[Frontispiece: "Cats for the cats' home!" said Sir Maurice Falconer.]
THE TERRIBLE TWINS
The Admirable Tinker, Pollyooly, etc.
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
[Updater's note: In the originally posted version of this book (August 14, 2006), four pages (3, 4, 53, 54) were missing. In early February 2008, the missing pages were found, scanned and submitted by a reader of the original etext and incorporated into this updated version.]
I AND CAPTAIN BASTER II GUARDIAN ANGELS III AND THE CATS' HOME IV AND THE VISIT OF INSPECTION V AND THE SACRED BIRD VI AND THE LANDED PROPRIETOR VII AND PRINGLE'S POND VIII AND THE MUTTLE DEEPING PEACHES IX AND THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM X AND THE ENTERTAINMENT OF ROYALTY XI AND THE UNREST CURE XII AND THE MUTTLE DEEPING FISHING XIII AND AN APOLOGY XIV AND THE SOUND OF WEDDING BELLS
"Cats for the cats' home!" said Sir Maurice Falconer. . . . . . Frontispiece
"This is different," she said.
We are avenged.
She was almost sorry when they came at last to the foot of the knoll.
The Archduke bellowed, "Zerbst! Zerbst! Zerbst!"
Sir James turned and found himself looking into the deep brown eyes of a very pretty woman.
THE TERRIBLE TWINS
AND CAPTAIN BASTER
For all that their voices rang high and hot, the Twins were really discussing the question who had hit Stubb's bull-terrier with the greatest number of stones, in the most amicable spirit. It was indeed a nice question and hard to decide since both of them could throw stones quicker, straighter and harder than any one of their size and weight for miles and miles round; and they had thrown some fifty at the bull-terrier before they had convinced that dense, but irritated, quadruped that his master's interests did not really demand his presence in the orchard; and of these some thirty had hit him. Violet Anastasia Dangerfield, who always took the most favorable view of her experience, claimed twenty hits out of a possible thirty; Hyacinth Wolfram Dangerfield, in a very proper spirit, had at once claimed the same number; and both of them were defending their claims with loud vehemence, because if you were not loudly vehement, your claim lapsed.
Suddenly Hyacinth Wolfram, as usual, closed the discussion; he said firmly, "I tell you what: we both hit that dog the same number of times."
So saying, he swung round the rude calico bag, bulging with booty, which hung from his shoulders, and took from it two Ribston pippins.
"Perhaps we did," said Anastasia amiably. They went swiftly down the road, munching in a peaceful silence.
It had been an odd whim of nature to make the Twins so utterly unlike. No stranger ever took Violet Anastasia Dangerfield, so dark-eyed, dark-haired, dark-skinned, of so rich a coloring, so changeful and piquant a face, for the cousin, much less for the twin-sister, of Hyacinth Wolfram Dangerfield, so fair-skinned, fair-haired, blue-eyed, on whose firmly chiseled features rested so perpetual, so contrasting a serenity. But it was a whim of man, of their wicked uncle Sir Maurice Falconer, that had robbed them of their pretty names. He had named Violet "Erebus" because, he said,
She walks in beauty like the night Of cloudless climes and starry spheres:
and he had forthwith named Hyacinth the "Terror" because, he said, the ill-fated Sir John Franklin had made the Terror the eternal companion of Erebus.
Erebus and the Terror they became. Even their mother never called them by their proper pretty names save in moments of the severest displeasure.
"They're good apples," said the Terror presently, as he threw away the core of his third and took two more from the bag.
"They are," said Erebus in a grateful tone—"worth all the trouble we had with that dog."
"We'd have cleared him out of the orchard in half the time, if we'd had our catapults and bullets. It was hard luck being made to promise never to use catapults again," said the Terror sadly.
"All that fuss about a little lead from the silly old belfry gutter!" said Erebus bitterly.
"As if belfries wanted lead gutters. They could easily have put slates in the place of the sheet of lead we took," said the Terror with equal bitterness.
"Why can't they leave us alone? It quite spoils the country not to have catapults," said Erebus, gazing with mournful eyes on the rich autumn scene through which they moved.
The Twins had several grievances against their elders; but the loss of their catapults was the bitterest. They had used those weapons to enrich the simple diet which was all their mother's slender means allowed them; on fortunate days they had enriched it in defiance of the game laws. Keepers and farmers had made no secret of their suspicions that this was the case: but the careful Twins never afforded them the pleasure of adducing evidence in support of those suspicions. Then a heavy thunderstorm revealed the fact that they had removed a sheet of lead, which they had regarded as otiose, from the belfry gutter, to cast it into bullets for their catapults; a consensus of the public opinion of Little Deeping had demanded that they should be deprived of them; and their mother, yielding to the demand, had forbidden them to use them any longer.
The Twins always obeyed their mother; but they resented bitterly the action of Little Deeping. It was, indeed, an ungrateful place, since their exploits afforded its old ladies much of the carping conversation they loved. In a bitter and vindictive spirit the Twins set themselves to become the finest stone-throwers who ever graced a countryside; and since they had every natural aptitude in the way of muscle and keenness of eye, they were well on their way to realize their ambition. There may, indeed, have been northern boys of thirteen who could outthrow the Terror, but not a girl in England could throw a stone straighter or harder than Erebus.
They came to a gate opening on to Little Deeping common; Erebus vaulted it gracefully; the Terror, hampered by the bag of booty, climbed over it (for the Twins it was always simpler to vault or climb over a gate than to unlatch it and walk through) and took their way along a narrow path through the gorse and bracken. They had gone some fifty yards, when from among the bracken on their right a voice cried: "Bang-g-g! Bang-g-g!"
The Twins fell to the earth and lay still; and Wiggins came out of the gorse, his wooden rifle on his shoulder, a smile of proud triumph on his richly freckled face. He stood over the fallen Twins; and his smile of triumph changed to a scowl of fiendish ferocity.
"Ha! Ha! Shot through the heads!" he cried. "Their bones will bleach in the pathless forest while their scalps hang in the wigwam of Red Bear the terror of the Cherokees!"
Then he scalped the Twins with a formidable but wooden knife. Then he took from his knickerbockers pocket a tattered and dirty note-book, an inconceivable note-book (it was the only thing to curb the exuberant imagination of Erebus) made an entry in it, and said in a tone of lively satisfaction: "You're only one game ahead."
"I thought we were three," said Erebus, rising.
"They're down in the book," said Wiggins; firmly; and his bright blue eyes were very stern.
"Well, we shall have to spend a whole afternoon getting well ahead of you again," said Erebus, shaking out her dark curls.
Wiggins waged a deadly war with the Twins. He ambushed and scalped them; they ambushed and scalped him. Seeing that they had already passed their thirteenth birthday, it was a great condescension on their part to play with a boy of ten; and they felt it. But Wiggins was a favored friend; and the game filled intervals between sterner deeds.
The Terror handed Wiggins an apple; and the three of them moved swiftly on across the common. Wiggins was one of those who spurn the earth. Now and again, for obscure but profound reasons, he would suddenly spring into the air and proceed by leaps and bounds.
Once when he slowed down to let them overtake him, he said, "The game isn't really fair; you're two to one."
"You keep very level," said the Terror politely.
"Yes; it's my superior astuteness," said Wiggins sedately.
"Goodness! What words you use!" said Erebus in a somewhat jealous tone.
"It's being so much with my father; you see, he has a European reputation," Wiggins explained.
"Yes, everybody says that. But what is a European reputation?" said Erebus in a captious tone.
"Everybody in Europe knows him," said Wiggins; and he spurned the earth.
They called him Wiggins because his name was Rupert. It seemed to them a name both affected and ostentatious. Besides, crop it as you might, his hair would assume the appearance of a mop.
They came out of the narrow path into a broader rutted cart-track to see two figures coming toward them, eighty yards away.
"It's Mum," said Erebus.
Quick as thought the Terror dropped behind her, slipped off the bag of booty, and thrust it into a gorse-bush.
"And—and—it's the Cruncher with her!" cried Erebus in a tone in which disgust outrang surprise.
"Of all the sickening things! The Cruncher!" cried the Terror, echoing her disgust. "What's he come down again for?"
They paused; then went on their way with gloomy faces to meet the approaching pair.
The gentleman whom they called the "Cruncher," and who from their tones of disgust had so plainly failed to win their young hearts was Captain Baster of the Twenty-fourth Hussars; and they called him the Cruncher on account of the vigor with which he plied his large, white, prominent teeth.
They had not gone five yards when Wiggins said in a tone of superiority: "I know why he's come down."
"Why?" said the Terror quickly.
"He's come down to marry your mother," said Wiggins.
"What?" cried the Twins with one voice, one look of blank consternation; and they stopped short.
"How dare you say a silly thing like that?" cried Erebus fiercely.
"I didn't say it," protested Wiggins. "Mrs. Blenkinsop said it."
"That silly old gossip!" cried Erebus.
"And Mrs. Morton said it, too," said Wiggins. "They came to tea yesterday and talked about it. I was there: there was a plum cake—one of those rich ones from Springer's at Rowington. And they said it would be such a good thing for both of you because he's so awfully rich: the Terror would go to Eton; and you'd go to a good school and get a proper bringing-up and grow up a lady, after all—"
"I wouldn't go! I should hate it!" cried Erebus.
"Yes; they said you wouldn't like wholesome discipline," said the faithful reporter. "And they didn't seem to think your mother would like it either—marrying the Cruncher."
"Like it? She wouldn't dream of it—a bounder like that!" said the Terror.
"I don't know—I don't know—if she thought it would be good for us—she'd do anything for us—you know she would!" cried Erebus, wringing her hands in anxious fear.
The Terror thrust his hands into his pockets; his square chin stuck out in dogged resolution; a deep frown furrowed his brow; and his face was flushed.
"This must be stopped," he said through his set teeth.
"But how?" said Erebus.
"We'll find a way. It's war!" said the Terror darkly.
Wiggins spurned the earth joyfully: "I'm on your side," he said. "I'm a trusty ally. He called me Freckles."
"Come on," said the Terror. "We'd better face him."
They walked firmly to meet the detested enemy. As they drew near, the Terror's face recovered its flawless serenity; but Erebus was scowling still.
From twenty yards away Captain Baster greeted them in a rich hearty voice: "How's Terebus and the Error; and how's Freckles?" he cried, and laughed heartily at his own delightful humor.
The Twins greeted him with a cold, almost murderous politeness; Wiggins shook hands with Mrs. Dangerfield very warmly and left out Captain Baster.
"I'm always pleased to see you with the Twins, Wiggins," said Mrs. Dangerfield with her delightful smile. "I know you keep them out of mischief."
"It's generally all over before I come," said Wiggins somewhat glumly; and of a sudden it occurred to him to spurn the earth.
"I've not had that kiss yet, Terebus. I'm going to have it this time I'm here," said Captain Baster playfully; and he laughed his rich laugh.
"Are you?" said Erebus through her clenched teeth; and she gazed at him with the eyes of hate.
They turned; and Mrs. Dangerfield said, "You'll come to tea with us, Wiggins?"
"Thank you very much," said Wiggins; and he spurned the earth. As he alighted on it once more, he added. "Tea at other people's houses is so much nicer than at home. Don't you think so, Terror?"
"I always eat more—somehow," said the Terror with a grave smile.
They walked slowly across the common, a protecting twin on either side of Mrs. Dangerfield; and Captain Baster, in the strong facetious vein, enlivened the walk with his delightful humor. The gallant officer was the very climax of the florid, a stout, high-colored, black-eyed, glossy-haired young man of twenty-eight, with a large tip-tilted nose, neatly rounded off in a little knob forever shiny. The son of the famous pickle millionaire, he had enjoyed every advantage which great wealth can bestow, and was now enjoying heartily a brave career in a crack regiment. The crack regiment, cold, phlegmatic, unappreciative, was not enjoying it. To his brother officers he was known as Pallybaster, a name he had won for himself by his frequent remark, "I'm a very pally man." It was very true: it was difficult, indeed, for any one whom he thought might be useful to him, to avoid his friendship, for, in addition to all the advantages which great wealth bestows, he enjoyed an uncommonly thick skin, an armor-plate impenetrable to snubs.
All the way to Colet House, he maintained a gay facetious flow of personal talk that made Erebus grind her teeth, now and again suffused the face of Wiggins with a flush of mortification that dimmed his freckles, and wrinkled Mrs. Dangerfield's white brow in a distressful frown. The Terror, serene, impassive, showed no sign of hearing him; his mind was hard at work on this very serious problem with which he had been so suddenly confronted. More than once Erebus countered a witticism with a sharp retort, but with none sharp enough to pierce the rhinocerine hide of the gallant officer. Once this unbidden but humorous guest was under their roof, the laws of hospitality denied her even this relief. She could only treat him with a steely civility. The steeliness did not check the easy flow of his wit.
He looked oddly out of his place in the drawing-room of Colet House; he was too new for it. The old, worn, faded, carefully polished furniture, for the most part of the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, seemed abashed in the presence of his floridness. It seemed to demand the setting of spacious, ornately glittering hotels. Mrs. Dangerfield liked him less in her own drawing-room than anywhere. When her eyes rested on him in it, she was troubled by a curious feeling that only by some marvelous intervention of providence had he escaped calling in a bright plaid satin tie.
The fact that he was not in his proper frame, though he was not unconscious of it, did not trouble Captain Baster. Indeed, he took some credit to himself for being so little contemptuous of the shabby furniture. In a high good humor he went on shining and shining all through tea; and though at the end of it his luster was for a while dimmed by the discovery that he had left his cigarette-case at the inn and there were no cigarettes in the house, he was presently shining again. Then the Twins and Wiggins rose and retired firmly into the garden.
They came out into the calm autumn evening with their souls seething.
"He's a pig—and a beast! We can't let Mum marry him! We must stop it!" cried Erebus.
"It's all very well to say 'must.' But you know what Mum is: if she thinks a thing is for our good, do it she will," said the Terror gloomily.
"And she never consults us—never!" cried Erebus.
"Only when she's a bit doubtful," said the Terror.
"Then she's not doubtful now. She hasn't said a word to us about it," said Erebus.
"That's what looks so bad. It looks as if she'd made up her mind already; and if she has, it's no use talking to her," said the Terror yet more gloomily.
They were silent; and the bright eyes of Wiggins moved expectantly backward and forward from one to the other. He preserved a decorous sympathetic silence.
"No, it's no good talking to Mum," said Erebus presently in a despairing tone.
"Well, we must leave her out of it and just squash the Cruncher ourselves," said the Terror.
"But you can't squash the Cruncher!" cried Erebus.
"Why not? We've squashed other people, haven't we?" said the Terror sharply.
"Never any one so thick-skinned as him," said Erebus.
The Terror frowned deeply again: "We can always try," he said coldly. "And look here: I've been thinking all tea-time: if stepchildren don't like stepfathers, there's no reason why stepfathers should like stepchildren."
"The Cruncher likes us, though it's no fault of ours," said Erebus.
"That's just it; he doesn't really know us. If he saw the kind of stepchildren he was in for, it might choke him off," said the Terror.
"But he can't even see we hate him," objected Erebus.
"No, and if he did, he wouldn't mind, he'd think it a joke. My idea isn't to show him how we feel, but to show him what we can do, if we give our minds to it," said the Terror in a somewhat sinister tone.
Erebus gazed at him, taking in his meaning. Then a dazzling smile illumined her charming face; and she cried: "Oh, yes! Let's give him socks! Let's begin at once!"
"Yes: I'll help! I'm a trusty ally!" cried Wiggins; and he spurned the earth joyfully at the thought.
They were silent a while, their faces grave and intent, cudgeling their brains for some signal exploit with which to open hostilities.
Presently Wiggins said: "You might make him an apple-pie bed. They're very annoying when you're sleepy."
He spoke with an air of experience.
"What's an apple-pie bed?" said Erebus scornfully.
Wiggins hung his head, abashed.
"It's a beginning, anyhow," said the Terror in an approving tone; and he added with the air of a philosopher: "Little things, and big things, they all count."
"I was trying to think how to break his leg; but I can't," said Erebus bitterly.
"By Jove! That cigarette-case! Come on!" cried the Terror; and he led the way swiftly out of the garden and took the path to Little Deeping.
"Where are we going?" said Erebus.
"We're going to make him that apple-pie bed. There's nothing like making a beginning. We shall think of heaps of other things. If we don't worry about them, they'll occur to us. They always do," said the Terror, at once practical and philosophical.
They walked briskly down to The Plough, the one inn of Little Deeping, where, as usual, Captain Baster was staying, and went in through the front door which stood open. At the sound of their footsteps in her hall the stout but good-humored landlady came bustling out of the bar to learn what they wanted.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Pittaway," said the Terror politely. "We've come for Captain Baster's cigarette-case. He's left it somewhere in his room."
At the thought of handling the shining cigarette-case Mrs. Pittaway rubbed her hands on her apron; then the look of favor with which her eyes had rested on the fair guileless face of the Terror, changed to a frown; and she said: "Bother the thing! It's sure to be stuck somewhere out of sight. And the bar full, too."
"Don't you trouble; I'll get it. I know the bedroom," said the Terror with ready amiability; and he started to mount the stairs.
"Oh, thank you, sir," said Mrs. Pittaway, bustling back to the bar.
Erebus and Wiggins dashed lightly up the stairs after the Terror. In less than two minutes the deft hands of the Twins had dealt with the bed; and their intelligent eyes were eagerly scanning the hapless unprotected bedroom. Erebus sprang to the shaving-brush on the mantelpiece and thrust it under the mattress. The Terror locked Captain Baster's portmanteau; and as he placed the keys beside the shaving-brush, he said coldly:
"That'll teach him not to be so careless."
Erebus giggled; then she took the water-jug and filled one of Captain Baster's inviting dress-boots with water. Wiggins rocked with laughter.
"Don't stand giggling there! Why don't you do something?" said Erebus sharply.
Wiggins looked thoughtful; then he said: "A clothes-brush in bed is very annoying when you stick your foot against it."
He stepped toward the dressing-table; but the Terror was before him. He took the clothes-brush and set it firmly, bristles outward, against the bottom of the folded sheet of the apple-pie bed, where one or the other of Captain Baster's feet was sure to find it. The Terror did not care which foot was successful.
Then inspiration failed them; the Terror took the cigarette-case from the dressing-table; they came quietly down the stairs and out of the inn.
As they turned up the street the Terror said with modest if somewhat vengeful triumph: "There! you see things do occur to us." Then with his usual scrupulous fairness he added: "But it was Wiggins who set us going."
"I'm an ally; and he called me Freckles," said Wiggins vengefully; and once more he spurned the earth.
On their way home, half-way up the lane, where the trees arched most thickly overhead, they came to a patch of deepish mud which was too sheltered to have dried after the heavy rain of the day before.
"Mind the mud, Wiggins," said Erebus, mindful of his carelessness in the matter.
Wiggins walked gingerly along the side of it and said: "It wouldn't be a nice place to fall down in, would it?"
The Terror went on a few paces, stopped short, laughed a hard, sinister little laugh, and said: "Wiggins, you're a treasure!"
"What is it? What is it now?" said Erebus quickly.
"A little job of my own. It wouldn't do for you and Wiggins to have a hand in it, he'll swear so," said the Terror.
"Who'll swear?" said Erebus.
"The Cruncher. And you're a girl and Wiggins is too young to hear such language," said the Terror.
"Rubbish!" said Erebus sharply. "Tell us what it is."
The Terror shook his head.
"It's a beastly shame! I ought to help—I always do," cried Erebus in a bitterly aggrieved tone.
The Terror shook his head.
"All right," said Erebus. "Who wants to help in a stupid thing like that? But all the same you'll go and make a silly mull of it without me—you always do."
"You jolly well wait and see," said the Terror with calm confidence.
Erebus was still muttering darkly about piggishness when they reached the house.
They went into the drawing-room in a body and found Captain Baster still talking to their mother, in the middle, indeed, of a long story illustrating his prowess in a game of polo, on two three-hundred-guinea and one three-hundred-and-fifty-guinea ponies. He laid great stress on the prices he had paid for them.
When it came to an end, the Terror gave him his cigarette-case.
Mrs. Dangerfield observed this example of the thoughtfulness of her offspring with an air of doubtful surprise.
Captain Baster took the cigarette-case and said with hearty jocularity: "Thank you, Error—thank you. But why didn't you bring it to me, Terebus? Then you'd have earned that kiss I'm going to give you."
Erebus gazed at him with murderous eyes, and said in a sinister tone: "Oh, I helped to get it."
At seven o'clock Captain Baster took his leave to dine at his inn. Of his own accord he promised faithfully to return at nine sharp. He left the house a proud and happy man, for he knew that he had been shining before Mrs. Dangerfield with uncommon brilliance.
He was not by any means blind to her charm and beauty, for though she was four years older than he, she contrived never to look less than two years younger, and that without any aid from the cosmetic arts. But he chiefly saw in her an admirable ladder to those social heights to which his ardent soul aspired to climb. She had but to return to the polite world from which the loss of her husband and her straightened circumstances had removed her, to find herself a popular woman with a host of friends in the exalted circles Captain Baster burned to adorn. Yet it must not for a moment be supposed that he was proposing a mercenary marriage for her; he was sure that she loved him, for he felt rather than knew that with women he was irresistible.
It was not love, however, that knitted Mrs. Dangerfield's brow in a troubled frown as she dressed; nor was it love that caused her to select to wear that evening one of her oldest and dowdiest gowns, a gown with which she had never been truly pleased. The troubled air did not leave her face during dinner; and it seemed to affect the Twins, for they, too, were gloomy. They were pleased, indeed, with the beginning of the campaign, but still very doubtful of success in the end. Where their interests were concerned their mother was of a firmness indeed hard to move.
Moreover, she kept looking at them in an odd considering fashion that disturbed them, especially at the Terror. Erebus in a pretty light frock of her mother's days of prosperity, which had been cut down and fitted to her, was a sight to brighten any one's eyes; but the sleeves of the dark coat which the Terror wore on Sundays and on gala evenings, bared a length of wrist distressing to a mother's eye.
The fine high spirits of Captain Baster were somewhat dashed by his failure to find his keys and open his portmanteau, since he would be unable to ravish Mrs. Dangerfield's eye that evening by his distinguished appearance in the unstained evening dress of an English gentleman. After a long hunt for the mislaid keys, in which the harried staff of The Plough took part, he made up his mind that he must appear before her, with all apologies, in the tweed suit he was wearing. It was a bitter thought, for in a tweed suit he could not really feel a conquering hero after eight o'clock at night.
Then he put his foot into a dress-boot full of cold water. It was a good water-tight boot; and it had faithfully retained all of the water its lining had not soaked up. The gallant officer said a good deal about its retentive properties to the mute boot.
At dinner be learned from Mrs. Pittaway that the obliging Terror had himself fetched the cigarette-case from his bedroom. A flash of intuition connected the Terror with the watered boot; and he begged her, with loud acerbity, never again to let any one—any one!!—enter his bedroom. Mrs. Pittaway objected that slops could not be emptied, or beds made without human intervention. He begged her, not perhaps unreasonably, not to talk like a fool; and she liked him none the better for his directness.
Food always soothed him; and he rose from his dinner in better spirits. As he rose from it, the Terror, standing among the overarching trees which made the muddy patch in the lane so dark, was drawing a clothes-line tight. It ran through the hedge that hid him to the hedge on the other side of the lane. There it was fastened to a stout stake; and he was fastening it to the lowest rail of a post and rails. At its tightest it rose a foot above the roadway just at the beginning of the mud-patch. It was at its tightest.
Heartened by his dinner and two extra whiskies and sodas, Captain Baster set out for Colet House at a brisk pace. As he moved through the bracing autumn air, his spirits rose yet higher; that night—that very night he would crown Mrs. Dangerfield's devotion with his avowal of an answering passion. He pressed forward swiftly like a conqueror; and like a conqueror he whistled. Then he found the clothes-line, suddenly, pitched forward and fell, not heavily, for the mud was thick, but sprawling. He rose, oozy and dripping, took a long breath, and the welkin shuddered as it rang.
The Terror did not shudder; he was going home like the wind.
Having sent Erebus to bed at a few minutes to nine Mrs. Dangerfield waited restlessly for her tardy guest, her charming face still set in a troubled frown. Her woman's instinct assured her that Captain Baster would propose that night; and she dreaded it. Two or three times she rose and walked up and down the room; and when she saw her deep, dark, troubled eyes in the two old, almost giltless round mirrors, they did not please her as they usually did. Those eyes were one of the sources from which had sprung Captain Baster's attraction to her.
But there were the Twins; she longed to do so many useful, needful things for them; and marriage with Captain Baster was the way of doing them. She told herself that he would make an excellent stepfather and husband; that under his unfortunate manner were a good heart and sterling qualities. She assured herself that she had the power to draw them out; once he was her husband, she would change him. But still she was ill at ease. Perhaps, in her heart of hearts, she was doubtful of her power to make a silk purse out of rhinoceros hide.
When at last a note came from The Plough to say that he was unfortunately prevented from coming that evening, but would come next morning to take her for a walk, she was filled with so extravagant a relief that it frightened her. She sat down and wrote out a telegram to her brother, rang for old Sarah, their trusty hard-working maid, and bade her tell the Terror, who had slipped quietly upstairs to bed at one minute to nine, to send it off in the morning. She did not wish to take the chance of not waking and despatching it as early as possible. She must have advice; and Sir Maurice Falconer was not only a shrewd man of the world, but he would also advise her with the keenest regard for her interests. She tried not to hope that he would find marriage with Captain Baster incompatible with them.
Captain Baster awoke in less than his usual cheerfulness. He thought for a while of the Terror and boots and mud with a gloomy unamiability. Then he rose and betook himself to his toilet. In the middle of it he missed his shaving-brush. He hunted for it furiously; he could have sworn that he had taken it out of his portmanteau. He did swear, but not to any definite fact. There was nothing for it: he must expose his tender chin to the cruel razor of a village barber.
Then he disliked the look of his tweed suit; all traces of mud had not vanished from it. In one short night it had lost its pristine freshness. This and the ordeal before his chin made his breakfast gloomy; and soon after it he entered the barber's shop with the air of one who has abandoned hope. Later he came out of it with his roving black eye full of tears of genuine feeling; his scraped chin was smarting cruelly and unattractive in patches—red patches. At the door the breathless, excited and triumphant maid of the inn accosted him with the news that she had just found his keys and his shaving-brush under the mattress of his bed. He looked round the village of Little Deeping blankly; it suddenly seemed to him a squalid place.
None the less it was a comforting thought that he would not be put to the expense of having his portmanteau broken open and fitted with a new lock, for his great wealth had never weakened the essential thriftiness of his soul. Half an hour later, in changed tweeds but with unchanged chin, he took his way to Colet House, thinking with great unkindness of his future stepson. As he drew near it he saw that that stepson was awaiting him at the garden gate; nearer still he saw that he was awaiting him with an air of ineffable serenity.
The Terror politely opened the gate for him, and with a kind smile asked him if he had slept well.
The red blood of the Basters boiled in the captain's veins, and he said somewhat thickly: "Look here, my lad, I don't want any more of your tricks! You play another on me, and I'll give you the soundest licking you ever had in your life!"
The serenity on the Terror's face broke up into an expression of the deepest pain: "Whatever's the matter?" he said in a tone of amazement. "I thought you loved a joke. You said you did—yesterday—at tea."
"You try it on again!" said Captain Baster.
"Now, whatever has put your back up?" said the Terror in a tone of even greater amazement. "Was it the apple-pie bed, or the lost keys, or the water in the boot, or the clothes-line across the road?"
It was well that the Terror could spring with a cat's swiftness: Captain Baster's boot missed him by a hair's breadth.
The Terror ran round the house, in at the back door and up to the bedroom of Erebus.
"Waxy?" he cried joyously. "He's black in the face! I told him he said he loved a joke."
Erebus only growled deep down in her throat. She was bitterly aggrieved that she had not had a hand in Captain Baster's downfall the night before. The Terror had awakened her to tell her joyfully of his glorious exploit and of the shuddering welkin.
He paid no heed to the rumbling of her discontent; he said: "Now, you quite understand. You'll stick to them like a leech. You won't give him any chance of talking to Mum alone. It's most important."
"I understand. But what's that? Anybody could do it," she said in a tone of extreme bitterness. "It's you that's getting all the real fun."
"But you'll be able to make yourself beastly disagreeable, if you're careful," said the Terror.
"Of course, I shall. But what's that? I tell you what it is: I'm going to have my proper share of the real fun. The first chance I get, I'm going to stone him—so there!" said Erebus fiercely.
"All right. But it doesn't seem quite the thing for a girl to do," said the Terror in a judicial tone.
"Rats!" said Erebus.
It was well that Mrs. Dangerfield kept Captain Baster waiting; it gave the purple tinge, which was heightening his floridness somewhat painfully, time to fade. When she did come to him, he was further annoyed by the fact that Erebus came too, and with a truculent air announced her intention of accompanying them. Mrs. Dangerfield was surprised; Erebus seldom showed any taste for such a gentle occupation. Also she was relieved; she did not want Captain Baster to propose before she had taken counsel with her brother.
Captain Baster started in a gloomy frame of mind; he did not try to hide from himself the fact that Mrs. Dangerfield had lost some of her charm: she was the mother of the Terror. He found, too, that his instinctive distaste for the company of Erebus was not ungrounded. She was a nuisance; she would talk about wet boots; the subject seemed to fascinate her. Then, when at last he recovered his spirits, grew once more humorous, and even rose to the proposing point, there was no getting rid of her. She was impervious to hints; she refused, somewhat pertly, to pause and gather the luscious blackberries. How could a man be his humorous self in these circumstances? He felt that his humor was growing strained, losing its delightful lightness.
Then the accident: it was entirely Erebus' own fault (he could swear it) that he tripped over her foot and pitched among those infernal brambles. Her howls of anguish were all humbug: he had not hurt her ankle (he could swear it); there was not a tear. The moment he offered, furiously, to carry her, she walked without a vestige of a limp.
Mrs. Dangerfield had no right to look vexed with him; if one brought up one's children like that—well. Certainly she was losing her charm; she was the mother of Erebus also.
His doubt, whether the mother of such children was the right kind of wife for him, had grown very serious indeed, when, as they drew near Colet House, a slim, tall young man of an extreme elegance and distinction came through the garden gate to meet them.
With a cry of "Uncle Maurice!" the crippled Erebus dashed to meet him with the light bounds of an antelope. Captain Baster could hardly believe his eyes; he knew the young man by sight, by name and by repute. It was Sir Maurice Falconer, a man he longed to boast his friend. With his aid a man might climb to the highest social peaks.
When Mrs. Dangerfield introduced him as her brother (he had never dreamed it) he could not believe his good fortune. But why had he not learned this splendid fact before? Why had he been kept in the dark? He did not reflect that he had been so continuously busy making confidences about himself, his possessions and his exploits to her that he had given her the smallest opportunities of telling him anything about herself.
But he was not one to lose a golden opportunity; he set about making up for lost time with a will; and never had he so thoroughly demonstrated his right to the name of Pallybaster. His friendliness was overwhelming. Before the end of lunch he had invited Sir Maurice to dine with him at his mess, to dine with him at two of his clubs, to shoot with him, to ride a horse of his in the forthcoming regimental steeplechases, to go with him on a yachting cruise in the Mediterranean.
All through the afternoon his friendliness grew and grew. He could not bear that any one else should have a word with Sir Maurice. The Twins were intolerable with their interruptions, their claims on their uncle's attention. They disgusted Captain Baster: when he became their stepfather, it would be his first task to see that they learned a respectful silence in the presence of their elders.
He never gave a thought to his proposal; he sought no occasion to make it. Captain Baster's love was of his life a thing apart, but his social aspirations were the chief fact of his existence. Besides, there was no haste; he knew that Mrs. Dangerfield was awaiting his avowal with a passionate eagerness; any time would do for that. But he must seize the fleeting hour and bind Sir Maurice to himself by the bond of the warmest friendship.
Again and again he wondered how Sir Maurice could give his attention to the interrupting exacting Twins, when he had a man of the world, humorous, knowing, wealthy, to talk to. He tried to make opportunities for him to escape from them; Sir Maurice missed those opportunities; he did not seem to see them. In truth Captain Baster was a little disappointed in Sir Maurice: he did not find him frankly responsive: polite—yes; indeed, politeness could go no further. But he lacked warmth. After all he had not pinned him down to the definite acceptance of a single invitation.
When, at seven o'clock, he tore himself away with the hearty assurance that he would be back at nine sharp, he was not sure that he had made a bosom friend. He felt that the friendship might need clenching.
As the front door shut behind him, Sir Maurice wiped his brow with the air of one who has paused from exhausting toil: "I feel sticky—positively sticky," he said. "Oh, Erebus, you do have gummy friends! I thought we should never get rid of him. I thought he'd stuck himself to us for the rest of our natural lives."
Mrs. Dangerfield smiled; and the Terror said in a tone of deep meaning: "That's what he's up to."
"He's not a friend of mine!" cried Erebus hotly.
"We call him the Cruncher—because of his teeth," said the Terror.
"Then beware, Erebus—beware! You are young and possibly savory," said Sir Maurice.
"You children had better go and get ready for dinner," said Mrs. Dangerfield.
The Twins went to the door. On the threshold Erebus turned and said: "It's Mum he wants to crunch up—not me."
The bolt shot, she fled through the door.
Sir Maurice looked at his sister and said softly:
"Oho! I see—heroism. That was what you wanted to consult me about." Then he laid his hand on her shoulder affectionately and added: "It won't do, Anne—it won't do at all. I am convinced of it."
"Do you think so?" said Mrs. Dangerfield in a tone in which disappointment and relief were very nicely blended.
"Think? I'm sure of it," said Sir Maurice in a tone of complete conviction.
"But the children; he could do so much for the children," pleaded Mrs. Dangerfield.
"He could, but he wouldn't. That kind of bounder never does any one any good but himself. No, no; the children are right in calling him the Cruncher. He would just crunch you up; and it is a thousand times better for them to have an uncrunched mother than all the money that ever came out of pickles."
"Well, you know best. You do understand these things," said Mrs. Dangerfield; and she sighed.
"I do understand Basters," said Sir Maurice in a confident tone.
Mrs. Dangerfield ran up-stairs to dress, on the light feet of a girl; a weight oppressive, indeed, had been lifted from her spirit.
Dinner was a very bright and lively meal, though now and again a grave thoughtfulness clouded the spirits of Erebus. Once Sir Maurice asked her the cause of it. She only shook her head.
Captain Baster ate his dinner in a sizzling excitement: he knew that he had made a splendid first impression; he was burning to deepen it. But on his eager way back to Colet House, he walked warily, feeling before him with his stick for clotheslines. He came out of the dark lane into the broad turf road, which runs across the common to the house, with a strong sense of relief and became once more his hearty care-free self.
There was not enough light to display the jaunty air with which he walked in all its perfection; but there seemed to be light enough for more serious matters, for a stone struck him on the thigh with considerable force. He had barely finished the jump of pained surprise with which he greeted it, when another stone whizzed viciously past his head; then a third struck him on the shoulder.
With the appalling roar of a bull of Bashan the gallant officer dashed in the direction whence, he judged, the stones came. He was just in time to stop a singularly hard stone with his marble brow. Then he found a gorse-bush (by tripping over a root) a gorse-bush which seemed unwilling to release him from its stimulating, not to say prickly, embrace. As he wallowed in it another stone found him, his ankle-bone.
He wrenched himself from the embrace of the gorse-bush, found his feet and realized that there was only one thing to do. He tore along the turf road to Colet House as hard as he could pelt. A stone struck the garden gate as he opened it. He did not pause to ring; he opened the front door, plunged heavily across the hall into the drawing-room. The Terror formed the center of a domestic scene; he was playing draughts with his Uncle Maurice.
Captain Baster glared at him with unbelieving eyes and gasped: "I—I made sure it was that young whelp!"
This sudden violent entry of a bold but disheveled hussar produced a natural confusion; Mrs. Dangerfield, Sir Maurice and the Terror sprang to their feet, asking with one voice what had befallen him.
Captain Baster sank heavily on to a chair and instantly sprang up from it with a howl as he chanced on several tokens of the gorse-bush's clinging affection.
"I've been stoned—stoned by some hulking scoundrels on the common!" he cried; and he displayed the considerable bump rising on his marble brow.
Mrs. Dangerfield was full of concern and sympathy; Sir Maurice was cool, interested but cool; he did not blaze up into the passionate indignation of a bosom friend.
"How many of them were there?" said the Terror.
"From the number of stones they threw I should think there were a dozen," said Captain Baster; and he panted still.
The Terror looked puzzled.
"I know—I know what it is!" cried Mrs. Dangerfield with an illuminating flash of womanly intuition. "You've been humorous with some of the villagers!"
"No, no! I haven't joked with a single one of them!" cried Captain Baster. "But I'll teach the scoundrels a lesson! I'll put the police on them tomorrow morning. I'll send for a detective from London. I'll prosecute them."
Then Erebus entered, her piquant face all aglow: "I couldn't find your handkerchief anywhere, Mum. It took me ever such a time," she said, giving it to her.
The puzzled air faded from the Terror's face; and he said in a tone of deep meaning: "Have you been running to find it? You're quite out of breath."
For a moment a horrid suspicion filled the mind of Captain Baster. . . . But no: it was impossible—a child in whose veins flowed some of the bluest blood in England. Besides, her slender arms could never have thrown the stones as straight and hard as that.
On the other hand Sir Maurice appeared to have lost for once his superb self-possession; he was staring at his beautiful niece with his mouth slightly open. He muttered; something about finding his handkerchief, and stumbled out of the room. They heard a door bang up-stairs; then, through the ceiling, they heard a curious drumming sound. It occurred to the Terror that it might be the heels of Sir Maurice on the floor.
Mrs. Dangerfield rang for old Sarah and instructed her to pull the gorse prickles out of Captain Baster's clothes. She had nearly finished when Sir Maurice returned. He carried a handkerchief in his hand, and he had recovered his superb self-possession; but he seemed somewhat exhausted.
Captain Baster was somewhat excessive in the part of the wounded hero; and for a while he continued to talk ferociously of the vengeance he would wreak on the scoundrelly villagers. But after a while he forgot his pricks and bruises to bask in the presence of Sir Maurice; and he plied him with unflagging friendliness for the rest of the evening.
The Twins were allowed to sit up till ten o'clock since their Uncle Maurice was staying with them; and since the Terror was full of admiration and approval of Erebus' strenuous endeavor to instil into Captain Baster the perils and drawbacks of stepfatherhood, he brushed out her abundant hair for her, an office he sometimes performed when she was in high favor with him. As he did it she related gleefully the stoning of their enemy.
When she had done, he said warmly: "It was ripping. But the nuisance is: he doesn't know it was you who did it, and so it's rather wasted."
"Don't you worry: I'll let him know sometime to-morrow," said Erebus firmly.
"Yes; but he's awfully waxy: suppose he prosecutes you?" said the Terror doubtfully.
Erebus considered the point; then she said: "I don't think he'd do that; he'd look so silly being stoned by a girl. Anyhow, I'll chance it."
"All right," said the Terror. "It's worth chancing it to put him off marrying mother. And of course Uncle Maurice is here. He'll see nothing serious happens."
"Of course he will," said Erebus.
It must have been that the unflagging friendliness of Captain Baster had weighed on their uncle's mind, for Erebus, coming softly on him from behind as he leaned over the garden gate after breakfast, heard him singing to himself, and paused to listen to his song.
"Where did his colonel dig him up, So young, so fair, so sweet, With his shining nose, and his square, square toes? Was it Wapping or Basinghall Street?"
He was so pleased with the effort that he sang it over to himself, softly, twice with an air of deep satisfaction; and twice the moving but silent lips of Erebus repeated it.
He was silent; and she said: "Oh, uncle! It's splendid!"
Sir Maurice started and turned sharply: "You tell any one, little pitcher, and I'll pull your long ears," he said amiably.
Erebus made no rash promises; she gazed at him with inscrutable eyes; then nodding toward a figure striding swiftly over the common, she said: "Here he comes."
Sir Maurice gained the threshold of the front door in two bounds, paused and cried: "I'm going back to bed! Tell him I'm in bed!"
He vanished, slamming the door behind him.
Captain Baster asked for Sir Maurice cheerfully; and his face fell when Erebus told him that he had gone back to bed. Mrs. Dangerfield, informed of her brother's shrinking, had to be very firm with his new friend to induce him to go for a walk with her and Erebus. He showed an inclination to linger about the house till his sun should rise.
Then he tried to shorten the walk; but in this matter too Mrs. Dangerfield was firm. She did not bring him back till half past twelve, only to learn that Sir Maurice was very busy writing letters in his bedroom. Captain Baster hoped for an invitation to lunch (he hinted as much) but he was disappointed. In the end he returned to The Plough, chafing furiously; he felt that his morning had been barren.
He was soon back at Colet House, but too late; Sir Maurice had started on a walk with the Terror. Captain Baster said cheerily that he would overtake them, and set out briskly to do so. He walked hard enough to compass that end; and it is probable that he would have had a much better chance of succeeding, had not Erebus sent him eastward whereas Sir Maurice and the Terror had gone westward.
Captain Baster returned to Colet House in time for tea; and his heart swelled big within him to learn that Mrs. Dangerfield had invited some friends to meet him and her brother. Here was his chance to shine, to show Sir Maurice his social mettle.
He could have wished that the party had been larger. They were only a dozen all told: Mr. Carruthers, the squire of Little Deeping, the vicar and his wife, the higher mathematician, father of Wiggins, Mrs. Blenkinsop and Mrs. Morton, and Wiggins himself, who had spent most of the afternoon with Erebus. Captain Baster would have preferred thirty or forty, but none the less he fell to work with a will.
Mrs. Dangerfield had taken advantage of the Indian summer afternoon to have tea in the garden; and it gave him room to expand. He was soon the life and soul of the gathering. He was humorous with the vicar about the church, and with the squire about the dulling effect of the country on the intelligence. He tried to be humorous with Mr. Carrington, the higher mathematician, whom he took to have retired from some profession or business. This was so signal a failure that he dropped humor and became important, telling them of his flat in town and his country-house, their size and their expensive furniture; he told them about his motor-cars, his exploits at regimental cricket, at polo and at golf.
He patronized every one with a splendid affability, every one except Sir Maurice; and him he addressed, with a flattering air of perfect equality, as "Maurice, old boy," or "Maurice, old chap," or plain "Maurice." He did shine; his agreeable exertions threw him into a warm perspiration; his nose shone especially; and they all hated him.
The Twins were busy handing round tea-cups and cakes, but they were aware that their mother's tea-party was a failure. As a rule her little parties were so pleasant with their atmosphere of friendliness; and her guests went away pleased with themselves, her and one another. The Terror was keenly alive to the effect of Captain Baster; and a faint persistent frown troubled his serenity. Erebus was more dimly aware that her enemy was spoiling the party. Only Sir Maurice and Mr. Carrington really enjoyed the humorist; and Sir Maurice's enjoyment was mingled with vexation.
Every one had finished their tea; and they were listening to Captain Baster in a dull aggravation and blank silence, when he came to the end of his panegyric on his possessions and accomplishments, and remembered his grievance. Forthwith he related at length the affair of the night before: how he had been stoned by a dozen hulking scoundrels on the common. When he came to the end of it, he looked round for sympathy.
His audience wore a strained rather than sympathetic air, all of them except the higher mathematician who had turned away and was coughing violently.
The vicar broke the silence; he said: "Er—er—yes; most extraordinary. But I don't think it could have been the villagers. They're—er—very peaceful people."
"It must have been some rowdies from Rowington," said the squire in the loud tone of a man trying to persuade his hearers that he believed what he said.
Erebus rose and walked to the gravel path; their eyes fixed in an incredulous unwinking stare.
She picked up three pebbles from the path, choosing them with some care. The first pebble hit the weathercock, which rose above the right gable of the house, plumb in the middle; the second missed its tail by a couple of inches; the third hit its tail, and the weathercock spun round as if a vigorous gale were devoting itself to its tail only.
"That's where I meant to hit it the first time," said Erebus with a little explanatory wave of her hand; and she returned to her seat.
The silence that fell was oppressive. Captain Baster gazed earnestly at Erebus, his roving black eyes fixed in an incredulous unwinking stare.
"That shows you the danger of jumping to hasty conclusions," said the higher mathematician in his clear agreeable voice. "I made sure it was the Terror."
"So did I," said the vicar.
"I'd have bet on it," said the squire.
The silence fell again. Mechanically Captain Baster rubbed the blue bump on his marble brow.
Erebus broke the silence; she said: "Has any one heard Wiggins' new song?"
The squire, hastily and thoughtlessly, cried: "No! Let's hear it!"
"Come on, Wiggins!" cried the vicar heartily.
They felt that the situation was saved.
Sir Maurice did not share their relief; he knew what was coming, knew it in the depths of his horror-stricken heart. He ground his teeth softly and glared at the piquant and glowing face of his niece as if he could have borne the earth's suddenly opening and swallowing her up.
The blushing Wiggins held back a little, and kicked his left foot with his right. Then pushed forward by the eager Terror, to whom Erebus had chanted the song before lunch, he stepped forward and in his dear shrill treble, sang, slightly out of tune:
"Where did his colonel dig him up, So young, so fair, so sweet, With his shining nose, and his square, square toes? Was it Wapping or Basinghall Street?"
As he sang Wiggins looked artlessly at Captain Baster; as he finished everybody was looking at Captain Baster's boots; his feet required them square-toed.
Captain Baster's face was a rich rose-pink; he, glared round the frozen circle now trying hard not to look at his boots; he saw the faces melt into irrepressible smiles; he looked to Sir Maurice, the man he had made his bosom friend, for an indignant outburst; Sir Maurice was smiling, too.
Captain Baster snorted fiercely; then he swelled with splendid dignity, and said loudly, but thickly, "I refuse! Yes, I refuse to mix in a society where children are brought up as hooligans yes: as hooligans!"
He turned on his heel, strode to the gate, and turned and bellowed, "Hooligans!"
He flung himself through the gate and strode violently across the common.
"Oh, Wiggins! How could you?" cried Mrs. Dangerfield in a tone of horror.
"It wasn't Wiggins! It was me! I taught him. He didn't understand," said Erebus loyally.
"I did understand—quite. But why did he call me Freckles?" said Wiggins in a vengeful tone. "Nobody can help having freckles."
AND THE CATS' HOME
They watched the retreating figure of Captain Baster till it was lost to sight among the gorse, in silence. They were glad at his going, but sorry at the manner of it, since Mrs. Dangerfield looked distressed and vexed.
Then the vicar said: "There is a good deal to be said for the point of view of Wiggins, Mrs. Dangerfield. After all, Captain Baster was the original aggressor."
"Nevertheless I must apologize for my son's exploding such an uncommonly violent bomb at a quiet garden party," said the higher mathematician. "I suspect he underrated its effect."
His tone was apologetic, but there was no excess of contrition in it.
"What I think is that Captain Baster's notion of humor is catching; and that it affected Erebus and Wiggins," said Sir Maurice amiably. "And if we start apologizing, there will be no end to it. I should have to come in myself as the maker of the bomb who carelessly left it lying about."
"It was certainly a happy effort," said the vicar, smiling. Then he changed the subject firmly, saying: "We're going to London next week; perhaps you could recommend a play to us to go to, Sir Maurice."
A faint ripple of grateful relaxation ran round the circle and presently it was clear that in taking himself off Captain Baster had lifted a wet blanket of quite uncommon thickness from the party. They were talking easily and freely; and Mrs. Dangerfield and Sir Maurice were seeing to it that every one, even Mrs. Blenkinsop and Mrs. Morton, were getting their little chances of shining. The Twins and Wiggins slipped away; and their elders talked the more at their ease for their going. In the end the little gathering which Captain Baster had so nearly crushed, broke up in the best of spirits, all the guests in a state of amiable satisfaction with Mrs. Dangerfield, themselves and one another.
After they had gone Sir Maurice and Mrs. Dangerfield discussed the exploits of Erebus; and he did his best to abate her distress at the two onslaughts his violent niece had made on a guest. The Terror was also doing his best in the matter: with unbending firmness he prevented Erebus, eager to enjoy her uncle's society, from returning to the house till it was time to dress for dinner. He wished to give his mother time to get over the worst of her annoyance.
Thanks to their efforts Mrs. Dangerfield did not rebuke her violent daughter with any great severity. But even so, Erebus did not receive these milder rebukes in the proper meek spirit. Unlike the philosophic Terror, who for the most part accepted his mother's just rebukes, after a doubtful exploit, with a disarming sorrowful air, Erebus must always make out a case for herself; and she did so now.
Displaying an injured air, she took the ground that Captain Baster was not really a guest on the previous evening, since he was making a descent on the house uninvited, and therefore he did not come within the sphere of the laws of hospitality.
"Besides he never behaved like a guest," she went on in a bitterly aggrieved tone. "He was always making himself objectionable to every one—especially to me. And if he was always trying to score off me, I'd a perfect right to score off him. And anyhow, I wasn't going to let him marry you without doing everything I could to stop it. He'd be a perfectly beastly stepfather—you know he would."
This was an aspect of the matter Mrs. Dangerfield had no desire to discuss; and flushing a little, she contented herself with closing the discussion by telling Erebus not to do it again. She knew that however bitterly Erebus might protest against a just rebuke, she would take it sufficiently to heart. She was sure that she would not stone another guest.
With the departure of Captain Baster peace settled on Colet House; and Sir Maurice enjoyed very much his three days' stay. The Twins, though they were in that condition of subdued vivacity into which they always fell after a signal exploit that came to their mother's notice, were very pleasant companions; and the peaceful life and early hours of Little Deeping were grateful after the London whirl. Also he had many talks with his sister on the matter of settling down in life, a course of action she frequently urged on him.
When he went the Twins felt a certain dulness. It was not acute boredom; they were preserved from that by the fact that the Terror went every morning to study the classics with the vicar, and Erebus learned English and French with her mother. Their afternoon leisure, therefore, rarely palled on them.
One afternoon, as they came out of the house after lunch, Erebus suggested that they should begin by ambushing Wiggins. They went, therefore, toward Mr. Carrington's house which stood nearly a mile away on the outskirts of Little Deeping, and watched it from the edge of the common. They saw their prey in the garden; and he tried their patience by staying there for nearly a quarter of an hour.
Then he came briskly up the road to the common. Their eyes began to shine with the expectation of immediate triumph, when, thirty yards from the common's edge, in a sudden access of caution, he bolted for covert and disappeared in the gorse sixty yards away on their left. They fell noiselessly back, going as quickly as concealment permitted, to cut him off. They were successful. They caught him crossing an open space, yelled "Bang!" together; and in accordance with the rules of the game Wiggins fell to the ground.
They scalped him with yells of such a piercing triumph that the immemorial oaks for a quarter of a mile round emptied themselves hastily of the wood-pigeons feeding on their acorns.
Wiggins rose gloomily, gloomily took from his knickerbockers pocket his tattered and grimy notebook, gloomily made an entry in it, and gloomily said: "That makes you two games ahead." Then he spurned the earth and added: "I'm going to have a bicycle."
The Twins looked at each other darkly; Erebus scowled, and a faint frown broke the ineffable serenity of the Terror's face.
"There'll be no living with Wiggins now, he'll be so cocky," said Erebus bitterly.
"Oh, no; he won't," said the Terror. "But we ought to have bicycles, too. We want them badly. We never get really far from the village. We always get stopped on the way—rats, or something." And his guileless, dreamy blue eyes swept the distant autumn hills with a look of yearning.
"There are orchards over there where they don't know us," said Erebus wistfully.
"We must have bicycles. I've been thinking so for a long time," said the Terror.
"We must have the moon!" said Erebus with cold scorn.
"Bicycles aren't so far away," said the Terror sagely.
They moved swiftly across the common. Erebus poured forth a long monotonous complaint about the lack of bicycles, which, for them, made this Cosmic All a mere time-honored cheat. With ears impervious to his sister's vain lament, the Terror strode on serenely thoughtful, pondering this pressing problem. Now and again, for obscure but profound reasons, Wiggins spurned the earth and proceeded by leaps and bounds.
Possibly it was the monotonous plaint of his sister which caused the Terror to say: "I've got a penny. We'll go and get some bull's-eyes."
At any rate the monotonous plaint ceased.
They had returned on their steps across the common, and were nearing the village, when they met three small boys. One of them carried a kitten.
Erebus stopped short. "What are you going to do with that kitten, Billy Beck?" she said.
"We be goin' to drown 'im in the pond," said Billy Beck in the important tones of an executioner.
Erebus sprang; and the kitten was in her hands. "You're not going to do anything of the sort, you little beast!" she said.
The round red face of Billy Beck flushed redder with rage and disappointment, and he howled:
"Gimme my kitty! Mother says she won't 'ave 'im about the 'ouse, an' I could drown 'im."
"You won't have him," said Erebus.
Billy Beck and his little brothers, robbed of their simple joy, burst into blubbering roar of "It's ourn! It ain't yourn! It's ourn!"
"It isn't! A kitten isn't any one's to drown!" cried Erebus.
The Terror gazed at Erebus and Billy Beck with judicial eyes, the cold personification of human justice. Erebus edged away from him ready to fly, should human justice intervene actively. The Terror put his hand in his pocket and fumbled. He drew out a penny, and looked at it earnestly. He was weighing the respective merits of justice and bull's-eyes.
"Here's a penny for your kitten. You can buy bull's-eyes with it," he said with a sigh, and held out the coin.
A sudden greed sparkled in Billy Beck's tearful eyes. "'E's worth more'n a penny—a kitty like 'im!" he blubbered.
"Not to drown. It's all you'll get," said the Terror curtly. He tossed the penny to Billy's feet, turned on his heel and went back across the common away from the village. Some of the brightness faded out of the faces of Erebus and Wiggins.
"I wouldn't have given him a penny. He was only going to drown the kitten," said Erebus in a grudging tone.
"It was his kitten. We couldn't take it without paying for it," said the Terror coldly.
Erebus followed him, cuddling the kitten and talking to it as she went.
Presently Wiggins spurned the earth and said, "There ought to be a home for kittens nobody wants—and puppies."
The Terror stopped short, and said: "By Jove! There's Aunt Amelia!"
Erebus burst into a bitter complaint of the stinginess of Aunt Amelia, who had more money than all the rest of the family put together, and yet never rained postal orders on deserving nieces and nephews, but spent it all on horrid cats' homes.
"That's just it," said the Terror in a tone of considerable animation. "Come along; I want you to write a letter."
"I'm not going to write any disgusting letter!" cried Erebus hotly.
"Then you're not going to get any bicycle. Come on. I'll look out the words in the dictionary, and Wiggins can help because, seeing so much of his father, he's got into the way of using grammar. It'll be useful. Come on!"
They came on, Wiggins, as always, deeply impressed by the importance of being a helper of the Twins, for they were in their fourteenth year, and only ten brief wet summers had passed over his own tousled head, Erebus clamoring to have her suddenly aroused curiosity gratified. Practise had made the Terror's ears impervious at will to his sister's questions, which were frequent and innumerable. Without a word of explanation he led the way home; without a word he set her down at the dining-room table with paper and ink before her, and sat down himself on the opposite side of it, a dictionary in his hand and Wiggins by his side.
Then he said coldly: "Now don't make any blots, or you'll have to do it all over again."
"I never make blots! It's you that makes blots!" cried Erebus, ruffled. "Mr. Etheridge says I write ever so much better than you do. Ever so much better."
"That's why you're writing the letter and not me," said the Terror coldly. "Fire away: 'My dear Aunt Amelia'—I say, Wiggins, what's the proper words for 'awfully keen'?"
"'Keen' is 'interested'—I don't know how many 'r's' there are in 'interested'—and 'awfully' is an awfully difficult word," said Wiggins, pondering.
The Terror looked up "interested" in the dictionary with a laborious painfulness, and announced triumphantly that there was but a single "r" in it; then he said, "What's the right word for 'awfully,' Wiggins? Buck up!"
"'Tremendously,'" said Wiggins with the air of a successful Columbus.
"That's it," said the Terror. "'My dear Aunt Amelia: I have often heard that you are tremendously interested in cats' homes'"—
"I should think you had!" said Erebus.
"Now don't jabber, please; just stick to the writing," said the Terror. "I've got to make this letter a corker; and how can I think if you jabber?"
Erebus made a hideous grimace and bent to her task.
"'Little Deeping wants a cats' home awfully'—no: 'tremendously.' I like that word 'tremendously'; it means something," said the Terror.
"You're jabbering yourself now," said Erebus unpleasantly.
Ruffling his fair hair in the agony of composition, the Terror continued: "'The quantity of kittens that are drowned is horrible'—that ought to fetch her; kittens are so much nicer than cats—'and I have been thinking'—Oughtn't you to put in some stops?"
"I'm putting in stops—lots," said Erebus contemptuously.
"'I have been thinking—that if you wanted to have a cats' home here'—What's the right word for 'running a thing,' Wiggins?"
Wiggins frowned deeply; a number of his freckles seemed to run into one another.
"There is a word 'overseer'—slaves have them," he said cautiously.
The Terror sought that word painfully in the dictionary, spelled it out, and continued: "'I could overseer it for you. I have got my eye on a building which would suit us tremendously well. But these things cost money, and it would not be any use starting with less than thirty pounds'—
"Thirty pounds! My goodness!" cried Erebus; and her eyes opened wide.
"We may as well go the whole hog," said the Terror philosophically. "Go on: 'Or else just as the cats get to be happy and feel it was a real home—' What's the word for 'bust up,' Wiggins?"
"Burst up," said Wiggins without hesitation.
"No, no; not the grammar—the right word! Oh, I know; 'go bankrupt'—'it might go bankrupt. So it you would like to have a cats' home here and send me some money, I will start it at once. Your affectionate nephew, Hyacinth Wolfram Dangerfield.' There!" said the Terror with a sigh of relief.
"But you've left me out altogether," said Erebus in a suddenly aggrieved tone.
"I should jolly well think I had! You know that ever since you stayed with Aunt Amelia, and taught her parrot to say 'Dam,' she won't have anything to do with you," said the Terror firmly.
"There's no pleasing some people," said Erebus mournfully. "When I went there the silly old parrot couldn't say a thing; and when I came away, he could say 'Dam! Dam! Dam!' from morning till night without making a mistake."
"It's a word people don't like," said the Terror.
"Well, I and the parrot meant a dam in a river. I told Aunt Amelia so," said Erebus firmly.
"She might not believe you; she doesn't know how truthfully we've been brought up," said the Terror. "Go on; sign my name to the letter."
"That's forgery. You ought to sign your name yourself," said Erebus.
"No; you write my name better than I do; and it will go better with the rest of the letter. Sign away," said the Terror firmly.
Erebus signed away, and then she said: "But what good's the money going to be to us, if we've got to spend it on a silly old cats' home? It only means a lot of trouble."
The guilelessness deepened and deepened on the Terror's face. "Well, you see, there aren't many cats in Little Deeping—not enough to fill a cats' home decently," he said slowly. "We should have to have bicycles to collect them—from Great Deeping, and Muttle Deeping, and farther off."
Erebus gasped; and the light of understanding illumined her charming face, as she cried in a tone of awe not untinctured with admiration: "Well, you do think of things!"
"I have to," said the Terror. "If I didn't we should never have a single thing."
The Terror procured a stamp from Mrs. Dangerfield. He did not tell her of the splendid scheme he was promoting; he only said that he had thought he would write to Aunt Amelia. Mrs. Dangerfield was pleased with him for his thought: she wished him to stand well with his great-aunt, since she was a rich woman without children of her own. She did not, indeed, suggest that the letter should be shown to her, though she suspected that it contained some artless request. She thought it better that the Terror should write to his great-aunt to make requests rather than not write at all.
The letter posted, the Twins resumed the somewhat jerky tenor of their lives. Erebus was full of speculations about the changes in their lives those bicycles would bring about; she would pause in the very middle of some important enterprise to discuss the rides they would take on them, the orchards that those machines would bring within their reach. But the Terror would have none of it; his calm philosophic mind forbade him to discuss his chickens before they were hatched.
Since her philanthropy was confined entirely to cats, it is not remarkable that philanthropy, and not intelligence, was the chief characteristic of Lady Ryehampton. As the purport of her great-nephew's letter slowly penetrated her mind, a broad and beaming smile of gratification spread slowly over her large round face; and as she handed the letter to Miss Hendersyde, her companion, she cried in unctuous tones: "The dear boy! So young, but already enthusiastic about great things!"
Miss Hendersyde looked at her employer patiently; she foresaw that she was going to have to struggle with her to save her from being once more victimized. She had come to suspect anything that stirred Lady Ryehampton to a noble phrase. Her eyes brightened with humorous appreciation as she read the letter of Erebus; and when she came to the end of it she opened her mouth to point out that Little Deeping was one of the last places in England to need a cats' home. Then she bethought herself of the whole situation, shut her mouth with a little click, and her face went blank.
Then she breathed a short silent prayer for forgiveness, smiled and said warmly: "It's really wonderful. You must have inspired him with that enthusiasm yourself."
"I suppose I must," said Lady Ryehampton with an air of satisfaction. "And I must be careful not to discourage him."
Miss Hendersyde thought of the Terror's face, his charming sympathetic manners, and his darned knickerbockers. It was only right that some of Lady Ryehampton's money should go to him; indeed that money ought to be educating him at a good school. It was monstrous that the great bulk of it should be spent on cats; cats were all very well but human beings came first. And the Terror was such an attractive human being.
"Yes, it is a dreadful thing to discourage enthusiasm," she said gravely.
Lady Ryehampton proceeded to discuss the question whether a cats' home could be properly started with thirty pounds, whether she had not better send fifty. Miss Hendersyde made her conscience quite comfortable by compromising: she said that she thought thirty was enough to begin with; that if more were needful, Lady Ryehampton could give it later. Lady Ryehampton accepted the suggestion.
Having set her employer's hand to the plow, Miss Hendersyde saw to it that she did not draw it back. Lady Ryehampton would spend money on cats, but she could not be hurried in the spending of it. But Miss Hendersyde kept referring to the Terror's enterprise all that day and the next morning, with the result that on the next afternoon Lady Ryehampton signed the check for thirty pounds. At Miss Hendersyde's suggestion she drew the money in cash; and Miss Hendersyde turned it into postal orders, for there is no bank at Little Deeping.
On the third morning the registered letter reached Colet House. The excited Erebus, who had been watching for the postman, received it from him, signed the receipt with trembling fingers, and dashed off with the precious packet to the Terror in the orchard.
The Terror took it from her with flawless serenity and opened it slowly.
But as he counted the postal orders, a faint flush covered his face; and he said in a somewhat breathless tone: "Thirty pounds—well!"
Erebus executed a short but Bacchic dance which she invented on the spur of that marvelous moment.
"It's splendid—splendid!" she cried. "It's the best thing you ever thought of!"
The Terror put the postal orders back into the envelope, and put the envelope into the breast pocket of his coat. A frown of the most thoughtful consideration furrowed his brow. Then he said firmly: "The first thing, to do is to get the bicycles. If once we've got them, no one will take them away from us."
"Of course they won't," said Erebus, with eager acceptance of his idea.
The breakfast-bell rang; and they went into the house, Erebus spurning the earth as she went, in the very manner of Wiggins.
In the middle of breakfast the Terror said in a casual tone and with a casual air, as if he was not greatly eager for the boon: "May we have the cow-house for our very own, Mum?"
"Oh, Terror! Surely you don't want to keep ferrets!" cried Mrs. Dangerfield, who lived in fear of the Terror's developing that inevitable boyish taste.
"Oh, no; but if we had the cow-house to do what we liked with, I think we could make a little pocket-money out of it."
"I am afraid you're growing terribly mercenary," said his mother; then she added with a sigh: "But I don't wonder at it, seeing how hard up you always are. You can have the cow-house. It's right at the end of the paddock—well away from the house—so that I don't see that you can do any harm with it whatever you do. But how are you going to make pocket-money out of it?"
"Oh, I haven't got it all worked out yet," said the Terror quickly. "But we'll tell you all about it when we have. Thanks ever so much for the cow-house."
For the rest of breakfast he left the conversation to Erebus.
The Terror was blessed with a masterly prudence uncommon indeed in a boy of his years. He changed but one of the six postal orders at Little Deeping—that would make talk enough—and then, having begged a holiday from the vicar, he took the train to Rowington, their market town, ten miles away, taking Erebus with him. There he changed three more postal orders; and then the Twins took their way to the bicycle shop, with hearts that beat high.
The Terror set about the purchase in a very careful leisurely way which, in any one else, would have exasperated the highly strung Erebus to the very limits of endurance; but where the Terror was concerned she had long ago learned the futility of exasperation. He began by an exhaustive examination of every make of bicycle in the shop; and he made it with a thoroughness that worried the eager bicycle-seller, one of those smart young men who pamper a chin's passion for receding by letting a straggly beard try to cover it, till his nerves were all on edge. Then the Terror, drawing a handful of sovereigns out of his pocket and gazing at them lovingly, seemed unable to make up his mind whether to buy two bicycles or one; and the bearded but chinless young man perspired with his eloquent efforts to demonstrate the advantage of buying two. He was quite weary when the persuaded Terror proceeded to develop the point that there must be a considerable reduction in price to the buyer of two bicycles. Then he made his offer: he would give fourteen pounds for two eight-pound-ten bicycles. His serenity was quite unruffled by the seller's furious protests. Then the real struggle began. The Terror came out of it with two bicycles, two lamps, two bells and two baskets of a size to hold a cat; the seller came out of it with fifteen pounds; and the triumphant Twins wheeled their machines out of the shop.
The Terror stood still and looked thoughtfully up and down High Street. Then he said: "We've saved the cats' home quite two pounds."
"Yes," said Erebus.
"And it's made me awfully hungry and thirsty doing it," said the Terror.
"It must have—arguing like that," said Erebus quickly; and her eyes brightened as she caught his drift.
"Well, I think the home ought to pay for refreshment. It's a long ride home," said the Terror.
"Of course it ought," said Erebus with decision.
Without more ado they wheeled their bicycles down the street to a confectioner's shop, propped them up carefully against the curb, and entered the shop with an important moneyed air.
At the end of his fourth jam tart the Terror said: "Of course overseers have a salary."
"Of course they do," said Erebus.
"That settles the matter of pocket-money," said the Terror. "We'll have sixpence a week each."
"Only sixpence?" said Erebus in a tone of the liveliest surprise.
"Well, you see, there are the bicycles. I don't think we can make it more than sixpence. And I tell you what: we shall have to keep accounts. I'll buy an account-book. You're very good at arithmetic—you'll like keeping accounts," said the Terror suavely.
Since her mouth was full of luscious jam tart, Erebus did not feel that it would be delicate at that moment to protest. Therefore on leaving the shop the Terror bought an account-book. His distrust of literature prevented him from paying more than a penny for it. From the stationer's he went to an ironmonger's and bought a saw, a brace, a gimlet, a screw-driver and two gross of screws—his tool-box had long needed refilling. Then they mounted their machines proudly (they had learned to ride on the machines of acquaintances) and rode home. After their visit to the confectioner's they rode rather sluggishly.
They were not hungry, far from it, at the moment; but half-way home the Terror turned out of the main road into the lanes, and they paused at a quiet orchard, in a lovely unguarded spot, and filled the cat-basket on Erebus' bicycle with excellent apples. The tools had been packed into the Terror's basket. They did not disturb the farmer's wife at the busy dinner-hour; the Terror threw the apples over the orchard hedge to Erebus.
As he remembered his bicycle he said dreamily: "I shouldn't wonder if these bicycles didn't pay for themselves in time."
"I said there were orchards out here where they didn't know us," said Erebus, biting into a Ribston pippin.
They reached home in time for lunch and locked away their bicycles in the cow-house. At lunch they were reticent about their triumphs of the morning.
After lunch they went to the cow-house and took measurements. It had long been unoccupied by cows and needed little cleaning. It was quite suitable to their purpose, a brick building with a slate roof and of a size to hold two cows. The measurements made, they went, with an important moneyed air, down to the village carpenter, the only timber merchant in the neighborhood, and bought planks from him. There was some discussion before his idea about the price of planks and that of the Terror were in exact accord; and as he took the money he said, with some ruefulness, that he was a believer in small profits and quick returns. Since immediate delivery was part of the bargain, he forthwith put the planks on a hand-cart and wheeled them up to Colet House. The Twins, eager to be at work, helped him.
For the rest of the day the Terror applied his indisputable constructive genius to the creation of cat-hutches. That evening Erebus wrote his warm letter of thanks to Lady Ryehampton.
The next morning, with a womanly disregard of obligation, Erebus proposed that they should forthwith mount their bicycles and sally forth on a splendid foray. The Terror would not hear of it.
"No," he said firmly. "We're going to get the cats' home finished before we use those bicycles at all. Then nobody can complain."
He lost no time setting to work on it, and worked till it was time to go down to the vicarage for his morning's lessons with the vicar. He set to work again as soon as he returned; he worked all the afternoon; and he saw to it that Erebus worked, too.
In the middle of the afternoon Wiggins came. He had spent a fruitless hour lying in wait on the common to scalp the Twins as they sallied forth into the world, and then had come to see what had kept them within their borders. He was deeply impressed by the sight of the bicycles, but not greatly surprised: his estimation of the powers of his friends was too high for any of their exploits to surprise him greatly. But he was somewhat aggrieved that they should have obtained their bicycles before he had obtained his. None the less he helped them construct the cats' home with enthusiasm.
For three strenuous days they persisted in their untiring effort. So much sustained carpentering was hard on their hands; many small pieces were chipped out of them. But their spirits never flagged; and by sunset on the third day they had constructed accommodation for thirty cats. It may be that the wooden bars of the hutches were not all of the same breadth, but at any rate they were all of the same thickness: and it would be a slim cat, indeed, that would squirm through them.
At sunset on the third day the exultant trio gazed round the transformed cow-house with shining triumphant eyes; then Erebus said firmly: "What we want now is cats."
AND THE VISIT OF INSPECTION
Cats did not immediately flow in, though the Twins, riding round the countryside on their bicycles, spread the information that they were willing to afford a home to such of those necessary animals as their owners no longer needed. They had, indeed, one offer of a cat suffering from the mange; but the Terror rejected it, saying coldly to its owner that theirs was a home, not a hospital.
The impatient Erebus was somewhat vexed with him for rejecting it: she pointed out that even a mangy cat was a beginning.
Slowly they grew annoyed that the home on which they had lavished such strenuous labor remained empty; and at last the Terror said: "Look here: I'm going to begin with kittens."
"How will you get kittens, if you can't get cats? Everybody likes kittens. It's only when they grow up and stop playing that they don't want them," said Erebus with her coldest scorn.
"I'm going to buy them," said the Terror firmly. "I'm going to give threepence each for kittens that can just lap. We don't want kittens that can't lap. They'd be too much trouble."
"That's a good idea," said Erebus, brightening.
"It'll stop them drowning kittens all right. The only thing I'm not sure about is the accounts."
"You're always bothering about those silly old accounts!" said Erebus sharply.
She resented having had to enter in their penny ledger the items of their expenditure with conspicuous neatness under his critical eye.
"Well, I don't think the kittens ought to go down in the accounts. Aunt Amelia is so used to cats' homes that are given their cats. She's told me all about it: how people write and ask for their cats to be taken in."
"I don't want them to go down. It makes all the less accounts to keep," said Erebus readily.
"Well, that's settled," said the Terror cheerfully.
Once more the Twins rode round the countryside, spreading abroad the tidings of their munificent offer of threepence a head for kittens who could just lap.
But kittens did not immediately flow in; and the complaints of the impatient Erebus grew louder and louder. There was no doubt that she loved a grievance; and even more she loved making no secret of that grievance to those about her. Since she could only discuss this grievance with the Terror and Wiggins, they heard enough about it. Indeed, her complaints were at last no small factor in her patient brother's resolve to take action; and he called her and Wiggins to a council.
He opened the discussion by saying: "We've got to have kittens, or cats. We can't have any pocket-money for 'overseering' till there's something to overseer."
"And that splendid cats' home we've made stopping empty all the time," said Erebus in her most bitterly aggrieved tone.
"I don't mind that. I'm sick of hearing about it," said the Terror coldly. "But I do want pocket-money; and besides, Aunt Amelia will soon be wanting to know what's happening to the home; and she'll make a fuss if there aren't any cats in it. So we must have cats."
"Well, I tell you what it is: we must take cats. There are cats all over the country; and when we're out bicycling, a good way from home, we could easily pick up one or two at a time and bring them back with us. We ought to be able to get four a day, counting kittens; and in eight days the home would be full and two over."
"And we should be prosecuted for stealing them," said the Terror coldly.
"But they'd be ever so much better off in the home, properly looked after and fed," protested Erebus.
"That wouldn't make any difference. No; it's no good trying to get them that way," said the Terror in a tone of finality.
"Well, they won't come of themselves," said Erebus.
"They would with valerian," said Wiggins.
"Who's Valerian?" said Erebus.
"It isn't a who. It's a drug at the chemist's," said Wiggins. "I've been talking to my father about cats a good deal lately, and he says if you put valerian on a rag and drag it along the ground, cats will follow it for miles."
"Your father seems to know everything—such a lot of useful things as well as higher mathematics," said the Terror.
"That's why he has a European reputation," said Wiggins; and he spurned the earth.
That afternoon the Twins bicycled into Rowington and bought a bottle of the enchanting drug. Just before they reached the village, on their way home, the Terror produced a rag with a piece of string tied to it, poured some valerian on it and trailed it after his bicycle through the village to his garden gate.
The result demonstrated the accuracy of the scientific knowledge of the father of Wiggins. All that evening and far into the night twelve cats fought clamorously round the house of the Dangerfields.
The next day the Terror turned the cats' home into a cat-trap. He cut a hole in the bottom of its door large enough to admit a cat and fitted it with a hanging flap which a cat would readily push open from the outside, but lacked the intelligence to raise from the inside. He was late finishing it, and went from it to his dinner.
They had just come to the end of the simple meal when they heard a ring at the back door; and old Sarah came in to say that Polly Cotteril had come from the village with some kittens. The Twins excused themselves politely to their mother, and hurried to the kitchen to find that Polly had brought no less than five small kittens in a basket.