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Chapter 2

  • The purchase of Evelina's clock had been a more important event in the life o_nn Eliza Bunner than her younger sister could divine. In the first place, there had been the demoralizing satisfaction of finding herself in possessio_f a sum of money which she need not put into the common fund, but could spen_s she chose, without consulting Evelina, and then the excitement of he_tealthy trips abroad, undertaken on the rare occasions when she could trum_p a pretext for leaving the shop; since, as a rule, it was Evelina who too_he bundles to the dyer's, and delivered the purchases of those among thei_ustomers who were too genteel to be seen carrying home a bonnet or a bundl_f 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 t_llege for deserting her usual seat behind the counter.
  • The infrequency of her walks made them the chief events of her life. The mer_ct of going out from the monastic quiet of the shop into the tumult of th_treets filled her with a subdued excitement which grew too intense fo_leasure as she was swallowed by the engulfing roar of Broadway or Thir_venue, and began to do timid battle with their incessant cross-currents o_umanity. After a glance or two into the great show-windows she usuall_llowed herself to be swept back into the shelter of a side-street, an_inally regained her own roof in a state of breathless bewilderment an_atigue; but gradually, as her nerves were soothed by the familiar quiet o_he little shop, and the click of Evelina's pinking-machine, certain sight_nd sounds would detach themselves from the torrent along which she had bee_wept, and she would devote the rest of the day to a mental reconstruction o_he different episodes of her walk, till finally it took shape in her though_s a consecutive and highly-coloured experience, from which, for week_fterwards, she would detach some fragmentary recollection in the course o_er long dialogues with her sister.
  • But when, to the unwonted excitement of going out, was added the intense_nterest of looking for a present for Evelina, Ann Eliza's agitation, sharpened by concealment, actually preyed upon her rest; and it was not til_he present had been given, and she had unbosomed herself of the experience_onnected with its purchase, that she could look back with anything lik_omposure 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 smal_hop, not unlike her own in its countrified obscurity, though the layer o_ust which covered its counter and shelves made the comparison onl_uperficially acceptable. Still, she did not judge the state of the sho_everely, for Mr. Ramy had told her that he was alone in the world, and lon_en, she was aware, did not know how to deal with dust. It gave her a goo_eal of occupation to wonder why he had never married, or if, on the othe_and, he were a widower, and had lost all his dear little children; and sh_carcely knew which alternative seemed to make him the more interesting. I_ither case, his life was assuredly a sad one; and she passed many hours i_peculating on the manner in which he probably spent his evenings. She knew h_ived at the back of his shop, for she had caught, on entering, a glimpse of _ingy room with a tumbled bed; and the pervading smell of cold fry suggeste_hat he probably did his own cooking. She wondered if he did not often mak_is 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 a_ikely that he bought his provisions at the same market as Evelina; and sh_as fascinated by the thought that he and her sister might constantly b_eeting in total unconsciousness of the link between them. Whenever sh_eached 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 th_ecret wish to go to market some morning in Evelina's stead. As this purpos_ose to the surface of Ann Eliza's thoughts she shrank back shyly from it_ontemplation. A plan so steeped in duplicity had never before taken shape i_er 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 tren_f this "besides"), what excuse could she make that would not excite he_ister's curiosity? From this second query it was an easy descent to th_hird: how soon could she manage to go?
  • It was Evelina herself, who furnished the necessary pretext by awaking with _ore throat on the day when she usually went to market. It was a Saturday, an_s they always had their bit of steak on Sunday the expedition could not b_ostponed, and it seemed natural that Ann Eliza, as she tied an old stockin_round Evelina's throat, should announce her intention of stepping round t_he 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 wa_ying on her bonnet with fumbling haste.
  • The morning was damp and cold, with a sky full of sulky clouds that would no_ake room for the sun, but as yet dropped only an occasional snow-flake. I_he early light the street looked its meanest and most neglected; but to An_liza, never greatly troubled by any untidiness for which she was no_esponsible, it seemed to wear a singularly friendly aspect.
  • A few minutes' walk brought her to the market where Evelina made he_urchases, and where, if he had any sense of topographical fitness, Mr. Ram_ust also deal.
  • Ann Eliza, making her way through the outskirts of potato- barrels and flabb_ish, found no one in the shop but the gory- aproned butcher who stood in th_ackground 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: "Siste_ick?"
  • "Oh, not very—jest a cold," she answered, as guiltily as if Evelina's illnes_ad been feigned. "We want a steak as usual, please—and my sister said you wa_o be sure to give me jest as good a cut as if it was her," she added wit_hild-like candour.
  • "Oh, that's all right." The butcher picked up his weapon with a grin. "You_ister 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 wa_oo shy to try to delay the butcher by such conversational arts as sh_ossessed, but the approach of a deaf old lady in an antiquated bonnet an_antle 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 th_ack of the shop, saw that the old lady's hesitations between liver and por_hops were likely to be indefinitely prolonged. They were still unresolve_hen she was interrupted by the entrance of a blowsy Irish girl with a baske_n her arm. The newcomer caused a momentary diversion, and when she ha_eparted the old lady, who was evidently as intolerant of interruption as _rofessional story-teller, insisted on returning to the beginning of he_omplicated order, and weighing anew, with an anxious appeal to the butcher'_rbitration, the relative advantages of pork and liver. But even he_esitations, and the intrusion on them of two or three other customers, wer_f no avail, for Mr. Ramy was not among those who entered the shop; and a_ast Ann Eliza, ashamed of staying longer, reluctantly claimed her steak, an_alked home through the thickening snow.
  • Even to her simple judgment the vanity of her hopes was plain, and in th_lear light that disappointment turns upon our actions she wondered how sh_ould have been foolish enough to suppose that, even if Mr. Ramy DID go t_hat particular market, he would hit on the same day and hour as herself.
  • There followed a colourless week unmarked by farther incident. The ol_tocking cured Evelina's throat, and Mrs. Hawkins dropped in once or twice t_alk of her baby's teeth; some new orders for pinking were received, an_velina sold a bonnet to the lady with puffed sleeves. The lady with puffe_leeves—a resident of "the Square," whose name they had never learned, becaus_he always carried her own parcels home—was the most distinguished an_nteresting figure on their horizon. She was youngish, she was elegant (as th_itle they had given her implied), and she had a sweet sad smile about whic_hey had woven many histories; but even the news of her return to town—it wa_er first apparition that year—failed to arouse Ann Eliza's interest. All th_mall daily happenings which had once sufficed to fill the hours now appeare_o her in their deadly insignificance; and for the first time in her lon_ears of drudgery she rebelled at the dullness of her life. With Evelina suc_its of discontent were habitual and openly proclaimed, and Ann Eliza stil_xcused them as one of the prerogatives of youth. Besides, Evelina had no_een intended by Providence to pine in such a narrow life: in the origina_lan of things, she had been meant to marry and have a baby, to wear silk o_undays, and take a leading part in a Church circle. Hitherto opportunity ha_layed her false; and for all her superior aspirations and carefully crimpe_air she had remained as obscure and unsought as Ann Eliza. But the elde_ister, who had long since accepted her own fate, had never accepte_velina's. Once a pleasant young man who taught in Sunday-school had paid th_ounger Miss Bunner a few shy visits. That was years since, and he ha_peedily vanished from their view. Whether he had carried with him any o_velina's illusions, Ann Eliza had never discovered; but his attentions ha_lad her sister in a halo of exquisite possibilities.
  • Ann Eliza, in those days, had never dreamed of allowing herself the luxury o_elf-pity: it seemed as much a personal right of Evelina's as her elaboratel_rinkled hair. But now she began to transfer to herself a portion of th_ympathy she had so long bestowed on Evelina. She had at last recognized he_ight to set up some lost opportunities of her own; and once that dangerou_recedent established, they began to crowd upon her memory.
  • It was at this stage of Ann Eliza's transformation that Evelina, looking u_ne evening from her work, said suddenly: "My! She's stopped."
  • Ann Eliza, raising her eyes from a brown merino seam, followed her sister'_lance across the room. It was a Monday, and they always wound the clock o_undays.
  • "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 t_er, Ann Eliza?"
  • "I dunno, I'm sure," said the elder sister, wiping her spectacles befor_roceeding to a close examination of the clock.
  • With anxiously bent heads the two women shook and turned it, as though the_ere trying to revive a living thing; but it remained unresponsive to thei_ouch, 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 o_ne about to perform the last offices for the departed. "And I guess," sh_dded, "you'll have to step round to Mr. Ramy's to-morrow, and see if he ca_ix 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 sudde_eart-throb stretched the seams of her flat alpaca bosom, and a pulse leapt t_ife in each of her temples.
  • That night, long after Evelina slept, Ann Eliza lay awake in the unfamilia_ilence, more acutely conscious of the nearness of the crippled clock tha_hen it had volubly told out the minutes. The next morning she woke from _roubled dream of having carried it to Mr. Ramy's, and found that he and hi_hop had vanished; and all through the day's occupations the memory of thi_ream oppressed her.
  • It had been agreed that Ann Eliza should take the clock to be repaired as soo_s they had dined; but while they were still at table a weak-eyed little gir_n 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 he_outhful apprentices.
  • Ann Eliza started from her seat. "I'll come at once. Quick, Evelina, th_ordial!"
  • By this euphemistic name the sisters designated a bottle of cherry brandy, th_ast of a dozen inherited from their grandmother, which they kept locked i_heir cupboard against such emergencies. A moment later, cordial in hand, An_liza was hurrying upstairs behind the weak-eyed child.
  • Miss Mellins' "turn" was sufficiently serious to detain Ann Eliza for nearl_wo hours, and dusk had fallen when she took up the depleted bottle of cordia_nd descended again to the shop. It was empty, as usual, and Evelina sat a_er pinking-machine in the back room. Ann Eliza was still agitated by he_fforts to restore the dress-maker, but in spite of her preoccupation she wa_truck, as soon as she entered, by the loud tick of the clock, which stil_tood on the shelf where she had left it.
  • "Why, she's going!" she gasped, before Evelina could question her about Mis_ellins. "Did she start up again by herself?"
  • "Oh, no; but I couldn't stand not knowing what time it was, I've got s_ccustomed to having her round; and just after you went upstairs Mrs. Hawkin_ropped in, so I asked her to tend the store for a minute, and I clapped on m_hings and ran right round to Mr. Ramy's. It turned out there wasn't anythin_he matter with her— nothin' on'y a speck of dust in the works—and he fixe_er for me in a minute and I brought her right back. Ain't it lovely to hea_er going again? But tell me about Miss Mellins, quick!"
  • For a moment Ann Eliza found no words. Not till she learned that she ha_issed her chance did she understand how many hopes had hung upon it. Even no_he 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 _winge of envy for the fate which gave Evelina every opportunity that cam_heir way. "She had the Sunday-school teacher too," Ann Eliza murmured t_erself; but she was well-trained in the arts of renunciation, and after _carcely perceptible pause she plunged into a detailed description of th_ress-maker's "turn."
  • Evelina, when her curiosity was roused, was an insatiable questioner, and i_as supper-time before she had come to the end of her enquiries about Mis_ellins; but when the two sisters had seated themselves at their evening mea_nn Eliza at last found a chance to say: "So she on'y had a speck of dust i_er."
  • Evelina understood at once that the reference was not to Miss Mellins. "Yes—a_east he thinks so," she answered, helping herself as a matter of course t_he first cup of tea.
  • "On'y to think!" murmured Ann Eliza.
  • "But he isn't SURE," Evelina continued, absently pushing the teapot toward he_ister. "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'_elieve he's forty; but he DOES look sick. I guess he's pretty lonesome, al_y himself in that store. He as much as told me so, and somehow"—Evelin_aused and bridled—"I kinder thought that maybe his saying he'd call roun_bout the clock was on'y just an excuse. He said it just as I was going out o_he store. What you think, Ann Eliza?"
  • "Oh, I don't har'ly know." To save herself, Ann Eliza could produce nothin_armer.
  • "Well, I don't pretend to be smarter than other folks," said Evelina, puttin_ conscious hand to her hair, "but I guess Mr. Herman Ramy wouldn't be sorr_o pass an evening here, 'stead of spending it all alone in that poky littl_lace 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 i_he interrogation.
  • "Yes, he did," said Evelina, dropping her lids with a smile. "He seemed to b_ust crazy to talk to somebody—somebody agreeable, I mean. I think the man'_nhappy, 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 bein_ears 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 ha_he time to stay and listen. I tell you he's dead lonely, Ann Eliza."
  • "Yes," said Ann Eliza.