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|Part I||Edith Wharton|
|Page 4 of 6||
"Not's I know of," said Mr. Ramy tranquilly. "But I always close up the store at two o'clock Saturdays at this season, so I thought I might as well call round and see you."
"I'm real glad, I'm sure," said Ann Eliza; "but Evelina's out."
"I know dat," Mr. Ramy answered. "I met her round de corner. She told me she got to go to dat new dyer's up in Forty-eighth Street. She won't be back for a couple of hours, har'ly, will she?"
Ann Eliza looked at him with rising bewilderment. "No, I guess not," she answered; her instinctive hospitality prompting her to add: "Won't you set down jest the same?"
Mr. Ramy sat down on the stool beside the counter, and Ann Eliza returned to her place behind it.
"I can't leave the store," she explained.
"Well, I guess we're very well here." Ann Eliza had become suddenly aware that Mr. Ramy was looking at her with unusual intentness. Involuntarily her hand strayed to the thin streaks of hair on her temples, and thence descended to straighten the brooch beneath her collar.
"You're looking very well to-day, Miss Bunner," said Mr. Ramy, following her gesture with a smile.
"Oh," said Ann Eliza nervously. "I'm always well in health," she added.
"I guess you're healthier than your sister, even if you are less sizeable."
"Oh, I don't know. Evelina's a mite nervous sometimes, but she ain't a bit sickly."
"She eats heartier than you do; but that don't mean nothing," said Mr. Ramy.
Ann Eliza was silent. She could not follow the trend of his thought, and she did not care to commit herself farther about Evelina before she had ascertained if Mr. Ramy considered nervousness interesting or the reverse.
But Mr. Ramy spared her all farther indecision.
"Well, Miss Bunner," he said, drawing his stool closer to the counter, "I guess I might as well tell you fust as last what I come here for to-day. I want to get married."
Ann Eliza, in many a prayerful midnight hour, had sought to strengthen herself for the hearing of this avowal, but now that it had come she felt pitifully frightened and unprepared. Mr. Ramy was leaning with both elbows on the counter, and she noticed that his nails were clean and that he had brushed his hat; yet even these signs had not prepared her!
At last she heard herself say, with a dry throat in which her heart was hammering: "Mercy me, Mr. Ramy!"
"I want to get married," he repeated. "I'm too lonesome. It ain't good for a man to live all alone, and eat noding but cold meat every day."
"No," said Ann Eliza softly.
"And the dust fairly beats me."
"Oh, the dust--I know!"
Mr. Ramy stretched one of his blunt-fingered hands toward her. "I wisht you'd take me."
Still Ann Eliza did not understand. She rose hesitatingly from her seat, pushing aside the basket of buttons which lay between them; then she perceived that Mr. Ramy was trying to take her hand, and as their fingers met a flood of joy swept over her. Never afterward, though every other word of their interview was stamped on her memory beyond all possible forgetting, could she recall what he said while their hands touched; she only knew that she seemed to be floating on a summer sea, and that all its waves were in her ears.
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