Overwork, the doctor called it.

‘Sit back and browse for a little,’ the doctor had said, crossing one
elegant Wimpole Street leg over the other and admiring the hang of it.

Grant could not imagine himself sitting back, and he considered browsing
a loathsome word and a contemptible occupation. Browsing. A fattening-up
for the table. A mindless satisfaction of animal desires. Browse,
indeed! The very sound of the word was an offence. A snore.

‘Have you any hobbies?’ the doctor had asked, his admiring glance going
on to his shoes.

‘No,’ Grant had said shortly.

‘What do you do when you go on holiday?’

‘I fish.’

‘You fish?’ said the psychologist, seduced from his Narcissian gazing.
‘And you don’t consider that a hobby?’

‘Certainly not.’

‘What is it, then, would you say?’

‘Something between a sport and a religion.’

And at that Wimpole Street had smiled and had looked quite human; and
assured him that his cure was only a matter of time. Time and

Well, at least he had managed not to open that door last night. But the
triumph had been dearly bought. He was drained and empty; a walking
nothingness. ‘Don’t fight it,’ the doctor had said. ‘If you want to be
in the open, go into the open.’ But to have opened that door last night
would have meant a defeat so mortal that he felt there would be no
recovery. It would have been an unconditional surrender to the forces of
Unreason. So he had lain and sweated. And the door had stayed closed.

But now, in the unrewarding dark of early morning, in the bleak
anonymous dark, he was as without virtue as if he had lost. ‘I suppose
this is how women feel after long labour,’ he thought, with that
fundamental detachment which Wimpole Street had noted and approved. ‘But
at least they have a brat to show for it. What have I got?’

His pride, he supposed. Pride that he had not opened a door that there
was no reason to open. Oh God!

‘Can’t you recognise a dead man when you see one?’ he said. Through the
haze of his tiredness he heard his own voice say it: ‘Can’t you recognise
a dead man when you see one? As if it were a thing of no moment. Can’t
you recognise a primrose when you see one? Can’t you recognise a Rubens
when you see one? Can’t you recognise the Albert Memorial when—-‘

‘Dead!’ said Yughourt in a kind of howl. ‘He can’t be! I’m due to go

That, Grant noted from his far-away stance, was all that it meant to Mr
Blast His Soul Gallacher.   Someone had taken leave of life, had gone out
from warmth and feeling and perception to nothingness, and all it meant
to Damn His Eyes Gallacher was that he would be late in getting off

He dropped the two suitcases on the platform and stood there (chattering
like a blasted monkey, he thought resentfully) and wished that it were
possible to die temporarily. In some last dim recess of his mind he knew
that to dither with cold and nerves on a station platform at six of a
winter morning was in the final resort a privilege; a corollary to being
alive; but oh, how wonderful it would be to achieve temporary death and
pick up life again at some happier moment.

‘To the hotel, sir?’ the porter said. ‘Yes, I’ll take them over when
I’ve seen to this barrow-load.’

He stumbled up the steps and across the bridge. The wood sounded
drumlike and hollow under his tread, great bursts of steam billowed up
round him from below, noises clanged and echoed from the dark vault
about him. They were all wrong about hell, he thought. Hell wasn’t a
nice cosy place where you fried. Hell was a great cold echoing cave
where there was neither past nor future; a black, echoing desolation.
Hell was concentrated essence of a winter morning after a sleepless
night of self-distaste.

He stepped out into the empty courtyard, and the sudden quiet soothed
him. The darkness was cold but clean. A hint of greyness in its quality
spoke of morning, and a breath of snow in its cleanness spoke of the
‘high tops’. Presently, when it was daylight, Tommy would come to the
hotel and pick him up and they would drive away into the great clean
Highland country; away into the wide, unchanging, undemanding Highland
world where people died only in their beds and no one bothered to shut a
door anyhow because it was too much trouble.

In the hotel dining-room the lights were on only at one end, and into
the gloom of the unlit spaces marched ranks of naked baize-topped
tables. He had never before, now he came to think of it, seen restaurant
tables undressed. They were really very humble shabby things stripped of
their white armour. Like waiters without their shirt-fronts.


Grant looked with interest at the pencilled words. The writer had
designed his effort in eight lines, it seemed, but had not been able to
think of the fifth and sixth. So that the scribble read:

     _The beasts that talk,
     The streams that stand,
     The stones that walk,
     The singing sand,_
            .    .
            .    .
     _That guard the way
     To Paradise._

Well, it was odd enough, in all conscience. The beginnings of delirium

It was understandable that the owner of that very individual face would
see nothing so ordinary in his alcoholic dreams as pink rats. Nature
itself would turn cartwheels for the young man with the reckless
eyebrows. What was the Paradise that was guarded by so terrifying a
strangeness? Oblivion? Why had he needed oblivion so badly that it
represented Paradise to him? That he had been prepared to run the known
horror of the approaches to it?

Grant ate the fine fresh bap that there was ‘no chew in’ and considered
the matter. The writing was unformed but not at all shaky; it looked the
writing of an adult who wrote an unformed hand not because his
co-ordination was bad but because he had never quite grown up. Because
in essentials he was still the schoolboy who had originally written that
way. This theory was confirmed by the shape of the capital letters,
which were made in pure copy-book form. Odd, that so individual a
creature had had no desire to impress his individuality on the form of
his letters. Very few people indeed did not adapt the copy-book form to
their own liking; to their own unconscious need.

One of Grant’s milder interests had for years been this business of
handwriting; and in his work he had found the results of his long
observation greatly useful. Now and then, of course, he was shaken out
of any complacency about his deductions–a multiple murderer who
dissolved his victims in acid turned out to have handwriting remarkable
only for its extreme logic; which after all was perhaps appropriate
enough–but in general, handwriting provided a very good index to a man.
And in general a man who continued to use the schoolboy form for his
letters did so for one of two reasons: either he was unintelligent, or
he wrote so little that the writing had had no chance of absorbing his

Considering the high degree of intelligence that had put into words that
nightmare hazard at the gates of Paradise, it was obvious that it was
not lack of personality that had kept the young man’s writing
adolescent. His personality–his vitality and interest–had gone into
something else.

Into what? Something active, something extrovert. Something in which
writing was used for messages like: ‘Meet me Cumberland bar, 6.45,
Tony’, or for filling up a log.

But he was introvert enough to have analysed and put into words that
country-of-the-moon on the way to his Paradise. Introvert enough to have
stood apart and looked at it; to have wanted to record it.

Grant sat in a pleasant warm daze, chewing and considering. He noted the
tightly-joined tops of the n’s and m’s. A liar? Or just secretive? A
curiously cautious trait to appear in the writing of a man with those
eyebrows. It was a strange thing how much the meaning of a countenance
depended on eyebrows. One change of degree in the angle this way or that
and the whole effect was different. Film magnates took nice little girls
from Balham and Muswell Hill and rubbed out their eyebrows and painted
in other ones and they became straightway mysterious creatures from Omsk
and Tomsk. He had once been told by Trabb, the cartoonist, that it was
his eyebrows that had lost Ernie Price his chance of being Prime
Minister. ‘They didn’t like his eyebrows,’ Trabb had said, blinking
owlishly over his beer. ‘Why? Don’t ask me. I just draw. Because they
looked bad-tempered, perhaps. They don’t like a bad-tempered man. Don’t
trust him. But that’s what lost him his chance, take it from me. His
eyebrows. They didn’t like ’em.’ Bad-tempered eyebrows, supercilious
eyebrows, calm eyebrows, worried eyebrows–it was the eyebrows that gave
a face its keynote. And it was the slant of the black eyebrows that had
given that thin white face on the pillow its reckless look even in

Well, the man had been sober when he wrote those words, that at least
was clear. That toper’s oblivion in compartment B Seven–the fugged air,
the rucked blankets, the empty bottle rolling about on the floor, the
overturned glass on the shelf–may have been the Paradise he sought, but
he was sober when he blue-printed the way to it.

The singing sand.

Uncanny but somehow attractive.

Singing sand. Surely there actually were singing sands somewhere? It had
a vaguely familiar sound. Singing sands. They cried out under your feet
as you walked. Or the wind did it, or something. A man’s forearm in a
checked tweed sleeve reached in front of him and took a bap from the

‘You seem to be doing yourself very well,’ Tommy said, pulling out a
chair and sitting down. He split the bap and buttered it. ‘There’s no
chew in these things at all nowadays. When I was a boy you sank your
teeth in them and pulled. It was evens which came away first: your teeth
or the bit of bap. But if your teeth won you really had something worth
having. A nice floury, yeasty mouthful that would last you for a couple
of minutes. They don’t taste of anything nowadays, and you could fold
them in two and put the whole thing in your mouth without any danger of
choking yourself.’

Grant looked at him in silence and with affection. There was no intimacy
so close, he thought, as the intimacy that bound you to a man with whom
you’d shared a Prep. school dorm. They had shared their public school
days too, but it was Prep. school that he remembered each time he
encountered Tommy anew. Perhaps because in all essentials that fresh
pinky-brown face with the round ingenuous blue eyes was the same face
that used to appear above a crookedly-buttoned maroon blazer. Tommy had
always buttoned his blazer with a fine insouciance.

It was so like Tommy not to waste time or vitality on conventional
inquiries as to his journey and his health. Neither would Laura, of
course. They would accept him as he stood; as if he had been there for
some time. As if he had never gone away at all but was still on his
previous visit. It was an extraordinarily restful atmosphere to sink
back into.