The coloured lady, therefore, was sent away, disappointed in spite of the douceur and fair words Mr. Twist gave her; and she was so much disappointed that they could hear her being it out loud all the way along the passage and down the stairs, and the nature of her expression of her disappointment was such that Mr. Twist, as he tried by animated conversation to prevent it reaching the twins' ears, could only be thankful after all that Li Koo had been so clever. It did, however, reach the twins' ears, but they didn't turn a hair because of Uncle Arthur. They merely expressed surprise at its redness, seeing that it came out of somebody so black.
Directly after this trip to Los Angeles advertisements began to creep over the countryside. They crept along the roads where motorists were frequent and peeped at passing cars round corners and over hedges. They were taciturn advertisements, and just said three words in big, straight, plain white letters on a sea-blue ground:
THE OPEN ARMS
People passing in their cars saw them, and vaguely thought it must be the name of a book. They had better get it. Other people would have got it. It couldn't be a medicine nor anything to eat, and was probably a religious novel. Novels about feet or arms were usually religious. A few considered it sounded a little improper, and as though the book, far from being religious, would not be altogether nice; but only very proper people who distrusted everything, even arms took this view.
After a week the same advertisements appeared with three lines added:
THE OPEN ARMS YES BUT WHY? WHERE? WHAT?
and then ten days after that came fresh ones:
THE OPEN ARMS WILL OPEN WIDE
On November 20th at Four P.M.
N.B. WATCH THE SIGNPOSTS.
And while the countryside—an idle countryside, engaged almost wholly in holiday-making and glad of any new distraction—began to be interested and asked questions, Mr. Twist was working day and night at getting the thing ready.
All day long he was in Acapulco or out at the cottage, urging, hurrying, criticizing, encouraging, praising and admonishing. His heart and soul and brain was in this, his business instincts and his soft domestic side. His brain, after working at top speed during the day with the architect, the painter and decorator, the furnisher, the garden expert, the plumbing expert, the electric-light expert, the lawyer, the estate agent, and numberless other persons, during the night meditated and evolved advertisements. There was to be a continual stream week by week after the inn was opened of ingenious advertisements. Altogether Mr. Twist had his hands full.
The inn was to look artless and simple and small, while actually being the last word in roomy and sophisticated comfort. It was to be as like an old English inn to look at as it could possibly be got to be going on his own and the twins' recollections and the sensationally coloured Elizabethan pictures in the architect's portfolio. It didn't disturb Mr. Twist's unprejudiced American mind that an English inn embowered in heliotrope and arum lilies and eucalyptus trees would be odd and unnatural, and it wouldn't disturb anybody else there either. Were not Swiss mountain chalets to be found in the fertile plains along the Pacific, complete with fir trees specially imported and uprooted in their maturity and brought down with tons of their own earth attached to their roots and replanted among carefully disposed, apparently Swiss rocks, so that what one day had been a place smiling with orange-groves was the next a bit of frowning northern landscape? And were there not Italian villas dotted about also? But these looked happier and more at home than the chalets. And there were buildings too, like small Gothic cathedrals, looking as uncomfortable and depressed as a woman who has come to a party in the wrong clothes. But no matter. Nobody minded. So that an English inn added to this company, with a little German beer-garden—only there wasn't to be any beer—wouldn't cause the least surprise or discomfort to anybody.
In the end, the sole resemblance the cottage had to an English inn was the signboard out in the road. With the best will in the world, and the liveliest financial encouragement from Mr. Twist, the architect couldn't in three weeks turn a wooden Californian cottage into an ancient red-brick Elizabethan pothouse. He got a thatched roof on to it by a miracle of hustle, but the wooden walls remained; he also found a real antique heavy oak front door studded with big rusty nailheads in a San Francisco curiosity shop, that would serve, he said, as a basis for any wished-for hark-back later on when there was more time to the old girl's epoch—thus did he refer to Great Eliza and her spacious days—and meanwhile it gave the building, he alleged, a considerable air; but as this door in that fine climate was hooked open all day long it didn't disturb the gay, the almost jocose appearance of the place when everything was finished.
Houses have their expressions, their distinctive faces, very much as people have, meditated Mr. Twist the morning of the opening, as he sat astride a green chair at the bottom of the little garden, where a hedge of sweetbriar beautifully separated the Twinkler domain from the rolling fields that lay between it and the Pacific, and stared at his handiwork; and the conclusion was forced upon him—reluctantly, for it was the last thing he had wanted The Open Arms to do—that the thing looked as if it were winking at him.
Positively, thought Mr. Twist, his hat on the back of his head, staring, that was what it seemed to be doing. How was that? He studied it profoundly, his head on one side. Was it that it was so very gay? He hadn't meant it to be gay like that. He had intended a restrained and disciplined simplicity, a Puritan unpretentiousness, with those sweet maidens, the Twinkler twins, flitting like modest doves in and out among its tea-tables; but one small thing had been added to another small thing at their suggestion, each small thing taken separately apparently not mattering at all and here it was almost—he hoped it was only his imagination—winking at him. It looked a familiar little house; jocular; very open indeed about the arms.
Various things had happened, however, before this morning of the great day was reached, and Mr. Twist had had some harassing experiences.
One of the first things he had done after the visit to Los Angeles was to take steps in the matter of the guardianship. He had written to Mrs. Bilton that he was the Miss Twinklers' guardian, though it was not at that moment true. It was clear, he thought, that it should be made true as quickly as possible, and he therefore sought out a lawyer in Acapulco the morning after the interview. This was not the same lawyer who did his estate business for him; Mr. Twist thought it best to have a separate one for more personal affairs.
On hearing Mr. Twist's name announced, the lawyer greeted him as an old friend. He knew, of course, all about the teapot, for the Non-Trickler was as frequent in American families as the Bible and much more regularly used; but he also knew about the cottage at the foot of the hills, what it had cost—which was little—and what it would cost—which was enormous—before it was fit to live in. The only thing he didn't know was that it was to be used for anything except an ordinary pied-a-terre. He had heard, too, of the presence at the Cosmopolitan of the twins, and on this point, like the rest of Acapulco, was a little curious.
The social column of the Acapulco daily paper hadn't been able to give any accurate description of the relationship of the Twinklers to Mr. Twist. Its paragraph announcing his arrival had been obliged merely to say, while awaiting more detailed information, that Mr. Edward A. Twist, the well-known Breakfast Table Benefactor and gifted inventor of the famous Non-Trickler Teapot, had arrived from New York and was staying at the Cosmopolitan Hotel with entourage; and the day after this the lawyer, who got about a bit, as everybody else did in that encouraging climate, happening to look in at the Cosmopolitan to have a talk with a friend, had seen the entourage.
It was in the act of passing through the hall on its way upstairs, followed by a boy carrying a canary in a cage. Even without the boy and the canary it was a conspicuous object. The lawyer asked his friend who the cute little girls were, and was interested to hear he was beholding Mr. Edward A. Twist's entourage. His friend told him that opinion in the hotel was divided about the precise nature of this entourage and its relationship to Mr. Twist, but it finally came to be generally supposed that the Miss Twinklers had been placed in his charge by parents living far away in order that he might safely see them put to one of the young ladies' finishing schools in that agreeable district. The house Mr. Twist was taking was not connected in the Cosmopolitan mind with the Twinklers. Houses were always being taken in that paradise by wealthy persons from unkinder climates. He would live in it three months in the year, thought the Cosmopolitan, bring his mother, and keep in this way an occasional eye on his charges. The hotel guests regarded the Twinklers at this stage with nothing but benevolence and goodwill, for they had up to then only been seen and not heard; and as one of their leading characteristics was a desire to explain, especially if anybody looked a little surprised, which everybody usually did quite early in conversation with them, this was at that moment, the delicate moment before Mrs. Bilton's arrival, fortunate.
The lawyer, then, who appreciated the young and pretty as much as other honest men, began the interview with Mr. Twist by warmly congratulating him, when he heard what he had come for, on his taste in wards.
Mr. Twist received this a little coldly, and said it was not a matter of taste but of necessity. The Miss Twinklers were orphans, and he had been asked—he cleared his throat—asked by their relatives, by, in fact, their uncle in England, to take over their guardianship and see that they came to no harm.
The lawyer nodded intelligently, and said that if a man had wards at all they might as well be cute wards.
Mr. Twist didn't like this either, and said briefly that he had had no choice.
The lawyer said, "Quite so. Quite so," and continued to look at him intelligently.
Mr. Twist then explained that he had come to him rather than, as might have been more natural, to the solicitor who had arranged the purchase of the cottage because this was a private and personal matter—
"Quite so. Quite so," interrupted the lawyer, with really almost too much intelligence.
Mr. Twist felt the excess of it, and tried to look dignified, but the lawyer was bent on being friendly and frank. Friendliness was natural to him when visited for the first time by a new client, and that there should be frankness between lawyers and clients he considered essential. If, he held, the client wouldn't be frank, then the lawyer must be; and he must go on being so till the client came out of his reserve.
Mr. Twist, however, was so obstinate in his reserve that the lawyer cheerfully and unhesitatingly jumped to the conclusion that the entourage must have some very weak spots about it somewhere.
"There's another way out of it of course, Mr. Twist," he said, when he had done rapidly describing the different steps to be taken. There were not many steps. The process of turning oneself into a guardian was surprisingly simple and swift.
"Out of it?" said Mr. Twist, his spectacles looking very big and astonished. "Out of what?"
"Out of your little difficulty. I wonder it hasn't occurred to you. Upon my word now, I do wonder."
"But I'm not in any little diff—" began Mr. Twist.
"The elder of these two girls, now—"
"There isn't an elder," said Mr. Twist.
"Come, come," said the lawyer patiently, waiting for him to be sensible.
"There isn't an elder," repeated Mr. Twist, "They're twins."
"Twins, are they? Well I must say we manage to match up our twins better than that over here. But come now—hasn't it occurred to you you might marry one of them, and so become quite naturally related to them both?"
Mr. Twist's spectacles seemed to grow gigantic.
"Marry one of them?" he repeated, his mouth helplessly opening.
"Yep," said the lawyer, giving him a lead in free-and-easiness.
"Look here," said Mr. Twist suddenly gathering his mouth together, "cut that line of joke out. I'm here on serious business. I haven't come to be facetious. Least of all about those children—"
"Quite so, quite so," interrupted the lawyer pleasantly. "Children, you call them. How old are they? Seventeen? My wife was sixteen when we married. Oh quite so, quite so. Certainly. By all means. Well then, they're to be your wards. And you don't want it known how recently they've become your wards—"
"I didn't say that," said Mr. Twist.
"Quite so, quite so. But it's your wish, isn't it. The relationship is to look as grass-grown as possible. Well, I shall be dumb of course, but most things get into the press here. Let me see—" He pulled a sheet of paper towards him and took up his fountain pen. "Just oblige me with particulars. Date of birth. Place of birth. Parentage—"
He looked up ready to write, waiting for the answers.
"I can't tell you off hand," said Mr. Twist presently, his forehead puckered.
"Ah," said the lawyer, laying down his pen. "Quite so. Not known your young friends long enough yet."
"I've known them quite long enough," said Mr. Twist stiffly, "but we happen to have found more alive topics of conversation than dates and parents."
"Ah. Parents not alive."
"Unfortunately they are not. If they were, these poor children wouldn't be knocking about in a strange country."
"Where would they be?" asked the lawyer, balancing his pen across his forefinger.
Mr. Twist looked at him very straight. Vividly he remembered his mother's peculiar horror when he told her the girls he was throwing away his home life for and breaking her heart over were Germans. It had acted upon her like the last straw. And since then he had felt everywhere, with every one he talked to, in every newspaper he read, the same strong hostility to Germans, so much stronger than when he left America the year before.
Mr. Twist began to perceive that he had been impetuous in this matter of the guardianship. He hadn't considered it enough. He suddenly saw innumerable difficulties for the twins and for The Open Arms if it was known it was run by Germans. Better abandon the guardianship idea than that such difficulties should arise. He hadn't thought; he hadn't had time properly to think; he had been so hustled and busy the last few days....
"They come from England," he said, looking at the lawyer very straight.
"Ah," said the lawyer.
Mr. Twist wasn't going to lie about the twins, but merely, by evading, he hoped to put off the day when their nationality would be known. Perhaps it never would be known; or if known, known later on when everybody, as everybody must who knew them, loved them for themselves and accordingly wouldn't care.
"Quite so," said the lawyer again, nodding. "I asked because I overheard them talking the other day as they passed through the hall of your hotel. They were talking about a canary. The r in the word seemed a little rough. Not quite English, Mr. Twist? Not quite American?"
"Not quite," agreed Mr. Twist. "They've been a good deal abroad."
"Quite so. At school, no doubt."
He was silent a moment, intelligently balancing his pen on his forefinger.
"Then these particulars," he went on, looking up at Mr. Twist,—"could you let me have them soon? I tell you what. You're in a hurry to fix this. I'll call round to-night at the hotel, and get them direct from your young friends. Save time. And make me acquainted with a pair of charming girls."
"No," said Mr. Twist. He got on to his feet and held out his hand. "Not to-night. We're engaged to-night. To-morrow will be soon enough. I'll send round. I'll let you know. I believe I'm going to think it over a bit. There isn't any such terrible hurry, anyhow."
"There isn't? I understood—"
"I mean, a day or two more or less don't figure out at much in the long run."
"Quite so, quite so," said the lawyer, getting up too. "Well, I'm always at your service, at any time." And he shook hands heartily with Mr. Twist and politely opened the door for him.
Then he went back to his writing-table more convinced than ever that there was something very weak somewhere about the entourage.
As for Mr. Twist, he perceived he had been a fool. Why had he gone to the lawyer at all? Why not simply have announced to the world that he was the Twinkler guardian? The twins themselves would have believed it if he had come in one day and said it was settled, and nobody outside would ever have dreamed of questioning it. After all, you couldn't see if a man was a guardian or not just by looking at him. Well, he would do no more about it, it was much too difficult. Bother it. Let Mrs. Bilton go on supposing he was the legal guardian of her charges. Anyway he had all the intentions of a guardian. What a fool he had been to go to the lawyer. Curse that lawyer. Now he knew, however distinctly and frequently he, Mr. Twist, might say he was the Twinkler guardian, that he wasn't.
It harassed Mr. Twist to perceive, as he did perceive with clearness, that he had been a fool; but the twins, when he told them that evening that owing to technical difficulties, with the details of which he wouldn't trouble them, the guardianship was off, were pleased.
"We want to be bound to you," said Anna-Felicitas her eyes very soft and her voice very gentle, "only by ties of affection and gratitude."
And Anna-Rose, turning red, opened her mouth as though she were going to say something handsome like that too, but seemed unable after all to get it out, and only said, rather inaudibly, "Yes."
Yet another harassing experience awaited Mr. Twist before the end of that week.
It had been from the first his anxious concern that nothing should occur at the Cosmopolitan to get his party under a cloud; yet it did get under a cloud, and on the very last afternoon, too, before Mrs. Bilton's arrival. Only twenty-four hours more and her snowy-haired respectability would have spread over the twins like a white whig. They would have been safe. His party would have been unassailable. But no; those Twinklers, in spite of his exhortation whenever he had a minute left to exhort in, couldn't, it seemed, refrain from twinkling,—the word in Mr. Twist's mind covered the whole of their easy friendliness, their flow of language, their affable desire to explain.
He had kept them with him as much as he could, and luckily the excited interest they took in the progress of the inn made them happy to hang about it most of the time of the delicate and dangerous week before Mrs. Bilton came; but they too had things to do,—shopping in Acapulco choosing the sea-blue linen frocks and muslin caps and aprons in which they were to wait at tea, and buying the cushions and flower-pots and canary that came under the general heading, in Anna-Rose's speech, of feminine touches. So they sometimes left him; and he never saw them go without a qualm.
"Mind and not say anything to anybody about this, won't you," he would say hastily, making a comprehensive gesture towards the cottage as they went.
"Of course we won't."
"I meant, nobody is to know what it's really going to be. They're to think it's just a pied-a-terre. It would most ruin my advertisement scheme if they—"
"But of course we won't. Have we ever?" the twins would answer, looking very smug and sure of themselves.
"No. Not yet. But—"
And the hustled man would plunge again into technicalities with whichever expert was at that moment with him, leaving the twins, as he needs must, to God and their own discretion.
Discretion, he already amply knew, was not a Twinkler characteristic. But the week passed, Mrs. Bilton's arrival grew near, and nothing had happened. It was plain to the watchful Mr. Twist, from the pleasant looks of the other guests when the twins went in and out of the restaurant to meals, that nothing had happened. His heart grew lighter. On the last afternoon, when Mrs. Bilton was actually due next day, his heart was quite light, and he saw them leave him to go back and rest at the hotel, because they were tired by the accumulated standing about of the week, altogether unconcernedly.
The attitude of the Cosmopolitan guests towards the twins was, indeed, one of complete benevolence. They didn't even mind the canary. Who would not be indulgent towards two such sweet little girls and their pet bird, even if it did sing all day and most of the night without stopping? The Twinkler girls were like two little bits of snapped-off sunlight, or bits of white blossom blowing in and out of the hotel in their shining youth and it was impossible not to regard them indulgently. But if the guests were indulgent, they were also inquisitive. Everybody knew who Mr. Twist was; who, however, were the Twinklers? Were they relations of his? Protegees? Charges?
The social column of the Acapulco daily paper, from which information as to new arrivals was usually got, had, as we know, in its embarrassment at being ignorant to take refuge in French, because French may so easily be supposed to mean something. The paper had little knowledge of, but much confidence in, French. Entourage had seemed to it as good a word as any other, as indeed did clientele. It had hesitated between the two, but finally chose entourage because there happened to be no accent in its stock of type. The Cosmopolitan guests were amused at the word, and though inquisitive were altogether amiable; and, until the last afternoon, only the manager didn't like the Twinklers. He didn't like them because of the canary. His sympathies had been alienated from the Miss Twinklers the moment he heard through the chambermaid that they had tied the heavy canary cage on to the hanging electric light in their bedroom. He said nothing, of course. One doesn't say anything if one is an hotel manager, until the unique and final moment when one says everything.
On the last afternoon before Mrs. Bilton's advent the twins, tired of standing about for days at the cottage and in shops, appeared in the hall of the hotel and sat down to rest. They didn't go to their room to rest because they didn't feel inclined for the canary, and they sat down very happily in the comfortable rocking-chairs with which the big hall abounded, and, propping their dusty feet on the lower bar of a small table, with friendly and interested eyes they observed the other guests.
The other guests also observed them.
It was the first time the entourage had appeared without its companion, and the other guests were dying to know details about it. It hadn't been sitting in the hall five minutes before a genial old gentleman caught Anna-Felicitas's friendly eye and instantly drew up his chair.
"Uncle gone off by himself to-day?" he asked; for he was of the party in the hotel which inclined, in spite of the marked difference in profiles, to the relationship theory, and he made a shot at the relationship being that of uncle.
"We haven't got an uncle nearer than England," said Anna-Felicitas affably.
"And we only got him by accident," said Anna-Rose, equally affably.
"It was an unfortunate accident," said Anna-Felicitas, considering her memories.
"Indeed," said the old gentleman. "Indeed. How was that?"
"By the usual method, if an uncle isn't a blood uncle," said Anna-Rose. "We happened to have a marriageable aunt, and he married her. So we have to have him."
"It was sheer bad luck," said Anna-Felicitas, again brooding on that distant image.
"Yes," said Anna-Rose. "Just bad luck. He might so easily have married some one else's aunt. But no. His roving glance must needs go and fall on ours."
"Indeed," said the old gentleman. "Indeed." And he ruminated on this, with an affectionate eye—he was affectionate—resting in turn on each Anna.
"Then Mr. Twist," he went on presently—"we all know him of course—a public benefactor—"
"Yes, isn't he," said Anna-Rose radiantly.
"A boon to the breakfast-table—"
"Yes, isn't he," said Anna-Rose again, all asparkle. "He is so pleasant at breakfast."
"Then he—Mr. Twist—Teapot Twist we call him where I live—"
"Teapot Twist?" said Anna-Rose. "I think that's irreverent."
"Not at all. It's a pet name. A sign of our affection and gratitude. Then he isn't your uncle?"
"We haven't got a real uncle nearer than heaven," said Anna-Felicitas, her cheek on her hand, dreamily reconstructing the image of Onkel Col.
"Indeed," said the old gentleman. "Indeed." And he ruminated, on this too, his thirsty heart—he had a thirsty heart, and found difficulty in slaking it because of his wife—very indulgent toward the twins.
Then he said: "That's a long way off."
"What is?" asked Anna-Rose.
"The place your uncle's in."
"Not too far really," said Anna-Felicitas softly. "He's safe there. He was very old, and was difficult to look after. Why, he got there at last through his own carelessness."
"Indeed," said the old gentleman.
"Sheer carelessness," said Anna-Rose.
"Indeed," said the old gentleman. "How was that?"
"Well, you see where we lived they didn't have electric light," began Anna-Rose, "and one night—the the night he went to heaven—he put the petroleum lamp—"
And she was about to relate that dreadful story of Onkle Col's end which has already been described in these pages as unfit for anywhere but an appendix for time had blunted her feelings, when Anna-Felicitas put out a beseeching hand and stopped her. Even after all these years Anna-Felicitas couldn't bear to remember Onkle Col's end. It had haunted her childhood. It had licked about her dreams in leaping tongues of flame. And it wasn't only tongues of flame. There were circumstances connected with it.... Only quite recently, since the war had damped down lesser horrors, had she got rid of it. She could at least now talk of him calmly, and also speculate with pleasure on the probable aspect of Onkle Col in glory, but she still couldn't bear to hear the details of his end.
At this point an elderly lady of the spare and active type, very upright and much wrinkled, that America seems so freely to produce, came down the stairs; and seeing the twins talking to the old gentleman, crossed straight over and sat down briskly next to them smiling benevolently.
"Well, if Mr. Ridding can talk to you I guess so can I," she said, pulling her knitting out of a brocaded bag and nodding and smiling at the group.
She was knitting socks for the Allied armies in France the next winter, but it being warm just then in California they were cotton socks because wool made her hands too hot.
The twins were all polite, reciprocal smiles.
"I'm just crazy to hear about you," said the brisk lady, knitting with incredible energy, while her smiles flicked over everybody. "You're fresh from Europe, aren't you? What say? Quite fresh? My, aren't you cute little things. Thinking of making a long stay in the States? What say? For the rest of your lives? Why now, I call that just splendid. Parents coming out West soon too? What say? Prevented? Well, I guess they won't let themselves be prevented long. Mr. Twist looking after you meanwhile? What say? There isn't any meanwhile? Well, I don't quite—Mr. Twist your uncle, or cousin? What say? No relation at all? H'm, h'm. No relation at all, is he. Well, I guess he's an old friend of your parents, then. What say? They didn't know him? H'm, h'm. They didn't know him, didn't they. Well, I don't quite—What say? But you know him? Yes, yes, so I see. H'm, h'm. I don't quite—" Her needles flew in and out, and her ball of cotton rolled on to the floor in her surprise.
Anna-Rose got up and fetched it for her before the old gentleman, who was gazing with thirsty appreciation at Anna-Felicitas, could struggle out of his chair.
"You see," explained Anna-Felicitas, taking advantage of the silence that had fallen on the lady, "Mr. Twist, regarded as a man, is old, but regarded as a friend he is new."
"Brand new," said Anna-Rose.
"H'm, h'm," said the lady, knitting faster than ever, and looking first at one twin and then at the other. "H'm, h'm, h'm. Brand new, is he. Well, I don't quite—" Her smiles had now to struggle with the uncertainty and doubt, and were weakening visibly.
"Say now, where did you meet Teapot Twist?" asked the old gentleman, who was surprised too, but remained quite benevolent owing to his affectionate heart and his not being a lady.
"We met Mr. Twist," said Anna-Rose, who objected to this way of alluding to him, "on the steamer."
"Not before? You didn't meet Mr. Twist before the steamer?" exclaimed the lady, the last of her smiles flickering out. "Not before the steamer, didn't you. Just a steamship acquaintance. Parents never seen him. H'm, h'm, h'm."
"We would have met him before if we could," said Anna-Felicitas earnestly.
"I should think so," said Anna-Rose. "It has been the great retrospective loss of our lives meeting him so late in them."
"Why now," said the old gentleman smiling, "I shouldn't call it so particularly late in them."
But the knitting lady didn't smile at all, and sat up very straight and said "H'm, h'm, h'm" to her flashing needles as they flew in and out; for not only was she in doubt now about the cute little things, but she also regretted, on behalf of the old gentleman's wife who was a friend of hers, the alert interest of his manner. He sat there so very much awake. With his wife he never seemed awake at all. Up to now she had not seen him except with his wife.
"You mustn't run away with the idea that we're younger than we really are," Anna-Rose said to the old gentleman.
"Why no, I won't," he answered with a liveliness that deepened the knitting lady's regret on behalf of his wife. "When I run away you bet it won't be with an idea."
And he chuckled. He was quite rosy in the face, and chuckled; he whom she knew only as a quiet man with no chuckle in him. And wasn't what he had just said very like what the French call a double entendre? She hadn't a husband herself, but if she had she would wish him to be at least as quiet when away from her as when with her, and at least as free from double entendres. At least. Really more. "H'm, h'm, h'm," she said, clicking her needles and looking first at the twins and then at the old gentleman.
"Do you mean to say you crossed the Atlantic quite alone, you two?" she asked, in order to prevent his continuing on these remarkable and unusual lines of badinage.
"Quite," said Anna-Felicitas.
"That is to say, we had Mr. Twist of course," said Anna-Rose.
"Once we had got him," amended Anna-Felicitas.
"Yes, yes," said the knitting lady, "so you say. H'm, h'm, h'm. Once you had got him. I don't quite—"
"Well, I call you a pair of fine high-spirited girls," said the old gentleman heartily, interrupting in his turn, "and all I can say is I wish I had been on that boat."
"Here's Mrs. Ridding," said the knitting lady quickly, relief in her voice; whereupon he suddenly grew quiet. "My, Mrs. Ridding," she added when the lady drew within speaking distance, "you do look as though you needed a rest."
Mrs. Ridding, the wife of the old gentleman, Mr. Ridding, had been approaching slowly for some time from behind. She had been out on the verandah since lunch, trying to recover from it. That was the one drawback to meals, she considered, that they required so much recovering from; and the nicer they were the longer it took. The meals at the Cosmopolitan were particularly nice, and really all one's time was taken up getting over them.
She was a lady whose figure seemed to be all meals. The old gentleman had married her in her youth, when she hadn't had time to have had so many. He and she were then the same age, and unfortunately hadn't gone on being the same age since. It had wrecked his life this inability of his wife to stay as young and new as himself. He wanted a young wife, and the older he got in years—his heart very awkwardly retained its early freshness—the younger he wanted her; and, instead, the older he got the older his wife got too. Also the less new. The old gentleman felt the whole thing was a dreadful mistake. Why should he have to be married to this old lady? Never in his life had he wanted to marry old ladies; and he thought it very hard that at an age when he most appreciated bright youth he should be forced to spend his precious years, his crowning years when his mind had attained wisdom while his heart retained freshness, stranded with an old lady of costly habits and inordinate bulk just because years ago he had fallen in love with a chance pretty girl.
He struggled politely out of his chair on seeing her. The twins, impressed by such venerable abundance, got up too.
"Albert, if you try to move too quick you'll crick your back again," said Mrs. Ridding in a monotonous voice, letting herself down carefully and a little breathlessly on to the edge of a chair that didn't rock, and fanning herself with a small fan she carried on the end of a massive gold chain. Her fatigued eyes explored the twins while she spoke.
"I can't get Mr. Ridding to remember that we're neither of us as young as we were," she went on, addressing the knitting lady but with her eyes continuing to explore the twins.
They naturally thought she was speaking to them, and Anna-Felicitas said politely, "Really?" and Anna-Rose, feeling she too ought to make some comment, said, "Isn't that very unusual?"
Aunt Alice always said, "Isn't that very unusual?" when she didn't know what else to say, and it worked beautifully, because then the other person launched into affirmations or denials with the reasons for them, and was quite happy.
But Mrs. Ridding only stared at the twins heavily and in silence.
"Because," explained Anna-Rose, who thought the old lady didn't quite follow, "nobody ever is. So that it must be difficult not to remember it."
Mr. Ridding too was silent, but that was because of his wife. It was quite untrue to say that he forgot, seeing that she was constantly reminding him. "Old stranger," he thought resentfully, as he carefully arranged a cushion behind her back. He didn't like her back. Why should he have to pay bills for putting expensive clothes on it? He didn't want to. It was all a dreadful mistake.
"You're the Twinkler girls," said the old lady abruptly.
They made polite gestures of agreement.
The knitting lady knitted vigorously, sitting up very straight and saying nothing, with a look on her face of disclaiming every responsibility.
"Where does your family come from?" was the next question.
This was unexpected. The twins had no desire to talk of Pomerania. They hadn't wanted to talk about Pomerania once since the war began; and they felt very distinctly in their bones that America, though she was a neutral, didn't like Germany any more than the belligerents did. It had been their intention to arrange together the line they would take if asked questions of this sort, but life had been so full and so exciting since their arrival that they had forgotten to.
Anna-Rose found herself unable to say anything at all. Anna-Felicitas, therefore, observing that Christopher was unnerved, plunged in.
"Our family," she said gently, "can hardly be said to come so much as to have been."
The old lady thought this over, her lustreless eyes on Anna-Felicitas's face.
The knitting lady clicked away very fast, content to leave the management of the Twinklers in more competent hands.
"How's that?" asked the old lady, finally deciding that she hadn't understood.
"It's extinct," said Anna-Felicitas. "Except us. That is, in the direct line."
The old lady was a little impressed by this, direct lines not being so numerous or so clear in America as in some other countries.
"You mean you two are the only Twinklers left?" she asked.
"The only ones left that matter," said Anna-Felicitas. "There are branches of Twinklers still existing, I believe, but they're so unimportant that we don't know them."
"Mere twigs," said Anna-Rose, recovering her nerves on seeing Anna-Felicitas handle the situation so skilfully; and her nose unconsciously gave a slight Junker lift.
"Haven't you got any parents?" asked the old lady.
"We used to have," said Anna-Felicitas flushing, afraid that her darling mother was going to be asked about.
The old gentleman gave a sudden chuckle. "Why yes," he said, forgetting his wife's presence for an instant, "I guess you had them once, or I don't see how—"
"Albert," said his wife.
"We are the sole surviving examples of the direct line of Twinklers," said Anna-Rose, now quite herself and ready to give Columbus a hand. "There's just us. And we—" she paused a moment, and then plunged—"we come from England."
"Do you?" said the old lady. "Now I shouldn't have said that. I can't say just why, but I shouldn't. Should you, Miss Heap?"
"I shouldn't say a good many things, Mrs. Ridding," said Miss Heap enigmatically, her needles flying.
"It's because we've been abroad a great deal with our parents, I expect," said Anna-Rose rather quickly. "I daresay it has left its mark on us."
"Everything leaves its mark on one," observed Anna-Felicitas pleasantly.
"Ah," said the old lady. "I know what it is now. It's the foreign r. You've picked it up. Haven't they, Miss Heap."
"I shouldn't like to say what they haven't picked up, Mrs. Ridding," said Miss Heap, again enigmatically.
"I'm afraid we have," said Anna-Rose, turning red. "We've been told that before. It seems to stick, once one has picked it up."
And the old gentleman muttered that everything stuck once one had picked it up, and looked resentfully at his wife.
She moved her slow eyes round, and let them rest on him a moment.
"Albert, if you talk so much you won't be able to sleep to-night," she said. "I can't get Mr. Ridding to remember we've got to be careful at our age," she added to the knitting lady.
"You seem to be bothered by your memory," said Anna-Rose politely, addressing the old gentleman "Have you ever tried making notes on little bits of paper of the things you have to remember? I think you would probably be all right then. Uncle Arthur used to do that. Or rather he made Aunt Alice do it for him, and put them where he would see them."
"Uncle Arthur," explained Anna-Felicitas to the old lady, "is an uncle of ours. The one," she said turning to the old gentleman, "we were just telling you about, who so unfortunately insisted on marrying our aunt. Uncle, that is, by courtesy," she added, turning to the old lady, "not by blood."
The old lady's eyes moved from one twin to the other as each one spoke, but she said nothing.
"But Aunt Alice," said Anna-Rose, "is our genuine aunt. Well, I was going to tell you," she continued briskly, addressing the old gentleman. "There used to be things Uncle Arthur had to do every day and every week, but still he had to be reminded of them each time, and Aunt Alice had a whole set of the regular ones written out on bits of cardboard, and brought them out in turn. The Monday morning one was: Wind the Clock, and the Sunday morning one was: Take your Hot Bath, and the Saturday evening one was: Remember your Pill. And there was one brought in regularly every morning with his shaving water and stuck in his looking-glass: Put on your Abdominable Belt."
The knitting needles paused an instant.
"Yes," Anna-Felicitas joined in, interested by these recollections, her long limbs sunk in her chair in a position of great ease and comfort, "and it seemed to us so funny for him to have to be reminded to put on what was really a part of his clothes every day, that once we wrote a slip of our own for him and left it on his dressing-table: Don't forget your Trousers."
The knitting needles paused again.
"But the results of that were dreadful," added Anna-Felicitas, her face sobering at the thought of them.
"Yes," said Anna-Rose. "You see, he supposed Aunt Alice had done it, in a fit of high spirits, though she never had high spirits—"
"And wouldn't have been allowed to if she had," explained Anna-Felicitas.
"And he thought she was laughing at him," said Anna-Rose, "though we have never seen her laugh—"
"And I don't believe he has either," said Anna-Felicitas.
"So there was trouble, because he couldn't bear the idea of her laughing at him, and we had to confess."
"But that didn't make it any better for Aunt Alice."
"No, because then he said it was her fault anyhow for not keeping us stricter."
"So," said Anna-Felicitas, "after the house had been steeped in a sulphurous gloom for over a week, and we all felt as though we were being slowly and steadily gassed, we tried to make it up by writing a final one—a nice one—and leaving it on his plate at breakfast: Kiss your Wife. But instead of kissing her he—" She broke off, and then finished a little vaguely: "Oh well, he didn't."
"Still," remarked Anna-Rose, "it must be pleasant not to be kissed by a husband. Aunt Alice always wanted him to, strange to say, which is why we reminded him of it. He used to forget that more regularly than almost anything. And the people who lived in the house nearest us were just the opposite—the husband was for ever trying to kiss the person who was his wife, and she was for ever dodging him."
"Yes," said Anna-Felicitas. "Like the people on Keats's Grecian Urn."
"Yes," said Anna-Rose. "And that sort of husband, must be even worse.
"Oh, much worse," agreed Anna-Felicitas.
She looked round amiably at the three quiet figures in the chairs. "I shall refrain altogether from husbands," she said placidly. "I shall take something that doesn't kiss."
And she fell into an abstraction, wondering, with her cheek resting on her hand, what he, or it, would look like.
There was a pause. Anna-Rose was wondering too what sort of a creature Columbus had in her mind, and how many, if any, legs it would have; and the other three were, as before, silent.
Then the old lady said, "Albert," and put out her hand to be helped on to her feet.
The old gentleman struggled out of his chair, and helped her up. His face had a congested look, as if he were with difficulty keeping back things he wanted to say.
Miss Heap got up too, stuffing her knitting as she did so into her brocaded bag.
"Go on ahead and ring the elevator bell, Albert," said the old lady. "It's time we went and had our nap."
"I ain't going to," said the old gentleman suddenly.
"What say? What ain't you going to, Albert?" said the old lady, turning her slow eyes round to him.
"Nap," said the old gentleman, his face very red.
It was intolerable to have to go and nap. He wished to stay where he was and talk to the twins. Why should he have to nap because somebody else wanted to? Why should he have to nap with an old lady, anyway? Never in his life had he wanted to nap with old ladies. It was all a dreadful mistake.
"Albert," said his wife looking at him.
He went on ahead and rang the lift-bell.
"You're quite right to see that he rests, Mrs. Ridding," said Miss Heap, walking away with her and slowing her steps to suit hers. "I should say it was essential that he should be kept quiet in the afternoons. You should see that Mr. Ridding rests more than he does. Much more," she added significantly.
"I can't get Mr. Ridding to remember that we're neither of us—"
This was the last the twins heard.
They too had politely got out of their chairs when the old lady began to heave into activity, and they stood watching the three departing figures. They were a little surprised. Surely they had all been in the middle of an interesting conversation?
"Perhaps it's American to go away in the middle," remarked Anna-Rose, following the group with her eyes as it moved toward the lift.
"Perhaps it is," said Anna-Felicitas, also gazing after it.
The old gentleman, in the brief moment during which the two ladies had their backs to him while preceding him into the lift, turned quickly round on his heels and waved his hand before he himself went in.
The twins laughed, and waved back; and they waved with such goodwill that the old gentleman couldn't resist giving one more wave. He was seen doing it by the two ladies as they faced round, and his wife, as she let herself down on to the edge of the seat, remarked that he mustn't exert himself like that or he would have to begin taking his drops again.
That was all she said in the lift; but in their room, when she had got her breath again, she said, "Albert, there's just one thing in the world I hate worse than a fool, and that's an old fool."
That evening, while the twins were undressing, a message came up from the office that the manager would be obliged if the Miss Twinklers' canary wouldn't sing.
"But it can't help it," said Anna-Felicitas through the crack of door she held open; she was already in her nightgown. "You wouldn't either if you were a canary," she added, reasoning with the messenger.
"It's just got to help it," said he.
"But why shouldn't it sing?"
"But it always has sung."
"That is so. And it has sung once too often. It's unpopular in this hotel, that canary of yours. It's just got to rest a while. Take it easy. Sit quiet on its perch and think."
"But it won't sit quiet and think."
"Well, I've told you," he said, going away.
This was the bird that had been seen arriving at the Cosmopolitan about a week before by the lawyer, and it had piercingly sung ever since. It sang, that is, as long as there was any light, real or artificial, to sing by. The boy who carried it from the shop for the twins said its cage was to be hung in a window in the sun, or it couldn't do itself justice. But electric light also enabled it to do itself justice, the twins discovered, and if they sat up late the canary sat up late too, singing as loudly and as mechanically as if it hadn't been a real canary at all, but something clever and American with a machine inside it.
Secretly the twins didn't like it. Shocked at its loud behaviour, they had very soon agreed that it was no lady, but Anna-Rose was determined to have it at The Open Arms because of her conviction that no house showing the trail of a woman's hand was without a canary. That, and a workbag. She bought them both the same day. The workbag didn't matter, because it kept quiet; but the canary was a very big, very yellow bird, much bigger and yellower than the frailer canaries of a more exhausted civilization, and quite incapable, unless it was pitch dark, of keeping quiet for a minute. Evidently, as Anna-Felicitas said, it had a great many lungs. Her idea of lungs, in spite of her time among them and similar objects at a hospital, was what it had always been: that they were things like pink macaroni strung across a frame of bones on the principle of a lyre or harp, and producing noises. She thought the canary had unusual numbers of these pink strings, and all of them of the biggest and dearest kind of macaroni.
The other guests at the Cosmopolitan had been rather restive from the first on account of this bird, but felt so indulgent toward its owners, those cute little relations or charges or whatever they were of Teapot Twist's, that they bore its singing without complaint. But on the evening of the day the Annas had the interesting conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Ridding and Miss Heap, two definite complaints were lodged in the office, and one was from Mrs. Ridding and the other was from Miss Heap.
The manager, as has been said, was already sensitive about the canary. Its cage was straining his electric light cord, and its food, assiduously administered in quantities exceeding its capacity, littered the expensive pink pile carpet. He therefore lent a ready ear and sent up a peremptory message; and while the message was going up, Miss Heap, who had come herself with her complaint, stayed on discussing the Twist and Twinkler party.
She said nothing really; she merely asked questions; and not one of the questions, now they were put to him, did the manager find he could answer. No doubt everything was all right. Everybody knew about Mr. Twist, and it wasn't likely he would choose an hotel of so high a class to stay in if his relations to the Miss Twinklers were anything but regular. And a lady companion, he understood, was joining the party shortly; and besides, there was the house being got ready, a permanent place of residence he gathered, in which the party would settle down, and experience had taught him that genuine illicitness was never permanent. Still, the manager himself hadn't really cared about the Twinklers since the canary came. He could fill the hotel very easily, and there was no need to accommodate people who spoilt carpets. Also, the moment the least doubt or question arose among his guests, all of whom he knew and most of whom came back regularly every year, as to the social or moral status of any new arrivals, then those arrivals must go. Miss Heap evidently had doubts. Her standard, it is true, was the almost impossibly high one of the unmarried lady of riper years, but Mrs. Ridding, he understood, had doubts too; and once doubts started in an hotel he knew from experience that they ran through it like measles. The time had come for him to act.
Next morning, therefore, he briskly appeared in Mr. Twist's room as he was pulling on his boots, and cheerfully hoped he was bearing in mind what he had been told the day he took the rooms, that they were engaged for the date of the month now arrived at.
Mr. Twist paused with a boot half on. "I'm not bearing it in mind," he said, "because you didn't tell me."
"Oh yes I did, Mr. Twist," said the manager briskly. "It isn't likely I'd make a mistake about that. The rooms are taken every year for this date by the same people. Mrs. Hart of Boston has this one, and Mr. and Mrs.—"
Mr. Twist heard no more. He finished lacing his boots in silence. What he had been so much afraid of had happened: he and the twins had got under a cloud.
The twins had been saying things. Last night they told him they had made some friends. He had been uneasy at that, and questioned them. But it appeared they had talked chiefly of their Uncle Arthur. Well, damnable as Uncle Arthur was as a man he was safe enough as a topic of conversation. He was English. He was known to people in America like the Delloggs and the Sacks. But it was now clear they must have said things besides that. Probably they had expatiated on Uncle Arthur from some point of view undesirable to American ears. The American ear was very susceptible. He hadn't been born in New England without becoming aware of that.
Mr. Twist tied his bootlaces with such annoyance that he got them into knots. He ought never to have come with the Annas to a big hotel. Yet lodgings would have been worse. Why hadn't that white-haired gasbag, Mrs. Bilton—Mr. Twist's thoughts were sometimes unjust—joined them sooner? Why had that shirker Dellogg died? He got his bootlaces hopelessly into knots.
"I'd like to start right in getting the rooms fixed up, Mr. Twist," said the manager pleasantly. "Mrs. Hart of Boston is very—"
"See here," said Mr. Twist, straightening himself and turning the full light of his big spectacles on to him, "I don't care a curse for Mrs. Hart of Boston."
The manager expressed regret that Mr. Twist should connect a curse with a lady. It wasn't American to do that. Mrs. Hart—
"Damn Mrs. Hart," said Mr. Twist, who had become full-bodied of speech while in France, and when he was goaded let it all out.
The manager went away. And so, two hours later, did Mr. Twist and the twins.
"I don't know what you've been saying," he said in an extremely exasperated voice, as he sat opposite them in the taxi with their grips, considerably added to and crowned by the canary who was singing, piled up round him.
"Saying?" echoed the twins, their eyes very round.
"But whatever it was you'd have done better to say something else. Confound that bird. Doesn't it ever stop screeching?"
It was the twins, however, who were confounded. So much confounded by what they considered his unjust severity that they didn't attempt to defend themselves, but sat looking at him with proud hurt eyes.
By this time they both had become very fond of Mr. Twist, and accordingly he was able to hurt them. Anna-Rose, indeed, was so fond of him that she actually thought him handsome. She had boldly said so to the astonished Anna-Felicitas about a week before; and when Anna-Felicitas was silent, being unable to agree, Anna-Rose had heatedly explained that there was handsomeness, and there was the higher handsomeness, and that that was the one Mr. Twist had. It was infinitely better than mere handsomeness, said Anna-Rose—curly hair and a straight nose and the rest of the silly stuff—because it was real and lasting; and it was real and lasting because it lay in the play of the features and not in their exact position and shape.
Anna-Felicitas couldn't see that Mr. Twist's features played. She looked at him now in the taxi while he angrily stared out of the window, and even though he was evidently greatly stirred his features weren't playing. She didn't particularly want them to play. She was fond of and trusted Mr. Twist, and would never even have thought whether he had features or not ii Anna-Rose hadn't taken lately to talking so much about them. And she couldn't help remembering how this very Christopher, so voluble now on the higher handsomeness, had said on board the St. Luke when first commenting on Mr. Twist that God must have got tired of making him by the time his head was reached. Well, Christopher had always been an idealist. When she was eleven she had violently loved the coachman. Anna-Felicitas hadn't ever violently loved anybody yet, and seeing Anna-Rose like this now about Mr. Twist made her wonder when she too was going to begin. Surely it was time. She hoped her inability to begin wasn't perhaps because she had no heart. Still, she couldn't begin if she didn't see anybody to begin on.
She sat silent in the taxi, with Christopher equally silent beside her, both of them observing Mr. Twist through lowered eyelashes. Anna-Rose watched him with hurt and anxious eyes like a devoted dog who has been kicked without cause. Anna-Felicitas watched him in a more detached spirit. She had a real affection for him, but it was not, she was sure and rather regretted, an affection that would ever be likely to get the better of her reason. It wasn't because he was so old, of course, she thought, for one could love the oldest people, beginning with that standard example of age, the liebe Gott; it was because she liked him so much.
How could one get sentimental over and love somebody one so thoroughly liked? The two things on reflection didn't seem to combine well. She was sure, for instance, that Aunt Alice had loved Uncle Arthur, amazing as it seemed, but she was equally sure she hadn't liked him. And look at the liebe Gott. One loves the liebe Gott, but it would be going too far, she thought, to say that one likes him.
These were the reflections of Anna-Felicitas in the taxi, as she observed through her eyelashes the object of Anna-Rose's idealization. She envied Anna-Rose; for here she had been steadily expanding every day more and more like a flower under the influence of her own power of idealization. She used to sparkle and grow rosy like that for the coachman. Perhaps after all it didn't much matter what you loved, so long as you loved immensely. It was, perhaps, thought Anna-Felicitas approaching this subject with some caution and diffidence, the quantity of one's love that mattered rather than the quality of its object. Not that Mr. Twist wasn't of the very first quality, except to look at; but what after all were faces? The coachman had been, as it were, nothing else but face, so handsome was he and so without any other recommendation. He couldn't even drive; and her father had very soon kicked him out with the vigour and absence of hesitation peculiar to Junkers when it comes to kicking and Anna-Rose had wept all over her bread and butter at tea that day, and was understood to say that she knew at last what it must be like to be a widow.
Mr. Twist, for all that he was looking out of the taxi window with an angry and worried face, his attention irritably concentrated, so it seemed, on the objects passing in the road, very well knew he was being observed. He wouldn't, however, allow his eye to be caught. He wasn't going to become entangled at this juncture in argument with the Annas. He was hastily making up his mind, and there wasn't much time to do it in. He had had no explanation with the twins since the manager's visit to his room, and he didn't want to have any. He had issued brief orders to them, told them to pack, declined to answer questions, and had got them safely into the taxi with a minimum waste of time and words. They were now on their way to the station to meet Mrs. Bilton. Her train from Los Angeles was not due till that evening at six. Never mind. The station was a secure place to deposit the twins and the baggage in till she came. He wished he could deposit the twins in the parcel-room as easily as he could their grips—neatly labelled, put away safely on a shelf till called for.
Rapidly, as he stared out of the window, he arrived at decisions. He would leave the twins in the waiting room at the station till Mrs. Bilton was due, and meanwhile go out and find lodgings for them and her. He himself would get a room in another and less critical hotel, and stay in it till the cottage was habitable. So would unassailable respectability once more descend like a white garment upon the party and cover it up.
But he was nettled; nettled; nettled by the contretemps that had occurred on the very last day, when Mrs. Bilton was so nearly there; nettled and exasperated. So immensely did he want the twins to be happy, to float serenely in the unclouded sunshine and sweetness he felt was their due, that he was furious with them for doing anything to make it difficult. And, jerkily, his angry thoughts pounced, as they so often did, on Uncle Arthur. Fancy kicking two little things like that out into the world, two little breakable things like that, made to be cherished and watched over. Mr. Twist was pure American in his instinct to regard the female as an object to be taken care of, to be placed securely in a charming setting and kept brightly free from dust. If Uncle Arthur had had a shred of humanity in him, he angrily reflected, the Annas would have stayed under his roof throughout the war, whatever the feeling was against aliens. Never would a decent man have chucked them out.
He turned involuntarily from the window and looked at the twins. Their eyes were fixed, affectionate and anxious, on his face. With the quick change of mood of those whose chins are weak and whose hearts are warm, a flood of love for them gushed up within him and put out his anger. After all, if Uncle Arthur had been decent he, Edward A. Twist, never would have met these blessed children. He would now have been at Clark; leading lightless days; hopelessly involved with his mother.
His loose, unsteady mouth broke into a big smile. Instantly the two faces opposite cleared into something shining.
"Oh dear," said Anna-Felicitas with a sigh of relief, "it is refreshing when you leave off being cross."
"We're fearfully sorry if we've said anything we oughtn't to have," said Anna-Rose, "and if you tell us what it is we won't say it again."
"I can't tell you, because I don't know what it was," said Mr. Twist, in his usual kind voice. "I only see the results. And the results are that the Cosmopolitan is tired of us, and we've got to find lodgings."
"Till we can move into the cottage. I'm going to put you and Mrs. Bilton in an apartment in Acapulco, and go myself to some hotel."
The twins stared at him a moment in silence. Then Anna-Rose said with sudden passion, "You're not."
"How's that?" asked Mr. Twist; but she was prevented answering by the arrival of the taxi at the station.
There followed ten minutes' tangle and confusion, at the end of which the twins found themselves free of their grips and being piloted into the waiting-room by Mr. Twist.
"There," he said. "You sit here quiet and good. I'll come back about one o'clock with sandwiches and candy for your dinner, and maybe a story-book or two. You mustn't leave this, do you hear? I'm going to hunt for those lodgings."
And he was in the act of taking off his hat valedictorily when Anna-Rose again said with the same passion, "You're not."
"Not what?" inquired Mr. Twist, pausing with his hat in mid-air.
"Going to hunt for lodgings. We won't go to them."
"Of course we won't," said Anna-Felicitas, with no passion but with an infinitely rock-like determination.
"And pray—" began Mr. Twist.
"Go into lodgings alone with Mrs. Bilton?" interrupted Anna-Rose her face scarlet, her whole small body giving the impression of indignant feathers standing up on end. "While you're somewhere else? Away from us? We won't."
"Of course we won't," said Anna-Felicitas again, an almost placid quality in her determination, it was so final and so unshakable. "Would you?"
"See here—" began Mr. Twist.
"We won't see anywhere," said Anna-Rose.
"Would you," inquired Anna-Felicitas, again reasoning with him, "like being alone in lodgings with Mrs. Bilton?"
"This is no time for conversation," said Mr. Twist, making for the door. "You've got to do what I think best on this occasion. And that's all about it."
"We won't," repeated Anna-Rose, on the verge of those tears which always with her so quickly followed any sort of emotion.
Mr. Twist paused on his way to the door. "Well now what the devil's the matter with lodgings?" he asked angrily.
"It isn't the devil, it's Mrs. Bilton," said Anna-Felicitas. "Would you yourself like—"
'But you've got to have Mrs. Bilton with you anyhow from to-day on."
"But not unadulterated Mrs. Bilton. You were to have been with us too. We can't be drowned all by ourselves in Mrs. Bilton. You wouldn't like it."
"Of course I wouldn't. But it's only for a few days anyhow," said Mr. Twist, who had been quite unprepared for opposition to his very sensible arrangement.
"I shouldn't wonder if it's only a few days now before we can all squeeze into some part of the cottage. If you don't mind dust and noise and workmen about all day long."
A light pierced the gloom that had gathered round Anna-Felicitas's soul.
"We'll go into it to-day," she said firmly, "Why not? We can camp out. We can live in those little rooms at the back over the kitchen,—the ones you got ready for Li Koo. We'd be on the spot. We wouldn't mind anything. It would just be a picnic."
"And we—we wouldn't be—sep—separated," said Anna-Rose, getting it out with a gasp.
Mr. Twist stood looking at them.
"Well, of all the—" he began, pushing his hat back. "Are you aware," he went on more calmly, "that there are only two rooms over that kitchen, and that you and Mrs. Bilton will have to be all together in one of them?"
"We don't mind that as long as you're in the other one," said Anna-Rose.
"Of course," suggested Anna-Felicitas, "if you were to happen to marry Mrs. Bilton it would make a fairer division."
Mr. Twist's spectacles stared enormously at her.
"No, no," said Anna-Rose quickly. "Marriage is a sacred thing, and you can't just marry so as to be more comfortable."
"I guess if I married Mrs. Bilton I'd be more uncomfortable," remarked Mr. Twist with considerable dryness.
He seemed however to be quieted by the bare suggestion, for he fixed his hat properly on his head and said, sobriety in his voice and manner, "Come along, then. We'll get a taxi and anyway go out and have a look at the rooms. But I shouldn't be surprised," he added, "if before I've done with you you'll have driven me sheer out of my wits."
"Oh, don't say that," said the twins together, with all and more of their usual urbanity.
By superhuman exertions and a lavish expenditure of money, the rooms Li Koo was later on to inhabit were ready to be slept in by the time Mrs. Bilton arrived. They were in an outbuilding at the back of the house, and consisted of a living-room with a cooking-stove in it, a bedroom behind it, and up a narrow and curly staircase a larger room running the whole length and width of the shanty. This sounds spacious, but it wasn't. The amount of length and width was small, and it was only just possible to get three camp-beds into it and a washstand. The beds nearly touched each other. Anna-Felicitas thought she and Anna-Rose were going to be regrettably close to Mrs. Bilton in them, and again urged on Mr. Twist's consideration the question of removing Mrs. Bilton from the room by marriage; but Anna-Rose said it was all perfect, and that there was lots of room, and she was sure Mrs. Bilton, used to the camp life so extensively practised in America, would thoroughly enjoy herself.
They worked without stopping all the rest of the day at making the little place habitable, nailing up some of the curtains intended for the other house, unpacking cushions, and fetching in great bunches of the pale pink and mauve geraniums that scrambled about everywhere in the garden and hiding the worst places in the rooms with them. Mr. Twist was in Acapulco most of the time, getting together the necessary temporary furniture and cooking utensils, but the twins didn't miss him, for they were helped with zeal by the architect, the electrical expert, the garden expert and the chief plumber.
These young men—they were all young, and very go-ahead—abandoned the main building that day to the undirected labours of the workmen they were supposed to control, and turned to on the shanty as soon as they realized what it was to be used for with a joyous energy that delighted the twins. They swept and they garnished. They cleaned the dust off the windows and the rust off the stove. They fetched out the parcels with the curtains and cushions in them from the barn where all parcels and packages had been put till the house was ready, and extracted various other comforts from the piled up packing-cases,—a rug or two, an easy chair for Mrs. Bilton, a looking-glass. They screwed in hooks behind the doors for clothes to be hung on, and they tied the canary to a neighbouring eucalyptus tree where it could be seen and hardly heard. The chief plumber found buckets and filled them with water, and the electrical expert rigged up a series of lanterns inside the shanty, even illuminating its tortuous staircase. There was much badinage, but as it was all in American, a language of which the twins were not yet able to apprehend the full flavour, they responded only with pleasant smiles. But their smiles were so pleasant and the family dimple so engaging that the hours flew, and the young men were sorry indeed when Mr. Twist came back.
He came back laden, among other things, with food for the twins, whom he had left in his hurry high and dry at the cottage with nothing at all to eat; and he found them looking particularly comfortable and well-nourished, having eaten, as they explained when they refused his sandwiches and fruit, the chief plumber's dinner.
They were sitting on the stump of an oak tree when he arrived, resting from their labours, and the grass at their feet was dotted with the four experts. It was the twins now who were talking, and the experts who were smiling. Mr. Twist wondered uneasily what they were saying. It wouldn't have added to his comfort if he had heard, for they were giving the experts an account of their attempt to go and live with the Sacks, and interweaving with it some general reflections of a philosophical nature suggested by the Sack menage. The experts were keenly interested, and everybody looked very happy, and Mr. Twist was annoyed; for clearly if the experts were sitting there on the grass they weren't directing the workmen placed under their orders. Mr. Twist perceived a drawback to the twins living on the spot while the place was being finished; another drawback. He had perceived several already, but not this one. Well, Mrs. Bilton would soon be there. He now counted the hours to Mrs. Bilton. He positively longed for her.
When they saw him coming, the experts moved away. "Here's the boss," they said, nodding and winking at the twins as they got up quickly and departed. Winking was not within the traditions of the Twinkler family, but no doubt, they thought, it was the custom of the country to wink, and they wondered whether they ought to have winked back. The young men were certainly deserving of every friendliness in return for all they had done. They decided they would ask Mrs. Bilton, and then they could wink at them if necessary the first thing to-morrow morning.
Mr. Twist took them with him when he went down to the station to meet the Los Angeles train. It was dark at six, and the workmen had gone home by then, but the experts still seemed to be busy. He had been astonished at the amount the twins had accomplished in his absence in the town till they explained to him how very active the experts had been, whereupon he said, "Now isn't that nice," and briefly informed them they would go with him to the station.
"That's waste of time," said Anna-Felicitas. "We could be giving finishing touches if we stayed here."
"You will come with me to the station," said Mr. Twist.
Mrs. Bilton arrived in a thick cloud of conversation. She supposed she was going to the Cosmopolitan Hotel, as indeed she originally was, and all the way back in the taxi Mr. Twist was trying to tell her she wasn't; but Mrs. Bilton had so much to say about her journey, and her last days among her friends, and all the pleasant new acquaintances she had made on the train, and her speech was so very close-knit, that he felt he was like a rabbit on the wrong side of a thick-set hedge running desperately up and down searching for a gap to get through. It was nothing short of amazing how Mrs. Bilton talked; positively, there wasn't at any moment the smallest pause in the flow.
"It's a disease," thought Anna-Rose, who had several things she wanted to say herself, and found herself hopelessly muzzled.
"No wonder Mr. Bilton preferred heaven," thought Anna-Felicitas, also a little restless at the completeness of her muzzling.
"Anyhow she'll never hear the Annas saying anything," thought Mr. Twist, consoling himself.
"This hotel we're going to seems to be located at some distance from the station," said Mrs. Bilton presently, in the middle of several pages of rapid unpunctuated monologue. "Isolated, surely—" and off she went again to other matters, just as Mr. Twist had got his mouth open to explain at last.
She arrived therefore at the cottage unconscious of the change in her fate.
Now Mrs. Bilton was as fond of comfort as any other woman who has been deprived for some years of that substitute for comfort, a husband. She had looked forward to the enveloping joys of the Cosmopolitan, its bath, its soft bed and good food, with frank satisfaction. She thought it admirable that before embarking on active duties she should for a space rest luxuriously in an excellent hotel, with no care in regard to expense, and exchange ideas while she rested with the interesting people she would be sure to meet in it. Before the interview in Los Angeles, Mr. Twist had explained to her by letter and under the seal of confidence the philanthropic nature of the project he and the Miss Twinklers were engaged upon, and she was prepared, in return for the very considerable salary she had accepted, to do her duty loyally and unremittingly; but after the stress and hard work of her last days in Los Angeles she had certainly looked forward with a particular pleasure to two or three weeks' delicious wallowing in flesh-pots for which she had not to pay. She was also, however, a lady of grit; and she possessed, as she said her friends often told her, a redoubtable psyche, a genuine American free and fearless psyche; so that when, talking ceaselessly, her thoughts eagerly jostling each other as they streamed through her brain to get first to the exit of her tongue, she caught her foot in some builder's debris carelessly left on the path up to the cottage and received in this way positively her first intimation that this couldn't be the Cosmopolitan, she did not, as a more timid female soul well might have, become alarmed and suppose that Mr. Twist, whom after all she didn't know, had brought her to this solitary place for purposes of assassination, but stopped firmly just where she was, and turning her head in the darkness toward him said, "Now Mr. Twist, I'll stand right here till you're able to apply some sort of illumination to what's at my feet. I can't say what it is I've walked against but I'm not going any further with this promenade till I can say. And when you've thrown light on the subject perhaps you'll oblige me with information as to where that hotel is I was told I was coming to."
"Information?" cried Mr. Twist. "Haven't I been trying to give it you ever since I met you? Haven't I been trying to stop your getting out of the taxi till I'd fetched a lantern? Haven't I been trying to offer you my arm along the path—"
"Then why didn't you say so, Mr. Twist?" asked Mrs. Bilton.
"Say so!" cried Mr. Twist.
At that moment the flash of an electric torch was seen jerking up and down as the person carrying it ran toward them. It was the electrical expert who, most fortunately, happened still to be about.
Mrs. Bilton welcomed him warmly, and taking his torch from him first examined what she called the location of her feet, then gave it back to him and put her hand through his arm. "Now guide me to whatever it is has been substituted without my knowledge for that hotel," she said; and while Mr. Twist went back to the taxi to deal with her grips, she walked carefully toward the shanty on the expert's arm, expressing, in an immense number of words, the astonishment she felt at Mr. Twist's not having told her of the disappearance of the Cosmopolitan from her itinerary.
The electrical expert tried to speak, but was drowned without further struggle. Anna-Rose, unable to listen any longer without answering to the insistent inquiries as to why Mr. Twist had kept her in the dark, raised her voice at last and called out, "But he wanted to—he wanted to all the time—you wouldn't listen—you wouldn't stop—"
Mrs. Bilton did stop however when she got inside the shanty. Her tongue and her feet stopped dead together. The electrical expert had lit all the lanterns, and coming upon it in the darkness its lighted windows gave it a cheerful, welcoming look. But inside no amount of light and bunches of pink geraniums could conceal its discomforts, its dreadful smallness; besides, pink geraniums, which the twins were accustomed to regard as precious, as things brought up lovingly in pots, were nothing but weeds to Mrs. Bilton's experienced Californian eye.
She stared round her in silence. Her sudden quiet fell on the twins with a great sense of refreshment. Standing in the doorway—for Mrs. Bilton and the electrical expert between them filled up most of the kitchen—they heaved a deep sigh. "And see how beautiful the stars are," whispered Anna-Felicitas in Anna-Rose's ear; she hadn't been able to see them before somehow, Mrs. Bilton's voice had so much ruffled the night.
"Do you think she talks in her sleep?" Anna-Rose anxiously whispered back.
But Mr. Twist, arriving with his hands full, was staggered to find Mrs. Bilton not talking. An icy fear seized his heart. She was going to refuse to stay with them. And she would be within her rights if she did, for certainly what she called her itinerary had promised her a first-rate hotel, in which she was to continue till a finished and comfortable house was stepped into.
"I wish you'd say something," he said, plumping down the bags he was carrying on the kitchen floor.
The twins from the doorway looked at him and then at each other in great surprise. Fancy asking Mrs. Bilton to say something.
"They would come," said Mr. Twist, resentfully, jerking his head toward the Annas in the doorway.
"It's worse upstairs," he went on desperately as Mrs. Bilton still was dumb.
"Worse upstairs?" cried the twins, as one woman.
"It's perfect upstairs," said Anna-Felicitas.
"It's like camping out without being out," said Anna-Rose.
"The only drawback is that there are rather a lot of beds in our room," said Anna-Felicitas, "but that of course"—she turned to Mr. Twist—"might easily be arranged—"
"I wish you'd say something, Mrs. Bilton," he interrupted quickly and loud.
Mrs. Bilton drew a deep breath and looked round her. She looked round the room, and she looked up at the ceiling, which the upright feather in her hat was tickling, and she looked at the faces of the twins, lit flickeringly by the uncertain light of the lanterns. Then, woman of grit, wife who had never failed him of Bruce D. Bilton, widow who had remained poised and indomitable on a small income in a circle of well-off friends, she spoke; and she said:
"Mr. Twist, I can't say what this means, and you'll furnish me no doubt with information, but whatever it is I'm not the woman to put my hand to a plough and then turn back again. That type of behaviour may have been good enough for Pharisees and Sadducees, who if I remember rightly had to be specially warned against the practice, but it isn't good enough for me. You've conducted me to a shack instead of the hotel I was promised, and I await your explanation. Meanwhile, is there any supper?"
It was only a fortnight after this that the inn was ready to be opened, and it was only during the first days of this fortnight that the party in the shanty had to endure any serious discomfort. The twins didn't mind the physical discomfort at all; what they minded, and began to mind almost immediately, was the spiritual discomfort of being at such close quarters with Mrs. Bilton. They hardly noticed the physical side of that close association in such a lovely climate, where the whole of out-of-doors can be used as one's living-room; and their morning dressing, a difficult business in the shanty for anybody less young and more needing to be careful, was rather like the getting up of a dog after its night's sleep—they seemed just to shake themselves, and there they were.
They got up before Mrs. Bilton, who was, however, always awake and talking to them while they dressed, and they went to bed before she did, though she came up with them after the first night and read aloud to them while they undressed; so that as regarded the mysteries of Mrs. Bilton's toilette they were not, after all, much in her way. It was like caravaning or camping out: you managed your movements and moments skilfully, and if you were Mrs. Bilton you had a curtain slung across your part of the room, in case your younger charges shouldn't always be asleep when they looked as if they were.
Gradually one alleviation was added to another, and Mrs. Bilton forgot the rigours of the beginning. Li Koo arrived, for instance, fetched by a telegram, and under a tent in the eucalyptus grove at the back of the house set up an old iron stove and produced, with no apparent exertion, extraordinarily interesting and amusing food. He went into Acapulco at daylight every morning and did the marketing. He began almost immediately to do everything else in the way of housekeeping. He was exquisitely clean, and saw to it that the shanty matched him in cleanliness. To the surprise and gratification of the twins, who had supposed it would be their lot to go on doing the housework of the shanty, he took it over as a matter of course, dusting, sweeping, and tidying like a practised and very excellent housemaid. The only thing he refused to do was to touch the three beds in the upper chamber. "Me no make lady-beds," he said briefly.
Li Koo's salary was enormous, but Mr. Twist, with a sound instinct, cared nothing what he paid so long as he got the right man. He was, indeed, much satisfied with his two employees, and congratulated himself on his luck. It is true in regard to Mrs. Bilton his satisfaction was rather of the sorrowful sort that a fresh ache in a different part of one's body from the first ache gives: it relieved him from one by substituting another. Mrs. Bilton overwhelmed him; but so had the Annas begun to. Her overwhelming, however, was different, and freed him from that other worse one. He felt safe now about the Annas, and after all there were parts of the building in which Mrs. Bilton wasn't. There was his bedroom, for instance. Thank God for bedrooms, thought Mr. Twist. He grew to love his. What a haven that poky and silent place was; what a blessing the conventions were, and the proprieties. Supposing civilization were so far advanced that people could no longer see the harm there is in a bedroom, what would have become of him? Mr. Twist could perfectly account for Bruce D. Bilton's death. It wasn't diabetes, as Mrs. Bilton said; it was just bedroom.
Still, Mrs. Bilton was an undoubted find, and did immediately in those rushed days take the Annas off his mind. He could leave them with her in the comfortable certitude that whatever else they did to Mrs. Bilton they couldn't talk to her. Never would she know the peculiar ease of the Twinkler attitude toward subjects Americans approach with care. Never would they be able to tell her things about Uncle Arthur, the kind of things that had caused the Cosmopolitan to grow so suddenly cool. There was, most happily for this particular case, no arguing with Mrs. Bilton. The twins couldn't draw her out because she was already, as it were, so completely out. This was a great thing, Mr. Twist felt, and made up for any personal suffocation he had to bear; and when on the afternoon of Mrs. Bilton's first day the twins appeared without her in the main building in search of him, having obviously given her the slip, and said they were sorry to disturb him but they wanted his advice, for though they had been trying hard all day, remembering they were ladies and practically hostesses, they hadn't yet succeeded in saying anything at all to Mrs. Bilton and doubted whether they ever would, he merely smiled happily at them and said to Anna-Rose, "See how good comes out of evil"—a remark that they didn't like when they had had time to think over it.
But they went on struggling. It seemed so unnatural to be all alone all day long with someone and only listen. Mrs. Bilton never left their side, regarding it as proper and merely fulfilling her part of the bargain, in these first confused days when there was nothing for ladies to do but look on while perspiring workmen laboured at apparently producing more and more chaos, to become thoroughly acquainted with her young charges. This she did by imparting to them intimate and meticulous information about her own life, with the whole of the various uplifts, as she put it, her psyche had during its unfolding experienced. There was so much to tell about herself that she never got to inquiring about the twins. She knew they were orphans, and that this was a good work, and for the moment had no time for more.
The twins were profoundly bored by her psyche, chiefly because they didn't know what part of her it was, and it was no use asking for she didn't answer; but they listened with real interest to her concrete experiences, and especially to the experiences connected with Mr. Bilton. They particularly wished to ask questions about Mr. Bilton, and find out what he had thought of things. Mrs. Bilton was lavish in her details of what she had thought herself, but Mr. Bilton's thoughts remained impenetrable. It seemed to the twins that he must have thought a lot, and have come to the conclusion that there was much to be said for death.
The Biltons, it appeared, had been the opposite of the Clouston-Sacks, and had never been separated for a single day during the whole of their married life. This seemed to the twins very strange, and needing a great deal of explanation. In order to get light thrown on it the first thing they wanted to find out was how long the marriage had lasted; but Mrs. Bilton was deaf to their inquiries, and having described Mr. Bilton's last moments and obsequies—obsequies scheduled by her, she said, with so tender a regard for his memory that she insisted on a horse-drawn hearse instead of the more fashionable automobile conveyance, on the ground that a motor hearse didn't seem sorry enough even on first speed—she washed along with an easy flow to descriptions of the dreadfulness of the early days of widowhood, when one's crepe veil keeps on catching in everything—chairs, overhanging branches, and passers-by, including it appeared on one occasion a policeman. She inquired of the twins whether they had ever seen a new-made widow in a wind. Chicago, she said, was a windy place, and Mr. Bilton passed in its windiest month. Her long veil, as she proceeded down the streets on the daily constitutional she considered it her duty toward the living to take, for one owes it to one's friends to keep oneself fit and not give way, was blown hither and thither in the buffeting cross-currents of that uneasy climate, and her walk in the busier streets was a series of entanglements. Embarrassing entanglements, said Mrs. Bilton. Fortunately the persons she got caught in were delicacy and sympathy itself; often, indeed, seeming quite overcome by the peculiar poignancy of the situation, covered with confusion, profuse in apologies. Sometimes the wind would cause her veil for a few moments to rear straight up above her head in a monstrous black column of woe. Sometimes, if she stopped a moment waiting to cross the street, it would whip round the body of any one who happened to be near, like a cord. It did this once about the body of the policeman directing the traffic, by whose side she had paused, and she had to walk round him backwards before it could be unwound. The Chicago evening papers, prompt on the track of a sensation, had caused her friends much painful if only short-lived amazement by coming out with huge equivocal headlines:
WELL-KNOWN SOCIETY WIDOW AND POLICEMAN CAUGHT TOGETHER
and beginning their description of the occurrence by printing her name in full. So that for the first sentence or two her friends were a prey to horror and distress, which turned to indignation on discovering there was nothing in it after all.
The twins, their eyes on Mrs. Bilton's face, their hands clasped round their knees, their bodies sitting on the grass at her feet, occasionally felt as they followed her narrative that they were somehow out of their depth and didn't quite understand. It was extraordinarily exasperating to them to be so completely muzzled. They were accustomed to elucidate points they didn't understand by immediate inquiry; they had a habit of asking for information, and then delivering comments on it.
This condition of repression made them most uncomfortable. The ilex tree in the field below the house, to which Mrs. Bilton shepherded them each morning and afternoon for the first three days, became to them, in spite of its beauty with the view from under its dark shade across the sunny fields to the sea and the delicate distant islands, a painful spot. The beauty all round them was under these conditions exasperating. Only once did Mrs. Bilton leave them, and that was the first afternoon, when they instantly fled to seek out Mr. Twist; and she only left them then—for it wasn't just her sense of duty that was strong, but also her dislike of being alone—because something unexpectedly gave way in the upper part of her dress, she being of a tight well-held-in figure, depending much on its buttons; and she had very hastily to go in search of a needle.
After that they didn't see Mr. Twist alone for several days. They hardly indeed saw him at all. The only meal he shared with them was supper, and on finding the first evening that Mrs. Bilton read aloud to people after supper, he made the excuse of accounts to go through and went into his bedroom, repeating this each night.
The twins watched him go with agonized eyes. They considered themselves deserted; shamefully abandoned to a miserable fate.
"And it isn't as if he didn't like reading aloud," whispered Anna-Rose, bewildered and indignant as she remembered the "Ode to Dooty."
"Perhaps he's one of those people who only like it if they do it themselves," Anna-Felicitas whispered back, trying to explain his base behaviour.
And while they whispered, Mrs. Bilton with great enjoyment declaimed—she had had a course of elocution lessons during Mr. Bilton's life so as to be able to place the best literature advantageously before him—the diary of a young girl written in prison. The young girl had been wrongfully incarcerated, Mrs. Bilton explained, and her pure soul only found release by the demise of her body. The twins hated the young girl from the first paragraph. She wrote her diary every day till her demise stopped her. As nothing happens in prisons that hasn't happened the day before, she could only write her reflections; and the twins hated her reflections, because they were so very like what in their secret moments of slush they were apt to reflect themselves. Their mother had had a horror of slush. There had been none anywhere about her; but it is in the air in Germany, in people's blood, everywhere; and though the twins, owing to the English part of them, had a horror of it too, there it was in them, and they knew it,—genuine German slush.
They felt uncomfortably sure that if they were in prison they would write a diary very much on these lines. For three evenings they had to listen to it, their eyes on Mr. Twist's door. Why didn't he come out and save them? What happy, what glorious evenings they used to have at the Cosmopolitan, spent in intelligent conversation, in a decent give and take—not this button-holing business, this being got into a corner and held down; and alas, how little they had appreciated them! They used to get sleepy and break them off and go to bed. If only he would come out now and talk to them they would sit up all night. They wriggled with impatience in their seats beneath the epanchements of the young girl, the strangely and distressingly familiar epanchements. The diary was published in a magazine, and after the second evening, when Mrs. Bilton on laying it down announced she would go on with it while they were dressing next morning, they got up very early before Mrs. Bilton was awake and crept out and hid it.
But Li Koo found it and restored it.
Li Koo found everything. He found Mrs. Bilton's outdoor shoes the third morning, although the twins had hidden them most carefully. Their idea was that while she, rendered immobile, waited indoors, they would zealously look for them in all the places where they well knew that they weren't, and perhaps get some conversation with Mr. Twist.
But Li Koo found everything. He found the twins themselves the fourth morning, when, unable any longer to bear Mrs. Bilton's voice, they ran into the woods instead of coming in to breakfast. He seemed to find them at once, to walk unswervingly to their remote and bramble-filled ditch.
In order to save their dignity they said as they scrambled out that they were picking flowers for Mrs. Bilton's breakfast, though the ditch had nothing in it but stones and thorns. Li Koo made no comment. He never did make comments; and his silence and his ubiquitous efficiency made the twins as fidgety with him as they were with Mrs. Bilton for the opposite reason. They had an uncomfortable feeling that he was rather like the liebe Gott,—he saw everything, knew everything, and said nothing. In vain they tried, on that walk back as at other times, to pierce his impassivity with genialities. Li Koo—again, they silently reflected, like the liebe Gott—had a different sense of geniality from theirs; he couldn't apparently smile; they doubted if he even ever wanted to. Their genialities faltered and froze on their lips.
Besides, they were deeply humiliated by having been found hiding, and were ashamed to find themselves trying anxiously in this manner to conciliate Li Koo. Their dignity on the walk back to the shanty seemed painfully shrunk. They ought never to have condescended to do the childish things they had been doing during the last three days. If they hadn't been found out it would, of course, have remained a private matter between them and their Maker, and then one doesn't mind so much; but they had been found out, and by Li Koo, their own servant. It was intolerable. All the blood of all the Twinklers, Junkers from time immemorial and properly sensitive to humiliation, surged within them. They hadn't felt so naughty and so young for years. They were sure Li Koo didn't believe them about the ditch. They had a dreadful sensation of being led back to Mrs. Bilton by the ear.