The Truants

Chapter XXIII

Roquebrune Revisited

A.E.W. Mason

THERE, accordingly, they met on the following afternoon. Pamela rode across the level country between the Croft Hill which overhung her house, and the village. In front of her the three poplars pointed skywards from the ridge. She was anxious and troubled. It seemed to her that Millie Stretton was slipping beyond her reach; but the sight of those trees lightened her of some portion of her distress. She was turning more and more in her thoughts towards Warrisden whenever trouble knocked upon her door. In the moment of greatest perplexity his companionship, or even the thought of it, rested her like sleep. As she came round the bend of the road at the foot of the hill, she saw him coming down the slope towards her. She quickened her horse, and trotted up to him.

“You are here already?” she said. “I am very glad. I was not sure that I had allowed you time enough.”

“Oh yes,” said Warrisden. “I came at once. I guessed why you wanted me from the choice of our meeting-place. We meet at Quetta, on the same business which brought us together at Quetta before. Is not that so?”

“Yes,” said Pamela.

They walked to the door of the inn at the top of the hill. An ostler took charge of Pamela’s horse, and they went within to the parlour.

“You want me to find Stretton again?” said Warrisden.

Pamela looked at him remorsefully.

“Well, I do,” she answered; and there was compunction in the tone of her voice. “I would not ask you unless the matter was very urgent. I have used you for my needs, I know, with too little consideration for you, and you very generously and willingly have allowed me to use you. So I am a little ashamed to come to you again.”

Here were strange words from Pamela. They were spoken with hesitation, too, and the colour burned in her cheeks. Warrisden was surprised to hear them. He laid his hand upon her arm and gave it a little affectionate shake.

“My dear, I am serving myself,” he said, “just as much as I am serving you. Don’t you understand that? Have you forgotten our walk under the elms in Lady Millingham’s garden? If Tony returned, and returned in time, why, then you might lay your finger on the turnpike gate and let it swing open of its own accord. I remember what you said. Tony’s return helps me, so I help myself in securing his return.”

Pamela’s face softened into a smile.

“Then you really do not mind going?” she went on. “I am remorseful, in a way, because I asked you to go once before in this very room, and nothing came of all your trouble. I want you to believe now that I could not ask you again to undergo the same trouble, or even more, as it may prove, were not the need ever so much more urgent than it was then.”

“I am sorry to hear that the need is more urgent,” Warrisden replied; “but, on the other hand, the trouble I shall have to bear is much less, for I know where Stretton is.”

Pamela felt that half of the load of anxiety was taken from her shoulders.

“You do?” she exclaimed.

Warrisden nodded.

“And what he is doing. He is serving with the Foreign Legion in Algeria. I thought you might want to lay your hands on him again, and I wished to be ready. Chance gave me a clue—an envelope with a postmark. I followed up the clue by securing an example of Stretton’s handwriting. It was the same handwriting as that which directed the envelope, so I was sure.”

“Thank you,” said Pamela. “Indeed, you do not fail me;” and her voice was musical with gratitude.

“He was at Ain-Sefra, a little town on the frontier of Algeria,” Warrisden resumed. And Pamela interrupted him—

“Then I need not make so heavy a demand upon you after all,” she said. “It was only a letter which I was going to ask you to carry to Tony. Now there is no necessity that yon should go at all, for I can post it.”

She produced the letter from a pocket of her coat as she spoke.

“Ah, but will it reach Stretton if you do?” said Warrisden.

Pamela had already seated herself at the table, and was drawing the inkstand towards her. She paused at Warrisden’s question, and looked up.

“Surely Ain-Sefra, Algeria, will find him?”

“Will it?” Warrisden repeated. He sat down at the table opposite to her. “Even if it does, will it reach him in time? You say the need is urgent. Well, it was last summer when I saw the postmark on the envelope, two days after we talked together in Lady Millingham’s garden. I had business in London.”

“I remember,” said Pamela.

“My business was just to find out where Stretton was hiding himself. He was at Ain-Sefra then; he may be at Ain-Sefra now. But it is a small post, and he may not. The headquarters of the Legion are at Sidi Bel-Abbès, in the north. He may be there, or he may be altogether out of reach on some Saharan expedition.”

There was yet another possibility which occurred to both their minds at this moment. It was possible that no letter would ever reach Stretton again; that Warrisden, searched he never so thoroughly, would not be able to find the man he searched for. There are so many graves in the Sahara. But neither of them spoke of this possibility, though a quick look they interchanged revealed to each its presence in the other’s thoughts.

“Besides, he wanted to lie hidden. So much I know, who know nothing of his story. Would he have enlisted under his own name, do you think? Or even under his own nationality? It is not the common practice in the Foreign Legion. And that’s not all. Even were he soldiering openly under his own name, how will you address your letter with any likelihood that it will reach him? Just ‘La Legion Etrangère’? We want to know to what section of la Legion Etrangère he belongs. Is he chasseur, artilleryman, sapper? Perhaps he serves in the cavalry. Then which is his squadron? Is he a plain foot soldier? Then in what battalion, and what rank does he occupy? We cannot answer any of these questions, and, unanswered, they certainly delay your letter; they may prevent it ever reaching him at all.”

Pamela laid down her pen and stared blankly at Warrisden. He piled up the objections one by one in front of her until it seemed she would lose Tony once more from her sight after she had got him for a moment within her vision.

“So you had better entrust your letter to me,” he concluded. “Address it to Stretton under his own name. I will find him, if he is to be found, never fear. I will find him very quickly.”

Pamela addressed the letter. Yet she held it for a little time in her hand after it was addressed. All the while Warrisden had been speaking she had felt an impulse strong within her to keep him back; and it was because of that impulse, rather than with any thought of Millie Stretton and the danger in which she stood, that Pamela asked doubtfully—

“How long will you be?”

“I should find him within ten days.”

Pamela smiled suddenly.

“It is not so very long,” said she; and she handed the letter across to Warrisden. “Well, go!” she cried, with a certain effort. “Telegraph to me when you have found Tony. Bring him back, and come back yourself.” She added, in a voice which was very low and wistful, “Please come back soon!” Then she rose from the table, and Warrisden put the letter in his pocket and rose too.

“You will be at home, I suppose, in ten days?” he said. And Pamela said quickly, as though some new idea had just been suggested to her mind—

“Oh, wait a moment!”

She stood quite still and thoughtful. There was a certain test by which she had meant to find the soundings of heart. Here was a good opportunity to apply the test. Warrisden would be away upon his journey; she could not help Millie Stretton now by remaining in England. She determined to apply the test.

“No,” she said slowly. “Telegraph to me at the Villa Pontignard, Roquebrune, Alpes Maritimes, France. I shall be travelling thither immediately.”

Her decision was taken upon an instant. It was the logical outcome of her thoughts and of Warrisden’s departure; and since Warrisden went because of Millie Stretton, Pamela’s journey to the South of France was due, in a measure, to that lady, too. Yet no one would have been more astonished than Millie Stretton had she learned of Pamela’s visit at this time. She would have been quick to change her own plans; but she had no knowledge of whither Pamela’s thoughts were leading her. When Callon in the hansom cab had said to her, “Come South,” her first swift reflection had been, “Pamela will be safe in England.” She herself had refused to go south with Pamela. Pamela’s desire to go was to her mind a mere false pretext to get her away from her one friend. If she did not go south, she was very sure that Pamela would not. There had seemed to her no safer place than the Riviera. But she was wrong. Here, in the village of the Three Poplars, Pamela had made her decision.

“I shall go to Roquebrune as soon as I can make arrangements for a servant or two,” she said.

“Roquebrune,” said Warrisden, as he wrote down the address. “I once walked up a long flight of steps to that village many years ago. Perhaps you were at the villa then. I wonder. You must have been a little girl. It was one February. I came over from Monte Carlo, and we walked up from the station. We met the schoolmaster.”

“M. Giraud!” exclaimed Pamela.

“Was that his name? He had written a little history of the village and the Corniche road. He took me under his wing. We went into a wine shop on the first floor of a house in the middle of the village, and we sat there quite a long time. He asked us about Paris and London with an eagerness which was quite pathetic. He came down with us to the station, and his questions never ceased. I suppose he was lonely there.”

Pamela nodded her head.

“Very. He did not sleep all night for thinking of what you had told him.”

“You were there, then?” cried Warrisden.

“Yes; M. Giraud used to read French with me. He came to me one afternoon quite feverish. Two Englishmen had come up to Roquebrune, and had talked to him about the great towns and the lighted streets. He was always dreaming of them. Poor man, he is at Roquebrune still, no doubt.”

She spoke with a great tenderness and pity, looking out of the window, and for the moment altogether lost to her surroundings. Warrisden roused her from her reverie.

“I must be going away.”

Pamela’s horse was brought to the door, and she mounted.

“Walk down the hill beside my horse,” she said; “just as you did on that other day, when the hill was slippery, your hand upon his neck—so.”

Very slowly they walked down the hill. There were no driving mists to-day, the evening was coming with a great peace, the fields and woods lay spread beneath them toned to a tranquil grey. The white road glimmered. At the bottom of the hill Pamela stopped.

“Good-bye,” she said; and there was more tenderness in her voice and in her face than he had ever known. She laid her hand upon his arm and bent down to him.

“Come back to me,” she said wistfully. “I do not like letting you go; and yet I am rather proud to know that you are doing something for me which I could not do for myself, and that you do it so very willingly.”

She did not wait to hear any answer, but took her hand from his arm and rode quickly away. That turnpike gate of friendship had already swung open of its own accord. As she rode from Quetta that evening, she passed beyond it, and went gratefully and hopefully, with the other men and women, down the appointed road.

She knew it while she was riding homewards to the Croft Hill. She knew it, and was very glad. She rode home very slowly through the tranquil evening, and gave herself up to joy. It was warm, and there was a freshness in the air as though the world renewed itself. Darkness came; only the road glimmered ahead of her—the new road, which was the old road. Even that glimmer of white had almost vanished when at last she saw the lighted windows of her father’s house. The footman told her that dinner was already served, but she ran past him very quickly up the stairs, and coming to her own room, locked the door and sat for a long while in the darkness, her blood throbbing in her veins, her whole heart uplifted, not thinking at all, but just living, and living most joyfully. She sat so still that she might have been in a swoon; but it was the stillness of perfect happiness. She knew the truth that night.

But, none the less, she travelled south towards the end of the week, since there a telegram would come to her. She persuaded a convenient aunt to keep her company, who has nothing whatever to do with this story; and reaching Villa Pontignard one afternoon, walked through the familiar rooms which she had so dreaded ever to revisit. She went out to the narrow point of the garden where so often she had dreamed with M. Giraud of the outside world, its roaring cities and its jostle of people. She sat down upon the parapet. Below her the cliff fell sheer, and far below, in the darkness at the bottom of the gorge, the water tumbled in foam with a distant hum. On the opposite hill the cypresses stood out black from the brown and green. Here she had suffered greatly, but the wounds were healed. These dreaded places had no longer power to hurt. She knew that very surely. She was emancipated from sorrow, and as she sat there in the still, golden afternoon, the sense of freedom ran riot in her blood. She looked back over the years to the dragging days of misery, the sleepless nights. She felt a pity for the young girl who had then looked down from this parapet and prayed for death; who had counted the many years of life in front of her; who had bewailed her very strength and health. But ever her eyes turned towards the Mediterranean and searched the horizon. For beyond that blue, calm sea stretched the coasts of Algeria.

There was but one cloud to darken Pamela’s happiness during these days while she waited for Warrisden’s telegram. On the morning after she had arrived, the old curé climbed from the village to visit her. Almost Pamela’s first question was of M. Giraud.

“He is still here?”

“Yes, he is still here,” replied the curé; but he pursed up his lips and shook his head.

“I must send for him,” said Pamela.

The curé said nothing. He was standing by the window, and almost imperceptibly he shrugged his shoulders as though he doubted her wisdom. In a moment Pamela was at his side.

“What is it?” she asked gently. “Tell me.”

“Oh, mademoiselle, there is little to tell! He is not the schoolmaster you once knew. That is all. The wine shop has made the difference—the wine shop and discontent. He was always dissatisfied, you know. It is a pity.”

“I am so sorry,” said Pamela, gravely, “so very sorry.”

She was silent for a while, and greatly troubled by the curé’s news.

“Has he married?” she asked.


“It would have been better if he had.”

“No doubt, mademoiselle,” said the curé, “but he has not, and I think it is now too late.”

Pamela did not send for M. Giraud. It seemed to her that she could do no good even if at her request he came to her. She would be going away in a few days. She would only hurt him and put him to shame before her. She took no step towards a renewal of their friendship, and though she did not avoid him, she never came across him in her walks.

For ten days she walked the old hill paths, and dreams came to her with the sunlight. They gave her company in the evenings, too, when she looked from her garden upon the quiet sea and saw, away upon the right, the lights, like great jewels, burning on the terrace of Monte Carlo. She went down one morning on to that terrace, and, while seated upon a bench, suddenly saw, at a little distance, the back of a man which was familiar to her.

She was not sure, but she was chilled with apprehension. She watched from behind her newspaper, and in a little while she was sure, for the man turned and showed his face. It was Lionel Callon. What was he doing here, she asked herself? And another question trod fast upon the heels of the first. “Was he alone?”

Callon was alone on this morning, at all events. Pamela saw him speak to one or two people, and then mount the terrace steps towards the town. She gave him a little time, and then, walking through the gardens, bought a visitors’ list at the kiosk in front of the Rooms. She found Callon’s name. He was the only visitor at a Reserve, on the Corniche road, which was rather a restaurant than a hotel. She searched through the list, fearing to find the name of Millie Stretton under the heading of some other hotel. To her relief it was not there. It was possible, of course, that Callon was merely taking a holiday by himself. She wished to believe that, and yet there was a fear speaking loudly at her heart. “Suppose that Tony should return too late just by a few days!” She was still holding the paper in her hands when she heard her name called, and, turning about, saw some friends. She lunched with them at Ciro’s, and asked carelessly during luncheon—

“You have not seen Millie Stretton, I suppose?”

“No,” they all replied. And one asked, “Is she expected?”

“I don’t know whether she will come or not,” Pamela replied. “I asked her to come with me, but she could not do that, and she was not sure that she would come at all.”

This she said, thinking that if Millie did arrive it might seem that she came because Pamela herself was there. Pamela went back to Roquebrune that afternoon, and after she had walked through the village and had come out on the slope of hill above, she met the postman coming down from the Villa Pontignard.

“You have a telegram for me?” she said anxiously.

“Mademoiselle,” he replied, “I have just left it at the house.”

Pamela hurried on, and found the telegram in the salon. She tore it open. It was from Warrisden. It told her that Tony Stretton was found, and would return. It gave the news in vague and guarded language, mentioning no names. But Pamela understood the message. Tony Stretton was actually coming back. “Would he come too late?” she asked, gazing out in fear across the sea. Of any trouble, out there in Algeria, which might delay his return, she did not think at all. If it was true that he had enlisted in the Legion, there might be obstacles to a quick return. But such matters were not in her thoughts. She thought only of Callon upon the terrace of Monte Carlo. “Would Tony come too late?” she asked; and she prayed that he might come in time.

The Truants - Contents    |     Chapter XXIV

Back    |    Words Home    |    A.E.W. Mason Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback