“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-knowledge.”
“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.