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Chapter 9


IX

Evelina's marriage took place on the appointed day.  It was
celebrated in the evening, in the chantry of the church which the
sisters attended, and after it was over the few guests who had been
present repaired to the Bunner Sisters' basement, where a wedding
supper awaited them.  Ann Eliza, aided by Miss Mellins and Mrs.
Hawkins, and consciously supported by the sentimental interest of
the whole street, had expended her utmost energy on the decoration
of the shop and the back room.  On the table a vase of white
chrysanthemums stood between a dish of oranges and bananas and an
iced wedding-cake wreathed with orange-blossoms of the bride's own
making.  Autumn leaves studded with paper roses festooned the what-
not and the chromo of the Rock of Ages, and a wreath of yellow
immortelles was twined about the clock which Evelina revered as the
mysterious agent of her happiness.

At the table sat Miss Mellins, profusely spangled and bangled,
her head sewing-girl, a pale young thing who had helped with
Evelina's outfit, Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins, with Johnny, their eldest
boy, and Mrs. Hochmuller and her daughter.

Mrs. Hochmuller's large blonde personality seemed to pervade
the room to the effacement of the less amply-proportioned guests.
It was rendered more impressive by a dress of crimson poplin that
stood out from her in organ-like folds; and Linda, whom Ann Eliza
had remembered as an uncouth child with a sly look about the eyes,
surprised her by a sudden blossoming into feminine grace such as
sometimes follows on a gawky girlhood.  The Hochmullers, in fact,
struck the dominant note in the entertainment.  Beside them
Evelina, unusually pale in her grey cashmere and white bonnet,
looked like a faintly washed sketch beside a brilliant chromo; and
Mr. Ramy, doomed to the traditional insignificance of the
bridegroom's part, made no attempt to rise above his situation.
Even Miss Mellins sparkled and jingled in vain in the shadow of
Mrs. Hochmuller's crimson bulk; and Ann Eliza, with a sense of
vague foreboding, saw that the wedding feast centred about the two
guests she had most wished to exclude from it.  What was said or
done while they all sat about the table she never afterward
recalled: the long hours remained in her memory as a whirl of high
colours and loud voices, from which the pale presence of Evelina
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 Eliza was left alone.  Outwardly the first strain of
parting was tempered by the arrival of Miss Mellins, Mrs. Hawkins
and Johnny, who dropped in to help in the ungarlanding and tidying
up of the back room.  Ann Eliza was duly grateful for their
kindness, but the "talking over" on which they had evidently
counted was Dead Sea fruit on her lips; and just beyond the
familiar warmth of their presences she saw the form of Solitude at
her door.

Ann Eliza was but a small person to harbour so great a guest,
and a trembling sense of insufficiency possessed her.  She had no
high musings to offer to the new companion of her hearth.  Every
one of her thoughts had hitherto turned to Evelina and shaped
itself in homely easy words; of the mighty speech of silence she
knew not the earliest syllable.

Everything in the back room and the shop, on the second day
after Evelina's going, seemed to have grown coldly unfamiliar.  The
whole aspect of the place had changed with the changed conditions
of Ann Eliza's life.  The first customer who opened the shop-door
startled her like a ghost; and all night she lay tossing on her
side of the bed, sinking now and then into an uncertain doze from
which she would suddenly wake to reach out her hand for Evelina.
In the 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, and once she grew cold at the sound of
a step like Evelina's stealing through the dark shop to die out on
the threshold.  In time, of course, she found an explanation 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 conclusions were full of the floating terrors that harden
into fixed foreboding.  Worst of all were the solitary meals, when
she absently continued to set aside the largest slice of pie for
Evelina, and to let the tea grow cold while she waited for her
sister to help herself to the first cup.  Miss Mellins, coming in
on one of these sad repasts, suggested the acquisition of a cat;
but Ann Eliza shook her head.  She had never been used to animals,
and she felt the vague shrinking of the pious from creatures
divided from her by the abyss of soullessness.

At length, after ten empty days, Evelina's first letter came.

"My dear Sister," she wrote, in her pinched Spencerian hand,
"it seems strange to be in this great City so far from home alone
with him I have chosen for life, but marriage has its solemn duties
which those who are not can never hope to understand, and happier
perhaps for this reason, life for them has only simple tasks and
pleasures, but those who must take thought for others must be
prepared to do their duty in whatever station it has pleased the
Almighty to call them.  Not that I have cause to complain, my dear
Husband is all love and devotion, but being absent all day at his
business how can I help but feel lonesome at times, as the poet
says it is hard for they that love to live apart, and I often
wonder, my dear Sister, how you are getting along alone in the
store, may you never experience the feelings of solitude I have
underwent since I came here.  We are boarding now, but soon expect
to find rooms and change our place of Residence, then I shall have
all the care of a household to bear, but such is the fate of those
who join their Lot with others, they cannot hope to escape from the
burdens of Life, nor would I ask it, I would not live alway but
while I live would always pray for strength to do my duty.  This
city is not near as large or handsome as New York, but had my lot
been cast in a Wilderness I hope I should not repine, such never
was my nature, and they who exchange their independence for the
sweet name of Wife must be prepared to find all is not gold that
glitters, nor I would not expect like you to drift down the stream
of Life unfettered and serene as a Summer cloud, such is not my
fate, but come what may will always find in me a resigned and
prayerful Spirit, and hoping this finds you as well as it leaves
me, I remain, my dear Sister,

"Yours truly,

"EVELINA B. RAMY."


Ann Eliza had always secretly admired the oratorical and
impersonal tone of Evelina's letters; but the few she had
previously read, having been addressed to school-mates or distant
relatives, had appeared in the light of literary compositions
rather than as records of personal experience.  Now she could not
but wish that Evelina had laid aside her swelling periods for a
style more suited to the chronicling of homely incidents.  She read
the letter again and again, seeking for a clue to what her sister
was really doing and thinking; but after each reading she emerged
impressed but unenlightened from the labyrinth of Evelina's
eloquence.

During the early winter she received two or three more letters
of the same kind, each enclosing in its loose husk of rhetoric a
smaller kernel of fact.  By dint of patient interlinear study, Ann
Eliza gathered from them that Evelina and her husband, after
various costly experiments in boarding, had been reduced to a
tenement-house flat; that living in St. Louis was more expensive
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 less satisfactory than he had been led to expect.  Toward
February the letters fell off; and finally they ceased to come.

At first Ann Eliza wrote, shyly but persistently, entreating
for more frequent news; then, as one appeal after another was
swallowed up in the mystery of Evelina'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
not even 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 poignant vision of her sister's illness.  But
surely if Evelina were ill Mr. Ramy would have written.  He wrote
a small neat hand, and epistolary communication was not an
insuperable embarrassment to him.  The too probable alternative was
that both the unhappy pair had been prostrated by some disease
which left them powerless to summon her--for summon her they surely
would, Ann Eliza with unconscious cynicism reflected, if she or her
small economies could be of use to 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 taken to
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 the firm of St. Louis jewellers by whom Mr. Ramy was
employed.  After much hesitation, and considerable effort, she
addressed to them a timid request for news of her brother-in-law;
and sooner than she could have hoped the answer reached her.

"DEAR MADAM,

"In reply to yours of the 29th ult. we beg to state the party
you refer to was discharged from our employ a month ago.  We are
sorry we are unable to furnish you wish his address.

"Yours Respectfully,

"LUDWIG AND HAMMERBUSCH."


Ann Eliza read and re-read the curt statement in a stupor of
distress.  She had lost her last trace of Evelina.  All that night
she lay awake, revolving the stupendous project of going to St.
Louis in search of her sister; but though she pieced together her
few financial possibilities with the ingenuity of a brain used to
fitting odd scraps into patch-work quilts, she woke to the cold
daylight fact that she could not raise the money for her fare.  Her
wedding gift to Evelina had left her without any resources beyond
her daily earnings, and these had steadily dwindled as the winter
passed.  She had long since renounced her weekly visit to the
butcher, and had reduced her other expenses to the narrowest
measure; but the most systematic frugality had not enabled her to
put by any money.  In spite of her dogged efforts to maintain the
prosperity of the little shop, her sister's absence had already
told on its business.  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 often went elsewhere.  Moreover, after
several stern but unavailing efforts, she had had to give up the
trimming of bonnets, which in Evelina's hands had been the most
lucrative as well as the most interesting part of the business.
This change, to the passing female eye, robbed the shop window of
its chief attraction; and when painful experience had convinced the
regular customers of the Bunner Sisters of Ann Eliza's lack of
millinery skill they began to lose faith in her ability to curl a
feather or even "freshen up" a bunch of flowers.  The time came
when Ann Eliza had almost made up her mind to speak to the lady
with puffed sleeves, who had always looked at her so kindly, and
had once ordered a hat of Evelina.  Perhaps the lady with puffed
sleeves would be able to get her a little plain sewing to do; or
she might recommend the shop to friends.  Ann Eliza, with this
possibility in view, rummaged out of a drawer the fly-blown
remainder of the business cards which the sisters had ordered in
the first flush of their commercial adventure; but when the lady
with puffed sleeves finally appeared she was in deep mourning, and
wore so sad a look that Ann Eliza dared not speak.  She came in to
buy some spools of black thread and silk, and in the doorway she
turned back to say: "I am going away to-morrow for a long time.  I
hope you will have a pleasant winter."  And the door shut on her.

One day not long after this it occurred to Ann Eliza to go to
Hoboken in quest of Mrs. Hochmuller.  Much as she shrank from
pouring her distress into that particular ear, her anxiety had
carried her beyond such reluctance; but when she began to
think the matter over she was faced by a new difficulty.  On the
occasion of her only visit to Mrs. Hochmuller, she and Evelina had
suffered themselves to be led there by Mr. Ramy; and Ann Eliza now
perceived that she did not even know the name of the laundress's
suburb, much less that of the street in which she lived.  But she
must have news of Evelina, and no obstacle was great enough to
thwart her.

Though she longed to turn to some one for advice she disliked
to expose her situation to Miss Mellins's searching eye, and at
first she could think of no other confidant.  Then she remembered
Mrs. Hawkins, or rather her husband, who, though Ann Eliza had
always thought him a dull uneducated man, was probably gifted with
the mysterious masculine faculty of finding out people's addresses.
It went hard with Ann Eliza to trust her secret even to the mild
ear of Mrs. Hawkins, but at least she was spared the cross-
examination to which the dress-maker would have subjected her.  The
accumulating pressure of domestic cares had so crushed in Mrs.
Hawkins any curiosity concerning the affairs of others that she
received her visitor's confidence with an almost masculine
indifference, while she rocked her teething baby on one arm and
with the 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: Miss Bunner don't want you to jump up and down on her
foot to-day.  And what are you gaping at, Johnny?  Run right off
and play," she added, turning sternly to her eldest, who, because
he was the least naughty, usually bore the brunt of her wrath
against the others.

"Well, perhaps Mr. Hawkins can help you," Mrs. Hawkins
continued meditatively, while the children, after scattering at her
bidding, returned to their previous pursuits like flies settling
down on the spot from which an exasperated hand has swept them.
"I'll send him right round the minute he comes in, and you can tell
him the whole story.  I wouldn't wonder but what he can find that
Mrs. Hochmuller's address in the d'rectory.  I know they've got one
where he works."

"I'd be real thankful if he could," Ann Eliza murmured, rising
from her seat with the factitious sense of lightness that comes
from imparting a long-hidden dread.

Edith Wharton

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