The silence deepened in the little kitchen. No sound came now from the bed, and the lamp threw eerie shadows on the walls, and the chimney smoked incessantly.
Her eyes grew watery and smarted with the smoke. She dropped stitches occasionally, as she hurried with her work, which had to be lifted again when she discovered that the pattern was wrong, and sometimes quite a considerable part had to be “ripped out,” so that she could correct the mistake.
The dismal calling of a cat outside irritated her, and the loud complacent ticking of the clock seemed to mock her misery; but still she worked on, the busy fingers turning the needles, as the wool unwound itself from the balls which danced upon the floor. There was life in those balls of wool as they spun to the tune of the woman’s misery. They advanced and retired, like dancers, touching hands when they met, then whirling away in opposite directions again; they side-stepped and wheeled in a mad riot of joyous color, just as they were about to meet: they stood for a little facing each other, feinting from side to side, then were off again, as the music of her misery quickened, in an embracing whirl, as if married in an ecstasy of colored flame, many-shaded, yet one; then, at last, just as the tune seemed to have reached a crescendo of spirit, she dashed her work upon the floor, as she discovered another blunder, and burst into a fit of passionate weeping.
Suddenly there was a faint tap at the window, and she raised her head, staying her breath to listen. Soon she heard it again, just a faint but very deliberate tap, which convinced her that someone was outside in the darkness. Softly she stole on tiptoe across the room, so as not to disturb her sleeping husband, and opening the door quietly, craned forward and peered into the darkness to discover the cause of the tap.
“It’s just me,” said a deep voice, in uneasy accents, from the darkness by the window, and she saw then the form of a man edging nearer the door.
“And who are you?” she asked a little nervously, but trying to master the alarm in her voice.
“Do you not ken me?” replied the voice with an attempt to speak as naturally as possible; yet there was something in the tone that made her more uneasy.
Then the figure of the man drew nearer, and he whispered “Are they all sleeping?” alluding to the inmates of the house.
“Ay,” she answered, drawing back into the shelter of the doorway. “Why do you ask? And what is it you want?”
“Oh, I just came along to see how you were all getting on,” was the reply. “I ken you must be in very straitened circumstances by this time, and thought I might be able to help you a bit,” and there was an ingratiating tone in the words now as he sidled nearer. “You must have a very hard battle just now, and I would like to do something to help you.”
“Come away in,” said the woman, with still an uneasy tremor in her voice, yet feeling more assured. “Geordie is sleeping, but he’ll not be hard to waken up. Come away in, and let us see who you are, and tell us what you really want.”