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The Return

CHAPTER NINETEEN
Herbert himself went down to order the governess cart, and packed them in with a rug.
And in the dusk Grisel set Lawford down at the corner of his road and drove on to an old
bookseller's with a commission from her brother, promising to return for him in an hour.
Dust and a few straws lay at rest as if in some abstruse arrangement on the stones of the
porch just as the last faint whirling gust of sunset had left them. Shut lids of sightless
indifference seemed to greet the wanderer from the curtained windows.
He opened the door and went in. For a moment he stood in the vacant hall; then he
peeped first into the blind-drawn dining-room, faintly, dingily sweet, like an empty wine-
bottle. He went softly on a few paces and just opening the door looked in on the faintly
glittering twilight of the drawing-room. But the congealed stump of candle that he had set
in the corner as a final rancorous challenge to the beaten Shade was gone. He slowly and
deliberately ascended the stairs, conscious of a peculiar sense of ownership of what in
even so brief an absence had taken on so queer a look of strangeness. It was almost as if
he might be some lone heir come in the rather mournful dusk to view what melancholy
fate had unexpectedly bestowed on him.
'Work in'--what on earth else could this chill sense of strangeness mean? Would he ever
free his memory from that one haphazard, haunting hint? And as he stood in the doorway
of the big, calm room, which seemed even now to be stirring with the restless shadow of
these last few far-away days; now pacing sullenly to and fro; now sitting hunched-up to
think; and now lying impotent in a vain, hopeless endeavour only for the breath of a
moment to forget--he awoke out of reverie to find himself smiling at the thought that a
changed face was practically at the mercy of an incredulous world, whereas a changed
heart was no one's deadly dull affair but its owner's. The merest breath of pity even stole
over him for the Sabathier who after all had dared and had needed, perhaps, nothing like
so arrogant and merciless a coup de grace to realise that he had so ignominiously failed.
'But there, that's done!' he exclaimed out loud, not without a tinge of regret that theories,
however brilliant and bizarre, could never now be anything else--that now indeed that the
symptoms had gone, the 'malady,' for all who had not been actually admitted into the
shocked circle, was become nothing more than an inanely 'tall' story; stuffing not even
savoury enough for a goose. How wide exactly, he wondered, would Sheila's discreet,
shocked circle prove? He stood once more before the looking-glass, hearing again
Grisel's words in the still green shadow of the beech-tree, 'Except of course, horribly,
horribly ill.' 'What a fool, what a coward she thinks I am!'
There was still nearly an hour to be spent in this great barn of faded interests. He lit a
candle and descended into the kitchen. A mouse went scampering to its hole as he pushed
open the door. The memory of that ravenous morning meal nauseated him. It was sour
and very still here; he stood erect; the air smelt faint of earth. In the breakfast-room the
 
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