Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
That evening, while the twins were undressing, a message came up from the office that the manager would be obliged if the Miss Twinklers' canary wouldn't sing.
"But it can't help it," said Anna-Felicitas through the crack of door she held open; she was already in her nightgown. "You wouldn't either if you were a canary," she added, reasoning with the messenger.
"It's just got to help it," said he.
"But why shouldn't it sing?"
"But it always has sung."
"That is so. And it has sung once too often. It's unpopular in this hotel, that canary of yours. It's just got to rest a while. Take it easy. Sit quiet on its perch and think."
"But it won't sit quiet and think."
"Well, I've told you," he said, going away.
This was the bird that had been seen arriving at the Cosmopolitan about a week before by the lawyer, and it had piercingly sung ever since. It sang, that is, as long as there was any light, real or artificial, to sing by. The boy who carried it from the shop for the twins said its cage was to be hung in a window in the sun, or it couldn't do itself justice. But electric light also enabled it to do itself justice, the twins discovered, and if they sat up late the canary sat up late too, singing as loudly and as mechanically as if it hadn't been a real canary at all, but something clever and American with a machine inside it.
Secretly the twins didn't like it. Shocked at its loud behaviour, they had very soon agreed that it was no lady, but Anna-Rose was determined to have it at The Open Arms because of her conviction that no house showing the trail of a woman's hand was without a canary. That, and a workbag. She bought them both the same day. The workbag didn't matter, because it kept quiet; but the canary was a very big, very yellow bird, much bigger and yellower than the frailer canaries of a more exhausted civilization, and quite incapable, unless it was pitch dark, of keeping quiet for a minute. Evidently, as Anna-Felicitas said, it had a great many lungs. Her idea of lungs, in spite of her time among them and similar objects at a hospital, was what it had always been: that they were things like pink macaroni strung across a frame of bones on the principle of a lyre or harp, and producing noises. She thought the canary had unusual numbers of these pink strings, and all of them of the biggest and dearest kind of macaroni.
The other guests at the Cosmopolitan had been rather restive from the first on account of this bird, but felt so indulgent toward its owners, those cute little relations or charges or whatever they were of Teapot Twist's, that they bore its singing without complaint. But on the evening of the day the Annas had the interesting conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Ridding and Miss Heap, two definite complaints were lodged in the office, and one was from Mrs. Ridding and the other was from Miss Heap.
The manager, as has been said, was already sensitive about the canary. Its cage was straining his electric light cord, and its food, assiduously administered in quantities exceeding its capacity, littered the expensive pink pile carpet. He therefore lent a ready ear and sent up a peremptory message; and while the message was going up, Miss Heap, who had come herself with her complaint, stayed on discussing the Twist and Twinkler party.
She said nothing really; she merely asked questions; and not one of the questions, now they were put to him, did the manager find he could answer. No doubt everything was all right. Everybody knew about Mr. Twist, and it wasn't likely he would choose an hotel of so high a class to stay in if his relations to the Miss Twinklers were anything but regular. And a lady companion, he understood, was joining the party shortly; and besides, there was the house being got ready, a permanent place of residence he gathered, in which the party would settle down, and experience had taught him that genuine illicitness was never permanent. Still, the manager himself hadn't really cared about the Twinklers since the canary came. He could fill the hotel very easily, and there was no need to accommodate people who spoilt carpets. Also, the moment the least doubt or question arose among his guests, all of whom he knew and most of whom came back regularly every year, as to the social or moral status of any new arrivals, then those arrivals must go. Miss Heap evidently had doubts. Her standard, it is true, was the almost impossibly high one of the unmarried lady of riper years, but Mrs. Ridding, he understood, had doubts too; and once doubts started in an hotel he knew from experience that they ran through it like measles. The time had come for him to act.
Next morning, therefore, he briskly appeared in Mr. Twist's room as he was pulling on his boots, and cheerfully hoped he was bearing in mind what he had been told the day he took the rooms, that they were engaged for the date of the month now arrived at.
Mr. Twist paused with a boot half on. "I'm not bearing it in mind," he said, "because you didn't tell me."
"Oh yes I did, Mr. Twist," said the manager briskly. "It isn't likely I'd make a mistake about that. The rooms are taken every year for this date by the same people. Mrs. Hart of Boston has this one, and Mr. and Mrs.--"
Mr. Twist heard no more. He finished lacing his boots in silence. What he had been so much afraid of had happened: he and the twins had got under a cloud.
The twins had been saying things. Last night they told him they had made some friends. He had been uneasy at that, and questioned them. But it appeared they had talked chiefly of their Uncle Arthur. Well, damnable as Uncle Arthur was as a man he was safe enough as a topic of conversation. He was English. He was known to people in America like the Delloggs and the Sacks. But it was now clear they must have said things besides that. Probably they had expatiated on Uncle Arthur from some point of view undesirable to American ears. The American ear was very susceptible. He hadn't been born in New England without becoming aware of that.
Mr. Twist tied his bootlaces with such annoyance that he got them into knots. He ought never to have come with the Annas to a big hotel. Yet lodgings would have been worse. Why hadn't that white-haired gasbag, Mrs. Bilton--Mr. Twist's thoughts were sometimes unjust--joined them sooner? Why had that shirker Dellogg died? He got his bootlaces hopelessly into knots.
"I'd like to start right in getting the rooms fixed up, Mr. Twist," said the manager pleasantly. "Mrs. Hart of Boston is very--"
"See here," said Mr. Twist, straightening himself and turning the full light of his big spectacles on to him, "I don't care a curse for Mrs. Hart of Boston."
The manager expressed regret that Mr. Twist should connect a curse with a lady. It wasn't American to do that. Mrs. Hart--
"Damn Mrs. Hart," said Mr. Twist, who had become full-bodied of speech while in France, and when he was goaded let it all out.
The manager went away. And so, two hours later, did Mr. Twist and the twins.
"I don't know what you've been saying," he said in an extremely exasperated voice, as he sat opposite them in the taxi with their grips, considerably added to and crowned by the canary who was singing, piled up round him.
"Saying?" echoed the twins, their eyes very round.
"But whatever it was you'd have done better to say something else. Confound that bird. Doesn't it ever stop screeching?"
It was the twins, however, who were confounded. So much confounded by what they considered his unjust severity that they didn't attempt to defend themselves, but sat looking at him with proud hurt eyes.
By this time they both had become very fond of Mr. Twist, and accordingly he was able to hurt them. Anna-Rose, indeed, was so fond of him that she actually thought him handsome. She had boldly said so to the astonished Anna-Felicitas about a week before; and when Anna-Felicitas was silent, being unable to agree, Anna-Rose had heatedly explained that there was handsomeness, and there was the higher handsomeness, and that that was the one Mr. Twist had. It was infinitely better than mere handsomeness, said Anna-Rose--curly hair and a straight nose and the rest of the silly stuff--because it was real and lasting; and it was real and lasting because it lay in the play of the features and not in their exact position and shape.
Anna-Felicitas couldn't see that Mr. Twist's features played. She looked at him now in the taxi while he angrily stared out of the window, and even though he was evidently greatly stirred his features weren't playing. She didn't particularly want them to play. She was fond of and trusted Mr. Twist, and would never even have thought whether he had features or not if Anna-Rose hadn't taken lately to talking so much about them. And she couldn't help remembering how this very Christopher, so voluble now on the higher handsomeness, had said on board the St. Luke when first commenting on Mr. Twist that God must have got tired of making him by the time his head was reached. Well, Christopher had always been an idealist. When she was eleven she had violently loved the coachman. Anna-Felicitas hadn't ever violently loved anybody yet, and seeing Anna-Rose like this now about Mr. Twist made her wonder when she too was going to begin. Surely it was time. She hoped her inability to begin wasn't perhaps because she had no heart. Still, she couldn't begin if she didn't see anybody to begin on.
She sat silent in the taxi, with Christopher equally silent beside her, both of them observing Mr. Twist through lowered eyelashes. Anna-Rose watched him with hurt and anxious eyes like a devoted dog who has been kicked without cause. Anna-Felicitas watched him in a more detached spirit. She had a real affection for him, but it was not, she was sure and rather regretted, an affection that would ever be likely to get the better of her reason. It wasn't because he was so old, of course, she thought, for one could love the oldest people, beginning with that standard example of age, the liebe Gott; it was because she liked him so much.
How could one get sentimental over and love somebody one so thoroughly liked? The two things on reflection didn't seem to combine well. She was sure, for instance, that Aunt Alice had loved Uncle Arthur, amazing as it seemed, but she was equally sure she hadn't liked him. And look at the liebe Gott. One loves the liebe Gott, but it would be going too far, she thought, to say that one likes him.
These were the reflections of Anna-Felicitas in the taxi, as she observed through her eyelashes the object of Anna-Rose's idealization. She envied Anna-Rose; for here she had been steadily expanding every day more and more like a flower under the influence of her own power of idealization. She used to sparkle and grow rosy like that for the coachman. Perhaps after all it didn't much matter what you loved, so long as you loved immensely. It was, perhaps, thought Anna-Felicitas approaching this subject with some caution and diffidence, the quantity of one's love that mattered rather than the quality of its object. Not that Mr. Twist wasn't of the very first quality, except to look at; but what after all were faces? The coachman had been, as it were, nothing else but face, so handsome was he and so without any other recommendation. He couldn't even drive; and her father had very soon kicked him out with the vigour and absence of hesitation peculiar to Junkers when it comes to kicking and Anna-Rose had wept all over her bread and butter at tea that day, and was understood to say that she knew at last what it must be like to be a widow.
Mr. Twist, for all that he was looking out of the taxi window with an angry and worried face, his attention irritably concentrated, so it seemed, on the objects passing in the road, very well knew he was being observed. He wouldn't, however, allow his eye to be caught. He wasn't going to become entangled at this juncture in argument with the Annas. He was hastily making up his mind, and there wasn't much time to do it in. He had had no explanation with the twins since the manager's visit to his room, and he didn't want to have any. He had issued brief orders to them, told them to pack, declined to answer questions, and had got them safely into the taxi with a minimum waste of time and words. They were now on their way to the station to meet Mrs. Bilton. Her train from Los Angeles was not due till that evening at six. Never mind. The station was a secure place to deposit the twins and the baggage in till she came. He wished he could deposit the twins in the parcel-room as easily as he could their grips--neatly labelled, put away safely on a shelf till called for.
Rapidly, as he stared out of the window, he arrived at decisions. He would leave the twins in the waiting room at the station till Mrs. Bilton was due, and meanwhile go out and find lodgings for them and her. He himself would get a room in another and less critical hotel, and stay in it till the cottage was habitable. So would unassailable respectability once more descend like a white garment upon the party and cover it up.
But he was nettled; nettled; nettled by the contretemps that had occurred on the very last day, when Mrs. Bilton was so nearly there; nettled and exasperated. So immensely did he want the twins to be happy, to float serenely in the unclouded sunshine and sweetness he felt was their due, that he was furious with them for doing anything to make it difficult. And, jerkily, his angry thoughts pounced, as they so often did, on Uncle Arthur. Fancy kicking two little things like that out into the world, two little breakable things like that, made to be cherished and watched over. Mr. Twist was pure American in his instinct to regard the female as an object to be taken care of, to be placed securely in a charming setting and kept brightly free from dust. If Uncle Arthur had had a shred of humanity in him, he angrily reflected, the Annas would have stayed under his roof throughout the war, whatever the feeling was against aliens. Never would a decent man have chucked them out.
He turned involuntarily from the window and looked at the twins. Their eyes were fixed, affectionate and anxious, on his face. With the quick change of mood of those whose chins are weak and whose hearts are warm, a flood of love for them gushed up within him and put out his anger. After all, if Uncle Arthur had been decent he, Edward A. Twist, never would have met these blessed children. He would now have been at Clark; leading lightless days; hopelessly involved with his mother.
His loose, unsteady mouth broke into a big smile. Instantly the two faces opposite cleared into something shining.
"Oh dear," said Anna-Felicitas with a sigh of relief, "it is refreshing when you leave off being cross."
"We're fearfully sorry if we've said anything we oughtn't to have," said Anna-Rose, "and if you tell us what it is we won't say it again."
"I can't tell you, because I don't know what it was," said Mr. Twist, in his usual kind voice. "I only see the results. And the results are that the Cosmopolitan is tired of us, and we've got to find lodgings."
"Till we can move into the cottage. I'm going to put you and Mrs. Bilton in an apartment in Acapulco, and go myself to some hotel."
The twins stared at him a moment in silence. Then Anna-Rose said with sudden passion, "You're not."
"How's that?" asked Mr. Twist; but she was prevented answering by the arrival of the taxi at the station.
There followed ten minutes' tangle and confusion, at the end of which the twins found themselves free of their grips and being piloted into the waiting-room by Mr. Twist.
"There," he said. "You sit here quiet and good. I'll come back about one o'clock with sandwiches and candy for your dinner, and maybe a story-book or two. You mustn't leave this, do you hear? I'm going to hunt for those lodgings."
And he was in the act of taking off his hat valedictorily when Anna-Rose again said with the same passion, "You're not."
"Not what?" inquired Mr. Twist, pausing with his hat in mid-air.
"Going to hunt for lodgings. We won't go to them."
"Of course we won't," said Anna-Felicitas, with no passion but with an infinitely rock-like determination.
"And pray--" began Mr. Twist.
"Go into lodgings alone with Mrs. Bilton?" interrupted Anna-Rose her face scarlet, her whole small body giving the impression of indignant feathers standing up on end. "While you're somewhere else? Away from us? We won't."
"Of course we won't," said Anna-Felicitas again, an almost placid quality in her determination, it was so final and so unshakable. "Would you?"
"See here--" began Mr. Twist.
"We won't see anywhere," said Anna-Rose.
"Would you," inquired Anna-Felicitas, again reasoning with him, "like being alone in lodgings with Mrs. Bilton?"
"This is no time for conversation," said Mr. Twist, making for the door. "You've got to do what I think best on this occasion. And that's all about it."
"We won't," repeated Anna-Rose, on the verge of those tears which always with her so quickly followed any sort of emotion.
Mr. Twist paused on his way to the door. "Well now what the devil's the matter with lodgings?" he asked angrily.
"It isn't the devil, it's Mrs. Bilton," said Anna-Felicitas. "Would you yourself like--"
'But you've got to have Mrs. Bilton with you anyhow from to-day on."
"But not unadulterated Mrs. Bilton. You were to have been with us too. We can't be drowned all by ourselves in Mrs. Bilton. You wouldn't like it."
"Of course I wouldn't. But it's only for a few days anyhow," said Mr. Twist, who had been quite unprepared for opposition to his very sensible arrangement.
"I shouldn't wonder if it's only a few days now before we can all squeeze into some part of the cottage. If you don't mind dust and noise and workmen about all day long."
A light pierced the gloom that had gathered round Anna-Felicitas's soul.
"We'll go into it to-day," she said firmly, "Why not? We can camp out. We can live in those little rooms at the back over the kitchen,--the ones you got ready for Li Koo. We'd be on the spot. We wouldn't mind anything. It would just be a picnic."
"And we--we wouldn't be--sep--separated," said Anna-Rose, getting it out with a gasp.
Mr. Twist stood looking at them.
"Well, of all the--" he began, pushing his hat back. "Are you aware," he went on more calmly, "that there are only two rooms over that kitchen, and that you and Mrs. Bilton will have to be all together in one of them?"
"We don't mind that as long as you're in the other one," said Anna-Rose.
"Of course," suggested Anna-Felicitas, "if you were to happen to marry Mrs. Bilton it would make a fairer division."
Mr. Twist's spectacles stared enormously at her.
"No, no," said Anna-Rose quickly. "Marriage is a sacred thing, and you can't just marry so as to be more comfortable."
"I guess if I married Mrs. Bilton I'd be more uncomfortable," remarked Mr. Twist with considerable dryness.
He seemed however to be quieted by the bare suggestion, for he fixed his hat properly on his head and said, sobriety in his voice and manner, "Come along, then. We'll get a taxi and anyway go out and have a look at the rooms. But I shouldn't be surprised," he added, "if before I've done with you you'll have driven me sheer out of my wits."
"Oh, don't say that," said the twins together, with all and more of their usual urbanity.
|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.