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

The truants; a novel online

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the mueddhin came out upon the minaret which rose from
the southern wall, and chanted in a monotone his call to
prayer ; and then a drummer and a bugler advanced into
the crowded square. Suddenly there fell upon Stretton's
ears, competing with the mueddhin and the uproar of the
animals, the " Last Post."

Stretton started up, amazed, and most deeply moved.
An English officer instructed the Moorish troops. What
more natural than that he should introduce the English calls
and signals ? But to Stretton it seemed most wonderful
that here, in this Eastern country, while the Mohammedan
priest was chanting from his minaret, he should hear again,
after so many years, that familiar tattoo sounded by an
Eastern bugle and an Eastern drum. In how many barracks
of England, he wondered, would that same " Last Post "
ring out to-night ? And at once the years slipped away,
the hard years of the North Sea and the Sahara. He was
carried back among the days when he served in the Cold-
stream. Then arose in his heart a great longing that some-
thing of the happiness of those days might be recaptured

Warrisden and Stretton crossed the Sebou the next
morning, and rode with the boom of the Atlantic in their
ears. Hills upon their left hand hid the sea from their eyes,
and it was not until the next day, when they mounted on to
a high tableland four hours from Larache, that they saw it
rolling lazily towards the shore. They caught a steamer at
Larache that night.




Meanwhile Pamela waited at the Villa Pontignard, swing-
ing from hope to fear, and from fear again to hope. The
days chased one another. She watched the arrival of each
train from Marseilles at the little station below, with an
expectant heart ; and long after it had departed towards
Italy, she kept within her vision the pathway np the hillside
to the villa. But the travellers did not return. Expectation
and disappointment walked alternately at her elbow all the
day, and each day seemed endless. Yet, when the next day
came, it had come all too quickly. Every morning it seemed
to her, as she turned her calendar, that the days chased one
another, racing to the month's end ; every evening, tired out
with her vigil, she wondered how they could pass so slowly.
The thirty-first of the month dawned at last. At some time
on this day Millie Stretton would arrive at Eze. She thought
of it, as she rose, with a sinking heart ; and then thrust
thought aside. She dared not confront the possibility that
the trains might stop at Roquebrune, and move on to Italy
and discharge no passengers upon the platform. She dared
not recognise her dread that this day might close and the
darkness come as fruitlessly as all the rest. It was her last
day of hope. Lionel Gallon was waiting. Millie Stretton
was arriving. To-morrow, Tony might come, but he would
come too late. Pamela lived in suspense. Somehow the
morning passed. The afternoon Rapide swept through
towards Mentone. Pamela saw the smoke of the engine


from her terrace, and knew that upon that train had come
the passenger from England. Half an hour ago Millie had
most likely stepped from her carriage on to the platform at
Eze. And still Tony Stretton and "Warrisden lingered.

Towards dusk she began to despair. In a little while
another train was due. She heard its whistle, saw it stop at
the station, and waited with her eyes fixed upon the hillside
path. No one appeared upon it. She turned and went into
the house. She thought for a moment of going herself to
Eze, thrusting herself upon Millie at the cost of any snub ;
and while she debated whether the plan could at all avail,
the door was opened, a servant spoke some words about a
visitor, and a man entered the room. Pamela started to her
feet. The man stood in the twilight of the room : his
back was against the light of the window. Pamela could
not see his face. But it was not Warrisden, so much she
knew at once. It could only be Tony Stretton.

" So you have come," she cried. " At last 1 I had
given up hope."

She advanced and held out her hand. And some reserve
in Tony's attitude, something of coldness in the manner
with which he took her hand, checked and chilled her.

" It is you ? " she asked. " I watched the path. The
train has gone some while."

"Yes, it is I," he replied. "I had to inquire my
way at the village. This is the first time I ever came to

Still more than the touch of his hand and the reserve of
his manner, the cold reticence of his voice chilled her. She
turned to the servant abruptly —

" Bring lamps," she said. She felt the need to see Tony
Stretton's face. She had looked forward so eagerly to his
coming ; she had hoped for it, and despaired of it with so full
a heart ; and now he had come, and with him there had come,
most unexpectedly, disappointment. She had expected ardour,
and there was only, as it seemed, indifference and stolidity.


She was prepared for a host of questions to be tumbled out
upon her in so swift a succession that no time was given to
her for an answer to any one of them ; and he stood before
her, seemingly cold as stone. Had he ceased to care for
Millie, she wondered ?

" You have come as quickly as you could ? " she asked,
trying to read his features in the obscurity.

" I have not lost a moment since I received your letter,"
he answered.

She caught at the words, "your letter." Perhaps there
lay the reason for his reserve. She* had written frankly,
perhaps too frankly she feared at tliis moment. Had the
letter suddenly killed his love for Millie ? Such things, no
doubt, could happen — had happened. Disillusion might
have withered it like a swift shaft of lightning.

" My letter," she said. " You must not exaggerate its
meaning. You read it carefully ? "

" Very carefully."

" And I wrote it carefully," she went on, pleading with
his indifference ; "very carefully."

" It contains the truth," said Tony ; " I did not doubt-

" Yes ; but it contains all the truth," she urged. " You
must not doubt that cither. Remember, you yourself are to
blame. I wrote that, didn't I ? I meant it."

" Yes, you wrote that," answered Tony. " I am not
denying that you are right. It may well be that I am to
blame. It may well be that you, too, are not quite free from
blame. Had you told me that morning, when we rode
together in the Row, what you had really meant when you

said that I ought never to leave my wife " And at

that Pamela interrupted him —

" Would you have stayed if I had explained ? " she cried.
And Tony for a moment was si lent. Then he answered
slowly —

" No ; for I should not have believed you." And then


he moved for the first time since he had entered the room.
" However, it can do neither of us any good to discuss what
we might have done had we known then what we know

He stopped as the door opened. The lamps were brought
in and set upon the tables. Tony waited until the servant
had gone out, and the door was closed again ; then he
said —

" You sent a telegram. I am here in answer to it. I
was to be at Roquebrune on the thirty-first. This is the
thirty-first. Am I in time ? "

" Yes," said Pamela.

She could now see Tony clearly ; and of one thing she
at once was sure. She had been misled by the twilight of
the room. Tony, at all events, was not indifferent. He
stood before her travel-stained and worn. His face was
haggard and thin ; his eyes very tired, like the eyes of an
old man ; there were flecks of grey in his hair, and lines
about his eyes. These changes she noticed, and took them
at their true value. They were signs of the hard life he
had lived during these years, and of the quick, arduous
journey which he had made. But there was more. If
Tony had spoken with a measured voice, it was in order that
he might control himself the better. If he had stood with-
out gesture or motion, it was because he felt the need to
keep himself in hand. So much Pamela clearly saw. Tony
was labouring under a strong emotion.

" Yes you are in time," she cried ; and now her heart
was glad. " I was so set on saving both your lives, in keep-
ing you and Millie for each other. Of late, since you did
not come, my faith faltered a little. But it should not have
faltered. You are here ! You are here ! "

"My wife is here, too?" asked Tony, coldly; and
Pamela's enthusiasm again was checked. " "Where is she ? "

" She arrives in the south of France to-day. She stops
at Eze. She should be there now."


She bad hoped to see the blood pulse into his face, and
some look of gladness dawn suddenly in bis eyes, some smile
of forgiveness alter the stern set of his lips. But again she
was disappointed.

Tony seemed to put his wife out of his thoughts.

" And since your message was so urgent," he continued
deliberately, " it follows that Callon comes to-day as well,"
and he repeated the name in a singularly soft, slow, and
almost caressing voice. " Lionel Callon," he said.

And at once Pamela was desperately afraid. It needed
just that name uttered in just that way to explain to her
completely the emotion which Tony so resolutely controlled.
She looked at him aghast. She had planned to bring back
Tony to Millie and his home. The Tony Stretton whom
she had known of old, the good-natured, kindly man who
loved his wife, whom all men liked and none feared. And
lo ! she had brought back a stranger. And the stranger
was dangerous. He was thrilling with anger, he was antici-
pating his meeting with Lionel Callon with a relish which,
to Pamela, was dreadful.

" No," she exclaimed eagerly. " Mr. Callon has been
here all this while, and Millie only comes to-day."

" Callon has been waiting for her, then ? " he asked

" Oh, I don't know," Pamela exclaimed in despair. " I
have not spoken to him. How should I know ? "

" Yet you have no doubts."

" Well, then, no," she said, " I have no doubt that he is
waiting here for Millie. But she only arrives to-day.
They have not met until to-day. That is why I sent the

Tony nodded his head.

" So that I might be present at the meeting ? "

And Pamela could have cried out aloud. She had not
thought, she had not foreseen. She had fixed all her hopes
on saving Millie. Set upon that, she had not understood


that other and dreadful consequences might ensue. These
consequences were vivid enough before her eyes now. All
three would meet — Tony, Millie, and Lionel Callon. What
would follow ? What might not follow ? Pamela closed
her eyes. Her heart sank ; she felt faint at the thought of
what she had so blindly brought about.

" Tony 1 " she exclaimed. She wrung her hands together,
pleading with him in short and broken sentences. " Don't
think of him ! . . . Think of Millie. You can gain her
back ! ... I am very sure. ... I wrote that to you, didn't
I ? . . . Mr. Callon. ... It is not worth while. ... He
is of no account. . . . Millie was lonely, that was all. . . .
There would be a scandal, at the best. ..." And Tony
laughed harshly.

" Oh, it is not worth while," she cried again piteously,
and yet again, " it is not worth while."

" Yet I am anxious to meet him," said Tony.

Suddenly Pamela looked over his shoulder to the door,
and, for a moment, hope brightened on her face. But
Stretton understood the look, and replied to it.

" No, Warrisden is not here. I left him behind with our
luggage at Monte Carlo."

" Why did he stay ? " cried Pamela, as again her hopes fell.

He could hardly refuse. This is my affair, not his. I
claimed to-night. He will come to you, no doubt, to-

" You meant him to stay behind, then ? "

" I meant to see you alone," said Tony ; and Pamela
dared question him no more, though the questions thronged
in her mind and tortured her. Was it only because he
wished to see her alone that he left Warrisden behind ?
Was it not also so that he might not be hampered afterwards ?
Was it only so that another might not know of the trouble
between himself and Millie ? Or was it not so that another
might not be on hand to hinder him from exacting retribu-
tion ? Pamela was appalled. Tony was angry— yes, that


was natural enough. She would not have felt half her
present distress if he had shown his passion in tempestuous
words, if he had threatened, if he had raved. But there
was so much deliberation in his anger, he had it so com-
pletely in control ; it was an instrument which he meant to
use, not a fever which might master him for a moment and
let him go.

" You are so changed," she cried. " I did not think of
that when I wrote to you. But, of course, these years and
the Foreign Legion could not but change you."

She moved away, and sat down holding her head between
her hands. Stretton did not answer her words in any way.
He moved towards her, and asked —

" Is Callon, too, at Eze ? "

" No, no," she cried, raising her head, thankful, at last,
that here was some small point on which she could attenuate
his suspicions. " You are making too much of the trouble."

"Yet you wrote the letter to me. You also sent the
telegram. You sent me neither the one nor the other
without good reason." And Pamela dropped her eyes again
from his face.

" If Callon is not at Eze," he insisted, " he is close by !"

Pamela did not answer. She sat trying to compose her
thoughts. Suppose that she refused to answer, Tony would
go to Eze. lie might find Millie and Callon there. On the
other hand, it was unlikely that he would. Pamela had seen
that quiet, solitary restaurant by the sea where Callon lodged.
It was there that they would be, she had no doubt.

" Where is Callon ? " asked Tony. " "Where does he
stay ? "

Pamela closed her ears to the question, working still at
the stern problem of her answer. If she refused to tell him
what he asked, Millie and Callon might escape for to-night.
That was possible. But, then, to-morrow would come.
Tony must meet them to-morrow in any case, and to-morrow
might be too late.


" I will tell you," she answered, and she described the
place. And in another minute she was alone. She heard
the front door close, she heard Tony's step upon the gravel
of the garden path, and then all was silent. She sat holding
her throbbing temples in her hands. Visions rose before
her eyes, and her fear made them extraordinarily luminous and
vivid. She saw that broad, quiet terrace over the sea where
she had lunched, the lonely restaurant, the windows of that
suite of rooms open on to the terrace. A broad column of
light streamed out from the window in her vision. She
could almost hear voices and the sound of laughter, she
imagined the laughter all struck dumb, and thereafter a cry
of horror stabbing the night. The very silence of the villa
became a torture to her. She rose and walked restlessly
about the room. If she could only have reached Warrisden !
But she did not even know to which hotel in all the hotels
of Monte Carlo he had gone. Tony might have told her
that, had she kept her wits about her and put the question
with discretion. But she had not. She had no doubt that
Stretton had purposely left him behind. Tony wished for no
restraining hand, when at last he came face to face with
Lionel Callon. She sat down, and tried to reason out what
would happen. Tony would go first to Eze. Would he find
Millie there ? Perhaps. Most likely he would not. He
would go on then to the restaurant on the Corniche road.
But he would have wasted some time. It might be only a
little time, still, however short it was, what was waste of
time to Tony might be gain of time to her — if only she
could find a messenger.

Suddenly she stood up. There was a messenger, under
her very hand. She scribbled a note to Lionel Callon, hardly
knowing what she wrote. She bade liim go the instant when
he received it, go at all costs without a moment's delay.
Then, taking the note in her hand, she ran from the villa
down the road to Roquebrune.




The dusk was deepening quickly into darkness. As she ran
down the open stretch of hillside between her villa and the
little town, she saw the lights blaze out upon the terrace of
Monte Carlo. Far below her, upon her right, they shone like
great opals, each with a heart of fire. Pamela stopped for
a second to regain her breath before she reached Roquebrune.
The sudden brightness of those lights carried her thoughts
backwards to the years when the height of trouble for her
had been the sickness of a favourite horse, and all her life
was an eager expectation. On so many evenings she had
seen those lights flash out through the gathering night while
she had sat talking in her garden with the little schoolmaster
whom she was now to revisit. To both of them those lights
had been a parable. They had glowed in friendliness and
promise — thus she had read the parable — out of a great,
bright, gay world of men and women, upon a cool, twilit
garden of youth and ignorance. She thought of what had
come in place of all that imagined gaiety. To the school-
master, disappointment and degradation ; while, as for
herself, she felt very lonely upon this evening. " The world
is a place of great sadness." Thus had M. Giraud spoken
when Pamela had returned to Roquebrune from her first
season in London, and the words now came back to her


She ran on through the narrow streets of Roquebrune,


her white frock showing in the light from the shops and
windows. She wore no hat upon her head, and more than
one of the people in the street called to her as she passed and
asked her whether she needed help. Help, indeed, she did
need, but not from them. She came to the tiny square
whence the steps led down to the station. On the west side
of the square stood the school-house, and, close by, the little
house of the schoolmaster. A light burned in a window of
the ground floor. Pamela knocked loudly upon the door.
She heard a chair grate upon the floor-boards. She knocked
again, and the door was opened. It was the schoolmaster
himself who opened it.

" M. Giraud I" she exclaimed, drawing her breath quickly.
The schoolmaster leaned forward and stared at the white
figure which stood in the darkness just outside his porch ;
but he made no reply.

" Let me in ! " cried Pamela ; and he made a movement
as though to bar the way. But she slipped quickly past him
into the room. He closed the door slowly and followed

The room was bare. A deal table, a chair or two, and a
few tattered books on a hanging bookshelf made up all its
furniture. Pamela leaned against the wall with a hand to her
heart. M. Giraud saw her clearly now. She stood only a
few feet from him, in the light of the room. She was in
distress ; yet he spoke harshly.

" Why have you come ? " he cried ; and she answered,
piteously, " I want your help. 1 '

At that a flame of anger kindled within him. He saw
her again, after all this long time of her absence — her whose
equal he had never spoken with. Her dark hair, her eyes,
the pure outline of her face, her tall, slim figure, the broad
forehead — all the delicacy and beauty of her — was a torture
to him. The sound of her voice, with its remembered
accents, hurt him as he had thought nothing could ever hurt
him again,


" Really ! " he cried, in exasperation. " You want help ;
so you come to me. "Without that need would you have
come ? No, indeed. You are a woman. Get your fine
friends to help you ! "

There were other follies upon his tongue, but he never
spoke them. He looked at Pamela, and came to a stop.

Pamela had entered the cottage bent with a single mind
upon her purpose — to avert a catastrophe at the little
restaurant on the Corniche road. But M. Giraud was before
her, face to face with her, as she was face to face with him.
She saw him clearly in the light as he saw her ; and she was
shocked. The cure had prepared her for a change in her old
comrade, but not for so complete a disfigurement. The
wineshop had written its sordid story too legibly upon his
features. His face was bloated and red, the veins stood out
upon the cheeks, and the nose like threads of purple ; his
eyes were yellow and unwholesome. M. Giraud had grown
stout in body, too ; and his dress was slovenly and in dis-
repair. He was an image of degradation and neglect. Pamela
was shocked, and betrayed the shock. She almost shrank
from him at the first ; there was almost upon her face an
expression of aversion and disgust. But sorrow drove the
aversion away, and immediately her eyes were full of pity ;
and these swift changes M. Giraud saw and understood.

She was still his only window on the outside world.
That was the trouble. By her expression he read his own
decline more surely than in his mirror. Through her he
saw the world ; through her, too, he saw what manner of
figure he presented to the world. Never had he realised how
far he had sunk until this moment. He saw, as in a picture,
the young schoolmaster of the other days who had read
French with the pupil, who was more his teacher than his
pupil, upon the garden terrace of the Villa Pontignard — a
youth full of dreams, which were vain, no doubt, but not
ignoble. There was a trifle of achievement, too. For even
now one of the tattered books upon his shelf wa3 a copy of


his brochure on Roquebrane and the Upper Corniche road.
With perseverance, with faith — he understood it in a flash —
he might have found, here, at Roquebrune, a satisfaction
for those ambitions which had so tortured him. There was
a field here for the historian, had he chosen to seize on it.
Fame might have come to him, though he never visited the
great cities and the crowded streets. So he thought, and
then he realised what he had become. It was true he had
suffered great unhappiness. Yet so had she — Pamela Mar-
dale ; and she had not fallen from her pedestal. Here shame
seized upon him. He lowered his eyes from her face.

" Help ! " he stammered. " You ask me to help you ?
Look at me ! I can give you no help ! "

He suddenly broke off. He sat down at the table, buried
his face in his hands, and burst into tears. Pamela crossed
to him and laid her hand very gently upon his shoulder.
She spoke very gently, too.

" Oh yes, you can," she said.

He drew away from her, but she would not be repulsed.

" You should never have come to me at all," he sobbed.
" Oh, how I hate that you should see me like this ! Why did
you come ? I did not mean you to see me. You must have
known that ! You must have known, too, why. It was not
kind of you, mademoiselle. No, it was not kind ! "

" Yet I am glad that I came," said Pamela. " I came,
thinking of myself, it is true — my need is so very great ; but
now I see your need is as great as mine. I ask you to rise
up and help me."

" No, leave me alone ! " he cried. And she answered,
gently, " I will not."

M. Giraud grew quiet. He pressed Ins handkerchief to
his eyes, and stood up.

" Forgive me ! " he said. " I have behaved like a child ;
but you would forgive me if you knew how I have waited
and waited for you to come back. But you never did. Each
summer I said, ' She will return in the winter ! ' And the



winter came, and I said, ' She will come in the spring.' But
neither in winter nor in the spring did you return to Koque-
brune. I have needed you so badly all these years."
" I am sorry," replied Pamela ; " I am very sorry."
She did not reproach herself at all. She could not see,
indeed, that she was to blame. But she was none the less
distressed. Giraud's exhibition of grief was so utterly
unfamiliar to her that she felt awkward and helpless in face
of it. He was yet further disfigured now by the traces of
weeping ; his eyes were swollen and red. There was some-
thing grotesque in the aspect of this drink-swollen face, all
convulsed with sorrow. Nothing could well lie less in sym-
pathy with Pamela's nature than Giraud's outburst and
display of tears ; for she was herself reticent and proud.
She held her head high as she walked through the world,
mistress alike of her sorrows and her joys. But Mr. Madge
had spoken the truth when he had called upon her in
Leicestershire. Imagination had come to her of late. She
was able to understand the other point of view — to appreciate
that there were other characters than hers which must needs

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Online LibraryA. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley) MasonThe truants; a novel → online text (page 21 of 26)