Millicent appeared in the room. She fidgetted at the sink. The music was a bugbear to her, because it prevented her from saying what was on her own mind. At length it ended, her father was turning over the various books and sheets. She looked at him quickly, seizing her opportunity.
“Are you going out, Father?” she said.
“Are you going out?” She twisted nervously.
“What do you want to know for?”
He made no other answer, and turned again to the music. His eye went down a sheet—then over it again—then more closely over it again.
“Are you?” persisted the child, balancing on one foot.
He looked at her, and his eyes were angry under knitted brows.
“What are you bothering about?” he said.
“I’m not bothering—I only wanted to know if you were going out,” she pouted, quivering to cry.
“I expect I am,” he said quietly.
She recovered at once, but still with timidity asked:
“We haven’t got any candles for the Christmas tree—shall you buy some, because mother isn’t going out?”
“Candles!” he repeated, settling his music and taking up the piccolo.
“Yes—shall you buy us some, Father? Shall you?”
“Candles!” he repeated, putting the piccolo to his mouth and blowing a few piercing, preparatory notes.
“Yes, little Christmas-tree candles—blue ones and red ones, in boxes —Shall you, Father?”
“We’ll see—if I see any—”
“But shall you?” she insisted desperately. She wisely mistrusted his vagueness.
But he was looking unheeding at the music. Then suddenly the piccolo broke forth, wild, shrill, brilliant. He was playing Mozart. The child’s face went pale with anger at the sound. She turned, and went out, closing both doors behind her to shut out the noise.
The shrill, rapid movement of the piccolo music seemed to possess the air, it was useless to try to shut it out. The man went on playing to himself, measured and insistent. In the frosty evening the sound carried. People passing down the street hesitated, listening. The neighbours knew it was Aaron practising his piccolo. He was esteemed a good player: was in request at concerts and dances, also at swell balls. So the vivid piping sound tickled the darkness.
He played on till about seven o’clock; he did not want to go out too soon, in spite of the early closing of the public houses. He never went with the stream, but made a side current of his own. His wife said he was contrary. When he went into the middle room to put on his collar and tie, the two little girls were having their hair brushed, the baby was in bed, there was a hot smell of mince-pies baking in the oven.
“You won’t forget our candles, will you, Father?” asked Millicent, with assurance now.
“I’ll see,” he answered.