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
death.

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
plate.

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.

‘How is Laura?’

‘Never better. Putting on a bit of weight. At least that’s what she
says. Don’t see it myself. I never liked skinny women.’

There had been a time, when they were both about twenty, when Grant had
thought of marrying his cousin Laura; and she, he had been sure, had had
thoughts of marrying him. But before any word had been said the magic
had faded and they were back on the old friendly footing. The magic had
been part of the long intoxication of a Highland summer. Part of hill
mornings smelling of pine needles, and of endless twilights sweet with
the scent of clover. For Grant his cousin Laura had always been part of
the happiness of summer holidays; they had graduated together from
burn-paddling to their first fishing-rods, and together they had first
walked the Larig and together had stood for the first time on the top of
Braeriach. But it was not until that summer at the end of their
adolescence that the happiness had crystallised into Laura herself; that
the whole of summer was focused into the person of Laura Grant. He still
had a slight lifting of the heart when he thought of that summer. It had
the light perfection, the iridescence, of a bubble. And because no word
had been said the bubble would never now be broken. It stayed light and
perfect and iridescent and poised, where they had left it. They had both
gone on to other things; to other people. Laura indeed had skipped from
one person to the next one with the bright indifference of a child
playing hop-scotch. And then he had taken her to that Old Boys’ dance.
And she had met Tommy Rankin. And that had been that.

‘What’s the fuss at the station?’ Tommy asked. ‘Ambulances and things.’

‘A man died on the train. I expect it is that.’

‘Oh,’ said Tommy, dismissing it. ‘Not your funeral this time,’ he added
in a congratulatory way.

‘No. Not my funeral, thank Heaven.’

‘They’ll miss you on the Embankment.’

‘I doubt it.’

‘Mary,’ said Tommy, ‘I could do with a pot of good strong tea.’ He
flicked the plate that held the baps with a contemptuous forefinger.
‘And another couple of these poor bargains.’ He turned his serious
childlike gaze on Grant and said: ‘They’ll have to miss you. They’ll be
one short, won’t they?’

‘What will they do to fill the gap?’ Tommy asked.

‘Promote Sergeant Williams, probably. His promotion is long overdue
anyhow.’

It had been no easier to tell the faithful Williams. When your
subordinate has openly hero-worshipped you for years it is not pleasant
to have to appear before him as a poor nerve-ridden creature at the
mercy of non-existent demons. Williams, too, had never had a nerve in
his body. He took everything as it came, placid and unquestioning. It
had not been easy to tell Williams and see the admiration change to
concern. To–pity?

THE peace induced by Tommy’s matter-of-fact acceptance of him deepened
as they drove into the hills. These two accepted him; standing around in
a detached benevolence, watching him come in a familiar quiet. It was a
grey morning, and still. The landscape was tidy and bare. Tidy grey
walls round bare fields, bare fences along the tidy ditches. Nothing had
begun to grow yet in this waiting countryside. Only a willow here and
there by a culvert side showed live and green in the half-shades.

It was going to be all right. This is what he had needed; this wide
silence, this space, this serenity. He had forgotten how benevolent the
place was; how satisfying. The near hills were round and green and kind;
beyond them were farther ones, stained blue by the distance. And behind
all stood the long rampart of the Highland line, white and remote
against the calm sky.

‘The river is very low, isn’t it?’ he said, as they came down into the
valley of the Turlie. And was invaded by panic.

That was the way it always happened. One moment a sane, free,
self-possessed human being, and the next a helpless creature in the grip
of unreason. He pressed his hands together to keep himself from flinging
the door open and tried to listen to what Tommy was saying. No rain for
weeks. They had had no rain for weeks. Let him think about the lack of
rain. It was important, the lack of rain. It spoiled the fishing. It was
to fish he had come to Clune. If they didn’t have rain there would be no
run of fish. No water for them. Oh God, help me not to make Tommy stop!
No water. Think intelligently about fishing. If they had had no rain for
weeks then rain must be due, mustn’t it? Why could you ask a friend to
stop the car and let you be sick and yet not ask him to stop the car so
that you could get out of its small shut-in-ness? Look at the river.
_Look_ at it. Remember things about it. That was where you caught your
best fish last year. That was where Pat slipped down when he was sitting
on the rock and was left hanging by the seat of his pants.