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Aaron's Rod by D. H. Lawrence

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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 be 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.

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