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He went straight in search of Anna-Rose.
He was going to propose to her. He couldn't bear it. He couldn't bear the idea of his previous twins, his blessed little Twinklers, both going out of his life at the same time, and he couldn't bear, after what he had just seen in the office, the loneliness of being left outside love.
All his life he had stood on the door-mat outside the shut door of love. He had had no love; neither at home, where they talked so much about it and there wasn't any, nor, because of his home and its inhibitions got so thoroughly into his blood, anywhere else. He had never tried to marry,--again because of his home and his mother and the whole only-son-of-a-widow business. He would try now. He would risk it. It was awful to risk it, but it was more awful not to. He adored Anna-Rose. How nearly the afternoon before, when she sat crying in his chair, had he taken her in his arms! Why, he would have taken her into them then and there, while she was in that state, while she was in the need of comfort, and never let her go out of them again, if it hadn't been that he had got the idea so firmly fixed in his head that she was a child. Fool that he was. Elliott had dispelled that idea for him. It wasn't children who looked as Anna-Felicitas had looked just now in the office. Anna-Rose, it is true, seemed younger than Anna-Felicitas, but that was because she was little and easily cried. He loved her for being little. He loved her because she easily cried. He yearned and hungered to comfort, to pet to take care of. He was, as has been pointed out, a born mother.
Avoiding the verandah and Mrs. Bilton, Mr. Twist filled with recklessness, hurried upstairs and knocked at Anna-Rose's door. No answer. He listened. Dead silence. He opened it a slit and peeped in. Emptiness. Down he went again and made for the kitchen, because Li Koo, who always knew everything, might know where she was. Li Koo did. He jerked his head towards the window, and Mr. Twist hurried to it and looked out. There in the middle of the yard was the cat, exactly where he had left her an hour before, and kneeling beside her stroking her stomach was Anna-Rose.
She had her back to the house and her face was hidden. The sun streamed down on her bare head and on the pale gold rings of hair that frisked round her neck. She didn't hear him till he was close to her, so much absorbed was she apparently in the cat; and when she did she didn't look up, but bent her head lower than before and stroked more assiduously.
"Anna-Rose," said Mr. Twist.
"Come and talk to me."
"Don't think. Come and talk to me, little--little dear one."
She bent her head lower still. "I'm thinking," she said again.
"Come and tell me what you're thinking."
"I'm thinking about cats."
"About cats?" said Mr. Twist, uncertainly.
"Yes," said Anna-Rose, stroking the cat's stomach faster and carefully keeping her face hidden from him. "About how wise and wonderful they are."
"Well then if that's all, you can go on with that presently and come and talk to me now."
"You see," said Anna-Rose, not heeding this, "they're invariably twins, and more than twins, for they're often fours and sometimes sixes, but still they sit in the sun quietly all their lives and don't mind a bit what their--what their twins do--"
"Ah," said Mr. Twist. "Now I'm getting there."
"They don't mind a bit about anything. They just clean their whiskers and they purr. Perhaps it's that that comforts them. Perhaps if I--if I had whiskers and a--and a purr--"
The cat leaped suddenly to her feet and shook herself violently. Something hot and wet had fallen on her beautiful stomach.
Anna-Rose made a little sound strangers might have taken for a laugh as she put out her arms and caught her again, but it was a sound so wretched, so piteous in the attempt to hide away from him, that Mr. Twist's heart stood still. "Oh, don't go," she said, catching at the cat and hugging her tight, "I can't let you go--" And she buried her face in her fur, so that Mr. Twist still couldn't see it.
"Now that's enough about the cat," he said, speaking very firmly. "You're coming with me." And he stooped and picked her up, cat and all, and set her on her feet.
Then he saw her face.
"Good God, Anna-Rose!" he exclaimed.
"I did try not to show you," she said; and she added, taking shelter behind her pride and looking at him as defiantly as she could out of eyes almost closed up, "but you mustn't suppose just because I happen to--to seem as if I'd been crying that I--that I'm minding anything."
"Oh no," said Mr. Twist, who at sight of her face had straightway forgotten about himself and his longings and his proposals, and only knew that he must comfort Christopher. "Oh no," he said, looking at her aghast, "I'm not supposing we're minding anything, either of us."
He took her by the arm. Comfort Christopher; that's what he had got to do. Get rid as quickly as possible of that look of agony--yes, it was downright agony--on her face.
He thought he guessed what she was thinking and feeling; he thought--he was pretty sure--she was thinking and feeling that her beloved Columbus had gone from her, and gone to a stranger, in a day, in a few hours, to a stranger she had never even seen, never even heard of; that her Columbus had had secrets from her, had been doing things behind her back; that she had had perfect faith and trust in her twin, and now was tasting the dreadful desolation of betrayal; and he also guessed that she must be sick with fears,--for he knew how responsible she felt, how seriously she took the charge of her beautiful twin--sick with fear about this unknown man, sick with the feeling of helplessness, of looking on while Columbus rushed into what might well be, for all any one knew, a deadly mess-up of her happiness.
Well, he could reason her out of most of this, he felt. Certainly he could reassure her about Elliott, who did inspire one with confidence, who did seem, anyhow outwardly, a very fitting mate for Anna-Felicitas. But he was aghast at the agony on her face. All that he guessed she was thinking and feeling didn't justify it. It was unreasonable to suffer so violently on account of what was, after all, a natural happening. But however unreasonable it was, she was suffering.
He took her by the arm. "You come right along with me," he said; and led her out of the yard, away from Li Koo and the kitchen window, towards the eucalyptus grove behind the house. "You come right along with me," he repeated, holding her firmly for she was very wobbly on her feet, "and we'll tell each other all about the things we're not minding. Do you remember when the St. Luke left Liverpool? You thought I thought you were minding things then, and were very angry with me. We've made friends since, haven't we, and we aren't going to mind anything ever again except each other."
But he hardly knew what he was saying, so great was his concern and distress.
Anna-Rose went blindly. She stumbled along, helped by him, clutching the cat. She couldn't see out of her swollen eyes. Her foot caught in a root, and the cat, who had for some minutes past been thoroughly uneasy, became panic-stricken and struggled out of her arms, and fled into the wood. She tried to stop it, but it would go. For some reason this broke down her self-control. The warm cat clutched to her breast had at least been something living to hold on to. Now the very cat had gone. Her pride collapsed, and she tumbled against Mr. Twist's arm and just sobbed.
If ever a man felt like a mother it was Mr. Twist at that moment. He promptly sat her down on the grass. "There now--there, there now," he said, whipping out his handkerchief and anxiously mopping up her face. "This is what I did on the St. Luke--do you remember?--there now--that time you told me about your mother--it looks like being my permanent job--there, there now--don't now--you'll have no little eyes left soon if you go on like this--"
"Oh but--oh but--Co-Columbus--"
"Yes, yes I know all about Columbus. Don't you worry about her. She's all right. She's all right in the office at this moment, and we're all right out here if only you knew it, if only you wouldn't cry such quantities. It beats me where it all comes from, and you so little--there, there now--"
"Oh but--oh but Columbus--"
"Yes, yes, I know--you're worrying yourself sick because you think you're responsible for her to your aunt and uncle, but you won't be, you know, once she's married--there, there now--"
"Oh but--oh but--"
"Now don't--now please--yes, yes, I know--he's a stranger, and you haven't seen him yet, but everybody was a stranger once," said Mr. Twist, quoting Anna-Felicitas's own argument, the one that had especially irritated him half-an-hour before, "and he's real good--I'm sure of it. And you'll be sure too the minute you see him. That's to say, if you're able to see anything or anybody for the next week out of your unfortunate stuck-together little eyes."
"Oh but--oh but--you don't--you haven't--"
"Yes, yes, I have. Now turn your face so that I can wipe the other side properly. There now, I caught an enormous tear. I got him just in time before he trickled into your ear. Lord, how sore your poor little eyes are. Don't it even cheer you to think you're going to be a sister-in-law, Anna-Rose?"
"Oh but you don't--you haven't--" she sobbed, her face not a whit less agonized for all his reassurances.
"Well, I know I wish I were going to be a brother-in-law," said Mr. Twist, worried by his inability to reassure, as he tenderly and carefully dabbed about the corners of her eyes and her soaked eyelashes. "My, shouldn't I think well of myself."
Then his hand shook.
"I wish I were going to be Anna-Felicitas's brother-in-law," he said, suddenly impelled, perhaps by this failure to get rid of the misery in her face, to hurl himself on his fate. "Not yours--get your mind quite clear about that,--but Anna-Felicitas's." And his hand shook so much that he had to leave off drying. For this was a proposal. If only Anna-Rose would see it, this was a proposal.
Anna-Rose, however, saw nothing. Even in normal times she wasn't good at relationships, and had never yet understood the that-man's-father-was-my-father's-son one; now she simply didn't hear. She was sitting with her hands limply in her lap, and sobbing in a curious sort of anguish.
He couldn't help being struck by it. There was more in this than he had grasped. Again he forgot himself and his proposal. Again he was overwhelmed by the sole desire to help and comfort.
He put his hand on the two hands lying with such an air of being forgotten on her lap. "What is it?" he asked gently. "Little dear one, tell me. It's clear I'm not dead on to it yet."
She seemed to writhe in her misery.
"Well yes, yes Columbus. We know all about that."
Anna-Rose turned her quivering face to him. "Oh, you haven't seen--you don't see--it's only me that's seen--"
"Seen what? What haven't I seen? Ah, don't cry--don't cry like that--"
"Oh, I've lost her--lost her--"
"Lost her? Because she's marrying?"
"Lost her--lost her--" sobbed Anna-Rose.
"Come now," remonstrated Mr. Twist. "Come now. That's just flat contrary to the facts. You've lost nothing, and you've gained a brother."
"Oh,--lost her--lost her," sobbed Anna-Rose.
"Come, come now," said Mr. Twist helplessly.
"Oh," she sobbed, looking at him out of her piteous eyes, "has nobody thought of it but me? Columbus hasn't. I--I know she hasn't from what--from what--she said. She's too--too happy to think. But--haven't you thought--haven't you seen--that she'll be English now--really English--and go away from me to England with him--and I--I can't go to England--because I'm still--I'm still--an alien enemy--and so I've lost her--lost her--lost my own twin--"
And Anna-Rose dropped her head on to her knees and sobbed in an abandonment of agony.
Mr. Twist sat without saying or doing anything at all. He hadn't thought of this; nor, he was sure, had Anna-Felicitas. And it was true. Now he understood Anna-Rose's face and the despair of it. He sat looking at her, overwhelmed by the realization of her misfortune. For a moment he was blinded by it, and didn't see what it would mean for him. Then he did see. He almost leaped, so sudden was the vision, and so luminous.
"Anna-Rose," he said, his voice trembling, "I want to put my arm round you. That's because I love you. And if you'll let me do that I could tell you of a way there is out of this for you. But I can't tell you so well unless--unless you let me put my arm round you first...."
He waited trembling. She only sobbed. He couldn't even be sure she was listening. So he put his arm round her to try. At least she didn't resist. So he drew her closer. She didn't resist that either. He couldn't even be sure she knew about it. So he put his other arm round her too, and though he couldn't be sure, he thought--he hardly dared think, but it did seem as if--she nestled.
Happiness, such as in his lonely, loveless life he had never imagined, flooded Mr. Twist. He looked down at her face, which was now so close to his, and saw that her eyes were shut. Great sobs went on shaking her little body, and her tears, now that he wasn't wiping them, were rolling down her cheeks unchecked.
He held her closer to him, close to his heart where she belonged, and again he had that sensation, that wonderful sensation, of nestling.
"Little Blessed, the way out is so simple," he whispered. "Little Blessed, don't you see?"
But whether Anna-Rose saw seemed very doubtful. There was only that feeling, as to which he was no doubt mistaken, of nestling to go on. Her eyes, anyhow, remained shut, and her body continued to heave with sobs.
He bent his head lower. His voice shook. "It's so, so simple," he whispered. "All you've got to do is to marry me."
And as she made an odd little movement in his arms he held her tighter and began to talk very fast.
"No, no," he said, "don't answer anything yet. Just listen. Just let me tell you first. I want to tell you to start with how terribly I love you. But that doesn't mean you've got to love me--you needn't if you don't want to--if you can't--if you'd rather not I'm eighteen years older than you, and I know what I'm like to look at--no, don't say anything yet--just listen quiet first--but if you married me you'd be an American right away, don't you see? Just as Anna-Felicitas is going to be English. And I always intended going back to England as soon as may be, and if you married me what is to prevent your coming too? Coming to England? With Anna-Felicitas and her husband. Anna-Rose--little Blessed--think of it--all of us together. There won't be any aliens in that quartette, I guess, and the day you marry me you'll be done with being German for good and all. And don't you get supposing it matters about your not loving me, because, you see, I love you so much, I adore you so terribly, that anyhow there'll be more than enough love to go round, and you needn't ever worry about contributing any if you don't feel like it--"
Mr. Twist broke off abruptly. "What say?" he said, for Anna-Rose was making definite efforts to speak. She was also making definite and unmistakable movements, and this time there could be no doubt about it; she was coming closer.
"What say?" said Mr. Twist breathlessly, bending his head.
"But I do," whispered Anna-Rose.
"Do what?" said Mr. Twist, again breathlessly.
She turned her face up to his. On it was the same look he had lately seen on Anna-Felicitas's, shining through in spite of the disfiguration of her tears.
"But--of course I do," whispered Anna-Rose, an extraordinary smile, an awe-struck sort of smile, coming into her face at the greatness of her happiness, at the wonder of it.
"What? Do what?" said Mr. Twist, still more breathlessly.
"I--always did," whispered Anna-Rose.
"What did you always did?" gasped Mr. Twist, hardly able to believe it, and yet--and yet--there on her little face, on her little transfigured face, shone the same look.
"Oh--love you," sighed Anna-Rose, nestling as close as she could get.
* * * * * * *
It was Mr. Twist himself who got on a ladder at five minutes past four that afternoon and pasted a strip of white paper obliquely across the sign of The Open Arms with the word.
on it in big letters. Li Koo held the foot of the ladder. Mr. Twist had only remembered the imminence of four o'clock and the German inrush a few minutes before the hour, because of his being so happy; and when he did he flew to charcoal and paper. He got the strip on only just in time. A car drove up as he came down the ladder.
"What?" exclaimed the principal male occupant of the car, pointing, thwarted and astonished, to the sign.
"Shut," said Mr. Twist.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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