Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
That evening depression reigned in The Open Arms.
Mr. Twist paced up and down the tea-room deep in thought that was obviously unpleasant and perplexed; Mrs. Bilton went to bed abruptly, after a short outpour of words to the effect that she had never seen so many Germans at once before, that her psyche was disharmonious to Germans, that they made her go goose-fleshy just as cats in a room made Mr. Bilton go goose-fleshy in the days when he had flesh to go it with, that she hadn't been aware the inn was to be a popular resort and rendezvous for Germans, and that she wished to speak alone with Mr. Twist in the morning; while the twins, feeling the ominousness of this last sentence,--as did Mr. Twist, who started when he heard it,--and overcome by the lassitude that had succeeded the shocks of the afternoon, a lassitude much increased by their having tried to finish up the pailsful of left-over ices and the huge piles of cakes slowly soddening in their own souring cream, went out together on to the moonlit verandah and stood looking up in silence at the stars. There they stood in silence, and thought things about the immense distance and indifference of those bright, cold specks, and how infinitely insignificant after all they, the Twinklers were, and how they would both in any case be dead in a hundred years. And this last reflection afforded them somehow a kind of bleak and draughty comfort.
Thus the first evening, that was to have been so happy, was spent by everybody in silence and apart. Li Koo felt the atmosphere of oppression even in his kitchen, and refrained from song. He put away, after dealing with it cunningly so that it should keep until a more propitious hour, a wonderful drink he had prepared for supper in celebration of the opening day--"Me make li'l celebrity," he had said, squeezing together strange essences and fruits--and he moved softly about so as not to disturb the meditations of the master. Li Koo was perfectly aware of what had gone wrong: it was the unexpected arrival to tea of Germans. Being a member of the least blood-thirsty of the nations, he viewed Germans with peculiar disfavour and understood his master's prolonged walking up and down. Also he had noted through a crack in the door the way these people of blood and death crowded round the white-lily girls; and was not that sufficient in itself to cause his master's numerous and rapid steps?
Numerous indeed that evening were Mr. Twist's steps. He felt he must think, and he could think better walking up and down. Why had all those Germans come? Why, except old Ridding and the experts, had none of the Americans come? It was very strange. And what Germans! So cordial, so exuberant to the twins, so openly gathering them to their bosoms, as though they belonged there. And so cordial too to him, approaching him in spite of his withdrawals, conveying to him somehow, his disagreeable impression had been, that he and they perfectly understood each other. Then Mrs. Bilton; was she going to give trouble? It looked like it. It looked amazingly like it. Was she after all just another edition of his mother, and unable to discriminate between Germans and Germans, between the real thing and mere technicalities like the Twinklers? It is true he hadn't told her the twins were German, but then neither had he told her they weren't. He had been passive. In Mrs. Bilton's presence passivity came instinctively. Anything else involved such extreme and unusual exertion. He had never had the least objection to her discovering their nationality for herself, and indeed had been surprised she hadn't done so long ago, for he felt sure she would quickly begin to love the Annas, and once she loved them she wouldn't mind what their father had happened to be. He had supposed she did love them. How affectionately she had kissed them that very afternoon and wished them luck. Was all that nothing? Was lovableness nothing, and complete innocence, after all in the matter of being born, when weighed against the one fact of the von? What he would do if Mrs. Bilton left him he couldn't imagine. What would happen to The Open Arms and the twins in such a case, his worried brain simply couldn't conceive.
Out of the corner of his eye every time he passed the open door on to the verandah he could see the two Annas standing motionless on its edge, their up-turned faces, as they gazed at the stars, white in the moonlight and very serious. Pathetic children. Pathetic, solitary, alien children. What were they thinking of? He wouldn't mind betting it was their mother.
Mr. Twist's heart gave a kind of tug at him. His sentimental, maternal side heaved to the top. A great impulse to hurry out and put his arms round them seized him, but he frowned and overcame it. He didn't want to go soft now. Nor was this the moment, his nicely brought up soul told him, his soul still echoing with the voice of Clark, to put his arms round them--this, the very first occasion on which Mrs. Bilton had left them alone with him. Whether it would become proper on the very second occasion was one of those questions that would instantly have suggested itself to the Annas themselves, but didn't occur to Mr. Twist. He merely went on to think of another reason against it, which was the chance of Mrs. Bilton's looking out of her window just as he did it. She might, he felt, easily misjudge the situation, and the situation, he felt, was difficult enough already. So he restrained himself; and the Annas continued to consider infinite space and to perceive, again with that feeling of dank and unsatisfactory consolation, that nothing really mattered.
Next day immediately after breakfast Mrs. Bilton followed him into his office and gave notice. She called it formally tendering her resignation. She said that all her life she had been an upholder of straight dealing, as much in herself towards others as in others towards herself--
"Mrs. Bilton--" interrupted Mr. Twist, only it didn't interrupt.
She had also all her life been intensely patriotic, and Mr. Twist, she feared, didn't look at patriotism with quite her single eye--
As her eye saw it, patriotism was among other things a determination to resist the encroachments of foreigners--
She had no wish to judge him, but she had still less wish to be mixed up with foreigners, and foreigners for her at that moment meant Germans--
She regretted, but psychically she would never be able to flourish in a soil so largely composed, as the soil of The Open Arms appeared to be, of that nationality--
And though it was none of her business, still she must say it did seem to her a pity that Mr. Twist with his well-known and respected American name should be mixed up--
And though she had no wish to be inquisitive, still she must say it did seem to her peculiar that Mr. Twist should be the guardian of two girls who, it was clear from what she had overheard that afternoon, were German--
Here Mr. Twist raised his voice and shouted. "Mrs. Bilton," he shouted, so loud that she couldn't but stop, "if you'll guarantee to keep quiet for just five minutes--sit down right here at this table and not say one single thing, not one single thing for just five minutes," he said, banging the table, "I'll tell you all about it. Oh yes, I'll accept your resignation at the end of that time if you're still set on leaving, but just for this once it's me that's going to do the talking."
And this must be imagined as said so loud that only capital letters would properly represent the noise Mr. Twist made.
Mrs. Bilton did sit down, her face flushed by the knowledge of how good her intentions had been when she took the post, and how deceitful--she was forced to think it--Mr. Twist's were when he offered it. She was prepared, however, to give him a hearing. It was only fair. But Mr. Twist had to burst into capitals several times before he had done, so difficult was it for Mrs. Bilton, even when she had agreed, even when she herself wished, not to say anything.
It wasn't five minutes but twenty before Mrs. Bilton came out of the office again. She went straight into the garden, where the Annas, aware of the interview going on with Mr. Twist, had been lingering anxiously, unable at so crucial a moment to settle to anything, and with solemnity kissed them. Her eyes were very bright. Her face, ordinarily colourless as parchment, was red. Positively she kissed them without saying a single word; and they kissed her back with such enthusiasm, with a relief that made them hug her so tight and cling to her so close, that the brightness in her eyes brimmed over and she had to get out her handkerchief and wipe it away.
"Gurls," said Mrs. Bilton, "I had a shock yesterday, but I'm through with it. You're motherless. I'm daughterless. We'll weld."
And with this unusual brevity did Mrs. Bilton sum up the situation.
She was much moved. Her heart was touched; and once that happened nothing could exceed her capacity for sticking through what she called thick and thin to her guns. For years Mr. Bilton had occupied the position of the guns; now it would be these poor orphans. No Germans could frighten her away, once she knew their story; no harsh judgments and misconceptions of her patriotic friends. Mr. Twist had told her everything, from the beginning on the St. Luke, harking back to Uncle Arthur and the attitude of England, describing what he knew of their mother and her death, not even concealing the part his own mother had played or that he wasn't their guardian at all. He made the most of Mrs. Bilton's silence; and as she listened her heart melted within her, and the immense store of grit which was her peculiar pride came to the top and once and for all overwhelmed her prejudices. But she couldn't think, and at last she burst out and told Mr. Twist she couldn't think, why he hadn't imparted all this to her long ago.
"Ah," murmured Mr. Twist, bowing his head as a reed in the wind before the outburst of her released volubility.
Hope once more filled The Open Arms, and the Twist party looked forward to the afternoon with renewed cheerfulness. It had just happened so the first day, that only Germans came. It was just accident. Mr. Twist, with the very large part of him that wasn't his head, found himself feeling like this too and declining to take any notice of his intelligence, which continued to try to worry him.
Yet the hope they all felt was not realized, and the second afternoon was almost exactly like the first. Germans came and clustered round the Annas, and made friendly though cautious advances to Mr. Twist. The ones who had been there the first day came again and brought others with them worse than themselves, and they seemed more at home than ever, and the air was full of rolling r's--among them, Mr. Twist was unable to deny, being the r's of his blessed Annas. But theirs were such little r's, he told himself. They rolled, it is true, but with how sweet a rolling. While as for these other people--confound it all, the place might really have been, from the sounds that were filling it, a Conditorei Unter den Linden.
All his doubts and anxieties flocked back on him as time passed and no Americans appeared. Americans. How precious. How clean, and straight, and admirable. Actually he had sometimes, he remembered, thought they weren't. What an aberration. Actually he had been, he remembered, impatient with them when first he came back from France. What folly. Americans. The very word was refreshing, was like clear water on a thirsty day. One American, even one, coming in that afternoon would have seemed to Mr. Twist a godsend, a purifier, an emollient--like some blessed unction dropped from above.
But none appeared; not even Mr. Ridding.
At six o'clock it was quite dark, and obviously too late to go on hoping. The days in California end abruptly. The sun goes down, and close on its heels comes night. In the tea-room the charmingly shaded lights had been turned on some time, and Mr. Twist, watching from the partly open door of his office, waited impatiently for the guests to begin to thin out. But they didn't. They took no notice of the signals of lateness, the lights turned on, the stars outside growing bright in the surrounding blackness.
Mr. Twist watched angrily. He had been driven into his office by the disconcerting and incomprehensible overtures of Mr. Wangelbecker, and had sat there watching in growing exasperation ever since. When six struck and nobody showed the least sign of going away he could bear it no longer, and touched the little muffled electric bell that connected him to Mrs. Bilton in what Anna-Felicitas called a mystical union--Anna II. was really excessively tactless; she had said this to Mrs. Bilton in his presence, and then enlarged on unions, mystical and otherwise, with an embarrassing abundance of imagery--by buzzing gently against her knee from the leg of the desk.
She laid down her pen, as though she had just finished adding up a column, and went to him.
"Now don't talk," said Mr. Twist, putting up an irritable hand directly she came in.
Mrs. Bilton looked at him in much surprise. "Talk, Mr. Twist?" she repeated. "Why now, as though--"
"Don't talk I say, Mrs. Bilton, but listen. Listen now. I can't stand seeing those children in there. It sheer makes my gorge rise. I want you to fetch them in here--now don't talk--you and me'll do the confounded waiting--no, no, don't talk--they're to stay quiet in here till the last of those Germans have gone. Just go and fetch them, please Mrs. Bilton. No, no, we'll talk afterwards. I'll stay here till they come." And he urged her out into the tea-room again.
The guests had finished their tea long ago, but still sat on, for they were very comfortable. Obviously they were thoroughly enjoying themselves, and all were growing, as time passed, more manifestly at home. They were now having a kind of supper of ices and fruit-salads. Five dollars, thought the sensible Germans, was after all a great deal to pay for afternoon tea, however good the cause might be and however important one's own ulterior motives; and since one had in any case to pay, one should eat what one could. So they kept the Annas very busy. There seemed to be no end, thought the Annas as they ran hither and thither, to what a German will hold.
Mrs. Bilton waylaid the heated and harried Anna-Rose as she was carrying a tray of ices to a party she felt she had been carrying ices to innumerable times already. The little curls beneath her cap clung damply to her forehead. Her face was flushed and distressed. What with having to carry so many trays, and remember so many orders, and try at the same time to escape from the orderers and their questions and admiration, she was in a condition not very far from tears.
Mrs. Bilton took the tray out of her hands, and told her Mr. Twist wanted to speak to her; and Anna-Rose was in such a general bewilderment that she felt quite scared, and thought he must be going to scold her. She went towards the office reluctantly. If Mr. Twist were to be severe, she was sure she wouldn't be able not to cry. She made her way very slowly to the office, and Mrs. Bilton looked round the room for the other one. There was no sign of her. Perhaps, thought Mrs. Bilton, she was fetching something in the kitchen, and would appear in a minute; and seeing a group over by the entrance door, for whom the tray she held was evidently destined, gesticulating to her, she felt she had better keep them quiet first and then go and look for Anna-Felicitas.
Mrs. Bilton set her teeth and plunged into her strange new duties. Never would she have dreamed it possible that she should have to carry trays to Germans. If Mr. Bilton could see her now he would certainly turn in his grave. Well, she was a woman of grit, of adhesiveness to her guns; if Mr. Bilton did see her and did turn in his grave, let him; he would, she dared say, be more comfortable on his other side after all these years.
For the next few minutes she hurried hither and thither, and waited single-handed. She seemed to be swallowed up in activity. No wonder that child had looked so hot and bewildered. Mr. Twist didn't come and help, as he had promised, and nowhere was there any sign of Anna-Felicitas; and the guests not only wanted things to eat, they wanted to talk,--talk and ask questions. Well, she would wait on them, but she wouldn't talk. She turned a dry, parchment-like face to their conversational blandishments, and responded only by adding up their bills. Wonderful are the workings of patriotism. For the first time in her life, Mrs. Bilton was grumbled at for not talking.
|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.