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|Part I||Edith Wharton|
|Page 2 of 2||
"Oh, you're sick!" she exclaimed; and the sound of her voice seemed to recall his wandering senses.
"Why, if it ain't Miss Bunner!" he said, in a low thick tone; but he made no attempt to move, and she noticed that his face was the colour of yellow ashes.
"You ARE sick," she persisted, emboldened by his evident need of help. "Mr. Ramy, it was real unfriendly of you not to let us know."
He continued to look at her with dull eyes. "I ain't been sick," he said. "Leastways not very: only one of my old turns." He spoke in a slow laboured way, as if he had difficulty in getting his words together.
"Rheumatism?" she ventured, seeing how unwillingly he seemed to move.
"Well--somethin' like, maybe. I couldn't hardly put a name to it."
"If it WAS anything like rheumatism, my grandmother used to make a tea--" Ann Eliza began: she had forgotten, in the warmth of the moment, that she had only come as Evelina's messenger.
At the mention of tea an expression of uncontrollable repugnance passed over Mr. Ramy's face. "Oh, I guess I'm getting on all right. I've just got a headache to-day."
Ann Eliza's courage dropped at the note of refusal in his voice.
"I'm sorry," she said gently. "My sister and me'd have been glad to do anything we could for you."
"Thank you kindly," said Mr. Ramy wearily; then, as she turned to the door, he added with an effort: "Maybe I'll step round tomorrow." "We'll be real glad," Ann Eliza repeated. Her eyes were fixed on a dusty bronze clock in the window. She was unaware of looking at it at the time, but long afterward she remembered that it represented a Newfoundland dog with his paw on an open book.
When she reached home there was a purchaser in the shop, turning over hooks and eyes under Evelina's absent-minded supervision. Ann Eliza passed hastily into the back room, but in an instant she heard her sister at her side.
"Quick! I told her I was goin' to look for some smaller hooks--how is he?" Evelina gasped.
"He ain't been very well," said Ann Eliza slowly, her eyes on Evelina's eager face; "but he says he'll be sure to be round tomorrow night."
"He will? Are you telling me the truth?"
"Why, Evelina Bunner!"
"Oh, I don't care!" cried the younger recklessly, rushing back into the shop.
Ann Eliza stood burning with the shame of Evelina's self-exposure. She was shocked that, even to her, Evelina should lay bare the nakedness of her emotion; and she tried to turn her thoughts from it as though its recollection made her a sharer in her sister's debasement.
The next evening, Mr. Ramy reappeared, still somewhat sallow and red-lidded, but otherwise his usual self. Ann Eliza consulted him about the investment he had recommended, and after it had been settled that he should attend to the matter for her he took up the illustrated volume of Longfellow--for, as the sisters had learned, his culture soared beyond the newspapers--and read aloud, with a fine confusion of consonants, the poem on "Maidenhood." Evelina lowered her lids while he read. It was a very beautiful evening, and Ann Eliza thought afterward how different life might have been with a companion who read poetry like Mr. Ramy.
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