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by [?]

“If you loved a man, and knew that he loved you, and he wouldn’t ask you to marry him, what would you do?”

The Admiral surveyed his grand-niece thoughtfully. “What do you expect to do, my dear?”

Petronella stopped on the snowy top step and looked down at him. “Who said I had anything to do with it?” she demanded.

The Admiral’s old eyes twinkled. “Let me come in, and tell me about it.”

Petronella smiled at him over her big muff. “If you’ll promise not to stay after five, I’ll give you a cup of tea.”

“Who’s coming at five?”

The color flamed into Petronella’s cheeks. In her white coat and white furs, with her wind-blown brown hair, her beauty satisfied even the Admiral’s critical survey, and he hastened to follow his question by the assertion, “Of course I’ll come in.”

Petronella, with her coat off, showed a slenderness which was enhanced by the straight lines of her white wool gown, with the long sleeves fur-edged, and with fur at the top of the high, transparent collar. She wore her hair curled over her ears and low on her forehead, which made of her face a small and delicate oval. In the big hall, with a roaring fire in the wide fireplace, she dispensed comforting hospitality to the adoring Admiral. And when she had given him his tea she sat on a stool at his feet. “Oh, wise great-uncle,” she said, “I am going to tell you about the Man!”

“Have I ever seen him?”

“No. I met him in London last year, and–well, you know what a trip home on shipboard means, with all the women shut up in their cabins, and with moonlight nights, and nobody on deck–“

“So it was an affair of moonlight and propinquity?”

After a pause: “No, it was an affair of the only man in the world for me.”

“My dear child–!”

Out of a long silence she went on: “He thought I was poor. You know how quietly I traveled with Miss Danvers. And he didn’t associate Nell Hewlett with Petronella Hewlett of New York and Great Rock. And so–well, you know, uncle, he let himself go, and I let myself go, and then–“

She drew a long breath. “When we landed, things stopped. He had found out who I was, and he wrote me a little note, and said he would never forget our friendship–and that’s–all.”

She finished drearily, and the bluff old Admiral cleared his throat. There was something wrong with the scheme of things when his Petronella couldn’t have the moon if she wanted it!

“And what can I do–what can any woman do?” Petronella demanded, turning on him. “I can’t go to him and say, ‘Please marry me.’ I can’t even think it”; her cheeks burned. “And he’d die before he’d say another word, and I suppose that now we’ll go on growing old, and I’ll get thinner and thinner, and he’ll get fatter and fatter, and I’ll be an old maid, and he’ll marry some woman who’s poor enough to satisfy his pride, and–well, that will be the end of it, uncle.”

“The end of it?” said the gentleman who had once commanded a squadron. “Well, I guess not, Petronella, if you want him. Oh, the man’s a fool!”

“He’s not a fool, uncle.” The sparks in Petronella’s eyes matched the sparks in the Admiral’s.

“Well, if he’s worthy of you–“

Petronella laid her cheek against his hand. “The question is not,” she said, faintly, “of his worthiness, but of mine, dear uncle.”

Dumbly the Admiral gazed down at that drooping head. Could this be Petronella–confident, imperious, the daughter of a confident and imperious race?

He took refuge in the question, “But who is coming at five?”

“He is coming. He is passing through Boston on his way to visit his mother in Maine. I asked him to come. I told him I was down here by the sea, and intended to spend Christmas at Great Rock because you were here, and because this was the house I lived in when I was a little girl, and that I wanted him to see it; and–I told him the truth, uncle.”