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.