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Manifestly it is impossible to thrust oneself into a house where there is going to be a funeral next day, even if one has come all the way from New York and has nowhere else to go. Equally manifestly it is impossible to thrust oneself into it after the funeral till a decent interval has elapsed. But what the devil, Mr. Twist asked himself in language become regrettably natural to him since his sojourn at the front, is a decent interval?
This Mr. Twist asked himself late that night, pacing up and down the sea-shore in the warm and tranquil darkness in front of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, while the twins, utterly tired out by their journey and the emotions at the end of it, crept silently into bed.
How long does it take a widow to recover her composure? Recover, that is, the first beginnings of it? At what stage in her mourning is it legitimate to intrude on her with reminders of obligations incurred before she was a widow,--with, in fact, the Twinklers? Delicacy itself would shrink from doing it under a week thought Mr. Twist, or even under a fortnight, or even if you came to that, under a month; and meanwhile what was he to do with the Twinklers?
Mr. Twist, being of the artistic temperament for otherwise he wouldn't have been so sympathetic nor would he have minded, as he so passionately did mind, his Uncle Charles's teapot dribbling on to the tablecloth--was sometimes swept by brief but tempestuous revulsions of feeling, and though he loved the Twinklers he did at this moment describe them mentally and without knowing it in the very words of Uncle Arthur, as those accursed twins. It was quite unjust, he knew. They couldn't help the death of the man Dellogg. They were the victims, from first to last, of a cruel and pursuing fate; but it is natural to turn on victims, and Mr. Twist was for an instant, out of the very depth of his helpless sympathy, impatient with the Twinklers.
He walked up and down the sands frowning and pulling his mouth together, while the Pacific sighed sympathetically at his feet. Across the road the huge hotel standing in its gardens was pierced by a thousand lights. Very few people were about and no one at all was on the sands. There was an immense noise of what sounded like grasshoppers or crickets, and also at intervals distant choruses of frogs, but these sounds seemed altogether beneficent,--so warm, and southern, and far away from less happy places where in October cold winds perpetually torment the world. Even in the dark Mr. Twist knew he had got to somewhere that was beautiful. He could imagine nothing more agreeable than, having handed over the twins safely to the Delloggs, staying on a week or two in this place and seeing them every day,--perhaps even, as he had pictured to himself on the journey, being invited to stay with the Delloggs. Now all that was knocked on the head. He supposed the man Dellogg couldn't help being dead but he, Mr. Twist, equally couldn't help resenting it. It was so awkward; so exceedingly awkward. And it was so like what one of that creature Uncle Arthur's friends would do.
Mr. Twist, it will be seen, was frankly unreasonable, but then he was very much taken aback and annoyed. What was he to do with the Annas? He was obviously not a relation of theirs--and indeed no profiles could have been less alike--and he didn't suppose Acapulco was behind other parts of America in curiosity and gossip. If he stayed on at the Cosmopolitan with the twins till Mrs. Dellogg was approachable again, whenever that might be, every sort of question would be being asked in whispers about who they were and what was their relationship, and presently whenever they sat down anywhere the chairs all round them would empty. Mr. Twist had seen the kind of thing happening in hotels before to other people,--never to himself; never had he been in any situation till now that was not luminously regular. And quite soon after this with the chairs had begun to happen, the people who created these vacancies were told by the manager--firmly in America, politely in England, and sympathetically in France--that their rooms had been engaged a long time ago for the very next day, and no others were available.
The Cosmopolitan was clearly an hotel frequented by the virtuous rich. Mr. Twist felt that he and the Annas wouldn't, in their eyes, come under this heading, not, that is, when the other guests became aware of the entire absence of any relationship between him and the twins. Well, for a day or two nothing could happen; for a day or two, before his party had had time to sink into the hotel consciousness and the manager appeared to tell him the rooms were engaged, he could think things out and talk them over with his companions. Perhaps he might even see Mrs. Dellogg. The funeral, he had heard on inquiring of the hall porter was next day. It was to be a brilliant affair, said the porter. Mr. Dellogg had been a prominent inhabitant, free with his money, a supporter of anything there was to support. The porter talked of him as the taxi-driver had done, regretfully and respectfully; and Mr. Twist went to bed angrier than ever with a man who, being so valuable and so necessary, should have neglected at such a moment to go on living.
Mr. Twist didn't sleep very well that night. He lay in his rosy room, under a pink silk quilt, and most of the time stared out through the open French windows with their pink brocade curtains at the great starry night, thinking.
In that soft bed, so rosy and so silken as to have been worthy of the relaxations of, at least, a prima donna, he looked like some lean and alien bird nesting temporarily where he had no business to. He hadn't thought of buying silk pyjamas when the success of his teapot put him in the right position for doing so, because his soul was too simple for him to desire or think of anything less candid to wear in bed than flannel, and he still wore the blue flannel pyjamas of a careful bringing up. In that beautiful bed his pyjamas didn't seem appropriate. Also his head, so frugal of hair, didn't do justice to the lace and linen of a pillow prepared for the hairier head of, again at least, a prima donna. And finding he couldn't sleep, and wishing to see the stars he put on his spectacles, and then looked more out of place than ever. But as nobody was there to see him,--which, Mr. Twist sometimes thought when he caught sight of himself in his pyjamas at bed-time, is one of the comforts of being virtuously unmarried,--nobody minded.
His reflections were many and various, and they conflicted with and contradicted each other as the reflections of persons in a difficult position who have Mr. Twist's sort of temperament often do. Faced by a dribbling teapot, an object which touched none of the softer emotions, Mr. Twist soared undisturbed in the calm heights of a detached and concentrated intelligence, and quickly knew what to do with it; faced by the derelict Annas his heart and his tenderness got in the ways of any clear vision.
About three o'clock in the morning, when his mind was choked and strewn with much pulled-about and finally discarded plans, he suddenly had an idea. A real one. As far as he could see, a real good one. He would place the Annas in a school.
Why shouldn't they go to school? he asked himself, starting off answering any possible objections. A year at a first-rate school would give them and everybody else time to consider. They ought never to have left school. It was the very place for luxuriant and overflowing natures like theirs. No doubt Acapulco had such a thing as a finishing school for young ladies in it, and into it the Annas should go, and once in it there they should stay put, thought Mr. Twist in vigorous American, gathering up his mouth defiantly.
Down these lines of thought his relieved mind cantered easily. He would seek out a lawyer the next morning, regularize his position to the twins by turning himself into their guardian, and then get them at once into the best school there was. As their guardian he could then pay all their expenses, and faced by this legal fact they would, he hoped, be soon persuaded of the propriety of his paying whatever there was to pay.
Mr. Twist was so much pleased by his idea that he was able to go to sleep after that. Even three months' school--the period he gave Mrs. Dellogg for her acutest grief--would do. Tide them over. Give them room to turn round in. It was a great solution. He took off his spectacles, snuggled down into his rosy nest, and fell asleep with the instantaneousness of one whose mind is suddenly relieved.
But when he went down to breakfast he didn't feel quite so sure. The twins didn't look, somehow, as though they would want to go to school. They had been busy with their luggage, and had unpacked one of the trunks for the first time since leaving Aunt Alice, and in honour of the heat and sunshine and the heavenly smell of heliotrope that was in the warm air, had put on white summer frocks.
Impossible to imagine anything cooler, sweeter, prettier and more angelically good than those two Annas looked as they came out on to the great verandah of the hotel to join Mr. Twist at breakfast. They instantly sank into the hotel consciousness. Mr. Twist had thought this wouldn't happen for a day or two, but he now perceived his mistake. Not a head that wasn't turned to look at them, not a newspaper that wasn't lowered. They were immediate objects of interest and curiosity, entirely benevolent interest and curiosity because nobody yet knew anything about them, and the wives of the rich husbands--those halves of the virtuous-rich unions which provided the virtuousness--smiled as they passed, and murmured nice words to each other like cute and cunning.
Mr. Twist, being a good American, stood up and held the twins' chairs for them when they appeared. They loved this; it seemed so respectful, and made them feel so old and looked-up to. He had done it that night in New York at supper, and at all the meals in the train in spite of the train being so wobbly and each time they had loved it. "It makes one have such self-respect," they agreed, commenting on this agreeable practice in private.
They sat down in the chairs with the gracious face of the properly treated, and inquired, with an amiability and a solicitous politeness on a par with their treatment how Mr. Twist had slept. They themselves had obviously slept well, for their faces were cherubic in their bland placidity, and already after one night wore what Mr. Twist later came to recognize as the Californian look, a look of complete unworriedness.
Yet they ought to have been worried. Mr. Twist had been terribly worried up to the moment in the night when he got his great idea, and he was worried again, now that he saw the twins, by doubts. They didn't look as though they would easily be put to school. His idea still seemed to him magnificent, a great solution, but would the Annas be able to see it? They might turn out impervious to it; not rejecting it, but simply non-absorbent. As they slowly and contentedly ate their grape-fruit, gazing out between the spoonfuls at the sea shining across the road through palm trees, and looking unruffled itself, he felt it was going to be rather like suggesting to two cherubs to leave their serene occupation of adoring eternal beauty and learn lessons instead. Still, it was the one way out, as far as Mr. Twist could see, of the situation produced by the death of the man Dellogg. "When you've done breakfast," he said, pulling himself together on their reaching the waffle stage, "we must have a talk."
"When we've done breakfast," said Anna-Rose, "we must have a walk."
"Down there," said Anna-Felicitas, pointing with her spoon. "On the sands. Round the curve to where the pink hills begin."
"Mr. Dellogg's death," said Mr. Twist, deciding it was necessary at once to wake them up out of the kind of happy somnolescence they seemed to be falling into, "has of course completely changed--"
"How unfortunate," interrupted Anna-Rose, her eyes on the palms and the sea and the exquisite distant mountains along the back of the bay, "to have to be dead on a day like this."
"It's not only his missing the fine weather that makes it unfortunate," said Mr. Twist.
"You mean," said Anna-Rose, "it's our missing him."
"Precisely," said Mr. Twist.
"Well, we know that," said Anna-Felicitas placidly.
"We knew it last night, and it worried us," said Anna-Rose. "Then we went to sleep and it didn't worry us. And this morning it still doesn't."
"No," said Mr. Twist dryly. "You don't look particularly worried, I must say."
"No," said Anna-Felicitas, "we're not. People who find they've got to heaven aren't usually worried, are they."
"And having got to heaven," said Anna-Rose, "we've thought of a plan to enable us to stay in it."
"Oh have you," said Mr. Twist, pricking up his ears.
"The plan seemed to think of us rather than we of it," explained Anna-Felicitas. "It came and inserted itself, as it were, into our minds while we were dressing."
"Well, I've thought of a plan too," said Mr. Twist firmly, feeling sure that the twins' plan would be the sort that ought to be instantly nipped in the bud.
He was therefore greatly astonished when Anna-Rose said, "Have you? Is it about schools?"
He stared at her in silence. "Yes," he then said slowly, for he was very much surprised. "It is."
"So is ours," said Anna-Rose.
"Indeed," said Mr. Twist.
"Yes," said Anna-Felicitas. "We don't think much of it, but it will tide us over."
"Exactly," said Mr. Twist, still more astonished at this perfect harmony of ideas.
"Tide us over till Mrs. Dellogg is---" began Anna-Rose in her clear little voice that carried like a flute to all the tables round them.
Mr. Twist got up quickly. "If you've finished let us go out of doors," he said; for he perceived that silence had fallen on the other tables, and attentiveness to what Anna-Rose was going to say next.
"Yes. On the sands," said the twins, getting up too.
On the sands, however, Mr. Twist soon discovered that the harmony of ideas was not as complete as he had supposed; indeed, something very like heated argument began almost as soon as they were seated on some rocks round the corner of the shore to the west of the hotel and they became aware, through conversation, of the vital difference in the two plans.
The Twinkler plan, which they expounded at much length and with a profusion of optimistic detail, was to search for and find a school in the neighbourhood for the daughters of gentlemen, and go to it for three months, or six months, or whatever time Mrs. Dellogg wanted to recover in.
Up to this point the harmony was complete, and Mr. Twist could only nod approval. Beyond it all was confusion, for it appeared that the twins didn't dream of entering a school in any capacity except as teachers. Professors, they said; professors of languages and literatures. They could speak German, as they pointed out, very much better than most people, and had, as Mr. Twist had sometimes himself remarked, an extensive vocabulary in English. They would give lessons in English and German literature. They would be able to teach quite a lot about Heine, for instance, the whole of whose poetry they knew by heart and whose sad life in Paris--
"It's no good running on like that," interrupted Mr. Twist. "You're not old enough."
Not old enough? The Twinklers, from their separate rocks, looked at each other in surprised indignation.
"Not old enough?" repeated Anna-Rose. "We're grown up. And I don't see how one can be more than grown up. One either is or isn't grown up. And there can be no doubt as to which we are."
And this the very man who so respectfully had been holding their chairs for them only a few minutes before! As if people did things like that for children.
"You're not old enough I say," said Mr. Twist again, bringing his hand down with a slap on the rock to emphasize his words. "Nobody would take you. Why, you've got perambulator faces, the pair of you--"
"And what school is going to want two teachers both teaching the same thing, anyway?"
And he then quickly got out his plan, and the conversation became so heated that for a time it was molten.
The Twinklers were shocked by his plan. More; they were outraged. Go to school? To a place they had never been to even in their suitable years? They, two independent grown-ups with £200 in the bank and nobody with any right to stop their doing anything they wanted to? Go to school now, like a couple of little suck-a-thumbs?
It was Anna-Rose, very flushed and bright of eye, who flung this expression at Mr. Twist from her rock. He might think they had perambulator faces if he liked--they didn't care, but they did desire him to bear in mind that if it hadn't been for the war they would be now taking their proper place in society, that they had already done a course of nursing in a hospital, an activity not open to any but adults, and that Uncle Arthur had certainly not given them all that money to fritter away on paying for belated schooling.
"We would be anachronisms," said Anna-Felicitas, winding up the discussion with a firmness so unusual in her that it showed how completely she had been stirred.
"Are you aware that we are marriageable?" inquired Anna-Rose icily.
"And don't you think it's bad enough for us to be aliens and undesirables," asked Anna-Felicitas, "without getting chronologically confused as well?"
Mr. Twist was quiet for a bit. He couldn't compete with the Twinklers when it came to sheer language. He sat hunched on his rock, his face supported by his two fists, staring out to sea while the twins watched him indignantly. School indeed! Then presently he pushed his hat back and began slowly to rub his ear.
"Well, I'm blest if I know what to do with you, then," he said, continuing to rub his ear and stare out to sea.
The twins opened their mouths simultaneously at this to protest against any necessity for such knowledge on his part, but he interrupted them. "If you don't mind," he said, "I'd like to resume this discussion when you're both a little more composed."
"We're perfectly composed," said Anna-Felicitas.
"Less ruffled, then."
"We're quite unruffled," said Anna-Rose.
"Well, you don't look it, and you don't sound like it. But as this is important I'd be glad to resume the discussion, say, to-morrow. I suggest we spend to-day exploring the neighbourhood and steadying our minds--"
"Our minds are perfectly steady, thank you."
"--and to-morrow we'll have another go at this question. I haven't told you all my plan yet"--Mr. Twist hadn't had time to inform them of his wish to become their guardian, owing to the swiftness with which he had been engulfed in their indignation,--"but whether you approve of it or not, what is quite certain is that we can't stay on at the hotel much longer."
"Because it's so dear?"
"Oh, it isn't so much that,--the proprietor is a friend of mine, or anyhow he very well might be--"
"It looks very dear," said Anna-Rose, visions of their splendid bedroom and bathroom rising before her. They too had slept in silken beds, and the taps in their bathroom they had judged to be pure gold.
"And it's because we can't afford to be in a dear place spending money," said Anna-Felicitas, "that it's so important we should find a salaried position in a school without loss of time."
"And it's because we can't afford reckless squandering that we ought to start looking for such a situation at once" said Anna-Rose.
"Not to-day," said Mr. Twist firmly, for he wouldn't give up the hope of getting them, once they were used to it, to come round to his plan. "To-day, this one day, we'll give ourselves up to enjoyment. It'll do us all good. Besides, we don't often get to a place like this, do we. And it has taken some getting to, hasn't it."
He rose from his rock and offered his hand to help them off theirs.
"To-day enjoyment," he said, "to-morrow business. I'm crazy," he added artfully, "to see what the country is like away up in those hills."
And so it was that about five o'clock that afternoon, having spent the whole day exploring the charming environs of Acapulco,--having been seen at different periods going over the Old Mission in tow of a monk who wouldn't look at them but kept his eyes carefully fixed on the ground, sitting on high stools eating strange and enchanting ices at the shop in the town that has the best ices, bathing deliciously in the warm sea at the foot of a cliff along the top of which a great hedge of rose-coloured geraniums flared against the sky, lunching under a grove of ilexes on the contents of a basket produced by Mr. Twist from somewhere in the car he had hired, wandering afterwards up through eucalyptus woods across the fields towards the foot of the mountains,--they came about five o'clock, thirsty and thinking of tea, to a delightful group of flowery cottages clustering round a restaurant and forming collectively, as Mr. Twist explained, one of the many American forms of hotel. "To which," he said, "people not living in the cottages can come and have meals at the restaurant, so we'll go right in and have tea."
And it was just because they couldn't get tea--any other meal, the proprietress said, but no teas were served, owing to the Domestic Help Eight Hours Bill which obliged her to do without domestics during the afternoon hours--that Anna-Felicitas came by her great idea.
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