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by [?]

“The truth?”

“That I missed him. That was all I dared say, and I wish you had read his note of assent. Such a stiff little thing. It threw me back upon myself, and I wished that I hadn’t written him–I wished that he wouldn’t come. Oh, uncle, if I were a man, I’d give a woman the right to choose. That’s the reason there are so many unhappy marriages. Nine wrong men ask a woman, and the tenth right one won’t. And finally she gets tired of waiting for the tenth right one, and marries one of the nine wrong ones.”

“There are women to-day,” said the Admiral, “who are preaching a woman’s right to propose.”

Petronella gazed at him, thoughtfully. “I could preach a doctrine like that–but I couldn’t practice it. It’s easy enough to say to some other woman, ‘Ask him,’ but it’s different when you are the woman.”

“Yet if he asked you,” suggested the Admiral, “the world might say that he wanted your money.”

“Why should we care what the world would say?” Petronella was on her feet now, defending her cause vigorously. “Why should we care? Why, it’s our love against the world, uncle! Why should we care?”

The Admiral stood up, too, and paced the rug as in former days he had paced the decks. “There must be some way out,” he said at last, and stopped short. “Suppose I speak to him–“

“And spoil it all! Oh, uncle!” Petronella shook him by the lapels of his blue coat. “A man never knows how a woman feels about such things. Even you don’t, you old darling. And now will you please go; and take this because I love you,” and she kissed him on one cheek, “and this because it is a quarter to five and you’ll have to hurry,” and she kissed him on the other cheek.

The Admiral, being helped into his big cape in the hall, called back, “I forgot to give you your Christmas present,” and he produced a small package.

“Come here and let me open it,” Petronella insisted. And the Admiral, without a glance at the accusing clock, went back. And thus it happened that he was there to meet the Man.

It must be confessed that the Admiral suffered a distinct shock as he was presented to the hero of Petronella’s romance. Here was no courtly youth of the type of the military male line of Petronella’s family, but a muscular young giant of masterful bearing. The Hewlett men had commanded men; one could see at a glance that Justin Hare had also commanded women. This, the wise old Admiral decided at once, was the thing which had attracted Petronella–Petronella, who had held her own against all masculine encroachments, and who was heart-free at twenty-five!

“Look what this dearest dear of an uncle has given me,” said Petronella, and held up for the young surgeon’s admiration a string of pearls with a sapphire clasp. “They belonged to my great-aunt. I was named for her, and uncle says I look like her.”

“You have her eyes, my dear, and some of her ways. But she was less independent. In her time women leaned more, as it were, on man’s strength.”

Justin Hare looked at them with interest–at the slender girl in her white gown, at the tall, straight old man with his air of command.

“Women in these days do not lean,” he said, with decision; “they lead.”

A spark came into Petronella’s eyes. “And do you like the modern type best?” she challenged.

He answered with smiling directness, “I like you.”

The Admiral was pleased with that, though he was still troubled by this man’s difference from the men of his own race. Yet if back of that honest bluntness there was a heart which would enshrine her–well, that was all he would ask for this dearest of girls.

He glanced at the clock, and spoke hurriedly: “I must be going, my dear; it is long after five.”