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Lost in the contemplation of a distant past Anna-Felicitas sat with her eyes shut long after she needn't have.
She had forgotten about the German ladies, and America, and the future so instantly pressing on her, and was away on the shores of the Baltic again, where bits of amber where washed up after a storm, and the pale rushes grew in shallow sunny water that was hardly salt, and the air seemed for ever sweet with lilac. All the cottage gardens in the little village that clustered round a clearing in the trees had lilac bushes in them, for there was something in the soil that made lilacs be more wonderful there than anywhere else in the world, and in May the whole forest as far as one could walk was soaked with the smell of it. After rain on a May evening, what a wonder it was; what a wonder, that running down the black, oozing forest paths between wet pine stems, out on to the shore to look at the sun setting below the great sullen clouds of the afternoon over on one's left where Denmark was, and that lifting of one's face to the exquisite mingling of the delicate sea smell and the lilac. And then there was home to come back to when the forest began to look too dark and its deep silence made one's flesh creep--home, and a light in the window where ones mother was. Incredible the security of those days, the safe warmth of them, the careless roominess....
"You know if you could manage to feel a little better, Anna-F.," said Anna-Rose's voice entreatingly in her ear, "it's time we began to get off this ship."
Anna-Felicitas opened her eyes, and got up all confused and self-reproachful. Everybody had melted away from that part of the deck except herself and Anna-Rose. The ship was lying quiet at last alongside the wharf. She had over-done being ill this time. She was ashamed of herself for having wandered off so easily and comfortably into the past, and left poor Christopher alone in the difficult present.
"I'm so sorry," she said smiling apologetically, and giving her hat a tug of determination symbolic of her being ready for anything, especially America. "I think I must have gone to sleep. Have you--" she hesitated and dropped her voice. "Are they--are the Clouston Sacks visible yet?"
"I thought I saw them," said Anna-Rose, dropping her voice too, and looking round uneasily over her shoulder. "I'd have come here sooner to see how you were getting on, but I thought I saw them, and they looked so like what I think they will look like that I went into our cabin again for a few minutes. But it wasn't them. They've found the people they were after, and have gone."
"There's a great crowd waiting," said Mr. Twist, coming up, "and I think we ought to go and look for your friends. As you don't know what they're like and they don't know what you're like it may be difficult. Heaven forbid," he continued, "that I should hurry you, but I have to catch a train if I'm to get home to-night, and I don't intend to catch it until I've handed you over safely to the Sacks."
"Those Sacks--" began Anna-Rose; and then she finished irrelevantly by remarking that it was the details of life that were discouraging,--from which Anna Felicitas knew that Christopher's heart was once more in her boots.
"Come along," said Mr. Twist, urging them to wards the gangway. "Anything you've got to say about life I shall be glad to hear, but at some time when we're more at leisure."
It had never occurred to either of the twins that the Clouston Sacks would not meet them. They had taken it for granted from the beginning that some form of Sack, either male or female, or at least their plenipotentiary, would be on the wharf to take them away to the Sack lair, as Anna-Felicitas alluded to the family mansion. It was, they knew, in Boston, but Boston conveyed nothing to them. Only Mr. Twist knew how far away it was. He had always supposed the Sacks would meet their young charges, stay that night in New York, and continue on to Boston next day. The twins were so certain they would be met that Mr. Twist was certain too. He had concluded, with a growingly empty feeling in his heart as the time of separation drew near, that all that now remained for him to do on behalf of the Twinklers was to hand them over to the Sacks. And then leave them. And then go home to that mother he loved but had for some time known he didn't like,--go home a bereft and lonely man.
But out of the crowd on the pier, any of whom might have been Sacks for all the Twinklers, eagerly scanning faces, knew, nobody in fact seemed to be Sacks. At least, nobody came forward and said, "Are you the Twinklers?" Other people fell into each other's arms; the air was full of the noise of kissing, the loud legitimate kissing of relations; but nobody took any notice of the twins. For a long while they stood waiting. Their luggage was examined, and Mr. Twist's luggage--only his was baggage--was examined, and the kissing and exclaiming crowd swayed hither and thither, and broke up into groups, and was shot through by interviewers, and got packed off into taxis, and grew thinner and thinner, and at last was so thin that the concealment of the Sacks in it was no longer possible.
There were no Sacks.
To the last few groups of people left in the great glass-roofed hall piled with bags of wool and sulphur, Mr. Twist went up boldly and asked if they were intending to meet some young ladies called Twinkler. His tone, owing to perturbation, was rather more than one of inquiry, it almost sounded menacing; and the answers he got were cold. He wandered about uncertainly from group to group, his soft felt hat on the back of his head and his brow getting more and more puckered; and Anna-Rose, anxiously looking on from afar, became impatient at last of these refusals of everybody to be Sacks, and thought that perhaps Mr. Twist wasn't making himself clear.
Impetuous by nature and little given to calm waiting, she approached a group on her own account and asked them, enunciating her words very clearly, whether they were by any chance Mr. and Mrs. Clouston Sack.
The group, which was entirely female, stared round and down at her in astonished silence, and shook its heads; and as she saw Mr. Twist being turned away for the fifth time in the distance a wave of red despair came over her, and she said, reproach in her voice and tears in her eyes, "But somebody's got to be the Sacks."
Upon which the group she was addressing stared at her in a more astonished silence than ever.
Mr. Twist came up mopping his brow and took he arm and led her back to Anna-Felicitas, who was taking care of the luggage and had sat down philosophically to await developments on a bag of sulphur. She didn't yet know what sulphur looked like on one's clothes after one has sat on it, and smiled cheerfully and encouragingly at Anna-Rose as she came towards her.
"There are no Sacks," said Anna-Rose, facing the truth.
"It's exactly like that Uncle Arthur of yours," said Mr. Twist, mopping his forehead and speaking almost vindictively. "Exactly like him. A man like that would have the sort of friends that don't meet one."
"Well, we must do without the Sacks," said Anna-Felicitas, rising from the sulphur bag with the look of serene courage that can only dwell on the face of one who is free from care as to what has happened to him behind. "And it isn't," she added sweetly to Mr. Twist, "as if we hadn't got you."
"Yes," said Anna-Rose, suddenly seeing daylight. "Of course. What do Sacks really matter? I mean, for a day or two? You'll take us somewhere where we can wait till we've found them."
"Yes," said Anna-Felicitas. "Some nice quiet old-fashioned coffee-house sort of place, like the one the Brontes went to in St. Paul's Churchyard the first time they were launched into the world."
"Yes. Some inexpensive place."
"Suited to the frugal."
"Because although we've got £200, even that will need watching or it will go."
During this conversation Mr. Twist stood mopping his forehead. As often as he mopped it it broke out afresh and had to be mopped again. They were the only passengers left now, and had become very conspicuous. He couldn't but perceive that a group of officials with grim, locked-up-looking mouths were eyeing him and the Twinklers attentively.
Always zealous in the cause of virtue, America provided her wharves and landing-places with officials specially appointed to guard the purity of family life. Family life obviously cannot be pure without a marriage being either in it or having at some time or other passed through it. The officials engaged in eyeing Mr. Twist and the twins were all married themselves, and were well acquainted with that awful purity. But eye the Twist and Twinkler party as they might, they could see no trace of marriage anywhere about it.
On the contrary, the man of the party looked so uneasy that it amounted to conscious illegality.
"Sisters?" said the chief official, stepping forward abruptly.
"Eh?" said Mr. Twist, pausing in the wiping of his forehead.
"These here--" said the official, jerking his thumb at the twins. "They your sisters?"
"No," said Mr. Twist stiffly.
"No," said the twins, with one voice. "Do you think we look like him?"
"No," said Mr. Twist stiffly.
"No," said the twins, with an ever greater vigour of repudiation. "You can't really think we look as much like him as all that?"
"Wife and sister-in-law?"
Then the Twinklers laughed. They laughed aloud, even Anna-Rose forgetting her cares for a moment. But they were flattered, because it was at least a proof that they looked thoroughly grown-up.
"Then if they ain't your sisters, and they ain't your daughters, and they ain't your wife and sister-in-law, p'raps you'll tell me--"
"These young ladies are not anything at all of mine, sir," said Mr. Twist vehemently.
"Don't you get sir-ing me, now," said the official sticking out his jaw. "This is a free country, and I'll have no darned cheek."
"These young ladies in no way belong to me," said Mr. Twist more patiently. "They're my friends."
"Oh. Friends, are they? Then p'raps you'll tell me what you're going to do with them next."
"Do with them?" repeated Mr. Twist, as he stared with puckered brow at the twins. "That's exactly what I wish I knew."
The official scanned him from head to foot with triumphant contempt. He had got one of them, anyhow. He felt quite refreshed already. There had been a slump in sinners the past week, and he was as full of suppressed energy and as much tormented by it as an unexercised and overfed horse. "Step this way," he ordered curtly, waving Mr. Twist towards a wooden erection that was apparently an office. "Oh, don't you worry about the girls," he added, as his prey seemed disinclined to leave them.
But Mr. Twist did worry. He saw Ellis Island looming up behind the two figures that were looking on in an astonishment that had not yet had time to turn into dismay as he was marched off out of sight. "I'll be back in a minute," he called over his shoulder.
"That's as may be," remarked the official grimly.
But he was back; if not in a minute in a little more than five minutes, still accompanied by the official, but an official magically changed into tameness and amiability, desirous to help, instructing his inferiors to carry Mr. Twist's and the young ladies' baggage to a taxi.
It was the teapot that had saved him,--that blessed teapot that was always protruding itself benevolently into his life. Mr. Twist had identified himself with it, and it had instantly saved him. In the shelter of his teapot Mr. Twist could go anywhere and do anything in America. Everybody had it. Everybody knew it. It was as pervasive of America as Ford's cars, but cosily, quietly pervasive. It was only less visible because it stayed at home. It was more like a wife than Ford's cars were. From a sinner caught red-handed, Mr. Twist, its amiable creator, leapt to the position of one who can do no wrong, for he had not only placed his teapot between himself and judgment but had accompanied his proofs of identity by a suitable number of dollar bills, pressed inconspicuously into the official's conveniently placed hand.
The twins found themselves being treated with distinction. They were helped into the taxi by the official himself, and what was to happen to them next was left entirely to the decision and discretion of Mr. Twist--a man so much worried that at that moment he hadn't any of either. He couldn't even answer when asked where the taxi was to go to. He had missed his train, and he tried not to think of his mother's disappointment, the thought was so upsetting. But he wouldn't have caught it if he could, for how could he leave these two poor children?
"I'm more than ever convinced," he said, pushing his hat still further off his forehead, and staring at the back of the Twinkler trunks piled up in front of him next to the driver, while the disregarded official at the door still went on asking him where he wished the cab to go to, "that children should all have parents."
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