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The Return

CHAPTER SIXTEEN
The first faint streaks of dawn were silvering across the stars when Lawford again let
himself into his deserted house. He stumbled down to the pantry and cut himself a crust
of bread and cheese, and ate it, sitting on the table, watching the leafy eastern sky through
the painted bars of the area window. He munched on, hungry and tired. His night walk
had cooled head and heart. Having obstinately refused Mr Bethany's invitation to sleep at
the Vicarage, he had sat down on an old low wall, and watched until his light had shone
out at his bedroom window. Then he had simply wandered on, past rustling glimmering
gardens, under the great timbers of yellowing elms, hardly thinking, hardly aware of
himself except as in a far-away vision of a sluggish insignificant creature struggling
across the tossed-up crust of an old, incomprehensible world.
The secret of his content in that long leisurely ramble had been that repeatedly by a
scarcely realised effort it had not lain in the direction of Widderstone. And now, as he sat
hungrily devouring his breakfast on the table in the kitchen, with the daybreak comforting
his eyes, he thought with a positive mockery of that poor old night-thing he had given
inch by inch into the safe keeping of his pink and white drawing-room. Don Quixote,
Poe, Rousseau--they were familiar but not very significant labels to a mind that had
found very poor entertainment in reading. But they were at least representative enough to
set him wondering which of their influences it was that had inflated with such a gaseous
heroism the Lawford of the night before. He thought of Sheila with a not unkindly smile,
and of the rest. 'I wonder what they'll do?' had been a question almost as much in his
mind during these last few hours as had 'What am I to do?' in the first bout of his
'visitation.'
But the 'they' was not very precisely visualised. He saw Sheila, and Harry, and dainty
pale-blue Bettie Lovat, and cautious old Wedderburn, and Danton, and Craik, and cheery,
gossipy Dr Sutherland, and the verger, Mr Dutton, and Critchett, and the gardener, and
Ada, and the whole vague populous host that keep one as definitely in one's place in the
world's economy as a firm-set pin the camphored moth. What his place was to be only
time could show. Meanwhile there was in this loneliness at least a respite.
Solitude!--he bathed his weary bones in it. He laved his eyelids in it, as in a woodland
brook after the heat of noon. He sat on in calmest reverie till his hunger was satisfied.
Then, scattering out his last crumbs to the birds from the barred window, he climbed
upstairs again, past his usual bedroom, past his detested guest room, up into the narrow
sweetness of Alice's, and flinging himself on her bed fell into a long and dreamless sleep.
By ten next morning Lawford had bathed and dressed. And at half- past ten he got up
from Sheila's fat little French dictionary and his Memoirs to answer Mrs Gull's summons
on the area bell. The little woman stood with arms folded over an empty and capacious
bag, with an air of sustained melancholy on her friendly face. She wished him a very
 
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