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The Mayor's Wife

11. Bess
On my way back I took the opposite side of the street from that I usually
approached. When I reached the little shop I paused. First glancing at the various
petty articles exposed in the window, I quietly stepped in. A contracted and very
low room met my eyes, faintly lighted by a row of panes in the upper half of the
door and not at all by the window, which was hung on the inside with a heavy
curtain. Against two sides of this room were arranged shelves filled with boxes
labeled in the usual way to indicate their contents. These did not strike me as
being very varied or of a very high order. There was no counter in front, only
some tables on which lay strewn fancy boxes of thread and other useless knick-
knacks to which certain shopkeepers appear to cling though they can seldom find
customers for them. A woman stood at one of these tables untangling a skein of
red yarn. Behind her I saw another leaning in an abstracted way over a counter
which ran from wall to wall across the extreme end of the shop. This I took to be
Bess. She had made no move at my entrance and she made no move now. The
woman with the skein appeared, on the contrary, as eager to see as the other
seemed indifferent. I had to buy something and I did so in as matter-of-fact a way
as possible, considering that my attention was more given to the woman in the
rear than to the articles I was purchasing.
"You have a very convenient place here," I casually remarked, as I handed out
my money. With this I turned squarely about and looked directly, at her whom I
believed to be Bess.
A voluble answer from the woman at my side, but not the wink of an eye from the
one whose attention I had endeavored to attract.
"I live in the house opposite," I carelessly went on, taking in, every detail of the
strange being I was secretly addressing.
"Oh!" she exclaimed in startled tones, roused into speech at last. "You live
opposite; in Mayor Packard's house?"
I approached her, smiling. She had dropped her hands from her chin and
seemed very eager now, more eager than the other woman, to interest me in
what she had about her and so hold me to the shop.
"Look at this," she cried, holding up an article of such cheap workmanship that I
wondered so sensible an appearing woman would cumber her shelves with it. "I
am glad you live over there," for I had nodded to her question. "I'm greatly
interested in that house. I've worked there as cook and waitress several times."
I met her look; it was sharp and very intelligent.