The Return Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Late one September evening, Arthur Lawford, who is recovering from an attack of influenza, is walking in an ancient churchyard. There he finds the grave of a man named Nicholas Sabathier, who killed himself in 1739. Suddenly tired, Lawford stops to rest and falls asleep. When he awakes, he feels very strange and quite recovered from his illness. He feels so well that he practically runs home.

Going to his room to dress for dinner, Lawford lights a candle and prepares to shave. He stops in horror when he sees in the mirror that his whole physical being has changed; he is now lean faced and dark, an entirely different person. The only thing that could have happened, he thinks, is that his nap in the churchyard changed him into someone else, perhaps the occupant of the grave, Sabathier. Still thankful that he retains his own mind, Lawford tries to think what to do. As he stands undecided, his wife comes to call him to dinner. When she enters the room, she is horrified. She refuses at first to believe that the person she sees is her husband, but in the end she is convinced.

The Lawfords call in the rector, the Reverend Bethany, who is also horrified. He is willing to believe, however, that something has happened to Lawford, and that the person he sees is not an impostor. The three decide to wait until a week has passed before doing anything drastic. Sheila Lawford refuses to stay with her husband at night; he seems too much a stranger to her in his new shape. She tries to get him to remain in his room, but he finds it necessary to go out in the evening. On one of his rambles at dusk, he meets an old woman who had been a school friend of his mother. She fails to recognize him in his new shape, even though he prompts her by telling her where she had known his mother. She does say that he looks somewhat like the late Mrs. Lawford.

On another of his rambles, this time back to the same churchyard, Lawford meets a strange man named Herbert Herbert. They talk over the grave of Nicholas Sabathier, and Lawford hints at his own history. Herbert seems interested and asks Lawford to come to tea the following day. When they shake hands to part, light falls on Lawford’s face for the first time. As it does, Herbert is obviously startled by what he sees.

Lawford joins Herbert for tea the next day; the tea is served by Grisel Herbert, the host’s sister. Herbert tells Lawford that his is the face of Nicholas Sabathier, whose picture is in a book that Herbert owns. The book also contains an autobiography of Sabathier, which reveals him as a man very fond of women. Grisel Herbert, seeing the look of fear on Lawford’s face as he is leaving, runs after him with the book her brother mentioned. The two go for a walk, during which Lawford feels that he is wrestling with an alien spirit and winning out over it.

When Alice Lawford, Arthur and Sheila’s daughter, returns home from school, she accidentally meets her father, and the shock of his appearance causes her...

(The entire section is 1225 words.)