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 here.”
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 himself. 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.”
“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.
“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 man to complain. Yet the truth came out clearly. Outwardly 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 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 without 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 and 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 perplexity upon her forehead.
“How do you live them again?” she asked. “I don’t understand.”
“In this way,” said Mudge. “I keep an old, worn-out suit of clothes locked up in a cupboard. Well, when I 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 satisfaction 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 Millingham’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. Callon. 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. Callon 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 you, 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 to.”
“I have that confidence,” said Mudge.
“I know. I am glad,” replied Pamela; and she resumed: “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 Millingham’s house of Whitewebs. Her own house stood, as it were, at one end of the base of an obtuse triangle, of which Whitewebs made the other end, and the three poplars the apex.