But she did not suffer from loneliness. She had books and work in plenty, and it was even something of a relief, though she never owned it, to be apart from Daisy for a little. They never disagreed, but always at the back of her mind there lay the consciousness of a gulf between them.
She was at first somewhat anxious lest Nick should feel called upon to entertain her, and should invite her to accompany him and Olga upon some of their expeditions. But he did not apparently think of it, and she was always very emphatic in assuring Olga that she was enjoying her quiet time.
She and Nick had not met for some weeks, and she began to think it more than probable that they would not do so during Daisy’s absence. Under ordinary circumstances this expectation of hers would doubtless have been realised, for Nick had plainly every intention of keeping out of her way; but the day of emergency usually dawns upon a world of sleepers.
The brooding heat culminated at last in an evening of furious storm, and Muriel speedily left the dinner-table to watch the magnificent spectacle of vivid and almost continuous lightning over the sea. It was a wonder that always drew her. She did not feel the nervous oppression that torments so many women, or if she felt it she rose above it. The splendour of the rising storm lifted her out of herself. She had no thought for anything else.
For more than half an hour she stood by the little sitting-room window, gazing out upon the storm-tossed water. It had not begun to rain, but the sound of it was in the air, and the earth was waiting expectantly. There seemed to be a feeling of expectation everywhere. She was vaguely restless under it, curiously impatient for the climax.
It came at last, so suddenly, so blindingly, that she reeled back against the curtain in sheer, physical recoil. The whole sky seemed to burst into flame, and the crash of thunder was so instantaneous that she felt as if a shell had exploded at her feet. Trembling, she hid her face. The world seemed to rock all around her. For the first time she was conscious of fear.
Then as the thunder died into a distant roar, the heavens opened as if at a word of command, and in one marvellous, glittering sheet the rain burst forth.
She lifted her head to gaze upon this new wonder that the incessant lightning revealed. The noise was like the sharp rattle of musketry, and it almost drowned the heavier artillery overhead. The window was blurred and streaming, but the brilliance outside was such that every detail in the little garden was clear to her notwithstanding. And though she still trembled, she nerved herself to look forth.
An instant later she sprang backwards with a wild cry of terror. A face—a wrinkled face that she knew—was there close against the window-pane, and had looked into her own.