CHAPTER I. THE BLUE BALL
There was a large, brilliant evening star in the early twilight, and
underfoot the earth was half frozen. It was Christmas Eve. Also the War
was over, and there was a sense of relief that was almost a new menace.
A man felt the violence of the nightmare released now into the general
air. Also there had been another wrangle among the men on the pit-bank
Aaron Sisson was the last man on the little black railway-line climbing
the hill home from work. He was late because he had attended a meeting
of the men on the bank. He was secretary to the Miners Union for his
colliery, and had heard a good deal of silly wrangling that left him
He strode over a stile, crossed two fields, strode another stile, and
was in the long road of colliers' dwellings. Just across was his own
house: he had built it himself. He went through the little gate, up past
the side of the house to the back. There he hung a moment, glancing down
the dark, wintry garden.
"My father--my father's come!" cried a child's excited voice, and two
little girls in white pinafores ran out in front of his legs.
"Father, shall you set the Christmas Tree?" they cried. "We've got one!"
"Afore I have my dinner?" he answered amiably.
"Set it now. Set it now.--We got it through Fred Alton."
"Where is it?"
The little girls were dragging a rough, dark object out of a corner of
the passage into the light of the kitchen door.
"It's a beauty!" exclaimed Millicent.
"Yes, it is," said Marjory.
"I should think so," he replied, striding over the dark bough. He went
to the back kitchen to take off his coat.
"Set it now, Father. Set it now," clamoured the girls.
"You might as well. You've left your dinner so long, you might as well
do it now before you have it," came a woman's plangent voice, out of the
brilliant light of the middle room.
Aaron Sisson had taken off his coat and waistcoat and his cap. He stood
bare-headed in his shirt and braces, contemplating the tree.
"What am I to put it in?" he queried. He picked up the tree, and held
it erect by the topmost twig. He felt the cold as he stood in the yard
coatless, and he twitched his shoulders.
"Isn't it a beauty!" repeated Millicent.
"Put something on, you two!" came the woman's high imperative voice,
from the kitchen.
"We aren't cold," protested the girls from the yard.
"Come and put something on," insisted the voice. The man started off
down the path, the little girls ran grumbling indoors. The sky was
clear, there was still a crystalline, non-luminous light in the under
Aaron rummaged in his shed at the bottom of the garden, and found a
spade and a box that was suitable. Then he came out to his neat, bare,
wintry garden. The girls flew towards him, putting the elastic of their
hats under their chins as they ran. The tree and the box lay on the
frozen earth. The air breathed dark, frosty, electric.
"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
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
"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
"Put it on the floor against the dresser, Father. Put it there," urged
"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
"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.