Always zealous in the cause of virtue, America provided her wharves and landing-places 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?"
"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."
"Oh. Friends, are they? Then p'raps you'll tell me what you're going to do with them next."
"Do with them?" repeated Mr. Twist, as he stared with puckered brow at the twins. "That's exactly what I wish I knew."
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 L200 we're the same as millionaires," said Anna-Rose.
"Uncle Arthur," said Anna-Felicitas, "frequently told us that L200 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 Anna-Rose, 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 ice-water 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 Anna-Rose, 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.
"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.
"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 menage 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 Anna-Felicitas 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 L200, and, as Anna-Rose said, it wasn't likely they'd go in a train again for ages; and anyhow, as Anna-Felicitas 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 blase 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 attache 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 attache 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.
"I heard a noise of arrival—" he said, stopping suddenly when he saw them. "I heard a noise of arrival, and a woman's voice—"
"It's us," said Anna-Rose, her face covering itself with the bright conciliatory smiles of the arriving guest. "Are you Mr. Clouston Sack?"
She went up to him and held out her hand. They both went up to him and held out their hands.
"We're the Twinklers," said Anna-Rose.
"We've come," said Anna-Felicitas, in case he shouldn't have noticed it.
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?"
"Luggage?" repeated Mr. Sack, putting his hand to his forehead. "Excuse me, but I've got such a racking headache to-day—it makes me stupid—"
"Oh, I'm very sorry," said Anna-Rose solicitously.
"And so am I—very," said Anna-Felicitas, equally solicitous. "Have you tried aspirin? Sometimes some simple remedy like that—"
"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."
"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.
"I don't think," said Anna-Felicitas gently, "that you can call us strangers. We're the Twinklers."
"Yes, yes—I know—you keep on telling me that," said Mr. Sack. "But I can't call to mind—"
"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 country-side 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.
"Let's hurry," said Anna-Felicitas. "I'm so dreadfully hungry. I do so terribly want supper. And I'm sure it's supper-time, and the Twists will have finished and we mightn't get any."
"As though Mr. Twist wouldn't see to that!" exclaimed Anna-Rose, proud and confident.
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 Anna-Felicitas 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 Anna-Felicitas 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 Anna-Felicitas.
"Aunt Alice said we weren't ever to stay in a house where they did that," said Anna-Rose.
"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 ill-advised 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?"
"Almost, as it were, still red-not from being with you?" said Anna-Felicitas.
Both the twins looked at Mrs. Twist in their surprise.
"I thought the first thing everybody did when they got back to their mother," said Anna-Rose, addressing her, "was to tell her everything from the beginning."
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."