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The Return

CHAPTER THREE
Mr Bethany sat awaiting them in the dining-room, a large, heavily-furnished room with a
great benign looking-glass on the mantelpiece, a marble clock, and with rich old damask
curtains. Fleecy silver hair was all that was visible of their visitor when they entered. But
Mr Bethany rose out of his chair when he heard them, and with a little jerk, turned
sharply round. Thus it was that the gold-spectacled vicar and Lawford first confronted
each other, the one brightly illuminated, the other framed in the gloom of the doorway.
Mr Bethany's first scrutiny was timid and courteous, but beneath it he tried to be keen,
and himself hastened round the table almost at a trot, to obtain, as delicately as possible, a
closer view. But Lawford, having shut the door behind him, had gone straight to the fire
and seated himself, leaning his face in his hands. Mr Bethany smiled faintly, waved his
hand almost as if in blessing, but certainly in peace, and tapped Mrs Lawford into the
chair upon the other side. But he himself remained standing.
'Mrs Lawford has, I declare, been telling family secrets,' he began, and paused, peering.
But there, you will forgive an old friend's intrusion--this little confidence about a change,
my dear fellow--about a ramble and a change?' He sat down, put up his kind little
puckered face and peered again at Lawford, and then very hastily at his wife. But all her
attention was centred on the bowed figure opposite to her. Lawford responded to this
cautious advance without raising his head.
'You do not wish me to repeat all that my wife tells me she has told you?'
'Dear me, no,' said Mr Bethany cheerfully, 'I wish nothing, nothing, old friend. You must
not burden yourself with me. If I may be of any help, here I am.... Oh, no, no....' he
paused, with blinking eyes, but wits still shrewd and alert. Why doesn't the man raise his
head? he thought. A mere domestic dispute!
'I thought,' he went on ruminatingly, 'I thought on Tuesday, yes, on Tuesday, that you
weren't looking quite the thing. Indeed, I remarked on it. But now, I understand from Mrs
Lawford that the malady has taken a graver turn--eh, Lawford, an heretical turn? I hear
you have been wandering from the true fold.' Mr Bethany leaned forward with what
might be described as a very large smile in a very small compass. 'And that, of course,
entailed instant retribution.' He broke off solemnly. 'I know Widderstone churchyard
well; a most verdant and beautiful spot. The late rector, a Mr Strickland, was a very old
friend of mine. And his wife, dear good Alicia, used to set out her babies, in the morning,
to sleep and to play there, twenty, dear me, perhaps twenty-five years ago. But I did not
know, my dear Lawford, that you--' and suddenly, without an instant's warning,
something seemed to shout at him, 'Look, look! He is looking at you!' He stopped,
faltered, and a slight warmth came into his face. 'And and you were taken ill there?' His
voice had fallen flat and faint.
 
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