“Do you feel quite well?” Josephine asked him.
He looked at her quickly.
“Me?” he said. He smiled faintly. “Yes, I’m all right.” Then he dropped his head again and seemed oblivious.
“Tell us your name,” said Jim affectionately.
The stranger looked up.
“My name’s Aaron Sisson, if it’s anything to you,” he said.
Jim began to grin.
“It’s a name I don’t know,” he said. Then he named all the party present. But the stranger hardly heeded, though his eyes looked curiously from one to the other, slow, shrewd, clairvoyant.
“Were you on your way home?” asked Robert, huffy.
The stranger lifted his head and looked at him.
“Home!” he repeated. “No. The other road—” He indicated the direction with his head, and smiled faintly.
“Beldover?” inquired Robert.
He had dropped his head again, as if he did not want to look at them.
To Josephine, the pale, impassive, blank-seeming face, the blue eyes with the smile which wasn’t a smile, and the continual dropping of the well-shaped head was curiously affecting. She wanted to cry.
“Are you a miner?” Robert asked, de haute en bas.
“No,” cried Josephine. She had looked at his hands.
“Men’s checkweighman,” replied Aaron. He had emptied his glass. He put it on the table.
“Have another?” said Jim, who was attending fixedly, with curious absorption, to the stranger.
“No,” cried Josephine, “no more.”
Aaron looked at Jim, then at her, and smiled slowly, with remote bitterness. Then he lowered his head again. His hands were loosely clasped between his knees.
“What about the wife?” said Robert—the young lieutenant.
“What about the wife and kiddies? You’re a married man, aren’t you?”
The sardonic look of the stranger rested on the subaltern.
“Yes,” he said.
“Won’t they be expecting you?” said Robert, trying to keep his temper and his tone of authority.
“I expect they will—”
“Then you’d better be getting along, hadn’t you?”
The eyes of the intruder rested all the time on the flushed subaltern. The look on Aaron’s face became slowly satirical.
“Oh, dry up the army touch,” said Jim contemptuously, to Robert. “We’re all civvies here. We’re all right, aren’t we?” he said loudly, turning to the stranger with a grin that showed his pointed teeth.
Aaron gave a brief laugh of acknowledgement.
“How many children have you?” sang Julia from her distance.
“Girls or boys?”
“All girls? Dear little things! How old?”
“Oldest eight—youngest nine months—”
“So small!” sang Julia, with real tenderness now—Aaron dropped his head. “But you’re going home to them, aren’t you?” said Josephine, in whose eyes the tears had already risen. He looked up at her, at her tears. His face had the same pale perverse smile.