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The Return

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
He was utterly wearied, but he walked on for a long while with a dogged unglancing
pertinacity and without looking behind him. Then he rested under the dew-sodden
hedgeside and buried his face in his hands. Once, indeed, he did turn and grind his way
back with hard uplifted face for many minutes, but at the meeting with an old woman
who in the late dusk passed him unheeded on the road, he stopped again, and after
standing awhile looking down upon the dust, trying to gather up the tangled threads of his
thoughts, he once more set off homewards.
It was clear, starry, and quite dark when he reached the house. The lamp at the roadside
obscurely lit its breadth and height. Lamp-light within, too, was showing yellow between
the Venetian blinds; a cold gas-jet gleamed out of the basement window. He seemed
bereft now of all desire or emotion, simply the passive witness of things external in a
calm which, though he scarcely realised its cause, was an exquisite solace and relief. His
senses were intensely sharpened with sleeplessness. The faintest sound belled clear and
keen on his ear. The thinnest beam of light besprinkled his eyes with curious brilliance.
As quietly as some nocturnal creature he ascended the steps to the porch, and leaning
between stone pilaster and wall, listened intently for any rumour of those within.
He heard a clear, rather languid and delicate voice quietly speak on until it broke into a
little peal of laughter, followed, when it fell silent by Sheila's--rapid, rich, and low. The
first speaker seemed to be standing. Probably, then, his evening visitors had only just
come in, or were preparing to depart. He inserted his latchkey and gently pushed at the
cumbersome door. It was locked against him. With not the faintest thought of resentment
or surprise, he turned back, stooped over the balustrade and looked down into the kitchen.
Nothing there was visible but a narrow strip of the white table, on which lay a black
cotton glove, and beyond, the glint of a copper pan. What made all these mute and
inanimate things so coldly hostile?
An extreme, almost nauseous distaste filled him at the thought of knocking for admission,
of confronting Ada, possibly even Sheila, in the cold echoing gloom of the detestable
porch; of meeting the first wild, almost metallic, flash of recognition. He swept softly
down again, and paused at the open gate. Once before the voices of the night had called
him: they would not summon him forever in vain. He raised his eyes again towards the
window. Who were these visitors met together to drum the alien out? He narrowed his
lids and smiled up at the vacuous unfriendly house. Then wheeling, on a sudden impulse
he groped his way down the gravel path that led into the garden. As he had left it, the
long white window was ajar.
With extreme caution he pushed it noiselessly up, and climbed in, and stood listening
again in the black passage on the other side. When he had fully recovered his breath, and
 
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