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That night he determined he would go into Acapulco next morning and drop in at his bank and at his lawyer's and other places, and see if he could pick up anything that would explain why Americans wouldn't come and have tea at The Open Arms. He even thought he might look up old Ridding. He didn't sleep. He lay all night thinking.
The evening had been spent tête-à-tête with Anna-Felicitas. Anna-Rose was in bed, sleeping off her tears; Mrs. Bilton had another headache, and disappeared early; so he was left with Anna-Felicitas, who slouched about abstractedly eating up the remains of ice-cream. She didn't talk, except once to remark a little pensively that her inside was dreadfully full of cold stuff, and that she knew now what it must feel like to be a mausoleum; but, eyeing her sideways as he sat before the fire, Mr. Twist could see that she was still smug. He didn't talk either. He felt he had nothing at present to say to Anna-Felicitas that would serve a useful purpose, and was, besides, reluctant to hear any counter-observations she might make. Watchfulness was what was required. Silent watchfulness. And wariness. And firmness. In fact all the things that were most foreign to his nature, thought Mr. Twist, resentful and fatigued.
Next morning he had a cup of coffee in his room, brought by Li Koo, and then drove himself into Acapulco in his Ford without seeing the others. It was another of the perfect days which he was now beginning to take as a matter of course, so many had there been since his arrival. People talked of the wet days and of their desolate abundance once they started, but there had been as yet no sign of them. The mornings succeeded each other, radiant and calm. November was merging into December in placid loveliness. "Oh yes," said Mr. Twist to himself sardonically, as he drove down the sun-flecked lane in the gracious light, and crickets chirped at him, and warm scents drifted across his face, and the flowers in the grass, standing so bright and unruffled that they seemed almost as profoundly pleased as Anna-Felicitas, nodded at him, and everything was obviously perfectly contented and happy, "Oh yes--I daresay." And he repeated this remark several times as he looked round him,--he couldn't but look, it was all so beautiful. These things hadn't to deal with Twinklers. No wonder they could be calm and bright. So could he, if--
He turned a corner in the lane and saw some way down it two figures, a man and a girl, sitting in the grass by the wayside. Lovers, of course. "Oh yes--I daresay," said Mr. Twist again, grimly. They hadn't to deal with Twinklers either. No wonder they could sit happily in the grass. So could he, if--
At the noise of the approaching car, with the smile of the last thing they had been saying still on their faces, the two turned their heads, and it was that man Elliott and Anna-Felicitas.
"Hello," called out Mr. Twist, putting on the brakes so hard that the Ford skidded sideways along the road towards them.
"Hello," said the young man cheerfully, waving his stick.
"Hello," said Anna-Felicitas mildly, watching his sidelong approach with complacent interest.
She had no hat on, and had evidently escaped from Mrs. Bilton just as she was. Escaped, however, was far too violent a word Mr. Twist felt; sauntered from Mrs. Bilton better described her effect of natural and comfortable arrival at the place where she was.
"I didn't know you were here," said Mr. Twist addressing her when the car had stopped. He felt it was a lame remark. He had torrents of things he wanted to say, and this was all that came out.
Anna-Felicitas considered it placidly for a moment, and came to the conclusion that it wasn't worth answering, so she didn't.
"Going into the town?" inquired Elliott pleasantly.
"Yes. I'll give you a lift."
"No thanks. I've just come from there."
"I see. Then you'd better come with me," said Mr. Twist to Anna-Felicitas.
"I'm afraid I can't. I'm rather busy this morning."
"Really," said Mr. Twist, in a voice of concentrated sarcasm. But it had no effect on Anna-Felicitas. She continued to contemplate him with perfect goodwill.
He hesitated a moment. What could he do? Nothing, that he could see, before the young man; nothing that wouldn't make him ridiculous. He felt a fool already. He oughtn't to have pulled up. He ought to have just waved to them and gone on his way, and afterwards in the seclusion of his office issued very plain directions to Anna-Felicitas as to her future conduct. Sitting by the roadside like that! Openly; before everybody; with a young man she had never seen twenty-four hours ago.
He jammed in the gear and let the clutch out with such a jerk that the car leaped forward. Elliott waved his stick again. Mr. Twist responded by the briefest touch of his cap, and whirred down the road out of sight.
"Does he mind your sitting here?" asked Elliott.
"It would be very unreasonable," said Anna-Felicitas gently. "One has to sit somewhere."
And he laughed with delight at this answer as he laughed with delight at everything she said, and he told her for the twentieth time that she was the most wonderful person he had ever met, and she settled down to listen again, after the interruption caused by Mr. Twist, with a ready ear and the utmost complacency to these agreeable statements, and began to wonder whether perhaps after all she mightn't at last be about to fall in love.
In the new interest of this possibility she turned her head to look at him, and he told her tumultuously--for being a sailor-man he went straight ahead on great waves when it came to love-making--that her eyes were as if pansies had married stars.
She turned her head away again at this, for though it sounded lovely it made her feel a little shy and unprovided with an answer; and then he said, again tumultuously, that her ear was the most perfect thing ever stuck on a girl's cheek, and would she mind turning her face to him so that he might see if she had another just like it on the other side.
She blushed at this, because she couldn't remember whether she had washed it lately or not--one so easily forgot one's ears; there were so many different things to wash--and he told her that when she blushed it was like the first wild rose of the first summer morning of the world.
At this Anna-Felicitas was quite overcome, and subsided into a condition of blissful, quiescent waiting for whatever might come next. Fancy her face reminding him of all those nice things. She had seen it every day for years and years in the looking-glass, and not noticed anything particular about it. It had seemed to her just a face. Something you saw out of, and ate with, and had to clean whatever else you didn't when you were late for breakfast, because there it was and couldn't be hidden,--an object remote indeed from pansies, and stars, and beautiful things like that.
She would have liked to explain this to the young man, and point out that she feared his imagination ran ahead of the facts and that perhaps when his leg was well again he would see things more as they were, but to her surprise when she turned to him to tell him this she found she was obliged to look away at once again. She couldn't look at him. Fancy that now, thought Anna-Felicitas, attentively gazing at her toes. And he had such dear eyes; and such a dear, eager sort of face. All the more, then, she reasoned, should her own eyes have dwelt with pleasure on him. But they couldn't. "Dear me," she murmured, watching her toes as carefully as if they might at any moment go away and leave her there.
"I know," said Elliott. "You think I'm talking fearful flowery stuff. I'd have said Dear me at myself three years ago if I had ever caught myself thinking in terms of stars and roses. But it's all the beastly blood and muck of the war that does it,--sends one back with a rush to things like that. Makes one shameless. Why, I'd talk to you about God now without turning a hair. Nothing would have induced me so much as to mention seriously that I'd even heard of him three years ago. Why, I write poetry now. We all write poetry. And nobody would mind now being seen saying their prayers. Why, if I were back at school and my mother came to see me I'd hug her before everybody in the middle of the street. Do you realize what a tremendous change that means, you little girl who's never had brothers? You extraordinary adorable little lovely thing?"
And off he was again.
"When I was small," said Anna-Felicitas after a while, still watching her feet, "I had a governess who urged me to consider, before I said anything, whether it were the sort of thing I would like to say in the hearing of my parents. Would you like to say what you're saying to me in the hearing of your parents?"
"Hate to," said Elliott promptly.
"Well, then," said Anna-Felicitas, gentle but disappointed. She rather wished now she hadn't mentioned it.
"I'd take you out of earshot," said Elliott.
She was much relieved. She had done what she felt might perhaps be regarded by Aunt Alice as her duty as a lady, and could now give herself up with a calm conscience to hearing whatever else he might have to say.
And he had an incredible amount to say, and all of it of the most highly gratifying nature. On the whole, looking at it all round and taking one thing with another, Anna-Felicitas came to the conclusion that this was the most agreeable and profitable morning she had ever spent. She sat there for hours, and they all flew. People passed in cars and saw her, and it didn't disturb her in the least. She perfectly remembered she ought to be helping Anna-Rose pick and arrange the flowers for the tea-tables, and she didn't mind. She knew Anna-Rose would be astonished and angry at her absence, and it left her unmoved. By midday she was hopelessly compromised in the eyes of Acapulco, for the people who had motored through the lane told the people who hadn't what they had seen. Once a great car passed with a small widow in it, who looked astonished when she saw the pair but had gone almost before Elliott could call out and wave to her.
"That's my sister," he said. "You and she will love each other."
"Shall we?" said Anna-Felicitas, much pleased by this suggestion of continuity in their relations; and remarked that she looked as if she hadn't got a husband.
"She hasn't. Poor little thing. Rotten luck. Rotten. I hate people to die now. It seems so infernally unnatural of them, when they're not in the fighting. He's only been dead a month. And poor old Dellogg was such a decent chap. She isn't going anywhere yet, or I'd bring her up to tea this afternoon. But it doesn't matter. I'll take you to her."
"Shall you?" said Anna-Felicitas, again much pleased. Dellogg. The name swam through her mind and swam out again. She was too busy enjoying herself to remark it and its coincidences now.
"Of course. It's the first thing one does."
"What first thing?"
"To take the divine girl to see one's relations. Once one has found her. Once one has had"--his voice fell to a whisper--"the God-given luck to find her." And he laid his hand very gently on hers, which were clasped together in her lap.
This was a situation to which Anna-Felicitas wasn't accustomed, and she didn't know what to do with it. She looked down at the hand lying on hers, and considered it without moving. Elliott was quite silent now, and she knew he was watching her face. Ought she, perhaps, to be going? Was this, perhaps, one of the moments in life when the truly judicious went? But what a pity to go just when everything was so pleasant. Still, it must be nearly lunch-time. What would Aunt Alice do in a similar situation? Go home to lunch, she was sure. Yet what was lunch when one was rapidly arriving, as she was sure now that she was, at the condition of being in love? She must be, or she wouldn't like his hand on hers. And she did like it.
She looked down at it, and found that she wanted to stroke it. But would Aunt Alice stroke it? No; Anna-Felicitas felt fairly clear about that. Aunt Alice wouldn't stroke it; she would take it up, and shake it, and say good-bye, and walk off home to lunch like a lady. Well, perhaps she ought to do that. Christopher would probably think so too. But what a pity.... Still, behaviour was behaviour; ladies were ladies.
She drew out her right hand with this polite intention, and instead--Anna-Felicitas never knew how it happened--she did nothing of the sort, but quite the contrary: she put it softly on the top of his.
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