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   Chapter 5 AND THE SACRED BIRD

The Terrible Twins By Edgar Jepson Characters: 25635

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Lady Ryehampton did not easily tear herself away from the home; and the Terror did all he could to foster her interest in it. The crowning effect was the feeding of the kittens, which was indeed a very pretty sight, since twenty-three kittens could not feed together without many pauses to gambol and play. The only thing about the home which was not quite to the liking of Lady Ryehampton was the board over the door. She liked it as an advertisement of her philanthropy; but she did not like its form; she preferred her name in straighter letters, all of them of the same size. At the same time she did not like to hurt the feelings of the Terror by showing lack of appreciation of his handiwork.

Then she had a happy thought, and said: "By the way, I think that the board over the door ought to be uniform-the same as the boards over the entrances of my other cats' homes. The lettering of them is always in gold."

"All right. I'll get some gold paint, and paint them over," said the Terror readily, anxious to humor in every way this dispenser of salaries.

"No, no, I can't give you the trouble of doing it all over again," said Lady Ryehampton quickly. "I'll have a board made, and painted in London-exactly like the board of my cats' home at Tysleworth-and sent down to you to fix up."

"Thanks very much," said the Terror. "It will save me a great deal of trouble. Painting isn't nearly so easy as it looks."

Lady Ryehampton breathed a sigh of satisfaction. She invited them all to lunch at The Plough, where she had stayed the night; and Mrs. Pittaway racked her brains and strained all the resources of her simple establishment to make the lunch worthy of its giver. As she told her neighbors later, nobody knew what it was to have a lady of title in the house. The Twins enjoyed the lunch very much indeed; and even Erebus was very quiet for two hours after it.

Lady Ryehampton came to tea at Colet House; she paid a last gloating visit to the cats' home, wrote a check for ten pounds payable to the Terror, and in a state of the liveliest satisfaction, took the train to London.

Sir Maurice stayed till a later train, for he had no great desire to travel with Lady Ryehampton. Besides, the question what was to be done with the eight cats he had brought with him, remained to be settled. He felt that he could not saddle the Twins with their care and up-keep, since only his unfounded distrust had brought them to the cats' home. At the same time he could not bring himself to travel with them any more.

They discussed the matter. Erebus was inclined to keep the cats, declaring that it would be so nice to grow their own kittens. The Terror, looking at the question from the cold monetary point of view, wished to be relieved of them. In the end it was decided that Sir Maurice should make terms with one of the dealers from whom he had bought them, and that the Twins should forward them to that dealer.

The next day the Twins discussed what should be done with this unexpected ten pounds which Lady Ryehampton had bestowed on the home. Erebus was for at once increasing their salaries to three shillings a week. The cautious Terror would only raise them to ninepence each. Then, keeping rather more than four pounds for current expenses, he put fifteen pounds in the Post-Office Savings Bank. He thought it a wise thing to do: it prevented any chance of their spending a large sum on some sudden overwhelming impulse.

Then for some time their lives moved in a smooth uneventful groove. The cats were despatched to the London dealer; the neatly painted board came from Lady Ryehampton and was fixed up in the place of the Terror's handiwork; they did their lessons in the morning; they rode out, along with Wiggins who now had his bicycle, in the afternoons.

Then came December; and early in the month they began to consider the important matter of their mother's Christmas present.

One morning they were down at the home, giving the kittens their breakfasts and discussing it gravely. The kittens were indulging in engaging gambols before falling into the sleep of repletion which always followed their meals; but the Twins saw them with unsmiling eyes, for the graver matter wholly filled their minds. They could see their way to saving up seven or eight shillings for that present; and so large a sum must be expended with judgment. It must procure something not only useful but also attractive.

They had discussed at some length the respective advantages and attractions of a hair-brush and a tortoise-shell comb to set in the hair, when Erebus, frowning thoughtfully, said: "I know what she really wants though."

"What's that?" said the Terror sharply.

"It's one of those fur stoles in the window of Barker's at Rowington," said Erebus. "I heard her sigh when she looked at it. She used to have beautiful furs once-when father was alive. But she sold them-to get things for us, I suppose. Uncle Maurice told me so-at least I got it out of him."

The Terror was frowning thoughtfully, too; and he said in a tone of decision: "How much is that stole?"

"Oh, it's no good thinking about it-it's three guineas," said Erebus quickly.

"That's a mort o' money, as old Stubbs says," said the Terror; and the frown deepened on his brow.

"I wonder if we could get it?" said Erebus, and a faint hopefulness dawned in her eyes as she looked at his pondering face. "I should like to. It must be hard on Mum not to have nice things-much harder than for us, because we've never had them-at least, we had them when we were small, but we never got used to them. So we've forgotten."

"No, we're all right as long as we have useful things," said the Terror, without relaxing his thoughtful frown. "But you're right about Mum-she must be different. I've got to think this out."

"Three guineas is such a lot to think out," said Erebus despondently.

"I thought out thirty pounds not so very long ago," said the Terror firmly. "And if you come to think of it, Mum's stole is really more important than bicycles and a cats' home, though not so useful."

"But it's different-we had to have bicycles-you said so," said Erebus eagerly.

"Well, we've got to have this stole," said the Terror in a tone of finality; and the matter settled, his brow smoothed to its wonted serenity.

"But how?" said Erebus eagerly.

"Things will occur to us. They always do," said the Terror with a careless confidence.

They began to put the kittens into their hutches. Half-way through the operation the Terror paused:

"I wonder if we could sell any of these kittens? Does any one ever buy kittens?"

"We did; we gave threepence each for these," said Erebus.

"Ah, but we had to buy something in the way of cats for the home. We should never have bought a kitten but for that. We shouldn't have dreamt of doing such a thing."

"I should buy kittens if I were rich and hadn't got any," said Erebus in a tone of decision.

"You would, would you? That's just what I wanted to know: girls will buy kittens," said the Terror in a tone of satisfaction. "Well, we'll sell these."

"But we can't empty the home," said Erebus.

"We wouldn't. We'd buy fresh ones, just able to lap, for threepence each, and sell these at a shilling. We might make nearly a sovereign that way."

"So we should-a whole sovereign!" cried Erebus; then she added in a somewhat envious tone: "You do think of things."

"I have to. Where should we be, if I didn't?" said the Terror.

"But who are we going to sell them to? Everybody round here has cats."

"Yes, they have," said the Terror, frowning again. "Well, we shall have to sell them somewhere else."

They put the sleepy kittens back in their hutches, and walked back to the house, pondering. The Terror collected the books for his morning's work slowly, still thoughtful.

As he was leaving the house he said: "Look here; the place for us to sell them is Rowington. The people round here sell most of their things at Rowington-butter and eggs and poultry and rabbits."

"And Ellen would sell them for us-in the market," said Erebus quickly.

"Of course she would! You see, you think of things, too!" cried the Terror; and he went off to his lessons with an almost cheerful air.

After lunch they rode to Great Deeping to discuss with Ellen the matter of selling their kittens. She had been their nurse for the first four years of their stay at Colet House; and she had left them to marry a small farmer. She had an affection for them, especially for the Terror; and she had not lost touch with them. She welcomed them warmly, ushered them into her little parlor, brought in a decanter of elderberry wine and a cake. When she had helped them to cake and poured out their wine, the Terror broached the matter that had brought them to her house.

Ellen's mind ran firmly and unswerving in the groove of butter and eggs and poultry, which she carried every market-day to Rowington in her pony-cart. She laughed consumedly at the Terror's belief that any one would want to buy kittens. But unmoved by her open incredulity, he was very patient with her and persuaded her to try, at any rate, to sell their kittens at her stall in Rowington market. Ellen consented to make the attempt, for she had always found it difficult to resist the Terror when he had set his mind on a thing, and she was eager to oblige him; but she held out no hopes of success.

The Terror came away content, since he had gained his end, and did not share her despondency. Erebus, on the other hand, infected by Ellen's pessimism, rode in a gloomy depression.

Presently her face brightened; and with an air of inspiration she said: "I tell you what: even if we don't sell those kittens, we can always buy the stole. There's all that cats' home money in the bank. We can take as much of it as we want, and pay it back by degrees."

"No, we can't," said the Terror firmly. "We're not going to use that money for anything but the cats' home. I promised Mum I wouldn't. Besides, she'd like the stole ever so much better if we'd really earned it ourselves."

"But we shan't," said Erebus gloomily. "If we sold all the kittens, it will only make twenty-three shillings."

"Then we must find something else to sell," said the Terror with decision.

His mind was running on this line, when a quarter of a mile from Little Deeping they came upon Tom Cobb leaning over a gate surveying a field of mangel-wurzel with vacant amiability.

Tom Cobb was the one villager they respected; and he and they were very good friends. Carping souls often said that Tom Cobb had never done an honest day's work in his life. Yet he was the smartest man in the village, the most neatly dressed, always with money in his pocket.

It was common knowledge that his fortunate state arose from his constitutional disability to observe those admirable laws which have been passed for the protection of the English pheasants from all dangers save the small shot of those who have them fed. Tom Cobb waged war, a war of varying fortunes against the sacred bird. Sometimes for a whole season he would sell the victims of the carnage of the war with never a check to his ardor. In another season some prying gamekeeper would surprise him glutting his thirst for blood and gold, and an infuriated bench of magistrates would fine him. The fine was always paid. Tom Cobb was one of those thrifty souls who lay up money against a rainy day.

He turned at the sound of their coming; and he and the Twins greeted one another with smiles of mutual respect. They rode on a few yards; and then the Terror said, "By Jove!" stopped, slipped off his bicycle, and wheeled it back to the gate. Erebus followed him more slowly.

"I've been wondering if you'd do me a favor, Tom," said the Terror. "I've always wanted to know how to make a snare. I'll give you half-a-crown if you'll teach me."

Tom Cobb's clear blue eyes sparkled at the thought of half-a-crown, but he hesitated. He knew the Twins; he knew that with them a little knowledge was a dangerous thing-for others. He foresaw trouble for the sacred bird; he foresaw trouble for his natural foes, the gamekeepers. He did not foresee trouble for the Twins; he knew them. And very distinctly he saw half-a-crown.

He grinned and said slowly, "Yes, Master Terror, I'll be very 'appy to teach you 'ow to make a snare."

"Thank you. I'll come around to-morrow afternoon, about two," said the Terror gratefully.

"It will be nice to know how to make snares!" cried Erebus happily as they rode on. "I wonder we never thought of it before."

"We didn't want a fur stole before," said the Terror.

The next afternoon Erebus in vain entreated him to take her with him to Tom Cobb's cottage to share the lesson i

n the art of making snares. But the Terror would not. Often he was indulgent; often he was firm. To-day he was firm.

He returned from his lesson with a serene face, but he said rather sadly: "I've still a lot to learn. But come on: I've got to buy something in Rowington."

They rode swiftly into Rowington, for the next day was market-day, and they had to get the kittens ready for Ellen to sell. At Rowington the Terror bought copper wire at an ironmonger's; and he was very careful to buy it of a certain thickness.

They rode home swiftly, and at once selected six kittens for the experiment. Much to the surprise and disgust of those kittens, they washed them thoroughly in the kitchen. They dried them, and decided to keep them in its warmth till the next morning.

After the washing of the kittens, they betook themselves to the making of snares. Erebus, ever sanguine, supposed that they would make snares at once. The Terror had no such expectation; and it was a long while before he got one at all to his liking.

Remembering Tom Cobb's instructions, he washed it, and then put on gloves before setting it in the hole in the hedge through which the rabbits from the common were wont to enter their garden to eat the cabbages. He was up betimes next morning, found a rabbit in the snare, and thrilled with joy. The fur stole had come within the range of possibility.

Before breakfast they made the toilet of the six chosen kittens, brushing them with the Terror's hair-brush till their fur was of a sleekness it had never known before. Then Erebus adorned the neck of each with a bow of blue ribbon. Knowing the ways of kittens, she sewed on the bows, and sewed them on firmly. It could not be doubted that they looked much finer than ordinary unwashed kittens. Directly after breakfast, the Twins put three in the basket of either of their bicycles, rode over to Rowington and handed them over to Ellen.

They would have liked to stay to see what luck she had with them but they had to return to their lessons. After lunch they made three more snares; and the Terror found that the fingers of Erebus were, if anything, more deft at snare-making than his own.

It was late in the afternoon when they reached Rowington again; and when they came to Ellen's stall, they found to their joy that the basket which had held the six kittens was empty.

Ellen greeted them with a smile of the liveliest satisfaction, and said: "Well, Master Terror, you were right, and I was wrong. I've sold them kitties-every one-and I've had two more ordered. It was when the ladies from the Hill came marketing that they went."

She opened her purse, took out six shillings, and held them out to the Terror.

"Five," said the Terror. "I must pay you a shilling for selling them. It's what they call commission."

"No, sir; I don't want any commission," said Ellen firmly. "As long as those kitties were there, I sold more butter and eggs and fowls than any one else in the market. I haven't had such a good day not ever before. And I'll be glad to sell as many kitties as you can bring me."

The Terror pressed her to accept the shilling, but she remained firm. The Twins rode joyfully home with six shillings.

That night the Terror set his four snares in the hedge of the garden about the common. He caught three rabbits.

The next morning he was silent and very thoughtful as he helped feed the kittens and change the bay in the hutches.

At last he said rather sadly: "It's sometimes rather awkward being a Dangerfield."

"Why?" said Erebus surprised.

"Those rabbits," said the Terror. "I want to sell them. But it's no good going into Rowington and trying to sell them to a poulterer. Even if he wanted rabbits-which he mightn't-he'd only give me sixpence each for them. But if I were to sell them myself here, I could get eightpence, or perhaps ninepence each for them. But, you see, a Dangerfield can't go about selling things. Uncle Maurice said I had the makings of a millionaire in me, but a Dangerfield couldn't go into business. It's the family tradition not to. That's what he said."

"Perhaps he was only rotting," said Erebus hopefully.

"No, he wasn't. I asked Mum, and she said it was the family tradition, too. I expect that's why we're all so hard up."

"But the squire sells things," said Erebus quickly. "And you can't say he isn't a gentleman, though the Anstruthers aren't so old as the Dangerfields."

"Of course, he does. He sells some of his game," said the Terror, in a tone of great relief. "Game must be all right, and we can easily count rabbits as game."

Forthwith he proceeded to count rabbits as game; they put the four they had caught into the baskets of their bicycles and rode out on a tour of the neighborhood. The Terror went to the back doors of their well-to-do neighbors and offered his rabbits to their cooks with the gratifying result that in less than an hour he had sold all four of them at eightpence each.

They rode home in triumph: the fur stole was moving toward them. They had already eight shillings and eightpence out of the sixty-three shillings.

It was sometimes said of the Twins by the carping that they never knew when to stop; but in this case it was not their fault that they went on. It was the fault of the rabbit market. At the fifteenth rabbit, when they had but eighteen shillings and eightpence toward the stole, the bottom fell out of it. For the time the desire of Little Deeping to eat rabbits was sated.

It was also the fault of the insidious cook of Mrs. Blenkinsop, who, after refusing to buy the fifteenth rabbit, said: "Now, if you was to bring me a nice fat pheasant twice a week, it would be a very different thing, Master Dangerfield."

The Terror looked at her thoughtfully; then he said: "And how much would you pay for pheasants?"

The cook made a silent appeal to those processes of mental arithmetic she had learned in her village school, saw her way to a profit of threepence, perhaps ninepence, on each bird, and said: "Two and threepence each, sir."

The Terror looked at her again thoughtfully, considering her offer. He saw her profit of threepence, perhaps ninepence, and said: "All right, I'll bring you two or three a week. But you'll have to pay cash."

"Oh, yes, sir. Of course, sir," said the cook.

"Do you know any one else who'd buy pheasants?" he said.

"Well, there's Mr. Carrington's cook," said the cook slowly. "She has the management of the housekeeping money like I do. I think she might buy pheasants from you. Mr. Carrington's very partial to game."

"Right," said the Terror. "And thank you for telling me."

He rode straight to the house of Mr. Carrington, and broached the matter to his cook, to whom he had already sold rabbits. He made a direct offer to her of two pheasants a week at two and threepence each. After a vain attempt to beat him down to two shillings, she accepted it.

He rode home in a pleasant glow of triumph: the snares which caught rabbits would catch pheasants. At first he was for catching those pheasants by himself. Snaring rabbits was a harmless enterprise; snaring pheasants was poaching; and poaching was not a girl's work. Then he came to the conclusion that he would need the help of Erebus and must tell her.

When he revealed to her this vision of a new Eldorado, she said: "But where are you going to get pheasants from?"

"Woods," said the Terror, embracing the horizon in a sweeping gesture.

Erebus looked round the horizon with greedy eyes; they sparkled fiercely.

"The only thing is, we don't know nearly enough about snaring pheasants. And I don't like to ask Tom Cobb: he might talk about it; and that wouldn't do at all," said the Terror.

"But there's nobody else to ask."

"I don't know about that. There's Wiggins' father. He knows a lot of useful things besides higher mathematics. The only thing is, we must do it in such a way that he doesn't see we're trying to get anything out of him."

"Well, I should think we could do that. He's really quite simple," said Erebus.

"As long as you understand what I'm driving at," said the Terror.

That evening they prepared eight more kittens for sale at Rowington market, and carried them into Rowington directly after breakfast next morning. Ellen told them, with some indignation, that two rival poultry-sellers had both brought three kittens to sell. The Twins at once went to inspect them, and came back with the cheering assurance that those kittens were not a patch on those she was selling. They were right, for Ellen sold all the eight before a rival sold one; and the joyful Twins carried home eight more shillings toward the stole.

On the next three afternoons they rode forth with the intention of coming upon Mr. Carrington by seeming accident; but it was not till the third afternoon that they came upon him and Wiggins, walking briskly, about three miles from Little Deeping.

The Twins, as a rule, were wont to shun Mr. Carrington. They had a great respect for his attainments, but a much greater for his humor. In Erebus, this respect often took the form of wriggling in his presence. She did not know what he might say about her next. He was, therefore, somewhat surprised when they slipped off their bicycles and joined him. He wondered what they wanted.

Apparently, they were merely in a gregarious mood, yearning for the society of their fellow creatures; but in about three minutes the talk was running on pheasants. Mr. Carrington did not like pheasants, except from the point of view of eating; and he dwelt at length on the devastation the sacred bird was working in the English countryside: villages were being emptied and let fall to ruin that it might live undisturbed; the song-birds were being killed off to give it the woods to itself.

It seemed but a natural step from the pheasant to the poacher; he was not aware that he took it at the prompting of the Terror; and he bewailed the degeneracy of the British rustic, his slow reversion to the type of neolithic man, owing to the fact that the towns drained the villages of all the intelligent. The skilful poacher who harried the sacred bird was fast becoming extinct.

Then, at last, he came to the important matter of the wiles of the poacher; and the thirsty ears of the Terror drank in his golden words. He discussed the methods of the gang of poachers and the single poacher with intelligent relish and more sympathy than was perhaps wise to display in the presence of the young. The Terror came from that talk with a firm belief in the efficacy of raisins.

The next afternoon the Twins rode into Rowington and bought a pound of raisins at the leading grocer's. They might well have bought them at Little Deeping, encouraging local enterprise; but they thought Rowington safer. They always took every possible precaution at the beginning of an enterprise. They did not ride straight home. Three miles out of Rowington was a small clump of trees on a hill. At the foot of the hill, a hundred yards below the clump, lay Great Deeping wood, acre upon acre. It had lately passed, along with the rest of the Great Deeping estate, into the hands of Mr. D'Arcy Rosenheimer, a pudding-faced, but stanch young Briton of the old Pomeranian strain. He was not loved in the county, even by landed proprietors of less modern stocks, for, though he cherished the laudable ambition of having the finest pheasant shoot in England, and was on the way to realize it, he did not invite his neighbors to help shoot them. His friends came wholly from The Polite World which so adorns the illustrated weeklies.

It was in the deep December dusk that the Twins' came to the clump on the hill. The Terror lifted their bicycles over the gate and set them behind the hedge. He removed the pound of raisins from his bicycle basket to his pocket, and leaving Erebus to keep watch, he stole down the hedge to the clump, crawled through a gap into it, and walked through it. One pheasant scuttled out of it, down the hedgerow to the wood below. The occurrence pleased him. He crawled out of the clump on the farther side, and proceeded to lay a train of raisins down the ditch of the hedge to the wood. He did not lay it right down to the wood lest some inquisitive gamekeeper might espy it. Then he returned with fine, red Indian caution to Erebus. They rode home well content.

Next evening, with another bag of raisins, they sought the clump again. Again the Terror laid a trail of raisins along the ditch from the wood to the clump. But this evening he set a snare in the hedge of the clump. Just above the end of the ditch. Later he took from that snare a plump but sacred bird. Later still he sold it to the cook of Mrs. Blenkinsop for two and threepence.

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