“Ah, they’re a boon, ma, just a boon! on’t you think so?”
“Laws, I hope so, I don’t know.”
“Why, ma, yes you do. They’re so fine and handsome, and high-bred and polite, so every way superior to our gawks here in this village; why, they’ll make life different from what it was—so humdrum and commonplace, you know—oh, you may be sure they’re full of accomplishments, and knowledge of the world, and all that, that will be an immense advantage to society here. Don’t you think so, ma?”
“Mercy on me, how should I know, and I’ve hardly set eyes on them yet.” After a pause she added, “They made considerable noise after they went up.”
“Noise? Why, ma, they were singing! And it was beautiful, too.”
“Oh, it was well enough, but too mixed-up, seemed to me.”
“Now, ma, honor bright, did you ever hear ‘Greenland’s Icy Mountains’ sung sweeter—now did you?”
“If it had been sung by itself, it would have been uncommon sweet, I don’t deny it; but what they wanted to mix it up with ‘Old Bob Ridley’ for, I can’t make out. Why, they don’t go together, at all. They are not of the same nature. ‘Bob Ridley’ is a common rackety slam-bang secular song, one of the rippingest and rantingest and noisiest there is. I am no judge of music, and I don’t claim it, but in my opinion nobody can make those two songs go together right.”
“Why, ma, I thought—”
“It don’t make any difference what you thought, it can’t be done. They tried it, and to my mind it was a failure. I never heard such a crazy uproar; seemed to me, sometimes, the roof would come off; and as for the cats—well, I’ve lived a many a year, and seen cats aggravated in more ways than one, but I’ve never seen cats take on the way they took on last night.”
“Well, I don’t think that that goes for anything, ma, because it is the nature of cats that any sound that is unusual—”
“Unusual! You may well call it so. Now if they are going to sing duets every night, I do hope they will both sing the same tune at the same time, for in my opinion a duet that is made up of two different tunes is a mistake; especially when the tunes ain’t any kin to one another, that way.”
“But, ma, I think it must be a foreign custom; and it must be right too; and the best way, because they have had every opportunity to know what is right, and it don’t stand to reason that with their education they would do anything but what the highest musical authorities have sanctioned. You can’t help but admit that, ma.”
The argument was formidably strong; the old lady could not find any way around it; so, after thinking it over awhile she gave in with a sigh of discontent, and admitted that the daughter’s position was probably correct. Being vanquished, she had no mind to continue the topic at that disadvantage, and was about to seek a change when a change came of itself. A footstep was heard on the stairs, and she said:
“They, ma—you ought to say they—it’s nearer right.”
The new lodger, rather shoutingly dressed but looking superbly handsome, stepped with courtly carnage into the trim little breakfast-room and put out all his cordial arms at once, like one of those pocket-knives with a multiplicity of blades, and shook hands with the whole family simultaneously. He was so easy and pleasant and hearty that all embarrassment presently thawed away and disappeared, and a cheery feeling of friendliness and comradeship took its place. He—or preferably they—were asked to occupy the seat of honor at the foot of the table. They consented with thanks, and carved the beefsteak with one set of their hands while they distributed it at the same time with the other set.
“Will you have coffee, gentlemen, or tea?”
“Coffee for Luigi, if you please, madam, tea for me.”
“Cream and sugar?”
“For me, yes, madam; Luigi takes his coffee, black. Our natures differ a good deal from each other, and our tastes also.”
The first time the negro girl Nancy appeared in the door and saw the two heads turned in opposite directions and both talking at once, then saw the commingling arms feed potatoes into one mouth and coffee into the other at the same time, she had to pause and pull herself out of a faintness that came over her; but after that she held her grip and was able to wait on the table with fair courage.
Conversation fell naturally into the customary grooves. It was a little jerky, at first, because none of the family could get smoothly through a sentence without a wabble in it here and a break there, caused by some new surprise in the way of attitude or gesture on the part of the twins. The weather suffered the most. The weather was all finished up and disposed of, as a subject, before the simple Missourians had gotten sufficiently wonted to the spectacle of one body feeding two heads to feel composed and reconciled in the presence of so bizarre a miracle. And even after everybody’s mind became tranquilized there was still one slight distraction left: the hand that picked up a biscuit carried it to the wrong head, as often as any other way, and the wrong mouth devoured it. This was a puzzling thing, and marred the talk a little. It bothered the widow to such a degree that she presently dropped out of the conversation without knowing it, and fell to watching and guessing and talking to herself:
“Now that hand is going to take that coffee to no, it’s gone to the other mouth; I can’t understand it; and how, here is the dark-complected hand with a potato in its fork, I’ll see what goes with it—there, the light-complected head’s got it, as sure as I live!”
Finally Rowena said:
“Ma, what is the matter with you? Are you dreaming about something?”
The old lady came to herself and blushed; then she explained with the first random thing that came into her mind: “I saw Mr. Angelo take up Mr. Luigi’s coffee, and I thought maybe he—sha’n’t I give you a cup, Mr. Angelo?”
“Oh no, madam, I am very much obliged, but I never drink coffee, much as I would like to. You did see me take up Luigi’s cup, it is true, but if you noticed, I didn’t carry it to my mouth, but to his.”
“Y-es, I thought you did: Did you mean to?”
The widow was a little embarrassed again. She said:
“I don’t know but what I’m foolish, and you mustn’t mind; but you see, he got the coffee I was expecting to see you drink, and you got a potato that I thought he was going to get. So I thought it might be a mistake all around, and everybody getting what wasn’t intended for him.”
Both twins laughed and Luigi said:
“Dear madam, there wasn’t any mistake. We are always helping each other that way. It is a great economy for us both; it saves time and labor. We have a system of signs which nobody can notice or understand but ourselves. If I am using both my hands and want some coffee, I make the sign and Angelo furnishes it to me; and you saw that when he needed a potato I delivered it.”
“Yes, and often of the extremest value. Take the Mississippi boats, for instance. They are always overcrowded. There is table-room for only half of the passengers, therefore they have to set a second table for the second half. The stewards rush both parties, they give them no time to eat a satisfying meal, both divisions leave the table hungry. It isn’t so with us. Angelo books himself for the one table, I book myself for the other. Neither of us eats anything at the other’s table, but just simply works—works. Thus, you see there are four hands to feed Angelo, and the same four to feed me. Each of us eats two meals.”
The old lady was dazed with admiration, and kept saying, “It is perfectly wonderful, perfectly wonderful” and the boy Joe licked his chops enviously, but said nothing—at least aloud.
“Yes,” continued Luigi, “our construction may have its disadvantages—in fact, has but it also has its compensations of one sort and another. Take travel, for instance. Travel is enormously expensive, in all countries; we have been obliged to do a vast deal of it—come, Angelo, don’t put any more sugar in your tea, I’m just over one indigestion and don’t want another right away—been obliged to do a deal of it, as I was saying. Well, we always travel as one person, since we occupy but one seat; so we save half the fare.”
“How romantic!” interjected Rowena, with effusion.
“Yes, my dear young lady, and how practical too, and economical. In Europe, beds in the hotels are not charged with the board, but separately—another saving, for we stood to our rights and paid for the one bed only. The landlords often insisted that as both of us occupied the bed we ought—”
“No, they didn’t,” said Angelo. “They did it only twice, and in both cases it was a double bed—a rare thing in Europe—and the double bed gave them some excuse. Be fair to the landlords; twice doesn’t constitute ‘often.’”
“Well, that depends—that depends. I knew a man who fell down a well twice. He said he didn’t mind the first time, but he thought the second time was once too often. Have I misused that word, Mrs. Cooper?”
“To tell the truth, I was afraid you had, but it seems to look, now, like you hadn’t.” She stopped, and was evidently struggling with the difficult problem a moment, then she added in the tone of one who is convinced without being converted, “It seems so, but I can’t somehow tell why.”
Rowena thought Luigi’s retort was wonderfully quick and bright, and she remarked to herself with satisfaction that there wasn’t any young native of Dawson’s Landing that could have risen to the occasion like that. Luigi detected the applause in her face, and expressed his pleasure and his thanks with his eyes; and so eloquently withal, that the girl was proud and pleased, and hung out the delicate sign of it on her cheeks. Luigi went on, with animation:
“Both of us get a bath for one ticket, theater seat for one ticket, pew-rent is on the same basis, but at peep-shows we pay double.”
“We have much to be thankful for,” said Angelo, impressively, with a reverent light in his eye and a reminiscent tone in his voice, “we have been greatly blessed. As a rule, what one of us has lacked, the other, by the bounty of Providence, has been able to supply. My brother is hardy, I am not; he is very masculine, assertive, aggressive; I am much less so. I am subject to illness, he is never ill. I cannot abide medicines, and cannot take them, but he has no prejudice against them, and—”
“Why, goodness gracious,” interrupted the widow, “when you are sick, does he take the medicine for you?”
“Why, I never heard such a thing in my life! I think it’s beautiful of you.”
“Oh, madam, it’s nothing, don’t mention it, it’s really nothing at all.”
“But I say it’s beautiful, and I stick to it!” cried the widow, with a speaking moisture in her eye.
“A well brother to take the medicine for his poor sick brother—I wish I had such a son,” and she glanced reproachfully at her boys. “I declare I’ll never rest till I’ve shook you by the hand,” and she scrambled out of her chair in a fever of generous enthusiasm, and made for the twins, blind with her tears, and began to shake. The boy Joe corrected her: “You’re shaking the wrong one, ma.”
This flurried her, but she made a swift change and went on shaking.
“Got the wrong one again, ma,” said the boy.
“Oh, shut up, can’t you!” said the widow, embarrassed and irritated. “Give me all your hands, I want to shake them all; for I know you are both just as good as you can be.”
It was a victorious thought, a master-stroke of diplomacy, though that never occurred to her and she cared nothing for diplomacy. She shook the four hands in turn cordially, and went back to her place in a state of high and fine exultation that made her look young and handsome.
“Indeed I owe everything to Luigi,” said Angelo, affectionately. “But for him I could not have survived our boyhood days, when we were friendless and poor—ah, so poor! We lived from hand to mouth—lived on the coarse fare of unwilling charity, and for weeks and weeks together not a morsel of food passed my lips, for its character revolted me and I could not eat it. But for Luigi I should have died. He ate for us both.”
“How noble!” sighed Rowena.
“Do you hear that?” said the widow, severely, to her boys. “Let it be an example to you—I mean you, Joe.”
Joe gave his head a barely perceptible disparaging toss and said: “Et for both. It ain’t anything I’d ’a’ done it.”
“Hush, if you haven’t got any better manners than that. You don’t see the point at all. It wasn’t good food.”
“I don’t care—it was food, and I’d ’a’ et it if it was rotten.”
“Shame! Such language! Can’t you understand? They were starving—actually starving—and he ate for both, and—”
“Shucks! you gimme a chance and I’ll—”
“There, now—close your head! and don’t you open it again till you’re asked.”
|[Angelo goes on and tells how his parents the Count and Countess had to fly from Florence for political reasons, and died poor in Berlin bereft of their great property by confiscation; and how he and Luigi had to travel with a freak-show during two years and suffer semi-starvation.]|
“That hateful black-bread; but I seldom ate anything during that time; that was poor Luigi’s affair—”
“I’ll never Mister him again!” cried the widow, with strong emotion, “he’s Luigi to me, from this out!”
“Thank you a thousand times, madam, a thousand times! though in truth I don’t deserve it.”
“Ah, Luigi is always the fortunate one when honors are showering,” said Angelo, plaintively; “now what have I done, Mrs. Cooper, that you leave me out? Come, you must strain a point in my favor.”
“Call you Angelo? Why, certainly I will; what are you thinking of! In the case of twins, why—”
“But, ma, you’re breaking up the story—do let him go on.”
“You keep still, Rowena Cooper, and he can go on all the better, I reckon. One interruption don’t hurt, it’s two that makes the trouble.”
“But you’ve added one, now, and that is three.”
“Rowena! I will not allow you to talk back at me when you have got nothing rational to say.”