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Title: The Truants
Author: Mason, A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley), 1865-1948
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Truants" ***

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Transcriber's Notes:

   1. Page scan source:
      http://www.archive.org/details/truantsnovel00maso

   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



                             THE TRUANTS



                          BY THE SAME AUTHOR


       THE FOUR FEATHERS.
       CLEMENTINA.
       MIRANDA OF THE BALCONY.
       THE WATCHERS.
       THE COURTSHIP OF MORRICE BUCKLER.
       THE PHILANDERERS.
       LAWRENCE CLAVERING.
       ENSIGN KNIGHTLEY, AND OTHER STORIES.



                             THE TRUANTS



                                  BY

                            A. E. W. MASON

                              AUTHOR OF

            "THE FOUR FEATHERS," "MIRANDA OF THE BALCONY,"

                              ETC., ETC.



                                LONDON

                SMITH, ELDER & CO., 15, WATERLOO PLACE

                                 1904

                       (_All rights reserved_)



                              PRINTED BY

                  WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED,

                         LONDON AND BECCLES.



                               CONTENTS


       CHAPTER

         I. Pamela Mardale learns a very little History.

        II. Pamela looks on.

       III. The Truants.

        IV. Tony Stretton makes a Proposal.

         V. Pamela makes a Promise.

        VI. News of Tony.

       VII. The Lady on the Stairs.

      VIII. Gideon's Fleece.

        IX. The New Road.

         X. Mr. Chase.

        XI. On the Dogger Bank.

       XII. Tony's Inspiration.

      XIII. Tony Stretton returns to Stepney.

       XIV. Tony Stretton pays a Visit to Berkeley Square.

        XV. Mr. Mudge comes to the Rescue.

       XVI. The Foreign Legion.

      XVII. Callon leaves England.

     XVIII. South of Ouargla.

       XIX. The Turnpike Gate.

        XX. Mr. Chase does not answer.

       XXI. Callon redivivus.

      XXII. Mr. Mudge's Confession.

     XXIII. Roquebrune Revisited.

      XXIV. The End of the Experiment.

       XXV. Tony Stretton bids Farewell to the Legion.

      XXVI. Bad News for Pamela.

     XXVII. "Balak!"

    XXVIII. Homewards.

      XXIX. Pamela meets a Stranger.

       XXX. M. Giraud again.

      XXXI. At the Réserve.

     XXXII. Husband and Wife.

    XXXIII. Millie's Story.

     XXXIV. The Next Morning.

      XXXV. The Little House in Deanery Street.

     XXXVI. The End.



                             THE TRUANTS



                              CHAPTER I

             PAMELA MARDALE LEARNS A VERY LITTLE HISTORY


There were only two amongst all Pamela Mardale's friends who guessed
that anything was wrong with her; and those two included neither her
father nor her mother. Her mother, indeed, might have guessed, had she
been a different woman. But she was a woman of schemes and little
plots, who watched with concentration their immediate developments,
but had no eyes for any lasting consequence. And it was no doubt as
well for her peace of mind that she never guessed. But of the others
it was unlikely that any one would suspect the truth. For Pamela made
no outward sign. She hunted through the winter from her home under the
Croft Hill in Leicestershire; she went everywhere, as the saying is,
during the season in London; she held her own in her own world,
lacking neither good spirits nor the look of health. There were,
perhaps, two small peculiarities which marked her off from her
companions. She was interested in things rather than in persons, and
she preferred to talk to old men rather than to youths. But such
points, taken by themselves, were not of an importance to attract
attention.

Yet there were two amongst her friends who suspected: Alan Warrisden
and the schoolmaster of Roquebrune, the little village carved out of
the hillside to the east of Monte Carlo. The schoolmaster was the
nearer to the truth, for he not only knew that something was amiss, he
suspected what the something was. But then he had a certain advantage,
since he had known Pamela Mardale when she was a child. Their
acquaintance came about in the following way--

He was leaning one evening of December over the parapet of the tiny
square beside the schoolhouse, when a servant from the Villa
Pontignard approached him.

"Could M. Giraud make it convenient to call at the villa at noon
to-morrow?" the servant asked. "Madame Mardale was anxious to speak to
him."

M. Giraud turned about with a glow of pleasure upon his face.

"Certainly," he replied. "But nothing could be more simple. I will be
at the Villa Pontignard as the clock strikes."

The servant bowed, and without another word paced away across the
square and up the narrow winding street of Roquebrune, leaving the
schoolmaster a little abashed at his display of eagerness. M. Giraud
recognised that in one man's mind, at all events, he was now set down
for a snob, for a lackey disguised as a schoolmaster. But the moment
of shame passed. He had no doubt as to the reason of the summons, and
he tingled with pride from head to foot. It was his little brochure
upon the history of the village--written with what timidity, and
printed at what cost to his meagre purse!--which had brought him
recognition from the lady of the villa upon the spur of the hill.
Looking upwards he could just see the white walls of the villa
glimmering through the dusk, he could imagine its garden of trim lawns
and dark cypresses falling from bank to bank in ordered tiers down the
hillside.

"To-morrow at noon," he repeated to himself; and now he was seized
with a shiver of fear at the thought of the mistakes in behaviour
which he was likely to make. What if Madame Mardale asked him to
breakfast? There would be unfamiliar dishes to be eaten with
particular forks. Sometimes a knife should be used and sometimes not.
He turned back to the parapet with the thought that he had better,
perhaps, send up a note in the morning pleading his duties at the
school as a reason for breaking his engagement. But he was young, and
as he looked down the steep slope of rock on which the village is
perched, anticipation again got the better of fear. He began to build
up his life like a fairy palace from the foundation of this brief
message.

A long lane of steps led winding down from the square, and his eyes
followed it, as his feet had often done, to the little railway station
by the sea through which people journeyed to and fro between the great
cities, westwards to France and Paris, eastwards to Rome and Italy.
His eyes followed the signal lights towards another station of many
lamps far away to the right, and as he looked there blazed out
suddenly other lights of a great size and a glowing brilliancy, lights
which had the look of amazing jewels discovered in an eastern cave.
These were the lights upon the terrace of Monte Carlo. The
schoolmaster had walked that terrace on his mornings of leisure, had
sat unnoticed on the benches, all worship of the women and their
daintiness, all envy of the men and the composure of their manner. He
knew none of them, and yet one of them had actually sent for him, and
had heard of his work. He was to speak with her at noon to-morrow.

Let it be said at once that there was nothing of the lackey under the
schoolmaster's shabby coat. The visit which he was bidden to pay was
to him not so much a step upwards as outwards. Living always in this
remote high village, where the rock cropped out between the houses,
and the streets climbed through tunnels of rock, he was always
tormented with visions of great cities and thoroughfares ablaze; he
longed for the jostle of men, he craved for other companionship than
he could get in the village wineshop on the first floor, as a fainting
man craves for air. The stars came out above his head; it was a clear
night, and they had never shone brighter. The Mediterranean, dark and
noiseless, swept out at his feet beyond the woods of Cap Martin. But
he saw neither the Mediterranean nor any star. His eyes turned to the
glowing terrace upon his right, and to the red signal-lamps below the
terrace.

M. Giraud kept his engagement punctually. The clock chimed upon the
mantelpiece a few seconds after he was standing in the drawing-room of
the Villa Pontignard, and before the clock had stopped chiming Mrs.
Mardale came in to him. She was a tall woman, who, in spite of her
years, still retained the elegance of her youth, but her face was hard
and a trifle querulous, and M. Giraud was utterly intimidated. On the
other hand, she had good manners, and the friendly simplicity with
which she greeted him began to set him at his ease.

"You are a native of Roquebrune, Monsieur?" said she.

"No, Madame, my father was a peasant at Aigues-Mortes. I was born
there," he replied frankly.

"Yet you write, if I may say so, with the love of a native for his
village," she went on. M. Giraud was on the point of explaining. Mrs.
Mardale, however, was not in the least interested in his explanation,
and she asked him to sit down.

"My daughter, Monsieur, has an English governess," she explained, "but
it seems a pity that she should spend her winters here and lose the
chance of becoming really proficient in French. The curé recommended
me to apply to you, and I sent for you to see whether we could arrange
that you should read history with her in French during your spare
hours."

M. Giraud felt his head turning. Here was his opportunity so long
dreamed of come at last. It might be the beginning of a career--it was
at all events that first difficult step outwards. He was to be the
teacher in appearance; at the bottom of his heart he knew that he was
to be the pupil, he accepted the offer with enthusiasm, and the
arrangements were made. Three afternoons a week he was to spend an
hour at the Villa Pontignard.

"Well, I hope the plan will succeed, said Mrs. Mardale, but she spoke
in a voice which showed that she had no great hopes of success. And as
M. Giraud replied that he would at all events do his best, she
rejoined plaintively--

"It is not of you, Monsieur, that I have any doubts. But you do not
know my daughter. She will learn nothing which she does not want to
learn, she will not endure any governess who is not entirely her
slave, and she is fifteen and she really must learn something."

Pamela Mardale, indeed, was at this time the despair of her mother.
Mrs. Mardale had mapped out for her daughter an ideal career. She was
to be a model of decorum in the Early Victorian style, at once an
ornament for a drawing-room and an excellent housekeeper, and she was
subsequently to make a brilliant marriage. The weak point of the
scheme was that it left Pamela out of the reckoning. There was her
passion for horses for one thing, and her distinct refusal, besides,
to sit quietly in any drawing-room. When she was a child, horses had
been persons to Pamela rather than animals, and, as her conduct
showed, persons preferable by far to human beings. Visitors to the
house under Croft Hill were at times promised a sight of Pamela, and
indeed they sometimes did see a girl in a white frock, with long black
legs, and her hair tumbled all over her forehead, neighing and
prancing at them from behind the gate of the stable yard. But they did
not see her at closer quarters than that, and it was certain that if
by any chance her lessons were properly learnt, they had been learnt
upon the corn-bin in the stables. Portraits of Pamela at the age of
nine remain, and they show a girl who was very pretty, but who might
quite well have been a boy, with a mass of unruly dark hair, a pair of
active dark eyes, and a good-humoured face alertly watching for any
mischief which might come its way.

Something of the troubles which M. Giraud was likely to find ahead of
him Mrs. Mardale disclosed that morning, and the schoolmaster returned
to his house filled with apprehensions. The apprehensions, however,
were not justified. The little schoolmaster was so shy, so timid, that
Pamela was disarmed. She could be gentle when she chose, and she chose
now. She saw, too, M. Giraud's anxiety to justify her mother's choice
of him, and she determined with a sense of extreme virtue to be a
credit to his teaching. They became friends, and thus one afternoon,
when they had taken their books out into the garden of the villa, M.
Giraud confided to her the history of the brochure which had made them
acquainted.

"It was not love for Roquebrune which led me to write it," he said.
"It was, on the contrary, my discontent. I was tortured with longings,
I was not content with the children's lessons for my working hours,
and the wineshop for my leisure. I took long walks over Cap Martin to
Mentone, along the Corniche road to La Turbie, and up Mont Agel. But
still I had my longings as my constant companions, and since
everywhere I saw traces of antiquity, I wrote this little history as a
relief. It kept my thoughts away from the great world."

The garden ran here to a point at the extreme end of that outcropping
spur of rock on which the villa was built. They were facing westwards,
and the sun was setting behind the hills. It lay red upon the
Mediterranean on their left, but the ravine and front was already
dark, and down the hillside the shadows of the trees were lengthening.
At their feet, a long way below, a stream tumbled and roared amongst
the oleanders in the depths of the ravine. Pamela sat gazing
downwards, her lips parted in a smile.

"The great world," she said in a low voice of eagerness. "I wonder
what it's like."

That afternoon marked a distinct step in their friendship, and
thereafter in the intervals of their reading they talked continually
upon this one point they had in common, their curiosity as to the life
of the world beyond their village. But it happened that Pamela did the
greater part of the talking, and one afternoon that fact occurred to
her.

"You always listen now, Monsieur," she said. "Why have you grown so
silent?"

"You know more than I do, Mademoiselle."

"I?" she exclaimed in surprise. "I only know about horses." Then she
laughed. "Really, we both know nothing. We can only guess and guess."

And that was the truth. Pamela's ideas of the world were as visionary,
as dreamlike as his, but they were not his, as he was quick to
recognise. The instincts of her class, her traditions, the influence
of her friends, were all audible in her voice as well as in her words.
To her the world was a great flower garden of pleasure with plenty of
room for horses. To him it was a crowded place of ennobling strife.

"But it's pleasant work guessing," she continued, "isn't it? Then why
have you stopped?"

"I will tell you, Mademoiselle. I am beginning to guess through your
eyes."

The whistle of a train, the train from Paris, mounted through the
still air to their ears.

"Well," said Pamela, with a shrug of impatience, "we shall both know
the truth some time."

"You will, Mademoiselle," said the schoolmaster, suddenly falling out
of his dream.

Pamela looked quickly at him. The idea that he would be left behind,
that he would stay here all his life listening to the sing-song drone
of the children in the schoolroom, teaching over and over again with
an infinite weariness the same elementary lessons, until he became
shabby and worn as the lesson-books he handled, had never struck her
till this moment. The trouble which clouded his face was reflected by
sympathy upon hers.

"But you won't stay here," she said gently. "Oh no! Let me think!" and
she thought with a child's oblivion of obstacles and a child's
confidence. She imparted the wise result of her reflections to M.
Giraud the next afternoon.

He came to the garden with his eyes fevered and his face drawn.

"You are ill?" said Pamela. "We will not work to-day."

"It's nothing," he replied.

"Tell me," said she.

M. Giraud looked out across the valley.

"Two travellers came up to Roquebrune yesterday. I met them as I
walked home from here. I spoke to them and showed them the village,
and took them by the short cut of the steps down to the railway
station. They were from London. They talked of London and of Paris.
It's as well visitors come up to Roquebrune rarely. I have not slept
all night," and he clasped and unclasped his hands.

"Hannibal crossed the Alps," said Pamela. "I read it in your book,"
and then she shook a finger at him, just as the schoolmaster might
have done to one of his refractory pupils.

"Listen," said she. "I have thought it all out."

The schoolmaster composed himself into the attentive attitude of a
pupil.

"You are to become a Deputy."

That was the solution of the problem. Pamela saw no difficulties. He
would need a dress-suit of course for official occasions, which she
understood were numerous. A horse, too, would be of use, but that
didn't matter so much. The horse was regretfully given up. It might
come later, he must get elected first, never mind how. In a word, he
was as good as a Deputy already. And from a Deputy to the President of
the French Republic, the step after all was not so very long. "Though
I am not quite sure that I approve of Republics," said Pamela, very
seriously.

However, that was the best she could do in the way of mapping out his
future, and the schoolmaster listened, seeing the world through her
eyes. Thus three winters passed and Pamela learned a very little
history.

Towards the end of the third winter the history books were put away.
Pamela was now eighteen and looking eagerly forward to her first
season in London. And no doubt frocks and hats occupied more of her
thoughts than did the fortunes of the schoolmaster. Some remorse for
her forgetfulness seized her the day before she went away. It was a
morning of spring, and the schoolmaster saw her coming down the dark
narrow streets towards him. She was tall beyond the average, but
without ungainliness, long of limb and lightly built, and she walked
with the very step of youth. Her dark hair swept in two heavy waves
above her forehead, and was coiled down behind on the back of her
neck. Her throat rose straight and slim from the firm shoulders, and
her eyes glowed with anticipation. Though her hair was dark, she was
not sallow. Her face was no less fresh and clear than were her eyes,
and a soft colour like the bloom of a fruit brightened her cheeks. In
that old brown street she shone like a brilliant flower, and Giraud,
as he watched her, felt all at once that he could have no place in her
life, and in his humility he turned aside. But she ran after him and
caught him up.

"I am going to-morrow," she said, and she tried to keep the look of
happiness out of her eyes, the thrill out of her voice. And she
failed.

"It is good-bye, then," said he.

"For a little while. I shall come back to Roquebrune in December."

The schoolmaster smiled.

"I shall look forward from to-day until that month comes. You will
have much to tell me."

"Yes, shan't I?" she cried; and then, lest her eagerness should hurt
her friend, she added, "But I shall not forget our quiet afternoons on
the garden terrace."

The recollection of them, however, was not strong enough to check
either her thoughts or their utterance. Later on perhaps, in after
years, she might in her musings return to that terrace and the
speculations they indulged in, and the fairy palaces they built, with
an envy of the ignorance and the high thoughts of youth. To-day she
was all alert to grasp the future in her hands. One can imagine her
looking much as she looked in those portraits of her childhood.

"News of the great world," she cried. "I shall bring it back. We will
talk it over in Roquebrune and correct our guesses. For I shall know."

As a fact, they never did talk over her news, but that she could not
foresee. She went on her way with a smile upon her face: all
confidence and courage, and expectation, a brilliant image of youth.
Giraud, as he watched her the proud poise of her head, the light
springing step, the thing of beauty and gentleness which she was,
breathed a prayer that no harm might come to her, and no grief ever
sadden her face.

The next morning she went away, and the schoolmaster lost his one
glimpse of the outer world. But he lived upon the recollections of it,
and took again to his long walks on the Corniche road. The time hung
heavily upon his hands. He hungered for news, and no news came, and
when in the month of December he noticed that the shutters were opened
in the Villa Pontignard, and that there was a stir of servants about
the house, he felt that the shutters were being opened after a long
dark time from his one window on the outside world. He frequented the
little station from that moment. No "Rapide" passed from France on its
way to Italy during his leisure hours but he was there to watch its
passengers. Mrs. Mardale came first, and a fortnight afterwards Pamela
descended from a carriage with her maid.

Giraud watched her with a thrill of longing. It was not merely his
friend who had returned, but his instructor, with new and wonderful
knowledge added to the old.

Then came his first chilling moment of disillusion. It was quite
evident that she saw him as she was stepping on to the platform. Her
eyes went straight to his--and yet she turned away without the
slightest sign of recognition and busied herself about her luggage.
The world had spoilt her. That was his first thought, but he came to a
truer understanding afterwards. And indeed that thought had barely
become definite in his mind, when she turned again, and, holding out
her hand, came to him with a smile.

"You are well?" she said.

"Yes," said he.

And they walked up the long flight of steps to Roquebrune, talking
banalities. She gave him none of the news for which he longed, and
they spoke not at all of the career which together they had mapped out
for him. All their long talks upon the terrace, their plans and their
speculations seemed in an instant to Giraud to have become part of a
pleasant, very foolish, and very distant past. He was aware of the
vast gulf between them. With a girl's inimitable quickness to adapt
herself to new surroundings, she had acquired in the few months of her
absence the ease, the polish, and the armour of a woman of the world.
He was still the village schoolmaster, the peasant tortured with vain
aspirations, feeding upon vain dreams; and in this moment he saw
himself very clearly. Her silence upon their plan helped him to see
himself thus. Had she still believed in that imagined career, surely
she would have spoken of it. In a word, he was still looking at the
world through her eyes.

"You must come up to the villa," she said. "I shall look forward to
your coming."

They were in the little square by the schoolhouse and he took the
words for his dismissal. She went up the hill alone and slowly, like
one that is tired. Giraud, watching her, could not but compare her
with the girl who had come lightly down that street a few months ago.
It dawned upon him that, though knowledge had been acquired, something
had gone, something perhaps more valuable, the elasticity from her
step, the eagerness from her eyes.

Giraud did not go up to the villa of his own accord, but he was asked
to lunch in a week's time, and after lunch Pamela and he went out into
the garden. Instinctively they walked down to that corner on the point
of the bluff which overhung the ravine and the white torrent amongst
the oleanders in its depths. They had come indeed to the bench on
which they used to sit before Pamela was quite aware of the direction
their steps had taken. She drew back suddenly as she raised her head.

"Oh no, not here," she cried, and she moved away quickly with a look
of pain. Giraud suddenly understood why she had turned away at the
railway station. Here they had dreamed, and the reality had shown the
dreams to be bitterly false, so false that the very place where they
had dreamed had become by its associations a place of pain. She had
needed for herself that first moment when she had stepped down from
the carriage.

"The world must be the home of great troubles,' said Giraud, sadly.

"And how do you know that?" Pamela asked with a smile.

"From you," he replied simply.

The answer was unexpected. Pamela stopped and looked at him with
startled eyes.

"From me? I have said nothing--nothing at all."

"Yet I know. How else should I know except from you, since through you
alone I see the world?"

"A home of great troubles?" she repeated, speaking lightly. "Not for
all. You are serious, my friend, this afternoon, and you should not
be, for have I not come back?"

The schoolmaster was not deceived by her evasion. There had come a
gravity into her manner, and a womanliness into her face, in a degree
more than natural at her years.

"Let us talk of you for a change," said she.

"Well, and what shall we say?" asked Giraud, and a constraint fell
upon them both.

"We must forget those fine plans," he continued at length. "Is it not
so? I think I have learnt that too from you."

"I hare said nothing," she interrupted quickly.

"Precisely," said he, with a smile. "The school at Roquebrune will
send no Deputy to Paris."

"Oh! why not?" said Pamela, but there was no conviction in her voice.
Giraud was not of the stern stuff


                "To break his birth's invidious bar."


He had longings, but there was the end.

"At all events," she said, turning to him with a great earnestness,
"we shall be friends always, whatever happens."

The words were the death-knell to the schoolmaster's aspirations. They
conveyed so much more than was actually said. He took them bravely
enough.

"That is a good thing," he said in all sincerity. "If I stay here all
my life, I shall still have the memory of the years when I taught you
history. I shall know, though I do not see you, that we are friends.
It is a great thing for me."

"For me, too," said Pamela, looking straight into his eyes, and she
meant her words no less than he had meant his. Yet to both they had
the sound of a farewell. And in a way they were. They were the
farewell to the afternoons upon the terrace, they closed the door upon
their house of dreams.

Giraud leaned that evening over the parapet in the little square of
Roquebrune. The Mediterranean lay dark and quiet far below, the
terrace of Monte Carlo glowed, and the red signal-lamps pointed out
the way to Paris. But he was no longer thinking of his fallen plans.
He was thinking of the girl up there in the villa who had been struck
by some blind blow of Destiny, who had grown a woman before her time.
It was a pity, it was a loss in the general sum of things which make
for joy.

He had of course only his suspicions to go upon. But they were soon
strengthened. For Pamela fell into ill-health, and the period of
ill-health lasted all that winter. After those two years had passed,
she disappeared for a while altogether out of Giraud's sight. She came
no more to the Villa Pontignard, but stayed with her father and her
horses at her home in Leicestershire. Her mother came alone to
Roquebrune.



                              CHAPTER II

                           PAMELA LOOKS ON


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 yon 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?"

"Yes."

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.



                             CHAPTER III

                             THE TRUANTS


Warrisden turned quickly to Pamela.

"You never mentioned them."

"No," she replied with a smile. "But there's no mystery in my silence.
I simply haven't mentioned them because for two years I have lost
sight of them altogether. I used to meet them about, and I have been
to their house."

"There?" asked Warrisden, with a nod towards the lighted window.

"No; but to the house Millie and Mr. Stretton had in Deanery Street.
They gave that up two years ago when old Lady Stretton died. I thought
they had gone to live in the country."

"And all the while they have been living here," exclaimed Warrisden.
He had spoken truthfully of himself. The events, and the people with
whom he came, however slightly, into contact always had interested and
amused him. It was his pleasure to fit his observations together until
he had constructed a little biography in his mind of each person with
whom he was acquainted. And there was never an incident of any
interest within his notice, but he sought the reason for it and kept
an eye open for its consequence.

"Don't you see how strange the story is?" he went on. "They give up
their house upon Lady Stretton's death, and they come to live here
with Sir John. That's natural enough. Sir John's an old man. But they
live in such seclusion that even their friends think they have retired
into the country."

"Yes, it is strange," Pamela admitted. And she added, "I was Millie
Stretton's bridesmaid."

Upon Warrisden's request she told him what she knew of the couple who
lived in the dark house and played truant. Millie Stretton was the
daughter of a Judge in Ceylon who when Millie had reached the age of
seventeen had married a second time. The step-mother had lacked
discretion; from the very first she had claimed to exercise a complete
and undisputed authority; she had been at no pains to secure the
affections of her step-daughter. And very little trouble would have
been needed, for Millie was naturally affectionate. A girl without any
great depth of feeling, she responded easily to a show of kindness.
She found it neither difficult to make intimate friends, nor hard to
lose them. She was of the imitative type besides. She took her
thoughts and even her language from those who at the moment were by
her side. Thus her step-mother had the easiest of tasks but she did
not possess the necessary tact. She demanded obedience, and in return
offered tolerance. The household at Colombo, therefore, became for
Millie a roofstead rather than a home, and a year after this marriage
she betook herself and the few thousands of pounds which her mother
had bequeathed her to London. The ostensible reason for departure was
the invitation of Mrs. Charles Rawson, a friend of her mother's. But
Millie had made up her mind that a return to Ceylon was not to be
endured. Somehow she would manage to make a home or herself in
England.

She found her path at once made easy. She was pretty, with the
prettiness of a child, she gave no trouble, she was fresh, she dressed
a drawing-room gracefully, he fitted neatly into her surroundings, she
picked up immediately the ways of thought and the jargon of her new
companions. In a word, with the remarkable receptivity which was hers,
she was very quickly at home in Mrs. Rawson's house. She became a
favourite no less for her modest friendliness than on account of her
looks. Mrs. Rawson, who was nearing middle age, but whose love of
amusements was not assuaged, rejoiced to have so attractive a
companion to take about with her. Millie, for her part, was very glad
to be so taken about. She had fallen from the obscure clouds into a
bright and wonderful world.

It was at this time that Pamela Mardale first met Millicent Stretton,
or rather, one should say, Millicent Rundell, since Rundell was at
that time her name. They became friends, although so far as character
was concerned they had little in common. It may have been that the
difference between them was the actual cause of their friendship.
Certainly Millie came rather to lean upon her friend, admired her
strength, made her the repository of her confidences, and if she
received no confidences in return, she was content to believe that
there were none to make. It was at this time too that Millie fell in
with Lady Stretton.

Lady Stretton, a tall old woman with the head of a Grenadier, had
the characteristic of Sir Anthony Absolute. There was no one so
good-tempered so long as she had her own way; and she generally had
it.

"Lady Stretton saw that Millie was easily led," Pamela continued. "She
thought, for that reason, she would be a suitable wife for Tony, her
son, who was then a subaltern in the Coldstream. So she did all she
could to throw them together. She invited Millie up to her house in
Scotland, the house Lady Millingham now has, and Mr. Stretton fell in
love. He was evidently very fond of Millie, and Millie on her side
liked him quite as much as any one else. They were married. Lady
Stretton hired them the house I told you of, close to Park Lane, and
took a great deal of trouble to see that they were comfortable. You
see, they were toys for her. There, that's all I know. Are you
satisfied?"

She leaned back in her chair, smiling at Warrisden's serious face.

"And what about the old man, Sir John Stretton?" he asked.

"I never met him," replied Pamela. "He never went out to parties, and
I never went to that house."

As she concluded the sentence, a man looked on to the balcony and,
seeing them, withdrew. Pamela rose at once from her chair, and, with a
sudden movement of jealousy, Warrisden swung round and looked into the
room. The man was well past the middle age, stout of build, and with a
heavy careworn face with no pleasure in it at all. He was the man who
had been with Pamela when Warrisden had arrived. Warrisden turned back
to the girl with a smile of relief.

"You are engaged?"

"Yes, for this dance to Mr. Mudge," and she indicated the man who was
retiring. "But we shall meet again--at Newmarket, at all events.
Perhaps in Scotland too."

She held out her hand to Warrisden, and, as he took it, her voice
dropped to a plea.

"Please don't go away again without telling me first, without talking
it over, so that I may know where you are from month to month. Please
promise!"

Warrisden promised, and went away from the house with her prayer
echoing in his ears. The very sound of her voice was audible to him,
and he never doubted the sincerity of its appeal. But if she set such
store on what she had, why was she content with just that and nothing
more, he asked himself. Why did she not claim a little more and give a
little more in return? Why did she come to a halt at friendship, a
mere turnpike on the great road, instead of passing through the gate
and going on down the appointed way. He did not know that she passed
the turnpike once, and that if she refused to venture on that path
again, it was because, knowing herself, she dared not.

In the narrows of Berkeley Street Warrisden was shaken out of these
reflections. A hansom jingled past him, and by the light of the lamp
which hung at the back within it he caught a glimpse of the truants.
They were driving home to the dark house in the Square, and they sat
side by side silent and with troubled faces. Warrisden's thoughts went
back to what Pamela had told him that night. She had told him the
half, but not the perplexing, interesting half of their history. That
indeed Pamela could not tell, for she did not know Sir John Stretton,
and the old man's warped and churlish character alone explained it.

It was by his doing that the truants gave up their cheery little house
in Deanery Street and came to live in Berkeley Square. The old man was
a miser, who during his wife's existence had not been allowed to
gratify his instincts. He made all the more ample amends after she had
died. The fine allowance on which the young couple had managed to keep
a pair of horses and a little brougham was stripped from them.

"Why should I live alone?" said the old man. "I am old, Tony, and I
need some attention. The house is big, much too big for me, and the
servants are eating their heads off for the want of something to do."
There were indeed more servants than were needed. Servants were the
single luxury Sir John allowed himself. Their liveries were faded,
they themselves were insolent and untidy, but they were there, in the
great bare dining-room at dinner-time, in the hall when Sir John came
home of an afternoon. For the old man went out each day as the clock
struck three; he came back each evening at half-past six. He went out
alone, he returned alone, and he never went to his club. He took an
omnibus from the corner of Berkeley Street and journeyed eastwards as
far as Ludgate Hill. There he took a drink in the refreshment bar,
and, coming out, struck northwards into Holborn, where he turned
westwards, and walking as far as the inn at the corner of the
Tottenham Court Road, stepped for an hour into the private bar. Thence
he took another omnibus, and finally reached home, where his footmen
received him solemnly in the hall. To this home he brought Tony and
his wife.

"There choose your own rooms, Tony," he said magnanimously. "What's
that? Money? But what for? You'll have it soon enough."

Tony Stretton suggested that it was hardly possible for any man,
however careful, to retain a commission in the Coldstream without an
allowance. Sir John, a tall thin man, with high bald forehead, and a
prim puritanical face, looked at his son with a righteous severity.

"A very expensive regiment. Leave it, Tony! And live quietly at home.
Look after your father, my boy, and you won't need money," and he
stalked upstairs leaving Tony aghast in the hall. Tony had to sit down
and think it over before he could quite realise the fate which had
over-taken him. Here he was, twenty-six years old brought up to spend
what he wanted and to ask for more when that was ended, and he was to
live quietly on nothing at all. He had no longer any profession, he
was not clever enough to enter upon a new one without some sort of
start and in addition he had a wife. His wife, it was true, had a few
thousands; they had remained untouched ever since the marriage and
Tony shrank from touching them now. He sat on one of the hall-chairs,
twisting his moustache and staring with his blank blue eyes at the
opposite wall. What in the world was he to do? Old Sir John was quite
aware of those few thousands. They might just as well be used now he
thought, and save him expense. Tony could pay them back after his
father was dead. Such was Sir John's plan and Tony had to fall in with
it. The horses and the brougham and all the furniture, the prints, the
pictures and the mirrors which had decked out so gaily the little
house in Deanery Street went to the hammer. Tony paid off his debts
and found himself with a hundred pounds in hand at the end; and when
that was gone he was forced to come to his wife.

"Of course," said she, "we'll share what I have, Tony."

"Yes, but we must go carefully," he replied. "Heaven knows how long we
will have to drag on like this."

So the money question was settled, but that was in reality the least
of their troubles. Sir John, for the first time in his life, was
master in fact as well as in name. He had been no match for his wife,
but he was more than a match for his son. He was the fifth baronet of
his name, and yet there was no landed property. He was rich, and all
the money was safely tucked away in the public funds, and he could
bequeath it as he willed. He was in a position to put the screw on
Tony and his wife, and he did not let the opportunity slip. The love
of authority grew upon him. He became exacting and portentously
severe. In his black, shabby coat, with his long thin figure, and his
narrow face, he had the look of a cold self-righteous fanatic. You
would have believed that he was mortifying his son for the sake of his
son's soul, unless perchance you had peeped into that private bar in
the Tottenham Court Road and had seen him drinking gloomily alone.

He laid down rules to which the unfortunate couple must needs conform.
They had to dine with him every night and to sit with him every
evening until he went to bed. It followed that they lost sight of
their friends, and every month isolated them more completely. The mere
humiliation of the position in which they stood caused them to shrink
more and more into their privacy. When they walked out in the
afternoon they kept away from the Park; when they played truant in the
evening, at the Savoy, they chose a little table in an obscure corner.
This was the real history of the truants with whose fortunes those of
Warrisden and Pamela were to be so closely intermingled. For that life
in the dark house was not to last. Even as Warrisden passed them in
Berkeley Street, Tony Stretton was saying over and over again in his
inactive mind--

"It can't go on. It can't go on!"

In the after times, when the yapping of dogs in the street at night
would wake Tony from his sleep, and set him on dreaming of tent
villages in a wild country of flowers, or when the wind in the trees
would recall to him a little ship labouring on short steep seas in a
mist of spray, he always looked back to this night as that on which
the venture of his wife's fortunes and his own began.



                              CHAPTER IV

                    TONY STRETTON MAKES A PROPOSAL


Regular as Warrisden had declared the lives of the truants to be, on
the night following the dance at Lady Millingham's there came a break
in the monotony of their habits. For once in a way they did not leave
the house in their search for light and colour as soon as they were
free. They stayed on in their own sitting-room. But it seemed that
they had nothing to speak about. Millie Stretton sat at the table,
staring at the wall in front of her, moody and despairing. Tony
Stretton leaned against the embrasure of the window, now and then
glancing remorsefully at his wife, now and then looking angrily up to
the ceiling where the heavy footsteps of a man treading up and down
the room above sounded measured and unceasing.

Tony lifted a corner of the blind and looked out.

"There's a party next door," he said, "there was another at Lady
Millingham's last night. You should have been at both, Millie, and you
were at neither. Upon my word, it's rough."

He dropped the blind and came over to her side. He knew quite well
what parties and entertainments meant to her. She loved them, and it
seemed to him natural and right that she should. Light, admiration,
laughter and gaiety, and fine frocks--these things she was born to
enjoy, and he himself had in the old days taken a great pride in
watching her enjoyment. But it was not merely the feeling that she had
been stripped of what was her due through him which troubled him
to-night. Other and deeper thoughts were vaguely stirring in his mind.

"We have quarrelled again to-night, Millie," he continued
remorsefully. "Here we are cooped up together with just ourselves to
rely upon to pull through these bad years, and we have quarrelled
again."

Millie shrugged her shoulders.

"How did it begin?" he asked. "Upon my word I don't remember. Oh yes,
I----" and Millie interrupted him.

"What does it matter, Tony, how the quarrel began? It did begin, and
another will begin to-morrow. We can't help ourselves, and you have
given the reason. Here we are cooped up by ourselves with nothing else
to do."

Tony pulled thoughtfully at his moustache.

"And we swore off quarrelling, too. When was that?"

"Yesterday."

"Yesterday!" exclaimed Tony, with a start of surprise. "By George, so
it was. Only yesterday."

Millie looked up at him, and the trouble upon his face brought a smile
to hers. She laid a hand upon his arm.

"It's no use swearing off, Tony," she said. "We are both of us living
all the time in a state of exasperation. I just--tingle with it,
there's no other word. And the least, smallest thing which goes wrong
sets us quarrelling. I don't think either of us is to blame. The house
alone gets on our nerves, doesn't it? These great empty, silent, dingy
rooms, with their tarnished furniture. Oh! they are horrible! I wander
through them sometimes and it always seems to me that, a long time
ago, people lived here who suddenly felt one morning that they
couldn't stand it for a single moment longer, and ran out and locked
the street door behind them; and I have almost done it myself. The
very sunlight comes through the windows timidly, as if it knew it had
no right here at all."

She leaned back in her chair, looking at Tony with eyes that were
hopeless and almost haggard. As Tony listened to her outburst the
remorse deepened on his face.

"If I could have foreseen all this, I would have spared you it,
Millie," he said. "I would, upon my word." He drew up a chair to the
table, and, sitting down, said in a more cheerful voice, "Let's talk
it over, and see if we can't find a remedy."

Millie shook her head.

"We talked it over yesterday."

"Yes, so we did."

"And quarrelled an hour after we had talked it over."

"We did that too," Tony agreed, despondently. His little spark of
hopefulness was put out and he sat in silence. His wife, too, did not
speak, and in a short while it occurred to him that the silence was
more complete than it had been a few minutes ago. It seemed that a
noise had ceased, and a noise which, unnoticed before, had become
noticeable by its cessation. He looked up to the ceiling. The heavy
footsteps no longer dragged upon the floor overhead. Tony sprang up.

"There! He is in bed," he exclaimed. "Shall we go out?"

"Not to-night," replied Millie.

He could make no proposal that night which was welcomed, and as he
walked over to the mantelshelf and filled his pipe, there was
something in his attitude and bearing which showed to Millie that the
quick rebuff had hurt.

"I can't pretend to-night, Tony, and that's the truth," she added in a
kinder voice. "For, after all, I do only pretend nowadays that I find
the Savoy amusing."

Tony turned slowly round with the lighted match in his hand and stared
at his wife. He was a man slow in thought, and when his thoughts
compelled expression, laborious in words. The deeper thoughts which
had begun of late to take shape in his mind stirred again at her
words.

"You have owned it," he said.

"It had been pretence with you too, then?" she asked, looking up in
surprise.

Tony puffed at his pipe.

"Of late, yes," he replied. "Perhaps chiefly since I saw that you were
pretending."

He came back to her side and looked for a long time steadily at her
while he thought. It was a surprise to Millie that he had noticed her
pretence, as much of a surprise as that he had been pretending too.
For she knew him to be at once slow to notice any change in others and
quick to betray it in himself. But she was not aware how wide a place
she filled in all his thoughts, partly because her own nature with its
facile emotions made her unable to conceive a devotion which was
engrossing, and partly because Tony himself had no aptitude for
expressing such a devotion, and indeed would have shrunk from its
expression had the aptitude been his. But she did fill that wide
place. Very slowly he had begun to watch her, very slowly and dimly
certain convictions were taking shape, very gradually he was drawing
nearer and nearer to a knowledge that a great risk must be taken and a
great sacrifice made partly by him, partly too by her. Some part of
his trouble he now spoke to her.

"It wasn't pretence a year ago, Millie," he said wistfully. "That's
what bothers me. We enjoyed slipping away quietly when the house was
quiet, and snatching some of the light, some of the laughter the
others have any time they want it. It made up for the days, it was fun
then, Millie, wasn't it? Upon my word, I believe we enjoyed our life,
yes, even this life, a year ago. Do you remember how we used to drive
home, laughing over what we had seen, talking about the few people we
had spoken to? It wasn't until we had turned the latch-key in the
door, and crept into the hall----"

"And passed the library door," Millie interrupted, with a little
shiver.

Tony Stretton stopped for a moment. Then he resumed in a lower voice,
"Yes, it wasn't until we had passed the library door that the gloom
settled down again. But now the fun's all over, at the latest when the
lights go down in the supper room, and often before we have got to
them at all. We were happy last year"--and he shook her affectionately
by the arm--"that's what bothers me."

His wife responded to the gentleness of his voice and action.

"Never mind, Tony," she said. "Some day we shall look back on all of
it--this house and the empty rooms and the quarrels"--she hesitated
for a second--"Yes, and the library door; we shall look back on it all
and laugh."

"Shall we?" said Tony, suddenly. His face was most serious, his voice
most doubtful.

"Why, what do you mean?" asked Millie. Then she added reassuringly,
"It must end some time. Oh yes, it can't last for ever."

"No," replied Tony; "but it can last just long enough."

"Long enough for what?"

"Long enough to spoil both our lives altogether."

He was speaking with a manner which was quite strange to her. There
was a certainty in his voice, there was a gravity too. He had ceased
to leave the remedy of their plight to time and chance, since, through
two years, time and chance had failed them. He had been seriously
thinking, and as the result of thought he had come to definite
conclusions. Millie understood that there was much more behind the
words he had spoken and that he meant to say that much more to her
to-night. She was suddenly aware that she was face to face with issues
momentous to both of them. She began to be a little afraid. She looked
at Tony almost as if he were a stranger.

"Tony," she said faintly, in deprecation.

"We must face it, Millie," he went on steadily. "This life of ours
here in this house will come to an end, of course, but how will it
leave us, you and me? Soured, embittered, quarrelsome, or no longer
quarrelsome, but just indifferent to each other, bored by each other?"
He was speaking very slowly, choosing each word with difficulty.

"Oh no," Millie protested.

"It may be even worse than that. Suppose we passed beyond indifference
to dislike--yes, active dislike. We are both of us young, we can both
reasonably look forward to long lives, long lives of active dislike.
There might too be contempt on your side."

Millie stared at her husband.

"Contempt?" she said, echoing his words in surprise.

"Yes. Here are you, most unhappy, and I take it sitting down. Contempt
might come from that."

"But what else can you do?" she said.

"Ah," said Tony, as though he had been waiting for that question,
couched in just those words. "Ask yourself that question often enough,
and contempt will come."

This idea of contempt was a new one to Millie, and very likely her
husband was indiscreet in suggesting its possibility. But he was not
thinking at all of the unwisdom of his words. His thoughts were set on
saving the cherished intimacy of their life from the ruin which he saw
was likely to overtake it. He spoke out frankly, not counting the
risk. Millie, for her part, was not in the mood to estimate the truth
of what he said, although it remained in her memory. She was rather
confused by the new aspect which her husband wore. She foresaw that he
was working towards the disclosure of a plan; and the plan would
involve changes, great changes, very likely a step altogether into the
dark. And she hesitated.

"We sha'n't alter, Tony," she said. "You can be sure of me, can't
you?"

"But we are altering," he replied. "Already the alteration has begun.
Did we quarrel a year ago as we do now? We enjoyed those evenings when
we played truant, a year ago"; and then he indulged in a yet greater
indiscretion than any which he had yet allowed himself to utter. But
he was by nature simple and completely honest. Whatever occurred to
him, that he spoke without reserve, and the larger it loomed in his
thoughts the more strenuous was its utterance upon his lips. He took a
seat at the table by her side.

"I know we are changing. I take myself, and I expect it is the same
with you. I am--it is difficult to express it--I am deadening. I am
getting insensible to the things which not very long ago moved me very
much. I once had a friend who fell ill of a slow paralysis, which
crept up his limbs little by little and he hardly noticed its advance.
I think that's happening with me. I am losing the associations--that's
the word I want--the associations which made one's recollections
valuable, and gave a colour to one's life. For instance, you sang a
song last night, Millie, one of those coon songs of yours--do you
remember? You sang it once in Scotland on a summer's night. I was
outside on the lawn, and past the islands across the water, which was
dark and still, I saw the lights in Oban bay. I thought I would never
hear that song again without seeing those lights in my mind far away
across the water, clustered together like the lights of a distant
town. Well, last night all those associations were somehow dead. I
remembered all right, but without any sort of feeling, that that song
was a landmark in one's life. It was merely you singing a song, or
rather it was merely some one singing a song."

It was a laboured speech, and Tony was very glad to have got it over.

"I am very sorry," replied Millie in a low voice. She did not show him
her face, and he had no notion whatever that his words could hardly
have failed to hurt. He was too intent upon convincing her, and too
anxious to put his belief before her with unmistakable clearness to
reflect in what spirit she might receive the words. That her first
thought would be "He no longer cares" never occurred to him at all,
and cheerfully misunderstanding her acquiescence, he went on--

"You see that's bad. It mustn't go on, Millie. Let's keep what we've
got. At all costs let us keep that!"

"You mean we must go away?" said Millie, and Tony Stretton did not
answer. He rose from his chair and walked back to the fireplace and
knocked the ashes from his pipe. Millie was accustomed to long
intervals between her questions and his replies, but she was on the
alert now. Something in his movements and his attitude showed her that
he was not thinking of what answer he should make. He was already sure
upon that point. Only the particular answer he found difficult to
speak. She guessed it on the instant and stood up erect, in alarm.

"You mean that you must go away, and that I must remain?"

Tony turned round to her and nodded his head.

"Alone! Here?" she exclaimed, looking round her with a shiver.

"For a little while. Until I have made a home for you to come to. Only
till then, Millie. It needn't be so very long."

"It will seem ages!" she cried, "however short it is. Tony, it's
impossible."

The tedious days stretched before her in an endless and monotonous
succession. The great rooms would be yet more silent, and more empty
than they were; there would be a chill throughout all the house; the
old man's exactions would become yet more oppressive, since there
would be only one to bear them. She thought of the long dull evenings,
in the faded drawing-room. They were bad enough now, those long
evenings during which she read the evening paper aloud, and Sir John
slept, yet not so soundly but that he woke the instant her voice
stopped, and bade her continue. What would they be if Tony were gone,
if there were no hour or so at the end when they were free to play
truant if they willed? What she had said was true. She had been merely
pretending to enjoy their hour of truancy, but she would miss it none
the less. And in the midst of these thoughts she heard Tony's voice.

"It sounds selfish, I know, but it isn't really. You see, I sha'n't
enjoy myself. I have not been brought up to know anything well or to
do anything well--anything, I mean, really useful--I'll have a pretty
hard time too." And then he described to her what he thought of doing.
He proposed to go out to one of the colonies, spend some months on a
farm as a hand, and when he had learned enough of the methods, and had
saved a little money, to get hold of a small farm to which he could
ask her to come. It was a pretty and a simple scheme, and it ignored
the great difficulties in the way, such as his ignorance and his lack
of capital. But he believed in it sincerely, and every word in his
short and broken sentences proved his belief. He had his way that
night with Millicent. She was capable of a quick fervour, though the
fervour might as quickly flicker out. She saw that the sacrifice was
really upon his side, for upon him would be the unaccustomed burden of
labour, and the labour would be strange and difficult. She rose to his
height since he was with her and speaking to her with all the
conviction of his soul.

"Well, then, go," she cried. "I'll wait here, Tony, till you send for
me."

And when she passed the library door that night she did not even
shrink.



                              CHAPTER V

                        PAMELA MAKES A PROMISE


Millie's enthusiasm for her husband's plan increased each day. The
picture which his halting phrases evoked for her, of a little farm
very far away under Southern skies, charmed her more by reason of its
novelty than either she or Tony quite understood. In the evenings of
the following week, long after the footsteps overhead had ceased, they
sat choosing the site of their house and building it. It was to be the
exact opposite of their house of bondage. The windows should look out
over rolling country, the simple decorations should be bright of
colour, and through every cranny the sun should find its way. Millie's
hopes, indeed, easily outran her husband's. She counted the house
already built, and the door open for her coming. Colour and light
bathed it in beauty.

"There's my little fortune, Tony," she said, when once or twice he
tried to check the leap of her anticipations; "that will provide the
capital."

"I knew you would offer it," Tony replied simply. "Your help will
shorten our separation by a good deal. So I'll take half."

"All!" cried Millie.

"And what would you do when you wanted a new frock?" asked Tony, with
a smile.

Millie shrugged her shoulders.

"I shall join you so soon," she said.

It dawned upon Tony that she was making too little of the burden which
she would be called upon to bear--the burden of dull lonely months in
that great shabby house.

"It will be a little while before I can send for you, Millie," he
protested. But she paid no heed to the protest. She fetched her bank
book and added up the figures.

"I have three thousand pounds," she said.

"I'll borrow half," he repeated. "Of course, I am only borrowing.
Should things go wrong with me, you are sure to get it back in the
end."

They drove down to Millie's bank the next morning, and fifteen hundred
pounds were transferred to his account.

"Meanwhile," said Tony, as they came out of the door into Pall Mall,
"we have not yet settled where our farm is to be. I think I will go
and see Chase."

"The man in Stepney Green?" Millie asked.

"Yes. He's the man to help us."

Tony called a cab and drove off. It was late in the afternoon when he
returned, and he had no opportunity to tell his wife the results of
his visit before dinner was announced. Millie was in a fever to hear
his news. Never, even in this house, had an evening seemed so long.
Sir John sat upright in his high-backed chair, and, as was his custom,
bade her read aloud the evening paper. But that task was beyond her.
She pleaded a headache and escaped. It seemed to her that hours passed
before Tony rejoined her. She had come to dread with an intense fear
that some hindrance would, at any moment, stop their plan.

"Well?" she asked eagerly, when Tony at last came into their
sitting-room.

"It's to be horses in Kentucky," answered Tony. "Farming wants more
knowledge and a long apprenticeship; but I know a little about
horses."

"Splendid!" cried Millie. "You will go soon?"

"In a week. A week is all I need."

Millie was quiet for a little while. Then she asked, with an anxious
look--

"When do you mean to tell your father?"

"To-morrow."

"Don't," said she. She saw his face cloud, she was well aware of his
dislike of secrecies, but she was too much afraid that, somehow, at
the last moment an insuperable obstacle would bar the way. "Don't tell
him at all," she went on. "Leave a note for him. I will see that it is
given to him after you have gone. Then he can't stop you. Please do
this, I ask you."

"How can he stop me?

"I don't know; but I am afraid that he will. He could threaten to
disinherit you; if you disobeyed, he might carry out the threat. Give
him no opportunity to threaten."

Very reluctantly Tony consented. He had all a man's objections to
concealments, she all a woman's liking for them; but she prevailed,
and since the moment of separation was very near, they began to
retrace their steps through the years of their married life, and back
beyond them to the days of their first acquaintance. Thus it happened
that Millie mentioned the name of Pamela Mardale, and suddenly Tony
drew himself upright in his chair.

"Is she in town, I wonder?" he asked, rather of himself than of his
wife.

"Most likely," Millie replied. "Why?"

"I think I must try to see her before I go," said Tony, thoughtfully;
and more than once during the evening he looked with anxiety towards
his wife; but in his look there was some perplexity too.

He tried next day; for he borrowed a horse from a friend, and rode out
into the Row at eleven o'clock. As he passed through the gates of Hyde
Park, he saw Pamela turning her horse on the edge of the sand. She saw
him at the same moment and waited.

"You are a stranger here," she said, with a smile, as he joined her.

"Here and everywhere," he replied. "I came out on purpose to find
you."

Pamela glanced at Tony curiously. Only a few days had passed since
Warrisden had pointed out the truants from the window of Lady
Millingham's house, and had speculated upon the seclusion of their
lives. The memory of that evening was still fresh in her mind.

"I want to ask you a question."

"Ask it and I'll answer," she replied carelessly.

"You were Millie's bridesmaid?"

"Yes."

"You saw a good deal of her before we were married?"

"Yes."

They were riding down the Row at a walk under the trees, Pamela
wondering to what these questions were to lead, Tony slowly
formulating the point which troubled him.

"Before Millie and I were engaged," he went on, "before indeed there
was any likelihood of our being engaged, you once said to me something
about her."

"I did?"

"Yes. I remembered it last night. And it rather worries me. I should
like you to explain what you meant. You said, 'The man who marries her
should never leave her. If he goes away shooting big game, he should
take her with him. On no account must she be left behind.'"

It was a day cloudless and bright. Over towards the Serpentine the
heat filled the air with a soft screen of mist, and at the bottom of
the Row the rhododendrons glowed. As Pamela and Tony went forward at a
walk the sunlight slanting through the leaves now shone upon their
faces and now left them in shade. And when it fell bright upon Pamela
it lit up a countenance which was greatly troubled. She did not,
however, deny that she had used the words. She did not pretend that
she had forgotten their application.

"You remember what I said?" she remarked. "It is a long while ago."

"Before that," he explained, "I had begun to notice all that was said
of Millie."

"I spoke the words generally, perhaps too carelessly."

"Yet not without a reason," Tony insisted. "That's not your way."

Pamela made no reply for a moment or two. Then she patted her horse's
head, and said softly--

"Not without a reason." She admitted his contention frankly. She did
more, for she turned in her saddle towards him and, looking straight
into his face, said--

"I was not giving you advice at the time. But, had I been, I should
have said just those words. I say them again now."

"Why?"

Tony put his question very earnestly. He held Pamela in a great
respect, believing her clear-sighted beyond her fellows. He was indeed
a little timid in her presence as a rule, for she overawed him, though
all unconsciously. Nothing of this timidity, however, showed now.
"That was what I came out to ask you. Why?"

Again Pamela attempted no evasion.

"I can't tell you," she said quietly.

"You promised."

"I break the promise."

Tony looked wistfully at his companion. That the perplexing words had
been spoken with a definite meaning he had felt sure from the moment
when he had remembered them. And her refusal to explain proved to him
that the meaning was a very serious one--one indeed which he ought to
know and take into account.

"I ask you to explain," he urged, "because I _am_ going away, and I
_am_ leaving Millie behind."

Pamela was startled. She turned quickly towards him.

"Must you?" she said, and before he could answer she recovered from
her surprise. "Never mind," she continued; "shall we ride on?" and she
put her horse to a trot. It was not her business to advise or to
interfere. She had said too much already. She meant to remain the
looker-on.

Stretton, however, was not upon this occasion to be so easily
suppressed. He kept level with her, and as they rode he told her
something of the life which Millie and he had led in the big lonely
house in Berkeley Square; and in spite of herself Pamela was
interested. She had a sudden wish that Alan Warrisden was riding with
them too, so that he might hear his mystery resolved; she had a sudden
vision of his face, keen as a boy's, as he listened.

"I saw Millie and you a few nights ago. I was at a dance close by, and
I was surprised to see you. I thought you had left London," she said.

"No; but I am leaving," Stretton returned; and he went on to describe
that idyllic future which Millie and he had allotted to themselves.
The summer sunlight was golden in the air about them; already it
seemed that new fresh life was beginning. "I shall breed horses in
Kentucky. I was recommended to it by an East End parson called Chase,
who runs a mission on Stepney Green. I used to keep order in a
billiard room at his mission one night a week, when I was quartered at
the Tower. A queer sort of creature, Chase; but his judgment's good,
and of course he is always meeting all sorts of people."

"Chase?" Pamela repeated; and she retained the name in her memory.

"But he doesn't know Millie," said Stretton, "and you do. And so what
you said troubles me very much. If I go away remembering your words
and not understanding them, I shall go away uneasy. I shall remain
uneasy."

"I am sorry," Pamela replied. "I broke a rule of mine in saying what I
did, a rule not to interfere. And I see now that I did very wrong in
breaking it. I will not break it again. You must forget my words."

There was a quiet decision in her manner which warned Tony that no
persuasions would induce her to explain. He gave up his attempt and
turned to another subject.

"I have something else to ask--not a question this time, but a favour.
You could be a very staunch friend, Miss Mardale, if you chose. Millie
will be lonely after I have gone. You were a great friend of hers
once--be a friend of hers again."

Pamela hesitated. The promise which he sought on the face of it no
doubt looked easy of fulfilment. But Tony Stretton had been right in
one conjecture. She had spoken the words which troubled him from a
definite reason, and that reason assured her now that this promise
might lay upon her a burden, and a burden of a heavy kind. And she
shrank from all burdens. On the other hand, there was no doubt that
she had caused Tony much uneasiness. He would go away, on a task
which, as she saw very clearly, would be more arduous by far than even
he suspected--he would go away troubled and perplexed. That could not
be helped. But she might lighten the trouble, and make the perplexity
less insistent, if she granted the favour which he sought. It seemed
churlish to refuse.

"Very well," she said reluctantly. "I promise."

Already Tony's face showed his relief. She had given her promise
reluctantly, but she would keep it now. Of that he felt assured, and,
bidding her good-bye, he turned his horse and cantered back.

Pamela rode homewards more slowly. She had proposed to keep clear of
entanglements and responsibilities, and, behold! the meshes were about
her. She had undertaken a trust. In spite of herself she had ceased to
be the looker-on.



                              CHAPTER VI

                             NEWS OF TONY


The promise which Pamela had given was a great relief to Tony; he went
about the work of preparing for his departure with an easier mind. It
was even in his thoughts when he stood with his wife upon the platform
of Euston station, five minutes before his train started for
Liverpool.

"She will be a good friend, Millie," he said. "Count on her till I
send for you. I think I am right to go, even though I don't
understand----"

He checked himself abruptly. Millie, however, paid heed only to the
first clause of his sentence.

"Of course you are right," she said, with a confidence which brought
an answering smile to his face.

She watched the red tail-light of the train until it disappeared, and
drove home alone to the big dreary house. It seemed ten times more
dreary, ten times more silent than ever before. She was really alone
now. But her confidence in herself and in Tony was still strong. "I
can wait," she said, and the consciousness of her courage rejoiced
her. She walked from room to room and sat for a few moments in each,
realising that the coldness, the dingy look of the furniture, and the
empty silence had no longer the power to oppress her. She even
hesitated at the library door with her fingers on the key. But it was
not until the next day that she unlocked it and threw it open.

For Pamela, mindful of her promise, called in the afternoon. Millicent
was still uplifted by her confidence.

"I can wait quite patiently," she said; and Pamela scrutinised her
with some anxiety. For Millicent was speaking feverishly, as though
she laboured under an excitement. Was her courage the mere
effervescence of that excitement, or was it a steady, durable thing?
Pamela led her friend on to speak of the life which she and Tony had
led in the big house, sounding her the while so that she might come
upon some answer to that question. And thus it happened that, as they
came down the stairs together, Millicent again stopped before the
library door.

"Look!" she said. "This room always seemed to me typical of the whole
house, typical too of the lives we led in it."

She unlocked the door suddenly and flung it open. The floor of the
library was below the level of the hall, and a smooth plane of wood
sloped down to it very gradually from the threshold.

"There used to be steps here once, but before my time," said
Millicent. She went down into the room. Pamela followed her, and
understood why those two steps had been removed. Although the
book-shelves rose on every wall from floor to ceiling, it was not as a
library that this room was used. Heavy black curtains draped it with a
barbaric profusion. The centre of the room was clear of furniture, and
upon the carpet in that clear space was laid a purple drugget; and on
the drugget opposite to one another stood two strong wooden crutches.
The room was a mortuary chamber--nothing less. On those two crutches
the dead were to lie awaiting burial.

Millie Stretton shook her shoulders with a kind of shiver.

"Oh, how I used to hate this room, hate knowing that it was here,
prepared and ready!"

Pamela could understand how the knowledge would work upon a woman of
emotions, whose nerves were already strung to exasperation by the life
she led. For even to her there was something eerie in the disposition
of the room. It looked out upon a dull yard of stone at the back of
the house; the light was very dim and the noise of the streets hardly
the faintest whisper; there was a chill and a dampness in the air.

"How I hated it," Millie repeated. "I used to lie awake and think of
it. I used to imagine it more silent than any other of the silent
rooms, and emptier--emptier because day and night it seemed to claim
an inhabitant, and to claim it as a right. That was the horrible
thing. The room was waiting--waiting for us to be carried down that
wooden bridge and laid on the crutches here, each in our turn. It
became just a symbol of the whole house. For what is the house,
Pamela? A place that should have been a place of life, and is a place
merely expecting death. Look at the books reaching up to the ceiling,
never taken down, never read, for the room's a room for coffins. It
wasn't merely a symbol of the house--that wasn't the worst of it. It
was a sort of image of our lives, the old man's upstairs, Tony's and
mine down here. We were all doing nothing, neither suffering nor
enjoying, but just waiting--waiting for death. Nothing you see could
happen in this house but death. Until it came there would only be
silence and emptiness."

Millie Stretton finished her outburst, and stood dismayed as though
the shadow of those past days were still about her. The words she had
spoken must have seemed exaggerated and even theatrical, but for the
aspect of her as she spoke them. Her whole frame shuddered, her face
had the shrinking look of fear. She recovered herself, however, in a
moment.

"But that time's past," she said. "Tony's gone and I--I am waiting for
life now. I am only a lodger, you see. A month or two, and I pack my
boxes."

She turned towards the door and stopped. The hall door had just at
that moment opened. Pamela heard a man's footsteps sound heavily upon
the floor of the hall and then upon the stairs.

"My father-in-law," said Millie.

"This was his doing?" asked Pamela.

"Yes," replied Millie. "It's strange, isn't it? But there's something
stranger still."

The footsteps had now ceased. Millie led the way back to her room.

"When I got home yesterday," she related, "I had Tony's letter
announcing his departure taken up to Sir John. I waited for him to
send for me. He did not. I am not sure that I expected he would. You
see, he has never shown the least interest in us. However, when I went
up to my room to dress for dinner, I saw that the candles were all
lighted in Tony's room next door, and his clothes laid out upon the
bed. I went in and put the candles out--rather quickly." Her voice
shook a little upon those last two words. Pamela nodded her head as
though she understood, and Millicent went on, after a short pause--

"It troubled me to see them burning; it troubled me very much. And
when I came downstairs I told the footman the candles were not to be
lit again, since Tony had gone away. He answered that they had been
lit by Sir John's orders. At first I thought that Sir John had not
troubled to read the letter at all. I thought that all the more
because he never once, either during dinner or afterwards, mentioned
Tony's name or seemed to remark his absence. But it was not so. He has
given orders that every night the room is to be ready and the candles
lit as though Tony were here still, or might walk in at the door at
any moment. I suppose that after all in a queer way he cares."

Again her voice faltered; and again a question rose up insistent in
Pamela's mind. She knew her friend, and it was out of her knowledge
that she had spoken long ago in Tony's presence when she had said,
"her husband should never leave her." It was evident that Tony's
departure had caused his wife great suffering.

Millicent had let that fact escape in spite of her exaltation. Pamela
welcomed it, but she asked, "Was that regret a steady and durable
thing?"

Pamela left London the next day with her question unanswered, and for
two months there was no opportunity for her of discovering an answer.
Often during that August and September, on the moors in Scotland, or
at her own home in Leicestershire, she would think of Millie Stretton,
in the hot and dusty town amongst the houses where the blinds were
drawn. She imagined her sitting over against the old stern impassive
man at dinner, or wearily reading to him his newspaper at night. Had
the regret dwindled to irritation, and the loneliness begotten
petulance?

Indeed, those months were dull and wearisome enough for Millicent. No
change of significance came in the routine of that monotonous
household. Sir John went to his room perhaps a little earlier than had
been his wont, his footsteps dragged along the floor for a while
longer, and his light burned in the window after the dawn had come.
Finally he ceased to leave his room at all. But that was all. For
Millicent, however, the weeks passed easily. Each day brought her a
day nearer to the sunlit farm fronting the open plain. She marked the
weeks off in her diary with a growing relief; for news kept coming
from America, and the news was good.

Early in October, Pamela passed through London on her way to Sussex,
and broke her journey that she might see her friend.

"Frances Millingham is writing to you," she said. "She wants you to
stay with her in Leicestershire. I shall be there too. I hope you will
come."

"When?"

"At the beginning of the New Year."

Millicent laughed.

"I shall have left England before then. Tony will have made his way,"
she said, with a joyous conviction.

"There might be delays," Pamela suggested, in a very gentle voice. For
suddenly there had risen before her mind the picture of a terrace high
above a gorge dark with cypresses. She saw again the Mediterranean,
breaking in gold along the curving shore, and the gardens of the
Casino at Monte Carlo. She heard a young girl prophesying success upon
that terrace with no less certainty than Millicent had used. Her face
softened and her eyes shone with a very wistful look. She took out her
watch and glanced at it. It was five o'clock. The school children had
gone home by now from the little school-house in the square of
Roquebrune. Was the schoolmaster leaning over the parapet looking
downwards to the station or to the deserted walk in front of the
Casino? Was a train passing along the sea's edge towards France and
Paris?

"One must expect delays, Millie," she insisted; and again Millie
laughed.

"I have had letters. I am expecting another. It should have come a
fortnight since." And she told Pamela what the letters had contained.

At first Tony had been a little bewildered by the activity of New
York, after his quiescent years. But he had soon made an acquaintance,
and the acquaintance had become a friend. The two men had determined
to go into partnership; a farm in Kentucky was purchased, each man
depositing an equal share of the purchase money.

"Six weeks ago they left New York. Tony said I would not hear from him
at once."

And while they were sitting together there came a knock upon the door,
and two letters were brought in for Millicent. One she tossed upon the
table. With the other in her hand she turned triumphantly to Pamela.

"Do you mind?" she asked. "I have been waiting so long."

"Read it, of course," said Pamela.

Millie tore the letter open, and at once the light died out of her
eyes, and the smile vanished from her lips.

"From New York," she said, halfway between perplexity and fear. "He
writes from New York." And with trembling fingers she turned over the
sheets and read the letter through.

Pamela watched her, saw the blood ebb from her cheeks, and dejection
overspread her face. A great pity welled up in Pamela's heart, not
merely for the wife who read, but for the man who had penned that
letter--with what difficulty, she wondered, with how much pain!
Failure was the message which it carried. Millicent's trembling lips
told her that. And again the village of Roquebrune rose up before her
eyes as she gazed out of the window on the London square. What were
the words the schoolmaster had spoken when, stripped of his dreams, he
had confessed success was not for him? "We must forget these fine
plans. The school at Roquebrune will send no deputy to Paris."
Pamela's eyes grew dim.

She stood looking out of the window for some while, but hearing no
movement she at length turned back again. The sheets of the letter had
fallen upon the floor, they lay scattered, written over in a round,
sprawling, schoolboy's hand. Millicent sat very still, her face most
weary and despairing.

"It's all over," she said. "The friend was a swindler. He left the
train at a station on the way and disappeared. Tony went on, but there
was no farm. He is back in New York."

"But the man can be found?"

"He belongs to a gang. There is little chance, and Tony has no money.
He will take no more of mine."

"He is coming home, then?" said Pamela.

"No; he means to stay and retrieve his failures."

Pamela said nothing, and Millicent appealed to her. "He will do that,
don't you think? Men have started badly before, and have succeeded,
and have not taken so very long to succeed."

"No doubt," said Pamela; and she spoke with what hopefulness she
could. But she remembered Tony Stretton. Simplicity and good-humour
were amongst his chief qualities; he was a loyal friend, and he had
pluck. Was that enough? On the other hand, he had little knowledge and
little experience. The schoolmaster of Roquebrune and Tony Stretton
stood side by side in her thoughts. She was not, however, to be put to
the task of inventing encouragements. For before she could open her
lips again, Millicent said gently--

"Will you mind if I ask to be left alone? Come again as soon as you
can. But this afternoon----" Her voice broke so that she could not
finish her sentence, and she turned hastily away. However, she
recovered her self-control and went down the stairs with Pamela, and
as they came into the hall their eyes turned to the library door, and
then they looked at one another. Both remembered the conversation they
had had within that room.

"What if you told Sir John?" said Pamela. "It seems that he does after
all care."

"It would be of no use," said Millicent, shaking her head. "He would
only say, 'Let him come home,' and Tony will not. Besides, I never see
him now."

"Never?" exclaimed Pamela.

"No; he does not leave his room." She lowered her voice. "I do not
believe he ever will leave it again. It's not that he's really ill,
his doctor tells me, but he's slowly letting himself go."

Pamela answered absently. Sir John Stretton and his ailments played a
small part in her thoughts. It seemed that the library was again to
become typical of the house, typical of the life its inhabitants led.
Nothing was to happen, then. There was to be a mere waiting for things
to cease.

But a second letter was lying upstairs unopened on the table, and that
letter, harmless as it appeared, was strangely to influence Millicent
Stretton's life. It was many hours afterwards when Millicent opened
it, and, compared with the heavy tidings she had by the same post
received, it seemed utterly trifling and unimportant. It was no more
indeed than the invitation from Frances Millingham of which Pamela had
spoken. Pamela forgot it altogether when she heard the news which Tony
had sent, but she was to be affected by it too. For she had made a
promise to Tony Stretton, and, as he had foreseen, she would at any
cost fulfil it.



                             CHAPTER VII

                        THE LADY ON THE STAIRS


Whitewebs, Frances Millingham's house in Leicestershire, was a long
white building with many level windows. The square main block of the
building rose in the centre two storeys high, and on each side a wing
of one storey projected. Behind the house a broad lawn sloped to the
bank of a clear and shallow trout stream, with an avenue of old elms
upon its left, and a rose garden upon its right. In front of the house
a paddock made a ring of green, and round this ring the carriage drive
circled from a white five-barred gate. Whitewebs stood in a flat grass
country. From the upper windows you looked over a wide plain of
meadows and old trees, so level that you had on a misty day almost an
illusion of a smooth sea and the masts of ships; from the lower, you
saw just as far as the nearest hedgerow, except in one quarter of the
compass. For to the south-west the ground rose very far away, and at
the limit of view three tall poplars, set in a tiny garden on the
hill's crest, stood clearly out against the sky like sentinels upon a
frontier. These three landmarks were visible for many miles around.
Pamela, however, saw nothing of them as she was driven over the three
miles from the station to Whitewebs.

It was late on a February evening, and already dark. The snow had
fallen heavily during the last week, and as Pamela looked out through
the carriage windows she saw that the ground glimmered white on every
side; above the ground a mist thickened the night air, and the cold
was piercing. When she reached the house she found that Frances
Millingham was waiting for her alone in the big inner hall, with tea
ready; and the first question which she asked of her hostess was--

"Is Millie Stretton here?"

"Yes," replied Frances Millingham. "She has been here a week."

"I couldn't come before," said Pamela, rather remorsefully. "My father
was at home alone. How is Millie? I have not seen her for a long time.
Is she enjoying herself?"

Pamela's conscience had been reproaching her all that afternoon. She
could plead in her own behalf that after the arrival of Tony's letter
with its message of failure, she had deferred her visit into the
country and had stayed in London for a week. But she had not returned
to London since, and consequently she had not seen her friend. She had
heard regularly from her, it is true; she also knew that there was yet
no likelihood of the hoped-for change in the life of that isolated
household in Berkeley Square. But there had been certain omissions of
late in Millicent's letters which began to make Pamela anxious.

"Yes," Frances Millingham replied; "she seems to be happy enough."

Lady Millingham related the names of her guests. There were twelve in
all, but the first ten may be omitted, for they are in no way
concerned with Pamela's history. The eleventh name, however, was that
of a friend.

"John Mudge is here, too," said Frances Millingham; and Pamela said,
with a smile--

"I like him."

John Mudge was that elderly man whom Allan Warrisden had seen with
Pamela at Lady Millingham's dance, the man with no pleasure in his
face. "And Mr. Lionel Callon," said Frances; "you know him."

"Do I?" asked Pamela.

"At all events, he knows you."

It was no doubt a consequence of Pamela's deliberate plan never to be
more than an onlooker, that people who did not arouse her active
interest passed in and out of her acquaintanceship like shadows upon a
mirror. It might be that she had met Lionel Callon. She could not
remember.

"A quarter past seven," said Frances Millingham, glancing at the
clock. "We dine at eight."

Pamela dressed quickly in the hope that she might gain a few minutes
before dinner wherein to talk to Millicent. She came down the stairs
with this object a good quarter of an hour before eight, but she was
to be disappointed. The stairs descended into the big inner hall of
the house, and just below the roof of the hall they took a bend. As
Pamela came round this bend the hall was exposed to her eyes, and she
saw, below her, not Millicent at all, but the figure of a man. He was
standing by the fireplace, on her left hand as she descended, looking
into the fire indeed, so that his back was towards her. But at the
rustle of her frock he swung round quickly and looked up. He now moved
a few steps towards the foot of the stairs with a particular
eagerness. Pamela at that moment had just come round the bend, and was
on the small platform from which the final flight of steps began. The
staircase was dimly lit, and the panelling of the wall against which
it rested dark. Pamela took a step or two downwards, and the light of
the hall struck upon her face. The man came instantly to a dead stop,
and a passing disappointment was visible upon his upturned face. It
was evident that he was expecting some one else. Pamela on her side
was disappointed, too, for she had hoped to find Millicent. She went
down the stairs and stopped on the third step from the bottom.

"How do you do, Miss Mardale?" said the man. "You have arrived at
last."

The man was Lionel Callon. Pamela recognised him now that they stood
face to face; she _had_ met him, but she had retained no impression of
him in her memory. For the future, however, she would retain a very
distinct impression. For her instincts told her at once and clearly
that she thoroughly disliked the man. He was thirty-three in years,
and looked a trifle younger, although his hair was turning grey. He
was clean shaven, handsome beyond most men, and while his features
were of a classical regularity and of an almost feminine delicacy,
they were still not without character. There was determination in his
face, and his eyes were naturally watchful. It was his manner which
prompted Pamela's instinct of dislike. Assurance gave to it a hint of
arrogance; familiarity made it distasteful. He might have been her
host from the warmth of his welcome. Pamela put on her sedatest air.

"I am quite well," she said, with just sufficient surprise to suggest
the question, "What in the world has my health to do with you?" She
came down the three steps, and added, "We are the first, I suppose."

"There may be others in the drawing-room," said Callon, with a glance
towards the open door. But Pamela did not take the hint. For one thing
no sound of any voice was audible in that room; for another Mr. Callon
was plainly anxious to be rid of her. Even as he was speaking his
glance strayed past her up the staircase. Pamela disliked him; she
was, besides, disappointed by him of that private talk with Millicent
which she desired. She was in a mood for mischief. She changed her
manner at once, and, crossing over to the fireplace, engaged Mr.
Callon in conversation with the utmost cordiality, and as she talked
she began to be amused. Callon became positively uneasy; he could not
keep still, he answered her at random. For instance, she put to him a
question about the number of guests in the house. He did not answer at
all for a moment or two, and when he did speak, it was to say, "Will
the frost hold, do you think?"

"There's no sign of a thaw to-night," replied Pamela; and the sounds
for which both were listening became audible--the shutting of a door
on the landing above, and then the rustle of a frock upon the stairs.
Mr. Callon was evidently at his wits' end what to do; and Pamela,
taking her elbow from the mantelpiece, said, with great sympathy--

"One feels a little in the way----"

"Oh, not at all, Miss Mardale," Callon answered hurriedly, with a
flustered air.

Pamela looked at her companion with the blankest stare of surprise.

"I was going to say, when you interrupted me," she went on, "that one
feels a little in the way when one has brought a couple of horses, as
I have, and the frost holds."

Callon grew red. He had fallen into a trap; his very hurry to
interrupt what appeared to be almost an apology betrayed that the lady
upon the stairs and Mr. Lionel Callon had arranged to come down early.
He had protested overmuch. However, he looked Pamela steadily in the
face, and said--

"I beg your pardon, Miss Mardale."

He spoke loudly, rather too loudly for the ears of any one so near to
him as Pamela. The sentence, too, was uttered with a note of warning.
There was even a suggestion of command. The command was obeyed by the
lady on the stairs, for all at once the frock ceased to rustle, and
there was silence. Lionel Callon kept his eyes fixed upon Pamela's
face, but she did not look towards the stairs, and in a little while
again the sound was heard. But it diminished. The lady upon the stairs
was ascending, and a few minutes afterwards a door closed overhead.
She had beaten a retreat.

Callon could not quite keep the relief which he felt out of his eyes
or the smile from his lips. Pamela noticed the change with amusement.
She was not in the mind to spare him uneasiness, and she said, looking
at the wall above the mantelpiece--

"This is an old mirror, don't you think? From what period would you
date it?"

Callon's thoughts had been so intent upon the stairs that he had paid
no heed to the ornaments above the mantelshelf. Now, however, he took
note of them with a face grown at once anxious. The mirror was of an
oval shape and framed in gold. Under the pretence of admiring it, he
moved and stood behind Pamela, looking into the mirror over her
shoulder, seeing what she could see, and wondering how much she had
seen. He was to some extent relieved. The stairs were ill-lighted, the
panelling of the wall dark mahogany; moreover, the stairs bent round
into the hall just below the level of the roof, and at the bend the
lady on the stairs had stopped. Pamela could not have seen her face.
Pamela, indeed, had seen nothing more than a black satin slipper
arrested in the act of taking a step, and a black gown with some
touches of red at the waist. She had, however, noticed the attitude of
the wearer of the dress when the warning voice had brought her to a
stop. The lady had stooped down and had cautiously peered into the
hall. In this attitude she had been able to see, and yet had avoided
being seen.

Pamela, however, did not relieve Mr. Callon of his suspense. She
walked into the drawing-room and waited, with an amused curiosity, for
the appearance of the black dress. It was long in coming, however.
Pamela had no doubt that it would come last, and in a hurry, as though
its wearer had been late in dressing. But Pamela was wrong. Millicent
Stretton came into the room dressed in a frock of white lace, and at
once dinner was announced. Pamela turned to Frances Millingham with a
startled face--

"Are we all here?"

Frances Millingham looked round.

"Yes;" and Lord Millingham at that moment offered his arm to Pamela.
As she took it, she looked at Millicent, who was just rising from her
chair. Millicent was wearing with her white dress black shoes and
stockings. She might be wearing them deliberately, of course; on the
other hand, she might be wearing them because she had not had time to
change them. It was Millicent, certainly, who had come down last. "I
beg your pardon, Miss Mardale," Callon had said, and it was upon the
"Miss Mardale" that his voice had risen. The emphasis of his warning
had been laid upon the name.

As she placed her hand on her host's arm, Pamela said--

"It was very kind of Frances to ask Millie Stretton here."

"Oh no," Lord Millingham replied. "You see, Frances knew her. We all
knew, besides, that she is a great friend of yours."

"Yes," said Pamela; "I suppose everybody here knows that?"

"Mrs. Stretton has talked of it," he answered, with a smile.

The "Miss Mardale" might be a warning, then, to Millicent that her
friend had arrived--was actually then in the hall. There was certainly
no one but Millicent in that house who could have been conscious of
any need to shrink back at the warning, who would have changed her
dress to prevent a recognition; and Millicent herself need not have
feared the warning had there not been something to conceal--something
to conceal especially from Pamela, who had said, "I have promised your
husband I would be your friend." There was the heart of Pamela's
trouble.

She gazed down the two lines of people at the dinner-table, hoping
against hope that she had overlooked some one. There was no one
wearing a black gown. All Pamela's amusement in outwitting Callon had
long since vanished. If Tony had only taken her advice without
question, she thought. "Millie's husband should never leave her. If he
goes away he should take her with him." The words rang in her mind all
through dinner like the refrain of a song of which one cannot get rid.
And at the back of her thoughts there steadily grew and grew a great
regret that she had ever promised Tony to befriend his wife.

That Millicent was the lady on the stairs she no longer dared to
doubt. Had she doubted, her suspicions would have been confirmed
immediately dinner was over. In the drawing-room Millicent avoided any
chance of a private conversation, and since they had not met for so
long such avoidance was unnatural. Pamela, however, made no effort to
separate her friend from the other women. She had a plan in her mind,
and in pursuit of it she occupied a sofa, upon which there was just
room for two. She sat in the middle of the sofa, so that no one else
could sit on it, and just waited until the men came in. Some of them
crossed at once to Pamela, but she did not budge an inch. They were
compelled to stand. Finally, Mr. Mudge approached her, and immediately
she moved into one corner and bade him take the other. Mr. Mudge
accepted the position with alacrity. The others began to move away; a
couple of card-tables were made up. Pamela and John Mudge were left
alone.

"You know every one here?" she asked.

"No, very few."

"Mr. Callon, at all events?"

Mr. Mudge glanced shrewdly at his questioner.

"Yes, I know him slightly," he answered.

"Tell me what you know."

Mr. Mudge sat for a moment or two with his hands upon his knees and
his eyes staring in front of him. Pamela knew his history, and
esteemed his judgment. He had built up a great contracting business
from the poorest beginnings, and he remained without bombast or
arrogance. He was to be met nowadays in many houses, and, while he had
acquired manners, he had lost nothing of his simplicity. The journey
from the Seven Dials to Belgrave Square is a test of furnace heat, and
John Mudge had betrayed no flaws. There was a certain forlornness,
too, in his manner which appealed particularly to Pamela. She guessed
that the apples, for which through a lifetime he had grasped, had
crumbled into ashes between his fingers. Sympathy taught her that the
man was lonely. He wandered through the world amidst a throng of
acquaintances; but how many friends had he, she wondered? She did not
interrupt his reflections, and he turned to her at last, with an air
of decision.

"I am on strange ground here," he said, "as you know. I am the
outsider; and when I am on strange ground I go warily. If I am asked
what I think of this man or that I make it a rule to praise."

"Yes; but not to me," said Pamela, with a smile. "I want to know the
truth to-night."

Mudge looked at her deliberately, and no less deliberately he spoke--

"And I think you ought to know the truth to-night."

Mudge, then, like the rest, knew that she was Millicent's friend. Was
it for that reason that she ought to know the truth?

"I know Callon a little," he went on, "but I know a good deal about
him. Like most of the men who know him I dislike him heartily. Women,
on the other hand, like him, Miss Mardale--like him too well. Women
make extraordinary mistakes over men just as men do over women. They
can be very blind--like your friend----"

Mudge paused for an appreciable time. Then he went on steadily--

"Like your friend Lady Millingham, who invites him here."

Pamela was grateful for the delicacy with which the warning was
conveyed, but she did not misunderstand it. She had been told
indirectly, but no less definitely on that account, that Millie was
entangled.

"Callon has good looks, of course," continued Mudge; and Pamela
uttered a little exclamation of contempt. Mudge smiled, but rather
sadly.

"Oh, it's something. All people have not your haughty indifference to
good looks. He is tall, he has a face which is a face and not a
pudding. It's a good deal, Miss Mardale."

Pamela looked in surprise at the stout, heavily-built bald man who
spoke. That he should ever have given a thought to how he looked was a
new idea to her. It struck her as pathetic.

"But he is not merely good-looking. He is clever, persistent besides,
and, so far as I can judge, untroubled by a single scruple in the
management of his life. Altogether, Miss Mardale, a dangerous man. How
does he live?" he asked suddenly.

"I neither know nor care," said Pamela. "Ah, but you should care,"
replied Mudge. "The answer is instructive. He has a small income--two
hundred a year, perhaps; a mere nothing compared with what he
spends--and he never does an hour's work, as we understand work. Yet
he pays his card debts at his club, and they are sometimes heavy, and
he wants for nothing. How is it done? He has no prospect of an
inheritance, so post-obits are not the explanation."

Mr. Mudge leaned back in his chair and waited. Pamela turned the
question over in her mind. "I can't guess how it's done," she said.
"And I can do no more than hint the answer," he replied. "He rides one
woman's horses, he drives another woman's phaeton, he is always on
hand to take a third to a theatre, or to make up a luncheon party with
a fourth. Shall we say he borrows money from a fifth? Shall we be
wrong in saying it?" And suddenly Mr. Mudge exclaimed, with a heat and
scorn which Pamela had never heard from him before, "A very
contemptible existence, anyway, Miss Mardale. But the man's not to be
despised, mind. No, that's the worst of it. Some day, perhaps, a
strong man will rise up and set his foot on him. Till that time he is
to be feared." And when Pamela by a gesture rejected the word, Mudge
repeated it. "Yes, feared. He makes his plans, Miss Mardale. Take a
purely imaginary case," and somehow, although he laid no ironic stress
on the word imaginary, and accompanied it with no look, but sat gazing
straight in front of him, Pamela was aware that it was a real case he
was going to cite. "Imagine a young and pretty woman coming to a house
where most of the guests were strangers to her; imagine her to be of a
friendly, unsuspecting temperament, rather lonely, perhaps, and either
unmarried or separated for a time from her husband. Add that she will
one day be very rich, or that her husband will be. Such a woman might
be his prey, unless----"

Pamela looked up inquiringly.

"Unless she had good friends to help her."

Pamela's face, distressed before, grew yet more troubled now. The
burden of her promise was being forced upon her back. It seemed she
was not for one moment to be allowed to forget it.

"I'll tell you my philosophy, Miss Mardale," Mudge continued, "and I
have inferred it from what I have seen. I do not believe that any man
really comes to good unless he has started in life with the ambition
to make a career for himself, with no help other than his hands and
his brains afford. Later on he will learn that women can be most
helpful; later on, as he gets towards middle life, as the years
shorten and shorten, he will see that he must use whatever extraneous
assistance comes his way. But he will begin with a fearless ambition
to suffice with his own hands and head." Mr. Mudge dropped from the
high level of his earnestness. He looked towards Lionel Callon, who
was seated at a card-table, and the contempt again crept into his
voice. "Now that man began life meaning to use all people he met, and
especially women. Women were to be his implements." Mr. Mudge smiled
suddenly. "He's listening," he said.

"But he is too far away to hear," replied Pamela.

"No doubt; but he knows we are speaking of him. Look, his attitude
shows it. This, you see, is his battleground, and he knows the arts of
his particular warfare. A drawing-room! Mr. Lionel Callon fights among
the teacups. Cajolery first, and God knows by what means afterwards.
But he wins, Miss Mardale; don't close your eyes to that! Look, I told
you he was listening. The rubber's over, and he's coming towards us.
Oh, he's alert upon his battle-ground! He knows what men think of him.
He's afraid lest I should tell what men think to you. But he comes too
late."

Callon crossed to the sofa, and stood talking there until Frances
Millingham rose. Pamela turned to Mr. Mudge as she got up.

"I thank you very much," she said gratefully.

Mr. Mudge smiled.

"No need for thanks," said he. "I am very glad you came to-night, for
I go away to-morrow."

Pamela went to her room and sat down before the fire. What was to be
done, she wondered? She could not get Lionel Callon sent away from the
house. It would be no use even if she could, since Millie had an
address in town. She could not say a word openly.

She raised her head and spoke to her maid.

"Which is Mrs. Stretton's room?" And when she had the answer she rose
from her chair and stood, a figure of indecision. She did not plead
that John Mudge had exaggerated the danger; for she had herself
foreseen it long-ago, before Millie's marriage--even before Millie's
engagement. It was just because she had foreseen it that she had used
the words which had so rankled in Tony's memory. Bitterly she
regretted that she had ever used them; greatly she wished that she
could doubt their wisdom. But she could not. Let Millie's husband
leave her, she would grieve with all the strength of her nature; let
him come back soon, she would welcome him with a joy as great. Yes;
but he must come back _soon_. Otherwise she would grow used to his
absence; she would find his return an embarrassment, for it would be
the return of a stranger with the prerogative of a husband; she might
even have given to another the place he once held in her thoughts. And
the other might be a Lionel Callon. For this was Millicent's
character. She yielded too easily to affection, and she did not
readily distinguish between affection and the show of it. She paddled
in the shallows of passion, and flattered herself that she was
swimming in the depths. Grief she was capable of--yes; but a torrent
of tears obliterated it. Joy she knew; but it was a thrill with her
lasting an hour.

Pamela walked along the passage and knocked at Millicent's door,
saying who she was. Millicent opened the door, and received her friend
with some constraint.

"Can I come in?" said Pamela.

"Of course," said Millie.

They sat opposite to one another on each side of the fire.

"I wanted to see you before I went to bed," said Pamela. "You have not
told me lately in your letters how Tony is getting on."

Millie raised her hand to shield her face from the blaze of the fire.
She happened to shade it also from the eyes of Pamela; and she made no
reply.

"Is he still in New York?" Pamela asked; and then Millie replied.

"I do not know," she answered slowly. She let her hand fall, and
looked straight and defiantly at her friend.

"I have not heard from him for a long while," she added; and as she
spoke there crept into her face a look of disdain.



                             CHAPTER VIII

                           GIDEON'S FLEECE


Millicent was reluctant to add any word of explanation. She sat with
her eyes upon the fire, waiting, it seemed, until Pamela should see
fit to go. But Pamela remained, and of the two women she was the
stronger in will and character. She sat, with her eyes quietly resting
upon Millicent's face; and in a little while Millicent began
reluctantly to speak. As she spoke the disdainful droop of her lips
became more pronounced, and her words were uttered in a note of
petulance.

"He _would_ stay to retrieve his failure. You remember?" she said.

"Yes," replied Pamela.

"I wrote to him again and again to come home, but he would not. I
couldn't make him see that he wasn't really a match for the people he
must compete with."

Pamela nodded her head.

"You wrote that to him?"

Millicent lifted her face to Pamela's.

"I put it, of course, with less frankness. I offered him, besides, the
rest of my money, so that he might try again; but he refused to take a
farthing more. It was unreasonable, don't you think? I could have got
on without it, but he couldn't. I was very sorry for him."

"And you expressed your pity, too?" asked Pamela.

"Yes, indeed," said Millicent, eagerly. "But he never would accept it.
He replied cheerfully that something was sure to happen soon, that he
would be sure to find an opening soon. But, of course, he never did.
It was not likely that with his inexperience he ever would."

Tony's own words had recoiled upon him. On the evening when he had
first broached his plan to Millicent in Berkeley Square, he had laid
before her, amongst others, this very obstacle, thinking that she
ought to be aware of it, and never doubting but that he would surmount
it. The honesty of his nature had bidden him speak all that he had
thought, and he had spoken without a suspicion that his very frankness
might put in her mind an argument to belittle him. He had seemed
strong then, because he knew the difficulties, and counted them up
when she omitted them. His image was all the more pale and ineffectual
now because, foreknowing them well, he had not mastered them.

"I wrote to him at last that it wasn't any use for him to go on with
the struggle. He would not tell me how he lived, or even where. I had
to send my letters to a post-office, and he called for them. He must
be living in want, in misery. I wrote to him that I had guessed as
much from his very reticence, and I said how sorry I was. Yet, in
spite of what I wrote," and here her voice hardened a little; she
showed herself as a woman really aggrieved, "in spite of what I wrote,
he answered me in a quite short letter, saying that I must not expect
to hear from him again until he had recovered from his defeat and was
re-established in my eyes. I can't understand that, can you?"

"I think so," Pamela answered. She spoke gently. For there was
something to be said upon Millicent's side. The sudden collapse of her
exaggerated hopes, the dreary life she led, and her natural
disappointment at the failure of the man whom she had married, when
once he stepped down into the arena to combat with his fellow-men.
These things could not fail to provoke, in a nature so easily swayed
from extreme to extreme as Millicent's, impatience, anger, and a sense
of grievance. Pamela could hold the balance fairly enough to
understand that. But chiefly she was thinking of Tony--Tony hidden
away in some lodging in New York, a lodging so squalid that he would
not give the address, and vainly seeking for an opportunity whereby he
would make a rapid fortune; very likely going short of food, and
returning home at night to read over a letter from his wife of which
every line cried out to him, with a contemptuous pity, "You are a
failure. You are a failure. Come home." Pamela's heart went out in
pity, too. But there was no contempt in her pity. She could not but
admire the perseverance with which, on this, the first time that he
had ever walked hand in hand with misery, he endured its
companionship.

"I think I understand," she said. "You say he answered you in that
short way in spite of what you wrote. I think it was not in spite of,
but because----"

Millie Stretton shook her head.

"No, that's not the reason," she replied. She gave one herself, and it
fairly startled Pamela. "Tony no longer cares for me. He means to go
out of my life altogether."

Pamela remembered what store Tony had always set upon his wife, how he
had spoken of her that July morning in the park, and how he had looked
at the moment when he spoke. It was just because he cared so much that
he had taken his wild leap into the dark. That, at all events, she
believed, and in such a strain she replied. But Millicent would not be
persuaded.

"Before Tony went away," she said stubbornly, "he let me see that he
no longer cared. He was losing the associations which used to be vivid
in his memory. Our marriage had just become a dull, ordinary thing. He
had lost the spirit in which he entered into it."

Again Tony's indiscreet frankness had done him wrong. The coon song,
which was always to be associated in his mind with the summer night,
and the islets in the sea, and the broad stretch of water trembling
away in the moonlight across to the lights of the yachts in Oban Bay,
had become a mere coon song "sung by some one." Millicent had often
remembered and reflected upon that unfortunate sentence, and as her
disappointment in Tony increased and the pitying contempt gradually
crept into her mind, she read into it more and more of what Tony had
not meant.

"I am sure you are wrong," said Pamela, very earnestly. "He went away
because he cared. He went away to keep your married life and his from
fading away into the colourless, dull, ordinary thing it so frequently
becomes. He has lost ground by his failure. No doubt your own letters
have shown that; and he is silent now in order to keep what he has.
You have said it yourself. He will not write until he is able to
re-establish himself in your thoughts."

But would Tony succeed? _Could_ he succeed? The questions forced
themselves into her mind even while she was speaking, and she carried
them back to her room. The chances were all against him. Even if he
retrieved his failure, it would be a long time before that result was
reached--too long, perhaps, when his wife was Millicent, and such
creatures as Lionel Callon walked about the world. And he might never
succeed at all, he was so badly handicapped.

Pamela was sorely tempted to leave the entanglement alone to unravel
itself. There was something which she could do. She was too honest to
close her eyes to that. But her own history rose up against her and
shook a warning finger. It had a message to her ears never so loudly
repeated as on this night. "Don't move a step. Look on! Look on!" She
knew herself well. She was by nature a partisan. Let her take this
trouble in hand and strive to set it right, her whole heart would soon
be set upon success. She was fond of Millicent already; she would
become fonder still in the effort to save her. She liked Tony very
much. The thought of him stoutly persevering, clinging to his one
ambition to keep his married life a bright and real thing in spite of
want and poverty--and even his wife's contempt, appealed to her with a
poignant strength. But she might fail. She had eaten of failure once,
and, after all these years, the taste of it was still most bitter in
her mouth.

She fought her battle out over her dying fire, and at the end two
thoughts stood out clearly in her mind. She had given her promise to
Tony to be a good friend to his wife, and there was one thing which
she could do in fulfilment of her promise.

She walked over to her window and flung it open. She was of the women
who look for signs; no story quite appealed to her like the story of
Gideon's Fleece. She looked for a sign now quite seriously. If a thaw
had set in, why, the world was going a little better with her, and
perhaps she might succeed. But the earth was iron-bound, and in the
still night she could hear a dry twig here and there snapping in the
frost. No, the world was not going well. She decided to wait until
things improved.

But next day matters were worse. For one thing John Mudge went away,
and he was the only person in the house who interested her at all.
Furthermore, Lionel Callon stayed, and he announced some news.

"I have been chosen to stand for Parliament at the next election," he
said; and he named an important constituency. Pamela noticed the look
of gratification, almost of pride, which shone at once on Millie's
face, and her heart sank. She interpreted Millie's thought, and
accurately. Here was a successful man, a man who had got on without
opportunities or means, simply by his own abilities; and there, far
away in New York, was her failure of a husband. Moreover, Callon and
Millicent were much together; they had even small secrets, to which in
conversation they referred. The world was not going well with Pamela,
and she waited for the fleece to be wet with dew.

After four days, however, the frost showed signs of breaking. A thaw
actually set in that evening, and on the next morning two pieces of
good news arrived. In the first place, Pamela received a letter from
Alan Warrisden. There was nothing of importance in it, but it gave her
his actual address. In the second, Millie told Frances Millingham that
she had received news that Sir John Stretton was really failing, and
although there was no immediate danger, she must hold herself in
readiness to return to town. This to Pamela was really the best news
of all. This morning, at all events, Gideon's Fleece was wet. She
looked out some trains in the railway guide, and then sent a telegram
to Warrisden to come by a morning train. She would meet him at the
railway station. The one step in her power she was thus resolved to
take.



                              CHAPTER IX

                             THE NEW ROAD


On the crest of that hill which was visible from the upper windows of
Whitewebs, a village straggled for a mile; and all day in the cottages
the looms were heard. The sound of looms, indeed, was always
associated with that village in the minds of Pamela Mardale and Alan
Warrisden, though they drove along its broad street but once, and a
few hours included all their visit. Those few hours, however, were
rich with consequence. For Pamela asked for help that day, and, in the
mere asking, gave, as women must; and she neither asked nor gave in
ignorance of what she did. The request might be small, the gift small,
too; but it set her and her friend in a new relation each to each, it
linked them in a common effort, it brought a new and a sweet intimacy
into both their lives. So that the noise of a loom was never heard by
them in the after times but there rose before their eyes, visible as a
picture, that grey chill day of February, the red-brick houses
crowding on the broad street in a picturesque irregularity, and the
three tall poplars tossing in the wind. The recollection brought
always a smile of tenderness to their faces; and in their thoughts
they had for the village a strange and fanciful name. It was just a
little Leicestershire village perched upon a hill, the village of
looms, the village of the three poplars. But they called it Quetta.

At the very end of the street, and exactly opposite to the small house
from whose garden the poplars rose, there stood an inn. It was on the
edge of the hill, for just beyond the road dipped steeply down between
high hedges of brambles and elder trees, and, turning at the bottom of
the incline, wound thence through woods and level meadows towards
Leicester. It was the old coach road, and the great paved yard of the
inn and the long line of disused stables had once been noisy with the
shouts of ostlers and the crack of whips. Now only the carrier's cart
drove twice a week down the steep road to Leicester, and a faint
whistle from the low-lying land and a trail of smoke showed where now
the traffic ran. On the platform of the little roadside station, three
miles from the village, Pamela met Alan Warrisden on the morning after
she had sent off her telegram. She had a trap waiting at the door, and
as they mounted into it she said--

"I rode over to the village this morning and hired this dog-cart at
the inn. I am not expected to be back at Whitewebs until the
afternoon; so I thought we might lunch at the inn, and then a man can
drive you back to the station, while I ride home again."

"It was bad going for a horse, wasn't it?" said Warrisden.

The thaw had fairly set in; the roads, still hard as cement, ran with
water, and were most slippery. On each side patches of snow hung upon
the banks half melted, and the air was raw.

"Yes, it was bad going," Pamela admitted. "But I could not wait. It
was necessary that I should see you to-day."

She said no more at the moment, and Warrisden was content to sit by
her side as she drove, and wait. The road ran in a broad straight line
over the sloping ground. There was no vehicle, not even another
person, moving along it. Warrisden could see the line of houses ahead,
huddled against the sky, the spire of a church, and on his right the
three sentinel poplars. He was to see them all that afternoon.

Pamela drove straight to the inn, where she had already ordered
luncheon; and it was not until luncheon was over that she drew up her
chair to the fire and spoke.

"Won't you smoke?" she said first of all. "I want you to listen to
me."

Warrisden lit a pipe and listened.

"It is right that I should be very frank with you," she went on, "for
I am going to ask you to help me."

"You need me, then?" said Warrisden. There was a leap in his voice
which brought the colour to her cheeks.

"Very much," she said; and, with a smile, she asked, "Are you glad?"

"Yes," he answered simply.

"Yet the help may be difficult for you to give. It may occupy a long
time besides. I am not asking you for a mere hour or a day."

The warning only brought a smile to Warrisden's face.

"I don't think you understand," he said, "how much one wants to be
needed by those one needs."

Indeed, even when that simple truth was spoken to her, it took Pamela
a little while to weigh it in her thoughts and give it credence. She
had travelled a long distance during these last years down her
solitary road. She began to understand that now. To need--actually to
need people, to feel a joy in being needed--here were emotions,
familiar to most, and no doubt at one time familiar to her, which
were, nevertheless, now very new and strange. At present she only
needed. Would a time come when she would go further still? When she
would feel a joy in being needed? The question flashed across her
mind.

"Yes," she admitted, "no doubt that is true. But none the less there
must be no misunderstanding between you and me. I speak of myself,
although it is not for myself that I need your help; but I am not
blind. I know it will be for my sake that you give it, and I do not
want you to give it in any ignorance of me, or, perhaps"--and she
glanced at him almost shyly--"or, perhaps, expecting too much."

Warrisden made no other answer than to lean forward in his chair, with
his eyes upon Pamela's face. She was going to explain that isolation
of hers which had so baffled him. He would not for worlds have
interrupted her lest he should check the utterance on her lips. He saw
clearly enough that she was taking a great step for her, a step, too,
which meant much to him. The actual explanation was not the important
thing. That she should confide it of her own accord--there was the
real and valuable sign. As she began to speak again, diffidence was
even audible in her voice. She almost awaited his judgment.

"I must tell you something which I thought never to tell to any one,"
she said. "I meant to carry it as my secret out with me at the end of
my life. I have been looking on all these last years. You noticed
that; you thought perhaps I was just obeying my nature. But I wasn't.
I did not begin life looking on. I began it as eager, as expectant of
what life could give me as any girl that was ever born. And I had just
my first season, that was all." She smiled rather wistfully as her
thoughts went back to it. "I enjoyed my first season. I had hardly
ever been in London before. I was eighteen; and everybody was very
nice to me. At the end of July I went to stay for a month with some
friends of mine on the coast of Devonshire, and--some one else stayed
there, too. His name does not matter. I had met him during the season
a good deal, but until he came down to Devonshire I had not thought of
him more than as a friend. He was a little older than myself, not very
much, and just as poor. He had no prospects, and his profession was
diplomacy.... So that there was no possibility from the first. He
meant never to say anything; but there came an hour, and the truth was
out between us."

She stopped and gazed into the fire. The waters of the Channel ran in
sunlit ripples before her eyes; the red rocks of Bigbury Bay curved
warmly out on her right and her left; further away the towering
headlands loomed misty in the hot, still August air. A white yacht,
her sails hardly drawing, moved slowly westwards; the black smoke of a
steamer stained the sky far out; and on the beach there were just two
figures visible--herself and the man who had not meant to speak.

"We parted at once," she went on. "He was appointed a consul in West
Africa. I think--indeed I know--that he hoped to rise more quickly
that way. But trouble came and he was killed. Because of that one
hour, you see, when he spoke what he did not mean to speak, he was
killed." It seemed that there was the whole story told. But Pamela had
not told it all, and never did; for her mother had played a part in
its unfolding. It was Mrs. Mardale's ambition that her daughter should
make a great marriage; it was her daughter's misfortune that she knew
little of her daughter's character. Mrs. Mardale had remarked the
growing friendship between Pamela and the man, she had realised
that marriage was quite impossible, and she had thought, with her
short-sighted ingenuity, that if Pamela fell in love and found love
to be a thing of fruitless trouble, she would come the sooner to take
a sensible view of the world and marry where marriage was to her
worldly advantage. She thus had encouraged the couple to a greater
friendliness, throwing them together when she could have hindered
their companionship; she had even urged Pamela to accept that
invitation to Devonshire, knowing who would be the other guests. She
was disappointed afterwards when Pamela did not take the sensible
view; but she did not blame herself at all. For she knew nothing of
the suffering which her plan had brought about. Pamela had kept her
secret. Even the months of ill-health which followed upon that first
season had not opened the mother's eyes, and certainly she never
suspected the weary nights of sleeplessness and aching misery which
Pamela endured. Some hint of the pain of that bad past time, however,
Pamela now gave to Warrisden.

"I stayed as much at home in Leicestershire as possible," she said.
"You see there were my horses there; but even with them I was very
lonely. The time was long in passing, and it wasn't pleasant to think
that there would be so much of it yet, before it passed altogether. I
went up to London for the season each year, and I went out a great
deal. It helped me to keep from thinking."

The very simplicity with which she spoke gave an intensity to her
words. There was no affectation in Pamela Mardale. Warrisden was able
to fill out her hints, to understand her distress.

"All this is a great surprise to me," he said. "I have thought of you
always as one who had never known either great troubles or great joys.
I have hoped that some day you would wake, that I should find you
looking out on the world with the eagerness of youth. But I believed
eagerness would be a new thing to you."

He looked at her as she sat. The firelight was bright upon her face,
and touched her hair with light; her dark eyes shone; and his thought
was that which the schoolmaster at Roquebrune had once sadly pondered.
It seemed needlessly cruel, needlessly wanton that a girl so equipped
for happiness should, in her very first season, when the world was
opening like a fairyland, have been blindly struck down. There were so
many others who would have felt the blow less poignantly. She might
surely have been spared.

"You can guess, now," said Pamela, "why I have so persistently looked
on. I determined that I would never go through such distress again. I
felt that I would not dare to face it again." She suddenly covered her
face with her hands. "I don't think I could," she cried in a low,
piteous voice. "I don't know what I would do," as though once more the
misery of that time were closing upon her, so vivid were her
recollections.

And once more Warrisden felt, as he watched her, the shock of a
surprise. He had thought her too sedate, too womanly for her years,
and here she sat shrinking in a positive terror, like any child, from
the imagined recurrence of her years of trouble. Warrisden was moved
as he had seldom been. But he sat quite still, saying no word; and in
a little while she took her hands from her face and went on--

"My life was over, you see, at the very beginning, and I was resolved
it should be over. For the future I would get interested only in
trifling, unimportant things; no one should ever be more to me than a
friend whom I could relinquish; I would merely look on. I should grow
narrow, no doubt, and selfish." And, as Warrisden started, a smile
came on to her face. "Yes, you have been thinking that, too, and you
were right. But I didn't mind. I meant to take no risks. Nothing
serious should ever come near me. If I saw it coming, I would push it
away; and I have pushed it away."

"Until to-day, when you need my help?" Warrisden interrupted.

"Yes, until to-day," Pamela repeated softly.

Warrisden walked over to the window and stood with his back towards
her. The three tall poplars stood leafless up in front of him; the sky
was heavy with grey clouds; the wind was roaring about the chimneys;
and the roads ran with water. It was as cheerless a day as February
can produce, but to Warrisden it had something of a summer brightness.
The change for which he had hoped so long in vain had actually come to
pass.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked, turning again to the room.

"I want you to find Millie Stretton's husband," she replied; "and, at
all costs, to bring him home again."

"Millie Stretton's husband?" he repeated, in perplexity.

"Yes. Don't you remember the couple who stepped out of the dark house
in Berkeley Square and dared not whistle for a hansom--the truants?"

Warrisden was startled. "Those two!" he exclaimed. "Well, that's
strange. On the very night when we saw them, you were saying that
there was no road for you, no new road from Quetta to Seistan. I was
puzzling my brains, too, as to how in the world you were to be roused
out of your detachment; and there were the means visible all the time,
perhaps--who knows?--ordained." He sat down again in his chair.

"Where shall I look for Mr. Stretton?" he asked.

"I don't know. He went away to New York, six months ago, to make a
home for Millie and himself. He did not succeed, and he has
disappeared."

"Disappeared?" cried Warrisden.

"Oh, but of his own accord," said Pamela. "I can't tell you why; it
wouldn't be fair. I have no right to tell you. But he must be found,
and he must be brought back. Again I can't tell you why; but it is
most urgent."

"Is there any clue to help us?" Warrisden asked. "Had he friends in
New York?"

"No; but he has a friend in England," said Pamela, "and I think it's
just possible that the friend may know where he is to be found, for it
was upon his advice that Mr. Stretton went to New York."

"Tell me his name."

"Mr. Chase," Pamela replied. "He is head of a mission in Stepney
Green. Tony Stretton told me of him one morning in Hyde Park just
before he went away. He seemed to rely very much upon his judgment."

Warrisden wrote the name down in his pocket-book.

"Will he tell me, do you think, where Stretton is, even if he knows?
You say Stretton has disappeared of his own accord."

"I have thought of that difficulty," Pamela answered. "There is an
argument which you can use. Sir John Stretton, Tony's father, is ill,
and in all probability dying."

"I see. I can use the same argument to Stretton himself, I suppose,
when I find him?"

"I can give you no other," said Pamela; "but you can add to it. Mr.
Stretton will tell you that his father does not care whether he comes
back in time or not. He is sure to say that. But you can answer that
every night since he went away the candles have been lit in his
dressing-room and his clothes laid out by his father's orders, on the
chance that some evening he might walk in at the door."

That Sir John Stretton's illness was merely the pretext for Tony's
return both understood. The real reason why he must come home Pamela
did not tell. To her thinking Millie was not yet so deeply entangled
with Lionel Callon but that Tony's home-coming might set the tangle
right. A few weeks of companionship, and surely he would resume his
due place in his wife's thoughts. Pamela, besides, was loyal to her
sex. She had promised to safeguard Millicent; she was in no mind to
betray her.

"But bring him back," she cried, with a real passion. "So much depends
on his return, for Millie, for him, and for me, too. Yes, for me! If
you fail, it is I who fail; and I don't want failure. Save me from
it!"

"I'll try," Warrisden answered simply; and Pamela was satisfied.

Much depended, for Warrisden too, upon the success of his adventure.
If he failed, Pamela would retire again behind her barrier; she would
again resume the passive, indifferent attitude of the very old; she
would merely look on as before and wait for things to cease. If,
however, he succeeded, she would be encouraged to move forward still;
the common sympathies would have her in their grasp again; she might
even pass that turnpike gate of friendship and go boldly down the
appointed road of life. Thus success meant much for him. The fortunes
of the four people--Millicent, Tony, Pamela, and Warrisden--were
knotted together at this one point.

"Indeed, I'll try," he repeated,

Pamela's horse was brought round to the inn door. The dusk was coming
on.

"Which way do you go?" asked Warrisden.

"Down the hill."

"I will walk to the bottom with you. The road will be dangerous."

They went slowly down between the high elder hedges, Pamela seated on
her horse, Warrisden walking by her side. The wide level lowlands
opened out beneath them--fields of brown and green, black woods with
swinging boughs, and the broad high road with its white wood rails. A
thin mist swirled across the face of the country in the wind, so that
its every feature was softened and magnified. It loomed dim and
strangely distant, with a glamour upon it like a place of old romance.
To Pamela and Warrisden, as the mists wove and unwove about it, it had
a look of dreamland.

They reached the end of the incline, and Pamela stopped her horse.

"This is my way," said she, pointing along the highway with her whip.

"Yes," answered Warrisden. The road ran straight for some distance,
then crossed a wooden bridge and curved out of sight round the edge of
a clump of trees. "The new road," he said softly. "The new road from
Quetta to Seistan!"

Pamela smiled.

"This is Quetta," said she.

Warrisden laid his hand upon her horse's neck, and looked suddenly up
into her face.

"Where will be Seistan?" he asked in a low voice.

Pamela returned the look frankly. There came a softness into her dark
eyes. For a moment she let her hand rest lightly upon his sleeve, and
did not speak. She herself was wondering how far she was to travel
upon this new road.

"I cannot tell," she said very gently. "Nor, my friend, can you.
Only"--and her voice took on a lighter and a whimsical tone-"only I
start alone on my new road."

And she went forward into the level country. Warrisden climbed the
hill again, and turned when he had reached the top; but Pamela was out
of sight. The dusk and the mists had enclosed her.



                              CHAPTER X

                              MR. CHASE


The night had come when Warrisden stepped from the platform of the
station into the train. Pamela was by this time back at Whitewebs--he
himself was travelling to London; their day was over. He looked out of
the window. Somewhere three miles away the village of the three
poplars crowned the hill, but a thick wall of darkness and fog hid it
from his eyes. It seemed almost as if Pamela and he had met that day
only in thought at some village which existed only in a dream. The
train, however, rattled upon its way. Gradually he became conscious of
a familiar exhilaration. The day had been real. Not merely had it
signalled the change in Pamela, for which for so long he had wished;
not merely had it borne a blossom of promise for himself, but
something was to be done immediately, and the thing to be done was of
all things that which most chimed with his own desires. He was to take
the road again, and the craving for the road was seldom stilled for
long within his heart. He heard its call sung like a song to the
rhythm of the wheels. The very uncertainty of its direction tantalised
his thoughts.

Warrisden lodged upon the Embankment, and his rooms overlooked the
Thames. The mist lay heavy upon London, mid all that night the
steamboats hooted as they passed from bridge to bridge. Warrisden lay
long awake listening to them; each blast had its message for him, each
was like the greeting of a friend; each one summoned him, and to each
he answered with a rising joy, "I shall follow, I shall follow." The
boats passed down to the sea through the night mist. Many a time he
had heard them before, picturing the dark deck and the side lights,
red and green, and the yellow light upon the mast, and the man silent
at the wheel with the light from the binnacle striking up upon the
lines of his face. They were little river or coasting boats for the
most part, but he had never failed to be stirred by the long-drawn
melancholy of their whistles. They talked of distant lands and an
alien foliage.

He spent the following morning and the afternoon in the arrangement of
his affairs, and in the evening drove down to the mission house. It
stood in a dull by-street close to Stepney Green, a rambling building
with five rooms upon the ground floor panelled with varnished deal and
furnished with forms and rough tables, and on the floor above, a big
billiard-room, a bagatelle-room, and a carpenter's workshop. Mr. Chase
was superintending a boxing class in one of the lower rooms, and
Warrisden, when he was led up to him, received a shock of surprise. He
had never seen a man to the outward eye so unfitted for his work. He
had expected a strong burly person, cheery of manner and confident of
voice; he saw, however, a tall young man with a long pale face and a
fragile body. Mr. Chase was clothed in a clerical frock-coat of
unusual length, he wore linen of an irreproachable whiteness, and his
hands were fine and delicate as a woman's. He seemed indeed the
typical High Church curate fresh that very instant from the tea-cups
of a drawing-room.

"A gentleman to see you, sir," said the ex-army sergeant who had
brought forward Warrisden. He handed Warrisden's card to Chase, who
turned about and showed Warrisden his full face. Surprise had been
Warrisden's first sentiment, but it gave place in an instant to
distaste. The face which he saw was not ugly, but he disliked it. It
almost repelled him. There was no light in the eyes at all; they were
veiled and sunken; and the features repelled by reason of a queer
antagonism. Mr. Chase had the high narrow forehead of an ascetic, the
loose mouth of a sensualist, and a thin crop of pale and almost
colourless hair. Warrisden wondered why any one should come to this
man for advice, most of all a Tony Stretton. What could they have in
common--the simple, good-humoured, unintellectual subaltern of the
Coldstream, and this clerical exquisite? The problem was perplexing.

"You wish to see me?" asked Chase.

"If you please."

"Now? As you see, I am busy."

"I can wait."

"Thank you. The mission closes at eleven. If you can wait till then
you might come home with me, and we could talk in comfort."

It was nine o'clock. For two hours Warrisden followed Chase about the
mission, and with each half-hour his interest increased. However
irreconcilable with his surroundings Chase might appear to be, neither
he nor any of the members of the mission were aware of it. He was at
ease alike with the boys and the men; and the boys and the men were at
ease with him. Moreover, he was absolute master, although there were
rough men enough among his subjects. The fiercest boxing contest was
stopped in a second by a motion of that delicate hand.

"I used to have a little trouble," he said to Warrisden, "before I had
those wire frames fixed over the gas-jets. You see they cover the gas
taps. Before that was done, if there was any trouble, the first thing
which happened was that the room was in darkness. It took some time to
restore order;" and he passed on to the swimming-bath.

Mr. Chase was certainly indefatigable. Now he was giving a lesson in
wood-carving to a boy; now he was arranging an apprenticeship for
another in the carpenter's shop. Finally he led the way into the great
billiard-room, where only the older men were allowed.

"It is here that Stretton used to keep order?" said Warrisden; and
Chase at once turned quickly towards him.

"Oh," he said slowly, in a voice of comprehension, "I was wondering
what brought you here. Yes; this was the room."

Chase moved carelessly away, and spoke to some of the men about the
tables. But for the rest of the evening he was on his guard. More than
once his eyes turned curiously and furtively towards Warrisden. His
face was stubborn, and wore a look of wariness. Warrisden began to
fear lest he should get no answer to the question he had to put. No
appeal would be of any use--of that he felt sure. His argument must
serve--and would it serve?

Chase, at all events, made no attempt to avoid the interview. As the
hands of the clock marked eleven, and the rooms emptied, he came at
once to Warrisden.

"We can go now," he said; and unlocking a drawer, to Warrisden's
perplexity he filled his pockets with racket-balls. The motive for
that proceeding became apparent as they walked to the house where
Chase lodged. Their way lay through alleys, and as they walked the
children clustered about them, and Chase's pockets were emptied.

"We keep this house because men from the Universities come down and
put in a week now and then at the mission. My rooms are upstairs."

Chase's sitting-room was in the strangest contrast to the bareness of
the mission and the squalor of the streets. It was furnished with
luxury, but the luxury was that of a man of taste and knowledge. There
was hardly a piece of furniture which had not an interesting history;
the engravings and the brass ornaments upon the walls had been picked
up here and there in Italy. A bright fire blazed upon the hearth.

"What will you drink?" Chase asked, and brought from a cupboard bottle
after bottle of liqueurs. It seemed to Warrisden that the procession
of bottles would never end--some held liqueurs of which he had never
even heard the name; but concerning all of them Mr. Chase discoursed
with great knowledge and infinite appreciation.

"I can recommend this," he said tentatively, as he took up one fat
round bottle and held it up to the light. "It is difficult perhaps to
say definitely which is the best, but--yes, I can recommend this."

"Can't I have a whiskey and soda?" asked Warrisden, plaintively.

Mr. Chase looked at his companion with a stare.

"Of course you can," he replied. But his voice was one of
disappointment, and with an almost imperceptible shrug of the
shoulders he fetched a Tantalus and a siphon of seltzer.

"Help yourself," he said; and lighting a gold-tipped cigarette he drew
up a chair and began to talk. And so Warrisden came at last to
understand how Tony Stretton had gained his great faith in Mr. Chase.
Chase was a talker of a rare quality. He sat stooping over the fire
with his thin hands outspread to the blaze, and for half an hour
Warrisden was enchained. All that had repelled him in the man, all
that had aroused his curiosity, was soon lost to sight. He yielded
himself up as if to some magician. Chase talked not at all of his work
or of the many strange incidents which he must needs have witnessed in
its discharge. He spoke of other climates and bright towns with a
scholarship which had nothing of pedantry, and an observation human as
it was keen. Chase, with the help of his Livy, had traced Hannibal's
road across the Alps and had followed it on foot; he spoke of another
march across snow mountains of which Warrisden had never till this
moment heard--the hundred days of a dead Sultan of Morocco on the
Passes of the Atlas, during which he led his forces back from Tafilet
to Rabat. Chase knew nothing of this retreat but what he had read. Yet
he made it real to Warrisden, so vividly did his imagination fill up
the outlines of the written history. He knew his Paris, his
Constantinople. He had bathed from the Lido and dreamed on the Grand
Canal. He spoke of the peeling frescoes in the Villa of Countess
Guiccioli above Leghorn, of the outlook from the terrace over the
vines and the olive trees to the sea where Shelley was drowned; and
where Byron's brig used to round into the wind and with its sails
flapping drop anchor under the hill. For half an hour Warrisden
wandered through Europe in the pleasantest companionship, and then
Chase stopped abruptly and leaned back in his chair.

"I was forgetting," he said, "that you had come upon a particular
errand. It sometimes happens that I see no one outside the mission
people for a good while, and during those periods when I get an
occasion I am apt to talk too much. What can I do for you?"

The spirit had gone from his voice, his face. He leaned back in his
chair, a man tired out. Warrisden looked at the liqueur bottles
crowded on the table, with Chase's conversation still fresh in his
mind. Was Chase a man at war with himself, he wondered, who was living
a life for which he had no taste that he might the more completely
escape a life which his conscience disapproved? Or was he deliberately
both hedonist and Puritan, giving to each side of his strange nature,
in turn, its outlet and gratification?

"You have something to say to me," Chase continued. "I know quite well
what it is about."

"Stretton," said Warrisden.

"Yes; you mentioned him in the billiard-room. Well?"

Chase was not looking at Warrisden. He sat with his eyes half-closed,
his elbows on the arms of his chair, his finger-tips joined under his
chain, and his head thrown back. There was no expression upon his face
but one of weariness. Would he answer? Could he answer? Warrisden was
in doubt, indeed in fear. He led to his question warily.

"It was you who recommended Stretton to try horse-breeding in
Kentucky."

"Yes," said Chase; and he added, "after he had decided of his own
accord to go away."

"He failed."

"Yes."

"And he has disappeared."

Chase opened his eyes, but did not turn them to his companion.

"I did not advise his disappearance," he said. "That, like his
departure, was his own doing."

"No doubt," Warrisden agreed. "But it is thought that you might have
heard from him since his disappearance."

Chase nodded his head.

"I have."

"It is thought that you might know where he is now."

"I do," said Mr. Chase. Warrisden was sensibly relieved. One-half of
his fear was taken from him. Chase knew, at all events, where Stretton
was to be found. Now he must disclose his knowledge. But before he
could put a question, Chase said languidly--

"You say 'it is thought,' Mr. Warrisden. By whom is it thought? By his
wife?"

"No. But by a great friend of hers and his."

"Oh," said Chase, "by Miss Pamela Mardale, then."

Warrisden started forward.

"You know her?" he asked.

"No. But Stretton mentioned her to me in a letter. She has sent you to
me in fulfilment of a promise. I understand."

The words were not very intelligible to Warrisden. He knew nothing of
Pamela's promise to Tony Stretton. But, on the other hand, he saw that
Mr. Chase was giving a more attentive ear to what he said. He betrayed
no ignorance of the promise.

"I am sent to fetch Stretton home," he said. "I want you to tell me
where he is."

Chase shook his head.

"No," he said gently.

"It is absolutely necessary that Stretton should come back," Warrisden
declared with great deliberation. And with no less deliberation Chase
replied--

"In Stretton's view it is absolutely necessary that he should stay
away!"

"His father is dying."

Chase started forward in his chair, and stared at Warrisden for a long
time.

"Is that an excuse?" he said at length.

It was, as Warrisden was aware. He did not answer the question.

"It is the truth," he replied; and he replied truthfully.

Chase rose from his chair and walked once or twice across the room. He
came back to the fire, and leaning an elbow on the mantelpiece stared
into the coals. Warrisden sat very still. He had used his one
argument--he could add nothing to it; he could only wait for the
answer in a great anxiety. So much hung upon that answer for Stretton
and his wife, for Pamela, for himself! The fortunes of all four were
knotted together. At last the answer came.

"I promised Tony that I would keep his secret," said Chase. "But when
he asked for the promise, and when I gave it, the possibility of his
father dying was not either in his mind or mine. We considered--in
letters, of course--other possibilities; but not this one. I don't
think I have the right to remain silent. Even in the face of this
possibility I should have kept my promise, I think, if you had come
from his wife--for I know why he disappeared. But as things are, I
will tell you. Tony Stretton is in the North Sea on a trawler."

"In the North Sea?" exclaimed Warrisden. And he smiled. After all, the
steamboats on the river had last night called to him with a particular
summons.

"Yes," continued Chase, and he fetched from his writing-desk a letter
in Tony's hand. "He came back to England two months ago. He drifted
across the country. He found himself at Yarmouth with a few shillings
in his pocket. He knew something of the sea. He had sailed his own
yacht in happier times. He was in great trouble. He needed time to
think out a new course of life. He hung about on Gorleston pier for a
day or two, and then was taken on by a skipper who was starting out
short of hands, he signed for eight weeks, and he wrote to me the day
before he started. That's four weeks ago."

"Can I reach him?" Warrisden asked.

"Yes. The boat is the _Perseverance_, and it belongs to the Blue
Fleet. A steam cutter goes out every day from Billingsgate to fetch
the fish. I know one of the owners. His son comes down to the mission.
I can get you a passage. When can you start?"

"At any time," replied Warrisden. "The sooner the better."

"To-morrow, then," said Chase. "Meet me at the entrance to
Billingsgate Market at half-past eleven. It will take you forty-eight
hours with ordinary luck to reach the Dogger Bank. Of course, if
there's a fog in the Thames the time will be longer. And I warn you,
living is rough on a fish-carrier."

"I don't mind that," said Warrisden, with a smile. He went away with a
light heart, and that night wrote a letter to Pamela, telling her of
his interview with Mr. Chase. The new road seemed after all likely to
prove a smooth one. As he wrote, every now and then a steamboat hooted
from the river, and the rain pattered upon his window. He flung it up
and looked out. There was no fog to-night, only the rain fell, and
fell gently. He prayed that there might be no fog upon the Thames
to-morrow.

Mr. Chase, too, heard the rain that night. He sat in his armchair
listening to it with a decanter at his elbow half filled with a liquid
like brown sherry. At times he poured a little into his glass and
drank it slowly, crouching over his fire. Somewhere in the darkness of
the North Sea Tony Stretton was hidden. Very likely at this moment he
was standing upon the deck of his trawler with his hands upon the
spokes of the wheel, and his eyes peering forward through the rain,
keeping his long night-watch while the light from the binnacle struck
upwards upon the lines of his face. Mr. Chase sat late in a muse. But
before he went to bed he locked the decanter and the glass away in a
private cupboard, and took the key with him into his bedroom.



                              CHAPTER XI

                          ON THE DOGGER BANK


The _City of Bristol_ swung out of the huddle of boats off
Billingsgate Wharf at one o'clock on the next afternoon. Mr. Chase,
who stood upon the quay amongst the porters and white-jacketed
salesmen, turned away with an episcopal wave of the hand. Warrisden
leaned over the rail of the steamer's bridge, between the captain and
the pilot, and shouted a reply. The _City of Bristol_, fish-cutter of
300 tons, was a boat built for speed, long and narrow, sitting low on
the water, with an upstanding forecastle forward, a small saloon in
the stern, and a tiny cabin for the captain under the bridge on deck.
She sidled out into the fair way and went forward upon her slow,
intricate journey to the sea. Below the Tower she took her place in
the long, single file of ships winding between the mud banks, and
changed it as occasion served; now she edged up by a string of barges,
now in a clear broad space she made a spurt and took the lead of a
barquantine, which swam in indolence, with bare masts, behind a tug;
and at times she stopped altogether, like a carriage blocked in
Piccadilly. The screw thrashed the water, ceased, and struck again
with a suggestion of petulance at the obstacles which barred the
boat's way. Warrisden, too, chafed upon the bridge. A question pressed
continually upon his mind--"Would Stretton return?" He had discovered
where Stretton was to be found. The tall grey spire of Stepney Church
rose from behind an inlet thick with masts, upon the left; he was
already on his way to find him. But the critical moment was yet to
come. He had still to use his arguments; and as he stood watching the
shipping with indifferent eyes the arguments appeared most weak and
unpersuasive. Stretton's father was dying, it was true. The son's
return was no doubt a natural obligation. But would the natural
obligation hold when the father was unnatural? Those months in New
York had revealed one quality in Tony Stretton, at all events; he
could persist. The very name of the trawler in which he was at work
seemed to Warrisden of a bad augury for his success--the
_Perseverance!_

Greenwich, with its hill of grass, slipped behind on the right; at the
Albert Docks a huge Peninsular and Oriental steamer, deck towering
above deck, swung into the line; the high chimneys of the cement works
on the Essex flats began to stand out against the pale grey sky, each
one crowned with white smoke like a tuft of wool; the barges, under
their big brown sprit-sails, now tacked this way and that across a
wider stream; the village of Greenhithe and the white portholes of the
_Worcester_ showed upon the right.

"Would Stretton return?" The question revolved in Warrisden's mind as
the propeller revolved in the thick brown water. The fortunes of four
people hung upon the answer, and no answer could be given until a
night, and a day, and another night had passed, until he saw the Blue
Fleet tossing far away upon the Dogger Bank. Suppose that the answer
were "No!" He imagined Pamela sinking back into lassitude, narrowing
to that selfishness which she, no less than he, foresaw; looking on
again at the world's show with the lack-lustre indifference of the
very old.

At Gravesend the _City of Bristol_ dropped her pilot, a little,
white-bearded, wizened man, who all the way down the river, balancing
himself upon the top-rail of the bridge, like some nautical Blondin,
had run from side to side the while he exchanged greetings with the
anchored ships; and just opposite to Tilbury Fort, with its scanty
fringe of trees, she ran alongside of a hulk and took in a load of
coal.

"We'll go down and have tea while they are loading her," said the
captain.

The dusk was falling when Warrisden came again on deck, and a cold
wind was blowing from the north-west. The sharp stem of the boat was
cutting swiftly through the quiet water; the lift of the sea under her
forefoot gave to her a buoyancy of motion--she seemed to have become a
thing alive. The propeller cleft the surface regularly; there was no
longer any sound of petulance in its revolutions, rather there was a
throb of joy as it did its work unhindered. Throughout the ship a
steady hum, a steady vibration ran. The _City of Bristol_ was not
merely a thing alive; it was a thing satisfied.

Upon Warrisden, too, there descended a sense of peace. He was _en
rapport_ with the ship. The fever of his questioning left him. On
either side the arms of the shore melted into the gathering night. Far
away upon his right the lights of Margate shone brightly, like a chain
of gold stretched out upon the sea; in front of him there lay a wide
and misty bay, into which the boat drove steadily. All the unknown
seemed hidden there; all the secret unrevealed Beyond. There came
whispers out of that illimitable bay to Warrisden's ears; whispers
breathed upon the north wind, and all the whispers were whispers of
promise, bidding him take heart. Warrisden listened and believed,
uplifted by the grave quiet of the sea and its mysterious width.

The _City of Bristol_ turned northward into the great channel of the
Swin, keeping close to the lightships on the left, so close that
Warrisden from the bridge could look straight down upon their decks.
The night had altogether come--a night of stars. Clusters of lights,
low down upon the left, showed where the towns of Essex stood; upon
the light hand the homeward-bound ships loomed up ghost-like and
passed by; on the right, too, shone out the great green globes of the
Mouse light like Neptune's reading-lamps. Sheltered behind the canvas
screen at the corner of the bridge Warrisden looked along the rake of
the unlighted deck below. He thought of Pamela waiting for his return
at Whitewebs, but without impatience. The great peace and silence of
the night were the most impressive things he had ever known. The
captain's voice complaining of the sea jarred upon him.

"It's no Bobby's job," said the captain in a low voice. "It's home
once in three weeks from Saturday to Monday, if you are in luck, and
the rest of your time you're in carpet slippers on the bridge. You'll
sleep in my chatoo, to-night. I sha'n't turn in until we have passed
the Outer Gabbard and come to the open sea. That won't be till four in
the morning."

Warrisden understood that he was being offered the captain's cabin.

"No, thanks," said he. "The bench of the saloon will do very well for
me."

The captain did not press his offer.

"Yes; there's more company in the saloon," he said. "I often sleep
there myself. You are bound for the Mission ship, I suppose?"

"No; I want to find a man on the trawler _Perseverance_."

The captain turned. Warrisden could not see his face, but he knew from
his attitude that he was staring at him in amazement.

"Then you must want to see him pretty badly," he commented. "The No'th
Sea in February and March is not a Bobby's job."

"Bad weather is to be expected?" asked Warrisden.

"It has been known," said the captain dryly; and before the lights of
the Outer Gabbard winked good-bye on the starboard quarter at four
o'clock in the morning, the _City of Bristol_ was taking the water
over her deck.

Warrisden rolled on the floor of the saloon--for he could not keep his
balance on the narrow bench--and tried in vain to sleep. But the
strong light of a lamp, swinging from the roof, glared upon his eyes,
the snores of his companions trumpeted in his ears. Moreover, the heat
was intolerable. Five men slept in the bunks--Warrisden made a sixth.
At four in the morning the captain joined the party through his love
of company. The skylight and the door were both tightly closed, a big
fire burned in the stove, and a boiling kettle of tea perpetually
puffed from its spout a column of warm, moist steam. Warrisden felt
his skin prickly beneath his clothes; he gasped for fresh air.

Living would be rough upon the fish-carrier, Chase had told him; and
rough Warrisden found it. In the morning the steward rose, and made
tea by the simple process of dropping a handful of tea into the kettle
and filling it up with water. A few minutes later he brought a dish of
ham and eggs from the galley, and slapped it down on the table.

"Breakfast," he cried; and the five men opened their eyes, rubbed
them, and without any other preparation sat down and ate. Warrisden
slipped up the companion, unscrewed the skylight and opened it for the
space of an inch. Then he returned.

The _City of Bristol_ was rolling heavily, and Warrisden noticed with
surprise that all of the five men gave signs of discomfort. Surely, he
thought, they must be used to heavy weather. But, nevertheless,
something was wrong; they did not talk. Finally, the captain looked
upwards, and brought his hand down upon the table.

"I felt something was wrong," said he; "the skylight's open."

All stared up to the roof.

"So it is."

"I did that," Warrisden said humbly.

At once all the faces were turned on him in great curiosity.

"Now why?" asked the captain. "Don't you like it nice and snug?"

"Yes; oh yes," Warrisden said hurriedly.

"Well, then!" said the captain; and the steward went on deck and
screwed the skylight down.

"After all, it's only for thirty-six hours," thought Warrisden, as he
subsequently bathed in a pail on deck. But he was wrong; for the Blue
Fleet had gone a hundred miles north to the Fisher Bank, and thither
the _City of Bristol_ followed it.

The _City of Bristol_ sailed on to the Fisher Bank, and found an empty
sea. It hunted the Blue Fleet for half-a-dozen hours, and, as night
fell, it came upon a single trawler with a great flare light suspended
from its yard.

"They're getting in their trawl," said the captain; and he edged up
within earshot.

"Where's the Blue Fleet?" he cried.

"Gone back to the Dogger," came the answer.

The captain swore, and turned southwards. For four days and nights
Warrisden pitched about on the fish-carrier and learned many things,
such as the real meaning of tannin in tea, and the innumerable medical
uses to which "Friar's Balsam" can be put. On the morning of the fifth
day the _City of Bristol_ steamed into the middle of the fleet, and
her engines stopped.

These were the days before the steam-trawler. The sailing-ships were
not as yet laid up, two by two, alongside Gorleston quay, and knocked
down for a song to any purchaser. Warrisden looked over a grey, savage
sea. The air was thick with spindrift. The waves leaped exultingly up
from windward and roared away to leeward from under the cutter's keel
in a steep, uprising hill of foam. All about him the sailing-boats
headed to the wind, sinking and rising in the furrows, so that
Warrisden would just see a brown topsail over the edge of a steep
roller like a shark's fin, and the next instant the dripping hull of
the boat flung out upon a breaking crest.

"You will have to look slippy when the punt from the _Perseverance_
comes alongside with her fish," the captain shouted. "The punt will
give you a passage back to the _Perseverance_, but I don't think you
will be able to return. There's a no'th-westerly gale blowing up, and
the sea is increasing every moment. However, there will be another
cutter up to-morrow, and if it's not too rough you could be put on
board of her."

It took Warrisden a full minute to realise the meaning of the
captain's words. He looked at the tumbling, breaking waves, he
listened to the roar of the wind through the rigging.

"The boats won't come alongside to-day," he cried.

"Won't they?" the skipper replied. "Look!"

Certainly some man[oe]uvre was in progress. The trawlers were all
forming to windward in a rough semicircle about the cutter. Warrisden
could see boat tackle being rigged to the main yards and men standing
about the boats capsized on deck. They were actually intending to put
their fish on board in the face of the storm.

"You see, with the gale blowing up, they mayn't get a chance to put
their fish on board for three or four days after this," the captain
explained. "Oh, you can take it from me. The No'th Sea is not a
Bobby's job."

As Warrisden watched, one by one the trawlers dropped their boats, and
loaded them with fish-boxes. The boats pushed off, three men to each,
with their life-belts about their oil-skins, and came down with the
wind towards the fish-carrier. The trawlers bore away, circled round
the _City of Bristol_, and took up their formation to leeward, so
that, having discharged their fish, the boats might drop down again
with the wind to their respective ships. Warrisden watched the boats,
piled up with fish-boxes, coming through the welter of the sea. It
seemed some desperate race was being rowed.

"Can you tell me which is the boat from the _Perseverance?_" he asked.

"I think it's the fifth," said the captain.

The boats came down, each one the kernel of a globe of spray.
Warrisden watched, admiring how cleverly they chose the little gaps
and valleys in the crests of the waves. Each moment he looked to see a
boat tossed upwards and overturned; each moment he dreaded that boat
would be the fifth. But no boat was overturned. One by one they passed
under the stern of the City of Bristol, and came alongside under the
shelter of its wall.

The fifth boat ranged up. A man stood up in the stern.

"The _Perseverance_," he cried. "Nine boxes." And as he spoke a great
sea leapt up against the windward bow of the cutter. The cutter rolled
from it suddenly, her low bulwarks dipped under water on the leeward
side, close by the _Perseverance_ boat.

"Shove off!" the man cried, who was standing up; and as he shouted he
lurched and fell into the bottom of the boat. The two men in the bows
pushed off with their oars; but they were too late. The cutter's
bulwark caught the boat under the keel; it seemed she must be upset,
and men and boxes whelmed in the sea, unless a miracle happened. But
the miracle did happen. As the fish-cutter righted she scooped on to
her deck the boat, with its boxes and its crew. The incident all
seemed to happen within the fraction of a second. Not a man upon the
fish-cutter had time to throw out a rope. Warrisden saw the cutter's
bulwarks dip, the sailor falling in the boat, and the boat upon the
deck of the cutter in so swift a succession that he had not yet
realised disaster was inevitable before disaster was avoided.

The sailor rose from the bottom of the boat and stepped on deck, a
stalwart, dripping figure.

"From the _Perseverance_, sir. Nine boxes," he said, looking up to the
captain on the bridge; and Warrisden, leaning by the captain's side
upon the rail, knew the sailor to be Tony Stretton. The accent of the
voice would have been enough to assure him; but Warrisden knew the
face too.

"This is the man I want," he said to the captain.

"You must be quick, then," the captain replied. "Speak to him while
the boat is being unloaded."

Warrisden descended on to the deck.

"Mr. Stretton," said he.

The sailor swung round quickly. There was a look of annoyance upon his
face.

"You are surely making a mistake," said he, abruptly. "We are not
acquainted," and he turned back to the fish-boxes.

"I'm not making a mistake," replied Warrisden. "I have come out to the
North Sea in order to find you."

Stretton ceased from his work and stood up. He led the way to the
stern of the cutter, where the two men were out of earshot.

"Now," he said. He stood in front of Warrisden, in his sea-boots and
his oilskins, firmly planted, yet swaying to the motion of the ship.
There was not merely annoyance in his face, but he had the stubborn
and resolute look of a man not lightly to be persuaded. Standing there
on the cutter's deck, backed by the swinging seas, there was even an
air of mastery about him which Warrisden had not expected. His
attitude seemed, somehow, not quite consistent with his record of
failure.

"Now," said Stretton, "we must be quick. The sea is getting worse each
minute, and I have to get back to the _Perseverance_. You are----?"

"Alan Warrisden, a stranger to you."

"Yes," Stretton interrupted; "how did you find me out?"

"Chase told me."

Stretton's face flushed angrily.

"He had no right to tell you. I wished for these few weeks to be
alone. He gave me his word he would tell no one."

"He had to break his word," said Warrisden, firmly. "It is necessary
that you should come home at once."

Stretton laughed. Warrisden was clinging to a wire stay from the
cutter's mizzen-mast, and even so could hardly keep his feet. He had a
sense of coming failure from the very ease with which Stretton stood
resting his hands upon his hips, unsupported on the unsteady deck.

"I cannot come," said Stretton abruptly; and he turned away. As he
turned Warrisden shouted--for in that high wind words carried in no
other way--"Your father, Sir John Stretton, is dying."

Stretton stopped. He looked for a time thoughtfully into Warrisden's
face; but there was no change in his expression by which Warrisden
could gather whether the argument would prevail or no. And when at
last he spoke, it was to say--

"But he has not sent for me."

It was the weak point in Warrisden's argument, and Stretton had, in
his direct way, come to it at once. Warrisden was silent.

"Well?" asked Stretton. "He has not sent for me?"

"No," Warrisden admitted; "that is true."

"Then I will not come."

"But though he has not sent for you, it is very certain that he wishes
for your return," Warrisden urged. "Every night since you have been
away the candles have been lighted in your dressing-room and your
clothes laid out, in the hope that on one evening you will walk in at
the door. On the very first night, the night of the day on which you
went, that was done. It was done by Sir John Stretton's orders, and by
his orders it has always since been done."

Just for a moment Warrisden thought that his argument would prevail.
Stretton's face softened; then came a smile which was almost wistful
about his lips, his eyes had a kindlier look. And the kindlier look
remained. Kindliness, too, was the first tone audible in his voice as
he replied; but the reply itself yielded nothing.

"He has not sent for me."

He looked curiously at Warrisden, as if for the first time he became
aware of him as a man acting from motives, not a mere instrument of
persuasion.

"After all, who did send you?" he asked. "My wife?"

"No."

"Who then?"

"Miss Pamela Mardale."

Stretton was startled by the name. It was really the strongest
argument Warrisden had in his armoury. Only he was not aware of its
strength.

"Oh," said Stretton, doubtfully; "so Miss Mardale sent you!"

He thought of that morning in the Row; of Pamela's words--"I still
give the same advice. Do not leave your wife." He recalled the promise
she had given, although it was seldom long absent from his thoughts.
It might be that she sent this message in fulfilment of that promise.
It might be that, for some unknown reason, he was now needed at his
wife's side. But he had no thought of distrust; he had great faith in
Millicent. She despised him, yes; but he did not distrust her. And,
again, it might be that Pamela was merely sending him this news
thinking he would wish to hear of it in time. After all, Pamela was
his friend. He looked out on the wild sea. Already the boats were
heading back through the foam, each to its trawler.

"One must take one's risks," he said. "So much I have learnt here in
the North Sea. Look!" and he pointed to the boats. "Those boats are
taking theirs. Yes; whether it's lacing your topsail or taking in a
reef, one must take one's risks. I will not come."

He went back to the middle of the ship. The punt of the _Perseverance_
was already launched, the two fishermen waiting in it. As it rose on a
swell, Stretton climbed over the bulwarks and dropped into the stern.

"Good-bye," he said. "I have signed on for eight weeks, and only four
have passed. I cannot run away and leave the ship short-handed. Thank
you for coming; but one must take one's risks."

The boat was pushed off and headed towards the _Perseverance_. The
waves had increased, the crests toppled down the green slopes in foam.
Slowly the boat was rowed down to the trawler, the men now stopping
and backing water, now dashing on. Warrisden saw them reach the ship's
side and climb on board, and he saw the boat slung upwards and brought
in on to the deck. Then the screw of the _City of Bristol_ struck the
water again. Lurching through the heavy seas, she steamed southwards.
In a few minutes the Blue Fleet was lost to sight.



                             CHAPTER XII

                          TONY'S INSPIRATION


Warrisden had failed. This was the account of his mission which he had
to give to Pamela Mardale; and he gave it without excuses. He landed
at Billingsgate Wharf at eleven o'clock on the second day after the
sails of the Blue Fleet had dropped out of sight behind the screen of
breaking waves. That afternoon he travelled down to the village of the
three poplars. It was night when he stepped out of the train on to the
platform of the little station. One can imagine what bitter and
humiliating thoughts occupied his mind. Away on the crest of the hill
the lights of the village shone brightly through the clear night air,
just as the lights of Margate had shone across the bay when the
steam-cutter had sprung like a thing alive to the lift of the sea
beneath her bows. Then all the breeze had whispered promises; now the
high hopes were fallen. "Do not fail!" Pamela had cried, with a
veritable passion, hating failure as an indignity, he could hear the
words in the very accent of her voice. Once she had suffered failure,
but it was not to be endured again. That was what she had meant; and
he had failed. He drove along that straight road which he had
traversed with Pamela at his side; he slept under the roof of the inn
where Pamela had claimed his help. The help had been fruitless, and
the next morning he rode down the hill and along the load with the
white wood rails--"the new road"--to tell her so. The sun was bright;
there was a sparkle of spring in the air; on the black leafless boughs
birds sang. He looked back to the three poplars pointing to the sky
from the tiny garden on the crest of the hill. Quetta--yes! But it
seemed there was to be no Seistan.

He had started early, fearing that there might be a meet that day; and
he had acted wisely, for in the hall there were one or two men
lounging by the fire in scarlet, and Pamela was wearing her
riding-habit when she received him. He was shown into a little room
which opened on to the garden behind the house, and thither Pamela
came.

"You are alone!" she said.

"Yes; Stretton would not come."

"None the less, I am very grateful."

She smiled as she spoke, and sat down, with her eyes upon him, waiting
for his story. The disappointment was visible upon his face, but not
upon hers. Pamela's indeed, was to him at this moment rather
inscrutable. It was not indifferent, however. He recognised that, and
was, in a way, consoled. It had been his fear that at the first word
she would dismiss the subject, and turn her back on it for good. On
the contrary, she was interested, attentive.

"You found him, then?" she asked.

"Yes. You would like to hear what passed?"

"Of course."

"Even though I failed?"

She looked at him with some surprise at his insistence.

"Yes, yes," she said, a little impatiently.

"We were nearly three days longer in reaching the Blue Fleet than we
anticipated," he began. "Stretton came on board the fish-cutter----"
And Pamela interrupted him--

"Why were you nearly three days longer? Tell me about your own journey
out to the fleet from the beginning."

She was, in fact, as much interested in her messenger as in the errand
upon which she had sent him. Warrisden began to see that his journey
after all was not entirely a defeat. The alliance to which they had
set their hands up there in the village on the hill was bearing its
fruit. It had set them in a new relationship to each other, and in a
closer intimacy.

He told the story of his voyage, making light of his hardships on the
steam-cutter. She, on the other hand, made much of them.

"To quote your captain," she remarked, with a smile, "it was not a
Bobby's job."

Warrisden laughed, and told her of Stretton's arrival in the punt of
the _Perseverance_. He described the way in which he had come on
board; he related the conversation which had passed between them at
the stern of the cutter.

"He hadn't the look of a man who had failed," Warrisden continued. "He
stood there on the swinging deck with his legs firmly planted apart,
as easily as if he were standing on a stone pavement. I, on the other
hand, was clinging desperately to a stay. He stood there, with the
seas swinging up behind him, and stubbornly refused to come."

"You told him of his father's illness?" asked Pamela.

"He replied that his father had not sent for him."

"You spoke of the candles lit every night?"

"His answer was the same. His father had not sent for him. Besides, he
had his time to serve. He had signed on for eight weeks. There was
only one moment when I thought that there was a chance I might
persuade him; and, indeed, my persuasions had really nothing to do
with it at all. It was just the mention of your name."

"My name?" asked Pamela, in surprise.

"Yes. In answer to a question of his I told him that I had been sent
out by you, and for a moment he faltered."

Pamela nodded her head in comprehension.

"I understand; but he refused in the end?"

"Yes. He said, 'One must take one's risks.'"

Pamela repeated the sentence softly to herself; and Warrisden crossed
over to her side. His voice took a gentler note, and one still more
serious than that which he had used.

"Do you know what I think?" he asked. "You sent me out with a message
to Stretton. I think that he has sent me back with a message for
you--'One must take one's risks.' He said that he had learned that in
the North Sea. He pointed to the little boats carrying the fish-boxes
to the steamer through the heavy, breaking seas. Each man in each of
the boats was taking his risks. 'Whether it's lacing your topsail or
taking in a reef,' he said, 'one must take one's risks.'"

Pamela was silent for awhile after he had spoken. She sat with her
hands folded in her lap, and her face most serious. Then she looked up
at her companion with a very friendly smile; but she did not answer
him at all. And when she spoke, she spoke words which utterly
surprised him. All the time since the ketches had disappeared behind
the waves he had been plagued with the thought of the distress which
defeat would cause her; and here she was saying--

"I am very glad that you went out to the North Sea for me, even though
the journey proved fruitless. It makes us so much the better friends,
doesn't it? And that is a gain for me. Think of it that way, and you
will not mind the hardships and the waste of time."

She held out her hand--rather a rare act with her--and Warrisden took
it. Then came the explanation why defeat meant so little just at this
time.

"I need not have sent you at all," she continued, "could I have
foreseen. Sir John Stretton died yesterday afternoon, suddenly. I
received a telegram last night from Millie. So Tony will naturally
come home when his four weeks are up. I wrote last night to Millie,
telling her where Tony was." Then she added, "But I am glad that I did
not foresee."

She rose from her chair, and they walked out through the hall to the
front of the house. A groom was holding Pamela's horse. The others who
were hunting that day had already ridden off. Warrisden helped her
into the saddle, and she rode away.

Sir John had died, and Stretton would now naturally come home. That
explained to Warrisden how it was that Pamela made so little of the
defeat. But it was not the whole explanation. Pamela was waking from
her long sleep, like the princess in the fairy tale, and the mere act
of waking was a pleasure. In the stir of emotions, hitherto rigorously
suppressed, in the exercise of sympathies, she found a delight such as
one may find in the mere stretching of one's muscles after a deep
rest. The consciousness of life as a thing enjoyable began to tingle
in her. She was learning again lessons which she remembered once to
have learned before. The joy of being needed by those one needs--there
was one of them. She had learned a new one to-day--"One must take
one's risks." She repeated the sentence over to herself as she rode
between the hedgerows on this morning which had the sparkle of spring.
A few days ago she would have put that view of life away from her.
Now, old as it was, simple as it was, she pondered upon it as though
it were a view quite novel. She found it, moreover, pleasant. She had
travelled, indeed, further along the new road than she was aware. The
truth is that she had rather hugged to herself the great trouble which
had overshadowed her life. She had done so unwittingly. She had
allowed it to dominate her after it had lost its power to dominate,
and from force of habit. She began to be aware of it now that she had
stepped out from her isolation, and was gathering again the strings of
her life into her hands.


                          *   *   *   *   *


But Pamela was wrong in her supposition that since Sir John's death
the danger for Millicent was at an end. Tony Stretton would now return
home, she thought; and nothing was further from Tony's thoughts. At
the time when Pamela was riding through the lanes of Leicestershire on
that morning of early spring, Tony was lying in his bunk in the cabin
of the _Perseverance_ reading over, for the thousandth time, certain
letters which he kept beneath his pillow. This week he kept the long
night watch from midnight until eight of the morning; it was now
eleven, and he had the cabin to himself. The great gale had blown
itself out. The trawl, which for three days had remained safely stowed
under the lee bulwarks, was now dragging behind the boat; with her
topsails set the ketch was sailing full and by the wind; and down the
open companion the sunlight streamed into the cabin and played like
water upon the floor. The letters Tony Stretton was reading were those
which Millie had sent him. Disappointment was plain in every line;
they were sown with galling expressions of pity; here and there
contempt peeped out. Yet he was glad to have them; they were his
monitors, and he found a stimulus in their very cruelty. Though he
knew them by heart, he continually read them on mornings like this,
when the sun shone down the companion, and the voices of his fellow
sailors called cheerily overhead; at night, leaning upon his elbow,
and spelling them out by the dim light of the swinging lamp, while the
crew slept about him in their bunks.

To his companions he was rather a mystery. To some of them he was just
down on his luck; to others he was a man "who had done something."

"I suppose you have come out here to lie doggo," said the skipper to
him, shouting out the words in the height of the gale, when both were
standing by the lashed wheel one night. "I ask no questions. All I say
is, you do your work. I have had no call to slap a haddick across your
face. I say that fair and square. Water!"

He concluded his speech with a yell. Stretton saw a ragged line of
white suddenly flash out in the darkness, high up by the weather bow,
and descend with a roar. It was a wave breaking down upon the deck.
Both men flung themselves down the companion, and the water sluiced
after them and washed them struggling about the floor of the cabin.
The wave saved Stretton from the need to reply, and the skipper did
not refer to the subject again.

Stretton had signed on for this cruise on the _Perseverance_ because
he wanted a time during which he could be quite sure of his
livelihood. So far he had failed. He must map out a new course for
himself upon his life's chart. But for that work he needed time for
thought, and that time, up till now, he had not enjoyed. The
precarious existence which he had led since he had lost the half of
Millie's small fortune--now a clerk in a store, and a failure; now a
commercial traveller, and again a failure--had left him little
breathing space wherein to gather up his slow thoughts and originate a
new plan. That breathing space, however, the _Perseverance_ had
afforded him. During the long watches on fine nights, when the dark
sails, swinging up and down to the motion of the boat, revealed and
obscured the stars, he wrestled with the difficult problem of his
life.

He could go back when his cruise was over if he chose. His father was
dying; he faced the fact quite frankly. The object with which he set
out would be, after all, accomplished, though not accomplished by
himself. There would be a house for Millie and himself independent of
the old man's caprice; their life would be freed from the shadow of
his tyranny; their seclusion would come to an end; they could let the
sunlight in upon their lives. Yes! But there were the letters down in
the cabin there, underneath his pillow. Did not they alter the
position? He had gone away to keep his wife, just, in a word, to
prevent that very contempt of which the letters gave him proof. Must
he not now stay away in order to regain her? His wife was at the
bottom of all his thoughts. He had no blame for her, however much her
written words might hurt. He looked back upon their life together, its
pleasant beginnings, when they were not merely lovers, but very good
friends into the bargain. For it is possible to be the one and yet not
the other. They were good days, the days in the little house in
Deanery Street, days full of fun and good temper and amusement. He
recalled their two seasons in London--London bright with summer--and
making of each long day a too short holiday. Then had come the change,
sudden, dark, and complete. In the place of freedom, subjection; in
the place of company, isolation; in the place of friends, a sour old
man, querulous and exacting. Then had come the great hope of another
home; and swiftly upon that hope its failure through his incapacity.
He could not blame her for the letters underneath his pillow. He was
no less set upon regaining her than he had been before on keeping her.
His love for her had been the chief motive of his life when he left
the house in Berkeley Square. It remained so still. Could he go back,
he asked himself?

There was one inducement persuading him always to answer "Yes"--the
sentence which Pamela had spoken, and which she had refused to
explain. He should be at his wife's side. He had never understood that
saying; it remained fixed in his memory, plaguing him. He should be at
his wife's side. So Pamela Mardale had said, and for what Pamela said
he had the greatest respect. Well, he could be in a few weeks at his
wife's side. But would it not be at too great a cost unless he had
first redeemed himself from her contempt?

Thus he turned and turned, and saw no issue anywhere. The days slipped
by, and one morning the fish-cutter brought to him a letter, which
told him that four days ago his father had died. He could not reach
home in time for the funeral, even if he started at once. And he could
not start at once; he had signed on for eight weeks.

But the letter left him face to face with the old problem. Should he
go back or should he stay away? And if he stayed away, what should he
do?

He came on deck one morning, and his skipper said--

"There's a fog on land, Stretton,"

"How do you know that?" asked Stretton.

The captain pointed to some birds hovering over the masts of the
ketch.

"Those are land birds," said he. "Look, there's a thrush and there's a
blackbird. You won't find them so far from land without a reason.
There has been a fog, and very likely a storm. They have lost their
bearings in the fog."

The birds hovered about the ships of the fleet, calling
plaintively--here, at all events, were men recognisably belonging to
the land they vainly sought. Stretton, watching them, felt very much
like one of those birds. He, too, had lost his way in a fog, and
though he made no outcry, his need of guidance was no less great than
theirs.

Then came a morning at last when the trawl was hauled in for the last
time, and the boat's head pointed towards Yarmouth.

"When shall we reach harbour?" Stretton asked anxiously.

"If this breeze holds, in twenty-four hours," replied the skipper.

Twenty-four hours! Just a day and a night, and Stretton would step
from the deck on to Gorleston Quay; and he was no nearer to the
solution of his problem than when he had stepped from the quay on to
the deck eight weeks ago. Those eight weeks were to have resolved all
his perplexities, and lo! the eight weeks had passed.

He was in a fever of restlessness. He paced the deck all the day when
he was not standing at the wheel; at night he could not sleep, but
stood leaning over the bulwarks, watching the stars trembling in the
quiet water. At one o'clock in the morning the _Perseverance_ passed a
lightship. Already the boat was so near home! And in the hour which
followed, his eight weeks of solitary communing, forced, as it were,
by immediate necessity, bore their fruit. His inspiration--he counted
the idea no less than an inspiration-came to him suddenly. He saw all
at once his course marked out for him upon the chart of life. He would
not suffer a doubt of it to enter his mind; he welcomed it with
passion, and the great load was lifted from his mind. The idea had
come. It was water in a dry land.

A fisherman leaning over the bulwark by Stretton's side heard him
suddenly begin to sing over to himself a verse or two of a song--


      "Oh, come out, mah love! I'm a-waiting foh you heah!
       Doan' you keep yuh window closed to-night."


It was a coon song which Stretton was humming over to himself. His
voice dropped to a murmur, He stopped and laughed softly to himself,
as though the song had very dear associations in his thoughts. Then
his voice rose again, and there was now a kind of triumph in the lilt
of the song, which had nothing to do with the words--


      "De stars all a-gwine put dey little ones to bed
        Wid dey 'hush now, sing a lullaby,'
       De man in de moon nod his sleepy, sleepy head,
        And do sandman put a little in his eye."


The words went lilting out over the quiet sea. It seemed to Stretton
that they came from a lighted window just behind him, and were sung in
a woman's voice. He was standing on a lawn surrounded by high dark
trees in the warmth of a summer night. He was looking out past the
islets over eight miles of quiet water to the clustered lights of the
yachts in Oban Bay. The coon song was that which his wife had sung to
him on one evening he was never to forget; and this night he had
recovered its associations. It was no longer "a mere song sung by
somebody." It seemed to him, so quickly did his anticipations for once
outrun his judgment, that he had already recovered his wife.

The _Perseverance_ was moored alongside of the quay at eight o'clock
in the morning, and just at that time Millie was reading a letter of
condolence from Lionel Callon.



                             CHAPTER XIII

                   TONY STRETTON RETURNS TO STEPNEY


Mr. Chase left the mission quite early in the evening and walked
towards his lodging. That side of his nature which clamoured for
enjoyments and a life of luxury was urgent with him to-night. As he
turned into his street he began to debate with himself whether he
should go in search of a cab and drive westwards out of the squalor. A
church clock had just struck nine; he would find his club open and his
friends about the fire. Thus debating he came to his own door, and had
unconsciously taken his latch-key from his pocket before he had
decided upon his course. The latch-key decided him. He opened the door
and went quickly up to his sitting-room. The gas was low, and what
light there was came from the fire. Chase shut the door gently, and
his face underwent a change. There came a glitter into his eyes, a
smile to his lips. He crossed to the little cupboard in the corner and
unlocked it, stealthily, even though he was alone. As he put his hand
into it and grasped the decanter, something stirred in his armchair.
The back of the chair was towards him. He remained for a second or two
motionless, listening. But the sound was not repeated. Chase
noiselessly locked the cupboard again and came back to the fire. A man
was sitting asleep in the chair.

Chase laid a hand upon his shoulder and shook him.

"Stretton," he said; and Tony Stretton opened his eyes.

"I fell asleep waiting for you," he said.

"When did you get back?" asked Chase.

"I landed at Yarmouth this morning. I came up to London this
afternoon."

Chase turned up the gas and lit a cigarette.

"You have not been home, then?" he said. "There is news waiting for
you there. Your father is dead!"

"I know," Stretton replied. "He died a month ago."

Mr. Chase was perplexed. He drew up a chair to the fire and sat down.

"You know that?" he asked slowly; "and yet you have not gone home?"

"No," replied Stretton. "And I do not mean to go."

Stretton was speaking in the quietest and most natural way. There was
no trace in his manner of that anxiety which during the last few days
had kept him restless and uneasy. He had come to his decision. Chase
was aware of the stubborn persistence of his friend; and it was rather
to acquire knowledge than to persuade that he put his questions.

"But why? You went away to make an independent home, free from the
restrictions under which you and your wife were living. Well, you have
got that home now. The reason for your absence has gone."

Stretton shook his head.

"The reason remains. Indeed it is stronger now than it was when I
first left England," he answered. He leaned forward with his elbows
upon his knees, gazing into the fire. The light played upon his face,
and Chase could not but notice the change which these few months had
brought to him. He had grown thin, and rather worn; he had lost the
comfortable look of prosperity; his face was tanned. But there was
more. It might have been expected that the rough surroundings amidst
which Stretton had lived would leave their marks. He might have become
rather coarse, rather gross to the eye. On the contrary, there was a
look of refinement. It was the long battle with his own thoughts which
had left the marks. The mind was showing through the flesh. The face
had become spiritualised.

"Yes, the reason remains," said Stretton. "I left home to keep my
wife. We lived a life of quarrels. All the little memories, the
associations, the thousand and one small private things--ideas,
thoughts, words, jokes even, which two people who care very much for
one another have in common--we were losing, and so quickly; so very
quickly. I can't express half what I mean. But haven't you seen a man
and a woman at a dinner-table, when some chance sentence is spoken,
suddenly look at one another just for a second, smile perhaps, at all
events speak, though no word is spoken? Well, that kind of intimacy
was going. I saw indifference coming, perhaps dislike, perhaps
contempt; yes, contempt, just because I sat there and looked on. So I
went away. But the contempt has come. Oh, don't think I believe that I
made a mistake in going away. It would have come none the less had I
stayed. But I have to reckon with the fact that it has come."

Mr. Chase sat following Stretton's words with a very close attention.
Never had Stretton spoken to him with so much frankness before.

"Go on," said Chase. "What you are saying is--much of it--news to me."

"Well, suppose that I were to go back now," Stretton resumed, "at
once--do you see?--that contempt is doubled."

"No," cried Chase.

"Yes, yes," Stretton insisted. "Look at it from Millie's point of
view, not from yours, not even from mine. Look at the history of the
incident from the beginning! Work it out as she would; nay," he
corrected himself, remembering the letters, "as she has. I leave her
when things are at their worst. That's not all. I take half Millie's
fortune, and am fool enough to lose it right away. And that's not all.
I stay away in the endeavour to recover the lost ground, and I
continually fail. Meanwhile Millie has the dreary, irksome, exacting,
unrequited life, which I left behind, to get through as best she can
alone; without pleasure, and she likes pleasure----" He suddenly
looked at Chase, with a challenge in his eyes. "Why shouldn't she?" he
asked abruptly. Chase agreed.

"Why shouldn't she?" he said, with a smile. "I am not disapproving."

Stretton resumed his former attitude, his former tone.

"Without friends, and she is fond of having friends about her; without
any chance of gratifying her spirits or her youth! To make her life
still more disheartening, every mail which reaches her from New York
brings her only another instalment of my disastrous record. Work it
out from her point of view, Chase; then add this to crown it all." He
leaned forward towards Chase and emphasized his words with a gesture
of his hand. "The first moment when her life suddenly becomes easy,
and does so through no help of mine, I--the failure--come scurrying
back to share it. No, Chase, no!"

He uttered his refusal to accept that position with a positive
violence, and flung himself back in his chair. Chase answered
quietly--

"Surely you are forgetting that it is your father's wealth which makes
her life easy."

"I am not forgetting it at all."

"It's your father's wealth," Chase repeated. "You have a right to
share in it."

"Yes," Stretton admitted; "but what have rights to do with the
question at all? If my wife thinks me no good, will my rights save me
from her contempt?"

And before that blunt question Mr. Chase was silent. It was too
direct, too unanswerable. Stretton rose from his chair, and stood
looking down at his companion.

"Just consider the story I should have to tell Millie tonight--by
George!" he exclaimed suddenly--"if I went back to-night. I start out
with fifteen hundred pounds of hers to make a home and a competence;
and within a few months I am working as a hand on a North Sea trawler
at nineteen shillings a week."

"A story of hardships undergone for her sake," said Chase; "for that's
the truth of your story, Stretton. And don't you think the hardships
would count for ever so much more than any success you could have
won?"

"Hardships!" exclaimed Stretton, with a laugh. "I think I would find
it difficult to make a moving tale out of my hardships. And I wouldn't
if I could--no!"

As a fact, although it was unknown to Tony, Chase was wrong. Had
Stretton told his story never so vividly, it would have made no
difference. Millie Stretton had not the imagination to realise what
those hardships had been. Tony's story would have been to her just a
story, calling, no doubt, for exclamations of tenderness and pity. But
she could not have understood what he had felt, what he had thought,
what he had endured. Deeper feelings and a wider sympathy than Millie
Stretton was dowered with would have been needed for comprehension.

Stretton walked across the room and came back to the fire. He looked
down at Chase with a smile. "Very likely you think I am a great fool,"
he said, in a gentler voice than he had used till now. "No doubt nine
men out of ten would say, 'Take the gifts the gods send you, and let
the rest slide. What if you and your wife drift apart? You won't be
the only couple.' But, frankly, Chase, that is not good enough. I have
seen a good deal of it--the boredom, the gradual ossification. Oh no;
I'm not content with that! You see, Chase," he stopped for a moment
and gazed steadily into the fire; then he went on quite simply, "you
see, I care for Millie very much."

Chase knew well what weight to give to that short sentence. Had it
been more elaborate it would have meant less. It needed no other
commentary than the quiet sincerity with which it was uttered.

"Yes, I understand," he said.

Stretton seated himself again in his chair and took out a briar pipe
from his pocket. The pipe had an open metal covering over the bowl.

"I need that no longer," Stretton said, with a laugh, as he removed
it. Then he took out a pouch, filled his pipe, and lighted it.

"Have a whisky and soda?" said Chase.

"No, thanks."

Chase lighted a cigarette and looked at his friend with curiosity. The
change which he had noticed in Stretton's looks had been just as
noticeable in his words. This man sitting opposite to him was no
longer the Tony Stretton who had once come to him for advice. That man
had been slow of thought, halting of speech, good-humoured, friendly;
but a man with whom it was difficult to get at close quarters. Talk
with him a hundred times, and you seemed to know him no better than
you did at the moment when first you were introduced to him. Here,
however, was a man who had thought out his problem--was, moreover,
able lucidly to express it.

"Well," said Chase, "you are determined not to go back?"

"Not yet," Stretton corrected.

"What do you propose to do?"

The question showed how great the change had been, begun by the hard
times in New York, completed by the eight weeks in the North Sea. For
Chase put the question. He no longer offered advice, understanding
that Stretton had not come to ask for it.

"I propose to enlist in the French Foreign Legion."

Stretton spoke with the most matter-of-fact air imaginable; he might
have been naming the house at which he was to dine the next night.
Nevertheless, Chase started out of his chair; he stared at his
companion in a stupefaction.

"No," said Stretton, calmly; "I am not off my head, and I have not
been drinking. Sit down again, and think it over."

Chase obeyed, and Stretton proceeded to expound that inspiration which
had come to him the night before.

"What else should I do? You know my object now. I have to re-establish
myself in my wife's thoughts. How else can I do it? What professions
are open to me in which I could gain, I don't say distinction, but
mere recognition? I am not a money-maker; that, at all events, is
evident. I have had experience enough during the last months to know
that if I lived to a thousand I should never make money."

"I think that's true," Chase agreed, thoughtfully.

"Luckily there's no longer any need that I should try. What then? Run
through the professions, Chase, and find one, if you can, in which a
man at my age--twenty-nine--with my ignorance, my want of intellect,
has a single chance of success. The bar? It's laughable. The sea? I am
too old. The army? I resigned my commission years ago. So what then?"

He waited for Chase to speak, and Chase was silent. He waited with a
smile, knowing that Chase could not speak.

"There must be an alternative," Chase said, doubtfully, at last.

"Name it, then."

That was just what Chase could not do. He turned in his mind from this
calling to that. There was not one which did not need a particular
education; there was not one in which Stretton was likely to succeed.
Soldiering or the sea. These were the two callings for which he was
fitted. From the sea his age debarred him; from soldiering too, except
in this one way. No, certainly, Stretton was not off his head.

"How in the world did you think of the Foreign Legion?" he asked.

Stretton shrugged his shoulders.

"I thought of most other courses first, and, one by one, rejected them
as impossible. This plan came to me last of all, and only last night.
We were passing a light-ship. In a way, you see, we were within sight
of home. I was in despair; and suddenly the idea flashed upon me, like
the revolving blaze from the light-ship. It is a sound one, I think.
At all events, it is the only one."

"Yes," answered Chase, slowly; "I suppose there will be chances, for
there's always something stirring on the Algerian frontier."

"There, or in Siam," said Stretton.

"What arrangements are you making here?"

"I have written to my lawyers. Millie can do as she pleases with the
income. She has power, too, to sell the house in Berkeley Square. I
made my will, you know, before I left England."

Chase nodded, and for a while there fell a silence upon the two
friends. A look of envy crept into the face of the clergyman as he
looked at Stretton. He could appreciate a motive which set a man
aiming high. He admired the persistence with which Stretton nursed it.
The plan it had prompted might be quixotic and quite fruitless, but,
at all events, it was definite; and a definite scheme of life, based
upon a simple and definite motive, was not so common but that it was
enviable. Stretton was so sure of its wisdom, too. He had no doubts.
He sat in his chair not asking for approval, not caring for censure;
he had made up his mind. The image of Stretton, indeed, as he sat in
that chair on that evening, with the firelight playing upon his face,
was often to come to Chase's thoughts.

"There will be great risks," he said. "Risks of death, of trouble in
the battalion."

"I have counted them," Stretton replied; and he leaned forward again,
with his hands upon his knees. "Oh yes; there will be great risks! But
there's a prize, too, proportionate to the risks. Risks! Every one
speaks of them," he went on, with a laugh of impatience. "But I have
been eight weeks on the Dogger Bank, Chase, and I know--yes, I
know--how to estimate risks. Out there men risk their lives daily to
put a few boxes of fish on board a fish-cutter. Take the risk
half-heartedly and your boat's swamped for a sure thing; but take it
with all your heart and there are the fish-boxes to your credit. Well,
Millie is my fish-boxes."

He ended with a laugh, and, rising, took his hat.

"Shall I put you up for the night?" Chase asked.

"No, thanks," said Stretton. "I have got a bed at an hotel. I have
something else to do to-night;" and a smile, rather wistful and
tender, played about his lips. "Goodbye!" He held out his hand, and as
Chase took it he went on, "I am looking forward to the day when I come
back. My word, how I am looking forward to it; and I will look forward
each day until it actually, at the long last, comes. It will have been
worth waiting for, Chase, well worth waiting for, both to Millie and
to me."

With that he went away. Chase heard him close the street door behind
him, and his footsteps sound for a moment or two on the pavement.
After all, he thought, a life under those Algerian skies, a life in
the open air, of activity--there were many worse things, even though
it should prove a second failure.

Chase stood for a little before the fire. He crossed slowly over to
that cupboard in the corner at which Stretton's movement in the chair
had stayed his hand. Chase looked back to the armchair, as though he
half expected still to see Stretton sitting there. Then he slowly
walked back to the fire, and left the cupboard locked. Stretton had
gone, but he had left behind him memories which were not to be
effaced--the memory of a great motive and of a sturdy determination to
fulfil it. The two men were never to meet again; but, in the after
time, more than once, of an evening, Chase's hand was stayed upon that
cupboard door. More than once he looked back towards the chair as if
he expected that again his friend was waiting for him by the fire.



                             CHAPTER XIV

            TONY STRETTON PAYS A VISIT TO BERKELEY SQUARE


While Tony Stretton was thus stating the problem of his life to Mr.
Chase in Stepney Green, Lady Millingham was entertaining her friends
in Berkeley Square. She began the evening with a dinner-party, at
which Pamela Mardale and John Mudge were present, and she held a
reception afterwards. Many people came, for Frances Millingham was
popular. By half-past ten the rooms were already over-hot and
overcrowded, and Lady Millingham was enjoying herself to her heart's
content. Mr. Mudge, who stood by himself at the end of a big
drawing-room, close to one of the windows, saw the tall figure of
Warrisden come in at the door and steadily push towards Pamela. A few
moments later M. de Marnay, a youthful _attaché_ of the French
Embassy, approached Mr. Mudge. M. de Marnay wiped his forehead and
looked round the crowded room.

"A little is a good thing," said he, "but too much is enough." And he
unlatched and pushed open the window. As he spoke, Mr. Mudge saw
Callon appear in the doorway.

"Yes," he answered, with a laugh; "too much is enough."

Mudge watched Callon's movements with his usual interest. He saw him
pass, a supple creature of smiles and small talk, from woman to woman.
How long would he last in his ignoble career? Mudge wondered. Would he
marry in the end some rich and elderly widow? Or would the crash come,
and parties know Mr. Lionel Callon no more? Mudge never saw the man
but he had a wish that he might get a glimpse of him alone in his own
rooms, with the smile dropped from his face, and the unpaid bills
piled upon his mantel-shelf, and his landlord very likely clamouring
for the rent. He imagined the face grown all at once haggard and tired
and afraid--afraid with a great fear of what must happen in a few
years at the latest, when, with middle-age heavy upon his shoulders,
he should see his coevals prospering and himself bankrupt of his
stock-in-trade of good looks, and without one penny to rub against
another. No presage of mind weighed upon Callon to-night, however,
during his short stay in Frances Millingham's house. For his stay was
short.

As the clock upon the mantelpiece struck eleven, his eyes were at once
lifted to the clock-face, and almost at once he moved from the lady to
whom he was talking and made his way to the door.

Mr. Mudge turned back to the window and pushed it still more open. It
was a clear night of April, and April had brought with it the warmth
of summer. Mr. Mudge stood at the open window facing the coolness and
the quiet of the square; and thus by the accident of an overcrowded
room he became the witness of a little episode which might almost have
figured in some bygone comedy of intrigue.

Callon passed through the line of carriages in the roadway beneath,
and crossed the corner of the square to the pavement on the right-hand
side. When he reached the pavement he walked for twenty yards or so in
the direction of Piccadilly, until he came to a large and gloomy
house. There a few shallow steps led from the pavement to the front
door. Callon mounted the steps, rang the bell, and was admitted.

There were a few lights in the upper windows and on the ground floor;
but it was evident that there was no party at the house. Callon had
run in to pay a visit. Mr. Mudge, who had watched this, as it were,
the first scene in the comedy, distinctly heard the door close, and
the sound somehow suggested to him that the time had come for him to
go home to bed. He looked at his watch. It was exactly a quarter past
eleven--exactly, in a word, three-quarters of an hour since Tony
Stretton, who "had something else to do," had taken his leave of his
friend Chase in Stepney.

Mr. Mudge turned from the window to make his way to the door, and came
face to face with Pamela and Alan Warrisden. Pamela spoke to him. He
had never yet met Warrisden, and he was now introduced. All three
stood and talked together for a few minutes by the open window. Then
Mudge, in that spirit of curiosity which Callon always provoked in
him, asked abruptly--

"By the way, Miss Mardale, do you happen to know who lives in that
house?" and he pointed across the corner of the square to the house
into which Callon had disappeared.

Pamela and Warrisden looked quickly at one another. Then Pamela turned
with great interest to Mr. Mudge.

"Yes, we both know," she answered. "Why do you ask?"

"Well, I don't know," said Mudge; "I think that I should like to
know."

The glance which his two companions had exchanged, and Pamela's rather
eager question, had quickened his curiosity. But he got no answer for
a few moments. Both Pamela and Warrisden were looking out towards the
house. They were standing side by side. Mr. Mudge had an intuition
that the same thought was passing through both their minds.

"That is where the truants lived last July," said Warrisden, in a low
voice. He spoke to Pamela, not to Mr. Mudge at all, whose existence
seemed for the moment to have been clean forgotten.

"Yes," Pamela replied softly. "The dark house, where the truants lived
and where"--she looked at Warrisden and smiled with a great
friendliness--"where the new road began. For it was there really. It's
from the steps of the dark house, not from the three poplars that the
new road runs out."

"Yes, that is true," said Warrisden.

And again both were silent.

Mr. Mudge broke in upon the silence. "I have no doubt that the truants
lived there, and that the new road begins at the foot of the steps,"
he said plaintively; "but neither statement adds materially to my
knowledge."

Pamela and Warrisden turned to him and laughed. It was true that they
had for a moment forgotten Mr. Mudge. The memory of the star-lit
night, in last July, when from this balcony they had watched the
truants slip down the steps and furtively call a cab, was busy in
their thoughts. From that night their alliance had dated, although no
suspicion of it had crossed their minds. It seemed strange to them now
that there had been no premonition.

"Well, who lives there?" asked Mudge.

But even now he received no answer; for Warrisden suddenly exclaimed
in a low, startled voice--

"Look!" and with an instinctive movement he drew back into the room.

A man was standing in the road looking up at the windows of the dark
house. His face could not be seen under the shadow of his hat. Pamela
peered forward.

"Do you think it's he?" she asked in a whisper.

"I am not sure," replied Warrisden.

"Oh, I hope so! I hope so!"

"I am not sure. Wait! Wait and look!" said Warrisden.

In a few moments the man moved. He crossed the road and stepped on to
the pavement. Again he stopped, again he looked up to the house; then
he walked slowly on. But he walked northwards, that is, towards the
watchers at the window.

"There's a lamp-post," said Warrisden; "he will come within the light
of it. We shall know."

And the next moment the light fell white and clear upon Tony
Stretton's face.

"He has come back," exclaimed Pamela, joyfully.

"Who?" asked Mr. Mudge; "who has come back?"

This time he was answered.

"Why, Tony Stretton, of course," said Pamela, impatiently. She was
hardly aware of Mr. Mudge, even while she answered him; she was too
intent upon Tony Stretton in the square below. She did not therefore
notice that Mudge was startled by her reply. She did not remark the
anxiety in his voice as he went on--

"And that is Stretton's house?"

"Yes."

"And his wife, Lady Stretton, is she in London? Is she there--now?"

Mr. Mudge spoke with an excitement of manner which at any other time
must have caused surprise. It passed now unremarked; for Warrisden,
too, had his preoccupation. He was neither overjoyed, like Pamela, nor
troubled, like Mr. Mudge; but as he looked down into the square he was
perplexed.

"Yes," replied Pamela, "Millie Stretton is at home. Could anything be
more fortunate?"

To Mudge's way of thinking, nothing could be more unfortunate. Pamela
had come late to the play; Mr. Mudge, on the other hand, had seen the
curtain rise, and had a clearer knowledge of the plot's development.
The husband outside the house, quite unexpected, quite unsuspicious,
and about to enter; the wife and the interloper within: here were the
formulas of a comedy of intrigue. Only, Mr. Mudge doubtfully wondered,
after the husband had entered, and when the great scene took place,
would the decorous accent of the comedy be maintained? Nature was
after all a violent dramatist, with little care for the rules and
methods. Of one thing, at all events, he was quite sure, as he looked
at Pamela: she would find no amusement in the climax. There was,
however, to be an element of novelty, which Mr. Mudge had not
foreseen.

"What puzzles me," said Warrisden, "is that Stretton does not go in."

Stretton walked up to the corner of the square, turned, and retraced
his steps. Again he approached the steps of the house. "Now," thought
Mr. Mudge, with a good deal of suspense, "now he will ascend them."
Pamela had the same conviction, but in her case hope inspired it.
Tony, however, merely cast a glance upwards and walked on. They heard
his footsteps for a little while upon the pavement; then that sound
ceased.

"He has gone," cried Pamela, blankly; "he has gone away again."

Mr. Mudge turned to her very seriously.

"Believe me," said he, "nothing better could have happened."

Tony, in fact, had never had a thought of entering the house. Having
this one night in London, he had yielded to a natural impulse to
revisit again the spot where he and Millie had lived--where she still
lived. The bad days of the quarrels and the indifference and the
weariness were forgotten by him to-night. His thoughts went back to
the early days when they played truant, and truancy was good fun. The
escapes from the house, the little suppers at the Savoy, the stealthy
home-comings, the stumbling up the stairs in the dark, laughing and
hushing their laughter--upon these incidents his mind dwelt,
wistfully, yet with a great pleasure and a great hopefulness. Those
days were gone, but in others to come all that was good in them might
be repeated. The good humour, the intimacy, the sufficiency of the
two, each to the other, might be recovered if only he persisted. To
return now, to go in at the door and say, "I have come home," that
would be the mistake which there would be no retrieving. He was at the
cross-ways, and if he took the wrong road life would not give him the
time to retrace his steps. He walked away, dreaming of the good days
to come.

Meanwhile, Lionel Callon was talking to Millie in that little
sitting-room which had once been hers and Tony's.

Millie was surprised at the lateness of his visit, and when he was
shown into the room she rose at once.

"Something has happened?" she said.

"No," Callon replied. "I was at Lady Millingham's party. I suddenly
thought of you sitting here alone. I am tired besides, and overworked.
I knew it would be a rest for me if I could see you and talk to you
for a few minutes. You see, I am selfish."

Millie smiled at him.

"No, kind," said she.

She asked him to sit down.

"You look tired," she added. "How does your election work go on?"

Callon related the progress of his campaign, and with an air of making
particular confidences. He could speak without any reserve to her, he
said. He conveyed the impression that he was making headway against
almost insuperable obstacles. He flattered her, moreover, by a
suggestion that she herself was a great factor in his successes. The
mere knowledge that she wished him well, that perhaps, once or twice
in the day, she gave him a spare thought, helped him much more than
she could imagine. Millie was induced to believe that, although she
sat quietly in London, she was thus exercising power through Callon in
his constituency.

"Of course, I am a poor man," said Callon. "Poverty hampers one."

"Oh, but you will win," cried Millie Stretton, with a delighted
conviction; "yes, you will win."

She felt strong, confident--just, in a word, as she had felt when she
had agreed with Tony that he must go away.

"With your help, yes," he answered; and the sound of his voice
violated her like a caress. Millie rose from her chair.

At once Callon rose too, and altered his tone.

"You have heard from Sir Anthony Stretton?" he said. "Tell me of
yourself."

"Yes, I have heard. He will not return yet."

There came a light into Callon's eyes. He raised his hand to his mouth
to hide a smile.

"Few men," he said, with the utmost sympathy, "would have left you to
bear these last weeks alone."

He was standing just behind her, speaking over her shoulder. He was
very still, the house was very silent. Millie was suddenly aware of
danger.

"You must not say that, Mr. Callon," she said rather sharply.

And immediately he answered, "I beg your pardon. I had no idea my
sympathy would have seemed to you an insult."

He spoke with a sudden bitterness. Millicent turned round in surprise.
She saw that his face was stern and cold.

"An insult?" she said, and her voice was troubled. "No, you and I are
friends."

But Callon would have none of these excuses. He had come to the house
deliberately to quarrel. He had a great faith in the efficacy of
quarrels, given the right type of woman. As Mudge had told Pamela, he
knew the tactics of the particular kind of warfare which he waged. To
cause a woman some pain, to make her think with regret that in him she
had lost a friend; that would fix him in her thoughts. So Callon
quarrelled. Millie Stretton could not say a word but he misinterpreted
it. Every sentence he cleverly twisted into an offence.

"I will say good-bye," he said, at length, as though he had reached
the limits of endurance.

Millie Stretton looked at him with troubled eyes.

"I am so sorry it should end like this," she said piteously. "I don't
know why it has."

Callon went out of the room, and closed the door behind him. Then he
let himself into the street. Millie Stretton would miss him, he felt
sure. Her looks, her last words assured him of that. He would wait now
without a movement towards a reconciliation. That must come from her,
it would give him in her eyes a reputation for strength. He knew the
value of that reputation. He had no doubt, besides, that she would
suggest a reconciliation. Other women might not, but Millie--yes. On
the whole, Mr. Callon was very well content with his night's work. He
had taken, in his way of thinking, a long step. The square was empty,
except for the carriages outside Lady Millingham's door. Lionel Callon
walked briskly home.



                              CHAPTER XV

                    MR. MUDGE COMES TO THE RESCUE


Lionel Callon's visit to Millie Stretton bore, however, consequences
which had not at all entered into his calculations. He was unaware of
the watchers at Lady Millingham's window; he had no knowledge of
Pamela's promise to Tony Stretton; no suspicion, therefore, that she
was now passionately resolved to keep it in the spirit and the letter.
He was even without a thought that his advances towards Millie had at
all been remarked upon or their motive discovered. Ignorance lulled
him into security. But within a short while a counter-plot was set in
train.

The occasion was the first summer meeting on Newmarket Heath. Pamela
Mardale seldom missed a race meeting at Newmarket dining the spring
and summer. There were the horses, in the first place; she met her
friends besides; the heath itself, with its broad expanse and its
downs, had for her eyes a beauty of its own; and in addition the
private enclosure was separated by the width of the course from the
crowd and clamour of the ring. She attended this particular meeting,
and after the second race was over she happened to be standing amidst
a group of friends within the grove of trees at the back of the
paddock. Outside, upon the heath, the air was clear and bright; a
light wind blew pleasantly. Here the trees were in bud, and the
sunlight, split by the boughs, dappled with light and shadow the
glossy coats of the horses as they were led in and out amongst the
boles. A mare was led past Pamela, and one of her friends said--

"Semiramis. I think she will win this race."

Pamela looked towards the mare, and saw, just beyond her, Mr. Mudge.
He was alone, as he usually was; and though he stopped in his walk,
now here, now there, to exchange a word with some acquaintance, he
moved on again, invariably alone. Gradually he drew nearer to the
group in which Pamela was standing, and his face brightened. He
quickened his step; Pamela, on her side, advanced rather quickly
towards him.

"You are here?" she said, with a smile. "I am glad, though I did not
think to meet you."

Mr. Mudge, to tell the truth, though he carried a race-card in his
hand, and glasses slung across his shoulder, had the disconsolate air
of a man conscious that he was out of place. He answered Pamela,
indeed, almost apologetically.

"It is better after all to be here than in London on a day of summer,"
he said, and he added, with a shrewd glance at her, "You have
something to say to me--a question to ask."

Pamela looked up at him in surprise.

"Yes, I have. Let us go out."

They walked into the paddock, and thence through the gate into the
enclosure. The enclosure was at this moment rather empty. Pamela led
the way to the rails alongside the course, and chose a place where
they were out of the hearing of any bystander.

"You remember the evening at Frances Millingham's?" she asked. She had
not seen Mr. Mudge since that date.

Mr. Mudge replied immediately.

"Yes; Sir Anthony Stretton"--and the name struck so oddly upon
Pamela's ears that, serious as at this moment she was, she laughed.
"Sir Anthony Stretton turned away from the steps of his house. You
were distressed, Miss Mardale: I, on the contrary, said that nothing
better could have happened. You wish to ask me why I said that?"

"Yes," said Pamela; "I am very anxious to know. Millie is my friend. I
am, in a sort of way, too, responsible for her;" and as Mr. Mudge
looked surprised, she repeated the word--"Yes, responsible. And I am
rather troubled." She spoke with a little hesitation. There was a
frown upon her forehead, a look of perplexity in her dark eyes. She
was reluctant to admit that her friend was in any danger or needed any
protection from her own weakness. The freemasonry of her sex impelled
her to silence. On the other hand, she was at her wits' end what to
do. And she had confidence in her companion's discretion; she
determined to speak frankly.

"It is not only your remark which troubles me," she said, "but I
called on Millie the next afternoon."

"Oh, you did?" exclaimed Mr. Mudge.

"Yes; I asked after Tony. Millie had not seen him, and did not expect
him. She showed me letters from his solicitors empowering her to do
what she liked with the house and income, and a short letter from Tony
himself, written on the _Perseverance_, to the same effect."

She did not explain to Mr. Mudge what the _Perseverance_ was, and he
asked no questions.

"I told Millie," she continued, "that Tony had returned, but she
refused to believe it. I told her when and where I had seen him."

"You did that?" said Mr. Mudge. "Wait a moment." He saw and understood
Pamela's reluctance to speak. He determined to help her out. "Let me
describe to you what followed. She stared blankly at you and asked you
to repeat what you had said?"

"Yes," replied Pamela, in surprise; "that is just what she did."

"And when you had repeated it, she turned a little pale, perhaps was
disconcerted, perhaps a little--afraid."

"Yes, it is that which troubles me," Pamela cried, in a low voice.
"She was afraid. I would have given much to have doubted it. I could
not; her eyes betrayed it, her face, her whole attitude. She was
afraid."

Mr. Mudge nodded his head, and went quietly on--

"And when she had recovered a little from her fear she questioned you
closely as to the time when you first saw Stretton outside the house,
and the time when he went away."

He spoke with so much certitude that he might have been present at the
interview.

"I told her that it was some little time after eleven when he came,
and that he only stayed a few minutes," answered Pamela.

"And at that," rejoined Mr. Mudge, "Lady Stretton's anxiety
diminished."

"Yes, that is true, too," Pamela admitted; and she turned her face to
him with its troubled appeal. "Why was she afraid? For, since you have
guessed that she was, you must know the reason which she had for fear.
Why was it so fortunate that Tony Stretton did not mount the steps of
the house and ring the bell?"

Mr. Mudge answered her immediately, and very quietly.

"Because Lionel Callon was inside the house."

A great sympathy made his voice gentle--sympathy for Pamela. None the
less the words hurt her cruelly. She turned away from him so that he
might not see her face, and stood gazing down the course through a
mist. Bitter disappointment was hers at that moment. She was by nature
a partisan. The thing which she did crept closer to her heart by the
mere act of doing it. She knew it, and it was just her knowledge which
had so long kept her to inaction. Now her thoughts were passionately
set on saving Millie, and here came news to her which brought her to
the brink of despair. She blamed Tony. "Why did he ever go away?" she
cried. "Why, when he had come back, did he not stay?" And at once she
saw the futility of her outcry. Tony, Millie, Lionel Callon--what was
the use of blaming them? They acted as their characters impelled them.
She had to do her best to remedy the evil which the clash of these
three characters had produced. "What can be done?" she asked of
herself. There was one course open certainly. She could summon
Warrisden again, send him out a second time in search of Tony
Stretton, and make him the bearer, not of an excuse, but of the whole
truth. Only she dreaded the outcome; she shrank from telling Tony the
truth, fearing that he would exaggerate it. "Can nothing be done?" she
asked, again in despair, and this time she asked the question aloud,
and turned to Mr. Mudge.

Mudge had been quietly waiting for it.

"Yes," he answered, "something can be done. I should not have told
you, Miss Mardale, what I knew unless I had already hit upon a means
to avert the peril; for I am aware how much my news must grieve you."

Pamela looked at Mr. Mudge in surprise. It had not occurred to her at
all that he could have solved the problem.

"What can I do?" she asked.

"You can leave the whole trouble in my hands for a few days."

Pamela was silent for a little while; then she answered doubtfully--

"It is most kind of you to offer me your help."

Mr. Mudge shook his head at Pamela with a certain sadness.

"There's no kindness in it at all," he said; "but I quite understand
your hesitation, Miss Mardale. You were surprised that I should offer
you help, just as you were surprised to see me here. Although I move
in your world I am not of it. Its traditions, its instincts, even its
methods of thought--to all of these I am a stranger. I am just a
passing visitor who, for the time of his stay, is made an honorary
member of your club. He meets with every civility, every kindness; but
he is not inside, so that when he suddenly comes forward and offers
you help in a matter where other members of your club are concerned,
you naturally pause."

Pamela made a gesture of dissent; but Mr. Mudge gently insisted--

"Let me finish. I want you to understand equally well why I offer you
help which may very likely seem to you an impertinence."

"No, indeed," said Pamela; "on the contrary, I am very grateful."

Others were approaching the spot where they stood. They turned and
walked slowly over the grass away from the paddock.

"There is no need that you should be," Mudge continued; "you will
see that, if you listen." And in a few words he told her at last
something of his own career. "I sprang from a Deptford gutter, with
one thought--to get on, and get on, and get on. I moved from Deptford
to Peckham. There I married. I moved from Peckham to a residential
suburb in the south-west. There my wife died. Looking back now, I am
afraid that in my haste to get on I rather neglected my wife's
happiness. You see I am frank with you. From the residential suburb I
moved into the Cromwell Road, from the Cromwell Road to Grosvenor
Square. I do not think that I was just a snob; but I wanted to have
the very best of what was going. There is a difference. A few years
ago I found myself at the point which I had aimed to reach, and, as I
have told you, it is a position of many acquaintances and much
loneliness. You might say that I could give it up and retire into the
country. But I have too many undertakings on my hands; besides, I am
too tired to start again, so I remain. But I think you will understand
that it will be a real pleasure to me to help you. I have not so many
friends that I can afford to lose the opportunity of doing one of them
a service."

Pamela heard him to the end without any interruption; but when he had
finished she said, with a smile--

"You are quite wrong about the reason for my hesitation. I asked a
friend of mine a few weeks ago to help me, and he gave me the best of
help at once. Even the best of help fails at times, and my friend did.
I was wondering merely whether it would not be a little disloyal to
him if I now accepted yours, for I know he would be grieved if I went
to any one but him."

"I see," said Mr. Mudge; "but I think that I can give you help which
no one else can."

It was clear from his quiet persistence that he had a definite plan.
Pamela stopped and faced him.

"Very well," she said. "I leave the whole matter for a little while in
your hands."

"Thank you," said Mr. Mudge; and he looked up towards the course.
"There are the horses going down."

A sudden thought occurred to Pamela. She opened the purse she carried
on her wrist, and took out a couple of pounds.

"Put this on Semiramis for me, please," she said, with a laugh. "Be
quick, if you will, and come back."

Though she laughed she was still most urgent he should go. Mr. Mudge
hurried across the course, made the bet, and returned. Pamela watched
the race with an eagerness which astonished Mr. Mudge, so completely
did she seem to have forgotten all that had troubled her a minute ago.
But he did not understand Pamela. She was, after her custom, seeking
for a sign, and when Semiramis galloped in a winner by a neck, she
turned with a hopeful smile to her companion--

"We shall win too."

"I think so," Mudge replied, and he laughed. "Do you know what I think
of Lionel Callon, Miss Mardale? The words are not mine, but the
sentiment is unexceptionable. A little may be a good thing, but too
much is enough."



                             CHAPTER XVI

                          THE FOREIGN LEGION


It was midday at Sidi Bel-Abbès in Algeria. Two French officers were
sitting in front of a café at the wide cross-roads in the centre of
the town. One of them was Captain Tavernay, a man of forty-seven,
tall, thin, with a brown face worn and tired by the campaigns of
thirty years, the other a young lieutenant, M. Laurent, fresh and
pink, who seemed to hare been passed out but yesterday from the school
of St. Cyr. Captain Tavernay picked up his cap from the iron table in
front of him and settled it upon his grizzled head. Outside the town
trees clustered thickly, farms were half-hidden amongst groves of
fig-trees and hedges of aloes. Here there was no foliage. The streets
were very quiet, the sunlight lay in dazzling pools of gold upon the
sand of the roads, the white houses glittered under a blue, cloudless
sky. In front of the two officers, some miles away, the bare cone of
Jebel Tessalah sprang upwards from a range of hills dominating the
town, and a speck of white upon its shoulder showed where a village
perched. Captain Tavernay sat looking out towards the mountain with
the lids half-closed upon his eyes. Then he rose deliberately from his
chair.

"If we walk to the station," he said, "we shall just meet the train
from Oran. A batch of thirty recruits is coming in by it. Let us walk
to the station, Laurent."

Lieutenant Laurent dropped the end of his cigarette on to the ground
and stood up reluctantly.

"As you will, Captain," he answered. "But we should see the animals
soon enough at the barracks."

The words were spoken in a voice which was almost, and with a shrug of
the shoulders which was quite, contemptuous. The day was hot, and
Lieutenant Laurent unwilling to move from his coffee and the shade
into that burning sunlight. Captain Tavernay gazed mildly at his
youthful junior. Long experience had taught him to leave much to time
and little to argument. For himself he loved his legionaries. He had a
smile of indulgence for their faults even while he punished them; and
though his face seldom showed the smile, and his punishments were not
unjustly light, the culprits none the less knew it was there, hidden
somewhere close to his heart. But then he had seen his men in action,
and Lieutenant Laurent had not. That made all the difference. The
Foreign Legion certainly did not show at its best in a cantonment.
Amongst that motley assemblage--twelve thousand men, distinct in
nationality as in character, flung together pell-mell, negroes and
whites, criminals, adventurers, silent unknown men, haunted by
memories of other days or tortured by remorse--a garrison town with
its monotony and its absinthe played havoc. An Abyssinian rubbed
shoulders in the ranks with a scholar who spoke nine languages; a
tenor from the Théâtre de la Monnaie at Brussels with an unfrocked
priest. Often enough Captain Tavernay had seen one of his legionaries
sitting alone hour after hour at his little table outside a café,
steadily drinking glass after glass of absinthe, rising mechanically
to salute his officer, and sinking back among his impenetrable
secrets. Was he dreaming of the other days, the laughter and the
flowers, the white shoulders of women? Was he again placing that last
stake upon the red which had sent him straight from the table to the
nearest French depôt? Was he living again some tragic crisis of love
in which all at once he had learned that he had been befooled and
derided? Captain Tavernay never passed such a man but he longed to sit
down by his side and say, "My friend, share your secret with me; so
will it be easier to bear." But the etiquette of the Foreign Legion
forbade. Captain Tavernay merely returned the salute and passed on,
knowing that very likely his legionary would pass the night in the
guard-room and the next week in the cells. No; the town of Sidi
Bel-Abbès was not the place wherein to learn the mettle of the
legionary. Away to the south there, beyond the forest of trees on the
horizon's line, things were different. Let Lieutenant Laurent see the
men in their bivouacs at night under the stars, and witness their
prowess under arms, _ces animaux_ would soon become _mes enfants_.

Therefore he answered Lieutenant Laurent in the mildest voice.

"We shall see them at the barracks, it is true. But you are wrong when
you say that it will be soon enough. At the barracks they will be
prepared for us, they will have their little stories ready for us,
they will be armed with discretion. But let us see them descend from
the train, let us watch their first look round at their new home,
their new fatherland. We may learn a little, and if it is ever so
little it will help us to know them the better afterwards. And at the
worst it will be an amusing exercise in psychology."

They walked away from the café, and strolled down the Rue de Mascara
under the shady avenue of trees, Tavernay moving with a long, indolent
stride, which covered a deal of ground with a surprising rapidity,
Laurent fidgeting along discontentedly at his side. M. Laurent was
beginning, in fact, to regret the hurry with which he had sought a
commission in the Foreign Legion. M. Laurent had, a few months ago, in
Paris, imagined himself to be irrevocably in love with the wife of one
of his friends, a lady at once beautiful and mature; M. Laurent had
declared his passion upon a suitable occasion; M. Laurent had been
snubbed for his pains; M. Laurent in a fit of pique had sought the
consolation of another climate and foreign service; and M. Laurent was
now quickly realising that he was not nearly so heartbroken as he had
fancied himself to be. Already while he walked to the station he was
thinking that, after all, Paris was endurable, even though one
particular woman could not refrain from a little smile of amusement
when he crossed her path.

Captain Tavernay had timed their walk accurately. For as they reached
the station the train was signalled.

"Let us stand here, behind these cases," said Tavernay. "We shall see
and not be seen."

In a few moments the train moved slowly in and stopped. From the
furthermost carriage the detachment descended, and, following a
_sous-officier_ in the uniform of the Legion, walked towards the cases
behind which Tavernay and his companion were concealed. In front came
two youths, fair of complexion and of hair, dressed neatly, well shod,
who walked with a timidity of manner as though they expected to be
questioned and sent packing.

"Who can they be?" asked Laurent. "They are boys."

"Yet they will give their age as eighteen," replied Tavernay, and his
voice trembled ever so slightly; "and we shall ask no questions."

"But they bear no marks of misery. They are not poor. Whence can they
come?" Laurent repeated.

"I can tell you that," said Tavernay. He was much moved. He spoke with
a deep note of reverence. "They come from Alsace or Lorraine. We get
many such. They will not serve Germany. At all costs they _will_ serve
France."

Lieutenant Laurent was humbled. Here was a higher motive than pique,
here was a devotion which would not so quickly tire of discipline and
service. He gazed with a momentary feeling of envy at these two youths
who insisted, at so high a price, on being his compatriots.

"You see," said Tavernay, with a smile, "it was worth while to come to
the station and see the recruits arrive, even on so hot a day as
this."

"Yes," replied Laurent; and then "look!"

Following the two youths walked a man tall and powerful, with the
long, loose stride of one well versed in sports. He held his head
erect, and walked defiantly, daring you to question him. His hands
were long and slender, well-kept, unused to labour, his face aquiline
and refined. He looked about thirty-five years old. He wore a light
overcoat of a fine material, which hung open, and underneath the
overcoat he was attired in evening dress. It was his dress which had
riveted Laurent's attention; and certainly nothing could have seemed
more bizarre, more strangely out of place. The hot African sun poured
down out of a cloudless sky; and a new recruit for the Foreign Legion
stepped out of a railway carriage as though he had come straight from
a ball-room. What sudden disaster could have overtaken him? In what
tragedy had he borne a part? Even Laurent's imagination was stimulated
into speculation. As the man passed him, Laurent saw that his tie was
creased and dusty, his shirt-front rumpled and soiled. That must needs
have been. At some early hour on a spring morning, some four or
five days ago, this man must have rushed into the guard-room of a
barrack-square in some town of France. Laurent turned to Tavernay
eagerly--

"What do you make of him?"

Tavernay shrugged his shoulders.

"A man of fashion, who has made a fool of himself. They make good
soldiers as a rule."

"But he will repent!"

"He has already had the time, and he has not. There is no escort for
recruits until they reach Marseilles. Suppose that he enlisted in
Paris. He is given the fare. At any station between Paris and
Marseilles he could have got out and returned."

The man in evening-dress walked on. There were dark shadows under his
eyes, the eyes themselves were sombre and alert.

"We shall know something of him soon," said Tavernay. He watched his
recruit with so composed an air that Laurent cried out--

"Can nothing astonish you?"

"Very little," answered Tavernay, phlegmatically. "Listen, my friend.
One day, some years ago, a captain of Hussars landed at Oran. He came
to Bel-Abbès with a letter of introduction to me. He stayed with me.
He expressed a wish to see my men on parade. I turned them out. He
came to the parade-ground and inspected them. As he passed along the
ranks he suddenly stopped in front of an old soldier with fifteen
years' service in the Legion, much of which fifteen years had been
passed in the cells. The old soldier was a drunkard--oh, but a
confirmed drunkard. Well, in front of this man my young Captain with
the curled moustaches stopped--stopped and turned very pale. But he
did not speak. My soldier looked at him respectfully, and the Captain
continued his inspection. Well, they were father and son--that is all.
Why should anything astonish me?" and Captain Tavernay struck a match
and lighted a cigarette.

The match, however, attracted attention to the presence of the
officers. Four men who marched, keeping time with their feet and
holding their hands stiffly at their sides, saw the flame and remarked
the uniforms. Their hands rose at once to the salute.

"Ah! German deserters," said Tavernay. "They fight well."

Others followed, men in rags and out of shoe-leather, outcasts and
fugitives; and behind them came one who was different. He was tall and
well-knit, with a frank open face, not particularly intellectual,
on the other hand not irretrievably stupid. He was dressed in a
double-breasted, blue-serge suit, and as he walked he now and then
gave a twist to his fair moustache, as though he were uneasy and
embarrassed. Captain Tavernay ran his eyes over him with the look of a
connoisseur.

"Aha!" said he, with a chuckle of satisfaction. "The true legionary!
Hard, finely trained, he has done work too. Yes! You see, Laurent, he
is a little ashamed, a little self-conscious. He feels that he is
looking a fool. I wonder what nationality he will claim."

"He comes from the North," said Lament. "Possibly from Normandy."

"Oh, I know what he is," returned Tavernay. "I am wondering only what
he will claim to be. Let us go outside and see."

Tavernay led the way to the platform. Outside, in front of the
station, the _sous-officier_ marshalled his men in a line. They looked
a strange body of men as they stood there, blinking in the strong
sunlight. The man in the ruffled silk hat and the dress-suit toed the
line beside a bundle of rags; the German deserters rubbed elbows with
the "true legionary" in the blue serge. Those thirty men represented
types of almost all the social grades, and to a man they were seeking
the shelter of anonymity in that monastery of action, the Foreign
Legion.

"Answer to your names," said the _sous-officier_, and from a paper in
his hand he began to read. The answers came back, ludicrous in their
untruth. A French name would be called.

"Montaubon."

And a German voice replied--

"Present."

"Ohlsen," cried the _sous-officier_, and no answer was given.
"Ohlsen," he repeated sharply. "Is not Ohlsen here?"

And suddenly the face of the man in the serge suit flashed, and he
answered hurriedly--

"Present."

Even the _sous-officier_ burst into a laugh. The reason for the pause
was too obvious; "Ohlsen" had forgotten that Ohlsen was now his name.

"My lad, you must keep your ears open," said the _sous-officier_.
"Now, attention. Fours right. March!"

And the detachment marched off towards the barracks.

"Ohlsen," said Tavernay, and he shrugged his shoulders. "Well, what
does it matter? Come!"

"Ohlsen" was Tony Stretton, and all the way along the Rue Daya to the
barracks he was longing for the moment when he would put on the
uniform and cease to figure ridiculously in this grotesque procession.
None the less he had to wait with the others, drawn up in the
barrack-square until Captain Tavernay returned. The Captain went to
his office, and thither the recruits were marched. One by one they
entered in at the door, answered his questions, and were sent off to
the regimental tailor. Tony Stretton was the last.

"Name?" asked Tavernay.

"Hans Ohlsen."

"Town of enlistment?"

"Marseilles."

Tavernay compared the answers with some writing on a sheet of paper.

"Yes, Marseilles. Passed by the doctor Paul as sound of body. Yes,"
and he resumed his questions.

"Nationality?"

"Swede."

Captain Tavernay had a smattering of most languages, and he was
greatly inclined to try his new recruit with a few questions in the
Swedish tongue. But the etiquette of the Legion forbade. He went on
without a smile--

"Age?"

"Thirty."

"Vocation?"

"Fisherman."

Captain Tavernay looked up. This time he could not help smiling.

"Well, it is as good as any other," said he; and suddenly there was a
sound of cries, and three soldiers burst out of a narrow entrance on
the further side of the parade-ground and came running across the
square to the Captain's quarters. Both Tavernay and Stretton looked
through the door. There was not a tree in that great square; the
sunlight poured down upon the bare brown space with a blinding
fierceness. All the recruits but Stretton had marched off; a second
ago it had been quite empty and very silent. Now these three men were
hurrying across it, shouting, gesticulating with their hands. Stretton
looked at them with surprise. Then he noticed that one of them, the
man running in the middle and a little ahead of the others, carried a
revolver in his hand and brandished it. Moreover, from the look of his
inflamed face, he was shouting threats; the others were undoubtedly
shouting warnings. Scraps of their warnings came to Stretton's ears.
"Mon Capitaine!" "Il veut vous tuer!" "Rentrez!" They were straining
every muscle to catch the threatening soldier up.

Stretton strode to the door, and a voice behind him cried--

"Halt!"

It was Tavernay who was speaking.

"But he is already halfway across the square."

"Halt!"

And there was no disobeying the command. Captain Tavernay walked to
the door.

"A Spanish corporal whom yesterday I degraded to the ranks," said he.
"Half a pint of _aguardiente_, and here's the result."

Captain Tavernay stepped out of the door and leisurely advanced
towards the running men. He gave an order, he raised his hand, and the
two soldiers who warned him fell back and halted. Certainly Captain
Tavernay was accustomed to obedience. The Spanish ex-corporal ran on
alone, straight towards Tavernay, but as he ran, as he saw the officer
standing there alone, quietly waiting his onslaught, his threats
weakened, his pace slackened. He came to a stop in front of Tavernay.

"I must kill yon!" he cried, waving his revolver.

"Yon shall kill me from behind, then," said Tavernay, calmly. "Follow
me!" And he turned round, and with the same leisurely deliberation
walked back to his room. The ex-corporal hesitated and--obeyed. He
followed Captain Tavernay into the room where Stretton stood.

"Place your revolver on the table."

The Spaniard again obeyed. Tavernay pushed open the door of an inner
room.

"You are drunk," he said. "You must not be seen in this condition by
your fellow-soldiers. Go in and lie down!"

The Spaniard stared at his officer stupidly, tottering upon his limbs.
Then he staggered into the Captain's room. Tavernay turned back to
Stretton and a ghost of a smile crept into his face.

"_C'est du theater_," he said, with a little shrug of the shoulders.
"But what would you have, monsieur?" And he spoke to Stretton as to
an equal. "You are astonished. It is very likely not your way in
your-fishing-boats," he continued, with a chuckle. Stretton knew very
well that he meant "army." "But there is no Foreign Legion amongst
your--fishermen." He laughed again; and gathering up his papers
dismissed Stretton to the tailor's. But after Stretton had taken a few
steps across the parade, Tavernay called him back again. He looked at
him with a very friendly smile.

"I, too, enlisted at Marseilles," he said. "One can rise in the
Foreign Legion by means of these"--and he touched lightly the medals
upon his breast. This was Tony Stretton's introduction to the Foreign
Legion.



                             CHAPTER XVII

                        CALLON LEAVES ENGLAND


Spring that year drew summer quickly after it. The lilac had been
early in flower, the days bright and hot. At nine o'clock on a July
morning Callon's servant drew up the blinds in his master's room and
let the sunlight in. Lionel Callon stretched himself in bed and asked
for his letters and his tea. As he drank the tea he picked up the
letters one by one, and the first at which he looked brought a smile
of satisfaction to his face. The superscription told him that it was
from Millie Stretton. That little device of a quarrel had proved
successful, then. He tore open the envelope and read the letter.
Millie wrote at no great length, but what was written satisfied
Callon. She could not understand how the quarrel had arisen. She had
been thinking over it many times since it happened, and she was still
baffled. She had not had a thought of hurting him. How could she,
since they were friends? She had been hoping to hear from him, but
since some time had passed and no word had reached her, she must write
and say that she thought it sad their friendship should have ended as
it had.

It was a wistful little letter, and as Callon laid it down he said to
himself, "Poor little girl"; but he said the words with a smile rather
than with any contrition. She had been the first to write--that was
the main point. Had he given in, had he been the one to make the
advance, to save her the troubled speculations, the sorrow at this
abrupt close to their friendship. Millie Stretton would have been
glad, no doubt, but she would have thought him weak. Now he was the
strong man. He had caused her suffering and abased her to seek a
reconciliation. Therefore he was the strong man. Well, women would
have it so, he thought, with a chuckle, and why should he complain?

He wrote a note to Millie Stretton, announcing that he would call that
afternoon, and despatched the note by a messenger. Then he turned to
his other letters, and amongst them he found one which drove all the
satisfaction from his thoughts. It came from a firm of solicitors, and
was couched in a style with which he was not altogether unfamiliar.


Sir,--Messrs. Deacon & Sons (Livery Stables, Montgomery Street) having
placed their books in our hands for the collection of their
outstanding debts, we must ask you to send us a cheque in settlement
of your account by return of post, and thus save further proceedings.

                            We are, yours, &c.,

                                  Humphreys & Neill.


Callon allowed the letter to slip from his fingers, and lay for a
while very still, feeling rather helpless, rather afraid. It was not
merely the amount of the bill which troubled him, although that was
inconveniently large. But there were other reasons. His eyes wandered
to a drawer in his dressing-table. He got out of bed and unlocked it.
At the bottom of that drawer lay the other reasons, piled one upon the
other--letters couched in just the same words as that which he had
received this morning, and--still worse!---signed by this same firm of
Humphreys and Neill. Moreover, every one of those letters had reached
him within the last ten days. It seemed that all his tradesmen had
suddenly placed their books in the hands of Messrs. Humphreys and
Neill.

Callon took the letters back to his bed. There were quite an
astonishing number of them. Callon himself was surprised to see how
deep he was in debt. They littered the bed--tailors' bills; bills for
expensive little presents of jewellery; bills run up at restaurants
for dinners and suppers; bills for the hire of horses and carriages;
bills of all kinds--and there were just Mr. Callon's election expenses
in Mr. Callon's exchequer that morning. Even if he parted with them,
they would not pay a third part of the sum claimed. Fear invaded him;
he saw no way out of his troubles. Given time, he could borrow enough,
no doubt, scrape enough money together one way or another to tide
himself over the difficulty. His hand searched for Millie Stretton's
letter and found it, and rejected it. He needed time there; he must
walk warily or he would spoil all. And looking at the letters he knew
that he had not the time.

It was improbable, nay more than improbable, that all these bills were
in the hands of one firm by mere chance. No; somewhere he had an
enemy. A man--or it might be a woman--was striking at him out of the
dark, striking with knowledge too. For the blow fell where he could
least parry it. Mr. Mudge would have been quite satisfied could he
have seen Callon as he lay that morning with the summer sunlight
pouring into his bedroom. He looked more than his age, and his face
was haggard. He felt that a hand was at his throat, a hand which
gripped and gripped with an ever-increasing pressure.

He tried to guess who his enemy might be. But there were so many who
might be glad to do him an ill-turn. Name after name occurred to him,
but amongst those names was not the name of Mr. Mudge. That shy and
inoffensive man was the last whom he would have suspected to be
meddling with his life.

Callon sprang out of bed. He must go down to Lincoln's Inn Fields and
interview Messrs. Humphreys and Neill. Summonses would never do with a
general election so near. He dressed quickly, and soon after ten was
in the office of that firm. He was received by a bald and smiling
gentleman in spectacles.

"Mr. Callon?" said the smiling gentleman, who announced himself as
Humphreys. "Oh yes. You have come in reference to the letters which
our clients have desired us to send you?"

"Yes," replied Callon. "There are a good number of letters."

The smiling gentleman laughed genially.

"A man of fashion, Mr. Callon, has of course many expenses which we
humdrum business people are spared. Let me see. The total amount due
is----" And Mr. Humphreys made a calculation with his pen.

"I came to ask for an extension of time," Callon blurted out; and the
smiling gentleman ceased to smile. He gazed through his spectacles
with a look of the utmost astonishment. "You see, Mr. Humphreys, all
these bills, each one accompanied with a peremptory demand for
payment, have been presented together, almost as it were by the same
post."

"They are all, however, to account rendered," said Mr. Humphreys, as
he removed and breathed upon his spectacles.

"It would, I frankly confess, seriously embarrass me to settle them
all at once."

"Dear, dear!" said Mr. Humphreys, in a voice of regret. "I am very
sorry. These duties are very painful to me, Mr. Callon. But I have the
strictest instructions." And he rose from his chair to conclude the
interview.

"One moment," said Callon. "I want to ask you how it is that all my
bills have come into your hands? Who is it who has brought them up?"

"Really, really, Mr. Callon," the lawyer protested. "I cannot listen
to such suggestions." And then the smile came back to his face. "Why
not pay them in full?" His eyes beamed through his spectacles. He had
an air of making a perfectly original and delightful suggestion. "Sit
down in this comfortable chair now, and write me out a little cheque
for--let me see----" And he went back to his table.

"I must have some time," said Callon.

Mr. Humphreys was gradually persuaded that the concession of a little
time was reasonable.

"A day, then," he said. "We will say a day, Mr. Callon. This is
Wednesday. Some time to-morrow we shall hear from you." And he bowed
Callon from his office. Then he wrote a little note and despatched it
by a messenger into the City. The message was received by Mr. Mudge,
who read it, took up his hat, and jumping into a hansom cab, drove
westward with all speed.

Lionel Callon, on the contrary, walked back to his rooms. He had been
in tight places before, but never in one quite so tight. Before, it
was really the money which had been needed. Now, what was needed was
his ruin. To make matters worse, he had no idea of the particular
person who wished to ruin him. He walked gloomily back to his club and
lunched in solitude. A day remained to him, but what could he do in a
day, unless----? There was a certain letter in the breast-pocket of
Callon's coat to which, more than once as he lunched, his fingers
strayed. He took it out and read it again. It was too soon to borrow
in that quarter, but his back was against the wall. He saw no other
chance of escape. He drove to Millie Stretton's house in Berkeley
Square at the appointed time that afternoon.

But Mr. Mudge had foreseen. When he jumped into his hansom cab he had
driven straight to the house in Audley Square, where Pamela Mardale
was staying with some friends.

"Are you lunching anywhere?" he asked. "No? Then lunch with Lady
Stretton, please! And don't go away too soon! See as much as you can
of her during the next two days."

As a consequence, when Lionel Callon was shown into the drawing-room,
he found Pamela Mardale in her most talkative mood, and Millie
Stretton sitting before the tea-table silent and helpless. Callon
stayed late; Pamela stayed later. Callon returned to his club, having
said not a single word upon the momentous subject of his debts.

He ordered a stiff brandy and soda. Somehow he must manage to see
Millie Stretton alone. He thought, for a moment, of writing; he indeed
actually began to write. But the proposal looked too crude when
written down. Callon knew the tactics of his game. There must, in a
word, be an offer from Millie, not a request from him. He tore up
his letter, and while he was tearing it up, Mr. Mudge entered the
smoking-room. Mudge nodded carelessly to Callon, and then seemed to be
struck by an idea. He came across to the writing-table and said--

"Do I interrupt you? I wonder whether you could help me. You know so
many people that you might be able to lay your finger at once on the
kind of man I want."

Callon looked up carelessly at Mudge.

"No. You are not interrupting me. What kind of man do you want?"

"I want a man to superintend an important undertaking which I have in
hand."

Callon swung round in his chair. All his carelessness had gone. He
looked at Mr. Mudge, who stood drumming with his fingers on the
writing-table.

"Oh," said Callon. "Tell me about it."

He walked over to a corner of the room which was unoccupied and sat
down. Mudge sat beside him and lighted a cigar.

"I want a man to supervise, you understand. I don't want an expert.
For I have engineers and technical men enough on the spot. And I don't
want any one out of my office. I need some one, on whom I can rely, to
keep me in touch with what is going on--some one quite outside my
business and its associations."

"I see," said Callon. "The appointment would be--for how long?"

"Two years."

"And the salary would be good?"

Callon leaned back on the lounge as he put the question and he put it
without any show of eagerness. Two years would be all the time he
needed wherein to set himself straight; and it seemed the work would
not be arduous.

"I think so," replied Mudge. "You shall judge for yourself. It would
be two thousand a year."

Callon did not answer for a little while, simply because he could not
trust himself to speak. His heart was beating fast. Two thousand a
year for two years, plus the sum for his election expenses! He would
be able to laugh at that unknown enemy who was striking at him from
the dark.

"Should I do?" he asked at length, and even then his voice shook. Mr.
Mudge appeared, however, not to notice his agitation. He was looking
down at the carpet, and tracing the pattern with the ferrule of his
walking-stick.

"Of course," he said, with a smile, as though Callon had been merely
uttering a joke. He did not even lift his eyes to Callon's face. "Of
course. I only wish you were serious."

"But I am," cried Callon.

Mr. Mudge looked at his companion now, and with surprise.

"Are you? But you wouldn't have the time to spare. You are standing
for a constituency."

Callon shrugged his shoulders.

"Oh, I am not so very keen about Parliament. And there are reasons why
I would welcome the work."

Mr. Mudge answered with alacrity.

"Then we will consider it settled. Dine with me tonight at my house,
and we will talk the details over."

Callon accepted the invitation, and Mudge rose from his seat. Callon,
however, detained him.

"There's one difficulty in the way," and Mr. Mudge's face became
clouded with anxiety. "The truth is, I am rather embarrassed at the
present moment. I owe a good deal of money, and I am threatened with
proceedings unless it is immediately paid."

Mudge's face cleared at once.

"Oh, is that all?" he exclaimed cheerily. "How much do you owe?"

"More than my first year's salary."

"Well, I will advance you half at once. Offer them a thousand on
account, and they will stay proceedings."

"I don't know that they will," replied Callon.

"You can try them, at all events. If they won't accept half, send them
to me, and we will make some other arrangement. But they are sure to.
They are pressing for immediate payment because they are afraid they
will get nothing at all by any other way. But offer them a thousand
down, and see the pleasant faces with which they will greet you." Mr.
Mudge was quite gay now that he understood how small was the obstacle
which hindered him from gaining Lionel Callon's invaluable help. "I
will write you a cheque," he said; and sitting down at a writing-table
he filled out a cheque and brought it back. He stood in front of
Callon with the cheque in his hand. He did not give it to Callon at
once. He had not blotted it, and he held it by a corner and gently
waved it to and fro, so that the ink might dry. It followed that those
tantalising "noughts," three of them, one behind the other, and
preceded by a one, like a file of soldiers with a sergeant at the
head, and that excellent signature "John Mudge" were constantly before
Callon's eyes, now approaching him like some shy maiden in a flutter
of agitation, now coyly receding. But to no shy maiden had Lionel
Callon ever said "I love you," with so glowing an ardour as he felt
for that most tantalising cheque.

"I ought to have told yon," said Mr. Mudge, "that the undertaking is a
railway abroad."

Callon had been so blinded by the dazzle of the cheque that he had not
dreamed of that possibility. Two years abroad, even at two thousand a
year, did not at all fit in with his scheme of life.

"Abroad?" he repeated doubtfully. "Where?"

"Chili," said Mr. Mudge; and he looked at the cheque to see that the
ink was quite dry. Perhaps Mr. Mudge's voice was a trifle too
unconcerned. Perhaps there was something a little too suggestive in
his examination of his cheque. Perhaps he kept his eyes too
deliberately from Callon's face. At all events, Callon became suddenly
suspicious. There flashed into his mind by some trick of memory a
picture--a picture of Mr. Mudge and Pamela Mardale talking earnestly
together upon a couch in a drawing-room, and of himself sitting at a
card-table, fixed there till the game was over, though he knew well
that the earnest conversation was aimed against himself. He started,
he looked at Mudge in perplexity.

"Well?" said Mudge.

"Wait a moment!"

Pamela Mardale was Millie Stretton's friend. There was that incident
in the hall--Millie Stretton coming down the stairs and Pamela in
front of the mirror over the mantelpiece. Finally there was Pamela's
persistent presence at Millie Stretton's house this afternoon. One by
one the incidents gathered in his recollections and fitted themselves
together and explained each other. Was this offer a pretext to get him
out of the way? Callon, after all, was not a fool, and he asked
himself why in the world Mr. Mudge should, just at this moment when he
was in desperate straits, offer him 2000_l_. a year to superintend a
railway in Chili?

"Well?" said Mudge again.

"I must have time to think over the proposition," replied Callon. He
meant that he must have time to obtain an interview with Millie
Stretton. But Mudge was ready for him.

"Certainly," said he. "That is only reasonable. It is seven o'clock
now. You dine with me at eight. Give me your answer then."

"I should like till to-morrow morning," said Callon.

Mr. Mudge shook his head.

"That, I am afraid, is impossible. We shall need all tomorrow to make
the necessary arrangements and to talk over your duties. For if you
undertake the work you must leave England on the day after."

Callon started up in protest. "On the day after!" he exclaimed.

"It gives very little time, I know," said Mudge. Then he looked Callon
quietly and deliberately in the eyes. "But, you see, I want to get you
out of the country at once."

Callon no longer doubted. He had thought, through Mr. Mudge's help, to
laugh at his enemy; and lo! the enemy was Mudge himself. It was Mudge
who had bought up his debts, who now held him in so secure a grip that
he did not think it worth while to practise any concealment. Callon
was humiliated to the verge of endurance. Two years in Chili,
pretending to supervise a railway! He understood the position which he
would occupy; he was within an ace of flinging the offer back. But he
dared not.

"Very well," he said. "I will give you my answer at eight."

"Thanks. Be punctual." Mr. Mudge sauntered away. There could only be
the one answer. Mr. Lionel Callon might twist and turn as he pleased,
he would spend two years in Chili. It was five minutes past seven,
besides. Callon could hardly call at the house in Berkeley Square with
any chance of seeing Lady Stretton between now and eight. Mudge was
contented with his afternoon.

At eight o'clock Callon gave in his submission and pocketed the
cheque. At eleven he proposed to go, but Mudge, mindful of an evening
visit which he had witnessed from a balcony, could not part from his
new manager so soon. There was so little time for discussion even with
every minute of Callon's stay in England. He kept Callon with him
until two o'clock in the morning; he made an appointment with him at
ten, and there was a note of warning in his voice which bade Callon
punctually keep it. By one shift and another he kept him busy all the
next day, and in the evening Callon had to pack, to write his letters,
and to make his arrangements for his departure. Moreover, Pamela
Mardale dined quietly with Millie Stretton and stayed late. It thus
happened that Callon left England without seeing Millie Stretton
again. He could write, of course; but he could do no more.



                            CHAPTER XVIII

                           SOUTH OF OUARGLA


"Halt!" cried Captain Tavernay.

The bugler at his side raised his bugle to his lips and blew. The
dozen chasseurs d'Afrique and the ten native scouts who formed the
advance guard stopped upon the signal. A couple of hundred yards
behind them the two companies of the Foreign Legion came to a
standstill. The convoy of baggage mules upon the right flank, the
hospital equipment, the artillery section, the herd of oxen which was
driven along in the rear, in a word, the whole expedition, halted in a
wood of dwarf-oaks and junipers at three o'clock in the afternoon.

The order was given to gather wood for the night's camp fires, and the
companies were dismissed. Each soldier made his little bundle and
fixed it upon his shoulders. Again the bugle rang out, sounding the
"Fall in." And the tiny force marched out from the trees of the high
plateaux into the open desert. It was extraordinary with what
abruptness that transition was made. One minute the companies were
treading upon turf under rustling leaves, the next they were
descending a slope carpeted with halfa-grass, which stretched away to
the horizon's rim, with hardly a bush to break its bare monotony. At
the limit of vision, a great arc like a mirror of silver glittered out
of the plain.

"Water," said a tall, bearded soldier, who marched in the front rank
of the first company. It was he who had stepped from the train at
Bel-Abbès with a light dust-coat over his evening dress suit. He
passed now as Fusilier Barbier, an ex-engineer of Lyons.

"No," replied Sergeant Ohlsen, who marched at his side: "the crystals
of a dry salt lake."

In the autumn of last year Ohlsen--or, rather, to give him his right
name, Tony Stretton--had marched upon an expedition from Mesheria to
the Chott Tigri, and knew, therefore, the look of those tantalising
salt lakes. That expedition, which had conducted a surrey for a road
to the Figuig oasis, had brought him his promotion.

"But we camp by the lake to-night," he added. "The wells of
El-Guethifa are close."

The companies went forward, and above that salt lake they saw the
mirages begin to shimmer, citadels and hanging gardens, tall towers
and waving woods and majestic galleons, topsail over topsail, floating
upon summer seas. At the wells the sheikh of the district was waiting
upon a mule.

"I want fifty camels with their saddles and their drivers at five
o'clock to-morrow morning," said Tavernay; and although as far as the
eye could reach there was no moving thing upon that vast plain except
the small group of Arabs and soldiers about the well, by five o'clock
the camels were squatting upon the sand with their drivers beside
them. The mules were sent back from El-Guethifa that morning, the
baggage was packed upon the camels, and the little force, insufficient
in numbers and supplies, went forward on its long and untoward march.

It passed through the oases of El-Maia and Methlili to Ouargla, at
that time the last outpost of French authority. At Ouargla it rested
for a week; and there, renewing its supplies, penetrated southwards to
survey the desert country of the Touaregs for the construction of the
oft-mooted trans-Saharan railway. South of Ouargla all the
difficulties of the advance were doubled. The companies went down
through the archipelago of oases in the dangerous Touat country
amongst a sullen people, who had little food to supply, and would
hardly supply it. Tavernay led his men with care, neither practising a
discipline needlessly strict, nor relaxing into carelessness. But he
was under-officered, and his officers even so were inexperienced.
Lieutenant Laurent, a man irritable and unjust, was his second in
command, and there were but two _sous-lieutenants_ besides. In spite
of all Tavernay's care the convoy diminished. One day a camel would
stumble on the slippery bottom of a salt marsh, fall, and break its
limbs; the next another would fail, and die through a long-untended
wound, caused by the rough saddle upon its back. In the ranks of the
soldiers, too, there was trouble, and Laurent was not the man to deal
with it. There was hardly a company of the Legion, recruited, as it so
largely was, from the outcasts and the men of sorrows, in which there
were not some of disordered minds, some whom absinthe had brought to
the edge of insanity. Upon these the severity of the expedition bore
heavily. Tents had been perforce discarded. The men slept under the
stars. They woke from freezing nights to the bitter winds of dawn, and
two hours after dawn they were parched by a burning sun, and all the
day they suffered under its pitiless and blinding glare. Storms
whelmed them in lofty spirals of whirling, choking sand. For a week
they would toil over high red mountainous ground of loose stones; then
would follow the monotony of bare round plains, piled here and there
with black rocks, quivering and glittering in the heat; the sun rose
day after day upon their left hand in scarlet, and set in scarlet upon
their right, and they themselves were still the tiny centre of the
same empty inhospitable space; so that only the difference of the
ground they trod, the feel of soft sand beneath their feet, where a
minute before they had marched on gravel, told them that they
progressed at all. The worst of the men became prone to disobedience,
eager for change; and every now and then a soldier would rise upon his
elbow in the night time, gaze furtively about over his sleeping
comrades, watch the sentries until their backs were turned, and then
crawl past them into the darkness. Of these men none ever returned. Or
some mania would seize upon them and fix a strange idea in their
brains, such as that which besieged Barbier, the fusilier, who had
once stepped out of the railway carriage in his evening dress. He
leaned over towards Stretton one evening, and said in a hoarse,
trembling voice--

"I can stand it no longer."

Both men were sitting by a tiny fire, which Barbier was feeding with
handfuls of halfa-grass and sticks. He was kneeling up in front of it,
and by the red waving light Stretton saw that his face was quivering
with excitement.

"What can't you stand?" he asked.

"It is Captain Tavernay," replied Barbier. He suddenly laughed in a
pitiful fashion, and cast a glance over his shoulder. "There is a man
put on to watch me. Night and day I am watched by Captain Tavernay's
orders. He wants to fix a crime on me! I know. He wants to trap me.
But let him take care!"

Stretton fetched the doctor, who listened for a while to Barbier's
rambling, minatory talk, and then shrugged his shoulders.

"Hallucinations," said he. "Ideas of persecution. The commonest form,"
and having fixed Barbier into his proper category, he walked away.
There was nothing to be done for Barbier upon this expedition. He had
to be watched; that was all. Thus for seven hundred miles the force
pushed southwards from Ouargla, and thus from within it disintegrated
as it went. Tavernay could not but notice the change, but he said
nothing to any subordinate. The men would fight well if fighting
happened. That he knew, and meanwhile he marched on.

It was just when the seven hundred miles had been completed that
Tavernay realised fighting was likely to happen. He went the round of
the camp as the sun was setting, when the rifles were piled and the
fires crackling. Stretton was at his side, and saw his commander stop
and shade his eyes. Tavernay was looking westwards. Far away against
the glowing ball of the sun, which was just dipping down behind the
plain, the figure of an Arab mounted upon a camel stood motionless and
black. Tavernay swung round and looked behind him. On the crest of a
sandhill to the north a second rider stood distinct against the sky.

Tavernay watched the men for a long time through his glasses.

"Touaregs," said he, gravely. "Masked Touaregs," and that night the
sentinels were doubled; and in the morning the bugle did not sound the
_réveillé_.

Moreover, when the force advanced, it advanced in the formation of a
square, with the baggage camels in the centre, one gun in the front
line, and the other in the rear. They had marched into the country
where the Senoussa sect prevailed. The monasteries of that body sent
out their missionaries eastward to Khordofan, westwards to Tafilet,
preaching the purification of the Mohammedan religion and the
enlargement of Mohammedan countries now subject to the infidels. But
nowhere had the missionaries raised their standard with more success
than in this Touat country of the Sahara. The companies marched that
day alert and cheerful. They were consolidated by the knowledge of
danger. Captain Tavernay led them with pride.

"An insufficient force, ill-found, inadequately officered," he
thought. "But the men are of the Legion." They were _mes enfants_ to
him all that day.

But the attack was not yet to be delivered. During the night the two
scouts had ridden on their swift Meharis northwestwards, to the town
of Insalah. They knocked upon the gates of the great mud fortress of
Abd-el-Kader, the sheikh, and were instantly admitted to the dark room
where he sat upon a pile of rugs. When the eyes of the scouts became
accustomed to the gloom, they saw there was yet another in the room, a
tall man robed in black, with a black mask of cotton wound about his
face so that only his eyes were visible. This was the chieftain of the
Hoggar Touaregs.

"Well?" said Abd-el-Kader. And the scouts told him roughly the number
of the force and the direction of the journey.

Then Abd-el-Kader turned to the Touareg chieftain.

"We will let them go further south, since southwards they are
marching," he said, in his suave gentle voice. "A hundred miles more,
and they will be amongst the sand dunes. Since they have cannon, the
attack must be sudden. Let it be at the wells of Bir-el-Gharamo."

The Touareg chieftain rode out that day towards his hills; and,
unmolested, Captain Tavernay's expedition went down to the dunes.
Great waves of yellow sand, sometimes three hundred feet from crest to
base, intersected the face of the desert; the winds had given to their
summits the overhang of a breaking sea; they ran this way and that, as
though the currents of an ocean had directed their course; they had
the very look of motion; so that Stretton could not but remember the
roaring combers of the cold North Sea as he gazed upon these silent
and arrested copies. They made of that country a maze of intricate
valleys. Led by a local guide commandeered from the last oasis, the
companies of the Legion marched into the maze, and on the second day
saw, as they came over a hill, just below them in a narrow hollow, a
mud parapet built about the mouth of a well. This was Bir-el-Gharamo,
and here they camped. Sentries were posted on the neighbouring crests;
suddenly the darkness came, and overhead the stars rushed down towards
the earth. There was no moon that night, nor was there any sound of
danger heard. Three times Tavernay went the round of the sentries, at
eight and at ten and at twelve. But at three o'clock, just as the dawn
was breaking, a shot was heard. Tavernay sprang up from the ground,
the alarm rang out clear from the bugle over the infinite waste, the
companies of the Legion seized their piled rifles and fell into battle
order with an incredible neatness and expedition. There was no
confusion, no noise. The square was formed about the well--the camels
were knee-haltered in the middle, the guns placed at the corners. But
it was still dark. A few shots were fired on the dunes, and the
sentries came running back.

"Steady," cried Captain Tavernay. "They are coming. Fire low!"

The first volley rang out, and immediately afterwards on every side of
that doomed square the impact of the Touaregs' charge fell like the
blow of some monstrous hammer. All night they had been gathering
noiselessly in the surrounding valleys. Now they had charged with
lance and sword from the surrounding crests. Three sides of the square
held their ground. The fourth wavered, crumpled in like a piece of
broken cardboard, and the Arabs were within the square, stabbing at
the backs of the soldiers, loosing and stampeding the camels. And at
once, where deep silence had reigned a minute ago, the air was torn
with shrill cries and oaths and the clamour of weapons. The square was
broken; but here a group of men stood back to back, and with cartridge
and bayonet held its ground; there another formed; and about each gun
the men fought desperately. Meanwhile the morning came, a grey, clear
light spread over the desert. Tavernay himself was with one of the
machine-guns. It was dragged clear of the _mêlée_ and up a slope of
sand. The soldiers parted in front of it, and its charge began to
sweep the Touaregs down like swathes, and to pit the sand hills like a
fall of rain. About the other gun the fight still raged.

"Come, my children," said Tavernay, "fight well; the Touaregs give no
quarter."

Followed by Stretton, he led the charge. The Touaregs gave way before
their furious onslaught. The soldiers reached the gun, faced about,
and firing steadily kept off the enemy while the gun was run back. As
soon as that was saved the battle was over. All over the hollow,
wherever the Touaregs were massed, the two guns rattled out their
canister. No Arab could approach them. The sun rose over the earth,
and while it was rising the Touaregs broke and fled. When it shone out
in its full round, there was no one left of them in that hollow except
the wounded and the dead. But the victory had been dearly bought. All
about the well, lying pell-mell among the Arabs and the dead camels,
were the French Legionaries, some quite still, and others writhing in
pain and crying for water. Stretton drew his hand across his forehead.
He was stunned and dazed. It seemed to him that years had passed, that
he had grown very old. Yet there was the sun new-risen. There was a
dull pain in his head. He raised his hand and drew it away wet with
blood. How or when he had received the blow he was quite unaware. He
stood staring stupidly about him. So very little while ago men were
lying here sleeping in their cloaks, quite strong, living people; now
they were lying dead or in pain; it was all incomprehensible.

"Why?" he asked aloud of no one. "Now, why?"

Gradually, however, custom resumed its power. There was a man hanging
limp over the parapet of the well. He looked as though he had knelt
down and stooped over to drink, and in that attitude had fallen
asleep. But he might so easily be pushed into the well, and custom
had made the preservation of wells from impurity an instinct. He
removed the body and went in search of Tavernay. Tavernay was sitting
propped up against a camel's saddle; the doctor was by his side, a
blood-stained bandage was about his thigh. He spoke in a weak voice.

"Lieutenant Laurent?"

Stretton went in search. He came across an old grey-headed soldier
rolling methodically a cigarette.

"He is dead--over there," said the soldier. "Have you a light?"

Laurent had died game. He was lying clasped in the arms of a gigantic
Touareg, and while thus held he had been stabbed by another through
the back. To that end the contemptuous smile of a lady far away in
Paris had brought him. He lay with his face to the sky, his wounded
vanity now quite healed. He had earned Tavernay's praise, at all
events, that day. For he had fought well. Of the _sous-lieutenants_
one was killed, the other dangerously wounded. A sergeant-major lay
with a broken shoulder beside one of the guns. Stretton went back to
Tavernay.

"You must take command, then," said Tavernay. "I think you have learnt
something about it on your fishing-boats." And in spite of his pain he
smiled.

Stretton mustered the men and called over the names. Almost the first
name which he called was the name of "Barbier," and Barbier, with a
blood-stained rag about his head, answered. Of the two hundred and
thirty men who had made up the two companies of the Legion, only
forty-seven could stand in the ranks and answer to their names. For
those forty-seven there was herculean work to do. Officers were
appointed, the dead bodies were roughly buried, the camels collected,
litters improvised for the wounded, the goat-skins filled with water.
Late in the afternoon Stretton came again to Tavernay.

"We are ready, sir." Tavernay nodded and asked for a sheet of paper,
an envelope, and ink. They were fetched from his portfolio and very
slowly and laboriously he wrote a letter and handed it to Stretton.

"Seal it," he said, "now, in front of me."

Stretton obeyed.

"Keep that letter. If you get back to Ouargla without me, give it to
the Commandant there."

Tavernay was lifted in a litter on to the back of a camel, and the
remnant of the geographical expedition began its terrible homeward
march. Eight hundred miles lay between Bir-el-Ghiramo and the safety
of Ouargla. The Touaregs hung upon the rear of the force, but they did
not attack again. They preferred another way. One evening a solitary
Arab drove a laden camel into the bivouac. He was conducted to
Stretton, and said, "The Touaregs ask pardon and pray for peace. They
will molest you no more. Indeed, they will help you, and as an earnest
of their true desire for your welfare they send you a camel-load of
dates."

Stretton accepted the present, and carried the message to Tavernay,
who cried at once, "Let no one eat those dates." But two soldiers had
already eaten of them, and died of poison before the morning. Short of
food, short of sentinels, the broken force crept back across the
stretches of soft sand, the greyish-green plains of halfa-grass, the
ridges of red hill. One by one the injured succumbed; their wounds
gangrened, they were tortured by the burning sun and the motion of the
camels. A halt would be made, a camel made to kneel, and a rough grave
dug.

"Pelissier," cried Stretton, and a soldier stepped out from the ranks
who had once conducted mass in the church of the Madeleine in Paris.
Pelissier would recite such prayers as he remembered, and the force
would move on again, leaving one more soldier's grave behind it in the
desert to protest unnoticed against the economy of governments. Then
came a morning when Stretton was summoned to Captain Tavernay's side.

For two days Tavernay had tossed in a delirium. He now lay beneath a
rough shelter of cloaks, in his right senses, but so weak that he
could not lift a hand, and with a face so pinched and drawn that his
years seemed to have been doubled. His eyes shone out from big black
circles. Stretton knelt down beside him.

"You have the letter?"

"Yes."

"Do not forget."

He lay for a while in a sort of contentment, then he said--"Do not
think this expedition has been waste. A small force first and disaster
... the big force afterwards to retrieve the disaster, and with it
victory, and government and peace, and a new country won for France.
That is the law of the Legion.... _My_ Legion." He smiled, and
Stretton muttered a few insincere words.

"You will recover, my captain. You will lead your companies again."

"No," said Tavernay, in a whisper. "I do not want to. I am very happy.
Yes, I say that, who joined the Legion twenty years ago. And the
Legion, my friend, is the nation of the unhappy. For twenty years I
have been a citizen of that nation.... I pity women who have no such
nation to welcome them and find them work.... For us there is no need
of pity."

And in a few moments he fell asleep, and, two hours later, sleeping,
died. A pile of stones was built above his grave, and the force
marched on. Gaunt, starved, and ragged, the men marched northwards,
leaving the Touat country upon their left hand. It struck the caravan
route from Tidikelt to Ouargla; it stumbled at last through the gates
of the town. Silently it marched through the streets to the French
fortress. On no survivor's face was there any sign of joy that at last
their hardships were over, their safety assured. All were too tired,
too dispirited. The very people who crowded to see them pass seemed
part of an uninteresting show. Stretton went at once to the Commandant
and told the story of their disaster. Then he handed him the letter of
Captain Tavernay. The Commandant broke the seal and read it through.
He looked up at Stretton, a thin spent figure of a man overwrought
with sleeplessness and anxiety.

"Tell me how and when this was written," said the Commandant.

Stretton obeyed, and after he had heard, the Commandant sat with his
hand shading his eyes. When he spoke, his voice showed that he was
deeply moved.

"You know what the letter contains, Sergeant Ohlsen?"

"No, my Commandant."

"Read, then, for yourself;" and he passed the letter across his office
table. Stretton took it and read. There were a few lines written--only
a few; but those few lines recommended Sergeant Ohlsen for promotion
to the rank of officer. The Commandant held out his hand.

"That is like our Tavernay," he said. "He thought always of his
soldiers. He wrote it at once, you see, after the battle was over,
lest he should die and justice not be done. Have no fear, my friend.
It is you who have brought back to Ouargla the survivors of the
Legion. But you must give your real name. There is a scrutiny before a
soldier is promoted to the rank of office. Sergeant Ohlsen. That is
all very well. But Lieutenant----. Come, Lieutenant who?"

He took up his pen.

"Lieutenant Sir Anthony Stretton," replied Tony; and the Commandant
wrote down the name.



                             CHAPTER XIX

                          THE TURNPIKE GATE


It was not, however, only Millie Stretton whose fortunes were touched
by Tony's absence. Warrisden, whom Stretton had met but the once on
board the _City of Bristol_, was no less affected. On a day of that
summer, during which Tony camped far away on the edge of the Sahara,
Warrisden rode down the steep hill from the village of the three
poplars on his way to Whitewebs. Once Pamela had ridden along this
road between the white wood rails and the black bare stems of trees on
a winter's evening of mist. That was more than fifteen months ago. The
brown furrows in the fields were now acres of waving yellow; each
black clump was now an ambuscade of green, noisy with birds. The
branches creaked in a light wind and rippled and shook the sunlight
from their leaves, the road glistened like chalk. It was ten o'clock
on an August morning, very clear and light. Voices from far away
amongst the corn sounded tiny and distinct, like voices heard through
a telephone. Round this bend at the thicket corner Pamela had
disappeared on that dim, grey evening. How far had she since travelled
on the new road, Warrisden wondered. She was at Whitewebs now. He was
riding thither to find out.

When he inquired for her at the door, he was at once led through the
house into the big garden at the back. Pamela was sitting in a chair
at the edge of the lawn under the shade of the great avenue of elms
which ran straight from the back of the house to the shallow stream at
the garden's boundary. She saw him at once as he came out from the
glass-door on to the gravel, and she rose from her chair. She did not
advance to him, but just stood where she was, watching him approach;
and in her eyes there was a great perplexity. Warrisden came straight
to her over the lawn. There was no hesitation in his manner, at all
events. On the other hand, there was no air of assurance. He came with
a definite object; so much was evident, but no more. He stopped in
front of her and raised his hat. Pamela looked at him and said
nothing. She did not even give him her hand. She stood and waited
almost submissively, with her troubled eyes resting quietly on his.

"You expected me?" he said.

"Yes. I received your letter this morning."

"You have guessed why I have come?"

"Yes."

"And you are troubled," said Warrisden.

They turned and walked under the branches into the avenue. Overhead
there was a bustle of blackbirds and thrushes; a gardener sharpening
his scythe in the rose garden made a little rasping sound. Over all
the lawn the August sunlight lay warm and golden like a benediction.

"I have come to ask you the old question," said Warrisden. "Will you
marry me?"

Pamela gazed steadily ahead as she walked, and she walked very slowly.
She was prepared for the question, yet she took her time to answer it.
And the answer when at last she gave it was no answer at all.

"I do not know," she said, in a low clear voice.

Warrisden looked at her. The profile of her face was towards him. He
wondered for the thousandth time at its beauty and its gentleness. The
broad, white forehead under the sweep of her dark hair, the big, dark
eyes shining beneath her brows, the delicate colour upon her cheeks,
the curve of the lips. He wondered and longed. But he spoke simply and
without extravagance, knowing that he would be understood.

"I have done nothing for you of the things men often do when a woman
comes into their lives. I have tried to make no career. I think there
are enough people making careers. They make the world very noisy, and
they raise a deal of dust. I have just gone on living quietly as I did
before, believing you would need no such proof."

"I do not," said Pamela.

"There might be much happiness for both of us," he continued. And
again she answered, without looking at him--

"I do not know."

She was not evading him. Evasions, indeed, were never to her liking;
and here, she was aware, were very serious issues.

"I have been thinking about you a great deal," she said. "I will tell
you this. There is no one else. But that is not all. I can say too, I
think, quite certainly, that there will be no one else. Only that is
not enough, is it? Not enough, at all events, for you and me."

Warrisden nodded his head.

"No, that is not enough," he said gravely.

They walked on side by side in silence for a little while.

"It is only fair that I should be very frank with you," she went on.
"I have been thinking so much about you in order that when you came
again with this old question, as I knew you would, I might be quite
clear and frank. Do you remember that you once spoke to me about the
turnpike gate--the gate which I was to open and through which I was to
go, like other men and women down the appointed road?"

"Yes, I remember."

"You meant, as I understand it, the gate between friendship and the
ever so much more which lies beyond?"

"Yes."

And Pamela repeated his word. "Yes," she said. "But one cannot open
that gate at will. It opens of itself at a touch, or it stays shut."

"And it stays shut now?"

Pamela answered him at once--

"Say, rather, that I have raised a hand towards the gate, but that I
am afraid to try." And she turned her face to him at last. Her eyes
were very wistful.

They stopped upon the grass bank of the stream at the end of the
avenue. Pamela looked down into the dark, swiftly running water, and
went on choosing each word, testing it, as it were, before she uttered
it.

"You see that new road beyond the gate is no new road to me. I have
trodden it before, and crept back--broken. Therefore, I am afraid."
She paused. Warrisden was aware from her attitude that she had not
finished. He did not stir lest he should check what more remained to
say, and that remnant never be spoken at all. And it was well for him
that he did not stir; for she said, in the same clear, low voice which
she had hitherto used, and just as steadily--

"I am the more afraid because I think that if I did touch that gate it
might open of itself."

She had begun, in a word, to feel premonitions of that suspense and of
that glowing life in which for a few brief months she had once been
steeped. Did she expect a letter from Warrisden, there was an
eagerness in her anticipation with which she was well familiar. Was
the letter delayed, there was a keenness in her disappointment which
was like the pang of an old wound. And this recognition that the good
days might come again, as in a cycle, brought to her very vividly the
memory of the bad black days which had followed. Fear of those latter
days, and the contrast of their number with the number of those which
had gone before, drove her back. For those latter days in their turn
might come round again.

Warrisden looked at her and his heart filled with pity for the great
trouble which had overwhelmed her. She stood by his side with the
sunlight playing upon her face and her hair--a girl brilliant with
life, ripe to turn its possibilities into facts; and she shrank from
the ordeal, so hardly had she been hit! She was by nature fearless,
yet was she desperately afraid.

"Will nothing make you touch the gate and try?" he asked gently. And
then, quietly as he spoke, the greatness of his longing made itself
heard. "My dear, my dear," he said, "will nothing make you take your
risks?"

The words struck sharply upon her memories. She turned her eyes to
him.

"It is strange that you should use those words," she said. "For there
is one thing which might make me take my risks. The return of the man
who used them to you in the North Sea."

"Tony Stretton?" exclaimed Warrisden.

"Yes. He is still away. It is said that he is on a long shooting
expedition somewhere in Central Africa, and out of reach. But that is
not the truth. We do not know where he is, or when he will come
back."

"Shall I try to find him again?" said Warrisden. "This time I might
succeed in bringing him home."

Pamela shook her head.

"No," she answered. "I think I know why he stays away. And there would
be only one way of persuading him to return. Well--that means I must
not use, unless things have come to an extremity."

The one means of persuasion was the truth. If she sent for Tony
Stretton again she must explain what that saying of hers spoken so
long ago had meant. She must write why he should not have left his
wife. She must relate the sordid story, which rendered his return
imperative, That she was prepared to do, if all else failed, in the
last resort, but not till then.

"But the extremity has not been reached," she continued, "and I hope
it never will. I hope Tony Stretton will come back soon of his own
accord. That would be the best thing which could happen, ever so much
the best." She did not blame Tony for his absence, for she understood
the motive which caused it. In a way, she was inclined to approve of
it in itself, just as a motive, that is to say. It was the character
of Millie Stretton and his ignorance of it which made his experiment
so hazardous. Complete confidence in his wife's honour, indeed, was to
her thinking, and rightly, an essential part of his motive. She wished
him to return of his own accord and keep that confidence.

"There is not the same necessity," she continued, choosing her words,
"that he should return immediately, as there was when I sent you out
to the North Sea; but it is possible that the necessity might recur."
For she knew that, though Callon was far away in Chili, letters came
from him to Millie. Only lately a careless remark of Millie's with
reference to that State had assured her of this. And if the letters
still came, though Callon had been away a year, it followed that they
were answered.

"In that case you would send for me?" said Warrisden.

"Yes. I should rely on you."

And Warrisden answered quietly, "Thank you."

He asked no questions. He seemed to understand that Pamela must use
him, and, while using him, not fail of loyalty to her sex. A feeling
of self-reproach suddenly troubled Pamela. She had never told him that
she had used another's help and not his. She wondered whether it was
quite fair not to tell him. But she kept silent. After all, she
thought, the news would only hurt him; and Mr. Mudge's help had been
help which he could not have given. She went back to the matter of
their relationship to one another.

"So you understand what I think," she said. "I am afraid. I look for
signs. I cannot help doing that. I have set my heart on keeping a
promise which I made to Tony Stretton. If he returns, whether of his
own accord or by my persuasion, and things go well--why, then"--and
she turned her face from him and said, looking steadily in front of
her--"why, then, perhaps."

As she spoke her face changed wonderfully. The mere utterance of the
word aloud conjured up dreams. A wistful smile made her lips
beautiful, her eyes grew dim. Just for a moment she gave those dreams
their way. She looked across the garden through a mist, seeing nothing
of the trees or the coloured flowers, but gazing into a vision of
other and golden days--of days perhaps to come. Warrisden stood at her
side, and did not speak. But something of those dreams he guessed, her
face had grown so young.

She shook her dreams from her in a few moments.

"So you see, at present," she resumed, "marriage is impossible. It
will always be impossible to me unless I can bring--everything, not
merely companionship, not merely liking; out the ever so much more
which there is. I cannot contemplate it at all under any other
conditions"--and now she looked at her companion--"and I believe it is
the same with you."

"Yes," Warrisden replied, "I ask for everything."

He had his convictions, and since there was complete confidence
between these two, he spoke them now.

"It is unsafe, of course, to generalise on the subject of women. But I
do think this: If a man asks little from a woman, she will give him
even less than he asks, and she will give it grudgingly, sparingly;
counting what she gives. And that little, to my mind, is worth rather
less than nothing. Better have no ties than weak ones. If, on the
other hand, a man asks a great deal, and continually asks it, why, the
woman may get bored, and he may get nothing. In which case he is no
worse off than he was before. But if, on the other hand, the woman
does give in return----"

"Well?" asked Pamela.

"Well, then, she gives ever so much more than he asks, and gives it
willingly with open hands."

Pamela thought the theory over.

"Yes, I think that is generally true," she said. "But, after all, I am
giving you very little."

Warrisden laughed.

"That's true," he replied. "But then you are not bored, and I have not
done asking."

Pamela laughed too, and their talk thus ended in a lighter note. They
walked towards the house, and as they did so a woman came out on to
the lawn.

"This is Millie Stretton," said Pamela.

"She is staying here?" cried Warrisden.

"Yes," replied Pamela, "Before she comes I want to ask you to do
something for me. Oh, it is quite a small thing. But I should like you
very much to do it. Where do you go to from here?"

"To London," said Warrisden, "I have business there."

The business which called him to town had, indeed, only occurred to
him during the last half-hour. It had arisen from their conversation.
It seemed to Warrisden immediate and imperative.

"Will you be in London to-morrow?" asked Pamela.

"Yes."

"Then I want you to write to me. Just a little letter--nothing much, a
line or two. And I want you to post it, not by the country post, but
afterwards, so that it will reach me in the evening. Don't write here,
for I am going home. And please don't forget."

Millie Stretton joined them a moment afterwards, and Warrisden was
introduced to her.

"I have had an offer for the house in Berkeley Square," she said to
Pamela. "I think I will take it. I shall be glad to be rid of it."

They went back into the house. Warrisden wondered at Pamela's request
for a letter, and at her urgency that it should arrive at a particular
time. He was not discontented with the walk which they had taken under
the avenue of elms. It seemed to him that Pamela was coming slowly
towards him. There was a great difference between her "No" of last
year and her "I do not know" of to-day. Even that "I do not know"
while they talked had become "perhaps." Had she not owned even more,
since she was afraid the gate would open of itself did she but touch
and try? His hopes, therefore, rode high that day, and would have
ridden yet higher, could he have guessed why she so desired a few
lines in his handwriting in the evening of the day after to-morrow.

The reason was this. Repairs, long needed, had at last been undertaken
in the house of Pamela's father, a few miles away; and those repairs
involved the rooms reserved for Pamela. There were certain drawers in
that room which had not been unlocked for years, and of which Pamela
sedulously guarded the keys. They held letters, a few small presents,
one or two photographs, and some insignificant trifles which could not
be valued, since their value depended only on their associations.
There were, for instance, some cheap red beads, and the history of
those beads tells all that need be said of the contents of those
locked drawers.

Two hundred years before, a great full-rigged ship, bound with a
general cargo for the Guinea Coast, sailed down the Channel out of
Portsmouth. Amongst the cargo was a great store of these red beads.
The beads were to buy slaves for the plantations. But the great ship
got no further on her voyage than Bigbury Bay in Devonshire. She
damaged her rudder in a storm, and the storm swept her on to the bleak
rocks of Bolt Tail, dragged her back again into the welter of the sea,
drove her into Bigbury Bay, and flung her up there against the low red
cliffs, where all her crew perished. The cargo was spilt amongst the
breakers, and the shores of that bay were littered with red beads. You
may pick them up to this day amongst the pebbles. There Pamela had
picked them upon a hot August morning, very like to that which now
dreamed over this green, quiet garden of Leicestershire; and when she
had picked them up she had not been alone. The locked cabinets held
all the relics which remained to her from those few bright weeks in
Devon; and the mere touch of any one, however trifling, would have
magic to quicken her memories. Yet now the cabinets must be unlocked,
and all that was in them removed. There was a bad hour waiting for
Pamela, when she would remove these relics one by one--the faded
letters in the handwriting which she would never see again on any
envelope; the photograph of the face which could exchange no look with
her; the little presents from the hand which could touch hers no more.
It would be a relief, she thought, to come downstairs when that
necessary work was done, that bad hour over, and find a letter from
Warrisden upon the table. Just a few lines. She needed nothing more.



                              CHAPTER XX

                      MR. CHASE DOES NOT ANSWER


Both Pamela and Millie Stretton walked with Warrisden through the hall
to the front door. Upon the hall-table letters were lying. Pamela
glanced at them as she passed, and caught one up rather suddenly. Then
she looked at Warrisden, and there was something of appeal in her
look. It was as though she turned to a confederate on whom she could
surely rely. But she said nothing, since Millie Stretton was at her
side. For the letter was in the handwriting of Mr. Mudge, who wrote
but rarely, and never without a reason. She read the letter in the
garden as soon as Warrisden had ridden off, and the news which it
contained was bad news. Callon had lived frugally in South America--by
Christmas he would have discharged his debts; and he had announced to
Mudge that he intended at that date to resign his appointment. There
were still four months, Pamela reflected--nay, counting the journey
home, five months; and within that time Tony Stretton might reappear.
If he did not, why, she could summon Warrisden to her aid. She looked
at Millie, who was reading a book in a garden-chair close by. Did she
know, Pamela wondered? But Millie gave no sign.

Meanwhile, Warrisden travelled to London upon that particular business
which made a visit there in August so imperative. It had come upon him
while he had been talking with Pamela that it would be as well for him
to know the whereabouts of Tony Stretton at once; so that if the need
came he should be ready to set out upon the instant. On the following
evening, accordingly, he drove down to Stepney. It was very likely
that Chase would be away upon a holiday. But there was a chance that
he might find him clinging to his work through this hot August, a
chance worth the trouble of his journey. He drove to the house where
Chase lodged, thinking to catch him before he set out for his
evening's work at the mission. The door of the house stood open to the
street. Warrisden dismissed his cab, and walked up the steps into the
narrow hall. A door upon his right hand was opened, and a young man
politely asked Warrisden to step in. He was a fair-haired youth, with
glasses upon his nose, and he carried a napkin in his hand. He had
evidently been interrupted at his dinner by Warrisden's arrival. He
was not dining alone, for a youth of the same standing, but of a more
athletic mould, sat at the table. There was a third place laid, but
not occupied.

Warrisden looked at the third chair.

"I came to see Mr. Chase," he said. "I suppose that he has gone early
to the mission?"

"No," said the youth who had opened the door. "He has not been well of
late. The hot weather in these close streets is trying. But he
certainly should have something to eat by now, even if he does not
intend to get up."

He spoke in a pedantic, self-satisfied voice, and introduced himself
as Mr. Raphael Princkley, and his companion as Mr. Jonas Stiles, both
undergraduates of Queen's College, Oxford.

"We are helping Chase in his work," continued Mr. Princkley. "It is
little we can do, but you are no doubt acquainted with the poetry of
Robert Browning: 'The little more, and how much it is'? In that line
we find our justification."

The fair-haired youth rang the bell for the housekeeper. She was an
old woman, fat and slow, and she took her time in answering the
summons.

"Mrs. Wither, have you called Mr. Chase?" he asked when the old lady
appeared at the door.

"No, Mr. Princkley, sir," she replied. "You told me yesterday evening
not to disturb him on any account until he rang."

Mr. Princkley turned to Warrisden.

"Mr. Chase was unwell all yesterday," he said, "and at dinner-time he
told us that he felt unequal to his duties. He was sitting in that
empty place, and we both advised him not to overtax his strength."

He appealed with a look to Mr. Stiles for corroboration.

"Yes; we both advised him," said Stiles, between two mouthfuls; "and,
very wisely, he took our advice."

"He rose from his chair," continued Princkley. "There was some fruit
upon the table. He took an apple from the dish. I think, Stiles, that
it was an apple which he took?"

Mr. Stiles agreed, and went on with his dinner.

"It was certainly an apple which he took. He took it in his hand."

"You hardly expected him to take it with his foot!" rejoined
Warrisden, politely. Warrisden was growing a little restive under this
detailed account of Chase's indisposition.

"No," replied Princkley, with gravity. "He took it in quite a natural
way, and went upstairs to his sitting-room. I gave orders to Mrs.
Wither that he must not be disturbed until he rang. That is so, Mrs.
Wither, is it not? Yes. I thank you."

"That was yesterday evening!" cried Warrisden.

"Yesterday evening," replied Mr. Princkley.

"And no one has been near him since?"

Then Mrs. Wither intervened.

"Oh yes. I went into Mr. Chase's room an hour afterwards. He was
sitting in his armchair before the grate----"

"Holding the apple in his hand. I think. Mrs. Wither, you said?"
continued Stiles.

"Yes, sir," said Mrs. Wither. "He had his arm out resting on the arm
of the chair, and the apple was in his hand."

"Well, well!" exclaimed Warrisden.

"I told him that I would not call him in the morning until he rang, as
he wanted a good rest."

"What did he say?" asked Warrisden.

"Nothing, sir. As often as not he does not answer when he is spoken
to."

A sudden fear seized upon Warrisden. He ran out of the room and up the
stairs to Chase's sitting-room. He knocked on the door; there was no
answer. He turned the handle and entered. Chase had not gone to bed
last night. He was still sitting in his armchair before the grate. One
arm was extended along the arm of the chair, with the palm turned
upwards, and in the palm lay an apple. Chase was sitting huddled up,
with his head fallen forward upon his breast like a man asleep.
Warrisden crossed the room and touched the hand which held the apple.
It was quite cold. The apple rolled on to the floor. Warrisden turned
to the housekeeper. She was standing in the doorway, and staring over
her shoulder were the two undergraduates.

"He was dead," said Warrisden, "when you looked into the room an hour
afterwards!"

The three people in the doorway stood stupidly aghast. Warrisden
pushed them out, locked the door on the outside, and removed the key.

"Mr. Princkley, will you run for a doctor?" he asked.

Princkley nodded his head, and went off upon his errand.

Warrisden and Stiles descended the stairs into the dining-room.

"I think you had better take the news to the mission," said Warrisden;
and Stiles in his turn went off without a word. Mrs. Wither for her
part had run out of the house as quickly as she could. She hardly knew
what she was doing. She had served as housekeeper to Mr. Chase ever
since he had come to Stepney, and she was dazed by the sudden
calamity. She was aware of a need to talk, to find the neighbours and
talk.

Warrisden was thus left alone in the house. It had come about without
any premeditation upon his part. He was the oldest man of the three
who had been present, and the only one who had kept his wits clear.
Both Princkley and Stiles had looked to him to decide what must be
done. They regarded him as Chase's friend, whereas they were mere
acquaintances. It did not even occur to Warrisden at first that he was
alone in the house, that he held in his hand the key to Chase's room.
He was thinking of the strange perplexing life which had now so
strangely ended. He thought of his first meeting with Chase in the
mission, and of the distaste which he had felt; he remembered the
array of liqueur bottles on the table, and the half-hour during which
Chase had talked. A man of morbid pleasures, that had been Warrisden's
impression. Yet there were the years of work, here, amongst these
squalid streets. Even August had seen him clinging to--nay, dying
at--his work. As Warrisden looked out of the window he saw a group of
men and women and children gather outside the house. There was not a
face but wore a look of consternation. If they spoke, they spoke in
whispers, like people overawed. A very strange life! Warrisden knew
many--as who does not?--who saw the high-road distinctly, and could
not for the life of them but walk upon the low one. But to use both
deliberately, as it seemed Chase had done; to dip from the high-road
on to the low, and then painfully to scramble up again, and again
willingly to drop, as though the air of those stern heights were too
rigorous for continuous walking; to live the double life because he
could not entirely live the one, and would not entirely live the
other. Thus Warrisden solved the problem of the _dilettante_ curate
and his devotion to his work, and his solution was correct.

But he held the key of Chase's room in his hand; and there was no one
but himself in the house. His thoughts came back to Pamela and the
object of his journey up to town. He was sorely tempted to use the
key, since now the means by which he had hoped to discover in what
quarter of the world Stretton wandered and was hid were tragically
closed to him. Chase could no longer speak, even if he would. Very
likely there were letters upstairs lying on the table. There might be
one from Tony Stretton. Warrisden did not want to read it--a mere
glance at the postmark, and at the foreign stamp upon the envelope.
Was that so great a crime? Warrisden was sorely tempted. If only he
could be sure that Chase would a second time have revealed what he was
bidden to keep hid, why, then, would it not be just the same thing as
if Chase were actually speaking with his lips? Warrisden played with
the key. He went to the door and listened. There was not a sound in
the house except the ticking of a clock. The front door still stood
open. He must be quick if he meant to act. Warrisden turned to the
stairs. The thought of the dead man huddled in the chair, a silent
guardian of the secret, weighted his steps. Slowly he mounted. Such
serious issues hung upon his gaining this one piece of knowledge. The
fortunes of four people--Pamela and himself, Tony Stretton and his
wife--might all be straightened out if he only did this one thing,
which he had no right to do. He would not pry amongst Chase's papers;
he would merely glance at the table, that was all. He heard voices in
the hall while he was still upon the stairs. He turned back with a
feeling of relief.

At the foot of the stairs stood Mr. Princkley and the doctor.
Warrisden handed the key of the room to the latter, and the three men
went up. The doctor opened the door and crossed to the armchair. Then
he looked about the room.

"Nothing has been touched, of course?"

"Nothing," replied Warrisden.

The doctor looked again at the dead man. Then he turned to Warrisden,
mistaking him, as the others had done, for some relation or near
friend.

"I can give no certificate," said he.

"There must be an inquest?"

"Yes."

Then the doctor moved suddenly to the table, which stood a few feet
from the armchair. There was a decanter upon it half filled with a
liquid like brown sherry, only a little darker. The doctor removed the
stopper and raised the decanter to his nose.

"Ah!" said he, in a voice of comprehension. He turned again to
Warrisden.

"Did you know?" he asked.

"No."

The doctor held the decanter towards Warrisden. Warrisden took it,
moistened the tip of a finger with the liquid, and tasted it. It had a
bitter flavour.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Laudanum," said the doctor. "An overdose of it."

"Where is the glass, then, in which it was taken?"

A tumbler stood upon the table close to the decanter-stopper. The
doctor took it up.

"Yes, I noticed that," said Warrisden; "I noticed that it is clean."

The doctor took the glass to the window, turned it upside down, and
held it to the light. It was quite dry, quite clean.

"Surely it's evident what happened," said Warrisden. "Chase came into
the room, opened that cupboard door in the corner there. His keys are
still dangling in the lock, he took the decanter and the tumbler out,
placed them on the table at his side, sat down in his chair with the
apple in his hand, leaned back and quietly died."

"Yes, no doubt," said the doctor. "But I think here will be found the
reason why he leaned back and quietly died," and he touched the
decanter. "Opium poisoning. It may not have been an overdose, but a
regular practice." He went to the door and called for Mrs. Wither.
Mrs. Wither had now returned to the house. When she came upstairs into
the room, he pointed to the decanter.

"Did you ever see this before?"

"No, sir," she answered.

"Or that cupboard open?"

"No, it was always locked."

"Quite so," said the doctor. "You had better get some women to help
you here," he went on; and, with Warrisden's assistance, he lifted
Chase from the chair and carried him into his bedroom.

"I must give notice to the police," he went on, and again he appealed
to Warrisden. "Do you mind staying in the house till I come back?"

"Not at all."

The doctor locked the door of the room and took the key away with him.
Warrisden waited with Princkley in the dining-room. The doctor had
taken away the key. It seemed that his chance of discovering the
secret which was of so much importance to Pamela and Millie Stretton
and himself had vanished. If only he had come yesterday, or the day
before! He sat down by the window and gazed out upon the street. A
group of men and women were gathered in the roadway, looking up at the
windows and talking quietly together. Then Princkley from behind
said--

"Some letters came for Chase this morning. They were not taken up to
his room. You had better look at them."

Every one took him for a close friend. Princkley brought him the
letters, and he glanced at the superscriptions lest any one should
wear a look of immediate importance. He held the letters in his hand
and turned them over one by one, and half-way through the file he
stopped. He had come to a letter written upon thin paper, in a man's
handwriting, with a foreign stamp upon the envelope. The stamp was a
French one, and there was printed upon it: "Poste d'Algérie."

Warrisden examined the post-mark. The letter came from Ain-Sefra.
Warrisden went on with his examination without a word. But his heart
quickened. He wondered whether he had found the clue. Ain-Sefra in
Algeria. Warrisden had never heard of the place before. It might be a
health resort, a wintering place. But this was the month of August.
There would be no visitors at this time to a health resort in Algeria.
He handed the letters back to Princkley.

"I cannot tell whether they are important or not," he said. "I knew
Chase very slightly. His relations must be informed. I suppose Mrs.
Wither knows where they live."

He took his departure as soon as the doctor had returned with the
police, and drove back to his rooms. A search through the Encyclopædia
told him nothing of Ain-Sefra; but, on the other hand, he could not
look at the article on Algeria without the Foreign Legion leaping to
his eyes at once--so great and magnificent a part it played in the
modern history of that colony. The Foreign Legion! Warrisden jumped to
the conviction that there was the secret of Tony Stretton's
disappearance. Every reason he could imagine came to his aid. Let a
man wish to disappear, as, from whatsoever reason, Tony Stretton did,
where else could he so completely bury himself and yet live?
Hardships? Dangers? Yes. But Tony Stretton had braved hardships and
dangers in the North Sea, and had made light of them. A detachment of
the Foreign Legion might well be stationed at this oasis of Ain-Sefra,
of which his Encyclopædia knew nothing. He had no doubt there was a
trooper there, serving under some false name, who would start if the
name of "Stretton" were suddenly shouted to him behind his back.

Warrisden wrote no word of his conjecture to Pamela; he wished to
raise no hopes which he could not fulfil. Convinced as he was, he
wished for certain proof. But in fulfilment of his promise he wrote to
Pamela that night. Just a few lines--nothing more, as she had asked.
But in those few lines he wrote that he would like her to procure for
him a scrap of Tony Stretton's handwriting. Could she do it? In a week
the scrap of handwriting arrived. Warrisden, looking at it, knew that
the same hand had addressed the envelope at Ain-Sefra to Mr. Chase.

Warrisden was ready now, if the summons to service should come once
more from Pamela.



                             CHAPTER XXI

                           CALLON REDIVIVUS


All through that autumn Pamela watched for Tony's return, and watched
in vain. Winter came, and with the winter a letter from Mr. Mudge.
Lionel Callon had booked his passage home on a steamer which sailed on
Christmas Eve from the port of Valparaiso. Pamela received the news
one morning of December. She hunted that day with the Quorn, and for
once her thoughts were set on other matters than this immediate
business. The long grass meadows slipped away under her horse's feet
the while she pondered how once more the danger of Callon's presence
was to be averted. At times she hoped it would not need averting.
Callon had been eighteen months away, and Millie was quick to forget.
But she was no less quick to respond to a show of affection. Let
Callon lay siege again persistently, and the danger at once was close.
Besides, there were the letters. That he should have continued to
write during the months of his absence was a sign that he had not
forgone his plan of conquest.

Pamela returned home with a scheme floating in her mind. Some words
which her mother had spoken at the breakfast-table had recurred to
her, and at tea Pamela revived the subject.

"Did you say that you would not go to Roquebrune this winter, mother?"
she asked.

"Yes," Mrs. Mardale replied; "I have been for so many winters now. I
shall stay in England, for a change. We can let the Villa Pontignard,
no doubt."

"Oh, there is no hurry," said Pamela. She added, "I shall be going to
London to-morrow, but I shall be back in the evening."

She thought over her plan that evening. Its execution would cost her
something, she realised. For many years she had not been out of
England during the winter. She must leave her horses behind, and that
was no small sacrifice for Pamela. She had one horse in particular, a
big Irish horse, which had carried her in the days when her troubles
were at their worst. He would follow her about the paddock or the yard
nuzzling against her arm; a horse of blood and courage, yet gentle
with her, thoughtful and kind for her as only a horse amongst the
animals can be. She must leave him. On the other hand, her thoughts of
late had been turning to Roquebrune for a particular reason. She had a
feeling that she would rather like to tread again those hill-paths, to
see once more those capes and headlands of which every one was a
landmark of past pain--just as an experiment. She travelled to London
the next day and drove from St. Pancras into Regent's Park.

Millie Stretton had taken a house on the west side of the park. It
looked east across the water and through the glades of trees, and in
front of it were the open spaces of which Tony and she had dreamed;
and the sunlight streamed through the windows and lay in golden
splashes on the floors when there was sunlight in London anywhere at
all. When she looked from her window on the first morning, she could
not but remember the plans which Tony and she had debated long ago.
They had been so certain of realising them. Well, they were realised
now, for her, at all events. There was the sunlight piercing through
every cranny; there were the wide expanses of green, and trees. Only
the windows looked on Regent's Park, and on no wide prairie; and of
the two who, with so much enthusiasm, had marked out their imaginary
site and built their house, there was only one to enjoy the
fulfilment. Millie Stretton thought of Tony that morning, but with an
effort. What Pamela had foreseen had come to pass. He had grown
elusive to her thoughts, she could hardly visualise his person to
herself; he was almost unreal. Had he walked in at that moment he
would have been irksome to her as a stranger.

It was, however, Pamela Mardale who walked in. She was shown over the
house, and until that ceremony was over she did not broach the reason
for her visit. Then, however, Millie said with delight--

"It is what I have always wanted--sunlight."

"I came to suggest more sunlight," said Pamela. "There is our villa at
Roquebrune in the south of France. It will be empty this winter. And I
thought that perhaps you and I might go out there together as soon as
Christmas is past."

Millie was standing at the window with her back to Pamela. She turned
round quickly.

"But you hate the place," she said.

Pamela answered with sincerity--

"None the less I want to go this winter. I want to go very much. I
won't tell you why. But I do want to go. And I should like you to come
with me."

Pamela was anxious to discover whether that villa and its grounds, and
the view from its windows, had still the power to revive the grief
with which they had been so completely associated in her mind.
Hitherto she had shrunk from the very idea of ever revisiting
Roquebrune; of late, however, since Warrisden, in a word, had occupied
so large a place in her thoughts, she had wished to put herself to the
test, to understand whether her distress was really and truly dead, or
whether it merely slumbered and could wake again. It was necessary,
for Warrisden's sake as much as her own, that she should come to a
true knowledge. And nowhere else could she so certainly acquire it. If
the sight of Roquebrune, the familiar look of the villa's rooms, the
familiar paths whereon she had carried so overcharged a heart, had no
longer power to hurt and pain her, then she would be sure that she
could start her life afresh. It was only fair--so she phrased it in
her thoughts--that she should make the experiment.

Millie turned back to the window.

"I do not think that I shall leave London this winter," she said. "You
see, I have only just got into the house."

"It might spare you some annoyance," Pamela suggested.

"I don't understand," said Millie.

"The annoyance of having to explain Tony's absence. He will very
likely have returned by the spring."

Millie shrugged her shoulders.

"I have borne that annoyance for two years," she replied. "I do not
think I shall go away this winter."

Was Millie thinking of Callon's return? Pamela wondered. Was it on
his account that she decided to remain? Pamela could not ask the
question. Her plan had come to naught, and she returned that afternoon
to Leicestershire.

Christmas passed, and half-way through the month of January Callon
called, on a dark afternoon, at Millie Stretton's house. Millie was
alone; she was indeed expecting him. When Callon entered the room he
found her standing with her back to the window, her face to the door,
and so she stood, without speaking, for a few moments.

"You have been a long time away," she said, and she looked at him with
curiosity, but with yet more anxiety to mark any changes which had
come in his face.

"Yes," said he, "a long time."

Millie rang the bell and ordered tea to be brought.

"You have not changed," said she.

"Nor you."

Millie had spoken with a noticeable distance in her manner; and she
had not given him her hand. With her back towards the light she had
allowed very little of her expression to be visible to her visitor.
When tea was brought in, however, she sat between the fireplace and
the window, and the light fell upon her. Callon sat opposite to her.

"At last I know that I am at home again," he said, with a smile. Then
he leaned forward and lowered his voice, although there was no third
person in the room. He knew the value of such tricks. "I have looked
forward during these eighteen months so very much to seeing you
again."

Millie's face coloured, but it was with anger rather than pleasure.
There was a hard look upon her face; her eyes blamed him.

"Yet you went away without a word to me," she said. "You did not come
to see me before you went, you never hinted you were going."

"You thought it unkind?"

"It was unkind," said Millie.

"But I wrote to you. I have written often."

"In no letter have you told me why you went away," said Millie.

"You missed me when I went, then?"

Millie shrugged her shoulders.

"Well, I had seen a good deal of you. I missed--I missed--something,"
she said. Callon drank his tea and set down his cup.

"I have come to tell you why I went away without a word. I never
mentioned the reason in my letters; I meant to tell you it with my
lips. I did not _go_ away, I was _sent_ away."

Millie was perplexed. "Sent away?" she repeated. "I understood, from
what you wrote, that you accepted a post from Mr. Mudge?"

"I had to accept it," said Callon. "It was forced on me. Mudge was
only the instrument to get me out of the way."

"Who sent you away, then?" asked Millie.

"A friend of yours--Miss Pamela Mardale."

Millie Stretton leaned back in her chair. "Pamela!" she cried
incredulously. "Pamela sent you away! Why?"

"Because she thought that I was seeing too much of you."

Callon watched for the effect which his words would produce. He saw
the change come in Millie's face. There was a new light in her eyes,
her face flushed, she was angry; and anger was just the feeling he had
meant to arouse, anger against Pamela, anger which would drive Millie
towards him. He had kept his explanation back deliberately until he
could speak it himself. From the moment when he had started from
England he had nursed his determination to tell it to Millie Stretton.
He had been hoodwinked, outwitted by Pamela and her friend; he had
been banished to Chili for two years. Very well. But the game was not
over yet. His vanity was hurt as nothing had ever hurt it before. He
was stung to a thirst for revenge. He would live frugally, clear off
his debts, return to England, and prove to his enemies the futility of
their plan. He thought of Pamela Mardale; he imagined her hearing of
his departure and dismissing him straightway contemptuously from her
thoughts. For eighteen months he nursed his anger, and waited for the
moment when he could return. There should be a surprise for Pamela
Mardale. She should understand that he was a dangerous fellow to
attack. Already, within a day of his landing, he had begun to
retaliate. The anger in Millie Stretton's face was of good augury for
him.

"Pamela!" cried Millie, clenching her hands together suddenly. "Yes,
it was Pamela."

She bethought her of that pressing invitation to the south of France,
an invitation from Pamela who looked on the shires as the only
wintering-place. That was explained now. Mr. Mudge had informed
Pamela, no doubt, that Lionel Callon was returning. Millie was
furious. She looked on this interference as a gross impertinence.

Callon rose from his chair.

"You can imagine it, was humiliating to me to be tricked and sent
away. But I was helpless. I am a poor man; I was in debt. Miss Mardale
had an old rich man devoted to her in Mr. Mudge. He bought up my
debts, his lawyer demanded an immediate settlement of them all, and I
could not immediately settle them. I was threatened with proceedings,
with bankruptcy."

"You should have come to me," cried Millie.

Callon raised a protesting hand.

"Oh, Lady Stretton, how could I?" he exclaimed in reproach. "Think for
a moment! Oh, you would have offered help at a hint. I know you. You
are most kind, most generous. But think, you are a woman. I am a man.
Oh no!"

Callon did not mention that Mr. Mudge had compelled him to accept or
refuse the post in Chili with only an hour's deliberation, and that
hour between seven and eight in the evening. He had thought of calling
upon Millie to suggest in her mind the offer which she had now made,
but he had not had the time. He was glad now. His position was thereby
so much the stronger.

"I had to accept Mudge's offer. Even the acceptance was made as
humiliating as it possibly could be. For Mudge deliberately let me see
that his only motive was to get me out of the country. He did not care
whether I knew his motive or not. I did not count," he cried,
bitterly. "I was a mere pawn upon a chess-board. I had to withdraw
from my candidature. My career was spoilt. What did they care--Mr.
Mudge and your friend? I was got out of your way."

"Oh, oh!" cried Millie; and Callon stepped quickly to her side.

"Imagine what these months have been to me," he went on. "I was out
there in Chili, without friends. I had nothing to do. Every one else
upon the railway had his work, his definite work, his definite
position. I was nothing at, all, a mere prisoner, in everybody's way,
a man utterly befooled. But that was not the worst of it. Shall I be
frank?" He made a pretence of hesitation. "I will. I will take the
risk of frankness. I was sent away just when I had begun to think a
great deal about you." Millie Stretton, who had been gazing into her
companion's face with the utmost sympathy, lowered her eyes to the
floor. But she was silent.

"That was the worst," he continued softly. "I was angry, of course. I
knew that I was losing the better part of two years----"

And Millie interrupted him: "How did she know?" she exclaimed.

"Who? Oh, Miss Mardale. Do you remember the evening she came to
Whitewebs? I was waiting for you in the hall. You came down the stairs
and ran up again. There was a mirror on the mantelpiece. She guessed
then. Afterwards she and Mudge discussed us in the drawing-room. I saw
them."

Millie got up from her chair and moved to the fireplace.

"It was on my account that you have lost two years, that your career
has been injured," she said, in a low voice. She was really hurt,
really troubled. "I am so very sorry. What return can I ever make to
you? I will never speak to Pamela again."

Callon crossed and stood beside her.

"No, don't do that," he said. "It would be--unwise."

Her eyes flashed up to his quickly, and as quickly fell. The colour
slowly deepened in her cheeks.

"What does it matter about my career?" he continued, with a smile. "I
see you again. If you wish to make me a return, let me see you very
often!"

He spoke with tenderness, and he was not pretending. What space did
Millie Stretton fill in his thoughts? She was pretty, she was
sympathetic, she was ready to catch the mood of her companion. It was
not merely an act of retaliation which Callon projected. Such love as
he had to give was hers. It was not durable, it was intertwined with
meanness, it knew no high aims; yet, such as it was, it was hers. It
gained, too, a fictitious strength from the mere fact that he had been
deliberately kept from her. The eighteen months of bondage had given
her an importance in his eyes, had made her more desirable through the
very difficulty of attaining her. Millie allowed him to come again and
again. She had a natural taste for secrecies, and practised them now,
as he bade her do, without any perception of the humiliation which
they involved. If he called at her house, it was after the dusk had
fallen, and when she was at home to no other visitors. They dined
together in the restaurants of unfashionable hotels, and if she drove
to them in her brougham, she sent it away, and was escorted to her
door in a cab. Callon was a past-master in concealment; he knew the
public places where the public never is, and rumour did not couple
their names. But secrecy is not for the secret when the secret ones
are a man and a woman. It needs too much calculation in making
appointments, too much punctuality in keeping them, too close a
dependence upon the probable thing happening at the probable time.
Sooner or later an accident, which could not be foreseen, occurs. It
may be no more than the collision of a cab and the summons of the
driver. Or some one takes, one morning, a walk in an unaccustomed
spot. Or the intriguers fall in quite unexpectedly with another, who
has a secret too, of which they were not aware. Sooner or later some
one knows.

It was the last of these contingencies which brought about the
disclosure in the case of Callon and Millie Stretton. Six weeks had
passed since Callon's return. It was just a month from Easter. Millie
dined with some friends, and went with them afterwards to a theatre in
the Haymarket. At the door she sent her carriage home, and when the
performance was over she took a hansom cab. She declined any escort,
and was driven up Regent Street towards her home. At the corner of
Devonshire Street, in Portland Place, a man loitered upon the pavement
with a white scarf showing above his coat-collar. Millie opened the
trap and spoke to the driver. The cab stopped by the loiterer at the
street corner, who opened the doors and stepped in. The loiterer was
Lionel Callon.

"Drive round Regent's Park," he said.

The cab drove northwards through Park Place and along the broad road
towards Alexandra Gate. The air was warm, the stars bright overhead,
the dark trees lined the roadway on the left, the road under the
wheels was very white. There was a great peace in the park. It was
quite deserted. In a second it seemed they had come out of the glare,
and the roar of streets, into a land of quiet and cool gloom. Millie
leaned back while Callon talked, and this was the burden of his talk.

"Let us go to the south of France. I will go first. Do you follow! You
go for Easter. It will be quite natural. You stay at Eze, I at the
little Reserve by the sea a mile away. There is a suite of rooms
there. No one need know." Three times the cab drove round the park
while Callon urged, and Millie more and more faintly declined. The
driver sat perched upon his box, certain of a good fare, indifferent.
Inside his cab, on this quiet night, the great issues of life and
honour were debated. Millie had just her life in her hands. One way or
the other, by a 'Yes' or a 'No,' she must decide what she would do
with it, and, to whatever decision she came, it must reach out
momentous with consequences and touch other lives beyond hers and
beyond those others, others still. Her husband, her relations, her
friends--not one of them but was concerned in this midnight drive. It
seemed to Millie almost that she heard them hurrying about the cab,
calling to her, reaching out their hands. So vivid was her thought,
that she could count them, and could recognise their faces. She looked
amongst them for her husband. But Tony was not there. She could not
see him, she could not hear his voice. Round and round past the trees,
on the white road, the cab went jingling on, the driver, indifferent,
upon his perch, the tempter and the tempted within.

"Your husband does not care," said Callon. "If he did, would he stay
so long away?"

"No, he does not care," said Millie. If he cared, would he not be
among that suppliant throng which ran about the cab? And all at once
it seemed that the hurrying footsteps lagged behind. The voices called
more faintly; she could not see the outreaching hands.

"No one need know," said Callon.

"_Someone always knows_," replied Millie.

"What then?" cried Callon. "If you love, you will not mind. If you
love, you will abandon everything--everyone. If you love!"

He had taken the right way to persuade her. Call upon Millie for a
great sacrifice, she would make it, she would glory in making it, just
for the moment. Disenchantment would come later; but nothing of it
would she foresee. As she had matched herself with Tony, when first he
had proposed to leave her behind in 'his father's house, so now she
matched herself with Callon, she felt strong.

"Very well," she said. "I will follow."

Callon stopped the cab and got out. As he closed the doors and told
the cabman where to drive, a man, wretchedly clad, slouched past and
turned into the Marylebone Road. That was all. Sooner or later some
one was sure to discover their secret. It happened that the some one
passed them by to-night.



                             CHAPTER XXII

                        MR. MUDGE'S CONFESSION


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."

"When?"

"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.

"No."

"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.



                            CHAPTER XXIII

                         ROQUEBRUNE REVISITED


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.

"No."

"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.



                             CHAPTER XXIV

                      THE END OF THE EXPERIMENT


The village of Ain-Sefra stands upon a high and fertile oasis on the
very borders of Morocco. The oasis is well watered, and the date-palm
grows thickly there. It lies far to the south. The railway, in the
days when Tony Stretton served in the Foreign Legion, did not reach to
it; the barracks were newly built, the parade ground newly enclosed;
and if one looked southwards from any open space, one saw a tawny belt
of sand in the extreme distance streak across the horizon from east to
west. That is the beginning of the great Sahara. Tony Stretton could
never see that belt of sand, but his thoughts went back to the
terrible homeward march from Bir-el-Ghiramo to Ouargla. From east to
west the Sahara stretched across Africa, breaking the soldiers who
dared to violate its privacy, thrusting them back maimed and
famine-stricken, jealously guarding its secrets and speaking by its
very silence, its terrible "thus far and no farther," no less audibly,
and a thousand times more truthfully than ever did the waves of the
sea.

On one noonday Stretton mounted the steps on to the verandah of the
hospital. He looked across open country to the great yellow line. He
thought of the Touaregs hanging persistently upon the flanks of his
tiny force, the long laborious days of thirst and hunger, the
lengthening trail of graves which he left behind--those milestones of
invasion. He felt as though the desert gripped him again and would not
loose its hold, clinging to his feet with each step he took in the
soft, yielding sand. He had brought back his handful of men, it was
true; they had stumbled into Ouargla at the last; but there were few
of them who were men as good as they had been when they had set out.
Even the best, it almost seemed to him, had lost something of vitality
which they would never recover; had a look fixed in their eyes which
set them apart from their fellows--the look of those who have endured
too much, who gazed for too long a time upon horrors; while the others
were for the most part only fit to squat in the shade and to wait for
things to cease. There was one whom Stretton had passed only a minute
before sitting on the ground under the shadow of the barrack wall.
Stretton was haunted by the picture of that man, for he was the only
white man he had ever seen who did not trouble to raise a hand to
brush away the flies from his face, but allowed them to settle and
cluster about the corners of his mouth.

There was another in the hospital behind him. Him the Sahara
definitely claimed. Stretton turned and walked into the building.

He passed down the line of beds, and stopped where a man lay tossing
in a fever. Stretton leaned over the bed.

"Barbier," he said.

Fusilier Barbier had grown very gaunt and thin during these latter
weeks. He turned his eyes upon Stretton, and muttered incoherently.
But there was recognition neither in his eyes nor in his voice. An
orderly approached the bed as Stretton stood beside it; and, in a low
voice, lest, haply, Barbier should hear and understand, Tony asked--

"What did the doctor say?"

"Nothing good, my sergeant," the orderly replied, with an expressive
shrug of the shoulders.

"I am very sorry," said Stretton, gravely.

Certainly Barbier looked to be lying at death's door. One hand and
arm, emaciated and the colour of wax, lay outside upon the coverlet of
the bed. His eyes, unnaturally lustrous, unnaturally large, shone
deep-sunken in dark purple rings. His eyelids were red, as though with
much weeping, and, below the eyes, his face was drawn with fever and
very white. Stretton laid his hand gently upon Barbier's forehead. It
was burning hot. Stretton dismissed the orderly with a nod. There was
a haggard nobility in Barbier's appearance--his long, finely shaped
hands, his lithe, well-knit figure, all betrayed the man of race. Yet
he had once sunk to babbling about persecution at a fire in the
desert, like any morbid child.

A heavy step sounded in the ward, and Stretton's colonel stood beside
him, a stoutly built man, with a white moustache and imperial, and a
stern yet not unkindly face. It expressed a deal of solicitude at this
moment.

"I have seen the doctor this morning," said the colonel, "and he has
given up hope. Barbier will hardly live out the night. They should
never have sent him to us here. They should not have discharged him
from the asylum as cured."

The idea of persecution had become fixed in Barbier's brain. It had
never left him since the evening when he first gave utterance to it in
the desert. The homeward march, indeed, had aggravated his mania. On
his return he had been sent to the asylum at Bel-Abbès, but there he
had developed cunning enough to conceal his hallucination. He had
ceased to complain that his officers were in a conspiracy to entrap
and ruin him, no more threats were heard, no more dangerous stealthy
glances detected. He was sent back to his battalion at Ain-Sefra. A
few weeks and again his malady was manifest, and on the top of that
had come fever.

"I am very sorry," Stretton said again; and then, after looking about
him and perceiving that the orderly was out of earshot, he bent down
towards Barbier, lower than he had bent before, and he called upon him
in a still lower voice.

But Barbier was no longer the name he used.

"Monsieur le Comte," he said, first of all, and then "Monsieur de----"
He uttered a name which the generation before had made illustrious in
French diplomacy.

At the sound of the name Barbier's face contracted. He started up in
his bed upon one arm.

"Hush!" he cried. A most extraordinary change had come over him in a
second. His eyes protruded, his mouth hung half open, his face was
frozen into immobility by horror. "There is some one on the stairs,"
he whispered, "coming up--some one treading very lightly--but coming
up--coming up." He inclined his head in the strained attitude of one
listening with a great concentration and intentness, an image of
terror and suspense. "Yes, coming up--coming up! Don't lock the door!
That betrays all. Turn out the lights! Quickly! So. Oh, will this
night ever pass!"

He ended with a groan of despair. Very gently Stretton laid him down
again in the bed and covered him over with the clothes. The sweat
rolled in drops from Barbier's forehead.

"He never tells us more, my colonel," said Stretton. "His real
name-yes!--he betrayed that once to me. But of this night nothing more
than the dread that it will never pass. Always he ends with those
words. Yet it was that night, no doubt, which tossed him beyond the
circle of his friends and dropped him down here, a man without a name,
amongst the soldiers of the Legion."

Often Stretton's imagination had sought to pierce the mystery. What
thing of horror had been done upon that night? In what town of France?
Had the some one on the stairs turned the handle and entered the room
when all the lights were out? Had he heard Barbier's breathing in the
silent darkness of the room? Stretton could only reconstruct the
scene. The stealthy footsteps on the stairs, the cautious turning of
the door handle, the opening of the door, and the impenetrable
blackness with one man, perhaps more than one, holding his breath
somewhere, and crouching by the wall. But no hint escaped the sick
man's lips of what there was which must needs be hidden, nor whether
the thing which must needs be hidden was discovered by the one who
trod so lightly on the stairs. Was it a dead man? Was it a dead woman?
Or a woman alive? There was no answer. There was no knowledge to be
gained, it seemed, but this--that because of that night a man in
evening dress, who bore an illustrious name, had fled at daybreak on a
summer morning to the nearest barracks, and had buried his name and
all of his past life in the Foreign Legion.

As it happened, there was just a little more knowledge to be gained by
Stretton. He learned it that morning from his colonel.

"When you told me who 'Barbier' really was, sergeant," said the
colonel, "I made inquiries. Barbier's father died two years ago; but
an uncle and a sister lived. I wrote to both, offering to send their
relation back to them. Well, the mail has this morning come in from
France."

"There is an answer, sir?" asked Stretton.

"From the uncle," replied the colonel. "Not a word from the sister;
she does not mean to write. The uncle's letter makes that clear, I
think. Read!" He handed the letter to Stretton. A cheque was enclosed,
and a few words were added.

"See, if you please, that Barbier wants for nothing which can minister
to body and soul."

That was all. There was no word of kindliness or affection. Barbier
was dying. Let him, therefore, have medicine and prayers. Love, wishes
for recovery, a desire that he should return to his friends,
forgiveness for the thing which he had done, pity for the sufferings
which had fallen to him--these things Fusilier Barbier must not
expect. Stretton, reading the letter by the sick man's bed, thought it
heartless and callous as no letter written by a human hand had ever
been. Yet--yet, after all, who knew what had happened on that night?
The uncle, evidently. It might be something which dishonoured the
family beyond all reparation, which, if known, would have disgraced a
great name, so that those who bore it in pride must now change it for
very shame. Perhaps the father had died because of it, perhaps the
sister had been stricken down. Stretton handed the letter back to his
colonel.

"It is very sad, sir," he said.

"Yes, it is very sad," returned the colonel. "But for us this letter
means nothing at all. Never speak of it, obliterate it from your
memories." He tore the paper into the tiniest shreds. "We have no
reproaches, no accusations for what Barbier did before Barbier got out
of the train at Sidi Bel-Abbès. That is not our affair. For us the
soldier of the Legion is only born on the day when he enlists."

Thus, in one sentence, the colonel epitomised the character of the
Foreign Legion. It was a fine saying, Stretton thought. He knew it to
be a true one.

"I will say nothing," said Stretton, "and I will forget."

"That is well. Come with me, for there is another letter which
concerns you."

He turned upon his heel and left the hospital. Stretton followed him
to his quarters.

"There is a letter from the War Office which concerns you, Sergeant
Ohlsen," said the colonel, with a smile. "You will be gazetted, under
your own name, to the first lieutenancy which falls vacant. There is
the notification."

He handed the paper over to Stretton, and shook hands with him.
Stretton was not a demonstrative man. He took the notification with no
more show of emotion than if it had been some unimportant order of the
day.

"Thank you, sir," he said, quietly; and for a moment his eyes rested
on the paper.

But, none the less, the announcement, so abruptly made, caused him a
shock. The words danced before his eyes so that he could not read
them. He saluted his colonel and went out on to the great open parade
ground, and stood there in the middle of that space, alone, under the
hot noonday sun.

The thing for which he had striven had come to pass, then. He held the
assurance of it in his hand. Hoped for and half-expected as that proof
had been ever since he had led the survivors of the geographical
expedition under the gate of Ouargla, its actual coming was to him
most wonderful. He looked southwards to where the streak of yellow
shone far away. The long marches, the harassing anxiety, the haunting
figures of the Touaregs, with their faces veiled in their black masks
and their eyes shining between the upper and the lower strip--yes,
even those figures which appalled the imagination in the retrospect by
a suggestion of inhuman ferocity--what were they all but
contributaries to this event? His ordeal was over. He had done enough.
He could go home.

Stretton did not want for modesty. He had won a commission from the
ranks, it is true; but he realised that others had done this before,
and under harder conditions. He himself had started with an
advantage-the advantage of previous service in the English army. His
knowledge of the manual exercise, of company and battalion drill had
been of the greatest use at the first. He had had luck, too--the luck
to be sent on the expedition to the Figuig oasis, the luck to find
himself sergeant with Colonel Tavernay's force. His heart went out in
gratitude to that fine friend who lay in his bed of sand so far away.
Undoubtedly, he realised, his luck had been exceptional.

He turned away from the parade ground and walked through the village,
and out of it towards a grove of palm trees. Under the shade of those
trees he laid himself down on the ground and made out his plans. He
would obtain his commission, secure his release, and so go home. A few
months and he would be home! It seemed hardly credible; yet it was
true, miraculously true. He would write home that very day. It was not
any great success which he had achieved, but, at all events, he was no
longer the man who was no good. He could write with confidence; he
could write to Millie.

He lay under the shadow of the palms looking across to the village.
There rose a little mosque with a white dome. The hovels were thatched
for the most part, but here and there a square white-washed house,
with a flat roof, overtopped the rest. Hedges of cactus and prickly
pears walled in the narrow lanes, and now and then a white robe
appeared and vanished. Very soon Stretton would turn his back upon
Algeria. In the after time he would remember this afternoon, remember
the village as he saw it now, and the yellow streak of desert sand in
the distance.

Stretton lay on his back and put together the sentences which he
would write that day to Millie. She would get the letter within ten
days--easily. He began to hum over to himself the words of the coon
song which had once been sung on a summer night in an island of
Scotland--


      "Oh, come out, mah love. I'm a-waitin' fo' you heah!
       Doan' you keep yuh window shut to-night.
       De tree-tops above am a-whisp'rin' to you, deah----"


And then he stopped suddenly. At last he began to wonder how Millie
would receive the letter he was to write.

Yes, there was her point of view to be considered. Stretton was
stubborn by nature as few men are. He had convinced himself that the
course he had taken was the only course which promised happiness for
Millie and himself, and impelled by that conviction he had gone on his
way undisturbed by doubts and questions. Now, however, his object was
achieved. He could claim exemption from his wife's contempt. His mind
had room for other thoughts, and they came that afternoon.

He had left his wife alone, with no explanation of his absence to
offer to her friends, without even any knowledge of his whereabouts.
There had been no other way, he still believed. But it was hard on
Millie--undoubtedly it was hard.

Stretton rose from the ground and set off towards the camp that he
might write his letter. But he never wrote it, for as he walked along
the lane towards the barracks a man tapped him on the shoulder from
behind. He was still humming his song, and he stopped in the middle of
it--


      "Jus' look out an' see all de longin' in mah eyes,
       An' mah arms is jus' a-pinin' foh to hug you,"


he said, and turned about on his heel. He saw a stranger in European
dress, who at once spoke his name.

"Sir Anthony Stretton?"

Stretton was no longer seeking to evade discovery.

"Yes?" he said. The stranger's face became vaguely familiar to him. "I
have seen you before, I think."

"Once," replied the other. "My name is Warrisden. You saw me for a few
minutes on the deck of a fish-carrier in the North Sea."

"To be sure," he said slowly. "Yes, to be sure, I did. You were sent
to find me by Miss Pamela Mardale."

"She sends me again," replied Warrisden.

Stretton's heart sank in fear. He had disobeyed the summons before. He
remembered Pamela's promise to befriend his wife. He remembered her
warning that he should not leave his wife.

"She sent you then with an urgent message that I should return home,"
he said.

"I carry the same message again, only it is a thousand times more
urgent."

He drew a letter from his pocket as he spoke, and handed it to
Stretton. "I was to give you this," he said.

Stretton looked at the handwriting and nodded.

"Thank you," he said gravely.

He tore open the envelope and read.



                             CHAPTER XXV

              TONY STRETTON BIDS FAREWELL TO THE LEGION


It was a long letter. Tony read it through slowly, standing in the
narrow lane between the high walls of prickly pear. A look of
incredulity came upon his face.

"Is all this true?" he asked, not considering at all of whom he asked
the question.

"I know nothing, of course, of what is written there," replied
Warrisden; "but I do not doubt its truth. The signature is, I think,
sufficient guarantee."

"No doubt, no doubt," said Stretton, absently. Then he asked--

"When did you reach Ain-Sefra?"

"This morning."

"And you came quickly?"

"Yes; I travelled night and day, I came first of all to Ain-Sefra in
search of you."

"Thank you," said Stretton.

He did not ask how it was that Warrisden had come first of all to
Ain-Sefra; such details held no place in his thoughts. Warrisden _had_
found him, _had_ brought the letter which Pamela Mardale had written.
That letter, with its perplexities and its consequences, obliterated
all other speculations.

"You have a camp here?" Stretton asked.

"Yes."

"Let us go to it. The news you have brought has rather stunned me. I
should like to sit down and think what I must do."

The incredulity had vanished from his face. Distress had replaced it.

"It is all true, no doubt," he went on, "but for the moment I don't
understand it. Will you tell me where your camp is?"

"I will show you the way," said Warrisden.

"I think not. It will be better that we should not be seen together,"
Stretton said thoughtfully. "Will you give me the direction and go
first? I will follow."

Warrisden's camp was pitched amongst trees a hundred yards from the
western borders of the village. It stood in a garden of grass,
enclosed with hedges. Thither Stretton found his way by a roundabout
road, approaching the camp from the side opposite to Ain-Sefra. There
was no one, at the moment, loitering about the spot. He walked into
the garden. There were three tents pitched. Half a dozen mules stood
picketed in a line, a little Barbary horse lay on the grass, some
Algerian muleteers were taking their ease, and outside the chief tent
a couple of camp chairs were placed. Warrisden came forward as
Stretton entered the garden.

"Sit down," he said.

"Inside the tent, I think," replied Stretton.

There he read the letter through again. He understood at last what
Pamela had meant by the warning which had baffled him. Pamela revealed
its meaning now. "Millie is not of those women," she wrote, "who have
a vivid remembrance. To hold her, you must be near her. Go away, she
will cry her eyes out; stay away for a little while, she will long for
your return; make that little while a longer time, she will grow
indifferent whether you return or not; prolong that longer time, she
will regard your return as an awkwardness, a disturbance; add yet a
little more to that longer time, and you will find another occupying
your place in her thoughts." Then followed an account of the growth of
that dangerous friendship between Millie and Lionel Callon. A summary
of Callon's character rounded the description off. "So come home," she
concluded, "at once, for no real harm has been done yet."

Stretton understood what the last sentence meant, and he believed it.
Yet his mind revolted against the phrase. Of course, it was Pamela's
phrase. Pamela, though frank, was explaining the position in words
which could best spare Millie. But it was an unfortunate sentence. It
provoked a momentary wave of scorn, which swept over Stretton. There
was a postscript: "You yourself are really a good deal to blame." Thus
it ran; but Stretton was in no mood to weigh its justice or injustice
at the moment. Only this afternoon he had been lying under the palm
trees putting together in his mind the sentences which were to tell
Millie of his success, to re-establish him in her esteem, and to
prepare her for his return. And now this letter had come. He sat for a
time frowning at the letter, turning its pages over, glancing now at
one phrase, now at another. Then he folded it up. "Callon," he said,
softly; and then again, "Lionel Callon. I will talk with Mr. Callon."
For all its softness, his voice sounded to Warrisden the voice of a
dangerous man. And after he had spoken in this way he sat in thought,
saying nothing, making no movement, and his face gave Warrisden no
clue as to what he thought. At the last he stirred in his chair.

"Well?" said Warrisden.

"I shall return at once to England."

"You can?"

"Yes; I shall start to-night," said Stretton.

"We can go back together, then."

"No; that's impossible."

"Why?" asked Warrisden.

"Because I should be arrested if we did," Stretton replied calmly.

"Arrested?" Warrisden exclaimed.

"Yes; you see I shall have to desert to-night."

Warrisden started from his chair.

"Surely there is an alternative?"

"None," replied Stretton; and Warrisden slowly resumed his seat. He
was astounded; he had never contemplated this possibility. He looked
at Stretton in wonder. He could not understand how a man could speak
so calmly of such a plan. Why in the world had Stretton ever joined
the Legion if he was so ready, at the first summons, to desert? There
seemed an inconsistency. But he did not know Tony Stretton.

"You are surprised," said Tony. "More than surprised--you are rather
shocked; but there is no choice for me. I wish with all my heart and
soul there were," he suddenly exclaimed, with a sort of passion. "I
have foreseen this necessity ever since you tapped me on the shoulder
in the lane. Because I foresaw it, I would not walk with you to your
camp. Were we seen together to-day, the reason of my absence might be
the sooner suspected. As it is, I shall get a day's start, for I have
a good name in the regiment, and a day's start is all I need."

He spoke sadly and wistfully. He was caught by an inexorable fate, and
knew it. He just had to accept the one course open to him.

"You see," he explained, "I am a soldier of the Legion--that is to
say, I enlisted for five years' service in the French colonies. I
could not get leave."

"Five years!" cried Warrisden. "You meant to stay five years away?"

"No," replied Stretton. "If things went well with me here, as up till
to-day they have done, if, in a word, I did what I enlisted to do, I
should have gone to work to buy myself out and get free. That can be
done with a little influence and time-only time is the one thing I
have not now. I must go home at once, since no harm has yet been done.
Therefore I must desert. I am very sorry"--and again the wistfulness
became very audible--"for, as I say, I have a good name; amongst both
officers and men I have a good name. I should have liked very much to
have left a good name behind me. Sergeant Ohlsen"--and as he uttered
the name he smiled. "They speak well of Sergeant Ohlsen in the Legion,
Warrisden; and to-morrow they will not. I am very sorry. I have good
friends amongst both officers and men. I shall have lost them all
to-morrow. I am sorry. There is only one thing of which I am glad
to-day. I am glad that Captain Tavernay is dead."

Warrisden knew nothing at all of Captain Tavernay. Until this moment
he had never heard his name. But Stretton was speaking with a
simplicity so sincere, and so genuine a sorrow, that Warrisden could
not but be deeply moved. He forgot the urgency of his summons; he
ceased to think how greatly Stretton's immediate return would help his
own fortunes. He cried out upon the impulse--

"Stay, then, until you can get free without----" And he stopped,
keeping unspoken the word upon his lips.

"Without disgrace."

Stretton finished the sentence with a smile.

"Say it! Without disgrace. That was the word upon your tongue. I can't
avoid disgrace. I have come to such a pass in my life's history that,
one way or another, I can't avoid it. I thought just at the first
moment that I could let things slide and stay. But there's dishonour
in that course, too. Dishonour for myself, dishonour for my
name, dishonour for others, too, whom it is my business--yes, my
business--to keep from dishonour. That's the position--disgrace if I
stay, disgrace if I go. It seems to me there's no rule of conduct
which applies. I must judge for myself."

Stretton spoke with some anger in his voice, anger with those who had
placed him in so cruel a position, anger, perhaps, in some measure,
with himself. For in a little while he said--

"It is quite true that I am myself to blame, too. I want to be just. I
was a fool not to have gone into the house the evening I was in
London, after I had come back from the North Sea. Yes, I should have
gone in then; and yet--I don't know. I had thought my course all out.
I don't know."

He had thought his course out, it is true; but he had thought it out
in ignorance of his wife's character. That was the trouble, as he
clearly saw now.

"Anyhow, I must go to-night," he said, rising from his chair. In an
instant he had become the practical man, arranging the means to an end
already resolved upon.

"I can borrow money of you?"

"Yes."

"And a mule?"

"Yes."

"Let me choose my mule."

They walked from the tent to where the mules stood picketed. Warrisden
pointed to one in the middle of the line.

"That is the strongest."

"I don't want one too strong, too obviously well-fed," said Stretton;
and he selected another. "Can I borrow a muleteer for an hour or two?"

"Of course," said Warrisden.

Stretton called a muleteer towards him and gave him orders.

"There is a market to-day," he said. "Go to it and buy." He enumerated
the articles he wanted, ticking them off upon his fingers--a few pairs
of scissors and knives, a few gaudy silk handkerchiefs, one or two
cheap clocks, some pieces of linen, needles and thread--in fact, a
small pedlar's pack of wares. In addition, a black jellaba and cap,
such as the Jews must wear in Morocco, and a native's underclothes and
slippers.

"Bring these things back to the camp at once and speak to no one!"
said Stretton.

The muleteer loosed a mule to carry the packages, and went off upon
his errand. Stretton and Warrisden went back to the tent. Stretton sat
down again in his chair, took a black cigarette from a bright-blue
packet which he had in his pocket and lighted it, as though all the
arrangements for his journey were now concluded.

"I want you to pack the mule I chose with the things which your
muleteer brings back. Add some barley for the mule and some food for
me, and bring it with the clothes to the south-west corner of the
barrack wall at eight. It will be dark then. Don't come before it is
dark, and wait for me at the corner. Will you?"

"Yes," replied Warrisden. "You are going to tramp to the coast? Surely
you can come as one of my men as far as the rail-head. Then I will go
on and wait for you at Algiers."

"No," said Stretton; "our ways lie altogether apart. It would be too
dangerous for me to tramp through Algeria. I should certainly be
stopped. That's my way."

He raised his arm and pointed through the tent door.

The tent door faced the west, and in front there rose a range of
mountains, dark and lofty, ridge overtopping ridge, and wonderfully
distinct. In that clear air the peaks and gaps, and jagged _arêtes_
were all sharply defined. The sun was still bright, and the dark
cliffs had a purple bloom of extraordinary softness and beauty, like
the bloom upon a ripe plum. Here and there the mountains were capped
with snow, and the snow glistened like silver.

"Those mountains are in Morocco," said Stretton. "That's my way--over
them. My only way. We are on the very edge of Morocco here."

"But, once over the border," Warrisden objected, "are you safe in
Morocco?"

"Safe from recapture."

"But safe in no other sense?"

Stretton shrugged his shoulders.

"It is a bad road, I know--dangerous and difficult. The ordinary
traveller cannot pass along it. But it has been traversed. Prisoners
have escaped that way to Fez--Escoffier, for instance. Deserters have
reached their homes by following it--some of them, at all events. One
must take one's risks."

It was the old lesson learned upon the ketch _Perseverance_ which
Stretton now repeated; and not vainly learned. Far away to the south,
in the afternoon sunlight, there shone that yellow streak of sand,
beyond which its value had been surely proved. Warrisden's thoughts
were carried back on a sudden to that morning of storm and foam and
roaring waves, when Stretton had stood easily upon the deck of the
fish-cutter, with the great seas swinging up behind him, and had, for
the first time, uttered it in Warrisden's hearing. Much the same
feeling came over Warrisden as that which had then affected him--a
feeling almost of inferiority. Stretton was a man of no more than
average ability, neither a deep thinker, nor a person of ingenuity and
resource; but the mere stubbornness of his character gave to him at
times a certain grandeur. In Warrisden's eyes he had that grandeur
now. He had come quickly to his determination to desert, but he had
come calmly to it. There had been no excitement in his manner, no
suggestion of hysteria. He had counted up the cost, he had read his
letter, he had held the balance between his sacrifice and Millie's
necessity; and he had decided. He had decided, knowing not merely the
disgrace, but the difficulties of his journey, and the danger of his
road amongst the wild, lawless tribes in that unsettled quarter of
Morocco. Again Warrisden was carried away. He forgot even Pamela at
Roquebrune waiting for the telegram he was to send from Oran on his
return. He cried--

"I will send back my outfit and come with you. If we travel together
there will be more safety."

Stretton shook his head.

"Less," said he. "You cannot speak Mogrhebbin. I have a few
sentences--not many, but enough. I know something of these tribes,
too. For I once marched to the Figuig oasis. Your company would be no
protection; rather it would be an extra danger."

Warrisden did not press his proposal. Stretton had so clearly made up
his mind.

"Very well," he said. "You have a revolver, I suppose. Or shall I lend
you one?"

And, to Warrisden's astonishment, Stretton replied--

"I shall carry no weapons."

Warrisden was already placing his arms of defence upon the table so
that Stretton might make his choice.

"No weapons!" he exclaimed.

"No. My best chance to get through to Fez is to travel as a Jew
pedlar. That is why I am borrowing your mule and have sent your
muleteer to the market. A Jew can go in Morocco where no Moor can, for
he is not suspected; he is merely despised. Besides, he brings things
for sale which are needed. He may be robbed and beaten, but he has
more chance of reaching his journey's end in some plight or other than
any one else."

Thereafter he sat for awhile silent, gazing towards the mountains in
the west. The snow glittering upon the peaks brought back to his mind
the flashing crystals in the great salt lakes. It was at just such a
time, on just such an afternoon, when the two companies of the Legion
had marched out from the trees of the high plateaux into the open
desert, with its grey-green carpet of halfa-grass. Far away the lake
had flashed like an arc of silver set in the ground. Stretton could
not but remember that expedition and compare it with the one upon
which he was now to start; and the comparison was full of bitterness.
Then high hopes had reigned. The companies were marching out upon the
Legion's special work; even if disaster overtook them, disaster would
not be without its glory. Stretton heard the clear inspiriting music
of the bugles, he listened to the steady tramp of feet. Now he was
deserting.

"I shall miss the Legion," he said regretfully. "I had no idea how
much I should miss it until this moment."

Its proud past history had grown dear to him. The recklessness of its
soldiers, the endless perplexing variety of their characters, the
secrets of their lives, of which every now and then, in a rare moment
of carelessness, a glimpse was revealed, as though a curtain were
raised and lowered--all these particular qualities of the force had
given to it a grip upon his affections of which he felt the full
strength now.

"Any other life," he said, "cannot but be a little dull, a little
uninteresting afterwards. I shall miss the Legion very much."

Suddenly he put his hand into his pocket and took out of it that
letter from the French War Office which his colonel had handed to him.
"Look!" and he handed it over to Warrisden. "That is what I joined the
Legion to win--a commission; and I have just not won it. In a month or
two, perhaps in a week, perhaps even to-morrow, it might have been
mine. Very soon I should have been back at home, the life I have
dreamed of and worked for ever since I left London, might have been
mine to live. It was to have been a good life of great happiness"--he
had forgotten, it seemed, that he would regret the Legion--"a life
without a flaw. Now that life's impossible, and I am a deserter. It's
hard lines, isn't it?"

He rose from his chair, and looked for a moment at Warrisden in
silence.

"I am feeling sorry that I ever came," said Warrisden.

"Oh no," Stretton answered, with a smile. "It would have been still
worse if I had stayed here, ignorant of the news you have brought
me, and had come home in my own time. Things would have been much
worse--beyond all remedy. Do you know a man named Callon--Lionel
Callon?" he asked abruptly. And before Warrisden could answer, the
blood rushed into his face, and he exclaimed, "Never mind; don't
answer! Be at the corner of the barracks with the mule at eight." And
he went from the tent, cautiously made his way out of the garden, and
returned to his quarters.

A few minutes before eight Warrisden drove the mule, packed with
Stretton's purchases, to the south-western corner of the barracks. The
night was dark, no one was abroad, the place without habitations. He
remained under the shadow of the high wall, watching this way and that
for Stretton's approach; and in a few minutes he was almost startled
out of his wits by a heavy body falling from the top of the wall upon
the ground at his side. Warrisden, indeed, was so taken by surprise
that he uttered a low cry.

"Hush!" said a voice close to the ground. "It's only me."

"And Stretton rose to his feet. He had dropped from the summit of the
wall.

"Are you hurt?" whispered Warrisden.

"No. Have you the clothes? Thanks!"

Stretton stripped off his uniform, and put on the Jewish dress. He had
shaved off his moustache and blacked his hair. As he dressed he gave
two or three small packages to Warrisden.

"Place them in the pack; hide them, if possible. That package contains
my medals. I shall need them. The other's lamp-black. I shall want
that for my hair. Glossy raven locks," he said, with a low laugh, "are
not so easily procured in Ain-Sefra as in Bond Street. I have been
thinking. You can help me if you will; you can shorten the time of my
journey."

"How?" asked Warrisden.

"Go back to Oran as quickly as possible. Take the first boat to
Tangier. Hire an outfit there, mules and horses--but good ones,
mind!--and travel up at once to Fez. If you are quick you can do it
within a fortnight. I shall take a fortnight at the least to reach
Fez. I may be three weeks. But if I find you there, ready to start the
moment I come to the town, we shall save much time."

"Very well; I will be there."

"If I get through sooner than I expect, I shall go straight on to
Tangier, and we will meet on the road. Now let me climb on to your
shoulders." Stretton made a bundle of his uniform, climbed on to
Warrisden's shoulders, and threw it over the wall into the barrack
yard.

"But that will betray you!" cried Warrisden, in a whisper. "They will
find your clothes in the morning--clothes with a sergeant's stripes."

"I cannot help that," replied Stretton, as he jumped to the ground. "I
do not intend to be shot as a thief, for that is what may happen when
a man deserts and takes his uniform with him. Don't fail me in Fez.
Good-bye."

He held out his hand, and, as Warrisden grasped it, he said--

"I have not said much to you in the way of thanks; but I am very
grateful, however much I may have seemed to have been made unhappy by
your coming. Since things are as they are, I am glad you came. I thank
you, too, for that other visit to the North Sea. I will give you
better thanks when we meet in Fez."

He cast a glance back to the wall of the barracks, and, in a voice
which trembled, so deeply was he moved, he whispered to himself,
rather than to Warrisden--

"Oh, but I am glad Tavernay is dead!"

All else that he had said since he dropped from the wall had been said
hurriedly and without emotion. These last words were whispered from a
heart overcharged with sorrow. They were his farewell to the Legion.
He turned away, and, driving the mule before him, vanished into the
darkness.



                             CHAPTER XXVI

                         BAD NEWS FOR PAMELA


Warrisden struck his camp early the next morning, and set out for the
rail-head. Thence he travelled to Oran. At Oran he was fortunate
enough to find a steamer of the Lambert Line in the harbour, which was
preparing to sail that afternoon for Tangier. Warrisden had three
hours to pass in Oran. He went at once to the post-office and
despatched his telegram to Pamela Mardale at the Villa Pontignard. The
telegram informed her that Tony Stretton was returning, though his
journey might take longer than she would naturally expect; and,
secondly, that he himself was sailing that day for Tangier, whither
any message should be sent at once to await his arrival at the English
post-office. The telegram was couched in vague phrases. Tony Stretton,
for instance, was called "The Truant." Pamela became more and more
disquieted by the vagueness of its wording. She pondered, and in vain,
why in the world Warrisden must be sailing to Tangier. It seemed
certain that there were difficulties in the way of Tony's home-coming
which she had not foreseen, and at the nature of which she could not
conjecture. She sent off a reply to Tangier--

"Bring truant to Roquebrune as soon as possible."

For, on thinking over the new aspect which her problem presented, now
that Lionel Callon had come to the Riviera, she had come to the
conclusion that this was the safest plan.

If Millie Stretton did not come to the south of France, no harm would
have been done; whereas, if she did, and Tony went straight home to
England, the last chance of saving her would be lost.

This message, however, did little to reassure Pamela. For the more she
thought of Warrisden's telegram, the more she was troubled. Tony was
returning. Yes, that was something--that was a great thing. But he was
going to take a long time in returning, and, to Pamela's apprehension,
there was no long time to spare. And the day after she had received
the telegram she came upon still stronger reasons for disquietude.

She went down to Monte Carlo in the morning, and again saw Lionel
Callon upon the terrace, and again noticed that he was alone. Yet on
the whole she was not surprised. Millie Stretton's name figured as yet
in no visitors' list, and Pamela was quite sure that if Millie
Stretton had come south the name would have been inserted. It was
impossible that Millie Stretton could come to Monte Carlo, or to,
indeed, any hotel upon the Riviera, under a false name. She could not
but meet acquaintances and friends at every step, during this season
of the year. To assume a name which was not hers would be an act of
stupidity too gross. None the less Pamela was relieved. She avoided
Callon's notice, and acting upon a sudden impulse, went out from the
garden, hired a carriage, and ordered the coachman to drive along the
lower Corniche Road in the direction of Beaulieu.

Pamela was growing harassed and anxious. The days were passing, and no
message had yet come from Alan Warrisden. She suspected the presence
of Lionel Callon on the Riviera more and more. More and more she
dreaded the arrival of Millie Stretton. There was nothing now which
she could do. She had that hard lot which falls to women, the lot of
waiting. But she could not wait with folded hands. She must be doing
something; even though that something were altogether trivial and
useless, it still helped her through the hours. In this spirit she
drove out from Monte Carlo at twelve o'clock, without a thought that
her drive was to assist her toward the end on which she had set her
heart.

She drove past the back of the big hotel at Eze. Just beyond, a deep
gorge runs from the hills straight down to the sea. The road carves
round the head of the gorge and bends again to the shore. Pamela drove
round the gorge, and coming again to the shore, went forward by the
side of the sea. After a few minutes she bade the driver stop. In
front of her the road rose a little, and then on the other side of the
crest dipped down a steep hill. On her left a pair of iron gates stood
open. From those gates a carriage-drive ran in two zigzags between
borders of flowers down to an open gravel space in front of a long
one-storied building. The building faced upon the road, but at a lower
level, so that even the flat roof was below Pamela. The building was
prettily built, and roses and magnolias climbed against the walls,
making it gay. The door in the middle stood open, but there was no
sign of life about the house. Pamela sat gazing down into the garden,
with its bushes and brightly-coloured flowers.

Pamela spoke to the driver.

"What place is this?" she asked.

"It was only built last year," the man replied, and he told her enough
for her to know that this was the _Réserve_ at which Lionel Callon was
staying.

"Few people come here?" said Pamela.

"It is not known yet," replied the driver. "It is such a little while
since it has been opened."

The sun was bright. Beyond the _Réserve_ the Mediterranean rippled and
sparkled--here the deepest blue, there breaking into points of golden
light. The _Réserve_ itself had the look of a country house in a rich
garden of flowers tended with love. In the noonday the spot was very
quiet and still. Yet to Pamela it had the most sinister aspect. It
stood in a solitary position, just beneath the road. In its very
quietude there was to her harassed thoughts something clandestine.

She knew that Callon was in Monte Carlo. She told her driver to drive
down to the door, and at the door she stepped down and walked into the
building. A large dining-room opened out before her in which two
waiters lounged. There were no visitors. The waiters came forward.
"Would Madame take luncheon in the room, or on the terrace at the back
over the sea?"

"On the terrace," Pamela replied.

She lunched quite alone on a broad, flagged terrace, with the sea
gently breaking at its foot. The greater portion of the building was
occupied by the restaurant, but at one end Pamela noticed a couple of
French windows. She remarked to the waiter who served her upon the
absence of any visitors but herself.

"It is only this season, Madame, that the restaurant is open," he
replied.

"Can people stay here?" she asked.

"Yes. There are two suites of rooms. One is occupied; but the other is
vacant, if Madame would care to see it."

Pamela rose and followed him. He opened one of the French windows. A
dining-room furnished with elegance, and lightly decorated; a
sitting-room, and a bedroom comprised the suite. Pamela came back to
the terrace. She was disquieted. It was impossible, of course, that
Millie Stretton should stay at the _Réserve_; but the whole look of
the place troubled her.

She mounted into her carriage and drove back. In front of her the
great hotel of Eze stood high upon a promontory above the railway. A
thought came to Pamela. She drove back round the head of the gorge,
and when she came to the hotel she bade the coachman drive in. In the
open space in front of the hotel she took tea. She could not see the
restaurant itself, but she could see the road rising to the little
hill-crest beside it. It was very near, she thought. She went into the
hotel, and asked boldly at the office--

"When do you expect Lady Stretton?"

"Lady Stretton?" The clerk in the office looked up his books. "In
three weeks, Madame," he said. "She has engaged her rooms from the
31st."

"Thank you," said Pamela.

She mounted into her carriage and drove back to Monte Carlo. So Millie
Stretton was coming to the Riviera after all. She had refused to come
with Pamela, yet she was coming by herself. She had declared she would
not leave England this spring. But she had made that declaration
before Lionel Callon had returned from Chili. Now Callon was here, and
she was following. Pamela could not doubt that her coming was part of
a concerted plan. The very choice of the hotel helped to convince her.
It was so near to that at which Callon was staying. Twenty minutes'
walk at the most would separate them. Moreover, why should Callon
choose that lonely restaurant without some particular, nay, some
secret object? No one, it seemed, visited it in the day; no one but he
slept there at night. Callon was not the man to fall in love with
solitude. And if he had wished for solitude he would not have come to
the Riviera at all. Besides, he spent his days in Monte Carlo, as
Pamela well knew. No, it was not loneliness at which he aimed, but
secrecy. That was it--secrecy. Pamela's heart sank within her. She had
a momentary thought that she would disclose her presence to Lionel
Callon, and dismissed it. The disclosure would alter Callon's plan,
that was all; it would not hinder the fulfilment. It would drive
Millie and him from the Riviera--it would not prevent them from
meeting somewhere else. It would be better, indeed, that, if meet they
must, they should meet under her eyes. For some accident might happen,
some unforeseen opportunity occur of which she could take advantage to
separate them. It was not known to Callon that she was on the spot.
After all, that was an advantage. She must meet secrecy with secrecy.
She urged her coachman to quicken his pace. She drove straight to the
post-office at Monte Carlo. Thence she despatched a second telegram to
Alan Warrisden at Tangier.

"Do not fail to arrive by the 31st," she telegraphed; and upon that
took the train back to Roquebrune. She could do no more now; but the
knowledge that she could do no more only aggravated her fears.
Questions which could not be answered thronged upon her mind. "Would
the telegram reach Tangier in time? What was Alan Warrisden doing at
Tangier at all? What hindered them coming straight from Algeria to
France?" Well, there were three weeks still. She sent up her prayer
that those three weeks might bring Tony Stretton back, that Millie
might be saved for him. She walked up the steps from Roquebrune
station very slowly. She did not look up as she climbed. Had she done
so she might, perhaps, have seen a head above the parapet in the
little square where the school-house stood; and she would certainly
have seen that head suddenly withdrawn as her head was raised. M.
Giraud was watching her furtively, as he had done many a time since
she had come to Roquebrune, taking care that she should not see him.
He watched her now, noticing that she walked with the same lagging,
weary step as when he had last seen her on that path so many years
ago. But as he watched she stopped, and, turning about, looked
southwards across the sea, and stood there for an appreciable time.
When she turned again and once more mounted the steps, it seemed to
him that the weariness had gone. She walked buoyantly, like one full
of faith, full of hope; and he caught a glimpse of her face. It seemed
to him that it had become transfigured, and that the eyes were looking
at some vision which was visible to her eyes alone. Pamela had come
back. Indeed, at the end of all her perplexities and conjectures, to
the belief born of her new love, that somehow the world would right
itself, that somehow in a short while she would hear whispered upon
the wind, answered by the ripples of the sea, and confirmed by the one
voice she longed to hear, the sentinel's cry, "All's well."

The messages which Pamela had sent to Warrisden reached him at
Tangier. He found them both waiting for him the day after they had
been sent. He had twenty days in front of him. If Tony kept to his
time, twenty days would serve. He hired a camp outfit, and the best
mules to be obtained in Tangier on that day. The same evening he
bought a couple of barbs, well recommended to him for speed and
endurance.

"They will amble at six miles an hour for ten hours a day," said one
whose advice he sought. Warrisden discounted the statement, but bought
the barbs. Early the nest morning he set out for Fez.



                            CHAPTER XXVII

                               "BALAK!"


There are two cities of Fez. One is the city of the narrow, crowded
streets, where the cry, "Balak! Balak!"[1] resounds all day. Streets,
one terms them, since they are the main thoroughfares through which
all the merchandise of Morocco passes out to the four quarters of the
compass; but they are no wider than the alley-ways of an English
village, and in many places a man may stand in the centre and touch
the wall on either side. These streets are paved with big
cobblestones, but the stones are broken and displaced by the tramp of
centuries. If mended at all, they are mended with a millstone or any
chance slab of rock; but for the most part they are left unmended
altogether. For that is the fashion in Morocco. There they build and
make, and they do both things beautifully and well. But they seldom
finish; in a house, dainty with fountains and arabesques and coloured
tiles, you will still find a corner uncompleted, a pillar which lacks
the delicate fluting of the other pillars, an embrasure for a clock
half ornamented with gold filagree, and half left plain. And if they
seldom finish, they never by any chance repair. The mansion is built
and decorated within; artists fit the tiles together in a mosaic of
cool colours, and carve, and gild, and paint the little pieces of
cedar-wood, and glue them into the light and pointed arches; the rich
curtains are hung, and the master enters into his possession. There
follows the procession of the generations. The tiles crack, the
woodwork of the arches splits and falls, and the walls break and
crumble. The householder sits indifferent, and the whole house
corrodes. So, in the narrow streets, holes gape, and the water wears a
channel where it wills, and the mud lies thick and slippery on the
rounded stones; the streets ran steeply up and down the hills, wind
abruptly round corners, dive into tunnels. Yet men gallop about them
on their sure-footed horses, stumbling, slipping, but seldom falling.
"Balak!" they cry. "Balak!" and the man on foot is flung against the
wall or jostled out of the way. No one protests or resents.


---------------------
[Footnote 1: "Take care!"]
---------------------


A file of donkeys, laden with wood or with grain, so fixed upon their
backs that the load grazes each street wall, blocks the way. "Balak!"
shouts the donkey-driver. And perhaps some nobleman of Fez, soft and
fat and indolent, in his blue cloak, who comes pacing on a mule no
less fat, preceded by his servants, must turn or huddle himself into
an embrasure. There are no social distinctions in the alley-ways of
Fez. It may be that one of those donkeys will fall then and there
beneath his load, and refuse to rise. His load will be taken from his
back, and if he still refuse, he will be left just where he fell, to
die. His owner walks on. It is no one's business to remove the animal.
There he lies in the middle of the street, and to him "Balak" will be
called in vain.

A mounted troop of wild Berbers from the hills, with their long,
brass-bound guns slung across their backs, and gaudy handkerchiefs
about their heads, will ride through the bazaars, ragged of dress and
no less ragged in the harness of their horses. "Balak!" Very swiftly
way is made for them. Balak, indeed, is the word most often heard in
the streets of Fez.

Those streets wind at times between the walls of gardens, and if the
walls are broken, as surely at some point they will be, a plot of
grass, a grove of orange trees hung with ruddy fruit, and a clump of
asphodel will shine upon the eyes in that brown and windowless city
like a rare jewel. At times, too, they pass beneath some spacious arch
into a place of width, or cross a bridge where one of the many streams
of the river Fez boils for a moment into the open, and then swirls
away again beneath the houses. But, chiefly, they run deep beneath the
towering walls of houses, and little of the sunlight visits them; so
that you may know a man of Fez, even though he be absent from his
town, by the pallor of his face. A householder, moreover, may build
over the street, if he can come to an agreement with his neighbour on
the opposite side, and then the alleys suddenly become tunnels, and
turn upon themselves in the dark. Or the walls so lean together at the
top that barely a finger's breadth of sky is visible as from the
bottom of a well.

Into this city of dark streets Warrisden came upon an evening of
gloom. The night before he had camped on the slope of a hill by the
village of Segota. Never had he seen a spot more beautiful. He had
looked across the deep valley at his feet to the great buttress of
Jebel Zarhon, on a dark shoulder of which mountain one small, round,
white town was perched. A long, high range of grey hills--the last
barrier between him and Fez--cleft at one point by the road, rose on
the far side of the valley; and those hills and the fields beneath,
and the solitary crumbling castle which stood in the bottom amongst
the fields, were all magnified and made beautiful by the mists of
evening. The stars had come out overhead, behind him the lights shone
in his tent, and a cheerful fire crackled in the open near the door.
He had come up quickly from Tangier, and without hindrance, in spite
of warnings that the road was not safe. The next morning he would be
in Fez. It had seemed to him, then, that fortune was on his side. He
drew an augury of success from the clean briskness of the air. And
that confidence had remained with him in the morning. He had crossed
the valley early, and riding over the long pass on the other side, had
seen at last the snow-crowned spur of the Atlas on the further side of
the plain of Fez. He had descended into the plain, which perpetually
rose and fell like the billows of an ocean; and in the afternoon, from
the summit of one of these billows, he had suddenly seen, not an
hour's journey off, the great city of Fez, with its crenelated walls
and high minarets, a mass of grey and brown, with here and there a
splash of white, and here and there a single palm-tree, straggling
formlessly across the green plain. The sky had clouded over; the track
was now thronged with caravans of camels, and mules, and donkeys, and
wayfarers on foot going to and coming from the town; and before the
Bab Sagma, the great gate looking towards Mikkes, was reached, the
rain was falling.

Warrisden had sent on the soldier who had ridden with him from
Tangier, to deliver a note to the Consul, and he waited with his
animals and his men for the soldier's return. The man came towards
dusk with word that a house had been secured in the town, and
Warrisden passed through the gate and down between the high
battlements of the Bugilud into the old town. And as he passed through
the covered bazaars and the narrow streets, in the gloom of the
evening, while the rain fell drearily from a sullen sky, his
confidence of the morning departed from him, and a great depression
chilled him to the heart. The high, cracked, bulging walls of the
houses, towering up without a window, the shrouded figures of the
passers-by, the falling light, the neglect as of a city of immemorial
age crumbling in decay, made of Fez to him that night a place of gloom
and forbidding mystery. He was in a mood to doubt whether ever he
would look on Tony Stretton's face again.

In the narrowest of the alleys, where each of his stirrups touched a
wall, his guide stopped. It was almost pitch-dark here. By throwing
back his head, Warrisden could just see, far above him, a little slit
of light. His guide groped his way down a passage on the right, and at
the end opened with a key a ponderous black door. Warrisden stepped
over the sill, and found himself in a tiled court of which the roof
was open to the sky. On the first floor there was a gallery, and on
each of the four sides a long, narrow room, lofty, and closed with
great folding doors, opened on to the gallery. In one of these rooms
Warrisden had his bed set up. He sat there trying to read by the light
of a single candle, and listening to the drip of the rain.

When he left Tangier, he had twenty-one days before he need be at
Roquebrune in answer to Pamela's summons. He had looked up the
steamers before he started. Four of those days would be needed to
carry them from Tangier to Roquebrune. He had reached Fez in five, and
he thus had twelve days left. In other words, if Stretton came to Fez
within a week, there should still be time, provided, of course, the
road to the coast was not for the moment cut by rebellious tribes.
That was the danger, as Warrisden's journey had told him. He
discounted the timorous statements of his dragoman, Ibrahim, but one
who knew had warned him at El Ksar. There was a risk.

The night was cold. Warrisden wrapped himself in a Moorish jellaba of
fine, white wool, but he could not put on with it the Moorish patience
and indifference. The rain dripped upon the tiles of the court. Where
was Stretton, he wondered?

He went to bed, and waked up in the middle of the night. He had left
the great doors of his bedroom open; the rain had stopped; and in the
stillness of the night he heard one loud voice, of an exquisite
beauty, vibrating over the roofs of the sleeping city, as though it
spoke from heaven itself. Warrisden lay listening to it, and
interpreting the words from the modulation of the voice which uttered
them. Now it rang out imperious as a summons, dropping down through
the open roofs to wake the sleepers in their beds. Now it rose,
lyrical and glorious, in a high chant of praise. Now it became
wistful, and trembled away pleading, yet with a passion of longing in
the plea. Warrisden could look upwards from his bed through the open
roof. The sky was clear again. Overhead were the bright stars, and
this solitary voice, most musical and strange, ringing out through the
silence.

It was the mueddhin on the tower of the Karueein Mosque. For five
hours before the dawn the praises of Allah are sung from the summit of
the mosque's minaret. There are ten mueddhins to whom the service is
entrusted, and each sends out his chant above the sleeping city for
half an hour. But in the voice of this, one of the ten whom Warrisden
heard on the first night when he slept in Fez, there was a particular
quality. He listened for it during the nights which followed; expected
it, and welcomed its first note as one welcomes the coming of a
friend. It seemed to him that all the East was in that cry.

It brought back to him sunsets when his camp was pitched by some
little village of tents or thatched mud-houses surrounded by hedges of
aloes and prickly pears--at Karia Ben Ouder, at Djouma--villages where
there was no mosque at all, but whence none the less the voice of a
priest dispersed its plaintive cry across the empty country of
marigolds and asphodels, startling the white cow-birds and the storks.

Warrisden fell to thinking of Tony Stretton. He struck a match, and
looked at his watch. It was close upon the hour of dawn. Perhaps, just
at this moment, by some village in that wild, dark, mountain country
to the south-east, Stretton stirred in his sleep, and waked to hear
some such summons chanted about the village. Perhaps he was even now
loading his mule, and setting forth by the glimmer of the starlight
upon his dangerous road. Warrisden fell asleep again with that picture
in his mind, and woke to find the sunlight pouring through the square
opening of the roof. He drank his coffee, and mounting a little
winding stairway of broken steps, came out into that other city of
Fez, the city of the roof-tops.

Fez is built upon the slope of a hill, and upon some of the flat roofs
Warrisden looked down and through the dark square holes of the
openings; to the parapets of others he looked up. Upon some there were
gardens planted--so, he thought, must have looked the hanging gardens
of Babylon; on others, linen was strung out to dry as in some backyard
of England; the minarets, here inlaid with white and green tiles,
there built simply of bricks and brown plaster, rose high into the
limpid air. And on the towers were the great nests of storks.

Warrisden looked abroad, and in the sunlight his hopes revived. It
seemed that it must have been into another town that he had entered
last night. Nowhere could he see the gash of a street in that plateau
of roof-tops--so narrow they were; and no noise rose at all, they were
so deep. Here the only sound audible was the chattering of women's
voices--for the roofs are the playgrounds of the women, and Warrisden
could see them in their coloured handkerchiefs and robes clustered
together, climbing from one house to another with the help of ladders,
visiting their friends. But of all the clamour which must needs be
resounding in those crowded streets, not even one stray cry of
"Balak!" reached to this upper air. Lower down the hill to the east,
Warrisden could see the city wall and the gate through which Stretton
must pass when he came. And he might come to-day!

That was Warrisden's thought. He went down the stairs, had his horse
brought into the dark street before the door, and, accompanied by his
_mehazni_, that old soldier who had ridden with him from Tangier, went
out of the city over the plain towards Sefru. For through that small
town of gardens and fruit at the base of the Atlas spur, Stretton
would come. But he did not come on that day, nor on the next. But, on
the other hand, Ibrahim, Warrisden's guide, brought bad news.

He mounted to the roof in the morning, while Warrisden sat there after
his breakfast, and crouched down behind the parapet so that he might
not be seen. For the men leave the roof-tops to their women-folk, and
do not trespass there themselves.

"Sir," said he, "the road between Djebel Silfat and Djebel Zarbon is
cut. Word has come into Fez this morning. The Z'mur have come down
from the hills, and sit across the road, stopping and robbing every
one."

Warrisden sat up.

"Are you sure?" he asked. He was, as he knew, in a country of liars.
Ibrahim, in addition, was a coward in the country districts, though
the best of braggarts at Tangier. He had ridden on his mule slung
about with weapons--a Spanish rifle on his back, a revolver in his
belt, and a Winchester in his hands; while between the fingers of his
left hand he carried ready four cartridges--but he was none the less
afraid. However, Warrisden remembered that mountain pass which led
from the plain of the Sebou up to Segota. It was very lonely, it was
narrow, the road looped perpetually round the bases of the round
buttresses of Djebel Silfat. It would certainly be an awkward place
wherein to be entrapped.

"Yes, yes, I am sure," replied Ibrahim, "the Z'mur are bad men. They
might capture you and hold you to ransom."

Warrisden was inclined to discount Ibrahim's terror of the Z'mur. The
lawless deeds of that wild and fanatical tribe had been dinned into
his ears ever since he had crossed the Sebou; until he had come to
make light of them. But there was no doubt they terrorised the people;
in the villages where Warrisden had camped, they were spoken of with a
dread hardly less than that which Ibrahim betrayed. It would certainly
never do to be taken by the Z'mur. They would be released, no doubt;
but time would be wasted. They might be kept for weeks in the forest
of Marmura. They would reach Roquebrune too late.

Warrisden had brought with him, as a servant, one of the men who had
been with him to Ain-Sefra, and descending the stairs he called him,
and spoke, bidding Ibrahim interpret.

"Do you remember the mule which I gave away at Ain-Sefra?" he asked.
And the man answered, "Yes!"

"You would know it again?"

The man was sure upon that point. He described the marks by which he
would recognise the beast.

"Very well," said Warrisden. "Go out to the west of Fez, and watch the
road to Sefru. If you see a Jew come towards Fez driving the mule,
lead him at once to this house. Watch all day until the gate is
closed."

The man went off upon his errand, and Warrisden betook himself to the
vice-consulate. On his return he summoned Ibrahim, and said--

We must travel by Mequinez and Mediyah. A letter will be given to us,
passing us on from governor to governor. We can reach Larache,
travelling hard, in five days. We may find a steamer there for
Gibraltar. If not, we must go on, in one more day, to Tangier.

Ibrahim bowed his head and made no further protest. In the evening
Warrisden's servant came back from the gate; his watch had been
fruitless. Thus three days had passed. Warrisden became anxious again,
and restless. The seven days which Tony Stretton could take, and still
reach Roquebrune by the date on which Pamela insisted, were now
curtailed. Six days formed the limit, and even that limit implied that
the journey should be of the swiftest. Of those six days, three had
gone.

The fourth came, and passed. Warrisden rode out upon the track to
Sefru in vain. Even the promised letter did not come. Warrisden made
inquiries. It would come, he was told. There was no doubt upon that
score. But a Government letter takes a long time in the writing in
Morocco. It was not until the fifth evening that a messenger from the
Palace knocked upon the door. These were the days when Mulai-el-Hassan
ruled in Morocco, and was on the march against his rebellious tribes
for nine months out of the twelve. Mulai-el-Hassan, at this particular
time, was far away to the south in the Sus country, and therefore the
mountain pass to the north was dangerous.

Warrisden had his letter, however, sealed with the Viceroy's seal. But
he gazed out over the city as it lay, warm and ruddy in the sunset,
and wondered whether it would avail at all. His servant had come back
from the gate with his familiar answer. No Jew had driven the mule
down the road into Fez that day. And there was only one more day.

Warrisden descended the stairs to the gallery on the first floor, and
as he came out upon it, he heard voices in the courtyard below. He
looked over the balustrade and saw a man standing amongst his
muleteers and servants. Warrisden could not see his face. He was
dressed in rags, but the rags were the remnants of a black gabardine,
and he wore a black skull-cap upon his head.

It is likely that Warrisden would have taken no further notice of the
man, but that he cringed a little in his manner as though he was
afraid. Then he spoke in Arabic, and the voice was timorous and
apologetic. Warrisden, however, knew it none the less. He leaned over
the balustrade--

"Stretton!" he cried out in a burst of joy.

The man in the courtyard looked up. Warrisden would never have known
him but for his voice. A ragged beard stubbled his cheeks and chin; he
was disfigured with dirt and bruises; he was lean with hunger; his
face was drawn and hollow from lack of sleep. But there was something
more, a wider difference between this ragged Stretton in the courtyard
and the Stretton Warrisden had known than mere looks explained. The
man who had looked up when he heard his voice loudly and suddenly
pronounced had been startled--nay, more than startled. He had raised
an arm as though to ward off a blow. He had shrunk back. He had been
afraid. Even now, when he looked at Warrisden, and knew that he was
here in a house of safety, he stood drawing deep breaths, and
trembling like one who has received a shock. His appearance told
Warrisden much of the dangers of the journey from Ain-Sefra through
the hills to Fez.

"Yes," said Tony, "I am here. Am I in time?"

"Just in time," cried Warrisden. "Oh, but I thought you never would
come!"

He ran down the steps into the courtyard.

"Balak!" cried Stretton, with a laugh. "Wait till I have had a bath,
and got these clothes burnt."

In such guise, Tony Stretton came to Fez. He had gone straight to the
vice-consulate, and thence had been directed to Warrisden's house.
When, an hour later, he came up on to the gallery and sat down to
dinner, he was wearing the clothes of a European, and the look of fear
had gone from his face, the servility from his manner. But Warrisden
could not forget either the one or the other. Tony Stretton had come
through the mountains--yes. But the way had not been smooth.



                            CHAPTER XXVIII

                              HOMEWARDS


The two men smoked together upon the roof-top afterwards.

"I left a man at the gate all day," said Warrisden, "to watch the
track from Sefru. I had brought him from Algiers. I do not know how he
came to miss you."

"He could not know me," said Tony, "and I spoke to no one."

"But he knew the mule!"

Tony was silent for a little while. Then he said, in a low, grave
voice, like a man speaking upon matters which he has no liking to
remember--

"The mule was taken from me some days ago in the Ait Yussi country."
And Warrisden upon that said--

"You had trouble, then, upon the way--great trouble."

Again Tony was slow in the reply. He looked out across the city. It
was a night of moonlight, so bright that the stars were pale and
small, as though they were withdrawn; there was no cloud anywhere
about the sky; and on such a night, in that clear, translucent air,
the city, with its upstanding minarets, had a grace and beauty denied
to it by day. There was something of enchantment in its aspect, Tony
smoked his pipe in silence for a little while. Then he said--

"Let us not talk about it! I never thought that I would be sitting
here in Fez to-night. Tell me rather when we start!"

"Early to-morrow," replied Warrisden. "We must reach Roquebrune in the
South of France by the thirty-first."

Stretton suddenly sat back in his chair.

"Roquebrune! France!" he exclaimed. "We must go there? Why?"

"I do not know," Warrisden answered. "A telegram reached me at
Tangier. I kept it."

He took the telegram from his pocket and handed it to Stretton, who
read it and sat thinking.

"We have time," said Warrisden, "just time enough, I think, if we
travel fast."

"Good," said Stretton, as he returned the telegram. "But I was not
thinking of the time."

He did not explain what had caused him to start at the mention of
Roquebrune; but after sitting for a little while longer in silence, he
betook himself to bed.

Early the next morning they rode out of the Bab Sagma upon the
thronged highway over the plain to Mequinez.

The caravans diminished, striking off into this or that track. Very
soon there remained with them only one party of five Jews mounted on
small donkeys. They began to ride through high shrubs and bushes of
fennel over rolling ground. Stretton talked very little, and as the
track twisted and circled across the plain he was constantly standing
up in his stirrups and searching the horizon.

"There does not seem to be one straight path in Morocco," he exclaimed
impatiently. "Look at this one. There's no reason why it should not
run straight. Yet it never does."

Indeed, the track lay across that open plain like some brown,
monstrous serpent of a legend.

"I do not believe," replied Warrisden, "that there is a straight path
anywhere in the world, unless it is one which has been surveyed and
made, or else it runs from gate to gate, and both gates are visible.
One might think the animals made this track, turning and twisting to
avoid the bushes. Only the tracks are no straighter in the desert,
where there are no bushes at all."

They halted for half an hour at eleven, beside a bridge which crossed
a stream, broken and ruinous, but still serviceable. And while they
sat on the ground under the shadow they suddenly heard a great clatter
of hoofs upon the broken cobbles; and looking up saw a body of men
ride across the bridge. There were about forty of them, young and old;
all were mounted, and in appearance as wild and ragged a set of
bandits as could be imagined. As they rode over the bridge they saw
Warrisden and Stretton seated on the ground beneath them; and without
a word or a shout they halted as one man. Their very silence was an
intimidating thing.

"Z'mur," whispered Ibrahim. He was shaking with fear. Warrisden
noticed that the two soldiers who accompanied them on this journey to
Mequinez quietly mounted their horses. Stretton and Warrisden rose to
do likewise. And as they rose a dozen of the mounted Z'mur quietly
rode round from the end of the bridge and stood between them and the
stream. Then the leader, a big man with a black beard turning grey,
began to talk in a quiet and pleasant voice to the soldiers.

"You are bringing Europeans into our country. Now, why are you doing
that? We do not like Europeans."

The soldiers no less pleasantly replied--

"Your country? The Europeans are travelling with a letter from your
master and mine, my Lord the Sultan, to the Governor of Mequinez."

"You will show us then the letter?"

"I will do nothing of the kind," the soldier replied, with a smile.
The Z'mur did not move; the two soldiers sat upon their horses
smiling--it seemed that matters had come to a deadlock. Meanwhile
Warrisden and Stretton got into their saddles. Then the leader of the
Z'mur spoke again--

"We passed five Jews riding on donkeys a little while ago. They were
kind enough when we stopped them to give us a peseta apiece. We are
going to Fez to offer our help to the Sultan, if only he will give us
rifles and ammunition. But we shall go home again when we have got
them. Perhaps the Europeans would like to give us a peseta apiece as
well."

"I do not think they would like it at all," said the soldier. "Peace
go with you!" and he turned his horse and, followed, by Warrisden and
Stretton, the terrified Ibrahim and the train of mules, he rode right
through the forty Z'mur and over the bridge.

It was an awkward moment, but the men of Warrisden's party assumed,
with what skill they could, an air of unconcern. Trouble was very near
to them. It needed only that one of those wild tribesmen should reach
out his hand and seize the bridle of a horse. But no hand was reached
out. The Z'mur were caught in a moment of indecision. They sat upon
their horses motionless. They let the Europeans pass.

Ibrahim, however, drew no comfort from their attitude.

"It is because they wish rifles and ammunition from the Government,"
he said. "Therefore they will avoid trouble until they have got them.
But with the next party it will not be so."

There are three waterfalls in Morocco, and of those three one falls in
a great cascade between red cliffs into a dark pool thirty feet below,
close by the village of Medhuma. By this waterfall they lunched, the
while Ibrahim bared his right arm to the shoulder, stretched himself
full length upon the ground, and, to the infinite danger of the
bystanders, practised shooting with his revolver. They lunched quickly
and rode on. Towards evening, above a group of trees on a hill, they
saw here and there a minaret.

"Mequinez," exclaimed Ibrahim. "Schoof! Mequinez!"

In a little while fragments of thick wall began to show, scattered
here and there about the plain. Brown walls, high and crumbling to
rain, walls that never had been walls of houses, but which began and
ended for no reason. They were all that was left of the work of Mulai
Ismail, who, in the seventeenth century, had built and planned
buildings about this town until death put an end to all his
architecture. There was to be a wall across the country, from Fez to
Morocco city far away in the south, so that the blind, of which this
kingdom still has many, and then was full, might pass from one town to
another without a guide. Part of that wall was built, and fragments of
it rise amongst the oleanders and the bushes to this day.

The travellers entered now upon a park. A green mossy turf spread out
soft beneath the feet of their horses, dwarf oaks made everywhere a
pleasant shade; Stretton had lost sight now of the minarets, and no
sign of Mequinez was visible at all. The ground sloped downwards, the
track curved round a hill, and suddenly, on the opposite side of a
valley, they saw the royal city, with its high walls and gates, its
white houses, and its green-tiled mosques, and its old grey massive
palaces stretch along the hillside before their eyes.

One of the soldiers rode forward into the town to find the Basha and
present his letters. A troop of men came out in a little time and led
the travellers up the cobbled stones through a gateway into the wide
space before the Renegade's Gate, that wonderful monument of Moorish
art which neither the wear of the centuries nor the neglect of its
possessors has availed to destroy. Its tiles are broken. The rains
have discoloured it, stones have fallen from their places. Yet the
gate rises, majestic yet most delicate, beautiful in colour, exquisite
in shape, flanked with massive pillars, and surmounted by its soaring
arch, a piece of embroidery in stone, fine as though the stone were
lace. By the side of this arch the camp was pitched just about the
time when the horses and mules are brought down to roll in the dust of
the square and to drink at the two great fountains beyond the gate.

Later in that evening there came a messenger from the Basha with
servants bearing bowls of kouss-kouss.

"Fourteen soldiers will ride with you to-morrow," he said, "for the
country is not safe. It will be well if you start early, for you have
a long way to go."

"The earlier the better," said Stretton.

"It will do if you breakfast at five--half-past five," said Ibrahim,
to whom punctuality was a thing unknown. "And start at six--half-past
six."

"No," said Warrisden. "We will start at five--half-past five."

That night a company of soldiers kept guard about the tents, and
passed the hours of darkness in calling to one another and chanting
one endless plaintive melody. Little sleep was possible to the two
Englishmen, and to one of them sleep did not come at all. Now and then
Warrisden dropped off and waked again; and once or twice he struck a
match and lit his candle. Each time that he did this he saw Stretton
lying quite motionless in his bed on the other side of the tent. Tony
lay with the bed-clothes up to his chin, and his arms straight down at
his sides, in some uncanny resemblance to a dead man. But Warrisden
saw that all the while his eyes were open. Tony was awake with his
troubles and perplexities, keeping them to himself as was his wont,
and slowly searching for an issue. That he would hit upon the issue he
did not doubt. He had these few days for thought, and it was not the
first time that he had had to map out a line of conduct. His course
might be revealed to him at the very last moment, as it had been on
the trawler in the North Sea. Or it might flash upon him in a second,
as the necessity to desert had flashed upon him amidst the aloes of
Ain-Sefra. Meanwhile he lay awake and thought.

They started early that morning, and crossing a valley, mounted on to
that high, wide plain Djebel Zarhon and Djebel Gerowaun. They left the
town of Mequinez behind them; its minarets dropped out of sight. They
had come into a most empty world. Not a tent-village stood anywhere
beside the track. Far away to the right, in a deep recess, the white
sacred town of Mulai Idris fell down the dark side of Zarhon like a
cascade. A little further an arch of stone and a few pillars rising
from the plain showed where once the Romans had built their town of
Volubilis. But when that was passed there was no sign of life anywhere
at all. For hours they rode in a desolate, beautiful world. Bushes of
asphodel, white with their starry flowers, brushed against them;
plants of iris, purple and yellow, stood stirrup-high upon their path;
and at times the bushes would cease, and they would ride over a red
carpet of marigolds, which would pale away into the gold of the
mustard flower. Flowers were about them all that day, the red anemone,
the blue lupin, periwinkles, the yellow flower of the cytisus, but no
living things. Even the air above their heads was still. The country
seemed too empty even for the birds.

At eleven o'clock they stopped beside a stream which ran prettily
between trees across their path.

"We shall find no more water until evening," said Ibrahim. "We will
stop here."

Stretton dismounted, and said--

"We can send the mules on and catch them up. It will save time."

The soldiers shook their heads.

"We are in the Berber country," they said. "We must not separate."

Stretton looked around impatiently.

"But there is no one within miles," he exclaimed; and, as if to
contradict him, a man walked out from the bushes by the stream and
came towards them. He had been robbed on this very track not two hours
before by eleven mounted Berbers. He had been driving three mules
laden with eggs and food to Mulai Idris, and his mules and their loads
had been taken from him. He was walking home, absolutely penniless,
His whole fortune had been lost that day; and when once again the
travellers started upon their journey he ran at a trot beside their
horses for safety's sake.

The road mounted now on to stony and mountainous country. It wound
continually, ascending in and out amongst low, round peaks towards the
summit of a great line of hills which ran from east to west opposite
to them against the sky.

"Beyond the hills," cried Ibrahim, "is the plain of the Sebou."

A big village crowned the hill just where the track ascended. It had
been placed there to protect the road. In a little while they came to
the brow of the hill, and suddenly they saw, far below them, the great
plain of the Sebou, green and level, dotted with villages and the
white tombs of saints and clumps of trees, stretching away as far as
the eye could reach. It was afternoon, not a cloud was in the sky, and
the sun shone through the clear, golden air beneficently bright. The
hillside fell away to the plain with a descent so sheer, the plain
broke so abruptly upon the eyes, that the very beauty of the scene
caught the breath away. Both Warrisden and Stretton reined in their
horses, and sat looking across the plain as a man might who suddenly
from the crest of some white cliff sees for the first time the sea.
And then Warrisden heard his companion begin to hum a song. He caught
some of the words, but not many.

"Oh, come out, mah love, I'm awaitin' foh you heah!" Tony began, and
suddenly checked himself with an expression of anger, as though the
words had associations which it hurt him to recall.

"Let us ride on," he said, and led the way down the steep, winding
track towards the plain.

They pressed on that evening, and camped late in the Beni Hassan
country. Stretton slept that night, but he slept fitfully. He had not
yet come to the end of his perplexities, and as he rode away from
their camping-ground in the morning he said, impulsively--

"It is quite true. I have thought of it. I am to blame. I should have
gone into the house that night."

He was endeavouring to be just, and to this criticism of himself he
continually recurred. He should have entered his house in Berkeley
Square on the night when he contented himself with looking up to the
lighted windows. He should have gone in and declared what was in his
mind to do. Very likely he would only have made matters worse.
Contempt for a visionary would very likely have been added to the
contempt for a ne'er-do-weel. Certainly no faith would have been felt
by Millie in the success of his plan. He would have been asked, in a
lukewarm way, to abandon it and stay at home. Still, he ought to have
gone in. He had made a mistake that night.

All that day they rode through the Beni Hassan country westwards. The
plain was level and monotonous; they passed village after village,
each one built in a circle round a great space of open turf, into
which the cattle were driven at night. For upon the hills, and in the
forest of Mamura to the south, close by, the Z'mur lived, and between
the Beni Hassan and the Z'mur there is always war. In the afternoon
they came to the borders of that forest, and skirting its edge,
towards evening reached the caravanserai of El Kantra.

The travellers saw it some while before they came to it--four high,
smooth, castellated walls crowning a low hill. It stands upon the road
from Fez to Rabat, and close to the road from Rabat to Larache, and a
garrison guards it. For you could almost throw a stone from its walls
into the trees of Mamura. Stretton and Warrisden rode round the walls
to the gate, and as they passed beneath the arch both halted and
looked back.

Outside was a quiet country of grey colours; the sun was near to its
setting; far away the broken walls of the old Portuguese town of
Mediyah stood upon a point of vantage on a hillside, like some ruined
castle of the Tyrol. Inside the caravanserai all was noise and
shouting and confusion. In the thickness of the walls there were
little rooms or cells, and in these the merchants were making their
homes for the night, while about them their servants and muleteers
buzzed like a hive of bees. And the whole great square within the
walls was one lake of filthy mud, wherein camels, and mules, and
donkeys, and horses rolled and stamped and fought. A deafening clamour
rose to the skies. Every discordant sound that the created world could
produce seemed to be brayed from that jostling throng of animals as
from some infernal orchestra. And the smell of the place was fetid.

"Let us pitch our camp outside!" said Warrisden. But the captain of
the garrison came hurrying up.

"No," he cried excitedly. "The Z'mur! The Z'mur!"

Stretton shrugged his shoulders.

"I am getting a little bored with the Z'mur," said he.

"They have sent in word to us," the captain continued, "that they mean
to attack us to-night."

Stretton looked perplexed.

"But why send in word?" he asked.

The captain of the garrison looked astonished at the question.

"So that we may be ready for them, of course," he replied, quite
seriously; for life in Morocco has some of the qualities of
_opera-bouffe_. "So you must come inside. You have a letter from my
lord the Basha of Fez, it is true. If the letter said you were to
sleep outside the walls of El Kantra, then I would kiss the seal and
place it against my forehead, and bring out my five hundred men to
guard you, and we should all get killed. But it does not say so."

His five hundred men were really short of fifty. Stretton and
Warrisden laughed; but they had to go inside the caravanserai. This
was the last day on which they ran any risk. To-morrow they would
cross the Sebou at Mediyah, and beyond the Sebou the road was safe.

They rode inside the caravanserai, and were allotted a cell which
obtained some privacy from a hurdle fixed in the ground in front of
it. The gates of the caravanserai were closed, the sunset flushed the
blue sky with a hue of rose; 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 Coldstream. Then
arose in his heart a great longing that something of the happiness of
those days might be recaptured still.

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.



                             CHAPTER XXIX

                       PAMELA MEETS A STRANGER


Meanwhile Pamela waited at the Villa Pontignard, swinging 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 up 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 Callon 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! 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 Roquebrune."

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 this 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 that."

"Yes; but it contains all the truth," she urged. "You must not doubt
that either. 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 silent. 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 now."

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 without 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 keeping 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 had hoped to see the blood pulse into his face, and some look of
gladness dawn suddenly in his 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 anticipating 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 implacably.

"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 telegram."

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!" 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, tomorrow."

"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 retribution? 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 completely 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. He 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 him 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.



                             CHAPTER XXX

                           M. GIRAUD AGAIN


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 schoolmaster, 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 again.

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!" 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 her.

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."

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 curé 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 disrepair. 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 was a copy
of his brochure on Roquebrune 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 Mardale; 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 his 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
Roquebrune. 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
something grotesque in the aspect of this drink-swollen face, all
convulsed with sorrow. Nothing could well lie less in sympathy 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.
Mudge 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 fulfil themselves in ways
which were not hers. She put herself now in M. Giraud's place. She
imagined him waiting and waiting at Roquebrune, with his one window on
the outside world closed and shuttered--a man in a darkened room who
most passionately desired the air without. She said, with a trace of
hesitation--

"You say you have needed me very much?"

"Oh, have I not?" exclaimed Giraud; and the very weariness of his
voice would have convinced her, had she needed conviction. It seemed
to express the dilatory passage of the years during which he had
looked for her coming, and had looked in vain.

"Well, then, listen to me," she went on. "I was once told that
to be needed by those whom one needs is a great comfort. I thought
of the saying at the time, and I thought that it was a true one.
Afterwards"--she began to speak slowly, carefully selecting her
words--"it happened that in my own experience I proved it to be
true--at all events, for me. Is it true for you also? Think well. If
it is not true I will go away as you bade me at the beginning; but if
it is true--why, then I may be of some little help to you, and you
will be certainly a great help to me; for I need you very surely."

M. Giraud looked at her in silence for a little while. Then he
answered her with simplicity, and so, for the first time during this
interview, wore the proper dignity of a man.

"Yes, I will help you," he said. "What can I do?"

She held out the letter which she had written to Lionel Callon. She
bade him carry it with the best speed he could to its destination.

"Lose no time!" she implored. "I am not sure, but it may be that one
man's life, and the happiness of a man and a woman besides, all hang
upon its quick receipt."

M. Giraud took his hat from the wall and went to the door. At the door
he paused, and standing thus, with an averted face, he said in a
whisper, recalling the words she had lately spoken--

"There is one, then, whom you need? You are no longer lonely in your
thoughts? I should like to know."

"Yes," Pamela answered gently: "I am no longer lonely in my thoughts."

"And you are happy?" he continued. "You were not happy when you were
at Roquebrune last. I should like to know that you, at all events, are
happy now."

"Yes," said Pamela. In the presence of his distress she rather shrank
from acknowledging the change which had come over her. It seemed
cruel; yet he clearly wished to know. He clearly would be the happier
for knowing. "Yes," she said; "I am happy."

"I am very glad," said M. Giraud, in a low voice; "I am very glad."
And he went rather quickly out by the door.



                             CHAPTER XXXI

                            AT THE RESÉRVE


Tony Stretton walked quickly down from the Villa Pontignard to the
station. There he learned that an hour must elapse before a train to
Eze was due. Inaction was at this moment intolerable to him. Even
though he should get to Eze not a minute the sooner, he must hurry
upon his way. He could not wait upon this platform for an hour,
suspense so tortured him. He went out upon the road and began to run.
He ran very quickly. The road turned sharply round the shoulder of a
hill, and Stretton saw in front of him the lights of Monte Carlo. They
were bunched in great white clusters, they were strung in festoons in
the square and the streets. They made a golden crescent about the
dark, quiet waters of the bay. Looking down from this shoulder of the
hill upon the town at such an hour one seems to be looking upon a town
of fairyland; one expects a sweet and delicate music to float upwards
from its houses and charm the ears. Tony's one thought was that beyond
that place of lights lay Eze. He came to an electric tram which was on
point of starting. He entered it and it rattled him quickly down the
hill.

At Monte Carlo he sprang into the first carriage which he saw waiting
for a fare, and bade the coachman drive him quickly out to Eze. The
night had come; above his head the stars shone very brightly from a
dark sky of velvet. The carriage passed out of the town; the villas
grew more scarce; the open road glimmered ahead of him a riband of
white; the sea murmured languorously upon the shore.

At this moment, in the lonely restaurant towards which Tony was
driving in such haste, Lionel Callon and Millie Stretton were sitting
down to dinner. The table was laid in the small, daintily furnished
room which opened on to the terrace. The windows stood wide, and the
lazy murmur of the waves entered in. The white cloth shone with
silver, a great bowl of roses stood in the centre and delicately
perfumed the air. Thither Millie had come in fulfilment of that
promise made on a midnight of early spring in Regent's Park. The
colour burned prettily on her cheeks, she had dressed herself in a
pink gown of lace, jewels shone on her arms and at her neck. She was,
perhaps, a little feverish in her gaiety, her laughter was perhaps a
little over loud. Indeed, every now and then her heart sank in fear
within her, and she wished herself far away. But here Lionel Callon
was at his ease. He knew the methods by which victory was to be won.
There was no suggestion of triumph in his manner. He was considerate
and most deferential, and with no more than a hint of passion in the
deference.

"You have come," he said. His eyes rested upon hers, and he left them
to express his gratitude. He raised her hand to his lips and gently
took the cloak from her shoulders. "You have had a long journey. But
you are not tired." He placed her chair for her at the table and sat
opposite. He saw that she was uneasy. He spoke no word which might
alarm her.

Meanwhile Tony was drawing nearer. He reached the hotel at Eze, and
drove through its garden to the door.

"Is Lady Stretton in the hotel?" he asked.

"No, sir. Her ladyship went out to dinner nearly an hour ago."

"Thank you," said Tony. "She arrived this afternoon, I think?"

"Yes, sir. What name shall I give when she returns?"

"No name," said Tony. And he ordered his coachman to drive back to the
road.

When he had reached it he directed the man again.

"Towards Beaulieu," he said; and in a little while, on his left hand,
below the level of the road, he saw the lights of the _Réserve_. He
stopped at the gate, dismissed his carriage, and walked down the
winding drive to the door. He walked into the restaurant. It was
empty. A waiter came forward to him.

"I wish you to take me at once to Mr. Callon," he said. He spoke in a
calm, matter-of-fact voice. But the waiter nevertheless hesitated.
Tony wore the clothes in which he had travelled to Roquebrune. He was
covered with dust, his face was haggard and stern. He had nothing in
common with the dainty little room of lights and flowers and shining
silver, and the smartly dressed couple who were dining there. The
waiter guessed that his irruption would be altogether inconvenient.

"Mr. Callon!" he stammered. "He has gone out."

Tony heard the rattle of a metal cover upon a dish. He looked in the
direction whence the sound came--he looked to the right-hand side of
the restaurant. A door stood open there, and in the passage beyond the
door he saw a waiter pass carrying the dish. Moreover, the man who had
spoken to him made yet another mistake. He noticed the direction of
Tony's glance, and he made a quick movement as though to bar that
passage.

"He is here," said Tony; and he thrust the waiter aside. He crossed
the restaurant quickly and entered the passage. The passage ran
parallel to the restaurant; and, at the end towards the terrace, there
was another door upon the opposite side. The waiter with the dish had
his hand upon the door-handle, but he turned at the sound of
Stretton's step. He, too, noticed the disorder of Tony's dress. At the
same moment the man in the restaurant shouted in a warning voice--

"Jules!"

Jules stood in front of the door.

"Monsieur, this room is private," said he.

"Yet I will take the liberty to intrude," said Tony, quietly.

From behind the door there came the sound of a man's voice which Tony
did not know. He had, indeed, never heard it before. Then a woman's
laugh rang out; and the sound of it angered Tony beyond endurance. He
recognised it beyond the possibility of mistake. It was his wife who
was laughing so gaily there behind the closed door. He thought of the
years he had spent in the determination to regain his wife's esteem,
to free himself from her contempt. For the moment he could have
laughed bitterly at his persistence as at some egregious folly. It
seemed all waste--waste of time, waste of endeavour, waste of
suffering. She was laughing! And with Lionel Callon for her companion!
The cold, black nights of the North Sea and its gales; the arid sands
of the Sahara; all his long service for her ending in that crowning
act of desertion--the story was clear in his mind from beginning to
end, detailed and complete. And she was laughing in there with Lionel
Callon! Her laughter was to him as some biting epigram which
epitomised the way in which she had spent the years of his absence.
His anger got the better of his self-control.

"Stand away," he cried, in a low, savage voice, to the waiter. And
since the man did not instantly move, he seized him by the shoulders
and dragged him from the door.

"Monsieur!" the man cried aloud, in a frightened voice, and the dish
which he was carrying fell with a clatter on to the floor. Inside the
room the laughter suddenly ceased. Tony listened for a second. He
could not hear even a whisper. There was complete silence. He smiled
rather grimly to himself; he was thinking that this was not, at all
events, the silence of contempt.

Could he have seen through the door into the room he would have been
yet more convinced. All the gaiety vanished in an instant from
Millie's face. She was sitting opposite the door; she sat and stared
at it in terror. The blood ebbed from the cheeks, leaving them as
white as paper.

"Monsieur!" she repeated, in so low a whisper that even Callon, on the
other side of the small table, hardly heard the word. Her lips were
dry, and she moistened them. "Monsieur!" she whispered again, and the
whisper was a question. She had no definite suspicion who "Monsieur"
was; she did not define him as her husband. She only understood that
somehow she was trapped. The sudden clatter of the dish upon the
floor, the loudness of the waiter's cry, which was not a mere protest,
but also a cry of fear, terrified her; they implied violence. She was
trapped. She sat paralysed upon her chair, staring across the table
over Callon's shoulder at the door. Callon meanwhile said not a word.
He had been sitting with his back to the door, and he twisted round in
his chair. To both of them it seemed ages before the handle was
turned. Yet so short was the interval of time that they could hardly
have reached the terrace through the open window had they sprung up at
the first sound of disturbance.

Thus they were sitting, silent and motionless, when the door was
pushed open, and Tony stood in the doorway. At the sight of him Millie
uttered one loud scream, and clapped her hands over her face. Callon,
on the other hand, started up on to his feet. As he did so he upset
his wine-glass over the table-cloth; it fell and splintered on the
polished floor. He turned towards the intruder who so roughly forced
his way into the room. The eyes of that intruder took no account of
him; they were fixed upon Millie Stretton, as she sat cowering at the
table with her hands before her face.

"What do you want?" cried Callon. "You have no right here!"

"I have every right here," said Tony. "That is my wife!"

It was still his wife at whom he looked, not at all towards Callon.
Callon was startled out of his wits. Detection he had always feared;
he had sought to guard against it by the use of every precaution known
to his devious strategy. But it was detection by Pamela Mardale and
her friends, who had once already laid him by the heels; the husband
had never entered into his calculations. He had accepted without
question Millie's version of the husband--he was the man who did not
care. In some part of the world he wandered, but where no one knew;
cut off from all his friends--indifferent, neglectful, and a fool.
Even now he could not believe. This might be some new trick of Pamela
Mardale's.

"Your wife!" he exclaimed. "That is not true."

"Not true?" cried Tony, in a terrible voice. He stretched out his arm
and pointed towards Millie. "Look!"

Millie flinched as though she feared a blow. She dropped her head yet
lower. She held her fingers over her eyelids, closing them tightly.
She had looked once at Tony's face, she dared not look again. She sat
in darkness, trembling. One question was in her mind. "Would he kill
her?" Callon looked at her as he was bidden. Millie was wont to speak
of her husband with indifference, and a suggestion of scorn. Yet it
was her manifest terror which now convinced Callon that the husband
was indeed before him. Here the man was, sprung suddenly out of the
dark upon him, not neglectful, for he had the look of one who has
travelled from afar very quickly, and slept but little on the way; not
indifferent, for he was white with anger and his eyes were aflame.
Callon cursed the luck which had for a second time brought him into
such ill straits. He measured himself with Tony, and knew in the
instant that he was no match for him. There was a man, tired, no
doubt, and worn, but hard as iron, supple of muscle and limb, and
finely trained to the last superfluous ounce of flesh; while he
himself was soft with luxury and good living. He sought to temporise.

"That is no proof," said he. "Any woman might be startled----" And
Tony broke fiercely in upon his stammered argument--

"Go out," he cried, "and wait for me!"

The door was still open. Outside it in the passage the waiters were
clustered, listening. Inside the room Millie was listening. The order,
roughly given, was just one which Callon for very shame could not
obey. He would have liked to obey it, for confronting husbands was
never to his liking; all his art lay in eluding them.

"Go out!" Tony repeated, and took a step forward. Callon could not cut
so poor a figure as to slink from the room like a whipped schoolboy.
Yet it would have gone better with him had he eaten his leek and gone.

"It would not be safe to leave you," he babbled. And suddenly Tony
caught him by the throat, struck him upon the face, and then flung him
violently away.

Callon reeled back through the open windows, slipped and fell at his
full length upon the terrace. His head struck the stone flags with a
horrible sound. He lay quite still in the strong light which poured
from the room; his eyes were closed, his face quite bloodless. It was
his business, as Mudge had said, to light amongst the teacups.

Tony made no further movement towards him. The waiters went out on to
the terrace and lifted him up and carried him away. Then Tony turned
towards his wife. She had risen up from her chair and overturned it
when Tony had flung the interloper from the room. She now crouched
shuddering against the wall, with her eyes fixed in terror upon her
husband. As he turned towards her she uttered a sob and dropped upon
her knees before him. That was the end of all her scorn. She kneeled
in deadly fear, admiring him in the very frenzy of her fear. She had
no memory for the contemptuous letters which she had written and Tony
had carried under his pillow on the North Sea. Her little deceits and
plots and trickeries to hoodwink her friends, her little pretence of
passion for Lionel Callon--she knew at this moment that it never had
been more than a pretence--these were the matters which now she
remembered, and for which she dreaded punishment. She was wearing
jewels that night--jewels which Tony had given her in the good past
days when they lived together in the house in Deanery Street. They
shook and glittered upon her hair, about her neck, upon her bosom and
her arms. She kneeled in her delicate finery of lace and satin in this
room of luxury and bright flowers. There was no need for Tony now to
work to re-establish himself in her thoughts. She reached out her
hands to him in supplication.

"I am not guilty," she moaned. "Tony! Tony!"



                            CHAPTER XXXII

                           HUSBAND AND WIFE


The man who was no good had his triumph then. Only triumph was not at
all in his thoughts.

"Oh, please!" he said very quietly, "get up from your knees. I don't
like to see you there. It hurts me."

Millie raised her eyes to him in wonder. He did not mean to kill her,
then. All his violence, it seemed, was reserved for that poor warrior
of the drawing-rooms who had just been carried away stunned and
bleeding from the terrace. When Tony spoke to her his voice was rather
that of a man very dispirited and sad. He had indeed travelled through
the mountains of Morocco hot with anger against Callon the interloper;
but now that he had come face to face again with Millie, now that he
had heard her voice with its remembered accents, the interloper seemed
of little account, a creature to punish and be done with. The sadness
of his voice penetrated to Millie's heart. She rose and stood
submissively before him.

In the passage outside the door the waiters were clustered whispering
together. Tony closed the door and shut the whispers out. Upon the
terrace, outside the window, a man was hesitating whether to enter or
no. Tony went to the window.

"Who are you?" he asked. "What do you want?"

"I am Giraud, the schoolmaster of Roquebrune," said the man, timidly.
"I bring a letter from Mademoiselle Mardale."

"Let me see it!" said Tony; and he held out his hand for the letter.
He glanced at the superscription and gave it back. "It is not for me,"
he said, and M. Giraud went away from the terrace. Tony turned back to
his wife. His mind was full of a comparison between the ways in which
he and she had each spent the years of absence. For him they had been
years of endeavour, persisted in through failure and perplexity until
success, but for her, was reached. And how had Millie spent them? He
looked at her sternly, and she said again in a faltering voice--

"I am innocent, Tony."

And he replied--

"Could you have said as much to-morrow had I not come back to-night?"

Millie had no answer to that question--she attempted none; and it was
even at that moment counted to her credit by her husband. She stood
silent for a while, and only the murmur of the sea breaking upon the
beach filled the room. A light wind breathed through the open window,
cool and fragrant, and made the shaded candles flicker upon the table.
Millie had her one poor excuse to offer, and she pleaded it humbly.

"I thought that you had ceased to care what became of me," she said.

Tony looked sharply at her. She was sincere--surely she was sincere.

"You thought that?" he exclaimed; and he replaced her chair at the
table. "Sit down here! Let me understand! You thought that I had
ceased to care for you? When I ceased to write, I suppose?"

Millie shook her head.

"Before that?"

Tony dropped into the chair on which Callon had been sitting.

"Before that?" he exclaimed in perplexity. "When? Tell me!"

Millie sat over against him at the table.

"Do you remember the evening when you first told me that you had made
up your mind to go away and make a home for both of us? It was on that
evening. You gave your reason for going away. We had begun to
quarrel--we were drifting apart."

"I remember," said Tony; "but we had not ceased to care then, neither
you nor I. It was just because I feared that at some time we might
cease to care that I was resolved to go away."

"Ah," said Millie; "but already the change had begun. Yes, yes! Things
winch you thought you never could remember without a thrill you
remembered already with indifference--you remembered them without
being any longer moved or touched by the associations which they once
had had. I recollect the very words you used. I sat as still as could
be while you spoke them; but I never forgot them, Tony. There was a
particular instance which you mentioned--a song----" And suddenly Tony
laughed; but he laughed harshly, and there was no look of amusement on
his face. Millie stared at him in surprise, but he did not explain,
and she went on with her argument.

"So when you ceased to write I was: still more convinced that you had
reaped to care. When you remained away after your father had died I
was yet more sure."

Tony leaned across the white table-cloth with its glittering silver,
and fixed his eyes on her.

"I will tell you why I ceased to write. Every letter which you wrote
to me when I was in New York was more contemptuous than the letter
which had preceded it. I had failed, and you despised me for my
failure. I had allowed myself to be tricked out of your money----" And
upon that Millie interrupted him--

"Oh no!" she cried; "you must not say that I despised you for that.
No! That is not fair. I never thought of the money. I offered you what
was left."

Tony had put himself in the wrong here. He recognised his mistake, he
accepted Millie's correction.

"Yes, that is true," he said; "you offered me all that was left--but
you offered it contemptuously; you had no shadow of belief that I
would use it to advantage--you had no faith in me at all. In your eyes
I was no good. Mind, I don't blame you. You were justified, no doubt.
I had set out to make a home for you, as many a man has done for his
wife. Only where they had succeeded I had failed. If I thought anything
at all----" he said, with an air of hesitation.

"Well?" asked Millie.

"I thought you might have expressed your contempt with a little less
of unkindness, or perhaps have hidden it altogether. You see, I was
not having an easy time in New York, and your letters made it very
much harder."

"Oh, Tony," she said, in a low voice of self-reproach. She was sitting
with her hands clenched in front of her upon the table-cloth, her
forehead puckered, and in her eyes a look of great pain.

"Never mind that," he replied; and he resumed his story. "I saw then
quite clearly that with each letter which you received from me, each
new instalment of my record of failure--for each letter was just that,
wasn't it?--your contempt grew. I was determined that if I could help
it your contempt should not embitter all our two lives. So I ceased to
write. For the same reason I stayed away, even after my father had
died. Had I come back then I should have come back a failure, proved
and self-confessed. And your scorn would have stayed with you. My
business henceforth was to destroy it, to prove to you that after all
I was some good--if not at money-making, at something else. I resolved
that we should not live together again until I could come to you and
say, 'You have no right to despise me. Here's the proof.'"

Millie was learning now, even as Tony had learnt a minute ago. All
that he said to her was utterly surprising and strange. He had been
thinking of her, then, all the time while he was away! Indifference
was in no way the reason of his absence.

"Oh, why did you not write this to me?" she cried. "It need not have
been a long letter, since you were unwilling to write. But just this
you might have written. It would have been better, kinder"--and she
paused upon the word, uttering it with hesitation and a shy
deprecating smile, as though aware that she had no claim upon his
kindness. "It would have been kinder than just to leave me here, not
knowing where you were, and thinking what I did."

"It is true," said Tony, "I might have written. But would you have
believed me if I had? No."

"Then you might have come to me," she urged. "Once--just for five
minutes--to tell me what you meant to do."

"I might," Tony agreed; "in fact, I very nearly did. I was under the
windows of the house in Berkeley Square one night." And Millie
started.

"Yes, you were," she said slowly.

"You knew that?"

"Yes; I knew it the next day." And she added, "I wish now, I think,
that you had come in that night."

"Suppose that I had," said Tony; "suppose that I had told you of my
fine plan, you would have had no faith in it. You would merely have
thought, 'Here's another folly to be added to the rest.' Your contempt
would have been increased, that's all."

It was quite strange to Millie Stretton that there ever could have
been a time when she had despised him. She saw him sitting now in
front of her, quiet and stern; she remembered her own terror when he
burst into the room, when he flung Callon headlong through the
windows, when he turned at last towards her.

"We have been strangers to one another."

"Yes," he replied; "I did not know you. I should never have left
you--now I understand that. I trusted you very blindly, but I did not
know you."

Millie lowered her eyes from his face.

"Nor I you," she answered. "What did you do when you went away that
night from Berkeley Square?"

"I enlisted in the Foreign Legion in Algeria."

Millie raised her head again with a start of surprise.

"Soldiering was my trade, you see. It was the one profession where I
had just a little of that expert knowledge which is necessary nowadays
if you are to make your living."

Something of his life in the Foreign Legion Tony now told her. He
spoke deliberately, since a light was beginning dimly to shine through
the darkness of his perplexities. Of a set purpose he described to her
the arduous perils of active service and the monotony of the
cantonments. He was resolved that she should understand in the spirit
and in the letter the life which for her sake he had led. He related
his expedition to the Figuig oasis, his march into the Sahara under
Tavernay. He took from his pocket the medals which he had won, and
laid them upon the tablecloth before her.

"Look at them," he said; "I earned them. These are mine. I earned them
for you; and while I was earning them what were you doing?"

Millie listened and looked. Wonder grew upon her. It was for her that
he had laboured and endured and succeeded! His story was a revelation
to her. Never had she dreamed that a man would so strive for any
woman. She had lived so long among the little things of the world--the
little emotions, the little passions, the little jealousies and
rivalries, the little aims, the little methods of attaining them, that
only with great difficulty could she realise a simpler and a wider
life. She was overwhelmed now. Pride and humiliation fought within
her--pride that Tony had so striven for her in silence and obscurity,
humiliation because she had fallen so short of his example. It was her
way to feel in superlatives at any crisis of her destiny, but surely
she had a justification now.

"I never knew--I never thought! Oh, Tony!" she exclaimed, twisting her
hands together as she sat before him.

"I became a sergeant," he said. "Then I brought back the remnants of
the geographical expedition to Ouargla." He taxed his memory for the
vivid details of that terrible retreat. He compelled her to realise
something of the dumb, implacable hostility of the Sahara, to see, in
the evening against the setting sun, the mounted figures of the
Touaregs, and to understand that the day's march had not shaken them
off. She seemed to be on the march herself, wondering whether she
would live out the day, or, if she survived that, whether she would
live out the night.

"But you succeeded!" she cried, clinging to the fact that they were
both here in France, with the murmur of the Mediterranean in their
ears. "You came back."

"Yes, I came back. One morning I marched my men through the gate of
Ouargla--and what were you doing upon that day?"

Talking, perhaps, with Lionel Callon, in one of those unfrequented
public places with which London abounds! Millie could not tell. She
sat there and compared Lionel Callon with the man who was before her.
Memories of the kind of talk she was wont to hold with Lionel Callon
recurred to her, filling her with shame. She was glad to think that
when Tony led his broken, weary force through the gate of Ouargla
Lionel Callon had not been with her--had indeed been far away in
Chili. She suddenly placed her hands before her face and burst into
tears.

"Oh, Tony," she whispered, in an abasement of humiliation. "Oh, Tony."

"By that homeward march," he went on, "I gained my commission. That
was what I aimed at all the while, and I had earned it at the last.
Look!"

He took from his pocket the letter which his colonel had handed to him
at Ain-Sefra. He had carefully treasured it all this while. He held it
out to her and made her read.

"You see?" he said. "A commission won from the ranks in the hardest
service known to soldiers, won without advantage of name, or friends,
or money. Won just by myself. That is what I strove for. If I could
win that I could come back to you with a great pride. I should be no
longer the man who was no good. You yourself might even be proud of
me. I used to dream of that--to dream of something else."

His voice softened a little, and a smile for a moment relaxed the
severity of his face.

"Of what?" she asked.

"Out there among the sand hills, under the stars at night, I used to
dream that we might perhaps get hold again of the little house in
Deanery Street, where we were so happy together once. We might pretend
almost that we had lived there all the time."

He spoke in a voice of great longing, and Millie was touched to the
heart. She looked at Tony through her tears. There was a great longing
astir within her at this moment. Was that little house in Deanery
Street still a possibility? She did not presume to hope so much; but
she wished that she could have hoped. She pressed the letter which she
held against her breast; she would have loved to have held it to her
lips, but that again she did not dare to do.

"At all events, you did succeed." she said; "I shall be glad to know
that. I shall always be glad--whatever happens now."

"But I did not succeed," Tony replied. "I earned the commission,
yes!--I never held it. That letter was given to me one Monday by my
colonel at Ain-Sefra. You mentioned a song a minute ago, do you
remember?... I had lost the associations of that song. I laughed when
you mentioned it, and you were surprised. I laughed because when I
received that letter I took it away with me, and that song, with all
that it had ever meant, came back to my mind. I lay beneath the palm
trees, and I looked across the water past the islands, and I saw the
lights of the yachts in Oban Bay. I was on the dark lawn again, high
above the sea, the lighted windows of the house were behind me. I
heard your voice. Oh, I had got you altogether back that day," he
exclaimed, with a cry. "It was as though I held your hands and looked
into your eyes. I went back towards the barracks to write to you, and
as I went some one tapped me on the shoulder and brought me news of
you to wake me out of my dreams."

Just for a moment Millie wondered who it was who had brought the news;
but the next words which Tony spoke drove the question from her mind.

"A few more weeks and I should have held that commission. I might have
left the Legion, leaving behind me many friends and an honoured name.
As it was, I had to desert--I deserted that night."

He spoke quite simply; but, nevertheless, the words fell with a shock
upon Millie. She uttered a low cry: "Oh, Tony!" she said.

"Yes," he said, with a nod of the head, "I incurred that disgrace. I
shall be ashamed of it all my life. Had I been caught, it might have
meant an ignoble death; in any case, it would have meant years of
prison--and I should have deserved those years of prison."

Millie shut her eyes in horror. Everything else that he had told her,
every other incident--his sufferings, his perils--all seemed of little
account beside this crowning risk, this crowning act of sacrifice. It
was not merely that he had risked a shameful death or a shameful
imprisonment. Millie was well aware that his whole nature and
character must be in revolt against the act itself. Desertion! It
implied disloyalty, untruth, deceit, cowardice--just those qualities,
indeed, which she knew Tony most to hate, which perhaps she had rather
despised him for hating. No man would have been more severe in the
punishment of a deserter than Tony himself. Yet he had deserted, and
upon her account. And he sat there telling her of it quietly, as
though it were the most insignificant action in the world. He might
have escaped the consequences--he would certainly not have escaped the
shame.

But Millie's cup of remorse was not yet full.

"Yet I cannot see that I could do anything else. To-night proves to me
that I was right, I think. I have come very quickly, yet I am only
just in time." There was a long stain of wine upon the table-cloth
beneath his eyes. There Callon had upset his glass upon Tony's
entrance.

"Yes, it was time that I returned," he continued. "One way or another
a burden of disgrace had to be borne--if I stayed, just as certainly
as if I came away; I saw that quite clearly. So I came away." He
forbore to say that now the disgrace fell only upon his shoulders,
that she was saved from it. But Millie understood, and in her heart
she thanked him for his forbearance. "But it was hard on me, I think,"
he said. "You see, even now I am on French soil, and subject to French
laws."

And Millie, upon that, started up in alarm.

"What do you mean?" she asked breathlessly.

"There has been a disturbance here to-night, has there not? Suppose
that the manager of this restaurant has sent for a gendarme!"

With a swift movement Millie gathered up the medals and held them
close in her clenched hands.

"Oh, it does not need those to convict me; my name would be enough.
Let my name appear and there's a deserter from the Foreign Legion laid
by the heels in France. All the time we have been talking here I have
sat expecting that door to open behind me."

Millie caught up a lace wrap which lay upon a sofa. She had the look
of a hunted creature. She spoke quickly and feverishly, in a whisper.

"Oh, why did not you say this at once? Let us go!"

Tony sat stubbornly in his chair.

"No," said he, with his eyes fixed upon her. "I have given you an
account of how I have spent the years during which we have been apart.
Can you do the same?"

He waited for her answer in suspense. To this question all his words
had been steadily leading; for this reason he had dwelt upon his own
career. Would she, stung by her remorse, lay before him truthfully and
without reserve the story of her years? If she did, why, that dim
light which shone amidst the darkness of his perplexities might
perhaps shine a little brighter. He uttered his question. Millie bowed
her head, and answered--

"I will."

"Sit down, then, and tell me now."

"Oh no," she exclaimed; "not here! It is not safe. As we go back to
Eze I will tell you everything."

A look of relief came upon Tony's face. He rose and touched the bell.

A waiter appeared.

"I will pay the bill," he said.

The waiter brought the bill and Tony discharged it.

"The gentleman--M. Callon," the waiter said. "A doctor has been. He
has a concussion. It will be a little time before he is able to be
moved."

"Indeed?" said Tony, with indifference. He walked with his wife out of
the little gaily-lighted room into the big, silent restaurant. A
single light faintly illuminated it. They crossed it to the door, and
went up the winding drive on to the road. The night was dry and clear
and warm. There was no moon. They walked in the pure twilight of the
stars round the gorge towards Eze.



                            CHAPTER XXXIII

                            MILLIE'S STORY


They walked for a while in silence, side by side, yet not so close but
that there was an interval between them. Millie every now and then
glanced at Tony's face, but she saw only his profile, and with only
the glimmer of the starlight to serve her for a reading-lamp, she
could guess nothing of his expression. But he walked like a man
utterly dispirited and tired. The hopes, so stoutly cherished during
the last few years, had all crumbled away to-night. Perpetually
his thoughts recurred to that question, which now never could be
answered--if he had gone into the house in Berkeley Square on that
distant evening when he had been contented to pace for a little while
beneath the windows, would he have averted the trouble which had
reached its crisis to-night at the _Réserve?_ He thought not--he was
not sure; only he was certain that he should have gone in. He stopped
and turned back, looking towards the _Réserve_. A semicircle of lights
over the doorway was visible, and as he looked those lights were
suddenly extinguished. He heard Millie's voice at his side.

"I will tell you now how the time has passed with me." And he saw that
she was looking steadfastly into his eyes. "The story will sound very
trivial, very contemptible, after what you have told me. It fills me
utterly with shame. But I should have told you it none the less had
you not asked for it--I rather wish that you had not asked for it; for
I think I must have told you of my own accord."

She spoke in a quick, troubled voice, but it did not waver; nor did
her eyes once fall from his. The change in her was swift, no doubt.
But down there in the _Réserve_, where the lights were out, and the
sea echoed through empty rooms, she had had stern and savage teachers.
Terror, humiliation, and the spectacle of violence had torn away a
veil from before her eyes. She saw her own life in its true
perspective. And, that she might see it the more clearly and
understand, she had the story of another life wherewith to compare it.
It is a quality of big performances, whether in art or life, that
while they surprise when first apprehended, they appear upon thought
to be so simple that it is astonishing surprise was ever felt.
Something of that quality Tony's career possessed. It had come upon
Millie as a revelation, yet, now she was thinking: "Yes, that is what
Tony would do. How is it I never guessed?" She put him side by side
with that other man, the warrior of the drawing-rooms, and she was
filled with shame that ever she could have preferred the latter even
for a moment of madness.

They walked slowly on again. Millie drew her lace wrap more closely
about her throat.

"Are you cold?" asked Tony. "You are lightly clothed to be talking
here. We had better perhaps walk on, and keep what you have to tell me
until to-morrow."

"No," she answered quickly, "I am not cold. And I must tell you what I
have to tell you to-night. I want all this bad, foolish part of my
life to end to-night, to be extinguished just as those lights were
extinguished a minute since. Only there is something I should like to
say to you first." Millie's voice wavered now and broke. "If we do not
walk along the road together any more," she went on timidly, "I will
still be glad that you came back to-night. I do not know that you will
believe that--I do not, indeed, see why you should; but I should very
much like you to believe it; for it is the truth. I have learned a
good deal, I think, during the last three hours. I would rather go on
alone--if it is to be so--in this dim, clean starlight, than ever be
back again in the little room with its lights and flowers. Do you
understand me?"

"I think so," said Tony.

"At all events, the road is visible ahead," she went on. "One sees it
glimmering, one can keep between the banks; while, in the little
lighted room it is easy to get lost."

And thus to Millie now, as to Pamela when she rode back from her last
interview with Warrisden at the village of the three poplars, the
riband of white road stretching away in the dusk became a parable.

"Yes," said Tony, "perhaps my path was really the easier one to
follow. It was direct and plain."

"Ah," said Millie, "it only seems so because you have traversed it,
and are looking back. I do not think it was so simple and direct while
you walked upon it." And Tony, remembering the doubts and perplexities
which had besieged him, could not but assent.

"I do not think, too, that it was so easy to discover at the
beginning."

There rose before Tony's eyes the picture of a ketch-rigged boat
sailing at night over a calm sea. A man leaned over the bulwarks, and
the bright glare from a lightship ran across the waves and flashed
upon his face. Tony remembered the moment very clearly when he had
first hit upon his plan; he remembered the weeks of anxiety of which
it was the outcome. No, the road had not been easy to find at the
beginning. He was silent for a minute, and then he said gently--

"I am sorry that I asked you to tell your story--I am sorry that I
did not leave the decision to you. But it shall be as though you told
it of your own accord."

The sentence was a concession, no less in the manner of its utterance
than in the words themselves. Millie took heart, and told him the
whole story of her dealings with Lionel Callon, without excuses and
without concealments.

"I seemed to mean so much to him, so little to you," she said. "You
see, I did not understand you at all. You were away, too, and he was
near. I do not defend myself."

She did not spare herself, she taxed her memory for the details of her
days; and as she spoke the story seemed more utterly contemptible and
small than even she in her abasement had imagined it would be. But she
struggled through with it to the end.

"That night when you stood beneath the windows in Berkeley Square,"
she said, "he was with me. He ran in from Lady Millingham's party and
talked with me for half an hour. Yes, at the very time when you were
standing on the pavement he was within the house. I know, for you were
seen, and on the next day I was told of your presence. I was afraid
then. The news was a shock to me. I thought, 'Suppose you had come
in!'"

"But, back there, in the room," Tony interrupted, "you told me that
you wished I had come in."

"Yes," she answered. "And it is quite true; I wish now that you had
come in."

She told him of the drive round Regent's Park, and of the consent she
gave that night to Lionel Callon.

"I think you know everything now," she said. "I have tried to forget
nothing. I want you, whatever you decide to do, to decide knowing
everything."

"Thank you," said Tony, simply. And she added--

"I am not the first woman I know who has thrown away the substance for
the shadow."

Upon the rest of that walk little was said. They went forward beneath
the stars. A great peace lay upon sea and land. The hills rose dark
and high upon their left hand, the sea murmured and whispered to them
upon the right. Millie walked even more slowly as they neared the
hotel at Eze, and Tony turned to her with a question--

"You are tired?"

"No," she answered.

She was thinking that very likely she would never walk again on any
road with Tony at her side, and she was minded to prolong this last
walk to the last possible moment. For in this one night Tony had
reconquered her. It was not merely that his story had filled her with
amazement and pride, but she had seen him that night strong and
dominant, as she had never dreamed of seeing him. She loved his very
sternness towards herself. Not once had he spoken her name and called
her "Millie." She had watched for that and longed for it, and yet
because he had not used it she was the nearer to worship. Once she
said to him with a start of anxiety--

"You are not staying here under your own name?"

"No," he replied. "A friend has taken rooms in Monte Carlo for both of
us. Only his name has been given."

"And you will leave France to-morrow?"

"Yes."

"Promise!" she cried.

Tony promised, with a look of curiosity at his wife. Why should she be
so eager for his safety? He did not understand. He was wondering what
he must do in this crisis of their lives. Was he to come, in spite of
all his efforts, to that ordinary compromise which it had been his
object to avoid?

They reached the door of the hotel, and there Tony halted.

"Good night!" he said; he did not hold out his hand. He stood
confronting Millie with the light from the hall lamp falling full upon
his face. Millie hoped that he would say something more--just a little
word of kindness or forgiveness--if only she waited long enough
without answering him; and she was willing to wait until the morning
came, he did indeed speak again, and then Millie was sorry that she
had waited. For he said the one really cruel thing amongst all the
words he had said that night. He was not aware of its cruelty, he was
only conscious of its truth.

"Do you know." he said--and upon his tired face there came a momentary
smile--"to-night I miss the Legion very much." Again he said "Good
night."

This time Millie answered him; and in an instant he was gone. She
could have cried out; she could hardly restrain her voice from calling
him back to her. "Was this the end?" she asked of herself. "That one
cruel sentence, and then the commonplace Good night, without so much
as a touch of the hands. Was this the very end?" A sharp fear stabbed
her. For a few moments she heard Tony's footsteps upon the flags in
front of the hotel, and then for a few moments upon the gravel of the
garden path; and after that she heard only the murmur of the sea. And
all at once for her the world was empty. "Was this the end?" she asked
herself again most piteously; "this, which might have been the
beginning." Slowly she went up to her rooms. Sleep did not visit her
that night.



                            CHAPTER XXXIV

                           THE NEXT MORNING


There was another who kept a vigil all the night In the Villa
Pontignard Pamela Mardale saw from her window the morning break, and
wondered in dread what had happened upon that broad terrace by the
sea. She dressed and went down into the garden. As yet the world was
grey and cool, and something of its quietude entered into her and gave
her peace. A light mist hung over the sea, birds sang sweetly in the
trees, and from the chimneys of Roquebrune the blue smoke began to
coil. In the homely suggestions of that blue smoke Pamela found a
comfort. She watched it for a while, and then there came a flush of
rose upon the crests of the hills. The mist was swept away from the
floor of the sea, shadows and light suddenly ran down the hillsides,
and the waves danced with a sparkle of gold. The sun had risen. Pamela
saw a man coming up the open slope from Roquebrune to the villa. It
was M. Giraud. She ran to the gate and met him there.

"Well?" she asked. And he answered sadly--

"I arrived too late."

The colour went from Pamela's cheeks. She set a hand upon the gate to
steady herself. There was an expression of utter consternation on her
face.

"Too late, I mean," the schoolmaster explained hurriedly, "to help
you, to be of any real service to you. But the harm done is perhaps
not so great as you fear."

He described to her what he had seen--Lionel Callon lying outstretched
and insensible upon the pavement, Tony and Millie Stretton within the
room.

"We removed M. Callon to his bedroom," he said. "Then I fetched a
doctor. M. Callon will recover--it is a concussion of the brain. He
will be ill for a little time, but he will get well."

"And the man and the woman?" Pamela asked eagerly. "The two within the
room? What of them?"

"They were standing opposite to one another." The schoolmaster had not
seen Millie on her knees. "A chair was overturned, the chair on which
she had sat. She was in great distress, and, I think, afraid; but he
spoke quietly." He described how he had offered Tony the letter, and
how Tony had closed the door of the room upon the waiters.

"The manager did not know what to do, whether to send for help or not.
But I did not think that there was any danger to the woman in the
room, and I urged him to do nothing."

"Thank you," said Pamela, gratefully. "Indeed, you were in time to
help me."

But even then she did not know how much she was indebted to the
schoolmaster's advice. She was thinking of the scandal which must have
arisen had the police been called in, of the publication of Millie's
folly to the world of her acquaintances. That was prevented now. If
Tony took back his wife--as with all her heart she hoped he would--he
would not, at all events, take back one of whom gossip would be
speaking with a slighting tongue. She was not aware that Tony had
deserted from the Legion to keep his tryst upon the thirty-first of
the month. Afterwards, when she did learn this, she was glad that she
had not lacked warmth when she had expressed her gratitude to M.
Giraud. A look of pleasure came into the schoolmaster's face.

"I am very glad," he said. "When I brought the doctor back the two
within the room were talking quietly together; we could hear their
voices through the door. So I came away. I walked up to the villa
here. But it was already late, and the lights were out--except in one
room on an upper floor looking over the sea--that room," and he
pointed to a window.

"Yes, that is my room," said Pamela.

"I thought it was likely to be yours, and I hesitated whether I should
fling up a stone; but I was not sure that it was your room. So I
determined to wait until the morning. I am sorry, for you have been
very anxious and have not slept--I can see that. I could have saved
you some hours of anxiety."

Pamela laughed in friendliness, and the laugh told him surely that her
distress had gone from her.

"That does not matter," she said. "You have brought me very good news.
I could well afford to wait for it."

The schoolmaster remained in an awkward hesitation at the gate; it was
clear that he had something more to say. It was no less clear that he
found the utterance of it very difficult. Pamela guessed what was in
his mind, and, after her own fashion, she helped him to speak it. She
opened the gate, which up till now had stood closed between them.

"Come in for a little while, won't you?" she said; and she led the way
through the garden to that narrow corner on the bluff of the hill
which had so many associations for them both. If M. Giraud meant to
say what she thought he did, here was the one place where utterance
would be easy. Here they had interchanged, in other times, their
innermost thoughts, their most sacred confidences. The stone parapet,
the bench, the plot of grass, the cedar in the angle of the
corner--among these familiar things memories must throb for him even
as they did for her. Pamela sat down upon the parapet and, leaning
over, gazed into the torrent far below. She wished him to take his
time. She had a thought that even if he had not in his mind that
utterance which she hoped to hear, the recollection of those other
days, vividly renewed, might suggest it. And in a moment or two he
spoke.

"It is true, mademoiselle, that I was of service to you last night?"

"Yes," replied Pamela, gently; "that is quite true."

"I am glad," he continued. "I shall have that to remember. I do not
suppose that I shall see you often any more. Very likely you will not
come back to Roquebrune--very likely I shall never see you again. And
if I do not, I should like you to know that last night will make a
difference to me."

He was now speaking with a simple directness. Pamela raised her face
towards his. He could see that his words greatly rejoiced her; a very
tender smile was upon her lips, and her eyes shone. There were tears
in them.

"I am so glad," she said.

"I resented your coming to me at first," he went on--"I was a fool; I
am now most grateful that you did come. I learnt that you had at last
found the happiness which I think you have always deserved. You know I
have always thought that it is a bad thing when such a one as you is
wasted upon loneliness and misery--the world is not so rich that it
can afford such waste. And if only because you told me that a change
had come for you, I should be grateful for the visit which you paid
me. But there is more. You spoke a very true word last night when you
told me it was a help to be needed by those one needs."

"You think that too?" said Pamela.

"Yes, now I do," he answered. "It will always be a great pride to me
that you needed me. I shall never forget that you knocked upon my door
one dark night in great distress. I shall never forget your face, as I
saw it framed in the light when I came out into the porch. I shall
never forget that you stood within my room, and called upon me, in the
name of our old comradeship, to rise up and help you. I think my room
will be hallowed by that recollection." And he lowered his voice
suddenly and said, "I think I shall see you as I saw you when I opened
the door, between myself and the threshold of the wineshop; that is
what I meant to say."

He held out his hand, and, as Pamela took it, he raised her hand to
his lips and kissed it.

"Good-bye," he said; and turning away quickly he left her up in the
place where she had known the best of him, and went down to his
schoolroom in the square of Roquebrune. Very soon the sing-song of the
children's voices was droning from the open windows.

Pamela remained upon the terrace. The breaking of old ties is always a
melancholy business, and here was one broken to-day. It was very
unlikely, she thought, that she would ever see her friend the little
schoolmaster again. She would be returning to England immediately, and
she would not come back to the Villa Pontignard.

She was still in that corner of the garden when another visitor called
upon her. She heard his footsteps on the gravel of the path, and,
looking up, saw Warrisden approaching her. She rose from the parapet
and went forward to meet him. She understood that he had come with his
old question, and she spoke first. The question could wait just for a
little while.

"You have seen Tony?" she asked.

"Yes; late last night," he replied. "I waited at the hotel for him. He
said nothing more than 'Good night,' and went at once to his room."

"And this morning?"

"This morning," said Warrisden, "he has gone. I did not see him. He
went away with his luggage before I was up, and he left no message."

Pamela stood thoughtful and silent.

"It is the best thing he could have done," Warrisden continued; "for
he is not safe in France."

"Not safe?"

"No. Did he not tell you? He deserted from the French Legion. It was
the only way in which he could reach Roquebrune by the date you
named."

Pamela was startled, but she was startled into activity.

"Will you wait for me here?" she said. "I will get my hat."

She ran into the villa, and coming out again said, "Let us go down to
the station."

They hurried down the steep flight of steps. At the station Warrisden
asked, "Shall I book to Monte Carlo?"

"No; to Eze," she replied.

She hardly spoke at all during the journey; and Warrisden kept his
question in reserve--this was plainly no time to utter it. Pamela
walked at once to the hotel.

"Is Lady Stretton in?" she asked; and the porter replied--

"No, Madame. She left for England an hour ago."

"Alone?" asked Pamela.

"No. A gentleman came and took her away."

Pamela turned towards Warrisden with a look of great joy upon her
face.

"They have gone together," she cried. "He has taken his risks. He has
not forgotten that lesson learnt on the North Sea. I had a fear this
morning that he had."

"And you?" said Warrisden, putting his question at last.

Pamela moved away from the door until they were out of earshot. Then
she said--

"I will take my risks too." Her eyes dwelt quietly upon her companion,
and she added, "And I think the risks are very small."



                             CHAPTER XXXV

                  THE LITTLE HOUSE IN DEANERY STREET


Pamela construed the departure of Tony and his wife together according
to her hopes. They were united again. She was content with that fact,
and looked no further, since her own affairs had become of an
engrossing interest. But the last word has not been said about the
Truants. It was not, indeed, until the greater part of a year had
passed that the section of their history which is related in this book
reached any point of finality.

In the early days of January the Truants arrived in London at the
close of a long visit to Scotland. They got out upon Euston platform,
and entering their brougham, drove off. They had not driven far before
Millie looked out of the window and started forward with her hand upon
the check-string. It was dusk, and the evening was not clear. But she
saw, nevertheless, that the coachman had turned down to the left
amongst the squares of Bloomsbury, and that is not the way from Euston
to Regent's Park. She did not pull the check-string, however. She
looked curiously at Tony, who was sitting beside her, and then leaned
back in the carriage. With her quick adaptability she had fallen into
a habit of not questioning her husband. Since the night in the South
of France she had given herself into his hands with a devotion which,
to tell the truth, had something of slavishness. It was his wish,
apparently, that the recollection of that night should still be a
barrier between them, hindering them from anything but an exchange of
courtesies. She bowed to the wish without complaint. Tonight, however,
as they drove through the unaccustomed streets, there rose within her
mind a hope. She would have stifled it, dreading disappointment; but
it was stronger than her will. Moreover, it received each minute fresh
encouragement. The brougham crossed Oxford Street, turned down South
Audley Street, and traversed thence into Park Street. Millie now sat
forward in her seat. She glanced at her husband. Tony, with a face of
indifference, was looking out of the window. Yet the wonderful thing,
it seemed, was coming to pass, nay, had come to pass. For already the
brougham had stopped, and the door at which it stopped was the door of
the little house in Deanery Street.

Tony turned to his wife with a smile.

"Home!" he said.

She sat there incredulous, even though the look of the house, the
windows, the very pavement were speaking to her memories. There was
the blank wall on the north side which her drawing-room window
overlooked, there was the sharp curve of the street into Park Lane,
there was the end of Dorchester House. Here the happiest years of her
life, yes, and of Tony's, too, had been passed. She had known that to
be truth for a long while now. She had come of late to think that they
were the only really happy years which had fallen to her lot. The
memories of them throbbed about her now with a vividness which was
poignant.

"Is it true?" she asked, with a catch of her breath. "Is it really
true, Tony?"

"Yes, this is our home."

Millie descended from the carriage. Tony looked at her curiously. This
sudden arrival at the new home, which was the old, had proved a
greater shock to her than he had expected. For a little while after
their return to England Millie had dwelt upon the words which Tony had
spoken to her in the _Réserve_ by the sea. He had dreamed of buying
the house in Deanery Street, of resuming there the life which they had
led together there, in the days when they had been good friends as
well as good lovers. That dream for a time she had made her own. She
had come to long for its fulfilment, as she had never longed for
anything else in the world; she had believed that sooner or later Tony
would relent, and that it would be fulfilled. But the months had
passed, and now, when she had given up hope, unexpectedly it had been
fulfilled. She stood upon the pavement, almost dazed.

"You never said a word of what you meant to do," she said with a
smile, as though excusing herself for her unresponsive manner. The
door was open. She went into the house and Tony followed her. They
mounted the stairs into the drawing-room.

"As far as I could," Tony said, "I had the house furnished just as it
used to be. I could not get all the pictures which we once had, but
you see I have done my best."

Millie looked round the room. There was the piano standing just as it
used to do, the carpet, the wall-paper were all of the old pattern. It
seemed to her that she had never left the house; that the years in
Berkeley Square and Regent's Park were a mere nightmare from which she
had just awaked. And then she looked at Tony. No, these latter years
had been quite real--he bore the marks of them upon his face. The
boyishness had gone. No doubt, she thought, it was the same with her.

Tony stood and looked at her with an eagerness which she did not
understand.

"Are you glad?" he asked earnestly. "Millie, are you pleased?"

She stood in front of him with a very serious face. Once a smile
brightened it; but it was a smile of doubt, of question.

"I am not sure," she said. "I know that you have been very kind. You
have done this to please me. But----" And her voice wavered a little.

"Well?" said Tony.

"But," she went on with difficulty, "I am not sure that I can endure
it, unless things are different from what they have been lately. I
shall be reminded every minute of other times, and the comparison
between those times and the present will be very painful. I think that
I shall be very unhappy, much more unhappy than I have ever been, even
lately."

Her voice sank to a whisper at the end. The little house in Deanery
Street, even in her dreams, had been no more than a symbol. She had
longed for it as the outward and visible sign of the complete
reconciliation on which her heart was set. But to have the sign and to
know that it signified nothing--she dreaded that possibility now. Only
for a very few moments she dreaded it.

"I don't think I can endure it, Tony," she said sadly. And the next
moment his arms were about her, and her head was resting against his
breast.

"Millie!" he cried in a low voice; and again "Millie!"

Her face was white, her eyelids closed over her eyes. Tony thought
that she had swooned. But when he moved her hands held him close to
her, held him tightly, as though she dreaded to lose him.

"Millie," he said, "do you remember the lights in Oban Bay? And the
gulls calling at night above the islands?"

"I am forgiven, then?" she whispered; and he answered only--

"Hush!"

But the one word was enough.



                            CHAPTER XXXVI

                               THE END


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."



                               THE END



                          *   *   *   *   *
   PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES.





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