“Hold it up straight,” he said to Millicent, as he arranged the tree in the box. She stood silent and held the top bough, he filled in round the roots.
When it was done, and pressed in, he went for the wheelbarrow. The girls were hovering excited round the tree. He dropped the barrow and stooped to the box. The girls watched him hold back his face— the boughs pricked him.
“Is it very heavy?” asked Millicent.
“Ay!” he replied, with a little grunt. Then the procession set off— the trundling wheel-barrow, the swinging hissing tree, the two excited little girls. They arrived at the door. Down went the legs of the wheel-barrow on the yard. The man looked at the box.
“Where are you going to have it?” he called.
“Put it in the back kitchen,” cried his wife.
“You’d better have it where it’s going to stop. I don’t want to hawk it about.”
“Put it on the floor against the dresser, Father. Put it there,” urged Millicent.
“You come and put some paper down, then,” called the mother hastily.
The two children ran indoors, the man stood contemplative in the cold, shrugging his uncovered shoulders slightly. The open inner door showed a bright linoleum on the floor, and the end of a brown side-board on which stood an aspidistra.
Again with a wrench Aaron Sisson lifted the box. The tree pricked and stung. His wife watched him as he entered staggering, with his face averted.
“Mind where you make a lot of dirt,” she said.
He lowered the box with a little jerk on to the spread-out newspaper on the floor. Soil scattered.
“Sweep it up,” he said to Millicent.
His ear was lingering over the sudden, clutching hiss of the tree-boughs.
A stark white incandescent light filled the room and made everything sharp and hard. In the open fire-place a hot fire burned red. All was scrupulously clean and perfect. A baby was cooing in a rocker-less wicker cradle by the hearth. The mother, a slim, neat woman with dark hair, was sewing a child’s frock. She put this aside, rose, and began to take her husband’s dinner from the oven.
“You stopped confabbing long enough tonight,” she said.
“Yes,” he answered, going to the back kitchen to wash his hands.
In a few minutes he came and sat down to his dinner. The doors were shut close, but there was a draught, because the settling of the mines under the house made the doors not fit. Aaron moved his chair, to get out of the draught. But he still sat in his shirt and trousers.
He was a good-looking man, fair, and pleasant, about thirty-two years old. He did not talk much, but seemed to think about something. His wife resumed her sewing. She was acutely aware of her husband, but he seemed not very much aware of her.
“What were they on about today, then?” she said.