ROWENA was dining out, Joe and Harry were belated at play, there were but three chairs and four persons that noon at the home dinner-table -- the twins, the widow, and her chum, Aunt Betsey Hale. The widow soon perceived that Angelo's spirits were as low as Luigi's were high, and also that he had a jaded look.
Her motherly solicitude was aroused, and she tried to get him interested in the talk and with him to a happier frame of mind, but the cloud of sadness remained on his countenance. Luigi lent his help, too. He used a form and a phrase which he was always accustomed to employ in these circumstances. He gave his brother an affectionate slap on the shoulder and said, encouragingly:
"Cheer up, the worst is yet to come !"
But this did no good. It never did. If anything it made the matter worse, as a rule, because it irritated Angelo. This made it a favorite with Luigi. By and by the widow said:
"Angelo, you are tired, you 've overdone yourself; you go right to bed, after dinner, and get a good nap and a rest, then you 'll be all right."
"Indeed I would give anything if I could do that, madam."
"And what 's to hender, I 'd like to know? Land, the room 's yours to do what you please with ! The idea that you can't do what you like with your own ! "
"But you see, there 's one prime essential -- an essential of the very first importance -- which is n't my own."
" What is that? "
" My body."
The old ladies looked puzzled, and Aunt Betsy Hale said:
" Why bless your heart, how is that?"
" It 's my brother's."
" Your brother's ! I don't quite understand, I supposed it belonged to both of you."
"So it does. But not to both at the same time."
" That is mighty curious; I don't see how it can be. I should n't think it could be managed that way."
"Oh, it 's a good enough arrangement, and goes very well; in fact it would n't do to have it otherwise. I find that the teetotalers and the anti-teetotalers hire the use of the same hall for their meetings. Both parties don't use it at the same time, do they?"
" You bet they don't !" said both old ladies in a breath.
"And moreover," said Aunt Betsy, "the Freethinkers and the Baptist Bible-class use the same room over the Market-house, but you can take my word for it they don't mush up together and use it at the same time."
" Very well," said Angelo, " you understand it now. And it stands to reason that the arrangement could n't be improved. I 'll prove it to you. If our legs tried to obey two wills, how could we ever get anywhere? I would start one way, Luigi would start another, at the same moment -- the result would be a standstill, would n't it?"
"As sure as you are born ! Now ain't that wonderful! A body would never have thought of it."
"We should always be arguing and fussing and disputing over the merest trifles. We should lose worlds of time, for we could n't go down-stairs or up, could n't go to bed, could n't rise, could n't wash, could n't dress, could n't stand up, could n't sit down, could n't even cross our legs, without calling a meeting first and explaining the case and passing resolutions, and getting consent. It would n't ever do -- now would it?"
"Do? Why, it would wear a person out in a week! Did you ever hear anything like it, Patsy Cooper? "
"Oh, you '11 find there 's more than one thing about them that ain't commonplace," said the widow, with the complacent air of a person with a property-right in a novelty that is under admiring scrutiny.
"Well now, how ever do you manage it? I don't mind saying I 'm suffering to know."
"He who made us," said Angelo reverently, "and with us this difficulty, also provided a way out of it. By a mysterious law of our being, each of us has utter and indisputable command of our body a week at a time, turn and turn about."
"Well, I never ! Now ain't that beautiful !"
"Yes, it is beautiful and infinitely wise and just. The week ends every Saturday at midnight to the minute, to the second, to the last shade of a fraction of a second, infallibly, unerringly, and in that instant the one brother's power over the body vanishes and the other brother takes possession, asleep or awake."
"How marvelous are His ways, and past finding out!"
Luigi said: `` So exactly to the instant does the change come, that during our stay in many of the great cities of the world, the public clocks were regulated by it; and as hundreds of thousands of private clocks and watches were set and corrected in accordance with the public clocks, we really furnished the standard time for the entire city."
"Don't tell me that He don't do miracles any more! Blowing down the walls of Jer- icho with rams' horns we' n't as difficult, in my opinion."
"And that is not all," said Angelo. "A thing that is even more marvelous, perhaps, is the fact that the change takes note of longitude and fits itself to the meridian we are on. Luigi is in command this week. Now, if on Saturday night at a moment before midnight we could fly in an instant to a point fifteen degrees west of here, he would hold possession of the power another hour, for the change observes local time and no other."
Betsy Hale was deeply impressed, and said with solemnity:
"Patsy Cooper, for detail it lays over the Passage of the Red Sea."
"Now, I should n't go as far as that," said Aunt Patsy, " but if you 've a mind to say Sodom and Gomorrah, I am with you, Betsy Hale."
"I am agreeable, then, though I do think I was right, and I believe Parson Maltby would say the same. Well now, there's another thing. Suppose one of you wants to borrow the legs a minute from the one that ts got them, could he let him?"
"Yes, but we hardly ever do that. There were disagreeable results, several times, and so we very seldom ask or grant the privilege, nowdays, and we never even think of such a thing unless the case is extremely urgent. Besides, a week's possession at a time seems so little that we can't bear to spare a minute of it. People who have the use of their legs all the time never think of what a blessing it is, of course. It never occurs to them; it's just their natural ordinary condition, and so it does not excite them at all. But when I wake up, on Sunday morning, and it's my week and I feel the power all through me, oh, such a wave of exultation and thanksgiving goes surging over me, and I want to shout I can walk ! I can walk ! ' Madam, do you ever, at your uprising want to shout ' I can walk ! I can walk '? "
"No, you poor unfortunate cretur', but I '1l never get out of my bed again without doing it! Laws, to think I've had this unspeakable blessing all my long life and never had the grace to thank the good Lord that gave it to me ! "
Tears stood in the eyes of both the old ladies and the widow said, softly:
"Betsy Hale, we have learned something, you and me."
The conversation now drifted wide, but by and by floated back once more to that admired detail, the rigid and beautiful impartiality with which the possession of power had been distributed between the twins. Aunt Betsy saw in it a far finer justice than human law exhibits in related cases. She said:
"In my opinion it ain't right now, and never has been right, the way a twin born a quarter of a minute sooner than the other one gets all the land and grandeurs and nobilities in the old countries and his brother has to go bare and be a nobody. Which of you was born first? "
Angelo's head was resting against Luigi's; weariness had overcome him, and for the past five minutes he had been peacefully sleeping. The old ladies had dropped their voices to a lulling drone, to help him steal the rest his brother wouldn't take him up-stairs to get. Luigi listened a moment to Angelo's regular breathing, then said in a voice barely audible:
"We were both born at the same time, but I am six months older than he is."
"For the land's sake ! "
" Sh ! don't wake him up; he would n't like my telling this. It has always been kept secret till now."
"But how in the world can it be? If you were both born at the same time, how can one of you be older than the other?"
"It is very simple, and I assure you it is true. I was born with a full crop of hair, he was as bald as an egg for six months. I could walk six months before he could make a step. I finished teething six months ahead of him. I began to take solids six months before he left the breast. I began to talk six months before he could say a word. Last, and absolutely unassailable proof, the sutures in my skull closed six months ahead of his. Always just that six months difference to a day. Was that accident? Nobody is going to claim that, I 'm sure. It was ordained -- it was law -- it had its meaning, and we know what that meaning was. Now what does this overwhelming body of evidence establish? It establishes just one thing, and that thing it establishes beyond any peradventure whatever. Friends, we would not have it known for the world, and I must beg you to keep it strictly to yourselves, but the truth is, we are no more twins than you are."
The two old ladies were stunned, paralyzed -- petrified, one may almost say -- and could only sit and gaze vacantly at each other for some moments; then Aunt Betsy Hale said immpressively:
"There 's no getting around proof like that. I do believe it's the most amazing thing I ever heard of." She sat silent a moment or two and breathing hard with excitement, then she looked up and surveyed the strangers steadfastly a little while, and added: `` Well, it does beat me, but I would have took you for twins anywhere."
"So would I, so would I," said Aunt Patsy with the emphasis of a certainty that is not impaired by any shade of doubt.
"Anybody would-anybody in the world, I don't care who he is," said Aunt Betsy with decision.
"You won't tell," said Luigi, appealingly.
"Oh, dear no!" answered both ladies promptly, "you can trust us, don't you be afraid."
"That is good of you, and kind. Never let on; treat us always as if we were twins."
"You can depend on us," said Aunt Betsy, "but it won't be easy, because now that I know you ain't, you don't seem so."
Luigi muttered to himself with satisfaction: " that swindle has gone through without change of cars."
It was not very kind of him to load the poor things up with a secret like that, which would be always flying to their tongues' ends every time they heard any one speak of the strangers as twins, and would become harder and harder to hang on to with every recurrence of the temptation to tell it, while the torture of retaining it would increase with every new strain that was applied; but he never thought of that, and probably would not have worried much about it if he had. A visitor was announced -- some one to see the twins. They withdrew to the parlor, and the two old ladies began to discuss with interest the strange things which they had been listening to. When they had finished the matter to their satisfaction, and Aunt Betsy rose to go, she stopped to ask a question:
"How does things come on between Roweny and Tom Driscoll? "
"Well, about the same. He writes tolerable often, and she answers tolerable seldom."
"Where is he? "
"In St. Louis, I believe, though he's such a gad-about that a body can't be very certain of him, I reckon."
"Don't Roweny know? "
"Oh, yes, like enough. I have n't asked her lately."
"Do you know how him and the Judge are getting along now? "
"First-rate, I believe. Mrs. Pratt says so; and being right in the house; and sister to the one and aunt to t' other, of course she ought to know. She says the Judge is real fond of him when he 's away, but frets when he 's around and is vexed with his ways, and not sorry to have him go again. He has been gone three weeks this time -- a pleasant thing for both of them, I reckon."
"Tom 's rusher harum-scarum, but there ain't anything bad in him, I guess."
"Oh no, he's just young, that's all. Still, twenty-three is old, in one way. A young man ought to be earning his living by that time. If Tom were doing that, or was even trying to do it, the Judge would be a heap better satisfied with him. Tom's always going to begin, but somehow he can't seem to find just the opening he likes."
"Well now, it 's partly the Judge's own fault. Promising the boy his property was n't the way to set him to earning a fortune of his own. But what do you think -- is Roweny beginning to lean any towards him, or ain't she?"
Aunt Patsy had a secret in her bosom; she wanted to keep it there, but nature was too strong for her. She drew Aunt Betsy aside, and said in her most confidential and mysterious manner:
"Don't you breathe a syllable to a soul -- I'm going to tell you something. In my opinion Tom Driscoll's chances were considerable better yesterday than they are today."
" Patsy Cooper, what do you mean?"
"It 's so, as sure as you 're born. I wish you could 'a' been at breakfast and seen for yourself."
"You don't mean it ! "
" Well, if I 'm any judge, there 's a leaning -- there's a leaning, sure."
" My land ! Which one of 'em is it? "
"I can't say for certain, but I think it's the youngest one -- Anjy."
Then there were handshakings, and congratulations, and hopes, and so on, and the old ladies parted, perfectly happy -- the one in knowing something which the rest of the town did n't, and the other in having been the sole person able to furnish that knowledge.
The visitor who had called to see the twins was the Rev. Mr. Hotchkiss, pastor of the Baptist church. At the reception Angelo had told him he had lately experienced a change in his religious views, and was now desirous of becoming a Baptist, and would immediately join Mr. Hotchkiss's church. There was no time to say more, and the brief talk ended at that point. The minister was much gratified, and had dropped in for a moment, now, to invite the twins to attend his Bible-class at eight that evening. Angelo accepted, and was expecting Luigi to decline, but he did not, because he knew that the Bible-class and the Freethinkers met in the same room, and he wanted to treat his brother to the embarrassment of being caught in freethinking company.