Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Aaron's Rod by D. H. Lawrence

Part 3 out of 8

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

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

Book of the day: