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Aaron's Rod by D. H. Lawrence

Part 4 out of 8

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the men are doing. But Wallace was splendid. He was just behind me,
and I'd hear him, quite quiet you know, 'It's right wheel, sir.'
Always perfect, always perfect--yes--well. . . .

"You know you don't get killed if you don't think you will. Now I
never thought I should get killed. And I never knew a man get killed
if he hadn't been thinking he would. I said to Wallace I'd rather be
out here, at the front, than at Chelsea. I hated Chelsea--I can't
tell you how much. 'Oh no, sir!' he said. 'I'd rather be at Chelsea
than here. I'd rather be at Chelsea. There isn't hell like this at
Chelsea.' We'd had orders that we were to go back to the real camp
the next day. 'Never mind, Wallace,' I said. 'We shall be out of
this hell-on-earth tomorrow.' And he took my hand. We weren't much
for showing feeling or anything in the guards. But he took my hand.
And we climbed out to charge--Poor fellow, he was killed--" Herbertson
dropped his head, and for some moments seemed to go unconscious, as if
struck. Then he lifted his face, and went on in the same animated
chatty fashion: "You see, he had a presentiment. I'm sure he had a
presentiment. None of the men got killed unless they had a
presentiment--like that, you know. . . ."

Herbertson nodded keenly at Lilly, with his sharp, twinkling, yet
obsessed eyes. Lilly wondered why he made the presentiment responsible
for the death--which he obviously did--and not vice versa. Herbertson
implied every time, that you'd never get killed if you could keep
yourself from having a presentiment. Perhaps there was something in
it. Perhaps the soul issues its own ticket of death, when it can
stand no more. Surely life controls life: and not accident.

"It's a funny thing what shock will do. We had a sergeant and he
shouted to me. Both his feet were off--both his feet, clean at the
ankle. I gave him morphia. You know officers aren't allowed to use
the needle--might give the man blood poisoning. You give those
tabloids. They say they act in a few minutes, but they DON'T. It's
a quarter of an hour. And nothing is more demoralising than when you
have a man, wounded, you know, and crying out. Well, this man I gave
him the morphia before he got over the stunning, you know. So he
didn't feel the pain. Well, they carried him in. I always used to
like to look after my men. So I went next morning and I found he
hadn't been removed to the Clearing Station. I got hold of the doctor
and I said, 'Look here! Why hasn't this man been taken to the Clearing
Station?' I used to get excited. But after some years they'd got used
to me. 'Don't get excited, Herbertson, the man's dying.' 'But,' I
said, 'he's just been talking to me as strong as you are.' And he had
--he'd talk as strong and well as you or me, then go quiet for a bit.
I said I gave him the morphia before he came round from the stunning.
So he'd felt nothing. But in two hours he was dead. The doctor says
that the shock does it like that sometimes. You can do nothing for
them. Nothing vital is injured--and yet the life is broken in them.
Nothing can be done--funny thing--Must be something in the brain--"

"It's obviously not the brain," said Lilly. "It's deeper than the
brain."

"Deeper," said Herbertson, nodding.

"Funny thing where life is. We had a lieutenant. You know we all
buried our own dead. Well, he looked as if he was asleep. Most of
the chaps looked like that." Herbertson closed his eyes and laid his
face aside, like a man asleep and dead peacefully. "You very rarely
see a man dead with any other look on his face--you know the other
look.--" And he clenched his teeth with a sudden, momentaneous,
ghastly distortion.--"Well, you'd never have known this chap was dead.
He had a wound here--in the back of the head--and a bit of blood on
his hand--and nothing else, nothing. Well, I said we'd give him a
decent burial. He lay there waiting--and they'd wrapped him in a
filthy blanket--you know. Well, I said he should have a proper
blanket. He'd been dead lying there a day and a half you know. So
I went and got a blanket, a beautiful blanket, out of his private kit
--his people were Scotch, well-known family--and I got the pins, you
know, ready to pin him up properly, for the Scots Guards to bury him.
And I thought he'd be stiff, you see. But when I took him by the
arms, to lift him on, he sat up. It gave me an awful shock. 'Why
he's alive!' I said. But they said he was dead. I couldn't believe
it. It gave me an awful shock. He was as flexible as you or me, and
looked as if he was asleep. You couldn't believe he was dead. But we
pinned him up in his blanket. It was an awful shock to me. I couldn't
believe a man could be like that after he'd been dead two days. . . .

"The Germans were wonderful with the machine guns--it's a wicked thing,
a machine gun. But they couldn't touch us with the bayonet. Every
time the men came back they had bayonet practice, and they got awfully
good. You know when you thrust at the Germans--so--if you miss him,
you bring your rifle back sharp, with a round swing, so that the butt
comes up and hits up under the jaw. It's one movement, following on
with the stab, you see, if you miss him. It was too quick for them--
But bayonet charge was worst, you know. Because your man cries out
when you catch him, when you get him, you know. That's what does
you. . . .

"No, oh no, this was no war like other wars. All the machinery of it.
No, you couldn't stand it, but for the men. The men are wonderful,
you know. They'll be wiped out. . . . No, it's your men who keep you
going, if you're an officer. . . . But there'll never be another war
like this. Because the Germans are the only people who could make a
war like this--and I don't think they'll ever do it again, do you?

"Oh, they were wonderful, the Germans. They were amazing. It was
incredible, what they invented and did. We had to learn from them,
in the first two years. But they were too methodical. That's why
they lost the war. They were too methodical. They'd fire their guns
every ten minutes--regular. Think of it. Of course we knew when to
run, and when to lie down. You got so that you knew almost exactly
what they'd do--if you'd been out long enough. And then you could
time what you wanted to do yourselves.

"They were a lot more nervous than we were, at the last. They sent up
enough light at night from their trenches--you know, those things that
burst in the air like electric light--we had none of that to do--they
did it all for us--lit up everything. They were more nervous than we
were. . . ."

It was nearly two o'clock when Herbertson left. Lilly, depressed,
remained before the fire. Aaron got out of bed and came uneasily to
the fire.

"It gives me the bellyache, that damned war," he said.

"So it does me," said Lilly. "All unreal."

"Real enough for those that had to go through it."

"No, least of all for them," said Lilly sullenly. "Not as real as a
bad dream. Why the hell don't they wake up and realise it!"

"That's a fact," said Aaron. "They're hypnotised by it."

"And they want to hypnotise me. And I won't be hypnotised. The
war was a lie and is a lie and will go on being a lie till somebody
busts it."

"It was a fact--you can't bust that. You can't bust the fact that it
happened."

"Yes you can. It never happened. It never happened to me. No more
than my dreams happen. My dreams don't happen: they only seem."

"But the war did happen, right enough," smiled Aaron palely.

"No, it didn't. Not to me or to any man, in his own self. It took
place in the automatic sphere, like dreams do. But the ACTUAL MAN in
every man was just absent--asleep--or drugged--inert--dream-logged.
That's it."

"You tell 'em so," said Aaron.

"I do. But it's no good. Because they won't wake up now even--perhaps
never. They'll all kill themselves in their sleep."

"They wouldn't be any better if they did wake up and be themselves--
that is, supposing they are asleep, which I can't see. They are what
they are--and they're all alike--and never very different from what
they are now."

Lilly stared at Aaron with black eyes.

"Do you believe in them less than I do, Aaron?" he asked slowly.

"I don't even want to believe in them."

"But in yourself?" Lilly was almost wistful--and Aaron uneasy.

"I don't know that I've any more right to believe in myself than in
them," he replied. Lilly watched and pondered.

"No," he said. "That's not true--I KNEW the war was false: humanly
quite false. I always knew it was false. The Germans were false, we
were false, everybody was false."

"And not you?" asked Aaron shrewishly.

"There was a wakeful, self-possessed bit of me which knew that the war
and all that horrible movement was false for me. And so I wasn't going
to be dragged in. The Germans could have shot my mother or me or what
they liked: I wouldn't have joined the WAR. I would like to kill my
enemy. But become a bit of that huge obscene machine they called the
war, that I never would, no, not if I died ten deaths and had eleven
mothers violated. But I would like to kill my enemy: Oh, yes, more
than one enemy. But not as a unit in a vast obscene mechanism. That
never: no, never."

Poor Lilly was too earnest and vehement. Aaron made a fine nose.
It seemed to him like a lot of words and a bit of wriggling out of
a hole.

"Well," he said, "you've got men and nations, and you've got the
machines of war--so how are you going to get out of it? League of
Nations?"

"Damn all leagues. Damn all masses and groups, anyhow. All I want
is to get MYSELF out of their horrible heap: to get out of the swarm.
The swarm to me is nightmare and nullity--horrible helpless writhing
in a dream. I want to get myself awake, out of it all--all that mass-
consciousness, all that mass-activity--it's the most horrible nightmare
to me. No man is awake and himself. No man who was awake and in
possession of himself would use poison gases: no man. His own awake
self would scorn such a thing. It's only when the ghastly mob-sleep,
the dream helplessness of the mass-psyche overcomes him, that he
becomes completely base and obscene."

"Ha--well," said Aaron. "It's the wide-awake ones that invent the
poison gas, and use it. Where should we be without it?"

Lilly started, went stiff and hostile.

"Do you mean that, Aaron?" he said, looking into Aaron's face with a
hard, inflexible look.

Aaron turned aside half sheepishly.

"That's how it looks on the face of it, isn't it?" he said.

"Look here, my friend, it's too late for you to be talking to me about
the face of things. If that's how you feel, put your things on and
follow Herbertson. Yes--go out of my room. I don't put up with the
face of things here."

Aaron looked at him in cold amazement.

"It'll do tomorrow morning, won't it?" he asked rather mocking.

"Yes," said Lilly coldly. "But please go tomorrow morning."

"Oh, I'll go all right," said Aaron. "Everybody's got to agree with
you--that's your price."

But Lilly did not answer. Aaron turned into bed, his satirical smile
under his nose. Somewhat surprised, however, at this sudden turn of
affairs.

As he was just going to sleep, dismissing the matter, Lilly came once
more to his bedside, and said, in a hard voice:

"I'm NOT going to pretend to have friends on the face of things. No,
and I don't have friends who don't fundamentally agree with me. A
friend means one who is at one with me in matters of life and death.
And if you're at one with all the rest, then you're THEIR friend, not
mine. So be their friend. And please leave me in the morning. You
owe me nothing, you have nothing more to do with me. I have had enough
of these friendships where I pay the piper and the mob calls the tune.

"Let me tell you, moreover, your heroic Herbertsons lost us more than
ever they won. A brave ant is a damned cowardly individual. Your
heroic officers are a sad sight AFTERWARDS, when they come home.
Bah, your Herbertson! The only justification for war is what we
learn from it. And what have they learnt?--Why did so many of them
have presentiments, as he called it? Because they could feel inside
them, there was nothing to come after. There was no life-courage:
only death-courage. Nothing beyond this hell--only death or love--
languishing--"

"What could they have seen, anyhow?" said Aaron.

"It's not what you see, actually. It's the kind of spirit you keep
inside you: the life spirit. When Wallace had presentiments,
Herbertson, being officer, should have said: 'None of that, Wallace.
You and I, we've got to live and make life smoke.'--Instead of which
he let Wallace be killed and his own heart be broken. Always the
death-choice-- And we won't, we simply will not face the world as
we've made it, and our own souls as we find them, and take the
responsibility. We'll never get anywhere till we stand up man to
man and face EVERYTHING out, and break the old forms, but never let
our own pride and courage of life be broken."

Lilly broke off, and went silently to bed. Aaron turned over to sleep,
rather resenting the sound of so many words. What difference did it
make, anyhow? In the morning, however, when he saw the other man's
pale, closed, rather haughty face, he realised that something _had_
happened. Lilly was courteous and even affable: but with a curious
cold space between him and Aaron. Breakfast passed, and Aaron knew
that he must leave. There was something in Lilly's bearing which just
showed him the door. In some surprise and confusion, and in some
anger, not unmingled with humorous irony, he put his things in his
bag. He put on his hat and coat. Lilly was seated rather stiffly
writing.

"Well," said Aaron. "I suppose we shall meet again."

"Oh, sure to," said Lilly, rising from his chair. "We are sure to run
across one another."

"When are you going?" asked Aaron.

"In a few days' time."

"Oh, well, I'll run in and see you before you go, shall I?"

"Yes, do."

Lilly escorted his guest to the top of the stairs, shook hands, and
then returned into his own room, closing the door on himself.

Aaron did not find his friend at home when he called. He took it
rather as a slap in the face. But then he knew quite well that Lilly
had made a certain call on his, Aaron's soul: a call which he, Aaron,
did not at all intend to obey. If in return the soul-caller chose to
shut his street-door in the face of the world-friend--well, let it be
quits. He was not sure whether he felt superior to his unworldly
enemy or not. He rather thought he did.

CHAPTER XI

MORE PILLAR OF SALT

The opera season ended, Aaron was invited by Cyril Scott to join a
group of musical people in a village by the sea. He accepted, and
spent a pleasant month. It pleased the young men musically-inclined
and bohemian by profession to patronise the flautist, whom they
declared marvellous. Bohemians with well-to-do parents, they could
already afford to squander a little spasmodic and self-gratifying
patronage. And Aaron did not mind being patronised. He had nothing
else to do.

But the party broke up early in September. The flautist was detained
a few days at a country house, for the amusement of the guests. Then
he left for London.

In London he found himself at a loose end. A certain fretful dislike
of the patronage of indifferent young men, younger than himself, and
a certain distaste for regular work in the orchestra made him look
round. He wanted something else. He wanted to disappear again.
Qualms and emotions concerning his abandoned family overcame him.
The early, delicate autumn affected him. He took a train to the
Midlands.

And again, just after dark, he strolled with his little bag across the
field which lay at the end of his garden. It had been mown, and the
grass was already growing long. He stood and looked at the line of
back windows, lighted once more. He smelled the scents of autumn,
phlox and moist old vegetation and corn in sheaf. A nostalgia which
was half at least revulsion affected him. The place, the home, at
once fascinated and revolted him.

Sitting in his shed, he scrutinised his garden carefully, in the
starlight. There were two rows of beans, rather disshevelled. Near
at hand the marrow plants sprawled from their old bed. He could detect
the perfume of a few carnations. He wondered who it was had planted
the garden, during his long absence. Anyhow, there it was, planted
and fruited and waning into autumn.

The blind was not drawn. It was eight o'clock. The children were
going to bed. Aaron waited in his shed, his bowels stirred with
violent but only half-admitted emotions. There was his wife, slim and
graceful, holding a little mug to the baby's mouth. And the baby was
drinking. She looked lonely. Wild emotions attacked his heart. There
was going to be a wild and emotional reconciliation.

Was there? It seemed like something fearful and imminent. A passion
arose in him, a craving for the violent emotional reconciliation. He
waited impatiently for the children to be gone to bed, gnawed with
restless desire.

He heard the clock strike nine, then half-past, from the village
behind. The children would be asleep. His wife was sitting sewing
some little frock. He went lingering down the garden path, stooping
to lift the fallen carnations, to see how they were. There were many
flowers, but small. He broke one off, then threw it away. The golden
rod was out. Even in the little lawn there were asters, as of old.

His wife started to listen, hearing his step. He was filled with a
violent conflict of tenderness, like a sickness. He hesitated, tapping
at the door, and entered. His wife started to her feet, at bay.

"What have you come for!" was her involuntary ejaculation.

But he, with the familiar odd jerk of his head towards the garden,
asked with a faint smile:

"Who planted the garden?"

And he felt himself dropping into the twang of the vernacular, which
he had discarded.

Lottie only stood and stared at him, objectively. She did not think
to answer. He took his hat off, and put it on the dresser. Again
the familiar act maddened her.

"What have you come for?" she cried again, with a voice full of hate.
Or perhaps it was fear and doubt and even hope as well. He heard
only hate.

This time he turned to look at her. The old dagger was drawn in her.

"I wonder," he said, "myself."

Then she recovered herself, and with trembling hand picked up her
sewing again. But she still stood at bay, beyond the table. She
said nothing. He, feeling tired, sat down on the chair nearest the
door. But he reached for his hat, and kept it on his knee. She,
as she stood there unnaturally, went on with her sewing. There was
silence for some time. Curious sensations and emotions went through
the man's frame seeming to destroy him. They were like electric
shocks, which he felt she emitted against him. And an old sickness
came in him again. He had forgotten it. It was the sickness of the
unrecognised and incomprehensible strain between him and her.

After a time she put down her sewing, and sat again in her chair.

"Do you know how vilely you've treated me?" she said, staring across
the space at him. He averted his face.

Yet he answered, not without irony.

"I suppose so."

"And why?" she cried. "I should like to know why."

He did not answer. The way she rushed in made him go vague.

"Justify yourself. Say why you've been so vile to me. Say what you
had against me," she demanded.

"What I HAD against her," he mused to himself: and he wondered that
she used the past tense. He made no answer.

"Accuse me," she insisted. "Say what I've done to make you treat me
like this. Say it. You must THINK it hard enough."

"Nay," he said. "I don't think it."

This speech, by which he merely meant that he did not trouble to
formulate any injuries he had against her, puzzled her.

"Don't come pretending you love me, NOW. It's too late," she said
with contempt. Yet perhaps also hope.

"You might wait till I start pretending," he said.

This enraged her.

"You vile creature!" she exclaimed. "Go! What have you come for?"

"To look at YOU," he said sarcastically.

After a few minutes she began to cry, sobbing violently into her apron.
And again his bowels stirred and boiled.

"What have I done! What have I done! I don't know what I've done
that he should be like this to me," she sobbed, into her apron. It
was childish, and perhaps true. At least it was true from the childish
part of her nature. He sat gloomy and uneasy.

She took the apron from her tear-stained face, and looked at him. It
was true, in her moments of roused exposure she was a beautiful woman--
a beautiful woman. At this moment, with her flushed, tear-stained,
wilful distress, she was beautiful.

"Tell me," she challenged. "Tell me! Tell me what I've done. Tell
me what you have against me. Tell me."

Watching like a lynx, she saw the puzzled, hurt look in his face.
Telling isn't so easy--especially when the trouble goes too deep for
conscious comprehension. He couldn't _tell_ what he had against her.
And he had not the slightest intention of doing what she would have
liked him to do, starting to pile up detailed grievances. He knew
the detailed grievances were nothing in themselves.

"You CAN'T," she cried vindictively. "You CAN'T. You CAN'T find
anything real to bring against me, though you'd like to. You'd like
to be able to accuse me of something, but you CAN'T, because you know
there isn't anything."

She watched him, watched. And he sat in the chair near the door,
without moving.

"You're unnatural, that's what you are," she cried. "You're
unnatural. You're not a man. You haven't got a man's feelings.
You're nasty, and cold, and unnatural. And you're a coward. You're
a coward. You run away from me, without telling me what you've got
against me."

"When you've had enough, you go away and you don't care what you do,"
he said, epigrammatic.

She paused a moment.

"Enough of what?" she said. "What have you had enough of? Of me and
your children? It's a nice manly thing to say. Haven't I loved you?
Haven't I loved you for twelve years, and worked and slaved for you
and tried to keep you right? Heaven knows where you'd have been but
for me, evil as you are at the bottom. You're evil, that's what it
is--and weak. You're too weak to love a woman and give her what she
wants: too weak. Unmanly and cowardly, he runs away."

"No wonder," he said.

"No," she cried. "It IS no wonder, with a nature like yours: weak and
unnatural and evil. It IS no wonder."

She became quiet--and then started to cry again, into her apron. Aaron
waited. He felt physically weak.

"And who knows what you've been doing all these months?" she wept.
"Who knows all the vile things you've been doing? And you're the
father of my children--the father of my little girls--and who knows
what vile things he's guilty of, all these months?"

"I shouldn't let my imagination run away with me," he answered. "I've
been playing the flute in the orchestra of one of the theatres in
London."

"Ha!" she cried. "It's more than that. Don't think I'm going to
believe you. I know you, with your smooth-sounding lies. You're a
liar, as you know. And I know you've been doing other things besides
play a flute in an orchestra. You!--as if I don't know you. And then
coming crawling back to me with your lies and your pretense. Don't
think I'm taken in."

"I should be sorry," he said.

"Coming crawling back to me, and expecting to be forgiven," she went
on. "But no--I don't forgive--and I can't forgive--never--not as long
as I live shall I forgive what you've done to me."

"You can wait till you're asked, anyhow," he said.

"And you can wait," she said. "And you shall wait." She took up her
sewing, and stitched steadily, as if calmly. Anyone glancing in would
have imagined a quiet domestic hearth at that moment. He, too, feeling
physically weak, remained silent, feeling his soul absent from the
scene.

Again she suddenly burst into tears, weeping bitterly.

"And the children," she sobbed, rocking herself with grief and chagrin.
"What have I been able to say to the children--what have I been able
to tell them?"

"What HAVE you told them?" he asked coldly.

"I told them you'd gone away to work," she sobbed, laying her head on
her arms on the table. "What else could I tell them? I couldn't tell
them the vile truth about their father. I couldn't tell THEM how evil
you are." She sobbed and moaned.

He wondered what exactly the vile truth would have been, had she
_started_ to tell it. And he began to feel, coldly and cynically,
that among all her distress there was a luxuriating in the violent
emotions of the scene in hand, and the situation altogether.

Then again she became quiet, and picked up her sewing. She stitched
quietly, wistfully, for some time. Then she looked up at him--a long
look of reproach, and sombre accusation, and wifely tenderness. He
turned his face aside.

"You know you've been wrong to me, don't you?" she said, half
wistfully, half menacing.

He felt her wistfulness and her menace tearing him in his bowels
and loins.

"You do know, don't you?" she insisted, still with the wistful appeal,
and the veiled threat.

"You do, or you would answer," she said. "You've still got enough
that's right in you, for you to know."

She waited. He sat still, as if drawn by hot wires.

Then she slipped across to him, put her arms round him, sank on her
knees at his side, and sank her face against his thigh.

"Say you know how wrong you are. Say you know how cruel you've been
to me," she pleaded. But under her female pleading and appeal he felt
the iron of her threat.

"You DO know it," she murmured, looking up into his face as she
crouched by his knee. "You DO know it. I can see in your eyes that
you know it. And why have you come back to me, if you don't know it!
Why have you come back to me? Tell me!" Her arms gave him a sharp,
compulsory little clutch round the waist. "Tell me! Tell me!" she
murmured, with all her appeal liquid in her throat.

But him, it half overcame, and at the same time, horrified. He had a
certain horror of her. The strange liquid sound of her appeal seemed
to him like the swaying of a serpent which mesmerises the fated,
fluttering, helpless bird. She clasped her arms round him, she drew
him to her, she half roused his passion. At the same time she coldly
horrified and repelled him. He had not the faintest feeling, at the
moment, of his own wrong. But she wanted to win his own self-betrayal
out of him. He could see himself as the fascinated victim, falling to
this cajoling, awful woman, the wife of his bosom. But as well, he
had a soul outside himself, which looked on the whole scene with cold
revulsion, and which was as unchangeable as time.

"No," he said. "I don't feel wrong."

"You DO!" she said, giving him a sharp, admonitory clutch. "You DO.
Only you're silly, and obstinate, babyish and silly and obstinate.
An obstinate little boy--you DO feel wrong. And you ARE wrong. And
you've got to say it."

But quietly he disengaged himself and got to his feet, his face pale
and set, obstinate as she said. He put his hat on, and took his little
bag. She watched him curiously, still crouching by his chair.

"I'll go," he said, putting his hand on the latch.

Suddenly she sprang to her feet and clutched him by the shirt-neck,
her hand inside his soft collar, half strangling him.

"You villain," she said, and her face was transfigured with passion
as he had never seen it before, horrible. "You villain!" she said
thickly. "What have you come here for?"

His soul went black as he looked at her. He broke her hand away from
his shirt collar, bursting the stud-holes. She recoiled in silence.
And in one black, unconscious movement he was gone, down the garden
and over the fence and across the country, swallowed in a black
unconsciousness.

She, realising, sank upon the hearth-rug and lay there curled upon
herself. She was defeated. But she, too, would never yield. She
lay quite motionless for some time. Then she got up, feeling the
draught on the floor. She closed the door, and drew down the blind.
Then she looked at her wrist, which he had gripped, and which pained
her. Then she went to the mirror and looked for a long time at her
white, strained, determined face. Come life, come death, she, too
would never yield. And she realised now that he would never yield.

She was faint with weariness, and would be glad to get to bed and
sleep.

Aaron meanwhile had walked across the country and was looking for a
place to rest. He found a cornfield with a half-built stack, and
sheaves in stook. Ten to one some tramp would have found the stack.
He threw a dozen sheaves together and lay down, looking at the stars
in the September sky. He, too, would never yield. The illusion of
love was gone for ever. Love was a battle in which each party strove
for the mastery of the other's soul. So far, man had yielded the
mastery to woman. Now he was fighting for it back again. And too
late, for the woman would never yield.

But whether woman yielded or not, he would keep the mastery of his
own soul and conscience and actions. He would never yield himself
up to her judgment again. He would hold himself forever beyond her
jurisdiction.

Henceforth, life single, not life double.

He looked at the sky, and thanked the universe for the blessedness of
being alone in the universe. To be alone, to be oneself, not to be
driven or violated into something which is not oneself, surely it is
better than anything. He thought of Lottie, and knew how much more
truly herself she was when she was alone, with no man to distort her.
And he was thankful for the division between them. Such scenes as the
last were too horrible and unreal.

As for future unions, too soon to think about it. Let there be clean
and pure division first, perfected singleness. That is the only way
to final, living unison: through sheer, finished singleness.

CHAPTER XII

NOVARA

Having no job for the autumn, Aaron fidgetted in London. He played at
some concerts and some private shows. He was one of an odd quartette,
for example, which went to play to Lady Artemis Hooper, when she lay
in bed after her famous escapade of falling through the window of her
taxi-cab. Aaron had that curious knack, which belongs to some people,
of getting into the swim without knowing he was doing it. Lady Artemis
thought his flute lovely, and had him again to play for her. Aaron
looked at her and she at him. She, as she reclined there in bed in a
sort of half-light, well made-up, smoking her cigarettes and talking
in a rather raucous voice, making her slightly rasping witty comments
to the other men in the room--of course there were other men, the
audience--was a shock to the flautist. This was the bride of the
moment! Curious how raucous her voice sounded out of the cigarette
smoke. Yet he liked her--the reckless note of the modern, social
freebooter. In himself was a touch of the same quality.

"Do you love playing?" she asked him.

"Yes," he said, with that shadow of irony which seemed like a smile on
his face.

"Live for it, so to speak," she said.

"I make my living by it," he said.

"But that's not really how you take it?" she said. He eyed her. She
watched him over her cigarette. It was a personal moment.

"I don't think about it," he said.

"I'm sure you don't. You wouldn't be so good if you did. You're
awfully lucky, you know, to be able to pour yourself down your flute."

"You think I go down easy?" he laughed.

"Ah!" she replied, flicking her cigarette broadcast. "That's the
point. What should you say, Jimmy?" she turned to one of the men.
He screwed his eyeglass nervously and stiffened himself to look
at her.

"I--I shouldn't like to say, off-hand," came the small-voiced, self-
conscious answer. And Jimmy bridled himself and glanced at Aaron.

"Do you find it a tight squeeze, then?" she said, turning to Aaron
once more.

"No, I can't say that," he answered. "What of me goes down goes down
easy enough. It's what doesn't go down."

"And how much is that?" she asked, eying him.

"A good bit, maybe," he said.

"Slops over, so to speak," she retorted sarcastically. "And which do
you enjoy more, trickling down your flute or slopping over on to the
lap of Mother Earth--of Miss, more probably!"

"Depends," he said.

Having got him a few steps too far upon the personal ground, she left
him to get off by himself.

So he found London got on his nerves. He felt it rubbed him the
wrong way. He was flattered, of course, by his own success--and
felt at the same time irritated by it. This state of mind was by
no means acceptable. Wherever he was he liked to be given, tacitly,
the first place--or a place among the first. Among the musical
people he frequented, he found himself on a callow kind of equality
with everybody, even the stars and aristocrats, at one moment, and a
backstairs outsider the next. It was all just as the moment demanded.
There was a certain excitement in slithering up and down the social
scale, one minute chatting in a personal tete-a-tete with the most
famous, or notorious, of the society beauties: and the next walking
in the rain, with his flute in a bag, to his grubby lodging in
Bloomsbury. Only the excitement roused all the savage sarcasm
that lay at the bottom of his soul, and which burned there like
an unhealthy bile.

Therefore he determined to clear out--to disappear. He had a letter
from Lilly, from Novara. Lilly was drifting about. Aaron wrote to
Novara, and asked if he should come to Italy, having no money to speak
of. "Come if you want to. Bring your flute. And if you've no money,
put on a good suit of clothes and a big black hat, and play outside
the best cafe in any Italian town, and you'll collect enough to get
on with."

It was a sporting chance. Aaron packed his bag and got a passport, and
wrote to Lilly to say he would join him, as invited, at Sir William
Franks'. He hoped Lilly's answer would arrive before he left London.
But it didn't.

Therefore behold our hero alighting at Novara, two hours late, on a
wet, dark evening. He hoped Lilly would be there: but nobody. With
some slight dismay he faced the big, crowded station. The stream of
people carried him automatically through the barrier, a porter having
seized his bag, and volleyed various unintelligible questions at him.
Aaron understood not one word. So he just wandered after the blue
blouse of the porter.

The porter deposited the bag on the steps of the station front, fired
off more questions and gesticulated into the half-illuminated space
of darkness outside the station. Aaron decided it meant a cab, so he
nodded and said "Yes." But there were no cabs. So once more the blue-
bloused porter slung the big bag and the little bag on the strap over
his shoulder, and they plunged into the night, towards some lights and
a sort of theatre place.

One carriage stood there in the rain--yes, and it was free.

"Keb? Yes--orright--sir. Whe'to? Where you go? Sir William Franks?
Yes, I know. Long way go--go long way. Sir William Franks."

The cabman spattered his few words of English. Aaron gave the porter
an English shilling. The porter let the coin lie in the middle of
his palm, as if it were a live beetle, and darted to the light of the
carriage to examine the beast, exclaiming volubly. The cabman, wild
with interest, peered down from the box into the palm of the porter,
and carried on an impassioned dialogue. Aaron stood with one foot on
the step.

"What you give--he? One franc?" asked the driver.

"A shilling," said Aaron.

"One sheeling. Yes. I know that. One sheeling English"--and the
driver went off into impassioned exclamations in Torinese. The
porter, still muttering and holding his hand as if the coin might
sting him, filtered away.

"Orright. He know--sheeling--orright. English moneys, eh? Yes, he
know. You get up, sir."

And away went Aaron, under the hood of the carriage, clattering down
the wide darkness of Novara, over a bridge apparently, past huge rain-
wet statues, and through more rainy, half-lit streets.

They stopped at last outside a sort of park wall with trees above.
The big gates were just beyond.

"Sir William Franks--there." In a mixture of Italian and English the
driver told Aaron to get down and ring the bell on the right. Aaron
got down and in the darkness was able to read the name on the plate.

"How much?" said Aaron to the driver.

"Ten franc," said the fat driver.

But it was his turn now to screw down and scrutinise the pink ten-
shilling note. He waved it in his hand.

"Not good, eh? Not good moneys?"

"Yes," said Aaron, rather indignantly. "Good English money. Ten
shillings. Better than ten francs, a good deal. Better--better--"

"Good--you say? Ten sheeling--" The driver muttered and muttered, as
if dissatisfied. But as a matter of fact he stowed the note in his
waistcoat pocket with considerable satisfaction, looked at Aaron
curiously, and drove away.

Aaron stood there in the dark outside the big gates, and wished
himself somewhere else. However, he rang the bell. There was a huge
barking of dogs on the other side. Presently a light switched on,
and a woman, followed by a man, appeared cautiously, in the half-
opened doorway.

"Sir William Franks?" said Aaron.

"Si, signore."

And Aaron stepped with his two bags inside the gate. Huge dogs jumped
round. He stood in the darkness under the trees at the foot of the
park. The woman fastened the gate--Aaron saw a door--and through an
uncurtained window a man writing at a desk--rather like the clerk in
an hotel office. He was going with his two bags to the open door,
when the woman stopped him, and began talking to him in Italian. It
was evident he must not go on. So he put down the bags. The man
stood a few yards away, watchfully.

Aaron looked down at the woman and tried to make out something of what
she was saying, but could not. The dogs still barked spasmodically,
drops fell from the tall, dark trees that rose overhead.

"Is Mr. Lilly here? Mr. Lilly?" he asked.

"Signor Lillee. No, Signore--"

And off the woman went in Italian. But it was evident Lilly was not
at the house. Aaron wished more than ever he had not come, but had
gone to an hotel.

He made out that the woman was asking him for his name--"Meester--?
Meester--?" she kept saying, with a note of interrogation.

"Sisson. Mr. Sisson," said Aaron, who was becoming impatient. And he
found a visiting card to give her. She seemed appeased--said something
about telephone--and left him standing.

The rain had ceased, but big drops were shaken from the dark, high
trees. Through the uncurtained window he saw the man at the desk
reach the telephone. There was a long pause. At length the woman
came back and motioned to him to go up--up the drive which curved
and disappeared under the dark trees.

"Go up there?" said Aaron, pointing.

That was evidently the intention. So he picked up his bags and strode
forward, from out of the circle of electric light, up the curved drive
in the darkness. It was a steep incline. He saw trees and the grass
slopes. There was a tang of snow in the air.

Suddenly, up ahead, a brilliant light switched on. He continued uphill
through the trees along the path, towards it, and at length, emerged
at the foot of a great flight of steps, above which was a wide glass
entrance, and an Italian manservant in white gloves hovering as if on
the brink.

Aaron emerged from the drive and climbed the steps. The manservant
came down two steps and took the little bag. Then he ushered Aaron
and the big bag into a large, pillared hall, with thick Turkish carpet
on the floor, and handsome appointments. It was spacious, comfortable
and warm; but somewhat pretentious; rather like the imposing hall into
which the heroine suddenly enters on the film.

Aaron dropped his heavy bag, with relief, and stood there, hat in
hand, in his damp overcoat in the circle of light, looking vaguely
at the yellow marble pillars, the gilded arches above, the shadowy
distances and the great stairs. The butler disappeared--reappeared
in another moment--and through an open doorway came the host. Sir
William was a small, clean old man with a thin, white beard and a
courtly deportment, wearing a black velvet dinner jacket faced with
purple silk.

"How do you do, Mr. Sisson. You come straight from England?"

Sir William held out his hand courteously and benevolently, smiling an
old man's smile of hospitality.

"Mr. Lilly has gone away?" said Aaron.

"Yes. He left us several days ago."

Aaron hesitated.

"You didn't expect me, then?"

"Yes, oh, yes. Yes, oh, yes. Very glad to see you--well, now, come
in and have some dinner--"

At this moment Lady Franks appeared--short, rather plump, but erect
and definite, in a black silk dress and pearls round her throat.

"How do you do? We are just at dinner," she said. "You haven't eaten?
No--well, then--would you like a bath now, or--?"

It was evident the Franks had dispensed much hospitality: much of it
charitable. Aaron felt it.

"No," he said. "I'll wash my hands and come straight in, shall I?"

"Yes, perhaps that would be better--"

"I'm afraid I am a nuisance."

"Not at all--Beppe--" and she gave instructions in Italian.

Another footman appeared, and took the big bag. Aaron took the little
one this time. They climbed the broad, turning stairs, crossed another
handsome lounge, gilt and ormolu and yellow silk chairs and scattered
copies of _The Graphic_ or of _Country Life_, then they disappeared
through a doorway into a much narrower flight of stairs. Man can so
rarely keep it up all the way, the grandeur.

Two black and white chamber-maids appeared. Aaron found himself in
a blue silk bedroom, and a footman unstrapping his bag, which he did
not want unstrapped. Next minute he was beckoned and allured by the
Italian servants down the corridor, and presented to the handsome,
spacious bathroom, which was warm and creamy-coloured and glittering
with massive silver and mysterious with up-to-date conveniences. There
he was left to his own devices, and felt like a small boy finding out
how it works. For even the mere turning on of the taps was a problem
in silver mechanics.

In spite of all the splendours and the elaborated convenience, he
washed himself in good hot water, and wished he were having a bath,
chiefly because of the wardrobe of marvellous Turkish towels. Then he
clicked his way back to his bedroom, changed his shirt and combed his
hair in the blue silk bedroom with the Greuze picture, and felt a
little dim and superficial surprise. He had fallen into country house
parties before, but never into quite such a plushy sense of riches.
He felt he ought to have his breath taken away. But alas, the cinema
has taken our breath away so often, investing us in all the splendours
of the splendidest American millionaire, or all the heroics and marvels
of the Somme or the North Pole, that life has now no magnate richer
than we, no hero nobler than we have been, on the film. _Connu_!
_Connu_! Everything life has to offer is known to us, couldn't be
known better, from the film.

So Aaron tied his tie in front of a big Venice mirror, and nothing was
a surprise to him. He found a footman hovering to escort him to the
dining-room--a real Italian footman, uneasy because milady's dinner
was unsettled. He entered the rather small dining-room, and saw the
people at table.

He was told various names: bowed to a young, slim woman with big
blue eyes and dark hair like a photograph, then to a smaller rather
colourless young woman with a large nose: then to a stout, rubicund,
bald colonel, and to a tall, thin, Oxford-looking major with a black
patch over his eye--both these men in khaki: finally to a good-
looking, well-nourished young man in a dinner-jacket, and he sat down
to his soup, on his hostess' left hand. The colonel sat on her right,
and was confidential. Little Sir William, with his hair and his beard
white like spun glass, his manner very courteous and animated, the
purple facings of his velvet jacket very impressive, sat at the far
end of the table jesting with the ladies and showing his teeth in an
old man's smile, a little bit affected, but pleasant, wishing everybody
to be happy.

Aaron ate his soup, trying to catch up. Milady's own confidential
Italian butler, fidelity itself, hovered quivering near, spiritually
helping the newcomer to catch up. Two nice little entree dishes,
specially prepared for Aaron to take the place of the bygone fish
and vol au-vents of the proper dinner, testified to the courtesy
and charity of his hostess.

Well, eating rapidly, he had more or less caught up by the time the
sweets came. So he swallowed a glass of wine and looked round. His
hostess with her pearls, and her diamond star in her grey hair, was
speaking of Lilly and then of music to him.

"I hear you are a musician. That's what I should have been if I had
had my way."

"What instrument?" asked Aaron.

"Oh, the piano. Yours is the flute, Mr. Lilly says. I think the flute
can be so attractive. But I feel, of course you have more range with
the piano. I love the piano--and orchestra."

At that moment, the colonel and hostess-duties distracted her. But
she came back in snatches. She was a woman who reminded him a little
of Queen Victoria; so assured in her own room, a large part of her
attention always given to the successful issue of her duties, the
remainder at the disposal of her guests. It was an old-fashioned,
not unpleasant feeling: like retrospect. But she had beautiful, big,
smooth emeralds and sapphires on her fingers. Money! What a curious
thing it is! Aaron noticed the deference of all the guests at table:
a touch of obsequiousness: before the money! And the host and hostess
accepted the deference, nay, expected it, as their due. Yet both Sir
William and Lady Franks knew that it was only money and success. They
had both a certain afterthought, knowing dimly that the game was but
a game, and that they were the helpless leaders in the game. They
had a certain basic ordinariness which prevented their making any
great hits, and which kept them disillusioned all the while. They
remembered their poor and insignificant days.

"And I hear you were playing in the orchestra at Covent Garden. We
came back from London last week. I enjoyed Beecham's operas so much."

"Which do you like best?" said Aaron.

"Oh, the Russian. I think _Ivan_. It is such fine music."

"I find _Ivan_ artificial."

"Do you? Oh, I don't think so. No, I don't think you can say that."

Aaron wondered at her assurance. She seemed to put him just a tiny
bit in his place, even in an opinion on music. Money gave her that
right, too. Curious--the only authority left. And he deferred to her
opinion: that is, to her money. He did it almost deliberately. Yes--
what did he believe in, besides money? What does any man? He looked
at the black patch over the major's eye. What had he given his eye
for?--the nation's money. Well, and very necessary, too; otherwise
we might be where the wretched Austrians are. Instead of which--how
smooth his hostess' sapphires!

"Of course I myself prefer Moussorgsky," said Aaron. "I think he is a
greater artist. But perhaps it is just personal preference."

"Yes. _Boris_ is wonderful. Oh, some of the scenes in _Boris_!"

"And even more _Kovantchina_," said Aaron. "I wish we could go back
to melody pure and simple. Yet I find _Kovantchina_, which is all
mass music practically, gives me more satisfaction than any other
opera."

"Do you really? I shouldn't say so: oh, no--but you can't mean that
you would like all music to go back to melody pure and simple! Just
a flute--just a pipe! Oh, Mr. Sisson, you are bigoted for your
instrument. I just LIVE in harmony--chords, chords!" She struck
imaginary chords on the white damask, and her sapphires swam blue.
But at the same time she was watching to see if Sir William had still
got beside his plate the white medicine _cachet_ which he must swallow
at every meal. Because if so, she must remind him to swallow it.
However, at that very moment, he put it on his tongue. So that she
could turn her attention again to Aaron and the imaginary chord on
the white damask; the thing she just lived in. But the rubicund bald
colonel, more rubicund after wine, most rubicund now the Marsala was
going, snatched her attention with a burly homage to her femininity,
and shared his fear with her with a boyish gallantry.

When the women had gone up, Sir William came near and put his hand on
Aaron's shoulder. It was evident the charm was beginning to work. Sir
William was a self-made man, and not in the least a snob. He liked the
fundamental ordinariness in Aaron, the commonness of the common man.

"Well now, Mr. Sisson, we are very glad to see you! Very glad, indeed.
I count Mr. Lilly one of the most interesting men it has ever been my
good fortune to know. And so for your own sake, and for Mr. Lilly's
sake, we are very glad to see you. Arthur, my boy, give Mr. Sisson
some Marsala--and take some yourself."

"Thank you, Sir," said the well-nourished young man in nice evening
clothes. "You'll take another glass yourself, Sir?"

"Yes, I will, I will. I will drink a glass with Mr. Sisson. Major,
where are you wandering off to? Come and take a glass with us, my
boy."

"Thanks, Sir William," drawled the young major with the black patch.

"Now, Colonel--I hope you are in good health and spirits."

"Never better, Sir William, never better."

"I'm very glad to hear it; very glad indeed. Try my Marsala--I think
it is quite good. Port is beyond us for the moment--for the moment--"

And the old man sipped his brown wine, and smiled again. He made quite
a handsome picture: but he was frail.

"And where are you bound, Mr. Sisson? Towards Rome?"

"I came to meet Lilly," said Aaron.

"Ah! But Lilly has fled over the borders by this time. Never was such
a man for crossing frontiers. Wonderful person, to be able to do it."

"Where has he gone?" said Aaron.

"I think to Geneva for the moment. But he certainly talked of Venice.
You yourself have no definite goal?"

"No."

"Ah! You have not come to Italy to practice your art?"

"I shall HAVE to practice it: or else--no, I haven't come for that."

"Ah, you will HAVE to practice it. Ah, yes! We are all under the
necessity to eat. And you have a family in England? Am I not right?"

"Quite. I've got a family depending on me."

"Yes, then you must practice your art: you must practice your art.
Well--shall we join the ladies? Coffee will no doubt be served."

"Will you take my arm, Sir?" said the well-nourished Arthur.

"Thank you, thank you," the old man motioned him away.

So they went upstairs to where the three women were sitting in the
library round the fire, chattering not very interested. The entry
of Sir William at once made a stir.

The girl in white, with the biggish nose, fluttered round him. She
was Arthur's wife. The girl in soft blue spread herself on the couch:
she was the young Major's wife, and she had a blue band round her
hair. The Colonel hovered stout and fidgetty round Lady Franks and
the liqueur stand. He and the Major were both in khaki--belonging to
the service on duty in Italy still.

Coffee appeared--and Sir William doled out _creme de menthe_. There
was no conversation--only tedious words. The little party was just
commonplace and dull--boring. Yet Sir William, the self-made man, was
a study. And the young, Oxford-like Major, with his English diffidence
and his one dark, pensive, baffled eye was only waiting to be earnest,
poor devil.

The girl in white had been a sort of companion to Lady Franks, so that
Arthur was more or less a son-in-law. In this capacity, he acted.
Aaron strayed round uneasily looking at the books, bought but not
read, and at the big pictures above. It was Arthur who fetched out
the little boxes containing the orders conferred on Sir William for
his war-work: and perhaps more, for the many thousands of pounds he
had spent on his war-work.

There were three orders: one British, and quite important, a large
silver star for the breast: one Italian, smaller, and silver and
gold; and one from the State of Ruritania, in silver and red-and-
green enamel, smaller than the others.

"Come now, William," said Lady Franks, "you must try them all on.
You must try them all on together, and let us see how you look."

The little, frail old man, with his strange old man's blue eyes and
his old man's perpetual laugh, swelled out his chest and said:

"What, am I to appear in all my vanities?" And he laughed shortly.

"Of course you are. We want to see you," said the white girl.

"Indeed we do! We shouldn't mind all appearing in such vanities--what,
Lady Franks!" boomed the Colonel.

"I should think not," replied his hostess. "When a man has honours
conferred on him, it shows a poor spirit if he isn't proud of them."

"Of course I am proud of them!" said Sir William. "Well then, come
and have them pinned on. I think it's wonderful to have got so much
in one life-time--wonderful," said Lady Franks.

"Oh, Sir William is a wonderful man," said the Colonel. "Well--we
won't say so before him. But let us look at him in his orders."

Arthur, always ready on these occasions, had taken the large and
shining British star from its box, and drew near to Sir William, who
stood swelling his chest, pleased, proud, and a little wistful.

"This one first, Sir," said Arthur.

Sir William stood very still, half tremulous, like a man undergoing
an operation.

"And it goes just here--the level of the heart. This is where it
goes." And carefully he pinned the large, radiating ornament on
the black velvet dinner-jacket of the old man.

"That is the first--and very becoming," said Lady Franks.

"Oh, very becoming! Very becoming!" said the tall wife of the Major--
she was a handsome young woman of the tall, frail type.

"Do you think so, my dear?" said the old man, with his eternal smile:
the curious smile of old people when they are dead.

"Not only becoming, Sir," said the Major, bending his tall, slim
figure forwards. "But a reassuring sign that a nation knows how
to distinguish her valuable men."

"Quite!" said Lady Franks. "I think it is a very great honour to
have got it. The king was most gracious, too-- Now the other.
That goes beside it--the Italian--"

Sir William stood there undergoing the operation of the pinning-on.
The Italian star being somewhat smaller than the British, there was
a slight question as to where exactly it should be placed. However,
Arthur decided it: and the old man stood before the company with his
two stars on his breast.

"And now the Ruritanian," said Lady Franks eagerly.

"That doesn't go on the same level with the others, Lady Franks," said
Arthur. "That goes much lower down--about here."

"Are you sure?" said Lady Franks. "Doesn't it go more here?"

"No no, no no, not at all. Here! Isn't it so, Sybil?"

"Yes, I think so," said Sybil.

Old Sir William stood quite silent, his breast prepared, peering over
the facings of his coat to see where the star was going. The Colonel
was called in, and though he knew nothing about it, he agreed with
Arthur, who apparently did know something. So the star was pinned
quite low down. Sir William, peeping down, exclaimed:

"Well, that is most curious now! I wear an order over the pit of my
stomach! I think that is very curious: a curious place to wear an
order."

"Stand up! Stand up and let us look!" said Lady Franks. "There now,
isn't it handsome? And isn't it a great deal of honour for one man?
Could he have expected so much, in one life-time? I call it wonderful.
Come and look at yourself, dear"--and she led him to a mirror.

"What's more, all thoroughly deserved," said Arthur.

"I should think so," said the Colonel, fidgetting.

"Ah, yes, nobody has deserved them better," cooed Sybil.

"Nor on more humane and generous grounds," said the Major, _sotto
voce._

"The effort to save life, indeed," returned the Major's young wife:
"splendid!"

Sir William stood naively before the mirror and looked at his three
stars on his black velvet dinner-jacket.

"Almost directly over the pit of my stomach," he said. "I hope that
is not a decoration for my greedy APPETITE." And he laughed at the
young women.

"I assure you it is in position, Sir," said Arthur. "Absolutely
correct. I will read it out to you later."

"Aren't you satisfied? Aren't you a proud man! Isn't it wonderful?"
said Lady Franks. "Why, what more could a man want from life? He
could never EXPECT so much."

"Yes, my dear. I AM a proud man. Three countries have honoured me--"
There was a little, breathless pause.

"And not more than they ought to have done," said Sybil.

"Well! Well! I shall have my head turned. Let me return to my own
humble self. I am too much in the stars at the moment."

Sir William turned to Arthur to have his decorations removed. Aaron,
standing in the background, felt the whole scene strange, childish, a
little touching. And Lady Franks was so obviously trying to _console_
her husband: to console the frail, excitable old man with his honours.
But why console him? Did he need consolation? And did she? It was
evident that only the hard-money woman in her put any price on the
decorations.

Aaron came forward and examined the orders, one after the other. Just
metal playthings of curious shiny silver and gilt and enamel. Heavy
the British one--but only like some heavy buckle, a piece of metal
merely when one turned it over. Somebody dropped the Italian cross,
and there was a moment of horror. But the lump of metal took no hurt.
Queer to see the things stowed in their boxes again. Aaron had always
imagined these mysterious decorations as shining by nature on the
breasts of heroes. Pinned-on pieces of metal were a considerable
come-down.

The orders were put away, the party sat round the fire in the
comfortable library, the men sipping more _creme de menthe_, since
nothing else offered, and the couple of hours in front promising the
tedium of small-talk of tedious people who had really nothing to say
and no particular originality in saying it.

Aaron, however, had reckoned without his host. Sir William sat upright
in his chair, with all the determination of a frail old man who insists
on being level with the young. The new guest sat in a lower chair,
smoking, that curious glimmer on his face which made him so attractive,
and which only meant that he was looking on the whole scene from the
outside, as it were, from beyond a fence. Sir William came almost
directly to the attack.

"And so, Mr. Sisson, you have no definite purpose in coming to Italy?"

"No, none," said Aaron. "I wanted to join Lilly."

"But when you had joined him--?"

"Oh, nothing--stay here a time, in this country, if I could earn my
keep."

"Ah!--earn your keep? So you hope to earn your keep here? May I
ask how?"

"By my flute."

"Italy is a poor country."

"I don't want much."

"You have a family to provide for."

"They are provided for--for a couple of years."

"Oh, indeed! Is that so?"

The old man got out of Aaron the detailed account of his circumstances
--how he had left so much money to be paid over to his wife, and had
received only a small amount for himself.

"I see you are like Lilly--you trust to Providence," said Sir William.

"Providence or fate," said Aaron.

"Lilly calls it Providence," said Sir William. "For my own part, I
always advise Providence plus a banking account. I have every belief
in Providence, plus a banking account. Providence and no banking
account I have observed to be almost invariably fatal. Lilly and I
have argued it. He believes in casting his bread upon the waters.
I sincerely hope he won't have to cast himself after his bread, one of
these days. Providence with a banking account. Believe in Providence
once you have secured enough to live on. I should consider it
disastrous to believe in Providence BEFORE. One can never be SURE
of Providence."

"What can you be sure of, then?" said Aaron.

"Well, in moderation, I can believe in a little hard cash, and in my
own ability to earn a little hard cash."

"Perhaps Lilly believes in his own ability, too."

"No. Not so. Because he will never directly work to earn money. He
works--and works quite well, I am told: but only as the spirit moves
him, and never with any eye to the market. Now I call that TEMPTING
Providence, myself. The spirit may move him in quite an opposite
direction to the market--then where is Lilly? I have put it to him
more than once."

"The spirit generally does move him dead against the market," said
Aaron. "But he manages to scrape along."

"In a state of jeopardy: all the time in a state of jeopardy," said
the old man. "His whole existence, and that of his wife, is completely
precarious. I found, in my youth, the spirit moved me to various
things which would have left me and my wife starving. So I realised
in time, this was no good. I took my spirit in hand, therefore, and
made him pull the cart which mankind is riding in. I harnessed him
to the work of productive labour. And so he brought me my reward."

"Yes," said Aaron. "But every man according to his belief."

"I don't see," said Sir William, "how a man can BELIEVE in a
Providence unless he sets himself definitely to the work of earning
his daily bread, and making provision for future needs. That's what
Providence means to me--making provision for oneself and one's family.
Now, Mr. Lilly--and you yourself--you say you believe in a Providence
that does NOT compel you to earn your daily bread, and make provision.
I confess myself I cannot see it: and Lilly has never been able to
convince me."

"I don't believe in a kind-hearted Providence," said Aaron, "and I
don't believe Lilly does. But I believe in chance. I believe, if
I go my own way, without tying my nose to a job, chance will always
throw something in my way: enough to get along with."

"But on what do you base such a very unwarrantable belief?"

"I just feel like that."

"And if you are ever quite without success--and nothing to fall
back on?"

"I can work at something."

"In case of illness, for example?"

"I can go to a hospital--or die."

"Dear me! However, you are more logical than Lilly. He seems to
believe that he has the Invisible--call it Providence if you will--on
his side, and that this Invisible will never leave him in the lurch,
or let him down, so long as he sticks to his own side of the bargain,
and NEVER works for his own ends. I don't quite see how he works.
Certainly he seems to me a man who squanders a great deal of talent
unworthily. Yet for some reason or other he calls this true, genuine
activity, and has a contempt for actual work by which a man makes
provision for his years and for his family. In the end, he will have
to fall back on charity. But when I say so, he denies it, and says
that in the end we, the men who work and make provision, will have to
fall back on him. Well, all I can say is, that SO FAR he is in far
greater danger of having to fall back on me, than I on him."

The old man sat back in his chair with a little laugh of triumph. But
it smote almost devilishly on Aaron's ears, and for the first time in
his life he felt that there existed a necessity for taking sides.

"I don't suppose he will do much falling back," he said.

"Well, he is young yet. You are both young. You are squandering your
youth. I am an old man, and I see the end."

"What end, Sir William?"

"Charity--and poverty--and some not very congenial 'job,' as you call
it, to put bread in your mouth. No, no, I would not like to trust
myself to your Providence, or to your Chance. Though I admit your
Chance is a sounder proposition than Lilly's Providence. You speculate
with your life and your talent. I admit the nature which is a born
speculator. After all, with your flute, you will speculate in other
people's taste for luxury, as a man may speculate in theatres or
_trains de luxe_. You are the speculator. That may be your way of
wisdom. But Lilly does not even speculate. I cannot see his point.
I cannot see his point. I cannot see his point. Yet I have the
greatest admiration for his mentality."

The old man had fired up during this conversation--and all the others
in the room had gone silent. Lady Franks was palpably uneasy. She
alone knew how frail the old man was--frailer by far than his years.
She alone knew what fear of his own age, what fear of death haunted
him now: fear of his own non-existence. His own old age was an agony
to him; worse than an agony, a horror. He wanted to be young--to live,
to live. And he was old, he was breaking up. The glistening youth of
Aaron, the impetuousness of Lilly fascinated him. And both these men
seemed calmly to contradict his own wealth and honours.

Lady Franks tried to turn off the conversation to the trickles of
normal chit-chat. The Colonel was horribly bored--so were all the
women--Arthur was indifferent. Only the young Major was implicated,
troubled in his earnest and philosophic spirit.

"What I can't see," he said, "is the place that others have in your
scheme."

"Is isn't a scheme," said Aaron.

"Well then, your way of life. Isn't it pretty selfish, to marry a
woman and then expect her to live on very little indeed, and that
always precarious, just because you happen to believe in Providence or
in Chance: which I think worse? What I don't see is where others come
in. What would the world be like if everybody lived that way?"

"Other people can please themselves," said Aaron.

"No, they can't--because you take first choice, it seems to me.
Supposing your wife--or Lilly's wife--asks for security and for
provision, as Sir William says. Surely she has a right to it."

"If I've no right to it myself--and I HAVE no right to it, if I don't
want it--then what right has she?"

"Every right, I should say. All the more since you are improvident."

"Then she must manage her rights for herself. It's no good her
foisting her rights on to me."

"Isn't that pure selfishness?"

"It may be. I shall send my wife money as long as I've money to send."

"And supposing you have none?"

"Then I can't send it--and she must look out for herself."

"I call that almost criminal selfishness."

"I can't help it."

The conversation with the young Major broke off.

"It is certainly a good thing for society that men like you and Mr.
Lilly are not common," said Sir William, laughing.

"Becoming commoner every day, you'll find," interjaculated the
Colonel.

"Indeed! Indeed! Well. May we ask you another question, Mr. Sisson?
I hope you don't object to our catechism?"

"No. Nor your judgment afterwards," said Aaron, grinning.

"Then upon what grounds did you abandon your family? I know it is a
tender subject. But Lilly spoke of it to us, and as far I could see.
. . ."

"There were no grounds," said Aaron. "No, there weren't I just left
them."

"Mere caprice?"

"If it's a caprice to be begotten--and a caprice to be born--and a
caprice to die--then that was a caprice, for it was the same."

"Like birth or death? I don't follow."

"It happened to me: as birth happened to me once--and death will
happen. It was a sort of death, too: or a sort of birth. But as
undeniable as either. And without any more grounds."

The old, tremulous man, and the young man were watching one another.

"A natural event," said Sir William.

"A natural event," said Aaron.

"Not that you loved any other woman?"

"God save me from it."

"You just left off loving?"

"Not even that. I went away."

"What from?"

"From it all."

"From the woman in particular?"

"Oh, yes. Yes. Yes, that."

"And you couldn't go back?"

Aaron shook his head.

"Yet you can give no reasons?"

"Not any reasons that would be any good. It wasn't a question of
reasons. It was a question of her and me and what must be. What
makes a child be born out of its mother to the pain and trouble of
both of them? I don't know."

"But that is a natural process."

"So is this--or nothing."

"No," interposed the Major. "Because birth is a universal process--
and yours is a specific, almost unique event."

"Well, unique or not, it so came about. I didn't ever leave off loving
her--not as far as I know. I left her as I shall leave the earth when
I die--because it has to be."

"Do you know what I think it is, Mr. Sisson?" put in Lady Franks. "I
think you are just in a wicked state of mind: just that. Mr. Lilly,
too. And you must be very careful, or some great misfortune will
happen to you."

"It may," said Aaron.

"And it will, mark my word, it will."

"You almost wish it might, as a judgment on me," smiled Aaron.

"Oh, no, indeed. I should only be too sorry. But I feel it will,
unless you are careful."

"I'll be careful, then."

"Yes, and you can't be too careful."

"You make me frightened."

"I would like to make you very frightened indeed, so that you went
back humbly to your wife and family."

"It would HAVE to be a big fright then, I assure you."

"Ah, you are really heartless. It makes me angry."

She turned angrily aside.

"Well, well! Well, well! Life! Life! Young men are a new thing to
me!" said Sir William, shaking his head. "Well, well! What do you
say to whiskey and soda, Colonel?"

"Why, delighted, Sir William," said the Colonel, bouncing up.

"A night-cap, and then we retire," said Lady Franks.

Aaron sat thinking. He knew Sir William liked him: and that Lady
Franks didn't. One day he might have to seek help from Sir William.
So he had better placate milady. Wrinkling the fine, half mischievous
smile on his face, and trading on his charm, he turned to his hostess.

"You wouldn't mind, Lady Franks, if I said nasty things about my wife
and found a lot of fault with her. What makes you angry is that I know
it is not a bit more her fault than mine, that we come apart. It can't
be helped."

"Oh, yes, indeed. I disapprove of your way of looking at things
altogether. It seems to me altogether cold and unmanly and inhuman.
Thank goodness my experience of a man has been different."

"We can't all be alike, can we? And if I don't choose to let you see
me crying, that doesn't prove I've never had a bad half hour, does it?
I've had many--ay, and a many."

"Then why are you so WRONG, so wrong in your behaviour?"

"I suppose I've got to have my bout out: and when it's out, I can
alter."

"Then I hope you've almost had your bout out," she said.

"So do I," said he, with a half-repentant, half-depressed look on his
attractive face. The corners of his mouth grimaced slightly under his
moustache.

"The best thing you can do is to go straight back to England, and
to her."

"Perhaps I'd better ask her if she wants me, first," he said drily.

"Yes, you might do that, too." And Lady Franks felt she was quite
getting on with her work of reform, and the restoring of woman to
her natural throne. Best not go too fast, either.

"Say when," shouted the Colonel, who was manipulating the syphon.

"When," said Aaron.

The men stood up to their drinks.

"Will you be leaving in the morning, Mr. Sisson?" asked Lady Franks.

"May I stay till Monday morning?" said Aaron. They were at Saturday
evening.

"Certainly. And you will take breakfast in your room: we all do. At
what time? Half past eight?"

"Thank you very much."

"Then at half past eight the man will bring it in. Goodnight."

Once more in his blue silk bedroom, Aaron grimaced to himself and
stood in the middle of the room grimacing. His hostess' admonitions
were like vitriol in his ears. He looked out of the window. Through
the darkness of trees, the lights of a city below. Italy! The air
was cold with snow. He came back into his soft, warm room. Luxurious
it was. And luxurious the deep, warm bed.

He was still asleep when the man came noiselessly in with the tray:
and it was morning. Aaron woke and sat up. He felt that the deep,
warm bed, and the soft, warm room had made him sleep too well: robbed
him of his night, like a narcotic. He preferred to be more
uncomfortable and more aware of the flight of the dark hours. It
seemed numbing.

The footman in his grey house-jacket was neat and Italian and
sympathising. He gave good-morning in Italian--then softly arranged
the little table by the bedside, and put out the toast and coffee and
butter and boiled egg and honey, with silver and delicate china. Aaron
watched the soft, catlike motions of the man. The dark eyes glanced
once at the blond man, leaning on his elbow on the pillow. Aaron's
face had that watchful, half-amused expression. The man said something
in Italian. Aaron shook his head, laughed, and said:

"Tell me in English."

The man went softly to the window curtains, and motioned them with
his hand.

"Yes, do," said Aaron.

So the man drew the buff-coloured silk curtains: and Aaron, sitting
in bed, could see away beyond red roofs of a town, and in the further
heaven great snowy mountains.

"The Alps," he said in surprise.

"Gli Alpi--si, signore." The man bowed, gathered up Aaron's clothes,
and silently retired.

Aaron watched through the window. It was a frosty morning at the end
of September, with a clear blue morning-sky, Alpine, and the watchful,
snow-streaked mountain tops bunched in the distance, as if waiting.
There they were, hovering round, circling, waiting. They reminded him
of marvellous striped sky-panthers circling round a great camp: the
red-roofed city. Aaron looked, and looked again. In the near distance,
under the house elm-tree tops were yellowing. He felt himself changing
inside his skin.

So he turned away to his coffee and eggs. A little silver egg-cup with
a curious little frill round it: honey in a frail, iridescent glass
bowl, gold-iridescent: the charm of delicate and fine things. He
smiled half mockingly to himself. Two instincts played in him: the
one, an instinct for fine, delicate things: he had attractive hands;
the other, an inclination to throw the dainty little table with all
its niceties out of the window. It evoked a sort of devil in him.

He took his bath: the man had brought back his things: he dressed and
went downstairs. No one in the lounge: he went down to the ground
floor: no one in the big hall with its pillars of yellow marble and
its gold arches, its enormous, dark, bluey-red carpet. He stood
before the great glass doors. Some red flowers still were blooming in
the tubs, on the steps, handsome: and beautiful chrysanthemums in the
wide portico. Beyond, yellow leaves were already falling on the green
grass and the neat drive. Everywhere was silent and empty. He climbed
the wide stairs, sat in the long, upper lounge where the papers were.
He wanted his hat and coat, and did not know where to find them. The
windows looked on to a terraced garden, the hill rising steeply behind
the house. He wanted to go out.

So he opened more doors, and in a long drawing-room came upon five
or six manservants, all in the grey house-jackets, all clean-shaven,
neat, with neat black hair, all with dusters or brushes or feather
brooms, and all frolicking, chattering, playing like so many monkeys.
They were all of the same neat, smallish size. They were all laughing.
They rolled back a great rug as if it were some football game, one
flew at the curtains. And they merely looked at Aaron and went on
chattering, and laughing and dusting.

Surprised, and feeling that he trespassed, he stood at the window a
moment looking out. The noise went on behind him. So he turned,
smiling, and asked for his hat, pointing to his head. They knew at
once what he wanted. One of the fellows beckoned him away, down to
the hall and to the long cupboard place where hats and coats and
sticks were hung. There was his hat; he put it on, while the man
chattered to him pleasantly and unintelligibly, and opened for him
the back door, into the garden.

CHAPTER XIII

WIE ES IHNEN GEFAELLT

The fresh morning air comes startling after a central heated house.
So Aaron found it. He felt himself dashing up the steps into the
garden like a bird dashing out of a trap where it has been caught:
that warm and luxurious house. Heaven bless us, we who want to save
civilisation. We had better make up our minds what of it we want to
save. The kernel may be all well and good. But there is precious
little kernel, to a lot of woolly stuffing and poisonous rind.

The gardens to Sir William's place were not imposing, and still rather
war-neglected. But the pools of water lay smooth in the bright air,
the flowers showed their colour beside the walks. Many birds dashed
about, rather bewildered, having crossed the Alps in their migration
southwards. Aaron noted with gratification a certain big magnificence,
a certain reckless powerfulness in the still-blossoming, harsh-
coloured, autumn flowers. Distinct satisfaction he derived from it.

He wandered upwards, up the succeeding flights of step; till he came
to the upper rough hedge, and saw the wild copse on the hill-crest just
above. Passing through a space in the hedge, he climbed the steep last
bit of Sir William's lane. It was a little vineyard, with small vines
and yellowing leaves. Everywhere the place looked neglected--but as
if man had just begun to tackle it once more.

At the very top, by the wild hedge where spindle-berries hung pink,
seats were placed, and from here the view was very beautiful. The hill
dropped steep beneath him. A river wound on the near side of the city,
crossed by a white bridge. The city lay close clustered, ruddy on the
plains, glittering in the clear air with its flat roofs and domes and
square towers, strangely naked-seeming in the clear, clean air. And
massive in the further nearness, snow-streaked mountains, the tiger-
like Alps. Tigers prowling between the north and the south. And this
beautiful city lying nearest exposed. The snow-wind brushed her this
morning like the icy whiskers of a tiger. And clear in the light lay
Novara, wide, fearless, violent Novara. Beautiful the perfect air, the
perfect and unblemished Alp-sky. And like the first southern flower,
Novara.

Aaron sat watching in silence. Only the uneasy birds rustled. He
watched the city and the winding river, the bridges, and the imminent
Alps. He was on the south side. On the other side of the time
barrier. His old, sleepy English nature was startled in its sleep.
He felt like a man who knows it is time to wake up, and who doesn't
want to wake up, to face the responsibility of another sort of day.

To open his darkest eyes and wake up to a new responsibility. Wake up
and enter on the responsibility of a new self in himself. Ach, the
horror of responsibility! He had all his life slept and shelved the
burden. And he wanted to go on sleeping. It was so hateful to have
to get a new grip on his own bowels, a new hard recklessness into his
heart, a new and responsible consciousness into his mind and soul. He
felt some finger prodding, prodding, prodding him awake out of the
sleep of pathos and tragedy and spasmodic passion, and he wriggled,
unwilling, oh, most unwilling to undertake the new business.

In fact he ran away again. He gave a last look at the town and its
white-fanged mountains, and descended through the garden, round the
way of the kitchen garden and garage and stables and pecking chickens,
back to the house again. In the hall still no one. He went upstairs
to the long lounge. There sat the rubicund, bald, boy-like Colonel
reading the _Graphic_. Aaron sat down opposite him, and made a feeble
attempt at conversation. But the Colonel wasn't having any. It was
evident he didn't care for the fellow--Mr. Aaron, that is. Aaron
therefore dried up, and began to sit him out, with the aid of _The
Queen_. Came a servant, however, and said that the Signor Colonello
was called up from the hospital, on the telephone. The Colonel once
departed, Aaron fled again, this time out of the front doors, and down
the steep little park to the gates.

Huge dogs and little dogs came bounding forward. Out of the lodge came
the woman with the keys, smiling very pleasantly this morning. So, he
was in the street. The wide road led him inevitably to the big bridge,
with the violent, physical stone statue-groups. Men and women were
moving about, and he noticed for the first time the littleness and the
momentaneousness of the Italians in the street. Perhaps it was the
wideness of the bridge and the subsequent big, open boulevard. But
there it was: the people seemed little, upright brisk figures moving
in a certain isolation, like tiny figures on a big stage. And he felt
himself moving in the space between. All the northern cosiness gone.
He was set down with a space round him.

Little trams flitted down the boulevard in the bright, sweet light.
The barbers' shops were all busy, half the Novarese at that moment
ambushed in lather, full in the public gaze. A shave is nothing if not
a public act, in the south. At the little outdoor tables of the cafes
a very few drinkers sat before empty coffee-cups. Most of the shops
were shut. It was too soon after the war for life to be flowing very
fast. The feeling of emptiness, of neglect, of lack of supplies was
evident everywhere.

Aaron strolled on, surprised himself at his gallant feeling of liberty:
a feeling of bravado and almost swaggering carelessness which is
Italy's best gift to an Englishman. He had crossed the dividing line,
and the values of life, though ostensibly and verbally the same, were
dynamically different. Alas, however, the verbal and the ostensible,
the accursed mechanical ideal gains day by day over the spontaneous
life-dynamic, so that Italy becomes as idea-bound and as automatic as
England: just a business proposition.

Coming to the station, he went inside. There he saw a money-changing
window which was open, so he planked down a five-pound note and got
two-hundred-and-ten lire. Here was a start. At a bookstall he saw a
man buy a big timetable with a large railway map in it. He immediately
bought the same. Then he retired to a corner to get his whereabouts.

In the morning he must move: where? He looked on the map. The map
seemed to offer two alternatives, Milan and Genoa. He chose Milan,
because of its musical associations and its cathedral. Milano then.
Strolling and still strolling, he found the boards announcing Arrivals
and Departures. As far as he could make out, the train for Milan left
at 9:00 in the morning.

So much achieved, he left the big desolating caravanserai of the
station. Soldiers were camped in every corner, lying in heaps asleep.
In their grey-green uniform, he was surprised at their sturdy limbs
and uniformly short stature. For the first time, he saw the cock-
feathers of the Bersaglieri. There seemed a new life-quality
everywhere. Many worlds, not one world. But alas, the one world
triumphing more and more over the many worlds, the big oneness
swallowing up the many small diversities in its insatiable gnawing
appetite, leaving a dreary sameness throughout the world, that means
at last complete sterility.

Aaron, however, was too new to the strangeness, he had no eye for the
horrible sameness that was spreading like a disease over Italy from
England and the north. He plunged into the space in front of the
station, and took a new, wide boulevard. To his surprise he ran
towards a big and over-animated statue that stood resolutely with its
back to the magnificent snow-domes of the wild Alps. Wolves in the
street could not have startled him more than those magnificent fierce-
gleaming mountains of snow at the street-end, beyond the statue. He
stood and wondered, and never thought to look who the gentleman was.
Then he turned right round, and began to walk home.

Luncheon was at one o'clock. It was half-past twelve when he rang at
the lodge gates. He climbed through the leaves of the little park, on
a side-path, rather reluctantly towards the house. In the hall Lady
Franks was discussing with Arthur a fat Pekinese who did not seem very
well. She was sure the servants did not obey her orders concerning the
Pekinese bitch. Arthur, who was more than indifferent, assured her they
did. But she seemed to think that the whole of the male human race was
in league against the miserable specimen of a she-dog. She almost cried,
thinking her Queenie _might_ by some chance meet with, perhaps, a harsh
word or look. Queenie apparently fattened on the secret detestation
of the male human species.

"I can't bear to think that a dumb creature might be ill-treated," she
said to Aaron. "Thank goodness the Italians are better than they used
to be."

"Are they better than they used to be?"

"Oh, much. They have learnt it from us."

She then enquired if her guest had slept, and if he were rested from
his journey. Aaron, into whose face the faint snow-wind and the sun
had brought a glow, replied that he had slept well and enjoyed the
morning, thank you. Whereupon Lady Franks knitted her brows and said
Sir William had had such a bad night. He had not been able to sleep,
and had got up and walked about the room. The least excitement, and
she dreaded a break-down. He must have absolute calm and restfulness.

"There's one for you and your jawing last night, Aaron, my boy!" said
our hero to himself.

"I thought Sir William seemed so full of life and energy," he said,
aloud.

"Ah, did you! No, he WANTS to be. But he can't do it. He's very
much upset this morning. I have been very anxious about him."

"I am sorry to hear that."

Lady Franks departed to some duty. Aaron sat alone before the fire.
It was a huge fireplace, like a dark chamber shut in by tall, finely-
wrought iron gates. Behind these iron gates of curly iron the logs
burned and flickered like leopards slumbering and lifting their heads
within their cage. Aaron wondered who was the keeper of the savage
element, who it was that would open the iron grille and throw on
another log, like meat to the lions. To be sure the fire was only to
be looked at: like wild beasts in the Zoo. For the house was warm from
roof to floor. It was strange to see the blue air of sunlight outside,
the yellow-edged leaves falling in the wind, the red flowers shaking.

The gong sounded softly through the house. The Colonel came in
heartily from the garden, but did not speak to Aaron. The Major and
his wife came pallid down the stairs. Lady Franks appeared, talking
domestic-secretarial business with the wife of Arthur. Arthur, well-
nourished and half at home, called down the stairs. And then Sir
William descended, old and frail now in the morning, shaken: still
he approached Aaron heartily, and asked him how he did, and how he
had spent his morning. The old man who had made a fortune: how he
expected homage: and how he got it! Homage, like most things, is just
a convention and a social trick. Aaron found himself paying homage,
too, to the old man who had made a fortune. But also, exacting a
certain deference in return, from the old man who had made a fortune.
Getting it, too. On what grounds? Youth, maybe. But mostly, scorn
for fortunes and fortune-making. Did he scorn fortunes and fortune-
making? Not he, otherwise whence this homage for the old man with
much money? Aaron, like everybody else, was rather paralysed by a
million sterling, personified in one old man. Paralysed, fascinated,
overcome. All those three. Only having no final control over his own
make-up, he could not drive himself into the money-making or even into
the money-having habit. And he had just wit enough to threaten Sir
William's golden king with his own ivory queen and knights of wilful
life. And Sir William quaked.

"Well, and how have you spent your morning?" asked the host.

"I went first to look at the garden."

"Ah, not much to see now. They have been beautiful with flowers,
once. But for two and a half years the house has been a hospital
for officers--and even tents in the park and garden--as many as two
hundred wounded and sick at a time. We are only just returning to
civil life. And flowers need time. Yes--yes--British officers--for
two and a half years. But did you go up, now, to the belvedere?"

"To the top--where the vines are? I never expected the mountains."

"You never expected the mountains? Pray, why not? They are always
there!"

"But I was never there before. I never knew they were there, round
the town. I didn't expect it like that."

"Ah! So you found our city impressive?"

"Very! Ah, very! A new world to me. I feel I've come out of myself."

"Yes, it is a wonderful sight--a wonderful sight-- But you have not
been INTO the town?"

"Yes. I saw the men being shaved, and all the soldiers at the station:
and a statue, and mountains behind it. Oh, I've had a full morning."

"A full morning! That is good, that is good!" The old man looked
again at the younger man, and seemed to get life from him, to live
in him vicariously.

"Come," said the hostess. "Luncheon."

Aaron sat again on his hostess' left hand. The Colonel was more
affable now it was meal-time. Sir William was again in a good humour,
chaffing the young ladies with an old man's gallantry. But now he

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