They went in, and again his easy hospitality overcame all difficulties.
When at length the visitors rode away, they left him grinning a cheery farewell from his doorstep. He seemed to be in the highest spirits.
They were more than half-way home when Muriel turned impetuously to her companion, breaking a long silence.
“Blake,” she said, “I am ready to marry you as soon as you like.”
THE FACE IN THE STORM
Muriel saw very little of her fiance during the weeks that followed their visit to Redlands. There was not indeed room for him at the cottage at Brethaven which she and Daisy had taken for the summer months. He had, moreover, several visits to pay, and his leave would be up in September.
Muriel herself, having once made her decision, had plenty to occupy her. They had agreed to adhere to Sir Reginald Bassett’s plan for them, and to be married in India some time before Christmas. But she did not want to go to Lady Bassett’s sister before she left England, and she was glad when Daisy declared that she herself would go to town with her in the autumn.
A change had come over Daisy of late, a change which Muriel keenly felt, but which she was powerless to define. It seemed to date from the arrival of Nick though she did not definitely connect it with him. There was nothing palpable in it, nothing even remotely suggestive of a breach between them; only, subconsciously as it were, Muriel had become aware that their silence, which till then had been the silence of sympathy, had subtly changed till it had become the silence of a deep though unacknowledged reserve. It was wholly intangible, this change. No outsider would have guessed of its existence. But to the younger girl it was always vaguely present. She knew that somewhere between herself and her friend there was a locked door. Her own reserve never permitted her to attempt to open it. With a species of pride that was largely composed of shyness, she held aloof. But she was never quite unconscious of the opposing barrier. She felt that the old sweet intimacy, that had so lightened the burden of her solitude, was gone.
Meanwhile, Daisy was growing stronger, and day by day more active. She never referred to her baby, and very seldom to her husband. When his letters arrived she invariably put them away with scarcely a glance. Muriel sometimes wondered if she even read them. It was pitifully plain to her that Will Musgrave’s place in his wife’s heart was very, very narrow. It had dwindled perceptibly since the baby’s death.
On the subject of Will’s letters, Nick could have enlightened her, for he always appeared at the cottage on mail-day for news. But Muriel, having discovered this habit, as regularly absented herself, with the result that they seldom met. He never made any effort to see her. On one occasion when she came unexpectedly upon him and Olga, shrimping along the shore, she was surprised that he did not second the child’s eager proposal that she should join them. He actually seemed too keen upon the job in hand to pay her much attention.