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   Chapter 3 AND THE CATS' HOME

The Terrible Twins By Edgar Jepson Characters: 28868

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


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."

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