Part 7 out of 8
But he only says it to tease us," he cried, shaking Lilly's shoulder.
"He cares more than we do for his own way of loving. Come along,
don't try and take us in. We are old birds, old birds," said Argyle.
But at that moment he seemed a bit doddering.
"A man can't live," said the Italian, "without an object."
"Well--and that object?" said Lilly.
"Well--it may be many things. Mostly it is two things.--love, and
money. But it may be many things: ambition, patriotism, science,
art--many things. But it is some objective. Something outside the
self. Perhaps many things outside the self."
"I have had only one objective all my life," said Argyle. "And that
was love. For that I have spent my life."
"And the lives of a number of other people, too," said Lilly.
"Admitted. Oh, admitted. It takes two to make love: unless you're a
"Don't you think," said Aaron, turning to Lilly, "that however you try
to get away from it, if you're not after money, and can't fit yourself
into a job--you've got to, you've got to try and find something else--
somebody else--somebody. You can't really be alone."
"No matter how many mistakes you've made--you can't really be alone--?"
"You can be alone for a minute. You can be alone just in that minute
when you've broken free, and you feel heart thankful to be alone,
because the other thing wasn't to be borne. But you can't keep on
being alone. No matter how many tunes you've broken free, and feel,
thank God to be alone (nothing on earth is so good as to breathe fresh
air and be alone), no matter how many times you've felt this--it wears
off every time, and you begin to look again--and you begin to roam
round. And even if you won't admit it to yourself, still you are
seeking--seeking. Aren't you? Aren't you yourself seeking?"
"Oh, that's another matter," put in Argyle. "Lilly is happily married
and on the shelf. With such a fine woman as Tanny I should think so--
RATHER! But his is an exceptional nature, and an exceptional case.
As for me, I made a hell of my marriage, and I swear it nearly sent
me to hell. But I didn't forswear love, when I forswore marriage and
woman. Not by ANY means."
"Are you not seeking any more, Lilly?" asked the Marchese. "Do you
"We married men who haven't left our wives, are we supposed to seek
anything?" said Lilly. "Aren't we perfectly satisfied and in bliss
with the wonderful women who honour us as wives?"
"Ah, yes, yes!" said the Marchese. "But now we are not speaking to
the world. Now we try to speak of that which we have in our centre
of our hearts."
"And what have we there?" said Lilly.
"Well--shall I say? We have unrest. We have another need. We have
something that hurts and eats us, yes, eats us inside. Do I speak
"Yes. But what is the something?"
"I don't know. I don't know. But it is something in love, I think.
It is love itself which gnaws us inside, like a cancer," said the
"But why should it? Is that the nature of love?" said Lilly.
"I don't know. Truly. I don't know.--But perhaps it is in the nature
of love--I don't know.--But I tell you, I love my, wife--she is very
dear to me. I admire her, I trust her, I believe her. She is to me
much more than any woman, more even than my mother.--And so, I am very
happy. I am very happy, she is very happy, in our love and our
marriage.--But wait. Nothing has changed--the love has not changed:
it is the same.--And yet we are NOT happy. No, we are not happy. I
know she is not happy, I know I am not--"
"Why should you be?" said Lilly.
"Yes--and it is not even happiness," said the Marchese, screwing up
his face in a painful effort of confession. "It is not even happiness.
No, I do not ask to be happy. Why should I? It is childish--but
there is for both of us, I know it, something which bites us, which
eats us within, and drives us, drives us, somewhere, we don't know
where. But it drives us, and eats away the life--and yet we love
each other, and we must not separate--Do you know what I mean? Do
you understand me at all in what I say? I speak what is true."
"Yes, I understand. I'm in the same dilemma myself.--But what I want
to hear, is WHY you think it is so. Why is it?"
"Shall I say what I think? Yes? And you can tell me if it is foolish
to you.--Shall I tell you? Well. Because a woman, she now first
wants the man, and he must go to her because he is wanted. Do you
understand?--You know--supposing I go to a woman--supposing she is my
wife--and I go to her, yes, with my blood all ready, because it is I
who want. Then she puts me off. Then she says, not now, not now, I
am tired, I am not well. I do not feel like it. She puts me off--
till I am angry or sorry or whatever I am--but till my blood has gone
down again, you understand, and I don't want her any more. And then
she puts her arms round me, and caresses me, and makes love to me--
till she rouses me once more. So, and so she rouses me--and so I come
to her. And I love her, it is very good, very good. But it was she
who began, it was her initiative, you know.--I do not think, in all
my life, my wife has loved me from my initiative, you know. She will
yield to me--because I insist, or because she wants to be a good
submissive wife who loves me. So she will yield to me. But ah, what
is it, you know? What is it a woman who allows me, and who has no
answer? It is something worse than nothing--worse than nothing. And
so it makes me very discontented and unbelieving.--If I say to her,
she says it is not true--not at all true. Then she says, all she
wants is that I should desire her, that I should love her and desire
her. But even that is putting her will first. And if I come to her
so, if I come to her of my own desire, then she puts me off. She
puts me off, or she only allows me to come to her. Even now it is
the same after ten years, as it was at first. But now I know, and
for many years I did not know--"
The little man was intense. His face was strained, his blue eyes
so stretched that they showed the whites all round. He gazed into
"But does it matter?" said Lilly slowly, "in which of you the desire
initiates? Isn't the result the same?"
"It matters. It matters--" cried the Marchese.
"Oh, my dear fellow, how MUCH it matters--" interrupted Argyle sagely.
"Ay!" said Aaron.
The Marchese looked from one to the other of them.
"It matters!" he cried. "It matters life or death. It used to be,
that desire started in the man, and the woman answered. It used to be
so for a long time in Italy. For this reason the women were kept away
from the men. For this reason our Catholic religion tried to keep the
young girls in convents, and innocent, before marriage. So that with
their minds they should not know, and should not start this terrible
thing, this woman's desire over a man, beforehand. This desire which
starts in a woman's head, when she knows, and which takes a man for
her use, for her service. This is Eve. Ah, I hate Eve. I hate her,
when she knows, and when she WILLS. I hate her when she will make of
me that which serves her desire.--She may love me, she may be soft and
kind to me, she may give her life for me. But why? Only because I am
HERS. I am that thing which does her most intimate service. She can
see no other in me. And I may be no other to her--"
"Then why not let it be so, and be satisfied?" said Lilly.
"Because I cannot. I cannot. I would. But I cannot. The Borghesia--
the citizens--the bourgeoisie, they are the ones who can. Oh, yes.
The bourgeoisie, the shopkeepers, these serve their wives so, and
their wives love them. They are the marital maquereaux--the husband-
maquereau, you know. Their wives are so stout and happy, and they
dote on their husbands and always betray them. So it is with the
bourgeoise. She loves her husband so much, and is always seeking to
betray him. Or she is a Madame Bovary, seeking for a scandal. But the
bourgeois husband, he goes on being the same. He is the horse, and she
the driver. And when she says gee-up, you know--then he comes ready,
like a hired maquereau. Only he feels so good, like a good little boy
at her breast. And then there are the nice little children. And so
they keep the world going.--But for me--" he spat suddenly and with
frenzy on the floor.
"You are quite right, my boy," said Argyle. "You are quite right.
They've got the start of us, the women: and we've got to canter when
they say gee-up. I--oh, I went through it all. But I broke the
shafts and smashed the matrimonial cart, I can tell you, and I didn't
care whether I smashed her up along with it or not. I didn't care
one single bit, I assure you.--And here I am. And she is dead and
buried these dozen years. Well--well! Life, you know, life. And
women oh, they are the very hottest hell once they get the start of
you. There's NOTHING they won't do to you, once they've got you.
Nothing they won't do to you. Especially if they love you. Then
you may as well give up the ghost: or smash the cart behind you, and
her in it. Otherwise she will just harry you into submission, and
make a dog of you, and cuckold you under your nose. And you'll
submit. Oh, you'll submit, and go on calling her my darling. Or
else, if you won't submit, she'll do for you. Your only chance is to
smash the shafts, and the whole matrimonial cart. Or she'll do for
you. For a woman has an uncanny, hellish strength--she's a she-bear
and a wolf, is a woman when she's got the start of you. Oh, it's a
terrible experience, if you're not a bourgeois, and not one of the
knuckling-under money-making sort."
"Knuckling-under sort. Yes. That is it," said the Marchese.
"But can't there be a balancing of wills?" said Lilly.
"My dear boy, the balance lies in that, that when one goes up, the
other goes down. One acts, the other takes. It is the only way in
love--And the women are nowadays the active party. Oh, yes, not a
shadow of doubt about it. They take the initiative, and the man plays
up. That's how it is. The man just plays up.--Nice manly proceeding,
what!" cried Argyle.
"But why can't man accept it as the natural order of things?" said
Lilly. "Science makes it the natural order."
"All my --- to science," said Argyle. "No man with one drop of real
spunk in him can stand it long."
"Yes! Yes! Yes!" cried the Italian. "Most men want it so. Most men
want only, that a woman shall want them, and they shall then play up
to her when she has roused them. Most men want only this: that a woman
shall choose one man out, to be her man, and he shall worship her and
come up when she shall provoke him. Otherwise he is to keep still.
And the woman, she is quite sure of her part. She must be loved and
adored, and above all, obeyed, particularly in her sex desire. There
she must not be thwarted, or she becomes a devil. And if she is
obeyed, she becomes a misunderstood woman with nerves, looking round
for the next man whom she can bring under. So it is."
"Well," said Lilly. "And then what?"
"Nay," interrupted Aaron. "But do you think it's true what he says?
Have you found it like that? You're married. Has your experience
been different, or the same?"
"What was yours?" asked Lilly.
"Mine was the same. Mine was the same, if ever it was," said Aaron.
"And mine was EXTREMELY similar," said Argyle with a grimace.
"And yours, Lilly?" asked the Marchese anxiously.
"Not very different," said Lilly.
"Ah!" cried Del Torre, jerking up erect as if he had found something.
"And what's your way out?" Aaron asked him.
"I'm not out--so I won't holloa," said Lilly. "But Del Torre puts it
best.--What do you say is the way out, Del Torre?"
"The way out is that it should change: that the man should be the
asker and the woman the answerer. It must change."
"But it doesn't. Prrr!" Argyle made his trumpeting noise.
"Does it?" asked Lilly of the Marchese.
"No. I think it does not."
"And will it ever again?"
"And then what?"
"Then? Why then man seeks a _pis-aller_. Then he seeks something
which will give him answer, and which will not only draw him, draw
him, with a terrible sexual will.--So he seeks young girls, who know
nothing, and so cannot force him. He thinks he will possess them
while they are young, and they will be soft and responding to his
wishes.--But in this, too, he is mistaken. Because now a baby of one
year, if it be a female, is like a woman of forty, so is its will made
up, so it will force a man."
"And so young girls are no good, even as a _pis-aller_."
"No good--because they are all modern women. Every one, a modern
woman. Not one who isn't."
"Terrible thing, the modern woman," put in Argyle.
"Then man seeks other forms of loves, always seeking the loving
response, you know, of one gentler and tenderer than himself, who
will wait till the man desires, and then will answer with full love.
--But it is all _pis-aller_, you know."
"Not by any means, my boy," cried Argyle.
"And then a man naturally loves his own wife, too, even if it is not
bearable to love her."
"Or one leaves her, like Aaron," said Lilly.
"And seeks another woman, so," said the Marchese.
"Does he seek another woman?" said Lilly. "Do you, Aaron?"
"I don't WANT to," said Aaron. "But--I can't stand by myself in the
middle of the world and in the middle of people, and know I am quite
by myself, and nowhere to go, and nothing to hold on to. I can for
a day or two--But then, it becomes unbearable as well. You get
frightened. You feel you might go funny--as you would if you stood
on this balcony wall with all the space beneath you."
"Can't one be alone--quite alone?" said Lilly.
"But no--it is absurd. Like Saint Simeon Stylites on a pillar. But
it is absurd!" cried the Italian.
"I don't mean like Simeon Stylites. I mean can't one live with one's
wife, and be fond of her: and with one's friends, and enjoy their
company: and with the world and everything, pleasantly: and yet KNOW
that one is alone? Essentially, at the very core of me, alone.
Eternally alone. And choosing to be alone. Not sentimental or LONELY.
Alone, choosing to be alone, because by one's own nature one is alone.
The being with another person is secondary," said Lilly.
"One is alone," said Argyle, "in all but love. In all but love, my
dear fellow. And then I agree with you."
"No," said Lilly, "in love most intensely of all, alone."
"Completely incomprehensible," said Argyle. "Amounts to nothing."
"One man is but a part. How can he be so alone?" said the Marchese.
"In so far as he is a single individual soul, he IS alone--ipso facto.
In so far as I am I, and only I am I, and I am only I, in so far, I am
inevitably and eternally alone, and it is my last blessedness to know
it, and to accept it, and to live with this as the core of my self-
"My dear boy, you are becoming metaphysical, and that is as bad as
softening of the brain," said Argyle.
"All right," said Lilly.
"And," said the Marchese, "it may be so by REASON. But in the heart--?
Can the heart ever beat quite alone? Plop! Plop!--Can the heart
beat quite alone, alone in all the atmosphere, all the space of the
universe? Plop! Plop! Plop!--Quite alone in all the space?" A
slow smile came over the Italian's face. "It is impossible. It may
eat against the heart of other men, in anger, all in pressure against
the others. It may beat hard, like iron, saying it is independent.
But this is only beating against the heart of mankind, not alone.--
But either with or against the heart of mankind, or the heart of
someone, mother, wife, friend, children--so must the heart of every
man beat. It is so."
"It beats alone in its own silence," said Lilly.
The Italian shook his head.
"We'd better be going inside, anyhow," said Argyle. "Some of you will
be taking cold."
"Aaron," said Lilly. "Is it true for you?"
"Nearly," said Aaron, looking into the quiet, half-amused, yet
frightening eyes of the other man. "Or it has been."
"A miss is as good as a mile," laughed Lilly, rising and picking up
his chair to take it indoors. And the laughter of his voice was so
like a simple, deliberate amiability, that Aaron's heart really stood
still for a second. He knew that Lilly was alone--as far as he, Aaron,
was concerned. Lilly was alone--and out of his isolation came his
words, indifferent as to whether they came or not. And he left his
friends utterly to their own choice. Utterly to their own choice.
Aaron felt that Lilly was _there_, existing in life, yet neither
asking for connection nor preventing any connection. He was present,
he was the real centre of the group. And yet he asked nothing of them,
and he imposed nothing. He left each to himself, and he himself remained
just himself: neither more nor less. And there was a finality about
it, which was at once maddening and fascinating. Aaron felt angry,
as if he were half insulted by the other man's placing the gift of
friendship or connection so quietly back in the giver's hands. Lilly
would receive no gift of friendship in equality. Neither would he
violently refuse it. He let it lie unmarked. And yet at the same
time Aaron knew that he could depend on the other man for help, nay,
almost for life itself--so long as it entailed no breaking of the
intrinsic isolation of Lilly's soul. But this condition was also
hateful. And there was also a great fascination in it.
So Aaron dined with the Marchesa and Manfredi. He was quite startled
when his hostess came in: she seemed like somebody else. She seemed
like a demon, her hair on her brows, her terrible modern elegance.
She wore a wonderful gown of thin blue velvet, of a lovely colour,
with some kind of gauzy gold-threaded filament down the sides. It
was terribly modern, short, and showed her legs and her shoulders and
breast and all her beautiful white arms. Round her throat was a collar
of dark-blue sapphires. Her hair was done low, almost to the brows,
and heavy, like an Aubrey Beardsley drawing. She was most carefully
made up--yet with that touch of exaggeration, lips slightly too red,
which was quite intentional, and which frightened Aaron. He thought
her wonderful, and sinister. She affected him with a touch of horror.
She sat down opposite him, and her beautifully shapen legs, in frail,
goldish stockings, seemed to glisten metallic naked, thrust from out
of the wonderful, wonderful skin, like periwinkle-blue velvet. She
had tapestry shoes, blue and gold: and almost one could see her toes:
metallic naked. The gold-threaded gauze slipped at her side. Aaron
could not help watching the naked-seeming arch of her foot. It was
as if she were dusted with dark gold-dust upon her marvellous nudity.
She must have seen his face, seen that he was _ebloui_.
"You brought the flute?" she said, in that toneless, melancholy,
unstriving voice of hers. Her voice alone was the same: direct
and bare and quiet.
"Perhaps I shall sing later on, if you'll accompany me. Will you?"
"I thought you hated accompaniments."
"Oh, no--not just unison. I don't mean accompaniment. I mean unison.
I don't know how it will be. But will you try?"
"Yes, I'll try."
"Manfredi is just bringing the cocktails. Do you think you'd prefer
orange in yours?"
"Ill have mine as you have yours."
"I don't take orange in mine. Won't you smoke?"
The strange, naked, remote-seeming voice! And then the beautiful firm
limbs thrust out in that dress, and nakedly dusky as with gold-dust.
Her beautiful woman's legs, slightly glistening, duskily. His one
abiding instinct was to touch them, to kiss them. He had never known
a woman to exercise such power over him. It was a bare, occult force,
something he could not cope with.
Manfredi came in with the little tray. He was still in uniform.
"Hello!" cried the little Italian. "Glad to see you--well, everything
all right? Glad to hear it. How is the cocktail, Nan?"
"Yes," she said. "All right."
"One drop too much peach, eh?"
"No, all right."
"Ah," and the little officer seated himself, stretching his gaitered
legs as if gaily. He had a curious smiling look on his face, that
Aaron thought also diabolical--and almost handsome. Suddenly the
odd, laughing, satanic beauty of the little man was visible.
"Well, and what have you been doing with yourself?" said he. "What
did you do yesterday?"
"Yesterday?" said Aaron. "I went to the Uffizi."
"To the Uffizi? Well! And what did you think of it?"
"I think it is. I think it is. What pictures did you look at?"
"I was with Dekker. We looked at most, I believe."
"And what do you remember best?"
"I remember Botticelli's Venus on the Shell."
"Yes! Yes!--" said Manfredi. "I like her. But I like others better.
You thought her a pretty woman, yes?"
"No--not particularly pretty. But I like her body. And I like the
fresh air. I like the fresh air, the summer sea-air all through it--
through her as well."
"And her face?" asked the Marchesa, with a slow, ironic smile.
"Yes--she's a bit baby-faced," said Aaron.
"Trying to be more innocent than her own common-sense will let her,"
said the Marchesa.
"I don't agree with you, Nan," said her husband. "I think it is just
that wistfulness and innocence which makes her the true Venus: the
true modern Venus. She chooses NOT to know too much. And that is her
attraction. Don't you agree, Aaron? Excuse me, but everybody speaks
of you as Aaron. It seems to come naturally. Most people speak of me
as Manfredi, too, because it is easier, perhaps, than Del Torre. So
if you find it easier, use it. Do you mind that I call you Aaron?"
"Not at all. I hate Misters, always."
"Yes, so do I. I like one name only."
The little officer seemed very winning and delightful to Aaron this
evening--and Aaron began to like him extremely. But the dominating
consciousness in the room was the woman's.
"DO you agree, Mr. Sisson?" said the Marchesa. "Do you agree that the
mock-innocence and the sham-wistfulness of Botticelli's Venus are her
"I don't think she is at all charming, as a person," said Aaron. "As
a particular woman, she makes no impression on me at all. But as a
picture--and the fresh air, particularly the fresh air. She doesn't
seem so much a woman, you know, as the kind of out-of-doors morning-
feelings at the seaside."
"Quite! A sort of sea-scape of a woman. With a perfectly sham
innocence. Are you as keen on innocence as Manfredi is?"
"Innocence?" said Aaron. "It's the sort of thing I don't have much
"Ah, I know you," laughed the soldier wickedly. "You are the sort of
man who wants to be Anthony to Cleopatra. Ha-ha!"
Aaron winced as if struck. Then he too smiled, flattered. Yet he felt
he had been struck! Did he want to be Anthony to Cleopatra? Without
knowing, he was watching the Marchesa. And she was looking away, but
knew he was watching her. And at last she turned her eyes to his,
with a slow, dark smile, full of pain and fuller still of knowledge.
A strange, dark, silent look of knowledge she gave him: from so far
away, it seemed. And he felt all the bonds that held him melting away.
His eyes remained fixed and gloomy, but with his mouth he smiled back
at her. And he was terrified. He knew he was sulking towards her--
sulking towards her. And he was terrified. But at the back of his
mind, also, he knew there was Lilly, whom he might depend on. And
also he wanted to sink towards her. The flesh and blood of him simply
melted out, in desire towards her. Cost what may, he must come to her.
And yet he knew at the same time that, cost what may, he must keep the
power to recover himself from her. He must have his cake and eat it.
And she became Cleopatra to him. "Age cannot wither, nor custom
stale--" To his instinctive, unwilled fancy, she was Cleopatra.
They went in to dinner, and he sat on her right hand. It was a
smallish table, with a very few daisy-flowers: everything rather
frail, and sparse. The food the same--nothing very heavy, all rather
exquisite. They drank hock. And he was aware of her beautiful arms,
and her bosom; her low-crowded, thick hair, parted in the centre: the
sapphires on her throat, the heavy rings on her fingers: and the
paint on her lips, the fard. Something deep, deep at the bottom of
him hovered upon her, cleaved to her. Yet he was as if sightless,
in a stupor. Who was she, what was she? He had lost all his grasp.
Only he sat there, with his face turned to hers, or to her, all the
time. And she talked to him. But she never looked at him.
Indeed she said little. It was the husband who talked. His manner
towards Aaron was almost caressive. And Aaron liked it. The woman
was silent mostly, and seemed remote. And Aaron felt his life ebb
towards her. He felt the marvellousness, the rich beauty of her arms
and breast. And the thought of her gold-dusted smooth limbs beneath
the table made him feel almost an idiot.
The second wine was a gold-coloured Moselle, very soft and rich and
beautiful. She drank this with pleasure, as one who understands. And
for dessert there was a dish of cacchi--that orange-coloured, pulpy
Japanese fruit--persimmons. Aaron had never eaten these before. Soft,
almost slimy, of a wonderful colour, and of a flavour that had sunk
from harsh astringency down to that first decay-sweetness which is all
autumn-rich. The Marchese loved them, and scooped them out with his
spoon. But she ate none.
Aaron did not know what they talked about, what was said. If someone
had taken his mind away altogether, and left him with nothing but a
body and a spinal consciousness, it would have been the same.
But at coffee the talk turned to Manfredi's duties. He would not be
free from the army for some time yet. On the morrow, for example, he
had to be out and away before it was day. He said he hated it, and
wanted to be a free man once more. But it seemed to Aaron he would be
a very bored man, once he was free. And then they drifted on to talk
of the palazzo in which was their apartment.
"We've got such a fine terrace--you can see it from your house where
you are," said Manfredi. "Have you noticed it?"
"No," said Aaron.
"Near that tuft of palm-trees. Don't you know?"
"No," said Aaron.
"Let us go out and show it him," said the Marchesa.
Manfredi fetched her a cloak, and they went through various doors,
then up some steps. The terrace was broad and open. It looked
straight across the river at the opposite Lungarno: and there was the
thin-necked tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, and the great dome of the
cathedral in the distance, in shadow-bulk in the cold-aired night of
stars. Little trams were running brilliant over the flat new bridge
on the right. And from a garden just below rose a tuft of palm-trees.
"You see," said the Marchesa, coming and standing close to Aaron, so
that she just touched him, "you can know the terrace, just by these
palm trees. And you are in the Nardini just across there, are you?
On the top floor, you said?"
"Yes, the top floor--one of the middle windows, I think."
"One that is always open now--and the others are shut. I have noticed
it, not connecting it with you."
"Yes, my window is always open."
She was leaning very slightly against him, as he stood. And he knew,
with the same kind of inevitability with which he knew he would one
day die, that he would be the lover of this woman. Nay, that he was
her lover already.
"Don't take cold," said Manfredi.
She turned at once indoors. Aaron caught a faint whiff of perfume
from the little orange trees in tubs round the wall.
"Will you get the flute?" she said as they entered.
"And will you sing?" he answered.
"Play first," she said.
He did as she wished. As the other night, he went into the big music-
room to play. And the stream of sound came out with the quick wild
imperiousness of the pipe. It had an immediate effect on her. She
seemed to relax the peculiar, drug-like tension which was upon her at
all ordinary times. She seemed to go still, and yielding. Her red
mouth looked as if it might moan with relief. She sat with her chin
dropped on her breast, listening. And she did not move. But she sat
softly, breathing rather quick, like one who has been hurt, and is
soothed. A certain womanly naturalness seemed to soften her.
And the music of the flute came quick, rather brilliant like a call-
note, or like a long quick message, half command. To her it was like
a pure male voice--as a blackbird's when he calls: a pure male voice,
not only calling, but telling her something, telling her something,
and soothing her soul to sleep. It was like the fire-music putting
Brunnhilde to sleep. But the pipe did not flicker and sink. It
seemed to cause a natural relaxation in her soul, a peace. Perhaps
it was more like waking to a sweet, morning awakening, after a night
of tormented, painful tense sleep. Perhaps more like that.
When Aaron came in, she looked at him with a gentle, fresh smile that
seemed to make the fard on her face look like a curious tiredness,
which now she might recover from. And as the last time, it was
difficult for her to identify this man with the voice of the flute.
It was rather difficult. Except that, perhaps, between his brows was
something of a doubt, and in his bearing an aloofness that made her
dread he might go away and not come back. She could see it in him,
that he might go away and not come back.
She said nothing to him, only just smiled. And the look of knowledge
in her eyes seemed, for the moment, to be contained in another look: a
look of faith, and at last happiness. Aaron's heart stood still. No,
in her moment's mood of faith and at last peace, life-trust, he was
perhaps more terrified of her than in her previous sinister elegance.
His spirit started and shrank. What was she going to ask of him?
"I am so anxious that you should come to play one Saturday morning,"
said Manfredi. "With an accompaniment, you know. I should like so
much to hear you with piano accompaniment."
"Very well," said Aaron.
"Will you really come? And will you practise with me, so that I can
accompany you?" said Manfredi eagerly.
"Yes. I will," said Aaron.
"Oh, good! Oh, good! Look here, come in on Friday morning and let us
both look through the music."
"If Mr. Sisson plays for the public," said the Marchesa, "he must not
do it for charity. He must have the proper fee."
"No, I don't want it," said Aaron.
"But you must earn money, mustn't you?" said she.
"I must," said Aaron. "But I can do it somewhere else."
"No. If you play for the public, you must have your earnings. When
you play for me, it is different."
"Of course," said Manfredi. "Every man must have his wage. I have
mine from the Italian government---"
After a while, Aaron asked the Marchesa if she would sing.
"Shall I?" she said.
"Then I will sing alone first, to let you see what you think of it--
I shall be like Trilby--I won't say like Yvette Guilbert, because I
daren't. So I will be like Trilby, and sing a little French song.
Though not Malbrouck, and without a Svengali to keep me in tune."
She went near the door, and stood with heir hands by her side. There
was something wistful, almost pathetic now, in her elegance.
"Derriere chez mon pere
_Vole vole mon coeur, vole_!
Derriere chez mon pere
Il y a un pommier doux.
_Tout doux, et iou
Et iou, tout doux.
Il y a unpommier doux_.
Trois belles princesses
_Vole vole mon coeur, vole_!
Trois belles princesses
Sont assis dessous.
_Tout doux, et iou
Et iou, tout doux.
Sont asses dessous._"
She had a beautiful, strong, sweet voice. But it was faltering,
stumbling and sometimes it seemed to drop almost to speech. After
three verses she faltered to an end, bitterly chagrined.
"No," she said. "It's no good. I can't sing." And she dropped in
"A lovely little tune," said Aaron. "Haven't you got the music?"
She rose, not answering, and found him a little book.
"What do the words mean?" he asked her.
She told him. And then he took his flute.
"You don't mind if I play it, do you?" he said.
So he played the tune. It was so simple. And he seemed to catch the
lilt and the timbre of her voice.
"Come and sing it while I play--" he said.
"I can't sing," she said, shaking her head rather bitterly.
"But let us try," said he, disappointed.
"I know I can't," she said. But she rose.
He remained sitting at the little table, the book propped up under the
reading lamp. She stood at a little distance, unhappy.
"I've always been like that," she said. "I could never sing music,
unless I had a thing drilled into me, and then it wasn't singing
But Aaron wasn't heeding. His flute was at his mouth, he was watching
her. He sounded the note, but she did not begin. She was twisting her
handkerchief. So he played the melody alone. At the end of the verse,
he looked up at her again, and a half mocking smile played in his eyes.
Again he sounded the note, a challenge. And this time, as at his
bidding, she began to sing. The flute instantly swung with a lovely
soft firmness into the song, and she wavered only for a minute or two.
Then her soul and her voice got free, and she sang--she sang as she
wanted to sing, as she had always wanted to sing, without that awful
scotch, that impediment inside her own soul, which prevented her.
She sang free, with the flute gliding along with her. And oh, how
beautiful it was for her! How beautiful it was to sing the little song
in the sweetness of her own spirit. How sweet it was to move pure and
unhampered at last in the music! The lovely ease and lilt of her own
soul in its motion through the music! She wasn't aware of the flute.
She didn't know there was anything except her own pure lovely song-
drift. Her soul seemed to breathe as a butterfly breathes, as it rests
on a leaf and slowly breathes its wings. For the first time! For the
first time her soul drew its own deep breath. All her life, the breath
had caught half-way. And now she breathed full, deep, to the deepest
extent of her being.
And oh, it was so wonderful, she was dazed. The song ended, she stood
with a dazed, happy face, like one just coming awake. And the fard on
her face seemed like the old night-crust, the bad sleep. New and
luminous she looked out. And she looked at Aaron with a proud smile.
"Bravo, Nan! That was what you wanted," said her husband.
"It was, wasn't it?" she said, turning a wondering, glowing face
His face looked strange and withered and gnome-like, at the moment.
She went and sat in her chair, quite silent, as if in a trance. The
two men also sat quite still. And in the silence a little drama played
itself between the three, of which they knew definitely nothing. But
Manfredi knew that Aaron had done what he himself never could do, for
this woman. And yet the woman was his own woman, not Aaron's. And so,
he was displaced. Aaron, sitting there, glowed with a sort of triumph.
He had performed a little miracle, and felt himself a little wonder-
worker, to whom reverence was due. And as in a dream the woman sat,
feeling what a joy it was to float and move like a swan in the high
air, flying upon the wings of her own spirit. She was as a swan which
never before could get its wings quite open, and so which never could
get up into the open, where alone it can sing. For swans, and storks
make their music only when they are high, high up in the air. Then
they can give sound to their strange spirits. And so, she.
Aaron and Manfredi kept their faces averted from one another and
hardly spoke to one another. It was as if two invisible hands pushed
their faces apart, away, averted. And Aaron's face glimmered with a
little triumph, and a little grimace of obstinacy. And the Italian's
face looked old, rather monkey-like, and of a deep, almost stone-bare
bitterness. The woman looked wondering from one man to the other--
wondering. The glimmer of the open flower, the wonder-look, still
lasted. And Aaron said in his heart, what a goodly woman, what a
woman to taste and enjoy. Ah, what a woman to enjoy! And was it not
his privilege? Had he not gained it?
His manhood, or rather his maleness, rose powerfully in him, in a sort
of mastery. He felt his own power, he felt suddenly his own virile
title to strength and reward. Suddenly, and newly flushed with his
own male super-power, he was going to have his reward. The woman was
his reward. So it was, in him. And he cast it over in his mind. He
wanted her--ha, didn't he! But the husband sat there, like a soap-
stone Chinese monkey, greyish-green. So, it would have to be another
He rose, therefore, and took his leave.
"But you'll let us do that again, won't you?" said she.
"When you tell me, I'll come," said he.
"Then I'll tell you soon," said she.
So he left, and went home to his own place, and there to his own
remote room. As he laid his flute on the table he looked at it
and smiled. He remembered that Lilly had called it Aaron's Rod.
"So you blossom, do you?--and thorn as well," said he.
For such a long time he had been gripped inside himself, and withheld.
For such a long time it had been hard and unyielding, so hard and
unyielding. He had wanted nothing, his desire had kept itself back,
fast back. For such a long time his desire for woman had withheld
itself, hard and resistant. All his deep, desirous blood had been
locked, he had wanted nobody, and nothing. And it had been hard to
live, so. Without desire, without any movement of passionate love,
only gripped back in recoil! That was an experience to endure.
And now came his desire back. But strong, fierce as iron. Like the
strength of an eagle with the lightning in its talons. Something to
glory in, something overweening, the powerful male passion, arrogant,
royal, Jove's thunderbolt. Aaron's black rod of power, blossoming
again with red Florentine lilies and fierce thorns. He moved about
in the splendour of his own male lightning, invested in the thunder
of the male passion-power. He had got it back, the male godliness,
the male godhead.
So he slept, and dreamed violent dreams of strange, black strife,
something like the street-riot in Milan, but more terrible. In the
morning, however, he cared nothing about his dreams. As soon as it was
really light, he rose, and opened his window wide. It was a grey, slow
morning. But he saw neither the morning nor the river nor the woman
walking on the gravel river-bed with her goose nor the green hill up
to San Miniato. He watched the tuft of palm-trees, and the terrace
beside it. He could just distinguish the terrace clearly, among the
green of foliage. So he stood at his window for a full hour, and did
not move. Motionless, planted, he stood and watched that terrace
across above the Arno. But like a statue.
After an hour or so, he looked at his watch. It was nine o'clock. So
he rang for his coffee, and meanwhile still stood watching the terrace
on the hill. He felt his turn had come. The phoenix had risen in fire
again, out of the ashes.
Therefore at ten o'clock he went over the bridge. He wrote on the back
of his card a request, would she please let him have the little book
of songs, that he might practise them over. The manservant went, and
came back with the request that Aaron should wait. So Aaron entered,
while the man took his hat.
The manservant spoke only French and Spanish, no English. He was a
Spaniard, with greyish hair and stooping shoulders, and dark, mute-
seeming eyes. He spoke as little as possible. The Marchesa had
inherited him from her father.
Aaron sat in the little sitting-room and waited. After a rather long
time the Marchesa came in--wearing a white, thin blouse and a blue
skirt. She was hardly made up at all. She had an odd pleased, yet
brooding look on her face as she gave Aaron her hand. Something
brooded between her brows. And her voice was strange, with a strange,
secret undertone, that he could not understand. He looked up at her.
And his face was bright, and his knees, as he sat, were like the knees
of the gods.
"You wanted the book of _chansons_?" she said.
"I wanted to learn your tunes," he replied.
"Yes. Look--here it is!" And she brought him the little yellow book.
It was just a hand-book, with melody and words only, no accompaniment.
So she stood offering him the book, but waiting as if for something
else, and standing as if with another meaning.
He opened the leaves at random.
"But I ought to know which ones you sing," said he, rising and standing
by her side with the open book.
"Yes," she said, looking over his arm. He turned the pages one by
one. "_Trois jeunes tambours_," said she. "Yes, that. . . . Yes,
_En passant par la Lorraine_. . . . _Aupres de ma blonde_. . . . Oh,
I like that one so much--" He stood and went over the tune in his
"Would you like me to play it?" he said.
"Very much," said she.
So he got his flute, propped up the book against a vase, and played
the tune, whilst she hummed it fragmentarily. But as he played, he
felt that he did not cast the spell over her. There was no connection.
She was in some mysterious way withstanding him. She was withstanding
him, and his male super-power, and his thunderbolt desire. She was,
in some indescribable way, throwing cold water over his phoenix newly
risen from the ashes of its nest in flames.
He realised that she did not want him to play. She did not want him
to look at the songs. So he put the book away, and turned round,
rather baffled, not quite sure what was happening, yet feeling she was
withstanding him. He glanced at her face: it was inscrutable: it was
her Cleopatra face once more, yet with something new and warm in it.
He could not understand it. What was it in her face that puzzled him?
Almost angered him? But she could not rob him of his male power, she
could not divest him of his concentrated force.
"Won't you take off your coat?" she said, looking at him with strange,
large dark eyes. A strange woman, he could not understand her. Yet,
as he sat down again, having removed his overcoat, he felt her looking
at his limbs, his physical body. And this went against him, he did
not want it. Yet quite fixed in him too was the desire for her, her
beautiful white arms, her whole soft white body. And such desire he
would not contradict nor allow to be contradicted. It was his will
also. Her whole soft white body--to possess it in its entirety, its
"What have you to do this morning?" she asked him.
"Nothing," he said. "Have you?" He lifted his head and looked at her.
"Nothing at all," said she.
And then they sat in silence, he with his head dropped. Then again he
looked at her.
"Shall we be lovers?" he said.
She sat with her face averted, and did not answer. His heart struck
heavily, but he did not relax.
"Shall we be lovers?" came his voice once more, with the faintest
touch of irony.
Her face gradually grew dusky. And he wondered very much to see it.
"Yes," said she, still not looking at him. "If you wish."
"I do wish," he said. And all the time he sat with his eyes fixed on
her face, and she sat with her face averted.
"Now?" he said. "And where?"
Again she was silent for some moments, as if struggling with herself.
Then she looked at him--a long, strange, dark look, incomprehensible,
and which he did not like.
"You don't want emotions? You don't want me to say things, do you?"
A faint ironic smile came on her face.
"I know what all that is worth," she said, with curious calm
equanimity. "No, I want none of that."
But now she sat gazing on him with wide, heavy, incomprehensible eyes.
It annoyed him.
"What do you want to see in me?" he asked, with a smile, looking
steadily back again.
And now she turned aside her face once more, and once more the dusky
colour came in her cheek. He waited.
"Shall I go away?" he said at length.
"Would you rather?" she said, keeping her face averted.
"No," he said.
Then again she was silent.
"Where shall I come to you?" he said.
She paused a moment still, then answered:
"I'll go to my room."
"I don't know which it is," he said.
"I'll show it you," she said.
"And then I shall come to you in ten minutes. In ten minutes," he
So she rose, and led the way out of the little salon. He walked
with her to the door of her room, bowed his head as she looked at
him, holding the door handle; and then he turned and went back to
the drawing-room, glancing at his watch.
In the drawing-room he stood quite still, with his feet apart, and
waited. He stood with his hands behind him, and his feet apart, quite
motionless, planted and firm. So the minutes went by unheeded. He
looked at his watch. The ten minutes were just up. He had heard
footsteps and doors. So he decided to give her another five minutes.
He wished to be quite sure that she had had her own time for her own
Then at the end of the five minutes he went straight to her room,
entered, and locked the door behind him. She was lying in bed, with
her back to him.
He found her strange, not as he had imagined her. Not powerful, as
he had imagined her. Strange, in his arms she seemed almost small
and childish, whilst in daily life she looked a full, womanly woman.
Strange, the naked way she clung to him! Almost like a sister, a
younger sister! Or like a child! It filled him with a curious wonder,
almost a bewilderment. In the dark sightlessness of passion, she
seemed almost like a clinging child in his arms. And yet like a child
who in some deep and essential way mocked him. In some strange and
incomprehensible way, as a girl-child blindly obstinate in her deepest
nature, she was against him. He felt she was not his woman. Through
him went the feeling, "This is not my woman."
When, after a long sleep, he awoke and came fully to himself, with
that click of awakeness which is the end, the first shades were
closing on the afternoon. He got up and reached for his watch.
"Quarter past four," he said.
Her eyes stretched wide with surprise as she looked at him. But she
said nothing. The same strange and wide, perhaps insatiable child-
like curiosity was in her eyes as she watched him. He dressed very
quickly. And her eyes were wide, and she said no single word.
But when he was dressed, and bent over her to say goodbye, she put
her arms round him, that seemed such frail and childish arms now, yet
withal so deadly in power. Her soft arms round his neck, her tangle
of hair over his face. And yet, even as he kissed her, he felt her
deadly. He wanted to be gone. He wanted to get out of her arms and
her clinging and her tangle of hair and her curiosity and her strange
and hateful power.
"You'll come again. We'll be like this again?" she whispered.
And it was hard for him to realise that this was that other woman, who
had sat so silently on the sofa, so darkly and reservedly, at the tea
"Yes! I will! Goodbye now!" And he kissed her, and walked straight
out of the room. Quickly he took his coat and his hat, quickly, and
left the house. In his nostrils was still the scent with which the
bed linen was faintly scented--he did not know what it was. But now
he wiped his face and his mouth, to wipe it away.
He had eaten nothing since coffee that morning, and was hungry, faint-
feeling. And his face, and his mind, felt withered. Curiously he felt
blasted as if blighted by some electricity. And he knew, he knew quite
well he was only in possession of a tithe of his natural faculties.
And in his male spirit he felt himself hating her: hating her deeply,
damnably. But he said to himself: "No, I won't hate her. I won't
So he went on, over the Ponte Vecchio, where the jeweller's windows
on the bridge were already blazing with light, on into the town. He
wanted to eat something, so he decided to go to a shop he knew, where
one could stand and eat good tiny rolls split into truffle or salami
sandwiches, and drink Marsala. So one after the other he ate little
truffle rolls, and drank a few glasses of Marsala. And then he did
not know what to do. He did not want to eat any more, he had had what
he wanted. His hunger had been more nervous than sensual.
So he went into the street. It was just growing dark and the town was
lighting up. He felt curiously blazed, as if some flame or electric
power had gone through him and withered his vital tissue. Blazed, as
if some kind of electric flame had run over him and withered him. His
brain felt withered, his mind had only one of its many-sighted eyes
left open and unscorched. So many of the eyes of his mind were
scorched now and sightless.
Yet a restlessness was in his nerves. What should he do? He
remembered he had a letter in his pocket from Sir William Franks.
Sir William had still teased him about his fate and his providence,
in which he, Aaron, was supposed to trust. "I shall be very glad to
hear from you, and to know how your benevolent Providence--or was
yours a Fate--has treated you since we saw you---"
So, Aaron turned away, and walked to the post office. There he took
paper, and sat down at one of the tables in the writing room, and
wrote his answer. It was very strange, writing thus when most of his
mind's eyes were scorched, and it seemed he could hardly see to hold
the pen, to drive it straight across the paper. Yet write he must.
And most of his faculties being quenched or blasted for the moment,
he wrote perhaps his greatest, or his innermost, truth.--"I don't
want my Fate or my Providence to treat me well. I don't want kindness
or love. I don't believe in harmony and people loving one another. I
believe in the fight and in nothing else. I believe in the fight which
is in everything. And if it is a question of women, I believe in the
fight of love, even if it blinds me. And if it is a question of the
world, I believe in fighting it and in having it hate me, even if it
breaks my legs. I want the world to hate me, because I can't bear the
thought that it might love me. For of all things love is the most
deadly to me, and especially from such a repulsive world as I think
this is. . . ."
Well, here was a letter for a poor old man to receive. But, in the
dryness of his withered mind, Aaron got it out of himself. When a
man writes a letter to himself, it is a pity to post it to somebody
else. Perhaps the same is true of a book.
His letter written, however, he stamped it and sealed it and put it in
the box. That made it final. Then he turned towards home. One fact
remained unbroken in the debris of his consciousness: that in the town
was Lilly: and that when he needed, he could go to Lilly: also, that
in the world was Lottie, his wife: and that against Lottie, his heart
burned with a deep, deep, almost unreachable bitterness.--Like a deep
burn on his deepest soul, Lottie. And like a fate which he resented,
yet which steadied him, Lilly.
He went home and lay on his bed. He had enough self-command to hear
the gong and go down to dinner. White and abstract-looking, he sat
and ate his dinner. And then, thank God, he could go to bed, alone,
in his own cold bed, alone, thank God. To be alone in the night!
For this he was unspeakably thankful.
CLEOPATRA, BUT NOT ANTHONY
Aaron awoke in the morning feeling better, but still only a part
himself. The night alone had restored him. And the need to be alone
still was his greatest need. He felt an intense resentment against
the Marchesa. He felt that somehow, she had given him a scorpion.
And his instinct was to hate her. And yet he avoided hating her. He
remembered Lilly--and the saying that one must possess oneself, and be
alone in possession of oneself. And somehow, under the influence of
Lilly, he refused to follow the reflex of his own passion. He refused
to hate the Marchesa. He _did_ like her. He did _esteem_ her. And
after all, she too was struggling with her fate. He had a genuine
sympathy with her. Nay, he was not going to hate her.
But he could not see her. He could not bear the thought that she
might call and see him. So he took the tram to Settignano, and
walked away all day into the country, having bread and sausage in
his pocket. He sat for long hours among the cypress trees of Tuscany.
And never had any trees seemed so like ghosts, like soft, strange,
pregnant presences. He lay and watched tall cypresses breathing and
communicating, faintly moving and as it were walking in the small
wind. And his soul seemed to leave him and to go far away, far back,
perhaps, to where life was all different and time passed otherwise
than time passes now. As in clairvoyance he perceived it: that our
life is only a fragment of the shell of life. That there has been
and will be life, human life such as we do not begin to conceive.
Much that is life has passed away from men, leaving us all mere bits.
In the dark, mindful silence and inflection of the cypress trees,
lost races, lost language, lost human ways of feeling and of knowing.
Men have known as we can no more know, have felt as we can no more
feel. Great life-realities gone into the darkness. But the cypresses
commemorate. In the afternoon, Aaron felt the cypresses rising dark
about him, like so many high visitants from an old, lost, lost subtle
world, where men had the wonder of demons about them, the aura of
demons, such as still clings to the cypresses, in Tuscany.
All day, he did not make up his mind what he was going to do. His
first impulse was never to see her again. And this was his intention
all day. But as he went home in the tram he softened, and thought.
Nay, that would not be fair. For how had she treated him, otherwise
She had been generous, and the other thing, that he felt blasted
afterwards, which was his experience, that was fate, and not her
fault. So he must see her again. He must not act like a churl.
But he would tell her--he would tell her that he was a married man,
and that though he had left his wife, and though he had no dogma of
fidelity, still, the years of marriage had made a married man of him,
and any other woman than his wife was a strange woman to him, a
violation. "I will tell her," he said to himself, "that at the bottom
of my heart I love Lottie still, and that I can't help it. I believe
that is true. It isn't love, perhaps. But it is marriage. I am
married to Lottie. And that means I can't be married to another woman.
It isn't my nature. And perhaps I can't bear to live with Lottie now,
because I am married and not in love. When a man is married, he is
not in love. A husband is not a lover. Lilly told me that: and I
know it's true now. Lilly told me that a husband cannot be a lover,
and a lover cannot be a husband. And that women will only have lovers
now, and never a husband. Well, I am a husband, if I am anything.
And I shall never be a lover again, not while I live. No, not to
anybody. I haven't it in me. I'm a husband, and so it is finished
with me as a lover. I can't be a lover any more, just as I can't be
aged twenty any more. I am a man now, not an adolescent. And to my
sorrow I am a husband to a woman who wants a lover: always a lover.
But all women want lovers. And I can't be it any more. I don't
want to. I have finished that. Finished for ever: unless I become
Therefore next day he gathered up his courage. He would not have had
courage unless he had known that he was not alone. The other man was
in the town, and from this fact he derived his strength: the fact that
Lilly was there. So at teatime he went over the river, and rang at
her door. Yes, she was at home, and she had other visitors. She was
wearing a beautiful soft afternoon dress, again of a blue like chicory-
flowers, a pale, warm blue. And she had cornflowers in her belt:
heaven knows where she had got them.
She greeted Aaron with some of the childish shyness. He could tell
that she was glad he had come, and that she had wondered at his not
coming sooner. She introduced him to her visitors: two young ladies
and one old lady and one elderly Italian count. The conversation was
mostly in French or Italian, so Aaron was rather out of it.
However, the visitors left fairly early, so Aaron stayed them out.
When they had gone, he asked:
"Where is Manfredi?"
"He will come in soon. At about seven o'clock."
Then there was a silence again.
"You are dressed fine today," he said to her.
"Am I?" she smiled.
He was never able to make out quite what she felt, what she was
feeling. But she had a quiet little air of proprietorship in him,
which he did not like.
"You will stay to dinner tonight, won't you?" she said.
"No--not tonight," he said. And then, awkwardly, he added: "You know.
I think it is better if we are friends--not lovers. You know--I don't
feel free. I feel my wife, I suppose, somewhere inside me. And I
can't help it---"
She bent her head and was silent for some moments. Then she lifted her
face and looked at him oddly.
"Yes," she said. "I am sure you love your wife."
The reply rather staggered him--and to tell the truth, annoyed him.
"Well," he said. "I don't know about love. But when one has been
married for ten years--and I did love her--then--some sort of bond
or something grows. I think some sort of connection grows between
us, you know. And it isn't natural, quite, to break it.--Do you
know what I mean?"
She paused a moment. Then, very softly, almost gently, she said:
"Yes, I do. I know so well what you mean."
He was really surprised at her soft acquiescence. What _did_ she mean?
"But we can be friends, can't we?" he said.
"Yes, I hope so. Why, yes! Goodness, yes! I should be sorry if we
couldn't be friends."
After which speech he felt that everything was all right--everything
was A-one. And when Manfredi came home, the first sound he heard was
the flute and his wife's singing.
"I'm so glad you've come," his wife said to him. "Shall we go into
the sala and have real music? Will you play?"
"I should love to," replied the husband.
Behold them then in the big drawing-room, and Aaron and the Marchese
practising together, and the Marchesa singing an Italian folk-song
while her husband accompanied her on the pianoforte. But her singing
was rather strained and forced. Still, they were quite a little
family, and it seemed quite nice. As soon as she could, the Marchesa
left the two men together, whilst she sat apart. Aaron and Manfredi
went through old Italian and old German music, tried one thing and
then another, and seemed quite like brothers. They arranged a piece
which they should play together on a Saturday morning, eight days
The next day, Saturday, Aaron went to one of the Del Torre music
mornings. There was a string quartette--and a violin soloist--and the
Marchese at the piano. The audience, some dozen or fourteen friends,
sat at the near end of the room, or in the smaller salotta, whilst the
musicians performed at the further end of the room. The Lillys were
there, both Tanny and her husband. But apart from these, Aaron knew
nobody, and felt uncomfortable. The Marchesa gave her guests little
sandwiches and glasses of wine or Marsala or vermouth, as they chose.
And she was quite the hostess: the well-bred and very simple, but still
the conventional hostess. Aaron did not like it. And he could see
that Lilly too was unhappy. In fact, the little man bolted the moment
he could, dragging after him the indignant Tanny, who was so looking
forward to the excellent little sandwiches. But no--Lilly just rudely
bolted. Aaron followed as soon as he could.
"Will you come to dinner tomorrow evening?" said his hostess to him as
he was leaving. And he agreed. He had really resented seeing her as
a conventional hostess, attending so charmingly to all the other people,
and treating him so merely as one of the guests, among many others. So
that when at the last moment she quietly invited him to dinner next
day, he was flattered and accepted at once.
The next day was Sunday--the seventh day after his coming together
with the Marchesa--which had taken place on the Monday. And already
he was feeling much less dramatic in his decision to keep himself
apart from her, to be merely friends. Already the memory of the
last time was fanning up in him, not as a warning but as a terrible
incitement. Again the naked desire was getting hold of him, with
that peculiar brutal powerfulness which startled him and also pleased
So that by the time Sunday morning came, his recoil had exhausted
itself, and he was ready again, eager again, but more wary this time.
He sat in his room alone in the morning, playing his flute, playing
over from memory the tunes she loved, and imagining how he and she
would get into unison in the evening. His flute, his Aaron's rod,
would blossom once again with splendid scarlet flowers, the red
Florentine lilies. It was curious, the passion he had for her: just
unalloyed desire, and nothing else. Something he had not known in his
life before. Previously there had been always _some_ personal quality,
some sort of personal tenderness. But here, none. She did not seem
to want it. She seemed to hate it, indeed. No, all he felt was stark,
naked desire, without a single pretension. True enough, his last
experience had been a warning to him. His desire and himself likewise
had broken rather disastrously under the proving. But not finally
broken. He was ready again. And with all the sheer powerful insolence
of desire he looked forward to the evening. For he almost expected
Manfredi would not be there. The officer had said something about having
to go to Padua on the Saturday afternoon.
So Aaron went skipping off to his appointment, at seven o'clock. Judge
of his chagrin, then, when he found already seated in the salotta an
elderly, quite well-known, very cultured and very well-connected
English authoress. She was charming, in her white hair and dress
of soft white wool and white lace, with a long chain of filigree gold
beads, like bubbles. She was charming in her old-fashioned manner
too, as if the world were still safe and stable, like a garden in
which delightful culture, and choice ideas bloomed safe from wind and
weather. Alas, never was Aaron more conscious of the crude collapse
in the world than when he listened to this animated, young-seeming
lady from the safe days of the seventies. All the old culture and
choice ideas seemed like blowing bubbles. And dear old Corinna Wade,
she seemed to be blowing bubbles still, as she sat there so charming
in her soft white dress, and talked with her bright animation about
the influence of woman in Parliament and the influence of woman in
the Periclean day. Aaron listened spell-bound, watching the bubbles
float round his head, and almost hearing them go pop.
To complete the party arrived an elderly litterateur who was more proud
of his not-very-important social standing than of his literature. In
fact he was one of those English snobs of the old order, living abroad.
Perfectly well dressed for the evening, his grey hair and his prim face
was the most well-dressed thing to be met in North Italy.
"Oh, so glad to see you, Mr. French. I didn't know you were in
Florence again. You make that journey from Venice so often. I
wonder you don't get tired of it," cried Corinna Wade.
"No," he said. "So long as duty to England calls me to Florence, I
shall come to Florence. But I can LIVE in no town but Venice."
"No, I suppose you can't. Well, there is something special about
Venice: having no streets and no carriages, and moving about in a
gondola. I suppose it is all much more soothing."
"Much less nerve-racking, yes. And then there is a quality in the
whole life. Of course I see few English people in Venice--only the
old Venetian families, as a rule."
"Ah, yes. That must be very interesting. They are very exclusive
still, the Venetian _noblesse_?" said Miss Wade.
"Oh, very exclusive," said Mr. French. "That is one of the charms.
Venice is really altogether exclusive. It excludes the world, really,
and defies time and modern movement. Yes, in spite of the steamers on
the canal, and the tourists."
"That is so. That is so. Venice is a strange back-water. And the
old families are very proud still, in these democratic days. They
have a great opinion of themselves, I am told."
"Well," said Mr. French. "Perhaps you know the rhyme:
"'Veneziano gran' Signore
Padovano buon' dotore.
Vicenzese mangia il gatto
Veronese tutto matto---'"
"How very amusing!" said Miss Wade. "_Veneziana_ gran' Signore. The
Venetian is a great gentleman! Yes, I know they are all convinced of
it. Really, how very amusing, in these advanced days. To be born a
Venetian, is to be born a great gentleman! But this outdoes divine
right of king."
"To be born a Venetian GENTLEMAN, is to be born a great gentleman,"
said Mr. French, rather fussily.
"You seriously think so?" said Miss Wade. "Well now, what do you
base your opinion on?"
Mr. French gave various bases for his opinion.
"Yes--interesting. Very interesting. Rather like the Byzantines--
lingering on into far other ages. Anna Comnena always charmed me very
much. HOW she despised the flower of the north--even Tancred! And
so the lingering Venetian families! And you, in your palazzo on the
Grand Canal: you are a northern barbarian civilised into the old
Venetian Signoria. But how very romantic a situation!"
It was really amusing to see the old maid, how she skirmished and hit
out gaily, like an old jaunty free lance: and to see the old bachelor,
how prim he was, and nervy and fussy and precious, like an old maid.
But need we say that Mr. Aaron felt very much out of it. He sat and
listened, with a sardonic small smile on his face and a sardonic gleam
in his blue eyes, that looked so very blue on such an occasion. He
made the two elderly people uncomfortable with his silence: his
democratic silence, Miss Wade might have said.
However, Miss Wade lived out towards Galuzzo, so she rose early,
to catch her tram. And Mr. French gallantly and properly rose to
accompany her, to see her safe on board. Which left Aaron and the
"What time is Manfredi coming back?" said he.
"Tomorrow," replied she.
There was a pause.
"Why do you have those people?" he asked.
"Those two who were here this evening."
"Miss Wade and Mr. French?--Oh, I like Miss Wade so very much. She is
"Those old people," said Aaron. "They licked the sugar off the pill,
and go on as if everything was toffee. And we've got to swallow the
pill. It's easy to be refreshing---"
"No, don't say anything against her. I like her so much."
"Mr. French!--Well, he's perhaps a little like the princess who felt
the pea through three feather-beds. But he can be quite witty, and
an excellent conversationalist, too. Oh yes, I like him quite well."
"Matter of taste," said Aaron.
They had not much to say to one another. The time passed, in the
pauses. He looked at his watch.
"I shall have to go," he said.
"Won't you stay?" she said, in a small, muted voice.
"Stay all night?" he said.
"Yes," he said quietly. Did he not feel the strength of his desire
After which she said no more. Only she offered him whiskey and soda,
which he accepted.
"Go then," he said to her. "And I'll come to you.--Shall I come in
She looked at him with strange, slow dark eyes. And he could not
"Yes," she said. And she went.
And again, this night as before, she seemed strangely small and
clinging in his arms. And this night he felt his passion drawn from
him as if a long, live nerve were drawn out from his body, a long
live thread of electric fire, a long, living nerve finely extracted
from him, from the very roots of his soul. A long fine discharge of
pure, bluish fire, from the core of his soul. It was an excruciating,
but also an intensely gratifying sensation.
This night he slept with a deeper obliviousness than before. But ah,
as it grew towards morning how he wished he could be alone.
They must stay together till the day was light. And she seemed to love
clinging to him and curling strangely on his breast. He could never
reconcile it with her who was a hostess entertaining her guests. How
could she now in a sort of little ecstasy curl herself and nestle
herself on his, Aaron's breast, tangling his face all over with her
hair. He verily believed that this was what she really wanted of him:
to curl herself on his naked breast, to make herself small, small, to
feel his arms around her, while he himself was remote, silent, in some
way inaccessible. This seemed almost to make her beside herself with
gratification. But why, why? Was it because he was one of her own
race, and she, as it were, crept right home to him?
He did not know. He only knew it had nothing to do with him: and that,
save out of _complaisance_, he did not want it. It simply blasted his
own central life. It simply blighted him.
And she clung to him closer. Strange, she was afraid of him! Afraid
of him as of a fetish! Fetish afraid, and fetish-fascinated! Or was
her fear only a delightful game of cat and mouse? Or was the fear
genuine, and the delight the greater: a sort of sacrilege? The fear,
and the dangerous, sacrilegious power over that which she feared.
In some way, she was not afraid of him at all. In some other way she
used him as a mere magic implement, used him with the most amazing
priestess-craft. Himself, the individual man which he was, this she
treated with an indifference that was startling to him.
He forgot, perhaps, that this was how he had treated her. His famous
desire for her, what had it been but this same attempt to strike a
magic fire out of her, for his own ecstasy. They were playing the same
game of fire. In him, however, there was all the time something hard
and reckless and defiant, which stood apart. She was absolutely gone
in her own incantations. She was absolutely gone, like a priestess
utterly involved in her terrible rites. And he was part of the ritual
only, God and victim in one. God and victim! All the time, God and
victim. When his aloof soul realised, amid the welter of incantation,
how he was being used,--not as himself but as something quite different
--God and victim--then he dilated with intense surprise, and his
remote soul stood up tall and knew itself alone. He didn't want it,
not at all. He knew he was apart. And he looked back over the whole
mystery of their love-contact. Only his soul was apart.
He was aware of the strength and beauty and godlikeness that his
breast was then to her--the magic. But himself, he stood far off,
like Moses' sister Miriam. She would drink the one drop of his
innermost heart's blood, and he would be carrion. As Cleopatra
killed her lovers in the morning. Surely they knew that death was
their just climax. They had approached the climax. Accept then.
But his soul stood apart, and could have nothing to do with it. If he
had really been tempted, he would have gone on, and she might have had
his central heart's blood. Yes, and thrown away the carrion. He would
have been willing.
But fatally, he was not tempted. His soul stood apart and decided. At
the bottom of his soul he disliked her. Or if not her, then her whole
motive. Her whole life-mode. He was neither God nor victim: neither
greater nor less than himself. His soul, in its isolation as she lay
on his breast, chose it so, with the soul's inevitability. So, there
was no temptation.
When it was sufficiently light, he kissed her and left her. Quietly
he left the silent flat. He had some difficulty in unfastening the
various locks and bars and catches of the massive door downstairs, and
began, in irritation and anger, to feel he was a prisoner, that he was
locked in. But suddenly the ponderous door came loose, and he was out
in the street. The door shut heavily behind him, with a shudder. He
was out in the morning streets of Florence.
THE BROKEN ROD
The day was rainy. Aaron stayed indoors alone, and copied music and
slept. He felt the same stunned, withered feeling as before, but less
intensely, less disastrously, this time. He knew now, without argument
or thought that he would never go again to the Marchesa: not as a
lover. He would go away from it all. He did not dislike her. But
he would never see her again. A great gulf had opened, leaving him
alone on the far side.
He did not go out till after dinner. When he got downstairs he found
the heavy night-door closed. He wondered: then remembered the
Signorina's fear of riots and disturbances. As again he fumbled with
the catches, he felt that the doors of Florence were trying to prevent
his egress. However, he got out.
It was a very dark night, about nine o'clock, and deserted seeming. He
was struck by the strange, deserted feeling of the city's atmosphere.
Yet he noticed before him, at the foot of the statue, three men, one
with a torch: a long torch with naked flames. The men were stooping
over something dark, the man with the torch bending forward too.
It was a dark, weird little group, like Mediaeval Florence. Aaron
lingered on his doorstep, watching. He could not see what they were
doing. But now, the two were crouching down; over a long dark object
on the ground, and the one with the torch bending also to look. What
was it? They were just at the foot of the statue, a dark little group
under the big pediment, the torch-flames weirdly flickering as the
torch-bearer moved and stooped lower to the two crouching men, who
seemed to be kneeling.
Aaron felt his blood stir. There was something dark and mysterious,
stealthy, in the little scene. It was obvious the men did not want to
draw attention, they were so quiet and furtive-seeming. And an eerie
instinct prevented Aaron's going nearer to look. Instead, he swerved
on to the Lungarno, and went along the top of the square, avoiding the
little group in the centre. He walked the deserted dark-seeming street
by the river, then turned inwards, into the city. He was going to the
Piazza Vittoria Emmanuele, to sit in the cafe which is the centre of
Florence at night. There he could sit for an hour, and drink his
vermouth and watch the Florentines.
As he went along one of the dark, rather narrow streets, he heard a
hurrying of feet behind him. Glancing round, he saw the torch-bearer
coming along at a trot, holding his flaming torch up in front of him
as he trotted down the middle of the narrow dark street. Aaron shrank
under the wall. The trotting torch-bearer drew near, and now Aaron
perceived the other two men slowly trotting behind, stealthily,
bearing a stretcher on which a body was wrapped up, completely and
darkly covered. The torch-bearer passed, the men with the stretcher
passed too, hastily and stealthily, the flickering flames revealing
them. They took no notice of Aaron, no notice of anything, but trotted
softly on towards the centre of the city. Their queer, quick footsteps
echoed down the distance. Then Aaron too resumed his way.
He came to the large, brilliantly-lighted cafe. It was Sunday evening,
and the place was full. Men, Florentines, many, many men sat in groups
and in twos and threes at the little marble tables. They were mostly
in dark clothes or black overcoats. They had mostly been drinking just
a cup of coffee--others however had glasses of wine or liquor. But
mostly it was just a little coffee-tray with a tiny coffee pot and a
cup and saucer. There was a faint film of tobacco smoke. And the men
were all talking: talking, talking with that peculiar intensity of the
Florentines. Aaron felt the intense, compressed sound of many half-
secret voices. For the little groups and couples abated their voices,
none wished that others should hear what they said.
Aaron was looking for a seat--there was no table to him-—when suddenly
someone took him by the arm. It was Argyle.
"Come along, now! Come and join us. Here, this way! Come along!"
Aaron let himself be led away towards a corner. There sat Lilly and
a strange man: called Levison. The room was warm. Aaron could never
bear to be too hot. After sitting a minute, he rose and took off his
coat, and hung it on a stand near the window. As he did so he felt the
weight of his flute--it was still in his pocket. And he wondered if it
was safe to leave it.
"I suppose no one will steal from the overcoat pockets," he said, as
he sat down.
"My dear chap, they'd steal the gold filling out of your teeth, if you
happened to yawn," said Argyle. "Why, have you left valuables in your
"My flute," said Aaron.
"Oh, they won't steal that," said Argyle.
"Besides," said Lilly, "we should see anyone who touched it."
And so they settled down to the vermouth.
"Well," said Argyle, "what have you been doing with yourself, eh? I
haven't seen a glimpse of you for a week. Been going to the dogs, eh?"
"Or the bitches," said Aaron.
"Oh, but look here, that's bad! That's bad! I can see I shall have
to take you in hand, and commence my work of reform. Oh, I'm a great
reformer, a Zwingli and Savonarola in one. I couldn't count the number
of people I've led into the right way. It takes some finding, you
know. Strait is the gate--damned strait sometimes. A damned tight
squeeze. . . ." Argyle was somewhat intoxicated. He spoke with a
slight slur, and laughed, really tickled at his own jokes. The man
Levison smiled acquiescent. But Lilly was not listening. His brow
was heavy and he seemed abstracted. He hardly noticed Aaron's arrival.
"Did you see the row yesterday?" asked Levison.
"No," said Aaron. "What was it?"
It was the socialists. They were making a demonstration against the
imprisonment of one of the railway-strikers. I was there. They went
on all right, with a good bit of howling and gibing: a lot of young
louts, you know. And the shop-keepers shut up shop, and nobody showed
the Italian flag, of course. Well, when they came to the Via Benedetto
Croce, there were a few mounted carabinieri. So they stopped the
procession, and the sergeant said that the crowd could continue, could
go on where they liked, but would they not go down the Via Verrocchio,
because it was being repaired, the roadway was all up, and there were
piles of cobble stones. These might prove a temptation and lead to
trouble. So would the demonstrators not take that road--they might
take any other they liked.--Well, the very moment he had finished,
there was a revolver shot, he made a noise, and fell forward over his
horse's nose. One of the anarchists had shot him. Then there was
hell let loose, the carabinieri fired back, and people were bolting
and fighting like devils. I cleared out, myself. But my God--what
do you think of it?"
"Seems pretty mean," said Aaron.
"Mean!--He had just spoken them fair--they could go where they liked,
only would they not go down the one road, because of the heap of
stones. And they let him finish. And then shot him dead."
"Was he dead?" said Aaron.
"Yes--killed outright, the Nazione says."
There was a silence. The drinkers in the cafe all continued to talk
vehemently, casting uneasy glances.
"Well," said Argyle, "if you let loose the dogs of war, you mustn't
expect them to come to heel again in five minutes."
"But there's no fair play about it, not a bit," said Levison.
"Ah, my dear fellow, are you still so young and callow that you
cherish the illusion of fair play?" said Argyle.
"Yes, I am," said Levison.
"Live longer and grow wiser," said Argyle, rather contemptuously.
"Are you a socialist?" asked Levison.
"Am I my aunt Tabitha's dachshund bitch called Bella," said Argyle,
in his musical, indifferent voice. "Yes, Bella's her name. And if
you can tell me a damneder name for a dog, I shall listen, I assure
"But you haven't got an aunt called Tabitha," said Aaron.
"Haven't I? Oh, haven't I? I've got TWO aunts called Tabitha: if
"They aren't of any vital importance to you, are they?" said Levison.
"Not the very least in the world--if it hadn't been that my elder Aunt
Tabitha had christened her dachshund bitch Bella. I cut myself off
from the family after that. Oh, I turned over a new leaf, with not
a family name on it. Couldn't stand Bella amongst the rest."
"You must have strained most of the gnats out of your drink, Argyle,"
said Lilly, laughing.
"Assiduously! Assiduously! I can't stand these little vermin.
Oh, I am quite indifferent about swallowing a camel or two--or even
a whole string of dromedaries. How charmingly Eastern that sounds!
But gnats! Not for anything in the world would I swallow one."
"You're a bit of a SOCIALIST though, aren't you?" persisted Levison,
now turning to Lilly.
"No," said Lilly. "I was."
"And am no more," said Argyle sarcastically. "My dear fellow, the only
hope of salvation for the world lies in the re-institution of slavery."
"What kind of slavery?" asked Levison.
"Slavery! SLAVERY! When I say SLAVERY I don't mean any of your damned
modern reform cant. I mean solid sound slavery on which the Greek and
the Roman world rested. FAR finer worlds than ours, my dear chap! Oh
FAR finer! And can't be done without slavery. Simply can't be done.--
Oh, they'll all come to realise it, when they've had a bit more of this
democratic washer-women business."
Levison was laughing, with a slight sneer down his nose. "Anyhow,
there's no immediate danger--or hope, if you prefer it--of the re-
instituting of classic slavery," he said.
"Unfortunately no. We are all such fools," said Argyle.
"Besides," said Levison, "who would you make slaves of?"
"Everybody, my dear chap: beginning with the idealists and the
theorising Jews, and after them your nicely-bred gentlemen, and then
perhaps, your profiteers and Rothschilds, and ALL politicians, and
ending up with the proletariat," said Argyle.
"Then who would be the masters?--the professional classes, doctors and
lawyers and so on?"
"What? Masters. They would be the sewerage slaves, as being those
who had made most smells." There was a moment's silence.
"The only fault I have to find with your system," said Levison, rather
acidly, "is that there would be only one master, and everybody else
"Do you call that a fault? What do you want with more than one master?
Are you asking for several?--Well, perhaps there's cunning in THAT.--
Cunning devils, cunning devils, these theorising slaves--" And Argyle
pushed his face with a devilish leer into Aaron's face. "Cunning
devils!" he reiterated, with a slight tipsy slur. "That be-fouled
Epictetus wasn't the last of 'em--nor the first. Oh, not by any
means, not by any means."
Here Lilly could not avoid a slight spasm of amusement. "But returning
to serious conversation," said Levison, turning his rather sallow face
to Lilly. "I think you'll agree with me that socialism is the
inevitable next step--"
Lilly waited for some time without answering. Then he said, with
unwilling attention to the question: "I suppose it's the logically
inevitable next step."
"Use logic as lavatory paper," cried Argyle harshly. "Yes--logically
inevitable--and humanly inevitable at the same time. Some form of
socialism is bound to come, no matter how you postpone it or try
variations," said Levison.
"All right, let it come," said Lilly. "It's not my affair, neither
to help it nor to keep it back, or even to try varying it."
"There I don't follow you," said Levison. "Suppose you were in
"I watch it I'm not."
"But you're in Italy, which isn't far off. Supposing a socialist
revolution takes place all around you. Won't that force the problem
on you?--It is every man's problem," persisted Levison.
"Not mine," said Lilly.
"How shall you escape it?" said Levison.
"Because to me it is no problem. To Bolsh or not to Bolsh, as far as
my mind goes, presents no problem. Not any more than to be or not to
be. To be or not to be is simply no problem--"
"No, I quite agree, that since you are already existing, and since
death is ultimately inevitable, to be or not to be is no sound
problem," said Levison. "But the parallel isn't true of socialism.
That is not a problem of existence, but of a certain mode of existence
which centuries of thought and action on the part of Europe have now
made logically inevitable for Europe. And therefore there is a
problem. There is more than a problem, there is a dilemma. Either
we must go to the logical conclusion--or--"
"Somewhere else," said Lilly.
"Yes--yes. Precisely! But where ELSE? That's the one half of the
problem: supposing you do not agree to a logical progression in human
social activity. Because after all, human society through the course
of ages only enacts, spasmodically but still inevitably, the logical
development of a given idea."
"Well, then, I tell you.--The idea and the ideal has for me gone dead--
dead as carrion--"
"Which idea, which ideal precisely?"
"The ideal of love, the ideal that it is better to give than to
receive, the ideal of liberty, the ideal of the brotherhood of man,
the ideal of the sanctity of human life, the ideal of what we call
goodness, charity, benevolence, public spirited-ness, the ideal of
sacrifice for a cause, the ideal of unity and unanimity--all the
lot--all the whole beehive of ideals--has all got the modern bee-
disease, and gone putrid, stinking.--And when the ideal is dead and
putrid, the logical sequence is only stink.--Which, for me, is the
truth concerning the ideal of good, peaceful, loving humanity and its
logical sequence in socialism and equality, equal opportunity or
whatever you like.--But this time he stinketh--and I'm sorry for any
Christus who brings him to life again, to stink livingly for another
thirty years: the beastly Lazarus of our idealism."
"That may be true for you--"
"But it's true for nobody else," said Lilly. "All the worse for them.
Let them die of the bee-disease."
"Not only that," persisted Levison, "but what is your alternative? Is
it merely nihilism?"
"My alternative," said Lilly, "is an alternative for no one but myself,
so I'll keep my mouth shut about it."
"That isn't fair."
"I tell you, the ideal of fairness stinks with the rest.--I have no
obligation to say what I think."
"Yes, if you enter into conversation, you have--"
"Bah, then I didn't enter into conversation.--The only thing is, I
agree in the rough with Argyle. You've got to have a sort of slavery
again. People are not MEN: they are insects and instruments, and
their destiny is slavery. They are too many for me, and so what I
think is ineffectual. But ultimately they will be brought to agree--
after sufficient extermination--and then they will elect for themselves
a proper and healthy and energetic slavery."
"I should like to know what you mean by slavery. Because to me it is
impossible that slavery should be healthy and energetic. You seem to
have some other idea in your mind, and you merely use the word slavery
out of exasperation--"
"I mean it none the less. I mean a real committal of the life-issue of
inferior beings to the responsibility of a superior being."
"It'll take a bit of knowing, who are the inferior and which is the
superior," said Levison sarcastically.
"Not a bit. It is written between a man's brows, which he is."
"I'm afraid we shall all read differently."
"So long as we're liars."
"And putting that question aside: I presume that you mean that this
committal of the life-issue of inferior beings to someone higher shall
be made voluntarily--a sort of voluntary self-gift of the inferiors--"
"Yes--more or less--and a voluntary acceptance. For it's no pretty
gift, after all.--But once made it must be held fast by genuine power.
Oh yes--no playing and fooling about with it. Permanent and very
"You mean military power?"
"I do, of course."
Here Levison smiled a long, slow, subtle smile of ridicule. It all
seemed to him the preposterous pretentiousness of a megalomaniac--one
whom, after a while, humanity would probably have the satisfaction
of putting into prison, or into a lunatic asylum. And Levison felt
strong, overwhelmingly strong, in the huge social power with which
he, insignificant as he was, was armed against such criminal-imbecile
pretensions as those above set forth. Prison or the lunatic asylum.
The face of the fellow gloated in these two inevitable engines of
"It will take you some time before you'll get your doctrines accepted,"
"Accepted! I'd be sorry. I don't want a lot of swine snouting and
sniffing at me with their acceptance.--Bah, Levison--one can easily
make a fool of you. Do you take this as my gospel?"
"I take it you are speaking seriously."
Here Lilly broke into that peculiar, gay, whimsical smile.
"But I should say the blank opposite with just as much fervour," he
"Do you mean to say you don't MEAN what you've been saying?" said
Levison, now really looking angry.
"Why, I'll tell you the real truth," said Lilly. "I think every
man is a sacred and holy individual, NEVER to be violated; I think
there is only one thing I hate to the verge of madness, and that is
BULLYING. To see any living creature BULLIED, in any way, almost
makes a murderer of me. That is true. Do you believe it--?"
"Yes," said Levison unwillingly. That may be true as well. You have
no doubt, like most of us, got a complex nature which--"
C R A S H!
There intervened one awful minute of pure shock, when the soul was in
Out of this shock Aaron felt himself issuing amid a mass of terrible
sensations: the fearful blow of the explosion, the noise of glass, the
hoarse howl of people, the rushing of men, the sudden gulf, the awful
gulfing whirlpool of horror in the social life.
He stood in agony and semi-blindness amid a chaos. Then as he began
to recover his consciousness, he found himself standing by a pillar
some distance from where he had been sitting: he saw a place where
tables and chairs were all upside down, legs in the air, amid debris
of glass and breakage: he saw the cafe almost empty, nearly everybody
gone: he saw the owner, or the manager, advancing aghast to the place
of debris: he saw Lilly standing not far off, white as a sheet, and
as if unconscious. And still he had no idea of what had happened. He
thought perhaps something had broken down. He could not understand.
Lilly began to look round. He caught Aaron's eye. And then Aaron
began to approach his friend.