Bunner Sisters, by Edith Wharton
Part 1 out of 2
Wharton, Edith. "Bunner Sisters." Scribner's Magazine 60
(Oct. 1916): 439-58; 60 (Nov. 1916): 575-96.
BY EDITH WHARTON
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
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
Ann Eliza had risen with a blush that made her steel-browed
"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
"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?"
"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?"
"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."
"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
"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
"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.
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"Wait on her first, please," Ann Eliza whispered. "I ain't in
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
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!
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
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
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
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,
"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.
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
"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
"May I assist you off with your coat, Mr. Ramy?" Evelina
interposed. She could never trust Ann Eliza to remember these
"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
"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
"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
"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."
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
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
"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
"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
"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.
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
"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
"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.
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
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
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.
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-
"Ain't they pretty?" she kept repeating as she gathered the
flowers into a starry circle. "Seems as if spring was really here,
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
"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.
"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
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?"
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
"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
"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,"
"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
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
"Well--somethin' like, maybe. I couldn't hardly put a name to
"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
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
"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-
"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-
"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.
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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,"
"I guess you're healthier than your sister, even if you are
"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
"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
"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
"Don't Miss Evelina have no headaches?" Mr. Ramy suddenly
"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
"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
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
Ann Eliza saw the light in Evelina's eye and her resolve was
"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
"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
"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
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
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."
"Yes. So's we can move out to St. Louis right away."
"Him and you--move out to St. Louis?"
Back to Full Books