Mr. Hawkins proved himself worthy of his wife's faith in his capacity. H_earned from Ann Eliza as much as she could tell him about Mrs. Hochmuller an_eturned the next evening with a scrap of paper bearing her address, beneat_hich Johnny (the family scribe) had written in a large round hand the name_f the streets that led there from the ferry.
Ann Eliza lay awake all that night, repeating over and over again th_irections Mr. Hawkins had given her. He was a kind man, and she knew he woul_illingly have gone with her to Hoboken; indeed she read in his timid eye th_alf-formed intention of offering to accompany her—but on such an errand sh_referred to go alone.
The next Sunday, accordingly, she set out early, and without much troubl_ound her way to the ferry. Nearly a year had passed since her previous visi_o Mrs. Hochmuller, and a chilly April breeze smote her face as she stepped o_he boat. Most of the passengers were huddled together in the cabin, and An_liza shrank into its obscurest corner, shivering under the thin black mantl_hich had seemed so hot in July. She began to feel a little bewildered as sh_tepped ashore, but a paternal policeman put her into the right car, and as i_ dream she found herself retracing the way to Mrs. Hochmuller's door. She ha_old the conductor the name of the street at which she wished to get out, an_resently she stood in the biting wind at the corner near the beer-saloon, where the sun had once beat down on her so fiercely. At length an empty ca_ppeared, its yellow flank emblazoned with the name of Mrs. Hochmuller'_uburb, and Ann Eliza was presently jolting past the narrow brick house_slanded between vacant lots like giant piles in a desolate lagoon. When th_ar reached the end of its journey she got out and stood for some time tryin_o remember which turn Mr. Ramy had taken. She had just made up her mind t_sk the car-driver when he shook the reins on the backs of his lean horses, and the car, still empty, jogged away toward Hoboken.
Ann Eliza, left alone by the roadside, began to move cautiously forward, looking about for a small red house with a gable overhung by an elm-tree; bu_verything about her seemed unfamiliar and forbidding. One or two surl_ooking men slouched past with inquisitive glances, and she could not make u_er mind to stop and speak to them.
At length a tow-headed boy came out of a swinging door suggestive of illici_onviviality, and to him Ann Eliza ventured to confide her difficulty. Th_ffer of five cents fired him with an instant willingness to lead her to Mrs.
Hochmuller, and he was soon trotting past the stone-cutter's yard with An_liza in his wake.
Another turn in the road brought them to the little red house, and havin_ewarded her guide Ann Eliza unlatched the gate and walked up to the door. He_eart was beating violently, and she had to lean against the door-post t_ompose her twitching lips: she had not known till that moment how much it wa_oing to hurt her to speak of Evelina to Mrs. Hochmuller. As her agitatio_ubsided she began to notice how much the appearance of the house had changed.
It was not only that winter had stripped the elm, and blackened the flower- borders: the house itself had a debased and deserted air. The window-pane_ere cracked and dirty, and one or two shutters swung dismally on loosene_inges.
She rang several times before the door was opened. At length an Irish woma_ith a shawl over her head and a baby in her arms appeared on the threshold, and glancing past her into the narrow passage Ann Eliza saw that Mrs.
Hochmuller's neat abode had deteriorated as much within as without.
At the mention of the name the woman stared. "Mrs. who, did ye say?"
"Mrs. Hochmuller. This is surely her house?"
"No, it ain't neither," said the woman turning away.
"Oh, but wait, please," Ann Eliza entreated. "I can't be mistaken. I mean th_rs. Hochmuller who takes in washing. I came out to see her last June."
"Oh, the Dutch washerwoman is it—her that used to live here? She's been gon_wo months and more. It's Mike McNulty lives here now. Whisht!" to the baby, who had squared his mouth for a howl.
Ann Eliza's knees grew weak. "Mrs. Hochmuller gone? But where has she gone?
She must be somewhere round here. Can't you tell me?"
"Sure an' I can't," said the woman. "She wint away before iver we come."
"Dalia Geoghegan, will ye bring the choild in out av the cowld?" cried a_rate voice from within.
"Please wait—oh, please wait," Ann Eliza insisted. "You see I must find Mrs.
"Why don't ye go and look for her thin?" the woman returned, slamming the doo_n her face.
She stood motionless on the door-step, dazed by the immensity of he_isappointment, till a burst of loud voices inside the house drove her dow_he path and out of the gate.
Even then she could not grasp what had happened, and pausing in the road sh_ooked back at the house, half hoping that Mrs. Hochmuller's once deteste_ace might appear at one of the grimy windows.
She was roused by an icy wind that seemed to spring up suddenly from th_esolate scene, piercing her thin dress like gauze; and turning away she bega_o retrace her steps. She thought of enquiring for Mrs. Hochmuller at some o_he neighbouring houses, but their look was so unfriendly that she walked o_ithout making up her mind at which door to ring. When she reached the horse- car terminus a car was just moving off toward Hoboken, and for nearly an hou_he had to wait on the corner in the bitter wind. Her hands and feet wer_tiff with cold when the car at length loomed into sight again, and sh_hought of stopping somewhere on the way to the ferry for a cup of tea; bu_efore the region of lunch-rooms was reached she had grown so sick and dizz_hat the thought of food was repulsive. At length she found herself on th_erry-boat, in the soothing stuffiness of the crowded cabin; then came anothe_nterval of shivering on a street-corner, another long jolting journey in a
"cross-town" car that smelt of damp straw and tobacco; and lastly, in the col_pring dusk, she unlocked her door and groped her way through the shop to he_ireless bedroom.
The next morning Mrs. Hawkins, dropping in to hear the result of the trip, found Ann Eliza sitting behind the counter wrapped in an old shawl.
"Why, Miss Bunner, you're sick! You must have fever—your face is just as red!"
"It's nothing. I guess I caught cold yesterday on the ferry- boat," Ann Eliz_cknowledged.
"And it's jest like a vault in here!" Mrs. Hawkins rebuked her. "Let me fee_our hand—it's burning. Now, Miss Bunner, you've got to go right to bed thi_ery minute."
"Oh, but I can't, Mrs. Hawkins." Ann Eliza attempted a wan smile. "You forge_here ain't nobody but me to tend the store."
"I guess you won't tend it long neither, if you ain't careful," Mrs. Hawkin_rimly rejoined. Beneath her placid exterior she cherished a morbid passio_or disease and death, and the sight of Ann Eliza's suffering had roused he_rom her habitual indifference. "There ain't so many folks comes to the stor_nyhow," she went on with unconscious cruelty, "and I'll go right up and se_f Miss Mellins can't spare one of her girls."
Ann Eliza, too weary to resist, allowed Mrs. Hawkins to put her to bed an_ake a cup of tea over the stove, while Miss Mellins, always good-naturedl_esponsive to any appeal for help, sent down the weak-eyed little girl to dea_ith hypothetical customers.
Ann Eliza, having so far abdicated her independence, sank into sudden apathy.
As far as she could remember, it was the first time in her life that she ha_een taken care of instead of taking care, and there was a momentary relief i_he surrender. She swallowed the tea like an obedient child, allowed _oultice to be applied to her aching chest and uttered no protest when a fir_as kindled in the rarely used grate; but as Mrs. Hawkins bent over to
"settle" her pillows she raised herself on her elbow to whisper: "Oh, Mrs.
Hawkins, Mrs. Hochmuller warn't there." The tears rolled down her cheeks.
"She warn't there? Has she moved?"
"Over two months ago—and they don't know where she's gone. Oh what'll I do, Mrs. Hawkins?"
"There, there, Miss Bunner. You lay still and don't fret. I'll ask Mr. Hawkin_oon as ever he comes home."
Ann Eliza murmured her gratitude, and Mrs. Hawkins, bending down, kissed he_n the forehead. "Don't you fret," she repeated, in the voice with which sh_oothed her children.
For over a week Ann Eliza lay in bed, faithfully nursed by her two neighbours, while the weak-eyed child, and the pale sewing girl who had helped to finis_velina's wedding dress, took turns in minding the shop. Every morning, whe_er friends appeared, Ann Eliza lifted her head to ask: "Is there a letter?"
and at their gentle negative sank back in silence. Mrs. Hawkins, for severa_ays, spoke no more of her promise to consult her husband as to the best wa_f tracing Mrs. Hochmuller; and dread of fresh disappointment kept Ann Eliz_rom bringing up the subject.
But the following Sunday evening, as she sat for the first time bolstered u_n her rocking-chair near the stove, while Miss Mellins studied the Polic_azette beneath the lamp, there came a knock on the shop-door and Mr. Hawkin_ntered.
Ann Eliza's first glance at his plain friendly face showed her he had news t_ive, but though she no longer attempted to hide her anxiety from Mis_ellins, her lips trembled too much to let her speak.
"Good evening, Miss Bunner," said Mr. Hawkins in his dragging voice. "I'v_een over to Hoboken all day looking round for Mrs. Hochmuller."
"Oh, Mr. Hawkins—you HAVE?"
"I made a thorough search, but I'm sorry to say it was no use. She's lef_oboken—moved clear away, and nobody seems to know where."
"It was real good of you, Mr. Hawkins." Ann Eliza's voice struggled up in _aint whisper through the submerging tide of her disappointment.
Mr. Hawkins, in his embarrassed sense of being the bringer of bad news, stoo_efore her uncertainly; then he turned to go. "No trouble at all," he pause_o assure her from the doorway.
She wanted to speak again, to detain him, to ask him to advise her; but th_ords caught in her throat and she lay back silent.
The next day she got up early, and dressed and bonneted herself with twitchin_ingers. She waited till the weak-eyed child appeared, and having laid on he_inute instructions as to the care of the shop, she slipped out into th_treet. It had occurred to her in one of the weary watches of the previou_ight that she might go to Tiffany's and make enquiries about Ramy's past.
Possibly in that way she might obtain some information that would suggest _ew way of reaching Evelina. She was guiltily aware that Mrs. Hawkins and Mis_ellins would be angry with her for venturing out of doors, but she knew sh_hould never feel any better till she had news of Evelina.
The morning air was sharp, and as she turned to face the wind she felt so wea_nd unsteady that she wondered if she should ever get as far as Union Square; but by walking very slowly, and standing still now and then when she could d_o without being noticed, she found herself at last before the jeweller'_reat glass doors.
It was still so early that there were no purchasers in the shop, and she fel_erself the centre of innumerable unemployed eyes as she moved forward betwee_ong lines of show-cases glittering with diamonds and silver.
She was glancing about in the hope of finding the clock- department withou_aving to approach one of the impressive gentlemen who paced the empty aisles, when she attracted the attention of one of the most impressive of the number.
The formidable benevolence with which he enquired what he could do for he_ade her almost despair of explaining herself; but she finally disentangle_rom a flurry of wrong beginnings the request to be shown to the clock- department.
The gentleman considered her thoughtfully. "May I ask what style of clock yo_re looking for? Would it be for a wedding- present, or—?"
The irony of the allusion filled Ann Eliza's veins with sudden strength. "_on't want to buy a clock at all. I want to see the head of the department."
"Mr. Loomis?" His stare still weighed her—then he seemed to brush aside th_roblem she presented as beneath his notice. "Oh, certainly. Take the elevato_o the second floor. Next aisle to the left." He waved her down the endles_erspective of show- cases.
Ann Eliza followed the line of his lordly gesture, and a swift ascent brough_er to a great hall full of the buzzing and booming of thousands of clocks.
Whichever way she looked, clocks stretched away from her in glitterin_nterminable vistas: clocks of all sizes and voices, from the bell-throate_iant of the hallway to the chirping dressing-table toy; tall clocks o_ahogany and brass with cathedral chimes; clocks of bronze, glass, porcelain, of every possible size, voice and configuration; and between their serrie_anks, along the polished floor of the aisles, moved the languid forms o_ther gentlemanly floor-walkers, waiting for their duties to begin.
One of them soon approached, and Ann Eliza repeated her request. He receive_t affably.
"Mr. Loomis? Go right down to the office at the other end." He pointed to _ind of box of ground glass and highly polished panelling.
As she thanked him he turned to one of his companions and said something i_hich she caught the name of Mr. Loomis, and which was received with a_ppreciative chuckle. She suspected herself of being the object of th_leasantry, and straightened her thin shoulders under her mantle.
The door of the office stood open, and within sat a gray- bearded man at _esk. He looked up kindly, and again she asked for Mr. Loomis.
"I'm Mr. Loomis. What can I do for you?"
He was much less portentous than the others, though she guessed him to b_bove them in authority; and encouraged by his tone she seated herself on th_dge of the chair he waved her to.
"I hope you'll excuse my troubling you, sir. I came to ask if you could tel_e anything about Mr. Herman Ramy. He was employed here in the clock- department two or three years ago."
Mr. Loomis showed no recognition of the name.
"Ramy? When was he discharged?"
"I don't har'ly know. He was very sick, and when he got well his place ha_een filled. He married my sister last October and they went to St. Louis, _in't had any news of them for over two months, and she's my only sister, an_'m most crazy worrying about her."
"I see." Mr. Loomis reflected. "In what capacity was Ramy employed here?" h_sked after a moment.
"He—he told us that he was one of the heads of the clock- department," An_liza stammered, overswept by a sudden doubt.
"That was probably a slight exaggeration. But I can tell you about him b_eferring to our books. The name again?"
There ensued a long silence, broken only by the flutter of leaves as Mr.
Loomis turned over his ledgers. Presently he looked up, keeping his finge_etween the pages.
"Here it is—Herman Ramy. He was one of our ordinary workmen, and left us thre_ears and a half ago last June."
"On account of sickness?" Ann Eliza faltered.
Mr. Loomis appeared to hesitate; then he said: "I see no mention of sickness."
Ann Eliza felt his compassionate eyes on her again. "Perhaps I'd better tel_ou the truth. He was discharged for drug-taking. A capable workman, but w_ouldn't keep him straight. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but it seem_airer, since you say you're anxious about your sister."
The polished sides of the office vanished from Ann Eliza's sight, and th_ackle of the innumerable clocks came to her like the yell of waves in _torm. She tried to speak but could not; tried to get to her feet, but th_loor was gone.
"I'm very sorry," Mr. Loomis repeated, closing the ledger. "I remember the ma_erfectly now. He used to disappear every now and then, and turn up again in _tate that made him useless for days."
As she listened, Ann Eliza recalled the day when she had come on Mr. Ram_itting in abject dejection behind his counter. She saw again the blurre_nrecognizing eyes he had raised to her, the layer of dust over everything i_he shop, and the green bronze clock in the window representing a Newfoundlan_og with his paw on a book. She stood up slowly.
"Thank you. I'm sorry to have troubled you."
"It was no trouble. You say Ramy married your sister last October?"
"Yes, sir; and they went to St. Louis right afterward. I don't know how t_ind her. I thought maybe somebody here might know about him."
"Well, possibly some of the workmen might. Leave me your name and I'll sen_ou word if I get on his track."
He handed her a pencil, and she wrote down her address; then she walked awa_lindly between the clocks.