“Have a Grand Marnier,” he said. “I don’t know how bad it is. Everything is bad now. They lay it down to the war as well. It used to be quite a decent drink. What the war had got to do with bad liqueurs, I don’t know.”
Aaron sat down in a chair at their table.
“But let us introduce ourselves,” said Francis. “I am Francis—or really Franz DekkerAnd this is Angus Guest, my friend.”
“And my name is Aaron Sisson.”
“What! What did you say?” said Francis, leaning forward. He, too, had sharp ears.
“Aaron Sisson! Oh, but how amusing! What a nice name!”
“No better than yours, is it?”
“Mine! Franz Dekker! Oh, much more amusing, I think,” said Francis archly.
“Oh, well, it’s a matter of opinion. You’re the double decker, not me.”
“The double decker!” said Francis archly. “Why, what do you mean!—” He rolled his eyes significantly. “But may I introduce my friend Angus Guest.”
“You’ve introduced me already, Francesco,” said Angus.
“So sorry,” said Francis.
“Guest!” said Aaron.
Francis suddenly began to laugh.
“May he not be Guest?” he asked, fatherly.
“Very likely,” said Aaron. “Not that I was ever good at guessing.”
Francis tilted his eyebrows. Fortunately the waiter arrived with the coffee.
“Tell me,” said Francis, “will you have your coffee black, or with milk?” He was determined to restore a tone of sobriety.
The coffee was sipped in sober solemnity.
“Is music your line as well, then?” asked Aaron.
“No, we’re painters. We’re going to work in Rome.”
“To earn your living?”
The amount of discretion, modesty, and reserve which Francis put into these two syllables gave Aaron to think that he had two real young swells to deal with.
“No,” continued Francis. “I was only JUST down from Oxford when the war came—and Angus had been about ten months at the Slade—But I have always painted.—So now we are going to work, really hard, in Rome, to make up for lost time.—Oh, one has lost so much time, in the war. And such PRECIOUS time! I don’t know if ever one will even be able to make it up again.” Francis tilted his handsome eyebrows and put his head on one side with a wise-distressed look.
“No,” said Angus. “One will never be able to make it up. What is more, one will never be able to start again where one left off. We’re shattered old men, now, in one sense. And in another sense, we’re just pre-war babies.”
The speech was uttered with an odd abruptness and didacticism which made Aaron open his eyes. Angus had that peculiar manner: he seemed to be haranguing himself in the circle of his own thoughts, not addressing himself to his listener.
So his listener listened on the outside edge of the young fellow’s crowded thoughts. Francis put on a distressed air, and let his attention wander. Angus pursed his lips and his eyes were stretched wide with a kind of pleasure, like a wicked owl which has just joyfully hooted an ill omen.