“Pulling the house down,” said Lilly.
“Yes,” she cried. “Don’t you hate it, the house we live in—London— England—America! Don’t you hate them?”
“I don’t like them. But I can’t get much fire in my hatred. They pall on me rather,” said Lilly.
“Ay!” said Aaron, suddenly stirring in his chair.
Lilly and he glanced at one another with a look of recognition.
“Still,” said Tanny, “there’s got to be a clearance some day or other.”
“Oh,” drawled Clariss. “I’m all for a clearance. I’m all for pulling the house down. Only while it stands I do want central heating and a good cook.”
“May I come to dinner?” said Jim.
“Oh, yes. You’d find it rather domestic.”
“Where do you live?”
“Rather far out now—Amersham.”
“Amersham? Where’s that—?”
“Oh, it’s on the map.”
There was a little lull. Jim gulped down a drink, standing at the sideboard. He was a tall, fine, soldierly figure, and his face, with its little sandy moustache and bald forehead, was odd. Aaron Sisson sat watching him, unconsciously.
“Hello you!” said Jim. “Have one?”
Aaron shook his head, and Jim did not press him. It saved the drinks.
“You believe in love, don’t you?” said Jim, sitting down near Aaron, and grinning at him.
“Love!” said Aaron.
“LOVE! he says,” mocked Jim, grinning at the company.
“What about it, then?” asked Aaron.
“It’s life! Love is life,” said Jim fiercely.
“It’s a vice, like drink,” said Lilly.
“Eh? A vice!” said Jim. “May be for you, old bird.”
“More so still for you,” said Lilly.
“It’s life. It’s life!” reiterated Jim. “Don’t you agree?” He turned wolfishly to Clariss.
“Oh, yes—every time—” she drawled, nonchalant.
“Here, let’s write it down,” said Lilly. He found a blue pencil and printed in large letters on the old creamy marble of the mantel-piece panel:—LOVE IS LIFE.
Julia suddenly rose and flung her arms asunder wildly.
“Oh, I hate love. I hate it,” she protested.
Jim watched her sardonically.
“Look at her!” he said. “Look at Lesbia who hates love.”
“No, but perhaps it is a disease. Perhaps we are all wrong, and we can’t love properly,” put in Josephine.
“Have another try,” said Jim,—“I know what love is. I’ve thought about it. Love is the soul’s respiration.”
“Let’s have that down,” said Lilly.
LOVE IS THE SOUL’S RESPIRATION. He printed it on the old mantel-piece.
Jim eyed the letters.
“It’s right,” he said. “Quite right. When you love, your soul breathes in. If you don’t breathe in, you suffocate.”
“What about breathing out?” said Robert. “If you don’t breathe out, you asphyxiate.”