“You tell ’em so,” said Aaron.
“I do. But it’s no good. Because they won’t wake up now even—perhaps never. They’ll all kill themselves in their sleep.”
“They wouldn’t be any better if they did wake up and be themselves— that is, supposing they are asleep, which I can’t see. They are what they are—and they’re all alike—and never very different from what they are now.”
Lilly stared at Aaron with black eyes.
“Do you believe in them less than I do, Aaron?” he asked slowly.
“I don’t even want to believe in them.”
“But in yourself?” Lilly was almost wistful—and Aaron uneasy.
“I don’t know that I’ve any more right to believe in myself than in them,” he replied. Lilly watched and pondered.
“No,” he said. “That’s not true—I KNEW the war was false: humanly quite false. I always knew it was false. The Germans were false, we were false, everybody was false.”
“And not you?” asked Aaron shrewishly.
“There was a wakeful, self-possessed bit of me which knew that the war and all that horrible movement was false for me. And so I wasn’t going to be dragged in. The Germans could have shot my mother or me or what they liked: I wouldn’t have joined the WAR. I would like to kill my enemy. But become a bit of that huge obscene machine they called the war, that I never would, no, not if I died ten deaths and had eleven mothers violated. But I would like to kill my enemy: Oh, yes, more than one enemy. But not as a unit in a vast obscene mechanism. That never: no, never.”
Poor Lilly was too earnest and vehement. Aaron made a fine nose. It seemed to him like a lot of words and a bit of wriggling out of a hole.
“Well,” he said, “you’ve got men and nations, and you’ve got the machines of war—so how are you going to get out of it? League of Nations?”
“Damn all leagues. Damn all masses and groups, anyhow. All I want is to get MYSELF out of their horrible heap: to get out of the swarm. The swarm to me is nightmare and nullity—horrible helpless writhing in a dream. I want to get myself awake, out of it all—all that mass-consciousness, all that mass-activity—it’s the most horrible nightmare to me. No man is awake and himself. No man who was awake and in possession of himself would use poison gases: no man. His own awake self would scorn such a thing. It’s only when the ghastly mob-sleep, the dream helplessness of the mass-psyche overcomes him, that he becomes completely base and obscene.”
“Ha—well,” said Aaron. “It’s the wide-awake ones that invent the poison gas, and use it. Where should we be without it?”
Lilly started, went stiff and hostile.
“Do you mean that, Aaron?” he said, looking into Aaron’s face with a hard, inflexible look.
Aaron turned aside half sheepishly.
“That’s how it looks on the face of it, isn’t it?” he said.