Strange Meeting | Page 10 of 123

Author: Susan Hill | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1340 Views | Add a Review

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him without speaking. Hilliard watched tensely, riding alongside them until a message came up for him to go ahead and meet the Adjutant at the crossroads. He forgot about Hurstfield. He was tired himself, his head ached in the sun. But the men were walking.

As he came off the beach he heard it again, the distant boom, like an explosion at the end of a long tunnel. An owl hooted. So they had come back then.

Owls, ravens, hedgehogs, snakes – augurs of death and mischance. But he had seen none of them in Picardy. Only lizards basking on their bellies against hot stone walls, only flocks of magpies and larks, soaring up out of sight at the end of the day, only hard black beetles and, in the copse at Selcourt, a nightingale. He had gone for a walk along the canal bank and watched a kingfisher dive down to a fish.

Yet until this year, he had scarcely known the name of any tree, though there was countryside all around Hawton, he took no interest in the garden, perhaps because of his father’s obsession with it, certainly had never been able to distinguish one bird from another. The owls had only pleased him because, as a child, he had found an odd comfort in their nightly hooting, and because of the tiny bones of the animals they hunted and ate, and which he used to pick out of their pellets. An owl could swallow a fieldmouse whole, and still digest it. He washed the bones and saved them, they might be somewhere in a drawer, still, for his mother allowed nothing to be thrown away.

Cliff House stood back, long and low and pale in the moonlight. Around it, the lawns, about whose closeness of cut his father worried the gardener daily, the symmetrical flowerbeds, the perfectly pruned roses. He had been born here. The windows were tall and blank. It meant nothing to him. He felt a quiet misery, that he had somehow failed, because of that. Tomorrow he was rejoining his battalion. Did he not even mind, then, that he might never see this house again?

His head sang. Jesus God, help me …

Beth. Beth. He had always gone to Beth. He began to run.

For some reason, after having learned to swim early and well, he had for a short time become afraid of the water. He had said nothing about this, only not gone out very far, paddled about at the edges where his feet could keep in contact with the sand. It was the beginning of the holidays. Beth had watched him. She had never liked swimming.

‘Come on.’

‘What?’

‘Come on. I want you to come out with me. I want to swim as far as the headland and back.’ She had spoken very quickly, bobbing up and down like a cork in the water beside him. ‘Come with me.’

‘You don’t like it,’ John had said.

‘I want to go.’ Her face went blank, stubborn, so that she looked like their father. She wanted to help him.

In the end, he said, ‘It’s not too far.’ But he was doubtful.

‘I know it’s not, don’t I?’

They waited,

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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