But Paul was dying for the man to know they were expecting someone by the London train: it sounded so grand. Yet he was much too much scared of broaching any man, let alone one in a peaked cap, to dare to ask. The three children could scarcely go into the waiting-room for fear of being sent away, and for fear something should happen whilst they were off the platform. Still they waited in the dark and cold.
“It’s an hour an’ a half late,” said Arthur pathetically.
“Well,” said Annie, “it’s Christmas Eve.”
They all grew silent. He wasn’t coming. They looked down the darkness of the railway. There was London! It seemed the utter-most of distance. They thought anything might happen if one came from London. They were all too troubled to talk. Cold, and unhappy, and silent, they huddled together on the platform.
At last, after more than two hours, they saw the lights of an engine peering round, away down the darkness. A porter ran out. The children drew back with beating hearts. A great train, bound for Manchester, drew up. Two doors opened, and from one of them, William. They flew to him. He handed parcels to them cheerily, and immediately began to explain that this great train had stopped for his sake at such a small station as Sethley Bridge: it was not booked to stop.
Meanwhile the parents were getting anxious. The table was set, the chop was cooked, everything was ready. Mrs. Morel put on her black apron. She was wearing her best dress. Then she sat, pretending to read. The minutes were a torture to her.
“H’m!” said Morel. “It’s an hour an’ a ha’ef.”
“And those children waiting!” she said.
“Th’ train canna ha’ come in yet,” he said.
“I tell you, on Christmas Eve they’re hours wrong.”
They were both a bit cross with each other, so gnawed with anxiety. The ash tree moaned outside in a cold, raw wind. And all that space of night from London home! Mrs. Morel suffered. The slight click of the works inside the clock irritated her. It was getting so late; it was getting unbearable.
At last there was a sound of voices, and a footstep in the entry.
“Ha’s here!” cried Morel, jumping up.
Then he stood back. The mother ran a few steps towards the door and waited. There was a rush and a patter of feet, the door burst open. William was there. He dropped his Gladstone bag and took his mother in his arms.
“Mater!” he said.
“My boy!” she cried.
And for two seconds, no longer, she clasped him and kissed him. Then she withdrew and said, trying to be quite normal:
“But how late you are!”
“Aren’t I!” he cried, turning to his father. “Well, dad!”
The two men shook hands.
“Well, my lad!”
Morel’s eyes were wet.
“We thought tha’d niver be commin’,” he said.