Intolerably monotonous seemed now to the Bunner sisters the treadmill routin_f the shop, colourless and long their evenings about the lamp, aimless thei_abitual interchange of words to the weary accompaniment of the sewing an_inking machines.
It was perhaps with the idea of relieving the tension of their mood tha_velina, the following Sunday, suggested inviting Miss Mellins to supper. Th_unner sisters were not in a position to be lavish of the humbles_ospitality, but two or three times in the year they shared their evening mea_ith 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 th_nwonted addition of pound cake and sweet pickles, the dress-maker's shar_warthy person stood out vividly between the neutral-tinted sisters. Mis_ellins was a small woman with a glossy yellow face and a frizz of black hai_ristling with imitation tortoise-shell pins. Her sleeves had a fashionabl_ut, and half a dozen metal bangles rattled on her wrists. Her voice rattle_ike her bangles as she poured forth a stream of anecdote and ejaculation; an_er round black eyes jumped with acrobatic velocity from one face to another.
Miss Mellins was always having or hearing of amazing adventures. She ha_urprised a burglar in her room at midnight (though how he got there, what h_obbed her of, and by what means he escaped had never been quite clear to he_uditors); she had been warned by anonymous letters that her grocer (_ejected suitor) was putting poison in her tea; she had a customer who wa_hadowed by detectives, and another (a very wealthy lady) who had bee_rrested in a department store for kleptomania; she had been present at _piritualist seance where an old gentleman had died in a fit on seeing _aterialization of his mother-in-law; she had escaped from two fires in he_ight-gown, and at the funeral of her first cousin the horses attached to th_earse had run away and smashed the coffin, precipitating her relative into a_pen man-hole before the eyes of his distracted family.
A sceptical observer might have explained Miss Mellins's proneness t_dventure by the fact that she derived her chief mental nourishment from th_olice Gazette and the Fireside Weekly; but her lot was cast in a circle wher_uch insinuations were not likely to be heard, and where the title-role i_lood-curdling drama had long been her recognized right.
"Yes," she was now saying, her emphatic eyes on Ann Eliza, "you may no_elieve it, Miss Bunner, and I don't know's I should myself if anybody els_as to tell me, but over a year before ever I was born, my mother she went t_ee a gypsy fortune- teller that was exhibited in a tent on the Battery wit_he green- headed lady, though her father warned her not to—and what yo_'pose she told her? Why, she told her these very words—says she: 'Your nex_hild'll be a girl with jet-black curls, and she'll suffer from spasms.'"
"Mercy!" murmured Ann Eliza, a ripple of sympathy running down her spine.
"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 apothecar_ver in Jersey City, though her mother appeared to her in a dream and told he_he'd rue the day she done it, but as Emma said, she got more advice than sh_anted from the living, and if she was to listen to spectres too she'd neve_e sure what she'd ought to do and what she'd oughtn't; but I will say he_usband took to drink, and she never was the same woman after her fus_aby—well, they had an elegant church wedding, and what you s'pose I saw as _as walkin' up the aisle with the wedding percession?"
"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 folk_s 'piscopalians and she would have a church wedding, though HIS mother raise_ terrible rumpus over it- -well, there it set, right in front of where th_inister stood that was going to marry 'em, a coffin covered with a blac_elvet pall with a gold fringe, and a 'Gates Ajar' in white camellias atop o_t."
"Goodness," said Evelina, starting, "there's a knock!"
"Who can it be?" shuddered Ann Eliza, still under the spell of Miss Mellins'_allucination.
Evelina rose and lit a candle to guide her through the shop. They heard he_urn the key of the outer door, and a gust of night air stirred the clos_tmosphere of the back room; then there was a sound of vivacious exclamations,
and Evelina returned with Mr. Ramy.
Ann Eliza's heart rocked like a boat in a heavy sea, and the dress-maker'_yes, distended with curiosity, sprang eagerly from face to face.
"I just thought I'd call in again," said Mr. Ramy, evidently somewha_isconcerted by the presence of Miss Mellins. "Just to see how the clock'_ehaving," he added with his hollow-cheeked smile.
"Oh, she's behaving beautiful," said Ann Eliza; "but we're real glad to se_ou 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 condescendin_ecognition of the stranger's presence; and Mr. Ramy responded by an awkwar_ow. After the first moment of constraint a renewed sense of satisfactio_illed the consciousness of the three women. The Bunner sisters were not sorr_o let Miss Mellins see that they received an occasional evening visit, an_iss Mellins was clearly enchanted at the opportunity of pouring her lates_ale into a new ear. As for Mr. Ramy, he adjusted himself to the situatio_ith greater ease than might have been expected, and Evelina, who had bee_orry that he should enter the room while the remains of supper still lingere_n the table, blushed with pleasure at his good-humored offer to help her
The table cleared, Ann Eliza suggested a game of cards; and it was afte_leven o'clock when Mr. Ramy rose to take leave. His adieux were so much les_brupt than on the occasion of his first visit that Evelina was able t_atisfy her sense of etiquette by escorting him, candle in hand, to the oute_oor; and as the two disappeared into the shop Miss Mellins playfully turne_o Ann Eliza.
"Well, well, Miss Bunner," she murmured, jerking her chin in the direction o_he retreating figures, "I'd no idea your sister was keeping company. On'y t_hink!"
Ann Eliza, roused from a state of dreamy beatitude, turned her timid eyes o_he dress-maker.
"Oh, you're mistaken, Miss Mellins. We don't har'ly know Mr. Ramy."
Miss Mellins smiled incredulously. "You go 'long, Miss Bunner. I gues_here'll be a wedding somewheres round here before spring, and I'll be rea_ffended if I ain't asked to make the dress. I've always seen her in a gore_atin with rooshings."
Ann Eliza made no answer. She had grown very pale, and her eyes lingere_earchingly on Evelina as the younger sister re- entered the room. Evelina'_heeks were pink, and her blue eyes glittered; but it seemed to Ann Eliza tha_he coquettish tilt of her head regrettably emphasized the weakness of he_eceding chin. It was the first time that Ann Eliza had ever seen a flaw i_er sister's beauty, and her involuntary criticism startled her like a secre_isloyalty.
That night, after the light had been put out, the elder sister knelt longe_han usual at her prayers. In the silence of the darkened room she wa_ffering up certain dreams and aspirations whose brief blossoming had lent _ransient freshness to her days. She wondered now how she could ever hav_upposed that Mr. Ramy's visits had another cause than the one Miss Mellin_uggested. Had not the sight of Evelina first inspired him with a sudde_olicitude for the welfare of the clock? And what charms but Evelina's coul_ave induced him to repeat his visit? Grief held up its torch to the frai_abric of Ann Eliza's illusions, and with a firm heart she watched the_hrivel into ashes; then, rising from her knees full of the chill joy o_enunciation, she laid a kiss on the crimping pins of the sleeping Evelina an_rept under the bedspread at her side.