Darker and darker grew the day. They sat in a close, unearthly twilight. Though the huge entrance-door was flung wide, no breath of air reached them, no song of birds or sound of moving leaf. Once Olga turned her eyes to the far glimmer of the east window, but she turned them instantly away again, and looked no more. For it was as though a hand were holding up a dim lantern on the other side to show her the dreadful scene, casting a stain of crimson across the space where once had stood the altar.
Looking back later, she realized that it was only Nick’s presence that gave her strength to endure that awful suspense. She had never admired him more than she did then, his shrewdness, his cheeriness, his strength. There was not the faintest suggestion of strain in his attitude. With absolute ease he talked or he was silent. Only in the deepening gloom she caught now and then the quick glitter of his eyes, and knew that like herself he was watching.
Slowly the minutes wore away, the darkness grew darker. From far away there came a low, surging sound. The storm-wind was rising over the sea.
Nick turned his head to listen. “Now for one of our patent storms!” he said. “Brethaven always catches it pretty strong. Remember that night you developed scarlet fever, at Redlands, Olga mia, and your devoted servant went down to a certain cottage on the shore to fetch a certain lady to nurse you?”
Olga did remember. It was one of the cherished memories of her childhood. “I told Muriel a secret about you that night, Nick,” she said, responding with an effort.
He nodded. “For which act of treachery you possess my undying gratitude. Did you ever hear that story, Miss Campion?”
He offered her his cigarette-case with the words, and she turned her brooding eyes upon him. “Thanks!” she said. “I will have one of my own. Yes, I know that story. Your wife must be a very brave woman.”
“She had me to take care of her,” pointed out Nick.
Violet laughed with a touch of scorn.
“Oh, quite so,” he said. “But I bear a charmed life, you should remember. No one ever drowns in my boat.”
She leaned her chin upon her hand, and surveyed him through the weird twilight. “You are a strong man,” she said slowly, “and you don’t think much of Death.”
“Not much,” said Nick, striking a match on the heel of his boot.
The flame flared yellow on his face, emphasizing its many lines. His eyelids flickered rapidly, never wholly revealing the eyes behind.
“You wouldn’t be afraid to die?” she pursued, still watching him.
His cigarette glowed and he removed the match; but the flame remained, burning with absolute steadiness between his fingers.
“I certainly shan’t be afraid when my turn comes,” he said, with confidence.
“Tell me,” she said suddenly, “your idea of Death!”
His look flashed over her and back to the match he still held. The flame had nearly reached his fingers.