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   Chapter 1 AND CAPTAIN BASTER

The Terrible Twins By Edgar Jepson Characters: 23620

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


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. 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

"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 y

ou 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."

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