I. THE FATHER
by William Dean Howells
As soon as we heard the pleasant news—I suppose the news of an engagement ought always to be called pleasant—it was decided that I ought to speak first about it, and speak to the father. We had not been a great while in the neighborhood, and it would look less like a bid for the familiar acquaintance of people living on a larger scale than ourselves, and less of an opening for our own intimacy if they turned out to be not quite so desirable in other ways as they were in the worldly way. For the ladies of the respective families first to offer and receive congratulations would be very much more committing on both sides; at the same time, to avoid the appearance of stiffness, some one ought to speak, and speak promptly. The news had not come to us directly from our neighbors, but authoritatively from a friend of theirs, who was also a friend of ours, and we could not very well hold back. So, in the cool of the early evening, when I had quite finished rasping my lawn with the new mower, I left it at the end of the swath, which had brought me near the fence, and said across it,
My neighbor turned from making his man pour a pail of water on the earth round a freshly planted tree, and said, “Oh, good-evening! How d’ye do? Glad to see you!” and offered his hand over the low coping so cordially that I felt warranted in holding it a moment.
“I hope it’s in order for me to say how very much my wife and I are interested in the news we’ve heard about one of your daughters? May I offer our best wishes for her happiness?”
“Oh, thank you,” my neighbor said. “You’re very good indeed. Yes, it’s rather exciting—for us. I guess that’s all for to-night, Al,” he said, in dismissal of his man, before turning to lay his arms comfortably on the fence top. Then he laughed, before he added, to me, “And rather surprising, too.”
“Those things are always rather surprising, aren’t they?” I suggested.
“Well, yes, I suppose they are. It oughtn’t be so in our case, though, as we’ve been through it twice before: once with my son—he oughtn’t to have counted, but he did—and once with my eldest daughter. Yes, you might say you never do quite expect it, though everybody else does. Then, in this case, she was the baby so long, that we always thought of her as a little girl. Yes, she’s kept on being the pet, I guess, and we couldn’t realize what was in the air.”
I had thought, from the first sight of him, that there was something very charming in my neighbor’s looks. He had a large, round head, which had once been red, but was now a russet silvered, and was not too large for his manly frame, swaying amply outward, but not too amply, at the girth. He had blue, kind eyes, and a face fully freckled, and the girl he was speaking of with a tenderness in his tones rather than his words, was a young feminine copy of him; only, her head was little, under its load of red hair, and her figure, which we had lately noticed flitting in and out, as with a shy consciousness of being stared at on account of her engagement, was as light as his was heavy on its feet.