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Chapter 5

The lady in the opposite berth was German, and so was the lady in the berth above her. Their husbands were American, but that didn't make them less German. Nothing ever makes a German less German, Anna-Rose explained to Anna-Felicitas.

"Except," replied Anna-Felicitas, "a judicious dilution of their blood by the right kind of mother."

"Yes," said Anna-Rose. "Only to be found in England."

This conversation didn't take place till the afternoon of the next day, by which time Anna-Felicitas already knew about the human freight being Germans, for one of their own submarines came after the St. Luke and no one was quite so loud in expression of terror and dislike as the two Germans.

They demanded to be saved first, on the ground that they were Germans. They repudiated their husbands, and said marriage was nothing compared to how one had been born. The curtains of their berths, till then so carefully closed, suddenly yawned open, and the berths gave up their contents just as if, Anna-Felicitas remarked afterwards to Anna-Rose, it was the resurrection and the berths were riven sepulchres chucking up their dead.

This happened at ten o'clock the next morning when the St. Luke was pitching about off the southwest coast of Ireland. The twins, waking about seven, found with a pained surprise that they were not where they had been dreaming they were, in the sunlit garden at home playing tennis happily if a little violently, but in a chilly yet stuffy place that kept on tilting itself upside down. They lay listening to the groans coming from the opposite berths, and uneasily wondering how long it would be before they too began to groan. Anna-Rose raised her head once with the intention of asking if she could help at all, but dropped it back again on to the pillow and shut her eyes tight and lay as quiet as the ship would let her. Anna-Felicitas didn't even raise her head, she felt so very uncomfortable.

At eight o'clock the stewardess looked in--the same stewardess, they languidly noted, with whom already they had had two encounters, for it happened that this was one of the cabins she attended to--and said that if anybody wanted breakfast they had better be quick or it would be over.

"Breakfast!" cried the top berth opposite in a heart-rending tone; and instantly was sick.

The stewardess withdrew her head and banged the door to, and the twins, in their uneasy berths, carefully keeping their eyes shut so as not to witness the behaviour of the sides and ceiling of the cabin, feebly marvelled at the stewardess for suggesting being quick to persons who were being constantly stood on their heads. And breakfast,--they shuddered and thought of other things; of fresh, sweet air, and of the scent of pinks and apricots warm with the sun.

At ten o'clock the stewardess came in again, this time right in, and with determination in every gesture.

"Come, come," she said, addressing the twins, and through them talking at the heaving and groaning occupants of the other side, "you mustn't give way like this. What you want is to be out of bed. You must get up and go on deck. And how's the cabin to get done if you stay in it all the time?"

Anna-Felicitas, the one particularly addressed, because she was more on the right level for conversation than Anna-Rose, who could only see the stewardess's apron, turned her head away and murmured that she didn't care.

"Come, come," said the stewardess. "Besides, there's life-boat drill at mid-day, and you've got to be present."

Anna-Felicitas, her eyes shut, again murmured that she didn't care.

"Come, come," said the stewardess. "Orders are orders. Every soul on the ship, sick or not, has got to be present at life-boat drill."

"Oh, I'm not a soul," murmured Anna-Felicitas, who felt at that moment how particularly she was a body, while the opposite berths redoubled their groans.

"Come, come--" said the stewardess.

Then the St. Luke whistled five times, and the stewardess turned pale. For a brief space, before they understood what had happened, the twins supposed she was going to be sick. But it wasn't that that was the matter with her, for after a moment's staring at nothing with horror on her face she pounced on them and pulled them bodily out of their berths, regardless by which end, and threw them on the floor anyhow. Then she plunged about and produced life-jackets; then she rushed down the passage flinging open the doors of the other cabins; then she whirled back again and tried to tie the twins into their life-jackets, but with hands that shook so that the strings immediately came undone again; and all the time she was calling out "Quick--quick--quick--" There was a great tramping of feet on deck and cries and shouting.

The curtains of the opposite berths yawned asunder and out came the Germans, astonishingly cured of their sea-sickness, and struggled vigorously into their life-jackets and then into fur coats, and had the fur coats instantly pulled off again by a very energetic steward who ran in and said fur coats in the water were death-traps,--a steward so much bent on saving people that he began to pull off the other things the German ladies had on as well, saying while he pulled, disregarding their protests, that in the water Mother Nature was the best. "Mother Nature--Mother Nature," said the steward, pulling; and he was only stopped just in the nick of time by the stewardess rushing in again and seeing what was happening to the helpless Germans.

Anna-Rose, even at that moment explanatory, pointed out to Anna-Felicitas, who had already grasped the fact, that no doubt there was a submarine somewhere about. The German ladies, seizing their valuables from beneath their pillows, in spite of the steward assuring them they wouldn't want them in the water, demanded to be taken up and somehow signalled to the submarine, which would never dare do anything to a ship containing its own flesh and blood--and an American ship, too--there must be some awful mistake--but anyhow they must be saved--there would be terrible trouble, that they could assure the steward and the twins and the scurrying passers-by down the passage, if America allowed two Germans to be destroyed--and anyhow they would insist on having their passage money refunded....

The German ladies departed down the passage, very incoherent and very unhappy but no longer sick, and Anna-Felicitas, clinging to the edge of her berth, feeling too miserable to mind about the submarine, feebly wondered, while the steward tied her properly into her life-jacket, at the cure effected in them. Anna-Rose seemed cured too, for she was buttoning a coat round Anna-Felicitas's shoulders, and generally seemed busy and brisk, ending by not even forgetting their precious little bag of money and tickets and passports, and fastening it round her neck in spite of the steward's assuring her that it would drag her down in the water like a stone tied to a kitten.

"You're a very cheerful man, aren't you," Anna-Rose said, as he pushed them out of the cabin and along the corridor, holding up Anna-Felicitas on her feet, who seemed quite unable to run alone.

The steward didn't answer, but caught hold of Anna-Felicitas at the foot of the stairs and carried her up them, and then having got her on deck propped her in a corner near the life-boat allotted to the set of cabins they were in, and darted away and in a minute was back again with a big coat which he wrapped round her.

"May as well be comfortable till you do begin to drown," he said briskly, "but mind you don't forget to throw it off, Missie, the minute you feel the water."

Anna-Felicitas slid down on to the deck, her head leaning against the wall, her eyes shut, a picture of complete indifference to whatever might be going to happen next. Her face was now as white as the frill of the night-gown that straggled out from beneath her coat, for the journey from the cabin to the deck had altogether finished her. Anna-Rose was thankful that she felt too ill to be afraid. Her own heart was black with despair,--despair that Anna-Felicitas, the dear and beautiful one, should presently, at any moment, be thrown into that awful heaving water, and certainly be hurt and frightened before she was choked out of life.

She sat down beside her, getting as close as possible to keep her warm. Her own twin. Her own beloved twin. She took her cold hands and put them away beneath the coat the steward had brought. She slid an arm round her and laid her cheek against her sleeve, so that she should know somebody was there, somebody who loved her. "What's the good of it all--why were we born--" she wondered, staring at the hideous gray waves as they swept up into sight over the side of the ship and away again as the ship rose up, and at the wet deck and the torn sky, and the miserable-looking passengers in their life-jackets collected together round the life-boat.

Nobody said anything except the German ladies. They, indeed, kept up a constant wail. The others were silent, the men mostly smoking cigarettes, the women holding their fluttering wraps about them, all of them staring out to sea, watching for the track of the torpedo to appear. One shot had been fired already and had missed. The ship was zig-zagging under every ounce of steam she could lay on. An official stood by the life-boat, which was ready with water in it and provisions. That the submarine must be mad, as the official remarked, to fire on an American ship, didn't console anybody, and his further assurance that the matter would not be allowed to rest there left them cold. They felt too sure that in all probability they themselves were going to rest there, down underneath that repulsive icy water, after a struggle that was going to be unpleasant.

The man who had roused Anna-Rose's indignation as the ship left the landing-stage by looking as though he were soon going to be sorry for her, came across from the first class, where his life-boat was, to watch for the track of the expected torpedo, and caught sight of the twins huddled in their corner.

Anna-Rose didn't see him, for she was staring with wide eyes out at the desolate welter of water and cloud, and thinking of home: the home that was, that used to be till such a little while ago, the home that now seemed to have been so amazingly, so unbelievably beautiful and blest, with its daily life of love and laughter and of easy confidence that to-morrow was going to be just as good. Happiness had been the ordinary condition there, a simple matter of course. Its place was taken now by courage. Anna-Rose felt sick at all this courage there was about. There should be no occasion for it. There should be no horrors to face, no cruelties to endure. Why couldn't brotherly love continue? Why must people get killing each other? She, for her part, would be behind nobody in courage and in the defying of a Fate that could behave, as she felt, so very unlike her idea of anything even remotely decent; but it oughtn't to be necessary, this constant condition of screwed-upness; it was waste of effort, waste of time, waste of life,--oh the stupidity of it all, she thought, rebellious and bewildered.

"Have some brandy," said the man, pouring out a little into a small cup.

Anna-Rose turned her eyes on him without moving the rest of her. She recognized him. He was going to be sorry for them again. He had much better be sorry for himself now, she thought, because he, just as much as they were, was bound for a watery bier.

"Thank you," she said distantly, for not only did she hate the smell of brandy but Aunt Alice had enjoined her with peculiar strictness on no account to talk to strange men, "I don't drink."

"Then I'll give the other one some," said the man.

"She too," said Anna-Rose, not changing her position but keeping a drearily watchful eye on him, "is a total abstainer."

"Well, I'll go and fetch some of your warm things for you. Tell me where your cabin is. You haven't got enough on."

"Thank you," said Anna-Rose distantly, "we have quite enough on, considering the occasion. We're dressed for drowning."

The man laughed, and said there would be no drowning, and that they had a splendid captain, and were outdistancing the submarine hand over fist. Anna-Rose didn't believe him, and suspected him of supposing her to be in need of cheering, but a gleam of comfort did in spite of herself steal into her heart.

He went away, and presently came back with a blanket and some pillows.

"If you will sit on the floor," he said, stuffing the pillows behind their backs, during which Anna-Felicitas didn't open her eyes, and her head hung about so limply that it looked as if it might at any moment roll off, "you may at least be as comfortable as you can."

Anna-Rose pointed out, while she helped him arrange Anna-Felicitas's indifferent head on the pillow, that she saw little use in being comfortable just a minute or two before drowning. "Drowning be hanged," said the man.

"That's how Uncle Arthur used to talk," said Anna-Rose, feeling suddenly quite at home, "except that he would have said 'Drowning be damned.'"

The man laughed. "Is he dead?" he asked, busy with Anna-Felicitas's head, which defied their united efforts to make it hold itself up.

"Dead?" echoed Anna-Rose, to whom the idea of Uncle Arthur's ever being anything so quiet as dead and not able to say any swear words for such a long time as eternity seemed very odd.

"You said he used to talk like that."

"Oh, no he's not dead at all. Quite the contrary."

The man laughed again, and having got Anna-Felicitas's head arranged in a position that at least, as Anna-Rose pointed out, had some sort of self-respect in it, he asked who they were with.

Anna-Rose looked at him with as much defiant independence as she could manage to somebody who was putting a pillow behind her back. He was going to be sorry for them. She saw it coming. He was going to say "You poor things," or words to that effect. That's what the people round Uncle Arthur's had said to them. That's what everybody had said to them since the war began, and Aunt Alice's friends had said it to her too, because she had to have her nieces live with her, and no doubt Uncle Arthur's friends who played golf with him had said it to him as well, except that probably they put in a damn so as to make it clearer for him and said "You poor damned thing," or something like that, and she was sick of the very words poor things. Poor things, indeed! "We're with each other," she said briefly, lifting her chin.

"Well, I don't think that's enough," said the man. "Not half enough. You ought to have a mother or something."

"Everybody can't have mothers," said Anna-Rose very defiantly indeed, tears rushing into her eyes.

The man tucked the blanket round their resistless legs. "There now," he said. "That's better. What's the good of catching your deaths?"

Anna-Rose, glad that he hadn't gone on about mothers, said that with so much death imminent, catching any of it no longer seemed to her particularly to matter, and the man laughed and pulled over a chair and sat down beside her.

She didn't know what he saw anywhere in that dreadful situation to laugh at, but just the sound of a laugh was extraordinarily comforting. It made one feel quite different. Wholesome again. Like waking up to sunshine and one's morning bath and breakfast after a nightmare. He seemed altogether a very comforting man. She liked him to sit near them. She hoped he was a good man. Aunt Alice had said there were very few good men, hardly any in fact except one's husband, but this one did seem one of the few exceptions. And she thought that by now, he having brought them all those pillows, he could no longer come under the heading of strange men. When he wasn't looking she put out her hand secretly and touched his coat where he wouldn't feel it. It comforted her to touch his coat. She hoped Aunt Alice wouldn't have disapproved of seeing her sitting side by side with him and liking it.

Aunt Alice had been, as her custom was, vague, when Anna-Rose, having given her the desired promise not to talk or let Anna-Felicitas talk to strange men, and desiring to collect any available information for her guidance in her new responsible position had asked, "But when are men not strange?"

"When you've married them," said Aunt Alice. "After that, of course, you love them."

And she sighed heavily, for it was bed-time.

Elizabeth von Arnim