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|Part II||Edith Wharton|
|Page 4 of 7||
Evelina's eyes were still travelling about the familiar room. Though it was against all the traditions of the Bunner family to sell any household possession, she showed no surprise at her sister's answer.
"And the clock? The clock's gone too."
"Oh, I gave that away--I gave it to Mrs. Hawkins. She's kep' awake so nights with that last baby."
"I wish you'd never bought it," said Evelina harshly.
Ann Eliza's heart grew faint with fear. Without answering, she crossed over to her sister's seat and poured her out a second cup of tea. Then another thought struck her, and she went back to the cupboard and took out the cordial. In Evelina's absence considerable draughts had been drawn from it by invalid neighbours; but a glassful of the precious liquid still remained.
"Here, drink this right off--it'll warm you up quicker than anything," Ann Eliza said.
Evelina obeyed, and a slight spark of colour came into her cheeks. She turned to the custard pie and began to eat with a silent voracity distressing to watch. She did not even look to see what was left for Ann Eliza.
"I ain't hungry," she said at last as she laid down her fork. "I'm only so dead tired--that's the trouble."
"then you'd better get right into bed. Here's my old plaid dressing-gown--you remember it, don't you?" Ann Eliza laughed, recalling Evelina's ironies on the subject of the antiquated garment. With trembling fingers she began to undo her sister's cloak. The dress beneath it told a tale of poverty that Ann Eliza dared not pause to note. She drew it gently off, and as it slipped from Evelina's shoulders it revealed a tiny black bag hanging on a ribbon about her neck. Evelina lifted her hand as though to screen the bag from Ann Eliza; and the elder sister, seeing the gesture, continued her task with lowered eyes. She undressed Evelina as quickly as she could, and wrapping her in the plaid dressing-gown put her to bed, and spread her own shawl and her sister's cloak above the blanket.
"Where's the old red comfortable?" Evelina asked, as she sank down on the pillow.
"The comfortable? Oh, it was so hot and heavy I never used it after you went--so I sold that too. I never could sleep under much clothes."
She became aware that her sister was looking at her more attentively.
"I guess you've been in trouble too," Evelina said.
"Me? In trouble? What do you mean, Evelina?"
"You've had to pawn the things, I suppose," Evelina continued in a weary unmoved tone. "Well, I've been through worse than that. I've been to hell and back."
"Oh, Evelina--don't say it, sister!" Ann Eliza implored, shrinking from the unholy word. She knelt down and began to rub her sister's feet beneath the bedclothes.
"I've been to hell and back--if I AM back," Evelina repeated. She lifted her head from the pillow and began to talk with a sudden feverish volubility. "It began right away, less than a month after we were married. I've been in hell all that time, Ann Eliza." She fixed her eyes with passionate intentness on Ann Eliza's face. "He took opium. I didn't find it out till long afterward--at first, when he acted so strange, I thought he drank. But it was worse, much worse than drinking."
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