The Truants

Chapter II

Pamela looks on.

A.E.W. Mason

ALAN WARRISDEN was one of the two men who had 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 Millingham, 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 despatch.

“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 Leicestershire. 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 Roquebrune 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 Mardale 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 coupé 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 for was not there.

Lady Millingham, however, set his mind at case.

“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. He 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 companion, 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 left for her to speak first. She was sitting upon the outside against the railing, so that the light from the windows streamed full upon her face. He watched it, looking for the change which he desired. But it had still the one fault he found with it. It was still too sedate, too womanly for her years. It happened that they had found a corner where flowers made a sort of screen, and they could talk in low voices without being overheard.

“I heard of you,” she said. “You were shooting woodcock in Dalmatia.”

“That was at Christmas.”

“Yes. You were hurt there.”

“Not seriously,” he replied. “A sheep-dog attacked me. They are savage brutes, and indeed they have to be, there are so many wolves. The worst of it is, if you are attacked, you mustn’t kill the dog, or there’s trouble.”

“I heard of you again. You were at Quetta, getting together a caravan.”

“That was in February. I crossed by the new trade route from Quetta to Seistan.”

She had spoken in an indefinite tone, which left him with no clue to her thoughts. Now, however she turned her eyes upon him, and said in a lower voice, which was very gentle—

“Don’t you think you might have told me that you were going away for a year?”

Warrisden had gone away deliberately, and as deliberately he had abstained from telling her of his intention. He had no answer to make to her question, and he did not attempt to invent one. He sat still and looked at her. She followed the question with another. “Don’t you think it would have been kinder if you had written to me once or twice, instead of letting me hear about you from any chance acquaintance?”

Again he made no answer. For he had deliberately 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 so 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 Warrisden’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 in 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 for 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 explained.

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 grow narrow, 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. But 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 he leaned forward upon the balcony-rail.

“Do you see that light?” he asked. “In the window on the second floor?”


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. Warrisden 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 being 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. Apparently 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.

The Truants - Contents    |     Chapter III

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