Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
The taxi had stopped in front of a handsome apartment house, and almost before it was quiet a boy in buttons darted out across the intervening wide pavement and thrust his face through the window.
"Who do you want?" he said, or rather jerked out.
He then saw the contents of the taxi, and his mouth fell open; for it seemed to him that grips and passengers were piled up inside it in a seething mass.
"We want Mr. and Mrs. Clouston Sack," said Anna-Rose in her most grown-up voice. "They're expecting us."
"They ain't," said the boy promptly.
"They ain't?" repeated Anna-Rose, echoing his language in her surprise.
"How do you know?" asked Anna-Felicitas.
"That they ain't? Because they ain't," said the boy. "I bet you my Sunday shirt they ain't."
The twins stared at him. They were not accustomed in their conversations with the lower classes to be talked to about shirts.
The boy seemed extraordinarily vital. His speech was so quick that it flew out with the urgency and haste of squibs going off.
"Please open the door," said Anna-Rose recovering herself. "We'll go up and see for ourselves."
"You won't see," said the boy.
"Kindly open the door," repeated Anna-Rose.
"You won't see," he said, pulling it open, "but you can look. If you do see Sacks up there I'm a Hun."
The minute the door opened, grips fell out. There were two umbrellas, two coats, a knapsack of a disreputable bulged appearance repugnant to American ideas of baggage which run on big simple lines of huge trunks, an attaché case, a suit case, a hold-all, a basket and a hat-box. Outside beside the driver were two such small and modest trunks that they might almost as well have been grips themselves.
"Do you mind taking those in?" asked Anna-Rose, getting out with difficulty over the umbrella that had fallen across the doorway, and pointing to the gutter in which the other umbrella and the knapsack lay and into which the basket, now that her body no longer kept it in, was rolling.
"In where?" crackled the boy.
"In," said Anna-Rose severely. "In to wherever Mr. and Mrs. Clouston Sack are."
"It's no good your saying they are when they ain't," said the boy, increasing the loudness of his crackling.
"Do you mean they don't live here?" asked Anna-Felicitas, in her turn disentangling herself from that which was still inside the taxi, and immediately followed on to the pavement by the hold-all and the attaché case.
"They did live here till yesterday," said the boy, "but now they don't. One does. But that's not the same as two. Which is what I meant when you said they're expecting you and I said they ain't."
"Do you mean to say--" Anna-Rose stopped with a catch of her breath. "Do you mean," she went on in an awe-struck voice, "that one of them--one of them is dead?"
"Dead? Bless you, no. Anything but dead. The exact opposite. Gone. Left. Got," said the boy.
"Oh," said Anna-Rose greatly relieved, passing over his last word, whose meaning escaped her, "oh--you mean just gone to meet us. And missed us. You see," she said, turning to Anna-Felicitas, "they did try to after all."
Anna-Felicitas said nothing, but reflected that whichever Sack had tried to must have a quite unusual gift for missing people.
"Gone to meet you?" repeated the boy, as one surprised by a new point of view. "Well, I don't know about that--"
"We'll go up and explain," said Anna-Rose. "Is it Mr. or Mrs. Clouston Sack who is here?"
"Mr.," said the boy.
"Very well then. Please bring in our things." And Anna-Rose proceeded, followed by Anna-Felicitas, to walk into the house.
The boy, instead of bringing them in, picked up the articles lying on the pavement and put them back again into the taxi. "No hurry about them, I guess," he said to the driver. "Time enough to take them up when the gurls ask again--" and he darted after the gurls to hand them over to his colleague who worked what he called the elevator.
"Why do you call it the elevator," inquired Anna-Felicitas, mildly inquisitive, of this boy, who on hearing that they wished to see Mr. Sack stared at them with profound and unblinking interest all the way up, "when it is really a lift?"
"Because it is an elevator," said the boy briefly.
"But we, you see," said Anna-Felicitas, "are equally convinced that it's a lift."
The boy didn't answer this. He was as silent as the other one wasn't; but there was a thrill about him too, something electric and tense. He stared at Anna-Felicitas, then turned quickly and stared at Anna-Rose, then quickly back to Anna-Felicitas, and so on all the way up. He was obviously extraordinarily interested. He seemed to have got hold of an idea that had not struck the squib-like boy downstairs, who was entertaining the taxi-driver with descriptions of the domestic life of the Sacks.
The lift stopped at what the twins supposed was going to be the door of a landing or public corridor, but it was, they discovered, the actual door of the Sack flat. At any moment the Sacks, if they wished to commit suicide, could do so simply by stepping out of their own front door. They would then fall, infinitely far, on to the roof of the lift lurking at the bottom.
The lift-boy pressed a bell, the door opened, and there, at once exposed to the twins, was the square hall of the Sack flat with a manservant standing in it staring at them.
Obsessed by his idea, the lift-boy immediately stepped out of his lift, approached the servant, introduced his passengers to him by saying, "Young ladies to see Mr. Sack," took a step closer, and whispered in his ear, but perfectly audibly to the twins who, however, regarded it as some expression peculiarly American and were left unmoved by it, "The co-respondents."
The servant stared uncertainly at them. His mistress had only been gone a few hours, and the flat was still warm with her presence and authority. She wouldn't, he well knew, have permitted co-respondents to be about the place if she had been there, but on the other hand she wasn't there. Mr. Sack was in sole possession now. Nobody knew where Mrs. Sack was. Letters and telegrams lay on the table for her unopened, among them Mr. Twist's announcing the arrival of the Twinklers. In his heart the servant sided with Mr. Sack, but only in his heart, for the servant's wife was the cook, and she, as she frequently explained, was all for strict monogamy. He stared therefore uncertainly at the twins, his brain revolving round their colossal impudence in coming there before Mrs. Sack's rooms had so much as had time to get, as it were, cold.
"We want to see Mr. Clouston Sack," began Anna-Rose in her clear little voice; and no sooner did she begin to speak than a door was pulled open and the gentleman himself appeared.
"I heard a noise of arrival--" he said, stopping suddenly when he saw them. "I heard a noise of arrival, and a woman's voice--"
"It's us," said Anna-Rose, her face covering itself with the bright conciliatory smiles of the arriving guest. "Are you Mr. Clouston Sack?"
She went up to him and held out her hand. They both went up to him and held out their hands.
"We're the Twinklers," said Anna-Rose.
"We've come," said Anna-Felicitas, in case he shouldn't have noticed it.
Mr. Sack let his hand be shaken, and it was a moist hand. He looked like a Gibson young man who has grown elderly. He had the manly profile and shoulders, but they sagged and stooped. There was a dilapidation about him, a look of blurred edges. His hair lay on his forehead in disorder, and his tie had been put on carelessly and had wriggled up to the rim of his collar.
"The Twinklers," he repeated. "The Twinklers. Do I remember, I wonder?"
"There hasn't been much time to forget," said Anna-Felicitas. "It's less than two months since there were all those letters."
"Letters?" echoed Mr. Sack. "Letters?"
"So now we've got here," said Anna-Rose, the more brightly that she was unnerved.
"Yes. We've come," said Anna-Felicitas, also with feverish brightness.
Bewildered, Mr. Sack, who felt that he had had enough to bear the last few hours, stood staring at them. Then he caught sight of the lift-boy, lingering and he further saw the expression on his servant's face Even to his bewilderment it was clear what he was thinking.
Mr. Sack turned round quickly and led the way into the dining-room. "Come in, come in," he said distractedly.
They went in. He shut the door. The lift-boy and the servant lingered a moment making faces at each other; then the lift-boy dropped away in his lift, and the servant retired to the kitchen. "I'm darned," was all he could articulate. "I'm darned."
"There's our luggage," said Anna-Rose, turning to Mr. Sack on getting inside the room, her voice gone a little shrill in her determined cheerfulness. "Can it be brought up?"
"Luggage?" repeated Mr. Sack, putting his hand to his forehead. "Excuse me, but I've got such a racking headache to-day--it makes me stupid--"
"Oh, I'm very sorry," said Anna-Rose solicitously.
"And so am I--very," said Anna-Felicitas, equally solicitous. "Have you tried aspirin? Sometimes some simple remedy like that--"
"Oh thank you--it's good of you, it's good of you. The effect, you see, is that I can't think very clearly. But do tell me--why luggage? Luggage--luggage. You mean, I suppose, baggage."
"Why luggage?" asked Anna-Rose nervously. "Isn't there--isn't there always luggage in America too when people come to stay with one?"
"You've come to stay with me," said Mr. Sack, putting his hand to his forehead again.
"You see," said Anna-Felicitas, "we're the Twinklers."
"Yes, yes--I know. You've told me that."
"So naturally we've come."
"But is it natural?" asked Mr. Sack, looking at them distractedly.
"We sent you a telegram," said Anna-Rose, "or rather one to Mrs. Sack, which is the same thing--"
"It isn't, it isn't," said the distressed Mr. Sack. "I wish it were. It ought to be. Mrs. Sack isn't here--"
"Yes--we're very sorry to have missed her. Did she go to meet us in New York, or where?"
"Mrs. Sack didn't go to meet you. She's--gone."
"Oh," cried Mr. Sack, "somewhere else, but not to meet you. Oh," he went on after a moment in which, while the twins gazed at him, he fought with and overcame emotion, "when I heard you speaking in the hall I thought--I had a moment's hope--for a minute I believed--she had come back. So I went out. Else I couldn't have seen you. I'm not fit to see strangers--"
The things Mr. Sack said, and his fluttering, unhappy voice, were so much at variance with the stern lines of his Gibson profile that the twins viewed him with the utmost surprise. They came to no conclusion and passed no judgment because they didn't know but what if one was an American one naturally behaved like that.
"I don't think," said Anna-Felicitas gently, "that you can call us strangers. We're the Twinklers."
"Yes, yes--I know--you keep on telling me that," said Mr. Sack. "But I can't call to mind--"
"Don't you remember all Uncle Arthur's letters about us? We're the nieces he asked you to be kind to for a bit--as I'm sure," Anna-Felicitas added politely, "you're admirably adapted for being."
Mr. Sack turned his bewildered eyes on to her. "Oh, aren't you a pretty girl," he said, in the same distressed voice.
"You mustn't make her vain," said Anna-Rose, trying not to smile all over her face, while Anna-Felicitas remained as manifestly unvain as a person intent on something else would be.
"We know you got Uncle Arthur's letters about us," she continued, "because he showed us your answers back. You invited us to come and stay with you. And, as you perceive, we've done it."
"Then it must have been months ago--months ago," said Mr. Sack, "before all this--do I remember something about it? I've had such trouble since--I've been so distracted one way and another--it may have slipped away out of my memory under the stress--Mrs. Sack--" He paused and looked round the room helplessly. "Mrs. Sack--well, Mrs. Sack isn't here now."
"We're very sorry you've had trouble," said Anna-Felicitas sympathetically. "It's what everybody has, though. Man that is born of woman is full of misery. That's what the Burial Service says, and it ought to know."
Mr. Sack again turned bewildered eyes on to her. "Oh, aren't you a pretty--" he again began.
"When do you think Mrs. Sack will be back?" interrupted Anna-Rose.
"I wish I knew--I wish I could hope--but she's gone for a long while, I'm afraid--"
"Gone not to come back at all, do you mean?" asked Anna-Felicitas.
Mr. Sack gulped. "I'm afraid that is her intention," he said miserably.
There was a silence, in which they all stood looking at each other.
"Didn't she like you?" then inquired Anna-Felicitas.
Anna-Rose, sure that this wasn't tactful, gave her sleeve a little pull.
"Were you unkind to her?" asked Anna-Felicitas, disregarding the warning.
Mr. Sack, his fingers clasping and unclasping themselves behind his back, started walking up and down the room. Anna-Felicitas, forgetful of what Aunt Alice would have said, sat down on the edge of the table and began to be interested in Mrs. Sack.
"The wives I've seen," she remarked, watching Mr. Sack with friendly and interested eyes, "who were chiefly Aunt Alice--that's Uncle Arthur's wife, the one we're the nieces of--seemed to put up with the utmost contumely from their husbands and yet didn't budge. You must have been something awful to yours."
"I worshipped Mrs. Sack," burst out Mr. Sack. "I worshipped her. I do worship her. She was the handsomest, brightest woman in Boston. I was as proud of her as any man has ever been of his wife."
"Then why did she go?" asked Anna-Felicitas.
"I don't think that's the sort of thing you should ask," rebuked Anna-Rose.
"But if I don't ask I won't be told," said Ann Felicitas, "and I'm interested."
"Mrs. Sack went because I was able--I was so constructed--that I could be fond of other people as well as of her," said Mr. Sack.
"Well, that's nothing unusual," said Anna-Felicitas.
"No," said Anna-Rose, "I don't see anything in that."
"I think it shows a humane and friendly spirit," said Anna-Felicitas.
"Besides, it's enjoined in the Bible," said Anna-Rose.
"I'm sure when we meet Mrs. Sack," said Anna-Felicitas very politely indeed, "much as we expect to like her we shall nevertheless continue to like other people as well. You, for instance. Will she mind that?"
"It wasn't so much that I liked other people," said Mr. Sack, walking about and thinking tumultuously aloud rather than addressing anybody, "but that I liked other people so much."
"I see," said Anna-Felicitas, nodding. "You overdid it. Like over-eating whipped cream. Only it wasn't you but Mrs. Sack who got the resulting ache."
"And aren't I aching? Aren't I suffering?"
"Yes, but you did the over-eating," said Anna-Felicitas.
"The world," said the unhappy Mr. Sack, quickening his pace, "is so full of charming and delightful people. Is one to shut one's eyes to them?"
"Of course not," said Anna-Felicitas. "One must love them."
"Yes, yes," said Mr. Sack. "Exactly. That's what I did."
"And though I wouldn't wish," said Anna-Felicitas, "to say anything against somebody who so very nearly was my hostess, yet really, you know, wasn't Mrs. Sack's attitude rather churlish?"
Mr. Sack gazed at her. "Oh, aren't you a pretty--" he began again, with a kind of agonized enthusiasm; but he was again cut short by Anna-Rose, on whom facts of a disturbing nature were beginning to press.
"Aunt Alice," she said, looking and feeling extremely perturbed as the situation slowly grew clear to her, "told us we were never to stay with people whose wives are somewhere else. Unless they have a mother or other female relative living with them. She was most particular about it, and said whatever else we did we weren't ever to do this. So I'm afraid," she continued in her politest voice, determined to behave beautifully under circumstances that were trying, "much as we should have enjoyed staying with you and Mrs. Sack if she had been here to stay with, seeing that she isn't we manifestly can't."
"You can't stay with me," murmured Mr. Sack, turning his bewildered eyes to her. "Were you going to?"
"Of course we were going to. It's what we've come for," said Anna-Felicitas.
"And I'm afraid," said-Anna-Rose, "disappointed as we are, unless you can produce a mother--"
"But where on earth are we to go to, Anna-R.?" inquired Anna-Felicitas, who, being lazy, having got to a place preferred if possible to stay in it, and who besides was sure that in their forlorn situation a Sack in the hand was worth two Sacks not in it, any day. Also she liked the look of Mr. Sack, in spite of his being so obviously out of repair. He badly wanted doing up she said to herself, but on the other hand he seemed to her lovable in his distress, with much of the pathetic helplessness her own dear Irish terrier, left behind in Germany, had had the day he caught his foot in a rabbit trap. He had looked at Anna-Felicitas, while she was trying to get him out of it, with just the same expression on his face that Mr. Sack had on his as he walked about the room twisting and untwisting his fingers behind his back. Only, her Irish terrier hadn't had a Gibson profile. Also, he had looked much more efficient.
"Can't you by any chance produce a mother?" she asked.
Mr. Sack stared at her.
"Of course we're very sorry," said Anna-Rose.
Mr. Sack stared at her.
"But you understand, I'm sure, that under the circumstances--"
"Do you say," said Mr. Sack, stopping still after a few more turns in front of Anna-Rose, and making a great effort to collect his thoughts, "that I--that we--had arranged to look after you?"
"Arranged with Uncle Arthur," said Anna-Rose. "Uncle Arthur Abinger. Of course you had. That's why we're here. Why, you wrote bidding us welcome. He showed us the letter."
"Abinger. Abinger. Oh--that man," said Mr. Sack, his mind clearing.
"We thought you'd probably feel like that about him," said Anna-Felicitas sympathetically.
"Why, then," said Mr. Sack, his mind getting suddenly quite clear, "you must be--why, you are the Twinklers."
"We've been drawing your attention to that at frequent intervals since we got here," said Anna-Felicitas.
"But whether you now remember or still don't realize," said Anna-Rose with great firmness, "I'm afraid we've got to say good-bye."
"That's all very well, Anna-R.," again protested Anna-Felicitas, "but where are we to go to?"
"Go?" said Anna-Rose with a dignity very creditable in one of her size, "Ultimately to California, of course, to Uncle Arthur's other friends. But now, this afternoon, we get back into a train and go to Clark, to Mr. Twist. He at least has a mother."
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.