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´╗┐Title: Bunner Sisters
Author: Wharton, Edith, 1862-1937
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Bunner Sisters" ***

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BUNNER SISTERS

By Edith Wharton

Scribner's Magazine 60 (Oct. 1916): 439-58; 60 (Nov. 1916): 575-96.



PART I



I

In the days when New York's traffic moved at the pace of the drooping
horse-car, when society applauded Christine Nilsson at the Academy of
Music and basked in the sunsets of the Hudson River School on the walls
of the National Academy of Design, an inconspicuous shop with a
single show-window was intimately and favourably known to the feminine
population of the quarter bordering on Stuyvesant Square.

It was a very small shop, in a shabby basement, in a side-street
already doomed to decline; and from the miscellaneous display behind the
window-pane, and the brevity of the sign surmounting it (merely "Bunner
Sisters" in blotchy gold on a black ground) it would have been difficult
for the uninitiated to guess the precise nature of the business carried
on within. But that was of little consequence, since its fame was so
purely local that the customers on whom its existence depended were
almost congenitally aware of the exact range of "goods" to be found at
Bunner Sisters'.

The house of which Bunner Sisters had annexed the basement was a private
dwelling with a brick front, green shutters on weak hinges, and a
dress-maker's sign in the window above the shop. On each side of its
modest three stories stood higher buildings, with fronts of brown stone,
cracked and blistered, cast-iron balconies and cat-haunted grass-patches
behind twisted railings. These houses too had once been private, but now
a cheap lunchroom filled the basement of one, while the other announced
itself, above the knotty wistaria that clasped its central balcony, as
the Mendoza Family Hotel. It was obvious from the chronic cluster
of refuse-barrels at its area-gate and the blurred surface of its
curtainless windows, that the families frequenting the Mendoza Hotel
were not exacting in their tastes; though they doubtless indulged in
as much fastidiousness as they could afford to pay for, and rather more
than their landlord thought they had a right to express.

These three houses fairly exemplified the general character of the
street, which, as it stretched eastward, rapidly fell from shabbiness to
squalor, with an increasing frequency of projecting sign-boards, and of
swinging doors that softly shut or opened at the touch of red-nosed men
and pale little girls with broken jugs. The middle of the street was
full of irregular depressions, well adapted to retain the long swirls of
dust and straw and twisted paper that the wind drove up and down its sad
untended length; and toward the end of the day, when traffic had been
active, the fissured pavement formed a mosaic of coloured hand-bills,
lids of tomato-cans, old shoes, cigar-stumps and banana skins, cemented
together by a layer of mud, or veiled in a powdering of dust, as the
state of the weather determined.

The sole refuge offered from the contemplation of this depressing waste
was the sight of the Bunner Sisters' window. Its panes were always
well-washed, and though their display of artificial flowers, bands of
scalloped flannel, wire hat-frames, and jars of home-made preserves, had
the undefinable greyish tinge of objects long preserved in the show-case
of a museum, the window revealed a background of orderly counters and
white-washed walls in pleasant contrast to the adjoining dinginess.

The Bunner sisters were proud of the neatness of their shop and content
with its humble prosperity. It was not what they had once imagined it
would be, but though it presented but a shrunken image of their earlier
ambitions it enabled them to pay their rent and keep themselves alive
and out of debt; and it was long since their hopes had soared higher.

Now and then, however, among their greyer hours there came one not
bright enough to be called sunny, but rather of the silvery twilight hue
which sometimes ends a day of storm. It was such an hour that Ann Eliza,
the elder of the firm, was soberly enjoying as she sat one January
evening in the back room which served as bedroom, kitchen and parlour
to herself and her sister Evelina. In the shop the blinds had been drawn
down, the counters cleared and the wares in the window lightly covered
with an old sheet; but the shop-door remained unlocked till Evelina, who
had taken a parcel to the dyer's, should come back.

In the back room a kettle bubbled on the stove, and Ann Eliza had laid a
cloth over one end of the centre table, and placed near the green-shaded
sewing lamp two tea-cups, two plates, a sugar-bowl and a piece of pie.
The rest of the room remained in a greenish shadow which discreetly
veiled the outline of an old-fashioned mahogany bedstead surmounted by a
chromo of a young lady in a night-gown who clung with eloquently-rolling
eyes to a crag described in illuminated letters as the Rock of Ages;
and against the unshaded windows two rocking-chairs and a sewing-machine
were silhouetted on the dusk.

Ann Eliza, her small and habitually anxious face smoothed to unusual
serenity, and the streaks of pale hair on her veined temples shining
glossily beneath the lamp, had seated herself at the table, and was
tying up, with her usual fumbling deliberation, a knobby object wrapped
in paper. Now and then, as she struggled with the string, which was too
short, she fancied she heard the click of the shop-door, and paused
to listen for her sister; then, as no one came, she straightened her
spectacles and entered into renewed conflict with the parcel. In honour
of some event of obvious importance, she had put on her double-dyed and
triple-turned black silk. Age, while bestowing on this garment a patine
worthy of a Renaissance bronze, had deprived it of whatever curves the
wearer's pre-Raphaelite figure had once been able to impress on it;
but this stiffness of outline gave it an air of sacerdotal state which
seemed to emphasize the importance of the occasion.

Seen thus, in her sacramental black silk, a wisp of lace turned over
the collar and fastened by a mosaic brooch, and her face smoothed into
harmony with her apparel, Ann Eliza looked ten years younger than behind
the counter, in the heat and burden of the day. It would have been as
difficult to guess her approximate age as that of the black silk, for
she had the same worn and glossy aspect as her dress; but a faint tinge
of pink still lingered on her cheek-bones, like the reflection of sunset
which sometimes colours the west long after the day is over.

When she had tied the parcel to her satisfaction, and laid it with
furtive accuracy just opposite her sister's plate, she sat down, with an
air of obviously-assumed indifference, in one of the rocking-chairs near
the window; and a moment later the shop-door opened and Evelina entered.

The younger Bunner sister, who was a little taller than her elder, had
a more pronounced nose, but a weaker slope of mouth and chin. She still
permitted herself the frivolity of waving her pale hair, and its
tight little ridges, stiff as the tresses of an Assyrian statue,
were flattened under a dotted veil which ended at the tip of her
cold-reddened nose. In her scant jacket and skirt of black cashmere she
looked singularly nipped and faded; but it seemed possible that under
happier conditions she might still warm into relative youth.

"Why, Ann Eliza," she exclaimed, in a thin voice pitched to chronic
fretfulness, "what in the world you got your best silk on for?"

Ann Eliza had risen with a blush that made her steel-browed spectacles
incongruous.

"Why, Evelina, why shouldn't I, I sh'ld like to know? Ain't it your
birthday, dear?" She put out her arms with the awkwardness of habitually
repressed emotion.

Evelina, without seeming to notice the gesture, threw back the jacket
from her narrow shoulders.

"Oh, pshaw," she said, less peevishly. "I guess we'd better give up
birthdays. Much as we can do to keep Christmas nowadays."

"You hadn't oughter say that, Evelina. We ain't so badly off as all
that. I guess you're cold and tired. Set down while I take the kettle
off: it's right on the boil."

She pushed Evelina toward the table, keeping a sideward eye on her
sister's listless movements, while her own hands were busy with the
kettle. A moment later came the exclamation for which she waited.

"Why, Ann Eliza!" Evelina stood transfixed by the sight of the parcel
beside her plate.

Ann Eliza, tremulously engaged in filling the teapot, lifted a look of
hypocritical surprise.

"Sakes, Evelina! What's the matter?"

The younger sister had rapidly untied the string, and drawn from
its wrappings a round nickel clock of the kind to be bought for a
dollar-seventy-five.

"Oh, Ann Eliza, how could you?" She set the clock down, and the sisters
exchanged agitated glances across the table.

"Well," the elder retorted, "AIN'T it your birthday?"

"Yes, but--"

"Well, and ain't you had to run round the corner to the Square every
morning, rain or shine, to see what time it was, ever since we had to
sell mother's watch last July? Ain't you, Evelina?"

"Yes, but--"

"There ain't any buts. We've always wanted a clock and now we've got
one: that's all there is about it. Ain't she a beauty, Evelina?" Ann
Eliza, putting back the kettle on the stove, leaned over her sister's
shoulder to pass an approving hand over the circular rim of the clock.
"Hear how loud she ticks. I was afraid you'd hear her soon as you come
in."

"No. I wasn't thinking," murmured Evelina.

"Well, ain't you glad now?" Ann Eliza gently reproached her. The rebuke
had no acerbity, for she knew that Evelina's seeming indifference was
alive with unexpressed scruples.

"I'm real glad, sister; but you hadn't oughter. We could have got on
well enough without."

"Evelina Bunner, just you sit down to your tea. I guess I know what
I'd oughter and what I'd hadn't oughter just as well as you do--I'm old
enough!"

"You're real good, Ann Eliza; but I know you've given up something you
needed to get me this clock."

"What do I need, I'd like to know? Ain't I got a best black silk?" the
elder sister said with a laugh full of nervous pleasure.

She poured out Evelina's tea, adding some condensed milk from the jug,
and cutting for her the largest slice of pie; then she drew up her own
chair to the table.

The two women ate in silence for a few moments before Evelina began to
speak again. "The clock is perfectly lovely and I don't say it ain't a
comfort to have it; but I hate to think what it must have cost you."

"No, it didn't, neither," Ann Eliza retorted. "I got it dirt cheap, if
you want to know. And I paid for it out of a little extra work I did the
other night on the machine for Mrs. Hawkins."

"The baby-waists?"

"Yes."

"There, I knew it! You swore to me you'd buy a new pair of shoes with
that money."

"Well, and s'posin' I didn't want 'em--what then? I've patched up the
old ones as good as new--and I do declare, Evelina Bunner, if you ask me
another question you'll go and spoil all my pleasure."

"Very well, I won't," said the younger sister.

They continued to eat without farther words. Evelina yielded to her
sister's entreaty that she should finish the pie, and poured out a
second cup of tea, into which she put the last lump of sugar; and
between them, on the table, the clock kept up its sociable tick.

"Where'd you get it, Ann Eliza?" asked Evelina, fascinated.

"Where'd you s'pose? Why, right round here, over acrost the Square, in
the queerest little store you ever laid eyes on. I saw it in the window
as I was passing, and I stepped right in and asked how much it was, and
the store-keeper he was real pleasant about it. He was just the nicest
man. I guess he's a German. I told him I couldn't give much, and he
said, well, he knew what hard times was too. His name's Ramy--Herman
Ramy: I saw it written up over the store. And he told me he used to work
at Tiff'ny's, oh, for years, in the clock-department, and three years
ago he took sick with some kinder fever, and lost his place, and when
he got well they'd engaged somebody else and didn't want him, and so he
started this little store by himself. I guess he's real smart, and he
spoke quite like an educated man--but he looks sick."

Evelina was listening with absorbed attention. In the narrow lives of
the two sisters such an episode was not to be under-rated.

"What you say his name was?" she asked as Ann Eliza paused.

"Herman Ramy."

"How old is he?"

"Well, I couldn't exactly tell you, he looked so sick--but I don't
b'lieve he's much over forty."

By this time the plates had been cleared and the teapot emptied, and
the two sisters rose from the table. Ann Eliza, tying an apron over
her black silk, carefully removed all traces of the meal; then, after
washing the cups and plates, and putting them away in a cupboard, she
drew her rocking-chair to the lamp and sat down to a heap of mending.
Evelina, meanwhile, had been roaming about the room in search of
an abiding-place for the clock. A rosewood what-not with ornamental
fret-work hung on the wall beside the devout young lady in dishabille,
and after much weighing of alternatives the sisters decided to dethrone
a broken china vase filled with dried grasses which had long stood
on the top shelf, and to put the clock in its place; the vase, after
farther consideration, being relegated to a small table covered with
blue and white beadwork, which held a Bible and prayer-book, and an
illustrated copy of Longfellow's poems given as a school-prize to their
father.

This change having been made, and the effect studied from every angle
of the room, Evelina languidly put her pinking-machine on the table,
and sat down to the monotonous work of pinking a heap of black silk
flounces. The strips of stuff slid slowly to the floor at her side, and
the clock, from its commanding altitude, kept time with the dispiriting
click of the instrument under her fingers.



II


The purchase of Evelina's clock had been a more important event in the
life of Ann Eliza Bunner than her younger sister could divine. In the
first place, there had been the demoralizing satisfaction of finding
herself in possession of a sum of money which she need not put into the
common fund, but could spend as she chose, without consulting Evelina,
and then the excitement of her stealthy trips abroad, undertaken on the
rare occasions when she could trump up a pretext for leaving the shop;
since, as a rule, it was Evelina who took the bundles to the dyer's,
and delivered the purchases of those among their customers who were too
genteel to be seen carrying home a bonnet or a bundle of pinking--so
that, had it not been for the excuse of having to see Mrs. Hawkins's
teething baby, Ann Eliza would hardly have known what motive to allege
for deserting her usual seat behind the counter.

The infrequency of her walks made them the chief events of her life.
The mere act of going out from the monastic quiet of the shop into the
tumult of the streets filled her with a subdued excitement which grew
too intense for pleasure as she was swallowed by the engulfing roar
of Broadway or Third Avenue, and began to do timid battle with their
incessant cross-currents of humanity. After a glance or two into the
great show-windows she usually allowed herself to be swept back into the
shelter of a side-street, and finally regained her own roof in a state
of breathless bewilderment and fatigue; but gradually, as her nerves
were soothed by the familiar quiet of the little shop, and the click
of Evelina's pinking-machine, certain sights and sounds would detach
themselves from the torrent along which she had been swept, and she
would devote the rest of the day to a mental reconstruction of the
different episodes of her walk, till finally it took shape in her
thought as a consecutive and highly-coloured experience, from which, for
weeks afterwards, she would detach some fragmentary recollection in the
course of her long dialogues with her sister.

But when, to the unwonted excitement of going out, was added the
intenser interest of looking for a present for Evelina, Ann Eliza's
agitation, sharpened by concealment, actually preyed upon her rest;
and it was not till the present had been given, and she had unbosomed
herself of the experiences connected with its purchase, that she could
look back with anything like composure to that stirring moment of
her life. From that day forward, however, she began to take a certain
tranquil pleasure in thinking of Mr. Ramy's small shop, not unlike her
own in its countrified obscurity, though the layer of dust which
covered its counter and shelves made the comparison only superficially
acceptable. Still, she did not judge the state of the shop severely, for
Mr. Ramy had told her that he was alone in the world, and lone men, she
was aware, did not know how to deal with dust. It gave her a good deal
of occupation to wonder why he had never married, or if, on the other
hand, he were a widower, and had lost all his dear little children;
and she scarcely knew which alternative seemed to make him the more
interesting. In either case, his life was assuredly a sad one; and she
passed many hours in speculating on the manner in which he probably
spent his evenings. She knew he lived at the back of his shop, for she
had caught, on entering, a glimpse of a dingy room with a tumbled bed;
and the pervading smell of cold fry suggested that he probably did his
own cooking. She wondered if he did not often make his tea with water
that had not boiled, and asked herself, almost jealously, who looked
after the shop while he went to market. Then it occurred to her as
likely that he bought his provisions at the same market as Evelina;
and she was fascinated by the thought that he and her sister might
constantly be meeting in total unconsciousness of the link between them.
Whenever she reached this stage in her reflexions she lifted a furtive
glance to the clock, whose loud staccato tick was becoming a part of her
inmost being.

The seed sown by these long hours of meditation germinated at last in
the secret wish to go to market some morning in Evelina's stead. As
this purpose rose to the surface of Ann Eliza's thoughts she shrank back
shyly from its contemplation. A plan so steeped in duplicity had never
before taken shape in her crystalline soul. How was it possible for her
to consider such a step? And, besides, (she did not possess sufficient
logic to mark the downward trend of this "besides"), what excuse could
she make that would not excite her sister's curiosity? From this second
query it was an easy descent to the third: how soon could she manage to
go?

It was Evelina herself, who furnished the necessary pretext by awaking
with a sore throat on the day when she usually went to market. It was
a Saturday, and as they always had their bit of steak on Sunday the
expedition could not be postponed, and it seemed natural that Ann Eliza,
as she tied an old stocking around Evelina's throat, should announce her
intention of stepping round to the butcher's.

"Oh, Ann Eliza, they'll cheat you so," her sister wailed.

Ann Eliza brushed aside the imputation with a smile, and a few minutes
later, having set the room to rights, and cast a last glance at the
shop, she was tying on her bonnet with fumbling haste.

The morning was damp and cold, with a sky full of sulky clouds that
would not make room for the sun, but as yet dropped only an occasional
snow-flake. In the early light the street looked its meanest and most
neglected; but to Ann Eliza, never greatly troubled by any untidiness
for which she was not responsible, it seemed to wear a singularly
friendly aspect.

A few minutes' walk brought her to the market where Evelina made her
purchases, and where, if he had any sense of topographical fitness, Mr.
Ramy must also deal.

Ann Eliza, making her way through the outskirts of potato-barrels and
flabby fish, found no one in the shop but the gory-aproned butcher who
stood in the background cutting chops.

As she approached him across the tesselation of fish-scales, blood and
saw-dust, he laid aside his cleaver and not unsympathetically asked:
"Sister sick?"

"Oh, not very--jest a cold," she answered, as guiltily as if Evelina's
illness had been feigned. "We want a steak as usual, please--and my
sister said you was to be sure to give me jest as good a cut as if it
was her," she added with child-like candour.

"Oh, that's all right." The butcher picked up his weapon with a grin.
"Your sister knows a cut as well as any of us," he remarked.

In another moment, Ann Eliza reflected, the steak would be cut and
wrapped up, and no choice left her but to turn her disappointed steps
toward home. She was too shy to try to delay the butcher by such
conversational arts as she possessed, but the approach of a deaf old
lady in an antiquated bonnet and mantle gave her her opportunity.

"Wait on her first, please," Ann Eliza whispered. "I ain't in any
hurry."

The butcher advanced to his new customer, and Ann Eliza, palpitating in
the back of the shop, saw that the old lady's hesitations between liver
and pork chops were likely to be indefinitely prolonged. They were still
unresolved when she was interrupted by the entrance of a blowsy
Irish girl with a basket on her arm. The newcomer caused a momentary
diversion, and when she had departed the old lady, who was evidently as
intolerant of interruption as a professional story-teller, insisted on
returning to the beginning of her complicated order, and weighing
anew, with an anxious appeal to the butcher's arbitration, the relative
advantages of pork and liver. But even her hesitations, and the
intrusion on them of two or three other customers, were of no avail,
for Mr. Ramy was not among those who entered the shop; and at last Ann
Eliza, ashamed of staying longer, reluctantly claimed her steak, and
walked home through the thickening snow.

Even to her simple judgment the vanity of her hopes was plain, and in
the clear light that disappointment turns upon our actions she wondered
how she could have been foolish enough to suppose that, even if Mr. Ramy
DID go to that particular market, he would hit on the same day and hour
as herself.


There followed a colourless week unmarked by farther incident. The old
stocking cured Evelina's throat, and Mrs. Hawkins dropped in once or
twice to talk of her baby's teeth; some new orders for pinking were
received, and Evelina sold a bonnet to the lady with puffed sleeves. The
lady with puffed sleeves--a resident of "the Square," whose name they
had never learned, because she always carried her own parcels home--was
the most distinguished and interesting figure on their horizon. She was
youngish, she was elegant (as the title they had given her implied), and
she had a sweet sad smile about which they had woven many histories; but
even the news of her return to town--it was her first apparition
that year--failed to arouse Ann Eliza's interest. All the small daily
happenings which had once sufficed to fill the hours now appeared to her
in their deadly insignificance; and for the first time in her long years
of drudgery she rebelled at the dullness of her life. With Evelina such
fits of discontent were habitual and openly proclaimed, and Ann Eliza
still excused them as one of the prerogatives of youth. Besides, Evelina
had not been intended by Providence to pine in such a narrow life: in
the original plan of things, she had been meant to marry and have a
baby, to wear silk on Sundays, and take a leading part in a Church
circle. Hitherto opportunity had played her false; and for all her
superior aspirations and carefully crimped hair she had remained as
obscure and unsought as Ann Eliza. But the elder sister, who had long
since accepted her own fate, had never accepted Evelina's. Once a
pleasant young man who taught in Sunday-school had paid the younger
Miss Bunner a few shy visits. That was years since, and he had speedily
vanished from their view. Whether he had carried with him any of
Evelina's illusions, Ann Eliza had never discovered; but his attentions
had clad her sister in a halo of exquisite possibilities.

Ann Eliza, in those days, had never dreamed of allowing herself the
luxury of self-pity: it seemed as much a personal right of Evelina's as
her elaborately crinkled hair. But now she began to transfer to herself
a portion of the sympathy she had so long bestowed on Evelina. She had
at last recognized her right to set up some lost opportunities of her
own; and once that dangerous precedent established, they began to crowd
upon her memory.

It was at this stage of Ann Eliza's transformation that Evelina, looking
up one evening from her work, said suddenly: "My! She's stopped."

Ann Eliza, raising her eyes from a brown merino seam, followed her
sister's glance across the room. It was a Monday, and they always wound
the clock on Sundays.

"Are you sure you wound her yesterday, Evelina?"

"Jest as sure as I live. She must be broke. I'll go and see."

Evelina laid down the hat she was trimming, and took the clock from its
shelf.

"There--I knew it! She's wound jest as TIGHT--what you suppose's
happened to her, Ann Eliza?"

"I dunno, I'm sure," said the elder sister, wiping her spectacles before
proceeding to a close examination of the clock.

With anxiously bent heads the two women shook and turned it, as though
they were trying to revive a living thing; but it remained unresponsive
to their touch, and at length Evelina laid it down with a sigh.

"Seems like somethin' DEAD, don't it, Ann Eliza? How still the room is!"

"Yes, ain't it?"

"Well, I'll put her back where she belongs," Evelina continued, in the
tone of one about to perform the last offices for the departed. "And I
guess," she added, "you'll have to step round to Mr. Ramy's to-morrow,
and see if he can fix her."

Ann Eliza's face burned. "I--yes, I guess I'll have to," she stammered,
stooping to pick up a spool of cotton which had rolled to the floor. A
sudden heart-throb stretched the seams of her flat alpaca bosom, and a
pulse leapt to life in each of her temples.

That night, long after Evelina slept, Ann Eliza lay awake in the
unfamiliar silence, more acutely conscious of the nearness of the
crippled clock than when it had volubly told out the minutes. The next
morning she woke from a troubled dream of having carried it to Mr.
Ramy's, and found that he and his shop had vanished; and all through the
day's occupations the memory of this dream oppressed her.

It had been agreed that Ann Eliza should take the clock to be repaired
as soon as they had dined; but while they were still at table a
weak-eyed little girl in a black apron stabbed with innumerable pins
burst in on them with the cry: "Oh, Miss Bunner, for mercy's sake! Miss
Mellins has been took again."

Miss Mellins was the dress-maker upstairs, and the weak-eyed child one
of her youthful apprentices.

Ann Eliza started from her seat. "I'll come at once. Quick, Evelina, the
cordial!"

By this euphemistic name the sisters designated a bottle of cherry
brandy, the last of a dozen inherited from their grandmother, which they
kept locked in their cupboard against such emergencies. A moment later,
cordial in hand, Ann Eliza was hurrying upstairs behind the weak-eyed
child.

Miss Mellins' "turn" was sufficiently serious to detain Ann Eliza for
nearly two hours, and dusk had fallen when she took up the depleted
bottle of cordial and descended again to the shop. It was empty, as
usual, and Evelina sat at her pinking-machine in the back room. Ann
Eliza was still agitated by her efforts to restore the dress-maker, but
in spite of her preoccupation she was struck, as soon as she entered, by
the loud tick of the clock, which still stood on the shelf where she had
left it.

"Why, she's going!" she gasped, before Evelina could question her about
Miss Mellins. "Did she start up again by herself?"

"Oh, no; but I couldn't stand not knowing what time it was, I've got so
accustomed to having her round; and just after you went upstairs Mrs.
Hawkins dropped in, so I asked her to tend the store for a minute, and
I clapped on my things and ran right round to Mr. Ramy's. It turned out
there wasn't anything the matter with her--nothin' on'y a speck of dust
in the works--and he fixed her for me in a minute and I brought her
right back. Ain't it lovely to hear her going again? But tell me about
Miss Mellins, quick!"

For a moment Ann Eliza found no words. Not till she learned that she had
missed her chance did she understand how many hopes had hung upon
it. Even now she did not know why she had wanted so much to see the
clock-maker again.

"I s'pose it's because nothing's ever happened to me," she thought, with
a twinge of envy for the fate which gave Evelina every opportunity
that came their way. "She had the Sunday-school teacher too," Ann
Eliza murmured to herself; but she was well-trained in the arts of
renunciation, and after a scarcely perceptible pause she plunged into a
detailed description of the dress-maker's "turn."

Evelina, when her curiosity was roused, was an insatiable questioner,
and it was supper-time before she had come to the end of her enquiries
about Miss Mellins; but when the two sisters had seated themselves at
their evening meal Ann Eliza at last found a chance to say: "So she on'y
had a speck of dust in her."

Evelina understood at once that the reference was not to Miss Mellins.
"Yes--at least he thinks so," she answered, helping herself as a matter
of course to the first cup of tea.

"On'y to think!" murmured Ann Eliza.

"But he isn't SURE," Evelina continued, absently pushing the teapot
toward her sister. "It may be something wrong with the--I forget what he
called it. Anyhow, he said he'd call round and see, day after to-morrow,
after supper."

"Who said?" gasped Ann Eliza.

"Why, Mr. Ramy, of course. I think he's real nice, Ann Eliza. And I
don't believe he's forty; but he DOES look sick. I guess he's pretty
lonesome, all by himself in that store. He as much as told me so, and
somehow"--Evelina paused and bridled--"I kinder thought that maybe his
saying he'd call round about the clock was on'y just an excuse. He said
it just as I was going out of the store. What you think, Ann Eliza?"

"Oh, I don't har'ly know." To save herself, Ann Eliza could produce
nothing warmer.

"Well, I don't pretend to be smarter than other folks," said Evelina,
putting a conscious hand to her hair, "but I guess Mr. Herman Ramy
wouldn't be sorry to pass an evening here, 'stead of spending it all
alone in that poky little place of his."

Her self-consciousness irritated Ann Eliza.

"I guess he's got plenty of friends of his own," she said, almost
harshly.

"No, he ain't, either. He's got hardly any."

"Did he tell you that too?" Even to her own ears there was a faint sneer
in the interrogation.

"Yes, he did," said Evelina, dropping her lids with a smile. "He seemed
to be just crazy to talk to somebody--somebody agreeable, I mean. I
think the man's unhappy, Ann Eliza."

"So do I," broke from the elder sister.

"He seems such an educated man, too. He was reading the paper when
I went in. Ain't it sad to think of his being reduced to that little
store, after being years at Tiff'ny's, and one of the head men in their
clock-department?"

"He told you all that?"

"Why, yes. I think he'd a' told me everything ever happened to him if
I'd had the time to stay and listen. I tell you he's dead lonely, Ann
Eliza."

"Yes," said Ann Eliza.



III


Two days afterward, Ann Eliza noticed that Evelina, before they sat down
to supper, pinned a crimson bow under her collar; and when the meal
was finished the younger sister, who seldom concerned herself with the
clearing of the table, set about with nervous haste to help Ann Eliza in
the removal of the dishes.

"I hate to see food mussing about," she grumbled. "Ain't it hateful
having to do everything in one room?"

"Oh, Evelina, I've always thought we was so comfortable," Ann Eliza
protested.

"Well, so we are, comfortable enough; but I don't suppose there's any
harm in my saying I wisht we had a parlour, is there? Anyway, we might
manage to buy a screen to hide the bed."

Ann Eliza coloured. There was something vaguely embarrassing in
Evelina's suggestion.

"I always think if we ask for more what we have may be taken from us,"
she ventured.

"Well, whoever took it wouldn't get much," Evelina retorted with a laugh
as she swept up the table-cloth.

A few moments later the back room was in its usual flawless order and
the two sisters had seated themselves near the lamp. Ann Eliza had taken
up her sewing, and Evelina was preparing to make artificial flowers.
The sisters usually relegated this more delicate business to the long
leisure of the summer months; but to-night Evelina had brought out the
box which lay all winter under the bed, and spread before her a bright
array of muslin petals, yellow stamens and green corollas, and a tray of
little implements curiously suggestive of the dental art. Ann Eliza made
no remark on this unusual proceeding; perhaps she guessed why, for that
evening her sister had chosen a graceful task.

Presently a knock on the outer door made them look up; but Evelina, the
first on her feet, said promptly: "Sit still. I'll see who it is."

Ann Eliza was glad to sit still: the baby's petticoat that she was
stitching shook in her fingers.

"Sister, here's Mr. Ramy come to look at the clock," said Evelina, a
moment later, in the high drawl she cultivated before strangers; and
a shortish man with a pale bearded face and upturned coat-collar came
stiffly into the room.

Ann Eliza let her work fall as she stood up. "You're very welcome, I'm
sure, Mr. Ramy. It's real kind of you to call."

"Nod ad all, ma'am." A tendency to illustrate Grimm's law in the
interchange of his consonants betrayed the clockmaker's nationality, but
he was evidently used to speaking English, or at least the particular
branch of the vernacular with which the Bunner sisters were familiar.
"I don't like to led any clock go out of my store without being sure it
gives satisfaction," he added.

"Oh--but we were satisfied," Ann Eliza assured him.

"But I wasn't, you see, ma'am," said Mr. Ramy looking slowly about the
room, "nor I won't be, not till I see that clock's going all right."

"May I assist you off with your coat, Mr. Ramy?" Evelina interposed. She
could never trust Ann Eliza to remember these opening ceremonies.

"Thank you, ma'am," he replied, and taking his thread-bare over-coat and
shabby hat she laid them on a chair with the gesture she imagined the
lady with the puffed sleeves might make use of on similar occasions.
Ann Eliza's social sense was roused, and she felt that the next act
of hospitality must be hers. "Won't you suit yourself to a seat?" she
suggested. "My sister will reach down the clock; but I'm sure she's all
right again. She's went beautiful ever since you fixed her."

"Dat's good," said Mr. Ramy. His lips parted in a smile which showed a
row of yellowish teeth with one or two gaps in it; but in spite of this
disclosure Ann Eliza thought his smile extremely pleasant: there was
something wistful and conciliating in it which agreed with the pathos
of his sunken cheeks and prominent eyes. As he took the lamp, the light
fell on his bulging forehead and wide skull thinly covered with grayish
hair. His hands were pale and broad, with knotty joints and square
finger-tips rimmed with grime; but his touch was as light as a woman's.

"Well, ladies, dat clock's all right," he pronounced.

"I'm sure we're very much obliged to you," said Evelina, throwing a
glance at her sister.

"Oh," Ann Eliza murmured, involuntarily answering the admonition.
She selected a key from the bunch that hung at her waist with her
cutting-out scissors, and fitting it into the lock of the cupboard,
brought out the cherry brandy and three old-fashioned glasses engraved
with vine-wreaths.

"It's a very cold night," she said, "and maybe you'd like a sip of this
cordial. It was made a great while ago by our grandmother."

"It looks fine," said Mr. Ramy bowing, and Ann Eliza filled the glasses.
In her own and Evelina's she poured only a few drops, but she filled
their guest's to the brim. "My sister and I seldom take wine," she
explained.

With another bow, which included both his hostesses, Mr. Ramy drank off
the cherry brandy and pronounced it excellent.

Evelina meanwhile, with an assumption of industry intended to put
their guest at ease, had taken up her instruments and was twisting a
rose-petal into shape.

"You make artificial flowers, I see, ma'am," said Mr. Ramy with
interest. "It's very pretty work. I had a lady-vriend in Shermany dat
used to make flowers." He put out a square finger-tip to touch the
petal.

Evelina blushed a little. "You left Germany long ago, I suppose?"

"Dear me yes, a goot while ago. I was only ninedeen when I come to the
States."

After this the conversation dragged on intermittently till Mr. Ramy,
peering about the room with the short-sighted glance of his race, said
with an air of interest: "You're pleasantly fixed here; it looks real
cosy." The note of wistfulness in his voice was obscurely moving to Ann
Eliza.

"Oh, we live very plainly," said Evelina, with an affectation of
grandeur deeply impressive to her sister. "We have very simple tastes."

"You look real comfortable, anyhow," said Mr. Ramy. His bulging eyes
seemed to muster the details of the scene with a gentle envy. "I wisht
I had as good a store; but I guess no blace seems home-like when you're
always alone in it."

For some minutes longer the conversation moved on at this desultory
pace, and then Mr. Ramy, who had been obviously nerving himself for
the difficult act of departure, took his leave with an abruptness
which would have startled anyone used to the subtler gradations
of intercourse. But to Ann Eliza and her sister there was nothing
surprising in his abrupt retreat. The long-drawn agonies of preparing to
leave, and the subsequent dumb plunge through the door, were so usual in
their circle that they would have been as much embarrassed as Mr. Ramy
if he had tried to put any fluency into his adieux.

After he had left both sisters remained silent for a while; then
Evelina, laying aside her unfinished flower, said: "I'll go and lock
up."



IV


Intolerably monotonous seemed now to the Bunner sisters the treadmill
routine of the shop, colourless and long their evenings about the lamp,
aimless their habitual interchange of words to the weary accompaniment
of the sewing and pinking machines.

It was perhaps with the idea of relieving the tension of their mood
that Evelina, the following Sunday, suggested inviting Miss Mellins to
supper. The Bunner sisters were not in a position to be lavish of the
humblest hospitality, but two or three times in the year they shared
their evening meal with a friend; and Miss Mellins, still flushed with
the importance of her "turn," seemed the most interesting guest they
could invite.

As the three women seated themselves at the supper-table, embellished by
the unwonted addition of pound cake and sweet pickles, the dress-maker's
sharp swarthy person stood out vividly between the neutral-tinted
sisters. Miss Mellins was a small woman with a glossy yellow face and
a frizz of black hair bristling with imitation tortoise-shell pins. Her
sleeves had a fashionable cut, and half a dozen metal bangles rattled
on her wrists. Her voice rattled like her bangles as she poured forth a
stream of anecdote and ejaculation; and her round black eyes jumped with
acrobatic velocity from one face to another. Miss Mellins was always
having or hearing of amazing adventures. She had surprised a burglar in
her room at midnight (though how he got there, what he robbed her
of, and by what means he escaped had never been quite clear to her
auditors); she had been warned by anonymous letters that her grocer (a
rejected suitor) was putting poison in her tea; she had a customer who
was shadowed by detectives, and another (a very wealthy lady) who
had been arrested in a department store for kleptomania; she had been
present at a spiritualist seance where an old gentleman had died in a
fit on seeing a materialization of his mother-in-law; she had escaped
from two fires in her night-gown, and at the funeral of her first cousin
the horses attached to the hearse had run away and smashed the coffin,
precipitating her relative into an open man-hole before the eyes of his
distracted family.

A sceptical observer might have explained Miss Mellins's proneness to
adventure by the fact that she derived her chief mental nourishment from
the Police Gazette and the Fireside Weekly; but her lot was cast in a
circle where such insinuations were not likely to be heard, and where
the title-role in blood-curdling drama had long been her recognized
right.

"Yes," she was now saying, her emphatic eyes on Ann Eliza, "you may not
believe it, Miss Bunner, and I don't know's I should myself if anybody
else was to tell me, but over a year before ever I was born, my mother
she went to see a gypsy fortune-teller that was exhibited in a tent on
the Battery with the green-headed lady, though her father warned her
not to--and what you s'pose she told her? Why, she told her these very
words--says she: 'Your next child'll be a girl with jet-black curls, and
she'll suffer from spasms.'"

"Mercy!" murmured Ann Eliza, a ripple of sympathy running down her
spine.

"D'you ever have spasms before, Miss Mellins?" Evelina asked.

"Yes, ma'am," the dress-maker declared. "And where'd you suppose I had
'em? Why, at my cousin Emma McIntyre's wedding, her that married the
apothecary over in Jersey City, though her mother appeared to her in a
dream and told her she'd rue the day she done it, but as Emma said,
she got more advice than she wanted from the living, and if she was to
listen to spectres too she'd never be sure what she'd ought to do and
what she'd oughtn't; but I will say her husband took to drink, and she
never was the same woman after her fust baby--well, they had an elegant
church wedding, and what you s'pose I saw as I was walkin' up the aisle
with the wedding percession?"

"Well?" Ann Eliza whispered, forgetting to thread her needle.

"Why, a coffin, to be sure, right on the top step of the chancel--Emma's
folks is 'piscopalians and she would have a church wedding, though HIS
mother raised a terrible rumpus over it--well, there it set, right in
front of where the minister stood that was going to marry 'em, a coffin
covered with a black velvet pall with a gold fringe, and a 'Gates Ajar'
in white camellias atop of it."

"Goodness," said Evelina, starting, "there's a knock!"

"Who can it be?" shuddered Ann Eliza, still under the spell of Miss
Mellins's hallucination.

Evelina rose and lit a candle to guide her through the shop. They heard
her turn the key of the outer door, and a gust of night air stirred the
close atmosphere of the back room; then there was a sound of vivacious
exclamations, and Evelina returned with Mr. Ramy.

Ann Eliza's heart rocked like a boat in a heavy sea, and the
dress-maker's eyes, distended with curiosity, sprang eagerly from face
to face.

"I just thought I'd call in again," said Mr. Ramy, evidently somewhat
disconcerted by the presence of Miss Mellins. "Just to see how the
clock's behaving," he added with his hollow-cheeked smile.

"Oh, she's behaving beautiful," said Ann Eliza; "but we're real glad to
see you all the same. Miss Mellins, let me make you acquainted with Mr.
Ramy."

The dress-maker tossed back her head and dropped her lids in
condescending recognition of the stranger's presence; and Mr. Ramy
responded by an awkward bow. After the first moment of constraint a
renewed sense of satisfaction filled the consciousness of the three
women. The Bunner sisters were not sorry to let Miss Mellins see that
they received an occasional evening visit, and Miss Mellins was clearly
enchanted at the opportunity of pouring her latest tale into a new ear.
As for Mr. Ramy, he adjusted himself to the situation with greater ease
than might have been expected, and Evelina, who had been sorry that he
should enter the room while the remains of supper still lingered on
the table, blushed with pleasure at his good-humored offer to help her
"glear away."

The table cleared, Ann Eliza suggested a game of cards; and it was after
eleven o'clock when Mr. Ramy rose to take leave. His adieux were so much
less abrupt than on the occasion of his first visit that Evelina was
able to satisfy her sense of etiquette by escorting him, candle in hand,
to the outer door; and as the two disappeared into the shop Miss Mellins
playfully turned to Ann Eliza.

"Well, well, Miss Bunner," she murmured, jerking her chin in the
direction of the retreating figures, "I'd no idea your sister was
keeping company. On'y to think!"

Ann Eliza, roused from a state of dreamy beatitude, turned her timid
eyes on the dress-maker.

"Oh, you're mistaken, Miss Mellins. We don't har'ly know Mr. Ramy."

Miss Mellins smiled incredulously. "You go 'long, Miss Bunner. I guess
there'll be a wedding somewheres round here before spring, and I'll be
real offended if I ain't asked to make the dress. I've always seen her
in a gored satin with rooshings."

Ann Eliza made no answer. She had grown very pale, and her eyes lingered
searchingly on Evelina as the younger sister re-entered the room.
Evelina's cheeks were pink, and her blue eyes glittered; but it seemed
to Ann Eliza that the coquettish tilt of her head regrettably emphasized
the weakness of her receding chin. It was the first time that Ann
Eliza had ever seen a flaw in her sister's beauty, and her involuntary
criticism startled her like a secret disloyalty.

That night, after the light had been put out, the elder sister knelt
longer than usual at her prayers. In the silence of the darkened
room she was offering up certain dreams and aspirations whose brief
blossoming had lent a transient freshness to her days. She wondered
now how she could ever have supposed that Mr. Ramy's visits had another
cause than the one Miss Mellins suggested. Had not the sight of Evelina
first inspired him with a sudden solicitude for the welfare of the
clock? And what charms but Evelina's could have induced him to repeat
his visit? Grief held up its torch to the frail fabric of Ann Eliza's
illusions, and with a firm heart she watched them shrivel into ashes;
then, rising from her knees full of the chill joy of renunciation, she
laid a kiss on the crimping pins of the sleeping Evelina and crept under
the bedspread at her side.



V


During the months that followed, Mr. Ramy visited the sisters with
increasing frequency. It became his habit to call on them every Sunday
evening, and occasionally during the week he would find an excuse for
dropping in unannounced as they were settling down to their work beside
the lamp. Ann Eliza noticed that Evelina now took the precaution of
putting on her crimson bow every evening before supper, and that she
had refurbished with a bit of carefully washed lace the black silk
which they still called new because it had been bought a year after Ann
Eliza's.

Mr. Ramy, as he grew more intimate, became less conversational, and
after the sisters had blushingly accorded him the privilege of a pipe he
began to permit himself long stretches of meditative silence that
were not without charm to his hostesses. There was something at once
fortifying and pacific in the sense of that tranquil male presence in
an atmosphere which had so long quivered with little feminine doubts and
distresses; and the sisters fell into the habit of saying to each other,
in moments of uncertainty: "We'll ask Mr. Ramy when he comes," and of
accepting his verdict, whatever it might be, with a fatalistic readiness
that relieved them of all responsibility.

When Mr. Ramy drew the pipe from his mouth and became, in his turn,
confidential, the acuteness of their sympathy grew almost painful to the
sisters. With passionate participation they listened to the story of his
early struggles in Germany, and of the long illness which had been the
cause of his recent misfortunes. The name of the Mrs. Hochmuller (an old
comrade's widow) who had nursed him through his fever was greeted with
reverential sighs and an inward pang of envy whenever it recurred in his
biographical monologues, and once when the sisters were alone Evelina
called a responsive flush to Ann Eliza's brow by saying suddenly,
without the mention of any name: "I wonder what she's like?"

One day toward spring Mr. Ramy, who had by this time become as much a
part of their lives as the letter-carrier or the milkman, ventured the
suggestion that the ladies should accompany him to an exhibition of
stereopticon views which was to take place at Chickering Hall on the
following evening.

After their first breathless "Oh!" of pleasure there was a silence
of mutual consultation, which Ann Eliza at last broke by saying: "You
better go with Mr. Ramy, Evelina. I guess we don't both want to leave
the store at night."

Evelina, with such protests as politeness demanded, acquiesced in this
opinion, and spent the next day in trimming a white chip bonnet with
forget-me-nots of her own making. Ann Eliza brought out her mosaic
brooch, a cashmere scarf of their mother's was taken from its linen
cerements, and thus adorned Evelina blushingly departed with Mr. Ramy,
while the elder sister sat down in her place at the pinking-machine.

It seemed to Ann Eliza that she was alone for hours, and she was
surprised, when she heard Evelina tap on the door, to find that the
clock marked only half-past ten.

"It must have gone wrong again," she reflected as she rose to let her
sister in.

The evening had been brilliantly interesting, and several striking
stereopticon views of Berlin had afforded Mr. Ramy the opportunity of
enlarging on the marvels of his native city.

"He said he'd love to show it all to me!" Evelina declared as Ann Eliza
conned her glowing face. "Did you ever hear anything so silly? I didn't
know which way to look."

Ann Eliza received this confidence with a sympathetic murmur.

"My bonnet IS becoming, isn't it?" Evelina went on irrelevantly, smiling
at her reflection in the cracked glass above the chest of drawers.

"You're jest lovely," said Ann Eliza.


Spring was making itself unmistakably known to the distrustful New
Yorker by an increased harshness of wind and prevalence of dust, when
one day Evelina entered the back room at supper-time with a cluster of
jonquils in her hand.

"I was just that foolish," she answered Ann Eliza's wondering glance, "I
couldn't help buyin' 'em. I felt as if I must have something pretty to
look at right away."

"Oh, sister," said Ann Eliza, in trembling sympathy. She felt that
special indulgence must be conceded to those in Evelina's state since
she had had her own fleeting vision of such mysterious longings as the
words betrayed.

Evelina, meanwhile, had taken the bundle of dried grasses out of the
broken china vase, and was putting the jonquils in their place with
touches that lingered down their smooth stems and blade-like leaves.

"Ain't they pretty?" she kept repeating as she gathered the flowers into
a starry circle. "Seems as if spring was really here, don't it?"

Ann Eliza remembered that it was Mr. Ramy's evening.

When he came, the Teutonic eye for anything that blooms made him turn at
once to the jonquils.

"Ain't dey pretty?" he said. "Seems like as if de spring was really
here."

"Don't it?" Evelina exclaimed, thrilled by the coincidence of their
thought. "It's just what I was saying to my sister."

Ann Eliza got up suddenly and moved away; she remembered that she had
not wound the clock the day before. Evelina was sitting at the table;
the jonquils rose slenderly between herself and Mr. Ramy.

"Oh," she murmured with vague eyes, "how I'd love to get away somewheres
into the country this very minute--somewheres where it was green and
quiet. Seems as if I couldn't stand the city another day." But Ann Eliza
noticed that she was looking at Mr. Ramy, and not at the flowers.

"I guess we might go to Cendral Park some Sunday," their visitor
suggested. "Do you ever go there, Miss Evelina?"

"No, we don't very often; leastways we ain't been for a good while." She
sparkled at the prospect. "It would be lovely, wouldn't it, Ann Eliza?"

"Why, yes," said the elder sister, coming back to her seat.

"Well, why don't we go next Sunday?" Mr. Ramy continued. "And we'll
invite Miss Mellins too--that'll make a gosy little party."

That night when Evelina undressed she took a jonquil from the vase
and pressed it with a certain ostentation between the leaves of her
prayer-book. Ann Eliza, covertly observing her, felt that Evelina was
not sorry to be observed, and that her own acute consciousness of the
act was somehow regarded as magnifying its significance.

The following Sunday broke blue and warm. The Bunner sisters were
habitual church-goers, but for once they left their prayer-books on the
what-not, and ten o'clock found them, gloved and bonneted, awaiting Miss
Mellins's knock. Miss Mellins presently appeared in a glitter of jet
sequins and spangles, with a tale of having seen a strange man prowling
under her windows till he was called off at dawn by a confederate's
whistle; and shortly afterward came Mr. Ramy, his hair brushed with more
than usual care, his broad hands encased in gloves of olive-green kid.

The little party set out for the nearest street-car, and a flutter of
mingled gratification and embarrassment stirred Ann Eliza's bosom when
it was found that Mr. Ramy intended to pay their fares. Nor did he fail
to live up to this opening liberality; for after guiding them through
the Mall and the Ramble he led the way to a rustic restaurant where,
also at his expense, they fared idyllically on milk and lemon-pie.

After this they resumed their walk, strolling on with the slowness of
unaccustomed holiday-makers from one path to another--through budding
shrubberies, past grass-banks sprinkled with lilac crocuses, and under
rocks on which the forsythia lay like sudden sunshine. Everything about
her seemed new and miraculously lovely to Ann Eliza; but she kept her
feelings to herself, leaving it to Evelina to exclaim at the hepaticas
under the shady ledges, and to Miss Mellins, less interested in the
vegetable than in the human world, to remark significantly on the
probable history of the persons they met. All the alleys were thronged
with promenaders and obstructed by perambulators; and Miss Mellins's
running commentary threw a glare of lurid possibilities over the placid
family groups and their romping progeny.

Ann Eliza was in no mood for such interpretations of life; but, knowing
that Miss Mellins had been invited for the sole purpose of keeping her
company she continued to cling to the dress-maker's side, letting
Mr. Ramy lead the way with Evelina. Miss Mellins, stimulated by the
excitement of the occasion, grew more and more discursive, and
her ceaseless talk, and the kaleidoscopic whirl of the crowd, were
unspeakably bewildering to Ann Eliza. Her feet, accustomed to the
slippered ease of the shop, ached with the unfamiliar effort of walking,
and her ears with the din of the dress-maker's anecdotes; but every
nerve in her was aware of Evelina's enjoyment, and she was determined
that no weariness of hers should curtail it. Yet even her heroism shrank
from the significant glances which Miss Mellins presently began to
cast at the couple in front of them: Ann Eliza could bear to connive at
Evelina's bliss, but not to acknowledge it to others.

At length Evelina's feet also failed her, and she turned to suggest
that they ought to be going home. Her flushed face had grown pale with
fatigue, but her eyes were radiant.

The return lived in Ann Eliza's memory with the persistence of an evil
dream. The horse-cars were packed with the returning throng, and they
had to let a dozen go by before they could push their way into one that
was already crowded. Ann Eliza had never before felt so tired. Even Miss
Mellins's flow of narrative ran dry, and they sat silent, wedged between
a negro woman and a pock-marked man with a bandaged head, while the car
rumbled slowly down a squalid avenue to their corner. Evelina and Mr.
Ramy sat together in the forward part of the car, and Ann Eliza could
catch only an occasional glimpse of the forget-me-not bonnet and the
clock-maker's shiny coat-collar; but when the little party got out at
their corner the crowd swept them together again, and they walked back
in the effortless silence of tired children to the Bunner sisters'
basement. As Miss Mellins and Mr. Ramy turned to go their various ways
Evelina mustered a last display of smiles; but Ann Eliza crossed the
threshold in silence, feeling the stillness of the little shop reach out
to her like consoling arms.

That night she could not sleep; but as she lay cold and rigid at her
sister's side, she suddenly felt the pressure of Evelina's arms, and
heard her whisper: "Oh, Ann Eliza, warn't it heavenly?"



VI


For four days after their Sunday in the Park the Bunner sisters had no
news of Mr. Ramy. At first neither one betrayed her disappointment and
anxiety to the other; but on the fifth morning Evelina, always the first
to yield to her feelings, said, as she turned from her untasted tea: "I
thought you'd oughter take that money out by now, Ann Eliza."

Ann Eliza understood and reddened. The winter had been a fairly
prosperous one for the sisters, and their slowly accumulated savings
had now reached the handsome sum of two hundred dollars; but the
satisfaction they might have felt in this unwonted opulence had been
clouded by a suggestion of Miss Mellins's that there were dark rumours
concerning the savings bank in which their funds were deposited. They
knew Miss Mellins was given to vain alarms; but her words, by the sheer
force of repetition, had so shaken Ann Eliza's peace that after long
hours of midnight counsel the sisters had decided to advise with
Mr. Ramy; and on Ann Eliza, as the head of the house, this duty
had devolved. Mr. Ramy, when consulted, had not only confirmed the
dress-maker's report, but had offered to find some safe investment which
should give the sisters a higher rate of interest than the suspected
savings bank; and Ann Eliza knew that Evelina alluded to the suggested
transfer.

"Why, yes, to be sure," she agreed. "Mr. Ramy said if he was us he
wouldn't want to leave his money there any longer'n he could help."

"It was over a week ago he said it," Evelina reminded her.

"I know; but he told me to wait till he'd found out for sure about that
other investment; and we ain't seen him since then."

Ann Eliza's words released their secret fear. "I wonder what's happened
to him," Evelina said. "You don't suppose he could be sick?"

"I was wondering too," Ann Eliza rejoined; and the sisters looked down
at their plates.

"I should think you'd oughter do something about that money pretty
soon," Evelina began again.

"Well, I know I'd oughter. What would you do if you was me?"

"If I was YOU," said her sister, with perceptible emphasis and a rising
blush, "I'd go right round and see if Mr. Ramy was sick. YOU could."

The words pierced Ann Eliza like a blade. "Yes, that's so," she said.

"It would only seem friendly, if he really IS sick. If I was you I'd go
to-day," Evelina continued; and after dinner Ann Eliza went.

On the way she had to leave a parcel at the dyer's, and having performed
that errand she turned toward Mr. Ramy's shop. Never before had she felt
so old, so hopeless and humble. She knew she was bound on a love-errand
of Evelina's, and the knowledge seemed to dry the last drop of young
blood in her veins. It took from her, too, all her faded virginal
shyness; and with a brisk composure she turned the handle of the
clock-maker's door.

But as she entered her heart began to tremble, for she saw Mr. Ramy, his
face hidden in his hands, sitting behind the counter in an attitude of
strange dejection. At the click of the latch he looked up slowly, fixing
a lustreless stare on Ann Eliza. For a moment she thought he did not
know her.

"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 to-morrow."

"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 to-morrow 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.



VII


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
of headache, but rejected Ann Eliza's tentatively proffered remedies,
and seemed to 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 by the 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 be setting 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
Mellins is," 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 to mollify 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 in the outskirts of Hoboken, and Mrs. Hochmuller had proposed
that on the following 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 real summer-house to set in; and hens and chickens too. And it's an
elegant sail over on de ferry-boat."

The proposal drew no response from Ann Eliza. She was still oppressed by
the recollection of her interminable Sunday in the Park; but, obedient
to Evelina'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 at the touch of the salt breeze, and the spectacle of the
crowded waters; but when they reached the other shore, and stepped out
on the dirty wharf, she began to ache with anticipated weariness. They
got into a street-car, and were jolted from one mean street to another,
till at length Mr. Ramy pulled the conductor'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; and that carried them out
to a thinly settled district, past vacant lots and narrow brick houses
standing in unsupported solitude, till they finally reached an almost
rural region of scattered cottages and low wooden buildings that looked
like village "stores." Here the car finally stopped of its own accord,
and they walked along a rutty road, past a stone-cutter's yard with a
high fence tapestried with theatrical advertisements, to a little red
house with 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 elm hung romantically over the gable of the house.

At the gate Mrs. Hochmuller, a broad woman in brick-brown merino, met
them with nods and smiles, while her daughter Linda, a flaxen-haired
girl with mottled red cheeks and a sidelong stare, hovered inquisitively
behind her. Mrs. Hochmuller, leading the way into the house, conducted
the Bunner sisters the way to her bedroom. Here they were invited to
spread out on a mountainous white featherbed the cashmere mantles under
which the solemnity of the occasion had compelled them to swelter,
and when they had given their black silks the necessary twitch
of readjustment, and Evelina had fluffed out her hair before a
looking-glass framed in pink-shell work, their hostess led them to a
stuffy parlour smelling of gingerbread. After another ceremonial pause,
broken by polite enquiries and shy ejaculations, they were shown into
the kitchen, where the table was already spread with strange-looking
spice-cakes and stewed fruits, and where they presently found themselves
seated between Mrs. Hochmuller and Mr. Ramy, while the staring Linda
bumped back and forth from the stove with steaming dishes.

To Ann Eliza the dinner seemed endless, and the rich fare strangely
unappetizing. She was abashed by the easy intimacy of her hostess's
voice and eye. With Mr. Ramy Mrs. Hochmuller was almost flippantly
familiar, and it was only when Ann Eliza pictured her generous form bent
above his sick-bed that she could forgive her for tersely addressing him
as "Ramy." During one of the pauses of the meal Mrs. Hochmuller laid her
knife and fork against the edges of 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 at length, as though to show that she also was in a position to
speak with authority. "He's complained very frequently of headaches."

"Ho!--I know him," said Mrs. Hochmuller with a laugh, her eyes still on
the clock-maker. "Ain't you ashamed of yourself, Ramy?"

Mr. Ramy, who was looking at his plate, said suddenly one word which the
sisters could not understand; it sounded to Ann Eliza like "Shwike."

Mrs. Hochmuller laughed again. "My, my," she said, "wouldn't you think
he'd be ashamed to go and be sick and never dell me, me that nursed him
troo dat awful fever?"

"Yes, I SHOULD," said Evelina, with a spirited glance at Ramy; but he
was looking at the sausages that Linda had just put on the table.

When dinner was over Mrs. Hochmuller invited her guests to step out of
the kitchen-door, and they found themselves in a green enclosure, half
garden, half orchard. Grey hens followed by golden broods clucked under
the twisted apple-boughs, a cat dozed on the edge of an old well, and
from tree to tree ran the network of clothes-line that denoted Mrs.
Hochmuller's calling. Beyond the 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 still on that hot Sunday
afternoon, and as she moved across the grass under the apple-boughs Ann
Eliza thought of quiet afternoons in church, and of the hymns her mother
had sung to her when she was a baby.

Evelina was more restless. She wandered from the well to the
summer-house and back, she tossed crumbs to the chickens and disturbed
the cat with arch caresses; 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.
"My Linda she goes troo a hole in de fence, but I guess you'd tear your
dress if you was to dry."

"I'll help you," said Mr. Ramy; and guided by Linda the pair walked
along the fence till they reached a narrow gap in its boards. Through
this they disappeared, watched curiously in their descent by the
grinning Linda, while Mrs. Hochmuller and Ann Eliza were left alone in
the summer-house.

Mrs. Hochmuller looked at her guest with a confidential smile. "I guess
dey'll be gone quite a while," she remarked, jerking her double chin
toward the gap in the fence. "Folks like dat don't never remember about
de dime." And she drew 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
here sometimes?" she asked. "I should think you'd be scared nights, all
alone with your daughter."

"Oh, no, I ain't," said Mrs. Hochmuller. "You see I take in
washing--dat's my business--and it's a lot cheaper doing it out here dan
in de city: where'd I get a drying-ground like dis in Hobucken? And den
it's safer for Linda too; it geeps her outer de streets."

"Oh," said Ann Eliza, shrinking. She began to feel a distinct aversion
for her hostess, and her eyes turned with involuntary annoyance to the
square-backed form of Linda, still inquisitively suspended on the fence.
It seemed to Ann Eliza that Evelina and her companion would never return
from the wood; but they came at length, Mr. Ramy's brow pearled with
perspiration, Evelina pink and 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
Ann Eliza, 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. Hochmuller
protested; and Ann Eliza found to her dismay that another long
gastronomic ceremony must intervene before politeness permitted them
to leave. At length, however, they found themselves again on the
ferry-boat. Water and sky were grey, with a dividing gleam of sunset
that sent sleek opal waves in the boat's wake. The wind had a cool tarry
breath, as though it had travelled over miles of shipping, and the hiss
of the water about the paddles was as delicious as though it had been
splashed into their tired faces.

Ann Eliza sat apart, looking away from the others. She had made up her
mind that Mr. Ramy had proposed to Evelina in the wood, and she was
silently preparing herself to receive her sister's confidence that
evening.

But Evelina was apparently in no mood for confidences. When they reached
home she put her faded ferns in water, and after supper, when she had
laid aside her silk dress and the forget-me-not bonnet, she remained
silently seated in her rocking-chair near the open window. It was long
since Ann Eliza had seen her in so uncommunicative a mood.


The following Saturday Ann Eliza was sitting alone in the shop when the
door opened and Mr. Ramy entered. He had never before called at that
hour, and she wondered a little anxiously what had brought him.

"Has anything happened?" she asked, pushing aside the basketful of
buttons she had been sorting.

"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.

"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.

For some moments he stood looking at her with a hesitating eye, as
though uncertain how to end their conversation; and at length she found
courage to say (in the words of a novel she had once read): "I don't
want this should make 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 between her desire to turn his thoughts to Evelina, and the
dread of prematurely disclosing 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, and when 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"; and Mr. 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 her life had passed, and she was glad that she had not fallen below
her own ideals. It had been a wonderful experience; and in spite of
the tears on her cheeks she was not sorry to have known it. Two facts,
however, took the edge from its perfection: that it had happened in the
shop, and that she had not had on her black silk.

She passed the next hour in a state of dreamy ecstasy. Something had
entered into her life of which no subsequent empoverishment could rob
it: she glowed with the same rich sense of possessorship that once, as
a little girl, she had felt when her mother had given her a gold locket
and she had sat up in bed in the 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. How could 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 had fallen when Evelina entered. But her fears
were superfluous. Evelina, always self-absorbed, had of late lost all
interest in the simple happenings of the shop, and Ann Eliza, with
mingled mortification and relief, perceived that she was 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 the
portentous secret in her bosom did not visibly shine forth. It struck
her as dull, and even slightly absurd, of Evelina not to know at last
that they were equals.



PART II



VIII

Mr. Ramy, after a decent interval, returned to the shop; and Ann Eliza,
when they met, was unable to detect whether the emotions which seethed
under her black alpaca found an echo in his bosom. Outwardly he made no
sign. He lit his pipe as placidly as ever and seemed to relapse without
effort into the unruffled intimacy of old. Yet to Ann Eliza's initiated
eye a change became gradually perceptible. She saw that he was beginning
to look at her sister as he had looked at her on that momentous
afternoon: she even discerned a secret significance in the turn of his
talk with Evelina. Once he asked her abruptly if she should like
to travel, and Ann Eliza saw that the flush on Evelina's cheek was
reflected from the same fire which had scorched her own.

So they drifted on through the sultry weeks of July. At that season the
business of the little shop almost ceased, and one Saturday morning Mr.
Ramy proposed that the sisters should lock up early and go with him for
a sail down the bay in one of the Coney Island boats.

Ann Eliza saw the light in Evelina's eye and her resolve was instantly
taken.

"I guess I won't go, thank you kindly; but I'm sure my sister will be
happy to."

She was pained by the perfunctory phrase with which Evelina urged her to
accompany them; and still more by Mr. Ramy's silence.

"No, I guess I won't go," she repeated, rather in answer to herself than
to them. "It's dreadfully hot and I've got a kinder headache."

"Oh, well, I wouldn't then," said her sister hurriedly. "You'd better
jest set here quietly and rest."


*** A summary of Part I of "Bunner Sisters" appears on page 4 of the
advertising pages.


"Yes, I'll rest," Ann Eliza assented.

At two o'clock Mr. Ramy returned, and a moment later he and Evelina left
the shop. Evelina had made herself another new bonnet for the occasion,
a bonnet, Ann Eliza thought, almost too youthful in shape and colour.
It was the first time it had ever occurred to her to criticize Evelina's
taste, and she was frightened at the insidious change in her attitude
toward her sister.

When Ann Eliza, in later days, looked back on that afternoon she felt
that there had been something prophetic in the quality of its solitude;
it seemed to distill the triple essence of loneliness in which all her
after-life was to be lived. No purchasers came; not a hand fell on
the door-latch; and the tick of the clock in the back room ironically
emphasized the passing of the empty hours.

Evelina returned late and alone. Ann Eliza felt the coming crisis in the
sound of her footstep, which wavered along as if not knowing on what it
trod. The elder sister's affection had so passionately projected itself
into her junior's fate that at such moments she seemed to be living
two lives, her own and Evelina's; and her private longings shrank into
silence at the sight of the other's hungry bliss. But it was evident
that Evelina, never acutely alive to the emotional atmosphere about her,
had no idea that her secret was suspected; and with an assumption of
unconcern that would have made Ann Eliza smile if the pang had been less
piercing, the younger sister prepared to confess herself.

"What are you so busy about?" she said impatiently, as Ann Eliza,
beneath the gas-jet, fumbled for the matches. "Ain't you even got time
to ask me if I'd had a pleasant day?"

Ann Eliza turned with a quiet smile. "I guess I don't have to. Seems to
me it's pretty plain you have."

"Well, I don't know. I don't know HOW I feel--it's all so queer. I
almost think I'd like to scream."

"I guess you're tired."

"No, I ain't. It's not that. But it all happened so suddenly, and the
boat was so crowded I thought everybody'd hear what he was saying.--Ann
Eliza," she broke out, "why on earth don't you ask me what I'm talking
about?"

Ann Eliza, with a last effort of heroism, feigned a fond
incomprehension.

"What ARE you?"

"Why, I'm engaged to be married--so there! Now it's out! And it happened
right on the boat; only to think of it! Of course I wasn't exactly
surprised--I've known right along he was going to sooner or later--on'y
somehow I didn't think of its happening to-day. I thought he'd never get
up his courage. He said he was so 'fraid I'd say no--that's what kep'
him so long from asking me. Well, I ain't said yes YET--leastways I told
him I'd have to think it over; but I guess he knows. Oh, Ann Eliza, I'm
so happy!" She hid the blinding brightness of her face.

Ann Eliza, just then, would only let herself feel that she was glad. She
drew down Evelina's hands and kissed her, and they held each other. When
Evelina regained her voice she had a tale to tell which carried their
vigil far into the night. Not a syllable, not a glance or gesture of
Ramy's, was the elder sister spared; and with unconscious irony she
found herself comparing the details of his proposal to her with those
which Evelina was imparting with merciless prolixity.

The next few days were taken up with the embarrassed adjustment of their
new relation to Mr. Ramy and to each other. Ann Eliza's ardour carried
her to new heights of self-effacement, and she invented late duties in
the shop in order to leave Evelina and her suitor longer alone in the
back room. Later on, when she tried to remember the details of those
first days, few came back to her: she knew only that she got up each
morning with the sense of having to push the leaden hours up the same
long steep of pain.

Mr. Ramy came daily now. Every evening he and his betrothed went out
for a stroll around the Square, and when Evelina came in her cheeks were
always pink. "He's kissed her under that tree at the corner, away from
the lamp-post," Ann Eliza said to herself, with sudden insight into
unconjectured things. On Sundays they usually went for the whole
afternoon to the Central Park, and Ann Eliza, from her seat in the
mortal hush of the back room, followed step by step their long slow
beatific walk.

There had been, as yet, no allusion to their marriage, except that
Evelina had once told her sister that Mr. Ramy wished them to invite
Mrs. Hochmuller and Linda to the wedding. The mention of the laundress
raised a half-forgotten fear in Ann Eliza, and she said in a tone of
tentative appeal: "I guess if I was you I wouldn't want to be very great
friends with Mrs. Hochmuller."

Evelina glanced at her compassionately. "I guess if you was me you'd
want to do everything you could to please the man you loved. It's
lucky," she added with glacial irony, "that I'm not too grand for
Herman's friends."

"Oh," Ann Eliza protested, "that ain't what I mean--and you know it
ain't. Only somehow the day we saw her I didn't think she seemed like
the kinder person you'd want for a friend."

"I guess a married woman's the best judge of such matters," Evelina
replied, as though she already walked in the light of her future state.

Ann Eliza, after that, kept her own counsel. She saw that Evelina wanted
her sympathy as little as her admonitions, and that already she counted
for nothing in her sister's scheme of life. To Ann Eliza's idolatrous
acceptance of the cruelties of fate this exclusion seemed both natural
and just; but it caused her the most lively pain. She could not divest
her love for Evelina of its passionate motherliness; no breath of reason
could lower it to the cool temperature of sisterly affection.

She was then passing, as she thought, through the novitiate of her pain;
preparing, in a hundred experimental ways, for the solitude awaiting her
when Evelina left. It was true that it would be a tempered loneliness.
They would not be far apart. Evelina would "run in" daily from the
clock-maker's; they would doubtless take supper with her on Sundays. But
already Ann Eliza guessed with what growing perfunctoriness her sister
would fulfill these obligations; she even foresaw the day when, to get
news of Evelina, she should have to lock the shop at nightfall and go
herself to Mr. Ramy's door. But on that contingency she would not dwell.
"They can come to me when they want to--they'll always find me here,"
she simply said to herself.

One evening Evelina came in flushed and agitated from her stroll around
the Square. Ann Eliza saw at once that something had happened; but the
new habit of reticence checked her question.

She had not long to wait. "Oh, Ann Eliza, on'y to think what he says--"
(the pronoun stood exclusively for Mr. Ramy). "I declare I'm so upset I
thought the people in the Square would notice me. Don't I look queer? He
wants to get married right off--this very next week."

"Next week?"

"Yes. So's we can move out to St. Louis right away."

"Him and you--move out to St. Louis?"

"Well, I don't know as it would be natural for him to want to go out
there without me," Evelina simpered. "But it's all so sudden I don't
know what to think. He only got the letter this morning. DO I look
queer, Ann Eliza?" Her eye was roving for the mirror.

"No, you don't," said Ann Eliza almost harshly.

"Well, it's a mercy," Evelina pursued with a tinge of disappointment.
"It's a regular miracle I didn't faint right out there in the Square.
Herman's so thoughtless--he just put the letter into my hand without a
word. It's from a big firm out there--the Tiff'ny of St. Louis, he says
it is--offering him a place in their clock-department. Seems they heart
of him through a German friend of his that's settled out there. It's a
splendid opening, and if he gives satisfaction they'll raise him at the
end of the year."

She paused, flushed with the importance of the situation, which seemed
to lift her once for all above the dull level of her former life.

"Then you'll have to go?" came at last from Ann Eliza.

Evelina stared. "You wouldn't have me interfere with his prospects,
would you?"

"No--no. I on'y meant--has it got to be so soon?"

"Right away, I tell you--next week. Ain't it awful?" blushed the bride.

Well, this was what happened to mothers. They bore it, Ann Eliza mused;
so why not she? Ah, but they had their own chance first; she had had no
chance at all. And now this life which she had made her own was going
from her forever; had gone, already, in the inner and deeper sense, and
was soon to vanish in even its outward nearness, its surface-communion
of voice and eye. At that moment even the thought of Evelina's happiness
refused her its consolatory ray; or its light, if she saw it, was too
remote to warm her. The thirst for a personal and inalienable tie, for
pangs and problems of her own, was parching Ann Eliza's soul: it seemed
to her that she could never again gather strength to look her loneliness
in the face.

The trivial obligations of the moment came to her aid. Nursed in
idleness her grief would have mastered her; but the needs of the shop
and the back room, and the preparations for Evelina's marriage, kept the
tyrant under.

Miss Mellins, true to her anticipations, had been called on to aid in
the making of the wedding dress, and she and Ann Eliza were bending one
evening over the breadths of pearl-grey cashmere which in spite of the
dress-maker's prophetic vision of gored satin, had been judged most
suitable, when Evelina came into the room alone.

Ann Eliza had already had occasion to notice that it was a bad sign when
Mr. Ramy left his affianced at the door. It generally meant that Evelina
had something disturbing to communicate, and Ann Eliza's first glance
told her that this time the news was grave.

Miss Mellins, who sat with her back to the door and her head bent over
her sewing, started as Evelina came around to the opposite side of the
table.

"Mercy, Miss Evelina! I declare I thought you was a ghost, the way you
crep' in. I had a customer once up in Forty-ninth Street--a lovely young
woman with a thirty-six bust and a waist you could ha' put into her
wedding ring--and her husband, he crep' up behind her that way jest for
a joke, and frightened her into a fit, and when she come to she was a
raving maniac, and had to be taken to Bloomingdale with two doctors and
a nurse to hold her in the carriage, and a lovely baby on'y six weeks
old--and there she is to this day, poor creature."

"I didn't mean to startle you," said Evelina.

She sat down on the nearest chair, and as the lamp-light fell on her
face Ann Eliza saw that she had been crying.

"You do look dead-beat," Miss Mellins resumed, after a pause of
soul-probing scrutiny. "I guess Mr. Ramy lugs you round that Square too
often. You'll walk your legs off if you ain't careful. Men don't never
consider--they're all alike. Why, I had a cousin once that was engaged
to a book-agent--"

"Maybe we'd better put away the work for to-night, Miss Mellins," Ann
Eliza interposed. "I guess what Evelina wants is a good night's rest."

"That's so," assented the dress-maker. "Have you got the back breadths
run together, Miss Bunner? Here's the sleeves. I'll pin 'em together."
She drew a cluster of pins from her mouth, in which she seemed to
secrete them as squirrels stow away nuts. "There," she said, rolling up
her work, "you go right away to bed, Miss Evelina, and we'll set up a
little later to-morrow night. I guess you're a mite nervous, ain't you?
I know when my turn comes I'll be scared to death."

With this arch forecast she withdrew, and Ann Eliza, returning to the
back room, found Evelina still listlessly seated by the table. True to
her new policy of silence, the elder sister set about folding up the
bridal dress; but suddenly Evelina said in a harsh unnatural voice:
"There ain't any use in going on with that."

The folds slipped from Ann Eliza's hands.

"Evelina Bunner--what you mean?"

"Jest what I say. It's put off."

"Put off--what's put off?"

"Our getting married. He can't take me to St. Louis. He ain't got money
enough." She brought the words out in the monotonous tone of a child
reciting a lesson.

Ann Eliza picked up another breadth of cashmere and began to smooth it
out. "I don't understand," she said at length.

"Well, it's plain enough. The journey's fearfully expensive, and we've
got to have something left to start with when we get out there. We've
counted up, and he ain't got the money to do it--that's all."

"But I thought he was going right into a splendid place."

"So he is; but the salary's pretty low the first year, and board's very
high in St. Louis. He's jest got another letter from his German friend,
and he's been figuring it out, and he's afraid to chance it. He'll have
to go alone."

"But there's your money--have you forgotten that? The hundred dollars in
the bank."

Evelina made an impatient movement. "Of course I ain't forgotten it.
On'y it ain't enough. It would all have to go into buying furniture,
and if he was took sick and lost his place again we wouldn't have a cent
left. He says he's got to lay by another hundred dollars before he'll be
willing to take me out there."

For a while Ann Eliza pondered this surprising statement; then she
ventured: "Seems to me he might have thought of it before."

In an instant Evelina was aflame. "I guess he knows what's right as well
as you or me. I'd sooner die than be a burden to him."

Ann Eliza made no answer. The clutch of an unformulated doubt had
checked the words on her lips. She had meant, on the day of her sister's
marriage, to give Evelina the other half of their common savings; but
something warned her not to say so now.

The sisters undressed without farther words. After they had gone to bed,
and the light had been put out, the sound of Evelina's weeping came to
Ann Eliza in the darkness, but she lay motionless on her own side of the
bed, out of contact with her sister's shaken body. Never had she felt so
coldly remote from Evelina.

The hours of the night moved slowly, ticked off with wearisome
insistence by the clock which had played so prominent a part in their
lives. Evelina's sobs still stirred the bed at gradually lengthening
intervals, till at length Ann Eliza thought she slept. But with the dawn
the eyes of the sisters met, and Ann Eliza's courage failed her as she
looked in Evelina's face.

She sat up in bed and put out a pleading hand.

"Don't cry so, dearie. Don't."

"Oh, I can't bear it, I can't bear it," Evelina moaned.

Ann Eliza stroked her quivering shoulder. "Don't, don't," she repeated.
"If you take the other hundred, won't that be enough? I always meant to
give it to you. On'y I didn't want to tell you till your wedding day."



IX


Evelina's marriage took place on the appointed day. It was celebrated
in the evening, in the chantry of the church which the sisters attended,
and after it was over the few guests who had been present repaired to
the Bunner Sisters' basement, where a wedding supper awaited them. Ann
Eliza, aided by Miss Mellins and Mrs. Hawkins, and consciously supported
by the sentimental interest of the whole street, had expended her utmost
energy on the decoration of the shop and the back room. On the table a
vase of white chrysanthemums stood between a dish of oranges and bananas
and an iced wedding-cake wreathed with orange-blossoms of the bride's
own making. Autumn leaves studded with paper roses festooned the
what-not and the chromo of the Rock of Ages, and a wreath of yellow
immortelles was twined about the clock which Evelina revered as the
mysterious agent of her happiness.

At the table sat Miss Mellins, profusely spangled and bangled, her head
sewing-girl, a pale young thing who had helped with Evelina's outfit,
Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins, with Johnny, their eldest boy, and Mrs. Hochmuller
and her daughter.

Mrs. Hochmuller's large blonde personality seemed to pervade the room
to the effacement of the less amply-proportioned guests. It was rendered
more impressive by a dress of crimson poplin that stood out from her in
organ-like folds; and Linda, whom Ann Eliza had remembered as an
uncouth child with a sly look about the eyes, surprised her by a sudden
blossoming into feminine grace such as sometimes follows on a gawky
girlhood. The Hochmullers, in fact, struck the dominant note in the
entertainment. Beside them Evelina, unusually pale in her grey cashmere
and white bonnet, looked like a faintly washed sketch beside a brilliant
chromo; and Mr. Ramy, doomed to the traditional insignificance of the
bridegroom's part, made no attempt to rise above his situation.
Even Miss Mellins sparkled and jingled in vain in the shadow of
Mrs. Hochmuller's crimson bulk; and Ann Eliza, with a sense of vague
foreboding, saw that the wedding feast centred about the two guests she
had most wished to exclude from it. What was said or done while they
all sat about the table she never afterward recalled: the long hours
remained in her memory as a whirl of high colours and loud voices, from
which the pale presence of Evelina now and then emerged like a drowned
face on a sunset-dabbled sea.

The next morning Mr. Ramy and his wife started for St. Louis, and Ann
Eliza was left alone. Outwardly the first strain of parting was tempered
by the arrival of Miss Mellins, Mrs. Hawkins and Johnny, who dropped in
to help in the ungarlanding and tidying up of the back room. Ann Eliza
was duly grateful for their kindness, but the "talking over" on which
they had evidently counted was Dead Sea fruit on her lips; and just
beyond the familiar warmth of their presences she saw the form of
Solitude at her door.

Ann Eliza was but a small person to harbour so great a guest, and a
trembling sense of insufficiency possessed her. She had no high musings
to offer to the new companion of her hearth. Every one of her thoughts
had hitherto turned to Evelina and shaped itself in homely easy words;
of the mighty speech of silence she knew not the earliest syllable.

Everything in the back room and the shop, on the second day after
Evelina's going, seemed to have grown coldly unfamiliar. The whole
aspect of the place had changed with the changed conditions of Ann
Eliza's life. The first customer who opened the shop-door startled her
like a ghost; and all night she lay tossing on her side of the bed,
sinking now and then into an uncertain doze from which she would
suddenly wake to reach out her hand for Evelina. In the new silence
surrounding her the walls and furniture found voice, frightening her
at dusk and midnight with strange sighs and stealthy whispers. Ghostly
hands shook the window shutters or rattled at the outer latch, and once
she grew cold at the sound of a step like Evelina's stealing through the
dark shop to die out on the threshold. In time, of course, she found
an explanation for these noises, telling herself that the bedstead was
warping, that Miss Mellins trod heavily overhead, or that the thunder of
passing beer-waggons shook the door-latch; but the hours leading up to
these conclusions were full of the floating terrors that harden into
fixed foreboding. Worst of all were the solitary meals, when she
absently continued to set aside the largest slice of pie for Evelina,
and to let the tea grow cold while she waited for her sister to help
herself to the first cup. Miss Mellins, coming in on one of these sad
repasts, suggested the acquisition of a cat; but Ann Eliza shook
her head. She had never been used to animals, and she felt the vague
shrinking of the pious from creatures divided from her by the abyss of
soullessness.

At length, after ten empty days, Evelina's first letter came.

"My dear Sister," she wrote, in her pinched Spencerian hand, "it seems
strange to be in this great City so far from home alone with him I have
chosen for life, but marriage has its solemn duties which those who are
not can never hope to understand, and happier perhaps for this reason,
life for them has only simple tasks and pleasures, but those who must
take thought for others must be prepared to do their duty in whatever
station it has pleased the Almighty to call them. Not that I have cause
to complain, my dear Husband is all love and devotion, but being absent
all day at his business how can I help but feel lonesome at times, as
the poet says it is hard for they that love to live apart, and I often
wonder, my dear Sister, how you are getting along alone in the store,
may you never experience the feelings of solitude I have underwent since
I came here. We are boarding now, but soon expect to find rooms and
change our place of Residence, then I shall have all the care of a
household to bear, but such is the fate of those who join their Lot with
others, they cannot hope to escape from the burdens of Life, nor would
I ask it, I would not live alway but while I live would always pray for
strength to do my duty. This city is not near as large or handsome as
New York, but had my lot been cast in a Wilderness I hope I should
not repine, such never was my nature, and they who exchange their
independence for the sweet name of Wife must be prepared to find all is
not gold that glitters, nor I would not expect like you to drift down
the stream of Life unfettered and serene as a Summer cloud, such is
not my fate, but come what may will always find in me a resigned and
prayerful Spirit, and hoping this finds you as well as it leaves me, I
remain, my dear Sister,

"Yours truly,

"EVELINA B. RAMY."


Ann Eliza had always secretly admired the oratorical and impersonal tone
of Evelina's letters; but the few she had previously read, having been
addressed to school-mates or distant relatives, had appeared in the
light of literary compositions rather than as records of personal
experience. Now she could not but wish that Evelina had laid aside her
swelling periods for a style more suited to the chronicling of homely
incidents. She read the letter again and again, seeking for a clue to
what her sister was really doing and thinking; but after each reading
she emerged impressed but unenlightened from the labyrinth of Evelina's
eloquence.

During the early winter she received two or three more letters of the
same kind, each enclosing in its loose husk of rhetoric a smaller kernel
of fact. By dint of patient interlinear study, Ann Eliza gathered from
them that Evelina and her husband, after various costly experiments in
boarding, had been reduced to a tenement-house flat; that living in St.
Louis was more expensive than they had supposed, and that Mr. Ramy was
kept out late at night (why, at a jeweller's, Ann Eliza wondered?) and
found his position less satisfactory than he had been led to expect.
Toward February the letters fell off; and finally they ceased to come.

At first Ann Eliza wrote, shyly but persistently, entreating for more
frequent news; then, as one appeal after another was swallowed up in the
mystery of Evelina's protracted silence, vague fears began to assail the
elder sister. Perhaps Evelina was ill, and with no one to nurse her but
a man who could not even make himself a cup of tea! Ann Eliza recalled
the layer of dust in Mr. Ramy's shop, and pictures of domestic disorder
mingled with the more poignant vision of her sister's illness. But
surely if Evelina were ill Mr. Ramy would have written. He wrote a
small neat hand, and epistolary communication was not an insuperable
embarrassment to him. The too probable alternative was that both
the unhappy pair had been prostrated by some disease which left them
powerless to summon her--for summon her they surely would, Ann Eliza
with unconscious cynicism reflected, if she or her small economies could
be of use to them! The more she strained her eyes into the mystery, the
darker it grew; and her lack of initiative, her inability to imagine
what steps might be taken to trace the lost in distant places, left her
benumbed and helpless.

At last there floated up from some depth of troubled memory the name
of the firm of St. Louis jewellers by whom Mr. Ramy was employed. After
much hesitation, and considerable effort, she addressed to them a timid
request for news of her brother-in-law; and sooner than she could have
hoped the answer reached her.

"DEAR MADAM,

"In reply to yours of the 29th ult. we beg to state the party you refer
to was discharged from our employ a month ago. We are sorry we are
unable to furnish you wish his address.

"Yours Respectfully,

"LUDWIG AND HAMMERBUSCH."


Ann Eliza read and re-read the curt statement in a stupor of distress.
She had lost her last trace of Evelina. All that night she lay awake,
revolving the stupendous project of going to St. Louis in search of her
sister; but though she pieced together her few financial possibilities
with the ingenuity of a brain used to fitting odd scraps into patch-work
quilts, she woke to the cold daylight fact that she could not raise the
money for her fare. Her wedding gift to Evelina had left her without any
resources beyond her daily earnings, and these had steadily dwindled as
the winter passed. She had long since renounced her weekly visit to the
butcher, and had reduced her other expenses to the narrowest measure;
but the most systematic frugality had not enabled her to put by any
money. In spite of her dogged efforts to maintain the prosperity of the
little shop, her sister's absence had already told on its business.
Now that Ann Eliza had to carry the bundles to the dyer's herself, the
customers who called in her absence, finding the shop locked, too often
went elsewhere. Moreover, after several stern but unavailing efforts,
she had had to give up the trimming of bonnets, which in Evelina's hands
had been the most lucrative as well as the most interesting part of the
business. This change, to the passing female eye, robbed the shop window
of its chief attraction; and when painful experience had convinced the
regular customers of the Bunner Sisters of Ann Eliza's lack of millinery
skill they began to lose faith in her ability to curl a feather or even
"freshen up" a bunch of flowers. The time came when Ann Eliza had almost
made up her mind to speak to the lady with puffed sleeves, who had
always looked at her so kindly, and had once ordered a hat of Evelina.
Perhaps the lady with puffed sleeves would be able to get her a little
plain sewing to do; or she might recommend the shop to friends. Ann
Eliza, with this possibility in view, rummaged out of a drawer the
fly-blown remainder of the business cards which the sisters had ordered
in the first flush of their commercial adventure; but when the lady with
puffed sleeves finally appeared she was in deep mourning, and wore
so sad a look that Ann Eliza dared not speak. She came in to buy some
spools of black thread and silk, and in the doorway she turned back to
say: "I am going away to-morrow for a long time. I hope you will have a
pleasant winter." And the door shut on her.

One day not long after this it occurred to Ann Eliza to go to Hoboken in
quest of Mrs. Hochmuller. Much as she shrank from pouring her distress
into that particular ear, her anxiety had carried her beyond such
reluctance; but when she began to think the matter over she was faced by
a new difficulty. On the occasion of her only visit to Mrs. Hochmuller,
she and Evelina had suffered themselves to be led there by Mr. Ramy;
and Ann Eliza now perceived that she did not even know the name of the
laundress's suburb, much less that of the street in which she lived.
But she must have news of Evelina, and no obstacle was great enough to
thwart her.

Though she longed to turn to some one for advice she disliked to expose
her situation to Miss Mellins's searching eye, and at first she could
think of no other confidant. Then she remembered Mrs. Hawkins, or
rather her husband, who, though Ann Eliza had always thought him a
dull uneducated man, was probably gifted with the mysterious masculine
faculty of finding out people's addresses. It went hard with Ann Eliza
to trust her secret even to the mild ear of Mrs. Hawkins, but at least
she was spared the cross-examination to which the dress-maker would
have subjected her. The accumulating pressure of domestic cares had so
crushed in Mrs. Hawkins any curiosity concerning the affairs of others
that she received her visitor's confidence with an almost masculine
indifference, while she rocked her teething baby on one arm and with the
other tried to check the acrobatic impulses of the next in age.

"My, my," she simply said as Ann Eliza ended. "Keep still now, Arthur:
Miss Bunner don't want you to jump up and down on her foot to-day. And
what are you gaping at, Johnny? Run right off and play," she added,
turning sternly to her eldest, who, because he was the least naughty,
usually bore the brunt of her wrath against the others.

"Well, perhaps Mr. Hawkins can help you," Mrs. Hawkins continued
meditatively, while the children, after scattering at her bidding,
returned to their previous pursuits like flies settling down on the
spot from which an exasperated hand has swept them. "I'll send him right
round the minute he comes in, and you can tell him the whole story. I
wouldn't wonder but what he can find that Mrs. Hochmuller's address in
the d'rectory. I know they've got one where he works."

"I'd be real thankful if he could," Ann Eliza murmured, rising from her
seat with the factitious sense of lightness that comes from imparting a
long-hidden dread.



X


Mr. Hawkins proved himself worthy of his wife's faith in his capacity.
He learned from Ann Eliza as much as she could tell him about Mrs.
Hochmuller and returned the next evening with a scrap of paper bearing
her address, beneath which Johnny (the family scribe) had written in a
large round hand the names of the streets that led there from the ferry.

Ann Eliza lay awake all that night, repeating over and over again the
directions Mr. Hawkins had given her. He was a kind man, and she knew
he would willingly have gone with her to Hoboken; indeed she read in his
timid eye the half-formed intention of offering to accompany her--but on
such an errand she preferred to go alone.

The next Sunday, accordingly, she set out early, and without much
trouble found her way to the ferry. Nearly a year had passed since her
previous visit to Mrs. Hochmuller, and a chilly April breeze smote her
face as she stepped on the boat. Most of the passengers were huddled
together in the cabin, and Ann Eliza shrank into its obscurest corner,
shivering under the thin black mantle which had seemed so hot in July.
She began to feel a little bewildered as she stepped ashore, but a
paternal policeman put her into the right car, and as in a dream she
found herself retracing the way to Mrs. Hochmuller's door. She had told
the conductor the name of the street at which she wished to get out,
and presently she stood in the biting wind at the corner near the
beer-saloon, where the sun had once beat down on her so fiercely. At
length an empty car appeared, its yellow flank emblazoned with the name
of Mrs. Hochmuller's suburb, and Ann Eliza was presently jolting past
the narrow brick houses islanded between vacant lots like giant piles in
a desolate lagoon. When the car reached the end of its journey she got
out and stood for some time trying to remember which turn Mr. Ramy had
taken. She had just made up her mind to ask the car-driver when he shook
the reins on the backs of his lean horses, and the car, still empty,
jogged away toward Hoboken.

Ann Eliza, left alone by the roadside, began to move cautiously
forward, looking about for a small red house with a gable overhung by an
elm-tree; but everything about her seemed unfamiliar and forbidding. One
or two surly looking men slouched past with inquisitive glances, and she
could not make up her mind to stop and speak to them.

At length a tow-headed boy came out of a swinging door suggestive of
illicit conviviality, and to him Ann Eliza ventured to confide
her difficulty. The offer of five cents fired him with an instant
willingness to lead her to Mrs. Hochmuller, and he was soon trotting
past the stone-cutter's yard with Ann Eliza in his wake.

Another turn in the road brought them to the little red house, and
having rewarded her guide Ann Eliza unlatched the gate and walked up to
the door. Her heart was beating violently, and she had to lean against
the door-post to compose her twitching lips: she had not known till that
moment how much it was going to hurt her to speak of Evelina to Mrs.
Hochmuller. As her agitation subsided she began to notice how much the
appearance of the house had changed. It was not only that winter had
stripped the elm, and blackened the flower-borders: the house itself had
a debased and deserted air. The window-panes were cracked and dirty, and
one or two shutters swung dismally on loosened hinges.

She rang several times before the door was opened. At length an Irish
woman with a shawl over her head and a baby in her arms appeared on the
threshold, and glancing past her into the narrow passage Ann Eliza saw
that Mrs. Hochmuller's neat abode had deteriorated as much within as
without.

At the mention of the name the woman stared. "Mrs. who, did ye say?"

"Mrs. Hochmuller. This is surely her house?"

"No, it ain't neither," said the woman turning away.

"Oh, but wait, please," Ann Eliza entreated. "I can't be mistaken. I
mean the Mrs. Hochmuller who takes in washing. I came out to see her
last June."

"Oh, the Dutch washerwoman is it--her that used to live here? She's been
gone two months and more. It's Mike McNulty lives here now. Whisht!" to
the baby, who had squared his mouth for a howl.

Ann Eliza's knees grew weak. "Mrs. Hochmuller gone? But where has she
gone? She must be somewhere round here. Can't you tell me?"

"Sure an' I can't," said the woman. "She wint away before iver we come."

"Dalia Geoghegan, will ye bring the choild in out av the cowld?" cried
an irate voice from within.

"Please wait--oh, please wait," Ann Eliza insisted. "You see I must find
Mrs. Hochmuller."

"Why don't ye go and look for her thin?" the woman returned, slamming
the door in her face.

She stood motionless on the door-step, dazed by the immensity of her
disappointment, till a burst of loud voices inside the house drove her
down the path and out of the gate.

Even then she could not grasp what had happened, and pausing in the road
she looked back at the house, half hoping that Mrs. Hochmuller's once
detested face might appear at one of the grimy windows.

She was roused by an icy wind that seemed to spring up suddenly from the
desolate scene, piercing her thin dress like gauze; and turning away she
began to retrace her steps. She thought of enquiring for Mrs. Hochmuller
at some of the neighbouring houses, but their look was so unfriendly
that she walked on without making up her mind at which door to ring.
When she reached the horse-car terminus a car was just moving off toward
Hoboken, and for nearly an hour she had to wait on the corner in the
bitter wind. Her hands and feet were stiff with cold when the car at
length loomed into sight again, and she thought of stopping somewhere
on the way to the ferry for a cup of tea; but before the region of
lunch-rooms was reached she had grown so sick and dizzy that the thought
of food was repulsive. At length she found herself on the ferry-boat, in
the soothing stuffiness of the crowded cabin; then came another interval
of shivering on a street-corner, another long jolting journey in a
"cross-town" car that smelt of damp straw and tobacco; and lastly, in
the cold spring dusk, she unlocked her door and groped her way through
the shop to her fireless bedroom.

The next morning Mrs. Hawkins, dropping in to hear the result of the
trip, found Ann Eliza sitting behind the counter wrapped in an old
shawl.

"Why, Miss Bunner, you're sick! You must have fever--your face is just
as red!"

"It's nothing. I guess I caught cold yesterday on the ferry-boat," Ann
Eliza acknowledged.

"And it's jest like a vault in here!" Mrs. Hawkins rebuked her. "Let me
feel your hand--it's burning. Now, Miss Bunner, you've got to go right
to bed this very minute."

"Oh, but I can't, Mrs. Hawkins." Ann Eliza attempted a wan smile. "You
forget there ain't nobody but me to tend the store."

"I guess you won't tend it long neither, if you ain't careful," Mrs.
Hawkins grimly rejoined. Beneath her placid exterior she cherished
a morbid passion for disease and death, and the sight of Ann Eliza's
suffering had roused her from her habitual indifference. "There ain't
so many folks comes to the store anyhow," she went on with unconscious
cruelty, "and I'll go right up and see if Miss Mellins can't spare one
of her girls."

Ann Eliza, too weary to resist, allowed Mrs. Hawkins to put her to
bed and make a cup of tea over the stove, while Miss Mellins, always
good-naturedly responsive to any appeal for help, sent down the
weak-eyed little girl to deal with hypothetical customers.

Ann Eliza, having so far abdicated her independence, sank into sudden
apathy. As far as she could remember, it was the first time in her life
that she had been taken care of instead of taking care, and there was
a momentary relief in the surrender. She swallowed the tea like an
obedient child, allowed a poultice to be applied to her aching chest and
uttered no protest when a fire was kindled in the rarely used grate; but
as Mrs. Hawkins bent over to "settle" her pillows she raised herself on
her elbow to whisper: "Oh, Mrs. Hawkins, Mrs. Hochmuller warn't there."
The tears rolled down her cheeks.

"She warn't there? Has she moved?"

"Over two months ago--and they don't know where she's gone. Oh what'll I
do, Mrs. Hawkins?"

"There, there, Miss Bunner. You lay still and don't fret. I'll ask Mr.
Hawkins soon as ever he comes home."

Ann Eliza murmured her gratitude, and Mrs. Hawkins, bending down, kissed
her on the forehead. "Don't you fret," she repeated, in the voice with
which she soothed her children.

For over a week Ann Eliza lay in bed, faithfully nursed by her two
neighbours, while the weak-eyed child, and the pale sewing girl who
had helped to finish Evelina's wedding dress, took turns in minding the
shop. Every morning, when her friends appeared, Ann Eliza lifted her
head to ask: "Is there a letter?" and at their gentle negative sank back
in silence. Mrs. Hawkins, for several days, spoke no more of her promise
to consult her husband as to the best way of tracing Mrs. Hochmuller;
and dread of fresh disappointment kept Ann Eliza from bringing up the
subject.

But the following Sunday evening, as she sat for the first time
bolstered up in her rocking-chair near the stove, while Miss Mellins
studied the Police Gazette beneath the lamp, there came a knock on the
shop-door and Mr. Hawkins entered.

Ann Eliza's first glance at his plain friendly face showed her he had
news to give, but though she no longer attempted to hide her anxiety
from Miss Mellins, her lips trembled too much to let her speak.

"Good evening, Miss Bunner," said Mr. Hawkins in his dragging voice.
"I've been over to Hoboken all day looking round for Mrs. Hochmuller."

"Oh, Mr. Hawkins--you HAVE?"

"I made a thorough search, but I'm sorry to say it was no use. She's
left Hoboken--moved clear away, and nobody seems to know where."

"It was real good of you, Mr. Hawkins." Ann Eliza's voice struggled up
in a faint whisper through the submerging tide of her disappointment.

Mr. Hawkins, in his embarrassed sense of being the bringer of bad news,
stood before her uncertainly; then he turned to go. "No trouble at all,"
he paused to assure her from the doorway.

She wanted to speak again, to detain him, to ask him to advise her; but
the words caught in her throat and she lay back silent.

The next day she got up early, and dressed and bonneted herself with
twitching fingers. She waited till the weak-eyed child appeared, and
having laid on her minute instructions as to the care of the shop, she
slipped out into the street. It had occurred to her in one of the weary
watches of the previous night that she might go to Tiffany's and make
enquiries about Ramy's past. Possibly in that way she might obtain some
information that would suggest a new way of reaching Evelina. She was
guiltily aware that Mrs. Hawkins and Miss Mellins would be angry with
her for venturing out of doors, but she knew she should never feel any
better till she had news of Evelina.

The morning air was sharp, and as she turned to face the wind she felt
so weak and unsteady that she wondered if she should ever get as far
as Union Square; but by walking very slowly, and standing still now and
then when she could do so without being noticed, she found herself at
last before the jeweller's great glass doors.

It was still so early that there were no purchasers in the shop, and
she felt herself the centre of innumerable unemployed eyes as she moved
forward between long lines of show-cases glittering with diamonds and
silver.

She was glancing about in the hope of finding the clock-department
without having to approach one of the impressive gentlemen who paced
the empty aisles, when she attracted the attention of one of the most
impressive of the number.

The formidable benevolence with which he enquired what he could do
for her made her almost despair of explaining herself; but she finally
disentangled from a flurry of wrong beginnings the request to be shown
to the clock-department.

The gentleman considered her thoughtfully. "May I ask what style of
clock you are looking for? Would it be for a wedding-present, or--?"

The irony of the allusion filled Ann Eliza's veins with sudden strength.
"I don't want to buy a clock at all. I want to see the head of the
department."

"Mr. Loomis?" His stare still weighed her--then he seemed to brush aside
the problem she presented as beneath his notice. "Oh, certainly. Take
the elevator to the second floor. Next aisle to the left." He waved her
down the endless perspective of show-cases.

Ann Eliza followed the line of his lordly gesture, and a swift ascent
brought her to a great hall full of the buzzing and booming of thousands
of clocks. Whichever way she looked, clocks stretched away from her in
glittering interminable vistas: clocks of all sizes and voices, from the
bell-throated giant of the hallway to the chirping dressing-table toy;
tall clocks of mahogany and brass with cathedral chimes; clocks
of bronze, glass, porcelain, of every possible size, voice and
configuration; and between their serried ranks, along the polished
floor of the aisles, moved the languid forms of other gentlemanly
floor-walkers, waiting for their duties to begin.

One of them soon approached, and Ann Eliza repeated her request. He
received it affably.

"Mr. Loomis? Go right down to the office at the other end." He pointed
to a kind of box of ground glass and highly polished panelling.

As she thanked him he turned to one of his companions and said something
in which she caught the name of Mr. Loomis, and which was received with
an appreciative chuckle. She suspected herself of being the object of
the pleasantry, and straightened her thin shoulders under her mantle.

The door of the office stood open, and within sat a gray-bearded man at
a desk. He looked up kindly, and again she asked for Mr. Loomis.

"I'm Mr. Loomis. What can I do for you?"

He was much less portentous than the others, though she guessed him
to be above them in authority; and encouraged by his tone she seated
herself on the edge of the chair he waved her to.

"I hope you'll excuse my troubling you, sir. I came to ask if you could
tell me anything about Mr. Herman Ramy. He was employed here in the
clock-department two or three years ago."

Mr. Loomis showed no recognition of the name.

"Ramy? When was he discharged?"

"I don't har'ly know. He was very sick, and when he got well his place
had been filled. He married my sister last October and they went to St.
Louis, I ain't had any news of them for over two months, and she's my
only sister, and I'm most crazy worrying about her."

"I see." Mr. Loomis reflected. "In what capacity was Ramy employed
here?" he asked after a moment.

"He--he told us that he was one of the heads of the clock-department,"
Ann Eliza stammered, overswept by a sudden doubt.

"That was probably a slight exaggeration. But I can tell you about him
by referring to our books. The name again?"

"Ramy--Herman Ramy."

There ensued a long silence, broken only by the flutter of leaves as
Mr. Loomis turned over his ledgers. Presently he looked up, keeping his
finger between the pages.

"Here it is--Herman Ramy. He was one of our ordinary workmen, and left
us three years and a half ago last June."

"On account of sickness?" Ann Eliza faltered.

Mr. Loomis appeared to hesitate; then he said: "I see no mention of
sickness." Ann Eliza felt his compassionate eyes on her again. "Perhaps
I'd better tell you the truth. He was discharged for drug-taking. A
capable workman, but we couldn't keep him straight. I'm sorry to have to
tell you this, but it seems fairer, since you say you're anxious about
your sister."

The polished sides of the office vanished from Ann Eliza's sight, and
the cackle of the innumerable clocks came to her like the yell of waves
in a storm. She tried to speak but could not; tried to get to her feet,
but the floor was gone.

"I'm very sorry," Mr. Loomis repeated, closing the ledger. "I remember
the man perfectly now. He used to disappear every now and then, and turn
up again in a state that made him useless for days."

As she listened, Ann Eliza recalled the day when she had come on Mr.
Ramy sitting in abject dejection behind his counter. She saw again the
blurred unrecognizing eyes he had raised to her, the layer of dust
over everything in the shop, and the green bronze clock in the window
representing a Newfoundland dog with his paw on a book. She stood up
slowly.

"Thank you. I'm sorry to have troubled you."

"It was no trouble. You say Ramy married your sister last October?"

"Yes, sir; and they went to St. Louis right afterward. I don't know how
to find her. I thought maybe somebody here might know about him."

"Well, possibly some of the workmen might. Leave me your name and I'll
send you word if I get on his track."

He handed her a pencil, and she wrote down her address; then she walked
away blindly between the clocks.



XI


Mr. Loomis, true to his word, wrote a few days later that he had
enquired in vain in the work-shop for any news of Ramy; and as she
folded this letter and laid it between the leaves of her Bible, Ann
Eliza felt that her last hope was gone. Miss Mellins, of course, had
long since suggested the mediation of the police, and cited from her
favourite literature convincing instances of the supernatural ability of
the Pinkerton detective; but Mr. Hawkins, when called in council, dashed
this project by remarking that detectives cost something like twenty
dollars a day; and a vague fear of the law, some half-formed vision of
Evelina in the clutch of a blue-coated "officer," kept Ann Eliza from
invoking the aid of the police.

After the arrival of Mr. Loomis's note the weeks followed each other
uneventfully. Ann Eliza's cough clung to her till late in the spring,
the reflection in her looking-glass grew more bent and meagre, and her
forehead sloped back farther toward the twist of hair that was fastened
above her parting by a comb of black India-rubber.

Toward spring a lady who was expecting a baby took up her abode at the
Mendoza Family Hotel, and through the friendly intervention of Miss
Mellins the making of some of the baby-clothes was entrusted to Ann
Eliza. This eased her of anxiety for the immediate future; but she had
to rouse herself to feel any sense of relief. Her personal welfare was
what least concerned her. Sometimes she thought of giving up the shop
altogether; and only the fear that, if she changed her address, Evelina
might not be able to find her, kept her from carrying out this plan.

Since she had lost her last hope of tracing her sister, all the
activities of her lonely imagination had been concentrated on the
possibility of Evelina's coming back to her. The discovery of Ramy's
secret filled her with dreadful fears. In the solitude of the shop
and the back room she was tortured by vague pictures of Evelina's
sufferings. What horrors might not be hidden beneath her silence? Ann
Eliza's great dread was that Miss Mellins should worm out of her what
she had learned from Mr. Loomis. She was sure Miss Mellins must have
abominable things to tell about drug-fiends--things she did not have
the strength to hear. "Drug-fiend"--the very word was Satanic; she
could hear Miss Mellins roll it on her tongue. But Ann Eliza's own
imagination, left to itself, had begun to people the long hours with
evil visions. Sometimes, in the night, she thought she heard herself
called: the voice was her sister's, but faint with a nameless terror.
Her most peaceful moments were those in which she managed to convince
herself that Evelina was dead. She thought of her then, mournfully but
more calmly, as thrust away under the neglected mound of some unknown
cemetery, where no headstone marked her name, no mourner with flowers
for another grave paused in pity to lay a blossom on hers. But this
vision did not often give Ann Eliza its negative relief; and always,
beneath its hazy lines, lurked the dark conviction that Evelina was
alive, in misery and longing for her.

So the summer wore on. Ann Eliza was conscious that Mrs. Hawkins and
Miss Mellins were watching her with affectionate anxiety, but the
knowledge brought no comfort. She no longer cared what they felt or
thought about her. Her grief lay far beyond touch of human healing, and
after a while she became aware that they knew they could not help her.
They still came in as often as their busy lives permitted, but their
visits grew shorter, and Mrs. Hawkins always brought Arthur or the baby,
so that there should be something to talk about, and some one whom she
could scold.

The autumn came, and the winter. Business had fallen off again, and but
few purchasers came to the little shop in the basement. In January Ann
Eliza pawned her mother's cashmere scarf, her mosaic brooch, and the
rosewood what-not on which the clock had always stood; she would
have sold the bedstead too, but for the persistent vision of Evelina
returning weak and weary, and not knowing where to lay her head.

The winter passed in its turn, and March reappeared with its galaxies of
yellow jonquils at the windy street corners, reminding Ann Eliza of the
spring day when Evelina had come home with a bunch of jonquils in her
hand. In spite of the flowers which lent such a premature brightness to
the streets the month was fierce and stormy, and Ann Eliza could get
no warmth into her bones. Nevertheless, she was insensibly beginning to
take up the healing routine of life. Little by little she had grown used
to being alone, she had begun to take a languid interest in the one or
two new purchasers the season had brought, and though the thought
of Evelina was as poignant as ever, it was less persistently in the
foreground of her mind.

Late one afternoon she was sitting behind the counter, wrapped in her
shawl, and wondering how soon she might draw down the blinds and retreat
into the comparative cosiness of the back room. She was not thinking of
anything in particular, except perhaps in a hazy way of the lady with
the puffed sleeves, who after her long eclipse had reappeared the day
before in sleeves of a new cut, and bought some tape and needles. The
lady still wore mourning, but she was evidently lightening it, and Ann
Eliza saw in this the hope of future orders. The lady had left the shop
about an hour before, walking away with her graceful step toward Fifth
Avenue. She had wished Ann Eliza good day in her usual affable way, and
Ann Eliza thought how odd it was that they should have been acquainted
so long, and yet that she should not know the lady's name. From this
consideration her mind wandered to the cut of the lady's new sleeves,
and she was vexed with herself for not having noted it more carefully.
She felt Miss Mellins might have liked to know about it. Ann Eliza's
powers of observation had never been as keen as Evelina's, when the
latter was not too self-absorbed to exert them. As Miss Mellins always
said, Evelina could "take patterns with her eyes": she could have cut
that new sleeve out of a folded newspaper in a trice! Musing on these
things, Ann Eliza wished the lady would come back and give her another
look at the sleeve. It was not unlikely that she might pass that way,
for she certainly lived in or about the Square. Suddenly Ann Eliza
remarked a small neat handkerchief on the counter: it must have dropped
from the lady's purse, and she would probably come back to get it. Ann
Eliza, pleased at the idea, sat on behind the counter and watched the
darkening street. She always lit the gas as late as possible, keeping
the box of matches at her elbow, so that if any one came she could apply
a quick flame to the gas-jet. At length through the deepening dusk she
distinguished a slim dark figure coming down the steps to the shop. With
a little warmth of pleasure about her heart she reached up to light the
gas. "I do believe I'll ask her name this time," she thought. She raised
the flame to its full height, and saw her sister standing in the door.

There she was at last, the poor pale shade of Evelina, her thin face
blanched of its faint pink, the stiff ripples gone from her hair, and a
mantle shabbier than Ann Eliza's drawn about her narrow shoulders. The
glare of the gas beat full on her as she stood and looked at Ann Eliza.

"Sister--oh, Evelina! I knowed you'd come!"

Ann Eliza had caught her close with a long moan of triumph. Vague
words poured from her as she laid her cheek against Evelina's--trivial
inarticulate endearments caught from Mrs. Hawkins's long discourses to
her baby.

For a while Evelina let herself be passively held; then she drew back
from her sister's clasp and looked about the shop. "I'm dead tired.
Ain't there any fire?" she asked.

"Of course there is!" Ann Eliza, holding her hand fast, drew her into
the back room. She did not want to ask any questions yet: she simply
wanted to feel the emptiness of the room brimmed full again by the one
presence that was warmth and light to her.

She knelt down before the grate, scraped some bits of coal and kindling
from the bottom of the coal-scuttle, and drew one of the rocking-chairs
up to the weak flame. "There--that'll blaze up in a minute," she said.
She pressed Evelina down on the faded cushions of the rocking-chair,
and, kneeling beside her, began to rub her hands.

"You're stone-cold, ain't you? Just sit still and warm yourself while I
run and get the kettle. I've got something you always used to fancy for
supper." She laid her hand on Evelina's shoulder. "Don't talk--oh, don't
talk yet!" she implored. She wanted to keep that one frail second of
happiness between herself and what she knew must come.

Evelina, without a word, bent over the fire, stretching her thin hands
to the blaze and watching Ann Eliza fill the kettle and set the supper
table. Her gaze had the dreamy fixity of a half-awakened child's.

Ann Eliza, with a smile of triumph, brought a slice of custard pie from
the cupboard and put it by her sister's plate.

"You do like that, don't you? Miss Mellins sent it down to me this
morning. She had her aunt from Brooklyn to dinner. Ain't it funny it
just so happened?"

"I ain't hungry," said Evelina, rising to approach the table.

She sat down in her usual place, looked about her with the same
wondering stare, and then, as of old, poured herself out the first cup
of tea.

"Where's the what-not gone to?" she suddenly asked.

Ann Eliza set down the teapot and rose to get a spoon from the cupboard.
With her back to the room she said: "The what-not? Why, you see, dearie,
living here all alone by myself it only made one more thing to dust; so
I sold it."

Evelina's eyes were still travelling about the familiar room. Though
it was against all the traditions of the Bunner family to sell any
household possession, she showed no surprise at her sister's answer.

"And the clock? The clock's gone too."

"Oh, I gave that away--I gave it to Mrs. Hawkins. She's kep' awake so
nights with that last baby."

"I wish you'd never bought it," said Evelina harshly.

Ann Eliza's heart grew faint with fear. Without answering, she crossed
over to her sister's seat and poured her out a second cup of tea. Then
another thought struck her, and she went back to the cupboard and took
out the cordial. In Evelina's absence considerable draughts had been
drawn from it by invalid neighbours; but a glassful of the precious
liquid still remained.

"Here, drink this right off--it'll warm you up quicker than anything,"
Ann Eliza said.

Evelina obeyed, and a slight spark of colour came into her cheeks.
She turned to the custard pie and began to eat with a silent voracity
distressing to watch. She did not even look to see what was left for Ann
Eliza.

"I ain't hungry," she said at last as she laid down her fork. "I'm only
so dead tired--that's the trouble."

"Then you'd better get right into bed. Here's my old plaid
dressing-gown--you remember it, don't you?" Ann Eliza laughed, recalling
Evelina's ironies on the subject of the antiquated garment. With
trembling fingers she began to undo her sister's cloak. The dress
beneath it told a tale of poverty that Ann Eliza dared not pause to
note. She drew it gently off, and as it slipped from Evelina's shoulders
it revealed a tiny black bag hanging on a ribbon about her neck. Evelina
lifted her hand as though to screen the bag from Ann Eliza; and the
elder sister, seeing the gesture, continued her task with lowered eyes.
She undressed Evelina as quickly as she could, and wrapping her in the
plaid dressing-gown put her to bed, and spread her own shawl and her
sister's cloak above the blanket.

"Where's the old red comfortable?" Evelina asked, as she sank down on
the pillow.

"The comfortable? Oh, it was so hot and heavy I never used it after you
went--so I sold that too. I never could sleep under much clothes."

She became aware that her sister was looking at her more attentively.

"I guess you've been in trouble too," Evelina said.

"Me? In trouble? What do you mean, Evelina?"

"You've had to pawn the things, I suppose," Evelina continued in a weary
unmoved tone. "Well, I've been through worse than that. I've been to
hell and back."

"Oh, Evelina--don't say it, sister!" Ann Eliza implored, shrinking
from the unholy word. She knelt down and began to rub her sister's feet
beneath the bedclothes.

"I've been to hell and back--if I AM back," Evelina repeated. She
lifted her head from the pillow and began to talk with a sudden feverish
volubility. "It began right away, less than a month after we were
married. I've been in hell all that time, Ann Eliza." She fixed her eyes
with passionate intentness on Ann Eliza's face. "He took opium. I didn't
find it out till long afterward--at first, when he acted so strange, I
thought he drank. But it was worse, much worse than drinking."

"Oh, sister, don't say it--don't say it yet! It's so sweet just to have
you here with me again."

"I must say it," Evelina insisted, her flushed face burning with a kind
of bitter cruelty. "You don't know what life's like--you don't know
anything about it--setting here safe all the while in this peaceful
place."

"Oh, Evelina--why didn't you write and send for me if it was like that?"

"That's why I couldn't write. Didn't you guess I was ashamed?"

"How could you be? Ashamed to write to Ann Eliza?"

Evelina raised herself on her thin elbow, while Ann Eliza, bending over,
drew a corner of the shawl about her shoulder.

"Do lay down again. You'll catch your death."

"My death? That don't frighten me! You don't know what I've been
through." And sitting upright in the old mahogany bed, with flushed
cheeks and chattering teeth, and Ann Eliza's trembling arm clasping the
shawl about her neck, Evelina poured out her story. It was a tale
of misery and humiliation so remote from the elder sister's innocent
experiences that much of it was hardly intelligible to her. Evelina's
dreadful familiarity with it all, her fluency about things which Ann
Eliza half-guessed and quickly shuddered back from, seemed even more
alien and terrible than the actual tale she told. It was one thing--and
heaven knew it was bad enough!--to learn that one's sister's husband was
a drug-fiend; it was another, and much worse thing, to learn from that
sister's pallid lips what vileness lay behind the word.

Evelina, unconscious of any distress but her own, sat upright, shivering
in Ann Eliza's hold, while she piled up, detail by detail, her dreary
narrative.

"The minute we got out there, and he found the job wasn't as good as he
expected, he changed. At first I thought he was sick--I used to try to
keep him home and nurse him. Then I saw it was something different.
He used to go off for hours at a time, and when he came back his eyes
kinder had a fog over them. Sometimes he didn't har'ly know me, and
when he did he seemed to hate me. Once he hit me here." She touched her
breast. "Do you remember, Ann Eliza, that time he didn't come to see us
for a week--the time after we all went to Central Park together--and you
and I thought he must be sick?"

Ann Eliza nodded.

"Well, that was the trouble--he'd been at it then. But nothing like as
bad. After we'd been out there about a month he disappeared for a whole
week. They took him back at the store, and gave him another chance; but
the second time they discharged him, and he drifted round for ever so
long before he could get another job. We spent all our money and had to
move to a cheaper place. Then he got something to do, but they hardly
paid him anything, and he didn't stay there long. When he found out
about the baby--"

"The baby?" Ann Eliza faltered.

"It's dead--it only lived a day. When he found out about it, he got mad,
and said he hadn't any money to pay doctors' bills, and I'd better
write to you to help us. He had an idea you had money hidden away that
I didn't know about." She turned to her sister with remorseful eyes. "It
was him that made me get that hundred dollars out of you."

"Hush, hush. I always meant it for you anyhow."

"Yes, but I wouldn't have taken it if he hadn't been at me the whole
time. He used to make me do just what he wanted. Well, when I said I
wouldn't write to you for more money he said I'd better try and earn
some myself. That was when he struck me.... Oh, you don't know what I'm
talking about yet!... I tried to get work at a milliner's, but I was so
sick I couldn't stay. I was sick all the time. I wisht I'd ha' died, Ann
Eliza."

"No, no, Evelina."

"Yes, I do. It kept getting worse and worse. We pawned the furniture,
and they turned us out because we couldn't pay the rent; and so then we
went to board with Mrs. Hochmuller."

Ann Eliza pressed her closer to dissemble her own tremor. "Mrs.
Hochmuller?"

"Didn't you know she was out there? She moved out a month after we did.
She wasn't bad to me, and I think she tried to keep him straight--but
Linda--"

"Linda--?"

"Well, when I kep' getting worse, and he was always off, for days at a
time, the doctor had me sent to a hospital."

"A hospital? Sister--sister!"

"It was better than being with him; and the doctors were real kind to
me. After the baby was born I was very sick and had to stay there a good
while. And one day when I was laying there Mrs. Hochmuller came in as
white as a sheet, and told me him and Linda had gone off together and
taken all her money. That's the last I ever saw of him." She broke off
with a laugh and began to cough again.

Ann Eliza tried to persuade her to lie down and sleep, but the rest of
her story had to be told before she could be soothed into consent. After
the news of Ramy's flight she had had brain fever, and had been sent
to another hospital where she stayed a long time--how long she couldn't
remember. Dates and days meant nothing to her in the shapeless ruin of
her life. When she left the hospital she found that Mrs. Hochmuller had
gone too. She was penniless, and had no one to turn to. A lady visitor
at the hospital was kind, and found her a place where she did housework;
but she was so weak they couldn't keep her. Then she got a job as
waitress in a down-town lunch-room, but one day she fainted while she
was handing a dish, and that evening when they paid her they told her
she needn't come again.

"After that I begged in the streets"--(Ann Eliza's grasp again grew
tight)--"and one afternoon last week, when the matinees was coming out,
I met a man with a pleasant face, something like Mr. Hawkins, and he
stopped and asked me what the trouble was. I told him if he'd give me
five dollars I'd have money enough to buy a ticket back to New York, and
he took a good look at me and said, well, if that was what I wanted he'd
go straight to the station with me and give me the five dollars there.
So he did--and he bought the ticket, and put me in the cars."

Evelina sank back, her face a sallow wedge in the white cleft of the
pillow. Ann Eliza leaned over her, and for a long time they held each
other without speaking.

They were still clasped in this dumb embrace when there was a step in
the shop and Ann Eliza, starting up, saw Miss Mellins in the doorway.

"My sakes, Miss Bunner! What in the land are you doing? Miss
Evelina--Mrs. Ramy--it ain't you?"

Miss Mellins's eyes, bursting from their sockets, sprang from Evelina's
pallid face to the disordered supper table and the heap of worn clothes
on the floor; then they turned back to Ann Eliza, who had placed herself
on the defensive between her sister and the dress-maker.

"My sister Evelina has come back--come back on a visit. She was taken
sick in the cars on the way home--I guess she caught cold--so I made her
go right to bed as soon as ever she got here."

Ann Eliza was surprised at the strength and steadiness of her voice.
Fortified by its sound she went on, her eyes on Miss Mellins's baffled
countenance: "Mr. Ramy has gone west on a trip--a trip connected with
his business; and Evelina is going to stay with me till he comes back."



XII


What measure of belief her explanation of Evelina's return obtained
in the small circle of her friends Ann Eliza did not pause to enquire.
Though she could not remember ever having told a lie before, she adhered
with rigid tenacity to the consequences of her first lapse from truth,
and fortified her original statement with additional details whenever a
questioner sought to take her unawares.

But other and more serious burdens lay on her startled conscience. For
the first time in her life she dimly faced the awful problem of
the inutility of self-sacrifice. Hitherto she had never thought
of questioning the inherited principles which had guided her life.
Self-effacement for the good of others had always seemed to her both
natural and necessary; but then she had taken it for granted that it
implied the securing of that good. Now she perceived that to refuse the
gifts of life does not ensure their transmission to those for whom they
have been surrendered; and her familiar heaven was unpeopled. She felt
she could no longer trust in the goodness of God, and there was only a
black abyss above the roof of Bunner Sisters.

But there was little time to brood upon such problems. The care of
Evelina filled Ann Eliza's days and nights. The hastily summoned doctor
had pronounced her to be suffering from pneumonia, and under his care
the first stress of the disease was relieved. But her recovery was only
partial, and long after the doctor's visits had ceased she continued to
lie in bed, too weak to move, and seemingly indifferent to everything
about her.

At length one evening, about six weeks after her return, she said to her
sister: "I don't feel's if I'd ever get up again."

Ann Eliza turned from the kettle she was placing on the stove. She was
startled by the echo the words woke in her own breast.

"Don't you talk like that, Evelina! I guess you're on'y tired out--and
disheartened."

"Yes, I'm disheartened," Evelina murmured.

A few months earlier Ann Eliza would have met the confession with a word
of pious admonition; now she accepted it in silence.

"Maybe you'll brighten up when your cough gets better," she suggested.

"Yes--or my cough'll get better when I brighten up," Evelina retorted
with a touch of her old tartness.

"Does your cough keep on hurting you jest as much?"

"I don't see's there's much difference."

"Well, I guess I'll get the doctor to come round again," Ann Eliza said,
trying for the matter-of-course tone in which one might speak of sending
for the plumber or the gas-fitter.

"It ain't any use sending for the doctor--and who's going to pay him?"

"I am," answered the elder sister. "Here's your tea, and a mite of
toast. Don't that tempt you?"

Already, in the watches of the night, Ann Eliza had been tormented by
that same question--who was to pay the doctor?--and a few days before
she had temporarily silenced it by borrowing twenty dollars of Miss
Mellins. The transaction had cost her one of the bitterest struggles
of her life. She had never borrowed a penny of any one before, and the
possibility of having to do so had always been classed in her mind
among those shameful extremities to which Providence does not let
decent people come. But nowadays she no longer believed in the personal
supervision of Providence; and had she been compelled to steal the money
instead of borrowing it, she would have felt that her conscience was the
only tribunal before which she had to answer. Nevertheless, the actual
humiliation of having to ask for the money was no less bitter; and she
could hardly hope that Miss Mellins would view the case with the
same detachment as herself. Miss Mellins was very kind; but she not
unnaturally felt that her kindness should be rewarded by according
her the right to ask questions; and bit by bit Ann Eliza saw Evelina's
miserable secret slipping into the dress-maker's possession.

When the doctor came she left him alone with Evelina, busying herself in
the shop that she might have an opportunity of seeing him alone on his
way out. To steady herself she began to sort a trayful of buttons, and
when the doctor appeared she was reciting under her breath: "Twenty-four
horn, two and a half cards fancy pearl..." She saw at once that his look
was grave.

He sat down on the chair beside the counter, and her mind travelled
miles before he spoke.

"Miss Bunner, the best thing you can do is to let me get a bed for your
sister at St. Luke's."

"The hospital?"

"Come now, you're above that sort of prejudice, aren't you?" The doctor
spoke in the tone of one who coaxes a spoiled child. "I know how devoted
you are--but Mrs. Ramy can be much better cared for there than here.
You really haven't time to look after her and attend to your business as
well. There'll be no expense, you understand--"

Ann Eliza made no answer. "You think my sister's going to be sick a good
while, then?" she asked.

"Well, yes--possibly."

"You think she's very sick?"

"Well, yes. She's very sick."

His face had grown still graver; he sat there as though he had never
known what it was to hurry.

Ann Eliza continued to separate the pearl and horn buttons. Suddenly she
lifted her eyes and looked at him. "Is she going to die?"

The doctor laid a kindly hand on hers. "We never say that, Miss Bunner.
Human skill works wonders--and at the hospital Mrs. Ramy would have
every chance."

"What is it? What's she dying of?"

The doctor hesitated, seeking to substitute a popular phrase for the
scientific terminology which rose to his lips.

"I want to know," Ann Eliza persisted.

"Yes, of course; I understand. Well, your sister has had a hard
time lately, and there is a complication of causes, resulting in
consumption--rapid consumption. At the hospital--"

"I'll keep her here," said Ann Eliza quietly.

After the doctor had gone she went on for some time sorting the buttons;
then she slipped the tray into its place on a shelf behind the counter
and went into the back room. She found Evelina propped upright against
the pillows, a flush of agitation on her cheeks. Ann Eliza pulled up the
shawl which had slipped from her sister's shoulders.

"How long you've been! What's he been saying?"

"Oh, he went long ago--he on'y stopped to give me a prescription. I was
sorting out that tray of buttons. Miss Mellins's girl got them all mixed
up."

She felt Evelina's eyes upon her.

"He must have said something: what was it?"

"Why, he said you'd have to be careful--and stay in bed--and take this
new medicine he's given you."

"Did he say I was going to get well?"

"Why, Evelina!"

"What's the use, Ann Eliza? You can't deceive me. I've just been up to
look at myself in the glass; and I saw plenty of 'em in the hospital
that looked like me. They didn't get well, and I ain't going to." Her
head dropped back. "It don't much matter--I'm about tired. On'y there's
one thing--Ann Eliza--"

The elder sister drew near to the bed.

"There's one thing I ain't told you. I didn't want to tell you yet
because I was afraid you might be sorry--but if he says I'm going to
die I've got to say it." She stopped to cough, and to Ann Eliza it now
seemed as though every cough struck a minute from the hours remaining to
her.

"Don't talk now--you're tired."

"I'll be tireder to-morrow, I guess. And I want you should know. Sit
down close to me--there."

Ann Eliza sat down in silence, stroking her shrunken hand.

"I'm a Roman Catholic, Ann Eliza."

"Evelina--oh, Evelina Bunner! A Roman Catholic--YOU? Oh, Evelina, did HE
make you?"

Evelina shook her head. "I guess he didn't have no religion; he never
spoke of it. But you see Mrs. Hochmuller was a Catholic, and so when I
was sick she got the doctor to send me to a Roman Catholic hospital,
and the sisters was so good to me there--and the priest used to come and
talk to me; and the things he said kep' me from going crazy. He seemed
to make everything easier."

"Oh, sister, how could you?" Ann Eliza wailed. She knew little of the
Catholic religion except that "Papists" believed in it--in itself a
sufficient indictment. Her spiritual rebellion had not freed her from
the formal part of her religious belief, and apostasy had always seemed
to her one of the sins from which the pure in mind avert their thoughts.

"And then when the baby was born," Evelina continued, "he christened it
right away, so it could go to heaven; and after that, you see, I had to
be a Catholic."

"I don't see--"

"Don't I have to be where the baby is? I couldn't ever ha' gone there if
I hadn't been made a Catholic. Don't you understand that?"

Ann Eliza sat speechless, drawing her hand away. Once more she
found herself shut out of Evelina's heart, an exile from her closest
affections.

"I've got to go where the baby is," Evelina feverishly insisted.

Ann Eliza could think of nothing to say; she could only feel that
Evelina was dying, and dying as a stranger in her arms. Ramy and the
day-old baby had parted her forever from her sister.

Evelina began again. "If I get worse I want you to send for a priest.
Miss Mellins'll know where to send--she's got an aunt that's a Catholic.
Promise me faithful you will."

"I promise," said Ann Eliza.

After that they spoke no more of the matter; but Ann Eliza now
understood that the little black bag about her sister's neck, which
she had innocently taken for a memento of Ramy, was some kind of
sacrilegious amulet, and her fingers shrank from its contact when she
bathed and dressed Evelina. It seemed to her the diabolical instrument
of their estrangement.



XIII


Spring had really come at last. There were leaves on the ailanthus-tree
that Evelina could see from her bed, gentle clouds floated over it in
the blue, and now and then the cry of a flower-seller sounded from the
street.

One day there was a shy knock on the back-room door, and Johnny Hawkins
came in with two yellow jonquils in his fist. He was getting bigger and
squarer, and his round freckled face was growing into a smaller copy of
his father's. He walked up to Evelina and held out the flowers.

"They blew off the cart and the fellow said I could keep 'em. But you
can have 'em," he announced.

Ann Eliza rose from her seat at the sewing-machine and tried to take the
flowers from him.

"They ain't for you; they're for her," he sturdily objected; and Evelina
held out her hand for the jonquils.

After Johnny had gone she lay and looked at them without speaking. Ann
Eliza, who had gone back to the machine, bent her head over the seam she
was stitching; the click, click, click of the machine sounded in her ear
like the tick of Ramy's clock, and it seemed to her that life had gone
backward, and that Evelina, radiant and foolish, had just come into the
room with the yellow flowers in her hand.

When at last she ventured to look up, she saw that her sister's head
had drooped against the pillow, and that she was sleeping quietly. Her
relaxed hand still held the jonquils, but it was evident that they had
awakened no memories; she had dozed off almost as soon as Johnny had
given them to her. The discovery gave Ann Eliza a startled sense of the
ruins that must be piled upon her past. "I don't believe I could have
forgotten that day, though," she said to herself. But she was glad that
Evelina had forgotten.

Evelina's disease moved on along the usual course, now lifting her on a
brief wave of elation, now sinking her to new depths of weakness.
There was little to be done, and the doctor came only at lengthening
intervals. On his way out he always repeated his first friendly
suggestion about sending Evelina to the hospital; and Ann Eliza always
answered: "I guess we can manage."

The hours passed for her with the fierce rapidity that great joy or
anguish lends them. She went through the days with a sternly smiling
precision, but she hardly knew what was happening, and when night-fall
released her from the shop, and she could carry her work to Evelina's
bedside, the same sense of unreality accompanied her, and she still
seemed to be accomplishing a task whose object had escaped her memory.

Once, when Evelina felt better, she expressed a desire to make some
artificial flowers, and Ann Eliza, deluded by this awakening interest,
got out the faded bundles of stems and petals and the little tools and
spools of wire. But after a few minutes the work dropped from Evelina's
hands and she said: "I'll wait until to-morrow."

She never again spoke of the flower-making, but one day, after watching
Ann Eliza's laboured attempt to trim a spring hat for Mrs. Hawkins, she
demanded impatiently that the hat should be brought to her, and in a
trice had galvanized the lifeless bow and given the brim the twist it
needed.

These were rare gleams; and more frequent were the days of speechless
lassitude, when she lay for hours silently staring at the window, shaken
only by the hard incessant cough that sounded to Ann Eliza like the
hammering of nails into a coffin.

At length one morning Ann Eliza, starting up from the mattress at the
foot of the bed, hastily called Miss Mellins down, and ran through the
smoky dawn for the doctor. He came back with her and did what he could
to give Evelina momentary relief; then he went away, promising to
look in again before night. Miss Mellins, her head still covered with
curl-papers, disappeared in his wake, and when the sisters were alone
Evelina beckoned to Ann Eliza.

"You promised," she whispered, grasping her sister's arm; and Ann Eliza
understood. She had not yet dared to tell Miss Mellins of Evelina's
change of faith; it had seemed even more difficult than borrowing the
money; but now it had to be done. She ran upstairs after the dress-maker
and detained her on the landing.

"Miss Mellins, can you tell me where to send for a priest--a Roman
Catholic priest?"

"A priest, Miss Bunner?"

"Yes. My sister became a Roman Catholic while she was away. They were
kind to her in her sickness--and now she wants a priest." Ann Eliza
faced Miss Mellins with unflinching eyes.

"My aunt Dugan'll know. I'll run right round to her the minute I get my
papers off," the dress-maker promised; and Ann Eliza thanked her.

An hour or two later the priest appeared. Ann Eliza, who was watching,
saw him coming down the steps to the shop-door and went to meet him. His
expression was kind, but she shrank from his peculiar dress, and from
his pale face with its bluish chin and enigmatic smile. Ann Eliza
remained in the shop. Miss Mellins's girl had mixed the buttons again
and she set herself to sort them. The priest stayed a long time with
Evelina. When he again carried his enigmatic smile past the counter, and
Ann Eliza rejoined her sister, Evelina was smiling with something of the
same mystery; but she did not tell her secret.

After that it seemed to Ann Eliza that the shop and the back room no
longer belonged to her. It was as though she were there on sufferance,
indulgently tolerated by the unseen power which hovered over Evelina
even in the absence of its minister. The priest came almost daily; and
at last a day arrived when he was called to administer some rite of
which Ann Eliza but dimly grasped the sacramental meaning. All she knew
was that it meant that Evelina was going, and going, under this alien
guidance, even farther from her than to the dark places of death.

When the priest came, with something covered in his hands, she crept
into the shop, closing the door of the back room to leave him alone with
Evelina.

It was a warm afternoon in May, and the crooked ailanthus-tree rooted in
a fissure of the opposite pavement was a fountain of tender green. Women
in light dresses passed with the languid step of spring; and presently
there came a man with a hand-cart full of pansy and geranium plants who
stopped outside the window, signalling to Ann Eliza to buy.

An hour went by before the door of the back room opened and the priest
reappeared with that mysterious covered something in his hands. Ann
Eliza had risen, drawing back as he passed. He had doubtless divined her
antipathy, for he had hitherto only bowed in going in and out; but to
day he paused and looked at her compassionately.

"I have left your sister in a very beautiful state of mind," he said in
a low voice like a woman's. "She is full of spiritual consolation."

Ann Eliza was silent, and he bowed and went out. She hastened back to
Evelina's bed, and knelt down beside it. Evelina's eyes were very
large and bright; she turned them on Ann Eliza with a look of inner
illumination.

"I shall see the baby," she said; then her eyelids fell and she dozed.

The doctor came again at nightfall, administering some last palliatives;
and after he had gone Ann Eliza, refusing to have her vigil shared by
Miss Mellins or Mrs. Hawkins, sat down to keep watch alone.

It was a very quiet night. Evelina never spoke or opened her eyes,
but in the still hour before dawn Ann Eliza saw that the restless hand
outside the bed-clothes had stopped its twitching. She stooped over and
felt no breath on her sister's lips.


The funeral took place three days later. Evelina was buried in
Calvary Cemetery, the priest assuming the whole care of the necessary
arrangements, while Ann Eliza, a passive spectator, beheld with stony
indifference this last negation of her past.

A week afterward she stood in her bonnet and mantle in the doorway of
the little shop. Its whole aspect had changed. Counter and shelves were
bare, the window was stripped of its familiar miscellany of artificial
flowers, note-paper, wire hat-frames, and limp garments from the dyer's;
and against the glass pane of the doorway hung a sign: "This store to
let."

Ann Eliza turned her eyes from the sign as she went out and locked the
door behind her. Evelina's funeral had been very expensive, and Ann
Eliza, having sold her stock-in-trade and the few articles of furniture
that remained to her, was leaving the shop for the last time. She had
not been able to buy any mourning, but Miss Mellins had sewed some crape
on her old black mantle and bonnet, and having no gloves she slipped her
bare hands under the folds of the mantle.

It was a beautiful morning, and the air was full of a warm sunshine that
had coaxed open nearly every window in the street, and summoned to the
window-sills the sickly plants nurtured indoors in winter. Ann Eliza's
way lay westward, toward Broadway; but at the corner she paused and
looked back down the familiar length of the street. Her eyes rested a
moment on the blotched "Bunner Sisters" above the empty window of the
shop; then they travelled on to the overflowing foliage of the Square,
above which was the church tower with the dial that had marked the hours
for the sisters before Ann Eliza had bought the nickel clock. She looked
at it all as though it had been the scene of some unknown life, of which
the vague report had reached her: she felt for herself the only remote
pity that busy people accord to the misfortunes which come to them by
hearsay.

She walked to Broadway and down to the office of the house-agent to whom
she had entrusted the sub-letting of the shop. She left the key with
one of his clerks, who took it from her as if it had been any one of a
thousand others, and remarked that the weather looked as if spring
was really coming; then she turned and began to move up the great
thoroughfare, which was just beginning to wake to its multitudinous
activities.

She walked less rapidly now, studying each shop window as she passed,
but not with the desultory eye of enjoyment: the watchful fixity of her
gaze overlooked everything but the object of its quest. At length she
stopped before a small window wedged between two mammoth buildings,
and displaying, behind its shining plate-glass festooned with muslin,
a varied assortment of sofa-cushions, tea-cloths, pen-wipers, painted
calendars and other specimens of feminine industry. In a corner of
the window she had read, on a slip of paper pasted against the pane:
"Wanted, a Saleslady," and after studying the display of fancy articles
beneath it, she gave her mantle a twitch, straightened her shoulders and
went in.

Behind a counter crowded with pin-cushions, watch-holders and other
needlework trifles, a plump young woman with smooth hair sat sewing bows
of ribbon on a scrap basket. The little shop was about the size of the
one on which Ann Eliza had just closed the door; and it looked as fresh
and gay and thriving as she and Evelina had once dreamed of making
Bunner Sisters. The friendly air of the place made her pluck up courage
to speak.

"Saleslady? Yes, we do want one. Have you any one to recommend?" the
young woman asked, not unkindly.

Ann Eliza hesitated, disconcerted by the unexpected question; and the
other, cocking her head on one side to study the effect of the bow she
had just sewed on the basket, continued: "We can't afford more than
thirty dollars a month, but the work is light. She would be expected to
do a little fancy sewing between times. We want a bright girl: stylish,
and pleasant manners. You know what I mean. Not over thirty, anyhow; and
nice-looking. Will you write down the name?"

Ann Eliza looked at her confusedly. She opened her lips to explain, and
then, without speaking, turned toward the crisply-curtained door.

"Ain't you going to leave the AD-dress?" the young woman called out
after her. Ann Eliza went out into the thronged street. The great city,
under the fair spring sky, seemed to throb with the stir of innumerable
beginnings. She walked on, looking for another shop window with a sign
in it.


THE END.





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