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The Return

CHAPTER TWELVE
What's in a name?' laughed Herbert. 'But it really is a queer show-up of human oddity. A
fellow comes in here, searching; that's all.' His back was turned, as he stood staring
absently out, sipping his tea between his sentences. 'He comes in--oh, it's a positive fact,
for I've seen him myself, just sitting back in my chair here, you know, watching him as
one would a tramp in one's orchard.' He cast a candid glance over his shoulder. 'First he
looks round, like a prying servant. Then he comes cautiously on--a kind of grizzled,
fawn-coloured face, middle-size, with big hands; and then just like some quiet, groping,
nocturnal creature, he begins his precious search--shelves, drawers that are not here,
cupboards gone years ago, questing and nosing no end, and quite methodically too, until
he reaches the window. Then he stops, looks back, narrows his foxy lids, listens--quite
perceptibly, you know, a kind of gingerish blur; then he seems to open this corner
bookcase here, as if it were a door and goes out along what I suppose might at some time
have been an outside gallery or balcony, unless, as I rather fancy, the house extended
once beyond these windows. Anyhow, out he goes quite deliberately, treading the air as
lightly as Botticelli's angels, until, however far you lean out of the window, you can't
follow him any further. And then--and this is the bit that takes one's fancy--when you
have contentedly noddled down again to whatever you may have been doing when the
wretch appeared, or are sitting in a cold sweat, with bolting eyes awaiting developments,
just according to your school of thought, or of nerves, the creature comes back--comes
back; and with what looks uncommonly like a lighted candle in his hand. That really is a
thrill, I assure you.'
'But you've seen this--you've really seen this yourself?'
'Oh yes, twice,' replied Herbert cheerfully. 'And my sister, quite by haphazard, once saw
him from the garden. She was shelling peas one evening for Sallie, and she distinctly saw
him shamble out of the window here, and go shuffling along, mid-air, across the roaring
washpot down below, turn sharp round the high corner of the house, sheer against the
stars, in a kind of frightened hurry. And then, after five minutes' concentrated watching
over the shucks, she saw him come shuffling back again-- the same distraction, the same
nebulous snuff colour, and a candle trailing its smoke behind him as he whisked in home.'
'And then?'
'Ah, then,' said Herbert, lagging along the bookshelves, and scanning the book-backs with
eyes partially closed: he turned with lifted teapot, and refilled his visitor's cup; 'then,
wherever you are--I mean,' he added, cutting up a little cake into six neat slices,
'wherever the chance inmate of the room happens to be, he comes straight for you, at a
quite alarming velocity, and fades, vanishes, melts, or, as it were, silts inside.'
 
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