Christopher and Columbus by Countess Elizabeth Von Arnim - HTML preview
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.
When the St. Luke was so near its journey's end that people were packing up, and the word Nantucket was frequent in the scraps of talk the twins heard, they woke up from the unworried condition of mind Mr. Twist's kindness and the dreamy monotony of the days had produced in them, and began to consider their prospects with more attention. This attention soon resulted in anxiety. Anna-Rose showed hers by being irritable. Anna-Felicitas didn't show hers at all.
It was all very well, so long as they were far away from America and never quite sure that a submarine mightn't settle their future for them once and for all, to feel big, vague, heroic things about a new life and a new world and they two Twinklers going to conquer it; but when the new world was really upon them, and the new life, with all the multitudinous details that would have to be tackled, going to begin in a few hours, their hearts became uneasy and sank within them. England hadn't liked them. Suppose America didn't like them either? Uncle Arthur hadn't liked them. Suppose Uncle Arthur's friends didn't like them either? Their hearts sank to, and remained in, their boots.
Round Anna-Rose's waist, safely concealed beneath her skirt from what Anna-Felicitas called the predatory instincts of their fellow-passengers, was a chamois-leather bag containing their passports, a letter to the bank where their £200 was, a letter to those friends of Uncle Arthur's who were to be tried first, a letter to those other friends of his who were to be the second line of defence supposing the first one failed, and ten pounds in two £5 notes.
Uncle Arthur, grievously grumbling, and having previously used in bed most of those vulgar words that made Aunt Alice so miserable, had given Anna-Rose one of the £5 notes for the extra expenses of the journey till, in New York, she should be able to draw on the £200, though what expenses there could be for a couple of girls whose passage was paid Uncle Arthur was damned, he alleged, if he knew; and Aunt Alice had secretly added the other. This was all Anna-Rose's ready money, and it would have to be changed into dollars before reaching New York so as to be ready for emergencies on arrival. She judged from the growing restlessness of the passengers that it would soon be time to go and change it. How many dollars ought she to get?
Mr. Twist was absent, packing his things. She ought to have asked him long ago, but they seemed so suddenly to have reached the end of their journey. Only yesterday there was the same old limitless sea everywhere, the same old feeling that they were never going to arrive. Now the waves had all gone, and one could actually see land. The New World. The place all their happiness or unhappiness would depend on.
She laid hold of Anna-Felicitas, who was walking about just as if she had never been prostrate on a deck-chair in her life, and was going to say something appropriate and encouraging on the Christopher and Columbus lines; but Anna-Felicitas, who had been pondering the £5 notes problem, wouldn't listen."A dollar," said Anna-Felicitas, worrying it out, "isn't like a shilling or a mark, but on the other hand neither is it like a pound." "No," said Anna-Rose, brought back to her immediate business. "It's four times more than one, and five times less than the other," said Anna-Felicitas. "That's how you've got to count. That's what Aunt Alice said."
"Yes. And then there's the exchange," said Anna-Rose, frowning. "As if it wasn't complicated enough already, there's the exchange. Uncle Arthur said we weren't to forget that."
Anna-Felicitas wanted to know what was meant by the exchange, and Anna-Rose, unwilling to admit ignorance to Anna-Felicitas, who had to be kept in her proper place, especially when one was just getting to America and she might easily become above herself, said that it was something that varied. ("The exchange, you know, varies," Uncle Arthur had said when he gave her the £5 note. "You must keep your eye on the variations." Anna-Rose was all eagerness to keep her eye on them, if only she had known what and where they were. But one never asked questions of Uncle Arthur. His answers, if one did, were confined to expressions of anger and amazement that one didn't, at one's age, already know.)"Oh," said Anna-Felicitas, for a moment glancing at Anna-Rose out of the corner of her eye, considerately not pressing her further. "I wish Mr. Twist would come," said Anna-Rose uneasily, looking in the direction he usually appeared from. "We won't always have him" remarked Anna-Felicitas. "I never said we would," said Anna-Rose shortly.
The young lady of the nails appeared at that moment in a hat so gorgeous that the twins stopped dead to stare. She had a veil on and white gloves, and looked as if she were going for a walk in Fifth Avenue the very next minute."Perhaps we ought to be getting ready too," said Anna-Felicitas. "Yes. I wish Mr. Twist would come—"
"Perhaps we'd better begin and practise not having Mr. Twist," said Anna-Felicitas, as one who addresses nobody specially and means nothing in particular.
"If anybody's got to practise that, it'll be you," said Anna-Rose. "There'll be no one to roll you up in rugs now, remember. I won't."
She was worried about the dollars. She was worried about the tipping, and the luggage, and the arrival, and Uncle Arthur's friends, whose names were Mr. and Mrs. Clouston K. Sack; so naturally she was irritable. One is. And nobody knew and understood this better than Anna-Felicitas.
"Let's go and put on our hats and get ready," she said, after a moment's pause during which she wondered whether, in the interests of Anna-Rose's restoration to calm, she mightn't have to be sick again. She did hope she wouldn't have to. She had supposed she had done with that. It is true there were now no waves, but she knew she had only to go near the engines and smell the oil. "Let's go and put on our hats," she suggested, slipping her hand through Anna-Rose's arm.
Anna-Rose let herself be led away, and they went to their cabin; and when they came out of it half an hour later, no longer with that bald look their caps had given them, the sun catching the little rings of pale gold hair that showed for the first time, and clad, instead of in the disreputable jerseys that they loved, in neat black coats and skirts—for they still wore mourning when properly dressed—with everything exactly as Aunt Alice had directed for their arrival, the young men of the second class could hardly believe their eyes."You'll excuse me saying so," said one of them to Anna-Felicitas as she passed him, "but you're looking very well to-day." "I expect that's because I am well," said Anna-Felicitas amiably. Mr. Twist, when he saw them, threw up his hands and ejaculated "My!"
"Yes," said Anna-Felicitas, who was herself puzzled by the difference the clothes had made in Anna-Rose after ten solid days of cap and jersey, "I think it's our hats. They do somehow seem very splendid.""Splendid?" echoed Mr. Twist. "Why, they'd make the very angels jealous, and get pulling off their haloes and kicking them over the edge of heaven."
"What is so wonderful is that Aunt Alice should ever have squeezed them out of Uncle Arthur," said Anna-Rose, gazing lost in admiration at Anna-Felicitas. "He didn't disgorge nice hats easily at all."
And one of the German ladies muttered to the other, as her eye fell on Anna-Felicitas, "Ja, ja, die hat Rasse."
And it was only because it was the other German lady's hair that spent the night in a different part of the cabin from her head and had been seen doing it by Anna-Felicitas, that she cavilled and was grudging. "Gewiss," she muttered back, "bis auf der Nase. Die Nase aber entfremdet mich. Die ist keine echte Junkernase."
So that the Twinklers had quite a success, and their hearts came a little way out of their boots; only a little way, though, for there were the Clouston K. Sacks looming bigger into their lives every minute now.
Really it was a beautiful day, and, as Aunt Alice used to say, that does make such a difference. A clear pale loveliness of light lay over New York, and there was a funny sprightliness in the air, a delicate dry crispness. The trees on the shore, when they got close, were delicate too—delicate pale gold, and green, and brown, and they seemed so composed and calm, the twins thought, standing there quietly after the upheavals and fidgetiness of the Atlantic. New York was well into the Fall, the time of year when it gets nearest to beauty. The beauty was entirely in the atmosphere, and the lights and shadows it made. It was like an exquisite veil flung over an ugly woman, hiding, softening, encouraging hopes.
Everybody on the ship was crowding eagerly to the sides. Everybody was exhilarated, and excited, and ready to be friendly and talkative. They all waved whenever another boat passed. Those who knew America pointed out the landmarks to those who didn't. Mr. Twist pointed them out to the twins, and so did the young man who had remarked favourably on Anna-Felicitas's looks, and as they did it simultaneously and there was so much to look at and so many boats to wave to, it wasn't till they had actually got to the statue of Liberty that Anna-Rose remembered her £10 and the dollars.The young man was saying how much the statue of Liberty had cost, and the word dollars made Anna-Rose turn with a jump to Mr. Twist.
"Oh," she exclaimed, clutching at her chamois leather bag where it very visibly bulged out beneath her waistband, "I forgot—I must get change. And how much do you think we ought to tip the stewardess? I've never tipped anybody yet ever, and I wish—I wish I hadn't to."
She got quite red. It seemed to her dreadful to offer money to someone so much older than herself and who till almost that very morning had treated her and Anna-Felicitas like the naughtiest of tiresome children. Surely she would be most offended at being tipped by people such years younger than herself?
Mr. Twist thought not. "A dollar," said the young man. "One dollar. That's the figure. Not a cent more, or you girls'll get inflating prices and Wall Street'll bust up."
Anna-Rose, not heeding him and clutching nervously the place where her bag was, told Mr. Twist that the stewardess hadn't seemed to mind them quite so much last night, and still less that morning, and perhaps some little memento—something that wasn't money—"Give her those caps of yours," said the young man, bursting into hilarity; but indeed it wasn't his fault that he was a low young man.
Mr. Twist, shutting him out of the conversation by interposing a shoulder, told AnnaRose he had noticed stewardesses, and also stewards, softened when journeys drew near their end, but that it didn't mean they wanted mementos. They wanted money; and he would do the tipping for her if she liked.
Anna-Rose jumped at it. This tipping of the stewardess had haunted her at intervals throughout the journey whenever she woke up at night. She felt that, not having yet in her life tipped anybody, it was very hard that she couldn't begin with somebody more her own size.
"Then if you don't mind coming behind the funnel," she said, "I can give you my £5 notes, and perhaps you would get them changed for me and deduct what you think the stewardess ought to have."
Mr. Twist, and also Anna-Felicitas, who wasn't allowed to stay behind with the exuberant young man though she was quite unconscious of his presence, went with Anna-Rose behind the funnel, where after a great deal of private fumbling, her back turned to them, she produced the two much-crumpled £5 notes."The steward ought to have something too," said Mr. Twist. "Oh, I'd be glad if you'd do him as well," said Anna-Rose eagerly. "I don't think I could offer him a tip. He has been so fatherly to us. And imagine offering to tip one's father."
Mr. Twist laughed, and said she would get over this feeling in time. He promised to do what was right, and to make it clear that the tips he bestowed were Twinkler tips; and presently he came back with messages of thanks from the tipped—such polite ones from the stewardess that the twins were astonished—and gave Anna-Rose a packet of very dirty-looking slices of green paper, which were dollar bills, he said, besides a variety of strange coins which he spread out on a ledge and explained to her.
"The exchange was favourable to you to-day," said Mr. Twist, counting out the money. "How nice of it," said Anna-Rose politely. "Did you keep your eye on its variations?" she added a little loudly, with a view to rousing respect in Anna-Felicitas who was lounging against a seat and showing a total absence of every kind of appropriate emotion."Certainly," said Mr. Twist after a slight pause. "I kept both my eyes on all of them."
Mr. Twist had, it appeared, presented the steward and stewardess each with a dollar on behalf of the Misses Twinkler, but because the exchange was so favourable this had made no difference to the £5 notes. Reducing each £5 note into German marks, which was the way the Twinklers, in spite of a year in England, still dealt in their heads with money before they could get a clear idea of it, there would have been two hundred marks; and as it took, roughly, four marks to make a dollar, the two hundred marks would have to be divided by four; which, leaving aside that extra complication of variations in the exchange, and regarding the exchange for a moment and for purposes of simplification as keeping quiet for a bit and resting, should produce, also roughly, said Anna-Rose a little out of breath as she got to the end of her calculation, fifty dollars."Correct," said Mr. Twist, who had listened with respectful attention. "Here they are." "I said roughly," said Anna-Rose. "It can't be exactly fifty dollars. The tips anyhow would alter that." "Yes, but you forget the exchange."
Anna-Rose was silent. She didn't want to go into that before Anna-Felicitas. Of the two, she was supposed to be the least bad at sums. Their mother had put it that way, refusing to say, as Anna-Rose industriously tried to trap her into saying, that she was the better of the two. But even so, the difference entitled her to authority on the subject with Anna-Felicitas, and by dint of doing all her calculations roughly, as she was careful to describe her method, she allowed room for withdrawal and escape where otherwise the inflexibility of figures might have caught her tight and held her down while AnnaFelicitas looked on and was unable to respect her.Evidently the exchange was something beneficent. She decided to rejoice in it in silence, accept whatever it did, and refrain from asking questions. "So I did. Of course. The exchange," she said, after a little.
She gathered up the dollar bills and began packing them into her bag. They wouldn't all go in, and she had to put the rest into her pocket, for which also there were too many; but she refused Anna-Felicitas's offer to put some of them in hers on the ground that sooner or later she would be sure to forget they weren't her handkerchief and would blow her nose with them.
"Thank you very much for being so kind," she said to Mr. Twist, as she stuffed her pocket full and tried by vigorous patting to get it to look inconspicuous. "We're never going to forget you, Anna-F. and me. We'll write to you often, and we'll come and see you as often as you like."
"Yes," said Anna-Felicitas dreamily, as she watched the shore of Long Island sliding past. "Of course you've got your relations, but relations soon pall, and you may be quite glad after a while of a little fresh blood."
Mr. Twist thought this very likely, and agreed with several other things Anna-Felicitas, generalizing from Uncle Arthur, said about relations, again with that air of addressing nobody specially and meaning nothing in particular, while Anna-Rose wrestled with the obesity of her pocket.
"Whether you come to see me or not," said Mr. Twist, whose misgivings as to the effect of the Twinklers on his mother grew rather than subsided, "I shall certainly come to see you."
"Perhaps Mr. Sack won't allow followers," said Anna-Felicitas, her eyes far away. "Uncle Arthur didn't. He wouldn't let the maids have any, so they had to go out and do the following themselves. We had a follower once, didn't we, Anna-R.?" she continued her voice pensive and reminiscent. "He was a friend of Uncle Arthur's. Quite old. At least thirty or forty. I shouldn't have thought he could follow. But he did. And he used to come home to tea with Uncle Arthur and produce boxes of chocolate for us out of his pockets when Uncle Arthur wasn't looking. We ate them and felt perfectly well disposed toward him till one day he tried to kiss one of us—I forget which. And that, combined with the chocolates, revealed him in his true colours as a follower, and we told him they weren't allowed in that house and urged him to go to some place where they were, or he would certainly be overtaken by Uncle Arthur's vengeance, and we said how surprised we were, because he was so old and we didn't know followers were as old as that ever."
"It seemed a very shady thing," said Anna-Rose, having subdued the swollenness of her pocket, "to eat his chocolates and then not want to kiss him, but we don't hold with kissing, Anna-F. and me. Still, we were full of his chocolates; there was no getting away from that. So we talked it over after he had gone, and decided that next day when he came we'd tell him he might kiss one of us if he still wanted to, and we drew lots which it was to be, and it was me, and I filled myself to the brim with chocolates so as to feel grateful enough to bear it, but he didn't come.""No," said Anna-Felicitas. "He didn't come again for a long while, and when he did there was no follow left in him. Quite the contrary."
Mr. Twist listened with the more interest to this story because it was the first time AnnaFelicitas had talked since he knew her. He was used to the inspiriting and voluble conversation of Anna-Rose who had looked upon him as her best friend since the day he had wiped up her tears; but Anna-Felicitas had been too unwell to talk. She had uttered languid and brief observations from time to time with her eyes shut and her head lolling loosely on her neck, but this was the first time she had been, as it were, an ordinary human being, standing upright on her feet, walking about, looking intelligently if pensively at the scenery, and in a condition of affable readiness, it appeared, to converse.
Mr. Twist was a born mother. The more trouble he was given the more attached he became. He had rolled Anna-Felicitas up in rugs so often that to be not going to roll her up any more was depressing to him. He was beginning to perceive this motherliness in him himself, and he gazed through his spectacles at Anna-Felicitas while she sketched the rise and fall of the follower, and wondered with an almost painful solicitude what her fate would be in the hands of the Clouston Sacks.
Equally he wondered as to the other one's fate; for he could not think of one Twinkler without thinking of the other. They were inextricably mixed together in the impression they had produced on him, and they dwelt together in his thoughts as one person called, generally, Twinklers. He stood gazing at them, his motherly instincts uppermost, his hearty yearning over them now that the hour of parting was so near and his carefully tended chickens were going to be torn from beneath his wing. Mr. Twist was domestic. He was affectionate. He would have loved, though he had never known it, the sensation of pattering feet about his house, and small hands clinging to the apron he would never wear. And it was entirely characteristic of him that his invention, the invention that brought him his fortune, should have had to do with a teapot.
But if his heart was uneasy within him at the prospect of parting from his charges their hearts were equally uneasy, though not in the same way. The very name of Clouston K. Sack was repugnant to Anna-Rose; and Anna-Felicitas, less quick at disliking, turned it over cautiously in her mind as one who turns over an unknown and distasteful object with the nose of his umbrella. Even she couldn't quite believe that any good thing could come out of a name like that, especially when it had got into their lives through Uncle Arthur. Mr. Twist had never heard of the Clouston Sacks, which made Anna-Rose still more distrustful. She wasn't in the least encouraged when he explained the bigness of America and that nobody in it ever knew everybody—she just said that everybody had heard of Mr. Roosevelt, and her heart was too doubtful within her even to mind being told, as he did immediately tell her within ear-shot of Anna-Felicitas, that her reply was unreasonable.
Just at the end, as they were all three straining their eyes, no one with more anxiety than Mr. Twist, to try and guess which of the crowd on the landing-stage were the Clouston Sacks, they passed on their other side the Vaterland, the great interned German liner at its moorings, and the young man who had previously been so very familiar, as Anna-Rose said, but who was only, Mr. Twist explained, being American, came hurrying boldly up.
"You mustn't miss this," he said to Anna-Felicitas, actually seizing her by the arm. "Here's something that'll make you feel home-like right away."
And he led her off, and would have dragged her off but for Anna-Felicitas's perfect nonresistance.
"He is being familiar," said Anna-Rose to Mr. Twist, turning very red and following quickly after him. "That's not just being American. Everybody decent knows that if there's any laying hold of people's arms to be done one begins with the eldest sister.""Perhaps he doesn't realize that you are the elder," said Mr. Twist. "Strangers judge, roughly, by size."
"I'm afraid I'm going to have trouble with her," said Anna-Rose, not heeding his consolations. "It isn't a sinecure, I assure you, being left sole guardian and protector of somebody as pretty as all that. And the worst of it is she's going on getting prettier. She hasn't nearly come to the end of what she can do in that direction. I see it growing on her. Every Sunday she's inches prettier than she was the Sunday before. And wherever I take her to live, and however out of the way it is, I'm sure the path to our front door is going to be black with suitors."This dreadful picture so much perturbed her, and she looked up at Mr. Twist with such worried eyes, that he couldn't refrain from patting her on her shoulder.
"There, there," said Mr. Twist, and he begged her to be sure to let him know directly she was in the least difficulty, or even perplexity,—"about the suitors, for instance, or anything else. You must let me be of some use in the world, you know," he said.
"But we shouldn't like it at all if we thought you were practising being useful on us," said Anna-Rose "It's wholly foreign to our natures to enjoy being the objects of anybody's philanthropy."
"Now I just wonder where you get all your long words from," said Mr. Twist soothingly; and Anna-Rose laughed, and there was only one dimple in the Twinkler family and Anna-Rose had got it.
"What do you want to get looking at that for?" she asked Anna-Felicitas, when she had edged through the crowd staring at the Vaterland, and got to where Anna-Felicitas stood listening abstractedly to the fireworks of American slang the young man was treating her to,—that terse, surprising, swift hitting-of-the-nail-on-the-head form of speech which she was hearing in such abundance for the first time.
The American passengers appeared one and all to be rejoicing over the impotence of the great ship. Every one of them seemed to be violently pro-Ally, derisively conjecturing the feelings of the Vaterland as every day under her very nose British ships arrived and departed and presently arrived again,—the same ships she had seen depart coming back unharmed, unhindered by her country's submarines. Only the two German ladies, once more ignoring their American allegiance, looked angry. It was incredible to them, simply unfassbar as they said in their thoughts, that any nation should dare inconvenience Germans, should dare lay a finger, even the merest friendliest detaining one, on anything belonging to the mighty, the inviolable Empire. Well, these Americans, these dollar-grubbing Yankees, would soon get taught a sharp, deserved lesson—but at this point they suddenly remembered they were Americans themselves, and pulled up their thoughts violently, as it were, on their haunches.
They turned, however, bitterly to the Twinkler girl as she pushed her way through to her sister,—those renegade Junkers, those contemptible little apostates—and asked her, after hearing her question to Anna-Felicitas, with an extraordinary breaking out of pentup emotion where she, then, supposed she would have been at that moment if it hadn't been for Germany.
"Not here I think," said Anna-Rose, instantly and fatally ready as she always was to answer back and attempt what she called reasoned conversation. "There wouldn't have been a war, so of course I wouldn't have been here."
"Why, you wouldn't so much as have been born without Germany," said the lady whose hair came off, with difficulty controlling a desire to shake this insolent and perverted Junker who could repeat the infamous English lie as to who began the war. "You owe your very existence to Germany. You should be giving thanks to her on your knees for her gift to you of life, instead of jeering at this representative—" she flung a finger out toward the Vaterland—"this patient and dignified-in -temporary-misfortune representative, of her power.""I wasn't jeering," said Anna-Rose, defending herself and clutching at Anna-Felicitas's sleeve to pull her away. "You wouldn't have had a father at all but for Germany," said the other lady, the one whose hair grew. "And perhaps you will tell me," said the first one, "where you would have been then." "I don't believe," said Anna-Rose, her nose in the air, "I don't believe I'd have ever been at a loss for a father."
The ladies, left speechless a moment by the arrogance as well as several other things about this answer gave Anna-Rose an opportunity for further reasoning with them, which she was unable to resist. "There are lots of fathers," she said, "in England, who would I'm sure have been delighted to take me on if Germany had failed me.""England!" "Take you on!" "An English father for you? For a subject of the King of Prussia?" "I—I'm afraid I—I'm going to be sick," gasped Anna-Felicitas suddenly.
"You're never going to be sick in this bit of bathwater, Miss Twinkler?" exclaimed the young man, with the instant ungrudging admiration of one who is confronted by real talent. "My, what a gift!"
Anna-Rose darted at Anna-Felicitas's drooping head, that which she had been going to say back to the German ladies dissolving on her tongue. "Oh no—no—" she wailed. "Oh no—not in your best hat, Columbus darling—you can't—it's not done—and your hat'll shake off into the water, and then there'll only be one between us and we shall never be able to go out paying calls and things at the same time—come away and sit down—Mr. Twist—Mr. Twist—oh, please come—"
Anna-Felicitas allowed herself to be led away, just in time as she murmured, and sat down on the nearest seat and shut her eyes. She was thankful Anna-Rose's attention had been diverted to her so instantly, for it would have been very difficult to be sick with the ship as quiet as one's own bedroom. Nothing short of the engine-room could have made her sick now. She sat keeping her eyes shut and Anna-Rose's attention riveted, wondering what she would do when there was no ship and Anna-Rose was on the verge of hasty and unfortunate argument. Would she have to learn to faint? But that would terrify poor Christopher so dreadfully.
Anna-Felicitas pondered, her eyes shut, on this situation. Up to now in her life she had always found that situations solved themselves. Given time. And sometimes a little assistance. So, no doubt, would this one. Anna-Rose would ripen and mellow. The German ladies would depart hence and be no more seen; and it was unlikely she and Anna-Rose would meet at such close quarters as a ship's cabin any persons so peculiarly and unusually afflicting again. All situations solved themselves; or, if they showed signs of not going to, one adopted the gentle methods that helped them to get solved. Early in life she had discovered that objects which cannot be removed or climbed over can be walked round. A little deviousness, and the thing was done. She herself had in the most masterly manner when she was four escaped church-going for several years by a simple method, that seemed to her looking back very like an inspiration, of getting round it. She had never objected to going, had never put into words the powerful if vague dislike with which it filled her when Sunday after Sunday she had to go and dangle her legs helplessly for two hours from the chair she was put on in the enclosed pew reserved for the hohe gräfliche Herrschaften from the Slosh.
Her father, a strict observer of the correct and a pious believer in God for other people, attended Divine Service as regularly as he wound the clocks and paid the accounts. He repräsentierte, as the German phrase went; and his wife and children were expected to repräsentieren too. Which they did uncomplainingly; for when one has to do with determined husbands and fathers it is quickest not to complain. But the pins and needles that patient child endured, Anna-Felicitas remembered, looking back through the years at the bunched-up figure on the chair as at a stranger, were something awful. The edge of the chair just caught her legs in the pins and needles place. If she had been a little bigger or a little smaller it wouldn't have happened; as it was, St. Paul wrestling with beasts at Ephesus wasn't more heroic than Anna-Felicitas perceived that distant child to have been, silently Sunday after Sunday bearing her legs. Then one Sunday something snapped inside her, and she heard her own voice floating out into the void above the heads of the mumbling worshippers, and it said with a terrible distinctness in a sort of monotonous wail: "I only had a cold potato for breakfast,"—and a second time, in the breathless suspension of mumbling that followed upon this: "I only had a cold potato for breakfast,"—and a third time she opened her mouth to repeat the outrageous statement, regardless of her mother's startled hand laid on her arm, and of Anna-Rose's petrified stare, and of the lifted faces of the congregation, and of the bent, scandalized brows of the pastor,—impelled by something that possessed her, unable to do anything but obey it; but her father, a man of deeds, rose up in his place, took her in his arms, and carried her down the stairs and out of the church. And the minute she found herself really rescued, and out where the sun and wind, her well-known friends, were larking about among the tombstones, she laid her cheek as affectionately against her father's head as if she were a daughter to be proud of, and would have purred if she had had had a purr as loudly as the most satisfied and virtuous of cats."Mein Kind," said her father, standing her up on a convenient tomb so that her eyes were level with his, "is it then true about the cold potato?" "No," said Anna-Felicitas patting his face, pleased at what her legs were feeling like again. "Mein Kind," said her father, "do you not know it is wrong to lie?" "No," said Anna-Felicitas placidly, the heavenly blue of her eyes, gazing straight into his, exactly like the mild sky above the trees. "No?" echoed her father, staring at her. "But, Kind, you know what a lie is?"
"No," said Anna-Felicitas, gazing at him tenderly in her satisfaction at being restored to a decent pair of legs; and as he still stood staring at her she put her hands one on each of his cheeks and squeezed his face together and murmured, "Oh, I do love you."
CHAPTER XLost in the contemplation of a distant past Anna-Felicitas sat with her eyes shut long after she needn't have.
She had forgotten about the German ladies, and America, and the future so instantly pressing on her, and was away on the shores of the Baltic again, where bits of amber where washed up after a storm, and the pale rushes grew in shallow sunny water that was hardly salt, and the air seemed for ever sweet with lilac. All the cottage gardens in the little village that clustered round a clearing in the trees had lilac bushes in them, for there was something in the soil that made lilacs be more wonderful there than anywhere else in the world, and in May the whole forest as far as one could walk was soaked with the smell of it. After rain on a May evening, what a wonder it was; what a wonder, that running down the black, oozing forest paths between wet pine stems, out on to the shore to look at the sun setting below the great sullen clouds of the afternoon over on one's left where Denmark was, and that lifting of one's face to the exquisite mingling of the delicate sea smell and the lilac. And then there was home to come back to when the forest began to look too dark and its deep silence made one's flesh creep—home, and a light in the window where ones mother was. Incredible the security of those days, the safe warmth of them, the careless roominess...."You know if you could manage to feel a little better, Anna-F.," said Anna-Rose's voice entreatingly in her ear, "it's time we began to get off this ship."
Anna-Felicitas opened her eyes, and got up all confused and self-reproachful. Everybody had melted away from that part of the deck except herself and Anna-Rose. The ship was lying quiet at last alongside the wharf. She had over-done being ill this time. She was ashamed of herself for having wandered off so easily and comfortably into the past, and left poor Christopher alone in the difficult present.
"I'm so sorry," she said smiling apologetically, and giving her hat a tug of determination symbolic of her being ready for anything, especially America. "I think I must have gone to sleep. Have you—" she hesitated and dropped her voice. "Are they—are the Clouston Sacks visible yet?"
"I thought I saw them," said Anna-Rose, dropping her voice too, and looking round uneasily over her shoulder. "I'd have come here sooner to see how you were getting on, but I thought I saw them, and they looked so like what I think they will look like that I went into our cabin again for a few minutes. But it wasn't them. They've found the people they were after, and have gone."
"There's a great crowd waiting," said Mr. Twist, coming up, "and I think we ought to go and look for your friends. As you don't know what they're like and they don't know what you're like it may be difficult. Heaven forbid," he continued, "that I should hurry you, but I have to catch a train if I'm to get home to-night, and I don't intend to catch it until I've handed you over safely to the Sacks."
"Those Sacks—" began Anna-Rose; and then she finished irrelevantly by remarking that it was the details of life that were discouraging,—from which Anna Felicitas knew that Christopher's heart was once more in her boots."Come along," said Mr. Twist, urging them to wards the gangway. "Anything you've got to say about life I shall be glad to hear, but at some time when we're more at leisure."
It had never occurred to either of the twins that the Clouston Sacks would not meet them. They had taken it for granted from the beginning that some form of Sack, either male or female, or at least their plenipotentiary, would be on the wharf to take them away to the Sack lair, as Anna-Felicitas alluded to the family mansion. It was, they knew, in Boston, but Boston conveyed nothing to them. Only Mr. Twist knew how far away it was. He had always supposed the Sacks would meet their young charges, stay that night in New York, and continue on to Boston next day. The twins were so certain they would be met that Mr. Twist was certain too. He had concluded, with a growingly empty feeling in his heart as the time of separation drew near, that all that now remained for him to do on behalf of the Twinklers was to hand them over to the Sacks. And then leave them. And then go home to that mother he loved but had for some time known he didn't like,—go home a bereft and lonely man.
But out of the crowd on the pier, any of whom might have been Sacks for all the Twinklers, eagerly scanning faces, knew, nobody in fact seemed to be Sacks. At least, nobody came forward and said, "Are you the Twinklers?" Other people fell into each other's arms; the air was full of the noise of kissing, the loud legitimate kissing of relations; but nobody took any notice of the twins. For a long while they stood waiting. Their luggage was examined, and Mr. Twist's luggage—only his was baggage—was examined, and the kissing and exclaiming crowd swayed hither and thither, and broke up into groups, and was shot through by interviewers, and got packed off into taxis, and grew thinner and thinner, and at last was so thin that the concealment of the Sacks in it was no longer possible.There were no Sacks.
To the last few groups of people left in the great glass-roofed hall piled with bags of wool and sulphur, Mr. Twist went up boldly and asked if they were intending to meet some young ladies called Twinkler. His tone, owing to perturbation, was rather more than one of inquiry, it almost sounded menacing; and the answers he got were cold. He wandered about uncertainly from group to group, his soft felt hat on the back of his head and his brow getting more and more puckered; and Anna-Rose, anxiously looking on from afar, became impatient at last of these refusals of everybody to be Sacks, and thought that perhaps Mr. Twist wasn't making himself clear.
Impetuous by nature and little given to calm waiting, she approached a group on her own account and asked them, enunciating her words very clearly, whether they were by any chance Mr. and Mrs. Clouston Sack.
The group, which was entirely female, stared round and down at her in astonished silence, and shook its heads; and as she saw Mr. Twist being turned away for the fifth time in the distance a wave of red despair came over her, and she said, reproach in her voice and tears in her eyes, "But somebody's got to be the Sacks."Upon which the group she was addressing stared at her in a more astonished silence than ever.
Mr. Twist came up mopping his brow and took he arm and led her back to AnnaFelicitas, who was taking care of the luggage and had sat down philosophically to await developments on a bag of sulphur. She didn't yet know what sulphur looked like on one's clothes after one has sat on it, and smiled cheerfully and encouragingly at AnnaRose as she came towards her."There are no Sacks," said Anna-Rose, facing the truth.
"It's exactly like that Uncle Arthur of yours," said Mr. Twist, mopping his forehead and speaking almost vindictively. "Exactly like him. A man like that would have the sort of friends that don't meet one."
"Well, we must do without the Sacks," said Anna-Felicitas, rising from the sulphur bag with the look of serene courage that can only dwell on the face of one who is free from care as to what has happened to him behind. "And it isn't," she added sweetly to Mr. Twist, "as if we hadn't got you."
"Yes," said Anna-Rose, suddenly seeing daylight. "Of course. What do Sacks really matter? I mean, for a day or two? You'll take us somewhere where we can wait till we've found them."
"Yes," said Anna-Felicitas. "Some nice quiet old-fashioned coffee-house sort of place, like the one the Brontes went to in St. Paul's Churchyard the first time they were launched into the world.""Yes. Some inexpensive place." "Suited to the frugal." "Because although we've got £200, even that will need watching or it will go."
During this conversation Mr. Twist stood mopping his forehead. As often as he mopped it it broke out afresh and had to be mopped again. They were the only passengers left now, and had become very conspicuous. He couldn't but perceive that a group of officials with grim, locked-up-looking mouths were eyeing him and the Twinklers attentively.
Always zealous in the cause of virtue, America provided her wharves and landingplaces with officials specially appointed to guard the purity of family life. Family life obviously cannot be pure without a marriage being either in it or having at some time or other passed through it. The officials engaged in eyeing Mr. Twist and the twins were all married themselves, and were well acquainted with that awful purity. But eye the Twist and Twinkler party as they might, they could see no trace of marriage anywhere about it.On the contrary, the man of the party looked so uneasy that it amounted to conscious illegality. "Sisters?" said the chief official, stepping forward abruptly. "Eh?" said Mr. Twist, pausing in the wiping of his forehead. "These here—" said the official, jerking his thumb at the twins. "They your sisters?" "No," said Mr. Twist stiffly. "No," said the twins, with one voice. "Do you think we look like him?" "Daughters?" "No," said Mr. Twist stiffly. "No," said the twins, with an ever greater vigour of repudiation. "You can't really think we look as much like him as all that?" "Wife and sister-in-law?"
Then the Twinklers laughed. They laughed aloud, even Anna-Rose forgetting her cares for a moment. But they were flattered, because it was at least a proof that they looked thoroughly grown-up."Then if they ain't your sisters, and they ain't your daughters, and they ain't your wife and sister-in-law, p'raps you'll tell me—" "These young ladies are not anything at all of mine, sir," said Mr. Twist vehemently.
"Don't you get sir-ing me, now," said the official sticking out his jaw. "This is a free country, and I'll have no darned cheek."
"These young ladies in no way belong to me," said Mr. Twist more patiently. "They're my friends."
The official scanned him from head to foot with triumphant contempt. He had got one of them, anyhow. He felt quite refreshed already. There had been a slump in sinners the past week, and he was as full of suppressed energy and as much tormented by it as an unexercised and overfed horse. "Step this way," he ordered curtly, waving Mr. Twist towards a wooden erection that was apparently an office. "Oh, don't you worry about the girls," he added, as his prey seemed disinclined to leave them.
But Mr. Twist did worry. He saw Ellis Island looming up behind the two figures that were looking on in an astonishment that had not yet had time to turn into dismay as he was marched off out of sight. "I'll be back in a minute," he called over his shoulder."That's as may be," remarked the official grimly.
But he was back; if not in a minute in a little more than five minutes, still accompanied by the official, but an official magically changed into tameness and amiability, desirous to help, instructing his inferiors to carry Mr. Twist's and the young ladies' baggage to a taxi.
It was the teapot that had saved him,—that blessed teapot that was always protruding itself benevolently into his life. Mr. Twist had identified himself with it, and it had instantly saved him. In the shelter of his teapot Mr. Twist could go anywhere and do anything in America. Everybody had it. Everybody knew it. It was as pervasive of America as Ford's cars, but cosily, quietly pervasive. It was only less visible because it stayed at home. It was more like a wife than Ford's cars were. From a sinner caught red-handed, Mr. Twist, its amiable creator, leapt to the position of one who can do no wrong, for he had not only placed his teapot between himself and judgment but had accompanied his proofs of identity by a suitable number of dollar bills, pressed inconspicuously into the official's conveniently placed hand.
The twins found themselves being treated with distinction. They were helped into the taxi by the official himself, and what was to happen to them next was left entirely to the decision and discretion of Mr. Twist—a man so much worried that at that moment he hadn't any of either. He couldn't even answer when asked where the taxi was to go to. He had missed his train, and he tried not to think of his mother's disappointment, the thought was so upsetting. But he wouldn't have caught it if he could, for how could he leave these two poor children?
"I'm more than ever convinced," he said, pushing his hat still further off his forehead, and staring at the back of the Twinkler trunks piled up in front of him next to the driver, while the disregarded official at the door still went on asking him where he wished the cab to go to, "that children should all have parents."
The hotel they were finally sent to by the official, goaded at last by Mr. Twist's want of a made-up mind into independent instructions to the cabman, was the Ritz. He thought this very suitable for the evolver of Twist's Non-Trickler, and it was only when they were being rushed along at what the twins, used to the behaviour of London taxis and not altogether unacquainted with the prudent and police-supervised deliberation of the taxis of Berlin, regarded as a skid-collision-and-mutilation-provoking speed, that a protest from Anna-Rose conveyed to Mr. Twist where they were heading for.
"An hotel called Ritz sounds very expensive," she said. "I've heard Uncle Arthur talk of one there is in London and one there is in Paris, and he said that only damned American millionaires could afford to stay in them. Anna-Felicitas and me aren't American millionaires—""Or damned," put in Anna-Felicitas. "—but quite the contrary," said Anna-Rose, "hadn't you better take us somewhere else?" "Somewhere like where the Brontes stayed in London," said Anna-Felicitas harping on this idea. "Where cheapness is combined with historical associations." "Oh Lord, it don't matter," said Mr. Twist, who for the first time in their friendship seemed ruffled. "Indeed it does," said Anna-Rose anxiously. "You forget we've got to husband our resources," said Anna-Felicitas. "You mustn't run away with the idea that because we've got £200 we're the same as millionaires," said Anna-Rose. "Uncle Arthur," said Anna-Felicitas, "frequently told us that £200 is a very vast sum; but he equally frequently told us that it isn't." "It was when he was talking about having given to us that he said it was such a lot," said Anna-Rose. "He said that as long as we had it we would be rich," said Anna-Felicitas, "but directly we hadn't it we would be poor."
"So we'd rather not go to the Ritz, please," said Anna-Rose, "if you don't mind." The taxi was stopped, and Mr. Twist got out and consulted the driver. The thought of his Uncle Charles as a temporary refuge for the twins floated across his brain, but was rejected because Uncle Charles would speak to no woman under fifty except from his pulpit, and approached those he did speak to with caution till they were sixty. He regarded them as one of the chief causes of modern unrest. He liked them so much that he hated them. He could practise abstinence, but not temperance. Uncle Charles was no good as a refuge.
"Well now, see here," said the driver at last, after Mr. Twist had rejected such varied suggestions of something small and quiet as the Waldorf-Astoria, the Plaza and the Biltmore, "you tell me where you want to go to and I'll take you there.""I want to go to the place your mother would stay in if she came up for a day or two from the country," said Mr. Twist helplessly. "Get right in then, and I'll take you back to the Ritz," said the driver.
But finally, when his contempt for Mr. Twist, of whose identity he was unaware, had grown too great even for him to bandy pleasantries with him, he did land his party at an obscure hotel in a street off the less desirable end of Fifth Avenue, and got rid of him.
It was one of those quiet and cheap New York hotels that yet are both noisy and expensive. It was full of foreigners,—real foreigners, the twins perceived, not the merely technical sort like themselves, but people with yellow faces and black eyes. They looked very seedy and shabby, and smoked very much, and talked volubly in unknown tongues. The entrance hall, a place of mottled marble, with clerks behind a counter all of whose faces looked as if they were masks, was thick with them; and it was when they turned to stare and whisper as Anna-Felicitas passed and Anna-Rose was thinking proudly, "Yes, you don't see anything like that every day, do you," and herself looked fondly at her Columbus, that she saw that it wasn't Columbus's beauty at all but the sulphur on the back of her skirt.
This spoilt Anna-Rose's arrival in New York. All the way up in the lift to the remote floor on which their bedroom was she was trying to brush it off, for the dress was Anna-F.'s very best one."That's all your grips, ain't it?" said the youth in buttons who had come up with them, dumping their bags down on the bedroom floor. "Our what?" said Anna-Rose, to whom the expression was new. "Do you mean our bags?" "No. Grips. These here," said the youth.
"Is that what they're called in America?" asked Anna-Felicitas, with the intelligent interest of a traveller determined to understand and appreciate everything, while AnnaRose, still greatly upset by the condition of the best skirt but unwilling to expatiate upon it before the youth, continued to brush her down as best she could with her handkerchief."I don't call them. It's what they are," said the youth. "What I want to know is, are they all here?" "How interesting that you don't drop your h's," said Anna-Felicitas, gazing at him. "The rest of you is so like no h's." The youth said nothing to that, the line of thought being one he didn't follow.
"Those are all our—grips, I think," said Anna-Rose counting them round the corner of Anna-Felicitas's skirt. "Thank you very much," she added after a pause, as he still lingered.
But this didn't cause him to disappear as it would have in England. Instead, he picked up a metal bottle with a stopper off the table, and shook it and announced that their icewater bottle was empty. "Want some ice water?" he inquired."What for?" asked Anna-Felicitas. "What for?" echoed the youth. "Thank you," said Anna-Rose, who didn't care about the youth's manner which seemed to her familiar, "we don't want ice water, but we should be glad of a little hot water." "You'll get all you want of that in there," said the youth, jerking his head towards a door that led into a bathroom. "It's ice water and ink that you get out of me."
"Really?" said Anna-Felicitas, gazing at him with even more intelligent interest, almost as if she were prepared, it being America, a country, she had heard, of considerable mechanical ingenuity, to find his person bristling with taps which only needed turning."We don't want either, thank you," said Anna-Rose.
The youth lingered. Anna-Rose's brushing began to grow vehement. Why didn't he go? She didn't want to have to be rude to him and hurt his feelings by asking him to go, but why didn't he? Anna-Felicitas, who was much too pleasantly detached, thought AnnaRose, for such a situation, the door being wide open to the passage and the ungetridable youth standing there staring, was leisurely taking off her hat and smoothing her hair."Suppose you're new to this country," said the youth after a pause.
"Brand," said Anna-Felicitas pleasantly. "Then p'raps," said the youth, "you don't know that the feller who brings up your grips gets a tip.""Of course we know that," said Anna-Rose, standing up straight and trying to look stately. "Then if you know why don't you do it?" "Do it?" she repeated, endeavouring to chill him into respectfulness by haughtily throwing back her head. "Of course we shall do it. At the proper time and place." "Which is, as you must have noticed," added Anna-Felicitas gently, "departure and the front door." "That's all right," said the youth, "but that's only one of the times and places. That's the last one. Where we've got to now is the first one."
"Do I understand," said Anna-Rose, trying to be very dignified, while her heart shrank within her, for what sort of sum did one offer people like this?—"that to America one tips at the beginning as well?""Yep," said the youth. "And in the middle too. Right along through. Never miss an opportunity, is as good a slogan as you'll get when it comes to tipping."
"I believe you'd have liked Kipps," said Anna-Felicitas meditatively, shaking some dust off her hat and remembering the orgy of tipping that immortal young man went in for at the seaside hotel."What I like now," said the youth, growing more easy before their manifest youth and ignorance, "is tips. Guess you can call it Kipps if it pleases you." Anna-Rose began to fumble nervously in her purse "It's horrid, I think, to ask for presents," she said to the youth in deep humiliation, more on his account than hers. "Presents? I'm not asking for presents. I'm telling you what's done," said the youth. And he had spots on his face. And he was repugnant to her.
Anna-Rose gave him what looked like a shilling. He took it, and remarking that he had had a lot of trouble over it went away; and Anna-Rose was still flushed by this encounter when Mr. Twist knocked and asked if they were ready to be taken down to tea."He might have said thank you," she said indignantly to Anna-Felicitas, giving a final desperate brushing to the sulphur.
"I expect he'll come to a bad end," said Anna-Felicitas soothingly. They had tea in the restaurant and were the only people doing such a thing, a solitary cluster in a wilderness of empty tables laid for dinner. It wasn't the custom much in America, explained Mr. Twist, to have tea, and no preparations were made for it in hotels of that sort. The very waiters, feeling it was a meal to be discouraged, were showing their detachment from it by sitting in a corner of the room playing dominoes. It was a big room, all looking-glasses and windows, and the street outside was badly paved and a great noise of passing motor-vans came in and drowned most of what Mr. Twist was saying. It was an unlovely place, a place in which one might easily feel homesick and that the world was empty of affection, if one let oneself go that way. The twins wouldn't. They stoutly refused, in their inward recesses, to be daunted by these externals. For there was Mr. Twist, their friend and stand-by, still with them, and hadn't they got each other? But they felt uneasy all the same; for Mr. Twist, though he plied them with buttered toast and macaroons and was as attentive as usual, had a somnambulatory quality in his attention. He looked like a man who is doing things in a dream. He looked like one who is absorbed in something else. His forehead still was puckered, and what could it be puckered about, seeing that he had got home, and was going back to his mother, and had a clear and uncomplicated future ahead of him, and anyhow was a man?
"Have you got something on your mind?" asked Anna-Rose at last, when he hadn't even heard a question she asked,—he, the polite, the interested, the sympathetic friend of the journey across.Mr. Twist, sitting tilted back in his chair, his hands deep in his pockets, looked up from the macaroons he had been staring at and said, "Yes." "Tell us what it is," suggested Anna-Felicitas. "You," said Mr. Twist. "Me?" "Both of you. You both of you go together. You're in one lump in my mind. And on it too," finished Mr. Twist ruefully.
"That's only because," explained Anna-Felicitas, "you've got the idea we want such a lot of taking care of. Get rid of that, and you'll feel quite comfortable again. Why not regard us merely as pleasant friends?"Mr. Twist looked at her in silence. "Not as objects to be protected," continued Anna Felicitas, "but as co-equals. Of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting."
Mr. Twist continued to look at her in silence. "We didn't come to America to be on anybody's mind," said Anna-Rose, supporting Anna-Felicitas."We had a good deal of that in England," said Anna-Felicitas. "For instance, we're quite familiar with Uncle Arthur's mind, we were on it so heavily and so long." "It's our fixed determination," said Anna-Rose, "now that we're starting a new life, to get off any mind we find ourselves on instantly." "We wish to carve out our own destinies," said Anna-Felicitas. "We more than wish to," corrected Anna-Rose, "we intend to. What were we made in God's image for if it wasn't to stand upright on our own feet?"
"Anna-Rose and I had given this a good deal of thought," said Anna-Felicitas, "first and last, and we're prepared to be friends with everybody, but only as co-equals and of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.""I don't know exactly," said Mr. Twist, "what that means, but it seems to give you a lot of satisfaction."
"It does. It's out of the Athanasian Creed, and suggests such perfect equality. If you'll regard us as co-equals instead of as objects to be looked after, you'll see how happy we shall all be."
"Not," said Anna-Rose, growing tender, for indeed in her heart she loved and clung to Mr. Twist, "that we haven't very much liked all you've done for us and the way you were so kind to us on the boat,—we've been most obliged to you, and we shall miss you very much indeed, I know.""But we'll get over that of course in time," put in Anna-Felicitas, "and we've got to start life now in earnest." "Well then," said Mr. Twist, "will you two Annas kindly tell me what it is you propose to do next?" "Next? After tea? Go and look at the sights." "I mean to-morrow," said Mr. Twist. "To-morrow," said Anna-Rose, "we proceed to Boston." "To track the Clouston Sacks to their lair," said Anna-Felicitas. "Ah. You've made up your minds to do that. They've behaved abominably," said Mr. Twist. "Perhaps they missed the train," said Anna-Felicitas mildly. "It's the proper course to pursue," said Anna-Rose. "To proceed to Boston." "I suppose it is," said Mr. Twist, again thinking that the really proper and natural course was for him to have been able to take them to his mother. Pity one's mother wasn't— He pulled himself up on the brink of an unfiliality. He was on the verge of thinking it a pity one's mother wasn't a different one.
CHAPTER XII"Then," said Mr. Twist, "if this is all you're going to see of New York, this one evening, let us go and look at it." He beckoned to the waiter who came up with the bill. Anna-Rose pulled out her purse. Mr. Twist put up his hand with severe determination.
"You're my guest," he said, "as long as I am with you. Useless to protest, young lady. You'll not get me to belie my American manhood. I only listened with half an ear to all the things you both said in the taxi, because I hadn't recovered from the surprise of finding myself still with you instead of on the train for Clark, and because you both of you do say so very many things. But understand once and for all that in this country everything female has to be paid for by some man. I'm that man till I've left you on the Sack doorstep, and then it'll be Sack—confound him," finished Mr. Twist suddenly.
And he silenced Anna-Rose's protests, which persisted and were indignant, by turning on her with, an irascibility she hadn't yet seen in him, and inquiring of her whether then she really wished to put him to public shame? "You wouldn't wish to go against an established custom, surely," he said more gently.
So the twins gave themselves up for that one evening to what Anna-Felicitas called government by wealth, otherwise plutocracy, while reserving complete freedom of action in regard to Mr. Sack, who was, in their ignorance of his circumstances, an unknown quantity. They might be going to be mothers' helps in the Sack ménage for all they knew,—they might, they said, be going to be anything, from honoured guests to typists."Can you type?" asked Mr. Twist. "No," said the twins.
He took them in a taxi to Riverside Drive, and then they walked down to the charming footpath that runs along by the Hudson for three enchanting miles. The sun had set some time before they got there, and had left a clear pale yellow sky, and a wonderful light on the river. Lamps were being lit, and hung like silver globes in the thin air. Steep grass slopes, and groups of big trees a little deeper yellow than the sky, hid that there were houses and a street above them on their right. Up and down the river steamers passed, pierced with light, their delicate smoke hanging in the air long after they had gone their way. It was so great a joy to walk in all this after ten days shut up on the St. Luke and to see such blessed things as grass and leaves again, that the twins felt suddenly extraordinarily brisked up and cheerful. It was impossible not to be cheerful, translated from the St. Luke into such a place, trotting along in the peculiar dry air that made one all tingly.
The world seemed suddenly quite good,—the simplest, easiest of objects to tackle. All one had to do was not to let it weigh on one, to laugh rather than cry. They trotted along humming bits of their infancy's songs, feeling very warm and happy inside, felicitously full of tea and macaroons and with their feet comfortably on something that kept still and didn't heave or lurch beneath them. Mr. Twist, too, was gayer than he had been for some hours. He seemed relieved; and he was. He had sent a telegram to his mother, expressing proper sorrow at being detained in New York, but giving no reason for it, and promising he would be with her rather late the next evening; and he had sent a telegram to the Clouston Sacks saying the Twinklers, who had so unfortunately missed them in New York, would arrive in Boston early next afternoon. His mind was clear again owing to the determination of the twins to go to the Sacks. He was going to take them there, hand them over, and then go back to Clark, which fortunately was only three hours' journey from Boston.
If the twins had shown a disinclination to go after the Sacks who, in Mr. Twist's opinion, had behaved shamefully already, he wouldn't have had the heart to press them to go; and then what would he have done with them? Their second and last line of defence, supposing they had considered the Sacks had failed and were to be ruled out, was in California, a place they spoke of as if it were next door to Boston and New York. How could he have let them set out alone on that four days' journey, with the possibility of once more at its end not being met? No wonder he had been abstracted at tea. He was relieved to the extent of his forehead going quite smooth again at their decision to proceed to the Sacks. For he couldn't have taken them to his mother without preparation and explanation, and he couldn't have left them in New York while he went and prepared and explained. Great, reflected Mr. Twist, the verb dropping into his mind with the aplomb of an inspiration, are the difficulties that beset a man directly he begins to twinkle. Already he had earnestly wished to knock the reception clerk in the hotel office down because of, first, his obvious suspicion of the party before he had heard Mr. Twist's name, and because of, second, his politeness, his confidential manner as of an understanding sympathizer with a rich man's recreations, when he had. The tea, which he, had poured out of one of his own teapots, had been completely spoilt by the knowledge that it was only this teapot that had saved him from being treated as a White Slave Trafficker. He wouldn't have got into that hotel at all with the Twinklers, or into any other decent one, except for his teapot. What a country, Mr. Twist had thought, fresh from his work in France, fresh from where people were profoundly occupied with the great business of surviving at all. Here he came back from a place where civilization toppled, where deadly misery, deadly bravery, heroism that couldn't be uttered, staggered month after month among ruins, and found America untouched, comfortable, fat, still with time to worry over the suspected amorousness of the rich, still putting people into uniforms in order to buttonhole a man on landing and cross-question him as to his private purities.
He had been much annoyed, but he too couldn't resist the extreme pleasure of real exercise on such a lovely evening, nor could he resist the infection of the cheerfulness of the Twinklers. They walked along, talking and laughing, and seeming to walk much faster than he did, especially Anna-Rose who had to break into a run every few steps because of his so much longer legs, his face restored to all its usual kindliness as he listened benevolently to their remarks, and just when they were beginning to feel as if they soon might be tired and hungry a restaurant with lamp-hung gardens appeared as punctually as if they had been in Germany, that land of nicely arranged distances between meals. They had an extremely cheerful little supper out of doors, with things to eat that thrilled the Twinklers in their delicious strangeness; heavenly food, they thought it after the rigours of the second-class cooking on the St. Luke, and the biggest ices they had seen in their lives,—great dollops of pink and yellow divineness.
Then Mr. Twist took them in a taxi to look at the illuminated advertisements in Broadway, and they forgot everything but the joy of the moment. Whatever the next day held, this evening was sheer happiness. Their eyes shone and their cheeks flushed, and Mr. Twist was quite worried that they were so pretty. People at the other tables at the restaurant had stared at them with frank admiration, and so did the people in the streets whenever the taxi was blocked. On the ship he had only sometimes been aware of it,—there would come a glint of sunshine and settle on Anna-Rose's little cheek where the dimple was, or he would lift his eyes from the Culture book and suddenly see the dark softness of Anna-Felicitas's eyelashes as she slept in her chair. But now, dressed properly, and in their dryland condition of cheerful animation, he perceived that they were very pretty indeed, and that Anna-Felicitas was more than very pretty. He couldn't help thinking they were a most unsuitable couple to be let loose in America with only two hundred pounds to support them. Two hundred pounds was just enough to let them slip about if it should enter their heads to slip about,—go off without explanation, for instance, if they wanted to leave the Clouston Sacks,—but of course ridiculous as a serious background to life. A girl should either have enough money or be completely dependent on her male relations. As a girl was usually young reflected Mr. Twist, his spectacles with the Broadway lights in them blazing on the two specimens opposite him, it was safest for her to be dependent. So were her actions controlled, and kept within the bounds of wisdom.
And next morning, as he sat waiting for the twins for breakfast at ten o'clock according to arrangement the night before, their grape-fruit in little beds of ice on their plates and every sort of American dish ordered, from griddle cakes and molasses to chicken pie, a page came in with loud cries for Mr. Twist, which made him instantly conspicuous—a thing he particularly disliked—and handed him a letter.The twins had gone.
They had left early that morning for Boston, determined, as they wrote, no longer to trespass on his kindness. There had been a discussion in their bedroom the night before when they got back in which Anna-Rose supplied the heat and Anna-Felicitas the arguments, and it ended in Anna-Felicitas succeeding in restoring Anna-Rose to her original standpoint of proud independence, from which, lured by the comfort and security of Mr. Twist's companionship, she had been inclined to slip.
It took some time, because of Anna-Rose being the eldest. Anna-Felicitas had had to be as wary, and gentle, and persistently affectionate as a wife whom necessity compels to try and get reason into her husband. Anna-Rose's feathers, even as the feathers of a husband, bristled at the mere breath of criticism of her superior intelligence and wisdom. She was the leader of the party, the head and guide, the one who had the dollars in her pocket, and being the eldest naturally must know best. Besides, she was secretly nervous about taking Anna-Felicitas about alone. She too had observed the stares of the public, and had never supposed that any of them might be for her. How was she to get to Boston successfully with so enchanting a creature, through all the complications of travel in an unknown country, without the support and counsel of Mr. Twist? Just the dollars and quarters and dimes and cents cowed her. The strangeness of everything, while it delighted her so long as she could peep at it from behind Mr. Twist, appalled her the minute she was left alone with it. America seemed altogether a foreign country, a strange place whose inhabitants by accident didn't talk in a strange language. They talked English; or rather what sounded like English till you found that it wasn't really.
But Anna-Felicitas prevailed. She had all Anna-Rose's inborn horror of accepting money or other benefits from people who had no natural right to exercise their benevolences upon her, to appeal to. Christopher, after long wrestling restored at last to pride, did sit down and write the letter that so much spoilt Mr. Twist's breakfast next morning, while Columbus slouched about the room suggesting sentences.
It was a letter profuse in thanks for all Mr. Twist had done for them, and couched in language that betrayed the particular share Anna-Felicitas had taken in the plan; for though they both loved long words Anna-Felicitas's were always a little the longer. In rolling sentences that made Mr. Twist laugh in spite of his concern, they pointed out that his first duty was to his mother, and his second was not to squander his possessions in paying the hotel and railway bills of persons who had no sort of claim on him, except those general claims of humanity which he had already on the St. Luke so amply discharged. They would refrain from paying their hotel bill, remembering his words as to the custom of the country, though their instincts were altogether against this course, but they could and would avoid causing him the further expense and trouble and waste of his no doubt valuable time of taking them to Boston, by the simple process of going there without him. They promised to write from the Sacks and let him know of their arrival to the address at Clark he had given them, and they would never forget him as long as they lived and remained his very sincerely, A.-R., and A.-F. Twinkler. Mr. Twist hurried out to the office.
The clerk who had been so confidential in his manner the evening before looked at him curiously. Yes, the young ladies had left on the 8.15 for Boston. They had come downstairs, baggage and all, at seven o'clock, had asked for a taxi, had said they wished to go to Boston, inquired about the station, etc., and had specially requested that Mr. Twist should not be disturbed."They seemed in a slight hurry to be off," said the clerk, "and didn't like there being no train before the 8.15. I thought you knew all about it, Mr. Twist," he added inquisitively. "So I did—so I did," said Mr. Twist, turning away to go back to his breakfast for three.
"So he did—so he did," muttered the clerk with a wink to the other clerk; and for a few minutes they whispered, judging from the expressions on their faces, what appeared to be very exciting things to each other.
Meanwhile the twins, after a brief struggle of extraordinary intensity at the station in getting their tickets, trying to understand the black man who seized and dealt with their luggage, and closely following him wherever he went in case he should disappear, were sitting in a state of relaxation and relief in the Boston express, their troubles over for at least several hours.
The black porter, whose heart happened not to be black and who had children of his own, perceived the helpless ignorance that lay behind the twins' assumption a of severe dignity, and took them in hand and got seats for them in the parlour car. As they knew nothing about cars, parlour or otherwise, but had merely and quite uselessly reiterated to the booking-clerk, till their porter intervened, that they wanted third-class tickets, they accepted these seats, thankful in the press and noise round them to get anything so roomy and calm as these dignified arm-chairs; and it wasn't till they had been in them some time, their feet on green footstools, with attendants offering them fruit and chocolates and magazines at intervals just as if they had been in heaven, as AnnaFelicitas remarked admiringly, that counting their money they discovered what a hole the journey had made in it. But they were too much relieved at having accomplished so much on their own, quite uphelped for the first time since leaving Aunt Alice, to take it particularly to heart; and, as Anna-Felicitas said, there was still the £200, and, as AnnaRose said, it wasn't likely they'd go in a train again for ages; and anyhow, as AnnaFelicitas said, whatever it had cost they were bound to get away from being constant drains on Mr. Twist's purse.
The train journey delighted them. To sit so comfortably and privately in chairs that twisted round, so that if a passenger should start staring at Anna-Felicitas one could make her turn her back altogether on him; to have one's feet on footstools when they were the sort of feet that don't reach the ground; to see the lovely autumn country flying past, hills and woods and fields and gardens golden in the October sun, while the horrible Atlantic was nowhere in sight; to pass through towns so queerly reminiscent of English and German towns shaken up together and yet not a bit like either; to be able to have the window wide open without getting soot in one's eyes because one of the ministering angels—clad, this one, appropriately to heaven, in white, though otherwise black—pulled up the same sort of wire screen they used to have in the windows at home to keep out the mosquitoes; to imitate about twelve, when they grew bold because they were so hungry, the other passengers and cause the black angel to spread a little table between them and bring clam broth, which they ordered in a spirit of adventure and curiosity and concealed from each other that they didn't like; to have the young man who passed up and down with the candy, and whose mouth was full of it, grow so friendly that he offered them toffee from his own private supply at last when they had refused regretfully a dozen suggestions to buy—"Have a bit," he said, thrusting it under their noses. "As a gentleman to ladies—no pecuniary obligations—come on, now;" all this was to the twins too interesting and delightful for words.
They accepted the toffee in the spirit in which it was offered, and since nobody can eat somebody's toffee without being pleasant in return, intermittent amenities passed between them and the young man as he journeyed up and down through the cars.
"First visit to the States?" he inquired, when with some reluctance, for presently it appeared to the twins that the clam broth and the toffee didn't seem to be liking each other now they had got together inside them, and also for fear of hurting his feelings if they refused, they took some more.They nodded and smiled stickily. "English, I guess." They hesitated, covering their hesitation with the earnest working of their toffee-filled jaws. Then Anna-Felicitas, her cheek distorted, gave him the answer she had given the captain of the St. Luke, and said, "Practically."
"Ah," said the young man, turning this over in his mind, the r in "practically" having rolled as no English or American r ever did; but the conductor appearing in the doorway he continued on his way.
"It's evident," said Anna-Rose, speaking with difficulty, for her jaws clave together because of the toffee, "that we're going to be asked that the first thing every time a fresh person speaks to us. We'd better decide what we're going to say, and practise saying it without hesitation."
Anna-Felicitas made a sound of assent. "That answer of yours about practically," continued Anna-Rose, swallowing her bit of toffee by accident and for one moment afraid it would stick somewhere and make her die, "causes first surprise, then reflection, and then suspicion."
"But," said Anna-Felicitas after a pause during which she had disentangled her jaws, "it's going to be difficult to say one is German when America seems to be so very neutral and doesn't like Germans. Besides, it's only in the eye of the law that we are. In God's eye we're not, and that's the principal eye after all."Her own eyes grew thoughtful. "I don't believe," she said, "that parents when they marry have any idea of all the difficulties they're going to place their children in."
"I don't believe they think about it at all," said Anna-Rose. "I mean," she added quickly, lest she should be supposed to be questioning the perfect love and forethought of their mother, "fathers don't."
They were silent a little after this, each thinking things tinged to sobriety by the effect of the inner conflict going on between the clam broth and the toffee. Also Boston was rushing towards them, and the Clouston Sacks. Quite soon they would have to leave the peaceful security of the train and begin to be active again, and quick and clever. Anna-Felicitas, who was slow, found it difficult ever to be clever till about the week after, and Anna-Rose, who was impetuous, was so impetuous that she entirely outstripped her scanty store of cleverness and landed panting and surprised in situations she hadn't an idea what to do with. The Clouston Sacks, now—Aunt Alice had said, "You must take care to be very tactful with Mr. and Mrs. Clouston Sack;" and when Anna-Rose, her forehead as much puckered as Mr. Twist's in her desire to get exactly at what tactful was in order to be able diligently to be it, asked for definitions, Aunt Alice only said it was what gentlewomen were instinctively.
"Then," observed Anna-Felicitas, when on nearing Boston Anna-Rose repeated Aunt Alice's admonishment and at the same time provided Anna-Felicitas for her guidance with the definition, "seeing that we're supposed to be gentlewomen, all we've got to do is to behave according to our instincts."
But Anna-Rose wasn't sure. She doubted their instincts, especially Anna-Felicitas's. She thought her own were better, being older, but even hers were extraordinarily apt to develop in unexpected directions according to the other person's behaviour. Her instinct, for instance, when engaged by Uncle Arthur in conversation had usually been to hit him. Was that tact? Yet she knew she was a gentlewoman. She had heard that, since first she had heard words at all, from every servant, teacher, visitor and relation— except her mother—in her Prussian home. Indeed, over there she had been told she was more than a gentlewoman, for she was a noblewoman and therefore her instincts ought positively to drip tact.
"Mr. Dodson," Aunt Alice had said one afternoon towards the end, when the twins came in from a walk and found the rector having tea, "says that you can't be too tactful in America. He's been there."
"Sensitive—sensitive," said Mr. Dodson, shaking his head at his cup. "Splendidly sensitive, just as they are splendidly whatever else they are. A great country. Everything on a vast scale, including sensitiveness. It has to be met vastly. But quite easy really—-" He raised a pedagogic finger at the twins. "You merely add half as much again to the quantity of your tact as the quantity you encounter of their sensitiveness, and it's all right.""Be sure you remember that now," said Aunt Alice, pleased.
As Boston got nearer, Anna-Rose, trying to learn Mr. Dodson's recipe for social success by heart, became more silent. On the ship, when the meeting with the Sacks was imminent, she had fled in sudden panic to her cabin to hide from them. That couldn't have been tact. But it was instinct. And she was a gentlewoman. Now once again dread took possession of her and she wanted to hide, not to get there, to stay in the train and go on and on. She said nothing, of course, of her dread to Anna-Felicitas in order not to undermine that young person's morale, but she did very much wish that principles weren't such important things and one needn't have cut oneself off from the protecting figure of Mr. Twist.
"Now remember what Aunt Alice said," she whispered severely to Anna-Felicitas, gripping her arm as they stood jammed in the narrow passage to the door waiting to be let out at Boston.
On the platform, they both thought, would be the Sacks,—certainly one Sack, and they had feverishly made themselves tidy and composed their faces into pleasant smiles preparatory to the meeting. But once again no Sacks were there. The platform emptied itself just as the great hall of the landing-stage had emptied itself, and nobody came to claim the Twinklers."These Sacks," remarked Anna-Felicitas patiently at last, when it was finally plain that there weren't any, "don't seem to have acquired the meeting habit." "No," said Anna-Rose, vexed but relieved. "They're like what Aunt Alice used to complain about the housemaids,—neither punctual nor methodical."
"But it doesn't matter," said Anna-Felicitas. "They shall not escape us. I'm getting quite hungry for the Sacks as a result of not having them. We will now proceed to track them to their lair."
For one instant Anna-Rose looked longingly at the train. It was still there. It was going on further and further away from the Sacks. Happy train. One little jump, and they'd be in it again. But she resisted, and engaged a porter.
Even as soon as this the twins were far less helpless than they had been the day before. The Sack address was in Anna-Rose's hand, and they knew what an American porter looked like. The porter and a taxi were engaged with comparative ease and assurance, and on giving the porter, who had staggered beneath the number of their grips, a dime, and seeing a cloud on his face, they doubled it instantly sooner than have trouble, and trebled it equally quickly on his displaying yet further dissatisfaction, and they departed for the Sacks, their grips piled up round them in the taxi as far as their chins, congratulating themselves on how much easier it was to get away from a train than to get into one.
But the minute their activities were over and they had time to think, silence fell upon them again. They were both nervous. They both composed their faces to indifference to hide that they were nervous, examining the streets they passed through with a calm and blasé stare worthy of a lorgnette. It was the tact part of the coming encounter that was chiefly unnerving Anna-Rose, and Anna-Felicitas was dejected by her conviction that nobody who was a friend of Uncle Arthur's could possibly be agreeable. "By their friends ye shall know them," thought Anna-Felicitas, staring out of the window at the Boston buildings. Also the persistence of the Sacks in not being on piers and railway stations was discouraging. There was no eagerness about this persistence; there wasn't even friendliness. Perhaps they didn't like her and Anna-Rose being German.
This was always the twins' first thought when anybody wasn't particularly cordial. Their experiences in England had made them a little jumpy. They were conscious of this weak spot, and like a hurt finger it seemed always to be getting in the way and being knocked. Anna-Felicitas once more pondered on the inscrutable behaviour of Providence which had led their mother, so safely and admirably English, to leave that blessed shelter and go and marry somebody who wasn't. Of course there was this to be said for it, that she wasn't their mother then. If she had been, Anna-Felicitas felt sure she wouldn't have. Then, perceiving that her thoughts were getting difficult to follow she gave them up, and slid her hand through Anna-Rose's arm and gave it a squeeze."Now for the New World, Christopher," she said, pretending to be very eager and brave and like the real Columbus, as the taxi stopped.
The taxi had stopped in front of a handsome apartment house, and almost before it was quiet a boy in buttons darted out across the intervening wide pavement and thrust his face through the window."Who do you want?" he said, or rather jerked out. He then saw the contents of the taxi, and his mouth fell open; for it seemed to him that grips and passengers were piled up inside it in a seething mass. "We want Mr. and Mrs. Clouston Sack," said Anna-Rose in her most grown-up voice. "They're expecting us." "They ain't," said the boy promptly. "They ain't?" repeated Anna-Rose, echoing his language in her surprise. "How do you know?" asked Anna-Felicitas. "That they ain't? Because they ain't," said the boy. "I bet you my Sunday shirt they ain't." The twins stared at him. They were not accustomed in their conversations with the lower classes to be talked to about shirts. The boy seemed extraordinarily vital. His speech was so quick that it flew out with the urgency and haste of squibs going off. "Please open the door," said Anna-Rose recovering herself. "We'll go up and see for ourselves." "You won't see," said the boy. "Kindly open the door," repeated Anna-Rose. "You won't see," he said, pulling it open, "but you can look. If you do see Sacks up there I'm a Hun."
The minute the door opened, grips fell out. There were two umbrellas, two coats, a knapsack of a disreputable bulged appearance repugnant to American ideas of baggage which run on big simple lines of huge trunks, an attaché case, a suit case, a hold-all, a basket and a hat-box. Outside beside the driver were two such small and modest trunks that they might almost as well have been grips themselves. "Do you mind taking those in?" asked Anna-Rose, getting out with difficulty over the umbrella that had fallen across the doorway, and pointing to the gutter in which the other umbrella and the knapsack lay and into which the basket, now that her body no longer kept it in, was rolling."In where?" crackled the boy. "In," said Anna-Rose severely. "In to wherever Mr. and Mrs. Clouston Sack are." "It's no good your saying they are when they ain't," said the boy, increasing the loudness of his crackling.
"Do you mean they don't live here?" asked Anna-Felicitas, in her turn disentangling herself from that which was still inside the taxi, and immediately followed on to the pavement by the hold-all and the attaché case.
"They did live here till yesterday," said the boy, "but now they don't. One does. But that's not the same as two. Which is what I meant when you said they're expecting you and I said they ain't.""Do you mean to say—" Anna-Rose stopped with a catch of her breath. "Do you mean," she went on in an awe-struck voice, "that one of them—one of them is dead?" "Dead? Bless you, no. Anything but dead. The exact opposite. Gone. Left. Got," said the boy.
"Oh," said Anna-Rose greatly relieved, passing over his last word, whose meaning escaped her, "oh—you mean just gone to meet us. And missed us. You see," she said, turning to Anna-Felicitas, "they did try to after all."Anna-Felicitas said nothing, but reflected that whichever Sack had tried to must have a quite unusual gift for missing people. "Gone to meet you?" repeated the boy, as one surprised by a new point of view. "Well, I don't know about that—" "We'll go up and explain," said Anna-Rose. "Is it Mr. or Mrs. Clouston Sack who is here?" "Mr.," said the boy. "Very well then. Please bring in our things." And Anna-Rose proceeded, followed by Anna-Felicitas, to walk into the house.
The boy, instead of bringing them in, picked up the articles lying on the pavement and put them back again into the taxi. "No hurry about them, I guess," he said to the driver. "Time enough to take them up when the gurls ask again—" and he darted after the gurls to hand them over to his colleague who worked what he called the elevator.
"Why do you call it the elevator," inquired Anna-Felicitas, mildly inquisitive, of this boy, who on hearing that they wished to see Mr. Sack stared at them with profound and unblinking interest all the way up, "when it is really a lift?""Because it is an elevator," said the boy briefly. "But we, you see," said Anna-Felicitas, "are equally convinced that it's a lift."
The boy didn't answer this. He was as silent as the other one wasn't; but there was a thrill about him too, something electric and tense. He stared at Anna-Felicitas, then turned quickly and stared at Anna-Rose, then quickly back to Anna-Felicitas, and so on all the way up. He was obviously extraordinarily interested. He seemed to have got hold of an idea that had not struck the squib-like boy downstairs, who was entertaining the taxi-driver with descriptions of the domestic life of the Sacks.
The lift stopped at what the twins supposed was going to be the door of a landing or public corridor, but it was, they discovered, the actual door of the Sack flat. At any moment the Sacks, if they wished to commit suicide, could do so simply by stepping out of their own front door. They would then fall, infinitely far, on to the roof of the lift lurking at the bottom.The lift-boy pressed a bell, the door opened, and there, at once exposed to the twins, was the square hall of the Sack flat with a manservant standing in it staring at them.
Obsessed by his idea, the lift-boy immediately stepped out of his lift, approached the servant, introduced his passengers to him by saying, "Young ladies to see Mr. Sack," took a step closer, and whispered in his ear, but perfectly audibly to the twins who, however, regarded it as some expression peculiarly American and were left unmoved by it, "The co-respondents."
The servant stared uncertainly at them. His mistress had only been gone a few hours, and the flat was still warm with her presence and authority. She wouldn't, he well knew, have permitted co-respondents to be about the place if she had been there, but on the other hand she wasn't there. Mr. Sack was in sole possession now. Nobody knew where Mrs. Sack was. Letters and telegrams lay on the table for her unopened, among them Mr. Twist's announcing the arrival of the Twinklers. In his heart the servant sided with Mr. Sack, but only in his heart, for the servant's wife was the cook, and she, as she frequently explained, was all for strict monogamy. He stared therefore uncertainly at the twins, his brain revolving round their colossal impudence in coming there before Mrs. Sack's rooms had so much as had time to get, as it were, cold.
"We want to see Mr. Clouston Sack," began Anna-Rose in her clear little voice; and no sooner did she begin to speak than a door was pulled open and the gentleman himself appeared.
Mr. Sack let his hand be shaken, and it was a moist hand. He looked like a Gibson young man who has grown elderly. He had the manly profile and shoulders, but they sagged and stooped. There was a dilapidation about him, a look of blurred edges. His hair lay on his forehead in disorder, and his tie had been put on carelessly and had wriggled up to the rim of his collar."The Twinklers," he repeated. "The Twinklers. Do I remember, I wonder?" "There hasn't been much time to forget," said Anna-Felicitas. "It's less than two months since there were all those letters." "Letters?" echoed Mr. Sack. "Letters?" "So now we've got here," said Anna-Rose, the more brightly that she was unnerved. "Yes. We've come," said Anna-Felicitas, also with feverish brightness.
Bewildered, Mr. Sack, who felt that he had had enough to bear the last few hours, stood staring at them. Then he caught sight of the lift-boy, lingering and he further saw the expression on his servant's face Even to his bewilderment it was clear what he was thinking.Mr. Sack turned round quickly and led the way into the dining-room. "Come in, come in," he said distractedly.
They went in. He shut the door. The lift-boy and the servant lingered a moment making faces at each other; then the lift-boy dropped away in his lift, and the servant retired to the kitchen. "I'm darned," was all he could articulate. "I'm darned."
"There's our luggage," said Anna-Rose, turning to Mr. Sack on getting inside the room, her voice gone a little shrill in her determined cheerfulness. "Can it be brought up?"
"Oh thank you—it's good of you, it's good of you. The effect, you see, is that I can't think very clearly. But do tell me—why luggage? Luggage—luggage. You mean, I suppose, baggage.""Why luggage?" asked Anna-Rose nervously. "Isn't there—isn't there always luggage in America too when people come to stay with one?" "You've come to stay with me," said Mr. Sack, putting his hand to his forehead again. "You see," said Anna-Felicitas, "we're the Twinklers." "Yes, yes—I know. You've told me that." "So naturally we've come." "But is it natural?" asked Mr. Sack, looking at them distractedly. "We sent you a telegram," said Anna-Rose, "or rather one to Mrs. Sack, which is the same thing—" "It isn't, it isn't," said the distressed Mr. Sack. "I wish it were. It ought to be. Mrs. Sack isn't here—" "Yes—we're very sorry to have missed her. Did she go to meet us in New York, or where?" "Mrs. Sack didn't go to meet you. She's—gone." "Gone where?"
"Oh," cried Mr. Sack, "somewhere else, but not to meet you. Oh," he went on after a moment in which, while the twins gazed at him, he fought with and overcame emotion, "when I heard you speaking in the hall I thought—I had a moment's hope—for a minute I believed—she had come back. So I went out. Else I couldn't have seen you. I'm not fit to see strangers—"
The things Mr. Sack said, and his fluttering, unhappy voice, were so much at variance with the stern lines of his Gibson profile that the twins viewed him with the utmost surprise. They came to no conclusion and passed no judgment because they didn't know but what if one was an American one naturally behaved like that.
"Don't you remember all Uncle Arthur's letters about us? We're the nieces he asked you to be kind to for a bit—as I'm sure," Anna-Felicitas added politely, "you're admirably adapted for being."Mr. Sack turned his bewildered eyes on to her. "Oh, aren't you a pretty girl," he said, in the same distressed voice.
"You mustn't make her vain," said Anna-Rose, trying not to smile all over her face, while Anna-Felicitas remained as manifestly unvain as a person intent on something else would be.
"We know you got Uncle Arthur's letters about us," she continued, "because he showed us your answers back. You invited us to come and stay with you. And, as you perceive, we've done it."
"Then it must have been months ago—months ago," said Mr. Sack, "before all this—do I remember something about it? I've had such trouble since—I've been so distracted one way and another—it may have slipped away out of my memory under the stress— Mrs. Sack—" He paused and looked round the room helplessly. "Mrs. Sack—well, Mrs. Sack isn't here now."
"We're very sorry you've had trouble," said Anna-Felicitas sympathetically. "It's what everybody has, though. Man that is born of woman is full of misery. That's what the Burial Service says, and it ought to know."Mr. Sack again turned bewildered eyes on to her. "Oh, aren't you a pretty—" he again began. "When do you think Mrs. Sack will be back?" interrupted Anna-Rose. "I wish I knew—I wish I could hope—but she's gone for a long while, I'm afraid—" "Gone not to come back at all, do you mean?" asked Anna-Felicitas. Mr. Sack gulped. "I'm afraid that is her intention," he said miserably. There was a silence, in which they all stood looking at each other. "Didn't she like you?" then inquired Anna-Felicitas. Anna-Rose, sure that this wasn't tactful, gave her sleeve a little pull. "Were you unkind to her?" asked Anna-Felicitas, disregarding the warning.
Mr. Sack, his fingers clasping and unclasping themselves behind his back, started walking up and down the room. Anna-Felicitas, forgetful of what Aunt Alice would have said, sat down on the edge of the table and began to be interested in Mrs. Sack.
"The wives I've seen," she remarked, watching Mr. Sack with friendly and interested eyes, "who were chiefly Aunt Alice—that's Uncle Arthur's wife, the one we're the nieces of—seemed to put up with the utmost contumely from their husbands and yet didn't budge. You must have been something awful to yours."
"I worshipped Mrs. Sack," burst out Mr. Sack. "I worshipped her. I do worship her. She was the handsomest, brightest woman in Boston. I was as proud of her as any man has ever been of his wife.""Then why did she go?" asked Anna-Felicitas. "I don't think that's the sort of thing you should ask," rebuked Anna-Rose. "But if I don't ask I won't be told," said Ann Felicitas, "and I'm interested." "Mrs. Sack went because I was able—I was so constructed—that I could be fond of other people as well as of her," said Mr. Sack. "Well, that's nothing unusual," said Anna-Felicitas. "No," said Anna-Rose, "I don't see anything in that." "I think it shows a humane and friendly spirit," said Anna-Felicitas. "Besides, it's enjoined in the Bible," said Anna-Rose.
"I'm sure when we meet Mrs. Sack," said Anna-Felicitas very politely indeed, "much as we expect to like her we shall nevertheless continue to like other people as well. You, for instance. Will she mind that?"
"It wasn't so much that I liked other people," said Mr. Sack, walking about and thinking tumultuously aloud rather than addressing anybody, "but that I liked other people so much.""I see," said Anna-Felicitas, nodding. "You overdid it. Like over-eating whipped cream. Only it wasn't you but Mrs. Sack who got the resulting ache." "And aren't I aching? Aren't I suffering?" "Yes, but you did the over-eating," said Anna-Felicitas. "The world," said the unhappy Mr. Sack, quickening his pace, "is so full of charming and delightful people. Is one to shut one's eyes to them?" "Of course not," said Anna-Felicitas. "One must love them." "Yes, yes," said Mr. Sack. "Exactly. That's what I did."
"And though I wouldn't wish," said Anna-Felicitas, "to say anything against somebody who so very nearly was my hostess, yet really, you know, wasn't Mrs. Sack's attitude rather churlish?"
Mr. Sack gazed at her. "Oh, aren't you a pretty—" he began again, with a kind of agonized enthusiasm; but he was again cut short by Anna-Rose, on whom facts of a disturbing nature were beginning to press.
"Aunt Alice," she said, looking and feeling extremely perturbed as the situation slowly grew clear to her, "told us we were never to stay with people whose wives are somewhere else. Unless they have a mother or other female relative living with them. She was most particular about it, and said whatever else we did we weren't ever to do this. So I'm afraid," she continued in her politest voice, determined to behave beautifully under circumstances that were trying, "much as we should have enjoyed staying with you and Mrs. Sack if she had been here to stay with, seeing that she isn't we manifestly can't.""You can't stay with me," murmured Mr. Sack, turning his bewildered eyes to her. "Were you going to?" "Of course we were going to. It's what we've come for," said Anna-Felicitas. "And I'm afraid," said-Anna-Rose, "disappointed as we are, unless you can produce a mother—"
"But where on earth are we to go to, Anna-R.?" inquired Anna-Felicitas, who, being lazy, having got to a place preferred if possible to stay in it, and who besides was sure that in their forlorn situation a Sack in the hand was worth two Sacks not in it, any day. Also she liked the look of Mr. Sack, in spite of his being so obviously out of repair. He badly wanted doing up she said to herself, but on the other hand he seemed to her lovable in his distress, with much of the pathetic helplessness her own dear Irish terrier, left behind in Germany, had had the day he caught his foot in a rabbit trap. He had looked at Anna-Felicitas, while she was trying to get him out of it, with just the same expression on his face that Mr. Sack had on his as he walked about the room twisting and untwisting his fingers behind his back. Only, her Irish terrier hadn't had a Gibson profile. Also, he had looked much more efficient."Can't you by any chance produce a mother?" she asked. Mr. Sack stared at her. "Of course we're very sorry," said Anna-Rose. Mr. Sack stared at her. "But you understand, I'm sure, that under the circumstances—"
"Do you say," said Mr. Sack, stopping still after a few more turns in front of Anna-Rose, and making a great effort to collect his thoughts, "that I—that we—had arranged to look after you?"
"Arranged with Uncle Arthur," said Anna-Rose. "Uncle Arthur Abinger. Of course you had. That's why we're here. Why, you wrote bidding us welcome. He showed us the letter.""Abinger. Abinger. Oh—that man," said Mr. Sack, his mind clearing. "We thought you'd probably feel like that about him," said Anna-Felicitas sympathetically. "Why, then," said Mr. Sack, his mind getting suddenly quite clear, "you must be—why, you are the Twinklers." "We've been drawing your attention to that at frequent intervals since we got here," said Anna-Felicitas. "But whether you now remember or still don't realize," said Anna-Rose with great firmness, "I'm afraid we've got to say good-bye." "That's all very well, Anna-R.," again protested Anna-Felicitas, "but where are we to go to?"
"Go?" said Anna-Rose with a dignity very creditable in one of her size, "Ultimately to California, of course, to Uncle Arthur's other friends. But now, this afternoon, we get back into a train and go to Clark, to Mr. Twist. He at least has a mother."
And so it came about that just as the reunited Twists, mother, son and daughter, were sitting in the drawing-room, a little tired after a long afternoon of affection, waiting for seven o'clock to strike and, with the striking, Amanda the head maid to appear and announce supper, but waiting with lassitude, for they had not yet recovered from an elaborate welcoming dinner, the Twinklers, in the lovely twilight of a golden day, were hastening up the winding road from the station towards them. Silent, and a little exhausted, the unconscious Twists sat in their drawing-room, a place of marble and antimacassars, while these light figures, their shoes white with the dust of a countryside that had had no rain for weeks, sped every moment nearer.
The road wound gently upwards through fields and woods, through quiet, delicious evening country, and there was one little star twinkling encouragingly at the twins from over where they supposed Clark would be. At the station there had been neither porter nor conveyance, nor indeed anybody or anything at all except themselves, their luggage, and a thin, kind man who represented authority. Clark is two miles away from its station, and all the way to it is uninhabited. Just at the station are a cluster of those hasty buildings America flings down in out-of-the-way places till she shall have leisure to make a splendid city; but the road immediately curved away from these up into solitude and the evening sky.
"You can't miss it," encouraged the station-master. "Keep right along after your noses till they knock up against Mrs. Twist's front gate. I'll look after the menagerie—" thus did he describe the Twinkler luggage. "Guess Mrs. Twist'll be sending for it as soon as you get there. Guess she forgot you. Guess she's shaken up by young Mr. Twist's arriving this very day. I wouldn't have forgotten you. No, not for a dozen young Mr. Twists," he added gallantly."Why do you call him young Mr. Twist," inquired Anna-Felicitas, "when he isn't? He must be at least thirty or forty or fifty." "You see, we know him quite well," said Anna-Rose proudly, as they walked off. "He's a great friend of ours."
"You don't say," said the station-master, who was chewing gum; and as the twins had not yet seen this being done they concluded he had been interrupted in the middle of a meal by the arrival of the train.
"Now mind," he called after them, "you do whatever the road does. Give yourselves up to it, and however much it winds about stick to it. You'll meet other roads, but don't you take any notice of them."
Freed from their luggage, and for a moment from all care, the twins went up the hill. It was the nicest thing in the world to be going to see their friend again in quite a few minutes. They had, ever since the collapse of the Sack arrangements, been missing him very much. As they hurried on through the scented woods, past quiet fields, between yellow-leaved hedges, the evening sky growing duskier and the beckoning star lighter, they remembered Mr. Twist's extraordinary kindness, his devoted and unfailing care, with the warmest feelings of gratitude and affection. Even Anna-Felicitas felt warm. How often had he rearranged her head when it was hopelessly rolling about; how often had he fed her when she felt better enough to be hungry. Anna-Felicitas was very hungry. She still thought highly of pride and independence, but now considered their proper place was after a good meal. And Anna-Rose, with all the shameless cheerfulness of one who for a little has got rid of her pride and is feeling very much more comfortable in consequence remarked that one mustn't overdo independence.
But she did begin to run, for she too was very hungry, and they raced the rest of the way; which is why they arrived on the Twist doorstep panting, and couldn't at first answer Amanda the head maid's surprised and ungarnished inquiry as to what they wanted, when she opened the door and found them there."We want Mr. Twist," said Anna-Rose, as soon as she could speak.
Amanda eyed them. "You from the village?" she asked, thinking perhaps they might be a deputation of elder school children sent to recite welcoming poems to Mr. Twist on his safe return from the seat of war. Yet she knew all the school children and everybody else in Clark, and none of them were these."No—from the station," panted Anna-Rose. "We didn't see any village," panted Anna-Felicitas. "We want Mr. Twist please," said Anna-Rose struggling with her breath. Amanda eyed them. "Having supper," she said curtly. "Fortunate creature," gasped Anna-Felicitas, "I hope he isn't eating it all." "Will you announce us please?" said Anna-Rose putting on her dignity. "The Miss Twinklers."
"The who?" said Amanda. "The Miss Twinklers," said Anna-Rose, putting on still more dignity, for there was that in Amanda's manner which roused the Junker in her."Can't disturb him at supper," said Amanda briefly. "I assure you," said Anna-Felicitas, with the earnestness of conviction, "that he'll like it. I think I can undertake to promise he'll show no resentment whatever." Amanda half shut the door. "We'll come in please," said Anna-Rose, inserting herself into what was left of the opening. "Will you kindly bear in mind that we're totally unaccustomed to the doorstep?"
Amanda, doubtful, but unpractised in such a situation, permitted herself, in spite of having as she well knew the whole of free and equal America behind her, to be cowed. Well, perhaps not cowed, but taken aback. It was the long words and the awful politeness that did it. She wasn't used to beautiful long words like that, except on Sundays when the clergyman read the prayers in church, and she wasn't used to politeness. That so much of it should come out of objects so young rendered Amanda temporarily dumb.She wavered with the door. Instantly Anna-Rose slipped through it; instantly AnnaFelicitas followed her.
"Kindly tell your master the Miss Twinklers have arrived," said Anna-Rose, looking every inch a Junker. There weren't many inches of Anna-Rose, but every one of them at that moment, faced by Amanda's want of discipline, was sheer Junker.
Amanda, who had never met a Junker in her happy democratic life, was stirred into bristling emotion by the word master. She was about to fling the insult of it from her by an impetuous and ill-considered assertion that if he was her master she was his mistress and so there now, when the bell which had rung once already since they had been standing parleying rang again and more impatiently, and the dining-room door opened and a head appeared. The twins didn't know that it was Edith's head, but it was.
"Amanda—" began Edith, in the appealing voice that was the nearest she ever dared get to rebuke without Amanda giving notice; but she stopped on seeing what, in the dusk of the hall, looked like a crowd. "Oh—" said Edith, taken aback. "Oh—" And was for withdrawing her head and shutting the door.But the twins advanced towards her and the stream of light shining behind her and the agreeable smell streaming past her, with outstretched hands.
"How do you do," they both said cordially. " Don't go away again." Edith, feeling that here was something to protect her quietly feeding mother from, came rather hastily through the door and held it to behind her, while her unresponsive and surprised hand was taken and shaken even as Mr. Sack's had been."We've come to see Mr. Twist," said Anna-Rose. "He's our friend," said Anna-Felicitas. "He's our best friend," said Anna-Rose.
"Is he in there?" asked Anna-Felicitas, appreciatively moving her nose, a particularly delicate instrument, round among the various really heavenly smells that were issuing from the dining-room and sorting them out and guessing what they probably represented, the while water rushed into her mouth.The sound of a chair being hastily pushed back was heard and Mr. Twist suddenly appeared in the doorway. "What is it, Edward?" a voice inside said.
Mr. Twist was a pale man, whose skin under no circumstances changed colour except in his ears. These turned red when he was stirred, and they were red now, and seemed translucent with the bright light behind him shining through them.
The twins flew to him. It was wonderful how much pleased they were to see him again. It was as if for years they had been separated from their dearest friend. The few hours since the night before had been enough to turn their friendship and esteem for him into a warm proprietary affection. They felt that Mr. Twist belonged to them. Even AnnaFelicitas felt it, and her eyes as she beheld him were bright with pleasure."Oh there you are," cried Anna-Rose darting forward, gladness in her voice, and catching hold of his arm. "We've come," said Anna-Felicitas, beaming and catching hold of his other arm. "We got into difficulties," said Anna-Rose. "We got into them at once," said Anna-Felicitas. "They weren't our difficulties—" "They were the Sacks'—" "But they reacted on us—" "And so here we are." "Who is it, Edward?" asked the voice inside. "Mrs. Sack ran away yesterday from Mr. Sack," went on Anna-Rose eagerly. "Mr. Sack was still quite warm and moist from it when we got there," said AnnaFelicitas. "Aunt Alice said we weren't ever to stay in a house where they did that," said AnnaRose. "Where there wasn't a lady," said Anna-Felicitas "So when we saw that she wasn't there because she'd gone, we turned straight round to you," said Anna. Rose. "Like flowers turning to the sun," said Anna-Felicitas, even in that moment of excitement not without complacency at her own aptness. "And left our things at the station," Anna-Rose rushed on. "And ran practically the whole way," said Anna-Felicitas, "because of perhaps being late for supper and you're having eaten it all, and we so dreadfully hungry—" "Who is it, Edward?" again called the voice inside, louder and more insistently. Mr. Twist didn't answer. He was quickly turning over the situation in his mind.
He had not mentioned the twins to his mother, which would have been natural, seeing how very few hours he had of reunion with her, if she hadn't happened to have questioned him particularly as to his fellow-passengers on the boat. Her questions had been confined to the first-class passengers, and he had said, truthfully, that he had hardly spoken to one of them, and not at all to any of the women.
Mrs. Twist had been relieved, for she lived in dread of Edward's becoming, as she put it to herself, entangled with ladies. Sin would be bad enough—for Mrs. Twist was obliged reluctantly to know that even with ladies it is possible to sin—but marriage for Edward would be even worse, because it lasted longer. Sin, terrible though it was, had at least this to be said for it, that it could be repented of and done with, and repentance after all was a creditable activity; but there was no repenting of marriage with any credit. It was a holy thing, and you don't repent of holy things,—at least, you oughtn't to. If, as illadvised young men so often would, Edward wanted as years went on to marry in spite of his already having an affectionate and sympathetic home with feminine society in it, then it seemed to Mrs. Twist most important, most vital to the future comfort of the family, that it should be someone she had chosen herself. She had observed him from infancy, and knew much better than he what was needed for his happiness; and she also knew, if there must be a wife, what was needed for the happiness of his mother and sister. She had not thought to inquire about the second-class passengers, for it never occurred to her that a son of hers could drift out of his natural first-class sphere into the slums of a ship, and Mr. Twist had seen no reason for hurrying the Twinklers into her mental range. Not during those first hours, anyhow. There would be plenty of hours, and he felt that sufficient unto the day would be the Twinklers thereof.
But the part that was really making his ears red was that he had said nothing about the evening with the twins in New York. When his mother asked with the fondness of the occasion what had detained him, he said as many another honest man, pressed by the searching affection of relations, has said before him, that it was business. Now it appeared that he would have to go into the dining-room and say, "No. It wasn't business. It was these."
His ears glowed just to think of it. He hated to lie. Specially he hated to have lied,—at the moment, one plunged in spurred by sudden necessity, and then was left sorrowfully contemplating one's degradation. His own desire was always to be candid; but his mother, he well knew, could not bear the pains candour gave her. She had been so terribly hurt, so grievously wounded when, fresh from praying,—for before he went to Harvard he used to pray—he had on one or two occasions for a few minutes endeavoured not to lie to her that sheer fright at the effect of his unfiliality made him apologize and beg her to forget it and forgive him. Now she was going to be still more wounded by his having lied.
The meticulous tortuousness of family life struck Mr. Twist with a sudden great impatience. After that large life over there in France, to come back to this dreary petticoat lying, this feeling one's way about among tender places ..."Who is it, Edward?" called the voice inside for the third time. "There's someone in there seems quite particularly to want to know who we are," said Anna-Felicitas. "Why not tell her?" "I expect it's your mother," said Anna-Rose, feeling the full satisfaction of having got to a house from which the lady hadn't run anywhere. "It is," said Mr. Twist briefly. "Edith!" called the voice, much more peremptorily.
Edith started and half went in, but hesitated and quite stayed out. She was gazing at the Twinklers with the same kind eyes her brother had, but without the disfiguring spectacles. Astonishment and perplexity and anxiety were mixed with the kindness. Amanda also gazed; and if the twins hadn't been so sure of their welcome, even they might gradually have begun to perceive that it wasn't exactly open-armed.
"Edith—Edward—Amanda," called the voice, this time with unmistakable anger. For one more moment Mr. Twist stood uncertain, looking down at the happy confident faces turned up to him exactly, as Anna-Felicitas had just said, like flowers turning to the sun. Visions of France flashed before him, visions of what he had known, what he had just come back from. His friends over there, the gay courage, the helpfulness, the ready, uninquiring affection, the breadth of outlook, the quick friendliness, the careless assumption that one was decent, that one's intentions were good,—why shouldn't he pull some of the splendid stuff into his poor, lame little home? Why should he let himself drop back from heights like those to the old ridiculous timidities, the miserable habit of avoiding the truth? Rebellion, hope, determination, seized Mr. Twist. His eyes shone behind his spectacles. His ears were two red flags of revolution. He gripped hold of the twins, one under each arm.
"You come right in," he said, louder than he had ever spoken in his life. "Edith, see these girls? They're the two Annas. Their other name is Twinkler, but Anna'll see you through. They want supper, and they want beds, and they want affection, and they're going to get it all. So hustle with the food, and send the Cadillac for their baggage, and fix up things for them as comfortably as you know how. And as for Mrs. Sack," he said, looking first at one twin and then at the other, "if it hadn't been for her running away from her worthless husband—I'm convinced that fellow Sack is worthless—you might never have come here at all. So you see," he finished, laughing at Anna-Rose, "how good comes out of evil."And with the sound of these words preceding him he pushed open the dining-room door and marched them in.
At the head of the table sat his mother; long, straight, and grave. She was in the seat of authority, the one with its back to the windows and its face to the door, from whence she could see what everybody did, especially Amanda. Having seen what Amanda did, she then complained to Edith. She didn't complain direct to Amanda, because Amanda could and did give notice.
Her eyes were fixed on the door. Between it and her was the table, covered with admirable things to eat, it being supper and therefore, according to a Twist tradition surviving from penurious days, all the food, hot and cold, sweet and salt, being brought in together, and Amanda only attending when rung for. Half-eaten oyster patties lay on Mrs. Twist's plate. In her glass neglected champagne had bubbled itself flat. Her hand still held her fork, but loosely, as an object that had lost its interest, and her eyes and ears for the last five minutes had not departed from the door.
At first she had felt mere resigned annoyance that Amanda shouldn't have answered the bell, but she didn't wish to cast a shadow over Edward's homecoming by drawing poor Edith's attention before him to how very badly she trained the helps, and therefore she said nothing at the moment; then, when Edith, going in search of Amanda, had opened the door and let in sounds of argument, she was surprised, for she knew no one so intimately that they would be likely to call at such an hour; but when Edward too leapt up, and went out and stayed out and failed to answer her repeated calls, she was first astonished, then indignant, and then suddenly was overcome by a cold foreboding.
Mrs. Twist often had forebodings, and they were always cold. They seized her with bleak fingers; and one of Edith's chief functions was to comfort and reassure her for as long a while each time as was required to reach the stage of being able to shake them off. Here was one, however, too icily convincing to be shaken off. It fell upon her with the swiftness of a revelation. Something unpleasant was going to happen to her; something perhaps worse than unpleasant,—disastrous. And something immediate.
Those excited voices out in the hall,—they were young, surely, and they were feminine. Also they sounded most intimate with Edward. What had he been concealing from her? What disgracefulness had penetrated through him, through the son the neighbourhood thought so much of, into her very home? She was a widow. He was her only son. Impossible to believe he would betray so sacred a position, that he whom she had so lovingly and proudly welcomed a few hours before would allow his—well, she really didn't know what to call them, but anyhow female friends of whom she had been told nothing, to enter that place which to every decent human being is inviolable, his mother's home. Yet Mrs. Twist did instantly believe it.
Then Edward's voice, raised and defiant—surely defiant?—came through the crack in the door, and every word he said was quite distinct. Anna; supper; affection ... Mrs. Twist sat frozen. And then the door was flung open and Edward tumultuously entered, his ears crimson, his face as she had never seen it and in each hand, held tightly by the arm, a girl.Edward had been deceiving her. "Mother—" he began. "How do you do," said the girls together, and actually with smiles.
Edward had been deceiving her. That whole afternoon how quiet he had been, how listless. Quite gentle, quite affectionate, but listless and untalkative. She had thought he must be tired; worn out with his long journey across from Europe. She had made allowances for him; been sympathetic, been considerate. And look at him now. Never had she seen him with a face like that. He was—Mrs. Twist groped for the word and reluctantly found it—rollicking. Yes; that was the word that exactly described him— rollicking. If she hadn't observed his languor up to a few minutes ago at supper, and seen him with her own eyes refuse champagne and turn his back on cocktails, she would have been forced to the conclusion, dreadful though it was to a mother, that he had been drinking. And the girls! Two of them. And so young.
Mrs. Twist had known Edward, as she sometimes informed Edith, all his life, and had not yet found anything in his morals which was not blameless. Watch him with what loving care she might she had found nothing; and she was sure her mother's instinct would not have failed her. Nevertheless, even with that white past before her—he hadn't told her about "Madame Bovary"—she now instantly believed the worst.
It was the habit of Clark to believe the worst. Clark was very small, and therefore also very virtuous. Each inhabitant was the careful guardian of his neighhour's conduct. Nobody there ever did anything that was wrong; there wasn't a chance. But as Nature insists on a balance, the minds of Clark dwelt curiously on evil. They were minds active in suspicion. They leapt with an instantaneous agility at the worst conclusions. Nothing was ever said in Clark, but everything was thought. The older inhabitants, made fast prisoners in their mould of virtue by age, watched with jealous care the behaviour of those still young enough to attract temptation. The younger ones, brought up in inhibitions, settled down to wakefulness in regard to each other. Everything was provided and encouraged in Clark, a place of pleasant orchards and gentle fields, except the things that had to do with love. Husbands were there; and there was a public library, and social afternoons, and an Emerson society. The husbands died before the wives, being less able to cope with virtue; and a street in Clark of smaller houses into which their widows gravitated had been christened by the stationmaster—a more worldly man because of his three miles off and all the trains—Lamentation Lane.
In this village Mrs. Twist had lived since her marriage, full of dignity and honour. As a wife she had been full of it, for the elder Mr. Twist had been good even when alive, and as a widow she had been still fuller, for the elder Mr. Twist positively improved by being dead. Not a breath had ever touched her and her children. Not the most daring and distrustful Clark mind had ever thought of her except respectfully. And now here was this happening to her; at her age; when she was least able to bear it.She sat in silence, staring with sombre eyes at the three figures.
"Mother—" began Edward again; but was again interrupted by the twins, who said together, as they had now got into the habit of saying when confronted by silent and surprised Americans, "We've come."
It wasn't that they thought it a particularly good conversational opening, it was because silence and surprise on the part of the other person seemed to call for explanation on theirs, and they were constitutionally desirous of giving all the information in their power."How do you do," they then repeated, loosening themselves from Mr. Twist and advancing down the room with outstretched hands. Mr. Twist came with them. "Mother," he said, "these are the Twinkler girls. Their name's Twinkler. They—-"
Freed as he felt he was from his old bonds, determined as he felt he was on emulating the perfect candour and simplicity of the twins and the perfect candour and simplicity of his comrades in France, his mother's dead want of the smallest reaction to this announcement tripped him up for a moment and prevented his going on.
But nothing ever prevented the twins going on. If they were pleased and excited they went on with cheerful gusto, and if they were unnerved and frightened they still went on,—perhaps even more volubly, anxiously seeking cover behind a multitude of words.
Mrs. Twist had not yet unnerved and frightened them, because they were too much delighted that they had got to her at all. The relief Anna-Rose experienced at having safely piloted that difficult craft, the clumsy if adorable Columbus, into a respectable Port was so immense that it immediately vented itself in words of warmest welcome to the lady in the chair to her own home.
"We're so glad to see you here," she said, smiling till her dimple seemed to be everywhere at once hardly able to refrain from giving the lady a welcome hug instead of just inhospitably shaking her hand. She couldn't even shake her hand, however, because it still held, immovably, the fork. "It would have been too awful," Anna-Rose therefore finished, putting the heartiness of the handshake she wanted to give into her voice instead, "if you had happened to have run away too."
"As Mrs. Sack has done from her husband," Anna-Felicitas explained, smiling too, benevolently, at the black lady who actually having got oyster patties on her plate hadn't bothered to eat them. "But of course you couldn't," she went on, remembering in time to be tactful and make a Sympathetic reference to the lady's weeds; which, indeed, considering Mr. Twist had told her and Anna-Rose that his father had died when he was ten, nearly a quarter of a century ago, seemed to have kept their heads up astonishingly and stayed very fresh. And true to her German training, and undaunted by the fork, she did that which Anna-Rose in her contentment had forgotten, and catching up Mrs. Twist's right hand, fork and all, to her lips gave it the brief ceremonious kiss of a well brought up Junker.
Like Amanda's, Mrs. Twist's life had been up to this empty of Junkers. She had never even heard of them till the war, and pronounced their name, and so did the rest of Clark following her lead, as if it had been junket, only with an r instead of a t at the end. She didn't therefore recognize the action; but even she, outraged as she was, could not but see its grace. And looking up in sombre hostility at the little head bent over her hand and at the dark line of eyelashes on the the flushed face, she thought swiftly, "She's the one."
"You see, mother," said Mr. Twist, pulling a chair vigorously and sitting on it with determination, "it's like this. (Sit down, you two, and get eating. Start on anything you see in this show that hits your fancy. Edith'll be fetching you something hot, I expect— soup, or something—but meanwhile here's enough stuff to go on with.) You see, mother—" he resumed, turning squarely to her, while the twins obeyed him with immense alacrity and sat down and began to eat whatever happened to be nearest them, "these two girls—well, to start with they're twins—-"
Mr. Twist was stopped again by his mother's face. She couldn't conceive why he should lie. Twins the world over matched in size and features; it was notorious that they did. Also, it was the custom for them to match in age, and the tall one of these was at least a year older than the other one. But still, thought Mrs. Twist, let that pass. She would suffer whatever it was she had to suffer in silence.
The twins too were silent, because they were so busy eating. Perfectly at home under the wing they knew so well, they behaved with an easy naturalness that appeared to Mrs. Twist outrageous. But still—let that too pass. These strangers helped themselves and helped each other, as if everything belonged to them; and the tall one actually asked her—her, the mistress of the house—if she could get her anything. Well, let that pass too."You see, mother—" began Mr. Twist again.
He was finding it extraordinarily difficult. What a tremendous hold one's early training had on one, he reflected, casting about for words; what a deeply rooted fear there was in one, subconscious, lurking in one's foundations, of one's mother, of her authority, of her quickly wounded affection. Those Jesuits, with their conviction that they could do what they liked with a man if they had had the bringing up of him till he was seven, were pretty near the truth. It took a lot of shaking off, the unquestioning awe, the habit of obedience of one's childhood.
Mr. Twist sat endeavouring to shake it off. He also tried to bolster himself up by thinking he might perhaps be able to assist his mother to come out from her narrowness, and discover too how warm and glorious the sun shone outside, where people loved and helped each other. Then he rejected that as priggish.
"You see, mother," he started again, "I came across them—across these two girls— they're both called Anna, by the way, which seems confusing but isn't really—I came across them on the boat——"He again stopped dead.
Mrs. Twist had turned her dark eyes to him. They had been fixed on Anna-Felicitas, and on what she was doing with the dish of oyster patties in front of her. What she was doing was not what Mrs. Twist was accustomed to see done at her table. Anna-Felicitas was behaving badly with the patties, and not even attempting to conceal, as the decent do, how terribly they interested her.
"You came across them on the boat," repeated Mrs. Twist, her eyes on her son, moved in spite of her resolution to speech. And he had told her that very afternoon that he had spoken to nobody except men. Another lie. Well, let that pass too ...
Mr. Twist sat staring back at her through his big gleaming spectacles. He well knew the weakness of his position from his mother's point of view; but why should she have such a point of view, such a niggling, narrow one, determined to stay angry and offended because he had been stupid enough to continue, under the influence of her presence, the old system of not being candid with her, of being slavishly anxious to avoid offending? Let her try for once to understand and forgive. Let her for once take the chance offered her of doing a big, kind thing. But as he stared at her it entered his mind that he couldn't very well start moving her heart on behalf of the twins in their presence. He couldn't tell her they were orphans, alone in the world, helpless, poor, and so unfortunately German, with them sitting there. If he did, there would be trouble. The twins seemed absorbed for the moment in getting fed, but he had no doubt their ears were attentive, and at the first suggestion of sympathy being invoked for them they would begin to say a few of those things he was so much afraid his mother mightn't be able to understand. Or, if she understood, appreciate.
He decided that he would be quiet until Edith came back, and then ask his mother to go to the drawing-room with him, and while Edith was looking after the Annas he would, well out of earshot, explain them to his mother, describe their situation, commend them to her patience and her love. He sat silent therefore, wishing extraordinarily hard that Edith would be quick.
But Anna-Felicitas's eyes were upon him now, as well as his mother's. "Is it possible," she asked with her own peculiar gentleness, balancing a piece of patty on her fork, "that you haven't yet mentioned us to your mother?"
And Anna-Rose, struck in her turn at such an omission, paused too with food on the way to her mouth, and said, "And we such friends?"
Mrs. Twist, after an instant's astonishment at this unexpected support, bowed her head—it could hardly be called a nod—in her son's direction. "You see—" the movement seemed to say, "even these ..."
"And ever since the first day at sea," said Anna-Felicitas, also addressing Mrs. Twist, "up to as recently as eleven o'clock last night, he has been what I think can be quite accurately described as our faithful two-footed companion.""Yes," said Anna-Rose. "As much as that we've been friends. Practically inseparable." "So that it really is very surprising," said Anna-Felicitas to Mr. Twist, "that you didn't tell your mother about us." Mr. Twist got up. He wouldn't wait for Edith. It was unhealthy in that room.
He took his mother's arm and helped her to get up. "You're very wise, you two," he flung at the twins in the voice of the goaded, "but you may take it from me you don't know everything yet. Mother, come into the drawing-room, and we'll talk. Edith'll see to these girls. I expect I ought to have talked sooner," he went on, as he led her to the door, "but confound it all, I've only been home about a couple of hours.""Five," said Mrs. Twist. "Five then. What's five? No time at all." "Ample," said Mrs Twist; adding icily, "and did I you say confound, Edward?" "Well, damn then," said Edward very loud, in a rush of rank rebellion.
This night was the turning-point in Mr. Twist's life. In it he broke loose from his mother. He spent a terrible three hours with her in the drawing-room, and the rest of the night he strode up and down his bedroom. The autumn morning, creeping round the house in long white wisps, found him staring out of his window very pale, his mouth pulled together as tight as it would go.
His mother had failed him. She had not understood. And not only simply not understood, but she had said things when at last she did speak, after he had explained and pleaded for at least an hour, of an incredible bitterness and injustice. She had seemed to hate him. If she hadn't been his mother Mr. Twist would have been certain she hated him, but he still believed that mothers couldn't hate their children. It was stark against nature; and Mr. Twist still believed in the fundamental rightness of that which is called nature. She had accused him of gross things—she, his mother, who from her conversation since he could remember was unaware, he had judged, of the very existence of such things. Those helpless children ... Mr. Twist stamped as he strode. Well, he had made her take that back; and indeed she had afterwards admitted that she said it in her passion of grief and disappointment, and that it was evident these girls were not like that.
But before they reached that stage, for the first time in his life he had been saying straight out what he wanted to say to his mother just as if she had been an ordinary human being. He told her all he knew of the twins, asked her to take them in for the present and be good to them, and explained the awkwardness of their position, apart from its tragedy, as Germans by birth stranded in New England, where opinion at that moment was so hostile to Germans. Then, continuing in candour, he had told his mother that here was her chance of doing a fine and beautiful thing, and it was at this point that Mrs. Twist suddenly began, on her side, to talk.
She had listened practically in silence to the rest; had only started when he explained the girls' nationality; but when he came to offering her these girls as the great opportunity of her life to do something really good at last, she, who felt she had been doing nothing else but noble and beautiful things, and doing them with the most singleminded devotion to duty and the most consistent disregard of inclination, could keep silence no longer. Had she not borne her great loss without a murmur? Had she not devoted all her years to bringing up her son to be a good man? Had she ever considered herself? Had she ever flagged in her efforts to set an example of patience in grief, of dignity in misfortune? She began to speak. And just as amazed as she had been at the things this strange, unknown son had been saying to her and at the manner of their delivery, so was he amazed at the things this strange, unknown mother was saying to him, and at the manner of their delivery.
Yet his amazement was not so great after all as hers. Because for years, away down hidden somewhere inside him, he had doubted his mother; for years he had, shocked at himself, covered up and trampled on these unworthy doubts indignantly. He had doubted her unselfishness; he had doubted her sympathy and kindliness; he had even doubted her honesty, her ordinary honesty with money and accounts; and lately, before he went to Europe, he had caught himself thinking she was cruel. Nevertheless this unexpected naked justification of his doubts was shattering to him.
But Mrs. Twist had never doubted Edward. She thought she knew him inside out. She had watched him develop. Watched him during the long years of his unconsciousness. She had been quite secure; and rather disposed, also somewhere down inside her, to a contempt for him, so easy had he been to manage, so ready to do everything she wished. Now it appeared that she no more knew Edward than if he had been a stranger in the street.
The bursting of the dykes of convention between them was a horrible thing to them both. Mr. Twist had none of the cruelty of the younger generation to support him: he couldn't shrug his shoulder and take comfort in the thought that this break between them was entirely his mother's fault, for however much he believed it to be her fault the belief merely made him wretched; he had none of the pitiless black pleasure to be got from telling himself it served her right. So naturally kind was he—weak, soft, stupid, his mother shook out at him—that through all his own shame at this naked vision of what had been carefully dressed up for years in dignified clothes of wisdom and affection, he was actually glad, when he had time in his room to think it over, glad she should be so passionately positive that he, and only he, was in the wrong. It would save her from humiliation; and of the painful things of late Mr. Twist could least bear to see a human being humiliated.
That was, however, towards morning. For hours raged, striding about his room, sorting out the fragments into which his life as a son had fallen, trying to fit them into some sort of a pattern, to see clear about the future. Clearer. Not clear. He couldn't hope for that yet. The future seemed one confused lump. All he could see really clear of it was that he was going, next day, and taking the twins. He would take them to the other people they had a letter to, the people in California, and then turn his face back to Europe, to the real thing, to the greatness of life where death is. Not an hour longer than he could help would he or they stay in that house. He had told his mother he would go away, and she had said, "I hope never to see you again." Who would have thought she had so much of passion in her? Who would have thought he had so much of it in him?
Fury against her injustice shook and shattered Mr. Twist. Not so could fair and affectionate living together be conducted, on that basis of suspicion, distrust, jealousy. Through his instinct, though not through his brain, shot the conviction that his mother was jealous of the twins,—jealous of the youth of the twins, and of their prettiness, and goodness, and of the power, unknown to them, that these things gave them. His brain was impervious to such a conviction, because it was an innocent brain, and the idea would never have entered it that a woman of his mother's age, well over sixty, could be jealous in that way; but his instinct knew it.The last thing his mother said as he left the drawing-room was, "You have killed me. You have killed your own mother. And just because of those girls."
And Mr. Twist, shocked at this parting shot of unfairness, could find, search as he might, nothing to be said for his mother's point of view. It simply wasn't true. It simply was delusion.
Nor could she find anything to be said for his, but then she didn't try to, it was so manifestly unforgivable. All she could do, faced by this bitter sorrow, was to leave Edward to God. Sternly, as he flung out of the room at last, unsoftened, untouchable, deaf to her even when she used the tone he had always obeyed the tone of authority, she said to herself she must leave her son to God. God knew. God would judge. And Clark too would know; and Clark too would judge.
Left alone in the drawing-room on this terrible night of her second great bereavement, Mrs. Twist was yet able, she was thankful to feel, to resolve she would try to protect her son as long as she could from Clark. From God she could not, if she would, protect him; but she would try to protect him even now, as she had always protected him, from earthly harm and hurt. Clark would, however, surely know in time, protect as she might, and judge between her and Edward. God knew already, and was already judging. God and Clark.... Poor Edward.
The twins, who had gone to bed at half-past nine, shepherded by Edith, in the happy conviction that they had settled down comfortably for some time, were surprised to find at breakfast that they hadn't.
They had taken a great fancy to Edith, in spite of a want of restfulness on her part that struck them while they were finishing their supper, and to which at last they drew her attention. She was so kind, and so like Mr. Twist; but though she looked at them with hospitable eyes and wore an expression of real benevolence, it didn't escape their notice that she seemed to be listening to something that wasn't, anyhow, them, and to be expecting something that didn't, anyhow, happen. She went several times to the door through which her brother and mother had disappeared, and out into whatever part of the house lay beyond it, and when she came back after a minute or two was as wanting in composure as ever.
At last, finding these abrupt and repeated interruptions hindered any real talk, they pointed out to her that reasoned conversation was impossible if one of the parties persisted in not being in the room, and inquired of her whether it were peculiar to her, or typical of the inhabitants of America, to keep on being somewhere else. Edith smiled abstractedly at them, said nothing, and went out again.
She was longer away this time, and the twins having eaten, among other things, a great many meringues, grew weary of sitting with those they hadn't eaten lying on the dish in front of them reminding them of those they had. They wanted, having done with meringues, to get away from them and forget them. They wanted to go into another room now, where there weren't any. Anna-Felicitas felt, and told Anna-Rose who was staring listlessly at the left-over meringues, that it was like having committed murder, and being obliged to go on looking at the body long after you were thoroughly tired of it. Anna-Rose agreed, and said that she wished now she hadn't committed meringues,— anyhow so many of them.
Then at last Edith came back, and told them she was sure they were very tired after their long day, and suggested their going upstairs to their rooms. The rooms were ready, said Edith, the baggage had come, and she was sure they would like to have nice hot baths and go to bed.
The twins obeyed her readily, and she checked a desire on their part to seek out her mother and brother first and bid them good-night, on the ground that her mother and brother were busy; and while the twins were expressing polite regret, and requesting her to convey their regret for them to the proper quarter in a flow of well-chosen words that astonished Edith, who didn't know how naturally Junkers make speeches, she hurried them by the drawing-room door through which, shut though it was, came sounds of people being, as Anna-Felicitas remarked, very busy indeed; and Anna-Rose, impressed by the quality and volume of Mr. Twist's voice as it reached her passing ears, told Edith that intimately as she knew her brother she had never known him as busy as that before.Edith said nothing, but continued quickly up the stairs.
They found they each had a bedroom, with a door between, and that each bedroom had a bathroom of its own, which filled them with admiration and pleasure. There had only been one bathroom at Uncle Arthur's, and at home in Pomerania there hadn't been any at all. The baths there had been vessels brought into one's bedroom every night, into which servants next morning poured water out of buckets, having previously pumped the water into the bucket from the pump in the backyard. They put Edith in possession of these facts while she helped them unpack and brushed and plaited their hair for them, and she was much astonished,—both at the conditions of discomfort and slavery they revealed as prevalent in other countries, and at the fact that they, the Twinklers, should hail from Pomerania.
Pomerania, reflected Edith as she tied up their pigtails with the ribbons handed to her for that purpose, used to be in Germany when she went to school, and no doubt still was. She became more thoughtful than ever, though she still smiled at them, for how could she help it? Everyone, Edith was certain, must needs smile at the Twinklers even if they didn't happen to be one's own dear brother's protegees. And when they came out, very clean and with scrubbed pink ears, from their bath, she not only smiled at them as she tucked them up in bed, but she kissed them good-night.
Edith, like her brother, was born to be a mother,—one of the satisfactory sort that keeps you warm and doesn't argue with you. Germans or no Germans the Twinklers were the cutest little things, thought Edith; and she kissed them, with the same hunger with which, being now thirty-eight, she was beginning to kiss puppies."You remind me so of Mr. Twist," murmured Anna-Felicitas sleepily, as Edith tucked her up and kissed her.
"You do all the sorts of things he does," murmured Anna-Rose, also sleepily, when it was her turn to be tucked up and kissed; and in spite of a habit now fixed in her of unquestioning acceptance and uncritical faith. Edith went downstairs to her restless vigil outside the drawing-room door a little surprised.
At breakfast the twins learnt to their astonishment that, though appearances all pointed the other way what they were really doing was not being stationary at all, but merely having a night's lodging and breakfast between, as it were, two trains.
Mr. Twist, who looked pale and said shortly when the twins remarked solicitously on it that he felt pale, briefly announced the fact.
"What?" exclaimed Anna-Rose, staring at Mr. Twist and then at Edith—Mrs. Twist, they were told, was breakfasting in bed—"Why, we've unpacked."
He frowned. He didn't look at them, he frowned at his own teapot. He had made up his mind to be very short with the Annas until they were safely out of the house, and not permit himself to be entangled by them in controversy. Also, he didn't want to look at them if he could help it. He was afraid that if he did he might be unable not to take them both in his arms and beg their pardon for the whole horridness of the world.But if he didn't look at them, they looked at him. Four round, blankly surprised eyes were fixed, he knew, unblinkingly on him. "We're seeing you in quite a new light," said Anna-Rose at last, troubled and upset. "Maybe," said Mr. Twist, frowning at his teapot. "Perhaps you will be so good," said Anna-Felicitas stiffly, for at all times she hated being stirred up and uprooted, "as to tell us where you think we're going to."
"Because," said Anna-Rose, her voice trembling a little, not only at the thought of fresh responsibilities, but also with a sense of outraged faith, "our choice of residence, as you may have observed, is strictly limited."Mr. Twist, who had spent an hour before breakfast with Edith, whose eyes were red, informed them that they were en route for California. "To those other people," said Anna-Rose. "I see." She held her head up straight.
"Well, I expect they'll be very glad to see us," she said after a silence; and proceeded, her chin in the air, to look down her nose, because she didn't want Mr. Twist, or Edith or Anna-Felicitas, to notice that her eyes had gone and got tears in them. She angrily wished she hadn't got such damp eyes. They were no better than swamps, she thought—undrained swamps; and directly fate's foot came down a little harder than usual, up oozed the lamentable liquid. Not thus should the leader of an expedition behave. Not thus, she was sure, did the original Christopher. She pulled herself together; and after a minute's struggle was able to leave off looking down her nose. But meanwhile Anna-Felicitas had informed Mr. Twist with gentle dignity that he was obviously tired of them."Not at all," said Mr. Twist. Anna-Felicitas persisted. "In view of the facts," she said gently, "I'm afraid your denial carries no weight." "The facts," said Mr. Twist, taking up his teapot and examining it with care, "are that I'm coming with you." "Oh are you," said Anna-Felicitas much more briskly; and it was here that Anna-Rose's eyes dried up.
"That rather dishes your theory," said Mr. Twist, still turning his teapot about in his hands. "Or would if it didn't happen that I—well, I happen to have some business to do in California, and I may as well do it now as later. Still, I could have gone by a different route or train, so you see your theory is rather dished, isn't it?""A little," admitted Anna-Felicitas. "Not altogether. Because if you really like our being here, here we are. So why hurry us off somewhere else so soon?"
Mr. Twist perceived that he was being led into controversy in spite of his determination not to be. "You're very wise," he said shortly, "but you don't know everything. Let us avoid conjecture and stick to facts. I'm going to take you to California, and hand you over to your friends. That's all you know, and all you need to know.""As Keats very nearly said," said Anna-Rose "And if our friends have run away?" suggested Anna-Felicitas. "Oh Lord," exclaimed Mr. Twist impatiently, putting the teapot down with a bang, "do you think we're running away all the time in America?" "Well, I think you seem a little restless," said Anna-Felicitas.
Thus it was that two hours later the twins found themselves at the Clark station once more, once more starting into the unknown, just as if they had never done it before, and gradually, as they adapted themselves to the sudden change, such is the india-rubberlike quality of youth, almost with the same hopefulness. Yet they couldn't but meditate, left alone on the platform while Mr. Twist checked the baggage, on the mutability of life. They seemed to live in a kaleidoscope since the war began what a series of upheavals and readjustments had been theirs! Silent, and a little apart on the Clark platform, they reflected retrospectively; and as they counted up their various starts since the days, only fourteen months ago, when they were still in their home in Germany, apparently as safely rooted, as unshakably settled as the pine trees in their own forests, they couldn't but wonder at the elusiveness of the unknown, how it wouldn't let itself be caught up with and at the trouble it was giving them.
They had had so many changes in the last year that they did want now to have time to become familiar with some one place and people. Already however, being seventeen, they were telling themselves, and each other that after all, since the Sacks had failed them, California was their real objective. Not Clark at all. Clark had never been part of their plans. Uncle Arthur and Aunt Alice didn't even know it existed. It was a side-show; just a little thing of their own, an extra excursion slipped in between the Sacks and the Delloggs. True they had hoped to stay there some time, perhaps even for months,— anyhow, time to mend their stockings in, which were giving way at the toes unexpectedly, seeing how new they were; but ultimately California was the place they had to go to. It was only that it was a little upsetting to be whisked out of Clark at a moment's notice.
"I expect you'll explain everything to us when we're in the train and have lots of time," Anna-Rose had said to Mr. Twist as the car moved away from the house and Edith, redeyed, waved her handkerchief from the doorstep.Mrs. Twist had not come down to say good-bye, and they had sent her many messages. "I expect I will," Mr. Twist had answered.
But it was not till they were the other side of Chicago that he really began to be himself again. Up to then—all that first day, and the next morning in New York where he took them to the bank their £200 was in and saw that they got a cheque-book, and all the day after that waiting in the Chicago hotel for the train they were to go on in to California—Mr. Twist was taciturn.
They left Chicago in the evening; a raw, wintery October evening with cold rain in the air, and the twins, going early to bed in their compartment, a place that seemed to them so enchanting that their spirits couldn't fail to rise, saw no more of him till breakfast next morning. They then noticed that the cloud had lifted a little; and as the day went on it lifted still more. They were going to be three days together in that train, and it would be impossible for Mr. Twist, they were sure, to go on being taciturn as long as that. It wasn't his nature. His nature was conversational. And besides, shut up like that in a train, the sheer getting tired of reading all day would make him want to talk.
So after lunch, when they were all three on the platform of the observation car, though there was nothing to observe except limitless flat stretches of bleak and empty country, the twins suggested that he should now begin to talk again. They pointed out that his body was bound to get stiff on that long journey from want of exercise, but that his mind needn't, and he had better stretch it by conversing agreeably with them as he used to before the day, which seemed so curiously long ago, when they landed in America. "It does indeed seem long ago," agreed Mr. Twist, lighting another cigarette. "I have difficulty in realizing it isn't a week yet."
And he reflected that the Annas had managed to produce pretty serious havoc in America considering they had only been in it five days. He and his mother permanently estranged; Edith left alone at Clark sitting there in the ruins of her loving preparations for his return, with nothing at all that he could see to look forward to and live for except the hourly fulfilment of what she regarded as duty; every plan upset; the lives, indeed, of his mother and of his sister and of himself completely altered,—it was a pretty big bag in the time, he thought, flinging the match back towards Chicago.
Mr. Twist felt sore. He felt like somebody who had had a bad tumble, and is sore and a little dizzy; but he recognized that these great ruptures cannot take place without aches and doubts. He ached, and he doubted and he also knew through his aches and doubts that he was free at last from what of late years he had so grievously writhed under—the shame of pretence. And the immediate cause of his being set free was, precisely, the Annas.
It had been a violent, a painful setting free, but it had happened; and who knew if, without their sudden appearance at Clark and the immediate effect they produced on his mother, he wouldn't have lapsed after all, in spite of the feelings and determinations he had brought back with him from Europe, into the old ways again under the old influence, and gone on ignobly pretending to agree, to approve, to enjoy, to love, when he was never for an instant doing anything of the sort? He might have trailed on like that for years—Mr. Twist didn't like the picture of his own weakness, but he was determined to look at himself as he was—trailed along languidly when he was at home, living another life when he was away, getting what he absolutely must have, the irreducible minimum of personal freedom necessary to sanity, by means of small and shabby deceits. My goodness, how he hated deceits, how tired he was of the littleness of them!
He turned his head and looked at the profiles of the Annas sitting alongside him. His heart suddenly grew warm within him. They had on the blue caps again which made them look so bald and cherubic, and their eyes were fixed on the straight narrowing lines of rails that went back and back to a point in the distance. The dear little things; the dear, dear little things,—so straightforward, so blessedly straight and simple, thought Mr. Twist. Fancy his mother losing a chance like this. Fancy anybody, thought the affectionate and kind man, missing an opportunity of helping such unfortunately placed children.
The twins felt he was looking at them, and together they turned and looked at him. When they saw his expression they knew the cloud had lifted still more, and their faces broke into broad smiles of welcome."It's pleasant to see you back again," said Anna-Felicitas heartily, who was next to him.
"We've missed you very much," said Anna-Rose. "It hasn't been like the same place, the world hasn't," said Anna-Felicitas, "since you've been away.""Since you walked out of the dining-room that night at Clark," said Anna-Rose. "Of course we know you can't always be with us," said Anna-Felicitas. "Which we deeply regret," interjected Anna-Rose.
"But while you are with us," said Anna-Felicitas, "for these last few days, I would suggest that we should be happy. As happy as we used to be on the St. Luke when we weren't being sea-sick." And she thought she might even go so far as to enjoy hearing the "Ode to Dooty," now.
"Yes," said Anna-Rose, leaning forward. "In three days we shall have disappeared into the maw of the Delloggs. Do let us be happy while we can. Who knows what their maw will be like? But whatever it's like," she added firmly, "we're going to stick in it.""And perhaps," said Anna-Felicitas, "now that you're a little restored to your normal condition, you'll tell us what has been the matter." "For it's quite clear," said Anna-Rose, "that something has been the matter." "We've been talking it over," said Anna-Felicitas, "and putting two and two together, and perhaps you'll tell us what it was, and then we shall know if we're right."
"Perhaps I will," said Mr. Twist, cogitating, as he continued benevolently to gaze at them. "Let's see—" He hesitated, and pushed his hat off his forehead. "I wonder if you'd understand—""We'll give our minds to it," Anna-Felicitas assured him. "These caps make us look more stupid than we are," Anna-Rose assured him, deducing her own appearance from that of Anna-Felicitas.
Encouraged, but doubtful of their capabilities of comprehension on this particular point, Mr. Twist embarked rather gingerly on his explanations. He was going to be candid from now on for the rest of his days, but the preliminary plunges were, he found, after all a little difficult. Even with the pellucidly candid Annas, all ready with ears pricked up attentively and benevolently and minds impartial, he found it difficult. It was because, on the subject of mothers, he feared he was up against their one prejudice. He felt rather than knew that their attitude on this one point might be uncompromising,—mothers were mothers, and there was an end of it; that sort of attitude, coupled with extreme reprobation of himself for supposing anything else.
He was surprised and relieved to find he was wrong. Directly they got wind of the line his explanations were taking, which was very soon for they were giving their minds to it as they promised and Mr. Twist's hesitations were illuminating, they interrupted.
CHAPTER XIX After this brief éclaircissement the rest of the journey was happy. Indeed, it is doubtful if any one can journey to California and not be happy.
Mr. Twist had never been further west than Chicago and break up or no break up of his home he couldn't but have a pleasant feeling of adventure. Every now and then the realization of this feeling gave his conscience a twinge, and wrung out of it a rebuke. He was having the best of it in this business; he was the party in the quarrel who went away, who left the dreariness of the scene of battle with all its corpses of dead illusions, and got off to fresh places and people who had never heard of him. Just being in a train, he found, and rushing on to somewhere else was extraordinarily nerve-soothing. At Clark there would be gloom and stagnation, the heavy brooding of a storm that has burst but not moved on, a continued anger on his mother's side, naturally increasing with her inactivity, with her impotence. He was gone, and she could say and do nothing more to him. In a quarrel, thought Mr. Twist, the morning he pushed up his blinds and saw the desert at sunrise, an exquisite soft thing just being touched into faint colours,— in a quarrel the one who goes has quite unfairly the best of it. Beautiful new places come and laugh at him, people who don't know him and haven't yet judged and condemned him are ready to be friendly. He must, of course, go far enough; not stay near at hand in some familiar place and be so lonely that he ends by being remorseful. Well, he was going far enough. Thanks to the Annas he was going about as far as he could go. Certainly he was having the best of it in being the one in the quarrel who went; and he was shocked to find himself cynically thinking, on top of that, that one should always, then, take care to be the one who did go.
But the desert has a peculiarly exhilarating air. It came in everywhere, and seemed to tickle him out of the uneasy mood proper to one who has been cutting himself off for good and all from his early home. For the life of him he couldn't help feeling extraordinarily light and free. Edith—yes, there was Edith, but some day he would make up to Edith for everything. There was no helping her now: she was fast bound in misery and iron, and didn't even seem to know it. So would he have been, he supposed, if he had never left home at all. As it was, it was bound to come, this upheaval. Just the mere fact of inevitable growth would have burst the bands sooner or later. There oughtn't, of course, to have been any bands; or, there being bands, he ought long ago to have burst them.
He pulled his kind slack mouth firmly together and looked determined. Long ago, repeated Mr. Twist, shaking his head at his own weak past. Well, it was done at last, and never again—never, never again, he said to himself, sniffing in through his open window the cold air of the desert at sunrise.
By that route, the Santa Fé, it is not till two or three hours before you get to the end of the journey that summer meets you. It is waiting for you at a place called San Bernardino. There is no trace of it before. Up to then you are still in October; and then you get to the top of the pass, and with a burst it is June,—brilliant, windless, orangescented.
The twins and Mr. Twist were in the restaurant-car lunching when the miracle happened. Suddenly the door opened and in came summer, with a great warm breath of roses. In a moment the car was invaded by the scent of flowers and fruit and of something else strange and new and very aromatic. The electric fans were set twirling, the black waiters began to perspire, the passengers called for cold things to eat, and the twins pulled off their knitted caps and jerseys.
From that point on to the end of the line in Los Angeles the twins could only conclude they were in heaven. It was the light that did it, the extraordinary glow of radiance. Of course there were orchards after orchards of orange trees covered with fruit, white houses smothered in flowers, gardens overrun with roses, tall groups of eucalyptus trees giving an impression of elegant nakedness, long lines of pepper trees with frail fern-like branches, and these things continued for the rest of the way; but they would have been as nothing without that beautiful, great bland light. The twins had had their hot summers in Pomerania, and their July days in England, but had not yet seen anything like this. Here was summer without sultriness, without gnats, mosquitoes, threatening thunderstorms, or anything to spoil it; it was summer as it might be in the Elysian fields, perfectly clear, and calm, and radiant. When the train stopped they could see how not a breath of wind stirred the dust on the quiet white roads, and the leaves of the magnolia trees glistened motionless in the sun. The train went slowly and stopped often, for there seemed to be one long succession of gardens and villages. After the empty, wind-driven plains they had come through, those vast cold expanses without a house or living creature in sight, what a laughing plenty, what a gracious fruitfulness, was here. And when they went back to their compartment it too was full of summer smells,—the smell of fruit, and roses, and honey.
For the first time since the war began and with it their wanderings, the twins felt completely happy. It was as though the loveliness wrapped them round and they stretched themselves in it and forgot. No fear of the future, no doubt of it at all, they thought, gazing out of the window, the soft air patting their faces, could possibly bother them here. They never, for instance, could be cold here, or go hungry. A great confidence in life invaded them. The Delloggs, sun-soaked and orange-fed for years in this place, couldn't but be gentle too, and kind and calm. Impossible not to get a sort of refulgence oneself, they thought, living here, and absorb it and give it out again. They pictured the Delloggs as bland pillars of light coming forward effulgently to greet them, and bathing them in the beams of their hospitality. And the feeling of responsibility and anxiety that had never left Anna-Rose since she last saw Aunt Alice dropped off her in this place, and she felt that sun and oranges, backed by £200 in the bank, would be difficult things for misfortune to get at.
As for Mr. Twist, he was even more entranced than the twins as he gazed out of the window, for being older he had had time to see more ugly things, had got more used to them and to taking them as principally making up life. He stared at what he saw, and thought with wonder of his mother's drawing-room at Clark, of its gloomy, velvetupholstered discomforts, of the cold mist creeping round the house, and of that last scene in it, with her black figure in the middle of it, tall and thin and shaking with bitterness. He had certainly been in that drawing-room and heard her so terribly denouncing him, but it was very difficult to believe; it seemed so exactly like a nightmare, and this the happy normal waking up in the morning.
They all three were in the highest spirits when they got out at Los Angeles and drove across to the Southern Pacific station—the name alone made their hearts leap—to catch the afternoon train on to where the Delloggs lived, and their spirits were the kind one can imagine in released souls on their first arriving in paradise,—high, yet subdued; happy, but reverential; a sort of rollicking awe. They were subdued, in fact, by beauty. And the journey along the edge of the Pacific to Acapulco, where the Delloggs lived, encouraged and developed this kind of spirits, for the sun began to set, and, as the train ran for miles close to the water with nothing but a strip of sand between it and the surf, they saw their first Pacific sunset. It happened to be even in that land of wonderful sunsets an unusually wonderful one, and none of the three had ever seen anything in the least like it. They could but sit silent and stare. The great sea, that little line of lovely islands flung down on it like a chain of amethysts, that vast flame of sky, that heaving water passionately reflecting it, and on the other side, through the other windows, a sharp wall of black mountains,—it was fantastically beautiful, like something in a poem or a dream.
By the time they got to Acapulco it was dark. Night followed upon the sunset with a suddenness that astonished the twins, used to the leisurely methods of twilight on the Baltic; and the only light in the country outside the town as they got near it was the light from myriads of great stars.
No Delloggs were at the station, but the twins were used now to not being met and had not particularly expected them; besides, Mr. Twist was with them this time, and he would see that if the Delloggs didn't come to them they would get safely to the Delloggs.
The usual telegram had been sent announcing their arrival, and the taxi-driver, who seemed to know the Dellogg house well when Mr. Twist told him where they wanted to go, apparently also thought it natural they should want to go exactly there. In him, indeed, there did seem to be a trace of expecting them,—almost as if he had been told to look out for them; for hardly had Mr. Twist begun to give him the address than glancing at the twins he said, "I guess you're wanting Mrs. Dellogg"; and got down and actually opened the door for them, an attention so unusual in the taxi-drivers the twins had up to then met in America that they were more than ever convinced that nothing in the way of unfriendliness or unkindness could stand up against sun and oranges."Relations?" he asked them through the window as he shut the door gently and carefully, while Mr. Twist went with a porter to see about the luggage. "I beg your pardon?" said Anna-Rose. "Relations of Delloggses?" "No," said Anna-Rose. "Friends." "At least," amended Anna-Felicitas, "practically." "Ah," said the driver, leaning with both his arms on the window-sill in the friendliest possible manner, and chewing gum and eyeing them with thoughtful interest.
Then he said, after a pause during which his jaw rolled regularly from side to side and the twins watched the rolling with an interest equal to his interest in them, "From Los Angeles?""No," said Anna-Rose. "From New York." "At least," amended Anna-Felicitas, "practically."
"Well I call that a real compliment," said the driver slowly and deliberately because of his jaw going on rolling. "To come all that way, and without being relations—I call that a real compliment, and a friendship that's worth something. Anybody can come along from Los Angeles, but it takes a real friend to come from New York," and he eyed them now with admiration.The twins for their part eyed him. Not only did his rolling jaws fascinate them, but the things he was saying seemed to them quaint. "But we wanted to come," said Anna-Rose, after a pause. "Of course. Does you credit," said the driver. The twins thought this over.
The bright station lights shone on their faces, which stood out very white in the black setting of their best mourning. Before getting to Los Angeles they had dressed themselves carefully in what Anna-Felicitas called their favourable-impression-on-arrival garments,—those garments Aunt Alice had bought for them on their mother's death, expressing the wave of sympathy in which she found herself momentarily engulfed by going to a very good and expensive dressmaker; and in the black perfection of these clothes the twins looked like two well-got-up and very attractive young crows. These were the clothes they had put on on leaving the ship, and had been so obviously admired in, to the uneasiness of Mr. Twist, by the public; it was in these clothes that they had arrived within range of Mr. Sack's distracted but still appreciative vision, and in them that they later roused the suspicions and dislike of Mrs. Twist. It was in these clothes that they were now about to start what they hoped would be a lasting friendship with the Delloggs, and remembering they had them on they decided that perhaps it wasn't only sun and oranges making the taxi-driver so attentive, but also the effect on him of their grown-up and awe-inspiring hats.
This was confirmed by what he said next. "I guess you're old friends, then," he remarked, after a period of reflective jaw-rolling. "Must be, to come all that way."
"Yes—that would be too awful," said Anna-Rose, who didn't want a repetition of the Sack dilemma. "You did say," she asked anxiously, "didn't you, that we were going to miss Mr. Dellogg?"The driver, looking first at one of them and then at the other, said, "Well, and who wouldn't?"
And this answer seemed so odd to the twins that they could only as they stared at him suppose it was some recondite form of American slang, provided with its own particular repartee which, being unacquainted with the language, they were not in a position to supply. Perhaps, they thought, it was of the same order of mysterious idioms as in England such sentences as I don't think, and Not half,—forms of speech whose exact meaning and proper use had never been mastered by them."There won't be another like Mr. Dellogg in these parts for many a year," said the driver, shaking his head. "Ah no. And that's so." "Isn't he coming back?" asked Anna-Rose.
The driver's jaws ceased for a moment to roll. He stared at Anna-Rose with unblinking eyes. Then he turned his head away and spat along the station, and then, again fixing his eyes on Anna-Rose, he said, "Young gurl, you may be a spiritualist, and a tableturner, and a psychic-rummager, and a ghost-fancier, and anything else you please, and get what comfort you can out of your coming backs and the rest of the blessed truck, but I know better. And what I know, being a Christian, is that once a man's dead he's either in heaven or he's in hell, and whichever it is he's in, in it he stops." Anna-Felicitas was the first to speak. "Are we to understand," she inquired, "that Mr. Dellogg—" She broke off."That Mr. Dellogg is—" Anna-Rose continued for her, but broke off too. "That Mr. Dellogg isn't—" resumed Anna-Felicitas with determination, "well, that he isn't alive?" "Alive?" repeated the driver. He let his hand drop heavily on the window-sill. "If that don't beat all," he said, staring at her. "What do you come his funeral for, then?" "His funeral?" "Yes, if you don't know that he ain't?" "Ain't—isn't what?" "Alive, of course. No, I mean dead. You're getting me all tangled up." "But we haven't." "But we didn't." "We had a letter from him only last month." "At least, an uncle we've got had." "And he didn't say a word in it about being dead—I mean, there was no sign of his being going to be—I mean, he wasn't a bit ill or anything in his letter—"
"Now see here," interrupted the driver, sarcasm in his voice, "it ain't exactly usual is it—I put it to you squarely, and say it ain't exactly usual (there may be exceptions, but it ain't exactly usual) to come to a gentleman's funeral, and especially not all the way from New York, without some sort of an idea that he's dead. Some sort of a general idea, anyhow," he added still more sarcastically; for his admiration for the twins had given way to doubt and discomfort, and a suspicion was growing on him that with incredible and horrible levity, seeing what the moment was and what the occasion, they were filling up the time waiting for their baggage, among which were no doubt funeral wreaths, by making game of him.
"Gurls like you shouldn't behave that way," he went on, his voice aggrieved as he remembered how sympathetically he had got down from his seat when he saw their mourning clothes and tired white faces and helped them into his taxi,—only for genuine mourners, real sorry ones, going to pay their last respects to a gentleman like Mr. Dellogg, would he, a free American have done that. "Nicely dressed gurls, well-cared for gurls. Daughters of decent people. Here you come all this way, I guess sent by your parents to represent them properly, and properly fitted out in nice black clothes and all, and you start making fun. Pretending. Playing kind of hide-and-seek with me about the funeral. Messing me up in a lot of words. I don't like it. I'm a father myself, and I don't like it. I don't like to see daughters going on like this when their father ain't looking. It don't seem decent to me. But I suppose you Easterners—"
The twins, however, were not listening. They were looking at each other in dismay. How extraordinary, how terrible, the way Uncle Arthur's friends gave out. They seemed to melt away at one's mere approach. People who had been living with their husbands all their lives ran away just as the twins came on the scene; people who had been alive all their lives went and died, also at that very moment. It almost seemed as if directly anybody knew that they, the Twinklers, were coming to stay with them they became bent on escape. They could only look at each other in stricken astonishment at this latest blow of Fate. They heard no more of what the driver said. They could only sit and look at each other.
And then Mr. Twist came hurrying across from the baggage office, wiping his forehead, for the night was hot. Behind him came the porter, ruefully balancing the piled-up grips on his truck.
"I'm sorry to have been so—" began Mr. Twist, smiling cheerfully: but he stopped short in his sentence and left off smiling when he saw the expression in the four eyes fixed on him. "What has happened?" he asked quickly."Only what we might have expected," said Anna-Rose. "Mr. Dellogg's dead," said Anna-Felicitas. "You don't say," said Mr. Twist; and after a pause he said again, "You don't say."
Then he recovered himself. "I'm very sorry to hear it, of course," he said briskly, picking himself up, as it were, from this sudden and unexpected tumble, "but I don't see that it matters to you so long as Mrs. Dellogg isn't dead too.""Yes, but—" began Anna-Rose. "Mr. Dellogg isn't very dead, you see," said Anna-Felicitas. Mr. Twist looked from them to the driver, but finding no elucidation there and only disapproval, looked back again. "He isn't dead and settled down," said Anna-Rose. "Not that sort of being dead," said Anna-Felicitas. "He's just dead."
"Just got to the stage when he has a funeral," said Anna-Rose. "His funeral, it seems, is imminent," said Anna-Felicitas. "Did you not give us to understand," she asked, turning to the driver, "that it was imminent?""I don't know about imminent," said the driver, who wasn't going to waste valuable time with words like that, "but it's to-morrow." "And you see what that means for us," said Anna-Felicitas, turning to Mr. Twist. Mr. Twist did. He again wiped his forehead, but not this time because the night was hot.