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Chapter 13


XIII

Spring had really come at last.  There were leaves on the
ailanthus-tree that Evelina could see from her bed, gentle clouds
floated over it in the blue, and now and then the cry of a flower-
seller sounded from the street.

One day there was a shy knock on the back-room door, and
Johnny Hawkins came in with two yellow jonquils in his fist.  He
was getting bigger and squarer, and his round freckled face was
growing into a smaller copy of his father's.  He walked up to
Evelina and held out the flowers.

"They blew off the cart and the fellow said I could keep 'em.
But you can have 'em," he announced.

Ann Eliza rose from her seat at the sewing-machine and tried
to take the flowers from him.

"They ain't for you; they're for her," he sturdily objected;
and Evelina held out her hand for the jonquils.

After Johnny had gone she lay and looked at them without
speaking.  Ann Eliza, who had gone back to the machine, bent her
head over the seam she was stitching; the click, click, click of
the machine sounded in her ear like the tick of Ramy's clock, and
it seemed to her that life had gone backward, and that Evelina,
radiant and foolish, had just come into the room with the yellow
flowers in her hand.

When at last she ventured to look up, she saw that her
sister's head had drooped against the pillow, and that she was
sleeping quietly.  Her relaxed hand still held the jonquils, but it
was evident that they had awakened no memories; she had dozed off
almost as soon as Johnny had given them to her.  The discovery gave
Ann Eliza a startled sense of the ruins that must be piled upon her
past.  "I don't believe I could have forgotten that day, though,"
she said to herself.  But she was glad that Evelina had forgotten.

Evelina's disease moved on along the usual course, now lifting
her on a brief wave of elation, now sinking her to new depths of
weakness.  There was little to be done, and the doctor came only at
lengthening intervals.  On his way out he always repeated his first
friendly suggestion about sending Evelina to the hospital; and Ann
Eliza always answered: "I guess we can manage."

The hours passed for her with the fierce rapidity that great
joy or anguish lends them.  She went through the days with a
sternly smiling precision, but she hardly knew what was happening,
and when night-fall released her from the shop, and she could carry
her work to Evelina's bedside, the same sense of unreality
accompanied her, and she still seemed to be accomplishing a task
whose object had escaped her memory.

Once, when Evelina felt better, she expressed a desire to make
some artificial flowers, and Ann Eliza, deluded by this awakening
interest, got out the faded bundles of stems and petals and the
little tools and spools of wire.  But after a few minutes the work
dropped from Evelina's hands and she said: "I'll wait until to-
morrow."

She never again spoke of the flower-making, but one day, after
watching Ann Eliza's laboured attempt to trim a spring hat for Mrs.
Hawkins, she demanded impatiently that the hat should be brought to
her, and in a trice had galvanized the lifeless bow and given the
brim the twist it needed.

These were rare gleams; and more frequent were the days of
speechless lassitude, when she lay for hours silently staring at
the window, shaken only by the hard incessant cough that sounded to
Ann Eliza like the hammering of nails into a coffin.

At length one morning Ann Eliza, starting up from the mattress
at the foot of the bed, hastily called Miss Mellins down, and ran
through the smoky dawn for the doctor.  He came back with her and
did what he could to give Evelina momentary relief; then he went
away, promising to look in again before night.  Miss Mellins, her
head still covered with curl-papers, disappeared in his wake, and
when the sisters were alone Evelina beckoned to Ann Eliza.

"You promised," she whispered, grasping her sister's arm; and
Ann Eliza understood.  She had not yet dared to tell Miss Mellins
of Evelina's change of faith; it had seemed even more difficult
than borrowing the money; but now it had to be done.  She ran
upstairs after the dress-maker and detained her on the landing.

"Miss Mellins, can you tell me where to send for a priest--a
Roman Catholic priest?"

"A priest, Miss Bunner?"

"Yes.  My sister became a Roman Catholic while she was away.
They were kind to her in her sickness--and now she wants a priest."
Ann Eliza faced Miss Mellins with unflinching eyes.

"My aunt Dugan'll know.  I'll run right round to her the
minute I get my papers off," the dress-maker promised; and Ann
Eliza thanked her.

An hour or two later the priest appeared.  Ann Eliza, who was
watching, saw him coming down the steps to the shop-door and went
to meet him.  His expression was kind, but she shrank from
his peculiar dress, and from his pale face with its bluish chin and
enigmatic smile.  Ann Eliza remained in the shop.  Miss Mellins's
girl had mixed the buttons again and she set herself to sort them.
The priest stayed a long time with Evelina.  When he again carried
his enigmatic smile past the counter, and Ann Eliza rejoined her
sister, Evelina was smiling with something of the same mystery; but
she did not tell her secret.

After that it seemed to Ann Eliza that the shop and the back
room no longer belonged to her.  It was as though she were there on
sufferance, indulgently tolerated by the unseen power which hovered
over Evelina even in the absence of its minister.  The priest came
almost daily; and at last a day arrived when he was called to
administer some rite of which Ann Eliza but dimly grasped the
sacramental meaning.  All she knew was that it meant that Evelina
was going, and going, under this alien guidance, even farther from
her than to the dark places of death.

When the priest came, with something covered in his hands, she
crept into the shop, closing the door of the back room to leave him
alone with Evelina.

It was a warm afternoon in May, and the crooked ailanthus-tree
rooted in a fissure of the opposite pavement was a fountain of
tender green.  Women in light dresses passed with the languid step
of spring; and presently there came a man with a hand-cart full of
pansy and geranium plants who stopped outside the window,
signalling to Ann Eliza to buy.

An hour went by before the door of the back room opened and
the priest reappeared with that mysterious covered something in his
hands.  Ann Eliza had risen, drawing back as he passed.  He had
doubtless divined her antipathy, for he had hitherto only bowed in
going in and out; but to day he paused and looked at her
compassionately.

"I have left your sister in a very beautiful state of mind,"
he said in a low voice like a woman's.  "She is full of spiritual
consolation."

Ann Eliza was silent, and he bowed and went out.  She hastened
back to Evelina's bed, and knelt down beside it.  Evelina's eyes
were very large and bright; she turned them on Ann Eliza with a
look of inner illumination.

"I shall see the baby," she said; then her eyelids fell and
she dozed.

The doctor came again at nightfall, administering some last
palliatives; and after he had gone Ann Eliza, refusing to have her
vigil shared by Miss Mellins or Mrs. Hawkins, sat down to keep
watch alone.

It was a very quiet night.  Evelina never spoke or opened her
eyes, but in the still hour before dawn Ann Eliza saw that the
restless hand outside the bed-clothes had stopped its twitching.
She stooped over and felt no breath on her sister's lips.


The funeral took place three days later.  Evelina was buried
in Calvary Cemetery, the priest assuming the whole care of the
necessary arrangements, while Ann Eliza, a passive spectator,
beheld with stony indifference this last negation of her past.

A week afterward she stood in her bonnet and mantle in the
doorway of the little shop.  Its whole aspect had changed.  Counter
and shelves were bare, the window was stripped of its familiar
miscellany of artificial flowers, note-paper, wire hat-frames, and
limp garments from the dyer's; and against the glass pane of the
doorway hung a sign: "This store to let."

Ann Eliza turned her eyes from the sign as she went out and
locked the door behind her.  Evelina's funeral had been very
expensive, and Ann Eliza, having sold her stock-in-trade and the
few articles of furniture that remained to her, was leaving the
shop for the last time.  She had not been able to buy any mourning,
but Miss Mellins had sewed some crape on her old black mantle and
bonnet, and having no gloves she slipped her bare hands under the
folds of the mantle.

It was a beautiful morning, and the air was full of a warm
sunshine that had coaxed open nearly every window in the street,
and summoned to the window-sills the sickly plants nurtured indoors
in winter.  Ann Eliza's way lay westward, toward Broadway; but at
the corner she paused and looked back down the familiar length of
the street.  Her eyes rested a moment on the blotched "Bunner
Sisters" above the empty window of the shop; then they travelled on
to the overflowing foliage of the Square, above which was
the church tower with the dial that had marked the hours for the
sisters before Ann Eliza had bought the nickel clock.  She looked
at it all as though it had been the scene of some unknown life, of
which the vague report had reached her: she felt for herself the
only remote pity that busy people accord to the misfortunes which
come to them by hearsay.

She walked to Broadway and down to the office of the house-
agent to whom she had entrusted the sub-letting of the shop.  She
left the key with one of his clerks, who took it from her as if it
had been any one of a thousand others, and remarked that the
weather looked as if spring was really coming; then she turned and
began to move up the great thoroughfare, which was just beginning
to wake to its multitudinous activities.

She walked less rapidly now, studying each shop window as she
passed, but not with the desultory eye of enjoyment: the watchful
fixity of her gaze overlooked everything but the object of its
quest.  At length she stopped before a small window wedged between
two mammoth buildings, and displaying, behind its shining plate-
glass festooned with muslin, a varied assortment of sofa-cushions,
tea-cloths, pen-wipers, painted calendars and other specimens of
feminine industry.  In a corner of the window she had read, on a
slip of paper pasted against the pane: "Wanted, a Saleslady," and
after studying the display of fancy articles beneath it, she gave
her mantle a twitch, straightened her shoulders and went in.

Behind a counter crowded with pin-cushions, watch-holders and
other needlework trifles, a plump young woman with smooth hair sat
sewing bows of ribbon on a scrap basket.  The little shop was about
the size of the one on which Ann Eliza had just closed the door;
and it looked as fresh and gay and thriving as she and Evelina had
once dreamed of making Bunner Sisters.  The friendly air of the
place made her pluck up courage to speak.

"Saleslady?  Yes, we do want one.  Have you any one to
recommend?" the young woman asked, not unkindly.

Ann Eliza hesitated, disconcerted by the unexpected question;
and the other, cocking her head on one side to study the effect of
the bow she had just sewed on the basket, continued: "We can't
afford more than thirty dollars a month, but the work is light.
She would be expected to do a little fancy sewing between times.
We want a bright girl: stylish, and pleasant manners.  You know
what I mean.  Not over thirty, anyhow; and nice-looking.  Will you
write down the name?"

Ann Eliza looked at her confusedly.  She opened her lips to
explain, and then, without speaking, turned toward the crisply-
curtained door.

"Ain't you going to leave the AD-dress?" the young woman
called out after her.  Ann Eliza went out into the thronged
street.  The great city, under the fair spring sky, seemed to throb
with the stir of innumerable beginnings.  She walked on, looking
for another shop window with a sign in it.


THE END.

Edith Wharton

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