Christopher and Columbus by Countess Elizabeth Von Arnim - HTML preview
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Christopher and Columbus
CHAPTER I.......................................................................................................................................... 4
Countess Elizabeth Von Arnim
Christopher and Columbus
CHAPTER III ......................................................................................................................................19
CHAPTER IV .....................................................................................................................................27
CHAPTER V ......................................................................................................................................30
CHAPTER VI .....................................................................................................................................37
CHAPTER VII ....................................................................................................................................43
CHAPTER VIII ...................................................................................................................................52
CHAPTER IX .....................................................................................................................................59
CHAPTER X ......................................................................................................................................71
CHAPTER XI .....................................................................................................................................77
CHAPTER XVII ................................................................................................................................115
CHAPTER XVIII ...............................................................................................................................118
CHAPTER XX ..................................................................................................................................134
CHAPTER XXI .................................................................................................................................142
CHAPTER XXII ................................................................................................................................147
CHAPTER XXIII ...............................................................................................................................154
CHAPTER XXIV...............................................................................................................................159 CHAPTER XXV ...............................................................................................................................171
CHAPTER XXXII ..............................................................................................................................221
CHAPTER XXXIII .............................................................................................................................227
CHAPTER XXXIV ............................................................................................................................235
CHAPTER XXXV .............................................................................................................................240
CHAPTER XXXVI ............................................................................................................................247
CHAPTER XXXVII ...........................................................................................................................254 CHAPTER XXXVIII...........................................................................................................................262
Their names were really Anna-Rose and Anna-Felicitas; but they decided, as they sat huddled together in a corner of the second-class deck of the American liner St. Luke, and watched the dirty water of the Mersey slipping past and the Liverpool landing-stage disappearing into mist, and felt that it was comfortless and cold, and knew they hadn't got a father or a mother, and remembered that they were aliens, and realized that in front of them lay a great deal of gray, uneasy, dreadfully wet sea, endless stretches of it, days and days of it, with waves on top of it to make them sick and submarines beneath it to kill them if they could, and knew that they hadn't the remotest idea, not the very remotest, what was before them when and if they did get across to the other side, and knew that they were refugees, castaways, derelicts, two wretched little Germans who were neither really Germans nor really English because they so unfortunately, so complicatedly were both,—they decided, looking very calm and determined and sitting very close together beneath the rug their English aunt had given them to put round their miserable alien legs, that what they really were, were Christopher and Columbus, because they were setting out to discover a New World."It's very pleasant," said Anna-Rose. "It's very pleasant to go and discover America. All for ourselves."
It was Anna-Rosa who suggested their being Christopher and Columbus. She was the elder by twenty minutes. Both had had their seventeenth birthday—and what a birthday: no cake, no candles, no kisses and wreaths and home-made poems; but then, as AnnaFelicitas pointed out, to comfort Anna-Rose who was taking it hard, you can't get blood out of an aunt—only a month before. Both were very German outside and very English inside. Both had fair hair, and the sorts of chins Germans have, and eyes the colour of the sky in August along the shores of the Baltic. Their noses were brief, and had been objected to in Germany, where, if you are a Junker's daughter, you are expected to show it in your nose. Anna-Rose had a tight little body, inclined to the round. AnnaFelicitas, in spite of being a twin, seemed to have made the most of her twenty extra minutes to grow more in; anyhow she was tall and thin, and she drooped; and having perhaps grown quicker made her eyes more dreamy, and her thoughts more slow. And both held their heads up with a great air of calm whenever anybody on the ship looked at them, as who should say serenely, "We're thoroughly happy, and having the time of our lives."
For worlds they wouldn't have admitted to each other that they were even aware of such a thing as being anxious or wanting to cry. Like other persons of English blood, they never were so cheerful nor pretended to be so much amused as when they were right down on the very bottom of their luck. Like other persons of German blood, they had the squashiest corners deep in their hearts, where they secretly clung to cakes and Christmas trees, and fought a tendency to celebrate every possible anniversary, both dead and alive.
The gulls, circling white against the gloomy sky over the rubbish that floated on the Mersey, made them feel extraordinarily forlorn. Empty boxes, bits of straw, orange-peel, a variety of dismal dirtiness lay about on the sullen water; England was slipping away, England, their mother's country, the country of their dreams ever since they could remember—and the St. Luke with a loud screech had suddenly stopped.
As the eldest she had a great sense of her responsibility toward her twin, and considered it one of her first duties to cheer and encourage her. Their mother had always cheered and encouraged them, and hadn't seemed to mind anything, however awful it was, that happened to her,—such as, for instance, when the war began and they three, their father having died some years before, left their home up by the Baltic, just as there was the most heavenly weather going on, and the garden was a dream, and the blue Chinchilla cat had produced four perfect kittens that very day,—all of whom had to be left to what Anna-Felicitas, whose thoughts if slow were picturesque once she had got them, called the tender mercies of a savage and licentious soldiery,—and came by slow and difficult stages to England; or such as when their mother began catching cold and didn't seem at last ever able to leave off catching cold, and though she tried to pretend she didn't mind colds and that they didn't matter, it was plain that these colds did at last matter very much, for between them they killed her.
Their mother had always been cheerful and full of hope. Now that she was dead, it was clearly Anna-Rose's duty, as the next eldest in the family, to carry on the tradition and discountenance too much drooping in Anna-Felicitas. Anna-Felicitas was staring much too thoughtfully at the deepening gloom of the late afternoon sky and the rubbish brooding on the face of the waters, and she had jumped rather excessively when the St. Luke stopped so suddenly, just as if it were putting on the brake hard, and emitted that agonized whistle."We're Christopher and Columbus," said Anna-Rose quickly, "and we're going to discover America." "Very well," said Anna-Felicitas. "I'll be Christopher." "No. I'll be Christopher," said Anna-Rose.
"Very well," said Anna-Felicitas, who was the most amiable, acquiescent person in the world. "Then I suppose I'll have to be Columbus. But I think Christopher sounds prettier."
Both rolled their r's incurably. It was evidently in their blood, for nothing, no amount of teaching and admonishment, could get them out of it. Before they were able to talk at all, in those happy days when parents make astounding assertions to other parents about the intelligence and certain future brilliancy of their offspring, and the other parents, however much they may pity such self-deception, can't contradict, because after all it just possibly may be so, the most foolish people occasionally producing geniuses,—in those happy days of undisturbed bright castle-building, the mother, who was English, of the two derelicts now huddled on the dank deck of the St. Luke, said to the father, who was German, "At any rate these two blessed little bundles of deliciousness"—she had one on each arm and was tickling their noses alternately with her eyelashes, and they were screaming for joy—"won't have to learn either German or English. They'll just know them."
"They're born bi-lingual," said the mother; and the twins wheezed and choked with laughter, for she was tickling them beneath their chins, softly fluttering her eyelashes along the creases of fat she thought so adorable."Perhaps," said the father. "It gives them a tremendous start," said the mother; and the twins squirmed in a dreadful ecstasy, for she had now got to their ears. "Perhaps," said the father.
But what happened was that they didn't speak either language. Not, that is, as a native should. Their German bristled with mistakes. They spoke it with a foreign accent. It was copious, but incorrect. Almost the last thing their father, an accurate man, said to them as he lay dying, had to do with a misplaced dative. And when they talked English it rolled about uncontrollably on its r's, and had a great many long words in it got from Milton, and Dr. Johnson, and people like that, whom their mother had particularly loved, but as they talked far more to their mother than to their father, who was a man of much briefness in words though not in temper, they were better on the whole at English than German.
Their mother, who loved England more the longer she lived away from it,—"As one does; and the same principle," Anna-Rose explained to Anna-Felicitas when they had lived some time with their aunt and uncle, "applies to relations, aunts' husbands, and the clergy,"—never tired of telling her children about it, and its poetry, and its spirit, and the greatness and glory of its points of view. They drank it all in and believed every word of it, for so did their mother; and as they grew up they flung themselves on all the English books they could lay hands upon, and they read with their mother and learned by heart most of the obviously beautiful things; and because she glowed with enthusiasm they glowed too—Anna-Rose in a flare and a flash, Anna-Felicitas slow and steadily. They adored their mother. Whatever she loved they loved blindly. It was a pity she died. She died soon after the war began. They had been so happy, so dreadfully happy....
"You can't be Christopher," said Anna-Rose, giving herself a shake, for here she was thinking of her mother, and it didn't do to think of one's mother, she found; at least, not when one is off to a new life and everything is all promise because it isn't anything else, and not if one's mother happened to have been so—well, so fearfully sweet. "You can't be Christopher, because, you see, I'm the eldest."
Anna-Felicitas didn't see what being the eldest had to do with it, but she only said, "Very well," in her soft voice, and expressed a hope that Anna-Rose would see her way not to call her Col for short. "I'm afraid you will, though," she added, "and then I shall feel so like Onkel Nicolas."
This was their German uncle, known during his life-time, which had abruptly left off when the twins were ten, as Onkel Col; a very ancient person, older by far even than their father, who had seemed so very old. But Onkel Col had been older than anybody at all, except the pictures of the liebe Gott in Blake's illustrations to the Book of Job. He came to a bad end. Neither their father nor their mother told them anything except that Onkel Col was dead; and their father put a black band round the left sleeve of his tweed country suit and was more good-tempered than ever, and their mother, when they questioned her, just said that poor Onkel Col had gone to heaven, and that in future they would speak of him as Onkel Nicolas, because it was more respectful."But why does mummy call him poor, when he's gone to heaven?" Anna-Felicitas asked Anna-Rose privately, in the recesses of the garden.
"First of all," said Anna-Rose, who, being the eldest, as she so often explained to her sister, naturally knew more about everything, "because the angels won't like him. Nobody could like Onkel Col. Even if they're angels. And though they're obliged to have him there because he was such a very good man, they won't talk to him much or notice him much when God isn't looking. And second of all, because you are poor when you get to heaven. Everybody is poor in heaven. Nobody takes their things with them, and all Onkel Col's money is still on earth. He couldn't even take his clothes with him.""Then is he quite—did Onkel Col go there quite—"
Anna-Felicitas stopped. The word seemed too awful in connection with Onkel Col, that terrifying old gentleman who had roared at them from the folds of so many wonderful wadded garments whenever they were led in, trembling, to see him, for he had gout and was very terrible; and it seemed particularly awful when one thought of Onkel Col going to heaven, which was surely of all places the most endimanché.
"Of course," nodded Anna-Rose; but even she dropped her voice a little. She peeped about among the bushes a moment, then put her mouth close to Anna-Felicitas's ear, and whispered, "Stark."
They stared at one another for a space with awe and horror in their eyes.
"You see," then went on Anna-Rose rather quickly, hurrying away from the awful vision, "one knows one doesn't have clothes in heaven because they don't have the moth there. It says so in the Bible. And you can't have the moth without having anything for it to go into.""Then they don't have to have naphthalin either," said Anna-Felicitas, "and don't all have to smell horrid in the autumn when they take their furs out." "No. And thieves don't break in and steal either in heaven," continued Anna-Rose, "and the reason why is that there isn't anything to steal." "There's angels," suggested Anna-Felicitas after a pause, for she didn't like to think there was nothing really valuable in heaven. "Oh, nobody ever steals them," said Anna-Rose.
Anna-Felicitas's slow thoughts revolved round this new uncomfortable view of heaven. It seemed, if Anna-Rose were right, and she always was right for she said so herself, that heaven couldn't be such a safe place after all, nor such a kind place. Thieves could break in and steal if they wanted to. She had a proper horror of thieves. She was sure the night would certainly come when they would break into her father's Schloss, or, as her English nurse called it, her dear Papa's slosh; and she was worried that poor Onkel Col should be being snubbed up there, and without anything to put on, which would make being snubbed so much worse, for clothes did somehow comfort one.
She took her worries to the nursemaid, and choosing a moment when she knew AnnaRose wished to be unnoticed, it being her hour for inconspicuously eating unripe apples at the bottom of the orchard, an exercise Anna-Felicitas only didn't indulge in because she had learned through affliction that her inside, fond and proud of it as she was, was yet not of that superior and blessed kind that suffers green apples gladly—she sought out the nursemaid, whose name, too, confusingly, was Anna, and led the conversation up to heaven and the possible conditions prevailing in it by asking her to tell her, in strict confidence and as woman to woman, what she thought Onkel Col exactly looked like at that moment."Unrecognizable," said the nursemaid promptly. "Unrecognizable?" echoed Anna-Felicitas.
And the nursemaid, after glancing over her shoulder to see if the governess were nowhere in sight, told Anna-Felicitas the true story of Onkel Col's end: which is so bad that it isn't fit to be put in any book except one with an appendix.
A stewardess passed just as Anna-Felicitas was asking Anna-Rose not to remind her of these grim portions of the past by calling her Col, a stewardess in such a very clean white cap that she looked both reliable and benevolent, while secretly she was neither.
The stewardess allowed her roving eye to alight for a moment on the two objects beneath the rug. Their chairs were close together, and the rug covered them both up to their chins. Over the top of it their heads appeared, exactly alike as far as she could see in the dusk; round heads, each with a blue knitted cap pulled well over its ears, and round eyes staring at her with what anybody except the stewardess would have recognized as a passionate desire for some sort of reassurance. They might have been seven instead of seventeen for all the stewardess could tell. They looked younger than anything she had yet seen sitting alone on a deck and asking questions. But she was an exasperated widow, who had never had children and wasn't to be touched by anything except a tip, besides despising, because she was herself a second-class stewardess, all second-class passengers,—"As one does," Anna-Rose explained later on to AnnaFelicitas, "and the same principle applies to Jews." So she said with an acidity completely at variance with the promise of her cap, "Ask the Captain," and disappeared.The twins looked at each other. They knew very well that captains on ships were mighty beings who were not asked questions. "She's trifling with us," murmured Anna-Felicitas. "Yes," Anna-Rose was obliged to admit, though the thought was repugnant to her that they should look like people a stewardess would dare trifle with. "Perhaps she thinks we're younger than we are," she said after a silence. "Yes. She couldn't see how long our dresses are, because of the rug." "No. And it's only that end of us that really shows we're grown up." "Yes. She ought to have seen us six months ago."
Indeed she ought. Even the stewardess would have been surprised at the activities and complete appearance of the two pupæ now rolled motionless in the rug. For, six months ago, they had both been probationers in a children's hospital in Worcestershire, arrayed, even as the stewardess, in spotless caps, hurrying hither and thither with trays of food, sweeping and washing up, learning to make beds in a given time, and be deft, and quick, and never tired, and always punctual.
This place had been got them by the efforts and influence of their Aunt Alice, that aunt who had given them the rug on their departure and who had omitted to celebrate their birthday. She was an amiable aunt, but she didn't understand about birthdays. It was the first one they had had since they were complete orphans, and so they were rather sensitive about it. But they hadn't cried, because since their mother's death they had done with crying. What could there ever again be in the world bad enough to cry about after that? And besides, just before she dropped away from them into the unconsciousness out of which she never came back, but instead just dropped a little further into death, she had opened her eyes unexpectedly and caught them sitting together in a row by her bed, two images of agony, with tears rolling down their swollen faces and their noses in a hopeless state, and after looking at them a moment as if she had slowly come up from some vast depth and distance and were gradually recognizing them, she had whispered with a flicker of the old encouraging smile that had comforted every hurt and bruise they had ever had, "Don't cry ... little darlings, don't cry...."
But on that first birthday after her death they had got more and more solemn as time passed, and breakfast was cleared away, and there were no sounds, prick up their ears as they might, of subdued preparations in the next room, no stealthy going up and down stairs to fetch the presents, and at last no hope at all of the final glorious flinging open of the door and the vision inside of two cakes all glittering with candles, each on a table covered with flowers and all the things one has most wanted.Their aunt didn't know. How should she? England was a great and beloved country, but it didn't have proper birthdays.
"Every country has one drawback," Anna-Rose explained to Anna-Felicitas when the morning was finally over, in case she should by any chance be thinking badly of the dear country that had produced their mother as well as Shakespeare, "and not knowing about birthdays is England's.""There's Uncle Arthur," said Anna-Felicitas, whose honest mind groped continually after accuracy. "Yes," Anna-Rose admitted after a pause. "Yes. There's Uncle Arthur."
Uncle Arthur was the husband of Aunt Alice. He didn't like foreigners, and said so. He never had liked them and had always said so. It wasn't the war at all, it was the foreigners. But as the war went on, and these German nieces of his wife became more and more, as he told her, a blighted nuisance, so did he become more and more pointed, and said he didn't mind French foreigners, nor Russian foreigners; and a few weeks later, that it wasn't Italian foreigners either that he minded; and still later, that nor was it foreigners indigenous to the soil of countries called neutral. These things he said aloud at meals in a general way. To his wife when alone he said much more.
Anna-Rose, who was nothing if not intrepid, at first tried to soften his heart by offering to read aloud to him in the evenings when he came home weary from his daily avocations, which were golf. Her own suggestion instantly projected a touching picture on her impressionable imagination of youth, grateful for a roof over its head, in return alleviating the tedium of crabbed age by introducing its uncle, who from his remarks was evidently unacquainted with them, to the best productions of the great masters of English literature.
But Uncle Arthur merely stared at her with a lacklustre eye when she proposed it, from his wide-legged position on the hearthrug, where he was moving money about in trouser-pockets of the best material. And later on she discovered that he had always supposed the "Faery Queen," and "Adonais," and "In Memoriam," names he had heard at intervals during his life, for he was fifty and such things do sometimes get mentioned were well-known racehorses.
Uncle Arthur, like Onkel Col, was a very good man, and though he said things about foreigners he did stick to these unfortunate alien nieces longer than one would have supposed possible if one had overheard what he said to Aunt Alice in the seclusion of their bed. His ordered existence, shaken enough by the war, Heaven knew, was shaken in its innermost parts, in its very marrow, by the arrival of the two Germans. Other people round about had Belgians in their homes, and groaned; but who but he, the most immensely British of anybody, had Germans? And he couldn't groan, because they were, besides being motherless creatures, his own wife's flesh and blood. Not openly at least could he groan; but he could and did do it in bed. Why on earth that silly mother of theirs couldn't have stayed quietly on her Pomeranian sand-heap where she belonged, instead of coming gallivanting over to England, and then when she had got there not even decently staying alive and seeing to her children herself, he at frequent intervals told Aunt Alice in bed that he would like to know.
Aunt Alice, who after twenty years of life with Uncle Arthur was both silent and sleek (for he fed her well), sighed and said nothing. She herself was quietly going through very much on behalf of her nieces. Jessup didn't like handing dishes to Germans. The tradespeople twitted the cook with having to cook for them and were facetious about sausages and asked how one made sauerkraut. Her acquaintances told her they were very sorry for her, and said they supposed she knew what she was doing and that it was all right about spies, but really one heard such strange things, one never could possibly tell even with children; and regularly the local policeman bicycled over to see if the aliens, who were registered at the county-town police-station, were still safe. And then they looked so very German, Aunt Alice felt. There was no mistaking them. And every time they opened their mouths there were all those r's rolling about. She hardly liked callers to find her nieces in her drawing-room at tea-time, they were so difficult to explain; yet they were too old to shut up in a nursery.
After three months of them, Uncle Arthur suggested sending them back to Germany; but their consternation had been so great and their entreaties to be kept where they were so desperate that he said no more about that. Besides, they told him that if they went back there they would be sure to be shot as spies, for over there nobody would believe they were German, just as over here nobody would believe they were English; and besides, this was in those days of the war when England was still regarding Germany as more mistaken than vicious, and was as full as ever of the tradition of great and elaborate indulgence and generosity toward a foe, and Uncle Arthur, whatever he might say, was not going to be behind his country in generosity.
Yet as time passed, and feeling tightened, and the hideous necklace of war grew more and more frightful with each fresh bead of horror strung upon it, Uncle Arthur, though still in principle remaining good, in practice found himself vindictive. He was saddled; that's what he was. Saddled with this monstrous unmerited burden. He, the most patriotic of Britons, looked at askance by his best friends, being given notice by his old servants, having particular attention paid his house at night by the police, getting anonymous letters about lights seen in his upper windows the nights; the Zeppelins came, which were the windows of the floor those blighted twins slept on, and all because he had married Aunt Alice.
At this period Aunt Alice went to bed with reluctance. It was not a place she had ever gone to very willingly since she married Uncle Arthur, for he was the kind of husband who rebukes in bed; but now she was downright reluctant. It was painful to her to be told that she had brought this disturbance into Uncle Arthur's life by having let him marry her. Inquiring backwards into her recollections it appeared to her that she had had no say at all about being married, but that Uncle Arthur had told her she was going to be, and then that she had been. Which was what had indeed happened; for Aunt Alice was a round little woman even in those days, nicely though not obtrusively padded with agreeable fat at the corners, and her skin, just as now, had the moist delicacy that comes from eating a great many chickens. Also she suggested, just as now, most of the things most men want to come home to,—slippers, and drawn curtains, and a blazing fire, and peace within one's borders, and even, as Anna-Rose pointed out privately to Anna-Felicitas after they had come across them for the first time, she suggested muffins; and so, being in these varied fashions succulent, she was doomed to make some good man happy. But she did find it real hard work.
It grew plain to Aunt Alice after another month of them that Uncle Arthur would not much longer endure his nieces, and that even if he did she would not be able to endure Uncle Arthur. The thought was very dreadful to her that she was being forced to choose between two duties, and that she could not fulfil both. It came to this at last, that she must either stand by her nieces, her dead sister's fatherless children, and face all the difficulties and discomforts of such a standing by, go away with them, take care of them, till the war was over; or she must stand by Arthur.
How could she, for nieces she had hardly seen, abandon her husband? Besides, he had scolded her so steadily during the whole of their married life that she was now unalterably attached to him. Sometimes a wild thought did for a moment illuminate the soothing dusk of her mind, the thought of doing the heroic thing, leaving him for them, and helping and protecting the two poor aliens till happier days should return. If there were any good stuff in Arthur would he not recognize, however angry he might be, that she was doing at least a Christian thing? But this illumination would soon die out. Her comforts choked it. She was too well-fed. After twenty years of it, she no longer had the figure for lean and dangerous enterprises.
And having definitely chosen Arthur, she concentrated what she had of determination in finding an employment for her nieces that would remove them beyond the range of his growing wrath. She found it in a children's hospital as far away as Worcestershire, a hospital subscribed to very largely by Arthur, for being a good man he subscribed to hospitals. The matron objected, but Aunt Alice overrode the matron; and from January to April Uncle Arthur's house was pure from Germans.Then they came back again.
It had been impossible to keep them. The nurses wouldn't work with them. The sick children had relapses when they discovered who it was who brought them their food, and cried for their mothers. It had been arranged between Aunt Alice and the matron that the unfortunate nationality of her nieces should not be mentioned. They were just to be Aunt Alice's nieces, the Miss Twinklers,—("We will leave out the von," said Aunt Alice, full of unnatural cunning. "They have a von, you know, poor things—such a very labelling thing to have. But Twinkler without it might quite well be English. Who can possibly tell? It isn't as though they had had some shocking name like Bismarck.")
Nothing, however, availed against the damning evidence of the rolled r's. Combined with the silvery fair hair and the determined little mouths and chins, it was irresistible. Clearly they were foreigners, and equally clearly they were not Italians, or Russians, or French. Within a week the nurses spoke of them in private as Fritz and Franz. Within a fortnight a deputation of staff sisters went to the matron and asked, on patriotic grounds, for the removal of the Misses Twinkler. The matron, with the fear of Uncle Arthur in her heart, for he was altogether the biggest subscriber, sharply sent the deputation about its business; and being a matron of great competence and courage she would probably have continued to be able to force the new probationers upon the nurses if it had not been for the inability, which was conspicuous, of the younger Miss Twinkler to acquire efficiency.
In vain did Anna-Rose try to make up for Anna-Felicitas's shortcomings by a double zeal, a double willingness and cheerfulness. Anna-Felicitas was a born dreamer, a born bungler with her hands and feet. She not only never from first to last succeeded in filling the thirty hot-water bottles, which were her care, in thirty minutes, which was her duty, but every time she met a pail standing about she knocked against it and it fell over. Patients and nurses watched her approach with apprehension. Her ward was in a constant condition of flood."It's because she's thinking of something else," Anna-Rose tried eagerly to explain to the indignant sister-in-charge. "Thinking of something else!" echoed the sister. "She reads, you see, a lot—whenever she gets the chance she reads—" "Reads!" echoed the sister. "And then, you see, she gets thinking—" "Thinking! Reading doesn't make me think."
"With much regret," wrote the matron to Aunt Alice, "I am obliged to dismiss your younger niece, Nurse Twinkler II. She has no vocation for nursing. On the other hand, your elder niece is shaping well and I shall be pleased to keep her on."
"But I can't stop on," Anna-Rose said to the matron when she announced these decisions to her. "I can't be separated from my sister. I'd like very much to know what would become of that poor child without me to look after her. You forget I'm the eldest."
The matron put down her pen,—she was a woman who made many notes—and stared at Nurse Twinkler. Not in this fashion did her nurses speak to her. But Anna-Rose, having been brought up in a spot remote from everything except love and laughter, had all the fearlessness of ignorance; and in her extreme youth and smallness, with her eyes shining and her face heated she appeared to the matron rather like an indignant kitten."Very well," said the matron gravely, suppressing a smile. "One should always do what one considers one's first duty." So the Twinklers went back to Uncle Arthur, and the matron was greatly relieved, for she certainly didn't want them, and Uncle Arthur said Damn. "Arthur," gently reproved his wife. "I say Damn and I mean Damn," said Uncle Arthur. "What the hell can we—" "Arthur," said his wife.
"I say, what the hell can we do with a couple of Germans? If people wouldn't swallow them last winter are they going to swallow them any better now? God, what troubles a man lets himself in for when he marries!""I do beg you, Arthur, not to use those coarse words," said Aunt Alice, tears in her gentle eyes.
There followed a period of desperate exertion on the part of Aunt Alice. She answered advertisements and offered the twins as nursery governesses, as cheerful companions, as mothers' helps, even as orphans willing to be adopted. She relinquished every claim on salaries, she offered them for nothing, and at last she offered them accompanied by a bonus. "Their mother was English. They are quite English," wrote Aunt Alice innumerable times in innumerable letters. "I feel bound, however, to tell you that they once had a German father, but of course it was through no fault of their own," etc., etc. Aunt Alice's hand ached with writing letters; and any solution of the problem that might possibly have been arrived at came to nothing because Anna-Rose would not be separated from Anna-Felicitas, and if it was difficult to find anybody who would take on one German nobody at all could be found to take on two.
Meanwhile Uncle Arthur grew nightly more dreadful in bed. Aunt Alice was at her wits' end, and took to crying helplessly. The twins racked their brains to find a way out, quite as anxious to relieve Uncle Arthur of their presence as he was to be relieved. If only they could be independent, do something, work, go as housemaids,—anything.They concocted an anonymous-advertisement and secretly sent it to The Times, clubbing their pocket-money together to pay for it. The advertisement was: Energetic Sisters of belligerent ancestry but unimpeachable sympathies wish for any sort of work consistent with respectability. No objection to being demeaned.
Anna-Felicitas inquired what that last word meant for it was Anna-Rose's word, and Anna-Rose explained that it meant not minding things like being housemaids. "Which we don't," said Anna-Rose. "Upper and Under. I'll be Upper, of course, because I'm the eldest."
Anna-Felicitas suggested putting in what it meant then, for she regarded it with some doubt, but Anna-Rose, it being her word, liked it, and explained that it Put a whole sentence into a nut-shell, and wouldn't change it.
No one answered this advertisement except a society in London for helping alien enemies in distress.
Slightly wounded Officer would be glad to find intelligent and interesting companion who can drive a 14 h.p. Humber. Emoluments by arrangement."We'll tell him we're intelligent and interesting," said Anna-Rose, eagerly. "Yes—who knows if we wouldn't be really, if we were given a chance?" said AnnaFelicitas, quite flushed with excitement. "And if he engages us we'll take him on in turns, so that the emoluments won't have to be doubled." "Yes—because he mightn't like paying twice over." "Yes—and while the preliminaries are being settled we could be learning to drive Uncle Arthur's car." "Yes—except that it's a Daimler, and aren't they different?"
"Yes—but only about the same difference as there is between a man and a woman. A man and a woman are both human beings, you know. And Daimlers and Humbers are both cars.""I see," said Anna-Felicitas; but she didn't. They wrote an enthusiastic answer that very day.
The only thing they were in doubt about, they explained toward the end of the fourth sheet, when they had got to politenesses and were requesting the slightly wounded officer to allow them to express their sympathy with his wounds, was that they had not yet had an opportunity of driving a Humber car, but that this opportunity, of course, would be instantly provided by his engaging them. Also, would he kindly tell them if it was a male companion he desired to have, because if so it was very unfortunate, for neither of them were males, but quite the contrary.
They got no answer to this for three weeks, and had given up all hope and come to the depressing conclusion that they must have betrayed their want of intelligence and interestingness right away, when one day a letter came from General Headquarters in France, addressed To Both the Miss Twinklers, and it was a long letter, pages long, from the slightly wounded officer, telling them he had been patched up again and sent back to the front, and their answer to his advertisement had been forwarded to him there, and that he had had heaps of other answers to it, and that the one he had liked best of all was theirs; and that some day he hoped when he was back again, and able to drive himself, to show them how glorious motoring was, if their mother would bring them,—quick motoring in his racing car, sixty miles an hour motoring, flashing through the wonders of the New Forest, where he lived. And then there was a long bit about what the New Forest must be looking like just then, all quiet in the spring sunshine, with lovely dappled bits of shade underneath the big beeches, and the heather just coming alive, and all the winding solitary roads so full of peace, so empty of noise.
"Write to me, you two children," said the letter at the end. "You've no idea what it's like getting letters from home out here. Write and tell me what you do and what the garden is like these fine afternoons. The lilacs must be nearly done, but I'm sure there's the smell of them still about, and I'm sure you have a beautiful green close-cut lawn, and tea is brought out on to it, and there's no sound, no sort of sound, except birds, and you two laughing, and I daresay a jolly dog barking somewhere just for fun and not because he's angry."
The letter was signed (Captain) John Desmond, and there was a scrawl in the corner at the end: "It's for jolly little English kids like you that we're fighting, God bless you. Write to me again soon.""English kids like us!"
They looked at each other. They had not mentioned their belligerent ancestry in their letter. They felt uncomfortable, and as if Captain Desmond were fighting for them, as it were, under false pretences. They also wondered why he should conclude they were kids.
They wrote to him again, explaining that they were not exactly what could be described as English, but on the other hand neither were they exactly what could be described as German. "We would be very glad indeed if we were really something," they added.But after their letter had been gone only a few days they saw in the list of casualties in The Times that Captain John Desmond had been killed. And then one day the real solution was revealed, and it was revealed to Uncle Arthur as he sat in his library on a wet Sunday morning considering his troubles in detail.
Like most great ideas it sprang full-fledged into being,—obvious, unquestionable, splendidly simple,—out of a trifle. For, chancing to raise his heavy and disgusted eyes to the bookshelves in front of him, they rested on one particular book, and on the back of this book stood out in big gilt letters the wordAMERICA There were other words on its back, but this one alone stood out, and it had all the effect of a revelation.
There. That was it. Of course. That was the way out. Why the devil hadn't Alice thought of that? He knew some Americans; he didn't like them, but he knew them; and he would write to them, or Alice would write to them, and tell them the twins were coming. He would give the twins £200,—damn it, nobody could say that wasn't handsome, especially in war-time, and for a couple of girls who had no earthly sort of claim on him, whatever Alice might choose to think they had on her. Yet it was such a confounded mixed-up situation that he wasn't at all sure he wouldn't come under the Defence of the Realm Act, by giving them money, as aiding the enemy. Well, he would risk that. He would risk anything to be rid of them. Ship 'em off, that was the thing to do. They would fall on their feet right enough over there. America still swallowed Germans without making a face.
Uncle Arthur reflected for a moment with extreme disgust on the insensibility of the American palate. "Lost their chance, that's what they've done," he said to himself—for this was 1916, and America had not yet made her magnificent entry into the war—as he had already said to himself a hundred times. "Lost their chance of coming in on the side of civilization, and helping sweep the world up tidy of barbarism. Shoulder to shoulder with us, that's where they ought to have been. English-speaking races—duty to the world—" He then damned the Americans; but was suddenly interrupted by perceiving that if they had been shoulder to shoulder with him and England he wouldn't have been able to send them his wife's German nieces to take care of. There was, he conceded, that advantage resulting from their attitude. He could not, however, concede any others.
At luncheon he was very nearly gay. It was terrible to see Uncle Arthur very nearly gay, and both his wife and the twins were most uncomfortable. "I wonder what's the matter now," sighed Aunt Alice to herself, as she nervously crumbled her toast.It could mean nothing good, Arthur in such spirits on a wet Sunday, when he hadn't been able to get his golf and the cook had overdone the joint.
CHAPTER IIIAnd so, on a late September afternoon, the St. Luke, sliding away from her moorings, relieved Uncle Arthur of his burden.
It was final this time, for the two alien enemies once out of it would not be let into England again till after the war. The enemies themselves knew it was final; and the same knowledge that made Uncle Arthur feel so pleasant as he walked home across his park from golf to tea that for a moment he was actually of a mind to kiss Aunt Alice when he got in, and perhaps even address her in the language of resuscitated passion, which in Uncle Arthur's mouth was Old Girl,—an idea he abandoned, however, in case it should make her self-satisfied and tiresome—the same knowledge that produced these amiable effects in Uncle Arthur, made his alien nieces cling very close together as they leaned over the side of the St. Luke hungrily watching the people on the wharf.
For they loved England. They loved it with the love of youth whose enthusiasms have been led by an adored teacher always in one direction. And they were leaving that adored teacher, their mother, in England. It seemed like losing her a second time to go away, so far away, and leave her there. It was nonsense, they knew, to feel like that. She was with them just the same; wherever they went now she would be with them, and they could hear her saying at that very moment, "Little darlings, don't cry...." But it was a gloomy, drizzling afternoon, the sort of afternoon anybody might be expected to cry on, and not one of the people waving handkerchiefs were waving handkerchiefs to them."We ought to have hired somebody," thought Anna-Rose, eyeing the handkerchiefs with miserable little eyes.
"I believe I've gone and caught a cold," remarked Anna-Felicitas in her gentle, staid voice, for she was having a good deal of bother with her eyes and her nose, and could no longer conceal the fact that she was sniffing.Anna-Rose discreetly didn't look at her. Then she suddenly whipped out her handkerchief and waved it violently. Anna-Felicitas forgot her eyes and nose and craned her head forward. "Who are you waving to?" she asked, astonished. "Good-bye!" cried Anna-Rose, waving, "Good-bye! Good-bye!" "Who? Where? Who are you talking to?" asked Anna-Felicitas. "Has any one come to see us off?"
"Good-bye! Good-bye!" cried Anna-Rose. The figures on the wharf were getting smaller, but not until they had faded into a blur did Anna-Rose leave off waving. Then she turned round and put her arm through AnnaFelicitas's and held on to her very tight for a minute."There wasn't anybody," she said. "Of course there wasn't. But do you suppose I was going to have us looking like people who aren't seen off?"
And she drew Anna-Felicitas away to the chairs, and when they were safely in them and rolled up to their chins in the rug, she added, "That man—" and then stopped. "What man?""Standing just behind us—" "Was there a man?" asked Anna-Felicitas, who never saw men any more than she, in her brief career at the hospital, had seen pails. "Yes. Looking as if in another moment he'd be sorry for us," said Anna-Rose. "Sorry for us!" repeated Anna-Felicitas, roused to indignation. "Yes. Did you ever?"
Anna-Felicitas said, with a great deal of energy while she put her handkerchief finally and sternly away, that she didn't ever; and after a pause Anna-Rose, remembering one of her many new responsibilities and anxieties—she had so many that sometimes for a time she didn't remember some of them—turned her head to Anna-Felicitas, and fixing a worried eye on her said, "You won't go forgetting your Bible, will you, Anna F.?""My Bible?" repeated Anna-Felicitas, looking blank. "Your German Bible. The bit about wenn die bösen Buben locken, so folge sie nicht." Anna-Felicitas continued to look blank, but Anna-Rose with a troubled brow said again, "You won't go and forget that, will you, Anna F.?"
For Anna-Felicitas was very pretty. In most people's eyes she was very pretty, but in Anna-Rose's she was the most exquisite creature God had yet succeeded in turning out. Anna-Rose concealed this conviction from her. She wouldn't have told her for worlds. She considered it wouldn't have been at all good for her; and she had, up to this, and ever since they could both remember, jeered in a thoroughly sisterly fashion at her defects, concentrating particularly on her nose, on her leanness, and on the way, unless constantly reminded not to, she drooped.
But Anna-Rose secretly considered that the same nose that on her own face made no sort of a show at all, directly it got on to Anna-Felicitas's somehow was the dearest nose; and that her leanness was lovely,—the same sort of slender grace her mother had had in the days before the heart-breaking emaciation that was its last phase; and that her head was set so charmingly on her neck that when she drooped and forgot her father's constant injunction to sit up,—"For," had said her father at monotonously regular intervals, "a maiden should be as straight as a fir-tree,"—she only seemed to fall into even more attractive lines than when she didn't. And now that Anna-Rose alone had the charge of looking after this abstracted and so charming younger sister, she felt it her duty somehow to convey to her while tactfully avoiding putting ideas into the poor child's head which might make her conceited, that it behoved her to conduct herself with discretion.
But she found tact a ticklish thing, the most difficult thing of all to handle successfully; and on this occasion hers was so elaborate, and so carefully wrapped up in Scriptural language, and German Scripture at that, that Anna-Felicitas's slow mind didn't succeed in disentangling her meaning, and after a space of staring at her with a mild inquiry in her eyes, she decided that perhaps she hadn't got one. She was much too polite though, to say so, and they sat in silence under the rug till the St. Luke whistled and stopped, and Anna-Rose began hastily to make conversation about Christopher and Columbus.
She was ashamed of having shown so much of her woe at leaving England. She hoped Anna-Felicitas hadn't noticed. She certainly wasn't going on like that. When the St. Luke whistled, she was ashamed that it wasn't only Anna-Felicitas who jumped. And the amount of brightness she put into her voice when she told Anna-Felicitas it was pleasant to go and discover America was such that that young lady, who if slow was sure, said to herself, "Poor little Anna-R., she's really taking it dreadfully to heart."
The St. Luke was only dropping anchor for the night in the Mersey, and would go on at daybreak. They gathered this from the talk of passengers walking up and down the deck in twos and threes and passing and repassing the chairs containing the silent figures with the round heads that might be either the heads of boys or of girls, and they were greatly relieved to think they wouldn't have to begin and be sea-sick for some hours yet. "So couldn't we walk about a little?" suggested Anna-Felicitas, who was already stiff from sitting on the hard cane chair.
But Aunt Alice had told them that the thing to do on board a ship if they wished, as she was sure they did, not only to avoid being sick but also conspicuous, was to sit down in chairs the moment the ship got under way, and not move out of them till it stopped again. "Or, at least, as rarely as possible," amended Aunt Alice, who had never herself been further on a ship than to Calais, but recognized that it might be difficult to avoid moving sooner or later if it was New York you were going to. "Two such young girls travelling alone should be seen as seldom as ever you can manage. Your Uncle is sending you second-class for that very reason, because it is so much less conspicuous."
It was also very much less expensive, and Uncle Arthur's generosities were of the kind that suddenly grow impatient and leave off. Just as in eating he was as he said, for plain roast and boiled, and messes be damned, so in benefactions he was for lump sums and done with it; and the extras, the driblets, the here a little and there a little that were necessary, or were alleged by Aunt Alice to be necessary, before he finally got rid of those blasted twins, annoyed him so profoundly that when it came to taking their passage he could hardly be got not to send them in the steerage. This was too much, however, for Aunt Alice, whose maid was going with them as far as Euston and therefore would know what sort of tickets they had, and she insisted with such quiet obstinacy that they should be sent first-class that Uncle Arthur at last split the difference and consented to make it second. To her maid Aunt Alice also explained that secondclass was less conspicuous.
Anna-Rose, mindful of Aunt Alice's words, hesitated as to the wisdom of walking about and beginning to be conspicuous already, but she too was stiff, and anything the matter with one's body has a wonderful effect, as she had already in her brief career had numerous occasions to observe, in doing away with prudent determinations. So, after cautiously looking round the corners to see if the man who was on the verge of being sorry for them were nowhere in sight, they walked up and down the damp, dark deck; and the motionlessness, and silence, and mist gave them a sensation of being hung mid-air in some strange empty Hades between two worlds.
Far down below there was a faint splash every now and then against the side of the St. Luke when some other steamer, invisible in the mist, felt her way slowly by. Out ahead lay the sea, the immense uneasy sea that was to last ten days and nights before they got to the other side, hour after hour of it, hour after hour of tossing across it further and further away; and forlorn and ghostly as the ship felt, it yet, because on either side of it were still the shores of England, didn't seem as forlorn and ghostly as the unknown land they were bound for. For suppose, Anna-Felicitas inquired of Anna-Rose, who had been privately asking herself the same thing, America didn't like them? Suppose the same sort of difficulties were waiting for them over there that had dogged their footsteps in England?
"First of all," said Anna-Rose promptly, for she prided herself on the readiness and clearness of her explanations, "America will like us, because I don't see why it shouldn't. We're going over to it in exactly the same pleasant spirit, Anna-F.,—and don't you go forgetting it and showing your disagreeable side—that the dove was in when it flew across the waters to the ark, and with olive branches in our beaks just the same as the dove's, only they're those two letters to Uncle Arthur's friends.""But do you think Uncle Arthur's friends—" began Anna-Felicitas, who had great doubts as to everything connected with Uncle Arthur.
"And secondly," continued Anna-Rose a little louder, for she wasn't going to be interrupted, and having been asked a question liked to give all the information in her power, "secondly, America is the greatest of the neutrals except the liebe Gott, and is bound particularly to prize us because we're so unusually and peculiarly neutral. What ever was more neutral than you and me? We're neither one thing nor the other, and yet at the same time we're both." Anna-Felicitas remarked that it sounded rather as if they were the Athanasian Creed.
"And thirdly," went on Anna-Rose, waving this aside, "there's £200 waiting for us over there, which is a very nice warm thing to think of. We never had £200 waiting for us anywhere in our lives before, did we,—so you remember that, and don't get grumbling."
Anna-Felicitas mildly said that she wasn't grumbling but that she couldn't help thinking what a great deal depended on the goodwill of Uncle Arthur's friends, and wished it had been Aunt Alice's friends they had letters to instead, because Aunt Alice's friends were more likely to like her.Anna-Rose rebuked her, and said that the proper spirit in which to start on a great adventure was one of faith and enthusiasm, and that one didn't have doubts.
Anna-Felicitas said she hadn't any doubts really, but that she was very hungry, not having had anything that could be called a meal since breakfast, and that she felt like the sheep in "Lycidas," the hungry ones who looked up and were not fed, and she quoted the lines in case Anna-Rose didn't recollect them (which Anna-Rose deplored, for she knew the lines by heart, and if there was any quoting to be done liked to do it herself), and said she felt just like that,—"Empty," said Anna-Felicitas, "and yet swollen. When do you suppose people have food on board ships? I don't believe we'd mind nearly so much about—oh well, about leaving England, if it was after dinner.""I'm not minding leaving England," said Anna-Rose quickly. "At least, not more than's just proper." "Oh, no more am I, of course," said Anna-Felicitas airily. "Except what's proper."
"And even if we were feeling it dreadfully," said Anna-Rose, with a little catch in her voice, "which, of course, we're not, dinner wouldn't make any difference. Dinner doesn't alter fundamentals.""But it helps one to bear them," said Anna-Felicitas. "Bear!" repeated Anna-Rose, her chin in the air. "We haven't got much to bear. Don't let me hear you talk of bearing things, Anna-F." "I won't after dinner," promised Anna-Felicitas.
They thought perhaps they had better ask somebody whether there wouldn't soon be something to eat, but the other passengers had all disappeared. They were by themselves on the gloomy deck, and there were no lights. The row of cabin windows along the wall were closely shuttered, and the door they had come through when first they came on deck was shut too, and they couldn't find it in the dark. It seemed so odd to be feeling along a wall for a door they knew was there and not be able to find it, that they began to laugh; and the undiscoverable door cheered them up more than anything that had happened since seeing the last of Uncle Arthur."It's like a game," said Anna-Rose, patting her hands softly and vainly along the wall beneath the shuttered windows. "It's like something in 'Alice in Wonderland,'" said Anna-Felicitas, following in her tracks.
A figure loomed through the mist and came toward them. They left off patting, and stiffened into straight and motionless dignity against the wall till it should have passed. But it didn't pass. It was a male figure in a peaked cap, probably a steward, they thought, and it stopped in front of them and said in an American voice, "Hello."Anna-Rose cast rapidly about in her mind for the proper form of reply to Hello. Anna-Felicitas, instinctively responsive to example murmured "Hello" back again.
Anna-Rose, feeling sure that nobody ought to say just Hello to people they had never seen before, and that Aunt Alice would think they had brought it on themselves by being conspicuous, decided that perhaps "Good-evening" would regulate the situation, and said it."You ought to be at dinner," said the man, taking no notice of this. "That's what we think," agreed Anna-Felicitas earnestly. "Can you please tell us how to get there?" asked Anna-Rose, still distant, but polite, for she too very much wanted to know. "But don't tell us to ask the Captain," said Anna-Felicitas, even more earnestly. "No," said Anna-Rose, "because we won't." The man laughed. "Come right along with me," he said, striding on; and they followed him as obediently as though such persons as possible böse Buben didn't exist. "First voyage I guess," said the man over his shoulder. "Yes," said the twins a little breathlessly, for the man's legs were long and they could hardly keep up with him. "English?" said the man. "Ye—es," said Anna-Rose.
"That's to say, practically," panted the conscientious Anna-Felicitas. "What say?" said the man, still striding on. "I said," Anna-Felicitas endeavoured to explain, hurrying breathlessly after him so as to keep within reach of his ear, "practically.""Ah," said the man; and after a silence, broken only by the pantings for breath of the twins, he added: "Mother with you?"
They didn't say anything to that, it seemed such a dreadful question to have to answer, and luckily he didn't repeat it, but, having got to the door they had been searching for, opened it and stepped into the bright light inside, and putting out his arm behind him pulled them in one after the other over the high wooden door-frame.
Inside was the same stewardess they had seen earlier in the afternoon, engaged in heatedly describing what sounded like grievances to an official in buttons, who seemed indifferent. She stopped suddenly when the man appeared, and the official took his hands out of his pockets and became alert and attentive, and the stewardess hastily picked up a tray she had set down and began to move away along a passage.The man, however, briefly called "Hi," and she turned round and came back even more quickly than she had tried to go. "You see," explained Anna-Rose in a pleased whisper to Anna-Felicitas, "it's Hi she answers to." "Yes," agreed Anna-Felicitas. "It's waste of good circumlocutions to throw them away on her." "Show these young ladies the dining-room," said the man. "Yes, sir," said the stewardess, as polite as you please.
He nodded to them with a smile that developed for some reason into a laugh, and turned away and beckoned to the official to follow him, and went out again into the night.
"Who was that nice man?" inquired Anna-Rose, following the stewardess down a broad flight of stairs that smelt of india-rubber and machine-oil and cooking all mixed up together."And please," said Anna-Felicitas with mild severity, "don't tell us to ask the Captain, because we really do know better than that." "I thought you must be relations," said the stewardess. "We are," said Anna-Rose. "We're twins." The stewardess stared. "Twins what of?" she asked. "What of?" echoed Anna-Rose. "Why, of each other, of course." "I meant relations of the Captain's," said the stewardess shortly, eyeing them with more disfavour than ever. "You seem to have the Captain greatly on your mind," said Anna-Felicitas. "He is no relation of ours." "You're not even friends, then?" asked the stewardess, pausing to stare round at them at a turn in the stairs as they followed her down arm-in-arm. "Of course we're friends," said Anna-Rose with some heat. "Do you suppose we quarrel?" "No, I didn't suppose you quarrelled with the Captain," said the stewardess tartly. "Not on board this ship anyway." She didn't know which of the two she disliked most, the short girl or the long girl.
"You seem to be greatly obsessed by the Captain," said Anna-Felicitas gently. "Obsessed!" repeated the stewardess, tossing her head. She was unacquainted with the word, but instantly suspected it of containing a reflection on her respectability. "I've been a widow off and on for ten years now," she said angrily, "and I guess it would take more than even the Captain to obsess me."
They had reached the glass doors leading into the dining-room, and the stewardess, having carried out her orders, paused before indignantly leaving them and going upstairs again to say, "If you're friends, what do you want to know his name for, then?""Whose name?" asked Anna-Felicitas. "The Captain's," said the stewardess. "We don't want to know the Captain's name," said Anna-Felicitas patiently. "We don't want to know anything about the Captain." "Then—" began the stewardess. She restrained herself, however, and merely bitterly remarking: "That gentleman was the Captain," went upstairs and left them.
Anna-Rose was the first to recover. "You see we took your advice," she called up after her, trying to soften her heart, for it was evident that for some reason her heart was hardened, by flattery. "You told us to ask the Captain."
In their berths that night before they went to sleep, it occurred to them that perhaps what was the matter with the stewardess was that she needed a tip. At first, with their recent experiences fresh in their minds, they thought that she was probably passionately pro-Ally, and had already detected all those Junkers in their past and accordingly couldn't endure them. Then they remembered how Aunt Alice had said, "You will have to give your stewardess a little something."
This had greatly perturbed them at the time, for up to then they had been in the easy position of the tipped rather than the tippers, and anyhow they had no idea what one gave stewardesses. Neither, it appeared, had Aunt Alice; for, on being questioned, she said vaguely that as it was an American boat they were going on she supposed it would have to be American money, which was dollars, and she didn't know much about dollars except that you divided them by four and multiplied them by five, or else it was the other way about; and when, feeling still uninformed, they had begged her to tell them why one did that, she said it was the quickest way of finding out what a dollar really was, and would they mind not talking any more for a little while because her head ached.
The tips they had seen administered during their short lives had all been given at the end of things, not at the beginning; but Americans, Aunt Alice told them, were in some respects, in spite of their talking English, different, and perhaps they were different just on this point and liked to be tipped at both ends. Anna-Rose wanted to crane out her head and call up to Anna-Felicitas and ask her whether she didn't think that might be so, but was afraid of disturbing the people in the opposite berths.
Anna-Felicitas was in the top berth on their side of the cabin, and Anna-Rose as the elder and accordingly as she explained to Anna-Felicitas, needing more comfort, in the lower one. On the opposite side were two similar berths, each containing as AnnaFelicitas whispered after peeping cautiously through their closed curtains,—for at first on coming in after dinner to go to bed the cabin seemed empty, except for inanimate things, like clothes hanging up and an immense smell,—its human freight. They were awed by this discovery, for the human freight was motionless and speechless, and yet made none of the noises suggesting sleep.
They unpacked and undressed as silently and quickly as possible, but it was very difficult, for there seemed to be no room for anything, not even for themselves. Every now and then they glanced a little uneasily at the closed curtains, which bulged, and sniffed cautiously and delicately, trying to decide what the smell exactly was. It appeared to be a mixture of the sauce one had with plum pudding at Christmas, and German bedrooms in the morning. It was a smell they didn't like the idea of sleeping with, but they saw no way of getting air. They thought of ringing for the stewardess and asking her to open a window, though they could see no window, but came to the conclusion it was better not to stir her up; not yet, at least, not till they had correctly diagnosed what was the matter with her. They said nothing out loud, for fear of disturbing whatever it was behind the curtains, but they knew what each was thinking, for one isn't, as they had long ago found out, a twin for nothing.
There was a slight scuffle before Anna-Felicitas was safely hoisted up into her berth, her legs hanging helplessly down for some time after the rest of her was in it, and AnnaRose, who had already neatly inserted herself into her own berth, after watching these legs in silence and fighting a desire to give them a tug and see what would happen, had to get out at last on hearing Anna-Felicitas begin to make sounds up there as though she were choking, and push them up in after her. Her head was then on a level with Anna-Felicitas's berth, and she could see how Anna-Felicitas, having got her legs again, didn't attempt to do anything with them in the way of orderly arrangement beneath the blankets, but lay huddled in an irregular heap, screwing her eyes up very tight and stuffing one of her pigtails into her mouth, and evidently struggling with what appeared to be an attack of immoderate and ill-timed mirth.
Anna-Rose observed her for a moment in silence, then was suddenly seized herself with a dreadful desire to laugh, and with a hasty glance round at the bulging curtains scrambled back into her own berth and pulled the sheet over her mouth.
She was sobering herself by going over her different responsibilities, checking them off on her fingers,—the two five-pound notes under her pillow for extra expenses till they were united in New York to their capital, the tickets, the passports, and AnnaFelicitas,—when two thick fair pigtails appeared dangling over the edge of her berth, followed by Anna-Felicitas's head.
"You've forgotten to turn out the light," whispered Anna-Felicitas, her eyelashes still wet from her late attack; and stretching her neck still further down till her face was scarlet with the effort and the blood rushing into it, she expressed a conviction to Anna-Rose that the human freight behind the curtains, judging from the suspicious negativeness of its behaviour, had no business in their cabin at all and was really stowaways.
"German stowaways," added Anna-Felicitas, nodding her head emphatically, which was very skilful of her, thought Anna-Rose, considering that it was upside down. "German stowaways," whispered Anna-Felicitas, sniffing expressively though cautiously.
Anna-Rose raised herself on her elbows and stared across at the bulging curtains. They certainly were very motionless and much curved. In spite of herself her flesh began to creep a little."They're men," whispered Anna-Felicitas, now dangerously congested. "Stowaways are." There had been no one in the cabin when first they came on board and took their things down, and they hadn't been in it since till they came to bed. "German men," whispered Anna-Felicitas, again with a delicate expressive sniff. "Nonsense," whispered Anna-Rose, stoutly. "Men never come into ladies' cabins. And there's skirts on the hooks." "Disguise," whispered Anna-Felicitas, nodding again. "Spies' disguise." She seemed quite to be enjoying her own horrible suggestions. "Take your head back into the berth," ordered Anna-Rose quickly, for Anna-Felicitas seemed to be on the very brink of an apoplectic fit.
Anna-Felicitas, who was herself beginning to feel a little inconvenienced, obeyed, and was thrilled to see Anna-Rose presently very cautiously emerge from underneath her and on her bare feet creep across to the opposite side. She knew her to be valiant to recklessness. She sat up to watch, her eyes round with interest.
Anna-Rose didn't go straight across, but proceeded slowly, with several pauses, to direct her steps toward the pillow-end of the berths. Having got there she stood still a moment listening, and then putting a careful finger between the curtain of the lower berth and its frame, drew it the smallest crack aside and peeped in.Instantly she started back, letting go the curtain. "I beg your pardon," she said out loud, turning very red. "I—I thought—"
Anna-Felicitas, attentive in her berth, felt a cold thrill rush down her back. No sound came from the berth on the other side any more than before the raid on it, and AnnaRose returned quicker than she had gone. She just stopped on the way to switch off the light, and then felt along the edge of Anna-Felicitas's berth till she got to her head, and pulling it near her by its left pigtail whispered with her mouth close to its left ear, "Wide awake. Watching me all the time. Not a man. Fat."And she crawled into her berth feeling unnerved.
The lady in the opposite berth was German, and so was the lady in the berth above her. Their husbands were American, but that didn't make them less German. Nothing ever makes a German less German, Anna-Rose explained to Anna-Felicitas."Except," replied Anna-Felicitas, "a judicious dilution of their blood by the right kind of mother." "Yes," said Anna-Rose. "Only to be found in England."
This conversation didn't take place till the afternoon of the next day, by which time Anna-Felicitas already knew about the human freight being Germans, for one of their own submarines came after the St. Luke and no one was quite so loud in expression of terror and dislike as the two Germans.
They demanded to be saved first, on the ground that they were Germans. They repudiated their husbands, and said marriage was nothing compared to how one had been born. The curtains of their berths, till then so carefully closed, suddenly yawned open, and the berths gave up their contents just as if, Anna-Felicitas remarked afterwards to Anna-Rose, it was the resurrection and the berths were riven sepulchres chucking up their dead.
This happened at ten o'clock the next morning when the St. Luke was pitching about off the southwest coast of Ireland. The twins, waking about seven, found with a pained surprise that they were not where they had been dreaming they were, in the sunlit garden at home playing tennis happily if a little violently, but in a chilly yet stuffy place that kept on tilting itself upside down. They lay listening to the groans coming from the opposite berths, and uneasily wondering how long it would be before they too began to groan. Anna-Rose raised her head once with the intention of asking if she could help at all, but dropped it back again on to the pillow and shut her eyes tight and lay as quiet as the ship would let her. Anna-Felicitas didn't even raise her head, she felt so very uncomfortable.
At eight o'clock the stewardess looked in—the same stewardess, they languidly noted, with whom already they had had two encounters, for it happened that this was one of the cabins she attended to—and said that if anybody wanted breakfast they had better be quick or it would be over."Breakfast!" cried the top berth opposite in a heart-rending tone; and instantly was sick.
The stewardess withdrew her head and banged the door to, and the twins, in their uneasy berths, carefully keeping their eyes shut so as not to witness the behaviour of the sides and ceiling of the cabin, feebly marvelled at the stewardess for suggesting being quick to persons who were being constantly stood on their heads. And breakfast,—they shuddered and thought of other things; of fresh, sweet air, and of the scent of pinks and apricots warm with the sun.At ten o'clock the stewardess came in again, this time right in, and with determination in every gesture.
"Come, come," she said, addressing the twins, and through them talking at the heaving and groaning occupants of the other side, "you mustn't give way like this. What you want is to be out of bed. You must get up and go on deck. And how's the cabin to get done if you stay in it all the time?"
Anna-Felicitas, the one particularly addressed, because she was more on the right level for conversation than Anna-Rose, who could only see the stewardess's apron, turned her head away and murmured that she didn't care."Come, come," said the stewardess. "Besides, there's life-boat drill at mid-day, and you've got to be present." Anna-Felicitas, her eyes shut, again murmured that she didn't care. "Come, come," said the stewardess. "Orders are orders. Every soul on the ship, sick or not, has got to be present at life-boat drill." "Oh, I'm not a soul," murmured Anna-Felicitas, who felt at that moment how particularly she was a body, while the opposite berths redoubled their groans. "Come, come—" said the stewardess.
Then the St. Luke whistled five times, and the stewardess turned pale. For a brief space, before they understood what had happened, the twins supposed she was going to be sick. But it wasn't that that was the matter with her, for after a moment's staring at nothing with horror on her face she pounced on them and pulled them bodily out of their berths, regardless by which end, and threw them on the floor anyhow. Then she plunged about and produced life-jackets; then she rushed down the passage flinging open the doors of the other cabins; then she whirled back again and tried to tie the twins into their life-jackets, but with hands that shook so that the strings immediately came undone again; and all the time she was calling out "Quick—quick—quick—" There was a great tramping of feet on deck and cries and shouting.
The curtains of the opposite berths yawned asunder and out came the Germans, astonishingly cured of their sea-sickness, and struggled vigorously into their life-jackets and then into fur coats, and had the fur coats instantly pulled off again by a very energetic steward who ran in and said fur coats in the water were death-traps,—a steward so much bent on saving people that he began to pull off the other things the German ladies had on as well, saying while he pulled, disregarding their protests, that in the water Mother Nature was the best. "Mother Nature—Mother Nature," said the steward, pulling; and he was only stopped just in the nick of time by the stewardess rushing in again and seeing what was happening to the helpless Germans.
Anna-Rose, even at that moment explanatory, pointed out to Anna-Felicitas, who had already grasped the fact, that no doubt there was a submarine somewhere about. The German ladies, seizing their valuables from beneath their pillows, in spite of the steward assuring them they wouldn't want them in the water, demanded to be taken up and somehow signalled to the submarine, which would never dare do anything to a ship containing its own flesh and blood—and an American ship, too—there must be some awful mistake—but anyhow they must be saved—there would be terrible trouble, that they could assure the steward and the twins and the scurrying passers-by down the passage, if America allowed two Germans to be destroyed—and anyhow they would insist on having their passage money refunded....
The German ladies departed down the passage, very incoherent and very unhappy but no longer sick, and Anna-Felicitas, clinging to the edge of her berth, feeling too miserable to mind about the submarine, feebly wondered, while the steward tied her properly into her life-jacket, at the cure effected in them. Anna-Rose seemed cured too, for she was buttoning a coat round Anna-Felicitas's shoulders, and generally seemed busy and brisk, ending by not even forgetting their precious little bag of money and tickets and passports, and fastening it round her neck in spite of the steward's assuring her that it would drag her down in the water like a stone tied to a kitten.
"You're a very cheerful man, aren't you," Anna-Rose said, as he pushed them out of the cabin and along the corridor, holding up Anna-Felicitas on her feet, who seemed quite unable to run alone.
The steward didn't answer, but caught hold of Anna-Felicitas at the foot of the stairs and carried her up them, and then having got her on deck propped her in a corner near the life-boat allotted to the set of cabins they were in, and darted away and in a minute was back again with a big coat which he wrapped round her."May as well be comfortable till you do begin to drown," he said briskly, "but mind you don't forget to throw it off, Missie, the minute you feel the water."
Anna-Felicitas slid down on to the deck, her head leaning against the wall, her eyes shut, a picture of complete indifference to whatever might be going to happen next. Her face was now as white as the frill of the night-gown that straggled out from beneath her coat, for the journey from the cabin to the deck had altogether finished her. Anna-Rose was thankful that she felt too ill to be afraid. Her own heart was black with despair,— despair that Anna-Felicitas, the dear and beautiful one, should presently, at any moment, be thrown into that awful heaving water, and certainly be hurt and frightened before she was choked out of life.
She sat down beside her, getting as close as possible to keep her warm. Her own twin. Her own beloved twin. She took her cold hands and put them away beneath the coat the steward had brought. She slid an arm round her and laid her cheek against her sleeve, so that she should know somebody was there, somebody who loved her. "What's the good of it all—why were we born—" she wondered, staring at the hideous gray waves as they swept up into sight over the side of the ship and away again as the ship rose up, and at the wet deck and the torn sky, and the miserable-looking passengers in their life-jackets collected together round the life-boat.
Nobody said anything except the German ladies. They, indeed, kept up a constant wail. The others were silent, the men mostly smoking cigarettes, the women holding their fluttering wraps about them, all of them staring out to sea, watching for the track of the torpedo to appear. One shot had been fired already and had missed. The ship was zigzagging under every ounce of steam she could lay on. An official stood by the life-boat, which was ready with water in it and provisions. That the submarine must be mad, as the official remarked, to fire on an American ship, didn't console anybody, and his further assurance that the matter would not be allowed to rest there left them cold. They felt too sure that in all probability they themselves were going to rest there, down underneath that repulsive icy water, after a struggle that was going to be unpleasant.
The man who had roused Anna-Rose's indignation as the ship left the landing-stage by looking as though he were soon going to be sorry for her, came across from the first class, where his life-boat was, to watch for the track of the expected torpedo, and caught sight of the twins huddled in their corner.
Anna-Rose didn't see him, for she was staring with wide eyes out at the desolate welter of water and cloud, and thinking of home: the home that was, that used to be till such a little while ago, the home that now seemed to have been so amazingly, so unbelievably beautiful and blest, with its daily life of love and laughter and of easy confidence that tomorrow was going to be just as good. Happiness had been the ordinary condition there, a simple matter of course. Its place was taken now by courage. Anna-Rose felt sick at all this courage there was about. There should be no occasion for it. There should be no horrors to face, no cruelties to endure. Why couldn't brotherly love continue? Why must people get killing each other? She, for her part, would be behind nobody in courage and in the defying of a Fate that could behave, as she felt, so very unlike her idea of anything even remotely decent; but it oughtn't to be necessary, this constant condition of screwed-upness; it was waste of effort, waste of time, waste of life,—oh the stupidity of it all, she thought, rebellious and bewildered."Have some brandy," said the man, pouring out a little into a small cup.
Anna-Rose turned her eyes on him without moving the rest of her. She recognized him. He was going to be sorry for them again. He had much better be sorry for himself now, she thought, because he, just as much as they were, was bound for a watery bier. "Thank you," she said distantly, for not only did she hate the smell of brandy but Aunt Alice had enjoined her with peculiar strictness on no account to talk to strange men, "I don't drink.""Then I'll give the other one some," said the man. "She too," said Anna-Rose, not changing her position but keeping a drearily watchful eye on him, "is a total abstainer." "Well, I'll go and fetch some of your warm things for you. Tell me where your cabin is. You haven't got enough on." "Thank you," said Anna-Rose distantly, "we have quite enough on, considering the occasion. We're dressed for drowning."
The man laughed, and said there would be no drowning, and that they had a splendid captain, and were outdistancing the submarine hand over fist. Anna-Rose didn't believe him, and suspected him of supposing her to be in need of cheering, but a gleam of comfort did in spite of herself steal into her heart.He went away, and presently came back with a blanket and some pillows.
"If you will sit on the floor," he said, stuffing the pillows behind their backs, during which Anna-Felicitas didn't open her eyes, and her head hung about so limply that it looked as if it might at any moment roll off, "you may at least be as comfortable as you can."
Anna-Rose pointed out, while she helped him arrange Anna-Felicitas's indifferent head on the pillow, that she saw little use in being comfortable just a minute or two before drowning. "Drowning be hanged," said the man."That's how Uncle Arthur used to talk," said Anna-Rose, feeling suddenly quite at home, "except that he would have said 'Drowning be damned.'" The man laughed. "Is he dead?" he asked, busy with Anna-Felicitas's head, which defied their united efforts to make it hold itself up.
"Dead?" echoed Anna-Rose, to whom the idea of Uncle Arthur's ever being anything so quiet as dead and not able to say any swear words for such a long time as eternity seemed very odd."You said he used to talk like that."
"Oh, no he's not dead at all. Quite the contrary." The man laughed again, and having got Anna-Felicitas's head arranged in a position that at least, as Anna-Rose pointed out, had some sort of self-respect in it, he asked who they were with.
Anna-Rose looked at him with as much defiant independence as she could manage to somebody who was putting a pillow behind her back. He was going to be sorry for them. She saw it coming. He was going to say "You poor things," or words to that effect. That's what the people round Uncle Arthur's had said to them. That's what everybody had said to them since the war began, and Aunt Alice's friends had said it to her too, because she had to have her nieces live with her, and no doubt Uncle Arthur's friends who played golf with him had said it to him as well, except that probably they put in a damn so as to make it clearer for him and said "You poor damned thing," or something like that, and she was sick of the very words poor things. Poor things, indeed! "We're with each other," she said briefly, lifting her chin."Well, I don't think that's enough," said the man. "Not half enough. You ought to have a mother or something." "Everybody can't have mothers," said Anna-Rose very defiantly indeed, tears rushing into her eyes. The man tucked the blanket round their resistless legs. "There now," he said. "That's better. What's the good of catching your deaths?"
Anna-Rose, glad that he hadn't gone on about mothers, said that with so much death imminent, catching any of it no longer seemed to her particularly to matter, and the man laughed and pulled over a chair and sat down beside her.
She didn't know what he saw anywhere in that dreadful situation to laugh at, but just the sound of a laugh was extraordinarily comforting. It made one feel quite different. Wholesome again. Like waking up to sunshine and one's morning bath and breakfast after a nightmare. He seemed altogether a very comforting man. She liked him to sit near them. She hoped he was a good man. Aunt Alice had said there were very few good men, hardly any in fact except one's husband, but this one did seem one of the few exceptions. And she thought that by now, he having brought them all those pillows, he could no longer come under the heading of strange men. When he wasn't looking she put out her hand secretly and touched his coat where he wouldn't feel it. It comforted her to touch his coat. She hoped Aunt Alice wouldn't have disapproved of seeing her sitting side by side with him and liking it.
Aunt Alice had been, as her custom was, vague, when Anna-Rose, having given her the desired promise not to talk or let Anna-Felicitas talk to strange men, and desiring to collect any available information for her guidance in her new responsible position had asked, "But when are men not strange?""When you've married them," said Aunt Alice. "After that, of course, you love them." And she sighed heavily, for it was bed-time.
CHAPTER VINothing more was seen of the submarine.
The German ladies were certain the captain had somehow let them know he had them on board, and were as full of the credit of having saved the ship as if it had been Sodom and Gomorrah instead of a ship, and they the one just man whose presence would have saved those cities if he had been in them; and the American passengers were equally sure that the submarine, on thinking it over, had decided that President Wilson was not a man to be trifled with, and had gone in search of some prey which would not have the might and majesty of America at its back.
As the day went on, and the St. Luke left off zig-zagging, the relief of those on board was the relief of a reprieve from death. Almost everybody was cured of sea-sickness, and quite everybody was ready to overwhelm his neighbour with cordiality and benevolence. Rich people didn't mind poor people, and came along from the first class and talked to them just as if they had been the same flesh and blood as themselves. A billionairess native to Chicago, who had crossed the Atlantic forty times without speaking to a soul, an achievement she was as justly proud of as an artist is of his best creations, actually asked somebody in a dingy mackintosh, whose little boy still looked pale, if he had been frightened; and an exclusive young man from Boston talked quite a long while to an English lady without first having made sure that she was wellconnected. What could have been more like heaven? The tone on the St. Luke that day was very like what the tone in the kingdom of heaven must be in its simple politeness. "And so you see," said Anna-Rose, who was fond of philosophizing in season and out of season, and particularly out of season, "how good comes out of evil."
She made this observation about four o'clock in the afternoon to Anna-Felicitas in an interval of absence on the part of Mr. Twist—such, the amiable stranger had told them, was his name—who had gone to see about tea being brought up to them; and AnnaFelicitas, able by now to sit up and take notice, the hours of fresh air having done their work, smiled the ready, watery, foolishly happy smile of the convalescent. It was so nice not to feel ill; it was so nice not to have to be saved. If she had been able to talk much, she would have philosophized too, about the number and size of one's negative blessings—all the things one hasn't got, all the very horrid things; why, there's no end to them once you begin to count up, she thought, waterily happy, and yet people grumble.
Anna-Felicitas was in that cleaned-out, beatific, convalescent mood in which one is sure one will never grumble again. She smiled at anybody who happened to pass by and catch her eye. She would have smiled just like that, with just that friendly, boneless familiarity at the devil if he had appeared, or even at Uncle Arthur himself.
The twins, as a result of the submarine's activities, were having the pleasantest day they had had for months. It was the realization of this that caused Anna-Rose's remark about good coming out of evil. The background, she could not but perceive, was a very odd one for their pleasantest day for months—a rolling steamer and a cold wind flicking at them round the corner; but backgrounds, she pointed out to Anna-Felicitas, who smiled her agreement broadly and instantly, are negligible things: it is what goes on in front of them that matters. Of what earthly use, for instance, had been those splendid summer afternoons in the perfect woods and gardens that so beautifully framed in Uncle Arthur?No use, agreed Anna-Felicitas, smiling fatuously. In the middle of them was Uncle Arthur. You always got to him in the end. Anna-Felicitas nodded and shook her head and was all feeble agreement.
She and Anna-Felicitas had been more hopelessly miserable, Anna-Rose remarked, wandering about the loveliness that belonged to him than they could ever have dreamed was possible. She reminded Anna-Felicitas how they used to rub their eyes to try and see more clearly, for surely these means of happiness, these elaborate arrangements for it all round them, couldn't be for nothing? There must be some of it somewhere, if only they could discover where? And there was none. Not a trace of it. Not even the faintest little swish of its skirts.
Anna-Rose left off talking, and became lost in memories. For a long time, she remembered, she had told herself it was her mother's death blotting the light out of life, but one day Anna-Felicitas said aloud that it was Uncle Arthur, and Anna-Rose knew it was true. Their mother's death was something so tender, so beautiful, that terrible as it was to them to be left without her they yet felt raised up by it somehow, raised on to a higher level than where they had been before, closer in their hearts to real things, to real values. But Uncle Arthur came into possession of their lives as a consequence of that death, and he had towered up between them and every glimpse of the sun. Suddenly there was no such thing as freedom and laughter. Suddenly everything one said and did was wrong. "And you needn't think," Anna-Felicitas had said wisely, "that he's like that because we're Germans—or seem to be Germans," she amended. "It's because he's Uncle Arthur. Look at Aunt Alice. She's not a German. And yet look at her."
And Anna-Rose had looked at Aunt Alice, though only in her mind's eye, for at that moment the twins were three miles away in a wood picnicking, and Aunt Alice was at home recovering from a tête-à-tête luncheon with Uncle Arthur who hadn't said a word from start to finish; and though she didn't like most of his words when he did say them, she liked them still less when he didn't say them, for then she imagined them, and what she imagined was simply awful,—Anna-Rose had, I say, looked at Aunt Alice in her mind's eye, and knew that this too was true.
Mr. Twist reappeared, followed by the brisk steward with a tray of tea and cake, and their corner became very like a cheerful picnic.
Mr. Twist was most pleasant and polite. Anna-Rose had told him quite soon after he began to talk to her, in order, as she said, to clear his mind of misconceptions, that she and Anna-Felicitas, though their clothes at that moment, and the pigtails in which their flair was done, might be misleading, were no longer children, but quite the contrary; that they were, in fact, persons who were almost ripe for going to dances, and certainly in another year would be perfectly ripe for dances supposing there were any.
Mr. Twist listened attentively, and begged her to tell him any other little thing she might think of as useful to him in his capacity of friend and attendant,—both of which, said Mr. Twist, he intended to be till he had seen them safely landed in New York."I hope you don't think we need anybody," said Anna-Rose. "We shall like being friends with you very much, but only on terms of perfect equality." "Sure," said Mr. Twist, who was an American. "I thought—" She hesitated a moment. "You thought?" encouraged Mr. Twist politely. "I thought at Liverpool you looked as if you were being sorry for us." "Sorry?" said Mr. Twist, in the tone of one who repudiates. "Yes. When we were waving good-bye to—to our friends." "Sorry?" repeated Mr. Twist. "Which was great waste of your time." "I should think so," said Mr. Twist with heartiness.
Anna-Rose, having cleared the ground of misunderstandings, an activity in which at all times she took pleasure, accepted Mr. Twist's attentions in the spirit in which they were offered, which was, as he said, one of mutual friendliness and esteem. As he was never sea-sick, he could move about and do things for them that might be difficult to do for themselves; as he knew a great deal about stewardesses, he could tell them what sort of tip theirs expected; as he was American, he could illuminate them about that country. He had been doing Red Cross work with an American ambulance in France for ten months, and was going home for a short visit to see how his mother, who, Anna-Rose gathered, was ancient and widowed, was getting on. His mother, he said, lived in seclusion in a New England village with his sister, who had not married."Then she's got it all before her," said Anna-Rose. "Like us," said Anna-Felicitas.
"I shouldn't think she'd got as much of it before her as you," said Mr. Twist, "because she's considerably more grown up—I mean," he added hastily, as Anna-Rose's mouth opened, "she's less—well, less completely young.""We're not completely young," said Anna-Rose with dignity. "People are completely young the day they're born, and ever after that they spend their time becoming less so." "Exactly. And my sister has been becoming less so longer than you have. I assure you that's all I meant. She's less so even than I am."
"Then," said Anna-Rose, glancing at that part of Mr. Twist's head where it appeared to be coming through his hair, "she must have got to the stage when one is called a maiden lady."
"And if she were a German," said Anna-Felicitas suddenly, who hadn't till then said anything to Mr. Twist but only smiled widely at him whenever he happened to look her way, "she wouldn't be either a lady or a maiden, but just an It. It's very rude of Germans, I think," went on Anna-Felicitas, abstractedly smiling at the cake Mr. Twist was offering her, "never to let us be anything but Its till we've taken on some men."Mr. Twist expressed surprise at this way of describing marriage, and inquired of AnnaFelicitas what she knew about Germans.
"The moment you leave off being sea-sick, Anna-F.," said Anna-Rose, turning to her severely, "you start being indiscreet. Well, I suppose," she added with a sigh to Mr. Twist, "you'd have had to know sooner or later. Our name is Twinkler."
She watched him to see the effect of this, and Mr. Twist, perceiving he was expected to say something, said that he didn't mind that anyhow, and that he could bear something worse in the way of revelations."Does it convey nothing to you?" asked Anna-Rose, astonished, for in Germany the name of Twinkler was a mighty name, and even in England it was well known. Mr. Twist shook his head. "Only that it sounds cheerful," he said. Anna-Rose watched his face. "It isn't only Twinkler," she said, speaking very distinctly. "It's von Twinkler." "That's German," said Mr. Twist; but his face remained serene. "Yes. And so are we. That is, we would be if it didn't happen that we weren't." "I don't think I quite follow," said Mr. Twist. "It is very difficult," agreed Anna-Rose. "You see, we used to have a German father." "But only because our mother married him," explained Anna-Felicitas. "Else we wouldn't have." "And though she only did it once," said Anna-Rose, "ages ago, it has dogged our footsteps ever since." "It's very surprising," mused Anna-Felicitas, "what marrying anybody does. You go into a church, and before you know where you are, you're all tangled up with posterity."
"And much worse than that," said Anna-Rose, staring wide-eyed at her own past experiences, "posterity's all tangled up with you. It's really simply awful sometimes for posterity. Look at us."
"If there hadn't been a war we'd have been all right," said Anna-Felicitas. "But directly there's a war, whoever it is you've married, if it isn't one of your own countrymen, rises up against you, just as if he were too many meringues you'd had for dinner.""Living or dead," said Anna-Rose, nodding, "he rises up against you." "Till the war we never thought at all about it," said Anna-Felicitas. "Either one way or the other," said Anna-Rose. "We never used to bother about what we were," said Anna-Felicitas. "We were just human beings, and so was everybody else just human beings." "We didn't mind a bit about being Germans, or about other people not being Germans." "But you mustn't think we mind now either," said Anna-Felicitas, "because, you see, we're not."
Mr. Twist looked at them in turn. His ears were a little prominent and pointed, and they gave him rather the air, when he put his head on one side and looked at them, of an attentive fox-terrier. "I don't think I quite follow," he said again."It is very difficult," agreed Anna-Rose. "It's because you've got into your head that we're German because of our father," said Anna-Felicitas. "But what's a father, when all's said and done?" "Well," said Mr. Twist, "one has to have him."
"But having got him he isn't anything like as important as a mother," said Anna-Rose. "One hardly sees one's father," said Anna-Felicitas. "He's always busy. He's always thinking of something else."
"Except when he looks at one and tells one to sit up straight," said Anna-Rose pointedly to Anna-Felicitas, whose habit of drooping still persisted in spite of her father's admonishments.
"Of course he's very kind and benevolent when he happens to remember that one is there," said Anna-Felicitas, sitting up beautifully for a moment, "but that's about everything.""And of course," said Anna-Rose, "one's father's intentions are perfectly sound and good, but his attention seems to wander. Whereas one's mother—" "Yes," said Anna-Felicitas, "one's mother—" They broke off and looked straight in front of them. It didn't bear speaking of. It didn't bear thinking of. Suddenly Anna-Felicitas, weak from excessive sea-sickness, began to cry. The tears just slopped over as though no resistance of any sort were possible.
Anna-Rose stared at her a moment horror-struck. "Look here, Anna-F.," she exclaimed, wrath in her voice, "I won't have you be sentimental—I won't have you be sentimental...."And then she too began to cry.
Well, once having hopelessly disgraced and exposed themselves, there was nothing for it but to take Mr. Twist into their uttermost confidence. It was dreadful. It was awful. Before that strange man. A person they hardly knew. Other strangers passing. Exposing their feelings. Showing their innermost miserable places.
They writhed and struggled in their efforts to stop, to pretend they weren't crying, that it was really nothing but just tears,—odd ones left over from last time, which was years and years ago,—"But really years and years ago," sobbed Anna-Rose, anxiously explaining,—"the years one falls down on garden paths in, and cuts one's knees, and one's mother—one's mother—c-c-c-comforts one—"
"See here," said Mr. Twist, interrupting these incoherences, and pulling out a beautiful clean pocket-handkerchief which hadn't even been unfolded yet, "you've got to tell me all about it right away."And he shook out the handkerchief, and with the first-aid promptness his Red Cross experience had taught him, started competently wiping up their faces.
There was that about Mr. Twist which, once one had begun them, encouraged confidences; something kind about his eyes, something not too determined about his chin. He bore no resemblance to those pictures of efficient Americans in advertisements with which Europe is familiar,—eagle-faced gentlemen with intimidatingly firm mouths and chins, wiry creatures, physically and mentally perfect, offering in capital letters to make you Just Like Them. Mr. Twist was the reverse of eagle-faced. He was also the reverse of good-looking; that is, he would have been very handsome indeed, as AnnaRose remarked several days later to Anna-Felicitas, when the friendship had become a settled thing,—which indeed it did as soon as Mr. Twist had finished wiping their eyes and noses that first afternoon, it being impossible, they discovered, to have one's eyes and noses wiped by somebody without being friends afterwards (for such an activity, said Anna-Felicitas, belonged to the same order of events as rescue from fire, lions, or drowning, after which in books you married him; but this having only been wiping, said Anna-Rose, the case was adequately met by friendship)—he would have been very handsome indeed if he hadn't had a face."But you have to have a face," said Anna-Felicitas, who didn't think it much mattered what sort it was so long as you could eat with it and see out of it.
"And as long as one is as kind as Mr. Twist," said Anna-Rose; but secretly she thought that having been begun so successfully at his feet, and carried upwards with such grace of long limbs and happy proportions, he might as well have gone on equally felicitously for the last little bit."I expect God got tired of him over that last bit," she mused, "and just put on any sort of head." "Yes—that happened to be lying about," agreed Anna-Felicitas. "In a hurry to get done with him." "Anyway he's very kind," said Anna-Rose, a slight touch of defiance in her voice. "Oh, very kind," agreed Anna-Felicitas. "And it doesn't matter about faces for being kind," said Anna-Rose. "Not in the least," agreed Anna-Felicitas.
"And if it hadn't been for the submarine we shouldn't have got to know him. So you see," said Anna-Rose,—and again produced her favourite remark about good coming out of evil.
Those were the days in mid-Atlantic when England was lost in its own peculiar mists, and the sunshine of America was stretching out towards them. The sea was getting calmer and bluer every hour, and submarines more and more unlikely. If a ship could be pleasant, which Anna-Felicitas doubted, for she still found difficulty in dressing and undressing without being sea-sick and was unpopular in the cabin, this ship was pleasant. You lay in a deck-chair all day long, staring at the blue sky and blue sea that enclosed you as if you were living in the middle of a jewel, and tried not to remember— oh, there were heaps of things it was best not to remember; and when the rail of the ship moved up across the horizon too far into the sky, or moved down across it and showed too much water, you just shut your eyes and then it didn't matter; and the sun shone warm and steady on your face, and the wind tickled the tassel on the top of your German-knitted cap, and Mr. Twist came and read aloud to you, which sent you to sleep quicker than anything you had ever known.
The book he read out of and carried about with him his pocket was called "Masterpieces You Must Master," and was an American collection of English poetry, professing in its preface to be a Short Cut to Culture; and he would read with what at that time, it being new to them, seemed to the twins a strange exotic pronunciation, Wordsworth's "Ode to Dooty," and the effect was as if someone should dig a majestic Gregorian psalm in its ribs, and make it leap and giggle.
Anna-Rose, who had no reason to shut her eyes, for she didn't mind what the ship's rail did with the horizon, opened them very round when first Mr. Twist started on his Masterpieces. She was used to hearing them read by her mother in the adorable husky voice that sent such thrills through one, but she listened with the courtesy and final gratitude due to the efforts to entertain her of so amiable a friend, and only the roundness of her eyes showed her astonishment at this waltzing round, as it appeared to her, of Mr. Twist with the Stern Daughter of the Voice of God. He also read "Lycidas" to her, that same "Lycidas" Uncle Arthur took for a Derby winner, and only Anna-Rose's politeness enabled her to refrain from stopping up her ears. As it was, she fidgeted to the point of having to explain, on Mr. Twist's pausing to gaze at her questioningly through the smoke-coloured spectacles he wore on deck, which made him look so like a gigantic dragon-fly, that it was because her deck-chair was so very much harder than she was.
Anna-Felicitas, who considered that, if these things were short-cuts to anywhere, seeing she knew them all by heart she must have long ago got there, snoozed complacently. Sometimes for a few moments she would drop off really to sleep, and then her mouth would fall open, which worried Anna-Rose, who couldn't bear her to look even for a moment less beautiful than she knew she was, so that she fidgeted more than ever, unable, pinned down by politeness and the culture being administered, to make her shut her mouth and look beautiful again by taking and shaking her. Also Anna-Felicitas had a trick of waking up suddenly and forgetting to be polite, as one does when first one wakes up and hasn't had time to remember one is a lady. "To-morrow to fresh woods and pastures noo," Mr. Twist would finish, for instance, with a sort of gulp of satisfaction at having swallowed yet another solid slab of culture; and Anna-Felicitas, returning suddenly to consciousness, would murmur, with her eyes still shut and her head lolling limply, things like, "After all, it does rhyme with blue. I wonder why, then, one still doesn't like it."
Then Mr. Twist would turn his spectacles towards her in mild inquiry, and Anna-Rose, as always, would rush in and elaborately explain what Anna-Felicitas meant, which was so remote from anything resembling what she had said that Mr. Twist looked more mildly inquiring than ever.
Usually Anna-Felicitas didn't contradict Anna-Rose, being too sleepy or too lazy, but sometimes she did, and then Anna-Rose got angry, and would get what the Germans call a red head and look at Anna-Felicitas very severely and say things, and Mr. Twist would close his book and watch with that alert, cocked-up-ear look of a sympathetic and highly interested terrier; but sooner or later the ship would always give a roll, and AnnaFelicitas would shut her eyes and fade to paleness and become the helpless bundle of sickness that nobody could possibly go on being severe with.
The passengers in the second class were more generally friendly than those in the first class. The first class sorted itself out into little groups, and whispered about each other, as Anna-Rose observed, watching their movements across the rope that separated her from them. The second class remained to the end one big group, frayed out just a little at the edge in one or two places.
The chief fraying out was where the Twinkler kids, as the second-class young men, who knew no better, dared to call them, interrupted the circle by talking apart with Mr. Twist. Mr. Twist had no business there. He was a plutocrat of the first class; but in spite of the regulations which cut off the classes from communicating, with a view apparently to the continued sanitariness of the first class, the implication being that the second class was easily infectious and probably overrun, there he was every day and several times in every day. He must have heavily squared the officials, the second-class young men thought until the day when Mr. Twist let it somehow be understood that he had known the Twinkler young ladies for years, dandled them in their not very remote infancy on his already full-grown knee, and had been specially appointed to look after them on this journey.
Mr. Twist did not specify who had appointed him, except to the Twinkler young ladies themselves, and to them he announced that it was no less a thing, being, or creature, than Providence. The second-class young men, therefore, in spite of their rising spirits as danger lay further behind, and their increasing tendency, peculiar to those who go on ships, to become affectionate, found themselves no further on in acquaintance with the Misses Twinkler the last day of the voyage than they had been the first. Not that, under any other conditions, they would have so much as noticed the existence of the Twinkler kids. In their blue caps, pulled down tight to their eyebrows and hiding every trace of hair, they looked like bald babies. They never came to meals; their assiduous guardian, or whatever he was, feeding them on deck with the care of a mother-bird for its fledglings, so that nobody except the two German ladies in their cabin had seen them without the caps. The young men put them down as half-grown only, somewhere about fourteen they thought, and nothing but what, if they were boys instead of girls, would have been called louts.
Still, a ship is a ship, and it is wonderful what can be managed in the way of dalliance if one is shut up on one long enough; and the Misses Twinkler, in spite of their loutishness, their apparent baldness, and their constant round-eyed solemnity, would no doubt have been the objects of advances before New York was reached if it hadn't been for Mr. Twist. There wasn't a girl under forty in the second class on that voyage, the young men resentfully pointed out to each other, except these two kids who were too much under it, and a young lady of thirty who sat manicuring her nails most of the day with her back supported by a life-boat, and polishing them with red stuff till they flashed rosily in the sun. This young lady was avoided for the first two days, while the young men still remembered their mothers, because of what she looked like; but was greatly loved for the rest of the voyage precisely for that reason.
Still, every one couldn't get near her. She was only one; and there were at least a dozen active, cooped-up young men taking lithe, imprisoned exercise in long, swift steps up and down the deck, ready for any sort of enterprise, bursting with energy and sea-air and spirits. So that at last the left-overs, those of the young men the lady of the rosy nails was less kind to, actually in their despair attempted ghastly flirtations with the two German ladies. They approached them with a kind of angry amorousness. They tucked them up roughly in rugs. They brought them cushions as though they were curses. And it was through this rapprochement, in the icy warmth of which the German ladies expanded like bulky flowers and grew at least ten years younger, the ten years they shed being their most respectable ones, that the ship became aware of the nationality of the Misses Twinkler.
The German ladies were not really German, as they explained directly there were no more submarines about, for a good woman, they said, becomes automatically merged into her husband, and they, therefore, were merged into Americans, both of them, and as loyal as you could find, but the Twinklers were the real thing, they said,—real, unadulterated, arrogant Junkers, which is why they wouldn't talk to anybody; for no Junker, said the German ladies, thinks anybody good enough to be talked to except another Junker. The German ladies themselves had by sheer luck not been born Junkers. They had missed it very narrowly, but they had missed it, for which they were very thankful seeing what believers they were, under the affectionate manipulation of their husbands, in democracy; but they came from the part of Germany where Junkers most abound, and knew the sort of thing well.
It seemed to Mr. Twist, who caught scraps of conversation as he came and went, that in the cabin the Twinklers must have alienated sympathy. They had. They had done more; they had got themselves actively disliked.
From the first moment when Anna-Rose had dared to peep into their shrouded bunks the ladies had been prejudiced, and this prejudice had later flared up into a great and justified dislike. The ladies, to begin with, hadn't known that they were von Twinklers, but had supposed them mere Twinklers, and the von, as every German knows, makes all the difference, especially in the case of Twinklers, who, without it, were a race, the ladies knew, of small shopkeepers, laundresses and postmen in the Westphalian district, but with it were one of the oldest families in Prussia; known to all Germans; possessed of a name ensuring subservience wherever it went.
In this stage of preliminary ignorance the ladies had treated the two apparently ordinary Twinklers with the severity their conduct, age, and obvious want of means deserved; and when, goaded by their questionings, the smaller and more active Twinkler had let out her von at them much as one lets loose a dog when one is alone and weak against the attacks of an enemy, instead of falling in harmoniously with the natural change of attitude of the ladies, which became immediately perfectly polite and conciliatory, as well as motherly in its interest and curiosity, the two young Junkers went dumb. They would have nothing to do with the most motherly questioning. And just in proportion as the German ladies found themselves full of eager milk of kindness, only asking to be permitted to nourish, so did they find themselves subsequently, after a day or two of such uncloaked repugnance to it, left with quantities of it useless on their hands and all going sour.
From first to last the Twinklers annoyed them. As plain Twinklers they had been tiresome in a hundred ways in the cabin, and as von Twinklers they were intolerable in their high-nosed indifference.
It had naturally been expected by the elder ladies at the beginning of the journey, that two obscure Twinklers of such manifest youth should rise politely and considerately each morning very early, and get themselves dressed and out of the way in at the most ten minutes, leaving the cabin clear for the slow and careful putting together bit by bit of that which ultimately emerged a perfect specimen of a lady of riper years, but the weedy Twinkler insisted on lying in her berth so late that if the ladies wished to be in time for the best parts of breakfast, which they naturally and passionately did wish, they were forced to dress in her presence, which was most annoying and awkward.
It is true she lay with closed eyes, apparently apathetic, but you never know with persons of that age. Experience teaches not to trust them. They shut their eyes, and yet seem, later on, to have seen; they apparently sleep, and afterwards are heard asking their spectacled American friend what people do on a ship, a place of so much gustiness, if their hair gets blown off into the sea. Also the weedy one had a most tiresome trick of being sick instantly every time Odol was used, or a little brandy was drunk. Odol is most refreshing; it has a lovely smell, without which no German bedroom is complete. And the brandy was not common schnaps, but an old expensive brandy that, regarded as a smell, was a credit to anybody's cabin.
The German ladies would have persisted, and indeed did persist in using Odol and drinking a little brandy, indifferent to the feeble prayer from the upper berth which floated down entreating them not to, but in their own interests they were forced to give it up. The objectionable child did not pray a second time; she passed immediately from prayer to performance. Of two disagreeables wise women choose the lesser, but they remain resentful.
The other Twinkler, the small active one, did get up early and take herself off, but she frequently mixed up her own articles of toilet with those belonging to the ladies, and would pin up her hair, preparatory to washing her face, with their hairpins.
When they discovered this they hid them, and she, not finding any, having come to the end of her own, lost no time in irresolution but picked up their nail-scissors and pinned up her pigtails with that.
It was a particularly sacred pair of nail-scissors that almost everything blunted. To use them for anything but nails was an outrage, but the grossest outrage was to touch them at all. When they told her sharply that the scissors were very delicate and she was instantly to take them out of her hair, she tugged them out in a silence that was itself impertinent, and pinned up her pigtails with their buttonhook instead.
Then they raised themselves on their elbows in their berths and asked her what sort of a bringing up she could have had, and they raised their voices as well, for though they were grateful, as they later on declared, for not having been born Junkers, they had nevertheless acquired by practice in imitation some of the more salient Junker characteristics."You are salop," said the upper berth lady,—which is untranslatable, not on grounds of propriety but of idiom. It is not, however, a term of praise. "Yes, that is what you are—salop," echoed the lower berth lady. "And your sister is salop too—lying in bed till all hours." "It is shameful for girls to be salop," said the upper berth. "I didn't know it was your buttonhook. I thought it was ours," said Anna-Rose, pulling this out too with vehemence. "That is because you are salop," said the lower berth. "And I didn't know it wasn't our scissors either." "Salop, salop," said the lower berth, beating her hand on the wooden edge of her bunk. "And—and I'm sorry."
Anna-Rose's face was very red. She didn't look sorry, she looked angry. And so she was; but it was with herself, for having failed in discernment and grown-upness. She ought to have noticed that the scissors and buttonhook were not hers. She had pounced on them with the ill-considered haste of twelve years old. She hadn't been a lady,—she whose business it was to be an example and mainstay to Anna-Felicitas, in all things going first, showing her the way.
She picked up the sponge and plunged it into the water, and was just going to plunge her annoyed and heated face in after it when the upper berth lady said: "Your mother should be ashamed of herself to have brought you up so badly.""And send you off like this before she has taught you even the ABC of manners," said the lower berth. "Evidently," said the upper berth, "she can have none herself." "Evidently," said the lower berth, "she is herself salop."
The sponge, dripping with water, came quickly out of the basin in Anna-Rose's clenched fist. For one awful instant she stood there in her nightgown, like some bird of judgment poised for dreadful flight, her eyes flaming, her knotted pigtails bristling on the top of her head.
The wet sponge twitched in her hand. The ladies did not realize the significance of that twitching, and continued to offer large angry faces as a target. One of the faces would certainly have received the sponge and Anna-Rose have been disgraced for ever, if it hadn't been for the prompt and skilful intervention of Anna-Felicitas.
For Anna-Felicitas, roused from her morning languor by the unusual loudness of the German ladies' voices, and smitten into attention and opening of her eyes, heard the awful things they were saying and saw the sponge. Instantly she knew, seeing it was Anna-Rose who held it, where it would be in another second, and hastily putting out a shaking little hand from her top berth, caught hold feebly but obstinately of the upright ends of Anna-Rose's knotted pigtails."I'm going to be sick," she announced with great presence of mind and entire absence of candour.
She knew, however, that she only had to sit up in order to be sick, and the excellent child—das gute Kind, as her father used to call her because she, so conveniently from the parental point of view, invariably never wanted to be or do anything particularly— without hesitation sacrificed herself in order to save her sister's honour, and sat up and immediately was.
By the time Anna-Rose had done attending to her, all fury had died out. She never could see Anna Felicitas lying back pale and exhausted after one of these attacks without forgiving her and everybody else everything.
She climbed up on the wooden steps to smoothe her pillow and tuck her blanket round her, and when Anna-Felicitas, her eyes shut, murmured, "Christopher—don't mind them—" and she suddenly realized, for they never called each other by those names except in great moments of emotion when it was necessary to cheer and encourage, what Anna-Felicitas had saved her from, and that it had been done deliberately, she could only whisper back, because she was so afraid of crying, "No, no, Columbus dear—of course—who really cares about them—" and came down off the steps with no fight left in her.
Also the wrath of the ladies was considerably assuaged. They had retreated behind their curtains until the so terribly unsettled Twinkler should be quiet again, and when once more they drew them a crack apart in order to keep an eye on what the other one might be going to do next and saw her doing nothing except, with meekness, getting dressed, they merely inquired what part of Westphalia she came from, and only in the tone they asked it did they convey that whatever part it was, it was anyhow a contemptible one."We don't come from Westphalia," said Anna-Rose, bristling a little, in spite of herself, at their persistent baiting. Anna-Felicitas listened in cold anxiousness. She didn't want to have to be sick again. She doubted whether she could bear it. "You must come from somewhere," said the lower berth, "and being a Twinkler it must be Westphalia." "We don't really," said Anna-Rose, mindful of Anna-Felicitas's words and making a great effort to speak politely. "We come from England." "England!" cried the lower berth, annoyed by this quibbling. "You were born in Westphalia. All Twinklers are born in Westphalia." "Invariably they are," said the upper berth. "The only circumstance that stops them is if their mothers happen to be temporarily absent." "But we weren't, really," said Anna-Rose, continuing her efforts to remain bland. "Are you pretending—pretending to us," said the lower berth lady, again beating her hand on the edge of her bunk, "that you are not German?"
"Our father was German," said Anna-Rose, driven into a corner, "but I don't suppose he is now. I shouldn't think he'd want to go on being one directly he got to a really neutral place."
"Has he fled his country?" inquired the lower berth sternly, scenting what she had from the first suspected, something sinister in the Twinkler background.
"I suppose one might call it that," said Anna-Rose after a pause of consideration, tying her shoe-laces.
She took her cap off its hook and adjusted it over her hair with a deliberation intended to assure Anna-Felicitas that she was remaining calm. "Except that it wasn't from Westphalia he flew, but Prussia," she said."Prussia?" cried the ladies as one woman, again rising themselves on their elbows. "That's where our father lived," said Anna-Rose, staring at them in her surprise at their surprise. "So of course, as he lived there, when he died he did that there too." "Prussia?" cried the ladies again. "He died? You said your father fled his country." "No. You said that," said Anna-Rose. She gave her cap a final tug down over her ears and turned to the door. She felt as if she quite soon again in spite of Anna-Felicitas, might not be able to be a lady. "After all, it is what you do when you go to heaven," she said as she opened the door, unable to resist, according to her custom, having the last word. "But Prussia?" they still cried, still button-holing her, as it were, from afar. "Then—you were born in Prussia?" "Yes, but we couldn't help it," said Anna-Rose; and shut the door quickly behind her.
Mr. Twist, who was never able to be anything but kind—he had the most amiable mouth and chin in the world, and his name was Edward—took a lively interest in the plans and probable future of the two Annas. He also took a lively and solicitous interest in their present, and a profoundly sympathetic one in their past. In fact, their three tenses interested him to the exclusion of almost everything else, and his chief desire was to see them safely through any shoals there might be waiting them in the shape of Uncle Arthur's friends—he distrusted Uncle Arthur, and therefore his friends—into the safe and pleasant waters of real American hospitality and kindliness.
He knew that such waters abounded for those who could find the tap. He reminded himself of that which he had been taught since childhood, of the mighty heart of America which, once touched, would take persons like the twins right in and never let them out again. But it had to be touched. It had, as it were, to be put in connection with them by means of advertisement. America, he reflected, was a little deaf. She had to be shouted to. But once she heard, once she thoroughly grasped ...
He cogitated much in his cabin—one with a private bathroom, for Mr. Twist had what Aunt Alice called ample means—on these two defenceless children. If they had been Belgians now, or Serbians, or any persons plainly in need of relief! As it was, America would be likely, he feared, to consider that either Germany or England ought to be looking after them, and might conceivably remain chilly and uninterested.
Uncle Arthur, it appeared, hadn't many friends in America, and those he had didn't like him. At least that was what Mr. Twist gathered from the conversation of Anna-Rose. She didn't positively assert but she very candidly conjectured, and Mr. Twist could quite believe that Uncle Arthur's friends wouldn't be warm ones. Their hospitality he could imagine fleeting and perfunctory. They would pass on the Twinklers as soon as possible, as indeed why should they not? And presently some dreary small job would be found for them, some job as pupil-teacher or girls' companion in the sterile atmosphere of a young ladies' school.
As much as a man of habitually generous impulses could dislike, Mr. Twist disliked Uncle Arthur. Patriotism was nothing at any time to Mr. Twist compared to humanity, and Uncle Arthur's particular kind of patriotism was very odious to him. To wreak it on these two poor aliens! Mr. Twist had no words for it. They had been cut adrift at a tender age, an age Mr. Twist, as a disciplined American son and brother, was unable to regard unmoved, and packed off over the sea indifferent to what might happen to them so long as Uncle Arthur knew nothing about it. Having flung these kittens into the water to swim or drown, so long as he didn't have to listen to their cries while they were doing it, Uncle Arthur apparently cared nothing.
All Mr. Twist's chivalry, of which there was a great deal, rose up within him at the thought of Uncle Arthur. He wanted to go and ask him what he meant by such conduct, and earnestly inquire of him whether he called himself a man; but as he knew he couldn't do this, being on a ship heading for New York, he made up for it by taking as much care of the ejected nieces as if he were an uncle himself,—but the right sort of uncle, the sort you have in America, the sort that regards you as a sacred and precious charge.
In his mind's eye Mr. Twist saw Uncle Arthur as a typical bullying, red-necked Briton, with short side-whiskers. He pictured him under-sized and heavy-footed, trudging home from golf through the soppy green fields of England to his trembling household. He was quite disconcerted one day to discover from something Anna-Rose said that he was a tall man, and not fat at all, except in one place."Indeed," said Mr. Twist, hastily rearranging his mind's-eye view of Uncle Arthur. "He goes fat suddenly," said Anna-Felicitas, waking from one of her dozes. "As though he had swallowed a bomb, and it had stuck when it got to his waistcoat." "If you can imagine it," added Anna-Rose politely, ready to explain and describe further if required.
But Mr. Twist could imagine it. He readjusted his picture of Uncle Arthur, and this time got him right,—the tall, not bad-looking man, clean-shaven and with more hair a great deal than he, Mr. Twist, had. He had thought of him as an old ruffian; he now perceived that he could be hardly more than middle-aged and that Aunt Alice, a lady for whom he felt an almost painful sympathy, had a lot more of Uncle Arthur to get through before she was done.
"Yes," said Anna-Rose, accepting the word middle-aged as correct. "Neither of his ends looks much older than yours do. He's aged in the middle. That's the only place. Where the bomb is."
"I suppose that's why it's called middle-aged," said Anna-Felicitas dreamily. "One middle-ages first, and from there it just spreads. It must be queer," she added pensively, "to watch oneself gradually rotting."
These were the sorts of observations, Mr. Twist felt, that might prejudice his mother against the twins If they could be induced not to say most of the things they did say when in her presence, he felt that his house, of all houses in America, should be offered them as a refuge whenever they were in need of one. But his mother was not, he feared, very adaptable. In her house—it was legally his, but it never felt as if it were— people adapted themselves to her. He doubted whether the twins could or would. Their leading characteristic, he had observed, was candour. They had no savoir faire. They seemed incapable of anything but naturalness, and their particular type of naturalness was not one, he was afraid, that his mother would understand.
She had not been out of her New England village, a place called briefly, with American economy of time, Clark, for many years, and her ideal of youthful femininity was still that which she had been herself. She had, if unconsciously, tried to mould Mr. Twist also on these lines, in spite of his being a boy, and owing to his extreme considerateness had not yet discovered her want of success. For years, indeed, she had been completely successful, and Mr. Twist arrived at and embarked on adolescence with the manners and ways of thinking of a perfect lady.
Till he was nineteen he was educated at home, as it were at his mother's knee, at any rate within reach of that sacred limb, and she had taught him to reverence women; the reason given, or rather conveyed, being that he had had and still was having a mother. Which he was never to forget. In hours of temptation. In hours of danger. Mr. Twist, with his virginal white mind, used to wonder when the hours of temptation and of danger would begin, and rather wish, in the elegant leisure of his half-holidays, that they soon would so that he might show how determined he was to avoid them.
For the ten years from his father's death till he went to Harvard, he lived with his mother and sister and was their assiduous attendant. His mother took the loss of his father badly. She didn't get over it, as widows sometimes do, and grow suddenly ten years younger. The sight of her, so black and broken, of so daily recurring a patience, of such frequent deliberate brightening for the sake of her children, kept Mr. Twist, as he grew up, from those thoughts which sometimes occur to young men and have to do with curves and dimples. He was too much absorbed by his mother to think on such lines. He was flooded with reverence and pity. Through her, all women were holy to him. They were all mothers, either actual or to be—after, of course, the proper ceremonies. They were all people for whom one leapt up and opened doors, placed chairs out of draughts, and fetched black shawls. On warm spring days, when he was about eighteen, he told himself earnestly that it would be a profanity, a terrible secret sinning, to think amorously—yes, he supposed the word was amorously—while there under his eyes, pervading his days from breakfast to bedtime, was that mourning womanhood, that lopped life, that example of brave doing without any hope or expectation except what might be expected or hoped from heaven. His mother was wonderful the way she bore things. There she was, with nothing left to look forward to in the way of pleasures except the resurrection, yet she did not complain.
But after he had been at Harvard a year a change came over Mr. Twist. Not that he did not remain dutiful and affectionate, but he perceived that it was possible to peep round the corners of his mother, the rock-like corners that had so long jutted out between him and the view, and on the other side there seemed to be quite a lot of interesting things going on. He continued, however, only to eye most of them from afar, and the nearest he got to temptation while at Harvard was to read "Madame Bovary."
After Harvard he was put into an engineering firm, for the Twists only had what would in English money be five thousand pounds a year, and belonged therefore, taking dollars as the measure of standing instead of birth, to the middle classes. Aunt Alice would have described such an income as ample means; Mrs. Twist called it straitened circumstances, and lived accordingly in a condition of perpetual self-sacrifice and doings without. She had a car, but it was only a car, not a Pierce-Arrow; and there was a bathroom to every bedroom, but there were only six bedrooms; and the house stood on a hill and looked over the most beautiful woods, but they were somebody else's woods. She felt, as she beheld the lives of those of her neighbours she let her eyes rest on, who were the millionaires dotted round about the charming environs of Clark, that she was indeed a typical widow,—remote, unfriended, melancholy, poor.
Mrs. Twist might feel poor, but she was certainly comfortable. It was her daughter Edith's aim in life to secure for her the comfort and leisure necessary for any grief that wishes to be thorough. The house was run beautifully by Edith. There were three servants, of whom Edith was one. She was the lady's maid, the head cook, and the family butler. And Mr. Twist, till he went to Harvard, might be described as the pageboy, and afterwards in his vacations as the odd man about the house. Everything centred round their mother. She made a good deal of work, because of being so anxious not to give trouble. She wouldn't get out of the way of evil, but bleakly accepted it. She wouldn't get out of a draught, but sat in it till one or other of her children remembered they hadn't shut the door. When the inevitable cold was upon her and she was lamentably coughing, she would mention the door for the first time, and quietly say she hadn't liked to trouble them to shut it, they had seemed so busy with their own affairs.
But after he had been in the engineering firm a little while, a further change came over Mr. Twist. He was there to make money, more money, for his mother. The first duty of an American male had descended on him. He wished earnestly to fulfil it creditably, in spite of his own tastes being so simple that his income of £5000—it was his, not his mother's, but it didn't feel as if it were—would have been more than sufficient for him. Out of engineering, then, was he to wrest all the things that might comfort his mother. He embarked on his career with as determined an expression on his mouth as so soft and friendly a mouth could be made to take, and he hadn't been in it long before he passed out altogether beyond the line of thinking his mother had laid down for him, and definitely grew up.
The office was in New York, far enough away from Clark for him to be at home only for the Sundays. His mother put him to board with her brother Charles, a clergyman, the rector of the Church of Angelic Refreshment at the back of Tenth Street, and the teapot out of which Uncle Charles poured his tea at his hurried and uncomfortable meals—for he practised the austerities and had no wife—dribbled at its spout. Hold it as carefully as one might it dribbled at its spout, and added to the confused appearance of the table by staining the cloth afresh every time it was used.
Mr. Twist, who below the nose was nothing but kindliness and generosity, his slightly weak chin, his lavishly-lipped mouth, being all amiability and affection, above the nose was quite different. In the middle came his nose, a nose that led him to improve himself, to read and meditate the poets, to be tenacious in following after the noble; and above were eyes in which simplicity sat side by side with appreciation; and above these was the forehead like a dome; and behind this forehead were inventions.
He had not been definitely aware that he was inventive till he came into daily contact with Uncle Charles's teapot. In his boyhood he had often fixed up little things for Edith,—she was three years older than he, and was even then canning and preserving and ironing,—little simplifications and alleviations of her labour; but they had been just toys, things that had amused him to put together and that he forgot as soon as they were done. But the teapot revealed to him clearly what his forehead was there for. He would not and could not continue, being the soul of considerateness, to spill tea on Uncle Charles's table-cloth at every meal—they had tea at breakfast, and at luncheon, and at supper—and if he were thirsty he spilled it several times at every meal. For a long time he coaxed the teapot. He was thoughtful with it. He handled it with the most delicate precision. He gave it time. He never hurried it. He never filled it more than half full. And yet at the end of every pouring, out came the same devastating dribble on to the cloth.Then he went out and bought another teapot, one of a different pattern, with a curved spout instead of a straight one. The same thing happened.
Then he went to Wanamaker's, and spent an hour in the teapot section trying one pattern after the other, patiently pouring water, provided by a tipped but languid and supercilious assistant, out of each different make of teapot into cups.They all dribbled.
Then Mr. Twist went home and sat down and thought. He thought and thought, with his dome-like forehead resting on his long thin hand; and what came out of his forehead at last, sprang out of it as complete in every detail as Pallas Athene when she very similarly sprang, was that now well-known object on every breakfast table, Twist's NonTrickler Teapot.
In five years Mr. Twist made a fortune out of the teapot. His mother passed from her straitened circumstances to what she still would only call a modest competence, but what in England would have been regarded as wallowing in money. She left off being middle-class, and was received into the lower upper-class, the upper part of this upperclass being reserved for great names like Astor, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt. With these Mrs. Twist could not compete. She would no doubt some day, for Edward was only thirty and there were still coffee-pots; but what he was able to add to the family income helped her for a time to bear the loss of the elder Twist with less of bleakness in her resignation. It was as though an east wind veered round for a brief space a little to the south.
Being naturally, however, inclined to deprecation, when every other reason for it was finally removed by her assiduous son she once more sought out and firmly laid hold of the departed Twist, and hung her cherished unhappiness up on him again as if he were a peg. When the novelty of having a great many bedrooms instead of six, and a great deal of food not to eat but to throw away, and ten times of everything else instead of only once, began to wear off, Mrs. Twist drooped again, and pulled the departed Twist out of the decent forgetfulness of the past, and he once more came to dinner in the form of his favourite dishes, and assisted in the family conversations by means of copious quotations from his alleged utterances.
Mr. Twist's income was anything between sixty and seventy thousand pounds a year by the time the war broke out. Having invented and patented the simple device that kept the table-cloths of America, and indeed of Europe, spotless, all he had to do was to receive his percentages; sit still, in fact, and grow richer. But so much had he changed since his adolescence that he preferred to stick to his engineering and his office in New York rather than go home and be happy with his mother.
She could not understand this behaviour in Edward. She understood his behaviour still less when he went off to France in 1915, himself equipping and giving the ambulance he drove.
For a year his absence, and the dangers he was running, divided Mrs. Twist's sorrows into halves. Her position as a widow with an only son in danger touched the imagination of Clark, and she was never so much called upon as during this year. Now Edward was coming home for a rest, and there was a subdued flutter about her, rather like the stirring of the funeral plumes on the heads of hearse-horses.
While he was crossing the Atlantic and Red-Crossing the Twinklers—this was one of Anna-Felicitas's epigrams and she tried Anna-Rose's patience severely by asking her not once but several times whether she didn't think it funny, whereas Anna-Rose disliked it from the first because of the suggestion it contained that Mr. Twist regarded what he did for them as works of mercy—while Mr. Twist was engaged in these activities, at his home in Clark all the things Edith could think of that he used most to like to eat were being got ready. There was an immense slaughtering of chickens, and baking and churning. Edith, who being now the head servant of many instead of three was more than double as hard-worked as she used to be, was on her feet those last few days without stopping. And she had to go and meet Edward in New York as well. Whether Mrs. Twist feared that he might not come straight home or whether it was what she said it was, that dear Edward must not be the only person on the boat who had no one to meet him, is not certain; what is certain is that when it came to the point, and Edith had to start, Mrs. Twist had difficulty in maintaining her usual brightness.
Edith would be a whole day away, and perhaps a night if the St. Luke got in late, for Clark is five hours' train journey from New York, and during all that time Mrs. Twist would be uncared for. She thought Edith surprisingly thoughtless to be so much pleased to go. She examined her flat and sinewy form with disapproval when she came in hatted and booted to say good-bye. No wonder nobody married Edith. And the money wouldn't help her either now—she was too old. She had missed her chances, poor thing.
Mrs. Twist forgot the young man there had been once, years before, when Edward was still in the school room, who had almost married Edith. He was a lusty and enterprising young man, who had come to Clark to stay with a neighbour, and he had had nothing to do through a long vacation, and had taken to dropping in at all hours and interrupting Edith in her housekeeping; and Edith, even then completely flat but of a healthy young uprightness and bright of eyes and hair, had gone silly and forgotten how to cook, and had given her mother, who surely had enough sorrows already, an attack of indigestion.
Mrs. Twist, however, had headed the young man off. Edith was too necessary to her at that time. She could not possibly lose Edith. And besides, the only way to avoid being a widow is not to marry. She told herself that she could not bear the thought of poor Edith's running the risk of an affliction similar to her own. If one hasn't a husband one cannot lose him, Mrs. Twist clearly saw. If Edith married she would certainly lose him unless he lost her. Marriage had only two solutions, she explained to her silent daughter,—she would not, of course, discuss with her that third one which America has so often flown to for solace and relief,—only two, said Mrs. Twist, and they were that either one died oneself, which wasn't exactly a happy thing, or the other one did. It was only a question of time before one of the married was left alone to mourn. Marriage began rosily no doubt, but it always ended black. "And think of my having to see you like this" she said, with a gesture indicating her sad dress.
Edith was intimidated; and the young man presently went away whistling. He was the only one. Mrs. Twist had no more trouble. He passed entirely from her mind; and as she looked at Edith dressed for going to meet Edward in the clothes she went to church in on Sundays, she unconsciously felt a faint contempt for a woman who had had so much time to get married in and yet had never achieved it. She herself had been married at twenty; and her hair even now, after all she had gone through, was hardly more gray than Edith's.
"Your hat's crooked," she said, when Edith straightened herself after bending down to kiss her good-bye; and then, after all unable to bear the idea of being left alone while Edith, with that pleased face, went off to New York to see Edward before she did, she asked her, if she still had a minute to spare, to help her to the sofa, because she felt faint.
"I expect the excitement has been too much for me," she murmured, lying down and shutting her eyes; and Edith, disciplined in affection and attentiveness, immediately took off her hat and settled down to getting her mother well again in time for Edward.Which is why nobody met Mr. Twist on his arrival in New York, and he accordingly did things, as will be seen, which he mightn't otherwise have done.