The fastidious craft of Elizabeth Spencer seems to fare best in her novellas, her short stories--and this is a distinguished grouping. With an insistence bred of a careful patience, Miss Spencer observes the congruent moment--the moment when time and circumstances touch and ""grow almost visible, just beyond the breaking point of knowledge."" Time accelerates, or flows, in a languid apprehension of things, sometimes unseen but recognized. In the title story, hot rain falls on a beach like a blood change, and a young girl drifts into a sea sweep of wandering, accompanied by sporting dolphins. In ""Little Brown Girl"" and ""First Dark,"" haunts are projected as much from a landscape of a peopled history as from the answering need of the observer. Three new stories (""Judith Kane,"" ""Wisteria"" and ""The Day Before"")'intuit the inevitability of directions and compulsions that smugly lie among human doings (like a wisteria petal in a martini, or Miss Spencer's trout in the milk). Again there are old Southern houses, old ways, enduring like the House of Usher, and from which one may walk away. In one charming tale an agreeable young and graceful lush takes his place among ruined columns as a stately artifact of memory. With the luxuriant elegance of a drift of dogwood--""like snow suspended to give you all the time you need to wonder at it""--this is a heady collection.