“How am I here?”
“Why, you’re all the time grinding yourself against something inside you. You’re never free. You’re never content. You never stop chafing.”
Lilly dipped his potato into the water, and cut out the eyes carefully. Then he cut it in two, and dropped it in the clean water of the second bowl. He had not expected this criticism.
“Perhaps I don’t,” said he.
“Then what’s the use of going somewhere else? You won’t change yourself.”
“I may in the end,” said Lilly.
“You’ll be yourself, whether it’s Malta or London,” said Aaron.
“There’s a doom for me,” laughed Lilly. The water on the fire was boiling. He rose and threw in salt, then dropped in the potatoes with little plops. “There there are lots of mes. I’m not only just one proposition. A new place brings out a new thing in a man. Otherwise you’d have stayed in your old place with your family.”
“The man in the middle of you doesn’t change,” said Aaron.
“Do you find it so?” said Lilly.
“Ay. Every time.”
“Then what’s to be done?”
“Nothing, as far as I can see. You get as much amusement out of life as possible, and there’s the end of it.”
“All right then, I’ll get the amusement.”
“Ay, all right then,” said Aaron. “But there isn’t anything wonderful about it. You talk as if you were doing something special. You aren’t. You’re no more than a man who drops into a pub for a drink, to liven himself up a bit. Only you give it a lot of names, and make out as if you were looking for the philosopher’s stone, or something like that. When you’re only killing time like the rest of folks, before time kills you.”
Lilly did not answer. It was not yet seven o’clock, but the sky was dark. Aaron sat in the firelight. Even the saucepan on the fire was silent. Darkness, silence, the firelight in the upper room, and the two men together.
“It isn’t quite true,” said Lilly, leaning on the mantelpiece and staring down into the fire.
“Where isn’t it? You talk, and you make a man believe you’ve got something he hasn’t got? But where is it, when it comes to? What have you got, more than me or Jim Bricknell! Only a bigger choice of words, it seems to me.”
Lilly was motionless and inscrutable like a shadow.
“Does it, Aaron!” he said, in a colorless voice.
“Yes. What else is there to it?” Aaron sounded testy.
“Why,” said Lilly at last, “there’s something. I agree, it’s true what you say about me. But there’s a bit of something else. There’s just a bit of something in me, I think, which ISN’T a man running into a pub for a drink—”
The question fell into the twilight like a drop of water falling down a deep shaft into a well.
“I think a man may come into possession of his own soul at last—as the Buddhists teach—but without ceasing to love, or even to hate. One loves, one hates—but somewhere beyond it all, one understands, and possesses one’s soul in patience and in peace—”