The Truants

Chapter XXXVI

The End

A.E.W. Mason

TONY wished for no mention of the word. He had not brought her to that house that he might forgive her, but because he wanted her there. If forgiveness was in question, there was much to be said upon her side too. He was to blame, as Pamela had written. He had during the last few months begun to realise the justice of that sentence more clearly than he had done even when the letter was fresh within his thoughts.

“I have learnt something,” he said to Millie, “which I might have known before, but never did. It is this. Although a man may be content to know that love exists, that is not the case with women. They want the love expressed, continually expressed, not necessarily in words, but in a hundred little ways. I did not think of that. There was the mistake I made: I left you alone to think just what you chose. Well, that’s all over now. I bought this house not merely to please you, but as much to please myself; for as soon as I understood that after all the compromise which I dreaded need not be our lot—that after all the life together of which I used to dream was possible, was within arm’s reach if only one would put out an arm and grasp it, I wanted you here. As soon as I was sure, quite sure that I had recaptured you, I wanted you here.”

He spoke with passion, holding her in his arms. Millie remained quite still for a while, and then she asked—

“Do you miss the Legion? As much as you thought you would—as much as you did that night at Eze?”

He answered, “No”; and spoke the truth. On that night at Eze he had not foreseen the outcome of his swift return, of his irruption into the gaily lighted room murmurous with the sea. On that night he had revealed himself to Millie, and the revelation had been the beginning of love in her rather than its resumption. This he had come to understand, and, understanding, could reply with truth that he did not miss the Legion as he had thought he would. There were moments, no doubt, when the sound of a bugle on a still morning would stir him to a sense of loss, and he would fall to dreaming of Tavernay and Barbier, and his old comrades, and the menacing silence of the Sahara. At times, too, the yapping of dogs in the street would call up vividly before his mind the picture of some tent village in Morocco where he had camped. Or the wind roaring amongst trees on a night of storm would set his mind wondering whether the ketch Perseverance was heading to the white-crested rollers, close-reefed between the Dogger and the Fisher Banks; and for a little while he would feel the savour of the brine sharp upon his lips, and longing would be busy at his heart—for the Ishmaelite cannot easily become a stay-at-home. These, however, were but the passing moods.

Of one other character who took an important if an unobtrusive part in shaping the fortunes of the Truants a final word may be said. A glimpse of that man, of the real man in him, was vouchsafed to Warrisden two summers later. It happened that Warrisden attended a public dinner which was held in a restaurant in Oxford Street. He left the company before the dinner was over, since he intended to fetch his wife Pamela, who was on that June evening witnessing a performance of “Rigoletto” at the Opera House in Covent Garden. Warrisden rose from the table and slipped out, as he thought at eleven o’clock, but on descending into the hall he found that he had miscalculated the time. It was as yet only a quarter to the hour, and having fifteen minutes to spare, he determined to walk. The night was hot; he threw his overcoat across his arm, and turning southwards out of Oxford Street, passed down a narrow road in the neighbourhood of Drury Lane. In those days, which were not, after all, so very distant from our own, the great blocks of model dwellings had not been as yet erected; squalid courts and rookeries opened on to ill-lighted passages; the houses had a ruinous and a miserable look. There were few people abroad as Warrisden passed through the quarter, and his breast-plate of white shirt-front made him a conspicuous figure. He had come about half the way from Oxford Street when he saw two men suddenly emerge from the mouth of a narrow court a few yards in front of him. The two men were speaking, or rather shouting, at one another; and from the violence of their gestures no less than from the abusive nature of the language which they used, it was plain that they were quarrelling. Words and gestures led to blows. Warrisden saw one man strike the other and fell him to the ground.

In an instant a little group of people was gathered about the combatants, people intensely silent and interested—the sightseers of the London streets who spring from nowhere with inconceivable rapidity, as though they had been waiting in some secret spot hard by for just this particular spectacle in this particular place. Warrisden, indeed, was wondering carelessly at the speed with which the small crowd had gathered when he came abreast of it. He stopped and peered over the shoulders of the men and women in front of him that he might see the better. The two disputants had relapsed apparently into mere vituperation. Warrisden pressed forward, and those in front parted and made way for him. He did not, however, take advantage of the deference shown to his attire; for at that moment a voice whispered in his ear—

“You had better slip out. This row is got up for you.”

Warrisden turned upon his heel. He saw a short, stout, meanly dressed man of an elderly appearance moving away from his side; no doubt it was he who had warned him. Warrisden took the advice, all the more readily because he perceived that the group was, as it were, beginning to reform itself, with him as the new centre. He was, however, still upon the outskirts. He pushed quickly out into the open street, crossed the road, and continued on his way. In front of him he saw the stout, elderly man, and, quickening his pace, he caught him up.

“I have to thank you,” he said, “for saving me from an awkward moment.”

“Yes,” replied the stout man; and Warrisden, as he heard his voice, glanced at him with a sudden curiosity. But his hat was low upon his brows, and the street was dark. “It is an old trick, but the old tricks are the tricks which succeed. There was no real quarrel at all. Those two men were merely pretending to quarrel in order to attract your attention. You were seen approaching—that white shirt-front naturally inspired hope. In another minute you would have been hustled down the court and into one of the houses at the end. You would have been lucky if, half an hour later, you were turned out into the street stripped of everything of value you possess, half naked and half dead into the bargain. Good night!”

The little man crossed the road abruptly. It was plain that he needed neither thanks nor any further conversation. It occurred, indeed, to Warrisden that he was deliberately avoiding conversation. Warrisden accordingly walked on to the Opera House, and, meeting his wife in the vestibule, told her this story while they waited for their brougham.

As they drove together homewards, he added—

“That is not all, Pamela. I can’t help thinking—it is absurd, of course—and yet, I don’t know; but the little stout man reminded me very much of some one we both know.”

Pamela turned suddenly towards her husband—

“Mr. Mudge?” she said.

“Yes,” replied Warrisden, with some astonishment at the accuracy of her guess. “He reminded me of Mudge.”

“It was Mr. Mudge,” she said. For a moment or two she was silent; then she let her hand fall upon her husband’s: “He was a very good friend to us,” she said gently—“to all of us.”


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