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Chapter 7

  • During the ensuing weeks Mr. Ramy, though his visits were as frequent as ever, did not seem to regain his usual spirits. He complained frequently o_eadache, but rejected Ann Eliza's tentatively proffered remedies, and seeme_o shrink from any prolonged investigation of his symptoms. July had come, with a sudden ardour of heat, and one evening, as the three sat together b_he open window in the back room, Evelina said: "I dunno what I wouldn't give, a night like this, for a breath of real country air."
  • "So would I," said Mr. Ramy, knocking the ashes from his pipe. "I'd like to b_etting in an arbour dis very minute."
  • "Oh, wouldn't it be lovely?"
  • "I always think it's real cool here—we'd be heaps hotter up where Miss Mellin_s," said Ann Eliza.
  • "Oh, I daresay—but we'd be heaps cooler somewhere else," her sister snapped: she was not infrequently exasperated by Ann Eliza's furtive attempts t_ollify Providence.
  • A few days later Mr. Ramy appeared with a suggestion which enchanted Evelina.
  • He had gone the day before to see his friend, Mrs. Hochmuller, who lived i_he outskirts of Hoboken, and Mrs. Hochmuller had proposed that on th_ollowing Sunday he should bring the Bunner sisters to spend the day with her.
  • "She's got a real garden, you know," Mr. Ramy explained, "wid trees and a rea_ummer-house to set in; and hens and chickens too. And it's an elegant sai_ver on de ferry-boat."
  • The proposal drew no response from Ann Eliza. She was still oppressed by th_ecollection of her interminable Sunday in the Park; but, obedient t_velina's imperious glance, she finally faltered out an acceptance.
  • The Sunday was a very hot one, and once on the ferry-boat Ann Eliza revived a_he touch of the salt breeze, and the spectacle of the crowded waters; bu_hen they reached the other shore, and stepped out on the dirty wharf, sh_egan to ache with anticipated weariness. They got into a street-car, and wer_olted from one mean street to another, till at length Mr. Ramy pulled th_onductor's sleeve and they got out again; then they stood in the blazing sun, near the door of a crowded beer-saloon, waiting for another car to come; an_hat carried them out to a thinly settled district, past vacant lots an_arrow brick houses standing in unsupported solitude, till they finall_eached an almost rural region of scattered cottages and low wooden building_hat looked like village "stores." Here the car finally stopped of its ow_ccord, and they walked along a rutty road, past a stone-cutter's yard with _igh fence tapestried with theatrical advertisements, to a little red hous_ith green blinds and a garden paling. Really, Mr. Ramy had not deceived them.
  • Clumps of dielytra and day-lilies bloomed behind the paling, and a crooked el_ung romantically over the gable of the house.
  • At the gate Mrs. Hochmuller, a broad woman in brick-brown merino, met the_ith nods and smiles, while her daughter Linda, a flaxen-haired girl wit_ottled red cheeks and a sidelong stare, hovered inquisitively behind her.
  • Mrs. Hochmuller, leading the way into the house, conducted the Bunner sister_he way to her bedroom. Here they were invited to spread out on a mountainou_hite featherbed the cashmere mantles under which the solemnity of th_ccasion had compelled them to swelter, and when they had given their blac_ilks the necessary twitch of readjustment, and Evelina had fluffed out he_air before a looking-glass framed in pink- shell work, their hostess led the_o a stuffy parlour smelling of gingerbread. After another ceremonial pause, broken by polite enquiries and shy ejaculations, they were shown into th_itchen, where the table was already spread with strange-looking spice-cake_nd stewed fruits, and where they presently found themselves seated betwee_rs. Hochmuller and Mr. Ramy, while the staring Linda bumped back and fort_rom the stove with steaming dishes.
  • To Ann Eliza the dinner seemed endless, and the rich fare strangel_nappetizing. She was abashed by the easy intimacy of her hostess's voice an_ye. With Mr. Ramy Mrs. Hochmuller was almost flippantly familiar, and it wa_nly when Ann Eliza pictured her generous form bent above his sick-bed tha_he could forgive her for tersely addressing him as "Ramy." During one of th_auses of the meal Mrs. Hochmuller laid her knife and fork against the edge_f her plate, and, fixing her eyes on the clock-maker's face, said accusingly:
  • "You hat one of dem turns again, Ramy."
  • "I dunno as I had," he returned evasively.
  • Evelina glanced from one to the other. "Mr. Ramy HAS been sick," she said a_ength, as though to show that she also was in a position to speak wit_uthority. "He's complained very frequently of headaches."
  • "Ho!—I know him," said Mrs. Hochmuller with a laugh, her eyes still on th_lock-maker. "Ain't you ashamed of yourself, Ramy?"
  • Mr. Ramy, who was looking at his plate, said suddenly one word which th_isters could not understand; it sounded to Ann Eliza like "Shwike."
  • Mrs. Hochmuller laughed again. "My, my," she said, "wouldn't you think he'd b_shamed to go and be sick and never dell me, me that nursed him troo dat awfu_ever?"
  • "Yes, I SHOULD," said Evelina, with a spirited glance at Ramy; but he wa_ooking at the sausages that Linda had just put on the table.
  • When dinner was over Mrs. Hochmuller invited her guests to step out of th_itchen-door, and they found themselves in a green enclosure, half garden, half orchard. Grey hens followed by golden broods clucked under the twiste_pple-boughs, a cat dozed on the edge of an old well, and from tree to tre_an the network of clothes-line that denoted Mrs. Hochmuller's calling. Beyon_he apple trees stood a yellow summer-house festooned with scarlet runners; and below it, on the farther side of a rough fence, the land dipped down, holding a bit of woodland in its hollow. It was all strangely sweet and stil_n that hot Sunday afternoon, and as she moved across the grass under th_pple-boughs Ann Eliza thought of quiet afternoons in church, and of the hymn_er mother had sung to her when she was a baby.
  • Evelina was more restless. She wandered from the well to the summer-house an_ack, she tossed crumbs to the chickens and disturbed the cat with arc_aresses; and at last she expressed a desire to go down into the wood.
  • "I guess you got to go round by the road, then," said Mrs. Hochmuller. "M_inda she goes troo a hole in de fence, but I guess you'd tear your dress i_ou was to dry."
  • "I'll help you," said Mr. Ramy; and guided by Linda the pair walked along th_ence till they reached a narrow gap in its boards. Through this the_isappeared, watched curiously in their descent by the grinning Linda, whil_rs. Hochmuller and Ann Eliza were left alone in the summer-house.
  • Mrs. Hochmuller looked at her guest with a confidential smile. "I guess dey'l_e gone quite a while," she remarked, jerking her double chin toward the ga_n the fence. "Folks like dat don't never remember about de dime." And sh_rew out her knitting.
  • Ann Eliza could think of nothing to say.
  • "Your sister she thinks a great lot of him, don't she?" her hostess continued.
  • Ann Eliza's cheeks grew hot. "Ain't you a teeny bit lonesome away out her_ometimes?" she asked. "I should think you'd be scared nights, all alone wit_our daughter."
  • "Oh, no, I ain't," said Mrs. Hochmuller. "You see I take in washing—dat's m_usiness—and it's a lot cheaper doing it out here dan in de city: where'd _et a drying-ground like dis in Hobucken? And den it's safer for Linda too; i_eeps her outer de streets."
  • "Oh," said Ann Eliza, shrinking. She began to feel a distinct aversion for he_ostess, and her eyes turned with involuntary annoyance to the square-backe_orm of Linda, still inquisitively suspended on the fence. It seemed to An_liza that Evelina and her companion would never return from the wood; bu_hey came at length, Mr. Ramy's brow pearled with perspiration, Evelina pin_nd conscious, a drooping bunch of ferns in her hand; and it was clear that, to her at least, the moments had been winged.
  • "D'you suppose they'll revive?" she asked, holding up the ferns; but An_liza, rising at her approach, said stiffly: "We'd better be getting home, Evelina."
  • "Mercy me! Ain't you going to take your coffee first?" Mrs. Hochmulle_rotested; and Ann Eliza found to her dismay that another long gastronomi_eremony must intervene before politeness permitted them to leave. At length, however, they found themselves again on the ferry-boat. Water and sky wer_rey, with a dividing gleam of sunset that sent sleek opal waves in the boat'_ake. The wind had a cool tarry breath, as though it had travelled over mile_f shipping, and the hiss of the water about the paddles was as delicious a_hough it had been splashed into their tired faces.
  • Ann Eliza sat apart, looking away from the others. She had made up her min_hat Mr. Ramy had proposed to Evelina in the wood, and she was silentl_reparing herself to receive her sister's confidence that evening.
  • But Evelina was apparently in no mood for confidences. When they reached hom_he put her faded ferns in water, and after supper, when she had laid asid_er silk dress and the forget-me- not bonnet, she remained silently seated i_er rocking-chair near the open window. It was long since Ann Eliza had see_er in so uncommunicative a mood.
  • The following Saturday Ann Eliza was sitting alone in the shop when the doo_pened and Mr. Ramy entered. He had never before called at that hour, and sh_ondered a little anxiously what had brought him.
  • "Has anything happened?" she asked, pushing aside the basketful of buttons sh_ad been sorting.
  • "Not's I know of," said Mr. Ramy tranquilly. "But I always close up the stor_t two o'clock Saturdays at this season, so I thought I might as well cal_ound 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 sh_ot to go to dat new dyer's up in Forty-eighth Street. She won't be back for _ouple of hours, har'ly, will she?"
  • Ann Eliza looked at him with rising bewilderment. "No, I guess not," sh_nswered; her instinctive hospitality prompting her to add: "Won't you se_own jest the same?"
  • Mr. Ramy sat down on the stool beside the counter, and Ann Eliza returned t_er 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 tha_r. Ramy was looking at her with unusual intentness. Involuntarily her han_trayed to the thin streaks of hair on her temples, and thence descended t_traighten the brooch beneath her collar.
  • "You're looking very well to-day, Miss Bunner," said Mr. Ramy, following he_esture 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 bi_ickly."
  • "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 sh_id not care to commit herself farther about Evelina before she ha_scertained 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, "_uess I might as well tell you fust as last what I come here for to-day. _ant to get married."
  • Ann Eliza, in many a prayerful midnight hour, had sought to strengthen hersel_or the hearing of this avowal, but now that it had come she felt pitifull_rightened and unprepared. Mr. Ramy was leaning with both elbows on th_ounter, and she noticed that his nails were clean and that he had brushed hi_at; yet even these signs had not prepared her!
  • At last she heard herself say, with a dry throat in which her heart wa_ammering: "Mercy me, Mr. Ramy!"
  • "I want to get married," he repeated. "I'm too lonesome. It ain't good for _an 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'_ake 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 perceive_hat Mr. Ramy was trying to take her hand, and as their fingers met a flood o_oy swept over her. Never afterward, though every other word of thei_nterview was stamped on her memory beyond all possible forgetting, could sh_ecall what he said while their hands touched; she only knew that she seeme_o be floating on a summer sea, and that all its waves were in her ears.
  • "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 An_liza half hoped she would come in; but after a desultory inspection she wen_n.
  • "Maybe you don't fancy me?" Mr. Ramy suggested, discountenanced by Ann Eliza'_ilence.
  • A word of assent was on her tongue, but her lips refused it. She must fin_ome other way of telling him.
  • "I don't say that."
  • "Well, I always kinder thought we was suited to one another," Mr. Ram_ontinued, eased of his momentary doubt. "I always liked de quiet style—n_uss and airs, and not afraid of work." He spoke as though dispassionatel_ataloguing her charms.
  • Ann Eliza felt that she must make an end. "But, Mr. Ramy, you don'_nderstand. 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 spr_s 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 tw_omen the work don't amount to much. Besides, I'm the oldest; I have to loo_fter things," she hastened on, half pained that her simple ruse should s_eadily deceive him.
  • "Well, I guess you're active enough for me," he persisted. His cal_etermination began to frighten her; she trembled lest her own should be les_taunch.
  • "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 wa_velina—always. And so did everybody else. She's so bright and pretty—i_eemed 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 h_ay safely wait.
  • "Oh, no, no. It ain't any sorter use, Mr. Ramy. I don't never mean to marry. _et tired so easily—I'd be afraid of the work. And I have such awfu_eadaches." 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 d_verything when I have one of them headaches. She has to bring me my tea i_he 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 hav_ot to suit themselves." She thought his tone had grown more resigned sinc_he had spoken of her headaches.
  • For some moments he stood looking at her with a hesitating eye, as thoug_ncertain how to end their conversation; and at length she found courage t_ay (in the words of a novel she had once read): "I don't want this shoul_ake any difference between us."
  • "Oh, my, no," said Mr. Ramy, absently picking up his hat.
  • "You'll come in just the same?" she continued, nerving herself to the effort.
  • "We'd miss you awfully if you didn't. Evelina, she—" She paused, torn betwee_er desire to turn his thoughts to Evelina, and the dread of prematurel_isclosing her sister's secret.
  • "Don't Miss Evelina have no headaches?" Mr. Ramy suddenly asked.
  • "My, no, never—well, not to speak of, anyway. She ain't had one for ages, an_hen Evelina IS sick she won't never give in to it," Ann Eliza declared, making some hurried adjustments with her conscience.
  • "I wouldn't have thought that," said Mr. Ramy.
  • "I guess you don't know us as well as you thought you did."
  • "Well, no, that's so; maybe I don't. I'll wish you good day, Miss Bunner"; an_r. Ramy moved toward the door.
  • "Good day, Mr. Ramy," Ann Eliza answered.
  • She felt unutterably thankful to be alone. She knew the crucial moment of he_ife had passed, and she was glad that she had not fallen below her ow_deals. It had been a wonderful experience; and in spite of the tears on he_heeks she was not sorry to have known it. Two facts, however, took the edg_rom its perfection: that it had happened in the shop, and that she had no_ad on her black silk.
  • She passed the next hour in a state of dreamy ecstasy. Something had entere_nto her life of which no subsequent empoverishment could rob it: she glowe_ith the same rich sense of possessorship that once, as a little girl, she ha_elt when her mother had given her a gold locket and she had sat up in bed i_he dark to draw it from its hiding-place beneath her night-gown.
  • At length a dread of Evelina's return began to mingle with these musings. Ho_ould she meet her younger sister's eye without betraying what had happened?
  • She felt as though a visible glory lay on her, and she was glad that dusk ha_allen when Evelina entered. But her fears were superfluous. Evelina, alway_elf- absorbed, had of late lost all interest in the simple happenings of th_hop, and Ann Eliza, with mingled mortification and relief, perceived that sh_as in no danger of being cross-questioned as to the events of the afternoon.
  • She was glad of this; yet there was a touch of humiliation in finding that th_ortentous secret in her bosom did not visibly shine forth. It struck her a_ull, and even slightly absurd, of Evelina not to know at last that they wer_quals.