"Five," said Mrs. Twist.
"Five then. What's five? No time at all."
"Ample," said Mrs Twist; adding icily, "and did I you say confound, Edward?"
"Well, damn then," said Edward very loud, in a rush of rank rebellion.
This night was the turning-point in Mr. Twist's life. In it he broke loose from his mother. He spent a terrible three hours with her in the drawing-room, and the rest of the night he strode up and down his bedroom. The autumn morning, creeping round the house in long white wisps, found him staring out of his window very pale, his mouth pulled together as tight as it would go.
His mother had failed him. She had not understood. And not only simply not understood, but she had said things when at last she did speak, after he had explained and pleaded for at least an hour, of an incredible bitterness and injustice. She had seemed to hate him. If she hadn't been his mother Mr. Twist would have been certain she hated him, but he still believed that mothers couldn't hate their children. It was stark against nature; and Mr. Twist still believed in the fundamental rightness of that which is called nature. She had accused him of gross things—she, his mother, who from her conversation since he could remember was unaware, he had judged, of the very existence of such things. Those helpless children ... Mr. Twist stamped as he strode. Well, he had made her take that back; and indeed she had afterwards admitted that she said it in her passion of grief and disappointment, and that it was evident these girls were not like that.
But before they reached that stage, for the first time in his life he had been saying straight out what he wanted to say to his mother just as if she had been an ordinary human being. He told her all he knew of the twins, asked her to take them in for the present and be good to them, and explained the awkwardness of their position, apart from its tragedy, as Germans by birth stranded in New England, where opinion at that moment was so hostile to Germans. Then, continuing in candour, he had told his mother that here was her chance of doing a fine and beautiful thing, and it was at this point that Mrs. Twist suddenly began, on her side, to talk.
She had listened practically in silence to the rest; had only started when he explained the girls' nationality; but when he came to offering her these girls as the great opportunity of her life to do something really good at last, she, who felt she had been doing nothing else but noble and beautiful things, and doing them with the most single-minded devotion to duty and the most consistent disregard of inclination, could keep silence no longer. Had she not borne her great loss without a murmur? Had she not devoted all her years to bringing up her son to be a good man? Had she ever considered herself? Had she ever flagged in her efforts to set an example of patience in grief, of dignity in misfortune? She began to speak. And just as amazed as she had been at the things this strange, unknown son had been saying to her and at the manner of their delivery, so was he amazed at the things this strange, unknown mother was saying to him, and at the manner of their delivery.
Yet his amazement was not so great after all as hers. Because for years, away down hidden somewhere inside him, he had doubted his mother; for years he had, shocked at himself, covered up and trampled on these unworthy doubts indignantly. He had doubted her unselfishness; he had doubted her sympathy and kindliness; he had even doubted her honesty, her ordinary honesty with money and accounts; and lately, before he went to Europe, he had caught himself thinking she was cruel. Nevertheless this unexpected naked justification of his doubts was shattering to him.
But Mrs. Twist had never doubted Edward. She thought she knew him inside out. She had watched him develop. Watched him during the long years of his unconsciousness. She had been quite secure; and rather disposed, also somewhere down inside her, to a contempt for him, so easy had he been to manage, so ready to do everything she wished. Now it appeared that she no more knew Edward than if he had been a stranger in the street.
The bursting of the dykes of convention between them was a horrible thing to them both. Mr. Twist had none of the cruelty of the younger generation to support him: he couldn't shrug his shoulder and take comfort in the thought that this break between them was entirely his mother's fault, for however much he believed it to be her fault the belief merely made him wretched; he had none of the pitiless black pleasure to be got from telling himself it served her right. So naturally kind was he—weak, soft, stupid, his mother shook out at him—that through all his own shame at this naked vision of what had been carefully dressed up for years in dignified clothes of wisdom and affection, he was actually glad, when he had time in his room to think it over, glad she should be so passionately positive that he, and only he, was in the wrong. It would save her from humiliation; and of the painful things of late Mr. Twist could least bear to see a human being humiliated.
That was, however, towards morning. For hours raged, striding about his room, sorting out the fragments into which his life as a son had fallen, trying to fit them into some sort of a pattern, to see clear about the future. Clearer. Not clear. He couldn't hope for that yet. The future seemed one confused lump. All he could see really clear of it was that he was going, next day, and taking the twins. He would take them to the other people they had a letter to, the people in California, and then turn his face back to Europe, to the real thing, to the greatness of life where death is. Not an hour longer than he could help would he or they stay in that house. He had told his mother he would go away, and she had said, "I hope never to see you again." Who would have thought she had so much of passion in her? Who would have thought he had so much of it in him?
Fury against her injustice shook and shattered Mr. Twist. Not so could fair and affectionate living together be conducted, on that basis of suspicion, distrust, jealousy. Through his instinct, though not through his brain, shot the conviction that his mother was jealous of the twins,—jealous of the youth of the twins, and of their prettiness, and goodness, and of the power, unknown to them, that these things gave them. His brain was impervious to such a conviction, because it was an innocent brain, and the idea would never have entered it that a woman of his mother's age, well over sixty, could be jealous in that way; but his instinct knew it.
The last thing his mother said as he left the drawing-room was, "You have killed me. You have killed your own mother. And just because of those girls."
And Mr. Twist, shocked at this parting shot of unfairness, could find, search as he might, nothing to be said for his mother's point of view. It simply wasn't true. It simply was delusion.
Nor could she find anything to be said for his, but then she didn't try to, it was so manifestly unforgivable. All she could do, faced by this bitter sorrow, was to leave Edward to God. Sternly, as he flung out of the room at last, unsoftened, untouchable, deaf to her even when she used the tone he had always obeyed the tone of authority, she said to herself she must leave her son to God. God knew. God would judge. And Clark too would know; and Clark too would judge.
Left alone in the drawing-room on this terrible night of her second great bereavement, Mrs. Twist was yet able, she was thankful to feel, to resolve she would try to protect her son as long as she could from Clark. From God she could not, if she would, protect him; but she would try to protect him even now, as she had always protected him, from earthly harm and hurt. Clark would, however, surely know in time, protect as she might, and judge between her and Edward. God knew already, and was already judging. God and Clark.... Poor Edward.
The twins, who had gone to bed at half-past nine, shepherded by Edith, in the happy conviction that they had settled down comfortably for some time, were surprised to find at breakfast that they hadn't.
They had taken a great fancy to Edith, in spite of a want of restfulness on her part that struck them while they were finishing their supper, and to which at last they drew her attention. She was so kind, and so like Mr. Twist; but though she looked at them with hospitable eyes and wore an expression of real benevolence, it didn't escape their notice that she seemed to be listening to something that wasn't, anyhow, them, and to be expecting something that didn't, anyhow, happen. She went several times to the door through which her brother and mother had disappeared, and out into whatever part of the house lay beyond it, and when she came back after a minute or two was as wanting in composure as ever.
At last, finding these abrupt and repeated interruptions hindered any real talk, they pointed out to her that reasoned conversation was impossible if one of the parties persisted in not being in the room, and inquired of her whether it were peculiar to her, or typical of the inhabitants of America, to keep on being somewhere else. Edith smiled abstractedly at them, said nothing, and went out again.
She was longer away this time, and the twins having eaten, among other things, a great many meringues, grew weary of sitting with those they hadn't eaten lying on the dish in front of them reminding them of those they had. They wanted, having done with meringues, to get away from them and forget them. They wanted to go into another room now, where there weren't any. Anna-Felicitas felt, and told Anna-Rose who was staring listlessly at the left-over meringues, that it was like having committed murder, and being obliged to go on looking at the body long after you were thoroughly tired of it. Anna-Rose agreed, and said that she wished now she hadn't committed meringues,—anyhow so many of them.
Then at last Edith came back, and told them she was sure they were very tired after their long day, and suggested their going upstairs to their rooms. The rooms were ready, said Edith, the baggage had come, and she was sure they would like to have nice hot baths and go to bed.
The twins obeyed her readily, and she checked a desire on their part to seek out her mother and brother first and bid them good-night, on the ground that her mother and brother were busy; and while the twins were expressing polite regret, and requesting her to convey their regret for them to the proper quarter in a flow of well-chosen words that astonished Edith, who didn't know how naturally Junkers make speeches, she hurried them by the drawing-room door through which, shut though it was, came sounds of people being, as Anna-Felicitas remarked, very busy indeed; and Anna-Rose, impressed by the quality and volume of Mr. Twist's voice as it reached her passing ears, told Edith that intimately as she knew her brother she had never known him as busy as that before.
Edith said nothing, but continued quickly up the stairs.
They found they each had a bedroom, with a door between, and that each bedroom had a bathroom of its own, which filled them with admiration and pleasure. There had only been one bathroom at Uncle Arthur's, and at home in Pomerania there hadn't been any at all. The baths there had been vessels brought into one's bedroom every night, into which servants next morning poured water out of buckets, having previously pumped the water into the bucket from the pump in the backyard. They put Edith in possession of these facts while she helped them unpack and brushed and plaited their hair for them, and she was much astonished,—both at the conditions of discomfort and slavery they revealed as prevalent in other countries, and at the fact that they, the Twinklers, should hail from Pomerania.
Pomerania, reflected Edith as she tied up their pigtails with the ribbons handed to her for that purpose, used to be in Germany when she went to school, and no doubt still was. She became more thoughtful than ever, though she still smiled at them, for how could she help it? Everyone, Edith was certain, must needs smile at the Twinklers even if they didn't happen to be one's own dear brother's protegees. And when they came out, very clean and with scrubbed pink ears, from their bath, she not only smiled at them as she tucked them up in bed, but she kissed them good-night.
Edith, like her brother, was born to be a mother,—one of the satisfactory sort that keeps you warm and doesn't argue with you. Germans or no Germans the Twinklers were the cutest little things, thought Edith; and she kissed them, with the same hunger with which, being now thirty-eight, she was beginning to kiss puppies.
"You remind me so of Mr. Twist," murmured Anna-Felicitas sleepily, as Edith tucked her up and kissed her.
"You do all the sorts of things he does," murmured Anna-Rose, also sleepily, when it was her turn to be tucked up and kissed; and in spite of a habit now fixed in her of unquestioning acceptance and uncritical faith. Edith went downstairs to her restless vigil outside the drawing-room door a little surprised.
At breakfast the twins learnt to their astonishment that, though appearances all pointed the other way what they were really doing was not being stationary at all, but merely having a night's lodging and breakfast between, as it were, two trains.
Mr. Twist, who looked pale and said shortly when the twins remarked solicitously on it that he felt pale, briefly announced the fact.
"What?" exclaimed Anna-Rose, staring at Mr. Twist and then at Edith—Mrs. Twist, they were told, was breakfasting in bed—"Why, we've unpacked."
"You will re-pack," said Mr. Twist.
They found difficulty in believing their ears.
"But we've settled in," remonstrated Anna-Felicitas, after an astonished pause.
"You will settle out," said Mr. Twist.
He frowned. He didn't look at them, he frowned at his own teapot. He had made up his mind to be very short with the Annas until they were safely out of the house, and not permit himself to be entangled by them in controversy. Also, he didn't want to look at them if he could help it. He was afraid that if he did he might be unable not to take them both in his arms and beg their pardon for the whole horridness of the world.
But if he didn't look at them, they looked at him. Four round, blankly surprised eyes were fixed, he knew, unblinkingly on him.
"We're seeing you in quite a new light," said Anna-Rose at last, troubled and upset.
"Maybe," said Mr. Twist, frowning at his teapot.
"Perhaps you will be so good," said Anna-Felicitas stiffly, for at all times she hated being stirred up and uprooted, "as to tell us where you think we're going to."
"Because," said Anna-Rose, her voice trembling a little, not only at the thought of fresh responsibilities, but also with a sense of outraged faith, "our choice of residence, as you may have observed, is strictly limited."
Mr. Twist, who had spent an hour before breakfast with Edith, whose eyes were red, informed them that they were en route for California.
"To those other people," said Anna-Rose. "I see."
She held her head up straight.
"Well, I expect they'll be very glad to see us," she said after a silence; and proceeded, her chin in the air, to look down her nose, because she didn't want Mr. Twist, or Edith or Anna-Felicitas, to notice that her eyes had gone and got tears in them. She angrily wished she hadn't got such damp eyes. They were no better than swamps, she thought—undrained swamps; and directly fate's foot came down a little harder than usual, up oozed the lamentable liquid. Not thus should the leader of an expedition behave. Not thus, she was sure, did the original Christopher. She pulled herself together; and after a minute's struggle was able to leave off looking down her nose.
But meanwhile Anna-Felicitas had informed Mr. Twist with gentle dignity that he was obviously tired of them.
"Not at all," said Mr. Twist.
Anna-Felicitas persisted. "In view of the facts," she said gently, "I'm afraid your denial carries no weight."
"The facts," said Mr. Twist, taking up his teapot and examining it with care, "are that I'm coming with you."
"Oh are you," said Anna-Felicitas much more briskly; and it was here that Anna-Rose's eyes dried up.
"That rather dishes your theory," said Mr. Twist, still turning his teapot about in his hands. "Or would if it didn't happen that I—well, I happen to have some business to do in California, and I may as well do it now as later. Still, I could have gone by a different route or train, so you see your theory is rather dished, isn't it?"
"A little," admitted Anna-Felicitas. "Not altogether. Because if you really like our being here, here we are. So why hurry us off somewhere else so soon?"
Mr. Twist perceived that he was being led into controversy in spite of his determination not to be. "You're very wise," he said shortly, "but you don't know everything. Let us avoid conjecture and stick to facts. I'm going to take you to California, and hand you over to your friends. That's all you know, and all you need to know."
"As Keats very nearly said," said Anna-Rose
"And if our friends have run away?" suggested Anna-Felicitas.
"Oh Lord," exclaimed Mr. Twist impatiently, putting the teapot down with a bang, "do you think we're running away all the time in America?"
"Well, I think you seem a little restless," said Anna-Felicitas.
Thus it was that two hours later the twins found themselves at the Clark station once more, once more starting into the unknown, just as if they had never done it before, and gradually, as they adapted themselves to the sudden change, such is the india-rubber-like quality of youth, almost with the same hopefulness. Yet they couldn't but meditate, left alone on the platform while Mr. Twist checked the baggage, on the mutability of life. They seemed to live in a kaleidoscope since the war began what a series of upheavals and readjustments had been theirs! Silent, and a little apart on the Clark platform, they reflected retrospectively; and as they counted up their various starts since the days, only fourteen months ago, when they were still in their home in Germany, apparently as safely rooted, as unshakably settled as the pine trees in their own forests, they couldn't but wonder at the elusiveness of the unknown, how it wouldn't let itself be caught up with and at the trouble it was giving them.
They had had so many changes in the last year that they did want now to have time to become familiar with some one place and people. Already however, being seventeen, they were telling themselves, and each other that after all, since the Sacks had failed them, California was their real objective. Not Clark at all. Clark had never been part of their plans. Uncle Arthur and Aunt Alice didn't even know it existed. It was a side-show; just a little thing of their own, an extra excursion slipped in between the Sacks and the Delloggs. True they had hoped to stay there some time, perhaps even for months,—anyhow, time to mend their stockings in, which were giving way at the toes unexpectedly, seeing how new they were; but ultimately California was the place they had to go to. It was only that it was a little upsetting to be whisked out of Clark at a moment's notice.
"I expect you'll explain everything to us when we're in the train and have lots of time," Anna-Rose had said to Mr. Twist as the car moved away from the house and Edith, red-eyed, waved her handkerchief from the doorstep.
Mrs. Twist had not come down to say good-bye, and they had sent her many messages.
"I expect I will," Mr. Twist had answered.
But it was not till they were the other side of Chicago that he really began to be himself again. Up to then—all that first day, and the next morning in New York where he took them to the bank their L200 was in and saw that they got a cheque-book, and all the day after that waiting in the Chicago hotel for the train they were to go on in to California—Mr. Twist was taciturn.
They left Chicago in the evening; a raw, wintery October evening with cold rain in the air, and the twins, going early to bed in their compartment, a place that seemed to them so enchanting that their spirits couldn't fail to rise, saw no more of him till breakfast next morning. They then noticed that the cloud had lifted a little; and as the day went on it lifted still more. They were going to be three days together in that train, and it would be impossible for Mr. Twist, they were sure, to go on being taciturn as long as that. It wasn't his nature. His nature was conversational. And besides, shut up like that in a train, the sheer getting tired of reading all day would make him want to talk.
So after lunch, when they were all three on the platform of the observation car, though there was nothing to observe except limitless flat stretches of bleak and empty country, the twins suggested that he should now begin to talk again. They pointed out that his body was bound to get stiff on that long journey from want of exercise, but that his mind needn't, and he had better stretch it by conversing agreeably with them as he used to before the day, which seemed so curiously long ago, when they landed in America.
"It does indeed seem long ago," agreed Mr. Twist, lighting another cigarette. "I have difficulty in realizing it isn't a week yet."
And he reflected that the Annas had managed to produce pretty serious havoc in America considering they had only been in it five days. He and his mother permanently estranged; Edith left alone at Clark sitting there in the ruins of her loving preparations for his return, with nothing at all that he could see to look forward to and live for except the hourly fulfilment of what she regarded as duty; every plan upset; the lives, indeed, of his mother and of his sister and of himself completely altered,—it was a pretty big bag in the time, he thought, flinging the match back towards Chicago.
Mr. Twist felt sore. He felt like somebody who had had a bad tumble, and is sore and a little dizzy; but he recognized that these great ruptures cannot take place without aches and doubts. He ached, and he doubted and he also knew through his aches and doubts that he was free at last from what of late years he had so grievously writhed under—the shame of pretence. And the immediate cause of his being set free was, precisely, the Annas.
It had been a violent, a painful setting free, but it had happened; and who knew if, without their sudden appearance at Clark and the immediate effect they produced on his mother, he wouldn't have lapsed after all, in spite of the feelings and determinations he had brought back with him from Europe, into the old ways again under the old influence, and gone on ignobly pretending to agree, to approve, to enjoy, to love, when he was never for an instant doing anything of the sort? He might have trailed on like that for years—Mr. Twist didn't like the picture of his own weakness, but he was determined to look at himself as he was—trailed along languidly when he was at home, living another life when he was away, getting what he absolutely must have, the irreducible minimum of personal freedom necessary to sanity, by means of small and shabby deceits. My goodness, how he hated deceits, how tired he was of the littleness of them!
He turned his head and looked at the profiles of the Annas sitting alongside him. His heart suddenly grew warm within him. They had on the blue caps again which made them look so bald and cherubic, and their eyes were fixed on the straight narrowing lines of rails that went back and back to a point in the distance. The dear little things; the dear, dear little things,—so straightforward, so blessedly straight and simple, thought Mr. Twist. Fancy his mother losing a chance like this. Fancy anybody, thought the affectionate and kind man, missing an opportunity of helping such unfortunately placed children.
The twins felt he was looking at them, and together they turned and looked at him. When they saw his expression they knew the cloud had lifted still more, and their faces broke into broad smiles of welcome.
"It's pleasant to see you back again," said Anna-Felicitas heartily, who was next to him.
"We've missed you very much," said Anna-Rose.
"It hasn't been like the same place, the world hasn't," said Anna-Felicitas, "since you've been away."
"Since you walked out of the dining-room that night at Clark," said Anna-Rose.
"Of course we know you can't always be with us," said Anna-Felicitas.
"Which we deeply regret," interjected Anna-Rose.
"But while you are with us," said Anna-Felicitas, "for these last few days, I would suggest that we should be happy. As happy as we used to be on the St. Luke when we weren't being sea-sick." And she thought she might even go so far as to enjoy hearing the "Ode to Dooty," now.
"Yes," said Anna-Rose, leaning forward. "In three days we shall have disappeared into the maw of the Delloggs. Do let us be happy while we can. Who knows what their maw will be like? But whatever it's like," she added firmly, "we're going to stick in it."
"And perhaps," said Anna-Felicitas, "now that you're a little restored to your normal condition, you'll tell us what has been the matter."
"For it's quite clear," said Anna-Rose, "that something has been the matter."
"We've been talking it over," said Anna-Felicitas, "and putting two and two together, and perhaps you'll tell us what it was, and then we shall know if we're right."
"Perhaps I will," said Mr. Twist, cogitating, as he continued benevolently to gaze at them. "Let's see—" He hesitated, and pushed his hat off his forehead. "I wonder if you'd understand—"
"We'll give our minds to it," Anna-Felicitas assured him.
"These caps make us look more stupid than we are," Anna-Rose assured him, deducing her own appearance from that of Anna-Felicitas.
Encouraged, but doubtful of their capabilities of comprehension on this particular point, Mr. Twist embarked rather gingerly on his explanations. He was going to be candid from now on for the rest of his days, but the preliminary plunges were, he found, after all a little difficult. Even with the pellucidly candid Annas, all ready with ears pricked up attentively and benevolently and minds impartial, he found it difficult. It was because, on the subject of mothers, he feared he was up against their one prejudice. He felt rather than knew that their attitude on this one point might be uncompromising,—mothers were mothers, and there was an end of it; that sort of attitude, coupled with extreme reprobation of himself for supposing anything else.
He was surprised and relieved to find he was wrong. Directly they got wind of the line his explanations were taking, which was very soon for they were giving their minds to it as they promised and Mr. Twist's hesitations were illuminating, they interrupted.
"So we were right," they said to each other.
"But you don't know yet what I'm going to say," said Mr. Twist. "I've only started on the preliminaries."
"Yes we do. You fell out with your mother," said Anna-Rose.
"Quarrelled," said Anna-Felicitas, nodding
"We didn't think so at the time," said Anna-Rose.
"We just felt there was an atmosphere of strain about Clark," said Anna-Felicitas.
"But talking it over privately, we concluded that was what had happened."
Mr. Twist was so much surprised that for a moment he could only say "Oh." Then he said, "And you're terribly shocked, I suppose."
"Oh no," they said airily and together.
"You see—" began Anna-Felicitas.
"You see—" began Anna-Rose.
"You see, as a general principle," said Anna-Felicitas, "it's reprehensible to quarrel with one's mother."
"But we've not been able to escape observing—" said Anna-Rose.
"In the course of our brief and inglorious career," put in Anna-Felicitas.
"—that there are mothers and mothers," said Anna-Rose.
"Yes," said Mr. Twist; and as they didn't go on he presently added, "Yes?"
"Oh, that's all," said the twins, once more airily and together.
After this brief eclaircissement the rest of the journey was happy. Indeed, it is doubtful if any one can journey to California and not be happy.
Mr. Twist had never been further west than Chicago and break up or no break up of his home he couldn't but have a pleasant feeling of adventure. Every now and then the realization of this feeling gave his conscience a twinge, and wrung out of it a rebuke. He was having the best of it in this business; he was the party in the quarrel who went away, who left the dreariness of the scene of battle with all its corpses of dead illusions, and got off to fresh places and people who had never heard of him. Just being in a train, he found, and rushing on to somewhere else was extraordinarily nerve-soothing. At Clark there would be gloom and stagnation, the heavy brooding of a storm that has burst but not moved on, a continued anger on his mother's side, naturally increasing with her inactivity, with her impotence. He was gone, and she could say and do nothing more to him. In a quarrel, thought Mr. Twist, the morning he pushed up his blinds and saw the desert at sunrise, an exquisite soft thing just being touched into faint colours,—in a quarrel the one who goes has quite unfairly the best of it. Beautiful new places come and laugh at him, people who don't know him and haven't yet judged and condemned him are ready to be friendly. He must, of course, go far enough; not stay near at hand in some familiar place and be so lonely that he ends by being remorseful. Well, he was going far enough. Thanks to the Annas he was going about as far as he could go. Certainly he was having the best of it in being the one in the quarrel who went; and he was shocked to find himself cynically thinking, on top of that, that one should always, then, take care to be the one who did go.
But the desert has a peculiarly exhilarating air. It came in everywhere, and seemed to tickle him out of the uneasy mood proper to one who has been cutting himself off for good and all from his early home. For the life of him he couldn't help feeling extraordinarily light and free. Edith—yes, there was Edith, but some day he would make up to Edith for everything. There was no helping her now: she was fast bound in misery and iron, and didn't even seem to know it. So would he have been, he supposed, if he had never left home at all. As it was, it was bound to come, this upheaval. Just the mere fact of inevitable growth would have burst the bands sooner or later. There oughtn't, of course, to have been any bands; or, there being bands, he ought long ago to have burst them.
He pulled his kind slack mouth firmly together and looked determined. Long ago, repeated Mr. Twist, shaking his head at his own weak past. Well, it was done at last, and never again—never, never again, he said to himself, sniffing in through his open window the cold air of the desert at sunrise.
By that route, the Santa Fe, it is not till two or three hours before you get to the end of the journey that summer meets you. It is waiting for you at a place called San Bernardino. There is no trace of it before. Up to then you are still in October; and then you get to the top of the pass, and with a burst it is June,—brilliant, windless, orange-scented.
The twins and Mr. Twist were in the restaurant-car lunching when the miracle happened. Suddenly the door opened and in came summer, with a great warm breath of roses. In a moment the car was invaded by the scent of flowers and fruit and of something else strange and new and very aromatic. The electric fans were set twirling, the black waiters began to perspire, the passengers called for cold things to eat, and the twins pulled off their knitted caps and jerseys.
From that point on to the end of the line in Los Angeles the twins could only conclude they were in heaven. It was the light that did it, the extraordinary glow of radiance. Of course there were orchards after orchards of orange trees covered with fruit, white houses smothered in flowers, gardens overrun with roses, tall groups of eucalyptus trees giving an impression of elegant nakedness, long lines of pepper trees with frail fern-like branches, and these things continued for the rest of the way; but they would have been as nothing without that beautiful, great bland light. The twins had had their hot summers in Pomerania, and their July days in England, but had not yet seen anything like this. Here was summer without sultriness, without gnats, mosquitoes, threatening thunderstorms, or anything to spoil it; it was summer as it might be in the Elysian fields, perfectly clear, and calm, and radiant. When the train stopped they could see how not a breath of wind stirred the dust on the quiet white roads, and the leaves of the magnolia trees glistened motionless in the sun. The train went slowly and stopped often, for there seemed to be one long succession of gardens and villages. After the empty, wind-driven plains they had come through, those vast cold expanses without a house or living creature in sight, what a laughing plenty, what a gracious fruitfulness, was here. And when they went back to their compartment it too was full of summer smells,—the smell of fruit, and roses, and honey.
For the first time since the war began and with it their wanderings, the twins felt completely happy. It was as though the loveliness wrapped them round and they stretched themselves in it and forgot. No fear of the future, no doubt of it at all, they thought, gazing out of the window, the soft air patting their faces, could possibly bother them here. They never, for instance, could be cold here, or go hungry. A great confidence in life invaded them. The Delloggs, sun-soaked and orange-fed for years in this place, couldn't but be gentle too, and kind and calm. Impossible not to get a sort of refulgence oneself, they thought, living here, and absorb it and give it out again. They pictured the Delloggs as bland pillars of light coming forward effulgently to greet them, and bathing them in the beams of their hospitality. And the feeling of responsibility and anxiety that had never left Anna-Rose since she last saw Aunt Alice dropped off her in this place, and she felt that sun and oranges, backed by L200 in the bank, would be difficult things for misfortune to get at.
As for Mr. Twist, he was even more entranced than the twins as he gazed out of the window, for being older he had had time to see more ugly things, had got more used to them and to taking them as principally making up life. He stared at what he saw, and thought with wonder of his mother's drawing-room at Clark, of its gloomy, velvet-upholstered discomforts, of the cold mist creeping round the house, and of that last scene in it, with her black figure in the middle of it, tall and thin and shaking with bitterness. He had certainly been in that drawing-room and heard her so terribly denouncing him, but it was very difficult to believe; it seemed so exactly like a nightmare, and this the happy normal waking up in the morning.
They all three were in the highest spirits when they got out at Los Angeles and drove across to the Southern Pacific station—the name alone made their hearts leap—to catch the afternoon train on to where the Delloggs lived, and their spirits were the kind one can imagine in released souls on their first arriving in paradise,—high, yet subdued; happy, but reverential; a sort of rollicking awe. They were subdued, in fact, by beauty. And the journey along the edge of the Pacific to Acapulco, where the Delloggs lived, encouraged and developed this kind of spirits, for the sun began to set, and, as the train ran for miles close to the water with nothing but a strip of sand between it and the surf, they saw their first Pacific sunset. It happened to be even in that land of wonderful sunsets an unusually wonderful one, and none of the three had ever seen anything in the least like it. They could but sit silent and stare. The great sea, that little line of lovely islands flung down on it like a chain of amethysts, that vast flame of sky, that heaving water passionately reflecting it, and on the other side, through the other windows, a sharp wall of black mountains,—it was fantastically beautiful, like something in a poem or a dream.
By the time they got to Acapulco it was dark. Night followed upon the sunset with a suddenness that astonished the twins, used to the leisurely methods of twilight on the Baltic; and the only light in the country outside the town as they got near it was the light from myriads of great stars.
No Delloggs were at the station, but the twins were used now to not being met and had not particularly expected them; besides, Mr. Twist was with them this time, and he would see that if the Delloggs didn't come to them they would get safely to the Delloggs.
The usual telegram had been sent announcing their arrival, and the taxi-driver, who seemed to know the Dellogg house well when Mr. Twist told him where they wanted to go, apparently also thought it natural they should want to go exactly there. In him, indeed, there did seem to be a trace of expecting them,—almost as if he had been told to look out for them; for hardly had Mr. Twist begun to give him the address than glancing at the twins he said, "I guess you're wanting Mrs. Dellogg"; and got down and actually opened the door for them, an attention so unusual in the taxi-drivers the twins had up to then met in America that they were more than ever convinced that nothing in the way of unfriendliness or unkindness could stand up against sun and oranges.
"Relations?" he asked them through the window as he shut the door gently and carefully, while Mr. Twist went with a porter to see about the luggage.
"I beg your pardon?" said Anna-Rose.
"Relations of Delloggses?"
"No," said Anna-Rose. "Friends."
"At least," amended Anna-Felicitas, "practically."
"Ah," said the driver, leaning with both his arms on the window-sill in the friendliest possible manner, and chewing gum and eyeing them with thoughtful interest.
Then he said, after a pause during which his jaw rolled regularly from side to side and the twins watched the rolling with an interest equal to his interest in them, "From Los Angeles?"
"No," said Anna-Rose. "From New York."
"At least," amended Anna-Felicitas, "practically."
"Well I call that a real compliment," said the driver slowly and deliberately because of his jaw going on rolling. "To come all that way, and without being relations—I call that a real compliment, and a friendship that's worth something. Anybody can come along from Los Angeles, but it takes a real friend to come from New York," and he eyed them now with admiration.
The twins for their part eyed him. Not only did his rolling jaws fascinate them, but the things he was saying seemed to them quaint.
"But we wanted to come," said Anna-Rose, after a pause.
"Of course. Does you credit," said the driver.
The twins thought this over.
The bright station lights shone on their faces, which stood out very white in the black setting of their best mourning. Before getting to Los Angeles they had dressed themselves carefully in what Anna-Felicitas called their favourable-impression-on-arrival garments,—those garments Aunt Alice had bought for them on their mother's death, expressing the wave of sympathy in which she found herself momentarily engulfed by going to a very good and expensive dressmaker; and in the black perfection of these clothes the twins looked like two well-got-up and very attractive young crows. These were the clothes they had put on on leaving the ship, and had been so obviously admired in, to the uneasiness of Mr. Twist, by the public; it was in these clothes that they had arrived within range of Mr. Sack's distracted but still appreciative vision, and in them that they later roused the suspicions and dislike of Mrs. Twist. It was in these clothes that they were now about to start what they hoped would be a lasting friendship with the Delloggs, and remembering they had them on they decided that perhaps it wasn't only sun and oranges making the taxi-driver so attentive, but also the effect on him of their grown-up and awe-inspiring hats.
This was confirmed by what he said next. "I guess you're old friends, then," he remarked, after a period of reflective jaw-rolling. "Must be, to come all that way."
"Well—not exactly," said Anna-Rose, divided between her respect for truth and her gratification at being thought old enough to be somebody's old friend.
"You see," explained Anna-Felicitas, who was never divided in her respect for truth, "we're not particularly old anything."
The driver in his turn thought this over, and finding he had no observations he wished to make on it he let it pass, and said, "You'll miss Mr. Dellogg."
"Oh?" said Anna-Rose, pricking up her ears, "Shall we?"
"We don't mind missing Mr. Dellogg," said Anna-Felicitas. "It's Mrs. Dellogg we wouldn't like to miss."
The driver looked puzzled.
"Yes—that would be too awful," said Anna-Rose, who didn't want a repetition of the Sack dilemma. "You did say," she asked anxiously, "didn't you, that we were going to miss Mr. Dellogg?"
The driver, looking first at one of them and then at the other, said, "Well, and who wouldn't?"
And this answer seemed so odd to the twins that they could only as they stared at him suppose it was some recondite form of American slang, provided with its own particular repartee which, being unacquainted with the language, they were not in a position to supply. Perhaps, they thought, it was of the same order of mysterious idioms as in England such sentences as I don't think, and Not half,—forms of speech whose exact meaning and proper use had never been mastered by them.
"There won't be another like Mr. Dellogg in these parts for many a year," said the driver, shaking his head. "Ah no. And that's so."
"Isn't he coming back?" asked Anna-Rose.
The driver's jaws ceased for a moment to roll. He stared at Anna-Rose with unblinking eyes. Then he turned his head away and spat along the station, and then, again fixing his eyes on Anna-Rose, he said, "Young gurl, you may be a spiritualist, and a table-turner, and a psychic-rummager, and a ghost-fancier, and anything else you please, and get what comfort you can out of your coming backs and the rest of the blessed truck, but I know better. And what I know, being a Christian, is that once a man's dead he's either in heaven or he's in hell, and whichever it is he's in, in it he stops."
Anna-Felicitas was the first to speak. "Are we to understand," she inquired, "that Mr. Dellogg—" She broke off.
"That Mr. Dellogg is—" Anna-Rose continued for her, but broke off too.
"That Mr. Dellogg isn't—" resumed Anna-Felicitas with determination, "well, that he isn't alive?"
"Alive?" repeated the driver. He let his hand drop heavily on the window-sill. "If that don't beat all," he said, staring at her. "What do you come his funeral for, then?"
"Yes, if you don't know that he ain't?"
"Alive, of course. No, I mean dead. You're getting me all tangled up."
"But we haven't."
"But we didn't."
"We had a letter from him only last month."
"At least, an uncle we've got had."
"And he didn't say a word in it about being dead—I mean, there was no sign of his being going to be—I mean, he wasn't a bit ill or anything in his letter—"
"Now see here," interrupted the driver, sarcasm in his voice, "it ain't exactly usual is it—I put it to you squarely, and say it ain't exactly usual (there may be exceptions, but it ain't exactly usual) to come to a gentleman's funeral, and especially not all the way from New York, without some sort of an idea that he's dead. Some sort of a general idea, anyhow," he added still more sarcastically; for his admiration for the twins had given way to doubt and discomfort, and a suspicion was growing on him that with incredible and horrible levity, seeing what the moment was and what the occasion, they were filling up the time waiting for their baggage, among which were no doubt funeral wreaths, by making game of him.
"Gurls like you shouldn't behave that way," he went on, his voice aggrieved as he remembered how sympathetically he had got down from his seat when he saw their mourning clothes and tired white faces and helped them into his taxi,—only for genuine mourners, real sorry ones, going to pay their last respects to a gentleman like Mr. Dellogg, would he, a free American have done that. "Nicely dressed gurls, well-cared for gurls. Daughters of decent people. Here you come all this way, I guess sent by your parents to represent them properly, and properly fitted out in nice black clothes and all, and you start making fun. Pretending. Playing kind of hide-and-seek with me about the funeral. Messing me up in a lot of words. I don't like it. I'm a father myself, and I don't like it. I don't like to see daughters going on like this when their father ain't looking. It don't seem decent to me. But I suppose you Easterners—"
The twins, however, were not listening. They were looking at each other in dismay. How extraordinary, how terrible, the way Uncle Arthur's friends gave out. They seemed to melt away at one's mere approach. People who had been living with their husbands all their lives ran away just as the twins came on the scene; people who had been alive all their lives went and died, also at that very moment. It almost seemed as if directly anybody knew that they, the Twinklers, were coming to stay with them they became bent on escape. They could only look at each other in stricken astonishment at this latest blow of Fate. They heard no more of what the driver said. They could only sit and look at each other.
And then Mr. Twist came hurrying across from the baggage office, wiping his forehead, for the night was hot. Behind him came the porter, ruefully balancing the piled-up grips on his truck.
"I'm sorry to have been so—" began Mr. Twist, smiling cheerfully: but he stopped short in his sentence and left off smiling when he saw the expression in the four eyes fixed on him. "What has happened?" he asked quickly.
"Only what we might have expected," said Anna-Rose.
"Mr. Dellogg's dead," said Anna-Felicitas.
"You don't say," said Mr. Twist; and after a pause he said again, "You don't say."
Then he recovered himself. "I'm very sorry to hear it, of course," he said briskly, picking himself up, as it were, from this sudden and unexpected tumble, "but I don't see that it matters to you so long as Mrs. Dellogg isn't dead too."
"Yes, but—" began Anna-Rose.
"Mr. Dellogg isn't very dead, you see," said Anna-Felicitas.
Mr. Twist looked from them to the driver, but finding no elucidation there and only disapproval, looked back again.
"He isn't dead and settled down," said Anna-Rose.
"Not that sort of being dead," said Anna-Felicitas. "He's just dead."
"Just got to the stage when he has a funeral," said Anna-Rose.
"His funeral, it seems, is imminent," said Anna-Felicitas. "Did you not give us to understand," she asked, turning to the driver, "that it was imminent?"
"I don't know about imminent," said the driver, who wasn't going to waste valuable time with words like that, "but it's to-morrow."
"And you see what that means for us," said Anna-Felicitas, turning to Mr. Twist.
Mr. Twist did.
He again wiped his forehead, but not this time because the night was hot.
Manifestly it is impossible to thrust oneself into a house where there is going to be a funeral next day, even if one has come all the way from New York and has nowhere else to go. Equally manifestly it is impossible to thrust oneself into it after the funeral till a decent interval has elapsed. But what the devil, Mr. Twist asked himself in language become regrettably natural to him since his sojourn at the front, is a decent interval?
This Mr. Twist asked himself late that night, pacing up and down the sea-shore in the warm and tranquil darkness in front of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, while the twins, utterly tired out by their journey and the emotions at the end of it, crept silently into bed.
How long does it take a widow to recover her composure? Recover, that is, the first beginnings of it? At what stage in her mourning is it legitimate to intrude on her with reminders of obligations incurred before she was a widow,—with, in fact, the Twinklers? Delicacy itself would shrink from doing it under a week thought Mr. Twist, or even under a fortnight, or even if you came to that, under a month; and meanwhile what was he to do with the Twinklers?
Mr. Twist, being of the artistic temperament for otherwise he wouldn't have been so sympathetic nor would he have minded, as he so passionately did mind, his Uncle Charles's teapot dribbling on to the tablecloth—was sometimes swept by brief but tempestuous revulsions of feeling, and though he loved the Twinklers he did at this moment describe them mentally and without knowing it in the very words of Uncle Arthur, as those accursed twins. It was quite unjust, he knew. They couldn't help the death of the man Dellogg. They were the victims, from first to last, of a cruel and pursuing fate; but it is natural to turn on victims, and Mr. Twist was for an instant, out of the very depth of his helpless sympathy, impatient with the Twinklers.
He walked up and down the sands frowning and pulling his mouth together, while the Pacific sighed sympathetically at his feet. Across the road the huge hotel standing in its gardens was pierced by a thousand lights. Very few people were about and no one at all was on the sands. There was an immense noise of what sounded like grasshoppers or crickets, and also at intervals distant choruses of frogs, but these sounds seemed altogether beneficent,—so warm, and southern, and far away from less happy places where in October cold winds perpetually torment the world. Even in the dark Mr. Twist knew he had got to somewhere that was beautiful. He could imagine nothing more agreeable than, having handed over the twins safely to the Delloggs, staying on a week or two in this place and seeing them every day,—perhaps even, as he had pictured to himself on the journey, being invited to stay with the Delloggs. Now all that was knocked on the head. He supposed the man Dellogg couldn't help being dead but he, Mr. Twist, equally couldn't help resenting it. It was so awkward; so exceedingly awkward. And it was so like what one of that creature Uncle Arthur's friends would do.
Mr. Twist, it will be seen, was frankly unreasonable, but then he was very much taken aback and annoyed. What was he to do with the Annas? He was obviously not a relation of theirs—and indeed no profiles could have been less alike—and he didn't suppose Acapulco was behind other parts of America in curiosity and gossip. If he stayed on at the Cosmopolitan with the twins till Mrs. Dellogg was approachable again, whenever that might be, every sort of question would be being asked in whispers about who they were and what was their relationship, and presently whenever they sat down anywhere the chairs all round them would empty. Mr. Twist had seen the kind of thing happening in hotels before to other people,—never to himself; never had he been in any situation till now that was not luminously regular. And quite soon after this with the chairs had begun to happen, the people who created these vacancies were told by the manager—firmly in America, politely in England, and sympathetically in France—that their rooms had been engaged a long time ago for the very next day, and no others were available.
The Cosmopolitan was clearly an hotel frequented by the virtuous rich. Mr. Twist felt that he and the Annas wouldn't, in their eyes, come under this heading, not, that is, when the other guests became aware of the entire absence of any relationship between him and the twins. Well, for a day or two nothing could happen; for a day or two, before his party had had time to sink into the hotel consciousness and the manager appeared to tell him the rooms were engaged, he could think things out and talk them over with his companions. Perhaps he might even see Mrs. Dellogg. The funeral, he had heard on inquiring of the hall porter was next day. It was to be a brilliant affair, said the porter. Mr. Dellogg had been a prominent inhabitant, free with his money, a supporter of anything there was to support. The porter talked of him as the taxi-driver had done, regretfully and respectfully; and Mr. Twist went to bed angrier than ever with a man who, being so valuable and so necessary, should have neglected at such a moment to go on living.
Mr. Twist didn't sleep very well that night. He lay in his rosy room, under a pink silk quilt, and most of the time stared out through the open French windows with their pink brocade curtains at the great starry night, thinking.
In that soft bed, so rosy and so silken as to have been worthy of the relaxations of, at least, a prima donna, he looked like some lean and alien bird nesting temporarily where he had no business to. He hadn't thought of buying silk pyjamas when the success of his teapot put him in the right position for doing so, because his soul was too simple for him to desire or think of anything less candid to wear in bed than flannel, and he still wore the blue flannel pyjamas of a careful bringing up. In that beautiful bed his pyjamas didn't seem appropriate. Also his head, so frugal of hair, didn't do justice to the lace and linen of a pillow prepared for the hairier head of, again at least, a prima donna. And finding he couldn't sleep, and wishing to see the stars he put on his spectacles, and then looked more out of place than ever. But as nobody was there to see him,—which, Mr. Twist sometimes thought when he caught sight of himself in his pyjamas at bed-time, is one of the comforts of being virtuously unmarried,—nobody minded.
His reflections were many and various, and they conflicted with and contradicted each other as the reflections of persons in a difficult position who have Mr. Twist's sort of temperament often do. Faced by a dribbling teapot, an object which touched none of the softer emotions, Mr. Twist soared undisturbed in the calm heights of a detached and concentrated intelligence, and quickly knew what to do with it; faced by the derelict Annas his heart and his tenderness got in the ways of any clear vision.
About three o'clock in the morning, when his mind was choked and strewn with much pulled-about and finally discarded plans, he suddenly had an idea. A real one. As far as he could see, a real good one. He would place the Annas in a school.
Why shouldn't they go to school? he asked himself, starting off answering any possible objections. A year at a first-rate school would give them and everybody else time to consider. They ought never to have left school. It was the very place for luxuriant and overflowing natures like theirs. No doubt Acapulco had such a thing as a finishing school for young ladies in it, and into it the Annas should go, and once in it there they should stay put, thought Mr. Twist in vigorous American, gathering up his mouth defiantly.
Down these lines of thought his relieved mind cantered easily. He would seek out a lawyer the next morning, regularize his position to the twins by turning himself into their guardian, and then get them at once into the best school there was. As their guardian he could then pay all their expenses, and faced by this legal fact they would, he hoped, be soon persuaded of the propriety of his paying whatever there was to pay.
Mr. Twist was so much pleased by his idea that he was able to go to sleep after that. Even three months' school—the period he gave Mrs. Dellogg for her acutest grief—would do. Tide them over. Give them room to turn round in. It was a great solution. He took off his spectacles, snuggled down into his rosy nest, and fell asleep with the instantaneousness of one whose mind is suddenly relieved.
But when he went down to breakfast he didn't feel quite so sure. The twins didn't look, somehow, as though they would want to go to school. They had been busy with their luggage, and had unpacked one of the trunks for the first time since leaving Aunt Alice, and in honour of the heat and sunshine and the heavenly smell of heliotrope that was in the warm air, had put on white summer frocks.
Impossible to imagine anything cooler, sweeter, prettier and more angelically good than those two Annas looked as they came out on to the great verandah of the hotel to join Mr. Twist at breakfast. They instantly sank into the hotel consciousness. Mr. Twist had thought this wouldn't happen for a day or two, but he now perceived his mistake. Not a head that wasn't turned to look at them, not a newspaper that wasn't lowered. They were immediate objects of interest and curiosity, entirely benevolent interest and curiosity because nobody yet knew anything about them, and the wives of the rich husbands—those halves of the virtuous-rich unions which provided the virtuousness—smiled as they passed, and murmured nice words to each other like cute and cunning.
Mr. Twist, being a good American, stood up and held the twins' chairs for them when they appeared. They loved this; it seemed so respectful, and made them feel so old and looked-up to. He had done it that night in New York at supper, and at all the meals in the train in spite of the train being so wobbly and each time they had loved it. "It makes one have such self-respect," they agreed, commenting on this agreeable practice in private.
They sat down in the chairs with the gracious face of the properly treated, and inquired, with an amiability and a solicitous politeness on a par with their treatment how Mr. Twist had slept. They themselves had obviously slept well, for their faces were cherubic in their bland placidity, and already after one night wore what Mr. Twist later came to recognize as the Californian look, a look of complete unworriedness.
Yet they ought to have been worried. Mr. Twist had been terribly worried up to the moment in the night when he got his great idea, and he was worried again, now that he saw the twins, by doubts. They didn't look as though they would easily be put to school. His idea still seemed to him magnificent, a great solution, but would the Annas be able to see it? They might turn out impervious to it; not rejecting it, but simply non-absorbent. As they slowly and contentedly ate their grape-fruit, gazing out between the spoonfuls at the sea shining across the road through palm trees, and looking unruffled itself, he felt it was going to be rather like suggesting to two cherubs to leave their serene occupation of adoring eternal beauty and learn lessons instead. Still, it was the one way out, as far as Mr. Twist could see, of the situation produced by the death of the man Dellogg. "When you've done breakfast," he said, pulling himself together on their reaching the waffle stage, "we must have a talk."
"When we've done breakfast," said Anna-Rose, "we must have a walk."
"Down there," said Anna-Felicitas, pointing with her spoon. "On the sands. Round the curve to where the pink hills begin."
"Mr. Dellogg's death," said Mr. Twist, deciding it was necessary at once to wake them up out of the kind of happy somnolescence they seemed to be falling into, "has of course completely changed—"
"How unfortunate," interrupted Anna-Rose, her eyes on the palms and the sea and the exquisite distant mountains along the back of the bay, "to have to be dead on a day like this."
"It's not only his missing the fine weather that makes it unfortunate," said Mr. Twist.
"You mean," said Anna-Rose, "it's our missing him."
"Precisely," said Mr. Twist.
"Well, we know that," said Anna-Felicitas placidly.
"We knew it last night, and it worried us," said Anna-Rose. "Then we went to sleep and it didn't worry us. And this morning it still doesn't."
"No," said Mr. Twist dryly. "You don't look particularly worried, I must say."
"No," said Anna-Felicitas, "we're not. People who find they've got to heaven aren't usually worried, are they."
"And having got to heaven," said Anna-Rose, "we've thought of a plan to enable us to stay in it."
"Oh have you," said Mr. Twist, pricking up his ears.
"The plan seemed to think of us rather than we of it," explained Anna-Felicitas. "It came and inserted itself, as it were, into our minds while we were dressing."
"Well, I've thought of a plan too," said Mr. Twist firmly, feeling sure that the twins' plan would be the sort that ought to be instantly nipped in the bud.
He was therefore greatly astonished when Anna-Rose said, "Have you? Is it about schools?"
He stared at her in silence. "Yes," he then said slowly, for he was very much surprised. "It is."
"So is ours," said Anna-Rose.
"Indeed," said Mr. Twist.
"Yes," said Anna-Felicitas. "We don't think much of it, but it will tide us over."
"Exactly," said Mr. Twist, still more astonished at this perfect harmony of ideas.
"Tide us over till Mrs. Dellogg is—-" began Anna-Rose in her clear little voice that carried like a flute to all the tables round them.
Mr. Twist got up quickly. "If you've finished let us go out of doors," he said; for he perceived that silence had fallen on the other tables, and attentiveness to what Anna-Rose was going to say next.
"Yes. On the sands," said the twins, getting up too.
On the sands, however, Mr. Twist soon discovered that the harmony of ideas was not as complete as he had supposed; indeed, something very like heated argument began almost as soon as they were seated on some rocks round the corner of the shore to the west of the hotel and they became aware, through conversation, of the vital difference in the two plans.
The Twinkler plan, which they expounded at much length and with a profusion of optimistic detail, was to search for and find a school in the neighbourhood for the daughters of gentlemen, and go to it for three months, or six months, or whatever time Mrs. Dellogg wanted to recover in.
Up to this point the harmony was complete, and Mr. Twist could only nod approval. Beyond it all was confusion, for it appeared that the twins didn't dream of entering a school in any capacity except as teachers. Professors, they said; professors of languages and literatures. They could speak German, as they pointed out, very much better than most people, and had, as Mr. Twist had sometimes himself remarked, an extensive vocabulary in English. They would give lessons in English and German literature. They would be able to teach quite a lot about Heine, for instance, the whole of whose poetry they knew by heart and whose sad life in Paris—
"It's no good running on like that," interrupted Mr. Twist. "You're not old enough."
Not old enough? The Twinklers, from their separate rocks, looked at each other in surprised indignation.
"Not old enough?" repeated Anna-Rose. "We're grown up. And I don't see how one can be more than grown up. One either is or isn't grown up. And there can be no doubt as to which we are."
And this the very man who so respectfully had been holding their chairs for them only a few minutes before! As if people did things like that for children.
"You're not old enough I say," said Mr. Twist again, bringing his hand down with a slap on the rock to emphasize his words. "Nobody would take you. Why, you've got perambulator faces, the pair of you—"
"And what school is going to want two teachers both teaching the same thing, anyway?"
And he then quickly got out his plan, and the conversation became so heated that for a time it was molten.
The Twinklers were shocked by his plan. More; they were outraged. Go to school? To a place they had never been to even in their suitable years? They, two independent grown-ups with L200 in the bank and nobody with any right to stop their doing anything they wanted to? Go to school now, like a couple of little suck-a-thumbs?
It was Anna-Rose, very flushed and bright of eye, who flung this expression at Mr. Twist from her rock. He might think they had perambulator faces if he liked—they didn't care, but they did desire him to bear in mind that if it hadn't been for the war they would be now taking their proper place in society, that they had already done a course of nursing in a hospital, an activity not open to any but adults, and that Uncle Arthur had certainly not given them all that money to fritter away on paying for belated schooling.
"We would be anachronisms," said Anna-Felicitas, winding up the discussion with a firmness so unusual in her that it showed how completely she had been stirred.
"Are you aware that we are marriageable?" inquired Anna-Rose icily.
"And don't you think it's bad enough for us to be aliens and undesirables," asked Anna-Felicitas, "without getting chronologically confused as well?"
Mr. Twist was quiet for a bit. He couldn't compete with the Twinklers when it came to sheer language. He sat hunched on his rock, his face supported by his two fists, staring out to sea while the twins watched him indignantly. School indeed! Then presently he pushed his hat back and began slowly to rub his ear.
"Well, I'm blest if I know what to do with you, then," he said, continuing to rub his ear and stare out to sea.
The twins opened their mouths simultaneously at this to protest against any necessity for such knowledge on his part, but he interrupted them. "If you don't mind," he said, "I'd like to resume this discussion when you're both a little more composed."
"We're perfectly composed," said Anna-Felicitas.
"Less ruffled, then."
"We're quite unruffled," said Anna-Rose.
"Well, you don't look it, and you don't sound like it. But as this is important I'd be glad to resume the discussion, say, to-morrow. I suggest we spend to-day exploring the neighbourhood and steadying our minds—"
"Our minds are perfectly steady, thank you."
"—and to-morrow we'll have another go at this question. I haven't told you all my plan yet"—Mr. Twist hadn't had time to inform them of his wish to become their guardian, owing to the swiftness with which he had been engulfed in their indignation,—"but whether you approve of it or not, what is quite certain is that we can't stay on at the hotel much longer."
"Because it's so dear?"
"Oh, it isn't so much that,—the proprietor is a friend of mine, or anyhow he very well might be—"
"It looks very dear," said Anna-Rose, visions of their splendid bedroom and bathroom rising before her. They too had slept in silken beds, and the taps in their bathroom they had judged to be pure gold.
"And it's because we can't afford to be in a dear place spending money," said Anna-Felicitas, "that it's so important we should find a salaried position in a school without loss of time."
"And it's because we can't afford reckless squandering that we ought to start looking for such a situation at once" said Anna-Rose.
"Not to-day," said Mr. Twist firmly, for he wouldn't give up the hope of getting them, once they were used to it, to come round to his plan. "To-day, this one day, we'll give ourselves up to enjoyment. It'll do us all good. Besides, we don't often get to a place like this, do we. And it has taken some getting to, hasn't it."
He rose from his rock and offered his hand to help them off theirs.
"To-day enjoyment," he said, "to-morrow business. I'm crazy," he added artfully, "to see what the country is like away up in those hills."
And so it was that about five o'clock that afternoon, having spent the whole day exploring the charming environs of Acapulco,—having been seen at different periods going over the Old Mission in tow of a monk who wouldn't look at them but kept his eyes carefully fixed on the ground, sitting on high stools eating strange and enchanting ices at the shop in the town that has the best ices, bathing deliciously in the warm sea at the foot of a cliff along the top of which a great hedge of rose-coloured geraniums flared against the sky, lunching under a grove of ilexes on the contents of a basket produced by Mr. Twist from somewhere in the car he had hired, wandering afterwards up through eucalyptus woods across the fields towards the foot of the mountains,—they came about five o'clock, thirsty and thinking of tea, to a delightful group of flowery cottages clustering round a restaurant and forming collectively, as Mr. Twist explained, one of the many American forms of hotel. "To which," he said, "people not living in the cottages can come and have meals at the restaurant, so we'll go right in and have tea."
And it was just because they couldn't get tea—any other meal, the proprietress said, but no teas were served, owing to the Domestic Help Eight Hours Bill which obliged her to do without domestics during the afternoon hours—that Anna-Felicitas came by her great idea.
But she didn't come by it at once.
They got into the car first, which was waiting for them in the scented road at the bottom of the field they had walked across, and they got into it in silence and were driven back to their hotel for tea, and her brain was still unvisited by inspiration.
They were all tired and thirsty, and were disappointed at being thwarted in their desire to sit at a little green table under whispering trees and rest, and drink tea, and had no sort of wish to have it at the Cosmopolitan. But both Mr. Twist, who had been corrupted by Europe, and the twins, who had the habits of their mother, couldn't imagine doing without it in the afternoon, and they would have it in the hotel sooner than not have it at all. It was brought to them after a long time of waiting. Nobody else was having any at that hour, and the waiter, when at last one was found, had difficulty apparently in believing that they were serious. When at last he did bring it, it was toast and marmalade and table-napkins, for all the world as though it had been breakfast.
Then it was that, contemplating this with discomfort and distaste, as well as the place they were sitting in and its rocking-chairs and marble and rugs, Anna-Felicitas was suddenly smitten by her idea.
It fell upon her like a blow. It struck her fairly, as it were, between the eyes. She wasn't used to ideas, and she stopped dead in the middle of a piece of toast and looked at the others. They stopped too in their eating and looked at her.
"What's the matter?" asked Anna-Rose. "Has another button come off?"
At this Mr. Twist considered it wisest to turn his head away, for experience had taught him that Anna-Felicitas easily came undone.
"I've thought of something," said Anna-Felicitas.
Mr. Twist turned his head back again. "You don't say," he said, mildly sarcastic.
"Ich gratuliere," said Anna-Rose, also mildly sarcastic.
"I've got an idea," said Anna-Felicitas. "But it's so luminous," she said, looking from one to the other in a kind of surprise. "Of course. That's what we'll do. Ridiculous to waste time bothering about schools."
There was a new expression on her face that silenced the comments rising to Anna-Rose's and Mr. Twist's tongues, both of whom had tired feet and were therefore disposed to sarcasm.
Anna-Felicitas looked at them, and they looked at her, and her face continued to become visibly more and more illuminated, just as if a curtain were being pulled up. Animation and interest shone in her usually dreamy eyes. Her drooping body sat up quite straight. She reminded Anna-Rose, who had a biblically well-furnished mind, of Moses when he came down from receiving the Law on the mountain.
"Well, tell us," said Anna-Rose. "But not," she added, thinking of Moses, "if it's only more commandments."
Anna-Felicitas dropped the piece of toast she was still holding in her fingers, and pushed back her cup. "Come out on to the rocks," she said getting up—"where we sat this morning." And she marched out, followed by the other two with the odd submissiveness people show towards any one who is thoroughly determined.
It was dark and dinner-time before they got back to the hotel. Throughout the sunset Anna-Felicitas sat on her rock, the same rock she had sat on so unsatisfactorily eight hours earlier, and expounded her idea. She couldn't talk fast enough. She, so slow and listless, for once was shaken into burning activity. She threw off her hat directly she got on to the sands, climbed up the rock as if it were a pulpit, and with her hands clasped round her knees poured out her plan, the long shafts of the setting sun bathing her in bright flames and making her more like Moses than ever,—if, that is, one could imagine Moses as beautiful as Anna-F., thought Anna-Rose, and as felicitously without his nose and beard.
It was wonderful how complete Anna-Felicitas's inspiration was. It reminded Mr. Twist of his own about the teapot. It was, of course, a far more complicated matter than that little device of his, and would have to be thought out very carefully and approached very judiciously, but the wealth of detail she was already ready with immensely impressed him. She even had a name for the thing; and it was when he heard this name, when it flashed into her talk with the unpremeditatedness of an inspiration, that Mr. Twist became definitely enthusiastic.
He had an American eye for advertisement. Respect for it was in his blood. He instantly saw the possibilities contained in the name. He saw what could be done with it, properly worked. He saw it on hoarding-on signposts, in a thousand contrivances for catching the public attention and sticking there.
The idea, of course, was fantastic, unconventional, definitely outside what his mother and that man Uncle Arthur would consider proper, but it was outside the standards of such people that life and fruitfulness and interest and joy began. He had escaped from the death-like grip of his mother, and Uncle Arthur had himself forcibly expulsed the Annas from his, and now that they were all so far away, instead of still timorously trying to go on living up to those distant sterile ideas why shouldn't they boldly go out into the light and colour that was waiting everywhere for the free of spirit?
Mr. Twist had often observed how perplexingly much there is to be said for the opposite sides of a question. He was now, but with no perplexity, for Anna-Felicitas had roused his enthusiasm, himself taking the very opposite view as to the proper thing for the twins to do from the one he had taken in the night and on the rocks that morning. School? Nonsense. Absurd to bury these bright shoots of everlastingness—this is what they looked like to him, afire with enthusiasm and the setting sun—in such a place of ink. If the plan, owing to the extreme youth of the Annas, were unconventional, conventionality could be secured by giving a big enough salary to a middle-aged lady to come and preside. He himself would hover beneficently in the background over the undertaking.
Anna-Felicitas's idea was to use Uncle Arthur's L200 in renting one of the little wooden cottages that seemed to be plentiful, preferably one about five miles out in the country, make it look inside like an English cottage, all pewter and chintz and valances, make it look outside like the more innocent type of German wayside inn, with green tables and spreading trees, get a cook who would concentrate on cakes, real lovely ones, various, poetic, wonderful cakes, and start an inn for tea alone that should become the fashion. It ought to be so arranged that it became the fashion. She and Anna-Rose would do the waiting. The prices would be very high, indeed exorbitant—this Mr. Twist regarded as another inspiration,—so that it should be a distinction, give people a cachet, to have had tea at their cottage; and in a prominent position in the road in front of it, where every motor-car would be bound to see it, there would be a real wayside inn signboard, such as inns in England always have, with its name on it.
"If people here were really neutral you might have the Imperial arms of Germany and England emblazoned on it," interrupted Mr. Twist, "just to show your own extreme and peculiar neutrality."
"We might call it The Christopher and Columbus," interrupted Anna-Rose, who had been sitting open-mouthed hanging on Anna-Felicitas's words.
"Or you might call it The Cup and Saucer," said Mr. Twist, "and have a big cup brimming with tea and cream painted on it—"
"No," said Anna-Felicitas. "It is The Open Arms. That is its name."
And Mr. Twist, inclined to smile and criticise up to this, bowed his head in instantaneous recognition and acceptance.
He became definitely enthusiastic. Of course he would see to it that not a shadow of ambiguousness was allowed to rest on such a name. The whole thing as he saw it, his mind working rapidly while Anna-Felicitas still talked, would be a happy joke, a joyous, gay little assault on the purses of millionaires, in whom the district abounded judging from the beautiful houses and gardens he had passed that day,—but a joke and a gay assault that would at the same time employ and support the Annas; solve them, in fact, saw Mr. Twist, who all day long had been regarding them much as one does a difficult mathematical problem.
It was Mr. Twist who added the final inspiration to Anna-Felicitas's many, when at last she paused for want of breath. The inn, he said, should be run as a war philanthropy. All that was over after the expenses were paid and a proper percentage reserved by the Annas as interest on their invested capital—they listened with eager respect to these business-like expressions—would be handed over to the American Red Cross. "That," explained Mr. Twist, "would seal the inn as both respectable and fashionable, which is exactly what we would want to make it."
And he then announced, and they accepted without argument or questioning in the general excitement, that he would have himself appointed their legal guardian.
They didn't go back to the Cosmopolitan till dinnertime, there was so much to say, and after dinner, a meal at which Mr. Twist had to suppress them a good deal because The Open Arms kept on bursting through into their talk and, as at breakfast, the people at the tables round them were obviously trying to hear, they went out once again on to the sea-front and walked up and down till late continuing the discussion, mostly simultaneously as regards the twins, while Mr. Twist chimed in with practical suggestions whenever they stopped to take breath.
He had to drive them indoors to bed at last, for the lights were going out one by one in the Cosmopolitan bedroom windows, where the virtuous rich, exhausted by their day of virtue, were subsiding, prostrate with boredom and respectability, into their various legitimate lairs, and he stayed alone out by the sea rapidly sketching out his activities for the next day.
There was the guardianship to be arranged, the cottage to be found, and the middle-aged lady to be advertised for. She, indeed, must be secured at once; got to come at once to the Cosmopolitan and preside over the twins until they all proceeded in due season to The Open Arms. She must be a motherly middle-aged lady, decided Mr. Twist, affectionate, skilled in managing a cook, business-like, intellectual, and obedient. Her feminine tact would enable her to appear to preside while she was in reality obeying. She must understand that she was there for the Annas, and that the Annas were not there for her. She must approach the situation in the spirit of the enlightened king of a democratic country, who receives its honours, accepts its respect, but does not lose sight of the fact that he is merely the Chief Servant of the people. Mr. Twist didn't want a female Uncle Arthur let loose upon those blessed little girls; besides, they would have the dangerous weapon in their hands of being able to give her notice, and it would considerably dim the reputation of The Open Arms if there were a too frequent departure from it of middle-aged ladies.
Mr. Twist felt himself very responsible and full of anxieties as he paced up and down alone, but he was really enjoying himself. That youthful side of him, so usual in the artistic temperament, which leaped about at the least pleasant provocation like a happy lamb when the sunshine tickles it, was feeling that this was great fun; and the business side of him was feeling that it was not only great fun but probably an extraordinarily productive piece of money-making.
The ignorant Annas—bless their little hearts, he thought, he who only the night before on that very spot had been calling them accursed—believed that their L200 was easily going to do everything. This was lucky, for otherwise there would have been some thorny paths of argument and convincing to be got through before they would have allowed him to help finance the undertaking; probably they never would have, in their scrupulous independence. Mr. Twist reflected with satisfaction on the usefulness of his teapot. At last he was going to be able to do something, thanks to it, that gave him real gladness. His ambulance to France—that was duty. His lavishness to his mother—that again was duty. But here was delight, here at last was what his lonely heart had always longed for,—a chance to help and make happy, and be with and watch being made happy, dear women-things, dear soft sweet kind women-things, dear sister-things, dear children-things....
It has been said somewhere before that Mr. Twist was meant by Nature to be a mother; but Nature, when she was half-way through him, forgot and turned him into a man.
The very next morning they set out house-hunting, and two days later they had found what they wanted. Not exactly what they wanted of course, for the reason, as Anna-Felicitas explained that nothing ever is exactly, but full of possibilities to the eye of imagination, and there were six of this sort of eye gazing at the little house.
It stood at right angles to a road much used by motorists because of its beauty, and hidden from it by trees on the top of a slope of green fields scattered over with live oaks that gently descended down towards the sea. Its back windows, and those parts of it that a house is ashamed of, were close up to a thick grove of eucalyptus which continued to the foot of the mountains. It had an overrun little garden in front, separated from the fields by a riotous hedge of sweetbriar. It had a few orange, and lemon, and peach trees on its west side, the survivors of what had once been intended for an orchard, and a line of pepper trees on the other, between it and the road. Neglected roses and a huge wistaria clambered over its dilapidated face. Somebody had once planted syringas, and snowballs, and lilacs along the inside of the line of pepper trees, and they had grown extravagantly and were an impenetrable screen, even without the sweeping pepper trees from the road.
It hadn't been lived in for years, and it was well on in decay, being made of wood, but the situation was perfect for The Open Arms. Every motorist coming up that road would see the signboard outside the pepper trees, and would certainly want to stop at the neat little gate, and pass through the flowery tunnel that would be cut through the syringas, and see what was inside. Other houses were offered of a far higher class, for this one had never been lived in by gentry, said the house-agent endeavouring to put them off a thing so broken down. A farmer had had it years back, he told them, and instead of confining himself to drinking the milk from his own cows, which was the only appropriate drink for a farmer the agent maintained—he was the president of the local Anti-Vice-In-All-Its-Forms League—he put his money as he earned it into gin, and the gin into himself, and so after a bit was done for.
The other houses the agent pressed on them were superior in every way except situation; but situation being the first consideration, Mr. Twist agreed with the twins, who had fallen in love with the neglected little house whose shabbiness was being so industriously hidden by roses, that this was the place, and a week later it and its garden had been bought—Mr. Twist didn't tell the twins he had bought it, in order to avoid argument, but it was manifestly the simple thing to do—and over and round and through it swarmed workmen all day long, like so many diligent and determined ants. Also, before the week was out, the middle-aged lady had been found and engaged, and a cook of gifts in the matter of cakes. This is the way you do things in America. You decide what it is that you really want, and you start right away and get it. "And everything so cheap too!" exclaimed the twins gleefully, whose L200 was behaving, it appeared, very like the widow's cruse.
This belief, however, received a blow when they went without Mr. Twist, who was too busy now for any extra expeditions, to choose and buy chintzes, and it was finally shattered when the various middle-aged ladies who responded to Mr. Twist's cry for help in the advertising columns of the Acapulco and Los Angeles press one and all demanded as salary more than the whole Twinkler capital.
The twins had a bad moment of chill fear and misgiving, and then once more were saved by an inspiration,—this time Anna-Rose's.
"I know," she exclaimed, her face clearing. "We'll make it Co-operative."
Mr. Twist, whose brow too had been puckered in the effort to think out a way of persuading the twins to let him help them openly with his money, for in spite of his going to be their guardian they remained difficult on this point, jumped at the idea. He couldn't, of course, tell what in Anna-Rose's mind the word co-operative stood for, but felt confident that whatever it stood for he could manipulate it into covering his difficulties.
"What is co-operative?" asked Anna-Felicitas, with a new respect for a sister who could suddenly produce a business word like that and seem to know all about it. She had heard the word herself, but it sat very loosely in her head, at no point touching anything else.
"Haven't you heard of Co-operative Stores?" inquired Anna-Rose.
"Yes, but what would a co-operative inn be?" persisted Anna-Felicitas.
"One run on co-operative lines, of course," said Anna-Rose grandly. "Everybody pays for everything, so that nobody particular pays for anything."
"Oh," said Anna-Felicitas.
"I mean," said Anna-Rose, who felt herself that this might be clearer, "it's when you pay the servants and the rent and the cakes and things out of what you get."
"Oh," said Anna-Felicitas. "And will they wait quite quietly till we've got it?"
"Of course, if we're all co-operative."
"I see," said Anna-Felicitas, who saw as little as before, but knew of old that Anna-Rose grew irascible when pressed.
"See here now," said Mr. Twist weightily, "if that isn't an idea. Only you've got hold of the wrong word. The word you want is profit-sharing. And as this undertaking is going to be a big success there will be big profits, and any amount of cakes and salaries will be paid for as glibly and easily as you can say your ABC."
And he explained that till they were fairly started he was going to stay in California, and that he intended during this time to be book-keeper, secretary, and treasurer to The Open Arms, besides Advertiser-in-Chief, which was, he said, the most important post of all; and if they would be so good as to leave this side of it unquestioningly to him, who had had a business training, he would undertake that the Red Cross, American or British, whichever they decided to support, should profit handsomely.
Thus did Mr. Twist artfully obtain a free hand as financial backer of The Open Arms. The profit-sharing system seemed to the twins admirable. It cleared away every scruple and every difficulty, they now bought chintzes and pewter pots in the faith of it without a qualm, and even ceased to blench at the salary of the lady engaged to be their background,—indeed her very expensiveness pleased them, for it gave them confidence that she must at such a price be the right one, because nobody, they agreed, who knew herself not to be the right one would have the face to demand so much.
This lady, the widow of Bruce D. Bilton of Chicago of whom of course, she said, the Miss Twinklers had heard—the Miss Twinklers blushed and felt ashamed of themselves because they hadn't, and indistinctly murmured something about having heard of Cornelius K. Vanderbilt, though, and wouldn't he do—had a great deal of very beautiful snow-white hair, while at the same time she was only middle-aged. She firmly announced, when she perceived Mr. Twist's spectacles dwelling on her hair, that she wasn't yet forty, and her one fear was that she mightn't be middle-aged enough. The advertisement had particularly mentioned middle-aged; and though she was aware that her brains and fingers and feet couldn't possibly be described as coming under that heading, she said her hair, on the other hand, might well be regarded as having overshot the mark. But its turning white had nothing to do with age. It had done that when Mr. Bilton passed over. No hair could have stood such grief as hers when Mr. Bilton took that final step. She had been considering the question of age, she informed Mr. Twist, from every aspect before coming to the interview, for she didn't want to make a mistake herself nor allow the Miss Twinklers to make a mistake; and she had arrived at the conclusion that what with her hair being too old and the rest of her being too young, taken altogether she struck an absolute average and perfectly fulfilled the condition required; and as she wished to live in the country, town life disturbing her psychically too much, she was willing to give up her home and her circle—it was a real sacrifice—and accept the position offered by the Miss Twinklers. She was, she said, very quiet, and yet at the same time she was very active. She liked to fly round among duties, and she liked to retire into her own mentality and think. She was all for equilibrium, for the right balancing of body and mind in a proper alternation of suitable action. Thus she attained poise,—she was one of the most poised women her friends knew, they told her. Also she had a warm heart, and liked both philanthropy and orphans. Especially if they were war ones.
Mrs. Bilton talked so quickly and so profusely that it took quite a long time to engage her. There never seemed to be a pause in which one could do it. It was in Los Angeles, in an hotel to which Mr. Twist had motored the twins, starting at daybreak that morning in order to see this lady, that the personal interview took place, and by lunch-time they had been personally interviewing her for three hours without stopping. It seemed years. The twins longed to engage her, if only to keep her quiet; but Mrs. Bilton's spirited description of life as she saw it and of the way it affected something she called her psyche, was without punctuation and without even the tiny gap of a comma in it through which one might have dexterously slipped a definite offer. She had to be interrupted at last, in spite of the discomfort this gave to the Twinkler and Twist politeness, because a cook was coming to be interviewed directly after lunch, and they were dying for some food.
The moment Mr. Twist saw Mrs. Bilton's beautiful white hair he knew she was the one. That hair was what The Open Arms wanted and must have; that hair, with a well-made black dress to go with it, would be a shield through which no breath of misunderstanding as to the singleness of purpose with which the inn was run would ever penetrate. He would have settled it with her in five minutes if she could have been got to listen, but Mrs. Bilton couldn't be got to listen; and when it became clear that no amount of patient waiting would bring him any nearer the end of what she had to say Mr. Twist was forced to take off his coat, as it were, and plunge abruptly into the very middle of her flow of words and convey to her as quickly as possible, as one swimming for his life against the stream, that she was engaged. "Engaged, Mrs. Bilton,"—he called out, raising his voice above the sound of Mrs. Bilton's rushing words, "engaged." She would be expected at the Cosmopolitan, swiftly continued Mr. Twist, who was as particularly anxious to have her at the Cosmopolitan as the twins were particularly anxious not to,—for for the life of them they couldn't see why Mrs. Bilton should be stirred up before they started inhabiting the cottage,—within three days—
"Mr. Twist, it can't be done," broke in Mrs. Bilton a fresh and mountainous wave of speech gathering above Mr. Twist's head. "It absolutely—"
"Within a week, then," he called out quickly, holding up the breaking of the wave for an instant while he hastened to and opened the door. "And goodmorning Mrs. Bilton—my apologies, my sincere apologies, but we have to hurry away—"
The cook was engaged that afternoon. Mr. Twist appeared to have mixed up the answers to his advertisement, for when, after paying the luncheon-bill, he went to join the twins in the sitting-room, he found them waiting for him in the passage outside the door looking excited.
"The cook's come," whispered Anna-Rose, jerking her head towards the shut door. "She's a man."
"She's a Chinaman," whispered Anna-Felicitas.
Mr. Twist was surprised. He thought he had an appointment with a woman,—a coloured lady from South Carolina who was a specialist in pastries and had immaculate references, but the Chinaman assured him that he hadn't, and that his appointment was with him alone, with him, Li Koo. In proof of it, he said, spreading out his hands, here he was. "We make cakies—li'l cakies—many, lovely li'l cakies," said Li Koo, observing doubt on the gentleman's face; and from somewhere on his person he whipped out a paper bag of them as a conjurer whips a rabbit out of a hat, and offered them to the twins.
They ate. He was engaged. It took five minutes.
After he had gone, and punctually to the minute of her appointment, an over-flowing Negress appeared and announced that she was the coloured lady from South Carolina to whom the gentleman had written.
Mr. Twist uncomfortably felt that Li Koo had somehow been clever. Impossible, however, to go back on him, having eaten his cakes. Besides, they were perfect cakes, blown together apparently out of flowers and honey and cream,—cakes which, combined with Mrs. Bilton's hair, would make the fortune of The Open Arms.