His wife watched him as he put on his overcoat and hat. He was well-dressed, handsome-looking. She felt there was a curious glamour about him. It made her feel bitter. He had an unfair advantage—he was free to go off, while she must stay at home with the children.
“There’s no knowing what time you’ll be home,” she said.
“I shan’t be late,” he answered.
“It’s easy to say so,” she retorted, with some contempt. He took his stick, and turned towards the door.
“Bring the children some candles for their tree, and don’t be so selfish,” she said.
“All right,” he said, going out.
“Don’t say all right if you never mean to do it,” she cried, with sudden anger, following him to the door.
His figure stood large and shadowy in the darkness.
“How many do you want?” he said.
“A dozen,” she said. “And holders too, if you can get them,” she added, with barren bitterness.
“Yes—all right,” he turned and melted into the darkness. She went indoors, worn with a strange and bitter flame.
He crossed the fields towards the little town, which once more fumed its lights under the night. The country ran away, rising on his right hand. It was no longer a great bank of darkness. Lights twinkled freely here and there, though forlornly, now that the war-time restrictions were removed. It was no glitter of pre-war nights, pit-heads glittering far-off with electricity. Neither was it the black gulf of the war darkness: instead, this forlorn sporadic twinkling.
Everybody seemed to be out of doors. The hollow dark countryside re-echoed like a shell with shouts and calls and excited voices. Restlessness and nervous excitement, nervous hilarity were in the air. There was a sense of electric surcharge everywhere, frictional, a neurasthenic haste for excitement.
Every moment Aaron Sisson was greeted with Good-night—Good-night, Aaron—Good-night, Mr. Sisson. People carrying parcels, children, women, thronged home on the dark paths. They were all talking loudly, declaiming loudly about what they could and could not get, and what this or the other had lost.
When he got into the main street, the only street of shops, it was crowded. There seemed to have been some violent but quiet contest, a subdued fight, going on all the afternoon and evening: people struggling to buy things, to get things. Money was spent like water, there was a frenzy of money-spending. Though the necessities of life were in abundance, still the people struggled in frenzy for cheese, sweets, raisins, pork-stuff, even for flowers and holly, all of which were scarce, and for toys and knick-knacks, which were sold out. There was a wild grumbling, but a deep satisfaction in the fight, the struggle. The same fight and the same satisfaction in the fight was witnessed whenever a tram-car stopped, or when it heaved its way into sight. Then the struggle to mount on board became desperate and savage, but stimulating. Souls surcharged with hostility found now some outlet for their feelings.