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Over the Mountains

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At the end of a month in the Peninsula, Strange had quite lost any fondness he had ever entertained for marching songs; at the end of two, he earnestly wished the authors of Over The Hills And Far Away, The Girl I Left Behind Me and Lilli Burlero at the devil.

Apart from these military airs, the music most often heard in the army was the men's extremely bawdy songs, which Strange found depressing not because of their indecency, but because of the determined and (it seemed to him) hollow cheerfulness with which they were invariably sung.

Strange had almost forgotten what it was like to hear any other music. He was therefore agreeably surprised, when sitting on a hillside one morning, to hear a pleasant baritone voice singing Robin Adair, a song which he had always liked in the days when music seemed to be everywhere. He did not remember to have heard it sung by a man before, but his chief thought was how well this man's voice suited with the wistfulness of the words and the tune.

“Yet he I love so well, still in my heart shall dwell,” the singer concluded. “Oh, I can ne'er forget Robin Adair.”

Strange felt a great desire to see who was giving voice to such delicious yearning, which seemed to catch him under the heart. He could not have been more astonished on discovering that the singer, who had been hitherto concealed from him behind a large rock, was no other than Major Grant.

Grant was the last man Strange would have suspected of sentiment, being altogether too stiff and ramrod-like for such foolishness. Strange's impressions of the Major at their first encounter in Lisbon had been distinctly unfavourable; Grant had seemed to take pleasure in looking down on him and in mocking his ignorance about Lord Wellington's movements, while refusing to give Strange any useful information on the subject. (“Lord Wellington does not stay in one place,” Grant had said. “Lord Wellington goes wherever he is needed. And Lord Wellington is needed everywhere.”) Strange had come to know that Grant had many admirable qualities as a soldier, but this did not excuse his attitude to the use of magic in warfare, which continued to be sceptical to the point of rudeness. Moreover, he frequently regarded Strange himself with a sardonic expression which was not quite comfortable. Grant's evident confusion on being thus discovered was therefore a source of considerable satisfaction to Strange.

“Ah, Merlin,” Grant said, and cleared his throat. “I did not know any one was listening.”

“You have a fine voice,” said Strange.

“It is kind of you to say so,” Grant said, colouring to the roots of his hair. Strange had never seen Grant blush before, and would have assumed the thing was impossible. It was a pleasing sight.

“No, truly,” said Strange. “I have missed hearing good singing.”

“Thank you,” Grant said, with an awkward smile.

“Robin Adair is a favourite song of mine,” said Strange.

“Oh,” said Grant eagerly, “Is it indeed, that is - ” He broke off, as if not quite sure what he wished to say. “Do you sing yourself?”

“I used to,” said Strange. “It seems a long time ago now.”

“I should like to hear you,” Grant said, with a softness in his expression that was altogether unexpected and yet very agreeable.

“Perhaps you will some day, if I can remember how,” said Strange. He intended the remark as a joke, but it did not sound quite like one.

Grant continued to regard him with that softened look, in which there was something of the wistfulness that had been in his singing. “I hope so,” he said.

“Will you sing me something else?” Strange asked, in an attempt to lighten the mood that seemed to have descended upon them.

The request appeared to take Grant very much by surprise. “Oh!” he said. “I - oh, certainly, if you really wish it. I - um - what would you have me sing?”

“Anything,” said Strange, “Marching tunes and bawdy songs excepted.”

“It is true, they grow monotonous,” Grant said, laughing.

He was silent for a time, evidently considering what to choose. Then, with a look of amusement oddly mixed with resignation, he began:

“Over the mountains
And over the waves,
Under the fountains
And under the graves,
Under floods that are deepest,
Which Neptune obey,
Over rocks which are the steepest,
Love will find out the way.”

“Thank you,” Strange said, when the song was done. “That was always another favourite of mine. It is good to hear it again.”

“I am glad of it,” said Grant. He appeared to be overtaken once more by a sense of awkwardness. “Well, I must be about it. Good day, Merlin.”

Strange watched him until he was out of sight, and then took up his notebook again. Half the morning had gone before he noticed the passing of time, when he found to his surprise that he was still humming the tune that Grant had left in his head.