Review: “A Double Return”, Arthur Machen, 1890.
This is another one of Machen’s society stories, written and published in 1890. It actually does have one of those covert sexual themes that S. T. Joshi says often showed up in these kinds of stories. It also has less dialogue than usual for a Machen “smart tale”.
Our protagonist is Frank Halswell, and he’s taking the train back home to London. He is a popular artist who has been on a “sketching tour in Devon and Cornwall”.
As his train nears Paddington station, he sees a train going the other way and in it a man who looks remarkably like him. However, he writes it off as his reflection in the window.
He thinks back to an acquaintance, Kerr, he met at a hotel in Plymouth. Kerr, oddly, would look like Halswell if Kerr was clean-shaven.
Frank’s wife Louie is surprised to see him back. She thought he was going away for the weekend.
He’s puzzled by that remark. He’s been away three weeks.
Yes, she knows that, but he came back last night.
No he didn’t, replies Frank. He was in Plymouth.
The Halswell’s servant Jane confirms Frank was there last night though she also remarks Frank didn’t sound quite like himself last night. As further proof he was there last night, Louie shows Frank his cigarette case with his initials.
Frank recognizes it all right – he lost it one day when he was out with Kerr.
And now Frank knows what happens.
The last paragraph is full of lots of implied drama and disgust and devastation:
The maid was a good girl; she had stolen away. No one knows what manner of conversation Frank and his wife had together in the darkness; but that night he went away, as it was said, to America. Mrs. Halswell was dead before the next summer.
That last paragraph saves the story from being just an odd variation on the old cuckolded husband story.