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PAGE 5

Petronella
by [?]

The Admiral, taking up cudgels for his niece, answered, “If she had been on the other side, she would have taken life as she takes it now–like a gentleman and a soldier,” and he smiled at Petronella.

Hare had a baffled sense that the Admiral was right–that Petronella’s fineness and delicacy would never go down in defeat or despair. She would hold her head high though the heavens fell. But could any man make such demands upon her? For himself, he would not.

So he answered, doggedly, “We shall hope she need never be tested.” And Petronella’s heart sank like lead.

But presently she began to talk about the little tree. “We have always had it in uncle’s lookout tower. That was another of dear Aunt Pet’s thoughts for the sailors. On clear nights they looked through their glasses for the little colored lights, and on stormy nights they knew that back of all the snow was the Christmas brightness.”

“I never had a tree,” said Justin. “When I was a kiddie we had pretty hard times, and the best Christmas I remember was one when mother made us boys put up a shelf for our books, and she started our collection with ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn.'”

In the adjoining room, volumes reached from floor to ceiling, from end to end. Petronella had a vision of this vivid young giant gloating over his two books on a rude shelf. And all her life she had had the things she wanted! Somehow the thought took the bitterness out of her attitude toward him. How strong he must be to deny himself now the one great thing that he craved when his life had held so little.

“How lovely to begin with just those two books,” she said, softly, and the radiance of her smile was dazzling.

When she showed him her presents she was still radiant. There was a queer opera-bag of Chinese needlework, with handles of jade, a Damascus bowl of pierced brass, a tea-caddy in quaint Dutch repousse; there was a silver-embroidered altar-cloth for a cushion, a bit of Copenhagen faience, all the sophisticated artistry which is sent to those who have no need for the commonplace. There were jewels, too: a bracelet of topazes surrounded by brilliants, a pair of slipper buckles of turquoises set in silver, a sapphire circlet for her little finger, a pendant of seed pearls.

As she opened the parcels and displayed her riches Justin felt bewildered. His gifts to his mother had included usually gloves and a generous check; if he had ventured to choose anything for Petronella he would not have dared go beyond a box of candy or a book; he had given his nurses pocketbooks and handkerchiefs. And the men of Petronella’s world bestowed on her brass bowls and tea-caddies!

Miss Danvers vanished up-stairs. The Admiral, having admired, slipped away to the library, encouraged by Petronella’s whispered: “Oh, uncle dear, leave us alone for just a little minute. I’ve found a way!”

Then Petronella, with that radiance still upon her, sat down on her little stool in front of the fire, and looked at Justin on the other side of the hearth.

“You haven’t given me anything,” she began, reproachfully.

“What could I give that would compare with these?” His hand swept toward the exquisite display. “What could I give–“

“There’s one thing,” softly.

“What?”

“That copy of ‘Treasure Island’ that your mother gave you long ago.”

Dead silence. Then, unsteadily: “Why should you want that?”

“Because your mother–loved you.”

Again dead silence. Hare did not look at her. His hand clenched the arm of his chair. His face was white. Then, very low, “Why do you–make it hard for me?”

“Because I want–the book”; she was smiling at him with her eyes like stars. “I want to read it with the eyes of the little boy–with the eyes of the little boy who looked into the future and saw life as a great adventure; who looked into the future–and dreamed.”

He had a vision, too, of that little boy, reading, in the old house in the Maine woods, by the light of an oil-lamp, on Christmas Eve, with the snow blowing outside as it blew to-night.

“And your mother loved you because she loved your father,” the girl’s voice went on, “and you were all very happy up there in the forest. Do you remember that you told me about it on the ship?–you were happy, although you were poor, and hadn’t any books but ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ But your mother was happy–because she–loved your father.”

As she repeated it, she leaned forward. “Could you think of your mother as having been happy with any one else but your father?” she asked. “Could you think of her as having never married him, of having gone through the rest of her days a half-woman, because he would not–take her–into his life? Can you think that all the money in the world–all the money in the whole world–would–would have made up–“

The room seemed to darken. Hare was conscious that her face was hidden in her hands, that he stumbled toward her, that he knelt beside her–that she was in his arms.

“Hush,” he was saying in that beating darkness of emotion. “Hush, don’t cry–I–I will never let you go–“

When the storm had spent itself and when at last she met his long gaze, he whispered, “I’m not sure now that it is right–“

“You will be sure as the years go on,” she whispered back; then, tremulously: “but I–I could never have–talked that way if I had thought of you as the man. I had to think of you as the little boy–who dreamed.”