from Modern Literature for Oral Interpretation
Where There's A Will
by Ellis Parker Butler
Never had Mrs. Sachs felt more blissfully content than this evening, as she sank into her big chair beside the center table, and took her sewing in her hands. Outside, the wind was slapping the rain against the house like water thrown from a pail, with all the vehemence of an autumn storm, but in the parlor all was light and comfort. The four big electric bulbs on the chandelier blazed, and the electric table lamp glared. In the hall another electric bulb made a flood of light, and even in the dining-room the electrics were turned on. There was not a dark corner on the entire floor. Mrs. Sachs was well satisfied.
As the storm, which had begun in the afternoon, increased in violence, Mrs. Sachs's feet had pained her more and more, and she had looked forward to the torture of shoes with dread; but with the increasing storm Annie had wavered, and when night fell and Mr. Sachs came home, wet to the skin and saying he had never seen such weather, Annie set Mrs. Sachs's mind at rest by saying she would not go to any theatre that ever was, on such a night.
"I'm glad you got some sense yet, Annie. It ain't no use to go out nights like this. I like it better you should stay home with us, anyhow, the last night you be here. You don't go out tonight, no Henry?"
"Such a night, not much! I ain't used to being so cruel to myself."
Annie walked to the window and pressed her face against it, looking out. She was small and dainty.
"Such weathers! Well, I guess we can have a good time by ourselves yet, Aunt Tina. I guess Freddy won't come. Maybe you let the twins stay up awhile yet?"
"Sure! But you bet Freddy comes! You bet he thinks you go to the theatre, too."
She was about to say she would send Freddy home again if he came, but she decided she owed Annie something for not dragging her out in the storm. All summer she had watched Annie and had maneuvered against the very evident admiration Freddy had for her niece, for when the girl had come, in the early summer, her mother had written plainly.
I hope you keep one eye on Annie (the letter ran), for Annie is just about so old when she falls in love quick with any feller you don't know who. I feel like I want to have some say in it when she gets engaged, so she don't make fools of us, like. Girls is so crazy anyways when a feller looks at them twict. So look out she don't get engaged.
Mrs. Sachs, at first, had been a little piqued by this letter, but her big, good-natured self could not remember a pique long, and she frankly acknowledged the mother's right, and tried faithfully to carry out her wishes. She had chaperoned until her feet were a misery to her, and she feared Annie might consider her a nuisance. Particularly had she battled against Freddy Ruckert, as against an arch enemy; for Freddy, red-cheeked and yellow-haired, seemed to have fallen head over heels in love with Annie from the first, and Annie frankly preferred Freddy's company. The wiles Mrs. Sachs had used would have done credit to a general. She contrived ambushes and surprises, all of which Freddy, bland and unsuspecting, walked into with the calm unconcern of a duck walking into a box. Now that the last evening had come and Annie had decided to spend it at home, Mrs. Sachs felt her work was done. Only, she meant to see there were no dark corners in the house that night, where there might be holding of hands or any such business.
When Freddy arrived, laughing at the buffeting the storm had given him, the house was lighted as if for a party, and as he took off his rough top-coat he said, "Say, I guess you got the big electric light bill coming this month!" in a tone that included no disappointment. If the sweet process he would have called "fixing it up with Annie," was in his thoughts at all, he gave no sign, but walked into the parlor where the twins were having a grand time on the floor, rolling over and over with all the careless abandon of one-year-olds.
Annie was exceedingly fond of the twins. The only thing she regretted about her happy summer had been that the twins could not go with her wherever she had gone. She loved to sit on the floor "in the midst of the twins" -- as she said -- talking to them, playing with them, and admiring them. For they were really delightful twins -- healthy, happy, and handsome. With Freddy in the room, and the twins, Annie was ready to pass a delightful evening.
To Mr. Sachs, Freddy was the queer creature that the courting young man becomes to the man of the house, a sort of bugaboo that one does not know how to handle; to be treated sternly, yet kindly, like a pet wolf that must be fondled with one hand while the other hand is ready to crush. He stood up now to shake hands with Freddy, and Mrs. Sachs, with a mind to having a guard in each room, said, "Mebby if you should want to read, Heinrich, you should go into the dining-room. We ain't making so much noise there."
But Mr. Sachs, manlike, did not catch the hidden meaning.
"I ain't looked at the twins much today yet, Tine. I could get a good look at them in this light here." Then, turning to Freddy: "If you want, you could smoke in my house. I don't do it. I got so fat I got the asthma, and to smoke so much ain't no good for it. Annie, give Freddy one of them cigars. Maybe they ain't so awful dry yet."
Annie looked in the drawer of the center table and found one cigar with at least a part of the wrapper remaining, and handed it to Freddy. He spoke, appreciatively, after a glance at the gaily-colored band that encircled it. "Say, that was a good cigar once. If I could get a-hold of a match, I could have a good smoke."
"I don't know have we any," said Mrs. Sachs. "When I read in the papers some time ago how some kids got burnt up by matches, I fired them out. So come, we got the electrics put in all over the house. I ain't taking no chances with the twins. Maybe they don't get afire with matches, but anyhow I guess it don't do them no good to eat matches. Maybe you got a match in your pocket, Heinrich?"
The evening, Mrs. Sachs felt, was beginning auspiciously. The conversation was general, and she meant to keep it so.
"It don't do folks no good to be always smoking, I guess," she said, hoping to draw Freddy into an argument. Mr. Sachs was feeling in one pocket after another, without finding a match.
"I make me sure I had a match, either in these clothes or somewhere," he said. He put his fingers in the change pocket of his coat and brought out, with three fingers, half a dozen small coins and a white stick. "Here is it! No, it is a toothpicker! Maybe I got --"
The twins, sitting on the floor, watched him with eager eyes. Freddy, across the center table, held the cigar poised in his hand, and Annie, demurely seated in a chair in a far corner, looked admiringly at the back of Freddy's head. Mrs. Sachs, her large form in a chair as massive as that which held Heinrich, smiled placidly at the twins.
Suddenly two coins slid from between Mr. Sachs's plump fingers and rolled across the floor. He put out one big foot and planted it firmly on one of the coins, but the other, a glittering new cent, rolled in a great semicircle. It rounded the chair in which Mrs. Sachs sat, escaping the slippered foot she put out at it; it rounded the base of the center table; it ran past Freddy, and toppled over on the carpet directly in front of one of the twins! Instantly one little fat hand darted out and grasped the cent and lifted it toward a rosy mouth.
"Mein Gott! Roschen! Stop it! Amalie! Nichts!" cried Mr. Sachs, rising bulkily from his chair.
"Nein, Roschen! Nein, nein, Amalie!" and Mrs. Sachs got out of her chair with greater haste than seemed possible. She might have reached the twin -- whichever it was -- or Mr. Sachs might have reached it, but as they sprang forward their heads came together with stunning force. It was a delay of but an instant.
In that instant, however, the lights went out!
Not one light, or two, but every light in the house, and every light on the street. In the parlor the glare of light was instantly followed by utter blackness, deep, fathomless, and impenetrable. Never is darkness so dark as when it follows glaring light.
"Roschen! Amalie!" wailed Mrs. Sachs, creeping wildly on her hands and knees. "Where you are?"
"Amalie! Roschen!" shouted Mr. Sachs. His actions, had the twins been able to see him, would have filled them with joy. They would have thought he was playing "big bear coming to catch the baby." But now no answering gurgle of pleasure rewarded his heavy crawling across the room. The twins, wherever they were, seemed to have been made dumb by the darkness.
"Quick! Annie, Freddy! Already maybe is a twin choked by the cent!" wailed Mrs. Sachs. "Ain't you got no sense?"
With one accord, Annie and Freddy dropped to their knees. There was a dull blow, as of bone striking wood.
"Blitzen wetter!" cried Freddy in anguish. His head had come in heavy contact with the sharp edge of the heavy leg of the center table, and from Annie came a low moan.
"Please, Freddy, would you to take your knee off my fingers yet!" she begged. "I get them smashed else."
"Ah, poor liebchen!" exclaimed Freddy, but Mrs. Sachs's voice wailed louder, broken by the noise of her skirts as she scrambled over the floor, and by the thumps as she bumped into the furniture. Never had the room seemed so over-furnished. It seemed to have become a veritable forest, in which the twins were lost forever.
"Such ain't no time to be getting off of fingers," she cried angrily. "You could be finding twins now. Somebody could strike a match!"
"Is no matches in the house," panted Mr. Sachs, feeling under the sofa. "A fool is a man that don't have matches! Amal--"
"Here! I got one!" cried Freddy.
"Strike it, then, dumb-head!" said Mrs. Sachs angrily.
"It is a twin I got, not a match. If you mean I should hit the kid --"
"Ach, no! Give me the poor! Where are you, Freddy?"
"Under the piano maybe."
"So stay!" said Mrs. Sachs. "I come."
Striking the center table and two chairs on the way, Mrs. Sachs made for the piano corner.
"Make her down side up, Freddy, and be shaking her some!"
The wail that followed told that Freddy had inverted the twin and was shaking it.
"Hah!" exclaimed Mr. Sachs, flat on his stomach. "The other one I have got!"
"You should to upside her quick! Shake her good, Heinrich!" The chords of the piano rang as she grasped the twin from Freddy and, sitting up suddenly, hit the piano with her head. But it was no time to mind a knock or two.
"Quick, Freddy! Telephone for the doctor yet. Make him come soon. Copper cents is so poisonous in babies. He should come right off, say, the telephone is by the top of the stairs."
Both the twins were crying lustily now, being held upside down and pounded on the back, but above the wailing of the storm and the wailing of the twins and the wailing of Mrs. Sachs, Freddy's voice soon resounded.
In the parlor the ministrations to the twins went on with all the intensity that agonized parents can put into such a thing, Mrs. Sachs giving instructions to Mr. Sachs, and Mr. Sachs returning other instructions. It was impossible to know which twin had swallowed the copper cent, and both suffered alike.
"Hello! Hello!" shouted Freddy into the telephone. He varied it by jogging the receiver-holder up and down violently. Central would not answer. He knocked down on the battery-box with the receiver. "Hello, why don't you? Look! I am in a hurry once! Hello!"
"Dumb-head! Not to know how yet to use a telephone! Take whichever is this twin, Tina. I go!" said Mr. Sachs.
He went. Up the stairs he went like a heavy hurricane, and pushed Freddy away with one wide sweep of his arm.
"Hello, now!" he cried. "Give me Dr. Bardenhauer, and make quick!"
But no answering "Give you information!" came back. The receiver offered nothing but blind, blank silence.
Behind him there was a noise like a load of paving-stones falling on a plank walk. Mr. Sachs did not even turn his head. It was only Freddy failing downstairs. Mr. Sachs was listening with tense senses to the silence in the telephone.
"Hello! What good is such a telephone business yet! Central! Give me -- Central! Hello! Tomorrow I report you good, I tell you! Hello!"
His anger increased. He pounded on the battery-box until it cracked open like an oyster. The telephone was dumb. Mr. Sachs did not know it, but the same falling tree that had severed the electric light wires had carried down the telephone wires. There is nothing so maddening as a telephone that will not talk back.
Mr. Sachs dashed down the stairs, threw open the front door and dashed out, hatless and coatless, into the raging wind and rain.
To Mrs. Sachs, with the two screaming babies in her arms, it seemed hours before he returned, and when the front door opened and Dr. Bardenhauer's burly form appeared, dimly lighted by the single candle in his carriage lamp, which he held in his hand, she cried aloud for thankfulness.
"Here is it I am, Doctor! Here --" and at that instant all the lights in the house blazed forth.
The light was dazzling. Even Mrs. Sachs, partially screened as she was by the piano under which she was sitting, closed her eyes an instant, and the big doctor blinked. His carriage lamp became a pale, sickly yellow.
In a moment he was on his knees before the piano, gazing at the twins through his water-dimmed spectacles.
"Right side them up once," he said shortly.
The moment they were right side up, the twins stopped howling, and the doctor, taking the pink fist of Amalie -- or Roschen -- in his big hand, carefully pried the little fingers apart. The bright copper cent was there in the little pink palm!
But Mrs. Sachs let her eye hold the look of relief but an instant, for, sitting on the floor of the hall with their backs against the coat-rack, were Freddy and Annie, and Freddy was holding Annie's knee-injured hand in his.
"Annie! What mean you? Shame!" cried Mrs. Sachs.
But Annie only looked up into Freddy's face blissfully.
"Don't worry, Mrs. Sachs," said Freddy politely. "Things ain't like what they was. Since I tumble downstairs, me and Annie has got engaged already. We got a right to hold hands."