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And so it came about that just as the reunited Twists, mother, son and daughter, were sitting in the drawing-room, a little tired after a long afternoon of affection, waiting for seven o'clock to strike and, with the striking, Amanda the head maid to appear and announce supper, but waiting with lassitude, for they had not yet recovered from an elaborate welcoming dinner, the Twinklers, in the lovely twilight of a golden day, were hastening up the winding road from the station towards them. Silent, and a little exhausted, the unconscious Twists sat in their drawing-room, a place of marble and antimacassars, while these light figures, their shoes white with the dust of a country-side that had had no rain for weeks, sped every moment nearer.
The road wound gently upwards through fields and woods, through quiet, delicious evening country, and there was one little star twinkling encouragingly at the twins from over where they supposed Clark would be. At the station there had been neither porter nor conveyance, nor indeed anybody or anything at all except themselves, their luggage, and a thin, kind man who represented authority. Clark is two miles away from its station, and all the way to it is uninhabited. Just at the station are a cluster of those hasty buildings America flings down in out-of-the-way places till she shall have leisure to make a splendid city; but the road immediately curved away from these up into solitude and the evening sky.
"You can't miss it," encouraged the station-master. "Keep right along after your noses till they knock up against Mrs. Twist's front gate. I'll look after the menagerie--" thus did he describe the Twinkler luggage. "Guess Mrs. Twist'll be sending for it as soon as you get there. Guess she forgot you. Guess she's shaken up by young Mr. Twist's arriving this very day. I wouldn't have forgotten you. No, not for a dozen young Mr. Twists," he added gallantly.
"Why do you call him young Mr. Twist," inquired Anna-Felicitas, "when he isn't? He must be at least thirty or forty or fifty."
"You see, we know him quite well," said Anna-Rose proudly, as they walked off. "He's a great friend of ours."
"You don't say," said the station-master, who was chewing gum; and as the twins had not yet seen this being done they concluded he had been interrupted in the middle of a meal by the arrival of the train.
"Now mind," he called after them, "you do whatever the road does. Give yourselves up to it, and however much it winds about stick to it. You'll meet other roads, but don't you take any notice of them."
Freed from their luggage, and for a moment from all care, the twins went up the hill. It was the nicest thing in the world to be going to see their friend again in quite a few minutes. They had, ever since the collapse of the Sack arrangements, been missing him very much. As they hurried on through the scented woods, past quiet fields, between yellow-leaved hedges, the evening sky growing duskier and the beckoning star lighter, they remembered Mr. Twist's extraordinary kindness, his devoted and unfailing care, with the warmest feelings of gratitude and affection. Even Anna-Felicitas felt warm. How often had he rearranged her head when it was hopelessly rolling about; how often had he fed her when she felt better enough to be hungry. Anna-Felicitas was very hungry. She still thought highly of pride and independence, but now considered their proper place was after a good meal. And Anna-Rose, with all the shameless cheerfulness of one who for a little has got rid of her pride and is feeling very much more comfortable in consequence remarked that one mustn't overdo independence.
"Let's hurry," said Anna-Felicitas. "I'm so dreadfully hungry. I do so terribly want supper. And I'm sure it's supper-time, and the Twists will have finished and we mightn't get any."
"As though Mr. Twist wouldn't see to that!" exclaimed Anna-Rose, proud and confident.
But she did begin to run, for she too was very hungry, and they raced the rest of the way; which is why they arrived on the Twist doorstep panting, and couldn't at first answer Amanda the head maid's surprised and ungarnished inquiry as to what they wanted, when she opened the door and found them there.
"We want Mr. Twist," said Anna-Rose, as soon as she could speak.
Amanda eyed them. "You from the village?" she asked, thinking perhaps they might be a deputation of elder school children sent to recite welcoming poems to Mr. Twist on his safe return from the seat of war. Yet she knew all the school children and everybody else in Clark, and none of them were these.
"No--from the station," panted Anna-Rose.
"We didn't see any village," panted Anna-Felicitas.
"We want Mr. Twist please," said Anna-Rose struggling with her breath.
Amanda eyed them. "Having supper," she said curtly.
"Fortunate creature," gasped Anna-Felicitas, "I hope he isn't eating it all."
"Will you announce us please?" said Anna-Rose putting on her dignity. "The Miss Twinklers."
"The who?" said Amanda.
"The Miss Twinklers," said Anna-Rose, putting on still more dignity, for there was that in Amanda's manner which roused the Junker in her.
"Can't disturb him at supper," said Amanda briefly.
"I assure you," said Anna-Felicitas, with the earnestness of conviction, "that he'll like it. I think I can undertake to promise he'll show no resentment whatever."
Amanda half shut the door.
"We'll come in please," said Anna-Rose, inserting herself into what was left of the opening. "Will you kindly bear in mind that we're totally unaccustomed to the doorstep?"
Amanda, doubtful, but unpractised in such a situation, permitted herself, in spite of having as she well knew the whole of free and equal America behind her, to be cowed. Well, perhaps not cowed, but taken aback. It was the long words and the awful politeness that did it. She wasn't used to beautiful long words like that, except on Sundays when the clergyman read the prayers in church, and she wasn't used to politeness. That so much of it should come out of objects so young rendered Amanda temporarily dumb.
She wavered with the door. Instantly Anna-Rose slipped through it; instantly Anna-Felicitas followed her.
"Kindly tell your master the Miss Twinklers have arrived," said Anna-Rose, looking every inch a Junker. There weren't many inches of Anna-Rose, but every one of them at that moment, faced by Amanda's want of discipline, was sheer Junker.
Amanda, who had never met a Junker in her happy democratic life, was stirred into bristling emotion by the word master. She was about to fling the insult of it from her by an impetuous and ill-considered assertion that if he was her master she was his mistress and so there now, when the bell which had rung once already since they had been standing parleying rang again and more impatiently, and the dining-room door opened and a head appeared. The twins didn't know that it was Edith's head, but it was.
"Amanda--" began Edith, in the appealing voice that was the nearest she ever dared get to rebuke without Amanda giving notice; but she stopped on seeing what, in the dusk of the hall, looked like a crowd. "Oh--" said Edith, taken aback. "Oh--" And was for withdrawing her head and shutting the door.
But the twins advanced towards her and the stream of light shining behind her and the agreeable smell streaming past her, with outstretched hands.
"How do you do," they both said cordially. "Don't go away again."
Edith, feeling that here was something to protect her quietly feeding mother from, came rather hastily through the door and held it to behind her, while her unresponsive and surprised hand was taken and shaken even as Mr. Sack's had been.
"We've come to see Mr. Twist," said Anna-Rose.
"He's our friend," said Anna-Felicitas.
"He's our best friend," said Anna-Rose.
"Is he in there?" asked Anna-Felicitas, appreciatively moving her nose, a particularly delicate instrument, round among the various really heavenly smells that were issuing from the dining-room and sorting them out and guessing what they probably represented, the while water rushed into her mouth.
The sound of a chair being hastily pushed back was heard and Mr. Twist suddenly appeared in the doorway.
"What is it, Edward?" a voice inside said.
Mr. Twist was a pale man, whose skin under no circumstances changed colour except in his ears. These turned red when he was stirred, and they were red now, and seemed translucent with the bright light behind him shining through them.
The twins flew to him. It was wonderful how much pleased they were to see him again. It was as if for years they had been separated from their dearest friend. The few hours since the night before had been enough to turn their friendship and esteem for him into a warm proprietary affection. They felt that Mr. Twist belonged to them. Even Anna-Felicitas felt it, and her eyes as she beheld him were bright with pleasure.
"Oh there you are," cried Anna-Rose darting forward, gladness in her voice, and catching hold of his arm.
"We've come," said Anna-Felicitas, beaming and catching hold of his other arm.
"We got into difficulties," said Anna-Rose.
"We got into them at once," said Anna-Felicitas.
"They weren't our difficulties--"
"They were the Sacks'--"
"But they reacted on us--"
"And so here we are."
"Who is it, Edward?" asked the voice inside.
"Mrs. Sack ran away yesterday from Mr. Sack," went on Anna-Rose eagerly.
"Mr. Sack was still quite warm and moist from it when we got there," said Anna-Felicitas.
"Aunt Alice said we weren't ever to stay in a house where they did that," said Anna-Rose.
"Where there wasn't a lady," said Anna-Felicitas
"So when we saw that she wasn't there because she'd gone, we turned straight round to you," said Anna. Rose.
"Like flowers turning to the sun," said Anna-Felicitas, even in that moment of excitement not without complacency at her own aptness.
"And left our things at the station," Anna-Rose rushed on.
"And ran practically the whole way," said Anna-Felicitas, "because of perhaps being late for supper and you're having eaten it all, and we so dreadfully hungry--"
"Who is it, Edward?" again called the voice inside, louder and more insistently.
Mr. Twist didn't answer. He was quickly turning over the situation in his mind.
He had not mentioned the twins to his mother, which would have been natural, seeing how very few hours he had of reunion with her, if she hadn't happened to have questioned him particularly as to his fellow-passengers on the boat. Her questions had been confined to the first-class passengers, and he had said, truthfully, that he had hardly spoken to one of them, and not at all to any of the women.
Mrs. Twist had been relieved, for she lived in dread of Edward's becoming, as she put it to herself, entangled with ladies. Sin would be bad enough--for Mrs. Twist was obliged reluctantly to know that even with ladies it is possible to sin--but marriage for Edward would be even worse, because it lasted longer. Sin, terrible though it was, had at least this to be said for it, that it could be repented of and done with, and repentance after all was a creditable activity; but there was no repenting of marriage with any credit. It was a holy thing, and you don't repent of holy things,--at least, you oughtn't to. If, as ill-advised young men so often would, Edward wanted as years went on to marry in spite of his already having an affectionate and sympathetic home with feminine society in it, then it seemed to Mrs. Twist most important, most vital to the future comfort of the family, that it should be someone she had chosen herself. She had observed him from infancy, and knew much better than he what was needed for his happiness; and she also knew, if there must be a wife, what was needed for the happiness of his mother and sister. She had not thought to inquire about the second-class passengers, for it never occurred to her that a son of hers could drift out of his natural first-class sphere into the slums of a ship, and Mr. Twist had seen no reason for hurrying the Twinklers into her mental range. Not during those first hours, anyhow. There would be plenty of hours, and he felt that sufficient unto the day would be the Twinklers thereof.
But the part that was really making his ears red was that he had said nothing about the evening with the twins in New York. When his mother asked with the fondness of the occasion what had detained him, he said as many another honest man, pressed by the searching affection of relations, has said before him, that it was business. Now it appeared that he would have to go into the dining-room and say, "No. It wasn't business. It was these."
His ears glowed just to think of it. He hated to lie. Specially he hated to have lied,--at the moment, one plunged in spurred by sudden necessity, and then was left sorrowfully contemplating one's degradation. His own desire was always to be candid; but his mother, he well knew, could not bear the pains candour gave her. She had been so terribly hurt, so grievously wounded when, fresh from praying,--for before he went to Harvard he used to pray--he had on one or two occasions for a few minutes endeavoured not to lie to her that sheer fright at the effect of his unfiliality made him apologize and beg her to forget it and forgive him. Now she was going to be still more wounded by his having lied.
The meticulous tortuousness of family life struck Mr. Twist with a sudden great impatience. After that large life over there in France, to come back to this dreary petticoat lying, this feeling one's way about among tender places ...
"Who is it, Edward?" called the voice inside for the third time.
"There's someone in there seems quite particularly to want to know who we are," said Anna-Felicitas. "Why not tell her?"
"I expect it's your mother," said Anna-Rose, feeling the full satisfaction of having got to a house from which the lady hadn't run anywhere.
"It is," said Mr. Twist briefly.
"Edith!" called the voice, much more peremptorily.
Edith started and half went in, but hesitated and quite stayed out. She was gazing at the Twinklers with the same kind eyes her brother had, but without the disfiguring spectacles. Astonishment and perplexity and anxiety were mixed with the kindness. Amanda also gazed; and if the twins hadn't been so sure of their welcome, even they might gradually have begun to perceive that it wasn't exactly open-armed.
"Edith--Edward--Amanda," called the voice, this time with unmistakable anger.
For one more moment Mr. Twist stood uncertain, looking down at the happy confident faces turned up to him exactly, as Anna-Felicitas had just said, like flowers turning to the sun. Visions of France flashed before him, visions of what he had known, what he had just come back from. His friends over there, the gay courage, the helpfulness, the ready, uninquiring affection, the breadth of outlook, the quick friendliness, the careless assumption that one was decent, that one's intentions were good,--why shouldn't he pull some of the splendid stuff into his poor, lame little home? Why should he let himself drop back from heights like those to the old ridiculous timidities, the miserable habit of avoiding the truth? Rebellion, hope, determination, seized Mr. Twist. His eyes shone behind his spectacles. His ears were two red flags of revolution. He gripped hold of the twins, one under each arm.
"You come right in," he said, louder than he had ever spoken in his life. "Edith, see these girls? They're the two Annas. Their other name is Twinkler, but Anna'll see you through. They want supper, and they want beds, and they want affection, and they're going to get it all. So hustle with the food, and send the Cadillac for their baggage, and fix up things for them as comfortably as you know how. And as for Mrs. Sack," he said, looking first at one twin and then at the other, "if it hadn't been for her running away from her worthless husband--I'm convinced that fellow Sack is worthless--you might never have come here at all. So you see," he finished, laughing at Anna-Rose, "how good comes out of evil."
And with the sound of these words preceding him he pushed open the dining-room door and marched them in.
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