There was a large, brilliant evening star in the early twilight, and underfoot the earth was half frozen. It was Christmas Eve. Also the War was over, and there was a sense of relief that was almost a new menace. A man felt the violence of the nightmare released now into the general air. Also there had been another wrangle among the men on the pit-bank that evening.
Aaron Sisson was the last man on the little black railway-line climbing the hill home from work. He was late because he had attended a meeting of the men on the bank. He was secretary to the Miners Union for his colliery, and had heard a good deal of silly wrangling that left him nettled.
He strode over a stile, crossed two fields, strode another stile, and was in the long road of colliers’ dwellings. Just across was his own house: he had built it himself. He went through the little gate, up past the side of the house to the back. There he hung a moment, glancing down the dark, wintry garden.
“My father—my father’s come!” cried a child’s excited voice, and two little girls in white pinafores ran out in front of his legs.
“Father, shall you set the Christmas Tree?” they cried. “We’ve got one!”
“Afore I have my dinner?” he answered amiably.
“Set it now. Set it now.—We got it through Fred Alton.”
“Where is it?”
The little girls were dragging a rough, dark object out of a corner of the passage into the light of the kitchen door.
“It’s a beauty!” exclaimed Millicent.
“Yes, it is,” said Marjory.
“I should think so,” he replied, striding over the dark bough. He went to the back kitchen to take off his coat.
“Set it now, Father. Set it now,” clamoured the girls.
“You might as well. You’ve left your dinner so long, you might as well do it now before you have it,” came a woman’s plangent voice, out of the brilliant light of the middle room.
Aaron Sisson had taken off his coat and waistcoat and his cap. He stood bare-headed in his shirt and braces, contemplating the tree.
“What am I to put it in?” he queried. He picked up the tree, and held it erect by the topmost twig. He felt the cold as he stood in the yard coatless, and he twitched his shoulders.
“Isn’t it a beauty!” repeated Millicent.
“Put something on, you two!” came the woman’s high imperative voice, from the kitchen.
“We aren’t cold,” protested the girls from the yard.
“Come and put something on,” insisted the voice. The man started off down the path, the little girls ran grumbling indoors. The sky was clear, there was still a crystalline, non-luminous light in the under air.
Aaron rummaged in his shed at the bottom of the garden, and found a spade and a box that was suitable. Then he came out to his neat, bare, wintry garden. The girls flew towards him, putting the elastic of their hats under their chins as they ran. The tree and the box lay on the frozen earth. The air breathed dark, frosty, electric.