The Wine-Dark Sea

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Authors: Robert Aickman
Margaret had not until then regarded them as hikers.
    Apart from the controversy about the city, all had so far gone fairly well, particularly with the weather, as their progress entered its second week. The city Margaret had found new, interesting, unexpectedly beautiful and romantic: its well-proportioned stone mills and uncountable volcanic chimneys appeared perfectly to consort with the high free mountains always in the background. To Mimi the place was all that she went on holiday to avoid. If you had to have towns, she would choose the blurred amalgam of the Midlands and South, where town does not contrast with country but merges into it, neither town nor country being at any time so distinct as in the North. To Margaret this, to her, new way of life (of which she saw only the very topmost surface), seemed considerably less dreadful than she had expected. Mimi, to whom also it was new, saw it as the existence from which very probably her great-grandfather had fought and climbed, a degradation she was appalled to find still in existence and able to devour her. If there had to be industry, let the facts be swaddled in suburbs. The Free Trade Hotel (RAC and AA) had found single rooms for them; and Mimi had missed someone to talk to in bed.
    They had descended to the town quite suddenly from the wildest moors, as one does in the North. Now equally suddenly it was as if there were no towns, but only small, long-toothed Neanderthals crouched behind rocks waiting to tear the two of them to pieces. Air roared past in incalculable bulk under the lucent sky, deeply blue but traversed by well spaced masses of sharply edged white cloud, like the floats in a Mediterranean pageant. The misty, smoky, reeking air of the city had enchanted Margaret with its perpetually changing atmospheric effects, a meteorological drama unavailable in any other environment; but up here the air was certainly like itself. The path was hard to find across the heather, the only landmarks being contours and neither of them expert with a map; but they advanced in happy silence, all barriers between them blown down, even Margaret’s heavy rucksack far from her mind. (Mimi took her own even heavier rucksack for granted at all times.)
    ‘Surely that’s a train?’ said Margaret, when they had walked for two or three hours.
    ‘Oh God,’ said Mimi, the escapist.
    ‘The point is it’ll give us our bearing.’ The vague rumbling was now lost in the noisy wind. ‘Let’s look.’
    Mimi unstrapped the back pocket on Margaret’s rucksack and took out the map. They stood holding it between them. Their orientation being governed by the wind, and beyond their power to correct mentally, they then laid the map on the ground, the top more or less to the north, and a grey stone on each corner.
    ‘There’s the line,’ said Margaret, following it across the map with her finger. ‘We must be somewhere about here.’
    ‘How do you know we’re not above the tunnel?’ inquired Mimi. ‘It’s about four miles long.’
    ‘I don’t think we’re high enough. ‘The tunnel’s further on.’
    ‘Couldn’t we strike this road?’
    ‘Which way do you suggest?’
    ‘Over the brow of the next hill, if you were right about that being a train. The road goes quite near the railway and the sound came from over there.’ Mimi pointed, the web of her rucksack, as she lay twisted on the ground, dragging uncomfortably in the shoulder strap of her shirt.
    ‘I wish we had a canvas map. The wind’s tearing this one to pieces.’
    Mimi replied amiably. ‘It’s a bore, isn’t it?’ It was she who had been responsible for the map.
    ‘I’m almost sure you’re right,’ said Margaret, with all the confidence of the lost.
    ‘Let’s go,’ said Mimi. With difficulty they folded up the map, and Mimi returned it to Margaret’s rucksack. The four grey stones continued to mark the corners of a now mysterious rectangle.
    As it chanced, Mimi was right. When they had descended to

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