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|Part I||Edith Wharton|
|Page 5 of 6||
"Me--me?" she gasped.
"I guess so," said her suitor placidly. "You suit me right down to the ground, Miss Bunner. Dat's the truth."
A woman passing along the street paused to look at the shop-window, and Ann Eliza half hoped she would come in; but after a desultory inspection she went on.
"Maybe you don't fancy me?" Mr. Ramy suggested, discountenanced by Ann Eliza's silence.
A word of assent was on her tongue, but her lips refused it. She must find some other way of telling him.
"I don't say that."
"Well, I always kinder thought we was suited to one another," Mr. Ramy continued, eased of his momentary doubt. "I always liked de quiet style--no fuss and airs, and not afraid of work." He spoke as though dispassionately cataloguing her charms.
Ann Eliza felt that she must make an end. "But, Mr. Ramy, you don't understand. I've never thought of marrying."
Mr. Ramy looked at her in surprise. "Why not?"
"Well, I don't know, har'ly." She moistened her twitching lips. "The fact is, I ain't as active as I look. Maybe I couldn't stand the care. I ain't as spry as Evelina--nor as young," she added, with a last great effort.
"But you do most of de work here, anyways," said her suitor doubtfully.
"Oh, well, that's because Evelina's busy outside; and where there's only two women the work don't amount to much. Besides, I'm the oldest; I have to look after things," she hastened on, half pained that her simple ruse should so readily deceive him.
"Well, I guess you're active enough for me," he persisted. His calm determination began to frighten her; she trembled lest her own should be less staunch.
"No, no," she repeated, feeling the tears on her lashes. "I couldn't, Mr. Ramy, I couldn't marry. I'm so surprised. I always thought it was Evelina--always. And so did everybody else. She's so bright and pretty--it seemed so natural."
"Well, you was all mistaken," said Mr. Ramy obstinately.
"I'm so sorry."
He rose, pushing back his chair.
"You'd better think it over," he said, in the large tone of a man who feels he may safely wait.
"Oh, no, no. It ain't any sorter use, Mr. Ramy. I don't never mean to marry. I get tired so easily--I'd be afraid of the work. And I have such awful headaches." She paused, racking her brain for more convincing infirmities.
"Headaches, do you?" said Mr. Ramy, turning back.
"My, yes, awful ones, that I have to give right up to. Evelina has to do everything when I have one of them headaches. She has to bring me my tea in the mornings."
"Well, I'm sorry to hear it," said Mr. Ramy.
"Thank you kindly all the same," Ann Eliza murmured. "And please don't--don't--" She stopped suddenly, looking at him through her tears.
"Oh, that's all right," he answered. "Don't you fret, Miss Gunner. Folks have got to suit themselves." She thought his tone had grown more resigned since she had spoken of her headaches.
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