Flame-lurid his face as he turned among the throng of flame-lit and dark faces upon the platform. In the light of the furnace she caught sight of his drifting countenance, like a piece of floating fire. And the nostalgia, the doom of homecoming went through her veins like a drug. His eternal face, flame-lit now! The pulse and darkness of red fire from the furnace towers in the sky, lighting the desultory, industrial crowd on the wayside station, lit him and went out.
Of course he did not see her. Flame-lit and unseeing! Always the same, with his meeting eyebrows, his common cap, and his red-and-black scarf knotted round his throat. Not even a collar to meet her! The flames had sunk, there was shadow.
She opened the door of her grimy, branch-line carriage, and began to get down her bags. The porter was nowhere, of course, but there was Harry, obscure, on the outer edge of the little crowd, missing her, of course.
‘Here! Harry!’ she called, waving her umbrella in the twilight. He hurried forward.
‘Tha’s come, has ter?’ he said, in a sort of cheerful welcome. She got down, rather flustered, and gave him a peck of a kiss.
‘Two suit-cases!’ she said.
Her soul groaned within her, as he clambered into the carriage after her bags. Up shot the fire in the twilight sky, from the great furnace behind the station. She felt the red flame go across her face. She had come back, she had come back for good. And her spirit groaned dismally. She doubted if she could bear it.
There, on the sordid little station under the furnaces, she stood, tall and distinguished, in her well-made coat and skirt and her broad grey velour hat. She held her umbrella, her bead chatelaine, and a little leather case in her grey-gloved hands, while Harry staggered out of the ugly little train with her bags.
‘There’s a trunk at the back,’ she said in her bright voice. But she was not feeling bright. The twin black cones of the iron foundry blasted their sky-high fires into the night. The whole scene was lurid. The train waited cheerfully. It would wait another ten minutes. She knew it. It was all so deadly familiar.
Let us confess it at once. She was a lady’s maid, thirty years old, come back to marry her first-love, a foundry worker: after having kept him dangling, off and on, for a dozen years. Why had she come back? Did she love him? No. She didn’t pretend to. She had loved her brilliant and ambitious cousin, who had jilted her, and who had died. She had had other affairs which had come to nothing. So here she was, come back suddenly to marry her first-love, who had waited–or remained single–all these years.
‘Won’t a porter carry those?’ she said, as Harry strode with his workman’s stride down the platform towards the guard’s van.
‘I can manage,’ he said.
And with her umbrella, her chatelaine, and her little leather case, she followed him.
The trunk was there.
‘We’ll get Heather’s greengrocer’s cart to fetch it up,’ he said.
‘Isn’t there a cab?’ said Fanny, knowing dismally enough that there wasn’t.
‘I’ll just put it aside o’ the penny-in-the-slot, and Heather’s greengrocers’ll fetch it about half past eight,’ he said.
He seized the box by its two handles and staggered with it across the level-crossing, bumping his legs against it as he waddled. Then he dropped it by the red sweet-meats machine.
‘Will it be safe there?’ she said.
‘Ay–safe as houses,’ he answered. He returned for the two bags. Thus laden, they started to plod up the hill, under the great long black building of the foundry. She walked beside him–workman of workmen he was, trudging with that luggage. The red lights flared over the deepening darkness. From the foundry came the horrible, slow clang, clang, clang of iron, a great noise, with an interval just long enough to make it unendurable.