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PAGE 4

Petronella
by [?]

She was talking nervously, with her cheeks as white as a lily, but with her eyes shining. The Admiral glanced at Hare. The young man was drinking in her beauty. But suddenly he frowned and turned away his eyes.

“It was very good of you to ask me over,” he said, formally.

That steadied Petronella. Her nervous self-consciousness fled, and she was at once the gracious, impersonal hostess.

The Admiral glowed with pride of her. “She’ll carry it off,” he said to himself; “it’s in her blood.”

“Dinner is served,” announced Jenkins from the doorway, and then Miss Danvers came down and greeted Justin, and they all went out together.

There was holly for a centerpiece, and four red candles in silver holders. The table was of richly carved mahogany, and the Admiral, following an old custom, served the soup from a silver tureen, upheld by four fat cupids. From the wide arch which led into the great hall was hung a bunch of mistletoe; beyond the arch, the roaring fire made a background of gleaming, golden light.

To the young surgeon it seemed a fairy scene flaming with the color and glow of a life which he had never known. He had lived so long surrounded by the bare, blank walls of a hospital. Even Petronella’s soft green gown seemed made of some mystical stuff which had nothing in common with the cool white or blue starchiness of the uniforms of nurses.

They talked of many things, covering with, their commonplaces the tenseness of the situation. Then suddenly the conversation took a significant turn.

“I love these stormy nights,” Petronella had said, “with the snow blowing, and the wind, and the house all warm and bright.”

“Think of the poor sailors at sea,” Hare had reminded her.

“Please–I don’t want to think of them. We have done our best for them, uncle and I. We have opened a reading-room down by the docks, so that all who are ashore can have soup and coffee and sandwiches, and there’s a big stove, and newspapers and magazines.”

“You dispense charity?”

“Why not?” she asked him, confidently. “We have plenty–why shouldn’t we give?”

“Because it takes away from their manhood to receive.”

The Admiral spoke bluntly. “The men don’t feel it that way. This charity, as you call it, is a memorial to my wife. The grandfathers of these boys used to see her light in the window of the old house on stormy nights, and they knew that it was an invitation to good cheer. More than one crew coming in half frozen were glad of the soup and coffee which were sent down to them in cans with baskets of bread. And this little coffee-room has been the outgrowth of just such hospitality. There are too many of the men to have in my house. I simply entertain them elsewhere, and I like to go and talk to them, and sometimes Petronella goes.”

“There’s a picture of dear Aunt Pet hanging there,” said Petronella, “and you can’t imagine how it softens the manners of the men. It is as if her spirit brooded over the place. They have made it into a sort of shrine, and they bring shells and queer carved things to put on the shelf below it.”

“In the city we are beginning to think that such methods weaken self-respect.”

“That’s because,” said the wise old Admiral, “in the city there isn’t any real democracy. You give your friend a cup of coffee and think nothing of it, yet when I give a cup of coffee to a sailor whose grandfather and mine fished together on the banks, you warn me that my methods tend to pauperize. In the city the poor are never your friends–in this little town no man would admit that he is less than I. They like my coffee and they drink it.”

Petronella, seeing her chance, took it. “I think people are horrid to let money make a difference.”

“You say that,” said Hare, “because you have never had to accept favors–you have, in other words, never been on the other side.”