At once he was enveloped in a bath of heat. A heavy odour, sensual, sinister, was in the air, as from a sudden flowering of amorous shrubs. He stood and drank it in with greedy nostrils. Putting his hand down, he felt the grass; it was dry, and charged with electricity. Then he saw, pale and candescent in the blackness, three or four great lilies, the authors of that perfume. The blossoms seemed to be rising at him through the darkness; as though putting up their faces to be kissed. He straightened himself abruptly and went in.
The guests were leaving when Shelton, who was watching; saw Antonia slip through the drawing-room window. He could follow the white glimmer of her frock across the lawn, but lost it in the shadow of the trees; casting a hasty look to see that he was not observed, he too slipped out. The blackness and the heat were stifling he took great breaths of it as if it were the purest mountain air, and, treading softly on the grass, stole on towards the holm oak. His lips were dry, his heart beat painfully. The mutter of the distant thunder had quite ceased; waves of hot air came wheeling in his face, and in their midst a sudden rush of cold. He thought, “The storm is coming now!” and stole on towards the tree. She was lying in the hammock, her figure a white blur in, the heart of the tree’s shadow, rocking gently to a little creaking of the branch. Shelton held his breath; she had not heard him. He crept up close behind the trunk till he stood in touch of her. “I mustn’t startle her,” he thought. “Antonia!”
There was a faint stir in the hammock, but no answer. He stood over her, but even then he could not see her face; he only, had a sense of something breathing and alive within a yard of him—of something warm and soft. He whispered again, “Antonia!” but again there came no answer, and a sort of fear and frenzy seized on him. He could no longer hear her breathe; the creaking of the branch had ceased. What was passing in that silent, living creature there so close? And then he heard again the sound of breathing, quick and scared, like the fluttering of a bird; in a moment he was staring in the dark at an empty hammock.
He stayed beside the empty hammock till he could bear uncertainty no longer. But as he crossed the lawn the sky was rent from end to end by jagged lightning, rain spattered him from head to foot, and with a deafening crack the thunder broke.
He sought the smoking-room, but, recoiling at the door, went to his own room, and threw himself down on the bed. The thunder groaned and sputtered in long volleys; the lightning showed him the shapes of things within the room, with a weird distinctness that rent from them all likeness to the purpose they were made for, bereaved them of utility, of their matter-of-factness, presented them as skeletons, abstractions, with indecency in their appearance, like the naked nerves and sinews of a leg preserved in, spirit. The sound of the rain against the house stunned his power of thinking, he rose to shut his windows; then, returning to his bed, threw himself down again. He stayed there till the storm was over, in a kind of stupor; but when the boom of the retreating thunder grew every minute less distinct, he rose. Then for the first time he saw something white close by the door.