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Aaron's Rod by D. H. Lawrence

Part 5 out of 8

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insisted on drawing Aaron into the play. And Aaron did not want to be
drawn. He did not one bit want to chaffer gallantries with the young
women. Between him and Sir William there was a curious rivalry--
unconscious on both sides. The old knight had devoted an energetic,
adventurous, almost an artistic nature to the making of his fortune
and the developing of later philanthropies. He had no children.
Aaron was devoting a similar nature to anything but fortune-making and
philanthropy. The one held life to be a storing-up of produce and a
conservation of energy: the other held life to be a sheer spending of
energy and a storing-up of nothing but experience. There they were,
in opposition, the old man and the young. Sir William kept calling
Aaron into the chaffer at the other end of the table: and Aaron kept
on refusing to join. He hated long distance answers, anyhow. And in
his mood of the moment he hated the young women. He had a conversation
with Arthur about statues: concerning which Aaron knew nothing, and
Arthur less than nothing. Then Lady Franks turned the conversation to
the soldiers at the station, and said how Sir William had equipped
rest-huts for the Italian privates, near the station: but that such
was the jealousy and spite of the Italian Red Cross--or some such body,
locally--that Sir William's huts had been left empty--standing unused--
while the men had slept on the stone floor of the station, night after
night, in icy winter. There was evidently much bitter feeling as a
result of Sir William's philanthropy. Apparently even the honey of
lavish charity had turned to gall in the Italian mouth: at least the
official mouth. Which gall had been spat back at the charitable, much
to his pain. It is in truth a difficult world, particularly when you
have another race to deal with. After which came the beef-olives.

"Oh," said Lady Franks, "I had such a dreadful dream last night, such
a dreadful dream. It upset me so much. I have not been able to get
over it all day."

"What was it?" said Aaron. "Tell it, and break it."

"Why," said his hostess, "I dreamed I was asleep in my room--just as I
actually was--and that it was night, yet with a terrible sort of light,
like the dead light before dawn, so that one could see. And my maid
Giuseppina came running into my room, saying: 'Signora! Signora! Si
alza! Subito! Signora! Vengono su!'--and I said, 'Chi? Chi sono chi
vengono? Chi?'--'I Novaresi! I Novaresi vengono su. Vengono qui!'--
I got out of bed and went to the window. And there they were, in the
dead light, rushing up to the house, through the trees. It was so
awful, I haven't been able to forget it all day."

"Tell me what the words are in English," said Aaron.

"Why," she said, "get up, get up--the Novaresi, the people of Novara
are coming up--vengono su--they are coming up--the Novara people--work-
people. I can't forget it. It was so real, I can't believe it didn't
actually happen."

"Ah," said Aaron. "It will never happen. I know, that whatever one
foresees, and FEELS has happened, never happens in real life. It
sort of works itself off through the imagining of it."

"Well, it was almost more real to me than real life," said his hostess.

"Then it will never happen in real life," he said.

Luncheon passed, and coffee. The party began to disperse--Lady Franks
to answer more letters, with the aid of Arthur's wife--some to sleep,
some to walk. Aaron escaped once more through the big gates. This
time he turned his back on the town and the mountains, and climbed
up the hill into the country. So he went between the banks and the
bushes, watching for unknown plants and shrubs, hearing the birds,
feeling the influence of a new soil. At the top of the hill he saw
over into vineyards, and a new strange valley with a winding river,
and jumbled, entangled hills. Strange wild country so near the town.
It seemed to keep an almost virgin wildness--yet he saw the white
houses dotted here and there.

Just below him was a peasant house: and on a little loggia in the sun
two peasants in white shirtsleeves and black Sunday suits were sitting
drinking wine, and talking, talking. Peasant youths in black hats,
their sweethearts in dark stuff dresses, wearing no hat, but a black
silk or a white silk scarf, passed slowly along the little road just
below the ridge. None looked up to see Aaron sitting there alone.
From some hidden place somebody was playing an accordion, a jerky
sound in the still afternoon. And away beyond lay the unchanging,
mysterious valley, and the infolding, mysterious hills of Italy.

Returning back again another way, he lost himself at the foot of
the hill in new and deserted suburb streets--unfinished streets of
seemingly unfinished houses. Then a sort of boulevard where bourgeois
families were taking the Sunday afternoon walk: stout papas, stout,
pallid mamas in rather cheap black fur, little girls very much dressed,
and long lads in short socks and round sailor caps, ribbons fluttering.
Alien they felt, alien, alien, as a bourgeois crowd always does, but
particularly a foreign, Sunday-best bourgeois crowd. Aaron wandered
and wandered, finding the tram terminus and trying blank, unfinished
street after street. He had a great disinclination to ask his way.

At last he recognised the bank and the little stream of water that
ran along the street side. So he was back in time for tea. A hospital
nurse was there, and two other strange women. Arthur played the part
of host. Sir William came in from a walk with the dogs, but retired
to his room without taking tea.

And so the evening fell. Aaron sat in the hall at some distance from
the fire, which burned behind its wrought iron gates. He was tired now
with all his impressions, and dispirited. He thought of his wife and
children at home: of the church-bells ringing so loudly across the
field beyond his garden end: of the dark-clad people trailing unevenly
across the two paths, one to the left, one to the right, forking their
way towards the houses of the town, to church or to chapel: mostly to
chapel. At this hour he himself would be dressed in his best clothes,
tying his bow, ready to go out to the public house. And his wife would
be resenting his holiday departure, whilst she was left fastened to
the children.

Rather tired and dispirited in this alien place, he wondered if he
wished himself back. But the moment he actually _realised_ himself
at home, and felt the tension of barrenness which it meant, felt the
curious and deadly opposition of his wife's will against his own
nature, the almost nauseating ache which it amounted to, he pulled
himself together and rejoiced again in his new surroundings. Her will,
her will, her terrible, implacable, cunning will! What was there in
the female will so diabolical, he asked himself, that it could press
like a flat sheet of iron against a man all the time? The female will!
He realised now that he had a horror of it. It was flat and inflexible
as a sheet of iron. But also it was cunning as a snake that could sing
treacherous songs.

Of two people at a deadlock, he always reminded himself, there is not
one only wholly at fault. Both must be at fault. Having a detached
and logical soul, he never let himself forget this truth. Take Lottie!
He had loved her. He had never loved any other woman. If he had had
his other affairs--it was out of spite or defiance or curiosity. They
meant nothing. He and Lottie had loved one another. And the love had
developed almost at once into a kind of combat. Lottie had been the
only child of headstrong, well-to-do parents. He also had been the
only child of his widowed mother. Well then, both he and Lottie had
been brought up to consider themselves the first in whatsoever company
they found themselves. During the early months of the marriage he had,
of course, continued the spoiling of the young wife. But this never
altered the fact that, by his very nature, he considered himself as
first and almost as single in any relationship. First and single he
felt, and as such he bore himself. It had taken him years to realise
that Lottie also felt herself first and single: under all her
whimsicalness and fretfulness was a conviction as firm as steel: that
she, as woman, was the centre of creation, the man was but an adjunct.
She, as woman, and particularly as mother, was the first great source
of life and being, and also of culture. The man was but the
instrument and the finisher. She was the source and the substance.

Sure enough, Lottie had never formulated this belief inside herself.
But it was formulated for her in the whole world. It is the
substantial and professed belief of the whole white world. She did
but inevitably represent what the whole world around her asserted:
the life-centrality of woman. Woman, the life-bearer, the life-source.

Nearly all men agree to the assertion. Practically all men, even while
demanding their selfish rights as superior males, tacitly agree to the
fact of the sacred life-bearing priority of woman. Tacitly, they yield
the worship to that which is female. Tacitly, they conspire to agree
that all that is productive, all that is fine and sensitive and most
essentially noble, is woman. This, in their productive and religious
souls, they believe. And however much they may react against the
belief, loathing their women, running to prostitutes, or beer or
_anything_, out of reaction against this great and ignominious dogma
of the sacred priority of women, still they do but profane the god
they worship. Profaning woman, they still inversely worship her.

But in Aaron was planted another seed. He did not know it. He started
off on the good old tack of worshipping his woman while his heart was
honest, and profaning her in his fits of temper and revolt. But he
made a bad show. Born in him was a spirit which could not worship
woman: no, and would not. Could not and would not. It was not in him.
In early days, he tried to pretend it was in him. But through his
plaintive and homage-rendering love of a young husband was always,
for the woman, discernible the arrogance of self-unyielding male.
He never yielded himself: never. All his mad loving was only an
effort. Afterwards, he was as devilishly unyielded as ever. And it
was an instinct in her, that her man must yield to her, so that she
should envelop him yielding, in her all-beneficent love. She was
quite sure that her love was all-beneficent. Of this no shadow of
doubt. She was quite sure that the highest her man could ever know
or ever reach, was to be perfectly enveloped in her all-beneficent
love. This was her idea of marriage. She held it not as an idea, but
as a profound impulse and instinct: an instinct developed in her by the
age in which she lived. All that was deepest and most sacred in he
feeling centred in this belief.

And he outraged her! Oh, from the first day and the first night, she
felt he outraged her. True, for some time she had been taken in by
his manifest love. But though you can deceive the conscious mind,
you can never deceive the deep, unconscious instinct. She could never
understand whence arose in her, almost from the first days of marriage
with him, her terrible paroxysms of hatred for him. She was in love
with him: ah, heaven, how maddeningly she was in love with him: a
certain unseizable beauty that was his, and which fascinated her as a
snake a bird. But in revulsion, how she hated him! How she abhorred
him! How she despised and shuddered at him! He seemed a horrible
thing to her.

And then again, oh, God, the agony of her desire for him. The agony
of her long, long desire for him. He was a passionate lover. He gave
her, ostensibly, all she asked for. He withheld from her nothing, no
experience, no degree of intimacy. She was his initiate, or he hers.

And yet, oh, horror for a woman, he withheld everything from her.
He withheld the very centre of himself. For a long time, she never
realised. She was dazed and maddened only. But as months of married
experience passed into years of married torment, she began to
understand. It was that, after their most tremendous, and, it seemed
to her, heaven-rending passion--yea, when for her every veil seemed
rent and a terrible and sacred creative darkness covered the earth--
then--after all this wonder and miracle--in crept a poisonous grey
snake of disillusionment, a poisonous grey snake of disillusion that
bit her to madness, so that she really was a mad woman, demented.

Why? Why? He never gave himself. He never came to her, _really_.
He withheld himself. Yes, in those supreme and sacred times which
for her were the whole culmination of life and being, the ecstasy
of unspeakable passional conjunction, he was not really hers. He
was withheld. He withheld the central core of himself, like the
devil and hell-fiend he was. He cheated and made play with her
tremendous passional soul, her sacred sex passion, most sacred of
all things for a woman. All the time, some central part of him
stood apart from her, aside, looking on.

Oh, agony and horror for a passionate, fierce-hearted woman! She who
loved him. She who loved him to madness. She who would have died for
him. She who did die with him, many terrible and magnificent connubial
deaths, in his arms, her husband.

Her husband! How bitter the word grew to her! Her husband! and him
never once given, given wholly to her! Her husband--and in all the
frenzied finality of desire, she never _fully_ possessed him, not once.
No, not once. As time went on, she learned it for inevitable. Not
once!

And then, how she hated him! Cheated, foiled, betrayed, forced to love
him or to hate him: never able to be at peace near him nor away from
him: poor Lottie, no wonder she was as a mad woman. She was strictly
as a woman demented, after the birth of her second child. For all
her instinct, all her impulse, all her desire, and above all, all her
_will_, was to possess her man in very fulness once: just once: and
once and for all. Once, just once: and it would be once and for all.

But never! Never! Not once! Never! Not for one single solitary
second! Was it not enough to send a woman mad! Was it not enough to
make her demented! Yes, and mad she was. She made his life a hell
for him. She bit him to the bone with her frenzy of rage, chagrin,
and agony. She drove him mad, too: mad, so that he beat her: mad so
that he longed to kill her. But even in his greatest rages it was
the same: he never finally lost himself: he remained, somewhere in
the centre, in possession of himself. She sometimes wished he would
kill her: or that she would kill him. Neither event happened.

And neither of them understood what was happening. How should they?
They were both dazed, horrified, and mortified. He took to leaving her
alone as much as was possible. But when he _had_ to come home, there
was her terrible will, like a flat, cold snake coiled round his soul
and squeezing him to death. Yes, she did not relent. She was a good
wife and mother. All her duties she fulfilled. But she was not one
to yield. _He_ must yield. That was written in eternal letters, on
the iron tablet of her will. _He_ must yield. She the woman, the
mother of his children, how should she ever even think to yield? It
was unthinkable. He, the man, the weak, the false, the treacherous,
the half-hearted, it was he who must yield. Was not hers the divine
will and the divine right? Ha, she would be less than woman if she
ever capitulated, abandoned her divine responsibility as woman! No,
_he_ must yield.

So, he was unfaithful to her. Piling reproach after reproach upon
himself, he added adultery to his brutality. And this was the
beginning of the end. She was more than maddened: but he began to grow
silent, unresponsive, as if he did not hear her. He was unfaithful to
her: and oh, in such a low way. Such shame, such shame! But he only
smiled carelessly now, and asked her what she wanted. She had asked
for all she got. That he reiterated. And that was all he would do.

Terrible was, that she found even his smile of insolent indifference
half-beautiful. Oh, bitter chain to bear! But she summoned up all
her strange woman's will. She fought against his fascination, the
fascination he exerted over her. With fearful efforts of will she
fought against it, and mastered it. And then, suddenly, horror and
agony of it, up it would rush in her again, her unbearable desire
for him, the longing for his contact, his quality of beauty.

That was a cross hard to bear. Yet even that she bore. And schooled
herself into a fretful, petulant manner of indifference. Her odd,
whimsical petulance hid a will which he, and he alone, knew to be
stronger than steel, strong as a diabolical, cold, grey snake that
presses and presses and cannot-relax: nay, cannot relax. She became
the same as he. Even in her moments of most passionate desire for
him, the cold and snake-like tension of her will never relaxed, and
the cold, snake-like eye of her intention never closed.

So, till it reached a deadlock. Each will was wound tense, and so
fixed. Fixed! There was neither any relaxing or any increase of
pressure. Fixed. Hard like a numbness, a grip that was solidifying
and turning to stone.

He realised, somehow, that at this terrible passive game of fixed
tension she would beat him. Her fixed female soul, her wound-up
female will would solidify into stone--whereas his must break.
In him something must break. It was a cold and fatal deadlock,
profitless. A life-automatism of fixed tension that suddenly, in
him, did break. His will flew loose in a recoil: a recoil away from
her. He left her, as inevitably as a broken spring flies out from
its hold.

Not that he was broken. He would not do her even that credit. He
had only flown loose from the old centre-fixture. His will was still
entire and unabated. Only he did not know: he did not understand.
He swung wildly about from place to place, as if he were broken.

Then suddenly, on this Sunday evening in the strange country, he
realised something about himself. He realised that he had never
intended to yield himself fully to her or to anything: that he did
not intend ever to yield himself up entirely to her or to anything:
that his very being pivoted on the fact of his isolate self-
responsibility, aloneness. His intrinsic and central aloneness was
the very centre of his being. Break it, and he broke his being.
Break this central aloneness, and he broke everything. It was the
great temptation, to yield himself: and it was the final sacrilege.
Anyhow, it was something which, from his profoundest soul, he did not
intend to do. By the innermost isolation and singleness of his own
soul he would abide though the skies fell on top of one another, and
seven heavens collapsed.

Vaguely he realised this. And vaguely he realised that this had
been the root cause of his strife with Lottie: Lottie, the only
person who had mattered at all to him in all the world: save perhaps
his mother. And his mother had not mattered, no, not one-half nor
one-fifth what Lottie had mattered. So it was: there was, for him,
only her significant in the universe. And between him and her
matters were as they were.

He coldly and terribly hated her, for a moment. Then no more. There
was no solution. It was a situation without a solution. But at any
rate, it was now a defined situation. He could rest in peace.

Thoughts something in this manner ran through Aaron's subconscious
mind as he sat still in the strange house. He could not have fired it
all off at any listener, as these pages are fired off at any chance
reader. Nevertheless there it was, risen to half consciousness in him.
All his life he had _hated_ knowing what he felt. He had wilfully, if
not consciously, kept a gulf between his passional soul and his open
mind. In his mind was pinned up a nice description of himself, and a
description of Lottie, sort of authentic passports to be used in the
conscious world. These authentic passports, self-describing: nose
short, mouth normal, etc.; he had insisted that they should do all
the duty of the man himself. This ready-made and very banal idea
of himself as a really quite nice individual: eyes blue, nose short,
mouth normal, chin normal; this he had insisted was really himself.
It was his conscious mask.

Now at last, after years of struggle, he seemed suddenly to have
dropped his mask on the floor, and broken it. His authentic self-
describing passport, his complete and satisfactory idea of himself
suddenly became a rag of paper, ridiculous. What on earth did it
matter if he was nice or not, if his chin was normal or abnormal.

His mask, his idea of himself dropped and was broken to bits. There
he sat now maskless and invisible. That was how he strictly felt:
invisible and undefined, rather like Wells' _Invisible Man_. He had
no longer a mask to present to people: he was present and invisible:
they _could_ not really think anything about him, because they could
not really see him. What did they see when they looked at him? Lady
Franks, for example. He neither knew nor cared. He only knew he was
invisible to himself and everybody, and that all thinking about what
he was like was only a silly game of Mrs. Mackenzie's Dead.

So there. The old Aaron Sisson was as if painfully transmuted, as the
Invisible Man when he underwent his transmutations. Now he was gone,
and no longer to be seen. His visibility lost for ever.

And then what? Sitting there as an invisible presence, the
preconceived world melted also and was gone. Lady Franks, Sir William,
all the guests, they talked and maneuvered with their visible
personalities, manipulating the masks of themselves. And underneath
there was something invisible and dying--something fading, wilting:
the essential plasm of themselves: their invisible being.

Well now, and what next? Having in some curious manner tumbled from
the tree of modern knowledge, and cracked and rolled out from the shell
of the preconceived idea of himself like some dark, night-lustrous
chestnut from the green ostensibility of the burr, he lay as it were
exposed but invisible on the floor, knowing, but making no conceptions:
knowing, but having no idea. Now that he was finally unmasked and
exposed, the accepted idea of himself cracked and rolled aside like
a broken chestnut-burr, the mask split and shattered, he was at last
quiet and free. He had dreaded exposure: and behold, we cannot be
exposed, for we are invisible. We cannot be exposed to the looks of
others, for our very being is night-lustrous and unseeable. Like the
Invisible Man, we are only revealed through our clothes and our masks.

In his own powerful but subconscious fashion Aaron realized this.
He was a musician. And hence even his deepest _ideas_: were not word-
ideas, his very thoughts were not composed of words and ideal concepts.
They too, his thoughts and his ideas, were dark and invisible, as
electric vibrations are invisible no matter how many words they may
purport. If I, as a word-user, must translate his deep conscious
vibrations into finite words, that is my own business. I do but
make a translation of the man. He would speak in music. I speak
with words.

The inaudible music of his conscious soul conveyed his meaning in him
quite as clearly as I convey it in words: probably much more clearly.
But in his own mode only: and it was in his own mode only he realised
what I must put into words. These words are my own affair. His mind
was music.

Don't grumble at me then, gentle reader, and swear at me that this
damned fellow wasn't half clever enough to think all these smart
things, and realise all these fine-drawn-out subtleties. You are
quite right, he wasn't, yet it all resolved itself in him as I say,
and it is for you to prove that it didn't.

In his now silent, maskless state of wordless comprehension, he knew
that he had never wanted to surrender himself utterly to Lottie: nor
to his mother: nor to anybody. The last extreme of self-abandon in
love was for him an act of false behaviour. His own nature inside him
fated him not to take this last false step, over the edge of the abyss
of selflessness. Even if he wanted to, he could not. He might
struggle on the edge of the precipice like an assassin struggling with
his own soul, but he could not conquer. For, according to all the
current prejudice and impulse in one direction, he too had believed
that the final achievement, the consummation of human life, was this
flinging oneself over the precipice, down the bottomless pit of love.
Now he realised that love, even in its intensest, was only an attribute
of the human soul: one of its incomprehensible gestures. And to fling
down the whole soul in one gesture of finality in love was as much a
criminal suicide as to jump off a church-tower or a mountain-peak.
Let a man give himself as much as he liked in love, to seven thousand
extremities, he must never give himself _away_. The more generous and
the more passionate a soul, the more it _gives_ itself. But the more
absolute remains the law, that it shall never give itself away. Give
thyself, but give thyself not away. That is the lesson written at the
end of the long strange lane of love.

The _idee fixe_ of today is that every individual shall not only give
himself, but shall achieve the last glory of giving himself away. And
since this takes two--you can't even make a present of yourself unless
you've got somebody to receive the present; since this last extra-
divine act takes two people to perform it, you've got to take into
count not only your giver but your receiver. Who is going to be the
giver and who the receiver.

Why, of course, in our long-drawn-out Christian day, man is given
and woman is recipient. Man is the gift, woman the receiver. This
is the sacrament we live by; the holy Communion we live for. That
man gives himself to woman in an utter and sacred abandon, all, all,
all himself given, and taken. Woman, eternal woman, she is the
communicant. She receives the sacramental body and spirit of the
man. And when she's got it, according to her passionate and all-too-
sacred desire, completely, when she possesses her man at last finally
and ultimately, without blemish or reservation in the perfection of
the sacrament: then, also, poor woman, the blood and the body of which
she has partaken become insipid or nauseous to her, she is driven mad
by the endless meal of the marriage sacrament, poisoned by the sacred
communion which was her goal and her soul's ambition.

We have pushed a process into a goal. The aim of any process is
not the perpetuation of that process, but the completion thereof.
Love is a process of the incomprehensible human soul: love also
incomprehensible, but still only a process. The process should
work to a completion, not to some horror of intensification and
extremity wherein the soul and body ultimately perish. The completion
of the process of love is the arrival at a state of simple, pure self-
possession, for man and woman. Only that. Which isn't exciting enough
for us sensationalists. We prefer abysses and maudlin self-abandon and
self-sacrifice, the degeneration into a sort of slime and merge.

Perhaps, truly, the process of love is never accomplished. But it
moves in great stages, and at the end of each stage a true goal, where
the soul possesses itself in simple and generous singleness. Without
this, love is a disease.

So Aaron, crossing a certain border-line and finding himself alone
completely, accepted his loneliness or singleness as a fulfilment, a
state of fulfilment. The long fight with Lottie had driven him at last
to himself, so that he was quiet as a thing which has its root deep in
life, and has lost its anxiety. As for considering the lily, it is not
a matter of consideration. The lily toils and spins hard enough, in
her own way. But without that strain and that anxiety with which we
try to weave ourselves a life. The lily is life-rooted, life-central.
She _cannot_ worry. She is life itself, a little, delicate fountain
playing creatively, for as long or as short a time as may be, and
unable to be anxious. She may be sad or sorry, if the north wind
blows. But even then, anxious she cannot be. Whether her fountain
play or cease to play, from out the cold, damp earth, she cannot be
anxious. She may only be glad or sorry, and continue her way. She is
perfectly herself, whatever befall! even if frosts cut her off. Happy
lily, never to be saddled with an _idee fixe_, never to be in the grip
of a monomania for happiness or love or fulfilment. It is not _laisser
aller_. It is life-rootedness. It is being by oneself, life-living,
like the much-mooted lily. One toils, one spins, one strives: just
as the lily does. But like her, taking one's own life-way amidst
everything, and taking one's own life-way alone. Love too. But there
also, taking one's way alone, happily alone in all the wonders of
communion, swept up on the winds, but never swept away from one's
very self. Two eagles in mid-air, maybe, like Whitman's Dalliance
of Eagles. Two eagles in mid-air, grappling, whirling, coming to
their intensification of love-oneness there in mid-air. In mid-air
the love consummation. But all the time each lifted on its own wings:
each bearing itself up on its own wings at every moment of the mid-air
love consummation. That is the splendid love-way.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The party was festive at dinner-time, the women in their finest
dresses, new flowers on the table, the best wine going. It was Sunday
evening. Aaron too was dressed--and Lady Franks, in black lace and
pearls, was almost gay. There were quails for dinner. The Colonel
was quite happy. An air of conviviality gathered round the table
during the course of the meal.

"I hope," said Aaron, "that we shall have some music tonight."

"I want so much to hear your flute," said his hostess.

"And I your piano," he said.

"I am very weak--very out of practise. I tremble at the thought of
playing before a musician. But you must not be too critical."

"Oh," said Aaron, "I am not a man to be afraid of."

"Well, we will see," said Lady Franks. "But I am afraid of music
itself."

"Yes," said Aaron. "I think it is risky."

"Risky! I don't see that! Music risky? Bach? Beethoven! No, I
don't agree. On the contrary, I think it is most elevating--most
morally inspiring. No, I tremble before it because it is so wonderful
and elevating."

"I often find it makes me feel diabolical," said he.

"That is your misfortune, I am sure," said Lady Franks. "Please do
take another--but perhaps you don't like mushrooms?"

Aaron quite liked mushrooms, and helped himself to the _entree_.

"But perhaps," said she, "you are too modern. You don't care for Bach
or Beethoven or Chopin--dear Chopin."

"I find them all quite as modern as I am."

"Is that so! Yes. For myself I am quite old-fashioned--though I can
appreciate Strauss and Stravinsky as well, some things. But my old
things--ah, I don't think the moderns are so fine. They are not so
deep. They haven't fathomed life so deeply." Lady Franks sighed
faintly.

"They don't care for depths," said Aaron.

"No, they haven't the capacity. But I like big, deep music. Oh, I
love orchestra. But my instrument is the piano. I like the great
masters, Bach, Beethoven. They have such faith. You were talking of
faith--believing that things would work out well for you in the end.
Beethoven inspires that in me, too."

"He makes you feel that all will be well with you at last?"

"Yes, he does. He makes me feel faith in my PERSONAL destiny. And I
do feel that there is something in one's special fate. I feel that I
myself have a special kind of fate, that will always look after me."

"And you can trust to it?"

"Yes, I can. It ALWAYS turns out right. I think something has gone
wrong--and then, it always turns out right. Why when we were in London
--when we were at lunch one morning it suddenly struck me, haven't I
left my fur cloak somewhere? It was rather cold, so I had taken it
with me, and then never put it on. And I hadn't brought it home. I
had left it somewhere. But whether in a taxi, or in a shop, or in a
little show of pictures I had been to, I couldn't remember. I COULD
NOT remember. And I thought to myself: have I lost my cloak? I went
round to everywhere I could think of: no-trace of it. But I didn't
give it up. Something prompted me not to give it up: quite distinctly,
I felt something telling me that I should get it back. So I called at
Scotland Yard and gave the information. Well, two days later I had a
notice from Scotland Yard, so I went. And there was my cloak. I had
it back. And that has happened to me almost every time. I almost
always get my things back. And I always feel that something looks
after me, do you know: almost takes care of me."

"But do you mean when you lose things--or in your life?"

"I mean when I lose things--or when I want to get something I want--I
am very nearly ALWAYS successful. And I always feel there is some sort
of higher power which does it for me."

"Finds your cloak for you."

"Yes. Wasn't it extraordinary? I felt when I saw my cloak in Scotland
Yard: There, I KNEW I should recover you. And I always feel, as I say,
that there is some higher power which helps me. Do you feel the same?"

"No, not that way, worse luck. I lost a batch of music a month ago
which didn't belong to me--and which I couldn't replace. But I never
could recover it: though I'm sure nobody wanted it."

"How very unfortunate! Whereas my fur cloak was just the thing that
gets stolen most."

"I wished some power would trace my music: but apparently we aren't
all gifted alike with guardian angels."

"Apparently not. And that is how I regard it: almost as a gift, you
know, that my fairy godmother gave me in my cradle."

"For always recovering your property?"

"Yes--and succeeding in my undertakings."

"I'm afraid I had no fairy godmother."

"Well--I think I had. And very glad I am of it."

"Why, yes," said Aaron, looking at his hostess.

So the dinner sailed merrily on.

"But does Beethoven make you feel," said Aaron as an afterthought, "in
the same way--that you will always find the things you have lost?"

"Yes--he makes me feel the same faith: that what I lose will be
returned to me. Just as I found my cloak. And that if I enter into
an undertaking, it will be successful."

"And your life has been always successful?"

"Yes--almost always. We have succeeded with almost everything."

"Why, yes," said Aaron, looking at her again.

But even so, he could see a good deal of hard wornness under her
satisfaction. She had had her suffering, sure enough. But none the
less, she was in the main satisfied. She sat there, a good hostess,
and expected the homage due to her success. And of course she got it.
Aaron himself did his little share of shoe-licking, and swallowed the
taste of boot-polish with a grimace, knowing what he was about.

The dinner wound gaily to an end. The ladies retired. Sir William
left his seat of honour at the end of the table and came and sat next
to Aaron, summoning the other three men to cluster near.

"Now, Colonel," said the host, "send round the bottle."

With a flourish of the elbow and shoulder, the Colonel sent on the
port, actually port, in those bleak, post-war days!

"Well, Mr. Sisson," said Sir William, "we will drink to your kind
Providence: providing, of course, that we shall give no offence by
so doing."

"No, sir; no, sir! The Providence belonged to Mr. Lilly. Mr. Sisson
put his money on kindly fortune, I believe," said Arthur, who rosy and
fresh with wine, looked as if he would make a marvelous _bonne bouchee_
for a finely-discriminating cannibal.

"Ah, yes, indeed! A much more ingratiating lady to lift our glasses
to. Mr. Sisson's kindly fortune. _Fortuna gentil-issima_! Well, Mr.
Sisson, and may your Lady Fortune ever smile on you."

Sir William lifted his glass with an odd little smirk, some touch of a
strange, prim old satyr lurking in his oddly inclined head. Nay, more
than satyr: that curious, rather terrible iron demon that has fought
with the world and wrung wealth from it, and which knows all about it.
The devilish spirit of iron itself, and iron machines. So, with his
strange, old smile showing his teeth rather terribly, the old knight
glowered sightlessly over his glass at Aaron. Then he drank: the
strange, careful, old-man's gesture in drinking.

"But," said Aaron, "if Fortune is a female---"

"Fortune! Fortune! Why, Fortune is a lady. What do you say, Major?"

"She has all the airs of one, Sir William," said the Major, with the
wistful grimness of his age and culture. And the young fellow stared
like a crucified cyclops from his one eye: the black shutter being over
the other.

"And all the graces," capped Sir William, delighted with himself.

"Oh, quite!" said the Major. "For some, all the airs, and for others,
all the graces."

"Faint heart ne'er won fair lady, my boy," said Sir William. "Not that
your heart is faint. On the contrary--as we know, and your country
knows. But with Lady Fortune you need another kind of stout heart--
oh, quite another kind."

"I believe it, sir: and the kind of stout heart which I am afraid I
haven't got," said the Major.

"What!" said the old man. "Show the white feather before you've
tackled the lady! Fill the Major's glass, Colonel. I am quite sure
we will none of us ever say die."

"Not likely. Not if we know it," said the Colonel, stretching himself
heartily inside his tunic. He was becoming ruddier than the cherry.
All he cared about at the moment was his gay little port glass. But
the Major's young cheek was hollow and sallow, his one eye terribly
pathetic.

"And you, Mr. Sisson," said Sir William, "mean to carry all before you
by taking no thought for the morrow. Well, now, we can only wish you
success."

"I don't want to carry all before me," said Aaron. "I should be sorry.
I want to walk past most of it."

"Can you tell us where to? I am intrigued, as Sybil says, to know
where you will walk to. Come now. Enlighten us."

"Nowhere, I suppose."

"But is that satisfactory? Can you find it satisfactory?"

"Is it even true?" said the Major. "Isn't it quite as positive an act
to walk away from a situation as to walk towards it?"

"My dear boy, you can't merely walk away from a situation. Believe
that. If you walk away from Rome, you walk into the Maremma, or into
the Alban Hills, or into the sea--but you walk into something. Now
if I am going to walk away from Rome, I prefer to choose my direction,
and therefore my destination."

"But you can't," said the Major.

"What can't you?"

"Choose. Either your direction or your destination." The Major was
obstinate.

"Really!" said Sir William. "I have not found it so. I have not found
it so. I have had to keep myself hard at work, all my life, choosing
between this or that."

"And we," said the Major, "have no choice, except between this or
nothing."

"Really! I am afraid," said Sir William, "I am afraid I am too old--
or too young--which shall I say?--to understand."

"Too young, sir," said Arthur sweetly. "The child was always father
to the man, I believe."

"I confess the Major makes me feel childish," said the old man. "The
choice between this or nothing is a puzzler to me. Can you help me
out, Mr. Sisson? What do you make of this this-or-nothing business?
I can understand neck-or-nothing---"

"I prefer the NOTHING part of it to the THIS part of it," said Aaron,
grinning.

"Colonel," said the old man, "throw a little light on this nothingness."

"No, Sir William," said the Colonel. "I am all right as I am."

"As a matter of fact, so are we all, perfectly A-one," said Arthur.

Aaron broke into a laugh.

"That's the top and bottom of it," he laughed, flushed with wine, and
handsome. We're all as right as ninepence. Only it's rather nice to
talk."

"There!" said Sir William. "We're all as right as ninepence! We're
all as right ninepence. So there well leave it, before the Major has
time to say he is twopence short." Laughing his strange old soundless
laugh, Sir William rose and made a little bow. "Come up and join the
ladies in a minute or two," he said. Arthur opened the door for him
and he left the room.

The four men were silent for a moment--then the Colonel whipped up the
decanter and filled his glass. Then he stood up and clinked glasses
with Aaron, like a real old sport.

"Luck to you," he said.

"Thanks," said Aaron.

"You're going in the morning?" said Arthur.

"Yes," said Aaron.

"What train?" said Arthur.

"Eight-forty."

"Oh--then we shan't see you again. Well--best of luck."

"Best of luck--" echoed the Colonel.

"Same to you," said Aaron, and they all peered over their glasses and
quite loved one another for a rosy minute.

"I should like to know, though," said the hollow-cheeked young Major
with the black flap over his eye, "whether you do really mean you are
all right--that it is all right with you--or whether you only say so
to get away from the responsibility."

"I mean I don't really care--I don't a damn--let the devil take
it all."

"The devil doesn't want it, either," said the Major.

"Then let him leave it. I don't care one single little curse about
it all."

"Be damned. What is there to care about?" said the Colonel.

"Ay, what?" said Aaron.

"It's all the same, whether you care or don't care. So I say it's much
easier not to care," said Arthur.

"Of course it is," said the Colonel gaily.

"And I think so, too," said Aaron.

"Right you are! We're all as right as ninepence--what? Good old
sport! Here's yours!" cried the Colonel.

"We shall have to be going up," said Arthur, wise in his generation.

As they went into the hall, Arthur suddenly put one arm round Aaron's
waist, and one arm round the Colonel's, and the three did a sudden
little barn-dance towards the stairs. Arthur was feeling himself
quite let loose again, back in his old regimental mess.

Approaching the foot of the stairs, he let go again. He was in that
rosy condition when united-we-stand. But unfortunately it is a
complicated job to climb the stairs in unison. The whole lot tends to
fall backwards. Arthur, therefore, rosy, plump, looking so good to
eat, stood still a moment in order to find his own neatly-slippered
feet. Having found them, he proceeded to put them carefully one before
the other, and to his enchantment found that this procedure was
carrying him magically up the stairs. The Colonel, like a drowning
man, clutched feebly for the straw of the great stair-rail--and missed
it. He would have gone under, but that Aaron's hand gripped his arm.
So, orientating once more like a fragile tendril, he reached again
for the banister rail, and got it. After which, lifting his feet as
if they were little packets of sand tied to his trouser buttons, he
manipulated his way upwards. Aaron was in that pleasant state when he
saw what everybody else was doing and was unconscious of what he did
himself. Whilst tall, gaunt, erect, like a murdered Hamlet resurrected
in khaki, with the terrible black shutter over his eye, the young
Major came last.

Arthur was making a stern fight for his composure. His whole future
depended on it. But do what he would, he could not get the flushed,
pleased, mess-happy look off his face. The Colonel, oh, awful man,
did a sort of plump roly-poly-cake-walk, like a fat boy, right to the
very door of that santum-sanctorum, the library. Aaron was inwardly
convulsed. Even the Major laughed.

But Arthur stiffened himself militarily and cleared his throat. All
four started to compose themselves, like actors going on the stage,
outside that library door. And then Arthur softly, almost wistfully,
opened and held the door for the others to pass. The Colonel slunk
meekly in, and sat in a chair in the background. The Major stalked
in expressionless, and hovered towards the sofa where his wife sat.

There was a rather cold-water-down-your-back feeling in the library.
The ladies had been waiting for coffee. Sir William was waiting, too.
Therefore in a little tension, half silent, the coffee was handed
round. Lady Franks was discussing something with Arthur's wife.
Arthur's wife was in a cream lace dress, and looking what is called
lovely. The Major's wife was in amethyst chiffon with dark-red roses,
and was looking blindingly beautiful. The Colonel was looking into
his coffee-cup as wistfully as if it contained the illusion of tawny
port. The Major was looking into space, as if there and there alone,
etc. Arthur was looking for something which Lady Franks had asked for,
and which he was much too flushed to find. Sir William was looking at
Aaron, and preparing for another _coeur a coeur_.

"Well," he said, "I doubt if you will care for Milan. It is one of
the least Italian of all the towns, in my opinion. Venice, of course,
is a thing apart. I cannot stand, myself, that miserable specimen the
modern Roman. He has most of the vices of the old Romans and none of
the virtues. The most congenial town, perhaps, for a stranger, is
Florence. But it has a very bad climate."

Lady Franks rose significantly and left the room, accompanied by
Arthur's wife. Aaron knew, silently, that he was summoned to follow.
His hostess had her eye on him this evening. But always postponing his
obedience to the cool commands of women, he remained talking with his
host in the library, and sipping _creme de menthe_! Came the ripple
of the pianoforte from the open doorway down at the further end of the
room. Lady Franks was playing, in the large drawing-room. And the
ripple of the music contained in it the hard insistence of the little
woman's will. Coldly, and decidedly, she intended there should be no
more unsettling conversations for the old Sir William. Aaron was to
come forthwith into the drawing room. Which Aaron plainly understood--
and so he didn't go. No, he didn't go, though the pianoforte rippled
and swelled in volume. No, and he didn't go even when Lady Franks
left off playing and came into the library again. There he sat,
talking with Sir William. Let us do credit to Lady Franks' will-
power, and admit that the talk was quite empty and distracted--none
of the depths and skirmishes of the previous occasions. None the less,
the talk continued. Lady Franks retired, discomfited, to her piano
again. She would never break in upon her lord.

So now Aaron relented. He became more and more distracted. Sir
William wandered away like some restless, hunted soul. The Colonel
still sat in his chair, nursing his last drop of _creme de menthe_
resentfully. He did not care for the green toffee-stuff. Arthur was
busy. The Major lay sprawled in the last stages of everything on the
sofa, holding his wife's hand. And the music came pathetically through
the open folding-doors. Of course, she played with feeling--it went
without saying. Aaron's soul felt rather tired. But she had a touch
of discrimination also.

He rose and went to the drawing-room. It was a large, vacant-seeming,
Empire sort of drawing-room, with yellow silk chairs along the walls
and yellow silk panels upon the walls, and a huge, vasty crystal
chandelier hanging from a faraway-above ceiling. Lady Franks sat at
a large black Bechstein piano at one end of this vacant yellow state-
room. She sat, a little plump elderly lady in black lace, for all the
world like Queen Victoria in Max Beerbohm's drawing of Alfred Tennyson
reading to her Victorian Majesty, with space before her. Arthur's
wife was bending over some music in a remote corner of the big room.

Aaron seated himself on one of the chairs by the wall, to listen.
Certainly it was a beautiful instrument. And certainly, in her way,
she loved it. But Aaron remembered an anthem in which he had taken
part as a boy.

His eye is on the sparrow
So I know He watches me.

For a long time he had failed to catch the word _sparrow_, and had
heard:

His eye is on the spy-hole
So I know He watches me.

Which was just how it had all seemed to him, as a boy.

Now, as ever, he felt the eye was on the spy-hole. There sat the
woman playing music. But her inward eye was on the spy-hole of her
vital affairs--her domestic arrangements, her control of her household,
guests and husband included. The other eye was left for the music,
don't you know.

Sir William appeared hovering in the doorway, not at all liking the
defection of Mr. Aaron. Then he retreated. He seemed not to care
for music. The Major's wife hovered--felt it her duty to _aude_, or
play audience--and entered, seating herself in a breath of lilac and
amethyst again at the near distance. The Major, after a certain
beating about the bush, followed and sat wrapt in dim contemplation
near his wife. Arthur luckily was still busy with something.

Aaron of course made proper musical remarks in the intervals--Arthur's
wife sorted out more pieces. Arthur appeared--and then the Colonel.
The Colonel tip-toed beautifully across the wide blank space of the
Empire room, and seated himself on a chair, rather in the distance,
with his back to the wall, facing Aaron. When Lady Franks finished
her piece, to everybody's amazement the Colonel clapped gaily to
himself and said Bravo! as if at a Cafe Chantant, looking round for
his glass. But there was no glass. So he crossed his neatly-khakied
legs, and looked rapt again.

Lady Franks started with a _vivace_ Schumann piece. Everybody listened
in sanctified silence, trying to seem to like it. When suddenly our
Colonel began to spring and bounce in his chair, slinging his loose
leg with a kind of rapture up and down in the air, and capering upon
his posterior, doing a sitting-down jig to the Schumann _vivace_.
Arthur, who had seated himself at the farthest extremity of the room,
winked with wild bliss at Aaron. The Major tried to look as if he
noticed nothing, and only succeeded in looking agonised. His wife
studied the point of her silver shoe minutely, and peeped through her
hair at the performance. Aaron grimly chuckled, and loved the Colonel
with real tenderness.

And the game went on while the _vivace_ lasted. Up and down bounced
the plump Colonel on his chair, kicking with his bright, black-patent
toe higher and higher, getting quite enthusiastic over his jig. Rosy
and unabashed, he was worthy of the great nation he belonged to. The
broad-seated Empire chair showed no signs of giving way. Let him enjoy
himself, away there across the yellow Sahara of this silk-panelled
salon. Aaron felt quite cheered up.

"Well, now," he thought to himself, "this man is in entire command
of a very important branch of the British Service in Italy. We are
a great race still."

But Lady Franks must have twigged. Her playing went rather stiff.
She came to the end of the _vivace_ movement, and abandoned her piece.

"I always prefer Schumann in his _vivace_ moods," said Aaron.

"Do you?" said Lady Franks. "Oh, I don't know."

It was now the turn of Arthur's wife to sing. Arthur seemed to get
further away: if it was possible, for he was at the remotest remote
end of the room, near the gallery doors. The Colonel became quiet,
pensive. The Major's wife eyed the young woman in white lace, and
seemed not to care for lace. Arthur seemed to be trying to push
himself backwards through the wall. Lady Franks switched on more
lights into the vast and voluminous crystal chandelier which hung
like some glory-cloud above the room's centre. And Arthur's wife
sang sweet little French songs, and _Ye Banks and Braes_, and _Caro
mio ben_, which goes without saying: and so on. She had quite a nice
voice and was quite adequately trained. Which is enough said. Aaron
had all his nerves on edge.

Then he had to play the flute. Arthur strolled upstairs with him, arm-
in-arm, where he went to fetch his instrument.

"I find music in the home rather a strain, you know," said Arthur.

"Cruel strain. I quite agree," said Aaron.

"I don't mind it so much in the theatre--or even a concert--where
there are a lot of other people to take the edge off-- But after
a good dinner--"

"It's medicine," said Aaron.

"Well, you know, it really is, to me. It affects my inside." Aaron
laughed. And then, in the yellow drawing-room, blew into his pipe
and played. He knew so well that Arthur, the Major, the Major's wife,
the Colonel, and Sir William thought it merely an intolerable bore.
However, he played. His hostess even accompanied him in a Mozart bit.

CHAPTER XIV

XX SETTEMBRE

Aaron was awakened in the morning by the soft entrance of the butler
with the tray: it was just seven o'clock. Lady Franks' household was
punctual as the sun itself.

But our hero roused himself with a wrench. The very act of lifting
himself from the pillow was like a fight this morning. Why? He
recognized his own wrench, the pain with which he struggled under the
necessity to move. Why shouldn't he want to move? Why not? Because
he didn't want the day in front--the plunge into a strange country,
towards nowhere, with no aim in view. True, he said that ultimately he
wanted to join Lilly. But this was hardly more than a sop, an excuse
for his own irrational behaviour. He was breaking loose from one
connection after another; and what for? Why break every tie? Snap,
snap, snap went the bonds and ligatures which bound him to the life
that had formed him, the people he had loved or liked. He found all
his affections snapping off, all the ties which united him with his
own people coming asunder. And why? In God's name, why? What was
there instead?

There was nothingness. There was just himself, and blank nothingness.
He had perhaps a faint sense of Lilly ahead of him; an impulse in that
direction, or else merely an illusion. He could not persuade himself
that he was seeking for love, for any kind of unison or communion. He
knew well enough that the thought of any loving, any sort of real
coming together between himself and anybody or anything, was just
objectionable to him. No--he was not moving _towards_ anything: he
was moving almost violently away from everything. And that was what
he wanted. Only that. Only let him _not_ run into any sort of
embrace with anything or anybody--this was what he asked. Let no
new connection be made between himself and anything on earth. Let
all old connections break. This was his craving.

Yet he struggled under it this morning as under the lid of a tomb. The
terrible sudden weight of inertia! He knew the tray stood ready by the
bed: he knew the automobile would be at the door at eight o'clock, for
Lady Franks had said so, and he half divined that the servant had also
said so: yet there he lay, in a kind of paralysis in this bed. He
seemed for the moment to have lost his will. Why go forward into more
nothingness, away from all that he knew, all he was accustomed to and
all he belonged to?

However, with a click he sat up. And the very instant he had poured
his coffee from the little silver coffee-pot into his delicate cup, he
was ready for anything and everything. The sense of silent adventure
took him, the exhilarated feeling that he was fulfilling his own
inward destiny. Pleasant to taste was the coffee, the bread, the
honey--delicious.

The man brought his clothes, and again informed him that the automobile
would be at the door at eight o'clock: or at least so he made out.

"I can walk," said Aaron.

"Milady ha comandato l'automobile," said the man softly.

It was evident that if Milady had ordered it, so it must be.

So Aaron left the still-sleeping house, and got into the soft and
luxurious car. As he dropped through the park he wondered that Sir
William and Lady Franks should be so kind to him: a complete stranger.
But so it was. There he sat in their car. He wondered, also, as he
ran over the bridge and into the city, whether this soft-running
automobile would ever rouse the socialistic bile of the work-people.
For the first time in his life, as he sat among the snug cushions, he
realised what it might be to be rich and uneasy: uneasy, even if not
afraid, lurking there inside an expensive car.--Well, it wasn't much
of a sensation anyhow: and riches were stuffy, like wadded upholstery
on everything. He was glad to get out into the fresh air of the common
crowd. He was glad to be in the bleak, not-very-busy station. He was
glad to be part of common life. For the very atmosphere of riches
seems to be stuffed and wadded, never any real reaction. It was
terrible, as if one's very body, shoulders and arms, were upholstered
and made cushiony. Ugh, but he was glad to shake off himself the
atmosphere of wealth and motor-cars, to get out of it all. It was
like getting out of quilted clothes.

"Well," thought Aaron, "if this is all it amounts to, to be rich, you
can have riches. They talk about money being power. But the only sort
of power it has over me is to bring on a kind of numbness, which I
fairly hate. No wonder rich people don't seem to be really alive."

The relief of escaping quite took away his self-conscious embarrassment
at the station. He carried his own bags, bought a third-class ticket,
and got into the train for Milan without caring one straw for the
comments or the looks of the porters.

It began to rain. The rain ran across the great plain of north Italy.
Aaron sat in his wood-seated carriage and smoked his pipe in silence,
looking at the thick, short Lombards opposite him without heeding
them. He paid hardly any outward attention to his surroundings, but
sat involved in himself.

In Milan he had been advised to go to the Hotel Britannia, because
it was not expensive, and English people went there. So he took a
carriage, drove round the green space in front of Milan station, and
away into the town. The streets were busy, but only half-heartedly so.

It must be confessed that every new move he made was rather an effort.
Even he himself wondered why he was struggling with foreign porters
and foreign cabmen, being talked at and not understanding a word. But
there he was. So he went on with it.

The hotel was small and congenial. The hotel porter answered in
English. Aaron was given a little room with a tiny balcony, looking
on to a quiet street. So, he had a home of his own once more. He
washed, and then counted his money. Thirty-seven pounds he had: and
no more. He stood on the balcony and looked at the people going by
below. Life seems to be moving so quick, when one looks down on it
from above.

Across the road was a large stone house with its green shutters all
closed. But from the flagpole under the eaves, over the central window
of the uppermost floor--the house was four storeys high--waved the
Italian flag in the melancholy damp air. Aaron looked at it--the
red, white and green tricolour, with the white cross of Savoy in the
centre. It hung damp and still. And there seemed a curious vacancy
in the city--something empty and depressing in the great human centre.
Not that there was really a lack of people. But the spirit of the
town seemed depressed and empty. It was a national holiday. The
Italian flag was hanging from almost every housefront.

It was about three o'clock in the afternoon. Aaron sat in the
restaurant of the hotel drinking tea, for he was rather tired, and
looking through the thin curtains at the little square outside, where
people passed: little groups of dark, aimless-seeming men, a little
bit poorer looking--perhaps rather shorter in stature--but very much
like the people in any other town. Yet the feeling of the city was
so different from that of London. There seemed a curious emptiness.
The rain had ceased, but the pavements were still wet. There was a
tension.

Suddenly there was a noise of two shots, fired in rapid succession.
Aaron turned startled to look into the quiet piazza. And to his
amazement, the pavements were empty, not a soul was in sight. Two
minutes before the place was busy with passers-by, and a newspaper
man selling the Corriere, and little carriages rattling through.
Now, as if by magic, nobody, nothing. It was as if they had all
melted into thin air.

The waiter, too, was peeping behind the curtain. A carriage came
trotting into the square--an odd man took his way alone--the traffic
began to stir once more, and people reappeared as suddenly as they had
disappeared. Then the waiter ran hastily and furtively out and craned
his neck, peering round the square. He spoke with two youths--rather
loutish youths. Then he returned to his duty in the hotel restaurant.

"What was it? What were the shots?" Aaron asked him.

"Oh--somebody shooting at a dog," said the man negligently.

"At a dog!" said Aaron, with round eyes.

He finished his tea, and went out into the town. His hotel was not
far from the cathedral square. Passing through the arcade, he came in
sight of the famous cathedral with its numerous spines pricking into
the afternoon air. He was not as impressed as he should have been.
And yet there was something in the northern city--this big square with
all the trams threading through, the little yellow Continental trams:
and the spiny bulk of the great cathedral, like a grey-purple sea-
urchin with many spines, on the one side, the ornamental grass-plots
and flower beds on the other: the big shops going all along the
further strands, all round: and the endless restless nervous drift of
a north Italian crowd, so nervous, so twitchy; nervous and twitchy as
the slipping past of the little yellow tram-cars; it all affected him
with a sense of strangeness, nervousness, and approaching winter. It
struck him the people were afraid of themselves: afraid of their own
souls, and that which was in their own souls.

Turning up the broad steps of the cathedral, he entered the famous
building. The sky had cleared, and the freshened light shone coloured
in living tablets round the wonderful, towering, rose-hearted dusk of
the great church. At some altars lights flickered uneasily. At some
unseen side altar mass was going on, and a strange ragged music
fluttered out on the incense-dusk of the great and lofty interior,
which was all shadow, all shadow, hung round with jewel tablets of
light. Particularly beautiful the great east bay, above the great
altar. And all the time, over the big-patterned marble floor, the
faint click and rustle of feet coming and going, coming and going,
like shallow uneasy water rustled back and forth in a trough. A white
dog trotted pale through the under-dusk, over the pale, big-patterned
floor. Aaron came to the side altar where mass was going on, candles
ruddily wavering. There was a small cluster of kneeling women--
a ragged handful of on-looking men--and people wandering up and
wandering away, young women with neatly dressed black hair, and shawls,
but without hats; fine young women in very high heels; young men with
nothing to do; ragged men with nothing to do. All strayed faintly
clicking over the slabbed floor, and glanced at the flickering altar
where the white-surpliced boys were curtseying and the white-and-gold
priest bowing, his hands over his breast, in the candle-light. All
strayed, glanced, lingered, and strayed away again, as if the spectacle
were not sufficiently holding. The bell chimed for the elevation of
the Host. But the thin trickle of people trickled the same, uneasily,
over the slabbed floor of the vastly-upreaching shadow-foliaged
cathedral.

The smell of incense in his nostrils, Aaron went out again by a side
door, and began to walk along the pavements of the cathedral square,
looking at the shops. Some were closed, and had little notices pinned
on them. Some were open, and seemed half-stocked with half-elegant
things. Men were carrying newspapers. In the cafes a few men were
seated drinking vermouth. In the doorway of the restaurants waiters
stood inert, looking out on the streets. The curious heart-eating
_ennui_ of the big town on a holiday came over our hero. He felt he
must get out, whatever happened. He could not bear it.

So he went back to his hotel and up to his room. It was still only
five o'clock. And he did not know what to do with himself. He lay
down on the bed, and looked at the painting on his bedroom ceiling.
It was a terrible business in reckitt's blue and browny gold, with
awful heraldic beasts, rather worm-wriggly, displayed in a blue field.

As he lay thinking of nothing and feeling nothing except a certain
weariness, or dreariness, or tension, or God-knows-what, he heard a
loud hoarse noise of humanity in the distance, something frightening.
Rising, he went on to his little balcony. It was a sort of procession,
or march of men, here and there a red flag fluttering from a man's
fist. There had been a big meeting, and this was the issue. The
procession was irregular, but powerful, men four abreast. They emerged
irregularly from the small piazza to the street, calling and
vociferating. They stopped before a shop and clotted into a crowd,
shouting, becoming vicious. Over the shop-door hung a tricolour, a
national flag. The shop was closed, but the men began to knock at the
door. They were all workmen, some in railway men's caps, mostly in
black felt hats. Some wore red cotton neck-ties. They lifted their
faces to the national flag, and as they shouted and gesticulated Aaron
could see their strong teeth in their jaws. There was something
frightening in their lean, strong Italian jaws, something inhuman and
possessed-looking in their foreign, southern-shaped faces, so much more
formed and demon-looking than northern faces. They had a demon-like
set purpose, and the noise of their voices was like a jarring of steel
weapons. Aaron wondered what they wanted. There were no women--all
men--a strange male, slashing sound. Vicious it was--the head of the
procession swirling like a little pool, the thick wedge of the
procession beyond, flecked with red flags.

A window opened above the shop, and a frowsty-looking man, yellow-
pale, was quickly and nervously hauling in the national flag. There
were shouts of derision and mockery--a great overtone of acrid
derision--the flag and its owner ignominiously disappeared. And the
procession moved on. Almost every shop had a flag flying. And every
one of these flags now disappeared, quickly or slowly, sooner or later,
in obedience to the command of the vicious, derisive crowd, that
marched and clotted slowly down the street, having its own way.

Only one flag remained flying--the big tricolour that floated from the
top storey of the house opposite Aaron's hotel. The ground floor of
this house consisted of shop-premises--now closed. There was no sign
of any occupant. The flag floated inert aloft.

The whole crowd had come to a stop immediately below the hotel, and
all were now looking up at the green and white and red tricolour which
stirred damply in the early evening light, from under the broad eaves
of the house opposite. Aaron looked at the long flag, which drooped
almost unmoved from the eaves-shadow, and he half expected it to furl
itself up of its own accord, in obedience to the will of the masses.
Then he looked down at the packed black shoulders of the mob below,
and at the curious clustering pattern of a sea of black hats. He
could hardly see anything but hats and shoulders, uneasily moving
like boiling pitch away beneath him. But the shouts began to come
up hotter and hotter. There had been a great ringing of a door-bell
and battering on the shop-door. The crowd--the swollen head of the
procession--talked and shouted, occupying the centre of the street,
but leaving the pavement clear. A woman in a white blouse appeared
in the shop-door. She came out and looked up at the flag and shook
her head and gesticulated with her hands. It was evidently not her
flag--she had nothing to do with it. The leaders again turned to the
large house-door, and began to ring all the bells and to knock with
their knuckles. But no good--there was no answer. They looked up
again at the flag. Voices rose ragged and ironical. The woman
explained something again. Apparently there was nobody at home in
the upper floors--all entrance was locked--there was no caretaker.
Nobody owned the flag. There it hung under the broad eaves of the
strong stone house, and didn't even know that it was guilty. The
woman went back into her shop and drew down the iron shutter from
inside.

The crowd, nonplussed, now began to argue and shout and whistle. The
voices rose in pitch and derision. Steam was getting up. There hung
the flag. The procession crowded forward and filled the street in a
mass below. All the rest of the street was empty and shut up. And
still hung the showy rag, red and white and green, up aloft.

Suddenly there was a lull--then shouts, half-encouraging, half-
derisive. And Aaron saw a smallish-black figure of a youth, fair-
haired, not more than seventeen years old, clinging like a monkey to
the front of the house, and by the help of the heavy drain-pipe and
the stone-work ornamentation climbing up to the stone ledge that ran
under ground-floor windows, up like a sudden cat on to the projecting
footing. He did not stop there, but continued his race like some
frantic lizard running up the great wall-front, working away from the
noise below, as if in sheer fright. It was one unending wriggling
movement, sheer up the front of the impassive, heavy stone house.

The flag hung from a pole under one of the windows of the top storey--
the third floor. Up went the wriggling figure of the possessed youth.
The cries of the crowd below were now wild, ragged ejaculations of
excitement and encouragement. The youth seemed to be lifted up, almost
magically on the intense upreaching excitement of the massed men below.
He passed the ledge of the first floor, like a lizard he wriggled up
and passed the ledge or coping of the second floor, and there he was,
like an upward-climbing shadow, scrambling on to the coping of the
third floor. The crowd was for a second electrically still as the boy
rose there erect, cleaving to the wall with the tips of his fingers.

But he did not hesitate for one breath. He was on his feet and
running along the narrow coping that went across the house under
the third floor windows, running there on that narrow footing away
above the street, straight to the flag. He had got it--he had
clutched it in his hand, a handful of it. Exactly like a great
flame rose the simultaneous yell of the crowd as the boy jerked
and got the flag loose. He had torn it down. A tremendous prolonged
yell, touched with a snarl of triumph, and searing like a puff of
flame, sounded as the boy remained for one moment with the flag in
his hand looking down at the crowd below. His face was odd and elated
and still. Then with the slightest gesture he threw the flag from him,
and Aaron watched the gaudy remnant falling towards the many faces,
whilst the noise of yelling rose up unheard.

There was a great clutch and hiss in the crowd. The boy still stood
unmoved, holding by one hand behind him, looking down from above, from
his dangerous elevation, in a sort of abstraction.

And the next thing Aaron was conscious of was the sound of trumpets.
A sudden startling challenge of trumpets, and out of nowhere a sudden
rush of grey-green carabinieri battering the crowd wildly with
truncheons. It was so sudden that Aaron _heard_ nothing any more.
He only saw.

In utmost amazement he saw the greeny-grey uniformed carabinieri
rushing thick and wild and indiscriminate on the crowd: a sudden new
excited crowd in uniforms attacking the black crowd, beating them
wildly with truncheons. There was a seething moment in the street
below. And almost instantaneously the original crowd burst into a
terror of frenzy. The mob broke as if something had exploded inside
it. A few black-hatted men fought furiously to get themselves free of
the hated soldiers; in the confusion bunches of men staggered, reeled,
fell, and were struggling among the legs of their comrades and of the
carabinieri. But the bulk of the crowd just burst and fled--in every
direction. Like drops of water they seemed to fly up at the very
walls themselves. They darted into any entry, any doorway. They
sprang up the walls and clambered into the ground-floor windows.
They sprang up the walls on to window-ledges, and then jumped down
again, and ran--clambering, wriggling, darting, running in every
direction; some cut, blood on their faces, terror or frenzy of flight
in their hearts. Not so much terror as the frenzy of running away.
In a breath the street was empty.

And all the time, there above on the stone coping stood the long-
faced, fair-haired boy, while four stout carabinieri in the street
below stood with uplifted revolvers and covered him, shouting that if
he moved they would shoot. So there he stood, still looking down,
still holding with his left hand behind him, covered by the four
revolvers. He was not so much afraid as twitchily self-conscious
because of his false position.

Meanwhile down below the crowd had dispersed--melted momentaneously.
The carabinieri were busy arresting the men who had fallen and been
trodden underfoot, or who had foolishly let themselves be taken;
perhaps half a dozen men, half a dozen prisoners; less rather than
more. The sergeant ordered these to be secured between soldiers.
And last of all the youth up above, still covered by the revolvers,
was ordered to come down. He turned quite quietly, and quite humbly,
cautiously picked his way along the coping towards the drain-pipe.
He reached this pipe and began, in humiliation, to climb down. It
was a real climb down.

Once in the street he was surrounded by the grey uniforms. The
soldiers formed up. The sergeant gave the order. And away they
marched, the dejected youth a prisoner between them.

Then were heard a few scattered yells of derision and protest, a few
shouts of anger and derision against the carabinieri. There were once
more gangs of men and groups of youths along the street. They sent up
an occasional shout. But always over their shoulders, and pretending
it was not they who shouted. They were all cowed and hang-dog once
more, and made not the slightest effort to save the youth.
Nevertheless, they prowled and watched, ready for the next time.

So, away went the prisoner and the grey-green soldiers, and the street
was left to the little gangs and groups of hangdog, discontented men,
all thoroughly out of countenance. The scene was ended.

Aaron looked round, dazed. And then for the first time he noticed, on
the next balcony to his own, two young men: young gentlemen, he would
have said. The one was tall and handsome and well-coloured, might be
Italian. But the other with his pale thin face and his rimless monocle
in his eye, he was surely an Englishman. He was surely one of the
young officers shattered by the war. A look of strange, arch, bird-
like pleasure was on his face at this moment: if one could imagine the
gleaming smile of a white owl over the events that had just passed,
this was the impression produced on Aaron by the face of the young
man with the monocle. The other youth, the ruddy, handsome one, had
knitted his brows in mock distress, and was glancing with a look of
shrewd curiosity at Aaron, and with a look of almost self-satisfied
excitement first to one end of the street, then to the other.

"But imagine, Angus, it's all over!" he said, laying his hand on the
arm of the monocled young man, and making great eyes--not without a
shrewd glance in Aaron's direction.

"Did you see him fall!" replied Angus, with another strange gleam.

"Yes. But was he HURT--?"

"I don't know. I should think so. He fell right back out of that on
to those stones!"

"But how perfectly AWFUL! Did you ever see anything like it?"

"No. It's one of the funniest things I ever did see. I saw nothing
quite like it, even in the war--"

Here Aaron withdrew into his room. His mind and soul were in a whirl.
He sat down in his chair, and did not move again for a great while.
When he did move, he took his flute and played he knew not what. But
strange, strange his soul passed into his instrument. Or passed half
into his instrument. There was a big residue left, to go bitter, or
to ferment into gold old wine of wisdom.

He did not notice the dinner gong, and only the arrival of the chamber-
maid, to put the wash-table in order, sent him down to the restaurant.
The first thing he saw, as he entered, was the two young Englishmen
seated at a table in a corner just behind him. Their hair was brushed
straight back from their foreheads, making the sweep of the head bright
and impeccable, and leaving both the young faces clear as if in cameo.
Angus had laid his monocle on the table, and was looking round the
room with wide, light-blue eyes, looking hard, like some bird-creature,
and seeming to see nothing. He had evidently been very ill: was
still very ill. His cheeks and even his jaw seemed shrunken, almost
withered. He forgot his dinner: or he did not care for it. Probably
the latter.

"What do you think, Francis," he said, "of making a plan to see
Florence and Sienna and Orvieto on the way down, instead of going
straight to Rome?" He spoke in precise, particularly-enunciated
words, in a public-school manner, but with a strong twang of South
Wales.

"Why, Angus," came the graceful voice of Francis, "I thought we had
settled to go straight through via Pisa." Francis was graceful in
everything--in his tall, elegant figure, in the poses of his handsome
head, in the modulation of his voice.

"Yes, but I see we can go either way--either Pisa or Florence. And I
thought it might be nice to look at Florence and Sienna and Orvieto.
I believe they're very lovely," came the soft, precise voice of Angus,
ending in a touch of odd emotion on the words "very lovely," as if it
were a new experience to him to be using them.

"I'm SURE they're marvellous. I'm quite sure they're marvellously
beautiful," said Francis, in his assured, elegant way. "Well, then,
Angus--suppose we do that, then?--When shall we start?"

Angus was the nervous insister. Francis was quite occupied with his
own thoughts and calculations and curiosity. For he was very curious,
not to say inquisitive. And at the present moment he had a new subject
to ponder.

This new subject was Aaron, who sat with his back to our new couple,
and who, with his fine sharp ears, caught every word that they said.
Aaron's back was broad enough, and his shoulders square, and his head
rather small and fairish and well-shaped--and Francis was intrigued.
He wanted to know, was the man English. He _looked_ so English--
yet he might be--he might perhaps be Danish, Scandinavian, or Dutch.
Therefore, the elegant young man watched and listened with all his
ears.

The waiter who had brought Aaron his soup now came very free and easy,
to ask for further orders.

"What would you like to drink? Wine? Chianti? Or white wine? Or
beer?"--The old-fashioned "Sir" was dropped. It is too old-fashioned
now, since the war.

"What SHOULD I drink?" said Aaron, whose acquaintance with wines was
not very large.

"Half-litre of Chianti: that is very good," said the waiter, with the
air of a man who knew only too well how to bring up his betters, and
train them in the way they should go.

"All right," said Aaron.

The welcome sound of these two magic words, All Right! was what the
waiter most desired. "All right! Yes! All Right!" This is the
pith, the marrow, the sum and essence of the English language to a
southerner. Of course it is not _all right_. It is _Or-rye_--and
one word at that. The blow that would be given to most foreign
waiters, if they were forced to realize that the famous _orye_ was
really composed of two words, and spelt _all right_, would be too
cruel, perhaps.

"Half litre Chianti. Orye," said the waiter. And we'll let him
say it.

"ENGLISH!" whispered Francis melodramatically in the ear of Angus. "I
THOUGHT so. The flautist."

Angus put in his monocle, and stared at the oblivious shoulders of
Aaron, without apparently seeing anything. "Yes. Obviously English,"
said Angus, pursing like a bird.

"Oh, but I heard him," whispered Francis emphatically. "Quite," said
Angus. "But quite inoffensive."

"Oh, but Angus, my dear--he's the FLAUTIST. Don't you remember?
The divine bit of Scriabin. At least I believe it was Scriabin.--
But PERFECTLY DIVINE!!! I adore the flute above all things--" And
Francis placed his hand on Angus' arm, and rolled his eyes--Lay this
to the credit of a bottle of Lacrimae Cristi, if you like.

"Yes. So do I," said Angus, again looking archly through the monocle,
and seeing nothing. "I wonder what he's doing here."

"Don't you think we might ASK him?" said Francis, in a vehement
whisper. "After all, we are the only three English people in the
place."

"For the moment, apparently we are," said Angus. "But the English
are all over the place wherever you go, like bits of orange peel in
the street. Don't forget that, Francesco."

"No, Angus, I don't. The point is, his flute is PERFECTLY DIVINE--and
he seems quite attractive in himself. Don't you think so?"

"Oh, quite," said Angus, whose observations had got no further than
the black cloth of the back of Aaron's jacket. That there was a man
inside he had not yet paused to consider.

"Quite a musician," said Francis.

"The hired sort," said Angus, "most probably."

"But he PLAYS--he plays most marvellously. THAT you can't get away
from, Angus."

"I quite agree," said Angus.

"Well, then? Don't you think we might hear him again? Don't you
think we might get him to play for us?--But I should love it more
than anything."

"Yes, I should, too," said Angus. "You might ask him to coffee and
a liqueur."

"I should like to--most awfully. But do you think I might?"

"Oh, yes. He won't mind being offered a coffee and liqueur. We can
give him something decent--Where's the waiter?" Angus lifted his
pinched, ugly bare face and looked round with weird command for the
waiter. The waiter, having not much to do, and feeling ready to draw
these two weird young birds, allowed himself to be summoned.

"Where's the wine list? What liqueurs have you got?" demanded Angus
abruptly.

The waiter rattled off a list, beginning with Strega and ending with
cherry brandy.

"Grand Marnier," said Angus. "And leave the bottle."

Then he looked with arch triumph at Francis, like a wicked bird.
Francis bit his finger moodily, and glowered with handsome, dark-blue
uncertain eyes at Mr. Aaron, who was just surveying the _Frutte_,
which consisted of two rather old pomegranates and various pale
yellow apples, with a sprinkling of withered dried figs. At the
moment, they all looked like a _Natura Morta_ arrangement.

"But do you think I might--?" said Francis moodily. Angus pursed his
lips with a reckless brightness.

"Why not? I see no reason why you shouldn't," he said. Whereupon
Francis cleared his throat, disposed of his serviette, and rose to
his feet, slowly but gracefully. Then he composed himself, and took
on the air he wished to assume at the moment. It was a nice degage
air, half naive and half enthusiastic. Then he crossed to Aaron's
table, and stood on one lounging hip, gracefully, and bent forward
in a confidential manner, and said:

"Do excuse me. But I MUST ask you if it was you we heard playing the
flute so perfectly wonderfully, just before dinner."

The voice was confidential and ingratiating. Aaron, relieved from the
world's stress and seeing life anew in the rosy glow of half a litre
of good old Chianti--the war was so near but gone by--looked up at the
dark blue, ingenuous, well-adapted eyes of our friend Francis, and
smiling, said:

"Yes, I saw you on the balcony as well."

"Oh, did you notice us?" plunged Francis. "But wasn't it an
extraordinary affair?"

"Very," said Aaron. "I couldn't make it out, could you?"

"Oh," cried Francis. "I never try. It's all much too new and
complicated for me.--But perhaps you know Italy?"

"No, I don't," said Aaron.

"Neither do we. And we feel rather stunned. We had only just arrived
--and then--Oh!" Francis put up his hand to his comely brow and rolled
his eyes. "I feel perfectly overwhelmed with it still."

He here allowed himself to sink friendlily into the vacant chair
opposite Aaron's.

"Yes, I thought it was a bit exciting," said Aaron. "I wonder what
will become of him--"

"--Of the one who climbed for the flag, you mean? No!--But wasn't it
perfectly marvellous! Oh, incredible, quite incredible!--And then your
flute to finish it all! Oh! I felt it only wanted that.--I haven't
got over it yet. But your playing was MARVELLOUS, really marvellous.
Do you know, I can't forget it. You are a professional musician, of
course."

"If you mean I play for a living," said Aaron. "I have played in
orchestras in London."

"Of course! Of course! I knew you must be a professional. But don't
you give private recitals, too?"

"No, I never have."

"Oh!" cried Francis, catching his breath. "I can't believe it. But
you play MARVELLOUSLY! Oh, I just loved it, it simply swept me away,
after that scene in the street. It seemed to sum it all up, you know."

"Did it," said Aaron, rather grimly.

"But won't you come and have coffee with us at our table?" said
Francis. "We should like it most awfully if you would."

"Yes, thank you," said Aaron, half-rising.

"But you haven't had your dessert," said Francis, laying a fatherly
detaining hand on the arm of the other man. Aaron looked at the
detaining hand.

"The dessert isn't much to stop for," he said. "I can take with me
what I want." And he picked out a handful of dried figs.

The two went across to Angus' table.

"We're going to take coffee together," said Francis complacently,
playing the host with a suave assurance that was rather amusing and
charming in him.

"Yes. I'm very glad," said Angus. Let us give the show away: he
was being wilfully nice. But he _was_ quite glad; to be able to be
so nice. Anything to have a bit of life going: especially a bit of
pleased life. He looked at Aaron's comely, wine-warmed face with
gratification.

"Have a Grand Marnier," he said. "I don't know how bad it is.
Everything is bad now. They lay it down to the war as well. It
used to be quite a decent drink. What the war had got to do with
bad liqueurs, I don't know."

Aaron sat down in a chair at their table.

"But let us introduce ourselves," said Francis. "I am Francis--or
really Franz DekkerAnd this is Angus Guest, my friend."

"And my name is Aaron Sisson."

"What! What did you say?" said Francis, leaning forward. He, too,
had sharp ears.

"Aaron Sisson."

"Aaron Sisson! Oh, but how amusing! What a nice name!"

"No better than yours, is it?"

"Mine! Franz Dekker! Oh, much more amusing, _I_ think," said Francis
archly.

"Oh, well, it's a matter of opinion. You're the double decker,
not me."

"The double decker!" said Francis archly. "Why, what do you mean!--"
He rolled his eyes significantly. "But may I introduce my friend Angus
Guest."

"You've introduced me already, Francesco," said Angus.

"So sorry," said Francis.

"Guest!" said Aaron.

Francis suddenly began to laugh.

"May he not be Guest?" he asked, fatherly.

"Very likely," said Aaron. "Not that I was ever good at guessing."

Francis tilted his eyebrows. Fortunately the waiter arrived with
the coffee.

"Tell me," said Francis, "will you have your coffee black, or with
milk?" He was determined to restore a tone of sobriety.

The coffee was sipped in sober solemnity.

"Is music your line as well, then?" asked Aaron.

"No, we're painters. We're going to work in Rome."

"To earn your living?"

"Not yet."

The amount of discretion, modesty, and reserve which Francis put into
these two syllables gave Aaron to think that he had two real young
swells to deal with.

"No," continued Francis. "I was only JUST down from Oxford when the
war came--and Angus had been about ten months at the Slade--But I have
always painted.--So now we are going to work, really hard, in Rome, to
make up for lost time.--Oh, one has lost so much time, in the war. And
such PRECIOUS time! I don't know if ever one will even be able to make
it up again." Francis tilted his handsome eyebrows and put his head on
one side with a wise-distressed look.

"No," said Angus. "One will never be able to make it up. What is
more, one will never be able to start again where one left off. We're
shattered old men, now, in one sense. And in another sense, we're just
pre-war babies."

The speech was uttered with an odd abruptness and didacticism which
made Aaron open his eyes. Angus had that peculiar manner: he seemed
to be haranguing himself in the circle of his own thoughts, not
addressing himself to his listener.

So his listener listened on the outside edge of the young fellow's
crowded thoughts. Francis put on a distressed air, and let his
attention wander. Angus pursed his lips and his eyes were stretched
wide with a kind of pleasure, like a wicked owl which has just
joyfully hooted an ill omen.

"Tell me," said Francis to Aaron. "Where were YOU all the time during
the war?"

"I was doing my job," said Aaron. Which led to his explaining his
origins.

"Really! So your music is quite new! But how interesting!" cried
Francis.

Aaron explained further.

"And so the war hardly affected you? But what did you FEEL about it,
privately?"

"I didn't feel much. I didn't know what to feel. Other folks did
such a lot of feeling, I thought I'd better keep my mouth shut."

"Yes, quite!" said Angus. "Everybody had such a lot of feelings on
somebody else's behalf, that nobody ever had time to realise what they
felt themselves. I know I was like that. The feelings all came on to
me from the outside: like flies settling on meat. Before I knew where
I was I was eaten up with a swarm of feelings, and I found myself in
the trenches. God knows what for. And ever since then I've been
trying to get out of my swarm of feelings, which buzz in and out of
me and have nothing to do with me. I realised it in hospital. It's
exactly like trying to get out of a swarm of nasty dirty flies. And
every one you kill makes you sick, but doesn't make the swarm any less."

Again Angus pursed and bridled and looked like a pleased, wicked white
owl. Then he polished his monocle on a very choice silk handkerchief,
and fixed it unseeing in his left eye.

But Francis was not interested in his friend's experiences. For
Francis had had a job in the War Office--whereas Angus was a war-hero
with shattered nerves. And let him depreciate his own experiences as
much as he liked, the young man with the monocle kept tight hold on
his prestige as a war hero. Only for himself, though. He by no means
insisted that anyone else should be war-bitten.

Francis was one of those men who, like women, can set up the
sympathetic flow and make a fellow give himself away without realising
what he is doing. So there sat our friend Aaron, amusingly unbosoming
himself of all his history and experiences, drawn out by the arch,
subtle attentiveness of the handsome Francis. Angus listened, too,
with pleased amusedness on his pale, emaciated face, pursing his
shrunken jaw. And Aaron sipped various glasses of the liqueur, and
told all his tale as if it was a comedy. A comedy it seemed, too, at
that hour. And a comedy no doubt it was. But mixed, like most things
in this life. Mixed.

It was quite late before this seance broke up: and the waiter itching
to get rid of the fellows.

"Well, now," said Francis, as he rose from the table and settled his
elegant waist, resting on one hip, as usual. "We shall see you in the
morning, I hope. You say you are going to Venice. Why? Have you some
engagement in Venice?"

"No," said Aaron. "I only was going to look for a friend--Rawdon
Lilly."

"Rawdon Lilly! Why, is he in Venice? Oh, I've heard SUCH a lot
about him. I should like so much to meet him. But I heard he was
in Germany--"

"I don't know where he is."

"Angus! Didn't we hear that Lilly was in Germany?"

"Yes, in Munich, being psychoanalysed, I believe it was."

Aaron looked rather blank.

"But have you anything to take you to Venice? It's such a bad climate
in the winter. Why not come with us to Florence?" said Francis.

Aaron wavered. He really did not know what to do.

"Think about it," said Francis, laying his hand on Aaron's arm. "Think
about it tonight. And we'll meet in the morning. At what time?"

"Any time," said Aaron.

"Well, say eleven. We'll meet in the lounge here at eleven. Will
that suit you? All right, then. It's so awfully nice meeting you.
That marvellous flute.--And think about Florence. But do come.
Don't disappoint us."

The two young men went elegantly upstairs.

CHAPTER XV

A RAILWAY JOURNEY

The next day but one, the three set off for Florence. Aaron had made
an excursion from Milan with the two young heroes, and dined with them
subsequently at the most expensive restaurant in the town. Then they
had all gone home--and had sat in the young men's bedroom drinking
tea, whilst Aaron played the flute. Francis was really musical, and
enchanted. Angus enjoyed the novelty, and the moderate patronage he
was able to confer. And Aaron felt amused and pleased, and hoped he
was paying for his treat.

So behold them setting off for Florence in the early morning. Angus
and Francis had first-class tickets: Aaron took a third-class.

"Come and have lunch with us on the train," said Angus. "I'll order
three places, and we can lunch together."

"Oh, I can buy a bit of food at the station," said Aaron.

"No, come and lunch with us. It will be much nicer. And we shall
enjoy it as well," said Angus.

"Of course! Ever so much nicer! Of course!" cried Francis. "Yes, why
not, indeed! Why should you hesitate?"

"All right, then," said Aaron, not without some feeling of constraint.

So they separated. The young men settled themselves amidst the red
plush and crochet-work, looking, with their hair plastered smoothly
back, quite as first class as you could wish, creating quite the right
impression on the porters and the travelling Italians. Aaron went to
his third-class, further up the train.

"Well, then, _au revoir_, till luncheon," cried Francis.

The train was fairly full in the third and second classes. However,
Aaron got his seat, and the porter brought on his bags, after disposing
of the young men's luggage. Aaron gave the tip uneasily. He always
hated tipping--it seemed humiliating both ways. And the airy aplomb of
the two young cavaliers, as they settled down among the red plush and
the obsequiousness, and said "Well, then, _au revoir_ till luncheon,"
was peculiarly unsettling: though they did not intend it so.

"The porter thinks I'm their servant--their valet," said Aaron to
himself, and a curious half-amused, half-contemptuous look flickered
on his face. It annoyed him. The falsity occasioned by the difference
in the price of the tickets was really humiliating. Aaron had lived
long enough to know that as far as manhood and intellect went--nay,
even education--he was not the inferior of the two young "gentlemen."
He knew quite well that, as far as intrinsic nature went, they did not
imagine him an inferior: rather the contrary. They had rather an
exaggerated respect for him and his life-power, and even his origin.
And yet--they had the inestimable cash advantage--and they were going
to keep it. They knew it was nothing more than an artificial cash
superiority. But they gripped it all the more intensely. They were
the upper middle classes. They were Eton and Oxford. And they were
going to hang on to their privileges. In these days, it is a fool who
abdicates before he's forced to. And therefore:

"Well, then--_au revoir_ till luncheon."

They were being so awfully nice. And inwardly they were not
condescending. But socially, they just had to be. The world is made
like that. It wasn't their own private fault. It was no fault at all.
It was just the mode in which they were educated, the style of their
living. And as we know, _le style, c'est l'homme_.

Angus came of very wealthy iron people near Merthyr. Already he had a
very fair income of his own. As soon as the law-business concerning
his father's and his grandfather's will was settled, he would be well
off. And he knew it, and valued himself accordingly. Francis was the
son of a highly-esteemed barrister and politician of Sydney, and in
his day would inherit his father's lately-won baronetcy. But Francis
had not very much money: and was much more class-flexible than Angus.
Angus had been born in a house with a park, and of awful, hard-willed,
money-bound people. Francis came of a much more adventurous, loose,
excitable family, he had the colonial newness and adaptability. He
knew, for his own part, that class superiority was just a trick,
nowadays. Still, it was a trick that paid. And a trick he was going
to play as long as it did pay.

While Aaron sat, a little pale at the gills, immobile, ruminating these
matters, a not very pleasant look about his nose-end, he heard a voice:

"Oh, there you ARE! I thought I'd better come and see, so that we
can fetch you at lunch time.--You've got a seat? Are you quite
comfortable? Is there anything I could get you? Why, you're in a
non-smoker!--But that doesn't matter, everybody will smoke. Are you
sure you have everything? Oh, but wait just one moment--"

It was Francis, long and elegant, with his straight shoulders and his
coat buttoned to show his waist, and his face so well-formed and so
modern. So modern, altogether. His voice was pleasantly modulated,
and never hurried. He now looked as if a thought had struck him. He
put a finger to his brow, and hastened back to his own carriage. In
a minute, he returned with a new London literary magazine.

"Something to read--I shall have to FLY--See you at lunch," and he had
turned and elegantly hastened, but not too fast, back to his carriage.
The porter was holding the door for him. So Francis looked pleasantly
hurried, but by no means rushed. Oh, dear, no. He took his time. It
was not for him to bolt and scramble like a mere Italian.

The people in Aaron's carriage had watched the apparition of the
elegant youth intently. For them, he was a being from another sphere
--no doubt a young milordo with power wealth, and glamorous life behind
him. Which was just what Francis intended to convey. So handsome--so
very, very impressive in all his elegant calm showiness. He made such
a _bella figura_. It was just what the Italians loved. Those in the
first class regions thought he might even be an Italian, he was so
attractive.

The train in motion, the many Italian eyes in the carriage studied
Aaron. He, too, was good-looking. But by no means as fascinating
as the young milordo. Not half as sympathetic. No good at all at
playing a role. Probably a servant of the young signori.

Aaron stared out of the window, and played the one single British role
left to him, that of ignoring his neighbours, isolating himself in
their midst, and minding his own business. Upon this insular trick
our greatness and our predominance depends--such as it is. Yes, they
might look at him. They might think him a servant or what they liked.

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