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The twins, who had gone to bed at half-past nine, shepherded by Edith, in the happy conviction that they had settled down comfortably for some time, were surprised to find at breakfast that they hadn't.
They had taken a great fancy to Edith, in spite of a want of restfulness on her part that struck them while they were finishing their supper, and to which at last they drew her attention. She was so kind, and so like Mr. Twist; but though she looked at them with hospitable eyes and wore an expression of real benevolence, it didn't escape their notice that she seemed to be listening to something that wasn't, anyhow, them, and to be expecting something that didn't, anyhow, happen. She went several times to the door through which her brother and mother had disappeared, and out into whatever part of the house lay beyond it, and when she came back after a minute or two was as wanting in composure as ever.
At last, finding these abrupt and repeated interruptions hindered any real talk, they pointed out to her that reasoned conversation was impossible if one of the parties persisted in not being in the room, and inquired of her whether it were peculiar to her, or typical of the inhabitants of America, to keep on being somewhere else. Edith smiled abstractedly at them, said nothing, and went out again.
She was longer away this time, and the twins having eaten, among other things, a great many meringues, grew weary of sitting with those they hadn't eaten lying on the dish in front of them reminding them of those they had. They wanted, having done with meringues, to get away from them and forget them. They wanted to go into another room now, where there weren't any. Anna-Felicitas felt, and told Anna-Rose who was staring listlessly at the left-over meringues, that it was like having committed murder, and being obliged to go on looking at the body long after you were thoroughly tired of it. Anna-Rose agreed, and said that she wished now she hadn't committed meringues,--anyhow so many of them.
Then at last Edith came back, and told them she was sure they were very tired after their long day, and suggested their going upstairs to their rooms. The rooms were ready, said Edith, the baggage had come, and she was sure they would like to have nice hot baths and go to bed.
The twins obeyed her readily, and she checked a desire on their part to seek out her mother and brother first and bid them good-night, on the ground that her mother and brother were busy; and while the twins were expressing polite regret, and requesting her to convey their regret for them to the proper quarter in a flow of well-chosen words that astonished Edith, who didn't know how naturally Junkers make speeches, she hurried them by the drawing-room door through which, shut though it was, came sounds of people being, as Anna-Felicitas remarked, very busy indeed; and Anna-Rose, impressed by the quality and volume of Mr. Twist's voice as it reached her passing ears, told Edith that intimately as she knew her brother she had never known him as busy as that before.
Edith said nothing, but continued quickly up the stairs.
They found they each had a bedroom, with a door between, and that each bedroom had a bathroom of its own, which filled them with admiration and pleasure. There had only been one bathroom at Uncle Arthur's, and at home in Pomerania there hadn't been any at all. The baths there had been vessels brought into one's bedroom every night, into which servants next morning poured water out of buckets, having previously pumped the water into the bucket from the pump in the backyard. They put Edith in possession of these facts while she helped them unpack and brushed and plaited their hair for them, and she was much astonished,--both at the conditions of discomfort and slavery they revealed as prevalent in other countries, and at the fact that they, the Twinklers, should hail from Pomerania.
Pomerania, reflected Edith as she tied up their pigtails with the ribbons handed to her for that purpose, used to be in Germany when she went to school, and no doubt still was. She became more thoughtful than ever, though she still smiled at them, for how could she help it? Everyone, Edith was certain, must needs smile at the Twinklers even if they didn't happen to be one's own dear brother's protegees. And when they came out, very clean and with scrubbed pink ears, from their bath, she not only smiled at them as she tucked them up in bed, but she kissed them good-night.
Edith, like her brother, was born to be a mother,--one of the satisfactory sort that keeps you warm and doesn't argue with you. Germans or no Germans the Twinklers were the cutest little things, thought Edith; and she kissed them, with the same hunger with which, being now thirty-eight, she was beginning to kiss puppies.
"You remind me so of Mr. Twist," murmured Anna-Felicitas sleepily, as Edith tucked her up and kissed her.
"You do all the sorts of things he does," murmured Anna-Rose, also sleepily, when it was her turn to be tucked up and kissed; and in spite of a habit now fixed in her of unquestioning acceptance and uncritical faith. Edith went downstairs to her restless vigil outside the drawing-room door a little surprised.
At breakfast the twins learnt to their astonishment that, though appearances all pointed the other way what they were really doing was not being stationary at all, but merely having a night's lodging and breakfast between, as it were, two trains.
Mr. Twist, who looked pale and said shortly when the twins remarked solicitously on it that he felt pale, briefly announced the fact.
"What?" exclaimed Anna-Rose, staring at Mr. Twist and then at Edith--Mrs. Twist, they were told, was breakfasting in bed--"Why, we've unpacked."
"You will re-pack," said Mr. Twist.
They found difficulty in believing their ears.
"But we've settled in," remonstrated Anna-Felicitas, after an astonished pause.
"You will settle out," said Mr. Twist.
He frowned. He didn't look at them, he frowned at his own teapot. He had made up his mind to be very short with the Annas until they were safely out of the house, and not permit himself to be entangled by them in controversy. Also, he didn't want to look at them if he could help it. He was afraid that if he did he might be unable not to take them both in his arms and beg their pardon for the whole horridness of the world.
But if he didn't look at them, they looked at him. Four round, blankly surprised eyes were fixed, he knew, unblinkingly on him.
"We're seeing you in quite a new light," said Anna-Rose at last, troubled and upset.
"Maybe," said Mr. Twist, frowning at his teapot.
"Perhaps you will be so good," said Anna-Felicitas stiffly, for at all times she hated being stirred up and uprooted, "as to tell us where you think we're going to."
"Because," said Anna-Rose, her voice trembling a little, not only at the thought of fresh responsibilities, but also with a sense of outraged faith, "our choice of residence, as you may have observed, is strictly limited."
Mr. Twist, who had spent an hour before breakfast with Edith, whose eyes were red, informed them that they were en route for California.
"To those other people," said Anna-Rose. "I see."
She held her head up straight.
"Well, I expect they'll be very glad to see us," she said after a silence; and proceeded, her chin in the air, to look down her nose, because she didn't want Mr. Twist, or Edith or Anna-Felicitas, to notice that her eyes had gone and got tears in them. She angrily wished she hadn't got such damp eyes. They were no better than swamps, she thought--undrained swamps; and directly fate's foot came down a little harder than usual, up oozed the lamentable liquid. Not thus should the leader of an expedition behave. Not thus, she was sure, did the original Christopher. She pulled herself together; and after a minute's struggle was able to leave off looking down her nose.
But meanwhile Anna-Felicitas had informed Mr. Twist with gentle dignity that he was obviously tired of them.
"Not at all," said Mr. Twist.
Anna-Felicitas persisted. "In view of the facts," she said gently, "I'm afraid your denial carries no weight."
"The facts," said Mr. Twist, taking up his teapot and examining it with care, "are that I'm coming with you."
"Oh are you," said Anna-Felicitas much more briskly; and it was here that Anna-Rose's eyes dried up.
"That rather dishes your theory," said Mr. Twist, still turning his teapot about in his hands. "Or would if it didn't happen that I--well, I happen to have some business to do in California, and I may as well do it now as later. Still, I could have gone by a different route or train, so you see your theory is rather dished, isn't it?"
"A little," admitted Anna-Felicitas. "Not altogether. Because if you really like our being here, here we are. So why hurry us off somewhere else so soon?"
Mr. Twist perceived that he was being led into controversy in spite of his determination not to be. "You're very wise," he said shortly, "but you don't know everything. Let us avoid conjecture and stick to facts. I'm going to take you to California, and hand you over to your friends. That's all you know, and all you need to know."
"As Keats very nearly said," said Anna-Rose
"And if our friends have run away?" suggested Anna-Felicitas.
"Oh Lord," exclaimed Mr. Twist impatiently, putting the teapot down with a bang, "do you think we're running away all the time in America?"
"Well, I think you seem a little restless," said Anna-Felicitas.
Thus it was that two hours later the twins found themselves at the Clark station once more, once more starting into the unknown, just as if they had never done it before, and gradually, as they adapted themselves to the sudden change, such is the india-rubber-like quality of youth, almost with the same hopefulness. Yet they couldn't but meditate, left alone on the platform while Mr. Twist checked the baggage, on the mutability of life. They seemed to live in a kaleidoscope since the war began what a series of upheavals and readjustments had been theirs! Silent, and a little apart on the Clark platform, they reflected retrospectively; and as they counted up their various starts since the days, only fourteen months ago, when they were still in their home in Germany, apparently as safely rooted, as unshakably settled as the pine trees in their own forests, they couldn't but wonder at the elusiveness of the unknown, how it wouldn't let itself be caught up with and at the trouble it was giving them.
They had had so many changes in the last year that they did want now to have time to become familiar with some one place and people. Already however, being seventeen, they were telling themselves, and each other that after all, since the Sacks had failed them, California was their real objective. Not Clark at all. Clark had never been part of their plans. Uncle Arthur and Aunt Alice didn't even know it existed. It was a side-show; just a little thing of their own, an extra excursion slipped in between the Sacks and the Delloggs. True they had hoped to stay there some time, perhaps even for months,--anyhow, time to mend their stockings in, which were giving way at the toes unexpectedly, seeing how new they were; but ultimately California was the place they had to go to. It was only that it was a little upsetting to be whisked out of Clark at a moment's notice.
"I expect you'll explain everything to us when we're in the train and have lots of time," Anna-Rose had said to Mr. Twist as the car moved away from the house and Edith, red-eyed, waved her handkerchief from the doorstep.
Mrs. Twist had not come down to say good-bye, and they had sent her many messages.
"I expect I will," Mr. Twist had answered.
But it was not till they were the other side of Chicago that he really began to be himself again. Up to then--all that first day, and the next morning in New York where he took them to the bank their £200 was in and saw that they got a cheque-book, and all the day after that waiting in the Chicago hotel for the train they were to go on in to California--Mr. Twist was taciturn.
They left Chicago in the evening; a raw, wintery October evening with cold rain in the air, and the twins, going early to bed in their compartment, a place that seemed to them so enchanting that their spirits couldn't fail to rise, saw no more of him till breakfast next morning. They then noticed that the cloud had lifted a little; and as the day went on it lifted still more. They were going to be three days together in that train, and it would be impossible for Mr. Twist, they were sure, to go on being taciturn as long as that. It wasn't his nature. His nature was conversational. And besides, shut up like that in a train, the sheer getting tired of reading all day would make him want to talk.
So after lunch, when they were all three on the platform of the observation car, though there was nothing to observe except limitless flat stretches of bleak and empty country, the twins suggested that he should now begin to talk again. They pointed out that his body was bound to get stiff on that long journey from want of exercise, but that his mind needn't, and he had better stretch it by conversing agreeably with them as he used to before the day, which seemed so curiously long ago, when they landed in America.
"It does indeed seem long ago," agreed Mr. Twist, lighting another cigarette. "I have difficulty in realizing it isn't a week yet."
And he reflected that the Annas had managed to produce pretty serious havoc in America considering they had only been in it five days. He and his mother permanently estranged; Edith left alone at Clark sitting there in the ruins of her loving preparations for his return, with nothing at all that he could see to look forward to and live for except the hourly fulfilment of what she regarded as duty; every plan upset; the lives, indeed, of his mother and of his sister and of himself completely altered,--it was a pretty big bag in the time, he thought, flinging the match back towards Chicago.
Mr. Twist felt sore. He felt like somebody who had had a bad tumble, and is sore and a little dizzy; but he recognized that these great ruptures cannot take place without aches and doubts. He ached, and he doubted and he also knew through his aches and doubts that he was free at last from what of late years he had so grievously writhed under--the shame of pretence. And the immediate cause of his being set free was, precisely, the Annas.
It had been a violent, a painful setting free, but it had happened; and who knew if, without their sudden appearance at Clark and the immediate effect they produced on his mother, he wouldn't have lapsed after all, in spite of the feelings and determinations he had brought back with him from Europe, into the old ways again under the old influence, and gone on ignobly pretending to agree, to approve, to enjoy, to love, when he was never for an instant doing anything of the sort? He might have trailed on like that for years--Mr. Twist didn't like the picture of his own weakness, but he was determined to look at himself as he was--trailed along languidly when he was at home, living another life when he was away, getting what he absolutely must have, the irreducible minimum of personal freedom necessary to sanity, by means of small and shabby deceits. My goodness, how he hated deceits, how tired he was of the littleness of them!
He turned his head and looked at the profiles of the Annas sitting alongside him. His heart suddenly grew warm within him. They had on the blue caps again which made them look so bald and cherubic, and their eyes were fixed on the straight narrowing lines of rails that went back and back to a point in the distance. The dear little things; the dear, dear little things,--so straightforward, so blessedly straight and simple, thought Mr. Twist. Fancy his mother losing a chance like this. Fancy anybody, thought the affectionate and kind man, missing an opportunity of helping such unfortunately placed children.
The twins felt he was looking at them, and together they turned and looked at him. When they saw his expression they knew the cloud had lifted still more, and their faces broke into broad smiles of welcome.
"It's pleasant to see you back again," said Anna-Felicitas heartily, who was next to him.
"We've missed you very much," said Anna-Rose.
"It hasn't been like the same place, the world hasn't," said Anna-Felicitas, "since you've been away."
"Since you walked out of the dining-room that night at Clark," said Anna-Rose.
"Of course we know you can't always be with us," said Anna-Felicitas.
"Which we deeply regret," interjected Anna-Rose.
"But while you are with us," said Anna-Felicitas, "for these last few days, I would suggest that we should be happy. As happy as we used to be on the St. Luke when we weren't being sea-sick." And she thought she might even go so far as to enjoy hearing the "Ode to Dooty," now.
"Yes," said Anna-Rose, leaning forward. "In three days we shall have disappeared into the maw of the Delloggs. Do let us be happy while we can. Who knows what their maw will be like? But whatever it's like," she added firmly, "we're going to stick in it."
"And perhaps," said Anna-Felicitas, "now that you're a little restored to your normal condition, you'll tell us what has been the matter."
"For it's quite clear," said Anna-Rose, "that something has been the matter."
"We've been talking it over," said Anna-Felicitas, "and putting two and two together, and perhaps you'll tell us what it was, and then we shall know if we're right."
"Perhaps I will," said Mr. Twist, cogitating, as he continued benevolently to gaze at them. "Let's see--" He hesitated, and pushed his hat off his forehead. "I wonder if you'd understand--"
"We'll give our minds to it," Anna-Felicitas assured him.
"These caps make us look more stupid than we are," Anna-Rose assured him, deducing her own appearance from that of Anna-Felicitas.
Encouraged, but doubtful of their capabilities of comprehension on this particular point, Mr. Twist embarked rather gingerly on his explanations. He was going to be candid from now on for the rest of his days, but the preliminary plunges were, he found, after all a little difficult. Even with the pellucidly candid Annas, all ready with ears pricked up attentively and benevolently and minds impartial, he found it difficult. It was because, on the subject of mothers, he feared he was up against their one prejudice. He felt rather than knew that their attitude on this one point might be uncompromising,--mothers were mothers, and there was an end of it; that sort of attitude, coupled with extreme reprobation of himself for supposing anything else.
He was surprised and relieved to find he was wrong. Directly they got wind of the line his explanations were taking, which was very soon for they were giving their minds to it as they promised and Mr. Twist's hesitations were illuminating, they interrupted.
"So we were right," they said to each other.
"But you don't know yet what I'm going to say," said Mr. Twist. "I've only started on the preliminaries."
"Yes we do. You fell out with your mother," said Anna-Rose.
"Quarrelled," said Anna-Felicitas, nodding
"We didn't think so at the time," said Anna-Rose.
"We just felt there was an atmosphere of strain about Clark," said Anna-Felicitas.
"But talking it over privately, we concluded that was what had happened."
Mr. Twist was so much surprised that for a moment he could only say "Oh." Then he said, "And you're terribly shocked, I suppose."
"Oh no," they said airily and together.
"You see--" began Anna-Felicitas.
"You see--" began Anna-Rose.
"You see, as a general principle," said Anna-Felicitas, "it's reprehensible to quarrel with one's mother."
"But we've not been able to escape observing--" said Anna-Rose.
"In the course of our brief and inglorious career," put in Anna-Felicitas.
"--that there are mothers and mothers," said Anna-Rose.
"Yes," said Mr. Twist; and as they didn't go on he presently added, "Yes?"
"Oh, that's all," said the twins, once more airily and together.
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