This brooding, bittersweet work, neither utterly tragic nor notably optimistic, begins with the sights and sounds of Christmas Eve. Aaron Sisson has been gathering sweets, candles, and holiday ornaments for his family. As they prepare their decorations, his oldest daughter, Millicent, senses that something is not quite right with him. At a party that night, Aaron appears openly relieved to be away from his wife and daughters. He is also intrigued by Josephine Ford, the fiancee of Jim Bricknell, their host’s son. Quite abruptly, Christmas comes and goes, and several days afterward, Aaron departs from his home, leaving his wife with a schedule of payments from their bank for the family’s support.
Aaron has surreptitiously packed a few possessions, including his flute and piccolo; later he appears at the London opera. After the performance, he takes part in a discussion of the issues of the day with his earlier companions. He is introduced to Rawdon Lilly, a man of uncertain means who seems to frequent social gatherings. He and Jim Bricknell exchange stories from World War I, and with Aaron they consider the war’s portent for society at large. Aaron subsequently has dinner with Josephine Ford, alone, and they meet again in April. When Aaron is unexpectedly taken ill, he goes to Rawdon Lilly, confesses that he has allowed Josephine to seduce him, and complains that his health has suffered inexplicably as a result. After a brief visit to a doctor—evidently to treat a mild case of influenza—Lilly suggests that Aaron may find employment with his music in Italy. In September, once the opera season in London has concluded, Aaron returns briefly to his home; no reconciliation with his wife is possible. She cannot find any explanation for his desertion and condemns him as a vile coward. He is certain...
(The entire section is 741 words.)