“Tell me,” said Francis to Aaron. “Where were YOU all the time during the war?”
“I was doing my job,” said Aaron. Which led to his explaining his origins.
“Really! So your music is quite new! But how interesting!” cried Francis.
Aaron explained further.
“And so the war hardly affected you? But what did you FEEL about it, privately?”
“I didn’t feel much. I didn’t know what to feel. Other folks did such a lot of feeling, I thought I’d better keep my mouth shut.”
“Yes, quite!” said Angus. “Everybody had such a lot of feelings on somebody else’s behalf, that nobody ever had time to realise what they felt themselves. I know I was like that. The feelings all came on to me from the outside: like flies settling on meat. Before I knew where I was I was eaten up with a swarm of feelings, and I found myself in the trenches. God knows what for. And ever since then I’ve been trying to get out of my swarm of feelings, which buzz in and out of me and have nothing to do with me. I realised it in hospital. It’s exactly like trying to get out of a swarm of nasty dirty flies. And every one you kill makes you sick, but doesn’t make the swarm any less.”
Again Angus pursed and bridled and looked like a pleased, wicked white owl. Then he polished his monocle on a very choice silk handkerchief, and fixed it unseeing in his left eye.
But Francis was not interested in his friend’s experiences. For Francis had had a job in the War Office—whereas Angus was a war-hero with shattered nerves. And let him depreciate his own experiences as much as he liked, the young man with the monocle kept tight hold on his prestige as a war hero. Only for himself, though. He by no means insisted that anyone else should be war-bitten.
Francis was one of those men who, like women, can set up the sympathetic flow and make a fellow give himself away without realising what he is doing. So there sat our friend Aaron, amusingly unbosoming himself of all his history and experiences, drawn out by the arch, subtle attentiveness of the handsome Francis. Angus listened, too, with pleased amusedness on his pale, emaciated face, pursing his shrunken jaw. And Aaron sipped various glasses of the liqueur, and told all his tale as if it was a comedy. A comedy it seemed, too, at that hour. And a comedy no doubt it was. But mixed, like most things in this life. Mixed.
It was quite late before this seance broke up: and the waiter itching to get rid of the fellows.
“Well, now,” said Francis, as he rose from the table and settled his elegant waist, resting on one hip, as usual. “We shall see you in the morning, I hope. You say you are going to Venice. Why? Have you some engagement in Venice?”
“No,” said Aaron. “I only was going to look for a friend—Rawdon Lilly.”
“Rawdon Lilly! Why, is he in Venice? Oh, I’ve heard SUCH a lot about him. I should like so much to meet him. But I heard he was in Germany—”