PEACE AT LAST, BUT NOT FOR LONG
In the early summer days of 1920, birds sang from dawn till dark and Ireland lived as it had always lived. Even the Great War, leaving a trail of destruction, misery and revolution across the face of Europe had made no mark, as yet, on its most westerly isle.
To this quiet backwater, Otway Waller returned unscathed from five years of war. His early love of motorcars, dating from the purchase of a Panhard in 1902, had earned him an unexpectedly early exit from the trenches on the Western Front in 1917, on being appointed a member of General Allenby’s Mechanical Transport Corps in Palestine. There in the hot sunshine of the Levant, he enjoyed the following two years, visiting Jerusalem and Cairo with regularity.
Muriel, buying Invernisk as a grass widow shortly after the outbreak of war, became accustomed to holding the reins in her own hands. Certainly there were those brief leaves when Otway burst in on the tranquil life of Invernisk: no more than a visitor, and nervously excited with his curiosity overflowing in many directions, he had brought colour to her new home; but always there had been the grandfather clock in the hall chiming out the limits of his freedom.
The rearrangement of their lives was not easy, nor would it pass without friction and a certain unhappiness. Otway, strong and healthy, had used his ‘local’ leaves for amusement and had enjoyed, to the full, the nightlife provided by an endless variety of mixed-blooded hosts and hostesses. The hosts had shown an effusive welcome to the noble soldiers, and the hostesses had quickly taken over after the first few shallow greetings. Thus it has often been, that the simple fidelities of home become clouded through time and distance.
Muriel, the protected flower of a stiff and not always happy childhood and adolescence, had learned from Otway all she knew of sex. In their life together before the War, a pattern was woven, and even the long years between had not dimmed her memory. With Otway’s return, it was obvious to her that this pattern was now changed. Repelled at times, she had fought hard enough to hide her feelings and Otway, hurt and rebuffed by this new coldness, missed the mechanical, if mercenary, reactions showered on him in the East. Their daily life was different also. Otway’s wild enthusiasm for his own interests was no longer shared by Muriel. At golf, he became expert as she became more nervous. In sailing and fishing, his impatience increased till she became stubbornly disinterested.