She smiled forgiveness through her wet eyes, and though he knew of nothing for which to be forgiven, he melted utterly. His hand went out impulsively to hers, but she avoided the clasp by a sort of bodily stiffening and chill, the while the eyes smiled still more gloriously.
“Here comes Mr. Clausen,” she said, at the same time, by some transforming alchemy of woman, presenting to the newcomer eyes that showed no hint of moistness.
“Think I was never coming back, Joe?” queried the head of the department, a pink-and-white-faced man, whose austere side-whiskers were belied by genial little eyes.
“Now let me see—hum, yes, we was discussing ingrains,” he continued briskly. “That tasty little pattern there catches your eye, don’t it now, eh? Yes, yes, I know all about it. I set up housekeeping when I was getting fourteen a week. But nothing’s too good for the little nest, eh? Of course I know, and it’s only seven cents more, and the dearest is the cheapest, I say. Tell you what I’ll do, Joe,”—this with a burst of philanthropic impulsiveness and a confidential lowering of voice,—“seein’s it’s you, and I wouldn’t do it for anybody else, I’ll reduce it to five cents. Only,”—here his voice became impressively solemn,—“only you mustn’t ever tell how much you really did pay.”
“Sewed, lined, and laid—of course that’s included,” he said, after Joe and Genevieve had conferred together and announced their decision.
“And the little nest, eh?” he queried. “When do you spread your wings and fly away? To-morrow! So soon? Beautiful! Beautiful!”
He rolled his eyes ecstatically for a moment, then beamed upon them with a fatherly air.
Joe had replied sturdily enough, and Genevieve had blushed prettily; but both felt that it was not exactly proper. Not alone because of the privacy and holiness of the subject, but because of what might have been prudery in the middle class, but which in them was the modesty and reticence found in individuals of the working class when they strive after clean living and morality.
Mr. Clausen accompanied them to the elevator, all smiles, patronage, and beneficence, while the clerks turned their heads to follow Joe’s retreating figure.
“And to-night, Joe?” Mr. Clausen asked anxiously, as they waited at the shaft. “How do you feel? Think you’ll do him?”
“Sure,” Joe answered. “Never felt better in my life.”
“You feel all right, eh? Good! Good! You see, I was just a-wonderin’—you know, ha! ha!—goin’ to get married and the rest—thought you might be unstrung, eh, a trifle?—nerves just a bit off, you know. Know how gettin’ married is myself. But you’re all right, eh? Of course you are. No use asking you that. Ha! ha! Well, good luck, my boy! I know you’ll win. Never had the least doubt, of course, of course.”
“And good-by, Miss Pritchard,” he said to Genevieve, gallantly handing her into the elevator. “Hope you call often. Will be charmed—charmed—I assure you.”