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Tantissimi classici della letteratura e della cultura politica, economica e scientifica in lingua inglese con audio di ReadSpeaker e traduttore automatico interattivo FGA Translate

  1. Abbe Prevost - MANON LESCAUT
  2. Alcott, Louisa M. - AN OLDFASHIONED GIRL
  3. Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE MEN
  4. Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE WOMEN
  5. Alcott, Louisa May - JACK AND JILL
  6. Alcott, Louisa May - LIFE LETTERS AND JOURNALS
  7. Andersen, Hans Christian - FAIRY TALES
  8. Anonimo - BEOWULF
  9. Ariosto, Ludovico - ORLANDO ENRAGED
  10. Aurelius, Marcus - MEDITATIONS
  11. Austen, Jane - EMMA
  12. Austen, Jane - MANSFIELD PARK
  13. Austen, Jane - NORTHANGER ABBEY
  14. Austen, Jane - PERSUASION
  15. Austen, Jane - PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
  16. Austen, Jane - SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
  17. Authors, Various - LETTERS OF ABELARD AND HELOISE
  18. Authors, Various - SELECTED ENGLISH LETTERS
  19. Autori Vari - THE WORLD ENGLISH BIBLE
  20. Bacon, Francis - THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING
  21. Balzac, Honore de - EUGENIE GRANDET
  22. Balzac, Honore de - FATHER GORIOT
  23. Baroness Orczy - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
  24. Barrie, J. M. - PETER AND WENDY
  25. Barrie, James M. - PETER PAN
  26. Bierce, Ambrose - THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
  27. Blake, William - SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE
  28. Boccaccio, Giovanni - DECAMERONE
  29. Brent, Linda - INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL
  30. Bronte, Charlotte - JANE EYRE
  31. Bronte, Charlotte - VILLETTE
  32. Buchan, John - GREENMANTLE
  33. Buchan, John - MR STANDFAST
  34. Buchan, John - THE 39 STEPS
  35. Bunyan, John - THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
  36. Burckhardt, Jacob - THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
  37. Burnett, Frances H. - A LITTLE PRINCESS
  38. Burnett, Frances H. - LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY
  39. Burnett, Frances H. - THE SECRET GARDEN
  40. Butler, Samuel - EREWHON
  41. Carlyle, Thomas - PAST AND PRESENT
  42. Carlyle, Thomas - THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
  43. Cellini, Benvenuto - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
  44. Cervantes - DON QUIXOTE
  45. Chaucer, Geoffrey - THE CANTERBURY TALES
  46. Chesterton, G. K. - A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND
  47. Chesterton, G. K. - THE BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE
  48. Chesterton, G. K. - THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN
  49. Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
  50. Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
  51. Chesterton, G. K. - THE WISDOM OF FATHER BROWN
  52. Chesterton, G. K. - TWELVE TYPES
  53. Chesterton, G. K. - WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA
  54. Chesterton, Gilbert K. - HERETICS
  55. Chopin, Kate - AT FAULT
  56. Chopin, Kate - BAYOU FOLK
  57. Chopin, Kate - THE AWAKENING AND SELECTED SHORT STORIES
  58. Clark Hall, John R. - A CONCISE ANGLOSAXON DICTIONARY
  59. Clarkson, Thomas - AN ESSAY ON THE SLAVERY AND COMMERCE OF THE HUMAN SPECIES
  60. Clausewitz, Carl von - ON WAR
  61. Coleridge, Herbert - A DICTIONARY OF THE FIRST OR OLDEST WORDS IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
  62. Coleridge, S. T. - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
  63. Coleridge, S. T. - HINTS TOWARDS THE FORMATION OF A MORE COMPREHENSIVE THEORY OF LIFE
  64. Coleridge, S. T. - THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
  65. Collins, Wilkie - THE MOONSTONE
  66. Collodi - PINOCCHIO
  67. Conan Doyle, Arthur - A STUDY IN SCARLET
  68. Conan Doyle, Arthur - MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
  69. Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
  70. Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
  71. Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE SIGN OF THE FOUR
  72. Conrad, Joseph - HEART OF DARKNESS
  73. Conrad, Joseph - LORD JIM
  74. Conrad, Joseph - NOSTROMO
  75. Conrad, Joseph - THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS
  76. Conrad, Joseph - TYPHOON
  77. Crane, Stephen - LAST WORDS
  78. Crane, Stephen - MAGGIE
  79. Crane, Stephen - THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
  80. Crane, Stephen - WOUNDS IN THE RAIN
  81. Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: HELL
  82. Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PARADISE
  83. Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PURGATORY
  84. Darwin, Charles - THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES DARWIN
  85. Darwin, Charles - THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
  86. Defoe, Daniel - A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE PYRATES
  87. Defoe, Daniel - A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR
  88. Defoe, Daniel - CAPTAIN SINGLETON
  89. Defoe, Daniel - MOLL FLANDERS
  90. Defoe, Daniel - ROBINSON CRUSOE
  91. Defoe, Daniel - THE COMPLETE ENGLISH TRADESMAN
  92. Defoe, Daniel - THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE
  93. Deledda, Grazia - AFTER THE DIVORCE
  94. Dickens, Charles - A CHRISTMAS CAROL
  95. Dickens, Charles - A TALE OF TWO CITIES
  96. Dickens, Charles - BLEAK HOUSE
  97. Dickens, Charles - DAVID COPPERFIELD
  98. Dickens, Charles - DONBEY AND SON
  99. Dickens, Charles - GREAT EXPECTATIONS
  100. Dickens, Charles - HARD TIMES
  101. Dickens, Charles - LETTERS VOLUME 1
  102. Dickens, Charles - LITTLE DORRIT
  103. Dickens, Charles - MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT
  104. Dickens, Charles - NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
  105. Dickens, Charles - OLIVER TWIST
  106. Dickens, Charles - OUR MUTUAL FRIEND
  107. Dickens, Charles - PICTURES FROM ITALY
  108. Dickens, Charles - THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD
  109. Dickens, Charles - THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP
  110. Dickens, Charles - THE PICKWICK PAPERS
  111. Dickinson, Emily - POEMS
  112. Dostoevsky, Fyodor - CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
  113. Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
  114. Du Maurier, George - TRILBY
  115. Dumas, Alexandre - THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
  116. Dumas, Alexandre - THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
  117. Dumas, Alexandre - THE THREE MUSKETEERS
  118. Eliot, George - DANIEL DERONDA
  119. Eliot, George - MIDDLEMARCH
  120. Eliot, George - SILAS MARNER
  121. Eliot, George - THE MILL ON THE FLOSS
  122. Engels, Frederick - THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING-CLASS IN ENGLAND IN 1844
  123. Equiano - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
  124. Esopo - FABLES
  125. Fenimore Cooper, James - THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
  126. Fielding, Henry - TOM JONES
  127. France, Anatole - THAIS
  128. France, Anatole - THE GODS ARE ATHIRST
  129. France, Anatole - THE LIFE OF JOAN OF ARC
  130. France, Anatole - THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD
  131. Frank Baum, L. - THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ
  132. Frank Baum, L. - THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
  133. Franklin, Benjamin - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
  134. Frazer, James George - THE GOLDEN BOUGH
  135. Freud, Sigmund - DREAM PSYCHOLOGY
  136. Galsworthy, John - COMPLETE PLAYS
  137. Galsworthy, John - STRIFE
  138. Galsworthy, John - STUDIES AND ESSAYS
  139. Galsworthy, John - THE FIRST AND THE LAST
  140. Galsworthy, John - THE FORSYTE SAGA
  141. Galsworthy, John - THE LITTLE MAN
  142. Galsworthy, John - THE SILVER BOX
  143. Galsworthy, John - THE SKIN GAME
  144. Gaskell, Elizabeth - CRANFORD
  145. Gaskell, Elizabeth - MARY BARTON
  146. Gaskell, Elizabeth - NORTH AND SOUTH
  147. Gaskell, Elizabeth - THE LIFE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE
  148. Gay, John - THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
  149. Gentile, Maria - THE ITALIAN COOK BOOK
  150. Gilbert and Sullivan - PLAYS
  151. Goethe - FAUST
  152. Gogol - DEAD SOULS
  153. Goldsmith, Oliver - SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
  154. Goldsmith, Oliver - THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD
  155. Grahame, Kenneth - THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
  156. Grimm, Brothers - FAIRY TALES
  157. Harding, A. R. - GINSENG AND OTHER MEDICINAL PLANTS
  158. Hardy, Thomas - A CHANGED MAN AND OTHER TALES
  159. Hardy, Thomas - FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
  160. Hardy, Thomas - JUDE THE OBSCURE
  161. Hardy, Thomas - TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES
  162. Hardy, Thomas - THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE
  163. Hartley, Cecil B. - THE GENTLEMEN'S BOOK OF ETIQUETTE
  164. Hawthorne, Nathaniel - LITTLE MASTERPIECES
  165. Hawthorne, Nathaniel - THE SCARLET LETTER
  166. Henry VIII - LOVE LETTERS TO ANNE BOLEYN
  167. Henry, O. - CABBAGES AND KINGS
  168. Henry, O. - SIXES AND SEVENS
  169. Henry, O. - THE FOUR MILLION
  170. Henry, O. - THE TRIMMED LAMP
  171. Henry, O. - WHIRLIGIGS
  172. Hindman Miller, Gustavus - TEN THOUSAND DREAMS INTERPRETED
  173. Hobbes, Thomas - LEVIATHAN
  174. Homer - THE ILIAD
  175. Homer - THE ODYSSEY
  176. Hornaday, William T. - THE EXTERMINATION OF THE AMERICAN BISON
  177. Hume, David - A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE
  178. Hume, David - AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
  179. Hume, David - DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION
  180. Ibsen, Henrik - A DOLL'S HOUSE
  181. Ibsen, Henrik - AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
  182. Ibsen, Henrik - GHOSTS
  183. Ibsen, Henrik - HEDDA GABLER
  184. Ibsen, Henrik - JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN
  185. Ibsen, Henrik - ROSMERHOLM
  186. Ibsen, Henrik - THE LADY FROM THE SEA
  187. Ibsen, Henrik - THE MASTER BUILDER
  188. Ibsen, Henrik - WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN
  189. Irving, Washington - THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
  190. James, Henry - ITALIAN HOURS
  191. James, Henry - THE ASPERN PAPERS
  192. James, Henry - THE BOSTONIANS
  193. James, Henry - THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
  194. James, Henry - THE TURN OF THE SCREW
  195. James, Henry - WASHINGTON SQUARE
  196. Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN IN A BOAT
  197. Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN ON THE BUMMEL
  198. Jevons, Stanley - POLITICAL ECONOMY
  199. Johnson, Samuel - A GRAMMAR OF THE ENGLISH TONGUE
  200. Jonson, Ben - THE ALCHEMIST
  201. Jonson, Ben - VOLPONE
  202. Joyce, James - A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
  203. Joyce, James - CHAMBER MUSIC
  204. Joyce, James - DUBLINERS
  205. Joyce, James - ULYSSES
  206. Keats, John - ENDYMION
  207. Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1817
  208. Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1820
  209. King James - THE BIBLE
  210. Kipling, Rudyard - CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
  211. Kipling, Rudyard - INDIAN TALES
  212. Kipling, Rudyard - JUST SO STORIES
  213. Kipling, Rudyard - KIM
  214. Kipling, Rudyard - THE JUNGLE BOOK
  215. Kipling, Rudyard - THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
  216. Kipling, Rudyard - THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
  217. Lawrence, D. H - THE RAINBOW
  218. Lawrence, D. H - THE WHITE PEACOCK
  219. Lawrence, D. H - TWILIGHT IN ITALY
  220. Lawrence, D. H. - AARON'S ROD
  221. Lawrence, D. H. - SONS AND LOVERS
  222. Lawrence, D. H. - THE LOST GIRL
  223. Lawrence, D. H. - WOMEN IN LOVE
  224. Lear, Edward - BOOK OF NONSENSE
  225. Lear, Edward - LAUGHABLE LYRICS
  226. Lear, Edward - MORE NONSENSE
  227. Lear, Edward - NONSENSE SONG
  228. Leblanc, Maurice - ARSENE LUPIN VS SHERLOCK HOLMES
  229. Leblanc, Maurice - THE ADVENTURES OF ARSENE LUPIN
  230. Leblanc, Maurice - THE CONFESSIONS OF ARSENE LUPIN
  231. Leblanc, Maurice - THE HOLLOW NEEDLE
  232. Leblanc, Maurice - THE RETURN OF ARSENE LUPIN
  233. Lehmann, Lilli - HOW TO SING
  234. Leroux, Gaston - THE MAN WITH THE BLACK FEATHER
  235. Leroux, Gaston - THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM
  236. Leroux, Gaston - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
  237. London, Jack - MARTIN EDEN
  238. London, Jack - THE CALL OF THE WILD
  239. London, Jack - WHITE FANG
  240. Machiavelli, Nicolo' - THE PRINCE
  241. Malthus, Thomas - PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION
  242. Mansfield, Katherine - THE GARDEN PARTY AND OTHER STORIES
  243. Marlowe, Christopher - THE JEW OF MALTA
  244. Marryat, Captain - THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST
  245. Maupassant, Guy De - BEL AMI
  246. Melville, Hermann - MOBY DICK
  247. Melville, Hermann - TYPEE
  248. Mill, John Stuart - PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
  249. Milton, John - PARADISE LOST
  250. Mitra, S. M. - HINDU TALES FROM THE SANSKRIT
  251. Montaigne, Michel de - ESSAYS
  252. Montgomery, Lucy Maud - ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
  253. More, Thomas - UTOPIA
  254. Nesbit, E. - FIVE CHILDREN AND IT
  255. Nesbit, E. - THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET
  256. Nesbit, E. - THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
  257. Nesbit, E. - THE STORY OF THE AMULET
  258. Newton, Isaac - OPTICKS
  259. Nietsche, Friedrich - BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
  260. Nietsche, Friedrich - THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA
  261. Nightingale, Florence - NOTES ON NURSING
  262. Owen, Wilfred - POEMS
  263. Ozaki, Yei Theodora - JAPANESE FAIRY TALES
  264. Pascal, Blaise - PENSEES
  265. Pellico, Silvio - MY TEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT
  266. Perrault, Charles - FAIRY TALES
  267. Pirandello, Luigi - THREE PLAYS
  268. Plato - THE REPUBLIC
  269. Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 1
  270. Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 2
  271. Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 3
  272. Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 4
  273. Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 5
  274. Poe, Edgar Allan - THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
  275. Potter, Beatrix - THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT
  276. Proust, Marcel - SWANN'S WAY
  277. Radcliffe, Ann - A SICILIAN ROMANCE
  278. Ricardo, David - ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION
  279. Richardson, Samuel - PAMELA
  280. Rider Haggard, H. - ALLAN QUATERMAIN
  281. Rider Haggard, H. - KING SOLOMON'S MINES
  282. Rousseau, J. J. - THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATION OF INEQUALITY AMONG MANKIND
  283. Ruskin, John - THE SEVEN LAMPS OF ARCHITECTURE
  284. Schiller, Friedrich - THE DEATH OF WALLENSTEIN
  285. Schiller, Friedrich - THE PICCOLOMINI
  286. Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE ART OF CONTROVERSY
  287. Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE WISDOM OF LIFE
  288. Scott Fitzgerald, F. - FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS
  289. Scott Fitzgerald, F. - TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
  290. Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
  291. Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THIS SIDE OF PARADISE
  292. Scott, Walter - IVANHOE
  293. Scott, Walter - QUENTIN DURWARD
  294. Scott, Walter - ROB ROY
  295. Scott, Walter - THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
  296. Scott, Walter - WAVERLEY
  297. Sedgwick, Anne Douglas - THE THIRD WINDOW
  298. Sewell, Anna - BLACK BEAUTY
  299. Shakespeare, William - COMPLETE WORKS
  300. Shakespeare, William - HAMLET
  301. Shakespeare, William - OTHELLO
  302. Shakespeare, William - ROMEO AND JULIET
  303. Shelley, Mary - FRANKENSTEIN
  304. Shelley, Percy Bysshe - A DEFENCE OF POETRY AND OTHER ESSAYS
  305. Shelley, Percy Bysshe - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
  306. Sheridan, Richard B. - THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
  307. Sienkiewicz, Henryk - QUO VADIS
  308. Smith, Adam - THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
  309. Smollett, Tobias - TRAVELS THROUGH FRANCE AND ITALY
  310. Spencer, Herbert - ESSAYS ON EDUCATION AND KINDRED SUBJECTS
  311. Spyri, Johanna - HEIDI
  312. Sterne, Laurence - A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
  313. Sterne, Laurence - TRISTRAM SHANDY
  314. Stevenson, Robert Louis - A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES
  315. Stevenson, Robert Louis - ESSAYS IN THE ART OF WRITING
  316. Stevenson, Robert Louis - KIDNAPPED
  317. Stevenson, Robert Louis - NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
  318. Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE BLACK ARROW
  319. Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
  320. Stevenson, Robert Louis - TREASURE ISLAND
  321. Stoker, Bram - DRACULA
  322. Strindberg, August - LUCKY PEHR
  323. Strindberg, August - MASTER OLOF
  324. Strindberg, August - THE RED ROOM
  325. Strindberg, August - THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
  326. Strindberg, August - THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES
  327. Swift, Jonathan - A MODEST PROPOSAL
  328. Swift, Jonathan - A TALE OF A TUB
  329. Swift, Jonathan - GULLIVER'S TRAVELS
  330. Swift, Jonathan - THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS AND OTHER SHORT PIECES
  331. Tagore, Rabindranath - FRUIT GATHERING
  332. Tagore, Rabindranath - THE GARDENER
  333. Tagore, Rabindranath - THE HUNGRY STONES AND OTHER STORIES
  334. Thackeray, William - BARRY LYNDON
  335. Thackeray, William - VANITY FAIR
  336. Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE BOOK OF SNOBS
  337. Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE ROSE AND THE RING
  338. Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE VIRGINIANS
  339. Thoreau, Henry David - WALDEN
  340. Tolstoi, Leo - A LETTER TO A HINDU
  341. Tolstoy, Lev - ANNA KARENINA
  342. Tolstoy, Lev - WAR AND PEACE
  343. Trollope, Anthony - AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
  344. Trollope, Anthony - BARCHESTER TOWERS
  345. Trollope, Anthony - FRAMLEY PARSONAGE
  346. Trollope, Anthony - THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS
  347. Trollope, Anthony - THE MAN WHO KEPT HIS MONEY IN A BOX
  348. Trollope, Anthony - THE WARDEN
  349. Trollope, Anthony - THE WAY WE LIVE NOW
  350. Twain, Mark - LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
  351. Twain, Mark - SPEECHES
  352. Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
  353. Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
  354. Twain, Mark - THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER
  355. Vari, Autori - THE MAGNA CARTA
  356. Verga, Giovanni - SICILIAN STORIES
  357. Verne, Jules - 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS
  358. Verne, Jules - A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
  359. Verne, Jules - ALL AROUND THE MOON
  360. Verne, Jules - AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
  361. Verne, Jules - FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON
  362. Verne, Jules - FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
  363. Verne, Jules - MICHAEL STROGOFF
  364. Verne, Jules - THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
  365. Voltaire - PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY
  366. Vyasa - MAHABHARATA
  367. Wallace, Edgar - SANDERS OF THE RIVER
  368. Wallace, Edgar - THE DAFFODIL MYSTERY
  369. Wallace, Lew - BEN HUR
  370. Webster, Jean - DADDY LONG LEGS
  371. Wedekind, Franz - THE AWAKENING OF SPRING
  372. Wells, H. G. - KIPPS
  373. Wells, H. G. - THE INVISIBLE MAN
  374. Wells, H. G. - THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
  375. Wells, H. G. - THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
  376. Wells, H. G. - THE TIME MACHINE
  377. Wells, H. G. - THE WAR OF THE WORLDS
  378. Wells, H. G. - WHAT IS COMING
  379. Wharton, Edith - THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
  380. White, Andrew Dickson - FIAT MONEY INFLATION IN FRANCE
  381. Wilde, Oscar - A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
  382. Wilde, Oscar - AN IDEAL HUSBAND
  383. Wilde, Oscar - DE PROFUNDIS
  384. Wilde, Oscar - LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN
  385. Wilde, Oscar - SALOME
  386. Wilde, Oscar - SELECTED POEMS
  387. Wilde, Oscar - THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL
  388. Wilde, Oscar - THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
  389. Wilde, Oscar - THE HAPPY PRINCE AND OTHER TALES
  390. Wilde, Oscar - THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
  391. Wilde, Oscar - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY
  392. Wilde, Oscar - THE SOUL OF MAN
  393. Wilson, Epiphanius - SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST
  394. Wollstonecraft, Mary - A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN
  395. Woolf, Virgina - NIGHT AND DAY
  396. Woolf, Virgina - THE VOYAGE OUT
  397. Woolf, Virginia - JACOB'S ROOM
  398. Woolf, Virginia - MONDAY OR TUESDAY
  399. Wordsworth, William - POEMS
  400. Wordsworth, William - PROSE WORKS
  401. Zola, Emile - THERESE RAQUIN

 




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D. H. Lawrence
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AARON'S ROD

By D. H. LAWRENCE

CONTENTS

I. THE BLUE BALL II. ROYAL OAK III. "THE LIGHTED TREE" IV. "THE PILLAR OF SALT" V. AT THE OPERA VI. TALK VII. THE DARK SQUARE GARDEN VIII. A PUNCH IN THE WIND IX. LOW-WATER MARK X. THE WAR AGAIN XI. MORE PILLAR OF SALT XII. NOVARA XIII. WIE ES IHNEN GEFAELLT XIV. XX SETTEMBRE XV. A RAILWAY JOURNEY XVI. FLORENCE XVII. HIGH UP OVER THE CATHEDRAL SQUARE XVIII. THE MARCHESA XIX. CLEOPATRA, BUT NOT ANTHONY XX. THE BROKEN ROD XXI. WORDS

CHAPTER I. THE BLUE BALL

There was a large, brilliant evening star in the early twilight, and underfoot the earth was half frozen. It was Christmas Eve. Also the War was over, and there was a sense of relief that was almost a new menace. A man felt the violence of the nightmare released now into the general air. Also there had been another wrangle among the men on the pit-bank that evening.

Aaron Sisson was the last man on the little black railway-line climbing the hill home from work. He was late because he had attended a meeting of the men on the bank. He was secretary to the Miners Union for his colliery, and had heard a good deal of silly wrangling that left him nettled.

He strode over a stile, crossed two fields, strode another stile, and was in the long road of colliers' dwellings. Just across was his own house: he had built it himself. He went through the little gate, up past the side of the house to the back. There he hung a moment, glancing down the dark, wintry garden.

"My father--my father's come!" cried a child's excited voice, and two little girls in white pinafores ran out in front of his legs.

"Father, shall you set the Christmas Tree?" they cried. "We've got one!"

"Afore I have my dinner?" he answered amiably.

"Set it now. Set it now.--We got it through Fred Alton."

"Where is it?"

The little girls were dragging a rough, dark object out of a corner of the passage into the light of the kitchen door.

"It's a beauty!" exclaimed Millicent.

"Yes, it is," said Marjory.

"I should think so," he replied, striding over the dark bough. He went to the back kitchen to take off his coat.

"Set it now, Father. Set it now," clamoured the girls.

"You might as well. You've left your dinner so long, you might as well do it now before you have it," came a woman's plangent voice, out of the brilliant light of the middle room.

Aaron Sisson had taken off his coat and waistcoat and his cap. He stood bare-headed in his shirt and braces, contemplating the tree.

"What am I to put it in?" he queried. He picked up the tree, and held it erect by the topmost twig. He felt the cold as he stood in the yard coatless, and he twitched his shoulders.

"Isn't it a beauty!" repeated Millicent.

"Ay!--lop-sided though."

"Put something on, you two!" came the woman's high imperative voice, from the kitchen.

"We aren't cold," protested the girls from the yard.

"Come and put something on," insisted the voice. The man started off down the path, the little girls ran grumbling indoors. The sky was clear, there was still a crystalline, non-luminous light in the under air.

Aaron rummaged in his shed at the bottom of the garden, and found a spade and a box that was suitable. Then he came out to his neat, bare, wintry garden. The girls flew towards him, putting the elastic of their hats under their chins as they ran. The tree and the box lay on the frozen earth. The air breathed dark, frosty, electric.

"Hold it up straight," he said to Millicent, as he arranged the tree in the box. She stood silent and held the top bough, he filled in round the roots.

When it was done, and pressed in, he went for the wheelbarrow. The girls were hovering excited round the tree. He dropped the barrow and stooped to the box. The girls watched him hold back his face--the boughs pricked him.

"Is it very heavy?" asked Millicent.

"Ay!" he replied, with a little grunt. Then the procession set off--the trundling wheel-barrow, the swinging hissing tree, the two excited little girls. They arrived at the door. Down went the legs of the wheel-barrow on the yard. The man looked at the box.

"Where are you going to have it?" he called.

"Put it in the back kitchen," cried his wife.

"You'd better have it where it's going to stop. I don't want to hawk it about."

"Put it on the floor against the dresser, Father. Put it there," urged Millicent.

"You come and put some paper down, then," called the mother hastily.

The two children ran indoors, the man stood contemplative in the cold, shrugging his uncovered shoulders slightly. The open inner door showed a bright linoleum on the floor, and the end of a brown side-board on which stood an aspidistra.

Again with a wrench Aaron Sisson lifted the box. The tree pricked and stung. His wife watched him as he entered staggering, with his face averted.

"Mind where you make a lot of dirt," she said.

He lowered the box with a little jerk on to the spread-out newspaper on the floor. Soil scattered.

"Sweep it up," he said to Millicent.

His ear was lingering over the sudden, clutching hiss of the tree-boughs.

A stark white incandescent light filled the room and made everything sharp and hard. In the open fire-place a hot fire burned red. All was scrupulously clean and perfect. A baby was cooing in a rocker-less wicker cradle by the hearth. The mother, a slim, neat woman with dark hair, was sewing a child's frock. She put this aside, rose, and began to take her husband's dinner from the oven.

"You stopped confabbing long enough tonight," she said.

"Yes," he answered, going to the back kitchen to wash his hands.

In a few minutes he came and sat down to his dinner. The doors were shut close, but there was a draught, because the settling of the mines under the house made the doors not fit. Aaron moved his chair, to get out of the draught. But he still sat in his shirt and trousers.

He was a good-looking man, fair, and pleasant, about thirty-two years old. He did not talk much, but seemed to think about something. His wife resumed her sewing. She was acutely aware of her husband, but he seemed not very much aware of her.

"What were they on about today, then?" she said.

"About the throw-in."

"And did they settle anything?"

"They're going to try it--and they'll come out if it isn't satisfactory."

"The butties won't have it, I know," she said. He gave a short laugh, and went on with his meal.

The two children were squatted on the floor by the tree. They had a wooden box, from which they had taken many little newspaper packets, which they were spreading out like wares.

"Don't open any. We won't open any of them till we've taken them all out--and then we'll undo one in our turns. Then we s'll both undo equal," Millicent was saying.

"Yes, we'll take them ALL out first," re-echoed Marjory.

"And what are they going to do about Job Arthur Freer? Do they want him?" A faint smile came on her husband's face.

"Nay, I don't know what they want.--Some of 'em want him--whether they're a majority, I don't know."

She watched him closely.

"Majority! I'd give 'em majority. They want to get rid of you, and make a fool of you, and you want to break your heart over it. Strikes me you need something to break your heart over."

He laughed silently.

"Nay," he said. "I s'll never break my heart."

"You'll go nearer to it over that, than over anything else: just because a lot of ignorant monkeys want a monkey of their own sort to do the Union work, and jabber to them, they want to get rid of you, and you eat your heart out about it. More fool you, that's all I say--more fool you. If you cared for your wife and children half what you care about your Union, you'd be a lot better pleased in the end. But you care about nothing but a lot of ignorant colliers, who don't know what they want except it's more money just for themselves. Self, self, self--that's all it is with them--and ignorance."

"You'd rather have self without ignorance?" he said, smiling finely.

"I would, if I've got to have it. But what I should like to see is a man that has thought for others, and isn't all self and politics."

Her color had risen, her hand trembled with anger as she sewed. A blank look had come over the man's face, as if he did not hear or heed any more. He drank his tea in a long draught, wiped his moustache with two fingers, and sat looking abstractedly at the children.

They had laid all the little packets on the floor, and Millicent was saying:

"Now I'll undo the first, and you can have the second. I'll take this--"

She unwrapped the bit of newspaper and disclosed a silvery ornament for a Christmas tree: a frail thing like a silver plum, with deep rosy indentations on each side.

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Isn't it LOVELY!" Her fingers cautiously held the long bubble of silver and glowing rose, cleaving to it with a curious, irritating possession. The man's eyes moved away from her. The lesser child was fumbling with one of the little packets.

"Oh!"--a wail went up from Millicent. "You've taken one!--You didn't wait." Then her voice changed to a motherly admonition, and she began to interfere. "This is the way to do it, look! Let me help you."

But Marjory drew back with resentment.

"Don't, Millicent!--Don't!" came the childish cry. But Millicent's fingers itched.

At length Marjory had got out her treasure--a little silvery bell with a glass top hanging inside. The bell was made of frail glassy substance, light as air.

"Oh, the bell!" rang out Millicent's clanging voice. "The bell! It's my bell. My bell! It's mine! Don't break it, Marjory. Don't break it, will you?"

Marjory was shaking the bell against her ear. But it was dumb, it made no sound.

"You'll break it, I know you will.--You'll break it. Give it ME--" cried Millicent, and she began to take away the bell. Marjory set up an expostulation.

"LET HER ALONE," said the father.

Millicent let go as if she had been stung, but still her brassy, impudent voice persisted:

"She'll break it. She'll break it. It's mine--"

"You undo another," said the mother, politic.

Millicent began with hasty, itching fingers to unclose another package.

"Aw--aw Mother, my peacock--aw, my peacock, my green peacock!" Lavishly she hovered over a sinuous greenish bird, with wings and tail of spun glass, pearly, and body of deep electric green.

"It's mine--my green peacock! It's mine, because Marjory's had one wing off, and mine hadn't. My green peacock that I love! I love it!" She swung it softly from the little ring on its back. Then she went to her mother.

"Look, Mother, isn't it a beauty?"

"Mind the ring doesn't come out," said her mother. "Yes, it's lovely!" The girl passed on to her father.

"Look, Father, don't you love it!"

"Love it?" he re-echoed, ironical over the word love.

She stood for some moments, trying to force his attention. Then she went back to her place.

Marjory had brought forth a golden apple, red on one cheek, rather garish.

"Oh!" exclaimed Millicent feverishly, instantly seized with desire for what she had not got, indifferent to what she had. Her eye ran quickly over the packages. She took one.

"Now!" she exclaimed loudly, to attract attention. "Now! What's this?--What's this? What will this beauty be?"

With finicky fingers she removed the newspaper. Marjory watched her wide-eyed. Millicent was self-important.

"The blue ball!" she cried in a climax of rapture. "I've got THE BLUE BALL."

She held it gloating in the cup of her hands. It was a little globe of hardened glass, of a magnificent full dark blue color. She rose and went to her father.

"It was your blue ball, wasn't it, father?"

"Yes."

"And you had it when you were a little boy, and now I have it when I'm a little girl."

"Ay," he replied drily.

"And it's never been broken all those years."

"No, not yet."

"And perhaps it never will be broken." To this she received no answer.

"Won't it break?" she persisted. "Can't you break it?"

"Yes, if you hit it with a hammer," he said.

"Aw!" she cried. "I don't mean that. I mean if you just drop it. It won't break if you drop it, will it?"

"I dare say it won't."

"But WILL it?"

"I sh'd think not."

"Should I try?"

She proceeded gingerly to let the blue ball drop, it bounced dully on the floor-covering.

"Oh-h-h!" she cried, catching it up. "I love it."

"Let ME drop it," cried Marjory, and there was a performance of admonition and demonstration from the elder sister.

But Millicent must go further. She became excited.

"It won't break," she said, "even if you toss it up in the air."

She flung it up, it fell safely. But her father's brow knitted slightly. She tossed it wildly: it fell with a little splashing explosion: it had smashed. It had fallen on the sharp edge of the tiles that protruded under the fender.

"NOW what have you done!" cried the mother.

The child stood with her lip between her teeth, a look, half, of pure misery and dismay, half of satisfaction, on her pretty sharp face.

"She wanted to break it," said the father.

"No, she didn't! What do you say that for!" said the mother. And Millicent burst into a flood of tears.

He rose to look at the fragments that lay splashed on the floor.

"You must mind the bits," he said, "and pick 'em all up."

He took one of the pieces to examine it. It was fine and thin and hard, lined with pure silver, brilliant. He looked at it closely. So--this was what it was. And this was the end of it. He felt the curious soft explosion of its breaking still in his ears. He threw his piece in the fire.

"Pick all the bits up," he said. "Give over! give over! Don't cry any more." The good-natured tone of his voice quieted the child, as he intended it should.

He went away into the back kitchen to wash himself. As he was bending his head over the sink before the little mirror, lathering to shave, there came from outside the dissonant voices of boys, pouring out the dregs of carol-singing.

"While Shep-ep-ep-ep-herds watched--"

He held his soapy brush suspended for a minute. They called this singing! His mind flitted back to early carol music. Then again he heard the vocal violence outside.

"Aren't you off there!" he called out, in masculine menace. The noise stopped, there was a scuffle. But the feet returned and the voices resumed. Almost immediately the door opened, boys were heard muttering among themselves. Millicent had given them a penny. Feet scraped on the yard, then went thudding along the side of the house, to the street.

To Aaron Sisson, this was home, this was Christmas: the unspeakably familiar. The war over, nothing was changed. Yet everything changed. The scullery in which he stood was painted green, quite fresh, very clean, the floor was red tiles. The wash-copper of red bricks was very red, the mangle with its put-up board was white-scrubbed, the American oil-cloth on the table had a gay pattern, there was a warm fire, the water in the boiler hissed faintly. And in front of him, beneath him as he leaned forward shaving, a drop of water fell with strange, incalculable rhythm from the bright brass tap into the white enamelled bowl, which was now half full of pure, quivering water. The war was over, and everything just the same. The acute familiarity of this house, which he had built for his marriage twelve years ago, the changeless pleasantness of it all seemed unthinkable. It prevented his thinking.

When he went into the middle room to comb his hair he found the Christmas tree sparkling, his wife was making pastry at the table, the baby was sitting up propped in cushions.

"Father," said Millicent, approaching him with a flat blue-and-white angel of cotton-wool, and two ends of cotton--"tie the angel at the top."

"Tie it at the top?" he said, looking down.

"Yes. At the very top--because it's just come down from the sky."

"Ay my word!" he laughed. And he tied the angel.

Coming downstairs after changing he went into the icy cold parlour, and took his music and a small handbag. With this he retreated again to the back kitchen. He was still in trousers and shirt and slippers: but now it was a clean white shirt, and his best black trousers, and new pink and white braces. He sat under the gas-jet of the back kitchen, looking through his music. Then he opened the bag, in which were sections of a flute and a piccolo. He took out the flute, and adjusted it. As he sat he was physically aware of the sounds of the night: the bubbling of water in the boiler, the faint sound of the gas, the sudden crying of the baby in the next room, then noises outside, distant boys shouting, distant rags of carols, fragments of voices of men. The whole country was roused and excited.

The little room was hot. Aaron rose and opened a square ventilator over the copper, letting in a stream of cold air, which was grateful to him. Then he cocked his eye over the sheet of music spread out on the table before him. He tried his flute. And then at last, with the odd gesture of a diver taking a plunge, he swung his head and began to play. A stream of music, soft and rich and fluid, came out of the flute. He played beautifully. He moved his head and his raised bare arms with slight, intense movements, as the delicate music poured out. It was sixteenth-century Christmas melody, very limpid and delicate.

The pure, mindless, exquisite motion and fluidity of the music delighted him with a strange exasperation. There was something tense, exasperated to the point of intolerable anger, in his good-humored breast, as he played the finely-spun peace-music. The more exquisite the music, the more perfectly he produced it, in sheer bliss; and at the same time, the more intense was the maddened exasperation within him.

Millicent appeared in the room. She fidgetted at the sink. The music was a bugbear to her, because it prevented her from saying what was on her own mind. At length it ended, her father was turning over the various books and sheets. She looked at him quickly, seizing her opportunity.

"Are you going out, Father?" she said.

"Eh?"

"Are you going out?" She twisted nervously.

"What do you want to know for?"

He made no other answer, and turned again to the music. His eye went down a sheet--then over it again--then more closely over it again.

"Are you?" persisted the child, balancing on one foot.

He looked at her, and his eyes were angry under knitted brows.

"What are you bothering about?" he said.

"I'm not bothering--I only wanted to know if you were going out," she pouted, quivering to cry.

"I expect I am," he said quietly.

She recovered at once, but still with timidity asked:

"We haven't got any candles for the Christmas tree--shall you buy some, because mother isn't going out?"

"Candles!" he repeated, settling his music and taking up the piccolo.

"Yes--shall you buy us some, Father? Shall you?"

"Candles!" he repeated, putting the piccolo to his mouth and blowing a few piercing, preparatory notes.

"Yes, little Christmas-tree candles--blue ones and red ones, in boxes--Shall you, Father?"

"We'll see--if I see any--"

"But SHALL you?" she insisted desperately. She wisely mistrusted his vagueness.

But he was looking unheeding at the music. Then suddenly the piccolo broke forth, wild, shrill, brilliant. He was playing Mozart. The child's face went pale with anger at the sound. She turned, and went out, closing both doors behind her to shut out the noise.

The shrill, rapid movement of the piccolo music seemed to possess the air, it was useless to try to shut it out. The man went on playing to himself, measured and insistent. In the frosty evening the sound carried. People passing down the street hesitated, listening. The neighbours knew it was Aaron practising his piccolo. He was esteemed a good player: was in request at concerts and dances, also at swell balls. So the vivid piping sound tickled the darkness.

He played on till about seven o'clock; he did not want to go out too soon, in spite of the early closing of the public houses. He never went with the stream, but made a side current of his own. His wife said he was contrary. When he went into the middle room to put on his collar and tie, the two little girls were having their hair brushed, the baby was in bed, there was a hot smell of mince-pies baking in the oven.

"You won't forget our candles, will you, Father?" asked Millicent, with assurance now.

"I'll see," he answered.

His wife watched him as he put on his overcoat and hat. He was well-dressed, handsome-looking. She felt there was a curious glamour about him. It made her feel bitter. He had an unfair advantage--he was free to go off, while she must stay at home with the children.

"There's no knowing what time you'll be home," she said.

"I shan't be late," he answered.

"It's easy to say so," she retorted, with some contempt. He took his stick, and turned towards the door.

"Bring the children some candles for their tree, and don't be so selfish," she said.

"All right," he said, going out.

"Don't say ALL RIGHT if you never mean to do it," she cried, with sudden anger, following him to the door.

His figure stood large and shadowy in the darkness.

"How many do you want?" he said.

"A dozen," she said. "And holders too, if you can get them," she added, with barren bitterness.

"Yes--all right," he turned and melted into the darkness. She went indoors, worn with a strange and bitter flame.

He crossed the fields towards the little town, which once more fumed its lights under the night. The country ran away, rising on his right hand. It was no longer a great bank of darkness. Lights twinkled freely here and there, though forlornly, now that the war-time restrictions were removed. It was no glitter of pre-war nights, pit-heads glittering far-off with electricity. Neither was it the black gulf of the war darkness: instead, this forlorn sporadic twinkling.

Everybody seemed to be out of doors. The hollow dark countryside re-echoed like a shell with shouts and calls and excited voices. Restlessness and nervous excitement, nervous hilarity were in the air. There was a sense of electric surcharge everywhere, frictional, a neurasthenic haste for excitement.

Every moment Aaron Sisson was greeted with Good-night--Good-night, Aaron--Good-night, Mr. Sisson. People carrying parcels, children, women, thronged home on the dark paths. They were all talking loudly, declaiming loudly about what they could and could not get, and what this or the other had lost.

When he got into the main street, the only street of shops, it was crowded. There seemed to have been some violent but quiet contest, a subdued fight, going on all the afternoon and evening: people struggling to buy things, to get things. Money was spent like water, there was a frenzy of money-spending. Though the necessities of life were in abundance, still the people struggled in frenzy for cheese, sweets, raisins, pork-stuff, even for flowers and holly, all of which were scarce, and for toys and knick-knacks, which were sold out. There was a wild grumbling, but a deep satisfaction in the fight, the struggle. The same fight and the same satisfaction in the fight was witnessed whenever a tram-car stopped, or when it heaved its way into sight. Then the struggle to mount on board became desperate and savage, but stimulating. Souls surcharged with hostility found now some outlet for their feelings.

As he came near the little market-place he bethought himself of the Christmas-tree candles. He did not intend to trouble himself. And yet, when he glanced in passing into the sweet-shop window, and saw it bare as a board, the very fact that he probably "could not" buy the things made him hesitate, and try.

"Have you got any Christmas-tree candles?" he asked as he entered the shop.

"How many do you want?"

"A dozen."

"Can't let you have a dozen. You can have two boxes--four in a box--eight. Six-pence a box."

"Got any holders?"

"Holders? Don't ask. Haven't seen one this year."

"Got any toffee--?"

"Cough-drops--two-pence an ounce--nothing else left."

"Give me four ounces."

He watched her weighing them in the little brass scales.

"You've not got much of a Christmas show," he said.

"Don't talk about Christmas, as far as sweets is concerned. They ought to have allowed us six times the quantity--there's plenty of sugar, why didn't they? We s'll have to enjoy ourselves with what we've got. We mean to, anyhow."

"Ay," he said.

"Time we had a bit of enjoyment, THIS Christmas. They ought to have made things more plentiful."

"Yes," he said, stuffing his package in his pocket.

CHAPTER II. ROYAL OAK

The war had killed the little market of the town. As he passed the market place on the brow, Aaron noticed that there were only two miserable stalls. But people crowded just the same. There was a loud sound of voices, men's voices. Men pressed round the doorways of the public-houses.

But he was going to a pub out of town. He descended the dark hill. A street-lamp here and there shed parsimonious light. In the bottoms, under the trees, it was very dark. But a lamp glimmered in front of the "Royal Oak." This was a low white house sunk three steps below the highway. It was darkened, but sounded crowded.

Opening the door, Sisson found himself in the stone passage. Old Bob, carrying three cans, stopped to see who had entered--then went on into the public bar on the left. The bar itself was a sort of little window-sill on the right: the pub was a small one. In this window-opening stood the landlady, drawing and serving to her husband. Behind the bar was a tiny parlour or den, the landlady's preserve.

"Oh, it's you," she said, bobbing down to look at the newcomer. None entered her bar-parlour unless invited.

"Come in," said the landlady. There was a peculiar intonation in her complacent voice, which showed she had been expecting him, a little irritably.

He went across into her bar-parlour. It would not hold more than eight or ten people, all told--just the benches along the walls, the fire between--and two little round tables.

"I began to think you weren't coming," said the landlady, bringing him a whiskey.

She was a large, stout, high-coloured woman, with a fine profile, probably Jewish. She had chestnut-coloured eyes, quick, intelligent. Her movements were large and slow, her voice laconic.

"I'm not so late, am I?" asked Aaron.

"Yes, you are late, I should think." She Looked up at the little clock. "Close on nine."

"I did some shopping," said Aaron, with a quick smile.

"Did you indeed? That's news, I'm sure. May we ask what you bought?"

This he did not like. But he had to answer.

"Christmas-tree candles, and toffee."

"For the little children? Well you've done well for once! I must say I recommend you. I didn't think you had so much in you."

She sat herself down in her seat at the end of the bench, and took up her knitting. Aaron sat next to her. He poured water into his glass, and drank.

"It's warm in here," he said, when he had swallowed the liquor.

"Yes, it is. You won't want to keep that thick good overcoat on," replied the landlady.

"No," he said, "I think I'll take it off."

She watched him as he hung up his overcoat. He wore black clothes, as usual. As he reached up to the pegs, she could see the muscles of his shoulders, and the form of his legs. Her reddish-brown eyes seemed to burn, and her nose, that had a subtle, beautiful Hebraic curve, seemed to arch itself. She made a little place for him by herself, as he returned. She carried her head thrown back, with dauntless self-sufficiency.

There were several colliers in the room, talking quietly. They were the superior type all, favoured by the landlady, who loved intellectual discussion. Opposite, by the fire, sat a little, greenish man--evidently an oriental.

"You're very quiet all at once, Doctor," said the landlady in her slow, laconic voice.

"Yes.--May I have another whiskey, please?" She rose at once, powerfully energetic.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said. And she went to the bar.

"Well," said the little Hindu doctor, "and how are things going now, with the men?"

"The same as ever," said Aaron.

"Yes," said the stately voice of the landlady. "And I'm afraid they will always be the same as ever. When will they learn wisdom?"

"But what do you call wisdom?" asked Sherardy, the Hindu. He spoke with a little, childish lisp.

"What do I call wisdom?" repeated the landlady. "Why all acting together for the common good. That is wisdom in my idea."

"Yes, very well, that is so. But what do you call the common good?" replied the little doctor, with childish pertinence.

"Ay," said Aaron, with a laugh, "that's it." The miners were all stirring now, to take part in the discussion.

"What do I call the common good?" repeated the landlady. "That all people should study the welfare of other people, and not only their own."

"They are not to study their own welfare?" said the doctor.

"Ah, that I did not say," replied the landlady. "Let them study their own welfare, and that of others also."

"Well then," said the doctor, "what is the welfare of a collier?"

"The welfare of a collier," said the landlady, "is that he shall earn sufficient wages to keep himself and his family comfortable, to educate his children, and to educate himself; for that is what he wants, education."

"Ay, happen so," put in Brewitt, a big, fine, good-humoured collier. "Happen so, Mrs. Houseley. But what if you haven't got much education, to speak of?"

"You can always get it," she said patronizing.

"Nay--I'm blest if you can. It's no use tryin' to educate a man over forty--not by book-learning. That isn't saying he's a fool, neither."

"And what better is them that's got education?" put in another man. "What better is the manager, or th' under-manager, than we are?--Pender's yaller enough i' th' face."

"He is that," assented the men in chorus.

"But because he's yellow in the face, as you say, Mr. Kirk," said the landlady largely, "that doesn't mean he has no advantages higher than what you have got."

"Ay," said Kirk. "He can ma'e more money than I can--that's about a' as it comes to."

"He can make more money," said the landlady. "And when he's made it, he knows better how to use it."

"'Appen so, an' a'!--What does he do, more than eat and drink and work?--an' take it out of hisself a sight harder than I do, by th' looks of him.--What's it matter, if he eats a bit more or drinks a bit more--"

"No," reiterated the landlady. "He not only eats and drinks. He can read, and he can converse."

"Me an' a'," said Tom Kirk, and the men burst into a laugh. "I can read--an' I've had many a talk an' conversation with you in this house, Mrs. Houseley--am havin' one at this minute, seemingly."

"SEEMINGLY, you are," said the landlady ironically. "But do you think there would be no difference between your conversation, and Mr. Pender's, if he were here so that I could enjoy his conversation?"

"An' what difference would there be?" asked Tom Kirk. "He'd go home to his bed just the same."

"There, you are mistaken. He would be the better, and so should I, a great deal better, for a little genuine conversation."

"If it's conversation as ma'es his behind drop--" said Tom Kirk. "An' puts th' bile in his face--" said Brewitt. There was a general laugh.

"I can see it's no use talking about it any further," said the landlady, lifting her head dangerously.

"But look here, Mrs. Houseley, do you really think it makes much difference to a man, whether he can hold a serious conversation or not?" asked the doctor.

"I do indeed, all the difference in the world--To me, there is no greater difference, than between an educated man and an uneducated man."

"And where does it come in?" asked Kirk.

"But wait a bit, now," said Aaron Sisson. "You take an educated man--take Pender. What's his education for? What does he scheme for?--What does he contrive for? What does he talk for?--"

"For all the purposes of his life," replied the landlady.

"Ay, an' what's the purpose of his life?" insisted Aaron Sisson.

"The purpose of his life," repeated the landlady, at a loss. "I should think he knows that best himself."

"No better than I know it--and you know it," said Aaron.

"Well," said the landlady, "if you know, then speak out. What is it?"

"To make more money for the firm--and so make his own chance of a rise better."

The landlady was baffled for some moments. Then she said:

"Yes, and suppose that he does. Is there any harm in it? Isn't it his duty to do what he can for himself? Don't you try to earn all you can?"

"Ay," said Aaron. "But there's soon a limit to what I can earn.--It's like this. When you work it out, everything comes to money. Reckon it as you like, it's money on both sides. It's money we live for, and money is what our lives is worth--nothing else. Money we live for, and money we are when we're dead: that or nothing. An' it's money as is between the masters and us. There's a few educated ones got hold of one end of the rope, and all the lot of us hanging on to th' other end, an' we s'll go on pulling our guts out, time in, time out--"

"But they've got th' long end o' th' rope, th' masters has," said Brewitt.

"For as long as one holds, the other will pull," concluded Aaron Sisson philosophically.

"An' I'm almighty sure o' that," said Kirk. There was a little pause.

"Yes, that's all there is in the minds of you men," said the landlady. "But what can be done with the money, that you never think of--the education of the children, the improvement of conditions--"

"Educate the children, so that they can lay hold of the long end of the rope, instead of the short end," said the doctor, with a little giggle.

"Ay, that's it," said Brewitt. "I've pulled at th' short end, an' my lads may do th' same."

"A selfish policy," put in the landlady.

"Selfish or not, they may do it."

"Till the crack o' doom," said Aaron, with a glistening smile.

"Or the crack o' th' rope," said Brewitt.

"Yes, and THEN WHAT?" cried the landlady.

"Then we all drop on our backsides," said Kirk. There was a general laugh, and an uneasy silence.

"All I can say of you men," said the landlady, "is that you have a narrow, selfish policy.--Instead of thinking of the children, instead of thinking of improving the world you live in--"

"We hang on, British bulldog breed," said Brewitt. There was a general laugh.

"Yes, and little wiser than dogs, wrangling for a bone," said the landlady.

"Are we to let t' other side run off wi' th' bone, then, while we sit on our stunts an' yowl for it?" asked Brewitt.

"No indeed. There can be wisdom in everything.--It's what you DO with the money, when you've got it," said the landlady, "that's where the importance lies."

"It's Missis as gets it," said Kirk. "It doesn't stop wi' us." "Ay, it's the wife as gets it, ninety per cent," they all concurred.

"And who SHOULD have the money, indeed, if not your wives? They have everything to do with the money. What idea have you, but to waste it!"

"Women waste nothing--they couldn't if they tried," said Aaron Sisson.

There was a lull for some minutes. The men were all stimulated by drink. The landlady kept them going. She herself sipped a glass of brandy--but slowly. She sat near to Sisson--and the great fierce warmth of her presence enveloped him particularly. He loved so to luxuriate, like a cat, in the presence of a violent woman. He knew that tonight she was feeling very nice to him--a female glow that came out of her to him. Sometimes when she put down her knitting, or took it up again from the bench beside him, her fingers just touched his thigh, and the fine electricity ran over his body, as if he were a cat tingling at a caress.

And yet he was not happy--nor comfortable. There was a hard, opposing core in him, that neither the whiskey nor the woman could dissolve or soothe, tonight. It remained hard, nay, became harder and more deeply antagonistic to his surroundings, every moment. He recognised it as a secret malady he suffered from: this strained, unacknowledged opposition to his surroundings, a hard core of irrational, exhausting withholding of himself. Irritating, because he still WANTED to give himself. A woman and whiskey, these were usually a remedy--and music. But lately these had begun to fail him. No, there was something in him that would not give in--neither to the whiskey, nor the woman, nor even the music. Even in the midst of his best music, it sat in the middle of him, this invisible black dog, and growled and waited, never to be cajoled. He knew of its presence--and was a little uneasy. For of course he "wanted" to let himself go, to feel rosy and loving and all that. But at the very thought, the black dog showed its teeth.

Still he kept the beast at bay--with all his will he kept himself as it were genial. He wanted to melt and be rosy, happy.

He sipped his whiskey with gratification, he luxuriated in the presence of the landlady, very confident of the strength of her liking for him. He glanced at her profile--that fine throw-back of her hostile head, wicked in the midst of her benevolence; that subtle, really very beautiful delicate curve of her nose, that moved him exactly like a piece of pure sound. But tonight it did not overcome him. There was a devilish little cold eye in his brain that was not taken in by what he saw.

A terrible obstinacy located itself in him. He saw the fine, rich-coloured, secretive face of the Hebrew woman, so loudly self-righteous, and so dangerous, so destructive, so lustful--and he waited for his blood to melt with passion for her. But not tonight. Tonight his innermost heart was hard and cold as ice. The very danger and lustfulness of her, which had so pricked his senses, now made him colder. He disliked her at her tricks. He saw her once too often. Her and all women. Bah, the love game! And the whiskey that was to help in the game! He had drowned himself once too often in whiskey and in love. Now he floated like a corpse in both, with a cold, hostile eye.

And at least half of his inward fume was anger because he could no longer drown. Nothing would have pleased him better than to feel his senses melting and swimming into oneness with the dark. But impossible! Cold, with a white fury inside him, he floated wide eyed and apart as a corpse. He thought of the gentle love of his first married years, and became only whiter and colder, set in more intense obstinacy. A wave of revulsion lifted him.

He became aware that he was deadly antagonistic to the landlady, that he disliked his whole circumstances. A cold, diabolical consciousness detached itself from his state of semi-intoxication.

"Is it pretty much the same out there in India?" he asked of the doctor, suddenly.

The doctor started, and attended to him on his own level.

"Probably," he answered. "It is worse."

"Worse!" exclaimed Aaron Sisson. "How's that?"

"Why, because, in a way the people of India have an easier time even than the people of England. Because they have no responsibility. The British Government takes the responsibility. And the people have nothing to do, except their bit of work--and talk perhaps about national rule, just for a pastime."

"They have to earn their living?" said Sisson.

"Yes," said the little doctor, who had lived for some years among the colliers, and become quite familiar with them. "Yes, they have to earn their living--and then no more. That's why the British Government is the worst thing possible for them. It is the worst thing possible. And not because it is a bad government. Really, it is not a bad government. It is a good one--and they know it--much better than they would make for themselves, probably. But for that reason it is so very bad."

The little oriental laughed a queer, sniggering laugh. His eyes were very bright, dilated, completely black. He was looking into the ice-blue, pointed eyes of Aaron Sisson. They were both intoxicated--but grimly so. They looked at each other in elemental difference.

The whole room was now attending to this new conversation: which they all accepted as serious. For Aaron was considered a special man, a man of peculiar understanding, even though as a rule he said little.

"If it is a good government, doctor, how can it be so bad for the people?" said the landlady.

The doctor's eyes quivered for the fraction of a second, as he watched the other man. He did not look at the landlady.

"It would not matter what kind of mess they made--and they would make a mess, if they governed themselves, the people of India. They would probably make the greatest muddle possible--and start killing one another. But it wouldn't matter if they exterminated half the population, so long as they did it themselves, and were responsible for it."

Again his eyes dilated, utterly black, to the eyes of the other man, and an arch little smile flickered on his face.

"I think it would matter very much indeed," said the landlady. "They had far better NOT govern themselves."

She was, for some reason, becoming angry. The little greenish doctor emptied his glass, and smiled again.

"But what difference does it make," said Aaron Sisson, "whether they govern themselves or not? They only live till they die, either way." And he smiled faintly. He had not really listened to the doctor. The terms "British Government," and "bad for the people--good for the people," made him malevolently angry.

The doctor was nonplussed for a moment. Then he gathered himself together.

"It matters," he said; "it matters.--People should always be responsible for themselves. How can any people be responsible for another race of people, and for a race much older than they are, and not at all children."

Aaron Sisson watched the other's dark face, with its utterly exposed eyes. He was in a state of semi-intoxicated anger and clairvoyance. He saw in the black, void, glistening eyes of the oriental only the same danger, the same menace that he saw in the landlady. Fair, wise, even benevolent words: always the human good speaking, and always underneath, something hateful, something detestable and murderous. Wise speech and good intentions--they were invariably maggoty with these secret inclinations to destroy the man in the man. Whenever he heard anyone holding forth: the landlady, this doctor, the spokesman on the pit bank: or when he read the all-righteous newspaper; his soul curdled with revulsion as from something foul. Even the infernal love and good-will of his wife. To hell with good-will! It was more hateful than ill-will. Self-righteous bullying, like poison gas!

The landlady looked at the clock.

"Ten minutes to, gentlemen," she said coldly. For she too knew that Aaron was spoiled for her for that night.

The men began to take their leave, shakily. The little doctor seemed to evaporate. The landlady helped Aaron on with his coat. She saw the curious whiteness round his nostrils and his eyes, the fixed hellish look on his face.

"You'll eat a mince-pie in the kitchen with us, for luck?" she said to him, detaining him till last.

But he turned laughing to her.

"Nay," he said, "I must be getting home."

He turned and went straight out of the house. Watching him, the landlady's face became yellow with passion and rage.

"That little poisonous Indian viper," she said aloud, attributing Aaron's mood to the doctor. Her husband was noisily bolting the door.

Outside it was dark and frosty. A gang of men lingered in the road near the closed door. Aaron found himself among them, his heart bitterer than steel.

The men were dispersing. He should take the road home. But the devil was in it, if he could take a stride in the homeward direction. There seemed a wall in front of him. He veered. But neither could he take a stride in the opposite direction. So he was destined to veer round, like some sort of weather-cock, there in the middle of the dark road outside the "Royal Oak."

But as he turned, he caught sight of a third exit. Almost opposite was the mouth of Shottle Lane, which led off under trees, at right angles to the highroad, up to New Brunswick Colliery. He veered towards the off-chance of this opening, in a delirium of icy fury, and plunged away into the dark lane, walking slowly, on firm legs.

CHAPTER III. "THE LIGHTED TREE"

It is remarkable how many odd or extraordinary people there are in England. We hear continual complaints of the stodgy dullness of the English. It would be quite as just to complain of their freakish, unusual characters. Only "en masse" the metal is all Britannia.

In an ugly little mining town we find the odd ones just as distinct as anywhere else. Only it happens that dull people invariably meet dull people, and odd individuals always come across odd individuals, no matter where they may be. So that to each kind society seems all of a piece.

At one end of the dark tree-covered Shottle Lane stood the "Royal Oak" public house; and Mrs. Houseley was certainly an odd woman. At the other end of the lane was Shottle House, where the Bricknells lived; the Bricknells were odd, also. Alfred Bricknell, the old man, was one of the partners in the Colliery firm. His English was incorrect, his accent, broad Derbyshire, and he was not a gentleman in the snobbish sense of the word. Yet he was well-to-do, and very stuck-up. His wife was dead.

Shottle House stood two hundred yards beyond New Brunswick Colliery. The colliery was imbedded in a plantation, whence its burning pit-hill glowed, fumed, and stank sulphur in the nostrils of the Bricknells. Even war-time efforts had not put out this refuse fire. Apart from this, Shottle House was a pleasant square house, rather old, with shrubberies and lawns. It ended the lane in a dead end. Only a field-path trekked away to the left.

On this particular Christmas Eve Alfred Bricknell had only two of his children at home. Of the others, one daughter was unhappily married, and away in India weeping herself thinner; another was nursing her babies in Streatham. Jim, the hope of the house, and Julia, now married to Robert Cunningham, had come home for Christmas.

The party was seated in the drawing-room, that the grown-up daughters had made very fine during their periods of courtship. Its walls were hung with fine grey canvas, it had a large, silvery grey, silky carpet, and the furniture was covered with dark green silky material. Into this reticence pieces of futurism, Omega cushions and Van-Gogh-like pictures exploded their colours. Such "chic" would certainly not have been looked for up Shottle Lane.

The old man sat in his high grey arm-chair very near an enormous coal fire. In this house there was no coal-rationing. The finest coal was arranged to obtain a gigantic glow such as a coal-owner may well enjoy, a great, intense mass of pure red fire. At this fire Alfred Bricknell toasted his tan, lambs-wool-lined slippers.

He was a large man, wearing a loose grey suit, and sprawling in the large grey arm-chair. The soft lamp-light fell on his clean, bald, Michael-Angelo head, across which a few pure hairs glittered. His chin was sunk on his breast, so that his sparse but strong-haired white beard, in which every strand stood distinct, like spun glass lithe and elastic, curved now upwards and inwards, in a curious curve returning upon him. He seemed to be sunk in stern, prophet-like meditation. As a matter of fact, he was asleep after a heavy meal.

Across, seated on a pouffe on the other side of the fire, was a cameo-like girl with neat black hair done tight and bright in the French mode. She had strangely-drawn eyebrows, and her colour was brilliant. She was hot, leaning back behind the shaft of old marble of the mantel-piece, to escape the fire. She wore a simple dress of apple-green satin, with full sleeves and ample skirt and a tiny bodice of green cloth. This was Josephine Ford, the girl Jim was engaged to.

Jim Bricknell himself was a tall big fellow of thirty-eight. He sat in a chair in front of the fire, some distance back, and stretched his long legs far in front of him. His chin too was sunk on his breast, his young forehead was bald, and raised in odd wrinkles, he had a silent half-grin on his face, a little tipsy, a little satyr-like. His small moustache was reddish.

Behind him a round table was covered with cigarettes, sweets, and bottles. It was evident Jim Bricknell drank beer for choice. He wanted to get fat--that was his idea. But he couldn't bring it off: he was thin, though not too thin, except to his own thinking.

His sister Julia was bunched up in a low chair between him and his father. She too was a tall stag of a thing, but she sat bunched up like a witch. She wore a wine-purple dress, her arms seemed to poke out of the sleeves, and she had dragged her brown hair into straight, untidy strands. Yet she had real beauty. She was talking to the young man who was not her husband: a fair, pale, fattish young fellow in pince-nez and dark clothes. This was Cyril Scott, a friend.

The only other person stood at the round table pouring out red wine. He was a fresh, stoutish young Englishman in khaki, Julia's husband, Robert Cunningham, a lieutenant about to be demobilised, when he would become a sculptor once more. He drank red wine in large throatfuls, and his eyes grew a little moist. The room was hot and subdued, everyone was silent.

"I say," said Robert suddenly, from the rear--"anybody have a drink? Don't you find it rather hot?"

"Is there another bottle of beer there?" said Jim, without moving, too settled even to stir an eye-lid.

"Yes--I think there is," said Robert.

"Thanks--don't open it yet," murmured Jim.

"Have a drink, Josephine?" said Robert.

"No thank you," said Josephine, bowing slightly.

Finding the drinks did not go, Robert went round with the cigarettes. Josephine Ford looked at the white rolls.

"Thank you," she said, and taking one, suddenly licked her rather full, dry red lips with the rapid tip of her tongue. It was an odd movement, suggesting a snake's flicker. She put her cigarette between her lips, and waited. Her movements were very quiet and well bred; but perhaps too quiet, they had the dangerous impassivity of the Bohemian, Parisian or American rather than English.

"Cigarette, Julia?" said Robert to his wife.

She seemed to start or twitch, as if dazed. Then she looked up at her husband with a queer smile, puckering the corners of her eyes. He looked at the cigarettes, not at her. His face had the blunt voluptuous gravity of a young lion, a great cat. She kept him standing for some moments impassively. Then suddenly she hung her long, delicate fingers over the box, in doubt, and spasmodically jabbed at the cigarettes, clumsily raking one out at last.

"Thank you, dear--thank you," she cried, rather high, looking up and smiling once more. He turned calmly aside, offering the cigarettes to Scott, who refused.

"Oh!" said Julia, sucking the end of her cigarette. "Robert is so happy with all the good things--aren't you dear?" she sang, breaking into a hurried laugh. "We aren't used to such luxurious living, we aren't--ARE WE DEAR--No, we're not such swells as this, we're not. Oh, ROBBIE, isn't it all right, isn't it just all right?" She tailed off into her hurried, wild, repeated laugh. "We're so happy in a land of plenty, AREN'T WE DEAR?"

"Do you mean I'm greedy, Julia?" said Robert.

"Greedy!--Oh, greedy!--he asks if he's greedy?--no you're not greedy, Robbie, you're not greedy. I want you to be happy."

"I'm quite happy," he returned.

"Oh, he's happy!--Really!--he's happy! Oh, what an accomplishment! Oh, my word!" Julia puckered her eyes and laughed herself into a nervous twitching silence.

Robert went round with the matches. Julia sucked her cigarette.

"Give us a light, Robbie, if you ARE happy!" she cried.

"It's coming," he answered.

Josephine smoked with short, sharp puffs. Julia sucked wildly at her light. Robert returned to his red wine. Jim Bricknell suddenly roused up, looked round on the company, smiling a little vacuously and showing his odd, pointed teeth.

"Where's the beer?" he asked, in deep tones, smiling full into Josephine's face, as if she were going to produce it by some sleight of hand. Then he wheeled round to the table, and was soon pouring beer down his throat as down a pipe. Then he dropped supine again. Cyril Scott was silently absorbing gin and water.

"I say," said Jim, from the remote depths of his sprawling. "Isn't there something we could do to while the time away?"

Everybody suddenly laughed--it sounded so remote and absurd.

"What, play bridge or poker or something conventional of that sort?" said Josephine in her distinct voice, speaking to him as if he were a child.

"Oh, damn bridge," said Jim in his sleep-voice. Then he began pulling his powerful length together. He sat on the edge of his chair-seat, leaning forward, peering into all the faces and grinning.

"Don't look at me like that--so long--" said Josephine, in her self-contained voice. "You make me uncomfortable." She gave an odd little grunt of a laugh, and the tip of her tongue went over her lips as she glanced sharply, half furtively round the room.

"I like looking at you," said Jim, his smile becoming more malicious.

"But you shouldn't, when I tell you not," she returned.

Jim twisted round to look at the state of the bottles. The father also came awake. He sat up.

"Isn't it time," he said, "that you all put away your glasses and cigarettes and thought of bed?"

Jim rolled slowly round towards his father, sprawling in the long chair.

"Ah, Dad," he said, "tonight's the night! Tonight's some night, Dad.--You can sleep any time--" his grin widened--"but there aren't many nights to sit here--like this--Eh?"

He was looking up all the time into the face of his father, full and nakedly lifting his face to the face of his father, and smiling fixedly. The father, who was perfectly sober, except for the contagion from the young people, felt a wild tremor go through his heart as he gazed on the face of his boy. He rose stiffly.

"You want to stay?" he said. "You want to stay!--Well then--well then, I'll leave you. But don't be long." The old man rose to his full height, rather majestic. The four younger people also rose respectfully--only Jim lay still prostrate in his chair, twisting up his face towards his father.

"You won't stay long," said the old man, looking round a little bewildered. He was seeking a responsible eye. Josephine was the only one who had any feeling for him.

"No, we won't stay long, Mr. Bricknell," she said gravely.

"Good night, Dad," said Jim, as his father left the room.

Josephine went to the window. She had rather a stiff, "poupee" walk.

"How is the night?" she said, as if to change the whole feeling in the room. She pushed back the thick grey-silk curtains. "Why?" she exclaimed. "What is that light burning? A red light?"

"Oh, that's only the pit-bank on fire," said Robert, who had followed her.

"How strange!--Why is it burning now?"

"It always burns, unfortunately--it is most consistent at it. It is the refuse from the mines. It has been burning for years, in spite of all efforts to the contrary."

"How very curious! May we look at it?" Josephine now turned the handle of the French windows, and stepped out.

"Beautiful!" they heard her voice exclaim from outside.

In the room, Julia laid her hand gently, protectively over the hand of Cyril Scott.

"Josephine and Robert are admiring the night together!" she said, smiling with subtle tenderness to him.

"Naturally! Young people always do these romantic things," replied Cyril Scott. He was twenty-two years old, so he could afford to be cynical.

"Do they?--Don't you think it's nice of them?" she said, gently removing her hand from his. His eyes were shining with pleasure.

"I do. I envy them enormously. One only needs to be sufficiently naive," he said.

"One does, doesn't one!" cooed Julia.

"I say, do you hear the bells?" said Robert, poking his head into the room.

"No, dear! Do you?" replied Julia.

"Bells! Hear the bells! Bells!" exclaimed the half-tipsy and self-conscious Jim. And he rolled in his chair in an explosion of sudden, silent laughter, showing his mouthful of pointed teeth, like a dog. Then he gradually gathered himself together, found his feet, smiling fixedly.

"Pretty cool night!" he said aloud, when he felt the air on his almost bald head. The darkness smelt of sulphur.

Josephine and Robert had moved out of sight. Julia was abstracted, following them with her eyes. With almost supernatural keenness she seemed to catch their voices from the distance.

"Yes, Josephine, WOULDN'T that be AWFULLY ROMANTIC!"--she suddenly called shrilly.

The pair in the distance started.

"What--!" they heard Josephine's sharp exclamation.

"What's that?--What would be romantic?" said Jim as he lurched up and caught hold of Cyril Scott's arm.

"Josephine wants to make a great illumination of the grounds of the estate," said Julia, magniloquent.

"No--no--I didn't say it," remonstrated Josephine.

"What Josephine said," explained Robert, "was simply that it would be pretty to put candles on one of the growing trees, instead of having a Christmas-tree indoors."

"Oh, Josephine, how sweet of you!" cried Julia.

Cyril Scott giggled.

"Good egg! Champion idea, Josey, my lass. Eh? What--!" cried Jim. "Why not carry it out--eh? Why not? Most attractive." He leaned forward over Josephine, and grinned.

"Oh, no!" expostulated Josephine. "It all sounds so silly now. No. Let us go indoors and go to bed."

"NO, Josephine dear--No! It's a LOVELY IDEA!" cried Julia. "Let's get candles and lanterns and things--"

"Let's!" grinned Jim. "Let's, everybody--let's."

"Shall we really?" asked Robert. "Shall we illuminate one of the fir-trees by the lawn?"

"Yes! How lovely!" cried Julia. "I'll fetch the candles."

"The women must put on warm cloaks," said Robert.

They trooped indoors for coats and wraps and candles and lanterns. Then, lighted by a bicycle lamp, they trooped off to the shed to twist wire round the candles for holders. They clustered round the bench.

"I say," said Julia, "doesn't Cyril look like a pilot on a stormy night! Oh, I say--!" and she went into one of her hurried laughs.

They all looked at Cyril Scott, who was standing sheepishly in the background, in a very large overcoat, smoking a large pipe. The young man was uncomfortable, but assumed a stoic air of philosophic indifference.

Soon they were busy round a prickly fir-tree at the end of the lawn. Jim stood in the background vaguely staring. The bicycle lamp sent a beam of strong white light deep into the uncanny foliage, heads clustered and hands worked. The night above was silent, dim. There was no wind. In the near distance they could hear the panting of some engine at the colliery.

"Shall we light them as we fix them," asked Robert, "or save them for one grand rocket at the end?"

"Oh, as we do them," said Cyril Scott, who had lacerated his fingers and wanted to see some reward.

A match spluttered. One naked little flame sprang alight among the dark foliage. The candle burned tremulously, naked. They all were silent.

"We ought to do a ritual dance! We ought to worship the tree," sang Julia, in her high voice.

"Hold on a minute. We'll have a little more illumination," said Robert.

"Why yes. We want more than one candle," said Josephine.

But Julia had dropped the cloak in which she was huddled, and with arms slung asunder was sliding, waving, crouching in a "pas seul" before the tree, looking like an animated bough herself.

Jim, who was hugging his pipe in the background, broke into a short, harsh, cackling laugh.

"Aren't we fools!" he cried. "What? Oh, God's love, aren't we fools!"

"No--why?" cried Josephine, amused but resentful.

But Jim vouchsafed nothing further, only stood like a Red Indian gripping his pipe.

The beam of the bicycle-lamp moved and fell upon the hands and faces of the young people, and penetrated the recesses of the secret trees. Several little tongues of flame clipped sensitive and ruddy on the naked air, sending a faint glow over the needle foliage. They gave a strange, perpendicular aspiration in the night. Julia waved slowly in her tree dance. Jim stood apart, with his legs straddled, a motionless figure.

The party round the tree became absorbed and excited as more ruddy tongues of flame pricked upward from the dark tree. Pale candles became evident, the air was luminous. The illumination was becoming complete, harmonious.

Josephine suddenly looked round.

"Why-y-y!" came her long note of alarm.

A man in a bowler hat and a black overcoat stood on the edge of the twilight.

"What is it?" cried Julia.

""Homo sapiens"!" said Robert, the lieutenant. "Hand the light, Cyril." He played the beam of light full on the intruder; a man in a bowler hat, with a black overcoat buttoned to his throat, a pale, dazed, blinking face. The hat was tilted at a slightly jaunty angle over the left eye, the man was well-featured. He did not speak.

"Did you want anything?" asked Robert, from behind the light.

Aaron Sisson blinked, trying to see who addressed him. To him, they were all illusory. He did not answer.

"Anything you wanted?" repeated Robert, military, rather peremptory.

Jim suddenly doubled himself up and burst into a loud harsh cackle of laughter. Whoop! he went, and doubled himself up with laughter. Whoop! Whoop! he went, and fell on the ground and writhed with laughter. He was in that state of intoxication when he could find no release from maddening self-consciousness. He knew what he was doing, he did it deliberately. And yet he was also beside himself, in a sort of hysterics. He could not help himself in exasperated self-consciousness.

The others all began to laugh, unavoidably. It was a contagion. They laughed helplessly and foolishly. Only Robert was anxious.

"I'm afraid he'll wake the house," he said, looking at the doubled up figure of Jim writhing on the grass and whooping loudly.

"Or not enough," put in Cyril Scott. He twigged Jim's condition.

"No--no!" cried Josephine, weak with laughing in spite of herself. "No--it's too long--I'm like to die laughing--"

Jim embraced the earth in his convulsions. Even Robert shook quite weakly with laughter. His face was red, his eyes full of dancing water. Yet he managed to articulate.

"I say, you know, you'll bring the old man down." Then he went off again into spasms.

"Hu! Hu!" whooped Jim, subsiding. "Hu!"

He rolled over on to his back, and lay silent. The others also became weakly silent.

"What's amiss?" said Aaron Sisson, breaking this spell.

They all began to laugh again, except Jim, who lay on his back looking up at the strange sky.

"What're you laughing at?" repeated Aaron.

"We're laughing at the man on the ground," replied Josephine. "I think he's drunk a little too much."

"Ay," said Aaron, standing mute and obstinate.

"Did you want anything?" Robert enquired once more.

"Eh?" Aaron looked up. "Me? No, not me." A sort of inertia kept him rooted. The young people looked at one another and began to laugh, rather embarrassed.

"Another!" said Cyril Scott cynically.

They wished he would go away. There was a pause.

"What do you reckon stars are?" asked the sepulchral voice of Jim. He still lay flat on his back on the grass.

Josephine went to him and pulled at his coat.

"Get up," she said. "You'll take cold. Get up now, we're going indoors."

"What do you reckon stars are?" he persisted.

Aaron Sisson stood on the edge of the light, smilingly staring at the scene, like a boy out of his place, but stubbornly keeping his ground.

"Get up now," said Josephine. "We've had enough." But Jim would not move.

Robert went with the bicycle lamp and stood at Aaron's side.

"Shall I show you a light to the road--you're off your track," he said. "You're in the grounds of Shottle House."

"I can find my road," said Aaron. "Thank you."

Jim suddenly got up and went to peer at the stranger, poking his face close to Aaron's face.

"Right-o," he replied. "You're not half a bad sort of chap--Cheery-o! What's your drink?"

"Mine--whiskey," said Aaron.

"Come in and have one. We're the only sober couple in the bunch--what?" cried Jim.

Aaron stood unmoving, static in everything. Jim took him by the arm affectionately. The stranger looked at the flickering tree, with its tiers of lights.

"A Christmas tree," he said, jerking his head and smiling.

"That's right, old man," said Jim, seeming thoroughly sober now. "Come indoors and have a drink."

Aaron Sisson negatively allowed himself to be led off. The others followed in silence, leaving the tree to flicker the night through. The stranger stumbled at the open window-door.

"Mind the step," said Jim affectionately.

They crowded to the fire, which was still hot. The newcomer looked round vaguely. Jim took his bowler hat and gave him a chair. He sat without looking round, a remote, abstract look on his face. He was very pale, and seemed-inwardly absorbed.

The party threw off their wraps and sat around. Josephine turned to Aaron Sisson, who sat with a glass of whiskey in his hand, rather slack in his chair, in his thickish overcoat. He did not want to drink. His hair was blond, quite tidy, his mouth and chin handsome but a little obstinate, his eyes inscrutable. His pallor was not natural to him. Though he kept the appearance of a smile, underneath he was hard and opposed. He did not wish to be with these people, and yet, mechanically, he stayed.

"Do you feel quite well?" Josephine asked him.

He looked at her quickly.

"Me?" he said. He smiled faintly. "Yes, I'm all right." Then he dropped his head again and seemed oblivious.

"Tell us your name," said Jim affectionately.

The stranger looked up.

"My name's Aaron Sisson, if it's anything to you," he said.

Jim began to grin.

"It's a name I don't know," he said. Then he named all the party present. But the stranger hardly heeded, though his eyes looked curiously from one to the other, slow, shrewd, clairvoyant.

"Were you on your way home?" asked Robert, huffy.

The stranger lifted his head and looked at him.

"Home!" he repeated. "No. The other road--" He indicated the direction with his head, and smiled faintly.

"Beldover?" inquired Robert.

"Yes."

He had dropped his head again, as if he did not want to look at them.

To Josephine, the pale, impassive, blank-seeming face, the blue eyes with the smile which wasn't a smile, and the continual dropping of the well-shaped head was curiously affecting. She wanted to cry.

"Are you a miner?" Robert asked, "de haute en bas".

"No," cried Josephine. She had looked at his hands.

"Men's checkweighman," replied Aaron. He had emptied his glass. He put it on the table.

"Have another?" said Jim, who was attending fixedly, with curious absorption, to the stranger.

"No," cried Josephine, "no more."

Aaron looked at Jim, then at her, and smiled slowly, with remote bitterness. Then he lowered his head again. His hands were loosely clasped between his knees.

"What about the wife?" said Robert--the young lieutenant.

"What about the wife and kiddies? You're a married man, aren't you?"

The sardonic look of the stranger rested on the subaltern.

"Yes," he said.

"Won't they be expecting you?" said Robert, trying to keep his temper and his tone of authority.

"I expect they will--"

"Then you'd better be getting along, hadn't you?"

The eyes of the intruder rested all the time on the flushed subaltern. The look on Aaron's face became slowly satirical.

"Oh, dry up the army touch," said Jim contemptuously, to Robert. "We're all civvies here. We're all right, aren't we?" he said loudly, turning to the stranger with a grin that showed his pointed teeth.

Aaron gave a brief laugh of acknowledgement.

"How many children have you?" sang Julia from her distance.

"Three."

"Girls or boys?"

"Girls."

"All girls? Dear little things! How old?"

"Oldest eight--youngest nine months--"

"So small!" sang Julia, with real tenderness now--Aaron dropped his head. "But you're going home to them, aren't you?" said Josephine, in whose eyes the tears had already risen. He looked up at her, at her tears. His face had the same pale perverse smile.

"Not tonight," he said.

"But why? You're wrong!" cried Josephine.

He dropped his head and became oblivious.

"Well!" said Cyril Scott, rising at last with a bored exclamation. "I think I'll retire."

"Will you?" said Julia, also rising. "You'll find your candle outside."

She went out. Scott bade good night, and followed her. The four people remained in the room, quite silent. Then Robert rose and began to walk about, agitated.

"Don't you go back to 'em. Have a night out. You stop here tonight," Jim said suddenly, in a quiet intimate tone.

The stranger turned his head and looked at him, considering.

"Yes?" he said. He seemed to be smiling coldly.

"Oh, but!" cried Josephine. "Your wife and your children! Won't they be awfully bothered? Isn't it awfully unkind to them?"

She rose in her eagerness. He sat turning up his face to her. She could not understand his expression.

"Won't you go home to them?" she said, hysterical.

"Not tonight," he replied quietly, again smiling.

"You're wrong!" she cried. "You're wrong!" And so she hurried out of the room in tears.

"Er--what bed do you propose to put him in?" asked Robert rather officer-like.

"Don't propose at all, my lad," replied Jim, ironically--he did not like Robert. Then to the stranger he said:

"You'll be all right on the couch in my room?--it's a good couch, big enough, plenty of rugs--" His voice was easy and intimate.

Aaron looked at him, and nodded.

They had another drink each, and at last the two set off, rather stumbling, upstairs. Aaron carried his bowler hat with him.

Robert remained pacing in the drawing-room for some time. Then he went out, to return in a little while. He extinguished the lamps and saw that the fire was safe. Then he went to fasten the window-doors securely. Outside he saw the uncanny glimmer of candles across the lawn. He had half a mind to go out and extinguish them--but he did not. So he went upstairs and the house was quiet. Faint crumbs of snow were falling outside.

When Jim woke in the morning Aaron had gone. Only on the floor were two packets of Christmas-tree candles, fallen from the stranger's pockets. He had gone through the drawing-room door, as he had come. The housemaid said that while she was cleaning the grate in the dining-room she heard someone go into the drawing-room: a parlour-maid had even seen someone come out of Jim's bedroom. But they had both thought it was Jim himself, for he was an unsettled house mate.

There was a thin film of snow, a lovely Christmas morning.

CHAPTER IV. "THE PILLAR OF SALT"

Our story will not yet see daylight. A few days after Christmas, Aaron sat in the open shed at the bottom of his own garden, looking out on the rainy darkness. No one knew he was there. It was some time after six in the evening.

From where he sat, he looked straight up the garden to the house. The blind was not drawn in the middle kitchen, he could see the figures of his wife and one child. There was a light also in the upstairs window. His wife was gone upstairs again. He wondered if she had the baby ill. He could see her figure vaguely behind the lace curtains of the bedroom. It was like looking at his home through the wrong end of a telescope. Now the little girls had gone from the middle room: only to return in a moment.

His attention strayed. He watched the light falling from the window of the next-door house. Uneasily, he looked along the whole range of houses. The street sloped down-hill, and the backs were open to the fields. So he saw a curious succession of lighted windows, between which jutted the intermediary back premises, scullery and outhouse, in dark little blocks. It was something like the keyboard of a piano: more still, like a succession of musical notes. For the rectangular planes of light were of different intensities, some bright and keen, some soft, warm, like candle-light, and there was one surface of pure red light, one or two were almost invisible, dark green. So the long scale of lights seemed to trill across the darkness, now bright, now dim, swelling and sinking. The effect was strange.

And thus the whole private life of the street was threaded in lights. There was a sense of indecent exposure, from so many backs. He felt himself almost in physical contact with this contiguous stretch of back premises. He heard the familiar sound of water gushing from the sink in to the grate, the dropping of a pail outside the door, the clink of a coal shovel, the banging of a door, the sound of voices. So many houses cheek by jowl, so many squirming lives, so many back yards, back doors giving on to the night. It was revolting.

Away in the street itself, a boy was calling the newspaper: "--'NING POST! --'NING PO-O-ST!" It was a long, melancholy howl, and seemed to epitomise the whole of the dark, wet, secretive, thickly-inhabited night. A figure passed the window of Aaron's own house, entered, and stood inside the room talking to Mrs. Sisson. It was a young woman in a brown mackintosh and a black hat. She stood under the incandescent light, and her hat nearly knocked the globe. Next door a man had run out in his shirt sleeves: this time a young, dark-headed collier running to the gate for a newspaper, running bare-headed, coatless, slippered in the rain. He had got his news-sheet, and was returning. And just at that moment the young man's wife came out, shading her candle with a lading tin. She was going to the coal-house for some coal. Her husband passed her on the threshold. She could be heard breaking the bits of coal and placing them on the dustpan. The light from her candle fell faintly behind her. Then she went back, blown by a swirl of wind. But again she was at the door, hastily standing her iron shovel against the wall. Then she shut the back door with a bang. These noises seemed to scrape and strike the night.

In Aaron's own house, the young person was still talking to Mrs. Sisson. Millicent came out, sheltering a candle with her hand. The candle blew out. She ran indoors, and emerged again, her white pinafore fluttering. This time she performed her little journey safely. He could see the faint glimmer of her candle emerging secretly from the closet.

The young person was taking her leave. He could hear her sympathetic--"Well--good night! I hope she'll be no worse. Good night Mrs. Sisson!" She was gone--he heard the windy bang of the street-gate. Presently Millicent emerged again, flitting indoors.

So he rose to his feet, balancing, swaying a little before he started into motion, as so many colliers do. Then he moved along the path towards the house, in the rain and darkness, very slowly edging forwards.

Suddenly the door opened. His wife emerged with a pail. He stepped quietly aside, on to his side garden, among the sweet herbs. He could smell rosemary and sage and hyssop. A low wall divided his garden from his neighbour's. He put his hand on it, on its wetness, ready to drop over should his wife come forward. But she only threw the contents of her pail on the garden and retired again. She might have seen him had she looked. He remained standing where he was, listening to the trickle of rain in the water-butt. The hollow countryside lay beyond him. Sometimes in the windy darkness he could see the red burn of New Brunswick bank, or the brilliant jewels of light clustered at Bestwood Colliery. Away in the dark hollow, nearer, the glare of the electric power-station disturbed the night. So again the wind swirled the rain across all these hieroglyphs of the countryside, familiar to him as his own breast.

A motor-car was labouring up the hill. His trained ear attended to it unconsciously. It stopped with a jar. There was a bang of the yard-gate. A shortish dark figure in a bowler hat passed the window. Millicent was drawing down the blind. It was the doctor. The blind was drawn, he could see no more.

Stealthily he began to approach the house. He stood by the climbing rose of the porch, listening. He heard voices upstairs. Perhaps the children would be downstairs. He listened intently. Voices were upstairs only. He quietly opened the door. The room was empty, save for the baby, who was cooing in her cradle. He crossed to the hall. At the foot of the stairs he could hear the voice of the Indian doctor: "Now little girl, you must just keep still and warm in bed, and not cry for the moon." He said ""de" moon," just as ever.--Marjory must be ill.

So Aaron quietly entered the parlour. It was a cold, clammy room, dark. He could hear footsteps passing outside on the asphalt pavement below the window, and the wind howling with familiar cadence. He began feeling for something in the darkness of the music-rack beside the piano. He touched and felt--he could not find what he wanted. Perplexed, he turned and looked out of the window. Through the iron railing of the front wall he could see the little motorcar sending its straight beams of light in front of it, up the street.

He sat down on the sofa by the window. The energy had suddenly left all his limbs. He sat with his head sunk, listening. The familiar room, the familiar voice of his wife and his children--he felt weak as if he were dying. He felt weak like a drowning man who acquiesces in the waters. His strength was gone, he was sinking back. He would sink back to it all, float henceforth like a drowned man.

So he heard voices coming nearer from upstairs, feet moving. They were coming down.

"No, Mrs. Sisson, you needn't worry," he heard the voice of the doctor on the stairs. "If she goes on as she is, she'll be all right. Only she must be kept warm and quiet--warm and quiet--that's the chief thing."

"Oh, when she has those bouts I can't bear it," Aaron heard his wife's voice.

They were downstairs. Their feet click-clicked on the tiled passage. They had gone into the middle room. Aaron sat and listened.

"She won't have any more bouts. If she does, give her a few drops from the little bottle, and raise her up. But she won't have any more," the doctor said.

"If she does, I s'll go off my head, I know I shall."

"No, you won't. No, you won't do anything of the sort. You won't go off your head. You'll keep your head on your shoulders, where it ought to be," protested the doctor.

"But it nearly drives me mad."

"Then don't let it. The child won't die, I tell you. She will be all right, with care. Who have you got sitting up with her? You're not to sit up with her tonight, I tell you. Do you hear me?"

"Miss Smitham's coming in. But it's no good--I shall have to sit up. I shall HAVE to."

"I tell you you won't. You obey ME. I know what's good for you as well as for her. I am thinking of you as much as of her."

"But I can't bear it--all alone." This was the beginning of tears. There was a dead silence--then a sound of Millicent weeping with her mother. As a matter of fact, the doctor was weeping too, for he was an emotional sympathetic soul, over forty.

"Never mind--never mind--you aren't alone," came the doctor's matter-of-fact voice, after a loud nose-blowing. "I am here to help you. I will do whatever I can--whatever I can."

"I can't bear it. I can't bear it," wept the woman.

Another silence, another nose-blowing, and again the doctor:

"You'll HAVE to bear it--I tell you there's nothing else for it. You'll have to bear it--but we'll do our best for you. I will do my best for you--always--ALWAYS--in sickness or out of sickness--There!" He pronounced "there" oddly, not quite "dhere".

"You haven't heard from your husband?" he added.

"I had a letter--"--sobs--"from the bank this morning."

"FROM DE BANK?"

"Telling me they were sending me so much per month, from him, as an allowance, and that he was quite well, but he was travelling."

"Well then, why not let him travel? You can live."

"But to leave me alone," there was burning indignation in her voice. "To go off and leave me with every responsibility, to leave me with all the burden."

"Well I wouldn't trouble about him. Aren't you better off without him?"

"I am. I am," she cried fiercely. "When I got that letter this morning, I said MAY EVIL BEFALL YOU, YOU SELFISH DEMON. And I hope it may."

"Well-well, well-well, don't fret. Don't be angry, it won't make it any better, I tell you."

"Angry! I AM angry. I'm worse than angry. A week ago I hadn't a grey hair in my head. Now look here--" There was a pause.

"Well-well, well-well, never mind. You will be all right, don't you bother. Your hair is beautiful anyhow."

"What makes me so mad is that he should go off like that--never a word--coolly takes his hook. I could kill him for it."

"Were you ever happy together?"

"We were all right at first. I know I was fond of him. But he'd kill anything.--He kept himself back, always kept himself back, couldn't give himself--"

There was a pause.

"Ah well," sighed the doctor. "Marriage is a mystery. I'm glad I'm not entangled in it."

"Yes, to make some woman's life a misery.--I'm sure it was death to live with him, he seemed to kill everything off inside you. He was a man you couldn't quarrel with, and get it over. Quiet--quiet in his tempers, and selfish through and through. I've lived with him twelve years--I know what it is. Killing! You don't know what he was--"

"I think I knew him. A fair man? Yes?" said the doctor.

"Fair to look at.--There's a photograph of him in the parlour--taken when he was married--and one of me.--Yes, he's fairhaired."

Aaron guessed that she was getting a candle to come into the parlour. He was tempted to wait and meet them--and accept it all again. Devilishly tempted, he was. Then he thought of her voice, and his heart went cold. Quick as thought, he obeyed his first impulse. He felt behind the couch, on the floor where the curtains fell. Yes--the bag was there. He took it at once. In the next breath he stepped out of the room and tip-toed into the passage. He retreated to the far end, near the street door, and stood behind the coats that hung on the hall-stand.

At that moment his wife came into the passage, holding a candle. She was red-eyed with weeping, and looked frail.

"Did YOU leave the parlour door open?" she asked of Millicent, suspiciously.

"No," said Millicent from the kitchen.

The doctor, with his soft, Oriental tread followed Mrs. Sisson into the parlour. Aaron saw his wife hold up the candle before his portrait and begin to weep. But he knew her. The doctor laid his hand softly on her arm, and left it there, sympathetically. Nor did he remove it when Millicent stole into the room, looking very woe-begone and important. The wife wept silently, and the child joined in.

"Yes, I know him," said the doctor. "If he thinks he will be happier when he's gone away, you must be happier too, Mrs. Sisson. That's all. Don't let him triumph over you by making you miserable. You enjoy yourself as well. You're only a girl---"

But a tear came from his eye, and he blew his nose vigorously on a large white silk handkerchief, and began to polish his "pince nez". Then he turned, and they all bundled out of the room.

The doctor took his departure. Mrs. Sisson went almost immediately upstairs, and Millicent shortly crept after her. Then Aaron, who had stood motionless as if turned to a pillar of salt, went quietly down the passage and into the living room. His face was very pale, ghastly-looking. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror over the mantel, as he passed, and felt weak, as if he were really a criminal. But his heart did not relax, nevertheless. So he hurried into the night, down the garden, climbed the fence into the field, and went away across the field in the rain, towards the highroad.

He felt sick in every fibre. He almost hated the little handbag he carried, which held his flute and piccolo. It seemed a burden just then--a millstone round his neck. He hated the scene he had left--and he hated the hard, inviolable heart that stuck unchanging in his own breast.

Coming to the high-road, he saw a tall, luminous tram-car roving along through the rain. The trams ran across country from town to town. He dared not board, because people knew him. So he took a side road, and walked in a detour for two miles. Then he came out on the high-road again and waited for a tram-car. The rain blew on his face. He waited a long time for the last car.

CHAPTER V. AT THE OPERA

A friend had given Josephine Ford a box at the opera for one evening; our story continues by night. The box was large and important, near the stage. Josephine and Julia were there, with Robert and Jim--also two more men. The women sat in the front of the box, conspicuously. They were both poor, they were rather excited. But they belonged to a set which looked on social triumphs as a downfall that one allows oneself. The two men, Lilly and Struthers, were artists, the former literary, the latter a painter. Lilly sat by Josephine in the front of the box: he was her little lion of the evening.

Few women can sit in the front of a big box, on a crowded and full-swing opera night, without thrilling and dilating. There is an intoxication in being thus thrust forward, conspicuous and enhanced, right in the eye of the vast crowd that lines the hollow shell of the auditorium. Thus even Josephine and Julia leaned their elbows and poised their heads regally, looking condescendingly down upon the watchful world. They were two poor women, having nothing to do with society. Half bohemians.

Josephine was an artist. In Paris she was a friend of a very fashionable dressmaker and decorator, master of modern elegance. Sometimes she designed dresses for him, and sometimes she accepted from him a commission to decorate a room. Usually at her last sou, it gave her pleasure to dispose of costly and exquisite things for other people, and then be rid of them.

This evening her dress was a simple, but a marvellously poised thing of black and silver: in the words of the correct journal. With her tight, black, bright hair, her arched brows, her dusky-ruddy face and her bare shoulders; her strange equanimity, her long, slow, slanting looks; she looked foreign and frightening, clear as a cameo, but dark, far off. Julia was the English beauty, in a lovely blue dress. Her hair was becomingly untidy on her low brow, her dark blue eyes wandered and got excited, her nervous mouth twitched. Her high-pitched, sing-song voice and her hurried laugh could be heard in the theatre. She twisted a beautiful little fan that a dead artist had given her.

Not being fashionable, they were in the box when the overture began. The opera was Verdi--"Aida". If it is impossible to be in an important box at the opera without experiencing the strange intoxication of social pre-eminence, it is just as impossible to be there without some feeling of horror at the sight the stage presents.

Josephine leaned her elbow and looked down: she knew how arresting that proud, rather stiff bend of her head was. She had some aboriginal American in her blood. But as she looked, she pursed her mouth. The artist in her forgot everything, she was filled with disgust. The sham Egypt of "Aida" hid from her nothing of its shame. The singers were all colour-washed, deliberately colour-washed to a bright orange tint. The men had oblong dabs of black wool under their lower lip; the beard of the mighty Pharaohs. This oblong dab shook and wagged to the singing.

The vulgar bodies of the fleshy women were unendurable. They all looked such good meat. Why were their haunches so prominent? It was a question Josephine could not solve. She scanned their really expensive, brilliant clothing. It was "nearly" right--nearly splendid. It only lacked that last subtlety which the world always lacks, the last final clinching which puts calm into a sea of fabric, and yet is the opposite pole to machine fixity.

But the leading tenor was the chief pain. He was large, stout, swathed in a cummerbund, and looked like a eunuch. This fattish, emasculated look seems common in stage heroes--even the extremely popular. The tenor sang bravely, his mouth made a large, coffin-shaped, yawning gap in his orange face, his little beard fluttered oddly, like a tail. He turned up his eyes to Josephine's box as he sang--that being the regulation direction. Meanwhile his abdomen shook as he caught his breath, the flesh of his fat, naked arms swayed.

Josephine looked down with the fixed gravity of a Red Indian, immovable, inscrutable. It was not till the scene was ended that she lifted her head as if breaking a spell, sent the point of her tongue rapidly over her dried lips, and looked round into the box. Her brown eyes expressed shame, fear, and disgust. A curious grimace went over her face--a grimace only to be expressed by the exclamation "Merde!" But she was mortally afraid of society, and its fixed institutions. Rapidly she scanned the eyes of her friends in the box. She rested on the eyes of Lilly, a dark, ugly man.

"Isn't it nasty?" she said.

"You shouldn't look so closely," he said. But he took it calmly, easily, whilst she felt floods of burning disgust, a longing to destroy it all.

"Oh-ho-ho!" laughed Julia. "It's so fu-nny--so funny!"

"Of course we are too near," said Robert.

"Say you admire that pink fondant over there," said Struthers, indicating with his eyebrows a blond large woman in white satin with pink edging, who sat in a box opposite, on the upper tier.

"Oh, the fondant--exactly--the fondant! Yes, I admire her immensely! Isn't she exactly IT!" sang Julia.

Josephine was scanning the auditorium. So many myriads of faces--like beads on a bead-work pattern--all bead-work, in different layers. She bowed to various acquaintances--mostly Americans in uniform, whom she had known in Paris. She smiled to Lady Cochrane, two boxes off--Lady Cochrane had given her the box. But she felt rather coldly towards her.

The curtain rose, the opera wound its slow length along. The audience loved it. They cheered with mad enthusiasm. Josephine looked down on the choppy sea of applause, white gloves clapping, heads shaking. The noise was strange and rattling. What a curious multiple object a theatre-audience was! It seemed to have a million heads, a million hands, and one monstrous, unnatural consciousness. The singers appeared before the curtain--the applause rose up like clouds of dust.

"Oh, isn't it too wonderful!" cried Julia. "I am wild with excitement. Are you all of you?"

"Absolutely wild," said Lilly laconically.

"Where is Scott to-night?" asked Struthers.

Julia turned to him and gave him a long, queer look from her dark blue eyes.

"He's in the country," she said, rather enigmatic.

"Don't you know, he's got a house down in Dorset," said Robert, verbally rushing in. "He wants Julia to go down and stay."

"Is she going?" said Lilly.

"She hasn't decided," replied Robert.

"Oh! What's the objection?" asked Struthers.

"Well, none whatsoever, as far as can be seen, except that she can't make up her mind," replied Robert.

"Julia's got no mind," said Jim rudely.

"Oh! Hear the brotherly verdict!" laughed Julia hurriedly.

"You mean to go down to Dorset alone!" said Struthers.

"Why not?" replied Robert, answering for her.

"And stay how long?"

"Oh--as long as it lasts," said Robert again.

"Starting with eternity," said Lilly, "and working back to a fortnight."

"And what's the matter?--looks bad in the eyes of the world?"

"Yes--about that. Afraid of compromising herself--"

Lilly looked at them.

"Depends what you take the world to mean. Do you mean us in this box, or the crew outside there?" he jerked his head towards the auditorium.

"Do you think, Lilly, that we're the world?" said Robert ironically.

"Oh, yes, I guess we're shipwrecked in this box, like Robinson Crusoes. And what we do on our own little island matters to us alone. As for the infinite crowds of howling savages outside there in the unspeakable, all you've got to do is mind they don't scrap you."

"But WON'T they?" said Struthers.

"Not unless you put your head in their hands," said Lilly.

"I don't know--" said Jim.

But the curtain had risen, they hushed him into silence.

All through the next scene, Julia puzzled herself, as to whether she should go down to the country and live with Scott. She had carried on a nervous kind of "amour" with him, based on soul sympathy and emotional excitement. But whether to go and live with him? She didn't know if she wanted to or not: and she couldn't for her life find out. She was in that nervous state when desire seems to evaporate the moment fulfilment is offered.

When the curtain dropped she turned.

"You see," she said, screwing up her eyes, "I have to think of Robert." She cut the word in two, with an odd little hitch in her voice--"ROB-ert."

"My dear Julia, can't you believe that I'm tired of being thought of," cried Robert, flushing.

Julia screwed up her eyes in a slow smile, oddly cogitating.

"Well, who AM I to think of?" she asked.

"Yourself," said Lilly.

"Oh, yes! Why, yes! I never thought of that!" She gave a hurried little laugh. "But then it's no FUN to think about oneself," she cried flatly. "I think about ROB-ert, and SCOTT." She screwed up her eyes and peered oddly at the company.

"Which of them will find you the greatest treat," said Lilly sarcastically.

"Anyhow," interjected Robert nervously, "it will be something new for Scott."

"Stale buns for you, old boy," said Jim drily.

"I don't say so. But--" exclaimed the flushed, full-blooded Robert, who was nothing if not courteous to women.

"How long ha' you been married? Eh?" asked Jim.

"Six years!" sang Julia sweetly.

"Good God!"

"You see," said Robert, "Julia can't decide anything for herself. She waits for someone else to decide, then she puts her spoke in."

"Put it plainly--" began Struthers.

"But don't you know, it's no USE putting it plainly," cried Julia.

"But DO you want to be with Scott, out and out, or DON'T you?" said Lilly.

"Exactly!" chimed Robert. "That's the question for you to answer Julia."

"I WON'T answer it," she cried. "Why should I?" And she looked away into the restless hive of the theatre. She spoke so wildly that she attracted attention. But it half pleased her. She stared abstractedly down at the pit.

The men looked at one another in some comic consternation.

"Oh, damn it all!" said the long Jim, rising and stretching himself. "She's dead nuts on Scott. She's all over him. She'd have eloped with him weeks ago if it hadn't been so easy. She can't stand it that Robert offers to hand her into the taxi."

He gave his malevolent grin round the company, then went out. He did not reappear for the next scene.

"Of course, if she loves Scott--" began Struthers.

Julia suddenly turned with wild desperation, and cried:

"I like him tremendously--tre-men-dous-ly! He DOES understand."

"Which we don't," said Robert.

Julia smiled her long, odd smile in their faces: one might almost say she smiled in their teeth.

"What do YOU think, Josephine?" asked Lilly.

Josephine was leaning froward. She started. Her tongue went rapidly over her lips. "Who--? I--?" she exclaimed.

"Yes."

"I think Julia should go with Scott," said Josephine. "She'll bother with the idea till she's done it. She loves him, really."

"Of course she does," cried Robert.

Julia, with her chin resting on her arms, in a position which irritated the neighbouring Lady Cochrane sincerely, was gazing with unseeing eyes down upon the stalls.

"Well then--" began Struthers. But the music struck up softly. They were all rather bored. Struthers kept on making small, half audible remarks--which was bad form, and displeased Josephine, the hostess of the evening.

When the curtain came down for the end of the act, the men got up. Lilly's wife, Tanny, suddenly appeared. She had come on after a dinner engagement.

"Would you like tea or anything?" Lilly asked.

The women refused. The men filtered out on to the crimson and white, curving corridor. Julia, Josephine and Tanny remained in the box. Tanny was soon hitched on to the conversation in hand.

"Of course," she replied, "one can't decide such a thing like drinking a cup of tea."

"Of course, one can't, dear Tanny," said Julia.

"After all, one doesn't leave one's husband every day, to go and live with another man. Even if one looks on it as an experiment--."

"It's difficult!" cried Julia. "It's difficult! I feel they all want to FORCE me to decide. It's cruel."

"Oh, men with their beastly logic, their either-this-or-that stunt, they are an awful bore.--But of course, Robert can't love you REALLY, or he'd want to keep you. I can see Lilly discussing such a thing for ME. But then you don't love Robert either," said Tanny.

"I do! Oh, I do, Tanny! I DO love him, I love him dearly. I think he's beautiful. Robert's beautiful. And he NEEDS me. And I need him too. I need his support. Yes, I do love him."

"But you like Scott better," said Tanny.

"Only because he--he's different," sang Julia, in long tones. "You see Scott has his art. His art matters. And ROB-ert--Robert is a dilettante, don't you think--he's dilettante--" She screwed up her eyes at Tanny. Tanny cogitated.

"Of course I don't think that matters," she replied.

"But it does, it matters tremendously, dear Tanny, tremendously."

"Of course," Tanny sheered off. "I can see Scott has great attractions--a great warmth somewhere--"

"Exactly!" cried Julia. "He UNDERSTANDS!"

"And I believe he's a real artist. You might even work together. You might write his librettos."

"Yes!--Yes!--" Julia spoke with a long, pondering hiss.

"It might be AWFULLY nice," said Tanny rapturously.

"Yes!--It might!--It might--!" pondered Julia. Suddenly she gave herself a shake. Then she laughed hurriedly, as if breaking from her line of thought.

"And wouldn't Robert be an AWFULLY nice lover for Josephine! Oh, wouldn't that be splendid!" she cried, with her high laugh.

Josephine, who had been gazing down into the orchestra, turned now, flushing darkly.

"But I don't want a lover, Julia," she said, hurt.

"Josephine dear! Dear old Josephine! Don't you really! Oh, yes, you do.--I want one so BADLY," cried Julia, with her shaking laugh. "Robert's awfully good to me. But we've been married six years. And it does make a difference, doesn't it, Tanny dear?"

"A great difference," said Tanny.

"Yes, it makes a difference, it makes a difference," mused Julia. "Dear old Rob-ert--I wouldn't hurt him for worlds. I wouldn't. Do you think it would hurt Robert?"

She screwed up her eyes, looking at Tanny.

"Perhaps it would do Robert good to be hurt a little," said Tanny. "He's so well-nourished."

"Yes!--Yes!--I see what you mean, Tanny!--Poor old ROB-ert! Oh, poor old Rob-ert, he's so young!"

"He DOES seem young," said Tanny. "One doesn't forgive it."

"He is young," said Julia. "I'm five years older than he. He's only twenty-seven. Poor Old Robert."

"Robert is young, and inexperienced," said Josephine, suddenly turning with anger. "But I don't know why you talk about him."

"Is he inexperienced, Josephine dear? IS he?" sang Julia. Josephine flushed darkly, and turned away.

"Ah, he's not so innocent as all that," said Tanny roughly. "Those young young men, who seem so fresh, they're deep enough, really. They're far less innocent really than men who are experienced."

"They are, aren't they, Tanny," repeated Julia softly. "They're old--older than the Old Man of the Seas, sometimes, aren't they? Incredibly old, like little boys who know too much--aren't they? Yes!" She spoke quietly, seriously, as if it had struck her.

Below, the orchestra was coming in. Josephine was watching closely. Julia became aware of this.

"Do you see anybody we know, Josephine?" she asked.

Josephine started.

"No," she said, looking at her friends quickly and furtively.

"Dear old Josephine, she knows all sorts of people," sang Julia.

At that moment the men returned.

"Have you actually come back!" exclaimed Tanny to them. They sat down without answering. Jim spread himself as far as he could, in the narrow space. He stared upwards, wrinkling his ugly, queer face. It was evident he was in one of his moods.

"If only somebody loved me!" he complained. "If only somebody loved me I should be all right. I'm going to pieces." He sat up and peered into the faces of the women.

"But we ALL love you," said Josephine, laughing uneasily. "Why aren't you satisfied?"

"I'm not satisfied. I'm not satisfied," murmured Jim.

"Would you like to be wrapped in swaddling bands and laid at the breast?" asked Lilly, disagreeably.

Jim opened his mouth in a grin, and gazed long and malevolently at his questioner.

"Yes," he said. Then he sprawled his long six foot of limb and body across the box again.

"You should try loving somebody, for a change," said Tanny. "You've been loved too often. Why not try and love somebody?"

Jim eyed her narrowly.

"I couldn't love YOU," he said, in vicious tones.

""A la bonne heure"!" said Tanny.

But Jim sank his chin on his chest, and repeated obstinately:

"I want to be loved."

"How many times have you been loved?" Robert asked him. "It would be rather interesting to know."

Jim looked at Robert long and slow, but did not answer.

"Did you ever keep count?" Tanny persisted.

Jim looked up at her, malevolent.

"I believe I did," he replied.

"Forty is the age when a man should begin to reckon up," said Lilly.

Jim suddenly sprang to his feet, and brandished his fists.

"I'll pitch the lot of you over the bloody rail," he said.

He glared at them, from under his bald, wrinkled forehead. Josephine glanced round. She had become a dusky white colour. She was afraid of him, and she disliked him intensely nowadays.

"Do you recognise anyone in the orchestra?" she asked.

The party in the box had become dead silent. They looked down. The conductor was at his stand. The music began. They all remained silent and motionless during the next scene, each thinking his own thoughts. Jim was uncomfortable. He wanted to make good. He sat with his elbows on his knees, grinning slightly, looking down. At the next interval he stood up suddenly.

"It IS the chap--What?" he exclaimed excitedly, looking round at his friends.

"Who?" said Tanny.

"It IS he?" said Josephine quietly, meeting Jim's eye.

"Sure!" he barked.

He was leaning forward over the ledge, rattling a programme in his hand, as if trying to attract attention. Then he made signals.

"There you are!" he exclaimed triumphantly. "That's the chap."

"Who? Who?" they cried.

But neither Jim nor Josephine would vouchsafe an answer.

The next was the long interval. Jim and Josephine gazed down at the orchestra. The musicians were laying aside their instruments and rising. The ugly fire-curtain began slowly to descend. Jim suddenly bolted out.

"Is it that man Aaron Sisson?" asked Robert.

"Where? Where?" cried Julia. "It can't be."

But Josephine's face was closed and silent. She did not answer.

The whole party moved out on to the crimson-carpeted gangway. Groups of people stood about chatting, men and women were passing along, to pay visits or to find drinks. Josephine's party stared around, talking desultorily. And at length they perceived Jim stalking along, leading Aaron Sisson by the arm. Jim was grinning, the flautist looked unwilling. He had a comely appearance, in his white shirt--a certain comely blondness and repose. And as much a gentleman as anybody.

"Well!" cried Josephine to him. "How do you come here?"

"I play the flute," he answered, as he shook hands.

The little crowd stood in the gangway and talked.

"How wonderful of you to be here!" cried Julia.

He laughed.

"Do you think so?" he answered.

"Yes, I do.--It seems so FAR from Shottle House and Christmas Eve.--Oh, wasn't it exciting!" cried Julia.

Aaron looked at her, but did not answer.

"We've heard all about you," said Tanny playfully.

"Oh, yes," he replied.

"Come!" said Josephine, rather irritated. "We crowd up the gangway." And she led the way inside the box.

Aaron stood and looked down at the dishevelled theatre.

"You get all the view," he said.

"We do, don't we!" cried Julia.

"More than's good for us," said Lilly.

"Tell us what you are doing. You've got a permanent job?" asked Josephine.

"Yes--at present."

"Ah! It's more interesting for you than at Beldover."

She had taken her seat. He looked down at her dusky young face. Her voice was always clear and measured.

"It's a change," he said, smiling.

"Oh, it must be more than that," she said. "Why, you must feel a whole difference. It's a whole new life."

He smiled, as if he were laughing at her silently. She flushed.

"But isn't it?" she persisted.

"Yes. It can be," he replied.

He looked as if he were quietly amused, but dissociated. None of the people in the box were quite real to him. He was not really amused. Julia found him dull, stupid. Tanny also was offended that he could not "perceive her". The men remained practically silent.

"You're a chap I always hoped would turn up again," said Jim.

"Oh, yes!" replied Aaron, smiling as if amused.

"But perhaps he doesn't like us! Perhaps he's not glad that we turned up," said Julia, leaving her sting.

The flautist turned and looked at her.

"You can't REMEMBER us, can you?" she asked.

"Yes," he said. "I can remember you."

"Oh," she laughed. "You are unflattering."

He was annoyed. He did not know what she was getting at.

"How are your wife and children?" she asked spitefully.

"All right, I think."

"But you've been back to them?" cried Josephine in dismay.

He looked at her, a slow, half smiling look, but did not speak.

"Come and have a drink. Damn the women," said Jim uncouthly, seizing Aaron by the arm and dragging him off.

CHAPTER VI. TALK

The party stayed to the end of the interminable opera. They had agreed to wait for Aaron. He was to come around to the vestibule for them, after the show. They trooped slowly down-stairs into the crush of the entrance hall. Chattering, swirling people, red carpet, palms green against cream-and-gilt walls, small whirlpools of life at the open, dark doorways, men in opera hats steering decisively about-it was the old scene. But there were no taxis--absolutely no taxis. And it was raining. Fortunately the women had brought shoes. They slipped these on. Jim rocked through the crowd, in his tall hat, looking for the flautist.

At last Aaron was found--wearing a bowler hat. Julia groaned in spirit. Josephine's brow knitted. Not that anybody cared, really. But as one must frown at something, why not at the bowler hat? Acquaintances and elegant young men in uniforms insisted on rushing up and bowing and exchanging a few words, either with Josephine, or Jim, or Julia, or Lilly. They were coldly received. The party veered out into the night.

The women hugged their wraps about them, and set off sharply, feeling some repugnance for the wet pavements and the crowd. They had not far to go--only to Jim's rooms in Adelphi. Jim was leading Aaron, holding him by the arm and slightly pinching his muscles. It gave him great satisfaction to have between his fingers the arm-muscles of a working-man, one of the common people, the "fons et origo" of modern life. Jim was talking rather vaguely about Labour and Robert Smillie, and Bolshevism. He was all for revolution and the triumph of labour.

So they arrived, mounted a dark stair, and entered a large, handsome room, one of the Adams rooms. Jim had furnished it from Heale's with striped hangings, green and white and yellow and dark purple, and with a green-and-black checked carpet, and great stripe-covered chairs and Chesterfield. A big gas-fire was soon glowing in the handsome old fire-place, the panelled room seemed cosy.

While Jim was handing round drinks and sandwiches, and Josephine was making tea, Robert played Bach on the piano--the pianola, rather. The chairs and lounge were in a half-circle round the fire. The party threw off their wraps and sank deep into this expensive comfort of modern bohemia. They needed the Bach to take away the bad taste that "Aida" had left in their mouths. They needed the whiskey and curacao to rouse their spirits. They needed the profound comfort in which to sink away from the world. All the men, except Aaron, had been through the war in some way or other. But here they were, in the old setting exactly, the old bohemian routine.

The bell rang, Jim went downstairs. He returned shortly with a frail, elegant woman--fashionable rather than bohemian. She was cream and auburn, Irish, with a slightly-lifted upper lip that gave her a pathetic look. She dropped her wrap and sat down by Julia, taking her hand delicately.

"How are you, darling?" she asked.

"Yes--I'm happy," said Julia, giving her odd, screwed-up smile.

The pianola stopped, they all chatted indiscriminately. Jim was watching the new-comer--Mrs. Browning--with a concentrated wolfish grin.

"I like her," he said at last. "I've seen her before, haven't I?--I like her awfully."

"Yes," said Josephine, with a slight grunt of a laugh. "He wants to be loved."

"Oh," cried Clariss. "So do I!"

"Then there you are!" cried Tanny.

"Alas, no, there we aren't," cried Clariss. She was beautiful too, with her lifted upper-lip. "We both want to be loved, and so we miss each other entirely. We run on in two parallel lines, that can never meet." She laughed low and half sad.

"Doesn't SHE love you?" said Aaron to Jim amused, indicating Josephine. "I thought you were engaged."

"HER!" leered Jim vindictively, glancing at Josephine. "She doesn't love me."

"Is that true?" asked Robert hastily, of Josephine.

"Why," she said, "yes. Why should he make me say out here that I don't love him!"

"Got you my girl," said Jim.

"Then it's no engagement?" said Robert.

"Listen to the row fools make, rushing in," said Jim maliciously.

"No, the engagement is broken," said Josephine.

"World coming to pieces bit by bit," said Lilly. Jim was twisting in his chair, and looking like a Chinese dragon, diabolical. The room was uneasy.

"What gives you such a belly-ache for love, Jim?" said Lilly, "or for being loved? Why do you want so badly to be loved?"

"Because I like it, damn you," barked Jim. "Because I'm in need of it."

None of them quite knew whether they ought to take it as a joke. It was just a bit too real to be quite pleasant.

"Why are you such a baby?" said Lilly. "There you are, six foot in length, have been a cavalry officer and fought in two wars, and you spend your time crying for somebody to love you. You're a comic."

"Am I though?" said Jim. "I'm losing life. I'm getting thin."

"You don't look as if you were losing life," said Lilly.

"Don't I? I am, though. I'm dying."

"What of? Lack of life?"

"That's about it, my young cock. Life's leaving me."

"Better sing Tosti's Farewell to it."

Jim who had been sprawling full length in his arm-chair, the centre of interest of all the company, suddenly sprang forward and pushed his face, grinning, in the face of Lilly.

"You're a funny customer, you are," he said.

Then he turned round in his chair, and saw Clariss sitting at the feet of Julia, with one white arm over her friend's knee. Jim immediately stuck forward his muzzle and gazed at her. Clariss had loosened her masses of thick, auburn hair, so that it hung half free. Her face was creamy pale, her upper lip lifted with odd pathos! She had rose-rubies in her ears.

"I like HER," said Jim. "What's her name?"

"Mrs. Browning. Don't be so rude," said Josephine.

"Browning for gravies. Any relation of Robert?"

"Oh, yes! You ask my husband," came the slow, plangent voice of Clariss.

"You've got a husband, have you?"

"Rather! Haven't I, Juley?"

"Yes," said Julia, vaguely and wispily. "Yes, dear, you have."

"And two fine children," put in Robert.

"No! You don't mean it!" said Jim. "Who's your husband? Anybody?"

"Rather!" came the deep voice of Clariss. "He sees to that."

Jim stared, grinning, showing his pointed teeth, reaching nearer and nearer to Clariss who, in her frail scrap of an evening dress, amethyst and silver, was sitting still in the deep black hearth-rug, her arm over Julia's knee, taking very little notice of Jim, although he amused her.

"I like you awfully, I say," he repeated.

"Thanks, I'm sure," she said.

The others were laughing, sprawling in their chairs, and sipping curacao and taking a sandwich or a cigarette. Aaron Sisson alone sat upright, smiling flickeringly. Josephine watched him, and her pointed tongue went from time to time over her lips.

"But I'm sure," she broke in, "this isn't very interesting for the others. Awfully boring! Don't be silly all the time, Jim, or we must go home."

Jim looked at her with narrowed eyes. He hated her voice. She let her eye rest on his for a moment. Then she put her cigarette to her lips. Robert was watching them both.

Josephine took her cigarette from her lips again.

"Tell us about yourself, Mr. Sisson," she said. "How do you like being in London?"

"I like London," said Aaron.

Where did he live? Bloomsbury. Did he know many people? No--nobody except a man in the orchestra. How had he got his job? Through an agent. Etc. Etc.

"What do you make of the miners?" said Jim, suddenly taking a new line.

"Me?" said Sisson. "I don't make anything of them."

"Do you think they'll make a stand against the government?"

"What for?"

"Nationalisation."

"They might, one day."

"Think they'd fight?"

"Fight?"

"Yes."

Aaron sat laughing.

"What have they to fight for?"

"Why, everything! What haven't they to fight for?" cried Josephine fiercely. "Freedom, liberty, and escape from this vile system. Won't they fight for that?"

Aaron sat smiling, slowly shaking his head.

"Nay," he said, "you mustn't ask me what they'll do--I've only just left them, for good. They'll do a lot of cavilling."

"But won't they ACT?" cried Josephine.

"Act?" said Aaron. "How, act?"

"Why, defy the government, and take things in their own hands," said Josephine.

"They might, some time," said Aaron, rather indifferent.

"I wish they would!" cried Josephine. "My, wouldn't I love it if they'd make a bloody revolution!"

They were all looking now at her. Her black brows were twitching, in her black and silver dress she looked like a symbol of young disaster.

"Must it be bloody, Josephine?" said Robert.

"Why, yes. I don't believe in revolutions that aren't bloody," said Josephine. "Wouldn't I love it! I'd go in front with a red flag."

"It would be rather fun," said Tanny.

"Wouldn't it!" cried Josephine.

"Oh, Josey, dear!" cried Julia hysterically. "Isn't she a red-hot Bolsher! "I" should be frightened."

"No!" cried Josephine. "I should love it."

"So should I," said Jim, in a luscious sort of voice. "What price machine-guns at the end of the Strand! That's a day to live for, what?"

"Ha! Ha!" laughed Clariss, with her deep laugh. "We'd all Bolsh together. I'd give the cheers."

"I wouldn't mind getting killed. I'd love it, in a real fight," said Josephine.

"But, Josephine," said Robert, "don't you think we've had enough of that sort of thing in the war? Don't you think it all works out rather stupid and unsatisfying?"

"Ah, but a civil war would be different. I've no interest in fighting Germans. But a civil war would be different."

"That's a fact, it would," said Jim.

"Only rather worse," said Robert.

"No, I don't agree," cried Josephine. "You'd feel you were doing something, in a civil war."

"Pulling the house down," said Lilly.

"Yes," she cried. "Don't you hate it, the house we live in--London--England--America! Don't you hate them?"

"I don't like them. But I can't get much fire in my hatred. They pall on me rather," said Lilly.

"Ay!" said Aaron, suddenly stirring in his chair.

Lilly and he glanced at one another with a look of recognition.

"Still," said Tanny, "there's got to be a clearance some day or other."

"Oh," drawled Clariss. "I'm all for a clearance. I'm all for pulling the house down. Only while it stands I do want central heating and a good cook."

"May I come to dinner?" said Jim.

"Oh, yes. You'd find it rather domestic."

"Where do you live?"

"Rather far out now--Amersham."

"Amersham? Where's that--?"

"Oh, it's on the map."

There was a little lull. Jim gulped down a drink, standing at the sideboard. He was a tall, fine, soldierly figure, and his face, with its little sandy moustache and bald forehead, was odd. Aaron Sisson sat watching him, unconsciously.

"Hello you!" said Jim. "Have one?"

Aaron shook his head, and Jim did not press him. It saved the drinks.

"You believe in love, don't you?" said Jim, sitting down near Aaron, and grinning at him.

"Love!" said Aaron.

"LOVE! he says," mocked Jim, grinning at the company.

"What about it, then?" asked Aaron.

"It's life! Love is life," said Jim fiercely.

"It's a vice, like drink," said Lilly.

"Eh? A vice!" said Jim. "May be for you, old bird."

"More so still for you," said Lilly.

"It's life. It's life!" reiterated Jim. "Don't you agree?" He turned wolfishly to Clariss.

"Oh, yes--every time--" she drawled, nonchalant.

"Here, let's write it down," said Lilly. He found a blue pencil and printed in large letters on the old creamy marble of the mantel-piece panel:--LOVE IS LIFE.

Julia suddenly rose and flung her arms asunder wildly.

"Oh, I hate love. I hate it," she protested.

Jim watched her sardonically.

"Look at her!" he said. "Look at Lesbia who hates love."

"No, but perhaps it is a disease. Perhaps we are all wrong, and we can't love properly," put in Josephine.

"Have another try," said Jim,--"I know what love is. I've thought about it. Love is the soul's respiration."

"Let's have that down," said Lilly.

LOVE IS THE SOUL'S RESPIRATION. He printed it on the old mantel-piece.

Jim eyed the letters.

"It's right," he said. "Quite right. When you love, your soul breathes in. If you don't breathe in, you suffocate."

"What about breathing out?" said Robert. "If you don't breathe out, you asphyxiate."

"Right you are, Mock Turtle--" said Jim maliciously.

"Breathing out is a bloody revolution," said Lilly.

"You've hit the nail on the head," said Jim solemnly.

"Let's record it then," said Lilly. And with the blue pencil he printed:

WHEN YOU LOVE, YOUR SOUL BREATHES IN--

WHEN YOUR SOUL BREATHES OUT, IT'S A BLOODY REVOLUTION.

"I say Jim," he said. "You must be busting yourself, trying to breathe in."

"Don't you be too clever. I've thought about it," said Jim. "When I'm in love, I get a great inrush of energy. I actually feel it rush in--here!" He poked his finger on the pit of his stomach. "It's the soul's expansion. And if I can't get these rushes of energy, I'M DYING, AND I KNOW I AM."

He spoke the last words with sudden ferocity and desperation.

"All "I" know is," said Tanny, "you don't look it."

"I AM. I am." Jim protested. "I'm dying. Life's leaving me."

"Maybe you're choking with love," said Robert. "Perhaps you have breathed in so much, you don't know how to let it go again. Perhaps your soul's got a crick in it, with expanding so much."

"You're a bloody young sucking pig, you are," said Jim.

"Even at that age, I've learned my manners," replied Robert.

Jim looked round the party. Then he turned to Aaron Sisson.

"What do you make of 'em, eh?" he said.

Aaron shook his head, and laughed.

"Me?" he said.

But Jim did not wait for an answer.

"I've had enough," said Tanny suddenly rising. "I think you're all silly. Besides, it's getting late."

"She!" said Jim, rising and pointing luridly to Clariss. "She's Love. And HE's the Working People. The hope is these two--" He jerked a thumb at Aaron Sisson, after having indicated Mrs. Browning.

"Oh, how awfully interesting. It's quite a long time since I've been a personification.--I suppose you've never been one before?" said Clariss, turning to Aaron in conclusion.

"No, I don't think I have," he answered.

"I hope personification is right.--Ought to be "allegory" or something else?" This from Clariss to Robert.

"Or a parable, Clariss," laughed the young lieutenant.

"Goodbye," said Tanny. "I've been awfully bored."

"Have you?" grinned Jim. "Goodbye! Better luck next time."

"We'd better look sharp," said Robert, "if we want to get the tube."

The party hurried through the rainy narrow streets down to the Embankment station. Robert and Julia and Clariss were going west, Lilly and his wife were going to Hampstead, Josephine and Aaron Sisson were going both to Bloomsbury.

"I suppose," said Robert, on the stairs--"Mr. Sisson will see you to your door, Josephine. He lives your way."

"There's no need at all," said Josephine.

The four who were going north went down to the low tube level. It was nearly the last train. The station was half deserted, half rowdy, several fellows were drunk, shouting and crowing. Down there in the bowels of London, after midnight, everything seemed horrible and unnatural.

"How I hate this London," said Tanny. She was half Norwegian, and had spent a large part of her life in Norway, before she married Lilly.

"Yes, so do I," said Josephine. "But if one must earn one's living one must stay here. I wish I could get back to Paris. But there's nothing doing for me in France.--When do you go back into the country, both of you?"

"Friday," said Lilly.

"How lovely for you!--And when will you go to Norway, Tanny?"

"In about a month," said Tanny.

"You must be awfully pleased."

"Oh--thankful--THANKFUL to get out of England--"

"I know. That's how I feel. Everything is so awful--so dismal and dreary, I find it--"

They crowded into the train. Men were still yelling like wild beasts--others were asleep--soldiers were singing.

"Have you really broken your engagement with Jim?" shrilled Tanny in a high voice, as the train roared.

"Yes, he's impossible," said Josephine. "Perfectly hysterical and impossible."

"And SELFISH--" cried Tanny.

"Oh terribly--" cried Josephine.

"Come up to Hampstead to lunch with us," said Lilly to Aaron.

"Ay--thank you," said Aaron.

Lilly scribbled directions on a card. The hot, jaded midnight underground rattled on. Aaron and Josephine got down to change trains.

CHAPTER VII. THE DARK SQUARE GARDEN

Josephine had invited Aaron Sisson to dinner at a restaurant in Soho, one Sunday evening. They had a corner to themselves, and with a bottle of Burgundy she was getting his history from him.

His father had been a shaft-sinker, earning good money, but had been killed by a fall down the shaft when Aaron was only four years old. The widow had opened a shop: Aaron was her only child. She had done well in her shop. She had wanted Aaron to be a schoolteacher. He had served three years apprenticeship, then suddenly thrown it up and gone to the pit.

"But why?" said Josephine.

"I couldn't tell you. I felt more like it."

He had a curious quality of an intelligent, almost sophisticated mind, which had repudiated education. On purpose he kept the midland accent in his speech. He understood perfectly what a personification was--and an allegory. But he preferred to be illiterate.

Josephine found out what a miner's checkweighman was. She tried to find out what sort of wife Aaron had--but, except that she was the daughter of a publican and was delicate in health, she could learn nothing.

"And do you send her money?" she asked.

"Ay," said Aaron. "The house is mine. And I allow her so much a week out of the money in the bank. My mother left me a bit over a thousand when she died."

"You don't mind what I say, do you?" said Josephine.

"No I don't mind," he laughed.

He had this pleasant-seeming courteous manner. But he really kept her at a distance. In some things he reminded her of Robert: blond, erect, nicely built, fresh and English-seeming. But there was a curious cold distance to him, which she could not get across. An inward indifference to her--perhaps to everything. Yet his laugh was so handsome.

"Will you tell me why you left your wife and children?--Didn't you love them?"

Aaron looked at the odd, round, dark muzzle of the girl. She had had her hair bobbed, and it hung in odd dark folds, very black, over her ears.

"Why I left her?" he said. "For no particular reason. They're all right without me."

Josephine watched his face. She saw a pallor of suffering under its freshness, and a strange tension in his eyes.

"But you couldn't leave your little girls for no reason at all--"

"Yes, I did. For no reason--except I wanted to have some free room round me--to loose myself--"

"You mean you wanted love?" flashed Josephine, thinking he said "lose".

"No, I wanted fresh air. I don't know what I wanted. Why should I know?"

"But we must know: especially when other people will be hurt," said she.

"Ah, well! A breath of fresh air, by myself. I felt forced to feel--I feel if I go back home now, I shall be FORCED--forced to love--or care--or something."

"Perhaps you wanted more than your wife could give you," she said.

"Perhaps less. She's made up her mind she loves me, and she's not going to let me off."

"Did you never love her?" said Josephine.

"Oh, yes. I shall never love anybody else. But I'm damned if I want to be a lover any more. To her or to anybody. That's the top and bottom of it. I don't want to CARE, when care isn't in me. And I'm not going to be forced to it."

The fat, aproned French waiter was hovering near. Josephine let him remove the plates and the empty bottle.

"Have more wine," she said to Aaron.

But he refused. She liked him because of his dead-level indifference to his surroundings. French waiters and foreign food--he noticed them in his quick, amiable-looking fashion--but he was indifferent. Josephine was piqued. She wanted to pierce this amiable aloofness of his.

She ordered coffee and brandies.

"But you don't want to get away from EVERYTHING, do you? I myself feel so LOST sometimes--so dreadfully alone: not in a silly sentimental fashion, because men keep telling me they love me, don't you know. But my LIFE seems alone, for some reason--"

"Haven't you got relations?" he said.

"No one, now mother is dead. Nothing nearer than aunts and cousins in America. I suppose I shall see them all again one day. But they hardly count over here."

"Why don't you get married?" he said. "How old are you?"

"I'm twenty-five. How old are you?"

"Thirty-three."

"You might almost be any age.--I don't know why I don't get married. In a way, I hate earning my own living--yet I go on--and I like my work--"

"What are you doing now?"

"I'm painting scenery for a new play--rather fun--I enjoy it. But I often wonder what will become of me."

"In what way?"

She was almost affronted.

"What becomes of me? Oh, I don't know. And it doesn't matter, not to anybody but myself."

"What becomes of anybody, anyhow? We live till we die. What do you want?"

"Why, I keep saying I want to get married and feel sure of something. But I don't know--I feel dreadful sometimes--as if every minute would be the last. I keep going on and on--I don't know what for--and IT keeps going on and on--goodness knows what it's all for."

"You shouldn't bother yourself," he said. "You should just let it go on and on--"

"But I MUST bother," she said. "I must think and feel--"

"You've no occasion," he said.

"How--?" she said, with a sudden grunting, unhappy laugh. Then she lit a cigarette.

"No," she said. "What I should really like more than anything would be an end of the world. I wish the world would come to an end."

He laughed, and poured his drops of brandy down his throat.

"It won't, for wishing," he said.

"No, that's the awful part of it. It'll just go on and on-- Doesn't it make you feel you'd go mad?"

He looked at her and shook his head.

"You see it doesn't concern me," he said. "So long as I can float by myself."

"But ARE you SATISFIED!" she cried.

"I like being by myself--I hate feeling and caring, and being forced into it. I want to be left alone--"

"You aren't very polite to your hostess of the evening," she said, laughing a bit miserably.

"Oh, we're all right," he said. "You know what I mean--"

"You like your own company? Do you?--Sometimes I think I'm nothing when I'm alone. Sometimes I think I surely must be nothing--nothingness."

He shook his head.

"No," he said. "No. I only want to be left alone."

"Not to have anything to do with anybody?" she queried ironically.

"Not to any extent."

She watched him--and then she bubbled with a laugh.

"I think you're funny," she said. "You don't mind?"

"No--why--It's just as you see it.--Jim Bricknell's a rare comic, to my eye."

"Oh, him!--no, not actually. He's self-conscious and selfish and hysterical. It isn't a bit funny after a while."

"I only know what I've seen," said Aaron. "You'd both of you like a bloody revolution, though."

"Yes. Only when it came he wouldn't be there."

"Would you?"

"Yes, indeed I would. I would give everything to be in it. I'd give heaven and earth for a great big upheaval--and then darkness."

"Perhaps you'll get it, when you die," said Aaron.

"Oh, but I don't want to die and leave all this standing. I hate it so."

"Why do you?"

"But don't you?"

"No, it doesn't really bother me."

"It makes me feel I can't live."

"I can't see that."

"But you always disagree with one!" said Josephine. "How do you like Lilly? What do you think of him?"

"He seems sharp," said Aaron.

"But he's more than sharp."

"Oh, yes! He's got his finger in most pies."

"And doesn't like the plums in any of them," said Josephine tartly.

"What does he do?"

"Writes--stories and plays."

"And makes it pay?"

"Hardly at all.--They want us to go. Shall we?" She rose from the table. The waiter handed her her cloak, and they went out into the blowy dark night. She folded her wrap round her, and hurried forward with short, sharp steps. There was a certain Parisian "chic" and mincingness about her, even in her walk: but underneath, a striding, savage suggestion as if she could leg it in great strides, like some savage squaw.

Aaron pressed his bowler hat down on his brow.

"Would you rather take a bus?" she said in a high voice, because of the wind.

"I'd rather walk."

"So would I."

They hurried across the Charing Cross Road, where great buses rolled and rocked, crammed with people. Her heels clicked sharply on the pavement, as they walked east. They crossed Holborn, and passed the Museum. And neither of them said anything.

When they came to the corner, she held out her hand.

"Look!" she said. "Don't come any further: don't trouble."

"I'll walk round with you: unless you'd rather not."

"No--But do you want to bother?"

"It's no bother."

So they pursued their way through the high wind, and turned at last into the old, beautiful square. It seemed dark and deserted, dark like a savage wilderness in the heart of London. The wind was roaring in the great bare trees of the centre, as if it were some wild dark grove deep in a forgotten land.

Josephine opened the gate of the square garden with her key, and let it slam to behind him.

"How wonderful the wind is!" she shrilled. "Shall we listen to it for a minute?"

She led him across the grass past the shrubs to the big tree in the centre. There she climbed up to a seat. He sat beside her. They sat in silence, looking at the darkness. Rain was blowing in the wind. They huddled against the big tree-trunk, for shelter, and watched the scene.

Beyond the tall shrubs and the high, heavy railings the wet street gleamed silently. The houses of the Square rose like a cliff on this inner dark sea, dimly lighted at occasional windows. Boughs swayed and sang. A taxi-cab swirled round a corner like a cat, and purred to a standstill. There was a light of an open hall door. But all far away, it seemed, unthinkably far away. Aaron sat still and watched. He was frightened, it all seemed so sinister, this dark, bristling heart of London. Wind boomed and tore like waves ripping a shingle beach. The two white lights of the taxi stared round and departed, leaving the coast at the foot of the cliffs deserted, faintly spilled with light from the high lamp. Beyond there, on the outer rim, a policeman passed solidly.

Josephine was weeping steadily all the time, but inaudibly. Occasionally she blew her nose and wiped her face. But he had not realized. She hardly realized herself. She sat near the strange man. He seemed so still and remote--so fascinating.

"Give me your hand," she said to him, subduedly.

He took her cold hand in his warm, living grasp. She wept more bitterly. He noticed at last.

"Why are you crying?" he said.

"I don't know," she replied, rather matter-of-fact, through her tears.

So he let her cry, and said no more, but sat with her cold hand in his warm, easy clasp.

"You'll think me a fool," she said. "I don't know why I cry."

"You can cry for nothing, can't you?" he said.

"Why, yes, but it's not very sensible."

He laughed shortly.

"Sensible!" he said.

"You are a strange man," she said.

But he took no notice.

"Did you ever intend to marry Jim Bricknell?" he asked.

"Yes, of course."

"I can't imagine it," he said.

"Why not?"

Both were watching blankly the roaring night of mid-London, the phantasmagoric old Bloomsbury Square. They were still hand in hand.

"Such as you shouldn't marry," he said.

"But why not? I want to."

"You think you do."

"Yes indeed I do."

He did not say any more.

"Why shouldn't I?" she persisted. "I don't know--"

And again he was silent.

"You've known some life, haven't you?" he asked.

"Me? Why?"

"You seem to."

"Do I? I'm sorry. Do I seem vicious?--No, I'm not vicious.--I've seen some life, perhaps--in Paris mostly. But not much. Why do you ask?"

"I wasn't thinking."

"But what do you mean? What are you thinking?"

"Nothing. Nothing."

"Don't be so irritating," said she.

But he did not answer, and she became silent also. They sat hand in hand.

"Won't you kiss me?" came her voice out of the darkness.

He waited some moments, then his voice sounded gently, half mocking, half reproachful.

"Nay!" he said.

"Why not?"

"I don't want to."

"Why not?" she asked.

He laughed, but did not reply.

She sat perfectly still for some time. She had ceased to cry. In the darkness her face was set and sullen. Sometimes a spray of rain blew across it. She drew her hand from his, and rose to her feet.

"Ill go in now," she said.

"You're not offended, are you?" he asked.

"No. Why?"

They stepped down in the darkness from their perch.

"I wondered."

She strode off for some little way. Then she turned and said:

"Yes, I think it is rather insulting."

"Nay," he said. "Not it! Not it!"

And he followed her to the gate.

She opened with her key, and they crossed the road to her door.

"Good-night," she said, turning and giving him her hand.

"You'll come and have dinner with me--or lunch--will you? When shall we make it?" he asked.

"Well, I can't say for certain--I'm very busy just now. I'll let you know."

A policeman shed his light on the pair of them as they stood on the step.

"All right," said Aaron, dropping back, and she hastily opened the big door, and entered.

CHAPTER VIII. A PUNCH IN THE WIND

The Lillys had a labourer's cottage in Hampshire--pleasant enough. They were poor. Lilly was a little, dark, thin, quick fellow, his wife was strong and fair. They had known Robert and Julia for some years, but Josephine and Jim were new acquaintances,--fairly new.

One day in early spring Lilly had a telegram, "Coming to see you arrive 4:30--Bricknell." He was surprised, but he and his wife got the spare room ready. And at four o'clock Lilly went off to the station. He was a few minutes late, and saw Jim's tall, rather elegant figure stalking down the station path. Jim had been an officer in the regular army, and still spent hours with his tailor. But instead of being a soldier he was a sort of socialist, and a red-hot revolutionary of a very ineffectual sort.

"Good lad!" he exclaimed, as Lilly came up. "Thought you wouldn't mind."

"Not at all. Let me carry your bag." Jim had a bag and a knapsack.

"I had an inspiration this morning," said Jim. "I suddenly saw that if there was a man in England who could save me, it was you."

"Save you from what?" asked Lilly, rather abashed.

"Eh--?" and Jim stooped, grinning at the smaller man.

Lilly was somewhat puzzled, but he had a certain belief in himself as a saviour. The two men tramped rather incongruously through the lanes to the cottage.

Tanny was in the doorway as they came up the garden path.

"So nice to see you! Are you all right?" she said.

"A-one!" said Jim, grinning. "Nice of you to have me."

"Oh, we're awfully pleased."

Jim dropped his knapsack on the broad sofa.

"I've brought some food," he said.

"Have you! That's sensible of you. We can't get a great deal here, except just at week-ends," said Tanny.

Jim fished out a pound of sausages and a pot of fish paste.

"How lovely the sausages," said Tanny. "We'll have them for dinner tonight--and we'll have the other for tea now. You'd like a wash?"

But Jim had already opened his bag, taken off his coat, and put on an old one.

"Thanks," he said.

Lilly made the tea, and at length all sat down.

"Well how unexpected this is--and how nice," said Tanny.

"Jolly--eh?" said Jim.

He ate rapidly, stuffing his mouth too full.

"How is everybody?" asked Tanny.

"All right. Julia's gone with Cyril Scott. Can't stand that fellow, can you? What?"

"Yes, I think he's rather nice," said Tanny. "What will Robert do?"

"Have a shot at Josephine, apparently."

"Really? Is he in love with her? I thought so. And she likes him too, doesn't she?" said Tanny.

"Very likely," said Jim.

"I suppose you're jealous," laughed Tanny.

"Me!" Jim shook his head. "Not a bit. Like to see the ball kept rolling."

"What have you been doing lately?"

"Been staying a few days with my wife."

"No, really! I can't believe it."

Jim had a French wife, who had divorced him, and two children. Now he was paying visits to this wife again: purely friendly. Tanny did most of the talking. Jim excited her, with his way of looking in her face and grinning wolfishly, and at the same time asking to be saved.

After tea, he wanted to send telegrams, so Lilly took him round to the village post-office. Telegrams were a necessary part of his life. He had to be suddenly starting off to keep sudden appointments, or he felt he was a void in the atmosphere. He talked to Lilly about social reform, and so on. Jim's work in town was merely nominal. He spent his time wavering about and going to various meetings, philandering and weeping.

Lilly kept in the back of his mind the Saving which James had come to look for. He intended to do his best. After dinner the three sat cosily round the kitchen fire.

"But what do you really think will happen to the world?" Lilly asked Jim, amid much talk.

"What? There's something big coming," said Jim.

"Where from?"

"Watch Ireland, and watch Japan--they're the two poles of the world," said Jim.

"I thought Russia and America," said Lilly.

"Eh? What? Russia and America! They'll depend on Ireland and Japan. I know it. I've had a vision of it. Ireland on this side and Japan on the other--they'll settle it."

"I don't see how," said Lilly.

"I don't see HOW--But I had a vision of it."

"What sort of vision?"

"Couldn't describe it."

"But you don't think much of the Japanese, do you?" asked Lilly.

"Don't I! Don't I!" said Jim. "What, don't you think they're wonderful?"

"No. I think they're rather unpleasant."

"I think the salvation of the world lies with them."

"Funny salvation," said Lilly. "I think they're anything but angels."

"Do you though? Now that's funny. Why?"

"Looking at them even. I knew a Russian doctor who'd been through the Russo-Japanese war, and who had gone a bit cracked. He said he saw the Japs rush a trench. They threw everything away and flung themselves through the Russian fire and simply dropped in masses. But those that reached the trenches jumped in with bare hands on the Russians and tore their faces apart and bit their throats out--fairly ripped the faces off the bone.--It had sent the doctor a bit cracked. He said the wounded were awful,--their faces torn off and their throats mangled--and dead Japs with flesh between the teeth--God knows if it's true. But that's the impression the Japanese had made on this man. It had affected his mind really."

Jim watched Lilly, and smiled as if he were pleased.

"No--really--!" he said.

"Anyhow they're more demon than angel, I believe," said Lilly.

"Oh, no, Rawdon, but you always exaggerate," said Tanny.

"Maybe," said Lilly.

"I think Japanese are fascinating--fascinating--so quick, and such FORCE in them--"

"Rather!--eh?" said Jim, looking with a quick smile at Tanny.

"I think a Japanese lover would be marvellous," she laughed riskily.

"I s'd think he would," said Jim, screwing up his eyes.

"Do you hate the normal British as much as I do?" she asked him.

"Hate them! Hate them!" he said, with an intimate grin.

"Their beastly virtue," said she. "And I believe there's nobody more vicious underneath."

"Nobody!" said Jim.

"But you're British yourself," said Lilly to Jim.

"No, I'm Irish. Family's Irish--my mother was a Fitz-patrick."

"Anyhow you live in England."

"Because they won't let me go to Ireland."

The talk drifted. Jim finished up all the beer, and they prepared to go to bed. Jim was a bit tipsy, grinning. He asked for bread and cheese to take upstairs.

"Will you have supper?" said Lilly. He was surprised, because Jim had eaten strangely much at dinner.

"No--where's the loaf?" And he cut himself about half of it. There was no cheese.

"Bread'll do," said Jim.

"Sit down and eat it. Have cocoa with it," said Tanny.

"No, I like to have it in my bedroom."

"You don't eat bread in the night?" said Lilly.

"I do."

"What a funny thing to do."

The cottage was in darkness. The Lillys slept soundly. Jim woke up and chewed bread and slept again. In the morning at dawn he rose and went downstairs. Lilly heard him roaming about--heard the woman come in to clean--heard them talking. So he got up to look after his visitor, though it was not seven o'clock, and the woman was busy.--But before he went down, he heard Jim come upstairs again.

Mrs. Short was busy in the kitchen when Lilly went down.

"The other gentleman have been down, Sir," said Mrs. Short. "He asked me where the bread and butter were, so I said should I cut him a piece. But he wouldn't let me do it. I gave him a knife and he took it for himself, in the pantry."

"I say, Bricknell," said Lilly at breakfast time, "why do you eat so much bread?"

"I've got to feed up. I've been starved during this damned war."

"But hunks of bread won't feed you up."

"Gives the stomach something to work at, and prevents it grinding on the nerves," said Jim.

"But surely you don't want to keep your stomach always full and heavy."

"I do, my boy. I do. It needs keeping solid. I'm losing life, if I don't. I tell you I'm losing life. Let me put something inside me."

"I don't believe bread's any use."

During breakfast Jim talked about the future of the world.

"I reckon Christ's the finest thing time has ever produced," said he; "and will remain it."

"But you don't want crucifixions "ad infinitum"," said Lilly.

"What? Why not?"

"Once is enough--and have done."

"Don't you think love and sacrifice are the finest things in life?" said Jim, over his bacon.

"Depends WHAT love, and what sacrifice," said Lilly. "If I really believe in an Almighty God, I am willing to sacrifice for Him. That is, I'm willing to yield my own personal interest to the bigger creative interest.--But it's obvious Almighty God isn't mere Love."

"I think it is. Love and only love," said Jim. "I think the greatest joy is sacrificing oneself to love."

"To SOMEONE you love, you mean," said Tanny.

"No I don't. I don't mean someone at all. I mean love--love--love. I sacrifice myself to love. I reckon that's the highest man is capable of."

"But you can't sacrifice yourself to an abstract principle," said Tanny.

"That's just what you can do. And that's the beauty of it. Who represents the principle doesn't matter. Christ is the principle of love," said Jim.

"But no!" said Tanny. "It MUST be more individual. It must be SOMEBODY you love, not abstract love in itself. How can you sacrifice yourself to an abstraction."

"Ha, I think Love and your Christ detestable," said Lilly--"a sheer ignominy."

"Finest thing the world has produced," said Jim.

"No. A thing which sets itself up to be betrayed! No, it's foul. Don't you see it's the Judas principle you really worship. Judas is the real hero. But for Judas the whole show would have been "manque"."

"Oh yes," said Jim. "Judas was inevitable. I'm not sure that Judas wasn't the greatest of the disciples--and Jesus knew it. I'm not sure Judas wasn't the disciple Jesus loved."

"Jesus certainly encouraged him in his Judas tricks," said Tanny.

Jim grinned knowingly at Lilly.

"Then it was a nasty combination. And anything which turns on a Judas climax is a dirty show, to my thinking. I think your Judas is a rotten, dirty worm, just a dirty little self-conscious sentimental twister. And out of all Christianity he is the hero today. When people say Christ they mean Judas. They find him luscious on the palate. And Jesus fostered him--" said Lilly.

"He's a profound figure, is Judas. It's taken two thousand years to begin to understand him," said Jim, pushing the bread and marmalade into his mouth.

"A traitor is a traitor--no need to understand any further. And a system which rests all its weight on a piece of treachery makes that treachery not only inevitable but sacred. That's why I'm sick of Christianity.--At any rate this modern Christ-mongery."

"The finest thing the world has produced, or ever will produce--Christ and Judas--" said Jim.

"Not to me," said Lilly. "Foul combination."

It was a lovely morning in early March. Violets were out, and the first wild anemones. The sun was quite warm. The three were about to take out a picnic lunch. Lilly however was suffering from Jim's presence.

"Jolly nice here," said Jim. "Mind if I stay till Saturday?"

There was a pause. Lilly felt he was being bullied, almost obscenely bullied. Was he going to agree? Suddenly he looked up at Jim.

"I'd rather you went tomorrow," he said.

Tanny, who was sitting opposite Jim, dropped her head in confusion.

"What's tomorrow?" said Jim.

"Thursday," said Lilly.

"Thursday," repeated Jim. And he looked up and got Lilly's eye. He wanted to say "Friday then?"

"Yes, I'd rather you went Thursday," repeated Lilly.

"But Rawdon--!" broke in Tanny, who was suffering. She stopped, however.

"We can walk across country with you some way if you like," said Lilly to Jim. It was a sort of compromise.

"Fine!" said Jim. "We'll do that, then."

It was lovely sunshine, and they wandered through the woods. Between Jim and Tanny was a sort of growing "rapprochement", which got on Lilly's nerves.

"What the hell do you take that beastly personal tone for?" cried Lilly at Tanny, as the three sat under a leafless great beech-tree.

"But I'm not personal at all, am I, Mr. Bricknell?" said Tanny.

Jim watched Lilly, and grinned pleasedly.

"Why shouldn't you be, anyhow?" he said.

"Yes!" she retorted. "Why not!"

"Not while I'm here. I loathe the slimy creepy personal intimacy.--'Don't you think, Mr. Bricknell, that it's lovely to be able to talk quite simply to somebody? Oh, it's such a relief, after most people---'" Lilly mimicked his wife's last speech savagely.

"But I MEAN it," cried Tanny. "It is lovely."

"Dirty messing," said Lilly angrily.

Jim watched the dark, irascible little man with amusement. They rose, and went to look for an inn, and beer. Tanny still clung rather stickily to Jim's side.

But it was a lovely day, the first of all the days of spring, with crocuses and wall-flowers in the cottage gardens, and white cocks crowing in the quiet hamlet.

When they got back in the afternoon to the cottage, they found a telegram for Jim. He let the Lillys see it--"Meet you for a walk on your return journey Lois." At once Tanny wanted to know all about Lois. Lois was a nice girl, well-to-do middle-class, but also an actress, and she would do anything Jim wanted.

"I must get a wire to her to meet me tomorrow," he said. "Where shall I say?"

Lilly produced the map, and they decided on time and station at which Lois coming out of London, should meet Jim. Then the happy pair could walk along the Thames valley, spending a night perhaps at Marlowe, or some such place.

Off went Jim and Lilly once more to the postoffice. They were quite good friends. Having so inhospitably fixed the hour of departure, Lilly wanted to be nice. Arrived at the postoffice, they found it shut: half-day closing for the little shop.

"Well," said Lilly. "We'll go to the station."

They proceeded to the station--found the station-master--were conducted down to the signal-box. Lilly naturally hung back from people, but Jim was hob-nob with the station-master and the signal man, quite officer-and-my-men kind of thing. Lilly sat out on the steps of the signal-box, rather ashamed, while the long telegram was shouted over the telephone to the junction town--first the young lady and her address, then the message "Meet me X. station 3:40 tomorrow walk back great pleasure Jim."

Anyhow that was done. They went home to tea. After tea, as the evening fell, Lilly suggested a little stroll in the woods, while Tanny prepared the dinner. Jim agreed, and they set out. The two men wandered through the trees in the dusk, till they came to a bank on the farther edge of the wood. There they sat down.

And there Lilly said what he had to say. "As a matter of fact," he said, "it's nothing but love and self-sacrifice which makes you feel yourself losing life."

"You're wrong. Only love brings it back--and wine. If I drink a bottle of Burgundy I feel myself restored at the middle--right here! I feel the energy back again. And if I can fall in love--But it's becoming so damned hard--"

"What, to fall in love?" asked Lilly.

"Yes."

"Then why not leave off trying! What do you want to poke yourself and prod yourself into love, for?"

"Because I'm DEAD without it. I'm dead. I'm dying."

"Only because you force yourself. If you drop working yourself up--"

"I shall die. I only live when I can fall in love. Otherwise I'm dying by inches. Why, man, you don't know what it was like. I used to get the most grand feelings--like a great rush of force, or light--a great rush--right here, as I've said, at the solar plexus. And it would come any time--anywhere--no matter where I was. And then I was all right.

"All right for what?--for making love?"

"Yes, man, I was."

"And now you aren't?--Oh, well, leave love alone, as any twopenny doctor would tell you."

"No, you're off it there. It's nothing technical. Technically I can make love as much as you like. It's nothing a doctor has any say in. It's what I feel inside me. I feel the life going. I know it's going. I never get those inrushes now, unless I drink a jolly lot, or if I possibly could fall in love. Technically, I'm potent all right--oh, yes!"

"You should leave yourself and your inrushes alone."

"But you can't. It's a sort of ache."

"Then you should stiffen your backbone. It's your backbone that matters. You shouldn't want to abandon yourself. You shouldn't want to fling yourself all loose into a woman's lap. You should stand by yourself and learn to be by yourself. Why don't you be more like the Japanese you talk about? Quiet, aloof little devils. They don't bother about being loved. They keep themselves taut in their own selves--there, at the bottom of the spine--the devil's own power they've got there."

Jim mused a bit.

"Think they have?" he laughed. It seemed comic to him.

"Sure! Look at them. Why can't you gather yourself there?"

"At the tail?"

"Yes. Hold yourself firm there."

Jim broke into a cackle of a laugh, and rose. The two went through the dark woods back to the cottage. Jim staggered and stumbled like a drunken man: or worse, like a man with locomotor ataxia: as if he had no power in his lower limbs.

"Walk there--!" said Lilly, finding him the smoothest bit of the dark path. But Jim stumbled and shambled, in a state of nauseous weak relaxation. However, they reached the cottage: and food and beer--and Tanny, piqued with curiosity to know what the men had been saying privately to each other.

After dinner they sat once more talking round the fire.

Lilly sat in a small chair facing the fire, the other two in the armchairs on either side the hearth.

"How nice it will be for you, walking with Lois towards London tomorrow," gushed Tanny sentimentally.

"Good God!" said Lilly. "Why the dickens doesn't he walk by himself, without wanting a woman always there, to hold his hand."

"Don't be so spiteful," said Tanny. "YOU see that you have a woman always there, to hold YOUR hand."

"My hand doesn't need holding," snapped Lilly.

"Doesn't it! More than most men's! But you're so beastly ungrateful and mannish. Because I hold you safe enough all the time you like to pretend you're doing it all yourself."

"All right. Don't drag yourself in," said Lilly, detesting his wife at that moment. "Anyhow," and he turned to Jim, "it's time you'd done slobbering yourself over a lot of little women, one after the other."

"Why shouldn't I, if I like it?" said Jim.

"Yes, why not?" said Tanny.

"Because it makes a fool of you. Look at you, stumbling and staggering with no use in your legs. I'd be ashamed if I were you."

"Would you?" said Jim.

"I would. And it's nothing but your wanting to be loved which does it. A maudlin crying to be loved, which makes your knees all go rickety."

"Think that's it?" said Jim.

"What else is it. You haven't been here a day, but you must telegraph for some female to be ready to hold your hand the moment you go away. And before she lets go, you'll be wiring for another. YOU WANT TO BE LOVED, you want to be loved--a man of your years. It's disgusting--"

"I don't see it. I believe in love--" said Jim, watching and grinning oddly.

"Bah, love! Messing, that's what it is. It wouldn't matter if it did you no harm. But when you stagger and stumble down a road, out of sheer sloppy relaxation of your will---"

At this point Jim suddenly sprang from his chair at Lilly, and gave him two or three hard blows with his fists, upon the front of the body. Then he sat down in his own chair again, saying sheepishly:

"I knew I should have to do it, if he said any more."

Lilly sat motionless as a statue, his face like paper. One of the blows had caught him rather low, so that he was almost winded and could not breathe. He sat rigid, paralysed as a winded man is. But he wouldn't let it be seen. With all his will he prevented himself from gasping. Only through his parted lips he drew tiny gasps, controlled, nothing revealed to the other two. He hated them both far too much.

For some minutes there was dead silence, whilst Lilly silently and viciously fought for his breath. Tanny opened her eyes wide in a sort of pleased bewilderment, and Jim turned his face aside, and hung his clasped hands between his knees.

"There's a great silence, suddenly!" said Tanny.

"What is there to say?" ejaculated Lilly rapidly, with a spoonful of breath which he managed to compress and control into speech. Then he sat motionless again, concerned with the business of getting back his wind, and not letting the other two see.

Jim jerked in his chair, and looked round.

"It isn't that I don't like the man," he said, in a rather small voice. "But I knew if he went on I should have to do it."

To Lilly, rigid and physically preoccupied, there sounded a sort of self-consciousness in Jim's voice, as if the whole thing had been semi-deliberate. He detected the sort of maudlin deliberateness which goes with hysterics, and he was colder, more icy than ever.

Tanny looked at Lilly, puzzled, bewildered, but still rather pleased, as if she demanded an answer. None being forthcoming, she said:

"Of course, you mustn't expect to say all those things without rousing a man."

Still Lilly did not answer. Jim glanced at him, then looked at Tanny.

"It isn't that I don't like him," he said, slowly. "I like him better than any man I've ever known, I believe." He clasped his hands and turned aside his face.

"Judas!" flashed through Lilly's mind.

Again Tanny looked for her husband's answer.

"Yes, Rawdon," she said. "You can't say the things you do without their having an effect. You really ask for it, you know."

"It's no matter." Lilly squeezed the words out coldly. "He wanted to do it, and he did it."

A dead silence ensued now. Tanny looked from man to man.

"I could feel it coming on me," said Jim.

"Of course!" said Tanny. "Rawdon doesn't know the things he says." She was pleased that he had had to pay for them, for once.

It takes a man a long time to get his breath back, after a sharp blow in the wind. Lilly was managing by degrees. The others no doubt attributed his silence to deep or fierce thoughts. It was nothing of the kind, merely a cold struggle to get his wind back, without letting them know he was struggling: and a sheer, stock-stiff hatred of the pair of them.

"I like the man," said Jim. "Never liked a man more than I like him." He spoke as if with difficulty.

"The man" stuck safely in Lilly's ears.

"Oh, well," he managed to say. "It's nothing. I've done my talking and had an answer, for once."

"Yes, Rawdy, you've had an answer, for once. Usually you don't get an answer, you know--and that's why you go so far--in the things you say. Now you'll know how you make people feel."

"Quite!" said Lilly.

""I" don't feel anything. I don't mind what he says," said Jim.

"Yes, but he ought to know the things he DOES say," said Tanny. "He goes on, without considering the person he's talking to. This time it's come back on him. He mustn't say such personal things, if he's not going to risk an answer."

"I don't mind what he says. I don't mind a bit," said Jim.

"Nor do I mind," said Lilly indifferently. "I say what I feel--You do as you feel--There's an end of it."

A sheepish sort of silence followed this speech. It was broken by a sudden laugh from Tanny.

"The things that happen to us!" she said, laughing rather shrilly. "Suddenly, like a thunderbolt, we're all struck into silence!"

"Rum game, eh!" said Jim, grinning.

"Isn't it funny! Isn't life too funny!" She looked again at her husband. "But, Rawdy, you must admit it was your own fault."

Lilly's stiff face did not change.

"Why FAULT!" he said, looking at her coldly. "What is there to talk about?"

"Usually there's so much," she said sarcastically.

A few phrases dribbled out of the silence. In vain Jim, tried to get Lilly to thaw, and in vain Tanny gave her digs at her husband. Lilly's stiff, inscrutable face did not change, he was polite and aloof. So they all went to bed.

In the morning, the walk was to take place, as arranged, Lilly and Tanny accompanying Jim to the third station across country. The morning was lovely, the country beautiful. Lilly liked the countryside and enjoyed the walk. But a hardness inside himself never relaxed. Jim talked a little again about the future of the world, and a higher state of Christlikeness in man. But Lilly only laughed. Then Tanny managed to get ahead with Jim, sticking to his side and talking sympathetic personalities. But Lilly, feeling it from afar, ran after them and caught them up. They were silent.

"What was the interesting topic?" he said cuttingly.

"Nothing at all!" said Tanny, nettled. "Why must you interfere?"

"Because I intend to," said Lilly.

And the two others fell apart, as if severed with a knife. Jim walked rather sheepishly, as if cut out.

So they came at last past the canals to the wayside station: and at last Jim's train came. They all said goodbye. Jim and Tanny were both waiting for Lilly to show some sign of real reconciliation. But none came. He was cheerful and aloof.

"Goodbye," he said to Jim. "Hope Lois will be there all right. Third station on. Goodbye! Goodbye!"

"You'll come to Rackham?" said Jim, leaning out of the train.

"We should love to," called Tanny, after the receding train.

"All right," said Lilly, non-committal.

But he and his wife never saw Jim again. Lilly never intended to see him: a devil sat in the little man's breast.

"You shouldn't play at little Jesus, coming so near to people, wanting to help them," was Tanny's last word.

CHAPTER IX. LOW-WATER MARK

Tanny went away to Norway to visit her people, for the first time for three years. Lilly did not go: he did not want to. He came to London and settled in a room over Covent Garden market. The room was high up, a fair size, and stood at the corner of one of the streets and the market itself, looking down on the stalls and the carts and the arcade. Lilly would climb out of the window and sit for hours watching the behaviour of the great draught-horses which brought the mountains of boxes and vegetables. Funny half-human creatures they seemed, so massive and fleshy, yet so Cockney. There was one which could not bear donkeys, and which used to stretch out its great teeth like some massive serpent after every poor diminutive ass that came with a coster's barrow. Another great horse could not endure standing. It would shake itself and give little starts, and back into the heaps of carrots and broccoli, whilst the driver went into a frenzy of rage.

There was always something to watch. One minute it was two great loads of empty crates, which in passing had got entangled, and reeled, leaning to fall disastrously. Then the drivers cursed and swore and dismounted and stared at their jeopardised loads: till a thin fellow was persuaded to scramble up the airy mountains of cages, like a monkey. And he actually managed to put them to rights. Great sigh of relief when the vans rocked out of the market.

Again there was a particular page-boy in buttons, with a round and perky behind, who nimbly carried a tea-tray from somewhere to somewhere, under the arches beside the market. The great brawny porters would tease him, and he would stop to give them cheek. One afternoon a giant lunged after him: the boy darted gracefully among the heaps of vegetables, still bearing aloft his tea-tray, like some young blue-buttoned acolyte fleeing before a false god. The giant rolled after him--when alas, the acolyte of the tea-tray slipped among the vegetables, and down came the tray. Then tears, and a roar of unfeeling mirth from the giants. Lilly felt they were going to make it up to him.

Another afternoon a young swell sauntered persistently among the vegetables, and Lilly, seated in his high little balcony, wondered why. But at last, a taxi, and a very expensive female, in a sort of silver brocade gown and a great fur shawl and ospreys in her bonnet. Evidently an assignation. Yet what could be more conspicuous than this elegant pair, picking their way through the cabbage-leaves?

And then, one cold grey afternoon in early April, a man in a black overcoat and a bowler hat, walking uncertainly. Lilly had risen and was just retiring out of the chill, damp air. For some reason he lingered to watch the figure. The man was walking east. He stepped rather insecurely off the pavement, and wavered across the setts between the wheels of the standing vans. And suddenly he went down. Lilly could not see him on the ground, but he saw some van-men go forward, and he saw one of them pick up the man's hat.

"I'd better go down," said Lilly to himself.

So he began running down the four long flights of stone stairs, past the many doors of the multifarious business premises, and out into the market. A little crowd had gathered, and a large policeman was just rowing into the centre of the interest. Lilly, always a hoverer on the edge of public commotions, hung now hesitating on the outskirts of the crowd.

"What is it?" he said, to a rather sniffy messenger boy.

"Drunk," said the messenger boy: except that, in unblushing cockney, he pronounced it "Drank."

Lilly hung further back on the edge of the little crowd.

"Come on here. Where d' you want to go?" he heard the hearty tones of the policeman.

"I'm all right. I'm all right," came the testy drunken answer.

"All right, are yer! All right, and then some,--come on, get on your pins."

"I'm all right! I'm all right."

The voice made Lilly peer between the people. And sitting on the granite setts, being hauled up by a burly policeman, he saw our acquaintance Aaron, very pale in the face and a little dishevelled.

"Like me to tuck the sheets round you, shouldn't you? Fancy yourself snug in bed, don't you? You won't believe you're right in the way of traffic, will you now, in Covent Garden Market? Come on, we'll see to you." And the policeman hoisted the bitter and unwilling Aaron.

Lilly was quickly at the centre of the affair, unobtrusive like a shadow, different from the other people.

"Help him up to my room, will you?" he said to the constable. "Friend of mine."

The large constable looked down on the bare-headed wispy, unobtrusive Lilly with good-humoured suspicion and incredulity. Lilly could not have borne it if the policeman had uttered any of this cockney suspicion, so he watched him. There was a great gulf between the public official and the odd, quiet little individual--yet Lilly had his way.

"Which room?" said the policeman, dubious.

Lilly pointed quickly round. Then he said to Aaron:

"Were you coming to see me, Sisson? You'll come in, won't you?"

Aaron nodded rather stupidly and testily. His eyes looked angry. Somebody stuck his hat on his head for him, and made him look a fool. Lilly took it off again, and carried it for him. He turned and the crowd eased. He watched Aaron sharply, and saw that it was with difficulty he could walk. So he caught him by the arm on the other side from the policeman, and they crossed the road to the pavement.

"Not so much of this sort of thing these days," said the policeman.

"Not so much opportunity," said Lilly.

"More than there was, though. Coming back to the old days, like. Working round, bit by bit."

They had arrived at the stairs. Aaron stumbled up.

"Steady now! Steady does it!" said the policeman, steering his charge. There was a curious breach of distance between Lilly and the constable.

At last Lilly opened his own door. The room was pleasant. The fire burned warm, the piano stood open, the sofa was untidy with cushions and papers. Books and papers covered the big writing desk. Beyond the screen made by the bookshelves and the piano were two beds, with washstand by one of the large windows, the one through which Lilly had climbed.

The policeman looked round curiously.

"More cosy here than in the lock-up, sir!" he said.

Lilly laughed. He was hastily clearing the sofa.

"Sit on the sofa, Sisson," he said.

The policeman lowered his charge, with a--

"Right we are, then!"

Lilly felt in his pocket, and gave the policeman half a crown. But he was watching Aaron, who sat stupidly on the sofa, very pale and semi-conscious.

"Do you feel ill, Sisson?" he said sharply.

Aaron looked back at him with heavy eyes, and shook his head slightly.

"I believe you are," said Lilly, taking his hand.

"Might be a bit o' this flu, you know," said the policeman.

"Yes," said Lilly. "Where is there a doctor?" he added, on reflection.

"The nearest?" said the policeman. And he told him. "Leave a message for you, Sir?"

Lilly wrote his address on a card, then changed his mind.

"No, I'll run round myself if necessary," he said.

And the policeman departed.

"You'll go to bed, won't you?" said Lilly to Aaron, when the door was shut. Aaron shook his head sulkily.

"I would if I were you. You can stay here till you're all right. I'm alone, so it doesn't matter."

But Aaron had relapsed into semi-consciousness. Lilly put the big kettle on the gas stove, the little kettle on the fire. Then he hovered in front of the stupefied man. He felt uneasy. Again he took Aaron's hand and felt the pulse.

"I'm sure you aren't well. You must go to bed," he said. And he kneeled and unfastened his visitor's boots. Meanwhile the kettle began to boil, he put a hot-water bottle into the bed.

"Let us get your overcoat off," he said to the stupefied man. "Come along." And with coaxing and pulling and pushing he got off the overcoat and coat and waistcoat.

At last Aaron was undressed and in bed. Lilly brought him tea. With a dim kind of obedience he took the cup and would drink. He looked at Lilly with heavy eyes.

"I gave in, I gave in to her, else I should ha' been all right," he said.

"To whom?" said Lilly.

"I gave in to her--and afterwards I cried, thinking of Lottie and the children. I felt my heart break, you know. And that's what did it. I should have been all right if I hadn't given in to her--"

"To whom?" said Lilly.

"Josephine. I felt, the minute I was loving her, I'd done myself. And I had. Everything came back on me. If I hadn't given in to her, I should ha' kept all right."

"Don't bother now. Get warm and still--"

"I felt it--I felt it go, inside me, the minute I gave in to her. It's perhaps killed me."

"No, not it. Never mind, be still. Be still, and you'll be all right in the morning."

"It's my own fault, for giving in to her. If I'd kept myself back, my liver wouldn't have broken inside me, and I shouldn't have been sick. And I knew--"

"Never mind now. Have you drunk your tea? Lie down. Lie down, and go to sleep."

Lilly pushed Aaron down in the bed, and covered him over. Then he thrust his hands under the bedclothes and felt his feet--still cold. He arranged the water bottle. Then he put another cover on the bed.

Aaron lay still, rather grey and peaked-looking, in a stillness that was not healthy. For some time Lilly went about stealthily, glancing at his patient from time to time. Then he sat down to read.

He was roused after a time by a moaning of troubled breathing and a fretful stirring in the bed. He went across. Aaron's eyes were open, and dark looking.

"Have a little hot milk," said Lilly.

Aaron shook his head faintly, not noticing.

"A little Bovril?"

The same faint shake.

Then Lilly wrote a note for the doctor, went into the office on the same landing, and got a clerk, who would be leaving in a few minutes, to call with the note. When he came back he found Aaron still watching.

"Are you here by yourself?" asked the sick man.

"Yes. My wife's gone to Norway."

"For good?"

"No," laughed Lilly. "For a couple of months or so. She'll come back here: unless she joins me in Switzerland or somewhere."

Aaron was still for a while.

"You've not gone with her," he said at length.

"To see her people? No, I don't think they want me very badly--and I didn't want very badly to go. Why should I? It's better for married people to be separated sometimes."

"Ay!" said Aaron, watching the other man with fever-darkened eyes.

"I hate married people who are two in one--stuck together like two jujube lozenges," said Lilly.

"Me an' all. I hate 'em myself," said Aaron.

"Everybody ought to stand by themselves, in the first place--men and women as well. They can come together, in the second place, if they like. But nothing is any good unless each one stands alone, intrinsically."

"I'm with you there," said Aaron. "If I'd kep' myself to myself I shouldn't be bad now--though I'm not very bad. I s'll be all right in the morning. But I did myself in when I went with another woman. I felt myself go--as if the bile broke inside me, and I was sick."

"Josephine seduced you?" laughed Lilly.

"Ay, right enough," replied Aaron grimly. "She won't be coming here, will she?"

"Not unless I ask her."

"You won't ask her, though?"

"No, not if you don't want her."

"I don't."

The fever made Aaron naive and communicative, unlike himself. And he knew he was being unlike himself, he knew that he was not in proper control of himself, so he was unhappy, uneasy.

"I'll stop here the night then, if you don't mind," he said.

"You'll have to," said Lilly. "I've sent for the doctor. I believe you've got the flu."

"Think I have?" said Aaron frightened.

"Don't be scared," laughed Lilly.

There was a long pause. Lilly stood at the window looking at the darkening market, beneath the street-lamps.

"I s'll have to go to the hospital, if I have," came Aaron's voice.

"No, if it's only going to be a week or a fortnight's business, you can stop here. I've nothing to do," said Lilly.

"There's no occasion for you to saddle yourself with me," said Aaron dejectedly.

"You can go to your hospital if you like--or back to your lodging--if you wish to," said Lilly. "You can make up your mind when you see how you are in the morning."

"No use going back to my lodgings," said Aaron.

"I'll send a telegram to your wife if you like," said Lilly.

Aaron was silent, dead silent, for some time.

"Nay," he said at length, in a decided voice. "Not if I die for it."

Lilly remained still, and the other man lapsed into a sort of semi-sleep, motionless and abandoned. The darkness had fallen over London, and away below the lamps were white.

Lilly lit the green-shaded reading lamp over the desk. Then he stood and looked at Aaron, who lay still, looking sick. Rather beautiful the bones of the countenance: but the skull too small for such a heavy jaw and rather coarse mouth. Aaron half-opened his eyes, and writhed feverishly, as if his limbs could not be in the right place. Lilly mended the fire, and sat down to write. Then he got up and went downstairs to unfasten the street door, so that the doctor could walk up. The business people had gone from their various holes, all the lower part of the tall house was in darkness.

Lilly waited and waited. He boiled an egg and made himself toast. Aaron said he might eat the same. Lilly cooked another egg and took it to the sick man. Aaron looked at it and pushed it away with nausea. He would have some tea. So Lilly gave him tea.

"Not much fun for you, doing this for somebody who is nothing to you," said Aaron.

"I shouldn't if you were unsympathetic to me," said Lilly. "As it is, it's happened so, and so we'll let be."

"What time is it?"

"Nearly eight o'clock."

"Oh, my Lord, the opera."

And Aaron got half out of bed. But as he sat on the bedside he knew he could not safely get to his feet. He remained a picture of dejection.

"Perhaps we ought to let them know," said Lilly.

But Aaron, blank with stupid misery, sat huddled there on the bedside without answering.

"Ill run round with a note," said Lilly. "I suppose others have had flu, besides you. Lie down!"

But Aaron stupidly and dejectedly sat huddled on the side of the bed, wearing old flannel pyjamas of Lilly's, rather small for him. He felt too sick to move.

"Lie down! Lie down!" said Lilly. "And keep still while I'm gone. I shan't be more than ten minutes."

"I don't care if I die," said Aaron.

Lilly laughed.

"You're a long way from dying," said he, "or you wouldn't say it."

But Aaron only looked up at him with queer, far-off, haggard eyes, something like a criminal who is just being executed.

"Lie down!" said Lilly, pushing him gently into the bed. "You won't improve yourself sitting there, anyhow."

Aaron lay down, turned away, and was quite still. Lilly quietly left the room on his errand.

The doctor did not come until ten o'clock: and worn out with work when he did come.

"Isn't there a lift in this establishment?" he said, as he groped his way up the stone stairs. Lilly had heard him, and run down to meet him.

The doctor poked the thermometer under Aaron's tongue and felt the pulse. Then he asked a few questions: listened to the heart and breathing.

"Yes, it's the flu," he said curtly. "Nothing to do but to keep warm in bed and not move, and take plenty of milk and liquid nourishment. I'll come round in the morning and give you an injection. Lungs are all right so far."

"How long shall I have to be in bed?" said Aaron.

"Oh--depends. A week at least."

Aaron watched him sullenly--and hated him. Lilly laughed to himself. The sick man was like a dog that is ill but which growls from a deep corner, and will bite if you put your hand in. He was in a state of black depression.

Lilly settled him down for the night, and himself went to bed. Aaron squirmed with heavy, pained limbs, the night through, and slept and had bad dreams. Lilly got up to give him drinks. The din in the market was terrific before dawn, and Aaron suffered bitterly.

In the morning he was worse. The doctor gave him injections against pneumonia.

"You wouldn't like me to wire to your wife?" said Lilly.

"No," said Aaron abruptly. "You can send me to the hospital. I'm nothing but a piece of carrion."

"Carrion!" said Lilly. "Why?"

"I know it. I feel like it."

"Oh, that's only the sort of nauseated feeling you get with flu."

"I'm only fit to be thrown underground, and made an end of. I can't stand myself--"

He had a ghastly, grey look of self-repulsion.

"It's the germ that makes you feel like that," said Lilly. "It poisons the system for a time. But you'll work it off."

At evening he was no better, the fever was still high. Yet there were no complications--except that the heart was irregular.

"The one thing I wonder," said Lilly, "is whether you hadn't better be moved out of the noise of the market. It's fearful for you in the early morning."

"It makes no difference to me," said Aaron.

The next day he was a little worse, if anything. The doctor knew there was nothing to be done. At evening he gave the patient a calomel pill. It was rather strong, and Aaron had a bad time. His burning, parched, poisoned inside was twisted and torn. Meanwhile carts banged, porters shouted, all the hell of the market went on outside, away down on the cobble setts. But this time the two men did not hear.

"You'll feel better now," said Lilly, "after the operation."

"It's done me harm," cried Aaron fretfully. "Send me to the hospital, or you'll repent it. Get rid of me in time."

"Nay," said Lilly. "You get better. Damn it, you're only one among a million."

Again over Aaron's face went the ghastly grimace of self-repulsion.

"My soul's gone rotten," he said.

"No," said Lilly. "Only toxin in the blood."

Next day the patient seemed worse, and the heart more irregular. He rested badly. So far, Lilly had got a fair night's rest. Now Aaron was not sleeping, and he seemed to struggle in the bed.

"Keep your courage up, man," said the doctor sharply. "You give way."

Aaron looked at him blackly, and did not answer.

In the night Lilly was up time after time. Aaron would slip down on his back, and go semi-conscious. And then he would awake, as if drowning, struggling to move, mentally shouting aloud, yet making no sound for some moments, mentally shouting in frenzy, but unable to stir or make a sound. When at last he got some sort of physical control he cried: "Lift me up! Lift me up!"

Lilly hurried and lifted him up, and he sat panting with a sobbing motion, his eyes gloomy and terrified, more than ever like a criminal who is just being executed. He drank brandy, and was laid down on his side.

"Don't let me lie on my back," he said, terrified. "No, I won't," said Lilly. Aaron frowned curiously on his nurse. "Mind you don't let me," he said, exacting and really terrified.

"No, I won't let you."

And now Lilly was continually crossing over and pulling Aaron on to his side, whenever he found him slipped down on his back.

In the morning the doctor was puzzled. Probably it was the toxin in the blood which poisoned the heart. There was no pneumonia. And yet Aaron was clearly growing worse. The doctor agreed to send in a nurse for the coming night.

"What's the matter with you, man!" he said sharply to his patient. "You give way! You give way! Can't you pull yourself together?"

But Aaron only became more gloomily withheld, retracting from life. And Lilly began to be really troubled. He got a friend to sit with the patient in the afternoon, whilst he himself went out and arranged to sleep in Aaron's room, at his lodging.

The next morning, when he came in, he found the patient lying as ever, in a sort of heap in the bed. Nurse had had to lift him up and hold him up again. And now Aaron lay in a sort of semi-stupor of fear, frustrated anger, misery and self-repulsion: a sort of interlocked depression.

The doctor frowned when he came. He talked with the nurse, and wrote another prescription. Then he drew Lilly away to the door.

"What's the matter with the fellow?" he said. "Can't you rouse his spirit? He seems to be sulking himself out of life. He'll drop out quite suddenly, you know, if he goes on like this. Can't you rouse him up?"

"I think it depresses him partly that his bowels won't work. It frightens him. He's never been ill in his life before," said Lilly.

"His bowels won't work if he lets all his spirit go, like an animal dying of the sulks," said the doctor impatiently. "He might go off quite suddenly--dead before you can turn round--"

Lilly was properly troubled. Yet he did not quite know what to do. It was early afternoon, and the sun was shining into the room. There were daffodils and anemones in a jar, and freezias and violets. Down below in the market were two stalls of golden and blue flowers, gay.

"The flowers are lovely in the spring sunshine," said Lilly. "I wish I were in the country, don't you? As soon as you are better we'll go. It's been a terrible cold, wet spring. But now it's going to be nice. Do you like being in the country?"

"Yes," said Aaron.

He was thinking of his garden. He loved it. Never in his life had he been away from a garden before.

"Make haste and get better, and we'll go."

"Where?" said Aaron.

"Hampshire. Or Berkshire. Or perhaps you'd like to go home? Would you?"

Aaron lay still, and did not answer.

"Perhaps you want to, and you don't want to," said Lilly. "You can please yourself, anyhow."

There was no getting anything definite out of the sick man--his soul seemed stuck, as if it would not move.

Suddenly Lilly rose and went to the dressing-table.

"I'm going to rub you with oil," he said. "I'm going to rub you as mothers do their babies whose bowels don't work."

Aaron frowned slightly as he glanced at the dark, self-possessed face of the little man.

"What's the good of that?" he said irritably. "I'd rather be left alone."

"Then you won't be."

Quickly he uncovered the blond lower body of his patient, and began to rub the abdomen with oil, using a slow, rhythmic, circulating motion, a sort of massage. For a long time he rubbed finely and steadily, then went over the whole of the lower body, mindless, as if in a sort of incantation. He rubbed every speck of the man's lower body--the abdomen, the buttocks, the thighs and knees, down to the feet, rubbed it all warm and glowing with camphorated oil, every bit of it, chafing the toes swiftly, till he was almost exhausted. Then Aaron was covered up again, and Lilly sat down in fatigue to look at his patient.

He saw a change. The spark had come back into the sick eyes, and the faint trace of a smile, faintly luminous, into the face. Aaron was regaining himself. But Lilly said nothing. He watched his patient fall into a proper sleep.

And he sat and watched him sleep. And he thought to himself: "I wonder why I do it. I wonder why I bother with him.... Jim ought to have taught me my lesson. As soon as this man's really better he'll punch me in the wind, metaphorically if not actually, for having interfered with him. And Tanny would say, he was quite right to do it. She says I want power over them. What if I do? They don't care how much power the mob has over them, the nation, Lloyd George and Northcliffe and the police and money. They'll yield themselves up to that sort of power quickly enough, and immolate themselves "pro bono publico" by the million. And what's the bonum publicum but a mob power? Why can't they submit to a bit of healthy individual authority? The fool would die, without me: just as that fool Jim will die in hysterics one day. Why does he last so long!

"Tanny's the same. She does nothing really but resist me: my authority, or my influence, or just ME. At the bottom of her heart she just blindly and persistently opposes me. God knows what it is she opposes: just me myself. She thinks I want her to submit to me. So I do, in a measure natural to our two selves. Somewhere, she ought to submit to me. But they all prefer to kick against the pricks. Not that THEY get many pricks. I get them. Damn them all, why don't I leave them alone? They only grin and feel triumphant when they've insulted one and punched one in the wind.

"This Aaron will do just the same. I like him, and he ought to like me. And he'll be another Jim: he WILL like me, if he can knock the wind out of me. A lot of little Stavrogins coming up to whisper affectionately, and biting one's ear.

"But anyhow I can soon see the last of this chap: and him the last of all the rest. I'll be damned for ever if I see their Jims and Roberts and Julias and Scotts any more. Let them dance round their insipid hell-broth. Thin tack it is.

"There's a whole world besides this little gang of Europeans. Except, dear God, that they've exterminated all the peoples worth knowing. I can't do with folk who teem by the billion, like the Chinese and Japs and orientals altogether. Only vermin teem by the billion. Higher types breed slower. I would have loved the Aztecs and the Red Indians. I KNOW they hold the element in life which I am looking for--they had living pride. Not like the flea-bitten Asiatics--even niggers are better than Asiatics, though they are wallowers--the American races--and the South Sea Islanders--the Marquesans, the Maori blood. That was the true blood. It wasn't frightened. All the rest are craven--Europeans, Asiatics, Africans--everyone at his own individual quick craven and cringing: only conceited in the mass, the mob. How I hate them: the mass-bullies, the individual Judases.

"Well, if one will be a Jesus he must expect his Judas. That's why Abraham Lincoln gets shot. A Jesus makes a Judas inevitable. A man should remain himself, not try to spread himself over humanity. He should pivot himself on his own pride.

"I suppose really I ought to have packed this Aaron off to the hospital. Instead of which here am I rubbing him with oil to rub the life into him. And I KNOW he'll bite me, like a warmed snake, the moment he recovers. And Tanny will say 'Quite right, too,' I shouldn't have been so intimate. No, I should have left it to mechanical doctors and nurses.

"So I should. Everything to its own. And Aaron belongs to this little system, and Jim is waiting to be psychoanalysed, and Tanny is waiting for her own glorification.

"All right, Aaron. Last time I break my bread for anybody, this is. So get better, my flautist, so that I can go away.

"It was easy for the Red Indians and the Others to take their hook into death. They might have stayed a bit longer to help one to defy the white masses.

"I'll make some tea--"

Lilly rose softly and went across to the fire. He had to cross a landing to a sort of little lavatory, with a sink and a tap, for water. The clerks peeped out at him from an adjoining office and nodded. He nodded, and disappeared from their sight as quickly as possible, with his kettle. His dark eyes were quick, his dark hair was untidy, there was something silent and withheld about him. People could never approach him quite ordinarily.

He put on the kettle, and quietly set cups and plates on a tray. The room was clean and cosy and pleasant. He did the cleaning himself, and was as efficient and inobtrusive a housewife as any woman. While the kettle boiled, he sat darning the socks which he had taken off Aaron's feet when the flautist arrived, and which he had washed. He preferred that no outsider should see him doing these things. Yet he preferred also to do them himself, so that he should be independent of outside aid.

His face was dark and hollow, he seemed frail, sitting there in the London afternoon darning the black woollen socks. His full brow was knitted slightly, there was a tension. At the same time, there was an indomitable stillness about him, as it were in the atmosphere about him. His hands, though small, were not very thin. He bit off the wool as he finished his darn.

As he was making the tea he saw Aaron rouse up in bed.

"I've been to sleep. I feel better," said the patient, turning round to look what the other man was doing. And the sight of the water steaming in a jet from the teapot seemed attractive.

"Yes," said Lilly. "You've slept for a good two hours."

"I believe I have," said Aaron.

"Would you like a little tea?"

"Ay--and a bit of toast."

"You're not supposed to have solid food. Let me take your temperature."

The temperature was down to a hundred, and Lilly, in spite of the doctor, gave Aaron a piece of toast with his tea, enjoining him not to mention it to the nurse.

In the evening the two men talked.

"You do everything for yourself, then?" said Aaron.

"Yes, I prefer it."

"You like living all alone?"

"I don't know about that. I never have lived alone. Tanny and I have been very much alone in various countries: but that's two, not one."

"You miss her then?"

"Yes, of course. I missed her horribly in the cottage, when she'd first gone. I felt my heart was broken. But here, where we've never been together, I don't notice it so much."

"She'll come back," said Aaron.

"Yes, she'll come back. But I'd rather meet her abroad than here--and get on a different footing."

"Why?"

"Oh, I don't know. There's something with marriage altogether, I think. "Egoisme a deux"--"

"What's that mean?"

""Egoisme a deux"? Two people, one egoism. Marriage is a self-conscious egoistic state, it seems to me."

"You've got no children?" said Aaron.

"No. Tanny wants children badly. I don't. I'm thankful we have none."

"Why?"

"I can't quite say. I think of them as a burden. Besides, there ARE such millions and billions of children in the world. And we know well enough what sort of millions and billions of people they'll grow up into. I don't want to add my quota to the mass--it's against my instinct--"

"Ay!" laughed Aaron, with a curt acquiescence.

"Tanny's furious. But then, when a woman has got children, she thinks the world wags only for them and her. Nothing else. The whole world wags for the sake of the children--and their sacred mother."

"Ay, that's DAMNED true," said Aaron.

"And myself, I'm sick of the children stunt. Children are all right, so long as you just take them for what they are: young immature things like kittens and half-grown dogs, nuisances, sometimes very charming. But I'll be hanged if I can see anything high and holy about children. I should be sorry, too, it would be so bad for the children. Young brats, tiresome and amusing in turns."

"When they don't give themselves airs," said Aaron.

"Yes, indeed. Which they do half the time. Sacred children, and sacred motherhood, I'm absolutely fed stiff by it. That's why I'm thankful I have no children. Tanny can't come it over me there."

"It's a fact. When a woman's got her children, by God, she's a bitch in the manger. You can starve while she sits on the hay. It's useful to keep her pups warm."

"Yes."

"Why, you know," Aaron turned excitedly in the bed, "they look on a man as if he was nothing but an instrument to get and rear children. If you have anything to do with a woman, she thinks it's because you want to get children by her. And I'm damned if it is. I want my own pleasure, or nothing: and children be damned."

"Ah, women--THEY must be loved, at any price!" said Lilly. "And if you just don't want to love them--and tell them so--what a crime."

"A crime!" said Aaron. "They make a criminal of you. Them and their children be cursed. Is my life given me for nothing but to get children, and work to bring them up? See them all in hell first. They'd better die while they're children, if childhood's all that important."

"I quite agree," said Lilly. "If childhood is more important than manhood, then why live to be a man at all? Why not remain an infant?"

"Be damned and blasted to women and all their importances," cried Aaron. "They want to get you under, and children is their chief weapon."

"Men have got to stand up to the fact that manhood is more than childhood--and then force women to admit it," said Lilly. "But the rotten whiners, they're all grovelling before a baby's napkin and a woman's petticoat."

"It's a fact," said Aaron. But he glanced at Lilly oddly, as if suspiciously. And Lilly caught the look. But he continued:

"And if they think you try to stand on your legs and walk with the feet of manhood, why, there isn't a blooming father and lover among them but will do his best to get you down and suffocate you--either with a baby's napkin or a woman's petticoat."

Lilly's lips were curling; he was dark and bitter.

"Ay, it is like that," said Aaron, rather subduedly.

"The man's spirit has gone out of the world. Men can't move an inch unless they can grovel humbly at the end of the journey."

"No," said Aaron, watching with keen, half-amused eyes.

"That's why marriage wants readjusting--or extending--to get men on to their own legs once more, and to give them the adventure again. But men won't stick together and fight for it. Because once a woman has climbed up with her children, she'll find plenty of grovellers ready to support her and suffocate any defiant spirit. And women will sacrifice eleven men, fathers, husbands, brothers and lovers, for one baby--or for her own female self-conceit--"

"She will that," said Aaron.

"And can you find two men to stick together, without feeling criminal, and without cringing, and without betraying one another? You can't. One is sure to go fawning round some female, then they both enjoy giving each other away, and doing a new grovel before a woman again."

"Ay," said Aaron.

After which Lilly was silent.

CHAPTER X. THE WAR AGAIN

"One is a fool," said Lilly, "to be lachrymose. The thing to do is to get a move on."

Aaron looked up with a glimpse of a smile. The two men were sitting before the fire at the end of a cold, wet April day: Aaron convalescent, somewhat chastened in appearance.

"Ay," he said rather sourly. "A move back to Guilford Street."

"Oh, I meant to tell you," said Lilly. "I was reading an old Baden history. They made a law in 1528--not a law, but a regulation--that: if a man forsakes his wife and children, as now so often happens, the said wife and children are at once to be dispatched after him. I thought that would please you. Does it?"

"Yes," said Aaron briefly.

"They would have arrived the next day, like a forwarded letter."

"I should have had to get a considerable move on, at that rate," grinned Aaron.

"Oh, no. You might quite like them here." But Lilly saw the white frown of determined revulsion on the convalescent's face.

"Wouldn't you?" he asked.

Aaron shook his head.

"No," he said. And it was obvious he objected to the topic. "What are you going to do about your move on?"

"Me!" said Lilly. "I'm going to sail away next week--or steam dirtily away on a tramp called the "Maud Allen Wing"."

"Where to?"

"Malta."

"Where from?"

"London Dock. I fixed up my passage this morning for ten pounds. I am cook's assistant, signed on."

Aaron looked at him with a little admiration.

"You can take a sudden jump, can't you?" he said.

"The difficulty is to refrain from jumping: overboard or anywhere."

Aaron smoked his pipe slowly.

"And what good will Malta do you?" he asked, envious.

"Heaven knows. I shall cross to Syracuse, and move up Italy."

"Sounds as if you were a millionaire."

"I've got thirty-five pounds in all the world. But something will come along."

"I've got more than that," said Aaron.

"Good for you," replied Lilly.

He rose and went to the cupboard, taking out a bowl and a basket of potatoes. He sat down again, paring the potatoes. His busy activity annoyed Aaron.

"But what's the good of going to Malta? Shall YOU be any different in yourself, in another place? You'll be the same there as you are here."

"How am I here?"

"Why, you're all the time grinding yourself against something inside you. You're never free. You're never content. You never stop chafing."

Lilly dipped his potato into the water, and cut out the eyes carefully. Then he cut it in two, and dropped it in the clean water of the second bowl. He had not expected this criticism.

"Perhaps I don't," said he.

"Then what's the use of going somewhere else? You won't change yourself."

"I may in the end," said Lilly.

"You'll be yourself, whether it's Malta or London," said Aaron.

"There's a doom for me," laughed Lilly. The water on the fire was boiling. He rose and threw in salt, then dropped in the potatoes with little plops. "There there are lots of mes. I'm not only just one proposition. A new place brings out a new thing in a man. Otherwise you'd have stayed in your old place with your family."

"The man in the middle of you doesn't change," said Aaron.

"Do you find it so?" said Lilly.

"Ay. Every time."

"Then what's to be done?"

"Nothing, as far as I can see. You get as much amusement out of life as possible, and there's the end of it."

"All right then, I'll get the amusement."

"Ay, all right then," said Aaron. "But there isn't anything wonderful about it. You talk as if you were doing something special. You aren't. You're no more than a man who drops into a pub for a drink, to liven himself up a bit. Only you give it a lot of names, and make out as if you were looking for the philosopher's stone, or something like that. When you're only killing time like the rest of folks, before time kills you."

Lilly did not answer. It was not yet seven o'clock, but the sky was dark. Aaron sat in the firelight. Even the saucepan on the fire was silent. Darkness, silence, the firelight in the upper room, and the two men together.

"It isn't quite true," said Lilly, leaning on the mantelpiece and staring down into the fire.

"Where isn't it? You talk, and you make a man believe you've got something he hasn't got? But where is it, when it comes to? What have you got, more than me or Jim Bricknell! Only a bigger choice of words, it seems to me."

Lilly was motionless and inscrutable like a shadow.

"Does it, Aaron!" he said, in a colorless voice.

"Yes. What else is there to it?" Aaron sounded testy.

"Why," said Lilly at last, "there's something. I agree, it's true what you say about me. But there's a bit of something else. There's just a bit of something in me, I think, which ISN'T a man running into a pub for a drink--"

"And what--?"

The question fell into the twilight like a drop of water falling down a deep shaft into a well.

"I think a man may come into possession of his own soul at last--as the Buddhists teach--but without ceasing to love, or even to hate. One loves, one hates--but somewhere beyond it all, one understands, and possesses one's soul in patience and in peace--"

"Yes," said Aaron slowly, "while you only stand and talk about it. But when you've got no chance to talk about it--and when you've got to live--you don't possess your soul, neither in patience nor in peace, but any devil that likes possesses you and does what it likes with you, while you fridge yourself and fray yourself out like a worn rag."

"I don't care," said Lilly, "I'm learning to possess my soul in patience and in peace, and I know it. And it isn't a negative Nirvana either. And if Tanny possesses her own soul in patience and peace as well--and if in this we understand each other at last--then there we are, together and apart at the same time, and free of each other, and eternally inseparable. I have my Nirvana--and I have it all to myself. But more than that. It coincides with her Nirvana."

"Ah, yes," said Aaron. "But I don't understand all that word-splitting."

"I do, though. You learn to be quite alone, and possess your own soul in isolation--and at the same time, to be perfectly WITH someone else--that's all I ask."

"Sort of sit on a mountain top, back to back with somebody else, like a couple of idols."

"No--because it isn't a case of sitting--or a case of back to back. It's what you get to after a lot of fighting and a lot of sensual fulfilment. And it never does away with the fighting and with the sensual passion. It flowers on top of them, and it would never flower save on top of them."

"What wouldn't?"

"The possessing one's own soul--and the being together with someone else in silence, beyond speech."

"And you've got them?"

"I've got a BIT of the real quietness inside me."

"So has a dog on a mat."

"So I believe, too."

"Or a man in a pub."

"Which I don't believe."

"You prefer the dog?"

"Maybe."

There was silence for a few moments.

"And I'm the man in the pub," said Aaron.

"You aren't the dog on the mat, anyhow."

"And you're the idol on the mountain top, worshipping yourself."

"You talk to me like a woman, Aaron."

"How do you talk to ME, do you think?"

"How do I?"

"Are the potatoes done?"

Lilly turned quickly aside, and switched on the electric light. Everything changed. Aaron sat still before the fire, irritated. Lilly went about preparing the supper.

The room was pleasant at night. Two tall, dark screens hid the two beds. In front, the piano was littered with music, the desk littered with papers. Lilly went out on to the landing, and set the chops to grill on the gas stove. Hastily he put a small table on the hearth-rug, spread it with a blue-and-white cloth, set plates and glasses. Aaron did not move. It was not his nature to concern himself with domestic matters--and Lilly did it best alone.

The two men had an almost uncanny understanding of one another--like brothers. They came from the same district, from the same class. Each might have been born into the other's circumstance. Like brothers, there was a profound hostility between them. But hostility is not antipathy.

Lilly's skilful housewifery always irritated Aaron: it was so self-sufficient. But most irritating of all was the little man's unconscious assumption of priority. Lilly was actually unaware that he assumed this quiet predominance over others. He mashed the potatoes, he heated the plates, he warmed the red wine, he whisked eggs into the milk pudding, and served his visitor like a housemaid. But none of this detracted from the silent assurance with which he bore himself, and with which he seemed to domineer over his acquaintance.

At last the meal was ready. Lilly drew the curtains, switched off the central light, put the green-shaded electric lamp on the table, and the two men drew up to the meal. It was good food, well cooked and hot. Certainly Lilly's hands were no longer clean: but it was clean dirt, as he said.

Aaron sat in the low arm-chair at table. So his face was below, in the full light. Lilly sat high on a small chair, so that his face was in the green shadow. Aaron was handsome, and always had that peculiar well-dressed look of his type. Lilly was indifferent to his own appearance, and his collar was a rag.

So the two men ate in silence. They had been together alone for a fortnight only: but it was like a small eternity. Aaron was well now--only he suffered from the depression and the sort of fear that follows influenza.

"When are you going?" he asked irritably, looking up at Lilly, whose face hovered in that green shadow above, and worried him.

"One day next week. They'll send me a telegram. Not later than Thursday."

"You're looking forward to going?" The question was half bitter.

"Yes. I want to get a new tune out of myself."

"Had enough of this?"

"Yes."

A flush of anger came on Aaron's face.

"You're easily on, and easily off," he said, rather insulting.

"Am I?" said Lilly. "What makes you think so?"

"Circumstances," replied Aaron sourly.

To which there was no answer. The host cleared away the plates, and put the pudding on the table. He pushed the bowl to Aaron.

"I suppose I shall never see you again, once you've gone," said Aaron.

"It's your choice. I will leave you an address."

After this, the pudding was eaten in silence.

"Besides, Aaron," said Lilly, drinking his last sip of wine, "what do you care whether you see me again or not? What do you care whether you see anybody again or not? You want to be amused. And now you're irritated because you think I am not going to amuse you any more: and you don't know who is going to amuse you. I admit it's a dilemma. But it's a hedonistic dilemma of the commonest sort."

"I don't know hedonistic. And supposing I am as you say--are you any different?"

"No, I'm not very different. But I always persuade myself there's a bit of difference. Do you know what Josephine Ford confessed to me? She's had her lovers enough. 'There isn't any such thing as love, Lilly,' she said. 'Men are simply afraid to be alone. That is absolutely all there is in it: fear of being alone.'"

"What by that?" said Aaron.

"You agree?"

"Yes, on the whole."

"So do I--on the whole. And then I asked her what about woman. And then she said with a woman it wasn't fear, it was just boredom. A woman is like a violinist: any fiddle, any instrument rather than empty hands and no tune going."

"Yes--what I said before: getting as much amusement out of life as possible," said Aaron.

"You amuse me--and I'll amuse you."

"Yes--just about that."

"All right, Aaron," said Lilly. "I'm not going to amuse you, or try to amuse you any more."

"Going to try somebody else; and Malta."

"Malta, anyhow."

"Oh, and somebody else--in the next five minutes."

"Yes--that also."

"Goodbye and good luck to you."

"Goodbye and good luck to you, Aaron."

With which Lilly went aside to wash the dishes. Aaron sat alone under the zone of light, turning over a score of "Pelleas". Though the noise of London was around them, it was far below, and in the room was a deep silence. Each of the men seemed invested in his own silence.

Aaron suddenly took his flute, and began trying little passages from the opera on his knee. He had not played since his illness. The noise came out a little tremulous, but low and sweet. Lilly came forward with a plate and a cloth in his hand.

"Aaron's rod is putting forth again," he said, smiling.

"What?" said Aaron, looking up.

"I said Aaron's rod is putting forth again."

"What rod?"

"Your flute, for the moment."

"It's got to put forth my bread and butter."

"Is that all the buds it's going to have?"

"What else!"

"Nay--that's for you to show. What flowers do you imagine came out of the rod of Moses's brother?"

"Scarlet runners, I should think if he'd got to live on them."

"Scarlet enough, I'll bet."

Aaron turned unnoticing back to his music. Lilly finished the wiping of the dishes, then took a book and sat on the other side of the table.

"It's all one to you, then," said Aaron suddenly, "whether we ever see one another again?"

"Not a bit," said Lilly, looking up over his spectacles. "I very much wish there might be something that held us together."

"Then if you wish it, why isn't there?"

"You might wish your flute to put out scarlet-runner flowers at the joints."

"Ay--I might. And it would be all the same."

The moment of silence that followed was extraordinary in its hostility.

"Oh, we shall run across one another again some time," said Aaron.

"Sure," said Lilly. "More than that: I'll write you an address that will always find me. And when you write I will answer you."

He took a bit of paper and scribbled an address. Aaron folded it and put it into his waistcoat pocket. It was an Italian address.

"But how can I live in Italy?" he said. "You can shift about. I'm tied to a job."

"You--with your budding rod, your flute--and your charm--you can always do as you like."

"My what?"

"Your flute and your charm."

"What charm?"

"Just your own. Don't pretend you don't know you've got it. I don't really like charm myself; too much of a trick about it. But whether or not, you've got it."

"It's news to me."

"Not it."

"Fact, it is."

"Ha! Somebody will always take a fancy to you. And you can live on that, as well as on anything else."

"Why do you always speak so despisingly?"

"Why shouldn't I?"

"Have you any right to despise another man?"

"When did it go by rights?"

"No, not with you."

"You answer me like a woman, Aaron."

Again there was a space of silence. And again it was Aaron who at last broke it.

"We're in different positions, you and me," he said.

"How?"

"You can live by your writing--but I've got to have a job."

"Is that all?" said Lilly.

"Ay. And plenty. You've got the advantage of me."

"Quite," said Lilly. "But why? I was a dirty-nosed little boy when you were a clean-nosed little boy. And I always had more patches on my breeches than you: neat patches, too, my poor mother! So what's the good of talking about advantages? You had the start. And at this very moment you could buy me up, lock, stock, and barrel. So don't feel hard done by. It's a lie."

"You've got your freedom."

"I make it and I take it."

"Circumstances make it for you."

"As you like."

"You don't do a man justice," said Aaron.

"Does a man care?"

"He might."

"Then he's no man."

"Thanks again, old fellow."

"Welcome," said Lilly, grimacing.

Again Aaron looked at him, baffled, almost with hatred. Lilly grimaced at the blank wall opposite, and seemed to ruminate. Then he went back to his book. And no sooner had he forgotten Aaron, reading the fantasies of a certain Leo Frobenius, than Aaron must stride in again.

"You can't say there isn't a difference between your position and mine," he said pertinently.

Lilly looked darkly over his spectacles.

"No, by God," he said. "I should be in a poor way otherwise."

"You can't say you haven't the advantage--your JOB gives you the advantage."

"All right. Then leave it out with my job, and leave me alone."

"That's your way of dodging it."

"My dear Aaron, I agree with you perfectly. There is no difference between us, save the fictitious advantage given to me by my job. Save for my job--which is to write lies--Aaron and I are two identical little men in one and the same little boat. Shall we leave it at that, now?"

"Yes," said Aaron. "That's about it."

"Let us shake hands on it--and go to bed, my dear chap. You are just recovering from influenza, and look paler than I like."

"You mean you want to be rid of me," said Aaron.

"Yes, I do mean that," said Lilly.

"Ay," said Aaron.

And after a few minutes more staring at the score of "Pelleas", he rose, put the score away on the piano, laid his flute beside it, and retired behind the screen. In silence, the strange dim noise of London sounding from below, Lilly read on about the Kabyles. His soul had the faculty of divesting itself of the moment, and seeking further, deeper interests. These old Africans! And Atlantis! Strange, strange wisdom of the Kabyles! Old, old dark Africa, and the world before the flood! How jealous Aaron seemed! The child of a jealous God. A jealous God! Could any race be anything but despicable, with such an antecedent?

But no, persistent as a jealous God himself, Aaron reappeared in his pyjamas, and seated himself in his chair.

"What is the difference then between you and me, Lilly?" he said.

"Haven't we shaken hands on it--a difference of jobs."

"You don't believe that, though, do you?"

"Nay, now I reckon you're trespassing."

"Why am I? I know you don't believe it."

"What do I believe then?" said Lilly.

"You believe you know something better than me--and that you are something better than me. Don't you?"

"Do YOU believe it?"

"What?"

"That I AM something better than you, and that I KNOW something better?"

"No, because I don't see it," said Aaron.

"Then if you don't see it, it isn't there. So go to bed and sleep the sleep of the just and the convalescent. I am not to be badgered any more."

"Am I badgering you?" said Aaron.

"Indeed you are."

"So I'm in the wrong again?"

"Once more, my dear."

"You're a God-Almighty in your way, you know."

"So long as I'm not in anybody else's way--Anyhow, you'd be much better sleeping the sleep of the just. And I'm going out for a minute or two. Don't catch cold there with nothing on--

"I want to catch the post," he added, rising.

Aaron looked up at him quickly. But almost before there was time to speak, Lilly had slipped into his hat and coat, seized his letters, and gone.

It was a rainy night. Lilly turned down King Street to walk to Charing Cross. He liked being out of doors. He liked to post his letters at Charing Cross post office. He did not want to talk to Aaron any more. He was glad to be alone.

He walked quickly down Villiers Street to the river, to see it flowing blackly towards the sea. It had an endless fascination for him: never failed to soothe him and give him a sense of liberty. He liked the night, the dark rain, the river, and even the traffic. He enjoyed the sense of friction he got from the streaming of people who meant nothing to him. It was like a fox slipping alert among unsuspecting cattle.

When he got back, he saw in the distance the lights of a taxi standing outside the building where he lived, and heard a thumping and hallooing. He hurried forward.

It was a man called Herbertson.

"Oh, why, there you are!" exclaimed Herbertson, as Lilly drew near. "Can I come up and have a chat?"

"I've got that man who's had flu. I should think he is gone to bed."

"Oh!" The disappointment was plain. "Well, look here I'll just come up for a couple of minutes." He laid his hand on Lilly's arm. "I heard you were going away. Where are you going?"

"Malta."

"Malta! Oh, I know Malta very well. Well now, it'll be all right if I come up for a minute? I'm not going to see much more of you, apparently." He turned quickly to the taxi. "What is it on the clock?"

The taxi was paid, the two men went upstairs. Aaron was in bed, but he called as Lilly entered the room.

"Hullo!" said Lilly. "Not asleep? Captain Herbertson has come in for a minute."

"Hope I shan't disturb you," said Captain Herbertson, laying down his stick and gloves, and his cap. He was in uniform. He was one of the few surviving officers of the Guards, a man of about forty-five, good-looking, getting rather stout. He settled himself in the chair where Aaron had sat, hitching up his trousers. The gold identity plate, with its gold chain, fell conspicuously over his wrist.

"Been to 'Rosemary,'" he said. "Rotten play, you know--but passes the time awfully well. Oh, I quite enjoyed it."

Lilly offered him Sauterne--the only thing in the house.

"Oh, yes! How awfully nice! Yes, thanks, I shall love it. Can I have it with soda? Thanks! Do you know, I think that's the very best drink in the tropics: sweet white wine, with soda? Yes--well!-- Well--now, why are you going away?"

"For a change," said Lilly.

"You're quite right, one needs a change now the damned thing is all over. As soon as I get out of khaki I shall be off. Malta! Yes! I've been in Malta several times. I think Valletta is quite enjoyable, particularly in winter, with the opera. Oh--er--how's your wife? All right? Yes!--glad to see her people again. Bound to be-- Oh, by the way, I met Jim Bricknell. Sends you a message hoping you'll go down and stay--down at Captain Bingham's place in Surrey, you know. Awfully queer lot down there. Not my sort, no. You won't go down? No, I shouldn't. Not the right sort of people."

Herbertson rattled away, rather spasmodic. He had been through the very front hell of the war--and like every man who had, he had the war at the back of his mind, like an obsession. But in the meantime, he skirmished.

"Yes. I was on guard one day when the Queen gave one of her tea-parties to the blind. Awful affair. But the children are awfully nice children. Prince of Wales awfully nice, almost too nice. Prince Henry smart boy, too--oh, a smart boy. Queen Mary poured the tea, and I handed round bread and butter. She told me I made a very good waiter. I said, Thank you, Madam. But I like the children. Very different from the Battenbergs. Oh!--" he wrinkled his nose. "I can't stand the Battenbergs."

"Mount Battens," said Lilly.

"Yes! Awful mistake, changing the royal name. They were Guelfs, why not remain it? Why, I'll tell you what Battenberg did. He was in the Guards, too--"

The talk flowed on: about royalty and the Guards, Buckingham Palace and St. James.

"Rather a nice story about Queen Victoria. Man named Joyce, something or other, often used to dine at the Palace. And he was an awfully good imitator--really clever, you know. Used to imitate the Queen. 'Mr. Joyce,' she said, 'I hear your imitation is very amusing. Will you do it for us now, and let us see what it is like?' 'Oh, no, Madam! I'm afraid I couldn't do it now. I'm afraid I'm not in the humour.' But she would have him do it. And it was really awfully funny. He had to do it. You know what he did. He used to take a table-napkin, and put it on with one corner over his forehead, and the rest hanging down behind, like her veil thing. And then he sent for the kettle-lid. He always had the kettle-lid, for that little crown of hers. And then he impersonated her. But he was awfully good--so clever. 'Mr. Joyce,' she said. 'We are not amused. Please leave the room.' Yes, that is exactly what she said: 'WE are not amused--please leave the room.' I like the WE, don't you? And he a man of sixty or so. However, he left the room and for a fortnight or so he wasn't invited--Wasn't she wonderful--Queen Victoria?"

And so, by light transitions, to the Prince of Wales at the front, and thus into the trenches. And then Herbertson was on the subject he was obsessed by. He had come, unconsciously, for this and this only, to talk war to Lilly: or at Lilly. For the latter listened and watched, and said nothing. As a man at night helplessly takes a taxi to find some woman, some prostitute, Herbertson had almost unthinkingly got into a taxi and come battering at the door in Covent Garden, only to talk war to Lilly, whom he knew very little. But it was a driving instinct--to come and get it off his chest.

And on and on he talked, over his wine and soda. He was not conceited--he was not showing off--far from it. It was the same thing here in this officer as it was with the privates, and the same with this Englishman as with a Frenchman or a German or an Italian. Lilly had sat in a cowshed listening to a youth in the north country: he had sat on the corn-straw that the oxen had been treading out, in Calabria, under the moon: he had sat in a farm-kitchen with a German prisoner: and every time it was the same thing, the same hot, blind, anguished voice of a man who has seen too much, experienced too much, and doesn't know where to turn. None of the glamour of returned heroes, none of the romance of war: only a hot, blind, mesmerised voice, going on and on, mesmerised by a vision that the soul cannot bear.

In this officer, of course, there was a lightness and an appearance of bright diffidence and humour. But underneath it all was the same as in the common men of all the combatant nations: the hot, seared burn of unbearable experience, which did not heal nor cool, and whose irritation was not to be relieved. The experience gradually cooled on top: but only with a surface crust. The soul did not heal, did not recover.

"I used to be awfully frightened," laughed Herbertson. "Now you say, Lilly, you'd never have stood it. But you would. You're nervous--and it was just the nervous ones that did stand it. When nearly all our officers were gone, we had a man come out--a man called Margeritson, from India--big merchant people out there. They all said he was no good--not a bit of good--nervous chap. No good at all. But when you had to get out of the trench and go for the Germans he was perfect--perfect--It all came to him then, at the crisis, and he was perfect.

"Some things frighten one man, and some another. Now shells would never frighten me. But I couldn't stand bombs. You could tell the difference between our machines and the Germans. Ours was a steady noise--drrrrrrrr!--but their's was heavy, drrrrRURUrrrrRURU!-- My word, that got on my nerves....

"No I was never hit. The nearest thing was when I was knocked down by an exploding shell--several times that--you know. When you shout like mad for the men to come and dig you out, under all the earth. And my word, you do feel frightened then." Herbertson laughed with a twinkling motion to Lilly. But between his brows there was a tension like madness.

"And a funny thing you know--how you don't notice things. In--let me see--1916, the German guns were a lot better than ours. Ours were old, and when they're old you can't tell where they'll hit: whether they'll go beyond the mark, or whether they'll fall short. Well, this day our guns were firing short, and killing our own men. We'd had the order to charge, and were running forward, and I suddenly felt hot water spurting on my neck--" He put his hand to the back of his neck and glanced round apprehensively. "It was a chap called Innes--Oh, an awfully decent sort--people were in the Argentine. He'd been calling out to me as we were running, and I was just answering. When I felt this hot water on my neck and saw him running past me with no head--he'd got no head, and he went running past me. I don't know how far, but a long way.... Blood, you know--Yes--well--

"Oh, I hated Chelsea--I loathed Chelsea--Chelsea was purgatory to me. I had a corporal called Wallace--he was a fine chap--oh, he was a fine chap--six foot two--and about twenty-four years old. He was my stand-back. Oh, I hated Chelsea, and parades, and drills. You know, when it's drill, and you're giving orders, you forget what order you've just given--in front of the Palace there the crowd don't notice--but it's AWFUL for you. And you know you daren't look round to see what the men are doing. But Wallace was splendid. He was just behind me, and I'd hear him, quite quiet you know, 'It's right wheel, sir.' Always perfect, always perfect--yes--well....

"You know you don't get killed if you don't think you will. Now I never thought I should get killed. And I never knew a man get killed if he hadn't been thinking he would. I said to Wallace I'd rather be out here, at the front, than at Chelsea. I hated Chelsea--I can't tell you how much. 'Oh no, sir!' he said. 'I'd rather be at Chelsea than here. I'd rather be at Chelsea. There isn't hell like this at Chelsea.' We'd had orders that we were to go back to the real camp the next day. 'Never mind, Wallace,' I said. 'We shall be out of this hell-on-earth tomorrow.' And he took my hand. We weren't much for showing feeling or anything in the guards. But he took my hand. And we climbed out to charge--Poor fellow, he was killed--" Herbertson dropped his head, and for some moments seemed to go unconscious, as if struck. Then he lifted his face, and went on in the same animated chatty fashion: "You see, he had a presentiment. I'm sure he had a presentiment. None of the men got killed unless they had a presentiment--like that, you know...."

Herbertson nodded keenly at Lilly, with his sharp, twinkling, yet obsessed eyes. Lilly wondered why he made the presentiment responsible for the death--which he obviously did--and not vice versa. Herbertson implied every time, that you'd never get killed if you could keep yourself from having a presentiment. Perhaps there was something in it. Perhaps the soul issues its own ticket of death, when it can stand no more. Surely life controls life: and not accident.

"It's a funny thing what shock will do. We had a sergeant and he shouted to me. Both his feet were off--both his feet, clean at the ankle. I gave him morphia. You know officers aren't allowed to use the needle--might give the man blood poisoning. You give those tabloids. They say they act in a few minutes, but they DON'T. It's a quarter of an hour. And nothing is more demoralising than when you have a man, wounded, you know, and crying out. Well, this man I gave him the morphia before he got over the stunning, you know. So he didn't feel the pain. Well, they carried him in. I always used to like to look after my men. So I went next morning and I found he hadn't been removed to the Clearing Station. I got hold of the doctor and I said, 'Look here! Why hasn't this man been taken to the Clearing Station?' I used to get excited. But after some years they'd got used to me. 'Don't get excited, Herbertson, the man's dying.' 'But,' I said, 'he's just been talking to me as strong as you are.' And he had--he'd talk as strong and well as you or me, then go quiet for a bit. I said I gave him the morphia before he came round from the stunning. So he'd felt nothing. But in two hours he was dead. The doctor says that the shock does it like that sometimes. You can do nothing for them. Nothing vital is injured--and yet the life is broken in them. Nothing can be done--funny thing--Must be something in the brain--"

"It's obviously not the brain," said Lilly. "It's deeper than the brain."

"Deeper," said Herbertson, nodding.

"Funny thing where life is. We had a lieutenant. You know we all buried our own dead. Well, he looked as if he was asleep. Most of the chaps looked like that." Herbertson closed his eyes and laid his face aside, like a man asleep and dead peacefully. "You very rarely see a man dead with any other look on his face--you know the other look.--" And he clenched his teeth with a sudden, momentaneous, ghastly distortion.--"Well, you'd never have known this chap was dead. He had a wound here--in the back of the head--and a bit of blood on his hand--and nothing else, nothing. Well, I said we'd give him a decent burial. He lay there waiting--and they'd wrapped him in a filthy blanket--you know. Well, I said he should have a proper blanket. He'd been dead lying there a day and a half you know. So I went and got a blanket, a beautiful blanket, out of his private kit--his people were Scotch, well-known family--and I got the pins, you know, ready to pin him up properly, for the Scots Guards to bury him. And I thought he'd be stiff, you see. But when I took him by the arms, to lift him on, he sat up. It gave me an awful shock. 'Why he's alive!' I said. But they said he was dead. I couldn't believe it. It gave me an awful shock. He was as flexible as you or me, and looked as if he was asleep. You couldn't believe he was dead. But we pinned him up in his blanket. It was an awful shock to me. I couldn't believe a man could be like that after he'd been dead two days....

"The Germans were wonderful with the machine guns--it's a wicked thing, a machine gun. But they couldn't touch us with the bayonet. Every time the men came back they had bayonet practice, and they got awfully good. You know when you thrust at the Germans--so--if you miss him, you bring your rifle back sharp, with a round swing, so that the butt comes up and hits up under the jaw. It's one movement, following on with the stab, you see, if you miss him. It was too quick for them--But bayonet charge was worst, you know. Because your man cries out when you catch him, when you get him, you know. That's what does you....

"No, oh no, this was no war like other wars. All the machinery of it. No, you couldn't stand it, but for the men. The men are wonderful, you know. They'll be wiped out.... No, it's your men who keep you going, if you're an officer.... But there'll never be another war like this. Because the Germans are the only people who could make a war like this--and I don't think they'll ever do it again, do you?

"Oh, they were wonderful, the Germans. They were amazing. It was incredible, what they invented and did. We had to learn from them, in the first two years. But they were too methodical. That's why they lost the war. They were too methodical. They'd fire their guns every ten minutes--regular. Think of it. Of course we knew when to run, and when to lie down. You got so that you knew almost exactly what they'd do--if you'd been out long enough. And then you could time what you wanted to do yourselves.

"They were a lot more nervous than we were, at the last. They sent up enough light at night from their trenches--you know, those things that burst in the air like electric light--we had none of that to do--they did it all for us--lit up everything. They were more nervous than we were...."

It was nearly two o'clock when Herbertson left. Lilly, depressed, remained before the fire. Aaron got out of bed and came uneasily to the fire.

"It gives me the bellyache, that damned war," he said.

"So it does me," said Lilly. "All unreal."

"Real enough for those that had to go through it."

"No, least of all for them," said Lilly sullenly. "Not as real as a bad dream. Why the hell don't they wake up and realise it!"

"That's a fact," said Aaron. "They're hypnotised by it."

"And they want to hypnotise me. And I won't be hypnotised. The war was a lie and is a lie and will go on being a lie till somebody busts it."

"It was a fact--you can't bust that. You can't bust the fact that it happened."

"Yes you can. It never happened. It never happened to me. No more than my dreams happen. My dreams don't happen: they only seem."

"But the war did happen, right enough," smiled Aaron palely.

"No, it didn't. Not to me or to any man, in his own self. It took place in the automatic sphere, like dreams do. But the ACTUAL MAN in every man was just absent--asleep--or drugged--inert--dream-logged. That's it."

"You tell 'em so," said Aaron.

"I do. But it's no good. Because they won't wake up now even--perhaps never. They'll all kill themselves in their sleep."

"They wouldn't be any better if they did wake up and be themselves--that is, supposing they are asleep, which I can't see. They are what they are--and they're all alike--and never very different from what they are now."

Lilly stared at Aaron with black eyes.

"Do you believe in them less than I do, Aaron?" he asked slowly.

"I don't even want to believe in them."

"But in yourself?" Lilly was almost wistful--and Aaron uneasy.

"I don't know that I've any more right to believe in myself than in them," he replied. Lilly watched and pondered.

"No," he said. "That's not true--I KNEW the war was false: humanly quite false. I always knew it was false. The Germans were false, we were false, everybody was false."

"And not you?" asked Aaron shrewishly.

"There was a wakeful, self-possessed bit of me which knew that the war and all that horrible movement was false for me. And so I wasn't going to be dragged in. The Germans could have shot my mother or me or what they liked: I wouldn't have joined the WAR. I would like to kill my enemy. But become a bit of that huge obscene machine they called the war, that I never would, no, not if I died ten deaths and had eleven mothers violated. But I would like to kill my enemy: Oh, yes, more than one enemy. But not as a unit in a vast obscene mechanism. That never: no, never."

Poor Lilly was too earnest and vehement. Aaron made a fine nose. It seemed to him like a lot of words and a bit of wriggling out of a hole.

"Well," he said, "you've got men and nations, and you've got the machines of war--so how are you going to get out of it? League of Nations?"

"Damn all leagues. Damn all masses and groups, anyhow. All I want is to get MYSELF out of their horrible heap: to get out of the swarm. The swarm to me is nightmare and nullity--horrible helpless writhing in a dream. I want to get myself awake, out of it all--all that mass-consciousness, all that mass-activity--it's the most horrible nightmare to me. No man is awake and himself. No man who was awake and in possession of himself would use poison gases: no man. His own awake self would scorn such a thing. It's only when the ghastly mob-sleep, the dream helplessness of the mass-psyche overcomes him, that he becomes completely base and obscene."

"Ha--well," said Aaron. "It's the wide-awake ones that invent the poison gas, and use it. Where should we be without it?"

Lilly started, went stiff and hostile.

"Do you mean that, Aaron?" he said, looking into Aaron's face with a hard, inflexible look.

Aaron turned aside half sheepishly.

"That's how it looks on the face of it, isn't it?" he said.

"Look here, my friend, it's too late for you to be talking to me about the face of things. If that's how you feel, put your things on and follow Herbertson. Yes--go out of my room. I don't put up with the face of things here."

Aaron looked at him in cold amazement.

"It'll do tomorrow morning, won't it?" he asked rather mocking.

"Yes," said Lilly coldly. "But please go tomorrow morning."

"Oh, I'll go all right," said Aaron. "Everybody's got to agree with you--that's your price."

But Lilly did not answer. Aaron turned into bed, his satirical smile under his nose. Somewhat surprised, however, at this sudden turn of affairs.

As he was just going to sleep, dismissing the matter, Lilly came once more to his bedside, and said, in a hard voice:

"I'm NOT going to pretend to have friends on the face of things. No, and I don't have friends who don't fundamentally agree with me. A friend means one who is at one with me in matters of life and death. And if you're at one with all the rest, then you're THEIR friend, not mine. So be their friend. And please leave me in the morning. You owe me nothing, you have nothing more to do with me. I have had enough of these friendships where I pay the piper and the mob calls the tune.

"Let me tell you, moreover, your heroic Herbertsons lost us more than ever they won. A brave ant is a damned cowardly individual. Your heroic officers are a sad sight AFTERWARDS, when they come home. Bah, your Herbertson! The only justification for war is what we learn from it. And what have they learnt?--Why did so many of them have presentiments, as he called it? Because they could feel inside them, there was nothing to come after. There was no life-courage: only death-courage. Nothing beyond this hell--only death or love--languishing--"

"What could they have seen, anyhow?" said Aaron.

"It's not what you see, actually. It's the kind of spirit you keep inside you: the life spirit. When Wallace had presentiments, Herbertson, being officer, should have said: 'None of that, Wallace. You and I, we've got to live and make life smoke.'--Instead of which he let Wallace be killed and his own heart be broken. Always the death-choice-- And we won't, we simply will not face the world as we've made it, and our own souls as we find them, and take the responsibility. We'll never get anywhere till we stand up man to man and face EVERYTHING out, and break the old forms, but never let our own pride and courage of life be broken."

Lilly broke off, and went silently to bed. Aaron turned over to sleep, rather resenting the sound of so many words. What difference did it make, anyhow? In the morning, however, when he saw the other man's pale, closed, rather haughty face, he realised that something "had" happened. Lilly was courteous and even affable: but with a curious cold space between him and Aaron. Breakfast passed, and Aaron knew that he must leave. There was something in Lilly's bearing which just showed him the door. In some surprise and confusion, and in some anger, not unmingled with humorous irony, he put his things in his bag. He put on his hat and coat. Lilly was seated rather stiffly writing.

"Well," said Aaron. "I suppose we shall meet again."

"Oh, sure to," said Lilly, rising from his chair. "We are sure to run across one another."

"When are you going?" asked Aaron.

"In a few days' time."

"Oh, well, I'll run in and see you before you go, shall I?"

"Yes, do."

Lilly escorted his guest to the top of the stairs, shook hands, and then returned into his own room, closing the door on himself.

Aaron did not find his friend at home when he called. He took it rather as a slap in the face. But then he knew quite well that Lilly had made a certain call on his, Aaron's soul: a call which he, Aaron, did not at all intend to obey. If in return the soul-caller chose to shut his street-door in the face of the world-friend--well, let it be quits. He was not sure whether he felt superior to his unworldly enemy or not. He rather thought he did.

CHAPTER XI. MORE PILLAR OF SALT

The opera season ended, Aaron was invited by Cyril Scott to join a group of musical people in a village by the sea. He accepted, and spent a pleasant month. It pleased the young men musically-inclined and bohemian by profession to patronise the flautist, whom they declared marvellous. Bohemians with well-to-do parents, they could already afford to squander a little spasmodic and self-gratifying patronage. And Aaron did not mind being patronised. He had nothing else to do.

But the party broke up early in September. The flautist was detained a few days at a country house, for the amusement of the guests. Then he left for London.

In London he found himself at a loose end. A certain fretful dislike of the patronage of indifferent young men, younger than himself, and a certain distaste for regular work in the orchestra made him look round. He wanted something else. He wanted to disappear again. Qualms and emotions concerning his abandoned family overcame him. The early, delicate autumn affected him. He took a train to the Midlands.

And again, just after dark, he strolled with his little bag across the field which lay at the end of his garden. It had been mown, and the grass was already growing long. He stood and looked at the line of back windows, lighted once more. He smelled the scents of autumn, phlox and moist old vegetation and corn in sheaf. A nostalgia which was half at least revulsion affected him. The place, the home, at once fascinated and revolted him.

Sitting in his shed, he scrutinised his garden carefully, in the starlight. There were two rows of beans, rather disshevelled. Near at hand the marrow plants sprawled from their old bed. He could detect the perfume of a few carnations. He wondered who it was had planted the garden, during his long absence. Anyhow, there it was, planted and fruited and waning into autumn.

The blind was not drawn. It was eight o'clock. The children were going to bed. Aaron waited in his shed, his bowels stirred with violent but only half-admitted emotions. There was his wife, slim and graceful, holding a little mug to the baby's mouth. And the baby was drinking. She looked lonely. Wild emotions attacked his heart. There was going to be a wild and emotional reconciliation.

Was there? It seemed like something fearful and imminent. A passion arose in him, a craving for the violent emotional reconciliation. He waited impatiently for the children to be gone to bed, gnawed with restless desire.

He heard the clock strike nine, then half-past, from the village behind. The children would be asleep. His wife was sitting sewing some little frock. He went lingering down the garden path, stooping to lift the fallen carnations, to see how they were. There were many flowers, but small. He broke one off, then threw it away. The golden rod was out. Even in the little lawn there were asters, as of old.

His wife started to listen, hearing his step. He was filled with a violent conflict of tenderness, like a sickness. He hesitated, tapping at the door, and entered. His wife started to her feet, at bay.

"What have you come for!" was her involuntary ejaculation.

But he, with the familiar odd jerk of his head towards the garden, asked with a faint smile:

"Who planted the garden?"

And he felt himself dropping into the twang of the vernacular, which he had discarded.

Lottie only stood and stared at him, objectively. She did not think to answer. He took his hat off, and put it on the dresser. Again the familiar act maddened her.

"What have you come for?" she cried again, with a voice full of hate. Or perhaps it was fear and doubt and even hope as well. He heard only hate.

This time he turned to look at her. The old dagger was drawn in her.

"I wonder," he said, "myself."

Then she recovered herself, and with trembling hand picked up her sewing again. But she still stood at bay, beyond the table. She said nothing. He, feeling tired, sat down on the chair nearest the door. But he reached for his hat, and kept it on his knee. She, as she stood there unnaturally, went on with her sewing. There was silence for some time. Curious sensations and emotions went through the man's frame seeming to destroy him. They were like electric shocks, which he felt she emitted against him. And an old sickness came in him again. He had forgotten it. It was the sickness of the unrecognised and incomprehensible strain between him and her.

After a time she put down her sewing, and sat again in her chair.

"Do you know how vilely you've treated me?" she said, staring across the space at him. He averted his face.

Yet he answered, not without irony.

"I suppose so."

"And why?" she cried. "I should like to know why."

He did not answer. The way she rushed in made him go vague.

"Justify yourself. Say why you've been so vile to me. Say what you had against me," she demanded.

"What I HAD against her," he mused to himself: and he wondered that she used the past tense. He made no answer.

"Accuse me," she insisted. "Say what I've done to make you treat me like this. Say it. You must THINK it hard enough."

"Nay," he said. "I don't think it."

This speech, by which he merely meant that he did not trouble to formulate any injuries he had against her, puzzled her.

"Don't come pretending you love me, NOW. It's too late," she said with contempt. Yet perhaps also hope.

"You might wait till I start pretending," he said.

This enraged her.

"You vile creature!" she exclaimed. "Go! What have you come for?"

"To look at YOU," he said sarcastically.

After a few minutes she began to cry, sobbing violently into her apron. And again his bowels stirred and boiled.

"What have I done! What have I done! I don't know what I've done that he should be like this to me," she sobbed, into her apron. It was childish, and perhaps true. At least it was true from the childish part of her nature. He sat gloomy and uneasy.

She took the apron from her tear-stained face, and looked at him. It was true, in her moments of roused exposure she was a beautiful woman--a beautiful woman. At this moment, with her flushed, tear-stained, wilful distress, she was beautiful.

"Tell me," she challenged. "Tell me! Tell me what I've done. Tell me what you have against me. Tell me."

Watching like a lynx, she saw the puzzled, hurt look in his face. Telling isn't so easy--especially when the trouble goes too deep for conscious comprehension. He couldn't "tell" what he had against her. And he had not the slightest intention of doing what she would have liked him to do, starting to pile up detailed grievances. He knew the detailed grievances were nothing in themselves.

"You CAN'T," she cried vindictively. "You CAN'T. You CAN'T find anything real to bring against me, though you'd like to. You'd like to be able to accuse me of something, but you CAN'T, because you know there isn't anything."

She watched him, watched. And he sat in the chair near the door, without moving.

"You're unnatural, that's what you are," she cried. "You're unnatural. You're not a man. You haven't got a man's feelings. You're nasty, and cold, and unnatural. And you're a coward. You're a coward. You run away from me, without telling me what you've got against me."

"When you've had enough, you go away and you don't care what you do," he said, epigrammatic.

She paused a moment.

"Enough of what?" she said. "What have you had enough of? Of me and your children? It's a nice manly thing to say. Haven't I loved you? Haven't I loved you for twelve years, and worked and slaved for you and tried to keep you right? Heaven knows where you'd have been but for me, evil as you are at the bottom. You're evil, that's what it is--and weak. You're too weak to love a woman and give her what she wants: too weak. Unmanly and cowardly, he runs away."

"No wonder," he said.

"No," she cried. "It IS no wonder, with a nature like yours: weak and unnatural and evil. It IS no wonder."

She became quiet--and then started to cry again, into her apron. Aaron waited. He felt physically weak.

"And who knows what you've been doing all these months?" she wept. "Who knows all the vile things you've been doing? And you're the father of my children--the father of my little girls--and who knows what vile things he's guilty of, all these months?"

"I shouldn't let my imagination run away with me," he answered. "I've been playing the flute in the orchestra of one of the theatres in London."

"Ha!" she cried. "It's more than that. Don't think I'm going to believe you. I know you, with your smooth-sounding lies. You're a liar, as you know. And I know you've been doing other things besides play a flute in an orchestra. You!--as if I don't know you. And then coming crawling back to me with your lies and your pretense. Don't think I'm taken in."

"I should be sorry," he said.

"Coming crawling back to me, and expecting to be forgiven," she went on. "But no--I don't forgive--and I can't forgive--never--not as long as I live shall I forgive what you've done to me."

"You can wait till you're asked, anyhow," he said.

"And you can wait," she said. "And you shall wait." She took up her sewing, and stitched steadily, as if calmly. Anyone glancing in would have imagined a quiet domestic hearth at that moment. He, too, feeling physically weak, remained silent, feeling his soul absent from the scene.

Again she suddenly burst into tears, weeping bitterly.

"And the children," she sobbed, rocking herself with grief and chagrin. "What have I been able to say to the children--what have I been able to tell them?"

"What HAVE you told them?" he asked coldly.

"I told them you'd gone away to work," she sobbed, laying her head on her arms on the table. "What else could I tell them? I couldn't tell them the vile truth about their father. I couldn't tell THEM how evil you are." She sobbed and moaned.

He wondered what exactly the vile truth would have been, had she "started" to tell it. And he began to feel, coldly and cynically, that among all her distress there was a luxuriating in the violent emotions of the scene in hand, and the situation altogether.

Then again she became quiet, and picked up her sewing. She stitched quietly, wistfully, for some time. Then she looked up at him--a long look of reproach, and sombre accusation, and wifely tenderness. He turned his face aside.

"You know you've been wrong to me, don't you?" she said, half wistfully, half menacing.

He felt her wistfulness and her menace tearing him in his bowels and loins.

"You do know, don't you?" she insisted, still with the wistful appeal, and the veiled threat.

"You do, or you would answer," she said. "You've still got enough that's right in you, for you to know."

She waited. He sat still, as if drawn by hot wires.

Then she slipped across to him, put her arms round him, sank on her knees at his side, and sank her face against his thigh.

"Say you know how wrong you are. Say you know how cruel you've been to me," she pleaded. But under her female pleading and appeal he felt the iron of her threat.

"You DO know it," she murmured, looking up into his face as she crouched by his knee. "You DO know it. I can see in your eyes that you know it. And why have you come back to me, if you don't know it! Why have you come back to me? Tell me!" Her arms gave him a sharp, compulsory little clutch round the waist. "Tell me! Tell me!" she murmured, with all her appeal liquid in her throat.

But him, it half overcame, and at the same time, horrified. He had a certain horror of her. The strange liquid sound of her appeal seemed to him like the swaying of a serpent which mesmerises the fated, fluttering, helpless bird. She clasped her arms round him, she drew him to her, she half roused his passion. At the same time she coldly horrified and repelled him. He had not the faintest feeling, at the moment, of his own wrong. But she wanted to win his own self-betrayal out of him. He could see himself as the fascinated victim, falling to this cajoling, awful woman, the wife of his bosom. But as well, he had a soul outside himself, which looked on the whole scene with cold revulsion, and which was as unchangeable as time.

"No," he said. "I don't feel wrong."

"You DO!" she said, giving him a sharp, admonitory clutch. "You DO. Only you're silly, and obstinate, babyish and silly and obstinate. An obstinate little boy--you DO feel wrong. And you ARE wrong. And you've got to say it."

But quietly he disengaged himself and got to his feet, his face pale and set, obstinate as she said. He put his hat on, and took his little bag. She watched him curiously, still crouching by his chair.

"I'll go," he said, putting his hand on the latch.

Suddenly she sprang to her feet and clutched him by the shirt-neck, her hand inside his soft collar, half strangling him.

"You villain," she said, and her face was transfigured with passion as he had never seen it before, horrible. "You villain!" she said thickly. "What have you come here for?"

His soul went black as he looked at her. He broke her hand away from his shirt collar, bursting the stud-holes. She recoiled in silence. And in one black, unconscious movement he was gone, down the garden and over the fence and across the country, swallowed in a black unconsciousness.

She, realising, sank upon the hearth-rug and lay there curled upon herself. She was defeated. But she, too, would never yield. She lay quite motionless for some time. Then she got up, feeling the draught on the floor. She closed the door, and drew down the blind. Then she looked at her wrist, which he had gripped, and which pained her. Then she went to the mirror and looked for a long time at her white, strained, determined face. Come life, come death, she, too would never yield. And she realised now that he would never yield.

She was faint with weariness, and would be glad to get to bed and sleep.

Aaron meanwhile had walked across the country and was looking for a place to rest. He found a cornfield with a half-built stack, and sheaves in stook. Ten to one some tramp would have found the stack. He threw a dozen sheaves together and lay down, looking at the stars in the September sky. He, too, would never yield. The illusion of love was gone for ever. Love was a battle in which each party strove for the mastery of the other's soul. So far, man had yielded the mastery to woman. Now he was fighting for it back again. And too late, for the woman would never yield.

But whether woman yielded or not, he would keep the mastery of his own soul and conscience and actions. He would never yield himself up to her judgment again. He would hold himself forever beyond her jurisdiction.

Henceforth, life single, not life double.

He looked at the sky, and thanked the universe for the blessedness of being alone in the universe. To be alone, to be oneself, not to be driven or violated into something which is not oneself, surely it is better than anything. He thought of Lottie, and knew how much more truly herself she was when she was alone, with no man to distort her. And he was thankful for the division between them. Such scenes as the last were too horrible and unreal.

As for future unions, too soon to think about it. Let there be clean and pure division first, perfected singleness. That is the only way to final, living unison: through sheer, finished singleness.

CHAPTER XII. NOVARA

Having no job for the autumn, Aaron fidgetted in London. He played at some concerts and some private shows. He was one of an odd quartette, for example, which went to play to Lady Artemis Hooper, when she lay in bed after her famous escapade of falling through the window of her taxi-cab. Aaron had that curious knack, which belongs to some people, of getting into the swim without knowing he was doing it. Lady Artemis thought his flute lovely, and had him again to play for her. Aaron looked at her and she at him. She, as she reclined there in bed in a sort of half-light, well made-up, smoking her cigarettes and talking in a rather raucous voice, making her slightly rasping witty comments to the other men in the room--of course there were other men, the audience--was a shock to the flautist. This was the bride of the moment! Curious how raucous her voice sounded out of the cigarette smoke. Yet he liked her--the reckless note of the modern, social freebooter. In himself was a touch of the same quality.

"Do you love playing?" she asked him.

"Yes," he said, with that shadow of irony which seemed like a smile on his face.

"Live for it, so to speak," she said.

"I make my living by it," he said.

"But that's not really how you take it?" she said. He eyed her. She watched him over her cigarette. It was a personal moment.

"I don't think about it," he said.

"I'm sure you don't. You wouldn't be so good if you did. You're awfully lucky, you know, to be able to pour yourself down your flute."

"You think I go down easy?" he laughed.

"Ah!" she replied, flicking her cigarette broadcast. "That's the point. What should you say, Jimmy?" she turned to one of the men. He screwed his eyeglass nervously and stiffened himself to look at her.

"I--I shouldn't like to say, off-hand," came the small-voiced, self-conscious answer. And Jimmy bridled himself and glanced at Aaron.

"Do you find it a tight squeeze, then?" she said, turning to Aaron once more.

"No, I can't say that," he answered. "What of me goes down goes down easy enough. It's what doesn't go down."

"And how much is that?" she asked, eying him.

"A good bit, maybe," he said.

"Slops over, so to speak," she retorted sarcastically. "And which do you enjoy more, trickling down your flute or slopping over on to the lap of Mother Earth--of Miss, more probably!"

"Depends," he said.

Having got him a few steps too far upon the personal ground, she left him to get off by himself.

So he found London got on his nerves. He felt it rubbed him the wrong way. He was flattered, of course, by his own success--and felt at the same time irritated by it. This state of mind was by no means acceptable. Wherever he was he liked to be given, tacitly, the first place--or a place among the first. Among the musical people he frequented, he found himself on a callow kind of equality with everybody, even the stars and aristocrats, at one moment, and a backstairs outsider the next. It was all just as the moment demanded. There was a certain excitement in slithering up and down the social scale, one minute chatting in a personal tete-a-tete with the most famous, or notorious, of the society beauties: and the next walking in the rain, with his flute in a bag, to his grubby lodging in Bloomsbury. Only the excitement roused all the savage sarcasm that lay at the bottom of his soul, and which burned there like an unhealthy bile.

Therefore he determined to clear out--to disappear. He had a letter from Lilly, from Novara. Lilly was drifting about. Aaron wrote to Novara, and asked if he should come to Italy, having no money to speak of. "Come if you want to. Bring your flute. And if you've no money, put on a good suit of clothes and a big black hat, and play outside the best cafe in any Italian town, and you'll collect enough to get on with."

It was a sporting chance. Aaron packed his bag and got a passport, and wrote to Lilly to say he would join him, as invited, at Sir William Franks'. He hoped Lilly's answer would arrive before he left London. But it didn't.

Therefore behold our hero alighting at Novara, two hours late, on a wet, dark evening. He hoped Lilly would be there: but nobody. With some slight dismay he faced the big, crowded station. The stream of people carried him automatically through the barrier, a porter having seized his bag, and volleyed various unintelligible questions at him. Aaron understood not one word. So he just wandered after the blue blouse of the porter.

The porter deposited the bag on the steps of the station front, fired off more questions and gesticulated into the half-illuminated space of darkness outside the station. Aaron decided it meant a cab, so he nodded and said "Yes." But there were no cabs. So once more the blue-bloused porter slung the big bag and the little bag on the strap over his shoulder, and they plunged into the night, towards some lights and a sort of theatre place.

One carriage stood there in the rain--yes, and it was free.

"Keb? Yes--orright--sir. Whe'to? Where you go? Sir William Franks? Yes, I know. Long way go--go long way. Sir William Franks."

The cabman spattered his few words of English. Aaron gave the porter an English shilling. The porter let the coin lie in the middle of his palm, as if it were a live beetle, and darted to the light of the carriage to examine the beast, exclaiming volubly. The cabman, wild with interest, peered down from the box into the palm of the porter, and carried on an impassioned dialogue. Aaron stood with one foot on the step.

"What you give--he? One franc?" asked the driver.

"A shilling," said Aaron.

"One sheeling. Yes. I know that. One sheeling English"--and the driver went off into impassioned exclamations in Torinese. The porter, still muttering and holding his hand as if the coin might sting him, filtered away.

"Orright. He know--sheeling--orright. English moneys, eh? Yes, he know. You get up, sir."

And away went Aaron, under the hood of the carriage, clattering down the wide darkness of Novara, over a bridge apparently, past huge rain-wet statues, and through more rainy, half-lit streets.

They stopped at last outside a sort of park wall with trees above. The big gates were just beyond.

"Sir William Franks--there." In a mixture of Italian and English the driver told Aaron to get down and ring the bell on the right. Aaron got down and in the darkness was able to read the name on the plate.

"How much?" said Aaron to the driver.

"Ten franc," said the fat driver.

But it was his turn now to screw down and scrutinise the pink ten-shilling note. He waved it in his hand.

"Not good, eh? Not good moneys?"

"Yes," said Aaron, rather indignantly. "Good English money. Ten shillings. Better than ten francs, a good deal. Better--better--"

"Good--you say? Ten sheeling--" The driver muttered and muttered, as if dissatisfied. But as a matter of fact he stowed the note in his waistcoat pocket with considerable satisfaction, looked at Aaron curiously, and drove away.

Aaron stood there in the dark outside the big gates, and wished himself somewhere else. However, he rang the bell. There was a huge barking of dogs on the other side. Presently a light switched on, and a woman, followed by a man, appeared cautiously, in the half-opened doorway.

"Sir William Franks?" said Aaron.

"Si, signore."

And Aaron stepped with his two bags inside the gate. Huge dogs jumped round. He stood in the darkness under the trees at the foot of the park. The woman fastened the gate--Aaron saw a door--and through an uncurtained window a man writing at a desk--rather like the clerk in an hotel office. He was going with his two bags to the open door, when the woman stopped him, and began talking to him in Italian. It was evident he must not go on. So he put down the bags. The man stood a few yards away, watchfully.

Aaron looked down at the woman and tried to make out something of what she was saying, but could not. The dogs still barked spasmodically, drops fell from the tall, dark trees that rose overhead.

"Is Mr. Lilly here? Mr. Lilly?" he asked.

"Signor Lillee. No, Signore--"

And off the woman went in Italian. But it was evident Lilly was not at the house. Aaron wished more than ever he had not come, but had gone to an hotel.

He made out that the woman was asking him for his name--"Meester--? Meester--?" she kept saying, with a note of interrogation.

"Sisson. Mr. Sisson," said Aaron, who was becoming impatient. And he found a visiting card to give her. She seemed appeased--said something about telephone--and left him standing.

The rain had ceased, but big drops were shaken from the dark, high trees. Through the uncurtained window he saw the man at the desk reach the telephone. There was a long pause. At length the woman came back and motioned to him to go up--up the drive which curved and disappeared under the dark trees.

"Go up there?" said Aaron, pointing.

That was evidently the intention. So he picked up his bags and strode forward, from out of the circle of electric light, up the curved drive in the darkness. It was a steep incline. He saw trees and the grass slopes. There was a tang of snow in the air.

Suddenly, up ahead, a brilliant light switched on. He continued uphill through the trees along the path, towards it, and at length, emerged at the foot of a great flight of steps, above which was a wide glass entrance, and an Italian manservant in white gloves hovering as if on the brink.

Aaron emerged from the drive and climbed the steps. The manservant came down two steps and took the little bag. Then he ushered Aaron and the big bag into a large, pillared hall, with thick Turkish carpet on the floor, and handsome appointments. It was spacious, comfortable and warm; but somewhat pretentious; rather like the imposing hall into which the heroine suddenly enters on the film.

Aaron dropped his heavy bag, with relief, and stood there, hat in hand, in his damp overcoat in the circle of light, looking vaguely at the yellow marble pillars, the gilded arches above, the shadowy distances and the great stairs. The butler disappeared--reappeared in another moment--and through an open doorway came the host. Sir William was a small, clean old man with a thin, white beard and a courtly deportment, wearing a black velvet dinner jacket faced with purple silk.

"How do you do, Mr. Sisson. You come straight from England?"

Sir William held out his hand courteously and benevolently, smiling an old man's smile of hospitality.

"Mr. Lilly has gone away?" said Aaron.

"Yes. He left us several days ago."

Aaron hesitated.

"You didn't expect me, then?"

"Yes, oh, yes. Yes, oh, yes. Very glad to see you--well, now, come in and have some dinner--"

At this moment Lady Franks appeared--short, rather plump, but erect and definite, in a black silk dress and pearls round her throat.

"How do you do? We are just at dinner," she said. "You haven't eaten? No--well, then--would you like a bath now, or--?"

It was evident the Franks had dispensed much hospitality: much of it charitable. Aaron felt it.

"No," he said. "I'll wash my hands and come straight in, shall I?"

"Yes, perhaps that would be better--"

"I'm afraid I am a nuisance."

"Not at all--Beppe--" and she gave instructions in Italian.

Another footman appeared, and took the big bag. Aaron took the little one this time. They climbed the broad, turning stairs, crossed another handsome lounge, gilt and ormolu and yellow silk chairs and scattered copies of "The Graphic" or of "Country Life", then they disappeared through a doorway into a much narrower flight of stairs. Man can so rarely keep it up all the way, the grandeur.

Two black and white chamber-maids appeared. Aaron found himself in a blue silk bedroom, and a footman unstrapping his bag, which he did not want unstrapped. Next minute he was beckoned and allured by the Italian servants down the corridor, and presented to the handsome, spacious bathroom, which was warm and creamy-coloured and glittering with massive silver and mysterious with up-to-date conveniences. There he was left to his own devices, and felt like a small boy finding out how it works. For even the mere turning on of the taps was a problem in silver mechanics.

In spite of all the splendours and the elaborated convenience, he washed himself in good hot water, and wished he were having a bath, chiefly because of the wardrobe of marvellous Turkish towels. Then he clicked his way back to his bedroom, changed his shirt and combed his hair in the blue silk bedroom with the Greuze picture, and felt a little dim and superficial surprise. He had fallen into country house parties before, but never into quite such a plushy sense of riches. He felt he ought to have his breath taken away. But alas, the cinema has taken our breath away so often, investing us in all the splendours of the splendidest American millionaire, or all the heroics and marvels of the Somme or the North Pole, that life has now no magnate richer than we, no hero nobler than we have been, on the film. "Connu"! "Connu"! Everything life has to offer is known to us, couldn't be known better, from the film.

So Aaron tied his tie in front of a big Venice mirror, and nothing was a surprise to him. He found a footman hovering to escort him to the dining-room--a real Italian footman, uneasy because milady's dinner was unsettled. He entered the rather small dining-room, and saw the people at table.

He was told various names: bowed to a young, slim woman with big blue eyes and dark hair like a photograph, then to a smaller rather colourless young woman with a large nose: then to a stout, rubicund, bald colonel, and to a tall, thin, Oxford-looking major with a black patch over his eye--both these men in khaki: finally to a good-looking, well-nourished young man in a dinner-jacket, and he sat down to his soup, on his hostess' left hand. The colonel sat on her right, and was confidential. Little Sir William, with his hair and his beard white like spun glass, his manner very courteous and animated, the purple facings of his velvet jacket very impressive, sat at the far end of the table jesting with the ladies and showing his teeth in an old man's smile, a little bit affected, but pleasant, wishing everybody to be happy.

Aaron ate his soup, trying to catch up. Milady's own confidential Italian butler, fidelity itself, hovered quivering near, spiritually helping the newcomer to catch up. Two nice little entree dishes, specially prepared for Aaron to take the place of the bygone fish and vol au-vents of the proper dinner, testified to the courtesy and charity of his hostess.

Well, eating rapidly, he had more or less caught up by the time the sweets came. So he swallowed a glass of wine and looked round. His hostess with her pearls, and her diamond star in her grey hair, was speaking of Lilly and then of music to him.

"I hear you are a musician. That's what I should have been if I had had my way."

"What instrument?" asked Aaron.

"Oh, the piano. Yours is the flute, Mr. Lilly says. I think the flute can be so attractive. But I feel, of course you have more range with the piano. I love the piano--and orchestra."

At that moment, the colonel and hostess-duties distracted her. But she came back in snatches. She was a woman who reminded him a little of Queen Victoria; so assured in her own room, a large part of her attention always given to the successful issue of her duties, the remainder at the disposal of her guests. It was an old-fashioned, not unpleasant feeling: like retrospect. But she had beautiful, big, smooth emeralds and sapphires on her fingers. Money! What a curious thing it is! Aaron noticed the deference of all the guests at table: a touch of obsequiousness: before the money! And the host and hostess accepted the deference, nay, expected it, as their due. Yet both Sir William and Lady Franks knew that it was only money and success. They had both a certain afterthought, knowing dimly that the game was but a game, and that they were the helpless leaders in the game. They had a certain basic ordinariness which prevented their making any great hits, and which kept them disillusioned all the while. They remembered their poor and insignificant days.

"And I hear you were playing in the orchestra at Covent Garden. We came back from London last week. I enjoyed Beecham's operas so much."

"Which do you like best?" said Aaron.

"Oh, the Russian. I think "Ivan". It is such fine music."

"I find "Ivan" artificial."

"Do you? Oh, I don't think so. No, I don't think you can say that."

Aaron wondered at her assurance. She seemed to put him just a tiny bit in his place, even in an opinion on music. Money gave her that right, too. Curious--the only authority left. And he deferred to her opinion: that is, to her money. He did it almost deliberately. Yes--what did he believe in, besides money? What does any man? He looked at the black patch over the major's eye. What had he given his eye for?--the nation's money. Well, and very necessary, too; otherwise we might be where the wretched Austrians are. Instead of which--how smooth his hostess' sapphires!

"Of course I myself prefer Moussorgsky," said Aaron. "I think he is a greater artist. But perhaps it is just personal preference."

"Yes. "Boris" is wonderful. Oh, some of the scenes in "Boris"!"

"And even more "Kovantchina"," said Aaron. "I wish we could go back to melody pure and simple. Yet I find "Kovantchina", which is all mass music practically, gives me more satisfaction than any other opera."

"Do you really? I shouldn't say so: oh, no--but you can't mean that you would like all music to go back to melody pure and simple! Just a flute--just a pipe! Oh, Mr. Sisson, you are bigoted for your instrument. I just LIVE in harmony--chords, chords!" She struck imaginary chords on the white damask, and her sapphires swam blue. But at the same time she was watching to see if Sir William had still got beside his plate the white medicine "cachet" which he must swallow at every meal. Because if so, she must remind him to swallow it. However, at that very moment, he put it on his tongue. So that she could turn her attention again to Aaron and the imaginary chord on the white damask; the thing she just lived in. But the rubicund bald colonel, more rubicund after wine, most rubicund now the Marsala was going, snatched her attention with a burly homage to her femininity, and shared his fear with her with a boyish gallantry.

When the women had gone up, Sir William came near and put his hand on Aaron's shoulder. It was evident the charm was beginning to work. Sir William was a self-made man, and not in the least a snob. He liked the fundamental ordinariness in Aaron, the commonness of the common man.

"Well now, Mr. Sisson, we are very glad to see you! Very glad, indeed. I count Mr. Lilly one of the most interesting men it has ever been my good fortune to know. And so for your own sake, and for Mr. Lilly's sake, we are very glad to see you. Arthur, my boy, give Mr. Sisson some Marsala--and take some yourself."

"Thank you, Sir," said the well-nourished young man in nice evening clothes. "You'll take another glass yourself, Sir?"

"Yes, I will, I will. I will drink a glass with Mr. Sisson. Major, where are you wandering off to? Come and take a glass with us, my boy."

"Thanks, Sir William," drawled the young major with the black patch.

"Now, Colonel--I hope you are in good health and spirits."

"Never better, Sir William, never better."

"I'm very glad to hear it; very glad indeed. Try my Marsala--I think it is quite good. Port is beyond us for the moment--for the moment--"

And the old man sipped his brown wine, and smiled again. He made quite a handsome picture: but he was frail.

"And where are you bound, Mr. Sisson? Towards Rome?"

"I came to meet Lilly," said Aaron.

"Ah! But Lilly has fled over the borders by this time. Never was such a man for crossing frontiers. Wonderful person, to be able to do it."

"Where has he gone?" said Aaron.

"I think to Geneva for the moment. But he certainly talked of Venice. You yourself have no definite goal?"

"No."

"Ah! You have not come to Italy to practice your art?"

"I shall HAVE to practice it: or else--no, I haven't come for that."

"Ah, you will HAVE to practice it. Ah, yes! We are all under the necessity to eat. And you have a family in England? Am I not right?"

"Quite. I've got a family depending on me."

"Yes, then you must practice your art: you must practice your art. Well--shall we join the ladies? Coffee will no doubt be served."

"Will you take my arm, Sir?" said the well-nourished Arthur.

"Thank you, thank you," the old man motioned him away.

So they went upstairs to where the three women were sitting in the library round the fire, chattering not very interested. The entry of Sir William at once made a stir.

The girl in white, with the biggish nose, fluttered round him. She was Arthur's wife. The girl in soft blue spread herself on the couch: she was the young Major's wife, and she had a blue band round her hair. The Colonel hovered stout and fidgetty round Lady Franks and the liqueur stand. He and the Major were both in khaki--belonging to the service on duty in Italy still.

Coffee appeared--and Sir William doled out "creme de menthe". There was no conversation--only tedious words. The little party was just commonplace and dull--boring. Yet Sir William, the self-made man, was a study. And the young, Oxford-like Major, with his English diffidence and his one dark, pensive, baffled eye was only waiting to be earnest, poor devil.

The girl in white had been a sort of companion to Lady Franks, so that Arthur was more or less a son-in-law. In this capacity, he acted. Aaron strayed round uneasily looking at the books, bought but not read, and at the big pictures above. It was Arthur who fetched out the little boxes containing the orders conferred on Sir William for his war-work: and perhaps more, for the many thousands of pounds he had spent on his war-work.

There were three orders: one British, and quite important, a large silver star for the breast: one Italian, smaller, and silver and gold; and one from the State of Ruritania, in silver and red-and-green enamel, smaller than the others.

"Come now, William," said Lady Franks, "you must try them all on. You must try them all on together, and let us see how you look."

The little, frail old man, with his strange old man's blue eyes and his old man's perpetual laugh, swelled out his chest and said:

"What, am I to appear in all my vanities?" And he laughed shortly.

"Of course you are. We want to see you," said the white girl.

"Indeed we do! We shouldn't mind all appearing in such vanities--what, Lady Franks!" boomed the Colonel.

"I should think not," replied his hostess. "When a man has honours conferred on him, it shows a poor spirit if he isn't proud of them."

"Of course I am proud of them!" said Sir William. "Well then, come and have them pinned on. I think it's wonderful to have got so much in one life-time--wonderful," said Lady Franks.

"Oh, Sir William is a wonderful man," said the Colonel. "Well--we won't say so before him. But let us look at him in his orders."

Arthur, always ready on these occasions, had taken the large and shining British star from its box, and drew near to Sir William, who stood swelling his chest, pleased, proud, and a little wistful.

"This one first, Sir," said Arthur.

Sir William stood very still, half tremulous, like a man undergoing an operation.

"And it goes just here--the level of the heart. This is where it goes." And carefully he pinned the large, radiating ornament on the black velvet dinner-jacket of the old man.

"That is the first--and very becoming," said Lady Franks.

"Oh, very becoming! Very becoming!" said the tall wife of the Major--she was a handsome young woman of the tall, frail type.

"Do you think so, my dear?" said the old man, with his eternal smile: the curious smile of old people when they are dead.

"Not only becoming, Sir," said the Major, bending his tall, slim figure forwards. "But a reassuring sign that a nation knows how to distinguish her valuable men."

"Quite!" said Lady Franks. "I think it is a very great honour to have got it. The king was most gracious, too-- Now the other. That goes beside it--the Italian--"

Sir William stood there undergoing the operation of the pinning-on. The Italian star being somewhat smaller than the British, there was a slight question as to where exactly it should be placed. However, Arthur decided it: and the old man stood before the company with his two stars on his breast.

"And now the Ruritanian," said Lady Franks eagerly.

"That doesn't go on the same level with the others, Lady Franks," said Arthur. "That goes much lower down--about here."

"Are you sure?" said Lady Franks. "Doesn't it go more here?"

"No no, no no, not at all. Here! Isn't it so, Sybil?"

"Yes, I think so," said Sybil.

Old Sir William stood quite silent, his breast prepared, peering over the facings of his coat to see where the star was going. The Colonel was called in, and though he knew nothing about it, he agreed with Arthur, who apparently did know something. So the star was pinned quite low down. Sir William, peeping down, exclaimed:

"Well, that is most curious now! I wear an order over the pit of my stomach! I think that is very curious: a curious place to wear an order."

"Stand up! Stand up and let us look!" said Lady Franks. "There now, isn't it handsome? And isn't it a great deal of honour for one man? Could he have expected so much, in one life-time? I call it wonderful. Come and look at yourself, dear"--and she led him to a mirror.

"What's more, all thoroughly deserved," said Arthur.

"I should think so," said the Colonel, fidgetting.

"Ah, yes, nobody has deserved them better," cooed Sybil.

"Nor on more humane and generous grounds," said the Major, "sotto voce."

"The effort to save life, indeed," returned the Major's young wife: "splendid!"

Sir William stood naively before the mirror and looked at his three stars on his black velvet dinner-jacket.

"Almost directly over the pit of my stomach," he said. "I hope that is not a decoration for my greedy APPETITE." And he laughed at the young women.

"I assure you it is in position, Sir," said Arthur. "Absolutely correct. I will read it out to you later."

"Aren't you satisfied? Aren't you a proud man! Isn't it wonderful?" said Lady Franks. "Why, what more could a man want from life? He could never EXPECT so much."

"Yes, my dear. I AM a proud man. Three countries have honoured me--" There was a little, breathless pause.

"And not more than they ought to have done," said Sybil.

"Well! Well! I shall have my head turned. Let me return to my own humble self. I am too much in the stars at the moment."

Sir William turned to Arthur to have his decorations removed. Aaron, standing in the background, felt the whole scene strange, childish, a little touching. And Lady Franks was so obviously trying to "console" her husband: to console the frail, excitable old man with his honours. But why console him? Did he need consolation? And did she? It was evident that only the hard-money woman in her put any price on the decorations.

Aaron came forward and examined the orders, one after the other. Just metal playthings of curious shiny silver and gilt and enamel. Heavy the British one--but only like some heavy buckle, a piece of metal merely when one turned it over. Somebody dropped the Italian cross, and there was a moment of horror. But the lump of metal took no hurt. Queer to see the things stowed in their boxes again. Aaron had always imagined these mysterious decorations as shining by nature on the breasts of heroes. Pinned-on pieces of metal were a considerable come-down.

The orders were put away, the party sat round the fire in the comfortable library, the men sipping more "creme de menthe", since nothing else offered, and the couple of hours in front promising the tedium of small-talk of tedious people who had really nothing to say and no particular originality in saying it.

Aaron, however, had reckoned without his host. Sir William sat upright in his chair, with all the determination of a frail old man who insists on being level with the young. The new guest sat in a lower chair, smoking, that curious glimmer on his face which made him so attractive, and which only meant that he was looking on the whole scene from the outside, as it were, from beyond a fence. Sir William came almost directly to the attack.

"And so, Mr. Sisson, you have no definite purpose in coming to Italy?"

"No, none," said Aaron. "I wanted to join Lilly."

"But when you had joined him--?"

"Oh, nothing--stay here a time, in this country, if I could earn my keep."

"Ah!--earn your keep? So you hope to earn your keep here? May I ask how?"

"By my flute."

"Italy is a poor country."

"I don't want much."

"You have a family to provide for."

"They are provided for--for a couple of years."

"Oh, indeed! Is that so?"

The old man got out of Aaron the detailed account of his circumstances--how he had left so much money to be paid over to his wife, and had received only a small amount for himself.

"I see you are like Lilly--you trust to Providence," said Sir William.

"Providence or fate," said Aaron.

"Lilly calls it Providence," said Sir William. "For my own part, I always advise Providence plus a banking account. I have every belief in Providence, plus a banking account. Providence and no banking account I have observed to be almost invariably fatal. Lilly and I have argued it. He believes in casting his bread upon the waters. I sincerely hope he won't have to cast himself after his bread, one of these days. Providence with a banking account. Believe in Providence once you have secured enough to live on. I should consider it disastrous to believe in Providence BEFORE. One can never be SURE of Providence."

"What can you be sure of, then?" said Aaron.

"Well, in moderation, I can believe in a little hard cash, and in my own ability to earn a little hard cash."

"Perhaps Lilly believes in his own ability, too."

"No. Not so. Because he will never directly work to earn money. He works--and works quite well, I am told: but only as the spirit moves him, and never with any eye to the market. Now I call that TEMPTING Providence, myself. The spirit may move him in quite an opposite direction to the market--then where is Lilly? I have put it to him more than once."

"The spirit generally does move him dead against the market," said Aaron. "But he manages to scrape along."

"In a state of jeopardy: all the time in a state of jeopardy," said the old man. "His whole existence, and that of his wife, is completely precarious. I found, in my youth, the spirit moved me to various things which would have left me and my wife starving. So I realised in time, this was no good. I took my spirit in hand, therefore, and made him pull the cart which mankind is riding in. I harnessed him to the work of productive labour. And so he brought me my reward."

"Yes," said Aaron. "But every man according to his belief."

"I don't see," said Sir William, "how a man can BELIEVE in a Providence unless he sets himself definitely to the work of earning his daily bread, and making provision for future needs. That's what Providence means to me--making provision for oneself and one's family. Now, Mr. Lilly--and you yourself--you say you believe in a Providence that does NOT compel you to earn your daily bread, and make provision. I confess myself I cannot see it: and Lilly has never been able to convince me."

"I don't believe in a kind-hearted Providence," said Aaron, "and I don't believe Lilly does. But I believe in chance. I believe, if I go my own way, without tying my nose to a job, chance will always throw something in my way: enough to get along with."

"But on what do you base such a very unwarrantable belief?"

"I just feel like that."

"And if you are ever quite without success--and nothing to fall back on?"

"I can work at something."

"In case of illness, for example?"

"I can go to a hospital--or die."

"Dear me! However, you are more logical than Lilly. He seems to believe that he has the Invisible--call it Providence if you will--on his side, and that this Invisible will never leave him in the lurch, or let him down, so long as he sticks to his own side of the bargain, and NEVER works for his own ends. I don't quite see how he works. Certainly he seems to me a man who squanders a great deal of talent unworthily. Yet for some reason or other he calls this true, genuine activity, and has a contempt for actual work by which a man makes provision for his years and for his family. In the end, he will have to fall back on charity. But when I say so, he denies it, and says that in the end we, the men who work and make provision, will have to fall back on him. Well, all I can say is, that SO FAR he is in far greater danger of having to fall back on me, than I on him."

The old man sat back in his chair with a little laugh of triumph. But it smote almost devilishly on Aaron's ears, and for the first time in his life he felt that there existed a necessity for taking sides.

"I don't suppose he will do much falling back," he said.

"Well, he is young yet. You are both young. You are squandering your youth. I am an old man, and I see the end."

"What end, Sir William?"

"Charity--and poverty--and some not very congenial 'job,' as you call it, to put bread in your mouth. No, no, I would not like to trust myself to your Providence, or to your Chance. Though I admit your Chance is a sounder proposition than Lilly's Providence. You speculate with your life and your talent. I admit the nature which is a born speculator. After all, with your flute, you will speculate in other people's taste for luxury, as a man may speculate in theatres or "trains de luxe". You are the speculator. That may be your way of wisdom. But Lilly does not even speculate. I cannot see his point. I cannot see his point. I cannot see his point. Yet I have the greatest admiration for his mentality."

The old man had fired up during this conversation--and all the others in the room had gone silent. Lady Franks was palpably uneasy. She alone knew how frail the old man was--frailer by far than his years. She alone knew what fear of his own age, what fear of death haunted him now: fear of his own non-existence. His own old age was an agony to him; worse than an agony, a horror. He wanted to be young--to live, to live. And he was old, he was breaking up. The glistening youth of Aaron, the impetuousness of Lilly fascinated him. And both these men seemed calmly to contradict his own wealth and honours.

Lady Franks tried to turn off the conversation to the trickles of normal chit-chat. The Colonel was horribly bored--so were all the women--Arthur was indifferent. Only the young Major was implicated, troubled in his earnest and philosophic spirit.

"What I can't see," he said, "is the place that others have in your scheme."

"Is isn't a scheme," said Aaron.

"Well then, your way of life. Isn't it pretty selfish, to marry a woman and then expect her to live on very little indeed, and that always precarious, just because you happen to believe in Providence or in Chance: which I think worse? What I don't see is where others come in. What would the world be like if everybody lived that way?"

"Other people can please themselves," said Aaron.

"No, they can't--because you take first choice, it seems to me. Supposing your wife--or Lilly's wife--asks for security and for provision, as Sir William says. Surely she has a right to it."

"If I've no right to it myself--and I HAVE no right to it, if I don't want it--then what right has she?"

"Every right, I should say. All the more since you are improvident."

"Then she must manage her rights for herself. It's no good her foisting her rights on to me."

"Isn't that pure selfishness?"

"It may be. I shall send my wife money as long as I've money to send."

"And supposing you have none?"

"Then I can't send it--and she must look out for herself."

"I call that almost criminal selfishness."

"I can't help it."

The conversation with the young Major broke off.

"It is certainly a good thing for society that men like you and Mr. Lilly are not common," said Sir William, laughing.

"Becoming commoner every day, you'll find," interjaculated the Colonel.

"Indeed! Indeed! Well. May we ask you another question, Mr. Sisson? I hope you don't object to our catechism?"

"No. Nor your judgment afterwards," said Aaron, grinning.

"Then upon what grounds did you abandon your family? I know it is a tender subject. But Lilly spoke of it to us, and as far I could see...."

"There were no grounds," said Aaron. "No, there weren't I just left them."

"Mere caprice?"

"If it's a caprice to be begotten--and a caprice to be born--and a caprice to die--then that was a caprice, for it was the same."

"Like birth or death? I don't follow."

"It happened to me: as birth happened to me once--and death will happen. It was a sort of death, too: or a sort of birth. But as undeniable as either. And without any more grounds."

The old, tremulous man, and the young man were watching one another.

"A natural event," said Sir William.

"A natural event," said Aaron.

"Not that you loved any other woman?"

"God save me from it."

"You just left off loving?"

"Not even that. I went away."

"What from?"

"From it all."

"From the woman in particular?"

"Oh, yes. Yes. Yes, that."

"And you couldn't go back?"

Aaron shook his head.

"Yet you can give no reasons?"

"Not any reasons that would be any good. It wasn't a question of reasons. It was a question of her and me and what must be. What makes a child be born out of its mother to the pain and trouble of both of them? I don't know."

"But that is a natural process."

"So is this--or nothing."

"No," interposed the Major. "Because birth is a universal process--and yours is a specific, almost unique event."

"Well, unique or not, it so came about. I didn't ever leave off loving her--not as far as I know. I left her as I shall leave the earth when I die--because it has to be."

"Do you know what I think it is, Mr. Sisson?" put in Lady Franks. "I think you are just in a wicked state of mind: just that. Mr. Lilly, too. And you must be very careful, or some great misfortune will happen to you."

"It may," said Aaron.

"And it will, mark my word, it will."

"You almost wish it might, as a judgment on me," smiled Aaron.

"Oh, no, indeed. I should only be too sorry. But I feel it will, unless you are careful."

"I'll be careful, then."

"Yes, and you can't be too careful."

"You make me frightened."

"I would like to make you very frightened indeed, so that you went back humbly to your wife and family."

"It would HAVE to be a big fright then, I assure you."

"Ah, you are really heartless. It makes me angry."

She turned angrily aside.

"Well, well! Well, well! Life! Life! Young men are a new thing to me!" said Sir William, shaking his head. "Well, well! What do you say to whiskey and soda, Colonel?"

"Why, delighted, Sir William," said the Colonel, bouncing up.

"A night-cap, and then we retire," said Lady Franks.

Aaron sat thinking. He knew Sir William liked him: and that Lady Franks didn't. One day he might have to seek help from Sir William. So he had better placate milady. Wrinkling the fine, half mischievous smile on his face, and trading on his charm, he turned to his hostess.

"You wouldn't mind, Lady Franks, if I said nasty things about my wife and found a lot of fault with her. What makes you angry is that I know it is not a bit more her fault than mine, that we come apart. It can't be helped."

"Oh, yes, indeed. I disapprove of your way of looking at things altogether. It seems to me altogether cold and unmanly and inhuman. Thank goodness my experience of a man has been different."

"We can't all be alike, can we? And if I don't choose to let you see me crying, that doesn't prove I've never had a bad half hour, does it? I've had many--ay, and a many."

"Then why are you so WRONG, so wrong in your behaviour?"

"I suppose I've got to have my bout out: and when it's out, I can alter."

"Then I hope you've almost had your bout out," she said.

"So do I," said he, with a half-repentant, half-depressed look on his attractive face. The corners of his mouth grimaced slightly under his moustache.

"The best thing you can do is to go straight back to England, and to her."

"Perhaps I'd better ask her if she wants me, first," he said drily.

"Yes, you might do that, too." And Lady Franks felt she was quite getting on with her work of reform, and the restoring of woman to her natural throne. Best not go too fast, either.

"Say when," shouted the Colonel, who was manipulating the syphon.

"When," said Aaron.

The men stood up to their drinks.

"Will you be leaving in the morning, Mr. Sisson?" asked Lady Franks.

"May I stay till Monday morning?" said Aaron. They were at Saturday evening.

"Certainly. And you will take breakfast in your room: we all do. At what time? Half past eight?"

"Thank you very much."

"Then at half past eight the man will bring it in. Goodnight."

Once more in his blue silk bedroom, Aaron grimaced to himself and stood in the middle of the room grimacing. His hostess' admonitions were like vitriol in his ears. He looked out of the window. Through the darkness of trees, the lights of a city below. Italy! The air was cold with snow. He came back into his soft, warm room. Luxurious it was. And luxurious the deep, warm bed.

He was still asleep when the man came noiselessly in with the tray: and it was morning. Aaron woke and sat up. He felt that the deep, warm bed, and the soft, warm room had made him sleep too well: robbed him of his night, like a narcotic. He preferred to be more uncomfortable and more aware of the flight of the dark hours. It seemed numbing.

The footman in his grey house-jacket was neat and Italian and sympathising. He gave good-morning in Italian--then softly arranged the little table by the bedside, and put out the toast and coffee and butter and boiled egg and honey, with silver and delicate china. Aaron watched the soft, catlike motions of the man. The dark eyes glanced once at the blond man, leaning on his elbow on the pillow. Aaron's face had that watchful, half-amused expression. The man said something in Italian. Aaron shook his head, laughed, and said:

"Tell me in English."

The man went softly to the window curtains, and motioned them with his hand.

"Yes, do," said Aaron.

So the man drew the buff-coloured silk curtains: and Aaron, sitting in bed, could see away beyond red roofs of a town, and in the further heaven great snowy mountains.

"The Alps," he said in surprise.

"Gli Alpi--si, signore." The man bowed, gathered up Aaron's clothes, and silently retired.

Aaron watched through the window. It was a frosty morning at the end of September, with a clear blue morning-sky, Alpine, and the watchful, snow-streaked mountain tops bunched in the distance, as if waiting. There they were, hovering round, circling, waiting. They reminded him of marvellous striped sky-panthers circling round a great camp: the red-roofed city. Aaron looked, and looked again. In the near distance, under the house elm-tree tops were yellowing. He felt himself changing inside his skin.

So he turned away to his coffee and eggs. A little silver egg-cup with a curious little frill round it: honey in a frail, iridescent glass bowl, gold-iridescent: the charm of delicate and fine things. He smiled half mockingly to himself. Two instincts played in him: the one, an instinct for fine, delicate things: he had attractive hands; the other, an inclination to throw the dainty little table with all its niceties out of the window. It evoked a sort of devil in him.

He took his bath: the man had brought back his things: he dressed and went downstairs. No one in the lounge: he went down to the ground floor: no one in the big hall with its pillars of yellow marble and its gold arches, its enormous, dark, bluey-red carpet. He stood before the great glass doors. Some red flowers still were blooming in the tubs, on the steps, handsome: and beautiful chrysanthemums in the wide portico. Beyond, yellow leaves were already falling on the green grass and the neat drive. Everywhere was silent and empty. He climbed the wide stairs, sat in the long, upper lounge where the papers were. He wanted his hat and coat, and did not know where to find them. The windows looked on to a terraced garden, the hill rising steeply behind the house. He wanted to go out.

So he opened more doors, and in a long drawing-room came upon five or six manservants, all in the grey house-jackets, all clean-shaven, neat, with neat black hair, all with dusters or brushes or feather brooms, and all frolicking, chattering, playing like so many monkeys. They were all of the same neat, smallish size. They were all laughing. They rolled back a great rug as if it were some football game, one flew at the curtains. And they merely looked at Aaron and went on chattering, and laughing and dusting.

Surprised, and feeling that he trespassed, he stood at the window a moment looking out. The noise went on behind him. So he turned, smiling, and asked for his hat, pointing to his head. They knew at once what he wanted. One of the fellows beckoned him away, down to the hall and to the long cupboard place where hats and coats and sticks were hung. There was his hat; he put it on, while the man chattered to him pleasantly and unintelligibly, and opened for him the back door, into the garden.

CHAPTER XIII. WIE ES IHNEN GEFAELLT

The fresh morning air comes startling after a central heated house. So Aaron found it. He felt himself dashing up the steps into the garden like a bird dashing out of a trap where it has been caught: that warm and luxurious house. Heaven bless us, we who want to save civilisation. We had better make up our minds what of it we want to save. The kernel may be all well and good. But there is precious little kernel, to a lot of woolly stuffing and poisonous rind.

The gardens to Sir William's place were not imposing, and still rather war-neglected. But the pools of water lay smooth in the bright air, the flowers showed their colour beside the walks. Many birds dashed about, rather bewildered, having crossed the Alps in their migration southwards. Aaron noted with gratification a certain big magnificence, a certain reckless powerfulness in the still-blossoming, harsh-coloured, autumn flowers. Distinct satisfaction he derived from it.

He wandered upwards, up the succeeding flights of step; till he came to the upper rough hedge, and saw the wild copse on the hill-crest just above. Passing through a space in the hedge, he climbed the steep last bit of Sir William's lane. It was a little vineyard, with small vines and yellowing leaves. Everywhere the place looked neglected--but as if man had just begun to tackle it once more.

At the very top, by the wild hedge where spindle-berries hung pink, seats were placed, and from here the view was very beautiful. The hill dropped steep beneath him. A river wound on the near side of the city, crossed by a white bridge. The city lay close clustered, ruddy on the plains, glittering in the clear air with its flat roofs and domes and square towers, strangely naked-seeming in the clear, clean air. And massive in the further nearness, snow-streaked mountains, the tiger-like Alps. Tigers prowling between the north and the south. And this beautiful city lying nearest exposed. The snow-wind brushed her this morning like the icy whiskers of a tiger. And clear in the light lay Novara, wide, fearless, violent Novara. Beautiful the perfect air, the perfect and unblemished Alp-sky. And like the first southern flower, Novara.

Aaron sat watching in silence. Only the uneasy birds rustled. He watched the city and the winding river, the bridges, and the imminent Alps. He was on the south side. On the other side of the time barrier. His old, sleepy English nature was startled in its sleep. He felt like a man who knows it is time to wake up, and who doesn't want to wake up, to face the responsibility of another sort of day.

To open his darkest eyes and wake up to a new responsibility. Wake up and enter on the responsibility of a new self in himself. Ach, the horror of responsibility! He had all his life slept and shelved the burden. And he wanted to go on sleeping. It was so hateful to have to get a new grip on his own bowels, a new hard recklessness into his heart, a new and responsible consciousness into his mind and soul. He felt some finger prodding, prodding, prodding him awake out of the sleep of pathos and tragedy and spasmodic passion, and he wriggled, unwilling, oh, most unwilling to undertake the new business.

In fact he ran away again. He gave a last look at the town and its white-fanged mountains, and descended through the garden, round the way of the kitchen garden and garage and stables and pecking chickens, back to the house again. In the hall still no one. He went upstairs to the long lounge. There sat the rubicund, bald, boy-like Colonel reading the "Graphic". Aaron sat down opposite him, and made a feeble attempt at conversation. But the Colonel wasn't having any. It was evident he didn't care for the fellow--Mr. Aaron, that is. Aaron therefore dried up, and began to sit him out, with the aid of "The Queen". Came a servant, however, and said that the Signor Colonello was called up from the hospital, on the telephone. The Colonel once departed, Aaron fled again, this time out of the front doors, and down the steep little park to the gates.

Huge dogs and little dogs came bounding forward. Out of the lodge came the woman with the keys, smiling very pleasantly this morning. So, he was in the street. The wide road led him inevitably to the big bridge, with the violent, physical stone statue-groups. Men and women were moving about, and he noticed for the first time the littleness and the momentaneousness of the Italians in the street. Perhaps it was the wideness of the bridge and the subsequent big, open boulevard. But there it was: the people seemed little, upright brisk figures moving in a certain isolation, like tiny figures on a big stage. And he felt himself moving in the space between. All the northern cosiness gone. He was set down with a space round him.

Little trams flitted down the boulevard in the bright, sweet light. The barbers' shops were all busy, half the Novarese at that moment ambushed in lather, full in the public gaze. A shave is nothing if not a public act, in the south. At the little outdoor tables of the cafes a very few drinkers sat before empty coffee-cups. Most of the shops were shut. It was too soon after the war for life to be flowing very fast. The feeling of emptiness, of neglect, of lack of supplies was evident everywhere.

Aaron strolled on, surprised himself at his gallant feeling of liberty: a feeling of bravado and almost swaggering carelessness which is Italy's best gift to an Englishman. He had crossed the dividing line, and the values of life, though ostensibly and verbally the same, were dynamically different. Alas, however, the verbal and the ostensible, the accursed mechanical ideal gains day by day over the spontaneous life-dynamic, so that Italy becomes as idea-bound and as automatic as England: just a business proposition.

Coming to the station, he went inside. There he saw a money-changing window which was open, so he planked down a five-pound note and got two-hundred-and-ten lire. Here was a start. At a bookstall he saw a man buy a big timetable with a large railway map in it. He immediately bought the same. Then he retired to a corner to get his whereabouts.

In the morning he must move: where? He looked on the map. The map seemed to offer two alternatives, Milan and Genoa. He chose Milan, because of its musical associations and its cathedral. Milano then. Strolling and still strolling, he found the boards announcing Arrivals and Departures. As far as he could make out, the train for Milan left at 9:00 in the morning.

So much achieved, he left the big desolating caravanserai of the station. Soldiers were camped in every corner, lying in heaps asleep. In their grey-green uniform, he was surprised at their sturdy limbs and uniformly short stature. For the first time, he saw the cock-feathers of the Bersaglieri. There seemed a new life-quality everywhere. Many worlds, not one world. But alas, the one world triumphing more and more over the many worlds, the big oneness swallowing up the many small diversities in its insatiable gnawing appetite, leaving a dreary sameness throughout the world, that means at last complete sterility.

Aaron, however, was too new to the strangeness, he had no eye for the horrible sameness that was spreading like a disease over Italy from England and the north. He plunged into the space in front of the station, and took a new, wide boulevard. To his surprise he ran towards a big and over-animated statue that stood resolutely with its back to the magnificent snow-domes of the wild Alps. Wolves in the street could not have startled him more than those magnificent fierce-gleaming mountains of snow at the street-end, beyond the statue. He stood and wondered, and never thought to look who the gentleman was. Then he turned right round, and began to walk home.

Luncheon was at one o'clock. It was half-past twelve when he rang at the lodge gates. He climbed through the leaves of the little park, on a side-path, rather reluctantly towards the house. In the hall Lady Franks was discussing with Arthur a fat Pekinese who did not seem very well. She was sure the servants did not obey her orders concerning the Pekinese bitch. Arthur, who was more than indifferent, assured her they did. But she seemed to think that the whole of the male human race was in league against the miserable specimen of a she-dog. She almost cried, thinking her Queenie "might" by some chance meet with, perhaps, a harsh word or look. Queenie apparently fattened on the secret detestation of the male human species.

"I can't bear to think that a dumb creature might be ill-treated," she said to Aaron. "Thank goodness the Italians are better than they used to be."

"Are they better than they used to be?"

"Oh, much. They have learnt it from us."

She then enquired if her guest had slept, and if he were rested from his journey. Aaron, into whose face the faint snow-wind and the sun had brought a glow, replied that he had slept well and enjoyed the morning, thank you. Whereupon Lady Franks knitted her brows and said Sir William had had such a bad night. He had not been able to sleep, and had got up and walked about the room. The least excitement, and she dreaded a break-down. He must have absolute calm and restfulness.

"There's one for you and your jawing last night, Aaron, my boy!" said our hero to himself.

"I thought Sir William seemed so full of life and energy," he said, aloud.

"Ah, did you! No, he WANTS to be. But he can't do it. He's very much upset this morning. I have been very anxious about him."

"I am sorry to hear that."

Lady Franks departed to some duty. Aaron sat alone before the fire. It was a huge fireplace, like a dark chamber shut in by tall, finely-wrought iron gates. Behind these iron gates of curly iron the logs burned and flickered like leopards slumbering and lifting their heads within their cage. Aaron wondered who was the keeper of the savage element, who it was that would open the iron grille and throw on another log, like meat to the lions. To be sure the fire was only to be looked at: like wild beasts in the Zoo. For the house was warm from roof to floor. It was strange to see the blue air of sunlight outside, the yellow-edged leaves falling in the wind, the red flowers shaking.

The gong sounded softly through the house. The Colonel came in heartily from the garden, but did not speak to Aaron. The Major and his wife came pallid down the stairs. Lady Franks appeared, talking domestic-secretarial business with the wife of Arthur. Arthur, well-nourished and half at home, called down the stairs. And then Sir William descended, old and frail now in the morning, shaken: still he approached Aaron heartily, and asked him how he did, and how he had spent his morning. The old man who had made a fortune: how he expected homage: and how he got it! Homage, like most things, is just a convention and a social trick. Aaron found himself paying homage, too, to the old man who had made a fortune. But also, exacting a certain deference in return, from the old man who had made a fortune. Getting it, too. On what grounds? Youth, maybe. But mostly, scorn for fortunes and fortune-making. Did he scorn fortunes and fortune-making? Not he, otherwise whence this homage for the old man with much money? Aaron, like everybody else, was rather paralysed by a million sterling, personified in one old man. Paralysed, fascinated, overcome. All those three. Only having no final control over his own make-up, he could not drive himself into the money-making or even into the money-having habit. And he had just wit enough to threaten Sir William's golden king with his own ivory queen and knights of wilful life. And Sir William quaked.

"Well, and how have you spent your morning?" asked the host.

"I went first to look at the garden."

"Ah, not much to see now. They have been beautiful with flowers, once. But for two and a half years the house has been a hospital for officers--and even tents in the park and garden--as many as two hundred wounded and sick at a time. We are only just returning to civil life. And flowers need time. Yes--yes--British officers--for two and a half years. But did you go up, now, to the belvedere?"

"To the top--where the vines are? I never expected the mountains."

"You never expected the mountains? Pray, why not? They are always there!"

"But I was never there before. I never knew they were there, round the town. I didn't expect it like that."

"Ah! So you found our city impressive?"

"Very! Ah, very! A new world to me. I feel I've come out of myself."

"Yes, it is a wonderful sight--a wonderful sight-- But you have not been INTO the town?"

"Yes. I saw the men being shaved, and all the soldiers at the station: and a statue, and mountains behind it. Oh, I've had a full morning."

"A full morning! That is good, that is good!" The old man looked again at the younger man, and seemed to get life from him, to live in him vicariously.

"Come," said the hostess. "Luncheon."

Aaron sat again on his hostess' left hand. The Colonel was more affable now it was meal-time. Sir William was again in a good humour, chaffing the young ladies with an old man's gallantry. But now he insisted on drawing Aaron into the play. And Aaron did not want to be drawn. He did not one bit want to chaffer gallantries with the young women. Between him and Sir William there was a curious rivalry--unconscious on both sides. The old knight had devoted an energetic, adventurous, almost an artistic nature to the making of his fortune and the developing of later philanthropies. He had no children. Aaron was devoting a similar nature to anything but fortune-making and philanthropy. The one held life to be a storing-up of produce and a conservation of energy: the other held life to be a sheer spending of energy and a storing-up of nothing but experience. There they were, in opposition, the old man and the young. Sir William kept calling Aaron into the chaffer at the other end of the table: and Aaron kept on refusing to join. He hated long distance answers, anyhow. And in his mood of the moment he hated the young women. He had a conversation with Arthur about statues: concerning which Aaron knew nothing, and Arthur less than nothing. Then Lady Franks turned the conversation to the soldiers at the station, and said how Sir William had equipped rest-huts for the Italian privates, near the station: but that such was the jealousy and spite of the Italian Red Cross--or some such body, locally--that Sir William's huts had been left empty--standing unused--while the men had slept on the stone floor of the station, night after night, in icy winter. There was evidently much bitter feeling as a result of Sir William's philanthropy. Apparently even the honey of lavish charity had turned to gall in the Italian mouth: at least the official mouth. Which gall had been spat back at the charitable, much to his pain. It is in truth a difficult world, particularly when you have another race to deal with. After which came the beef-olives.

"Oh," said Lady Franks, "I had such a dreadful dream last night, such a dreadful dream. It upset me so much. I have not been able to get over it all day."

"What was it?" said Aaron. "Tell it, and break it."

"Why," said his hostess, "I dreamed I was asleep in my room--just as I actually was--and that it was night, yet with a terrible sort of light, like the dead light before dawn, so that one could see. And my maid Giuseppina came running into my room, saying: 'Signora! Signora! Si alza! Subito! Signora! Vengono su!'--and I said, 'Chi? Chi sono chi vengono? Chi?'--'I Novaresi! I Novaresi vengono su. Vengono qui!'--I got out of bed and went to the window. And there they were, in the dead light, rushing up to the house, through the trees. It was so awful, I haven't been able to forget it all day."

"Tell me what the words are in English," said Aaron.

"Why," she said, "get up, get up--the Novaresi, the people of Novara are coming up--vengono su--they are coming up--the Novara people--work-people. I can't forget it. It was so real, I can't believe it didn't actually happen."

"Ah," said Aaron. "It will never happen. I know, that whatever one foresees, and FEELS has happened, never happens in real life. It sort of works itself off through the imagining of it."

"Well, it was almost more real to me than real life," said his hostess.

"Then it will never happen in real life," he said.

Luncheon passed, and coffee. The party began to disperse--Lady Franks to answer more letters, with the aid of Arthur's wife--some to sleep, some to walk. Aaron escaped once more through the big gates. This time he turned his back on the town and the mountains, and climbed up the hill into the country. So he went between the banks and the bushes, watching for unknown plants and shrubs, hearing the birds, feeling the influence of a new soil. At the top of the hill he saw over into vineyards, and a new strange valley with a winding river, and jumbled, entangled hills. Strange wild country so near the town. It seemed to keep an almost virgin wildness--yet he saw the white houses dotted here and there.

Just below him was a peasant house: and on a little loggia in the sun two peasants in white shirtsleeves and black Sunday suits were sitting drinking wine, and talking, talking. Peasant youths in black hats, their sweethearts in dark stuff dresses, wearing no hat, but a black silk or a white silk scarf, passed slowly along the little road just below the ridge. None looked up to see Aaron sitting there alone. From some hidden place somebody was playing an accordion, a jerky sound in the still afternoon. And away beyond lay the unchanging, mysterious valley, and the infolding, mysterious hills of Italy.

Returning back again another way, he lost himself at the foot of the hill in new and deserted suburb streets--unfinished streets of seemingly unfinished houses. Then a sort of boulevard where bourgeois families were taking the Sunday afternoon walk: stout papas, stout, pallid mamas in rather cheap black fur, little girls very much dressed, and long lads in short socks and round sailor caps, ribbons fluttering. Alien they felt, alien, alien, as a bourgeois crowd always does, but particularly a foreign, Sunday-best bourgeois crowd. Aaron wandered and wandered, finding the tram terminus and trying blank, unfinished street after street. He had a great disinclination to ask his way.

At last he recognised the bank and the little stream of water that ran along the street side. So he was back in time for tea. A hospital nurse was there, and two other strange women. Arthur played the part of host. Sir William came in from a walk with the dogs, but retired to his room without taking tea.

And so the evening fell. Aaron sat in the hall at some distance from the fire, which burned behind its wrought iron gates. He was tired now with all his impressions, and dispirited. He thought of his wife and children at home: of the church-bells ringing so loudly across the field beyond his garden end: of the dark-clad people trailing unevenly across the two paths, one to the left, one to the right, forking their way towards the houses of the town, to church or to chapel: mostly to chapel. At this hour he himself would be dressed in his best clothes, tying his bow, ready to go out to the public house. And his wife would be resenting his holiday departure, whilst she was left fastened to the children.

Rather tired and dispirited in this alien place, he wondered if he wished himself back. But the moment he actually "realised" himself at home, and felt the tension of barrenness which it meant, felt the curious and deadly opposition of his wife's will against his own nature, the almost nauseating ache which it amounted to, he pulled himself together and rejoiced again in his new surroundings. Her will, her will, her terrible, implacable, cunning will! What was there in the female will so diabolical, he asked himself, that it could press like a flat sheet of iron against a man all the time? The female will! He realised now that he had a horror of it. It was flat and inflexible as a sheet of iron. But also it was cunning as a snake that could sing treacherous songs.

Of two people at a deadlock, he always reminded himself, there is not one only wholly at fault. Both must be at fault. Having a detached and logical soul, he never let himself forget this truth. Take Lottie! He had loved her. He had never loved any other woman. If he had had his other affairs--it was out of spite or defiance or curiosity. They meant nothing. He and Lottie had loved one another. And the love had developed almost at once into a kind of combat. Lottie had been the only child of headstrong, well-to-do parents. He also had been the only child of his widowed mother. Well then, both he and Lottie had been brought up to consider themselves the first in whatsoever company they found themselves. During the early months of the marriage he had, of course, continued the spoiling of the young wife. But this never altered the fact that, by his very nature, he considered himself as first and almost as single in any relationship. First and single he felt, and as such he bore himself. It had taken him years to realise that Lottie also felt herself first and single: under all her whimsicalness and fretfulness was a conviction as firm as steel: that she, as woman, was the centre of creation, the man was but an adjunct. She, as woman, and particularly as mother, was the first great source of life and being, and also of culture. The man was but the instrument and the finisher. She was the source and the substance.

Sure enough, Lottie had never formulated this belief inside herself. But it was formulated for her in the whole world. It is the substantial and professed belief of the whole white world. She did but inevitably represent what the whole world around her asserted: the life-centrality of woman. Woman, the life-bearer, the life-source.

Nearly all men agree to the assertion. Practically all men, even while demanding their selfish rights as superior males, tacitly agree to the fact of the sacred life-bearing priority of woman. Tacitly, they yield the worship to that which is female. Tacitly, they conspire to agree that all that is productive, all that is fine and sensitive and most essentially noble, is woman. This, in their productive and religious souls, they believe. And however much they may react against the belief, loathing their women, running to prostitutes, or beer or "anything", out of reaction against this great and ignominious dogma of the sacred priority of women, still they do but profane the god they worship. Profaning woman, they still inversely worship her.

But in Aaron was planted another seed. He did not know it. He started off on the good old tack of worshipping his woman while his heart was honest, and profaning her in his fits of temper and revolt. But he made a bad show. Born in him was a spirit which could not worship woman: no, and would not. Could not and would not. It was not in him. In early days, he tried to pretend it was in him. But through his plaintive and homage-rendering love of a young husband was always, for the woman, discernible the arrogance of self-unyielding male. He never yielded himself: never. All his mad loving was only an effort. Afterwards, he was as devilishly unyielded as ever. And it was an instinct in her, that her man must yield to her, so that she should envelop him yielding, in her all-beneficent love. She was quite sure that her love was all-beneficent. Of this no shadow of doubt. She was quite sure that the highest her man could ever know or ever reach, was to be perfectly enveloped in her all-beneficent love. This was her idea of marriage. She held it not as an idea, but as a profound impulse and instinct: an instinct developed in her by the age in which she lived. All that was deepest and most sacred in he feeling centred in this belief.

And he outraged her! Oh, from the first day and the first night, she felt he outraged her. True, for some time she had been taken in by his manifest love. But though you can deceive the conscious mind, you can never deceive the deep, unconscious instinct. She could never understand whence arose in her, almost from the first days of marriage with him, her terrible paroxysms of hatred for him. She was in love with him: ah, heaven, how maddeningly she was in love with him: a certain unseizable beauty that was his, and which fascinated her as a snake a bird. But in revulsion, how she hated him! How she abhorred him! How she despised and shuddered at him! He seemed a horrible thing to her.

And then again, oh, God, the agony of her desire for him. The agony of her long, long desire for him. He was a passionate lover. He gave her, ostensibly, all she asked for. He withheld from her nothing, no experience, no degree of intimacy. She was his initiate, or he hers.

And yet, oh, horror for a woman, he withheld everything from her. He withheld the very centre of himself. For a long time, she never realised. She was dazed and maddened only. But as months of married experience passed into years of married torment, she began to understand. It was that, after their most tremendous, and, it seemed to her, heaven-rending passion--yea, when for her every veil seemed rent and a terrible and sacred creative darkness covered the earth--then--after all this wonder and miracle--in crept a poisonous grey snake of disillusionment, a poisonous grey snake of disillusion that bit her to madness, so that she really was a mad woman, demented.

Why? Why? He never gave himself. He never came to her, "really". He withheld himself. Yes, in those supreme and sacred times which for her were the whole culmination of life and being, the ecstasy of unspeakable passional conjunction, he was not really hers. He was withheld. He withheld the central core of himself, like the devil and hell-fiend he was. He cheated and made play with her tremendous passional soul, her sacred sex passion, most sacred of all things for a woman. All the time, some central part of him stood apart from her, aside, looking on.

Oh, agony and horror for a passionate, fierce-hearted woman! She who loved him. She who loved him to madness. She who would have died for him. She who did die with him, many terrible and magnificent connubial deaths, in his arms, her husband.

Her husband! How bitter the word grew to her! Her husband! and him never once given, given wholly to her! Her husband--and in all the frenzied finality of desire, she never "fully" possessed him, not once. No, not once. As time went on, she learned it for inevitable. Not once!

And then, how she hated him! Cheated, foiled, betrayed, forced to love him or to hate him: never able to be at peace near him nor away from him: poor Lottie, no wonder she was as a mad woman. She was strictly as a woman demented, after the birth of her second child. For all her instinct, all her impulse, all her desire, and above all, all her "will", was to possess her man in very fulness once: just once: and once and for all. Once, just once: and it would be once and for all.

But never! Never! Not once! Never! Not for one single solitary second! Was it not enough to send a woman mad! Was it not enough to make her demented! Yes, and mad she was. She made his life a hell for him. She bit him to the bone with her frenzy of rage, chagrin, and agony. She drove him mad, too: mad, so that he beat her: mad so that he longed to kill her. But even in his greatest rages it was the same: he never finally lost himself: he remained, somewhere in the centre, in possession of himself. She sometimes wished he would kill her: or that she would kill him. Neither event happened.

And neither of them understood what was happening. How should they? They were both dazed, horrified, and mortified. He took to leaving her alone as much as was possible. But when he "had" to come home, there was her terrible will, like a flat, cold snake coiled round his soul and squeezing him to death. Yes, she did not relent. She was a good wife and mother. All her duties she fulfilled. But she was not one to yield. "He" must yield. That was written in eternal letters, on the iron tablet of her will. "He" must yield. She the woman, the mother of his children, how should she ever even think to yield? It was unthinkable. He, the man, the weak, the false, the treacherous, the half-hearted, it was he who must yield. Was not hers the divine will and the divine right? Ha, she would be less than woman if she ever capitulated, abandoned her divine responsibility as woman! No, "he" must yield.

So, he was unfaithful to her. Piling reproach after reproach upon himself, he added adultery to his brutality. And this was the beginning of the end. She was more than maddened: but he began to grow silent, unresponsive, as if he did not hear her. He was unfaithful to her: and oh, in such a low way. Such shame, such shame! But he only smiled carelessly now, and asked her what she wanted. She had asked for all she got. That he reiterated. And that was all he would do.

Terrible was, that she found even his smile of insolent indifference half-beautiful. Oh, bitter chain to bear! But she summoned up all her strange woman's will. She fought against his fascination, the fascination he exerted over her. With fearful efforts of will she fought against it, and mastered it. And then, suddenly, horror and agony of it, up it would rush in her again, her unbearable desire for him, the longing for his contact, his quality of beauty.

That was a cross hard to bear. Yet even that she bore. And schooled herself into a fretful, petulant manner of indifference. Her odd, whimsical petulance hid a will which he, and he alone, knew to be stronger than steel, strong as a diabolical, cold, grey snake that presses and presses and cannot-relax: nay, cannot relax. She became the same as he. Even in her moments of most passionate desire for him, the cold and snake-like tension of her will never relaxed, and the cold, snake-like eye of her intention never closed.

So, till it reached a deadlock. Each will was wound tense, and so fixed. Fixed! There was neither any relaxing or any increase of pressure. Fixed. Hard like a numbness, a grip that was solidifying and turning to stone.

He realised, somehow, that at this terrible passive game of fixed tension she would beat him. Her fixed female soul, her wound-up female will would solidify into stone--whereas his must break. In him something must break. It was a cold and fatal deadlock, profitless. A life-automatism of fixed tension that suddenly, in him, did break. His will flew loose in a recoil: a recoil away from her. He left her, as inevitably as a broken spring flies out from its hold.

Not that he was broken. He would not do her even that credit. He had only flown loose from the old centre-fixture. His will was still entire and unabated. Only he did not know: he did not understand. He swung wildly about from place to place, as if he were broken.

Then suddenly, on this Sunday evening in the strange country, he realised something about himself. He realised that he had never intended to yield himself fully to her or to anything: that he did not intend ever to yield himself up entirely to her or to anything: that his very being pivoted on the fact of his isolate self-responsibility, aloneness. His intrinsic and central aloneness was the very centre of his being. Break it, and he broke his being. Break this central aloneness, and he broke everything. It was the great temptation, to yield himself: and it was the final sacrilege. Anyhow, it was something which, from his profoundest soul, he did not intend to do. By the innermost isolation and singleness of his own soul he would abide though the skies fell on top of one another, and seven heavens collapsed.

Vaguely he realised this. And vaguely he realised that this had been the root cause of his strife with Lottie: Lottie, the only person who had mattered at all to him in all the world: save perhaps his mother. And his mother had not mattered, no, not one-half nor one-fifth what Lottie had mattered. So it was: there was, for him, only her significant in the universe. And between him and her matters were as they were.

He coldly and terribly hated her, for a moment. Then no more. There was no solution. It was a situation without a solution. But at any rate, it was now a defined situation. He could rest in peace.

Thoughts something in this manner ran through Aaron's subconscious mind as he sat still in the strange house. He could not have fired it all off at any listener, as these pages are fired off at any chance reader. Nevertheless there it was, risen to half consciousness in him. All his life he had "hated" knowing what he felt. He had wilfully, if not consciously, kept a gulf between his passional soul and his open mind. In his mind was pinned up a nice description of himself, and a description of Lottie, sort of authentic passports to be used in the conscious world. These authentic passports, self-describing: nose short, mouth normal, etc.; he had insisted that they should do all the duty of the man himself. This ready-made and very banal idea of himself as a really quite nice individual: eyes blue, nose short, mouth normal, chin normal; this he had insisted was really himself. It was his conscious mask.

Now at last, after years of struggle, he seemed suddenly to have dropped his mask on the floor, and broken it. His authentic self-describing passport, his complete and satisfactory idea of himself suddenly became a rag of paper, ridiculous. What on earth did it matter if he was nice or not, if his chin was normal or abnormal.

His mask, his idea of himself dropped and was broken to bits. There he sat now maskless and invisible. That was how he strictly felt: invisible and undefined, rather like Wells' "Invisible Man". He had no longer a mask to present to people: he was present and invisible: they "could" not really think anything about him, because they could not really see him. What did they see when they looked at him? Lady Franks, for example. He neither knew nor cared. He only knew he was invisible to himself and everybody, and that all thinking about what he was like was only a silly game of Mrs. Mackenzie's Dead.

So there. The old Aaron Sisson was as if painfully transmuted, as the Invisible Man when he underwent his transmutations. Now he was gone, and no longer to be seen. His visibility lost for ever.

And then what? Sitting there as an invisible presence, the preconceived world melted also and was gone. Lady Franks, Sir William, all the guests, they talked and maneuvered with their visible personalities, manipulating the masks of themselves. And underneath there was something invisible and dying--something fading, wilting: the essential plasm of themselves: their invisible being.

Well now, and what next? Having in some curious manner tumbled from the tree of modern knowledge, and cracked and rolled out from the shell of the preconceived idea of himself like some dark, night-lustrous chestnut from the green ostensibility of the burr, he lay as it were exposed but invisible on the floor, knowing, but making no conceptions: knowing, but having no idea. Now that he was finally unmasked and exposed, the accepted idea of himself cracked and rolled aside like a broken chestnut-burr, the mask split and shattered, he was at last quiet and free. He had dreaded exposure: and behold, we cannot be exposed, for we are invisible. We cannot be exposed to the looks of others, for our very being is night-lustrous and unseeable. Like the Invisible Man, we are only revealed through our clothes and our masks.

In his own powerful but subconscious fashion Aaron realized this. He was a musician. And hence even his deepest "ideas": were not word-ideas, his very thoughts were not composed of words and ideal concepts. They too, his thoughts and his ideas, were dark and invisible, as electric vibrations are invisible no matter how many words they may purport. If I, as a word-user, must translate his deep conscious vibrations into finite words, that is my own business. I do but make a translation of the man. He would speak in music. I speak with words.

The inaudible music of his conscious soul conveyed his meaning in him quite as clearly as I convey it in words: probably much more clearly. But in his own mode only: and it was in his own mode only he realised what I must put into words. These words are my own affair. His mind was music.

Don't grumble at me then, gentle reader, and swear at me that this damned fellow wasn't half clever enough to think all these smart things, and realise all these fine-drawn-out subtleties. You are quite right, he wasn't, yet it all resolved itself in him as I say, and it is for you to prove that it didn't.

In his now silent, maskless state of wordless comprehension, he knew that he had never wanted to surrender himself utterly to Lottie: nor to his mother: nor to anybody. The last extreme of self-abandon in love was for him an act of false behaviour. His own nature inside him fated him not to take this last false step, over the edge of the abyss of selflessness. Even if he wanted to, he could not. He might struggle on the edge of the precipice like an assassin struggling with his own soul, but he could not conquer. For, according to all the current prejudice and impulse in one direction, he too had believed that the final achievement, the consummation of human life, was this flinging oneself over the precipice, down the bottomless pit of love. Now he realised that love, even in its intensest, was only an attribute of the human soul: one of its incomprehensible gestures. And to fling down the whole soul in one gesture of finality in love was as much a criminal suicide as to jump off a church-tower or a mountain-peak. Let a man give himself as much as he liked in love, to seven thousand extremities, he must never give himself "away". The more generous and the more passionate a soul, the more it "gives" itself. But the more absolute remains the law, that it shall never give itself away. Give thyself, but give thyself not away. That is the lesson written at the end of the long strange lane of love.

The "idee fixe" of today is that every individual shall not only give himself, but shall achieve the last glory of giving himself away. And since this takes two--you can't even make a present of yourself unless you've got somebody to receive the present; since this last extra-divine act takes two people to perform it, you've got to take into count not only your giver but your receiver. Who is going to be the giver and who the receiver.

Why, of course, in our long-drawn-out Christian day, man is given and woman is recipient. Man is the gift, woman the receiver. This is the sacrament we live by; the holy Communion we live for. That man gives himself to woman in an utter and sacred abandon, all, all, all himself given, and taken. Woman, eternal woman, she is the communicant. She receives the sacramental body and spirit of the man. And when she's got it, according to her passionate and all-too-sacred desire, completely, when she possesses her man at last finally and ultimately, without blemish or reservation in the perfection of the sacrament: then, also, poor woman, the blood and the body of which she has partaken become insipid or nauseous to her, she is driven mad by the endless meal of the marriage sacrament, poisoned by the sacred communion which was her goal and her soul's ambition.

We have pushed a process into a goal. The aim of any process is not the perpetuation of that process, but the completion thereof. Love is a process of the incomprehensible human soul: love also incomprehensible, but still only a process. The process should work to a completion, not to some horror of intensification and extremity wherein the soul and body ultimately perish. The completion of the process of love is the arrival at a state of simple, pure self-possession, for man and woman. Only that. Which isn't exciting enough for us sensationalists. We prefer abysses and maudlin self-abandon and self-sacrifice, the degeneration into a sort of slime and merge.

Perhaps, truly, the process of love is never accomplished. But it moves in great stages, and at the end of each stage a true goal, where the soul possesses itself in simple and generous singleness. Without this, love is a disease.

So Aaron, crossing a certain border-line and finding himself alone completely, accepted his loneliness or singleness as a fulfilment, a state of fulfilment. The long fight with Lottie had driven him at last to himself, so that he was quiet as a thing which has its root deep in life, and has lost its anxiety. As for considering the lily, it is not a matter of consideration. The lily toils and spins hard enough, in her own way. But without that strain and that anxiety with which we try to weave ourselves a life. The lily is life-rooted, life-central. She "cannot" worry. She is life itself, a little, delicate fountain playing creatively, for as long or as short a time as may be, and unable to be anxious. She may be sad or sorry, if the north wind blows. But even then, anxious she cannot be. Whether her fountain play or cease to play, from out the cold, damp earth, she cannot be anxious. She may only be glad or sorry, and continue her way. She is perfectly herself, whatever befall! even if frosts cut her off. Happy lily, never to be saddled with an "idee fixe", never to be in the grip of a monomania for happiness or love or fulfilment. It is not "laisser aller". It is life-rootedness. It is being by oneself, life-living, like the much-mooted lily. One toils, one spins, one strives: just as the lily does. But like her, taking one's own life-way amidst everything, and taking one's own life-way alone. Love too. But there also, taking one's way alone, happily alone in all the wonders of communion, swept up on the winds, but never swept away from one's very self. Two eagles in mid-air, maybe, like Whitman's Dalliance of Eagles. Two eagles in mid-air, grappling, whirling, coming to their intensification of love-oneness there in mid-air. In mid-air the love consummation. But all the time each lifted on its own wings: each bearing itself up on its own wings at every moment of the mid-air love consummation. That is the splendid love-way.

...............

The party was festive at dinner-time, the women in their finest dresses, new flowers on the table, the best wine going. It was Sunday evening. Aaron too was dressed--and Lady Franks, in black lace and pearls, was almost gay. There were quails for dinner. The Colonel was quite happy. An air of conviviality gathered round the table during the course of the meal.

"I hope," said Aaron, "that we shall have some music tonight."

"I want so much to hear your flute," said his hostess.

"And I your piano," he said.

"I am very weak--very out of practise. I tremble at the thought of playing before a musician. But you must not be too critical."

"Oh," said Aaron, "I am not a man to be afraid of."

"Well, we will see," said Lady Franks. "But I am afraid of music itself."

"Yes," said Aaron. "I think it is risky."

"Risky! I don't see that! Music risky? Bach? Beethoven! No, I don't agree. On the contrary, I think it is most elevating--most morally inspiring. No, I tremble before it because it is so wonderful and elevating."

"I often find it makes me feel diabolical," said he.

"That is your misfortune, I am sure," said Lady Franks. "Please do take another--but perhaps you don't like mushrooms?"

Aaron quite liked mushrooms, and helped himself to the "entree".

"But perhaps," said she, "you are too modern. You don't care for Bach or Beethoven or Chopin--dear Chopin."

"I find them all quite as modern as I am."

"Is that so! Yes. For myself I am quite old-fashioned--though I can appreciate Strauss and Stravinsky as well, some things. But my old things--ah, I don't think the moderns are so fine. They are not so deep. They haven't fathomed life so deeply." Lady Franks sighed faintly.

"They don't care for depths," said Aaron.

"No, they haven't the capacity. But I like big, deep music. Oh, I love orchestra. But my instrument is the piano. I like the great masters, Bach, Beethoven. They have such faith. You were talking of faith--believing that things would work out well for you in the end. Beethoven inspires that in me, too."

"He makes you feel that all will be well with you at last?"

"Yes, he does. He makes me feel faith in my PERSONAL destiny. And I do feel that there is something in one's special fate. I feel that I myself have a special kind of fate, that will always look after me."

"And you can trust to it?"

"Yes, I can. It ALWAYS turns out right. I think something has gone wrong--and then, it always turns out right. Why when we were in London--when we were at lunch one morning it suddenly struck me, haven't I left my fur cloak somewhere? It was rather cold, so I had taken it with me, and then never put it on. And I hadn't brought it home. I had left it somewhere. But whether in a taxi, or in a shop, or in a little show of pictures I had been to, I couldn't remember. I COULD NOT remember. And I thought to myself: have I lost my cloak? I went round to everywhere I could think of: no-trace of it. But I didn't give it up. Something prompted me not to give it up: quite distinctly, I felt something telling me that I should get it back. So I called at Scotland Yard and gave the information. Well, two days later I had a notice from Scotland Yard, so I went. And there was my cloak. I had it back. And that has happened to me almost every time. I almost always get my things back. And I always feel that something looks after me, do you know: almost takes care of me."

"But do you mean when you lose things--or in your life?"

"I mean when I lose things--or when I want to get something I want--I am very nearly ALWAYS successful. And I always feel there is some sort of higher power which does it for me."

"Finds your cloak for you."

"Yes. Wasn't it extraordinary? I felt when I saw my cloak in Scotland Yard: There, I KNEW I should recover you. And I always feel, as I say, that there is some higher power which helps me. Do you feel the same?"

"No, not that way, worse luck. I lost a batch of music a month ago which didn't belong to me--and which I couldn't replace. But I never could recover it: though I'm sure nobody wanted it."

"How very unfortunate! Whereas my fur cloak was just the thing that gets stolen most."

"I wished some power would trace my music: but apparently we aren't all gifted alike with guardian angels."

"Apparently not. And that is how I regard it: almost as a gift, you know, that my fairy godmother gave me in my cradle."

"For always recovering your property?"

"Yes--and succeeding in my undertakings."

"I'm afraid I had no fairy godmother."

"Well--I think I had. And very glad I am of it."

"Why, yes," said Aaron, looking at his hostess.

So the dinner sailed merrily on.

"But does Beethoven make you feel," said Aaron as an afterthought, "in the same way--that you will always find the things you have lost?"

"Yes--he makes me feel the same faith: that what I lose will be returned to me. Just as I found my cloak. And that if I enter into an undertaking, it will be successful."

"And your life has been always successful?"

"Yes--almost always. We have succeeded with almost everything."

"Why, yes," said Aaron, looking at her again.

But even so, he could see a good deal of hard wornness under her satisfaction. She had had her suffering, sure enough. But none the less, she was in the main satisfied. She sat there, a good hostess, and expected the homage due to her success. And of course she got it. Aaron himself did his little share of shoe-licking, and swallowed the taste of boot-polish with a grimace, knowing what he was about.

The dinner wound gaily to an end. The ladies retired. Sir William left his seat of honour at the end of the table and came and sat next to Aaron, summoning the other three men to cluster near.

"Now, Colonel," said the host, "send round the bottle."

With a flourish of the elbow and shoulder, the Colonel sent on the port, actually port, in those bleak, post-war days!

"Well, Mr. Sisson," said Sir William, "we will drink to your kind Providence: providing, of course, that we shall give no offence by so doing."

"No, sir; no, sir! The Providence belonged to Mr. Lilly. Mr. Sisson put his money on kindly fortune, I believe," said Arthur, who rosy and fresh with wine, looked as if he would make a marvelous "bonne bouchee" for a finely-discriminating cannibal.

"Ah, yes, indeed! A much more ingratiating lady to lift our glasses to. Mr. Sisson's kindly fortune. "Fortuna gentil-issima"! Well, Mr. Sisson, and may your Lady Fortune ever smile on you."

Sir William lifted his glass with an odd little smirk, some touch of a strange, prim old satyr lurking in his oddly inclined head. Nay, more than satyr: that curious, rather terrible iron demon that has fought with the world and wrung wealth from it, and which knows all about it. The devilish spirit of iron itself, and iron machines. So, with his strange, old smile showing his teeth rather terribly, the old knight glowered sightlessly over his glass at Aaron. Then he drank: the strange, careful, old-man's gesture in drinking.

"But," said Aaron, "if Fortune is a female---"

"Fortune! Fortune! Why, Fortune is a lady. What do you say, Major?"

"She has all the airs of one, Sir William," said the Major, with the wistful grimness of his age and culture. And the young fellow stared like a crucified cyclops from his one eye: the black shutter being over the other.

"And all the graces," capped Sir William, delighted with himself.

"Oh, quite!" said the Major. "For some, all the airs, and for others, all the graces."

"Faint heart ne'er won fair lady, my boy," said Sir William. "Not that your heart is faint. On the contrary--as we know, and your country knows. But with Lady Fortune you need another kind of stout heart--oh, quite another kind."

"I believe it, sir: and the kind of stout heart which I am afraid I haven't got," said the Major.

"What!" said the old man. "Show the white feather before you've tackled the lady! Fill the Major's glass, Colonel. I am quite sure we will none of us ever say die."

"Not likely. Not if we know it," said the Colonel, stretching himself heartily inside his tunic. He was becoming ruddier than the cherry. All he cared about at the moment was his gay little port glass. But the Major's young cheek was hollow and sallow, his one eye terribly pathetic.

"And you, Mr. Sisson," said Sir William, "mean to carry all before you by taking no thought for the morrow. Well, now, we can only wish you success."

"I don't want to carry all before me," said Aaron. "I should be sorry. I want to walk past most of it."

"Can you tell us where to? I am intrigued, as Sybil says, to know where you will walk to. Come now. Enlighten us."

"Nowhere, I suppose."

"But is that satisfactory? Can you find it satisfactory?"

"Is it even true?" said the Major. "Isn't it quite as positive an act to walk away from a situation as to walk towards it?"

"My dear boy, you can't merely walk away from a situation. Believe that. If you walk away from Rome, you walk into the Maremma, or into the Alban Hills, or into the sea--but you walk into something. Now if I am going to walk away from Rome, I prefer to choose my direction, and therefore my destination."

"But you can't," said the Major.

"What can't you?"

"Choose. Either your direction or your destination." The Major was obstinate.

"Really!" said Sir William. "I have not found it so. I have not found it so. I have had to keep myself hard at work, all my life, choosing between this or that."

"And we," said the Major, "have no choice, except between this or nothing."

"Really! I am afraid," said Sir William, "I am afraid I am too old--or too young--which shall I say?--to understand."

"Too young, sir," said Arthur sweetly. "The child was always father to the man, I believe."

"I confess the Major makes me feel childish," said the old man. "The choice between this or nothing is a puzzler to me. Can you help me out, Mr. Sisson? What do you make of this this-or-nothing business? I can understand neck-or-nothing---"

"I prefer the NOTHING part of it to the THIS part of it," said Aaron, grinning.

"Colonel," said the old man, "throw a little light on this nothingness."

"No, Sir William," said the Colonel. "I am all right as I am."

"As a matter of fact, so are we all, perfectly A-one," said Arthur.

Aaron broke into a laugh.

"That's the top and bottom of it," he laughed, flushed with wine, and handsome. We're all as right as ninepence. Only it's rather nice to talk."

"There!" said Sir William. "We're all as right as ninepence! We're all as right ninepence. So there well leave it, before the Major has time to say he is twopence short." Laughing his strange old soundless laugh, Sir William rose and made a little bow. "Come up and join the ladies in a minute or two," he said. Arthur opened the door for him and he left the room.

The four men were silent for a moment--then the Colonel whipped up the decanter and filled his glass. Then he stood up and clinked glasses with Aaron, like a real old sport.

"Luck to you," he said.

"Thanks," said Aaron.

"You're going in the morning?" said Arthur.

"Yes," said Aaron.

"What train?" said Arthur.

"Eight-forty."

"Oh--then we shan't see you again. Well--best of luck."

"Best of luck--" echoed the Colonel.

"Same to you," said Aaron, and they all peered over their glasses and quite loved one another for a rosy minute.

"I should like to know, though," said the hollow-cheeked young Major with the black flap over his eye, "whether you do really mean you are all right--that it is all right with you--or whether you only say so to get away from the responsibility."

"I mean I don't really care--I don't a damn--let the devil take it all."

"The devil doesn't want it, either," said the Major.

"Then let him leave it. I don't care one single little curse about it all."

"Be damned. What is there to care about?" said the Colonel.

"Ay, what?" said Aaron.

"It's all the same, whether you care or don't care. So I say it's much easier not to care," said Arthur.

"Of course it is," said the Colonel gaily.

"And I think so, too," said Aaron.

"Right you are! We're all as right as ninepence--what? Good old sport! Here's yours!" cried the Colonel.

"We shall have to be going up," said Arthur, wise in his generation.

As they went into the hall, Arthur suddenly put one arm round Aaron's waist, and one arm round the Colonel's, and the three did a sudden little barn-dance towards the stairs. Arthur was feeling himself quite let loose again, back in his old regimental mess.

Approaching the foot of the stairs, he let go again. He was in that rosy condition when united-we-stand. But unfortunately it is a complicated job to climb the stairs in unison. The whole lot tends to fall backwards. Arthur, therefore, rosy, plump, looking so good to eat, stood still a moment in order to find his own neatly-slippered feet. Having found them, he proceeded to put them carefully one before the other, and to his enchantment found that this procedure was carrying him magically up the stairs. The Colonel, like a drowning man, clutched feebly for the straw of the great stair-rail--and missed it. He would have gone under, but that Aaron's hand gripped his arm. So, orientating once more like a fragile tendril, he reached again for the banister rail, and got it. After which, lifting his feet as if they were little packets of sand tied to his trouser buttons, he manipulated his way upwards. Aaron was in that pleasant state when he saw what everybody else was doing and was unconscious of what he did himself. Whilst tall, gaunt, erect, like a murdered Hamlet resurrected in khaki, with the terrible black shutter over his eye, the young Major came last.

Arthur was making a stern fight for his composure. His whole future depended on it. But do what he would, he could not get the flushed, pleased, mess-happy look off his face. The Colonel, oh, awful man, did a sort of plump roly-poly-cake-walk, like a fat boy, right to the very door of that santum-sanctorum, the library. Aaron was inwardly convulsed. Even the Major laughed.

But Arthur stiffened himself militarily and cleared his throat. All four started to compose themselves, like actors going on the stage, outside that library door. And then Arthur softly, almost wistfully, opened and held the door for the others to pass. The Colonel slunk meekly in, and sat in a chair in the background. The Major stalked in expressionless, and hovered towards the sofa where his wife sat.

There was a rather cold-water-down-your-back feeling in the library. The ladies had been waiting for coffee. Sir William was waiting, too. Therefore in a little tension, half silent, the coffee was handed round. Lady Franks was discussing something with Arthur's wife. Arthur's wife was in a cream lace dress, and looking what is called lovely. The Major's wife was in amethyst chiffon with dark-red roses, and was looking blindingly beautiful. The Colonel was looking into his coffee-cup as wistfully as if it contained the illusion of tawny port. The Major was looking into space, as if there and there alone, etc. Arthur was looking for something which Lady Franks had asked for, and which he was much too flushed to find. Sir William was looking at Aaron, and preparing for another "coeur a coeur".

"Well," he said, "I doubt if you will care for Milan. It is one of the least Italian of all the towns, in my opinion. Venice, of course, is a thing apart. I cannot stand, myself, that miserable specimen the modern Roman. He has most of the vices of the old Romans and none of the virtues. The most congenial town, perhaps, for a stranger, is Florence. But it has a very bad climate."

Lady Franks rose significantly and left the room, accompanied by Arthur's wife. Aaron knew, silently, that he was summoned to follow. His hostess had her eye on him this evening. But always postponing his obedience to the cool commands of women, he remained talking with his host in the library, and sipping "creme de menthe"! Came the ripple of the pianoforte from the open doorway down at the further end of the room. Lady Franks was playing, in the large drawing-room. And the ripple of the music contained in it the hard insistence of the little woman's will. Coldly, and decidedly, she intended there should be no more unsettling conversations for the old Sir William. Aaron was to come forthwith into the drawing room. Which Aaron plainly understood--and so he didn't go. No, he didn't go, though the pianoforte rippled and swelled in volume. No, and he didn't go even when Lady Franks left off playing and came into the library again. There he sat, talking with Sir William. Let us do credit to Lady Franks' will-power, and admit that the talk was quite empty and distracted--none of the depths and skirmishes of the previous occasions. None the less, the talk continued. Lady Franks retired, discomfited, to her piano again. She would never break in upon her lord.

So now Aaron relented. He became more and more distracted. Sir William wandered away like some restless, hunted soul. The Colonel still sat in his chair, nursing his last drop of "creme de menthe" resentfully. He did not care for the green toffee-stuff. Arthur was busy. The Major lay sprawled in the last stages of everything on the sofa, holding his wife's hand. And the music came pathetically through the open folding-doors. Of course, she played with feeling--it went without saying. Aaron's soul felt rather tired. But she had a touch of discrimination also.

He rose and went to the drawing-room. It was a large, vacant-seeming, Empire sort of drawing-room, with yellow silk chairs along the walls and yellow silk panels upon the walls, and a huge, vasty crystal chandelier hanging from a faraway-above ceiling. Lady Franks sat at a large black Bechstein piano at one end of this vacant yellow state-room. She sat, a little plump elderly lady in black lace, for all the world like Queen Victoria in Max Beerbohm's drawing of Alfred Tennyson reading to her Victorian Majesty, with space before her. Arthur's wife was bending over some music in a remote corner of the big room.

Aaron seated himself on one of the chairs by the wall, to listen. Certainly it was a beautiful instrument. And certainly, in her way, she loved it. But Aaron remembered an anthem in which he had taken part as a boy.

His eye is on the sparrow So I know He watches me.

For a long time he had failed to catch the word "sparrow", and had heard:

His eye is on the spy-hole So I know He watches me.

Which was just how it had all seemed to him, as a boy.

Now, as ever, he felt the eye was on the spy-hole. There sat the woman playing music. But her inward eye was on the spy-hole of her vital affairs--her domestic arrangements, her control of her household, guests and husband included. The other eye was left for the music, don't you know.

Sir William appeared hovering in the doorway, not at all liking the defection of Mr. Aaron. Then he retreated. He seemed not to care for music. The Major's wife hovered--felt it her duty to "aude", or play audience--and entered, seating herself in a breath of lilac and amethyst again at the near distance. The Major, after a certain beating about the bush, followed and sat wrapt in dim contemplation near his wife. Arthur luckily was still busy with something.

Aaron of course made proper musical remarks in the intervals--Arthur's wife sorted out more pieces. Arthur appeared--and then the Colonel. The Colonel tip-toed beautifully across the wide blank space of the Empire room, and seated himself on a chair, rather in the distance, with his back to the wall, facing Aaron. When Lady Franks finished her piece, to everybody's amazement the Colonel clapped gaily to himself and said Bravo! as if at a Cafe Chantant, looking round for his glass. But there was no glass. So he crossed his neatly-khakied legs, and looked rapt again.

Lady Franks started with a "vivace" Schumann piece. Everybody listened in sanctified silence, trying to seem to like it. When suddenly our Colonel began to spring and bounce in his chair, slinging his loose leg with a kind of rapture up and down in the air, and capering upon his posterior, doing a sitting-down jig to the Schumann "vivace". Arthur, who had seated himself at the farthest extremity of the room, winked with wild bliss at Aaron. The Major tried to look as if he noticed nothing, and only succeeded in looking agonised. His wife studied the point of her silver shoe minutely, and peeped through her hair at the performance. Aaron grimly chuckled, and loved the Colonel with real tenderness.

And the game went on while the "vivace" lasted. Up and down bounced the plump Colonel on his chair, kicking with his bright, black-patent toe higher and higher, getting quite enthusiastic over his jig. Rosy and unabashed, he was worthy of the great nation he belonged to. The broad-seated Empire chair showed no signs of giving way. Let him enjoy himself, away there across the yellow Sahara of this silk-panelled salon. Aaron felt quite cheered up.

"Well, now," he thought to himself, "this man is in entire command of a very important branch of the British Service in Italy. We are a great race still."

But Lady Franks must have twigged. Her playing went rather stiff. She came to the end of the "vivace" movement, and abandoned her piece.

"I always prefer Schumann in his "vivace" moods," said Aaron.

"Do you?" said Lady Franks. "Oh, I don't know."

It was now the turn of Arthur's wife to sing. Arthur seemed to get further away: if it was possible, for he was at the remotest remote end of the room, near the gallery doors. The Colonel became quiet, pensive. The Major's wife eyed the young woman in white lace, and seemed not to care for lace. Arthur seemed to be trying to push himself backwards through the wall. Lady Franks switched on more lights into the vast and voluminous crystal chandelier which hung like some glory-cloud above the room's centre. And Arthur's wife sang sweet little French songs, and "Ye Banks and Braes", and "Caro mio ben", which goes without saying: and so on. She had quite a nice voice and was quite adequately trained. Which is enough said. Aaron had all his nerves on edge.

Then he had to play the flute. Arthur strolled upstairs with him, arm-in-arm, where he went to fetch his instrument.

"I find music in the home rather a strain, you know," said Arthur.

"Cruel strain. I quite agree," said Aaron.

"I don't mind it so much in the theatre--or even a concert--where there are a lot of other people to take the edge off-- But after a good dinner--"

"It's medicine," said Aaron.

"Well, you know, it really is, to me. It affects my inside." Aaron laughed. And then, in the yellow drawing-room, blew into his pipe and played. He knew so well that Arthur, the Major, the Major's wife, the Colonel, and Sir William thought it merely an intolerable bore. However, he played. His hostess even accompanied him in a Mozart bit.

CHAPTER XIV. XX SETTEMBRE

Aaron was awakened in the morning by the soft entrance of the butler with the tray: it was just seven o'clock. Lady Franks' household was punctual as the sun itself.

But our hero roused himself with a wrench. The very act of lifting himself from the pillow was like a fight this morning. Why? He recognized his own wrench, the pain with which he struggled under the necessity to move. Why shouldn't he want to move? Why not? Because he didn't want the day in front--the plunge into a strange country, towards nowhere, with no aim in view. True, he said that ultimately he wanted to join Lilly. But this was hardly more than a sop, an excuse for his own irrational behaviour. He was breaking loose from one connection after another; and what for? Why break every tie? Snap, snap, snap went the bonds and ligatures which bound him to the life that had formed him, the people he had loved or liked. He found all his affections snapping off, all the ties which united him with his own people coming asunder. And why? In God's name, why? What was there instead?

There was nothingness. There was just himself, and blank nothingness. He had perhaps a faint sense of Lilly ahead of him; an impulse in that direction, or else merely an illusion. He could not persuade himself that he was seeking for love, for any kind of unison or communion. He knew well enough that the thought of any loving, any sort of real coming together between himself and anybody or anything, was just objectionable to him. No--he was not moving "towards" anything: he was moving almost violently away from everything. And that was what he wanted. Only that. Only let him "not" run into any sort of embrace with anything or anybody--this was what he asked. Let no new connection be made between himself and anything on earth. Let all old connections break. This was his craving.

Yet he struggled under it this morning as under the lid of a tomb. The terrible sudden weight of inertia! He knew the tray stood ready by the bed: he knew the automobile would be at the door at eight o'clock, for Lady Franks had said so, and he half divined that the servant had also said so: yet there he lay, in a kind of paralysis in this bed. He seemed for the moment to have lost his will. Why go forward into more nothingness, away from all that he knew, all he was accustomed to and all he belonged to?

However, with a click he sat up. And the very instant he had poured his coffee from the little silver coffee-pot into his delicate cup, he was ready for anything and everything. The sense of silent adventure took him, the exhilarated feeling that he was fulfilling his own inward destiny. Pleasant to taste was the coffee, the bread, the honey--delicious.

The man brought his clothes, and again informed him that the automobile would be at the door at eight o'clock: or at least so he made out.

"I can walk," said Aaron.

"Milady ha comandato l'automobile," said the man softly.

It was evident that if Milady had ordered it, so it must be.

So Aaron left the still-sleeping house, and got into the soft and luxurious car. As he dropped through the park he wondered that Sir William and Lady Franks should be so kind to him: a complete stranger. But so it was. There he sat in their car. He wondered, also, as he ran over the bridge and into the city, whether this soft-running automobile would ever rouse the socialistic bile of the work-people. For the first time in his life, as he sat among the snug cushions, he realised what it might be to be rich and uneasy: uneasy, even if not afraid, lurking there inside an expensive car.--Well, it wasn't much of a sensation anyhow: and riches were stuffy, like wadded upholstery on everything. He was glad to get out into the fresh air of the common crowd. He was glad to be in the bleak, not-very-busy station. He was glad to be part of common life. For the very atmosphere of riches seems to be stuffed and wadded, never any real reaction. It was terrible, as if one's very body, shoulders and arms, were upholstered and made cushiony. Ugh, but he was glad to shake off himself the atmosphere of wealth and motor-cars, to get out of it all. It was like getting out of quilted clothes.

"Well," thought Aaron, "if this is all it amounts to, to be rich, you can have riches. They talk about money being power. But the only sort of power it has over me is to bring on a kind of numbness, which I fairly hate. No wonder rich people don't seem to be really alive."

The relief of escaping quite took away his self-conscious embarrassment at the station. He carried his own bags, bought a third-class ticket, and got into the train for Milan without caring one straw for the comments or the looks of the porters.

It began to rain. The rain ran across the great plain of north Italy. Aaron sat in his wood-seated carriage and smoked his pipe in silence, looking at the thick, short Lombards opposite him without heeding them. He paid hardly any outward attention to his surroundings, but sat involved in himself.

In Milan he had been advised to go to the Hotel Britannia, because it was not expensive, and English people went there. So he took a carriage, drove round the green space in front of Milan station, and away into the town. The streets were busy, but only half-heartedly so.

It must be confessed that every new move he made was rather an effort. Even he himself wondered why he was struggling with foreign porters and foreign cabmen, being talked at and not understanding a word. But there he was. So he went on with it.

The hotel was small and congenial. The hotel porter answered in English. Aaron was given a little room with a tiny balcony, looking on to a quiet street. So, he had a home of his own once more. He washed, and then counted his money. Thirty-seven pounds he had: and no more. He stood on the balcony and looked at the people going by below. Life seems to be moving so quick, when one looks down on it from above.

Across the road was a large stone house with its green shutters all closed. But from the flagpole under the eaves, over the central window of the uppermost floor--the house was four storeys high--waved the Italian flag in the melancholy damp air. Aaron looked at it--the red, white and green tricolour, with the white cross of Savoy in the centre. It hung damp and still. And there seemed a curious vacancy in the city--something empty and depressing in the great human centre. Not that there was really a lack of people. But the spirit of the town seemed depressed and empty. It was a national holiday. The Italian flag was hanging from almost every housefront.

It was about three o'clock in the afternoon. Aaron sat in the restaurant of the hotel drinking tea, for he was rather tired, and looking through the thin curtains at the little square outside, where people passed: little groups of dark, aimless-seeming men, a little bit poorer looking--perhaps rather shorter in stature--but very much like the people in any other town. Yet the feeling of the city was so different from that of London. There seemed a curious emptiness. The rain had ceased, but the pavements were still wet. There was a tension.

Suddenly there was a noise of two shots, fired in rapid succession. Aaron turned startled to look into the quiet piazza. And to his amazement, the pavements were empty, not a soul was in sight. Two minutes before the place was busy with passers-by, and a newspaper man selling the Corriere, and little carriages rattling through. Now, as if by magic, nobody, nothing. It was as if they had all melted into thin air.

The waiter, too, was peeping behind the curtain. A carriage came trotting into the square--an odd man took his way alone--the traffic began to stir once more, and people reappeared as suddenly as they had disappeared. Then the waiter ran hastily and furtively out and craned his neck, peering round the square. He spoke with two youths--rather loutish youths. Then he returned to his duty in the hotel restaurant.

"What was it? What were the shots?" Aaron asked him.

"Oh--somebody shooting at a dog," said the man negligently.

"At a dog!" said Aaron, with round eyes.

He finished his tea, and went out into the town. His hotel was not far from the cathedral square. Passing through the arcade, he came in sight of the famous cathedral with its numerous spines pricking into the afternoon air. He was not as impressed as he should have been. And yet there was something in the northern city--this big square with all the trams threading through, the little yellow Continental trams: and the spiny bulk of the great cathedral, like a grey-purple sea-urchin with many spines, on the one side, the ornamental grass-plots and flower beds on the other: the big shops going all along the further strands, all round: and the endless restless nervous drift of a north Italian crowd, so nervous, so twitchy; nervous and twitchy as the slipping past of the little yellow tram-cars; it all affected him with a sense of strangeness, nervousness, and approaching winter. It struck him the people were afraid of themselves: afraid of their own souls, and that which was in their own souls.

Turning up the broad steps of the cathedral, he entered the famous building. The sky had cleared, and the freshened light shone coloured in living tablets round the wonderful, towering, rose-hearted dusk of the great church. At some altars lights flickered uneasily. At some unseen side altar mass was going on, and a strange ragged music fluttered out on the incense-dusk of the great and lofty interior, which was all shadow, all shadow, hung round with jewel tablets of light. Particularly beautiful the great east bay, above the great altar. And all the time, over the big-patterned marble floor, the faint click and rustle of feet coming and going, coming and going, like shallow uneasy water rustled back and forth in a trough. A white dog trotted pale through the under-dusk, over the pale, big-patterned floor. Aaron came to the side altar where mass was going on, candles ruddily wavering. There was a small cluster of kneeling women--a ragged handful of on-looking men--and people wandering up and wandering away, young women with neatly dressed black hair, and shawls, but without hats; fine young women in very high heels; young men with nothing to do; ragged men with nothing to do. All strayed faintly clicking over the slabbed floor, and glanced at the flickering altar where the white-surpliced boys were curtseying and the white-and-gold priest bowing, his hands over his breast, in the candle-light. All strayed, glanced, lingered, and strayed away again, as if the spectacle were not sufficiently holding. The bell chimed for the elevation of the Host. But the thin trickle of people trickled the same, uneasily, over the slabbed floor of the vastly-upreaching shadow-foliaged cathedral.

The smell of incense in his nostrils, Aaron went out again by a side door, and began to walk along the pavements of the cathedral square, looking at the shops. Some were closed, and had little notices pinned on them. Some were open, and seemed half-stocked with half-elegant things. Men were carrying newspapers. In the cafes a few men were seated drinking vermouth. In the doorway of the restaurants waiters stood inert, looking out on the streets. The curious heart-eating "ennui" of the big town on a holiday came over our hero. He felt he must get out, whatever happened. He could not bear it.

So he went back to his hotel and up to his room. It was still only five o'clock. And he did not know what to do with himself. He lay down on the bed, and looked at the painting on his bedroom ceiling. It was a terrible business in reckitt's blue and browny gold, with awful heraldic beasts, rather worm-wriggly, displayed in a blue field.

As he lay thinking of nothing and feeling nothing except a certain weariness, or dreariness, or tension, or God-knows-what, he heard a loud hoarse noise of humanity in the distance, something frightening. Rising, he went on to his little balcony. It was a sort of procession, or march of men, here and there a red flag fluttering from a man's fist. There had been a big meeting, and this was the issue. The procession was irregular, but powerful, men four abreast. They emerged irregularly from the small piazza to the street, calling and vociferating. They stopped before a shop and clotted into a crowd, shouting, becoming vicious. Over the shop-door hung a tricolour, a national flag. The shop was closed, but the men began to knock at the door. They were all workmen, some in railway men's caps, mostly in black felt hats. Some wore red cotton neck-ties. They lifted their faces to the national flag, and as they shouted and gesticulated Aaron could see their strong teeth in their jaws. There was something frightening in their lean, strong Italian jaws, something inhuman and possessed-looking in their foreign, southern-shaped faces, so much more formed and demon-looking than northern faces. They had a demon-like set purpose, and the noise of their voices was like a jarring of steel weapons. Aaron wondered what they wanted. There were no women--all men--a strange male, slashing sound. Vicious it was--the head of the procession swirling like a little pool, the thick wedge of the procession beyond, flecked with red flags.

A window opened above the shop, and a frowsty-looking man, yellow-pale, was quickly and nervously hauling in the national flag. There were shouts of derision and mockery--a great overtone of acrid derision--the flag and its owner ignominiously disappeared. And the procession moved on. Almost every shop had a flag flying. And every one of these flags now disappeared, quickly or slowly, sooner or later, in obedience to the command of the vicious, derisive crowd, that marched and clotted slowly down the street, having its own way.

Only one flag remained flying--the big tricolour that floated from the top storey of the house opposite Aaron's hotel. The ground floor of this house consisted of shop-premises--now closed. There was no sign of any occupant. The flag floated inert aloft.

The whole crowd had come to a stop immediately below the hotel, and all were now looking up at the green and white and red tricolour which stirred damply in the early evening light, from under the broad eaves of the house opposite. Aaron looked at the long flag, which drooped almost unmoved from the eaves-shadow, and he half expected it to furl itself up of its own accord, in obedience to the will of the masses. Then he looked down at the packed black shoulders of the mob below, and at the curious clustering pattern of a sea of black hats. He could hardly see anything but hats and shoulders, uneasily moving like boiling pitch away beneath him. But the shouts began to come up hotter and hotter. There had been a great ringing of a door-bell and battering on the shop-door. The crowd--the swollen head of the procession--talked and shouted, occupying the centre of the street, but leaving the pavement clear. A woman in a white blouse appeared in the shop-door. She came out and looked up at the flag and shook her head and gesticulated with her hands. It was evidently not her flag--she had nothing to do with it. The leaders again turned to the large house-door, and began to ring all the bells and to knock with their knuckles. But no good--there was no answer. They looked up again at the flag. Voices rose ragged and ironical. The woman explained something again. Apparently there was nobody at home in the upper floors--all entrance was locked--there was no caretaker. Nobody owned the flag. There it hung under the broad eaves of the strong stone house, and didn't even know that it was guilty. The woman went back into her shop and drew down the iron shutter from inside.

The crowd, nonplussed, now began to argue and shout and whistle. The voices rose in pitch and derision. Steam was getting up. There hung the flag. The procession crowded forward and filled the street in a mass below. All the rest of the street was empty and shut up. And still hung the showy rag, red and white and green, up aloft.

Suddenly there was a lull--then shouts, half-encouraging, half-derisive. And Aaron saw a smallish-black figure of a youth, fair-haired, not more than seventeen years old, clinging like a monkey to the front of the house, and by the help of the heavy drain-pipe and the stone-work ornamentation climbing up to the stone ledge that ran under ground-floor windows, up like a sudden cat on to the projecting footing. He did not stop there, but continued his race like some frantic lizard running up the great wall-front, working away from the noise below, as if in sheer fright. It was one unending wriggling movement, sheer up the front of the impassive, heavy stone house.

The flag hung from a pole under one of the windows of the top storey--the third floor. Up went the wriggling figure of the possessed youth. The cries of the crowd below were now wild, ragged ejaculations of excitement and encouragement. The youth seemed to be lifted up, almost magically on the intense upreaching excitement of the massed men below. He passed the ledge of the first floor, like a lizard he wriggled up and passed the ledge or coping of the second floor, and there he was, like an upward-climbing shadow, scrambling on to the coping of the third floor. The crowd was for a second electrically still as the boy rose there erect, cleaving to the wall with the tips of his fingers.

But he did not hesitate for one breath. He was on his feet and running along the narrow coping that went across the house under the third floor windows, running there on that narrow footing away above the street, straight to the flag. He had got it--he had clutched it in his hand, a handful of it. Exactly like a great flame rose the simultaneous yell of the crowd as the boy jerked and got the flag loose. He had torn it down. A tremendous prolonged yell, touched with a snarl of triumph, and searing like a puff of flame, sounded as the boy remained for one moment with the flag in his hand looking down at the crowd below. His face was odd and elated and still. Then with the slightest gesture he threw the flag from him, and Aaron watched the gaudy remnant falling towards the many faces, whilst the noise of yelling rose up unheard.

There was a great clutch and hiss in the crowd. The boy still stood unmoved, holding by one hand behind him, looking down from above, from his dangerous elevation, in a sort of abstraction.

And the next thing Aaron was conscious of was the sound of trumpets. A sudden startling challenge of trumpets, and out of nowhere a sudden rush of grey-green carabinieri battering the crowd wildly with truncheons. It was so sudden that Aaron "heard" nothing any more. He only saw.

In utmost amazement he saw the greeny-grey uniformed carabinieri rushing thick and wild and indiscriminate on the crowd: a sudden new excited crowd in uniforms attacking the black crowd, beating them wildly with truncheons. There was a seething moment in the street below. And almost instantaneously the original crowd burst into a terror of frenzy. The mob broke as if something had exploded inside it. A few black-hatted men fought furiously to get themselves free of the hated soldiers; in the confusion bunches of men staggered, reeled, fell, and were struggling among the legs of their comrades and of the carabinieri. But the bulk of the crowd just burst and fled--in every direction. Like drops of water they seemed to fly up at the very walls themselves. They darted into any entry, any doorway. They sprang up the walls and clambered into the ground-floor windows. They sprang up the walls on to window-ledges, and then jumped down again, and ran--clambering, wriggling, darting, running in every direction; some cut, blood on their faces, terror or frenzy of flight in their hearts. Not so much terror as the frenzy of running away. In a breath the street was empty.

And all the time, there above on the stone coping stood the long-faced, fair-haired boy, while four stout carabinieri in the street below stood with uplifted revolvers and covered him, shouting that if he moved they would shoot. So there he stood, still looking down, still holding with his left hand behind him, covered by the four revolvers. He was not so much afraid as twitchily self-conscious because of his false position.

Meanwhile down below the crowd had dispersed--melted momentaneously. The carabinieri were busy arresting the men who had fallen and been trodden underfoot, or who had foolishly let themselves be taken; perhaps half a dozen men, half a dozen prisoners; less rather than more. The sergeant ordered these to be secured between soldiers. And last of all the youth up above, still covered by the revolvers, was ordered to come down. He turned quite quietly, and quite humbly, cautiously picked his way along the coping towards the drain-pipe. He reached this pipe and began, in humiliation, to climb down. It was a real climb down.

Once in the street he was surrounded by the grey uniforms. The soldiers formed up. The sergeant gave the order. And away they marched, the dejected youth a prisoner between them.

Then were heard a few scattered yells of derision and protest, a few shouts of anger and derision against the carabinieri. There were once more gangs of men and groups of youths along the street. They sent up an occasional shout. But always over their shoulders, and pretending it was not they who shouted. They were all cowed and hang-dog once more, and made not the slightest effort to save the youth. Nevertheless, they prowled and watched, ready for the next time.

So, away went the prisoner and the grey-green soldiers, and the street was left to the little gangs and groups of hangdog, discontented men, all thoroughly out of countenance. The scene was ended.

Aaron looked round, dazed. And then for the first time he noticed, on the next balcony to his own, two young men: young gentlemen, he would have said. The one was tall and handsome and well-coloured, might be Italian. But the other with his pale thin face and his rimless monocle in his eye, he was surely an Englishman. He was surely one of the young officers shattered by the war. A look of strange, arch, bird-like pleasure was on his face at this moment: if one could imagine the gleaming smile of a white owl over the events that had just passed, this was the impression produced on Aaron by the face of the young man with the monocle. The other youth, the ruddy, handsome one, had knitted his brows in mock distress, and was glancing with a look of shrewd curiosity at Aaron, and with a look of almost self-satisfied excitement first to one end of the street, then to the other.

"But imagine, Angus, it's all over!" he said, laying his hand on the arm of the monocled young man, and making great eyes--not without a shrewd glance in Aaron's direction.

"Did you see him fall!" replied Angus, with another strange gleam.

"Yes. But was he HURT--?"

"I don't know. I should think so. He fell right back out of that on to those stones!"

"But how perfectly AWFUL! Did you ever see anything like it?"

"No. It's one of the funniest things I ever did see. I saw nothing quite like it, even in the war--"

Here Aaron withdrew into his room. His mind and soul were in a whirl. He sat down in his chair, and did not move again for a great while. When he did move, he took his flute and played he knew not what. But strange, strange his soul passed into his instrument. Or passed half into his instrument. There was a big residue left, to go bitter, or to ferment into gold old wine of wisdom.

He did not notice the dinner gong, and only the arrival of the chamber-maid, to put the wash-table in order, sent him down to the restaurant. The first thing he saw, as he entered, was the two young Englishmen seated at a table in a corner just behind him. Their hair was brushed straight back from their foreheads, making the sweep of the head bright and impeccable, and leaving both the young faces clear as if in cameo. Angus had laid his monocle on the table, and was looking round the room with wide, light-blue eyes, looking hard, like some bird-creature, and seeming to see nothing. He had evidently been very ill: was still very ill. His cheeks and even his jaw seemed shrunken, almost withered. He forgot his dinner: or he did not care for it. Probably the latter.

"What do you think, Francis," he said, "of making a plan to see Florence and Sienna and Orvieto on the way down, instead of going straight to Rome?" He spoke in precise, particularly-enunciated words, in a public-school manner, but with a strong twang of South Wales.

"Why, Angus," came the graceful voice of Francis, "I thought we had settled to go straight through via Pisa." Francis was graceful in everything--in his tall, elegant figure, in the poses of his handsome head, in the modulation of his voice.

"Yes, but I see we can go either way--either Pisa or Florence. And I thought it might be nice to look at Florence and Sienna and Orvieto. I believe they're very lovely," came the soft, precise voice of Angus, ending in a touch of odd emotion on the words "very lovely," as if it were a new experience to him to be using them.

"I'm SURE they're marvellous. I'm quite sure they're marvellously beautiful," said Francis, in his assured, elegant way. "Well, then, Angus--suppose we do that, then?--When shall we start?"

Angus was the nervous insister. Francis was quite occupied with his own thoughts and calculations and curiosity. For he was very curious, not to say inquisitive. And at the present moment he had a new subject to ponder.

This new subject was Aaron, who sat with his back to our new couple, and who, with his fine sharp ears, caught every word that they said. Aaron's back was broad enough, and his shoulders square, and his head rather small and fairish and well-shaped--and Francis was intrigued. He wanted to know, was the man English. He "looked" so English--yet he might be--he might perhaps be Danish, Scandinavian, or Dutch. Therefore, the elegant young man watched and listened with all his ears.

The waiter who had brought Aaron his soup now came very free and easy, to ask for further orders.

"What would you like to drink? Wine? Chianti? Or white wine? Or beer?"--The old-fashioned "Sir" was dropped. It is too old-fashioned now, since the war.

"What SHOULD I drink?" said Aaron, whose acquaintance with wines was not very large.

"Half-litre of Chianti: that is very good," said the waiter, with the air of a man who knew only too well how to bring up his betters, and train them in the way they should go.

"All right," said Aaron.

The welcome sound of these two magic words, All Right! was what the waiter most desired. "All right! Yes! All Right!" This is the pith, the marrow, the sum and essence of the English language to a southerner. Of course it is not "all right". It is "Or-rye"--and one word at that. The blow that would be given to most foreign waiters, if they were forced to realize that the famous "orye" was really composed of two words, and spelt "all right", would be too cruel, perhaps.

"Half litre Chianti. Orye," said the waiter. And we'll let him say it.

"ENGLISH!" whispered Francis melodramatically in the ear of Angus. "I THOUGHT so. The flautist."

Angus put in his monocle, and stared at the oblivious shoulders of Aaron, without apparently seeing anything. "Yes. Obviously English," said Angus, pursing like a bird.

"Oh, but I heard him," whispered Francis emphatically. "Quite," said Angus. "But quite inoffensive."

"Oh, but Angus, my dear--he's the FLAUTIST. Don't you remember? The divine bit of Scriabin. At least I believe it was Scriabin.--But PERFECTLY DIVINE!!! I adore the flute above all things--" And Francis placed his hand on Angus' arm, and rolled his eyes--Lay this to the credit of a bottle of Lacrimae Cristi, if you like.

"Yes. So do I," said Angus, again looking archly through the monocle, and seeing nothing. "I wonder what he's doing here."

"Don't you think we might ASK him?" said Francis, in a vehement whisper. "After all, we are the only three English people in the place."

"For the moment, apparently we are," said Angus. "But the English are all over the place wherever you go, like bits of orange peel in the street. Don't forget that, Francesco."

"No, Angus, I don't. The point is, his flute is PERFECTLY DIVINE--and he seems quite attractive in himself. Don't you think so?"

"Oh, quite," said Angus, whose observations had got no further than the black cloth of the back of Aaron's jacket. That there was a man inside he had not yet paused to consider.

"Quite a musician," said Francis.

"The hired sort," said Angus, "most probably."

"But he PLAYS--he plays most marvellously. THAT you can't get away from, Angus."

"I quite agree," said Angus.

"Well, then? Don't you think we might hear him again? Don't you think we might get him to play for us?--But I should love it more than anything."

"Yes, I should, too," said Angus. "You might ask him to coffee and a liqueur."

"I should like to--most awfully. But do you think I might?"

"Oh, yes. He won't mind being offered a coffee and liqueur. We can give him something decent--Where's the waiter?" Angus lifted his pinched, ugly bare face and looked round with weird command for the waiter. The waiter, having not much to do, and feeling ready to draw these two weird young birds, allowed himself to be summoned.

"Where's the wine list? What liqueurs have you got?" demanded Angus abruptly.

The waiter rattled off a list, beginning with Strega and ending with cherry brandy.

"Grand Marnier," said Angus. "And leave the bottle."

Then he looked with arch triumph at Francis, like a wicked bird. Francis bit his finger moodily, and glowered with handsome, dark-blue uncertain eyes at Mr. Aaron, who was just surveying the "Frutte", which consisted of two rather old pomegranates and various pale yellow apples, with a sprinkling of withered dried figs. At the moment, they all looked like a "Natura Morta" arrangement.

"But do you think I might--?" said Francis moodily. Angus pursed his lips with a reckless brightness.

"Why not? I see no reason why you shouldn't," he said. Whereupon Francis cleared his throat, disposed of his serviette, and rose to his feet, slowly but gracefully. Then he composed himself, and took on the air he wished to assume at the moment. It was a nice degage air, half naive and half enthusiastic. Then he crossed to Aaron's table, and stood on one lounging hip, gracefully, and bent forward in a confidential manner, and said:

"Do excuse me. But I MUST ask you if it was you we heard playing the flute so perfectly wonderfully, just before dinner."

The voice was confidential and ingratiating. Aaron, relieved from the world's stress and seeing life anew in the rosy glow of half a litre of good old Chianti--the war was so near but gone by--looked up at the dark blue, ingenuous, well-adapted eyes of our friend Francis, and smiling, said:

"Yes, I saw you on the balcony as well."

"Oh, did you notice us?" plunged Francis. "But wasn't it an extraordinary affair?"

"Very," said Aaron. "I couldn't make it out, could you?"

"Oh," cried Francis. "I never try. It's all much too new and complicated for me.--But perhaps you know Italy?"

"No, I don't," said Aaron.

"Neither do we. And we feel rather stunned. We had only just arrived--and then--Oh!" Francis put up his hand to his comely brow and rolled his eyes. "I feel perfectly overwhelmed with it still."

He here allowed himself to sink friendlily into the vacant chair opposite Aaron's.

"Yes, I thought it was a bit exciting," said Aaron. "I wonder what will become of him--"

"--Of the one who climbed for the fl

 

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