As he came near the little market-place he bethought himself of the Christmas-tree candles. He did not intend to trouble himself. And yet, when he glanced in passing into the sweet-shop window, and saw it bare as a board, the very fact that he probably could not buy the things made him hesitate, and try.
“Have you got any Christmas-tree candles?” he asked as he entered the shop.
“How many do you want?”
“Can’t let you have a dozen. You can have two boxes—four in a box— eight. Six-pence a box.”
“Got any holders?”
“Holders? Don’t ask. Haven’t seen one this year.”
“Got any toffee—?”
“Cough-drops—two-pence an ounce—nothing else left.”
“Give me four ounces.”
He watched her weighing them in the little brass scales.
“You’ve not got much of a Christmas show,” he said.
“Don’t talk about Christmas, as far as sweets is concerned. They ought to have allowed us six times the quantity—there’s plenty of sugar, why didn’t they? We s’ll have to enjoy ourselves with what we’ve got. We mean to, anyhow.”
“Ay,” he said.
“Time we had a bit of enjoyment, this Christmas. They ought to have made things more plentiful.”
“Yes,” he said, stuffing his package in his pocket.
The war had killed the little market of the town. As he passed the market place on the brow, Aaron noticed that there were only two miserable stalls. But people crowded just the same. There was a loud sound of voices, men’s voices. Men pressed round the doorways of the public-houses.
But he was going to a pub out of town. He descended the dark hill. A street-lamp here and there shed parsimonious light. In the bottoms, under the trees, it was very dark. But a lamp glimmered in front of the “Royal Oak.” This was a low white house sunk three steps below the highway. It was darkened, but sounded crowded.
Opening the door, Sisson found himself in the stone passage. Old Bob, carrying three cans, stopped to see who had entered—then went on into the public bar on the left. The bar itself was a sort of little window-sill on the right: the pub was a small one. In this window-opening stood the landlady, drawing and serving to her husband. Behind the bar was a tiny parlour or den, the landlady’s preserve.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said, bobbing down to look at the newcomer. None entered her bar-parlour unless invited.
“Come in,” said the landlady. There was a peculiar intonation in her complacent voice, which showed she had been expecting him, a little irritably.
He went across into her bar-parlour. It would not hold more than eight or ten people, all told—just the benches along the walls, the fire between—and two little round tables.