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Mark Twain > Those Extraordinary Twins > Chapter II

Those Extraordinary Twins

Chapter II


MA COOPER GETS ALL MIXED UP

The family sat in the breakfast-room waiting for the twins to come down.
The widow was quiet, the daughter was alive with happy excitement. She
said:

"Ah, they're a boon, ma, just a boon! don'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:

"There-he's coming!"

"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?"

"How?"

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."

"How convenient!"

"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?"

"Always, madam."

"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."

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