The Return HTML version
Raying and gleaming in the sunlight the hired landau drove up to the gate. Lawford,
peeping between the blinds, looked down on the coachman, with reins hanging loosely
from his red squat-thumbed hand, seated in his tight livery and indescribable hat on the
faded cushions. One thing only was in his mind; and it was almost with an audible cry
that he turned towards the figure that edged, white and trembling, into the chill room, to
fling herself into his arms. 'Don't look at me,' he begged her, 'only remember, dearest, I
would rather have died down there and been never seen again than have given you pain.
Run--run, your mother's calling. Write to me, think of me; good-bye!'
He threw himself on the bed and lay there till evening--till the door had shut gently
behind the last rat to leave the sinking ship. All the clearness, the calmness were gone
again. Round and round in dizzy sickening flare and clatter his thoughts whirled.
Contempt, fear, loathing, blasphemy, laughter, longing: there was no end. Death was no
end. There was no meaning, no refuge, no hope, no possible peace. To give up was to go
to perdition: to go forward was to go mad. And even madness--he sat up with trembling
lips in the twilight--madness itself was only a state, only a state. You might be bereaved,
and the pain and hopelessness of that would pass. You might be cast out, betrayed,
deserted, and still be you, still find solitude lovely and in a brave face a friend. But
madness!--it surged in on him with all the clearness and emptiness of a dream. And he sat
quite still, his hand clutching the bedclothes, his head askew, waiting for the sound of
footsteps, for the presences and the voices that have their thin-walled dwelling beneath
the shallow crust of consciousness.
Inky blackness drifted up in wisps, in smoke before his eyes; he was powerless to move,
to cry out. There was no room to turn; no air to breathe. And yet there was a low,
continuous, never-varying stir as of an enormous wheel whirling in the gloom. Countless
infinitesimal faces arched like glimmering pebbles the huge dim-coloured vault above his
head. He heard a voice above the monstrous rustling of the wheel, clamouring, calling
him back. He was hastening headlong, muttering to himself his own flat meaningless
name, like a child repeating as he runs his errand. And then as if in a charmed cold pool
he awoke and opened his eyes again on the gathering darkness of the great bedroom, and
heard a quick, importunate, long-continued knocking on the door below, as of some one
who had already knocked in vain.
Cramped and heavy-limbed, he felt his way across the room and lit a candle. He stood
listening awhile: his eyes fixed on the door that hung a little open. All in the room
seemed acutely fantastically still. The flame burned dim, misled in the sluggish air. He
stole slowly to the door, looked out, and again listened. Again the knocking broke out,
more impetuously and yet with a certain restraint and caution. Shielding the flame of his
candle in the shell of his left hand, Lawford moved slowly, with chin uplifted, to the
stairs. He bent forward a little, and stood motionless and drawn up, the pupils of his eyes