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Aaron's Rod by D. H. Lawrence

Part 6 out of 8

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But he was inaccessible to them. He isolated himself upon himself,
and there remained.

It was a lovely day, a lovely, lovely day of early autumn. Over the
great plain of Lombardy a magnificent blue sky glowed like mid-summer,
the sun shone strong. The great plain, with its great stripes of
cultivation--without hedges or boundaries---how beautiful it was!
Sometimes he saw oxen ploughing. Sometimes. Oh, so beautiful, teams
of eight, or ten, even of twelve pale, great soft oxen in procession,
ploughing the dark velvety earth, a driver with a great whip at their
head, a man far behind holding the plough-shafts. Beautiful the soft,
soft plunging motion of oxen moving forwards. Beautiful the strange,
snaky lifting of the muzzles, the swaying of the sharp horns. And the
soft, soft crawling motion of a team of oxen, so invisible, almost,
yet so inevitable. Now and again straight canals of water flashed
blue. Now and again the great lines of grey-silvery poplars rose and
made avenues or lovely grey airy quadrangles across the plain. Their
top boughs were spangled with gold and green leaf. Sometimes the vine-
leaves were gold and red, a patterning. And the great square farm-
homesteads, white, red-roofed, with their out-buildings, stood naked
amid the lands, without screen or softening. There was something big
and exposed about it all. No more the cosy English ambushed life, no
longer the cosy littleness of the landscape. A bigness--and nothing
to shelter the unshrinking spirit. It was all exposed, exposed to the
sweep of plain, to the high, strong sky, and to human gaze. A kind of
boldness, an indifference. Aaron was impressed and fascinated. He
looked with new interest at the Italians in the carriage with him--for
this same boldness and indifference and exposed gesture. And he found
it in them, too. And again it fascinated him. It seemed so much
bigger, as if the walls of life had fallen. Nay, the walls of English
life will have to fall.

Sitting there in the third-class carriage, he became happy again. The
_presence_ of his fellow-passengers was not so hampering as in England.
In England, everybody seems held tight and gripped, nothing is left
free. Every passenger seems like a parcel holding his string as fast
as he can about him, lest one corner of the wrapper should come undone
and reveal what is inside. And every other passenger is forced, by
the public will, to hold himself as tight-bound also. Which in the
end becomes a sort of self-conscious madness.

But here, in the third class carriage, there was no tight string round
every man. They were not all trussed with self-conscious string as
tight as capons. They had a sufficient amount of callousness and
indifference and natural equanimity. True, one of them spat
continually on the floor, in large spits. And another sat with his
boots all unlaced and his collar off, and various important buttons
undone. They did not seem to care if bits of themselves did show,
through the gaps in the wrapping. Aaron winced--but he preferred it
to English tightness. He was pleased, he was happy with the Italians.
He thought how generous and natural they were.

So the towns passed by, and the hours, and he seemed at last to have
got outside himself and his old conditions. It seemed like a great
escape. There was magic again in life--real magic. Was it illusion,
or was it genuine? He thought it was genuine, and opened his soul a
if there was no danger.

Lunch-time came. Francis summoned Aaron down the rocking tram. The
three men had a table to themselves, and all felt they were enjoying
themselves very much indeed. Of course Francis and Angus made a great
impression again. But in the dining car were mostly middle-class,
well-to-do Italians. And these did not look upon our two young heroes
as two young wonders. No, rather with some criticism, and some class-
envy. But they were impressed. Oh, they were impressed! How should
they not be, when our young gentlemen had such an air! Aaron was
conscious all the time that the fellow-diners were being properly
impressed by the flower of civilisation and the salt of the earth,
namely, young, well-to-do Englishmen. And he had a faint premonition,
based on experience perhaps, that fellow-passengers in the end never
forgive the man who has "impressed" them. Mankind loves being
impressed. It asks to be impressed. It almost forces those whom it
can force to play a role and to make an impression. And afterwards,
never forgives.

When the train ran into Bologna Station, they were still in the
restaurant car. Nor did they go at once to their seats. Angus had
paid the bill. There was three-quarters-of-an-hour's wait in Bologna.

"You may as well come down and sit with us," said Francis. "We've got
nobody in our carriage, so why shouldn't we all stay together during
the wait. You kept your own seat, I suppose."

No, he had forgotten. So when he went to look for it, it was occupied
by a stout man who was just taking off his collar and wrapping a white
kerchief round his neck. The third class carriages were packed. For
those were early days after the war, while men still had pre-war
notions and were poor. Ten months would steal imperceptibly by, and
the mysterious revolution would be effected. Then, the second class
and the first class would be packed, indescribably packed, crowded, on
all great trains: and the third class carriages, lo and behold, would
be comparatively empty. Oh, marvellous days of bankruptcy, when nobody
will condescend to travel third!

However, these were still modest, sombre months immediately after the
peace. So a large man with a fat neck and a white kerchief, and his
collar over his knee, sat in Aaron's seat. Aaron looked at the man,
and at his own luggage overhead. The fat man saw him looking and
stared back: then stared also at the luggage overhead: and with his
almost invisible north-Italian gesture said much plainer than words
would have said it: "Go to hell. I'm here and I'm going to stop here."

There was something insolent and unbearable about the look--and about
the rocky fixity of the large man. He sat as if he had insolently
taken root in his seat. Aaron flushed slightly. Francis and Angus
strolled along the train, outside, for the corridor was already
blocked with the mad Bologna rush, and the baggage belonging. They
joined Aaron as he stood on the platform.

"But where is YOUR SEAT?" cried Francis, peering into the packed and
jammed compartments of the third class.

"That man's sitting in it."

"Which?" cried Francis, indignant.

"The fat one there--with the collar on his knee."

"But it was your seat--!"

Francis' gorge rose in indignation. He mounted into the corridor.
And in the doorway of the compartment he bridled like an angry horse
rearing, bridling his head. Poising himself on one hip, he stared
fixedly at the man with the collar on his knee, then at the baggage
aloft. He looked down at the fat man as a bird looks down from the
eaves of a house. But the man looked back with a solid, rock-like
impudence, before which an Englishman quails: a jeering, immovable
insolence, with a sneer round the nose and a solid-seated posterior.

"But," said Francis in English--none of them had any Italian yet.
"But," said Francis, turning round to Aaron, "that was YOUR SEAT?"
and he flung his long fore-finger in the direction of the fat man's
thighs.

"Yes!" said Aaron.

"And he's TAKEN it--!" cried Francis in indignation.

"And knows it, too," said Aaron.

"But--!" and Francis looked round imperiously, as if to summon his
bodyguard. But bodyguards are no longer forthcoming, and train-guards
are far from satisfactory. The fat man sat on, with a sneer-grin,
very faint but very effective, round his nose, and a solidly-planted
posterior. He quite enjoyed the pantomime of the young foreigners.
The other passengers said something to him, and he answered laconic.
Then they all had the faint sneer-grin round their noses. A woman in
the corner grinned jeeringly straight in Francis' face. His charm
failed entirely this time: and as for his commandingness, that was
ineffectual indeed. Rage came up in him.

"Oh well--something must be done," said he decisively. "But didn't you
put something in the seat to RESERVE it?"

"Only that _New Statesman_--but he's moved it."

The man still sat with the invisible sneer-grin on his face, and that
peculiar and immovable plant of his Italian posterior.

"Mais--cette place etait RESERVEE--" said Francis, moving to the
direct attack.

The man turned aside and ignored him utterly--then said something to
the men opposite, and they all began to show their teeth in a grin.

Francis was not so easily foiled. He touched the man on the arm. The
man looked round threateningly, as if he had been struck.

"Cette place est reservee--par ce Monsieur--" said Francis with
hauteur, though still in an explanatory tone, and pointing to Aaron.

The Italian looked him, not in the eyes, but between the eyes, and
sneered full in his face. Then he looked with contempt at Aaron.
And then he said, in Italian, that there was room for such snobs in
the first class, and that they had not any right to come occupying
the place of honest men in the third.

"Gia! Gia!" barked the other passengers in the carriage.

"Loro possono andare prima classa--PRIMA CLASSA!" said the woman in
the corner, in a very high voice, as if talking to deaf people, and
pointing to Aaron's luggage, then along the train to the first class
carriages.

"C'e posto la," said one of the men, shrugging his shoulders.

There was a jeering quality in the hard insolence which made Francis
go very red and Augus very white. Angus stared like a death's-head
behind his monocle, with death-blue eyes.

"Oh, never mind. Come along to the first class. I'll pay the
difference. We shall be much better all together. Get the luggage
down, Francis. It wouldn't be possible to travel with this lot, even
if he gave up the seat. There's plenty of room in our carriage--and
I'll pay the extra," said Angus.

He knew there was one solution--and only one--Money.

But Francis bit his finger. He felt almost beside himself--and
quite powerless. For he knew the guard of the train would jeer too.
It is not so easy to interfere with honest third-class Bolognesi
in Bologna station, even if they _have_ taken another man's seat.
Powerless, his brow knitted, and looking just like Mephistopheles
with his high forehead and slightly arched nose, Mephistopheles in
a rage, he hauled down Aaron's bag and handed it to Angus. So they
transferred themselves to the first-class carriage, while the fat
man and his party in the third-class watched in jeering, triumphant
silence. Solid, planted, immovable, in static triumph.

So Aaron sat with the others amid the red plush, whilst the train
began its long slow climb of the Apennines, stinking sulphurous
through tunnels innumerable. Wonderful the steep slopes, the great
chestnut woods, and then the great distances glimpsed between the
heights, Firenzuola away and beneath, Turneresque hills far off, built
of heaven-bloom, not of earth. It was cold at the summit-station, ice
and snow in the air, fierce. Our travellers shrank into the carriage
again, and wrapped themselves round.

Then the train began its long slither downhill, still through a whole
necklace of tunnels, which fortunately no longer stank. So down and
down, till the plain appears in sight once more, the Arno valley. But
then began the inevitable hitch that always happens in Italian travel.
The train began to hesitate--to falter to a halt, whistling shrilly
as if in protest: whistling pip-pip-pip in expostulation as it stood
forlorn among the fields: then stealing forward again and stealthily
making pace, gathering speed, till it had got up a regular spurt:
then suddenly the brakes came on with a jerk, more faltering to a
halt, more whistling and pip-pip-pipping, as the engine stood jingling
with impatience: after which another creak and splash, and another
choking off. So on till they landed in Prato station: and there they
sat. A fellow passenger told them, there was an hour to wait here: an
hour. Something had happened up the line.

"Then I propose we make tea," said Angus, beaming.

"Why not! Of course. Let us make tea. And I will look for water."

So Aaron and Francis went to the restaurant bar and filled the little
pan at the tap. Angus got down the red picnic case, of which he
was so fond, and spread out the various arrangements on the floor
of the coupe. He soon had the spirit-lamp burning, the water heating.
Francis proposed that he and Aaron should dash into Prato and see
what could be bought, whilst the tea was in preparation. So off
they went, leaving Angus like a busy old wizard manipulating his
arrangements on the floor of the carriage, his monocle beaming with
bliss. The one fat fellow--passenger with a lurid striped rug over
his knees watched with acute interest. Everybody who passed the
doorway stood to contemplate the scene with pleasure. Officials came
and studied the situation with appreciation. Then Francis and Aaron
returned with a large supply of roast chestnuts, piping hot, and hard
dried plums, and good dried figs, and rather stale rusks. They found
the water just boiling, Angus just throwing in the tea-egg, and the
fellow-passenger just poking his nose right in, he was so thrilled.

Nothing pleased Angus so much as thus pitching camp in the midst of
civilisation. The scrubby newspaper packets of chestnuts, plums, figs
and rusks were spread out: Francis flew for salt to the man at the
bar, and came back with a little paper of rock-salt: the brown tea
was dispensed in the silver-fitted glasses from the immortal luncheon-
case: and the picnic was in full swing. Angus, being in the height of
his happiness, now sat on the seat cross-legged, with his feet under
him, in the authentic Buddha fashion, and on his face the queer rapt
alert look, half a smile, also somewhat Buddhistic, holding his glass
of brown tea in his hand. He was as rapt and immobile as if he really
were in a mystic state. Yet it was only his delight in the tea-party.
The fellow-passenger peered at the tea, and said in broken French, was
it good. In equally fragmentary French Francis said very good, and
offered the fat passenger some. He, however, held up his hand in
protest, as if to say not for any money would he swallow the hot-
watery stuff. And he pulled out a flask of wine. But a handful
of chestnuts he accepted.

The train-conductor, ticket-collector, and the heavy green soldier who
protected them, swung open the door and stared attentively. The fellow
passenger addressed himself to these new-comers, and they all began
to smile good-naturedly. Then the fellow-passenger--he was stout and
fifty and had a brilliant striped rug always over his knees--pointed
out the Buddha-like position of Angus, and the three in-starers smiled
again. And so the fellow-passenger thought he must try too. So he put
aside his rug, and lifted his feet from the floor, and took his toes
in his hands, and tried to bring his legs up and his feet under him.
But his knees were fat, his trousers in the direst extreme of peril,
and he could no more manage it than if he had tried to swallow himself.
So he desisted suddenly, rather scared, whilst the three bunched and
official heads in the doorway laughed and jested at him, showing their
teeth and teasing him. But on our gypsy party they turned their eyes
with admiration. They loved the novelty and the fun. And on the thin,
elegant Angus in his new London clothes, they looked really puzzled,
as he sat there immobile, gleaming through his monocle like some
Buddha going wicked, perched cross-legged and ecstatic on the red
velvet seat. They marvelled that the lower half of him could so
double up, like a foot-rule. So they stared till they had seen
enough. When they suddenly said "Buon 'appetito," withdrew their
heads and shoulders, slammed the door, and departed.

Then the train set off also--and shortly after six arrived in Florence.
It was debated what should Aaron do in Florence. The young men had
engaged a room at Bertolini's hotel, on the Lungarno. Bertolini's was
not expensive--but Aaron knew that his friends would not long endure
hotel life. However, he went along with the other two, trusting to
find a cheaper place on the morrow.

It was growing quite dark as they drove to the hotel, but still was
light enough to show the river rustling, the Ponte Vecchio spanning
its little storeys across the flood, on its low, heavy piers: and
some sort of magic of the darkening, varied houses facing, on the
other side of the stream. Of course they were all enchanted.

"I knew," said Francis, "we should love it."

Aaron was told he could have a little back room and pension terms for
fifteen lire a day, if he stayed at least fifteen days. The exchange
was then at forty-five. So fifteen lire meant just six-shillings-and-
six pence a day, without extras. Extras meant wine, tea, butter, and
light. It was decided he should look for something cheaper next day.

By the tone of the young men, he now gathered that they would prefer
it if he took himself off to a cheaper place. They wished to be on
their own.

"Well, then," said Francis, "you will be in to lunch here, won't you?
Then we'll see you at lunch."

It was as if both the young men had drawn in their feelers now. They
were afraid of finding the new man an incubus. They wanted to wash
their hands of him. Aaron's brow darkened.

"Perhaps it was right your love to dissemble
But why did you kick me down stairs? . . ."

Then morning found him out early, before his friends had arisen. It
was sunny again. The magic of Florence at once overcame him, and he
forgot the bore of limited means and hotel costs. He went straight out
of the hotel door, across the road, and leaned on the river parapet.
There ran the Arno: not such a flood after all, but a green stream
with shoals of pebbles in its course. Across, and in the delicate
shadow of the early sun, stood the opposite Lungarno, the old flat
houses, pink, or white, or grey stone, with their green shutters, some
closed, some opened. It had a flowery effect, the skyline irregular
against the morning light. To the right the delicate Trinita bridge,
to the left, the old bridge with its little shops over the river.
Beyond, towards the sun, glimpses of green, sky-bloomed country:
Tuscany.

There was a noise and clatter of traffic: boys pushing hand-barrows
over the cobble-stones, slow bullocks stepping side by side, and
shouldering one another affectionately, drawing a load of country
produce, then horses in great brilliant scarlet cloths, like vivid
palls, slowly pulling the long narrow carts of the district: and men
hu-huing!--and people calling: all the sharp, clattering morning noise
of Florence.

"Oh, Angus! Do come and look! OH, so lovely!"

Glancing up, he saw the elegant figure of Francis, in fine coloured-
silk pyjamas, perched on a small upper balcony, turning away from the
river towards the bedroom again, his hand lifted to his lips, as if
to catch there his cry of delight. The whole pose was classic and
effective: and very amusing. How the Italians would love it!

Aaron slipped back across the road, and walked away under the houses
towards the Ponte Vecchio. He passed the bridge--and passed the
Uffizi--watching the green hills opposite, and San Miniato. Then he
noticed the over-dramatic group of statuary in the Piazza Mentana--
male and physical and melodramatic--and then the corner house. It was
a big old Florentine house, with many green shutters and wide eaves.
There was a notice plate by the door--"Pension Nardini."

He came to a full stop. He stared at the notice-plate, stared at
the glass door, and turning round, stared at the over-pathetic dead
soldier on the arm of his over-heroic pistol-firing comrade; _Mentana_
--and the date! Aaron wondered what and where Mentana was. Then at
last he summoned his energy, opened the glass door, and mounted the
first stairs.

He waited some time before anybody appeared. Then a maid-servant.

"Can I have a room?" said Aaron.

The bewildered, wild-eyed servant maid opened a door and showed him
into a heavily-gilt, heavily-plush drawing-room with a great deal of
frantic grandeur about it. There he sat and cooled his heels for half
an hour. Arrived at length a stout young lady--handsome, with big
dark-blue Italian eyes--but anaemic and too stout.

"Oh!" she said as she entered, not knowing what else to say.

"Good-morning," said Aaron awkwardly.

"Oh, good-morning! English! Yes! Oh, I am so sorry to keep you, you
know, to make you wait so long. I was upstairs, you know, with a lady.
Will you sit?"

"Can I have a room?" said Aaron.

"A room! Yes, you can."

"What terms?"

"Terms! Oh! Why, ten francs a day, you know, pension--if you stay--
How long will you stay?"

"At least a month, I expect."

"A month! Oh yes. Yes, ten francs a day."

"For everything?"

"Everything. Yes, everything. Coffee, bread, honey or jam in the
morning: lunch at half-past twelve; tea in the drawing-room, half-
past four: dinner at half-past seven: all very nice. And a warm
room with the sun--Would you like to see?"

So Aaron was led up the big, rambling old house to the top floor--then
along a long old corridor--and at last into a big bedroom with two
beds and a red tiled floor--a little dreary, as ever--but the sun just
beginning to come in, and a lovely view on to the river, towards the
Ponte Vecchio, and at the hills with their pines and villas and verdure
opposite.

Here he would settle. The signorina would send a man for his bags, at
half past two in the afternoon.

At luncheon Aaron found the two friends, and told them of his move.

"How very nice for you! Ten francs a day--but that is nothing. I am
so pleased you've found something. And when will you be moving in?"
said Francis.

"At half-past two."

"Oh, so soon. Yes, just as well.--But we shall see you from time to
time, of course. What did you say the address was? Oh, yes--just
near the awful statue. Very well. We can look you up any time--and
you will find us here. Leave a message if we should happen not to be
in--we've got lots of engagements--"

CHAPTER XVI

FLORENCE

The very afternoon after Aaron's arrival in Florence the sky became
dark, the wind cold, and rain began steadily to fall. He sat in his
big, bleak room above the river, and watched the pale green water
fused with yellow, the many-threaded streams fuse into one, as swiftly
the surface flood came down from the hills. Across, the dark green
hills looked darker in the wet, the umbrella pines held up in vain
above the villas. But away below, on the Lungarno, traffic rattled
as ever.

Aaron went down at five o'clock to tea, and found himself alone next a
group of women, mostly Swedes or Danish or Dutch, drinking a peculiar
brown herb-brew which tasted like nothing else on earth, and eating
two thick bits of darkish bread smeared with a brown smear which hoped
it was jam, but hoped in vain. Unhappily he sat in the gilt and red,
massively ornate room, while the foreign women eyed him. Oh, bitter
to be a male under such circumstances.

He escaped as soon as possible back to his far-off regions, lonely and
cheerless, away above. But he rather liked the far-off remoteness in
the big old Florentine house: he did not mind the peculiar dark, uncosy
dreariness. It was not really dreary: only indifferent. Indifferent
to comfort, indifferent to all homeliness and cosiness. The over-big
furniture trying to be impressive, but never to be pretty or bright or
cheerful. There it stood, ugly and apart. And there let it stand.--
Neither did he mind the lack of fire, the cold sombreness of his big
bedroom. At home, in England, the bright grate and the ruddy fire, the
thick hearth-rug and the man's arm-chair, these had been inevitable.
And now he was glad to get away from it all. He was glad not to have a
cosy hearth, and his own arm-chair. He was glad to feel the cold, and
to breathe the unwarmed air. He preferred the Italian way of no fires,
no heating. If the day was cold, he was willing to be cold too. If
it was dark, he was willing to be dark. The cosy brightness of a real
home--it had stifled him till he felt his lungs would burst. The
horrors of real domesticity. No, the Italian brutal way was better.

So he put his overcoat over his knee, and studied some music he had
bought in Milan: some Pergolesi and the Scarlatti he liked, and some
Corelli. He preferred frail, sensitive, abstract music, with not much
feeling in it, but a certain limpidity and purity. Night fell as he
sat reading the scores. He would have liked to try certain pieces on
his flute. But his flute was too sensitive, it winced from the new
strange surroundings, and would not blossom.

Dinner sounded at last--at eight o'clock, or something after. He had
to learn to expect the meals always forty minutes late. Down he went,
down the long, dark, lonely corridors and staircases. The dining room
was right downstairs. But he had a little table to himself near the
door, the elderly women were at some little distance. The only other
men were Agostmo, the unshapely waiter, and an Italian duke, with wife
and child and nurse, the family sitting all together at a table halfway
down the room, and utterly pre-occupied with a little yellow dog.

However, the food was good enough, and sufficient, and the waiter and
the maid-servant cheerful and bustling. Everything felt happy-go-
lucky and informal, there was no particular atmosphere. Nobody put
on any airs, because nobody in the Nardini took any notice if they did.
The little ducal dog yapped, the ducal son shouted, the waiter dropped
half a dozen spoons, the old women knitted during the waits, and all
went off so badly that it was quite pleasant. Yes, Aaron preferred it
to Bertolini's, which was trying to be efficient and correct: though
not making any strenuous effort. Still, Bertolini's was much more up
to the scratch, there was the tension of proper standards. Whereas
here at Nardini's, nothing mattered very much.

It was November. When he got up to his far-off room again, Aaron felt
almost as if he were in a castle with the drawbridge drawn up. Through
the open window came the sound of the swelling Arno, as it rushed and
rustled along over its gravel-shoals. Lights spangled the opposite
side. Traffic sounded deep below. The room was not really cold, for
the summer sun so soaks into these thick old buildings, that it takes
a month or two of winter to soak it out.--The rain still fell.

In the morning it was still November, and the dawn came slowly. And
through the open window was the sound of the river's rushing. But the
traffic started before dawn, with a bang and a rattle of carts, and a
bang and jingle of tram-cars over the not-distant bridge. Oh, noisy
Florence! At half-past seven Aaron rang for his coffee: and got it
at a few minutes past eight. The signorina had told him to take his
coffee in bed.

Rain was still falling. But towards nine o'clock it lifted, and he
decided to go out. A wet, wet world. Carriages going by, with huge
wet shiny umbrellas, black and with many points, erected to cover the
driver and the tail of the horse and the box-seat. The hood of the
carriage covered the fare. Clatter-clatter through the rain. Peasants
with long wagons and slow oxen, and pale-green huge umbrellas erected
for the driver to walk beneath. Men tripping along in cloaks, shawls,
umbrellas, anything, quite unconcerned. A man loading gravel in the
river-bed, in spite of the wet. And innumerable bells ringing: but
innumerable bells. The great soft trembling of the cathedral bell
felt in all the air.

Anyhow it was a new world. Aaron went along close to the tall thick
houses, following his nose. And suddenly he caught sight of the long
slim neck of the Palazzo Vecchio up above, in the air. And in another
minute he was passing between massive buildings, out into the Piazza
della Signoria. There he stood still and looked round him in real
surprise, and real joy. The flat empty square with its stone paving
was all wet. The great buildings rose dark. The dark, sheer front
of the Palazzo Vecchio went up like a cliff, to the battlements, and
the slim tower soared dark and hawk-like, crested, high above. And at
the foot of the cliff stood the great naked David, white and stripped
in the wet, white against the dark, warm-dark cliff of the building--
and near, the heavy naked men of Bandinelli.

The first thing he had seen, as he turned into the square, was the
back of one of these Bandinelli statues: a great naked man of marble,
with a heavy back and strong naked flanks over which the water was
trickling. And then to come immediately upon the David, so much
whiter, glistening skin-white in the wet, standing a little forward,
and shrinking.

He may be ugly, too naturalistic, too big, and anything else you
like. But the David in the Piazza della Signoria, there under the
dark great palace, in the position Michelangelo chose for him, there,
standing forward stripped and exposed and eternally half-shrinking,
half--wishing to expose himself, he is the genius of Florence. The
adolescent, the white, self-conscious, physical adolescent: enormous,
in keeping with the stark, grim, enormous palace, which is dark and
bare as he is white and bare. And behind, the big, lumpy Bandinelli
men are in keeping too. They may be ugly--but they are there in their
place, and they have their own lumpy reality. And this morning in the
rain, standing unbroken, with the water trickling down their flanks
and along the inner side of their great thighs, they were real enough,
representing the undaunted physical nature of the heavier Florentines.

Aaron looked and looked at the three great naked men. David so much
white, and standing forward, self-conscious: then at the great
splendid front of the Palazzo Vecchio: and at the fountain splashing
water upon its wet, wet figures; and the distant equestrian statue;
and the stone-flagged space of the grim square. And he felt that here
he was in one of the world's living centres, here, in the Piazza della
Signoria. The sense of having arrived--of having reached a perfect
centre of the human world: this he had.

And so, satisfied, he turned round to look at the bronze Perseus which
rose just above him. Benvenuto Cellini's dark hero looked female,
with his plump hips and his waist, female and rather insignificant:
graceful, and rather vulgar. The clownish Bandinellis were somehow
more to the point.--Then all the statuary in the Loggia! But that is
a mistake. It looks too much like the yard of a monumental mason.

The great, naked men in the rain, under the dark-grey November sky, in
the dark, strong inviolable square! The wonderful hawk-head of the old
palace. The physical, self-conscious adolescent, Michelangelo's David,
shrinking and exposing himself, with his white, slack limbs! Florence,
passionate, fearless Florence had spoken herself out.--Aaron was
fascinated by the Piazza della Signoria. He never went into the town,
nor returned from it to his lodging, without contriving to pass through
the square. And he never passed through it without satisfaction. Here
men had been at their intensest, most naked pitch, here, at the end of
the old world and the beginning of the new. Since then, always rather
puling and apologetic.

Aaron felt a new self, a new life-urge rising inside himself. Florence
seemed to start a new man in him. It was a town of men. On Friday
morning, so early, he heard the traffic. Early, he watched the rather
low, two-wheeled traps of the peasants spanking recklessly over the
bridge, coming in to town. And then, when he went out, he found the
Piazza della Signoria packed with men: but all, all men. And all
farmers, land-owners and land-workers. The curious, fine-nosed Tuscan
farmers, with their half-sardonic, amber-coloured eyes. Their curious
individuality, their clothes worn so easy and reckless, their hats
with the personal twist. Their curious full oval cheeks, their
tendency to be too fat, to have a belly and heavy limbs. Their close-
sitting dark hair. And above all, their sharp, almost acrid, mocking
expression, the silent curl of the nose, the eternal challenge, the
rock-bottom unbelief, and the subtle fearlessness. The dangerous,
subtle, never-dying fearlessness, and the acrid unbelief. But men!
Men! A town of men, in spite of everything. The one manly quality,
undying, acrid fearlessness. The eternal challenge of the un-quenched
human soul. Perhaps too acrid and challenging today, when there is
nothing left to challenge. But men--who existed without apology and
without justification. Men who would neither justify themselves nor
apologize for themselves. Just men. The rarest thing left in our
sweet Christendom.

Altogether Aaron was pleased with himself, for being in Florence.
Those were early days after the war, when as yet very few foreigners
had returned, and the place had the native sombreness and intensity.
So that our friend did not mind being alone.

The third day, however, Francis called on him. There was a tap at the
bedroom door, and the young man entered, all eyes of curiosity.

"Oh, there you ARE!" he cried, flinging his hand and twisting his
waist and then laying his hand on his breast. "Such a LONG way up to
you! But miles--! Well, how are you? Are you quite all right here?
You are? I'm so glad--we've been so rushed, seeing people that we
haven't had a MINUTE. But not a MINUTE! People! People! People!
Isn't it amazing how many there are, and how many one knows, and
gets to know! But amazing! Endless acquaintances!--Oh, and such
quaint people here! so ODD! So MORE than odd! Oh, extraordinary--!"
Francis chuckled to himself over the extraordinariness. Then he
seated himself gracefully at Aaron's table. "Oh, MUSIC! What?
Corelli! So interesting! So very CLEVER, these people, weren't
they!--Corelli and the younger Scarlatti and all that crowd." Here
he closed the score again. "But now--LOOK! Do you want to know
anybody here, or don't you? I've told them about you, and of course
they're dying to meet you and hear you play. But I thought it best
not to mention anything about--about your being hard-up, and all that.
I said you were just here on a visit. You see with this kind of people
I'm sure it's much the best not to let them start off by thinking you
will need them at all--or that you MIGHT need them. Why give yourself
away, anyhow? Just meet them and take them for what they're worth--and
then you can see. If they like to give you an engagement to play at
some show or other--well, you can decide when the time comes whether
you will accept. Much better that these kind of people shouldn't get
it into their heads at once that they can hire your services. It
doesn't do. They haven't enough discrimination for that. Much best
make rather a favour of it, than sort of ask them to hire you.--Don't
you agree? Perhaps I'm wrong."

Aaron sat and listened and wondered at the wisdom and the genuine
kindness of the young _beau_. And more still, he wondered at the
profound social disillusionment. This handsome collie dog was
something of a social wolf, half showing his fangs at the moment.
But with genuine kindheartedness for another wolf. Aaron was
touched.

"Yes, I think that's the best way," he said.

"You do! Yes, so do I. Oh, they are such queer people! Why is it,
do you think, that English people abroad go so very QUEER--so ultra-
English--INCREDIBLE!--and at the same time so perfectly impossible?
But impossible! Pathological, I assure you.--And as for their sexual
behaviour--oh, dear, don't mention it. I assure you it doesn't bear
mention.--And all quite flagrant, quite unabashed--under the cover of
this fanatical Englishness. But I couldn't begin to TELL you all the
things. It's just incredible."

Aaron wondered how on earth Francis had been able to discover and
bear witness to so much that was incredible, in a bare two days.
But a little gossip, and an addition of lurid imagination will carry
you anywhere.

"Well now," said Francis. "What are you doing today?"

Aaron was not doing anything in particular.

"Then will you come and have dinner with us--?"

Francis fixed up the time and the place--a small restaurant at the
other end of the town. Then he leaned out of the window.

"Fascinating place! Oh, fascinating place!" he said, soliloquy.
"And you've got a superb view. Almost better than ours, I think.--
Well then, half-past seven. We're meeting a few other people, mostly
residents or people staying some time. We're not inviting them. Just
dropping in, you know--a little restaurant. We shall see you then!
Well then, _a rivederci_ till this evening.--So glad you like Florence!
I'm simply loving it--revelling. And the pictures!--Oh--"

The party that evening consisted all of men: Francis and Angus, and
a writer, James Argyle, and little Algy Constable, and tiny Louis Mee,
and deaf Walter Rosen. They all snapped and rattled at one another,
and were rather spiteful but rather amusing. Francis and Angus had to
leave early. They had another appointment. And James Argyle got quite
tipsy, and said to Aaron:

"But, my boy, don't let yourself be led astray by the talk of such
people as Algy. Beware of them, my boy, if you've a soul to save.
If you've a soul to save!" And he swallowed the remains of his litre.

Algy's nose trembled a little, and his eyes blinked. "And if you've
a soul to LOSE," he said, "I would warn you very earnestly against
Argyle." Whereupon Algy shut one eye and opened the other so wide,
that Aaron was almost scared. "Quite right, my boy. Ha! Ha! Never a
truer thing said! Ha-ha-ha." Argyle laughed his Mephistophelian tipsy
laugh. "They'll teach you to save. Never was such a lot of ripe old
savers! Save their old trouser-buttons! Go to them if you want to
learn to save. Oh, yes, I advise it seriously. You'll lose nothing--
not even a reputation.--You may lose a SOUL, of course. But that's a
detail, among such a hoard of banknotes and trouser-buttons. Ha-ha!
What's a soul, to them--?"

"What is it to you, is perhaps the more pertinent question," said Algy,
flapping his eyelids like some crazy owl. "It is you who specialise
in the matter of soul, and we who are in need of enlightenment--"

"Yes, very true, you ARE! You ARE in need of enlightenment. A set of
benighted wise virgins. Ha-ha-ha! That's good, that--benighted wise
virgins! What--" Argyle put his red face near to Aaron's, and made a
_moue_, narrowing his eyes quizzically as he peered up from under his
level grey eyebrows. "Sit in the dark to save the lamp-oil--And all
no good to them.--When the bridegroom cometh--! Ha-ha! Good that!
Good, my boy!--The bridegroom--" he giggled to himself. "What about
the bridegroom, Algy, my boy? Eh? What about him? Better trim your
wick, old man, if it's not too late--"

"We were talking of souls, not wicks, Argyle," said Algy.

"Same thing. Upon my soul it all amounts to the same thing. Where's
the soul in a man that hasn't got a bedfellow--eh?--answer me that!
Can't be done you know. Might as well ask a virgin chicken to lay
you an egg."

"Then there ought to be a good deal of it about," said Algy.

"Of what? Of soul? There ought to be a good deal of soul about?--Ah,
because there's a good deal of--, you mean.--Ah, I wish it were so. I
wish it were so. But, believe me, there's far more damned chastity in
the world, than anything else. Even in this town.--Call it chastity,
if you like. I see nothing in it but sterility. It takes a rat to
praise long tails. Impotence set up the praise of chastity--believe me
or not--but that's the bottom of it. The virtue is made out of the
necessity.--Ha-ha-ha!--Like them! Like them! Ha-ha! Saving their
souls! Why they'd save the waste matter of their bodies if they could.
Grieves them to part with it.--Ha! ha!--ha!"

There was a pause. Argyle was in his cups, which left no more to be
said. Algy, quivering and angry, looked disconcertingly round the
room as if he were quite calm and collected. The deaf Jewish Rosen
was smiling down his nose and saying: "What was that last? I didn't
catch that last," cupping his ear with his hand in the frantic hope
that someone would answer. No one paid any heed.

"I shall be going," said Algy, looking round. Then to Aaron he said,
"You play the flute, I hear. May we hear you some time?"

"Yes," said Aaron, non-committal.

"Well, look here--come to tea tomorrow. I shall have some friends,
and Del Torre will play the piano. Come to tea tomorrow, will you?"

"Thank you, I will."

"And perhaps you'll bring your flute along."

"Don't you do any such thing, my boy. Make them entertain YOU, for
once.--They're always squeezing an entertainment out of somebody--"
and Argyle desperately emptied the remains of Algy's wine into his
own glass: whilst Algy stood as if listening to something far off,
and blinking terribly.

"Anyhow," he said at length, "you'll come, won't you? And bring the
flute if you feel like it."

"Don't you take that flute, my boy," persisted Argyle. "Don't think of
such a thing. If they want a concert, let them buy their tickets and
go to the Teatro Diana. Or to Marchesa del Torre's Saturday morning.
She can afford to treat them." Algy looked at Argyle, and blinked.
"Well," he said. "I hope you'll get home all right, Argyle."

"Thank you for your courtesy, Algy. Won't you lend me your arm?"

As Algy was small and frail, somewhat shaky, and as Argyle was a
finely built, heavy man of fifty or more, the slap was unkind.

"Afraid I can't tonight. Good-night--"

Algy departed, so did little Mee, who had sat with a little delighted
disapproval on his tiny, bird-like face, without saying anything. And
even the Jew Rosen put away his deaf-machine and began awkwardly to
take his leave. His long nose was smiling to itself complacently at
all the things Argyle had been saying.

When he, too, had gone, Argyle arched his brows at Aaron, saying:

"Oh, my dear fellow, what a lot they are!--Little Mee--looking like
an innocent little boy. He's over seventy if he's a day. Well over
seventy. Well, you don't believe me. Ask his mother--ask his mother.
She's ninety-five. Old lady of ninety-five--" Argyle even laughed
himself at his own preposterousness.

"And then Algy--Algy's not a fool, you know. Oh, he can be most
entertaining, most witty, and amusing. But he's out of place here.
He should be in Kensington, dandling round the ladies' drawing rooms
and making his _mots_. They're rich, you know, the pair of them.
Little Mee used to boast that he lived on eleven-and-three-pence a
week. Had to, poor chap. But then what does a white mouse like
that need? Makes a heavy meal on a cheese-paring. Luck, you know--
but of course he's come into money as well. Rich as Croesus, and
still lives on nineteen-and-two-pence a week. Though it's nearly
double, of course, what it used to be. No wonder he looks anxious.
They disapprove of me--oh, quite right, quite right from their own
point of view. Where would their money be otherwise? It wouldn't
last long if I laid hands on it--" he made a devilish quizzing face.
"But you know, they get on my nerves. Little old maids, you know,
little old maids. I'm sure I'm surprised at their patience with me.--
But when people are patient with you, you want to spit gall at them.
Don't you? Ha-ha-ha! Poor old Algy.--Did I lay it on him tonight,
or did I miss him?"

"I think you got him," said Aaron.

"He'll never forgive me. Depend on it, he'll never forgive me. Ha-
ha! I like to be unforgiven. It adds ZEST to one's intercourse with
people, to know that they'll never forgive one. Ha-ha-ha! Little old
maids, who do their knitting with their tongues. Poor old Algy--he
drops his stitches now. Ha-ha-ha!--Must be eighty, I should say."

Aaron laughed. He had never met a man like Argyle before--and he
could not help being charmed. The other man had a certain wicked
whimsicality that was very attractive, when levelled against someone
else, and not against oneself. He must have been very handsome in his
day, with his natural dignity, and his clean-shaven strong square face.
But now his face was all red and softened and inflamed, his eyes had
gone small and wicked under his bushy grey brows. Still he had a
presence. And his grey hair, almost gone white, was still handsome.

"And what are you going to do in Florence?" asked Argyle.

Aaron explained.

"Well," said Argyle. "Make what you can out of them, and then go.
Go before they have time to do the dirty on you. If they think you
want anything from them, they'll treat you like a dog, like a dog.
Oh, they're very frightened of anybody who wants anything of them:
frightened to death. I see nothing of them.--Live by myself--see
nobody. Can't stand it, you know: their silly little teaparties--
simply can't stand it. No, I live alone--and shall die alone.--At
least, I sincerely hope so. I should be sorry to have any of them
hanging round."

The restaurant was empty, the pale, malarial waiter--he had of course
contracted malaria during the war--was looking purple round the eyes.
But Argyle callously sat on. Aaron therefore rose to his feet.

"Oh, I'm coming, I'm coming," said Argyle.

He got unsteadily to his feet. The waiter helped him on with his coat:
and he put a disreputable-looking little curly hat on his head. Then
he took his stick.

"Don't look at my appearance, my dear fellow," said Argyle. "I am
frayed at the wrists--look here!" He showed the cuffs of his overcoat,
just frayed through. "I've got a trunkful of clothes in London, if
only somebody would bring it out to me.--Ready then! _Avanti!_"

And so they passed out into the still rainy street. Argyle lived in
the very centre of the town: in the Cathedral Square. Aaron left him
at his hotel door.

"But come and see me," said Argyle. "Call for me at twelve o'clock--
or just before twelve--and let us have luncheon together. What! Is
that all right?--Yes, come just before twelve.--When?--Tomorrow?
Tomorrow morning? Will you come tomorrow?"

Aaron said he would on Monday.

"Monday, eh! You say Monday! Very well then. Don't you forget now.
Don't you forget. For I've a memory like a vice. _I_ shan't forget.--
Just before twelve then. And come right up. I'm right under the roof.
In
Paradise, as the porter always says. _Siamo nel paradiso_. But he's
a _cretin_. As near Paradise as I care for, for it's devilish hot in
summer, and damned cold in winter. Don't you forget now--Monday,
twelve o'clock."

And Argyle pinched Aaron's arm fast, then went unsteadily up the steps
to his hotel door.

The next day at Algy's there was a crowd Algy had a very pleasant
flat indeed, kept more scrupulously neat and finicking than ever any
woman's flat was kept. So today, with its bowls of flowers and its
pictures and books and old furniture, and Algy, very nicely dressed,
fluttering and blinking and making really a charming host, it was all
very delightful to the little mob of visitors. They were a curious
lot, it is true: everybody rather exceptional. Which though it may
be startling, is so very much better fun than everybody all alike.
Aaron talked to an old, old Italian elegant in side-curls, who peeled
off his grey gloves and studied his formalities with a delightful
Mid-Victorian dash, and told stories about a _plaint_ which Lady Surry
had against Lord Marsh, and was quite incomprehensible. Out rolled
the English words, like plums out of a burst bag, and all completely
unintelligible. But the old _beau_ was supremely satisfied. He loved
talking English, and holding his listeners spell-bound.

Next to Aaron on the sofa sat the Marchesa del Torre, an American
woman from the Southern States, who had lived most of her life in
Europe. She was about forty years of age, handsome, well-dressed,
and quiet in the buzz of the tea-party. It was evident she was one
of Algy's lionesses. Now she sat by Aaron, eating nothing, but taking
a cup of tea and keeping still. She seemed sad--or not well perhaps.
Her eyes were heavy. But she was very carefully made up, and very
well dressed, though simply: and sitting there, full-bosomed, rather
sad, remote-seeming, she suggested to Aaron a modern Cleopatra
brooding, Anthony-less.

Her husband, the Marchese, was a little intense Italian in a colonel's
grey uniform, cavalry, leather gaiters. He had blue eyes, his hair was
cut very short, his head looked hard and rather military: he would
have been taken for an Austrian officer, or even a German, had it not
been for the, peculiar Italian sprightliness and touch of grimace in
his mobile countenance. He was rather like a gnome--not ugly, but odd.

Now he came and stood opposite to Signor di Lanti, and quizzed him in
Italian. But it was evident, in quizzing the old buck, the little
Marchese was hovering near his wife, in ear-shot. Algy came up with
cigarettes, and she at once began to smoke, with that peculiar heavy
intensity of a nervous woman.

Aaron did not say anything--did not know what to say. He was
peculiarly conscious of the woman sitting next to him, her arm near
his. She smoked heavily, in silence, as if abstracted, a sort of
cloud on her level, dark brows. Her hair was dark, but a softish
brown, not black, and her skin was fair. Her bosom would be white.--
Why Aaron should have had this thought, he could not for the life of
him say.

Manfredi, her husband, rolled his blue eyes and grimaced as he laughed
at old Lanti. But it was obvious that his attention was diverted
sideways, towards his wife. Aaron, who was tired of nursing a tea-
cup, placed in on a table and resumed his seat in silence. But
suddenly the little Marchese whipped out his cigarette-case, and
making a little bow, presented it to Aaron, saying:

"Won't you smoke?"

"Thank you," said Aaron.

"Turkish that side--Virginia there--you see."

"Thank you, Turkish," said Aaron.

The little officer in his dove-grey and yellow uniform snapped his box
shut again, and presented a light.

"You are new in Florence?" he said, as he presented the match.

"Four days," said Aaron.

"And I hear you are musical."

"I play the flute--no more."

"Ah, yes--but then you play it as an artist, not as an accomplishment."

"But how do you know?" laughed Aaron.

"I was told so--and I believe it."

"That's nice of you, anyhow--But you are a musician too."

"Yes--we are both musicians--my wife and I."

Manfredi looked at his wife. She flicked the ash off her cigarette.

"What sort?" said Aaron.

"Why, how do you mean, what sort? We are dilettanti, I suppose."

"No--what is your instrument? The piano?"

"Yes--the pianoforte. And my wife sings. But we are very much out of
practice. I have been at the war four years, and we have had our home
in Paris. My wife was in Paris, she did not wish to stay in Italy
alone. And so--you see--everything goes--"

"But you will begin again?"

"Yes. We have begun already. We have music on Saturday mornings.
Next Saturday a string quartette, and violin solos by a young
Florentine woman--a friend--very good indeed, daughter of our
Professor Tortoli, who composes--as you may know--"

"Yes," said Aaron.

"Would you care to come and hear--?"

"Awfully nice if you would--" suddenly said the wife, quite simply, as
if she had merely been tired, and not talking before.

"I should like to very much--"

"Do come then."

While they were making the arrangements, Algy came up in his blandest
manner.

"Now Marchesa--might we hope for a song?"

"No--I don't sing any more," came the slow, contralto reply.

"Oh, but you can't mean you say that deliberately--"

"Yes, quite deliberately--" She threw away her cigarette and opened
her little gold case to take another.

"But what can have brought you to such a disastrous decision?"

"I can't say," she replied, with a little laugh. "The war, probably."

"Oh, but don't let the war deprive us of this, as of everything else."

"Can't be helped," she said. "I have no choice in the matter. The
bird has flown--" She spoke with a certain heavy languor.

"You mean the bird of your voice? Oh, but that is quite impossible.
One can hear it calling out of the leaves every time you speak."

"I'm afraid you can't get him to do any more than call out of the
leaves."

"But--but--pardon me--is it because you don't intend there should be
any more song? Is that your intention?"

"That I couldn't say," said the Marchesa, smoking, smoking.

"Yes," said Manfredi. "At the present time it is because she WILL
not--not because she cannot. It is her will, as you say."

"Dear me! Dear me!" said Algy. "But this is really another disaster
added to the war list.--But--but--will none of us ever be able to
persuade you?" He smiled half cajoling, half pathetic, with a
prodigious flapping of his eyes.

"I don't know," said she. "That will be as it must be."

"Then can't we say it must be SONG once more?"

To this sally she merely laughed, and pressed out her half-smoked
cigarette.

"How very disappointing! How very cruel of--of fate--and the war--
and--and all the sum total of evils," said Algy.

"Perhaps--" here the little and piquant host turned to Aaron.

"Perhaps Mr. Sisson, your flute might call out the bird of song. As
thrushes call each other into challenge, you know. Don't you think
that is very probable?"

"I have no idea," said Aaron.

"But you, Marchesa. Won't you give us hope that it might be so?"

"I've no idea, either," said she. "But I should very much like to
hear Mr. Sisson's flute. It's an instrument I like extremely."

"There now. You see you may work the miracle, Mr. Sisson. Won't you
play to us?"

"I'm afraid I didn't bring my flute along," said Aaron "I didn't want
to arrive with a little bag."

"Quite!" said Algy. "What a pity it wouldn't go in your pocket."

"Not music and all," said Aaron.

"Dear me! What a _comble_ of disappointment. I never felt so
strongly, Marchesa, that the old life and the old world had collapsed.
--Really--I shall soon have to try to give up being cheerful at all."

"Don't do that," said the Marchesa. "It isn't worth the effort."

"Ah! I'm glad you find it so. Then I have hope."

She merely smiled, indifferent.

The teaparty began to break up--Aaron found himself going down the
stairs with the Marchesa and her husband. They descended all three
in silence, husband and wife in front. Once outside the door, the
husband asked:

"How shall we go home, dear? Tram or carriage--?" It was evident he
was economical.

"Walk," she said, glancing over her shoulder at Aaron. "We are all
going the same way, I believe."

Aaron said where he lived. They were just across the river. And so
all three proceeded to walk through the town.

"You are sure it won't be too much for you--too far?" said the little
officer, taking his wife's arm solicitously. She was taller than he.
But he was a spirited fellow.

"No, I feel like walking."

"So long as you don't have to pay for it afterwards."

Aaron gathered that she was not well. Yet she did not look ill--unless
it were nerves. She had that peculiar heavy remote quality of pre-
occupation and neurosis.

The streets of Florence were very full this Sunday evening, almost
impassable, crowded particularly with gangs of grey-green soldiers.
The three made their way brokenly, and with difficulty. The Italian
was in a constant state of returning salutes. The grey-green, sturdy,
unsoldierly soldiers looked at the woman as she passed.

"I am sure you had better take a carriage," said Manfredi.

"No--I don't mind it."

"Do you feel at home in Florence?" Aaron asked her.

"Yes--as much as anywhere. Oh, yes--quite at home."

"Do you like it as well as anywhere?" he asked.

"Yes--for a time. Paris for the most part."

"Never America?"

"No, never America. I came when I was quite a little girl to Europe--
Madrid--Constantinople--Paris. I hardly knew America at all."

Aaron remembered that Francis had told him, the Marchesa's father had
been ambassador to Paris.

"So you feel you have no country of your own?"

"I have Italy. I am Italian now, you know."

Aaron wondered why she spoke so muted, so numbed. Manfredi seemed
really attached to her--and she to him. They were so simple with
one another.

They came towards the bridge where they should part.

"Won't you come and have a cocktail?" she said.

"Now?" said Aaron.

"Yes. This is the right time for a cocktail. What time is it,
Manfredi?"

"Half past six. Do come and have one with us," said the Italian.
"We always take one about this time."

Aaron continued with them over the bridge. They had the first floor
of an old palazzo opposite, a little way up the hill. A man-servant
opened the door.

"If only it will be warm," she said. "The apartment is almost
impossible to keep warm. We will sit in the little room."

Aaron found himself in a quite warm room with shaded lights and a
mixture of old Italian stiffness and deep soft modern comfort. The
Marchesa went away to take off her wraps, and the Marchese chatted
with Aaron. The little officer was amiable and kind, and it was
evident he liked his guest.

"Would you like to see the room where we have music?" he said. "It is
a fine room for the purpose--we used before the war to have music every
Saturday morning, from ten to twelve: and all friends might come.
Usually we had fifteen or twenty people. Now we are starting again.
I myself enjoy it so much. I am afraid my wife isn't so enthusiastic
as she used to be. I wish something would rouse her up, you know.
The war seemed to take her life away. Here in Florence are so many
amateurs. Very good indeed. We can have very good chamber-music
indeed. I hope it will cheer her up and make her quite herself again.
I was away for such long periods, at the front.--And it was not good
for her to be alone.--I am hoping now all will be better."

So saying, the little, odd officer switched on the lights of the
long salon. It was a handsome room in the Italian mode of the Empire
period--beautiful old faded tapestry panels--reddish--and some ormolu
furniture--and other things mixed in--rather conglomerate, but
pleasing, all the more pleasing. It was big, not too empty, and
seemed to belong to human life, not to show and shut-upedness. The
host was happy showing it.

"Of course the flat in Paris is more luxurious than this," he
said. "But I prefer this. I prefer it here." There was a certain
wistfulness as he looked round, then began to switch off the lights.

They returned to the little salotta. The Marchesa was seated in a low
chair. She wore a very thin white blouse, that showed her arms and her
throat. She was a full-breasted, soft-skinned woman, though not stout.

"Make the cocktails then, Manfredi," she said. "Do you find this room
very cold?" she asked of Aaron.

"Not a bit cold," he said.

"The stove goes all the time," she said, "but without much effect."

"You wear such thin clothes," he said.

"Ah, no, the stove should give heat enough. Do sit down. Will you
smoke? There are cigarettes--and cigars, if you prefer them."

"No, I've got my own, thanks."

She took her own cigarette from her gold case.

"It is a fine room, for music, the big room," said he.

"Yes, quite. Would you like to play for us some time, do you think?"

"Do you want me to? I mean does it interest you?"

"What--the flute?"

"No--music altogether--"

"Music altogether--! Well! I used to love it. Now--I'm not sure.
Manfredi lives for it, almost."

"For that and nothing else?" asked Aaron.

"No, no! No, no! Other things as well."

"But you don't like it much any more?"

"I don't know. Perhaps I don't. I'm not sure."

"You don't look forward to the Saturday mornings?" he asked.

"Perhaps I don't--but for Manfredi's sake, of course, I do. But for
his sake more than my own, I admit. And I think he knows it."

"A crowd of people in one's house--" said Aaron.

"Yes, the people. But it's not only that. It's the music itself--I
think I can't stand it any more. I don't know."

"Too emotional? Too much feeling for you?"

"Yes, perhaps. But no. What I can't stand is chords, you know:
harmonies. A number of sounds all sounding together. It just makes
me ill. It makes me feel so sick."

"What--do you want discords?--dissonances?"

"No--they are nearly as bad. No, it's just when any number of musical
notes, different notes, come together, harmonies or discords. Even
a single chord struck on the piano. It makes me feel sick. I just
feel as if I should retch. Isn't it strange? Of course, I don't
tell Manfredi. It would be too cruel to him. It would cut his life
in two."

"But then why do you have the music--the Saturdays--then?"

"Oh, I just keep out of the way as much as possible. I'm sure you feel
there is something wrong with me, that I take it as I do," she added,
as if anxious: but half ironical.

"No--I was just wondering--I believe I feel something the same myself.
I know orchestra makes me blind with hate or I don't know what. But I
want to throw bombs."

"There now. It does that to me, too. Only now it has fairly got me
down, and I feel nothing but helpless nausea. You know, like when
you are seasick."

Her dark-blue, heavy, haunted-looking eyes were resting on him as if
she hoped for something. He watched her face steadily, a curious
intelligence flickering on his own.

"Yes," he said. "I understand it. And I know, at the bottom, I'm like
that. But I keep myself from realising, don't you know? Else perhaps,
where should I be? Because I make my life and my living at it, as
well."

"At music! Do you! But how bad for you. But perhaps the flute is
different. I have a feeling that it is. I can think of one single
pipe-note--yes, I can think of it quite, quite calmly. And I can't
even think of the piano, or of the violin with its tremolo, or of
orchestra, or of a string quartette--or even a military band--I can't
think of it without a shudder. I can only bear drum-and-fife. Isn't
it crazy of me--but from the other, from what we call music proper,
I've endured too much. But bring your flute one day. Bring it, will
you? And let me hear it quite alone. Quite, quite alone. I think it
might do me an awful lot of good. I do, really. I can imagine it."
She closed her eyes and her strange, sing-song lapsing voice came to
an end. She spoke almost like one in a trance--or a sleep-walker.

"I've got it now in my overcoat pocket," he said, "if you like."

"Have you? Yes!" She was never hurried: always slow and resonant,
so that the echoes of her voice seemed to linger. "Yes--do get
it. Do get it. And play in the other room--quite--quite without
accompaniment. Do--and try me."

"And you will tell me what you feel?"

"Yes."

Aaron went out to his overcoat. When he returned with his flute, which
he was screwing together, Manfredi had come with the tray and the three
cocktails. The Marchesa took her glass.

"Listen, Manfredi," she said. "Mr. Sisson is going to play, quite
alone in the sala. And I am going to sit here and listen."

"Very well," said Manfredi. "Drink your cocktail first. Are you going
to play without music?"

"Yes," said Aaron.

"I'll just put on the lights for you."

"No--leave it dark. Enough light will come in from here."

"Sure?" said Manfredi.

"Yes."

The little soldier was an intruder at the moment. Both the others felt
it so. But they bore him no grudge. They knew it was they who were
exceptional, not he. Aaron swallowed his drink, and looked towards
the door.

"Sit down, Manfredi. Sit still," said the Marchesa.

"Won't you let me try some accompaniment?" said the soldier.

"No. I shall just play a little thing from memory," said Aaron.

"Sit down, dear. Sit down," said the Marchesa to her husband.

He seated himself obediently. The flash of bright yellow on the grey
of his uniform seemed to make him like a chaffinch or a gnome.

Aaron retired to the other room, and waited awhile, to get back the
spell which connected him with the woman, and gave the two of them
this strange isolation, beyond the bounds of life, as it seemed.

He caught it again. And there, in the darkness of the big room, he
put his flute to his lips, and began to play. It was a clear, sharp,
lilted run-and-fall of notes, not a tune in any sense of the word,
and yet a melody, a bright, quick sound of pure animation, a bright,
quick, animate noise, running and pausing. It was like a bird's
singing, in that it had no human emotion or passion or intention or
meaning--a ripple and poise of animate sound. But it was unlike a
bird's singing, in that the notes followed clear and single one after
the other, in their subtle gallop. A nightingale is rather like that
--a wild sound. To read all the human pathos into nightingales'
singing is nonsense. A wild, savage, non-human lurch and squander
of sound, beautiful, but entirely unaesthetic.

What Aaron was playing was not of his own invention. It was a bit
of mediaeval phrasing written for the pipe and the viol. It made
the piano seem a ponderous, nerve-wracking steam-roller of noise,
and the violin, as we know it, a hateful wire-drawn nerve-torturer.

After a little while, when he entered the smaller room again, the
Marchesa looked full into his face.

"Good!" she said. "Good!"

And a gleam almost of happiness seemed to light her up. She seemed
like one who had been kept in a horrible enchanted castle--for years
and years. Oh, a horrible enchanted castle, with wet walls of emotions
and ponderous chains of feelings and a ghastly atmosphere of must-be.
She felt she had seen through the opening door a crack of sunshine,
and thin, pure, light outside air, outside, beyond this dank and
beastly dungeon of feelings and moral necessity. Ugh!--she shuddered
convulsively at what had been. She looked at her little husband.
Chains of necessity all round him: a little jailor. Yet she was fond
of him. If only he would throw away the castle keys. He was a little
gnome. What did he clutch the castle-keys so tight for?

Aaron looked at her. He knew that they understood one another, he and
she. Without any moral necessity or any other necessity. Outside--
they had got outside the castle of so-called human life. Outside the
horrible, stinking human castle Of life. A bit of true, limpid
freedom. Just a glimpse.

"Charming!" said the Marchese. "Truly charming! But what was it you
played?"

Aaron told him.

"But truly delightful. I say, won't you play for us one of these
Saturdays? And won't you let me take the accompaniment? I should
be charmed, charmed if you would."

"All right," said Aaron.

"Do drink another cocktail," said his hostess.

He did so. And then he rose to leave.

"Will you stay to dinner?" said the Marchesa. "We have two people
coming--two Italian relatives of my husband. But--"

No, Aaron declined to stay to dinner.

"Then won't you come on--let me see--on Wednesday? Do come on
Wednesday. We are alone. And do bring the flute. Come at half-past
six, as today, will you? Yes?"

Aaron promised--and then he found himself in the street. It was half-
past seven. Instead of returning straight home, he crossed the Ponte
Vecchio and walked straight into the crowd. The night was fine now.
He had his overcoat over his arm, and in a sort of trance or frenzy,
whirled away by his evening's experience, and by the woman, he strode
swiftly forward, hardly heeding anything, but rushing blindly on
through all the crowd, carried away by his own feelings, as much as
if he had been alone, and all these many people merely trees.

Leaving the Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele a gang of soldiers suddenly
rushed round him, buffeting him in one direction, whilst another gang,
swinging round the corner, threw him back helpless again into the
midst of the first gang. For some moments he struggled among the rude,
brutal little mob of grey-green coarse uniforms that smelt so strong
of soldiers. Then, irritated, he found himself free again, shaking
himself and passing on towards the cathedral. Irritated, he now put
on his overcoat and buttoned it to the throat, closing himself in, as
it were, from the brutal insolence of the Sunday night mob of men.
Before, he had been walking through them in a rush of naked feeling,
all exposed to their tender mercies. He now gathered himself together.

As he was going home, suddenly, just as he was passing the Bargello,
he stopped. He stopped, and put his hand to his breast pocket. His
letter-case was gone. He had been robbed. It was as if lightning ran
through him at that moment, as if a fluid electricity rushed down his
limbs, through the sluice of his knees, and out at his feet, leaving
him standing there almost unconscious. For a moment unconscious and
superconscious he stood there. He had been robbed. They had put
their hand in his breast and robbed him. If they had stabbed him,
it could hardly have had a greater effect on him.

And he had known it. He had known it. When the soldiers jostled him
so evilly they robbed him. And he knew it. He had known it as if it
were fate. Even as if it were fated beforehand.

Feeling quite weak and faint, as if he had really been struck by some
evil electric fluid, he walked on. And as soon as he began to walk,
he began to reason. Perhaps his letter-case was in his other coat.
Perhaps he had not had it with him at all. Perhaps he was feeling all
this, just for nothing. Perhaps it was all folly.

He hurried forward. He wanted to make sure. He wanted relief. It was
as if the power of evil had suddenly seized him and thrown him, and he
wanted to say it was not so, that he had imagined it all, conjured it
up. He did not want to admit the power of evil--particularly at that
moment. For surely a very ugly evil spirit had struck him, in the
midst of that gang of Italian soldiers. He knew it--it had pierced
him. It had _got_ him.

But he wanted to say it was not so. Reaching the house, he hastened
upwards to his far-off, lonely room, through the dark corridors. Once
in his own apartment, he shut the door and switched on the light, a
sensation like fear at his heart. Then he searched his other pockets.
He looked everywhere. In vain.

In vain, truly enough. For he _knew_ the thing was stolen. He had
known it all along. The soldiers had deliberately plotted, had
deliberately rushed him and taken his purse. They must have watched
him previously. They must have grinned, and jeered at him.

He sat down in a chair, to recover from the shock. The pocket-book
contained four hundred francs, three one-pound notes, and various
letters and private effects. Well, these were lost. But it was not
so much the loss as the assault on his person that caused him to feel
so stricken. He felt the jeering, gibing blows they had given as they
jostled him.

And now he sat, weak in every limb, and said to himself: "Yes--and if I
hadn't rushed along so full of feeling: if I hadn't exposed myself: if
I hadn't got worked up with the Marchesa, and then rushed all kindled
through the streets, without reserve, it would never have happened. I
gave myself away: and there was someone ready to snatch what I gave. I
gave myself away. It is my own fault. I should have been on my guard.
I should be always on my guard: always, always. With God and the devil
both, I should be on my guard. Godly or devilish, I should hold fast
to my reserve and keep on the watch. And if I don't, I deserve what
I get."

But still he sat in his chair in his bedroom, dazed. One part of his
soul was saying emphatically: It serves you right. It is nothing but
right. It serves everybody right who rushes enkindled through the
street, and trusts implicitly in mankind and in the life-spirit, as
if mankind and the life-spirit were a playground for enkindled
individuals. It serves you right. You have paid about twelve pounds
sterling for your lesson. Fool, you might have known beforehand, and
then you needn't have paid at all. You can ill afford twelve pounds
sterling, you fool. But since paid you have, then mind, mind the
lesson is learned. Never again. Never expose yourself again. Never
again absolute trust. It is a blasphemy against life, is absolute
trust. Has a wild creature ever absolute trust? It minds itself.
Sleeping or waking it is on its guard. And so must you be, or you'll
go under. Sleeping or waking, man or woman, God or the devil, keep
your guard over yourself. Keep your guard over yourself, lest worse
befall you. No man is robbed unless he incites a robber. No man is
murdered unless he attracts a murderer. Then be not robbed: it lies
within your own power. And be not murdered. Or if you are, you
deserve it. Keep your guard over yourself, now, always and forever.
Yes, against God quite as hard as against the devil. He's fully as
dangerous to you. . . .

Thus thinking, not in his mind but in his soul, his active, living
soul, he gathered his equanimity once more, and accepted the fact.
So he rose and tidied himself for dinner. His face was now set, and
still. His heart also was still--and fearless. Because its sentinel
was stationed. Stationed, stationed for ever.

And Aaron never forgot. After this, it became essential to him to feel
that the sentinel stood guard in his own heart. He felt a strange
unease the moment he was off his guard. Asleep or awake, in the midst
of the deepest passion or the suddenest love, or in the throes of
greatest excitement or bewilderment, somewhere, some corner of himself
was awake to the fact that the sentinel of the soul must not sleep,
no, never, not for one instant.

CHAPTER XVII

HIGH UP OVER THE CATHEDRAL SQUARE

Aaron and Lilly sat in Argyle's little loggia, high up under the eaves
of the small hotel, a sort of long attic-terrace just under the roof,
where no one would have suspected it. It was level with the grey
conical roof of the Baptistery. Here sat Aaron and Lilly in the
afternoon, in the last of the lovely autumn sunshine. Below, the
square was already cold in shadow, the pink and white and green
Baptistery rose lantern-shaped as from some sea-shore, cool, cold and
wan now the sun was gone. Black figures, innumerable black figures,
curious because they were all on end, up on end--Aaron could not say
why he expected them to be horizontal--little black figures upon end,
like fishes that swim on their tails, wiggled endlessly across the
piazza, little carriages on natural all-fours rattled tinily across,
the yellow little tram-cars, like dogs slipped round the corner.
The balcony was so high up, that the sound was ineffectual. The
upper space, above the houses, was nearer than the under-currents
of the noisy town. Sunlight, lovely full sunlight, lingered warm
and still on the balcony. It caught the facade of the cathedral
sideways, like the tips of a flower, and sideways lit up the stem
of Giotto's tower, like a lily stem, or a long, lovely pale pink
and white and green pistil of the lily of the cathedral. Florence,
the flowery town. Firenze--Fiorenze--the flowery town: the red lilies.
The Fiorentini, the flower-souled. Flowers with good roots in the
mud and muck, as should be: and fearless blossoms in air, like the
cathedral and the tower and the David.

"I love it," said Lilly. "I love this place, I love the cathedral and
the tower. I love its pinkness and its paleness. The Gothic souls
find fault with it, and say it is gimcrack and tawdry and cheap. But
I love it, it is delicate and rosy, and the dark stripes are as they
should be, like the tiger marks on a pink lily. It's a lily, not a
rose; a pinky white lily with dark tigery marks. And heavy, too, in
its own substance: earth-substance, risen from earth into the air:
and never forgetting the dark, black-fierce earth--I reckon here men
for a moment were themselves, as a plant in flower is for the moment
completely itself. Then it goes off. As Florence has gone off. No
flowers now. But it HAS flowered. And I don't see why a race should
be like an aloe tree, flower once and die. Why should it? Why not
flower again? Why not?"

"If it's going to, it will," said Aaron. "Our deciding about it won't
alter it."

"The decision is part of the business."

Here they were interrupted by Argyle, who put his head through one of
the windows. He had flecks of lather on his reddened face.

"Do you think you're wise now," he said, "to sit in that sun?"

"In November?" laughed Lilly.

"Always fear the sun when there's an 'r' in the month," said Argyle.
"Always fear it 'r' or no 'r,' _I_ say. I'm frightened of it. I've
been in the South, I know what it is. I tell you I'm frightened of
it. But if you think you can stand it--well--"

"It won't last much longer, anyhow," said Lilly.

"Too long for me, my boy. I'm a shady bird, in all senses of the
word, in all senses of the word.--Now are you comfortable? What?
Have another cushion? A rug for your knees? You're quite sure now?
Well, wait just one moment till the waiter brings up a syphon, and
you shall have a whiskey and soda. Precious--oh, yes, very precious
these days--like drinking gold. Thirty-five lire a bottle, my boy!"
Argyle pulled a long face, and made a noise with his lips. "But I
had this bottle given me, and luckily you've come while there's a
drop left. Very glad you have! Very glad you have."

Here he poked a little table through the window, and put a bottle and
two glasses, one a tooth-glass, upon it. Then he withdrew again to
finish shaving. The waiter presently hobbled up with the syphon and
third glass. Argyle pushed his head through the window, that was only
a little higher than the balcony. He was soon neatly shaved, and was
brushing his hair.

"Go ahead, my boys, go ahead with that whiskey!" he said.

"We'll wait for you," said Lilly.

"No, no, don't think of it. However, if you will, I shall be one
minute only--one minute only. I'll put on the water for the tea now.
Oh, damned bad methylated spirit they sell now! And six francs a
litre! Six francs a litre! I don't know what I'm going to do, the
air I breathe costs money nowadays--Just one moment and I'll be with
you! Just one moment--"

In a very little while he came from the tiny attic bedroom, through
the tiniest cupboard of a sitting-room under the eaves, where his
books were, and where he had hung his old red India tapestries--or
silk embroideries--and he emerged there up above the world on the
loggia.

"Now then--_siamo nel paradiso_, eh? Paradisal enough for you, is it?"

"The devil looking over Lincoln," said Lilly laughing, glancing up
into Argyle's face.

"The devil looking over Florence would feel sad," said Argyle. "The
place is fast growing respectable--Oh, piety makes the devil chuckle.
But respectability, my boy, argues a serious diminution of spunk. And
when the spunk diminishes we-ell--it's enough to make the most sturdy
devil look sick. What? No doubt about it, no doubt whatever--There
--!" he had just finished settling his tie and buttoning his waistcoat.
"How do I look, eh? Presentable?--I've just had this suit turned.
Clever little tailor across the way there. But he charged me a hundred
and twenty francs." Argyle pulled a face, and made the little trumping
noise with his lips. "However--not bad, is it?--He had to let in a bit
at the back of the waistcoat, and a gusset, my boy, a gusset--in the
trousers back. Seems I've grown in the arsal region. Well, well,
might do worse.--Is it all right?"

Lilly eyed the suit.

"Very nice. Very nice indeed. Such a good cloth! That makes all
the difference."

"Oh, my dear fellow, all the difference! This suit is eleven years
old--eleven years old. But beautiful English cloth--before the war,
before the war!"

"It looks quite wonderfully expensive and smart now," said Lilly.

"Expensive and smart, eh! Ha-ha-ha! Well, it cost me a hundred and
twenty francs to have it turned, and I found that expensive enough.
Well, now, come--" here Argyle's voice took on a new gay cheer. "A
whiskey and soda, Lilly? Say when! Oh, nonsense, nonsense! You're
going to have double that. You're no lily of the valley here,
remember. Not with me. Not likely. _Siamo nel paradiso_, remember."

"But why should we drink your whiskey? Tea would do for us just as
well."

"Not likely! Not likely! When I have the pleasure of your company,
my boy, we drink a glass of something, unless I am utterly stripped.
Say when, Aaron."

"When," said Aaron.

Argyle at last seated himself heavily in a small chair. The sun had
left the loggia, but was glowing still on Giotto's tower and the top
of the cathedral facade, and on the remoter great red-tiled dome.

"Look at my little red monthly rose," said Argyle. "Wonderful little
fellow! I wouldn't have anything happen to him for the world. Oh, a
bacchic little chap. I made Pasquale wear a wreath of them on his
hair. Very becoming they were, very.--Oh, I've had a charming show
of flowers. Wonderful creatures sunflowers are." They got up and
put their heads over the balcony, looking down on the square below.
"Oh, great fun, great fun.--Yes, I had a charming show of flowers,
charming.--Zinnias, petunias, ranunculus, sunflowers, white stocks--
oh, charming. Look at that bit of honeysuckle. You see the berries
where his flowers were! Delicious scent, I assure you."

Under the little balcony wall Argyle had put square red-tiled pots,
all round, and in these still bloomed a few pansies and asters, whilst
in a corner a monthly rose hung flowers like round blood-drops. Argyle
was as tidy and scrupulous in his tiny rooms and his balcony as if he
were a first-rate sea-man on a yacht. Lilly remarked on this.

"Do you see signs of the old maid coming out in me? Oh, I don't doubt
it. I don't doubt it. We all end that way. Age makes old maids of
us all. And Tanny is all right, you say? Bring her to see me. Why
didn't she come today?"

"You know you don't like people unless you expect them."

"Oh, but my dear fellow!--You and Tanny; you'd be welcome if you came
at my busiest moment. Of course you would. I'd be glad to see you if
you interrupted me at any crucial moment.--I am alone now till August.
Then we shall go away together somewhere. But you and Tanny; why,
there's the world, and there's Lilly: that's how I put it, my boy."

"All right, Argyle.--Hoflichkeiten."

"What? Gar keine Hoflichkeiten. Wahrhaftiger Kerl bin ich.--When am
I going to see Tanny? When are you coming to dine with me?"

"After you've dined with us--say the day after tomorrow."

"Right you are. Delighted--. Let me look if that water's boiling."
He got up and poked half himself inside the bedroom. "Not yet. Damned
filthy methylated spirit they sell."

"Look," said Lilly. "There's Del Torre!"

"Like some sort of midge, in that damned grey-and-yellow uniform. I
can't stand it, I tell you. I can't stand the sight of any more of
these uniforms. Like a blight on the human landscape. Like a blight.
Like green-flies on rose-trees, smother-flies. Europe's got the
smother-fly in these infernal shoddy militarists."

"Del Torre's coming out of it as soon as he can," said Lilly.

"I should think so, too."

"I like him myself--very much. Look, he's seen us! He wants to come
up, Argyle."

"What, in that uniform! I'll see him in his grandmother's crinoline
first."

"Don't be fanatical, it's bad taste. Let him come up a minute."

"Not for my sake. But for yours, he shall," Argyle stood at the
parapet of the balcony and waved his arm. "Yes, come up," he said,
"come up, you little mistkafer--what the Americans call a bug. Come
up and be damned."

Of course Del Torre was too far off to hear this exhortation. Lilly
also waved to him--and watched him pass into the doorway far below.

"I'll rinse one of these glasses for him," said Argyle.

The Marchese's step was heard on the stone stairs: then his knock.

"Come in! Come in!" cried Argyle from the bedroom, where he was
rinsing the glass. The Marchese entered, grinning with his curious,
half courteous greeting. "Go through--go through," cried Argyle.
"Go on to the loggia--and mind your head. Good heavens, mind your
head in that doorway."

The Marchese just missed the top of the doorway as he climbed the
abrupt steps on to the loggia.--There he greeted Lilly and Aaron
with hearty handshakes.

"Very glad to see you--very glad, indeed!" he cried, grinning with
excited courtesy and pleasure, and covering Lilly's hand with both
his own gloved hands. "When did you come to Florence?"

There was a little explanation. Argyle shoved the last chair--it was
a luggage stool--through the window.

"All I can do for you in the way of a chair," he said.

"Ah, that is all right," said the Marchese. "Well, it is very nice
up here--and very nice company. Of the very best, the very best in
Florence."

"The highest, anyhow," said Argyle grimly, as he entered with the
glass. "Have a whiskey and soda, Del Torre. It's the bottom of
the bottle, as you see."

"The bottom of the bottle! Then I start with the tail-end, yes!"
He stretched his blue eyes so that the whites showed all round, and
grinned a wide, gnome-like grin.

"You made that start long ago, my dear fellow. Don't play the
_ingenue_ with me, you know it won't work. Say when, my man, say
when!"

"Yes, when," said Del Torre. "When did I make that start, then?"

"At some unmentionably young age. Chickens such as you soon learn
to cheep."

"Chickens such as I soon learn to cheap," repeated Del Torre, pleased
with the verbal play. "What is cheap, please? What is TO CHEAP?"

"Cheep! Cheep!" squeaked Argyle, making a face at the little Italian,
who was perched on one strap of the luggage-stool. "It's what chickens
say when they're poking their little noses into new adventures--naughty
ones."

"Are chickens naughty? Oh! I thought they could only be good!"

"Featherless chickens like yourself, my boy."

"Oh, as for featherless--then there is no saying what they will do.--"
And here the Marchese turned away from Argyle with the inevitable
question to Lilly:

"Well, and how long will you stay in Florence?"

Lilly did not know: but he was not leaving immediately.

"Good! Then you will come and see us at once. . . ."

Argyle rose once more, and went to make the tea. He shoved a lump of
cake--or rather panetone, good currant loaf--through the window, with
a knife to cut it.

"Help yourselves to the panetone," he said. "Eat it up. The tea is
coming at once. You'll have to drink it in your glasses, there's only
one old cup."

The Marchese cut the cake, and offered pieces. The two men took and
ate.

"So you have already found Mr. Sisson!" said Del Torre to Lilly.

"Ran straight into him in the Via Nazionale," said Lilly.

"Oh, one always runs into everybody in Florence. We are all already
acquainted: also with the flute. That is a great pleasure."

"So I think.--Does your wife like it, too?"

"Very much, indeed! She is quite _eprise_. I, too, shall have to
learn to play it."

"And run the risk of spoiling the shape of your mouth--like
Alcibiades."

"Is there a risk? Yes! Then I shan't play it. My mouth is too
beautiful.--But Mr. Sisson has not spoilt his mouth."

"Not yet," said Lilly. "Give him time."

"Is he also afraid--like Alcibiades?"

"Are you, Aaron?" said Lilly.

"What?"

"Afraid of spoiling your beauty by screwing your mouth to the flute?"

"I look a fool, do I, when I'm playing?" said Aaron.

"Only the least little bit in the world," said Lilly. "The way you
prance your head, you know, like a horse."

"Ah, well," said Aaron. "I've nothing to lose."

"And were you surprised, Lilly, to find your friend here?" asked
Del Torre.

"I ought to have been. But I wasn't really."

"Then you expected him?"

"No. It came naturally, though.--But why did you come, Aaron? What
exactly brought you?"

"Accident," said Aaron.

"Ah, no! No! There is no such thing as accident," said the Italian.
"A man is drawn by his fate, where he goes."

"You are right," said Argyle, who came now with the teapot. "A man
is drawn--or driven. Driven, I've found it. Ah, my dear fellow,
what is life but a search for a friend? A search for a friend--that
sums it up."

"Or a lover," said the Marchese, grinning.

"Same thing. Same thing. My hair is white--but that is the sum of my
whole experience. The search for a friend." There was something at
once real and sentimental in Argyle's tone.

"And never finding?" said Lilly, laughing.

"Oh, what would you? Often finding. Often finding. And losing, of
course.--A life's history. Give me your glass. Miserable tea, but
nobody has sent me any from England--"

"And you will go on till you die, Argyle?" said Lilly. "Always seeking
a friend--and always a new one?"

"If I lose the friend I've got. Ah, my dear fellow, in that case I
shall go on seeking. I hope so, I assure you. Something will be
very wrong with me, if ever I sit friendless and make no search."

"But, Argyle, there is a time to leave off."

"To leave off what, to leave off what?"

"Having friends: or a friend, rather: or seeking to have one."

"Oh, no! Not at all, my friend. Not at all! Only death can make an
end of that, my friend. Only death. And I should say, not even death.
Not even death ends a man's search for a friend. That is my belief.
You may hang me for it, but I shall never alter."

"Nay," said Lilly. "There is a time to love, and a time to leave off
loving."

"All I can say to that is that my time to leave off hasn't come yet,"
said Argyle, with obstinate feeling.

"Ah, yes, it has. It is only a habit and an idea you stick to."

"Indeed, it is no such thing. Indeed, it is no such thing. It is a
profound desire and necessity: and what is more, a belief."

"An obstinate persistency, you mean," said Lilly.

"Well, call it so if it pleases you. It is by no means so to me."
There was a brief pause. The sun had left the cathedral dome and
the tower, the sky was full of light, the square swimming in shadow.

"But can a man live," said the Marchese, "without having something he
lives for: something he wishes for, or longs for, and tries that he
may get?"

"Impossible! Completely impossible!" said Argyle. "Man is a seeker,
and except as such, he has no significance, no importance."

"He bores me with his seeking," said Lilly. "He should learn to
possess himself--to be himself--and keep still."

"Ay, perhaps so," said Aaron. "Only--"

"But my dear boy, believe me, a man is never himself save in the
supreme state of love: or perhaps hate, too, which amounts to the same
thing. Never really himself.--Apart from this he is a tram-driver or
a money-shoveller or an idea-machine. Only in the state of love is he
really a man, and really himself. I say so, because I know," said
Argyle.

"Ah, yes. That is one side of the truth. It is quite true, also.
But it is just as true to say, that a man is never less himself,
than in the supreme state of love. Never less himself, than then."

"Maybe! Maybe! But what could be better? What could be better than
to lose oneself with someone you love, entirely, and so find yourself.
Ah, my dear fellow, that is my creed, that is my creed, and you can't
shake me in it. Never in that. Never in that."

"Yes, Argyle," said Lilly. "I know you're an obstinate love-apostle."

"I am! I am! And I have certain standards, my boy, and certain ideals
which I never transgress. Never transgress. And never abandon."

"All right, then, you are an incurable love-maker."

"Pray God I am," said Argyle.

"Yes," said the Marchese. "Perhaps we are all so. What else do you
give? Would you have us make money? Or do you give the centre of
your spirit to your work? How is it to be?"

"I don't vitally care either about money or my work or--" Lilly
faltered.

"Or what, then?"

"Or anything. I don't really care about anything. Except that--"

"You don't care about anything? But what is that for a life?" cried
the Marchese, with a hollow mockery.

"What do YOU care for?" asked Lilly.

"Me? I care for several things. I care for my wife. I care for love.
And I care to be loved. And I care for some pleasures. And I care
for music. And I care for Italy."

"You are well off for cares," said Lilly.

"And you seem to me so very poor," said Del Torre.

"I should say so--if he cares for nothing," interjaculated Argyle.
Then he clapped Lilly on the shoulder with a laugh. "Ha! Ha! Ha!--

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