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Chapter 2

  • 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,
  • "Yours truly,
  • "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.
  • "DEAR MADAM,
  • "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.
  • "Yours Respectfully,
  • "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.