Evelina's marriage took place on the appointed day. It was celebrated in th_vening, in the chantry of the church which the sisters attended, and after i_as over the few guests who had been present repaired to the Bunner Sisters'
basement, where a wedding supper awaited them. Ann Eliza, aided by Mis_ellins and Mrs. Hawkins, and consciously supported by the sentimenta_nterest of the whole street, had expended her utmost energy on the decoratio_f the shop and the back room. On the table a vase of white chrysanthemum_tood between a dish of oranges and bananas and an iced wedding-cake wreathe_ith orange-blossoms of the bride's own making. Autumn leaves studded wit_aper roses festooned the what- not and the chromo of the Rock of Ages, and _reath of yellow immortelles was twined about the clock which Evelina revere_s the mysterious agent of her happiness.
At the table sat Miss Mellins, profusely spangled and bangled, her hea_ewing-girl, a pale young thing who had helped with Evelina's outfit, Mr. an_rs. Hawkins, with Johnny, their eldest boy, and Mrs. Hochmuller and he_aughter.
Mrs. Hochmuller's large blonde personality seemed to pervade the room to th_ffacement of the less amply-proportioned guests. It was rendered mor_mpressive by a dress of crimson poplin that stood out from her in organ-lik_olds; and Linda, whom Ann Eliza had remembered as an uncouth child with a sl_ook about the eyes, surprised her by a sudden blossoming into feminine grac_uch as sometimes follows on a gawky girlhood. The Hochmullers, in fact,
struck the dominant note in the entertainment. Beside them Evelina, unusuall_ale in her grey cashmere and white bonnet, looked like a faintly washe_ketch beside a brilliant chromo; and Mr. Ramy, doomed to the traditiona_nsignificance of the bridegroom's part, made no attempt to rise above hi_ituation. Even Miss Mellins sparkled and jingled in vain in the shadow o_rs. Hochmuller's crimson bulk; and Ann Eliza, with a sense of vagu_oreboding, saw that the wedding feast centred about the two guests she ha_ost wished to exclude from it. What was said or done while they all sat abou_he table she never afterward recalled: the long hours remained in her memor_s a whirl of high colours and loud voices, from which the pale presence o_velina now and then emerged like a drowned face on a sunset-dabbled sea.
The next morning Mr. Ramy and his wife started for St. Louis, and Ann Eliz_as left alone. Outwardly the first strain of parting was tempered by th_rrival of Miss Mellins, Mrs. Hawkins and Johnny, who dropped in to help i_he ungarlanding and tidying up of the back room. Ann Eliza was duly gratefu_or their kindness, but the "talking over" on which they had evidently counte_as Dead Sea fruit on her lips; and just beyond the familiar warmth of thei_resences she saw the form of Solitude at her door.
Ann Eliza was but a small person to harbour so great a guest, and a tremblin_ense of insufficiency possessed her. She had no high musings to offer to th_ew companion of her hearth. Every one of her thoughts had hitherto turned t_velina and shaped itself in homely easy words; of the mighty speech o_ilence she knew not the earliest syllable.
Everything in the back room and the shop, on the second day after Evelina'_oing, seemed to have grown coldly unfamiliar. The whole aspect of the plac_ad changed with the changed conditions of Ann Eliza's life. The firs_ustomer who opened the shop-door startled her like a ghost; and all night sh_ay tossing on her side of the bed, sinking now and then into an uncertai_oze from which she would suddenly wake to reach out her hand for Evelina. I_he new silence surrounding her the walls and furniture found voice,
frightening her at dusk and midnight with strange sighs and stealthy whispers.
Ghostly hands shook the window shutters or rattled at the outer latch, an_nce she grew cold at the sound of a step like Evelina's stealing through th_ark shop to die out on the threshold. In time, of course, she found a_xplanation for these noises, telling herself that the bedstead was warping,
that Miss Mellins trod heavily overhead, or that the thunder of passing beer-
waggons shook the door-latch; but the hours leading up to these conclusion_ere full of the floating terrors that harden into fixed foreboding. Worst o_ll were the solitary meals, when she absently continued to set aside th_argest slice of pie for Evelina, and to let the tea grow cold while sh_aited for her sister to help herself to the first cup. Miss Mellins, comin_n on one of these sad repasts, suggested the acquisition of a cat; but An_liza shook her head. She had never been used to animals, and she felt th_ague shrinking of the pious from creatures divided from her by the abyss o_oullessness.
At length, after ten empty days, Evelina's first letter came.
"My dear Sister," she wrote, in her pinched Spencerian hand, "it seems strang_o be in this great City so far from home alone with him I have chosen fo_ife, but marriage has its solemn duties which those who are not can neve_ope to understand, and happier perhaps for this reason, life for them ha_nly simple tasks and pleasures, but those who must take thought for other_ust be prepared to do their duty in whatever station it has pleased th_lmighty to call them. Not that I have cause to complain, my dear Husband i_ll love and devotion, but being absent all day at his business how can I hel_ut feel lonesome at times, as the poet says it is hard for they that love t_ive apart, and I often wonder, my dear Sister, how you are getting alon_lone in the store, may you never experience the feelings of solitude I hav_nderwent since I came here. We are boarding now, but soon expect to fin_ooms and change our place of Residence, then I shall have all the care of _ousehold to bear, but such is the fate of those who join their Lot wit_thers, they cannot hope to escape from the burdens of Life, nor would I as_t, I would not live alway but while I live would always pray for strength t_o my duty. This city is not near as large or handsome as New York, but had m_ot been cast in a Wilderness I hope I should not repine, such never was m_ature, and they who exchange their independence for the sweet name of Wif_ust be prepared to find all is not gold that glitters, nor I would not expec_ike you to drift down the stream of Life unfettered and serene as a Summe_loud, such is not my fate, but come what may will always find in me _esigned and prayerful Spirit, and hoping this finds you as well as it leave_e, I remain, my dear Sister,
"EVELINA B. RAMY."
Ann Eliza had always secretly admired the oratorical and impersonal tone o_velina's letters; but the few she had previously read, having been addresse_o school-mates or distant relatives, had appeared in the light of literar_ompositions rather than as records of personal experience. Now she could no_ut wish that Evelina had laid aside her swelling periods for a style mor_uited to the chronicling of homely incidents. She read the letter again an_gain, seeking for a clue to what her sister was really doing and thinking;
but after each reading she emerged impressed but unenlightened from th_abyrinth of Evelina's eloquence.
During the early winter she received two or three more letters of the sam_ind, each enclosing in its loose husk of rhetoric a smaller kernel of fact.
By dint of patient interlinear study, Ann Eliza gathered from them tha_velina and her husband, after various costly experiments in boarding, ha_een reduced to a tenement-house flat; that living in St. Louis was mor_xpensive than they had supposed, and that Mr. Ramy was kept out late at night
(why, at a jeweller's, Ann Eliza wondered?) and found his position les_atisfactory than he had been led to expect. Toward February the letters fel_ff; and finally they ceased to come.
At first Ann Eliza wrote, shyly but persistently, entreating for more frequen_ews; then, as one appeal after another was swallowed up in the mystery o_velina's protracted silence, vague fears began to assail the elder sister.
Perhaps Evelina was ill, and with no one to nurse her but a man who could no_ven make himself a cup of tea! Ann Eliza recalled the layer of dust in Mr.
Ramy's shop, and pictures of domestic disorder mingled with the more poignan_ision of her sister's illness. But surely if Evelina were ill Mr. Ramy woul_ave written. He wrote a small neat hand, and epistolary communication was no_n insuperable embarrassment to him. The too probable alternative was tha_oth the unhappy pair had been prostrated by some disease which left the_owerless to summon her—for summon her they surely would, Ann Eliza wit_nconscious cynicism reflected, if she or her small economies could be of us_o them! The more she strained her eyes into the mystery, the darker it grew;
and her lack of initiative, her inability to imagine what steps might be take_o trace the lost in distant places, left her benumbed and helpless.
At last there floated up from some depth of troubled memory the name of th_irm of St. Louis jewellers by whom Mr. Ramy was employed. After muc_esitation, and considerable effort, she addressed to them a timid request fo_ews of her brother-in-law; and sooner than she could have hoped the answe_eached her.
"In reply to yours of the 29th ult. we beg to state the party you refer to wa_ischarged from our employ a month ago. We are sorry we are unable to furnis_ou wish his address.
"LUDWIG AND HAMMERBUSCH."
Ann Eliza read and re-read the curt statement in a stupor of distress. She ha_ost her last trace of Evelina. All that night she lay awake, revolving th_tupendous project of going to St. Louis in search of her sister; but thoug_he pieced together her few financial possibilities with the ingenuity of _rain used to fitting odd scraps into patch-work quilts, she woke to the col_aylight fact that she could not raise the money for her fare. Her weddin_ift to Evelina had left her without any resources beyond her daily earnings,
and these had steadily dwindled as the winter passed. She had long sinc_enounced her weekly visit to the butcher, and had reduced her other expense_o the narrowest measure; but the most systematic frugality had not enable_er to put by any money. In spite of her dogged efforts to maintain th_rosperity of the little shop, her sister's absence had already told on it_usiness. Now that Ann Eliza had to carry the bundles to the dyer's herself,
the customers who called in her absence, finding the shop locked, too ofte_ent elsewhere. Moreover, after several stern but unavailing efforts, she ha_ad to give up the trimming of bonnets, which in Evelina's hands had been th_ost lucrative as well as the most interesting part of the business. Thi_hange, to the passing female eye, robbed the shop window of its chie_ttraction; and when painful experience had convinced the regular customers o_he Bunner Sisters of Ann Eliza's lack of millinery skill they began to los_aith in her ability to curl a feather or even "freshen up" a bunch o_lowers. The time came when Ann Eliza had almost made up her mind to speak t_he lady with puffed sleeves, who had always looked at her so kindly, and ha_nce ordered a hat of Evelina. Perhaps the lady with puffed sleeves would b_ble to get her a little plain sewing to do; or she might recommend the sho_o friends. Ann Eliza, with this possibility in view, rummaged out of a drawe_he fly-blown remainder of the business cards which the sisters had ordered i_he first flush of their commercial adventure; but when the lady with puffe_leeves finally appeared she was in deep mourning, and wore so sad a look tha_nn Eliza dared not speak. She came in to buy some spools of black thread an_ilk, and in the doorway she turned back to say: "I am going away to-morro_or a long time. I hope you will have a pleasant winter." And the door shut o_er.
One day not long after this it occurred to Ann Eliza to go to Hoboken in ques_f Mrs. Hochmuller. Much as she shrank from pouring her distress into tha_articular ear, her anxiety had carried her beyond such reluctance; but whe_he began to think the matter over she was faced by a new difficulty. On th_ccasion of her only visit to Mrs. Hochmuller, she and Evelina had suffere_hemselves to be led there by Mr. Ramy; and Ann Eliza now perceived that sh_id not even know the name of the laundress's suburb, much less that of th_treet in which she lived. But she must have news of Evelina, and no obstacl_as great enough to thwart her.
Though she longed to turn to some one for advice she disliked to expose he_ituation to Miss Mellins's searching eye, and at first she could think of n_ther confidant. Then she remembered Mrs. Hawkins, or rather her husband, who,
though Ann Eliza had always thought him a dull uneducated man, was probabl_ifted with the mysterious masculine faculty of finding out people'_ddresses. It went hard with Ann Eliza to trust her secret even to the mil_ar of Mrs. Hawkins, but at least she was spared the cross- examination t_hich the dress-maker would have subjected her. The accumulating pressure o_omestic cares had so crushed in Mrs. Hawkins any curiosity concerning th_ffairs of others that she received her visitor's confidence with an almos_asculine indifference, while she rocked her teething baby on one arm and wit_he other tried to check the acrobatic impulses of the next in age.
"My, my," she simply said as Ann Eliza ended. "Keep still now, Arthur: Mis_unner don't want you to jump up and down on her foot to-day. And what are yo_aping at, Johnny? Run right off and play," she added, turning sternly to he_ldest, who, because he was the least naughty, usually bore the brunt of he_rath against the others.
"Well, perhaps Mr. Hawkins can help you," Mrs. Hawkins continued meditatively,
while the children, after scattering at her bidding, returned to thei_revious pursuits like flies settling down on the spot from which a_xasperated hand has swept them. "I'll send him right round the minute h_omes in, and you can tell him the whole story. I wouldn't wonder but what h_an find that Mrs. Hochmuller's address in the d'rectory. I know they've go_ne where he works."
"I'd be real thankful if he could," Ann Eliza murmured, rising from her sea_ith the factitious sense of lightness that comes from imparting a long-hidde_read.