble.
J ' I heard of you again. You were at Quetta, getting

t0g frhat C r!n'Feb™ary. I crossed by the new trade

"^Sd^C^ndeanite tone, which left him
-Bk no dtae to her thoughts. Now, however she turned
tacyes upon him, aud said in a lower voice, which was very

^""to't you think yon might have told me that you were

zx-^ittz***** 8^ follow,,

wM mVZ ouec or twice, instead ? f letting m bear about

you from any chance acquaintance ? deliberately

Again he made no answer. For he bid uciiucratc.y


abstained from writing. The gentleness with which she
spoke was the most hopeful sign for him which she had
made that evening. He had expected a harsher accusation.
For Pamela made her claims upon her friends. They must
put her first or there was likely to be a deal of trouble.

" Well," she said, with a shrug of her shoulders, " I hope
you enjoyed it."

"Yes. I wish I could have thought you would have
enjoyed it too. But you wouldn't have."

" No," she answered listlessly.

Warrisden was silent. He had expected the answer, but
he was none the less disappointed to receive it. To him there
was no century in the history of the world comparable to that
in which he lived. It had its faults, of course. It was ugly
and a trifle feverish, but to men of his stamp, the men with
means and energy, a new world with countless opportunities
had been opened up. Asia and Africa were theirs, and the
farthest islands of the sea. Pamela, however, turned her
back on it. The new trade route to Seistan had no message
for her. She looked with envy upon an earlier century.

" Of course," he resumed, " it's pleasant to come back, if
only as a preparation for going away again."

And then Pamela turned on him with her eyes wide open
and a look of actual trouble upon her face.

" No," she said with emphasis. She leaned forward and
lowered her voice. " You have no right to work upon people
and make them your friends, if you mean, when you have
made them your friends, to go away without a word for ever
60 long. I have missed you very much."

" I wanted you to miss me," he replied.

" Yes, I thought so. But it wasn't fair," she said gently.
" You see, I have been quite fair with you. If you had gone
away at once, if you had left me alone when I said ' No ' to
you two years ago, then I should have no right to complain.
I should have no right to call you back. But it's different
now, and you willed that it should be different. You stayed


by me. Whenever I turned, there were you at my side. You
taught me to count on you, as I count on no one else. Yes,
that's true. Well, then, you have lost the right to turn your
back now just when it pleases you."

" It wasn't because it pleased me."

" No. I admit that," she agreed. " It was to make an
experiment on me, but the experiment was made at my
expense. For after all you enjoyed yourself," she added,

with a laugh.

Warrisden joined in the laugh.

" It's quite true," he said. " I did." Then his voice
dropped to the same serious tone in which she had spoken.
"Why not say the experiment succeeded? Couldn't you

say that ? "

Pamela shook her head.

" No. I can give you no more now than I gave you a
year ago, two years ago, and that is not enough. Oh, I
know," she continued hurriedly as she saw that he was
about to interrupt. "Lots of women are content to begin
with friendship. How they can, puzzles me. But I know
they do begin with nothing more than that, and very often
it works out very well. The friendship becomes more than
friendship. But I can't begin that way. I would if I
could. But I can't."

She leaned back in her chair, and sat for a while with
her hands upon her knees in an attitude extraordinarily
still The jingle of harness in the square rose to Warnsden's
ears' the clamour of the town came muffled from the noisy
streets He looked upwards to the tender blue of a summer
sky where the stars shone like silver ; and he leaned back
disheartened. He had returned to London, and nothing was
changed There was the same busy life vociferous m its
streets, and this girl still sat in the midst of it with the
same lassitude and quiescence. She seemed to be waiting,
not at all tor something new to happen, but for the things,
which were happening, to cease, waiting with the indifference


of the very old. And she was quite young. She sat
with the delicate profile of her face outlined against the
darkness ; the colour of youth was in her cheeks ; the
slender column of her throat, the ripple of her dark hair,
the grace of her attitude claimed her for youth ; she was
fragrant with it from head to foot. And yet it seemed that
there was no youth in her blood.

" So nothing has changed for you during these months,"
he said, deeply disappointed.

She turned her face quietly to him and smiled. " No,"
she answered, " there has been no new road for me from
Quetta to Seistan. I still look on."

There was the trouble. She just looked on, and to his
thinking it was not right that at her age she should do no
more. A girl nowadays had so many privileges, so many
opportunities denied to her grandmother, she could do so
much more, she had so much more freedom, and yet Pamela
insisted upon looking on. If she had shown distress, it
would have been better. But no. She lived without deep
feeling of any kind in a determined isolation. She had
built up a fence about herself, and within it she sat untouched
and alone.

It was likely that no one else in the wide circle of her
acquaintances had noticed her detachment, and certainly to
no one but Warrisden had she admitted it. And it was
only acknowledged to him after he had found it out for
himself. For she did not sit at home. On the contrary,
hardly a night passed during the season but she went to
some party. Only, wherever she went, she looked on.

" And you still prefer old men to young ones ? " he cried
in a real exasperation.

" They talk more of things and less of persons," she

That was not right either. She ought to be interested
in persons. "Warrisden rose abruptly from his chair. He
was completely baffled. Pamela was like the sleeping


princess in the fairy tale, she lay girt about with an
impassable thicket of thorns. She was in a worse case,
indeed, for the princess in the story might have slept on till
the end of time, a thing of beauty. But was it possible for
Pamela, so to sleep to the end of life, he asked himself.
Let her go on in her indifference, and she might dwindle
and grownarrow, her soul would be starved and all the good
of her be lost. Somehow a way must be forced through the
thicket, somehow she must be wakened. Bat he seemed no
nearer to finding that way than he had been two years ago,
and she was no nearer to her wakening.

"No, there has been no change," he said, and as he
spoke his eye was caught by a bright light which suddenly
flamed up in the window of a dark house upon his right.
The house had perplexed him more than once. It took so
little part in the life of the square, it so consistently effaced
itself from the gaieties of the people who lived about. _ Its
balconies were never banked with flowers, no visitors
mounted its steps ; and even in the daytime it had a look of
mystery. It may have been that some dim analogy between
that house and the question which so baffled him arrested
Warrisden's attention. It may have been merely that he
was by nature curious and observant. But be leaned forward
upon the balcony-rail.

« Do you see that light ? " he asked. " In the window
on the second floor ? "
" Yes."

He took out his watch and noticed the time. It was
just a quarter to twelve. He laughed softly to himself and

said —

" Wait a moment ! "

He watched the house for a few minutes without saying
a word. Pamela with a smile at his eagerness watched too.
In a little while they saw the door open and a man and a
woman, both in evening dress, appear upon the steps.
Warriaden laughed again.


" Wait," he said, as if he expected Pamela to interrupt.
"You'll see they won't whistle up a cab. They'll walk
beyond the house and take one quietly. Very likely they'll
look up at the lighted window on the second floor as though
they were schoolboys who had escaped from their dormitories,
and were afraid of beiDg caught by the master before they
had had their fun. There, do you see ? "

For as he spoke the man and the woman stopped and
looked up. Had they heard Warrisden's voice and obeyed
his directions they could not have more completely fulfilled
his prediction. They had the very air of truants. Appar-
ently they were reassured. They walked along the pavement
until they were well past the house. Then they signalled to
a passing hansom. The cab-driver did not see them, yet
they did not call out, nor did the man whistle. They
waited until another approached and they beckoned to that.
Warrisden watched the whole scene with the keenest interest.
As the two people got into the cab he laughed again and
turned back to Pamela.

" Well ? " she said, with a laugh of amusement, and the
quiet monosyllable, falling as it were with a cold splash upon
his enjoyment of the little scene, suddenly brought him back
to the question which was always latent in his mind. How
was Pamela to be awakened ?

" It's a strange place, London," he said. " No doubt it
seems stranger to me, and more full of interesting people
and interesting things just because I have come back from
very silent and very empty places. But that house always
puzzled me. I used to have rooms overlooking this square,
high up, over there," and he pointed to the eastern side of
the square towards Berkeley Street, " and what we have seen
to-night used to take place every night, and at the same
hour. The light went up in the room on the second floor,
and the truants crept out. Guess where they go to ! The
Savoy. They go and sit there amongst the lights and the
music for half an hour, then they come back to the dark


house. They live in the most curious isolation with the
most curious regularity. There are three of them altogether :
an old man — it is his light, I suppose, which went up on the
second floor — and those two. I know who they are. The
old man is Sir John Stretton."

" Oh ! " said Pamela, with interest.

" And the two people we saw are his son and his son's
wife. I have never met them. In fact, no one meets them.
I don't know any one who knows them."

" Yes, you do," said Pamela, " I know them." And in
her knowledge, although "Warrisden did not know it, lay the
answer to the problem which so perplexed him.

( 25 )



Warrisden turned quickly to Pamela.

" You never mentioned them."

"No," she replied with a smile. "But there's no
mystery in my silence. I simply haven't mentioned them
because for two years I have lost sight of them altogether.
I used to meet them about, and I have been to their

" There ? " asked "Warrisden. with a nod towards the
lighted window.

" No ; but to the house Millie and Mr. Stretton had in
Deanery Street. They gave that up two years ago when old
Lady Stretton died. I thought they had gone to live in the

" And all the while they have been living here," ex-
claimed Warrisden. He had spoken truthfully of himself.
The events, and the people with whom he came, however
slightly, into contact always had interested and amused him.
It was his pleasure to fit his observations together until he
had constructed a little biography in his mind of each
person with whom he was acquainted. And there was never
an incident of any interest within his notice, but he sought
the reason for it and kept an eye open for its consequence.

" Don't you see how strange the story is ? " he went on.
" They give up their house upon Lady Stretton's death, and
they come to live here with Sir John. That's natural
enough. Sir John's an old man. But they live in such


seclusion that even their friends think they have retired into

the country." , , , , ,

"Yes, it is strange," Pamela admitted. And she added,
" I was Millie Stretton's bridesmaid."

Upon Warrisden's request she told him what she knew
of the coupje who lived in the dark house and played truant.
Millie Stretton was the daughter of a Judge in Ceylon who
when Millie had reached the age of seventeen had married
a second time. The step-mother had lacked discretion ;
from the very first she had claimed to exercise a complete
and undisputed authority ; she had been at no pains to
BPcnre the affections of her step-daughter. And very little
rouble would have been needed, for Millie was naturally
affectionate. A girl without any great depth of feeling, she
responded easily to a show of kindness. She found it ne thet
difficult to make intimate friends, nor hard to lose them
She was of the imitative type besides. She took her thoughts
and even her language from those who at the moment were
by her ride. Tims her step-mother had the easiest of tasks
but she did not possess the necessary tact. She demanded
o d ence, and in return offered tolerance. The household
a Colon no, therefore, became for Millie a roofstead rather
Urnn a home, and a year after this marriage she betook
r " If and the few thousands of pounds which her mother
hid bequeathed her to London. The ostensible reason for
dep' u c was the invitation of Mrs Charles Rawson, a
friend of her mother's. But Millie had made up her mind
nat a return to Ceylon was not to be endured S omchow
she would manage to make a home or herself in Englan d
She found her path at once made easy. She was pre
with the prettiness of a child, she gave no trouble sh waa
•esh she dressed a drawing-room gracefully, he fitted
, y into her surroundings, she picked up immediately the
ways of thought and the jargon of her new companions. In
a word, with the remarkable receptivity which was hers, she
was ^ery quickly at home in Mrs. Rawson s house. She


became a favourite no less for her modest friendliness than
on account of her looks. Mrs. Kawson, who was nearing
middle age, but whose love of amusements was not assuaged,
rejoiced to have so attractive a companion to take about
with her. Millie, for her part, was very glad to be so taken
about. She had fallen from the obscure clouds into a bright
and wonderful world.

It was at this time that Pamela Mardale first met
Millicent Stretton, or rather, one should say, Millicent
Rundell, since Rundell was at that time her name. They
became friends, although so far as character was concerned
they had little in common. It may have been that the
difference between them was the actual cause of their friend-
ship. Certainly Millie came rather to lean upon her friend,
admired her strength, made her the repository of her con-
fidences, and if she received no confidences in return, she was
content to believe that there were none to make. It was at
this time too that Millie fell in with Lady Stretton.

Lady Stretton, a tall old woman with the head of a
Grenadier, had the characteristic of Sir Anthony Absolute.
There was no one so good-tempered so long as she had her
own way ; and she generally had it.

" Lady Stretton saw that Millie was easily led," Pamela
continued. " She thought, for that reason, she would be a
suitable wife for Tony, her son, who was then a subaltern in
the Coldstream. So she did all she could to throw them

Online LibraryA. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley) MasonThe truants; a novel → online text (page 2 of 26)