If only they could sack Mrs. Bilton!
This thought, immense and startling, came to Anna-Rose, who far more than Anna-Felicitas resented being cut off from Mr. Twist, besides being more naturally impetuous; and as they walked in silence side by side, with Li Koo a little ahead of them, she turned her head and looked at Anna-Felicitas. "Let's give her notice," she murmured, under her breath.
Anna-Felicitas was so much taken aback that she stopped in her walk and stared at Anna-Rose's flushed face.
She too hardly breathed it. The suggestion seemed fantastic in its monstrousness. How could they give anybody so old, so sure of herself, so determined as Mrs. Bilton, notice?
"Give her notice?" she repeated.
A chill ran down Anna-Felicitas's spine. Give Mrs. Bilton notice! It was a great, a breath-taking idea, magnificent in its assertion of independence, of rights; but it needed, she felt, to be approached with caution. They had never given anybody notice in their lives, and they had always thought it must be a most painful thing to do—far, far worse than tipping. Uncle Arthur usedn't to mind it a bit; did it, indeed, with gusto. But Aunt Alice hadn't liked it at all, and came out in a cold perspiration and bewailed her lot to them and wished that people would behave and not place her in such a painful position.
Mrs. Bilton couldn't be said not to have behaved. Quite the contrary. She had behaved too persistently; and they had to endure it the whole twenty-four hours. For Mrs. Bilton had no turn, it appeared, in spite of what she had said at Los Angeles, for solitary contemplation, and after the confusion of the first night, when once she had had time to envisage the situation thoroughly, as she said, she had found that to sit alone downstairs in the uncertain light of the lanterns while the twins went to bed and Mr. Twist wouldn't come out of his room, was not good for her psyche; so she had followed the twins upstairs, and continued to read the young girl's diary to them during their undressing and till the noises coming from their beds convinced her that it was useless to go on any longer. And that morning, the morning they hid in the ditch, she had even done this while they were getting up.
"It isn't to be borne," said Anna-Rose under her breath, one eye on Li Koo's ear which, a little in front of her, seemed slightly slanted backward and sideways in the direction of her voice. "And why should it be? We're not in her power."
"No," said Anna-Felicitas, also under her breath and also watching Li Koo's ear, "but it feels extraordinarily as if we were."
"Yes. And that's intolerable. And it forces us to do silly baby things, wholly unsuited either to our age or our position. Who would have thought we'd ever hide from somebody in a ditch again!" Anna-Rose's voice was almost a sob at the humiliation.
"It all comes from sleeping in the same room," said Anna-Felicitas. "Nobody can stand a thing that doesn't end at night either."
"Of course they can't," said Anna-Rose. "It isn't fair. If you have to have a person all day you oughtn't to have to have the same person all night. Some one else should step in and relieve you then. Just as they do in hospitals."
"Yes," said Anna-Felicitas. "Mr. Twist ought to. He ought to remove her forcibly from our room by marriage.
"No he oughtn't," said Anna-Rose hastily, "because we can remove her ourselves by the simple process of giving her notice."
"I don't believe it's simple," said Anna-Felicia again feeling a chill trickling down her spine.
"Of course it is. We just go to her very politely and inform her that the engagement is terminated on a basis of mutual esteem but inflexible determination."
"And suppose she doesn't stop talking enough to hear?"
"Then we'll hand it to her in writing."
The rest of the way they walked in silence, Anna-Rose with her chin thrust out in defiance, Anna-Felicitas dragging her feet along with a certain reluctance and doubt.
Mrs. Bilton had finished her breakfast when they got back, having seen no sense in letting good food get cold, and was ready to sit and chat to them while they had theirs. She was so busy telling them what she had supposed they were probably doing, that she was unable to listen to their attempted account of what they had done. Thus they were saved from telling humiliating and youthful fibs; but they were also prevented, as by a wall of rock, from getting the speech through to her ear that Anna-Rose, trembling in spite of her defiance, had ready to launch at her. It was impossible to shout at Mrs. Bilton in the way Mr. Twist, when in extremity of necessity, had done. Ladies didn't shout; especially not when they were giving other ladies notice. Anna-Rose, who was quite cold and clammy at the prospect of her speech, couldn't help feeling relieved when breakfast was over and no opportunity for it had been given.
"We'll write it," she whispered to Anna-Felicitas beneath the cover of a lively account Mrs. Bilton was giving them, a propos of their being late for breakfast, of the time it took her, after Mr. Bilton's passing, to get used to his unpunctuality at meals.
That Mr. Bilton, who had breakfasted and dined with her steadily for years, should suddenly leave off being punctual freshly astonished her every day, she said. The clock struck, yet Mr. Bilton continued late. It was poignant, said Mrs. Bilton, this way of being reminded of her loss. Each day she would instinctively expect; each day would come the stab of recollection. The vacancy these non-appearances had made in her life was beyond any words of hers. In fact she didn't possess such words, and doubted if the completest dictionary did either. Everything went just vacant, she said. No need any more to hurry down in the morning, so as to be behind the coffee pot half a minute before the gong went and Mr. Bilton simultaneously appeared. No need any more to think of him when ordering meals. No need any more to eat the dish he had been so fond of and she had found so difficult to digest, Boston baked beans and bacon; yet she found herself ordering it continually after his departure, and choking memorially over the mouthfuls—"And people in Europe," cried Mrs Bilton, herself struck as she talked by this extreme devotion, "say that American women are incapable of passion!"
"We'll write it," whispered Anna-Rose to Anna-Felicitas.
"Write what?" asked Anna-Felicitas abstractedly, who as usual when Mrs. Bilton narrated her reminiscences was absorbed in listening to them and trying to get some clear image of Mr. Bilton.
But she remembered the next moment, and it was like waking up to the recollection that this is the day you have to have a tooth pulled out. The idea of not having the tooth any more, of being free from it charmed and thrilled her, but how painful, how alarming was the prospect of pulling it out!
There was one good thing to be said for Mrs. Bilton's talk, and that was that under its voluminous cover they could themselves whisper occasionally to each other. Anna-Rose decided that if Mrs. Bilton didn't notice that they whispered neither probably would she notice if she wrote. She therefore under Mrs. Bilton's very nose got a pencil and a piece of paper, and with many pauses and an unsteady hand wrote the following:
DEAR MRS. BILTON—For some time past my sister and I have felt that we aren't suited to you, and if you don't mind would you mind regarding the engagement as terminated? We hope you won't think this abrupt, because it isn't really, for we seem to have lived ages since you came, and we've been thinking this over ripely ever since. And we hope you won't take it as anything personal either, because it isn't really. It's only that we feel we're unsuitable, and we're sure we'll go on getting more and more unsuitable. Nobody can help being unsuitable, and we're fearfully sorry. But on the other hand we're inflexible.—Yours affectionately,
ANNA-ROSE and ANNA-FELICITAS TWINKLER
With a beating heart she cautiously pushed the letter across the table under cover of the breakfast debris to Anna-Felicitas, who read it with a beating heart and cautiously pushed it back.
Anna-Felicitas felt sure Christopher was being terribly impetuous, and she felt sure she ought to stop her. But what a joy to be without Mrs. Bilton! The thought of going to bed in the placid sluggishness dear to her heart, without having to listen, to be attentive, to remember to be tidy because if she weren't there would be no room for Mrs. Bilton's things, was too much for her. Authority pursuing her into her bedroom was what she had found most difficult to bear. There must be respite. There must be intervals in every activity or endurance. Even the liebe Gott, otherwise so indefatigable, had felt this and arranged for the relaxation of Sundays.
She pushed the letter back with a beating heart, and told herself that she couldn't and never had been able to stop Christopher when she was in this mood of her chin sticking out. What could she do in face of such a chin? And besides, Mrs. Bilton's friends must be missing her very much and ought to have her back. One should always live only with one's own sort of people. Every other way of living, Anna-Felicitas was sure even at this early stage of her existence, was bound to come to a bad end. One could be fond of almost anybody, she held, if they were somewhere else. Even of Uncle Arthur. Even he somehow seemed softened by distance. But for living-together purposes there was only one kind of people possible, and that was one's own kind. Unexpected and various were the exteriors of one's own kind and the places one found them in, but one always knew them. One felt comfortable with them at once; comfortable and placid. Whatever else Mrs. Bilton might be feeling she wasn't feeling placid. That was evident; and it was because she too wasn't with her own kind. With her eyes fixed nervously on Mrs. Bilton who was talking on happily, Anna-Felicitas reasoned with herself in the above manner as she pushed back the letter, instead of, as at the back of her mind she felt she ought to have done, tearing it up.
Anna-Rose folded it and addressed it to Mrs. Bilton. Then she got up and held it out to her.
Anna-Felicitas got up too, her inside feeling strangely unsteady and stirred round and round.
"Would you mind reading this?" said Anna-Rose faintly to Mrs. Bilton, who took the letter mechanically and held it in her hand without apparently noticing it, so much engaged was she by what she was saying.
"We're going out a moment to speak to Mr. Twist," Anna-Rose then said, making for the door and beckoning to Anna-Felicitas, who still stood hesitating.
She slipped out; and Anna-Felicitas, suddenly panic-stricken lest she should be buttonholed all by herself fled after her.
Mr. Twist, his mind at ease, was in the charming room that was to be the tea-room. It was full of scattered fittings and the noise of hammering, but even so anybody could see what a delightful place it would presently turn into.
The Open Arms was to make a specialty of wet days. Those were the days, those consecutive days of downpour that came in the winter and lasted without interruption for a fortnight at a time, when visitors in the hotels were bored beyond expression and ready to welcome anything that could distract them for an hour from the dripping of the rain on the windows. Bridge was their one solace, and they played it from after breakfast till bedtime; but on the fourth or fifth day of doing this, just the mere steady sitting became grievous to them. They ached with weariness. They wilted with boredom. All their natural kindness got damped out of them, and they were cross. Even when they won they were cross, and when they lost it was really distressing. They wouldn't, of course, have been in California at all at such a time if it were possible to know beforehand when the rains would begin, but one never did know, and often it was glorious weather right up to and beyond Christmas. And then how glorious! What a golden place of light and warmth to be in, while in the East one's friends were being battered by blizzards.
Mr. Twist intended to provide a break in the day each afternoon for these victims of the rain. He would come to their rescue. He made up his mind, clear and firm on such matters, that it should become the habit of these unhappy people during the bad weather to motor out to The Open Arms for tea; and, full of forethought, he had had a covered way made, by which one could get out of a car and into the house without being touched by a drop of rain, and he had had a huge open fireplace made across the end of the tea-room, which would crackle and blaze a welcome that would cheer the most dispirited arrival. The cakes, at all times wonderful were on wet days to be more than wonderful. Li Koo had a secret receipt, given him, he said, by his mother for cakes of a quite peculiar and original charm, and these were to be reserved for the rainy season only, and be made its specialty. They were to become known and endeared to the public under the brief designation of Wet Day Cakes. Mr. Twist felt there was something thoroughly American about this name—plain and business-like, and attractively in contrast to the subtle, the almost immoral exquisiteness of the article itself. This cake had been one of those produced by Li Koo from the folds of his garments the day in Los Angeles, and Mr. Twist had happened to be the one of his party who ate it. He therefore knew what he was doing when he decided to call it and its like simply Wet Day Cakes.
The twins found him experimenting with a fire in the fireplace so as to be sure it didn't smoke, and the architect and he were in their shirt sleeves, deftly manipulating wood shavings and logs. There was such a hammering being made by the workmen fixing in the latticed windows, and such a crackling being made by the logs Mr. Twist and the architect kept on throwing on the fire, that only from the sudden broad smile on the architect's face as he turned to pick up another log did Mr. Twist realize that something that hadn't to do with work was happening behind his back.
He looked round and saw the Annas picking their way toward him. They seemed in a hurry.
"Hello," he called out.
They made no reply to this, but continued hurriedly to pick their way among the obstacles in their path. They appeared to be much perturbed. What, he wondered, had they done with Mrs. Bilton? He soon knew.
"We've given Mrs. Bilton notice," panted Anna-Rose as soon as she got near enough to his ear for him to hear her in the prevailing noise.
Her face, as usual when she was moved and excited, was scarlet, her eyes looking bluer and brighter than ever by contrast.
"We simply can't stand it any longer," she went on as Mr. Twist only stared at her.
"And you wouldn't either if you were us," she continued, the more passionately as he still didn't say anything.
"Of course," said Anna-Felicitas, taking a high line, though her heart was full of doubt, "it's your fault really. We could have borne it if we hadn't had to have her at night."
"Come outside," said Mr. Twist, walking toward the door that led on to the verandah.
They followed him, Anna-Rose shaking with excitement, Anna-Felicitas trying to persuade herself that they had acted in the only way consistent with real wisdom.
The architect stood with a log in each hand looking after them and smiling all by himself. There was something about the Twinklers that lightened his heart whenever he caught sight of them. He and his fellow experts had deplored the absence of opportunities since Mrs. Bilton came of developing the friendship begun the first day, and talked of them on their way home in the afternoons with affectionate and respectful familiarity as The Cutes.
"Now," said Mr. Twist, having passed through the verandah and led the twins to the bottom of the garden where he turned and faced them, "perhaps you'll tell me exactly what you've done."
"You should rather inquire what Mrs. Bilton has done," said Anna-Felicitas, pulling herself up as straight and tall as she would go. She couldn't but perceive that the excess of Christopher's emotion was putting her at a disadvantage in the matter of dignity.
"I can guess pretty much what she has done," said Mr. Twist.
"You can't—you can't," burst out Anna-Rose. "Nobody could—nobody ever could—who hadn't been with her day and night."
"She's just been Mrs. Bilton," said Mr. Twist, lighting a cigarette to give himself an appearance of calm.
"Exactly," said Anna-Felicitas. "So you won't be surprised at our having just been Twinklers."
"Oh Lord," groaned Mr. Twist, in spite of his cigarette, "oh, Lord."
"We've given Mrs. Bilton notice," continued Anna-Felicitas, making a gesture of great dignity with her hand, "because we find with regret that she and we are incompatible."
"Was she aware that you were giving it her?" asked Mr. Twist, endeavouring to keep calm.
"We wrote it."
"Has she read it?"
"We put it into her hand, and then came away so that she should have an opportunity of quietly considering it."
"You shouldn't have left us alone with her like this," burst out Anna-Rose again, "you shouldn't really. It was cruel, it was wrong, leaving us high and dry—never seeing you—leaving us to be talked to day and night—to be read to—would you like to be read to while you're undressing by somebody still in all their clothes? We've never been able to open our mouths. We've been taken into the field for our airing and brought in again as if we were newborns, or people in prams, or flocks and herds, or prisoners suspected of wanting to escape. We haven't had a minute to ourselves day or night. There hasn't been a single exchange of ideas, not a shred of recognition that we're grown up. We've been followed, watched, talked to—oh, oh, how awful it has been! Oh, oh, how awful! Forced to be dumb for days—losing our power of speech—"
"Anna-Rose Twinkler," interrupted Mr. Twist sternly, "you haven't lost it. And you not only haven't, but that power of yours has increased tenfold during its days of rest."
He spoke with the exasperation in his voice that they had already heard several times since they landed in America. Each time it took them aback, for Mr. Twist was firmly fixed in their minds as the kindest and gentlest of creatures, and these sudden kickings of his each time astonished them.
On this occasion, however, only Anna-Rose was astonished. Anna-Felicitas all along had had an uncomfortable conviction in the depth of her heart that Mr. Twist wouldn't like what they had done. He would be upset, she felt, as her reluctant feet followed Anna-Rose in search of him. He would be, she was afraid very much upset. And so he was. He was appalled by what had happened. Lose Mrs. Bilton? Lose the very foundation of the party's respectability? And how could he find somebody else at the eleventh hour and where and how could the twins and he live, unchaperoned as they would be, till he had? What a peculiar talent these Annas had for getting themselves and him into impossible situations! Of course at their age they ought to be safe under the wing of a wise and unusually determined mother. Well, poor little wretches, they couldn't help not being under it; but that aunt of theirs ought to have stuck to them—faced up to her husband, and stuck to them.
"I suppose," he said angrily, "being you and not being able to see farther than the ends of your noses, you haven't got any sort of an idea of what you've done."
"And I don't suppose it's much use my trying to explain, either. Hasn't it ever occurred to you, though I'd be real grateful if you'd give me information on this point—that maybe you don't know everything?"
"And that till you do know everything, which I take it won't be for some time yet, judging from the samples I've had of your perspicacity, you'd do well not to act without first asking some one's advice? Mine, for instance?"
"She—" began Anna-Rose again; but her voice was trembling, for she couldn't bear Mr. Twist's anger. She was too fond of him. When he looked at her like that her own anger was blown out as if by an icy draught and she could only look back at him piteously.
But Anna-Felicitas, being free from the weaknesses inherent in adoration, besides continuing to perceive how Christopher's feelings put her at a disadvantage, drew Mr. Twist's attention from her by saying with gentleness, "But why add to the general discomfort by being bitter?"
"Bitter!" cried Mr. Twist, still glaring at Anna-Rose.
"Do you dispute that God made us?" inquired Anna-Felicitas, placing herself as it were like a shield between Mr. Twist's wrathful concentration on Christopher and that unfortunate young person's emotion.
"See here," said Mr. Twist turning on her, "I'm not going to argue with you—not about anything. Least of all about God."
"I only wanted to point out to you," said Anna-Felicitas mildly, "that that being so, and we not able to help it, there seems little use in being bitter with us because we're not different. In regard to anything fundamental about us that you deplore I'm afraid we must refer you to Providence."
"Say," said Mr. Twist, not in the least appeased by this reasoning but, as Anna-Felicitas couldn't but notice, quite the contrary, "used you to talk like this to that Uncle Arthur of yours? Because if you did, upon my word I don't wonder—"
But what Mr. Twist didn't wonder was fortunately concealed from the twins by the appearance at that moment of Mrs. Bilton, who, emerging from the shades of the verandah and looking about her, caught sight of them and came rapidly down the garden.
There was no escape.
They watched her bearing down on them without a word. It was a most unpleasant moment. Mr. Twist re-lit his cigarette to give himself a countenance, but the thought of all that Mrs. Bilton would probably say was dreadful to him, and his hand couldn't help shaking a little. Anna-Rose showed a guilty tendency to slink behind him. Anna-Felicitas stood motionless, awaiting the deluge. All Mr. Twist's sympathies were with Mrs. Bilton, and he was ashamed that she should have been treated so. He felt that nothing she could say would be severe enough, and he was extraordinarily angry with the Annas. Yet when he saw the injured lady bearing down on them, if he only could he would have picked up an Anna under each arm, guilty as they were, and run and run; so much did he prefer them to Mrs. Bilton and so terribly did he want, at this moment, to be somewhere where that lady wasn't.
There they stood then, anxiously watching the approaching figure, and the letter in Mrs. Bilton's hand bobbed up and down as she walked, white and conspicuous in the sun against her black dress. What was their amazement to see as she drew nearer that she was looking just as pleasant as ever. They stared at her with mouths falling open. Was it possible, thought the twins, that she was longing to leave but hadn't liked to say so, and the letter had come as a release? Was it possible, thought Mr. Twist with a leap of hope in his heart, that she was taking the letter from a non-serious point of view?
And Mr. Twist, to his infinite relief, was right. For Mrs. Bilton, woman of grit and tenacity, was not in the habit of allowing herself to be dislodged or even discouraged. This was the opening sentence of her remarks when she had arrived, smiling, in their midst. Had she not explained the first night that she was one who, having put her hand to the plough, held on to it however lively the movements of the plough might be? She would not conceal from them, she said, that even Mr. Bilton had not, especially, at first, been entirely without such movements. He had settled down, however on finding he could trust her to know better than he did what he wanted. Don't wise wives always? she inquired. And the result had been that no man ever had a more devoted wife while he was alive, or a more devoted widow after he wasn't. She had told him one day, when he was drawing near the latter condition and she was conversing with him, as was only right, on the subject of wills, and he said that his affairs had gone wrong and as far as he could see she would be left a widow and that was about all she would be left—she had told him that if it was any comfort to him to know it, he might rely on it that he would have the most devoted widow any man had ever had, and he said—Mr. Bilton had odd fancies, especially toward the end—that a widow was the one thing a man never could have because he wasn't there by the time he had got her. Yes, Mr. Bilton had odd fancies. And if she had managed, as she did manage, to steer successfully among them, he being a man of ripe parts and character, was it likely that encountering odd fancies in two very young and unformed girls—oh, it wasn't their fault that they were unformed, it was merely because they hadn't had time enough yet—she would be unable, experienced as she was, to steer among them too? Besides, she had a heart for orphans; orphans and dumb animals always had had a special appeal for her. "No, no, Mr. Twist," Mrs. Bilton wound up, putting a hand affectionately on Anna-Rose's shoulder as a more convenient one than Anna-Felicitas's, "my young charges aren't going to be left in the lurch, you may rely on that. I don't undertake a duty without carrying it out. Why, I feel a lasting affection for them already. We've made real progress these few days in intimacy. And I just love to sit and listen to all their fresh young chatter."
This was the last of Mr. Twist's worries before the opening day.
Remorseful that he should have shirked helping the Annas to bear Mrs. Bilton, besides having had a severe fright on perceiving how near his shirking had brought the party to disaster, he now had his meals with the others and spent the evenings with them as well. He was immensely grateful to Mrs. Bilton. Her grit had saved them. He esteemed and respected her. Indeed, he shook hands with her then and there at the end of her speech, and told her he did, and the least he could do after that was to come to dinner. But this very genuine appreciation didn't prevent his finding her at close quarters what Anna-Rose, greatly chastened, now only called temperately "a little much," and the result was a really frantic hurrying on of the work. He had rather taken, those first four days of being relieved of responsibility in regard to the twins, to finnicking with details, to dwelling lovingly on them with a sense of having a margin to his time, and things accordingly had considerably slowed down; but after twenty-four hours of Mrs. Bilton they hurried up again, and after forty-eight of her the speed was headlong. At the end of forty-eight hours it seemed to Mr. Twist more urgent than anything he had ever known that he should get out of the shanty, get into somewhere with space in it, and sound-proof walls—lots of walls—and long passages between people's doors; and before the rooms in the inn were anything like finished he insisted on moving in.
"You must turn to on this last lap and help fix them up," he said to the twins. "It'll be a bit uncomfortable at first, but you must just take off your coats to it and not mind."
Mind? Turn to? It was what they were languishing for. It was what, in the arid hours under the ilex tree, collected so ignominiously round Mrs. Bilton's knee they had been panting for, like thirsty dogs with their tongues out. And such is the peculiar blessedness of work that instantly, the moment there was any to be done, everything that was tangled and irritating fell quite naturally into its proper place. Magically life straightened itself out smooth, and left off being difficult. Arbeit und Liebe, as their mother used to say, dropping into German whenever a sentence seemed to her to sound better that way—Arbeit und Liebe: these were the two great things of life; the two great angels, as she assured them, under whose spread-out wings lay happiness.
With a hungry zeal, with the violent energy of reaction, the Annas fell upon work. They started unpacking. All the things they had bought in Acapulco, the linen, the china, the teaspoons, the feminine touches that had been piled up waiting in the barn, were pulled out and undone and carried indoors. They sorted, and they counted, and they arranged on shelves. Anna-Rose flew in and out with her arms full. Anna-Felicitas slouched zealously after her, her arms full too when she started, but not nearly so full when she got there owing to the way things had of slipping through them and dropping on to the floor. They were in a blissful, busy confusion. Their faces shone with heat and happiness. Here was liberty; here was freedom; here was true dignity—Arbeit und Liebe....
When Mr. Twist, as he did whenever he could, came and looked on for a moment in his shirt sleeves, with his hat on the back of his head and his big, benevolent spectacles so kind, Anna-Rose's cup seemed full. Her dimple never disappeared for a moment. It was there all day long now; and even when she was asleep it still lurked in the corner of her mouth. Arbeit und Liebe.
Immense was the reaction of self-respect that took hold of the twins. They couldn't believe they were the people who had been so crude and ill-conditioned as to hide Mrs. Bilton's belongings, and actually finally to hide themselves. How absurd. How like children. How unpardonably undignified. Anna-Rose held forth volubly to this effect while she arranged the china, and Anna-Felicitas listened assentingly, with a kind of grave, ashamed sheepishness.
The result of this reaction was that Mrs. Bilton, whose pressure on them was relieved by the necessity of her too being in several places at once, and who was displaying her customary grit, now became the definite object of their courtesy. They were the mistresses of a house, they began to realize, and as such owed her every consideration. This bland attitude was greatly helped by their not having to sleep with her any more, and they found that the mere coming fresh to her each morning made them feel polite and well-disposed. Besides, they were thoroughly and finally grown-up now, Anna-Rose declared—never, never to lapse again. They had had their lesson, she said, gone through a crisis, and done that which Aunt Alice used to say people did after severe trials, aged considerably.
Anna-Felicitas wasn't quite so sure. Her own recent behaviour had shaken and shocked her too much. Who would have thought she would have gone like that? Gone all to pieces, back to sheer naughtiness, on the first provocation? It was quite easy, she reflected while she worked, and cups kept on detaching themselves mysteriously from her fingers, and tables tumbling over at her approach, to be polite and considerate to somebody you saw very little of, and even, as she found herself doing, to get fond of the person; but suppose circumstances threw one again into the person's continual society, made one again have to sleep in the same room? Anna-Felicitas doubted whether it would be possible for her to stand such a test, in spite of her earnest desire to behave; she doubted, indeed, whether anybody ever did stand that test successfully. Look at husbands.
Meanwhile there seemed no likelihood of its being applied again. Each of them had now a separate bedroom, and Mrs. Bilton had, in the lavish American fashion, her own bathroom, so that even at that point there was no collision. The twins' rooms were connected by a bathroom all to themselves, with no other door into it except the doors from their bedrooms, and Mr. Twist, who dwelt discreetly at the other end of the house, also had a bathroom of his own. It seemed as natural for American architects to drop bathrooms about, thought Anna-Rose, as for the little clouds in the psalms to drop fatness. They shed them just as easily, and the results were just as refreshing. To persons hailing from Pomerania, a place arid of bathrooms, it was the last word of luxury and comfort to have one's own. Their pride in theirs amused Mr. Twist, used from childhood to these civilized arrangements; but then, as they pointed out to him, he hadn't lived in Pomerania, where nothing stood between you and being dirty except the pump.
But it wasn't only the bathrooms that made the inn as planned by Mr. Twist and the architect seem to the twins the most perfect, the most wonderful magic little house in the world: the intelligent American spirit was in every corner, and it was full of clever, simple devices for saving labour—so full that it almost seemed to the Annas as if it would get up quite unaided at six every morning and do itself; and they were sure that if the smallest encouragement were given to the kitchen-stove it would cook and dish up a dinner all alone. Everything in the house was on these lines. The arrangements for serving innumerable teas with ease were admirable. They were marvels of economy and clever thinking-out. The architect was surprised at the attention and thought Mr. Twist concentrated on this particular part of the future housekeeping. "You seem sheer crazy on teas," he remarked; to which Mr. Twist merely replied that he was.
The last few days before the opening were as full of present joy and promise of yet greater joys to come as the last few days of a happy betrothal. They reminded Anna-Felicitas of those days in April, those enchanting days she had always loved the best, when the bees get busy for the first time, and suddenly there are wallflowers and a flowering currant bush and the sound of the lawn being mown and the smell of cut grass. How one's heart leaps up to greet them, she thought. What a thrill of delight rushes through one's body, of new hope, of delicious expectation.
Even Li Koo, the wooden-faced, the brief and rare of speech seemed to feel the prevailing satisfaction and harmony and could be heard in the evenings singing strange songs among his pots. And what he was singing, only nobody knew it, were soft Chinese hymns of praise of the two white-lily girls, whose hair was woven sunlight, and whose eyes were deep and blue even as the waters that washed about the shores of his father's dwelling-place. For Li Koo, the impassive and inarticulate, in secret seethed with passion. Which was why his cakes were so wonderful. He had to express himself somehow.
But while up on their sun-lit, eucalyptus-crowned slopes Mr. Twist and his party—he always thought of them as his party—were innocently and happily busy full of hopefulness and mutual goodwill, down in the town and in the houses scattered over the lovely country round the town, people were talking. Everybody knew about the house Teapot Twist was doing up, for the daily paper had told them that Mr. Edward A. Twist had bought the long uninhabited farmhouse in Pepper Lane known as Batt's, and was converting it into a little ventre-a-terre for his widowed mother—launching once more into French, as though there were something about Mr. Twist magnetic to that language. Everybody knew this, and it was perfectly natural for a well-off Easterner to have a little place out West, even if the choice of the little place was whimsical. But what about the Miss Twinklers? Who and what were they? And also, Why?
There were three weeks between the departure of the Twist party from the Cosmopolitan and the opening of the inn, and in that time much had been done in the way of conjecture. The first waves of it flowed out from the Cosmopolitan, and were met almost at once by waves flowing in from the town. Good-natured curiosity gave place to excited curiosity when the rumour got about that the Cosmopolitan had been obliged to ask Mr. Twist to take his entourage somewhere else. Was it possible the cute little girls, so well known by sight on Main Street going from shop to shop, were secretly scandalous? It seemed almost unbelievable, but luckily nothing was really unbelievable.
The manager of the hotel, dropped in upon casually by one guest after the other, and interviewed as well by determined gentlemen from the local press, was not to be drawn. His reserve was most interesting. Miss Heap knitted and knitted and was persistently enigmatic. Her silence was most exciting. On the other hand, Mrs. Ridding's attitude was merely one of contempt, dismissing the Twinklers with a heavy gesture. Why think or trouble about a pair of chits like that? They had gone; Albert was quiet again; and wasn't that the gong for dinner?
But doubts as to the private morals of the Twist entourage presently were superseded by much graver and more perturbing doubts. Nobody knew when exactly this development took place. Acapulco had been enjoying the first set of doubts. There was no denying that doubts about somebody else's morals were not unpleasant. They did give one, if one examined one's sensations carefully, a distinct agreeable tickle; they did add the kick to lives which, if they had been virtuous for a very long time like the lives of the Riddings, or virgin for a very long time like the life of Miss Heap, were apt to be flat. But from the doubts that presently appeared and overshadowed the earlier ones, one got nothing but genuine discomfort and uneasiness. Nobody knew how or when they started. Quite suddenly they were there.
This was in the November before America's coming into the war. The feeling in Acapulco was violently anti-German. The great majority of the inhabitants, permanent and temporary, were deeply concerned at the conduct of their country in not having, immediately after the torpedoing of the Lusitania, joined the Allies. They found it difficult to understand, and were puzzled and suspicious, as well as humiliated in their national pride. Germans who lived in the neighbourhood, or who came across from the East for the winter, were politely tolerated, but the attitude toward them was one of growing watchfulness and distrust; and week by week the whispered stories of spies and gun-emplacements and secret stores of arms in these people's cellars or back gardens, grew more insistent and detailed. There certainly had been at least one spy, a real authentic one, afterward shot in England, who had stayed near-by, and the nerves of the inhabitants had that jumpiness on this subject with which the inhabitants of other countries have long been familiar. All the customary inexplicable lights were seen; all the customary mysterious big motor cars rushed at forbidden and yet unhindered speeds along unusual roads at unaccountable hours; all the customary signalling out to sea was observed and passionately sworn to by otherwise calm people. It was possible, the inhabitants found, to believe with ease things about Germans—those who were having difficulty with religion wished it were equally easy to believe things about God. There was nothing Germans wouldn't think of in the way of plotting, and nothing they wouldn't, having thought of it, carry out with deadly thoroughness and patience.
And into this uneasy hotbed of readiness to believe the worst, arrived the Twinkler twins, rolling their r's about.
It needed but a few inquiries to discover that none of the young ladies' schools in the neighbourhood had been approached on their behalf; hardly inquiries,—mere casual talk was sufficient, ordinary chatting with the principals of these establishments when one met them at the lectures and instructive evenings the more serious members of the community organized and supported. Not many of the winter visitors went to these meetings, but Miss Heap did. Miss Heap had a restless soul. It was restless because it was worried by perpetual thirst,—she couldn't herself tell after what; it wasn't righteousness, for she knew she was still worldly, so perhaps it was culture. Anyhow she would give culture a chance, and accordingly she went to the instructive evenings. Here she met that other side of Acapulco which doesn't play bridge and is proud to know nothing of polo, which believes in education, and goes in for mind training and welfare work; which isn't, that is, well off.
Nobody here had been asked to educate the Twinklers. No classes had been joined by them.
Miss Heap was so enigmatic, she who was naturally of an unquiet and exercise-loving tongue, that this graver, more occupied section of the inhabitants was instantly as much pervaded by suspicions as the idlest of the visitors in the hotels and country houses. It waved aside the innocent appearance and obvious extreme youth of the suspects. Useless to look like cherubs if it were German cherubs you looked like. Useless being very nearly children if it were German children you very nearly were. Why, precisely these qualities would be selected by those terribly clever Germans for the furtherance of their nefarious schemes. It would be quite in keeping with the German national character, that character of bottomless artfulness, to pick out two such young girls with just that type of empty, baby face, and send them over to help weave the gigantic invisible web with which America was presently to be choked dead.
The serious section of Acapulco, the section that thought, hit on this explanation of the Twinklers with no difficulty whatever once its suspicions were roused because it was used to being able to explain everything instantly. It was proud of its explanation, and presented it to the town with much the same air of deprecating but conscious achievement with which one presents drinking-fountains.
Then there was the lawyer to whom Mr. Twist had gone about the guardianship. He said nothing, but he was clear in his mind that the girls were German and that Mr. Twist wanted to hide it. He had thought more highly of Mr. Twist's intelligence than this. Why hide it? America was a neutral country; technically she was neutral, and Germans could come and go as they pleased. Why unnecessarily set tongues wagging? He did not, being of a continuous shrewd alertness himself, a continuous wide-awakeness and minute consideration of consequences, realize, and if he had he wouldn't have believed, the affectionate simplicity and unworldliness of Mr. Twist. If it had been pointed out to him he would have dismissed it as a pose; for a man who makes money in any quantity worth handling isn't affectionately simple and unworldly—he is calculating and steely.
The lawyer was puzzled. How did Mr. Twist manage to have a forehead and a fortune like that, and yet be a fool? True, he had a funny sort of face on him once you got down to the nose part and what came after,—a family sort of face, thought the lawyer; a sort of rice pudding, wet-nurse face. The lawyer listened intently to all the talk and rumours, while himself saying nothing. In spite of being a married man, his scruples about honour hadn't been blunted by the urge to personal freedom and the necessity for daily self-defence that sometimes afflicts those who have wives. He remained honourably silent, as he had said he would, but he listened; and he came to the conclusion that either there was a quite incredible amount of stupidity about the Twist party, or that there was something queer.
What he didn't know, and what nobody knew, was that the house being got ready with such haste was to be an inn. He, like the rest of the world, took the newspapers ventre-a-terre theory of the house for granted, and it was only the expectation of the arrival of that respectable lady, the widowed Mrs. Twist, which kept the suspicions a little damped down. They smouldered, hesitating, beneath this expectation; for Teapot Twist's family life had been voluminously described in the entire American press when first his invention caught on, and it was known to be pure. There had been snapshots of the home at Clark where he had been born, of the home at Clark (west aspect) where he would die—Mr. Twist read with mild surprise that his liveliest wish was to die in the old home—of the corner in the Clark churchyard where he would probably be entombed, with an inset showing his father's gravestone on which would clearly be read the announcement that he was the Resurrection and the Life. And there was an inset of his mother, swathed in the black symbols of ungluttable grief,—a most creditable mother. And there were accounts of the activities of another near relative, that Uncle Charles who presided over the Church of Heavenly Refreshment in New York, and a snapshot of his macerated and unrefreshed body in a cassock,—a most creditable uncle.
These articles hadn't appeared so very long ago, and the impression survived and was general that Mr. Twist's antecedents were unimpeachable. If it were true that the house was for his mother and she was shortly arriving, then, although still very odd and unintelligible, it was probable that his being there now with the two Germans was after all capable of explanation. Not much of an explanation, though. Even the moderates who took this view felt this. One wasn't with Germans these days if one could help it. There was no getting away from that simple fact. The inevitable deduction was that Mr. Twist couldn't help it. Why couldn't he help it? Was he enslaved by a scandalous passion for them, a passion cold-bloodedly planned for him by the German Government, which was known to have lists of the notable citizens of the United States with photographs and details of their probable weaknesses, and was exactly informed of their movements? He had met the Twinklers, so it was reported, on a steamer coming over from England. Of course. All arranged by the German Government. That was the peculiar evil greatness of this dangerous people, announced the serious section of Acapulco, again with the drinking-fountain-presentation air, that nothing was too private or too petty to escape their attention, to be turned to their own wicked uses. They were as economical of the smallest scraps of possible usefulness as a French cook of the smallest scraps and leavings of food. Everything was turned to account. Nothing was wasted. Even the mosquitoes in Germany were not wasted. They contained juices, Germans had discovered, especially after having been in contact with human beings, and with these juices the talented but unscrupulous Germans made explosives. Could one sufficiently distrust a nation that did things like that? asked the serious section of Acapulco.
People were so much preoccupied by the Twinkler problem that they were less interested than they otherwise would have been in the sea-blue advertisements, and when the one appeared announcing that The Open Arms would open wide on the 29th of the month and exhorting the public to watch the signposts, they merely remarked that it wasn't, then, the title of a book after all. Mr. Twist would have been surprised and nettled if he had known how little curiosity his advertisements were exciting; he would have been horrified if he had known the reason. As it was, he didn't know anything. He was too busy, too deeply absorbed, to be vulnerable to rumour; he, and the twins, and Mrs. Bilton were safe from it inside their magic circle of Arbeit und Liebe.
Sometimes he was seen in Main Street, that street in Acapulco through which everybody passes at certain hours of the morning, looking as though he had a great deal to do and very little time to do it in; and once or twice the Twinklers were seen there, also apparently very busy, but they didn't now come alone. Mrs. Bilton, the lady from Los Angeles—Acapulco knew all about her and admitted she was a lady of strictest integrity and unimpeachable character, but this only made the Twinkler problem more obscure—came too, and seemed, judging from the animation of her talk, to be on the best of terms with her charges.
But once an idea has got into people's heads, remarked the lawyer, who was nudged by the friend he was walking with as the attractive trio were seen approaching,—Mrs. Bilton with her black dress and her snowy hair setting off, as they in their turn set her off, the twins in their clean white frocks and shining youth,—once an idea has got into people's heads it sticks. It is slow to get in, and impossible to get out. Yet on the face of it, was it likely that Mrs. Bilton—
"Say," interrupted his friend, "since when have you joined up with the water-blooded believe-nothing-but-good-ites?"
And only his personal affection for the lawyer restrained him from using the terrible word pro-German; but it had been in his mind.
The day before the opening, Miss Heap heard from an acquaintance in the East to whom she had written in her uneasiness, and who was staying with some people living in Clark. Miss Heap wrote soon after the departure—she didn't see why she shouldn't call it by its proper name and say right out expulsion—of the Twist party from the Cosmopolitan, but letters take a long time to get East and answers take the same long time to come back in, and messages are sometimes slow in being delivered if the other person doesn't realize, as one does oneself, the tremendous interests that are at stake. What could be a more tremendous interest, and one more adapted to the American genius, than safe-guarding public morals? Miss Heap wrote before the sinister rumours of German machinations had got about; she was still merely at the stage of uneasiness in regard to the morals of the Twist party; she couldn't sleep at night for thinking of them. Of course if it were true that his mother was coming out ... but was she? Miss Heap somehow felt unable to believe it. "Do tell your friends in Clark," she wrote, "how delighted we all are to hear that Mrs. Twist is going to be one of us in our sunny refuge here this winter. A real warm welcome awaits her. Her son is working day and night getting the house ready for her, helped indefatigably by the two Miss Twinklers."
She had to wait over a fortnight for the answer, and by the time she got it those other more terrible doubts had arisen, the doubts as to the exact position occupied by the Twinklers and Mr. Twist in the German secret plans for, first, the pervasion, and, second, the invasion of America; and on reading the opening lines of the letter Miss Heap found she had to sit down, for her legs gave way beneath her.
It appeared that Mrs. Twist hadn't known where her son was till Miss Heap's letter came. He had left Clark in company of the two girls mentioned, and about whom his mother knew nothing, the very morning after his arrival home from his long absence in Europe. That was all his mother knew. She was quite broken. Coming on the top of all her other sorrow her only son's behaviour had been a fearful, perhaps a finishing blow, but she was such a good woman that she still prayed for him. Clark was horrified. His mother had decided at first she would try to shield him and say nothing, but when she found that nobody had the least idea of what he had done she felt she owed it to her friends to be open and have no secrets from them. Whatever it cost her in suffering and humiliation she would be frank. Anything was better than keeping up false appearances to friends who believed in you. She was a brave woman, a splendid woman. The girls—poor Mrs. Twist—were Germans.
On reading this Miss Heap was all of a tingle. Her worst suspicions hadn't been half bad enough. Here was everything just about as black as it could be; and Mr Twist, a well-known and universally respected American citizen, had been turned, by means of those girls playing upon weaknesses she shuddered to think of but that she had reason to believe, from books she had studied and conversations she had reluctantly taken part in, were not altogether uncommon, into a cat's-paw of the German Government.
What should she do? What should she say? To whom should she go? Which was the proper line of warning for her to take? It seemed to her that the presence of these people on the Pacific coast was a real menace to its safety, moral and physical; but how get rid of them? And if they were got rid of wouldn't it only be exposing some other part of America, less watchful, less perhaps able to take care of itself, to the ripening and furtherance of their schemes, whatever their schemes might be? Even at that moment Miss Heap unconsciously felt that to let the Twinklers go would be to lose thrills. And she was really thrilled. She prickled with excitement and horror. Her circulation hadn't been so good for years. She wasn't one to dissect her feelings, so she had no idea of how thoroughly she was enjoying herself. And it was while she sat alone in her bedroom, her fingers clasping and unclasping the arms of her chair, her feet nervously nibbing up and down on the thick soft carpet, hesitating as to the best course for her to take, holding her knowledge meanwhile tight, hugging it for a little altogether to herself, her very own, shared as yet by no one,—it was while she sat there, that people out of doors in Acapulco itself, along the main roads, out in the country towards Zamora on the north and San Blas on the south, became suddenly aware of new signposts.
They hadn't been there the day before. They all turned towards the spot at the foot of the mountains where Pepper Lane was. They all pointed, with a long white finger, in that direction. And on them all was written in plain, sea-blue letters, beneath which the distance in miles or fractions of a mile was clearly marked, To The Open Arms.
Curiosity was roused at last. People meeting each other in Main Street stopped to talk about these Arms wondered where and what they were, and decided to follow the signposts that afternoon in their cars and track them down. They made up parties to go and track together. It would be a relief to have something a little different to do. What on earth could The Open Arms be? Hopes were expressed that they weren't something religious. Awful to follow signposts out into the country only to find they landed you in a meeting-house.
At lunch in the hotels, and everywhere where people were together, the signposts were discussed. Miss Heap heard them being discussed from her solitary table, but was so much taken up with her own exciting thoughts that she hardly noticed. After lunch, however, as she was passing out of the restaurant, still full of her unshared news and still uncertain as to whom she should tell it first, Mr. Ridding called out from his table and said he supposed she was going too.
They had been a little chilly to each other since the afternoon of the conversation with the Twinklers, but he would have called out to any one at that moment. He was sitting waiting while Mrs. Ridding finished her lunch, his own lunch finished long ago, and was in the condition of muffled but extreme exasperation which the unoccupied watching of Mrs. Ridding at meals produced. Every day three times this happened, that Mr. Ridding got through his meal first by at least twenty minutes and then sat trying not to mind Mrs. Ridding. She wasn't aware of these efforts. They would greatly have shocked her; for to try not to mind one's wife surely isn't what decent, loving husbands ever have to do.
"Going where?" asked Miss Heap, stopping by the table; whereupon Mr. Ridding had the slight relief of getting up.
Mrs. Ridding continued to eat impassively.
"Following these new signposts that are all over the place," said Mr. Ridding. "Sort of paper-chase business."
"Yes. I'd like to. Were you thinking of going, Mrs. Ridding?"
"After our nap," said Mrs. Ridding, steadily eating. "I'll take you. Car at four o'clock, Albert."
She didn't raise her eyes from her plate, and as Miss Heap well knew that Mrs. Ridding was not open to conversation during meals and as she had nothing to say to Mr. Ridding, she expressed her thanks and pleasure, and temporarily left them.
This was a day of shocks and thrills. When the big limousine—symbol of Mrs. Ridding's power, for Mr. Ridding couldn't for the life of him see why he should have to provide a strange old lady with cars, and yet did so on an increasing scale of splendour—arrived at the turn on the main road to San Blas which leads into Pepper Lane and was confronted by the final signpost pointing up it, for the first time The Open Arms and the Twist and Twinkler party entered Miss Heap's mind in company. So too did they enter Mr. Ridding's mind; and they only remained outside Mrs. Ridding's because of her profound uninterest. Her thoughts were merged in aspic. That was the worst of aspic when it was as good as it was at the Cosmopolitan; one wasn't able to leave off eating it quite in time, and then, unfortunately, had to go on thinking of it afterwards.
The Twist house, remembered her companions simultaneously, was in Pepper Lane. Odd that this other thing, whatever it was, should happen to be there too. Miss Heap said nothing, but sat very straight and alert, her eyes everywhere. Mr. Ridding of course said nothing either. Not for worlds would he have mentioned the word Twist, which so instantly and inevitably suggested that other and highly controversial word Twinkler. But he too sat all eyes; for anyhow he might in passing get a glimpse of the place containing those cunning little bits of youngness, the Twinkler sisters, and even with any luck a glimpse of their very selves.
Up the lane went the limousine, slowly because of the cars in front of it. It was one of a string of cars, for the day was lovely, there was no polo, and nobody happened to be giving a party. All the way out from Acapulco they had only had to follow other cars. Cars were going, and cars were coming back. The cars going were full of solemn people, pathetically anxious to be interested. The cars coming back were full of animated people who evidently had achieved interest.
Miss Heap became more and more alert as they approached the bend in the lane round which the Twist house was situated. She had been there before, making a point of getting a friend to motor her past it in order to see what she could for herself, but Mr. Ridding, in spite of his desire to go and have a look too, had always, each time he tried to, found Mrs. Ridding barring the way. So that he didn't exactly know where it was; and when on turning the corner the car suddenly stopped, and putting his head out—he was sitting backwards—- he saw a great, old-fashioned signboard, such as he was accustomed to in pictures of ancient English village greens, with
The Open Arms
in medieval letters painted on it, all he said was, "Guess we've run it to earth."
Miss Heap sat with her hands in her lap, staring. Mrs. Ridding, her mind blocked by aspic, wasn't receiving impressions. She gazed with heavy eyes straight in front of her. There she saw cars. Many cars. All stopped at this particular spot. With a dull sensation of fathomless fatigue she dimly wondered at them.
"Looks as though it's a hostelry," said Mr. Ridding, who remembered his Dickens; and he blinked up, craning his head out, at the signboard, on which through a gap in the branches of the pepper trees a shaft of brilliant late afternoon sun was striking. "Don't see one, though."
He jerked his thumb. "Up back of the trees there, I reckon," he said.
Then he prepared to open the door and go and have a look.
A hand shot out of Miss Heap's lap at him. "Don't," she said quickly. "Don't, Mr. Ridding."
There was a little green gate in the thick hedge that grew behind the pepper trees, and some people he knew, who had been in the car in front, were walking up to it. Some other people he knew had already got to it, and were standing talking together with what looked like leaflets in their hands. These leaflets came out of a green wooden box fastened on to one of the gate-posts, with the words Won't you take one? painted on it.
Mr. Ridding naturally wanted to go and take one, and here was Miss Heap laying hold of him and saying "Don't."
"Don't what?" he asked looking down at her, his hand on the door.
"Hello Ridding," called out one of the people he knew. "No good getting out. Show doesn't open till to-morrow at four. Can't get in to-day. Gate's bolted. Nothing doing."
And then the man detached himself from the group at the gate and came over to the car with a leaflet in his hand.
"Say—" he said,—"how are you to-day, Miss Heap? Mrs. Ridding, your humble servant—say, look at this. Teapot Twist wasn't born yesterday when it comes to keeping things dark. No mention of his name on this book of words, but it's the house he was doing up all right, and it is to be used as an inn. Afternoon-tea inn. Profits to go to the American Red Cross. Price per head five dollars. Bit stiff, five dollars for tea. Wonder where those Twinkler girls come in. Here—you have this, Ridding, and study it. I'll get another." And taking off his hat a second time to the ladies he went back to his friends.
In great agitation Miss Heap turned to Mrs. Ridding, whose mind, galvanized by the magic words Twist and Twinkler, was slowly heaving itself free of aspic. "Perhaps we had best go back to the hotel, Mrs Ridding," said Miss Heap, her voice shaking. "There's something I wish particularly to tell you. I ought to have done so this morning, directly I knew, but I had no idea of course that this...." She waved a hand at the signboard, and collapsed into speechlessness.
"Albert—hotel," directed Mrs. Ridding.
And Mr. Ridding, clutching the leaflet, his face congested with suppressed emotions, obediently handed on the order through the speaking-tube to the chauffeur.
"It's perfect," said the twins, looking round the tea-room.
This was next day, at a quarter to four. They had been looking round saying it was perfect at intervals since the morning. Each time they finished getting another of the little tables ready, each time they brought in and set down another bowl of flowers they stood back and gazed a moment in silence, and then said with one voice, "It's perfect."
Mr. Twist, though the house was not, as we have seen, quite as sober, quite as restrained in its effect as he had intended, was obliged to admit that it did look very pretty. And so did the Annas. Especially the Annas. They looked so pretty in the sea-blue frocks and little Dutch caps and big muslin aprons that he took off his spectacles and cleaned them carefully so as to have a thoroughly uninterrupted view; and as they stood at a quarter to four gazing round the room, he stood gazing at them, and when they said "It's perfect," he said, indicating them with his thumb, "Same here," and then they all laughed for they were all very happy, and Mrs. Bilton, arrayed exactly as Mr. Twist had pictured her when he engaged her in handsome black, her white hair beautifully brushed and neat, crossed over to the Annas and gave each of them a hearty kiss—for luck, she said—which Mr. Twist watched with an odd feeling of jealousy.
"I'd like to do that," he thought, filled with a sudden desire to hug. Then he said it out loud. "I'd like to do that," he said boldly. And added, "As it's the opening day."
"I don't think it would afford you any permanent satisfaction," said Anna-Felicitas placidly. "There's nothing really to be gained, we think, by kissing. Of course," she added politely to Mrs. Bilton, "we like it very much as an expression of esteem."
"Then why not in that spirit—" began Mr. Twist.
"We don't hold with kissing," said Anna-Rose quickly, turning very red. Intolerable to be kissed en famille. If it had to be done at all, kissing should be done quietly, she thought. But she and Anna-Felicitas didn't hold with it anyhow. Never. Never. To her amazement she found tears in her eyes. Well, of all the liquid idiots.... It must be that she was so happy. She had never been so happy. Where on earth had her handkerchief got to....
"Hello," said Mr. Twist, staring at her.
Anna-Felicitas looked at her quickly.
"It's merely bliss," she said, taking the corner of her beautiful new muslin apron to Christopher's eyes. "Excess of it. We are, you know," she said, smiling over her shoulder at Mr. Twist, so that the corner of her apron, being undirected, began dabbing at Christopher's perfectly tearless ears, "quite extraordinarily happy, and all through you. Nevertheless Anna-R." she continued, addressing her with firmness while she finished her eyes and began her nose, "You may like to be reminded that there's only ten minutes left now before all those cars that were here yesterday come again, and you wouldn't wish to embark on your career as a waitress hampered by an ugly face, would you?"
But half an hour later no cars had come. Pepper Lane was still empty. The long shadows lay across it in a beautiful quiet, and the crickets in the grass chirruped undisturbed. Twice sounds were heard as if something was coming up it, and everybody flew to their posts—Li Koo to the boiling water, Mrs. Bilton to her raised desk at the end of the room, and the twins to the door—but the sounds passed on along the road and died away round the next corner.
At half-past four the personnel of The Open Arms was sitting about silently in a state of increasing uneasiness, when Mr. Ridding walked in.
There had been no noise of a car to announce him; he just walked in mopping his forehead, for he had come in the jitney omnibus to the nearest point and had done the last mile on his own out-of-condition feet. Mrs. Ridding thought he was writing letters in the smoking-room. She herself was in a big chair on the verandah, and with Miss Heap and most of the other guests was discussing The Open Arms in all its probable significance. He hadn't been able to get away sooner because of the nap. He had gone through with the nap from start to finish so as not to rouse suspicion. He arrived very hot, but with a feeling of dare-devil running of risks that gave him great satisfaction. He knew that he would cool down again presently and that then the consequences of his behaviour would be unpleasant to reflect upon, but meanwhile his blood was up.
He walked in feeling not a day older than thirty,—most gratifying sensation. The personnel, after a moment's open-mouthed surprise, rushed to greet him. Never was a man more welcome. Never had Mr. Ridding been so warmly welcomed anywhere in his life.
"Now isn't this real homey," he said, beaming at Anna-Rose who took his stick. "Wish I'd known you were going to do it, for then I'd have had something to look forward to."
"Will you have tea or coffee?" asked Anna-Felicitas, trying to look very solemn and like a family butler but her voice quivering with eagerness. "Or perhaps you would prefer frothed chocolate? Each of these beverages can be provided either hot or iced—"
"There's ice-cream as well," said Anna-Rose, tumultuously in spite of also trying to look like a family butler. "I'd have ice-cream if I were you. There's more body in it. Cold, delicious body. And you look so hot. Hot things should always as soon as possible be united to cold things, so as to restore the proper balance—"
"And there's some heavenly stuff called cinnamon-toast—hot, you know, but if you have ice-cream at the same time it won't matter," said Anna-Felicitas, hanging up his hat for him. "I don't know whether you've studied the leaflets," she continued, "but in case you haven't I feel I oughtn't to conceal from you that the price is five dollars whatever you have."
"So that," said Anna-Rose, "you needn't bother about trying to save, for you can't."
"Then I'll have tea to start with and see how I get on," said Mr. Ridding, sitting down in the chair Anna-Felicitas held for him and beaming up at her.
She flicked an imaginary grain of dust off the cloth with the corner of her apron to convey to him that she knew her business, and hurried away to give the order. Indeed, they both hurried away to give the order.
"Say—" called out Mr. Ridding, for he thought one Anna would have been enough for this and he was pining to talk to them; but the twins weren't to be stopped from both giving the very first order, and they disappeared together into the pantry.
Mrs. Bilton sat in the farthest corner at her desk, apparently absorbed in an enormous ledger. In this ledger she was to keep accounts and to enter the number of teas, and from this high seat she was to preside over the activities of the personnel. She had retired hastily to it on the unexpected entrance of Mr. Ridding, and pen in hand was endeavouring to look as if she were totting up figures. As the pages were blank this was a little difficult. And it was difficult to sit there quiet. She wanted to get down and go and chat with the guest; she felt she had quite a good deal she could say to him; she had a great itch to go and talk, but Mr. Twist had been particular that to begin with, till the room was fairly full, he and she should leave the guests entirely to the Annas.
He himself was going to keep much in the background at all times, but through the half-open door of his office he could see and hear; and he couldn't help thinking, as he sat there watching and observed the effulgence of the beams the old gentleman just arrived turned on the twins, that the first guest appeared to be extraordinarily and undesirably affectionate. He thought he had seen him at the Cosmopolitan, but wasn't sure. He didn't know that the Annas, after their conversation with him there, felt towards him as old friends, and he considered their manner was a little unduly familiar. Perhaps, after all, he thought uneasily, Mrs. Bilton had better do the waiting and the Annas sit with him in the office. The ledger could be written up at the end of the day. Or he could hire somebody....
Mr. Twist felt worried, and pulled at his ear. And why was there only one guest? It was twenty minutes to five; and this time yesterday the road had been choked with cars. He felt very much worried. With every minute this absence of guests grew more and more remarkable. Perhaps he had better, this beings the opening day, go in and welcome the solitary one there was. Perhaps it would be wise to elaborate the idea of the inn for his edification, so that he could hand on what he had heard to those others who so unaccountably hadn't come.
He got up and went into the other room; and just as Anna-Felicitas was reappearing with the teapot followed by Anna-Rose with a tray of cakes, Mr. Ridding, who was sitting up expectantly and giving his tie a little pat of adjustment, perceived bearing down upon him that fellow Teapot Twist.
This was a blow. He hadn't run risks and walked in the afternoon heat to sit and talk to Twist. Mr. Ridding was a friendly and amiable old man, and at any other time would have talked to him with pleasure; but he had made up his mind for the Twinklers as one makes up one's mind for a certain dish and is ravaged by strange fury if it isn't produced. Besides, hang it all, he was going to pay five dollars for his tea, and for that sum he ought to least to have it under the conditions he preferred.
"Glad to meet you, Mr. Twist," he nevertheless said as Mr. Twist introduced himself, his eyes, however, roving over the ministering Annas,—a roving Mr. Twist noticed with fresh misgivings.
It made him sit down firmly at the table and say, "If you don't mind, Mr.—"
"Ridding is my name."
"If you don't mind, Mr. Ridding, I'd like to explain our objects to you."
But he couldn't help wondering what he would do if there were several tables with roving-eyed guests at them, it being clear that there wouldn't be enough of him in such a case to go round.
Mr. Ridding, for his part, couldn't help wondering why the devil Teapot Twist sat down unasked at his table. Five dollars. Come now. For that a man had a right to a table to himself.
But anyhow the Annas wouldn't have stayed talking for at that moment a car stopped in the lane and quite a lot of footsteps were heard coming up the neatly sanded path. Mr. Ridding pricked up his ears, for from the things he had heard being said all the evening before and all that morning in Acapulco, besides most of the night from the lips of that strange old lady with whom by some dreadful mistake he was obliged to sleep, he hadn't supposed there would be exactly a rush.
Four young men came in. Mr. Ridding didn't know them. No class, he thought, looking them over; and was seized with a feeling of sulky vexation suitable to twenty when he saw with what enthusiasm the Twinklers flew to meet them. They behaved, thought Mr. Ridding crossly, as if they were the oldest and dearest friends.
"Who are they?" he asked curtly of Mr. Twist, cutting into the long things he was saying.
"Only the different experts who helped me rebuild the place," said Mr. Twist a little impatiently; he too had pricked up his ears in expectation at the sound of all those feet, and was disappointed.
He continued what Mr. Ridding, watching the group of young people, called sulkily to himself his rigmarole, but continued more abstractedly. He also was watching the Annas and the experts. The young men were evidently in the highest spirits, and were walking round the Annas admiring their get-up and expressing their admiration in laughter and exclamations. One would have thought they had known each other all their lives. The twins were wreathed in smiles. They looked as pleased, Mr. Twist thought, as cats that are being stroked. Almost he could hear them purring. He glanced helplessly across to where Mrs. Bilton sat, as he had told her, bent pen in hand over the ledger. She didn't move. It was true he had told her to sit like that, but hadn't the woman any imagination? What she ought to do now was to bustle forward and take that laughing group in charge.
"As I was telling you—" resumed Mr. Twist, returning with an effort to Mr. Ridding, only to find his eyes fixed on the young people and catch an unmistakably thwarted look in his face.
In a flash Mr. Twist realized what he had come for,—it was solely to see and talk to the twins. He must have noticed them at the Cosmopolitan, and come out just for them. Just for that. "Unprincipled old scoundrel," said Mr. Twist under his breath, his ears flaming. Aloud he said, "As I was telling you—" and went on distractedly with his rigmarole.
Then some more people came in. They had motored, but the noise the experts were making had drowned the sound of their arrival. Mr. Ridding and Mr. Twist, both occupied in glowering at the group in the middle of the room, were made aware of their presence by Anna-Felicitas suddenly dropping the pencil and tablets she had been provided with for writing down orders and taking an uncertain and obviously timid step forward.
They both looked round in the direction of her reluctant step, and saw a man and two women standing on the threshold. Mr. Twist, of course, didn't know them; he hardly knew anybody, even by sight. But Mr. Ridding did. That is, he knew them well by sight and had carefully avoided knowing them any other way, for they were Germans.
Mr. Ridding was one of those who didn't like Germans. He was a man who liked or disliked what his daily paper told him to, and his daily paper was anti-German. For reasons natural to one who disliked Germans and yet at the same time had a thirstily affectionate disposition, he declined to believe the prevailing theory about the Twinklers. Besides, he didn't believe it anyhow. At that age people were truthful, and he had heard them explain they had come from England and had acquired their rolling r's during a sojourn abroad. Why should he doubt? But he refrained from declaring his belief in their innocence of the unpopular nationality, owing to a desire to avoid trouble in that bedroom he couldn't call his but was obliged so humiliatingly to speak of as ours. Except, however, for the Twinklers, for all other persons of whom it was said that they were Germans, naturalized or not, immediate or remote, he had, instructed by his newspaper, what his called a healthy instinctive abhorrence.
"And she's got it too," he thought, much gratified at this bond between them, as he noted Anna-Felicitas's hesitating and reluctant advance to meet the new guests. "There's proof that people are wrong."
But what Anna-Felicitas had got was stage-fright; for here were the first strangers, the first real, proper visitors such as any shop or hotel might have. Mr. Ridding was a friend. So were the experts friends. This was trade coming in,—real business being done. Anna-Felicitas hadn't supposed she would be shy when the long-expected and prepared-for moment arrived, but she was. And it was because the guests seemed so disconcertingly pleased to see her. Even on the threshold the whole three stood smiling broadly at her. She hadn't been prepared for that, and it unnerved her.
"Charming, charming," said the newcomers, advancing towards her and embracing the room and the tables and the Annas in one immense inclusive smile of appreciation.
"Know those?" asked Mr. Ridding, again cutting into Mr. Twist's explanations.
"No," said he.
"Wangelbeckers," said Mr. Ridding briefly.
"Indeed," said Mr. Twist, off whose ignorance the name glanced harmlessly. "Well, as I was telling yous—"
"But this is delicious—this is a conception of genius," said Mr. Wangelbecker all-embracingly, after he had picked up Anna-Felicitas's tablets and restored them to her with a low bow.
"Charming, charming," said Mrs. Wangelbecker, looking round.
"Real cunning," said Miss Wangelbecker, "as they say here." And she laughed at Anna-Felicitas with an air of mutual understanding.
"Will you have tea or coffee?" asked Anna-Felicitas nervously. "Or perhaps you would prefer frothed chocolate. Each of these beverages can be—"
"Delicious, delicious," said Mrs. Wangelbecker, enveloping Anna-Felicitas in her smile.
"The frothed chocolate is very delicious," said Anna-Felicitas with a kind of grave nervousness.
"Ah—charming, charming," said Mrs. Wangelbecker, obstinately appreciative.
"And there's ice-cream as well," said Anna-Felicitas, her eyes on her tablets so as to avoid seeing the Wangelbecker smile. "And—and a great many kinds of cakes—"
"Well, hadn't we better sit down first," said Mr. Wangelbecker genially, "or are all the tables engaged?"
"Oh I beg your pardon," said Anna-Felicitas, blushing and moving hastily towards a table laid for three.
"Ah—that's better," said Mr. Wangelbecker, following closely on her heels. "Now we can go into the serious business of ordering what we shall eat comfortably. But before I sit down allow me to present myself. My name is Wangelbecker. An honest German name. And this is my wife. She too had an honest German name before she honoured mine by accepting it—she was a Niedermayer. And this is my daughter, with whom I trust you will soon be friends."
And they all put out their hands to be shaken, and Anna-Felicitas shook them.
"Look at that now," said Mr. Ridding watching.
"As I was telling you—" said Mr. Twist irritably, for really why should Anna II. shake hands right off with strangers? Her business was to wait, not to get shaking hands. He must point out to her very plainly.
"Pleased to meet you Miss von Twinkler," said Mrs. Wangelbecker; and at this Anna-Felicitas was so much startled that she dropped her tablets a second time.
"As they say here," laughed Miss Wangelbecker, again with that air of mutual comprehension.
"But they don't," said Anna Felicitas hurriedly, taking her tablets from the restoring hand of Mr. Wangelbecker and forgetting to thank him.
"What?" said Mrs. Wangelbecker. "When you are both so charming that for once the phrase must be sincere?"
"Miss von Twinkler means she finds it wiser not to use her title," said Mr. Wangelbecker. "Well, perhaps—perhaps. Wiser perhaps from the point of view of convenience. Is that where you will sit, Guestchen? Still, we Germans when we are together can allow ourselves the refreshment of being ourselves, and I hope to be frequently the means of giving you the relief, you and your charming sister, of hearing yourselves addressed correctly. It is a great family, the von Twinklers. A great family. In these sad days we Germans must hang together—"
Anna-Felicitas stood, tablets in hand, looking helplessly from one Wangelbecker to the other. The situation was beyond her.
"But—" she began; then stopped. "Shall I bring you tea or coffee?" she ended by asking again.
"Well now this is amusing," said Mr. Wangelbecker, sitting down comfortably and leaning his elbows on the table. "Isn't it, Guestchen. To see a von Twinkler playing at waiting on us."
"Charming, charming," said his wife.
"It's real sporting," said his daughter, laughing up at Anna-Felicitas, again with comprehension,—with, almost, a wink. "You must let me come and help. I'd look nice in that costume, wouldn't I mother."
"There is also frothed choc—"
"I suppose, now, Mr. Twist—he must be completely sympathy—" interrupted Mr. Wangelbecker confidentially, leaning forward and lowering his voice a little.
Anna-Felicitas gazed at him blankly. Some more people were coming in at the door, and behind them she could see on the path yet more, and Anna-Rose was in the pantry fetching the tea for the experts.
"Would you mind telling me what I am to bring you?" she asked. "Because I'm afraid—"
Mr. Wangelbecker turned his head in the direction she was looking.
"Ah—" he said getting up, "but this is magnificent Guestchen, here are Mrs. Kleinbart and her sister—why, and there come the Diederichs—but splendid, splendid—"
"Say," said Mr. Ridding, turning to Mr. Twist with a congested face, "ever been to Berlin?"
"No," said Mr. Twist, annoyed by a question of such wanton irrelevance flung into the middle of his sentence.
"Well, it's just like this."
"Like this?" repeated Mr. Twist.
"Those there," said Mr. Ridding, jerking his head. "That lot there—see 'em any day in Berlin, or Frankfurt, or any other of their confounded towns."
"I don't follow," said Mr. Twist, very shortly indeed.
"Germans," said Mr. Ridding.
"All Germans," said Ridding.
"Wangelbeckers are Germans," said Mr. Ridding. "Didn't you know?"
"No," said Mr. Twist.
"So are the ones who've just come in."
"All Germans. So are those behind, just coming in."
There was a pause, during which Mr. Twist stared round the room. It was presenting quite a populous appearance. Then he said slowly, "Well I'm damned."
And Mr. Ridding for the first time looked pleased with Mr. Twist. He considered that at last he was talking sense.
"Mr. Twist," he said heartily, "I'm exceedingly glad you're damned. It was what I was sure at the bottom of my heart you would be. Shake hands, sir."
That evening depression reigned in The Open Arms.
Mr. Twist paced up and down the tea-room deep in thought that was obviously unpleasant and perplexed; Mrs. Bilton went to bed abruptly, after a short outpour of words to the effect that she had never seen so many Germans at once before, that her psyche was disharmonious to Germans, that they made her go goose-fleshy just as cats in a room made Mr. Bilton go goose-fleshy in the days when he had flesh to go it with, that she hadn't been aware the inn was to be a popular resort and rendezvous for Germans, and that she wished to speak alone with Mr. Twist in the morning; while the twins, feeling the ominousness of this last sentence,—as did Mr. Twist, who started when he heard it,—and overcome by the lassitude that had succeeded the shocks of the afternoon, a lassitude much increased by their having tried to finish up the pailsful of left-over ices and the huge piles of cakes slowly soddening in their own souring cream, went out together on to the moonlit verandah and stood looking up in silence at the stars. There they stood in silence, and thought things about the immense distance and indifference of those bright, cold specks, and how infinitely insignificant after all they, the Twinklers were, and how they would both in any case be dead in a hundred years. And this last reflection afforded them somehow a kind of bleak and draughty comfort.
Thus the first evening, that was to have been so happy, was spent by everybody in silence and apart. Li Koo felt the atmosphere of oppression even in his kitchen, and refrained from song. He put away, after dealing with it cunningly so that it should keep until a more propitious hour, a wonderful drink he had prepared for supper in celebration of the opening day—"Me make li'l celebrity," he had said, squeezing together strange essences and fruits—and he moved softly about so as not to disturb the meditations of the master. Li Koo was perfectly aware of what had gone wrong: it was the unexpected arrival to tea of Germans. Being a member of the least blood-thirsty of the nations, he viewed Germans with peculiar disfavour and understood his master's prolonged walking up and down. Also he had noted through a crack in the door the way these people of blood and death crowded round the white-lily girls; and was not that sufficient in itself to cause his master's numerous and rapid steps?
Numerous indeed that evening were Mr. Twist's steps. He felt he must think, and he could think better walking up and down. Why had all those Germans come? Why, except old Ridding and the experts, had none of the Americans come? It was very strange. And what Germans! So cordial, so exuberant to the twins, so openly gathering them to their bosoms, as though they belonged there. And so cordial too to him, approaching him in spite of his withdrawals, conveying to him somehow, his disagreeable impression had been, that he and they perfectly understood each other. Then Mrs. Bilton; was she going to give trouble? It looked like it. It looked amazingly like it. Was she after all just another edition of his mother, and unable to discriminate between Germans and Germans, between the real thing and mere technicalities like the Twinklers? It is true he hadn't told her the twins were German, but then neither had he told her they weren't. He had been passive. In Mrs. Bilton's presence passivity came instinctively. Anything else involved such extreme and unusual exertion. He had never had the least objection to her discovering their nationality for herself, and indeed had been surprised she hadn't done so long ago, for he felt sure she would quickly begin to love the Annas, and once she loved them she wouldn't mind what their father had happened to be. He had supposed she did love them. How affectionately she had kissed them that very afternoon and wished them luck. Was all that nothing? Was lovableness nothing, and complete innocence, after all in the matter of being born, when weighed against the one fact of the von? What he would do if Mrs. Bilton left him he couldn't imagine. What would happen to The Open Arms and the twins in such a case, his worried brain simply couldn't conceive.
Out of the corner of his eye every time he passed the open door on to the verandah he could see the two Annas standing motionless on its edge, their up-turned faces, as they gazed at the stars, white in the moonlight and very serious. Pathetic children. Pathetic, solitary, alien children. What were they thinking of? He wouldn't mind betting it was their mother.
Mr. Twist's heart gave a kind of tug at him. His sentimental, maternal side heaved to the top. A great impulse to hurry out and put his arms round them seized him, but he frowned and overcame it. He didn't want to go soft now. Nor was this the moment, his nicely brought up soul told him, his soul still echoing with the voice of Clark, to put his arms round them—this, the very first occasion on which Mrs. Bilton had left them alone with him. Whether it would become proper on the very second occasion was one of those questions that would instantly have suggested itself to the Annas themselves, but didn't occur to Mr. Twist. He merely went on to think of another reason against it, which was the chance of Mrs. Bilton's looking out of her window just as he did it. She might, he felt, easily misjudge the situation, and the situation, he felt, was difficult enough already. So he restrained himself; and the Annas continued to consider infinite space and to perceive, again with that feeling of dank and unsatisfactory consolation, that nothing really mattered.
Next day immediately after breakfast Mrs. Bilton followed him into his office and gave notice. She called it formally tendering her resignation. She said that all her life she had been an upholder of straight dealing, as much in herself towards others as in others towards herself—
"Mrs. Bilton—" interrupted Mr. Twist, only it didn't interrupt.
She had also all her life been intensely patriotic, and Mr. Twist, she feared, didn't look at patriotism with quite her single eye—
As her eye saw it, patriotism was among other things a determination to resist the encroachments of foreigners—
She had no wish to judge him, but she had still less wish to be mixed up with foreigners, and foreigners for her at that moment meant Germans—
She regretted, but psychically she would never be able to flourish in a soil so largely composed, as the soil of The Open Arms appeared to be, of that nationality—
And though it was none of her business, still she must say it did seem to her a pity that Mr. Twist with his well-known and respected American name should be mixed up—
And though she had no wish to be inquisitive, still she must say it did seem to her peculiar that Mr. Twist should be the guardian of two girls who, it was clear from what she had overheard that afternoon, were German—
Here Mr. Twist raised his voice and shouted. "Mrs. Bilton," he shouted, so loud that she couldn't but stop, "if you'll guarantee to keep quiet for just five minutes—sit down right here at this table and not say one single thing, not one single thing for just five minutes," he said, banging the table, "I'll tell you all about it. Oh yes, I'll accept your resignation at the end of that time if you're still set on leaving, but just for this once it's me that's going to do the talking."
And this must be imagined as said so loud that only capital letters would properly represent the noise Mr. Twist made.
Mrs. Bilton did sit down, her face flushed by the knowledge of how good her intentions had been when she took the post, and how deceitful—she was forced to think it—Mr. Twist's were when he offered it. She was prepared, however, to give him a hearing. It was only fair. But Mr. Twist had to burst into capitals several times before he had done, so difficult was it for Mrs. Bilton, even when she had agreed, even when she herself wished, not to say anything.
It wasn't five minutes but twenty before Mrs. Bilton came out of the office again. She went straight into the garden, where the Annas, aware of the interview going on with Mr. Twist, had been lingering anxiously, unable at so crucial a moment to settle to anything, and with solemnity kissed them. Her eyes were very bright. Her face, ordinarily colourless as parchment, was red. Positively she kissed them without saying a single word; and they kissed her back with such enthusiasm, with a relief that made them hug her so tight and cling to her so close, that the brightness in her eyes brimmed over and she had to get out her handkerchief and wipe it away.
"Gurls," said Mrs. Bilton, "I had a shock yesterday, but I'm through with it. You're motherless. I'm daughterless. We'll weld."
And with this unusual brevity did Mrs. Bilton sum up the situation.
She was much moved. Her heart was touched; and once that happened nothing could exceed her capacity for sticking through what she called thick and thin to her guns. For years Mr. Bilton had occupied the position of the guns; now it would be these poor orphans. No Germans could frighten her away, once she knew their story; no harsh judgments and misconceptions of her patriotic friends. Mr. Twist had told her everything, from the beginning on the St. Luke, harking back to Uncle Arthur and the attitude of England, describing what he knew of their mother and her death, not even concealing the part his own mother had played or that he wasn't their guardian at all. He made the most of Mrs. Bilton's silence; and as she listened her heart melted within her, and the immense store of grit which was her peculiar pride came to the top and once and for all overwhelmed her prejudices. But she couldn't think, and at last she burst out and told Mr. Twist she couldn't think, why he hadn't imparted all this to her long ago.
"Ah," murmured Mr. Twist, bowing his head as a reed in the wind before the outburst of her released volubility.
Hope once more filled The Open Arms, and the Twist party looked forward to the afternoon with renewed cheerfulness. It had just happened so the first day, that only Germans came. It was just accident. Mr. Twist, with the very large part of him that wasn't his head, found himself feeling like this too and declining to take any notice of his intelligence, which continued to try to worry him.
Yet the hope they all felt was not realized, and the second afternoon was almost exactly like the first. Germans came and clustered round the Annas, and made friendly though cautious advances to Mr. Twist. The ones who had been there the first day came again and brought others with them worse than themselves, and they seemed more at home than ever, and the air was full of rolling r's—among them, Mr. Twist was unable to deny, being the r's of his blessed Annas. But theirs were such little r's, he told himself. They rolled, it is true, but with how sweet a rolling. While as for these other people—confound it all, the place might really have been, from the sounds that were filling it, a Conditorei Unter den Linden.