He seemed to fill up the whole room. A little yellow canary that had been asleep in his green cage at the south window woke up and fluttered wildly, beating his little yellow wings against the wires. He always did so when Joe Dagget came into the room.
“Good-evening,” said Louisa. She extended her hand with a kind of solemn cordiality.
“Good-evening, Louisa,” returned the man, in a loud voice.
She placed a chair for him, and they sat facing each other, with the table between them. He sat bolt-upright, toeing out his heavy feet squarely, glancing with a good-humored uneasiness around the room. She sat gently erect, folding her slender hands in her white-linen lap.
“Been a pleasant day,” remarked Dagget.
“Real pleasant,” Louisa assented, softly.”Have you been haying?” she asked, after a little while.
“Yes, I’ve been haying all day, down in the ten-acre lot. Pretty hot work.”
“It must be.”
“Yes, it’s pretty hot work in the sun.”
“Is your mother well to-day?”
“Yes, mother’s pretty well.”
“I suppose Lily Dyer’s with her now?”
Dagget colored.”Yes, she’s with her,” he answered, slowly.
He was not very young, but there was a boyish look about his large face. Louisa was not quite as old as he, her face was fairer and smoother, but she gave people the impression of being older.
“I suppose she’s a good deal of help to your mother,” she said, further.
“I guess she is; I don’t know how mother’d get along without her,” said Dagget, with a sort of embarrassed warmth.
“She looks like a real capable girl. She’s pretty-looking too,” remarked Louisa.
“Yes, she is pretty fair looking.”
Presently Dagget began fingering the books on the table. There was a square red autograph album, and a Young Lady’s Gift-Book which had belonged to Louisa’s mother. He took them up one after the other and opened them; then laid them down again, the album on the Gift-Book.
Louisa kept eying them with mild uneasiness. Finally she rose and changed the position of the books, putting the album underneath. That was the way they had been arranged in the first place.
Dagget gave an awkward little laugh.”Now what difference did it make which book was on top?” said he.
Louisa looked at him with a deprecating smile.”I always keep them that way,” murmured she.
“You do beat everything,” said Dagget, trying to laugh again. His large face was flushed.
He remained about an hour longer, then rose to take leave. Going out, he stumbled over a rug, and trying to recover himself, hit Louisa’s work-basket on the table, and knocked it on the floor.
He looked at Louisa, then at the rolling spools; he ducked himself awkwardly toward them, but she stopped him.”Never mind,” said she; “I’ll pick them up after you’re gone.”
She spoke with a mild stiffness. Either she was a little disturbed, or his nervousness affected her, and made her seem constrained in her effort to reassure him.
When Joe Dagget was outside he drew in the sweet evening air with a sigh, and felt much as an innocent and perfectly well-intentioned bear might after his exit from a china shop.
Louisa, on her part, felt much as the kind-hearted, long-suffering owner of the china shop might have done after the exit of the bear.
She tied on the pink, then the green apron, picked up all the scattered treasures and replaced them in her work-basket, and straightened the rug. Then she set the lamp on the floor, and began sharply examining the carpet. She even rubbed her fingers over it, and looked at them.
“He’s tracked in a good deal of dust,” she murmured.”I thought he must have.”
Louisa got a dust-pan and brush, and swept Joe Dagget’s track carefully.
If he could have known it, it would have increased his perplexity and uneasiness, although it would not have disturbed his loyalty in the least. He came twice a week to see Louisa Ellis, and every time, sitting there in her delicately sweet room, he felt as if surrounded by a hedge of lace. He was afraid to stir lest he should put a clumsy foot or hand through the fairy web, and he had always the consciousness that Louisa was watching fearfully lest he should.
Still the lace and Louisa commanded perforce his perfect respect and patience and loyalty. They were to be married in a month, after a singular courtship which had lasted for a matter of fifteen years. For fourteen out of the fifteen years the two had not once seen each other, and they had seldom exhanged letters. Joe had been all those years in Australia, where he had gone to make his fortune, and where he had stayed until he made it. He would have stayed fifty years if it had taken so long, and come home feeble and tottering, or never come home at all, to marry Louisa.
But the fortune had been made in the fourteen years, and he had come home now to marry the woman who had been patiently and unquestioningly waiting for him all that time.