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The Return

CHAPTER TWENTY
It was a quiet supper the three friends sat down to. Herbert sat narrowing his eyes over
his thoughts, which, when the fancy took him, he scattered out upon the others' silence.
Lawford apparently had not yet shaken himself free from the sorcery of the moonlight.
His eyes shone dark and full like those of a child who has trespassed beyond its hour for
bed, and sits marvelling at reality in a waking dream.
Long after they had bidden each other good-night, long after Herbert had trodden on
tiptoe with his candle past his closed door, Lawford sat leaning on his arms at the open
window, staring out across the motionless moonlit trees that seemed to stand like draped
and dreaming pilgrims, come to the peace of their Nirvana at last beside the crashing
music of the waters. And he himself, the self that never sleeps beneath the tides and
waves of consciousness, was listening, too, almost as unmovedly and unheedingly to the
thoughts that clashed in conflict through his brain.
Why, in a strange transitory life was one the slave of these small cares? What if even in
that dark pit beneath, which seemed to whisper Lethe to the tumultuous, swirling waters--
what if there, too, were merely a beginning again, and to seek a slumbering refuge there
merely a blind and reiterated plunge into the heat and tumult of another day? Who was
that poor, dark, homeless ghoul, Sabathier? Who was this Helen of an impossible dream?
Her face with its strange smile, her eyes with their still pity and rapt courage had taken
hope away. 'Here's not your rest,' cried one insistent voice; 'she is the mystery that haunts
day and night, past all the changing of the restless hours. Chance has given you back eyes
to see, a heart that can be broken. Chance and the stirrings of a long-gone life have torn
down the veil age spins so thick and fast. Pride and ambition; what dull fools men are!
Effort and duty, what dull fools men are!' He listened on and on to these phantom
pleadings and to the rather coarse old Lawford conscience grunting them mercilessly
down, too weary even to try to rest.
Rooks at dawn came sweeping beneath the turquoise of the sky. He saw their sharp-
beaked heads turn this way, that way, as they floated on outspread wings across the misty
world. Except for the hoarse roar of the water under the huge thin-leafed trees, not a
sound was stirring. 'One thing,' he seemed to hear himself mutter as he turned with a
shiver from the morning air, 'it won't be for long. You can, at least, poor devil, wait the
last act out.' If in this foolish hustling mob of the world, hired anywhere and anywhen for
the one poor dubious wage of a penny--if it was only his own small dull part to carry a
mock spear, and shout huzza with the rest--there was nothing for it, he grunted
obstinately to himself, shout he would with the loudest.
He threw himself on to the bed with eyes so wearied with want of sleep it seemed they
had lost their livelong skill in finding it. Not the echo of triumph nor even a sigh of relief
stirred the torpor of his mind. He knew vaguely that what had been the misery and
 
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