Having thus expressed the position in clear words, Nan turned her mind elsewhere. What do people think of when they are seeking sleep? It is worse than no use to think of what one is writing; that wakes one up, goads every brain-cell into unwholesome activity. No use thinking of people; they are too interesting. Nor of sheep going through gates; they tumble over one another and make one’s head ache. Nor of the coming day; that is too difficult: nor of the day which is past; that is too near. Wood paths, quiet seas, running streams—these are better.
“Any lazy man can swim
Down the current of a stream.”
Or the wind in trees, or owls crying, or waves beating on warm shores. The waves beat now; ran up whisperingly with the incoming tide, broke, and sidled back, dragging at the wet sand.... Nan, hearing them, drifted at last into sleep.
The coast road to Land’s End is like a switchback. You climb a mountain and are flung down to sea level like a shooting star, and climb a mountain again. Sometimes the road becomes a sandy cliff path and you have to walk.
But at last, climbing up and being shot down and walking, Nan and Barry and Gerda and Kay reached Land’s End. They went down to Sennan Cove to bathe, and the high sea was churning breakers on the beach. Nan dived through them with the arrowy straightness of a fish or a submarine, came up behind them, and struck out to sea. The others behind her, less skilful, floundered and were dashed about by the waves. Barry and Kay struggled through them somehow, bruised and choked; Gerda, giving it up—she was no great swimmer—tranquilly rolled and paddled in the surf by herself.
Kay called to her, mocking.
“Coward. Sensualist. Come over the top like a man.”
Nan, turning to look at her from the high crest of a wave, thought “Gerda’s afraid in a high sea. She is afraid of things: I remember.”
Nan herself was afraid of very little. She had that kind of buoyant physical gallantry which would take her into the jaws of danger with a laugh. When in London during the air raids she had walked about the streets to see what could be seen; in France with the Fannys she had driven cars over shelled roads with a cool composure which distinguished her even among that remarkably cool and composed set of young women; as a child she had ridden unbroken horses and teased and dodged savage bulls for the fun of it; she would go sailing in seas that fishermen refused to go out in; part angry dogs which no other onlooker would touch; sleep out alone in dark and lonely woods, and even on occasion brave pigs. The kind of gay courage she had was a physical heritage which can never be acquired. What can be acquired, with blood and tears, is the courage of the will, stubborn and unyielding, but always nerve-racked, proudly and tensely strung up. Nan’s form of fearlessness, combined as it was with the agility of a supple body excellently trained, would carry her lightly through all physical adventures, much as her arrowy strength and skill carried her through the breakers without blundering or mishap and let her now ride buoyantly on each green mountain as it towered.