She didn’t hear him arrive.
The wind was up and the rain was thundering down on the tin roof like a shower of stones and in the midst of all the noise she didn’t hear the rattle of his old buggy approaching. She didn’t hear the scrape of his iron-rimmed wheels on the track, the soft thump of his feet in the wet dust. She didn’t know he was there until she looked up from her bucket of soapy water and saw his face at her window, his pale green eyes with their tiny black pin-prick pupils blinking at her through the glass.
His name was Henry Fowler and she hated it when he came.
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She hated him sitting there for hours on end talking to Tom about hens and beets and pigs, filling his smelly pipe with minute pinches of tobacco from a pouch in his cracked sheepskin waistcoat, tamping down the flakes with his little thumb, lighting and re-lightingthe bowl and sucking at the stem, slurping his tea and sitting there on the edge of his chair like a small observant bird, and all the time stealing glances at her and looking at her with his sharp eyes as if he could see right through her. It filled her with a kind of shame. She felt she’d do almost anything to stop Henry Fowler looking at her like that, anything to make him leave and clear off back to his end of the valley. It felt like the worst thing in the world to her, him looking at her the wayhe did.
He was looking at her now on the other side of the glass, blinking at her through the falling rain. She wished she didn’t have to invite him in. She wished she could send him away without asking him in and offering him a cup of something, but he was their neighbour and he had come six miles across the valley in his bone-shaking old buggy and the water had begun to pool around the brim of his old felt hat and drip onto the shoulders of his crumpled shirt. It was bouncing back up off the ground and splashing against his boots and his baggy serge trousers. She would have to offer him a chair by the stove for half an hour, refreshment. A cup of tea at least. She wiped her soapy hands on her skirt and went to the door and opened it and called to him.
‘You’d better come in Mr. Fowler. Out of the rain.’