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The Return

0ne solitary and tall candle burned on the great dressing-table. Faint, solitary pictures
broke the blankness of each wall. The carpet was rich, the bed impressive, and the basins
on the washstand as uninviting as the bed. Lawford sat down on the edge of it in
complete isolation. He sat without stirring, listening to his watch ticking in his pocket.
The china clock on the chimney piece pointed cheerfully to the hour of dawn. It was
exactly, he computed carefully, five hours and seven minutes fast. Not the slightest sound
broke the stillness, until he heard, very, very softly and gradually, the key of his door turn
in the oiled wards, and realized that he was a prisoner.
Women were strange creatures. How often he had heard that said, he thought lamely. He
felt no anger, no surprise or resentment, at the trick. It was only to be expected. He could
sit on till morning; easily till morning. He had never noticed before how empty a well-
furnished room could seem. It was his own room too; his best visitors' room. His father-
in-law had slept here, with his whiskers on that pillow. His wife's most formidable aunt
had been all night here, alone with these pictures. She certainly was... 'But what are you
doing here?' cried a voice suddenly out of his reverie.
He started up and stretched himself, and taking out the neat little packet that the maid had
brought from the chemist's, he drew up a chair, and sat down once more in front of the
glass. He sighed vacantly, rose and lifted down from the wall above the fireplace a tinted
photograph of himself that Sheila had had enlarged about twelve years ago. It was a
brighter, younger, hairier, but unmistakably the same dull indolent Lawford who had
ventured into Widderstone churchyard that afternoon. The cheek was a little plumper, the
eyes not quite so full-lidded, the hair a little more precisely parted, the upper lip graced
with a small blonde moustache. He tilted the portrait into the candlelight, and compared it
with this reflection in the glass of what had come out of Widderstone, feature with
feature, with perfect composure and extreme care, Then he laid down the massive frame
on the table, and gazed quietly at the tiny packet.
It was to be a day of queer experiences. He had never before realized with how many
miracles mere everyday life is besieged. Here in this small punctilious packet lay a
Sesame--a power of transformation beside which the transformation of that rather flaccid
face of the noonday into this tense, sinister face of midnight was but as a moving from
house to house--a change just as irrevocable and complete, and yet so very normal.
Which should it be, that, or--his face lifted itself once more to the ice-like gloom of the
looking-glass-that, or this?
It simply gazed back with a kind of quizzical pity on its lean features under the scrutiny
of eyes so deep, so meaningful, so desolate, and yet so indomitably courageous. In the
brain behind them a slow and stolid argument was in progress; the one baffling reply on
the one side to every appeal on the other being still simply. 'What dreams may come?'