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The Lady Of The Red Admirals
by [?]

“Uncle Peter, here is the gentleman who has called to see you.”

As I crossed the threshold I heard a chair pushed back, and a very old gentleman rose to welcome me at the far end of the cool and shadowy room; a tall white-haired figure in a loose suit of holland. He did not advance, but held out a hand tentatively, as if uncertain from what direction I was advancing. Almost at once I saw that he was stone-blind.

“But where is Uncle Melchior?” exclaimed Wilhelmina.

“I believe he is working at accounts,” the old gentleman answered– addressing himself to vacancy, for she had already run from the room. He shook hands courteously and motioned me to find a chair, while he resumed his seat beside a little table heaped with letters, or rather with bundles of letters neatly tied and docketed. His right hand rested on these bundles, and his fingers tapped upon them idly for a minute before he spoke again.

“You are a friend of Fritz’s? of my grandson?”

“I have not the pleasure of knowing him, sir. Your niece’s introduction leaves me to explain that I am just a wayfarer who had the misfortune to twist an ankle, an hour ago, on Skirrid, and crawled here to ask his way.”

His face fell. “I was hoping that you brought news of Fritz. But you are welcome, sir, to rest your foot here; and I ask your pardon for not perceiving your misfortune. I am blind. But Wilhelmina–my grandniece –will attend to your wants.”

“She is a young lady of very large heart,” said I. He appeared to consider for a while. “She is with me daily, but I have not seen her since she was a small child, and I always picture her as a child. To you, no doubt, she is almost a woman grown?”

“In feeling, I should say, decidedly more woman than child; and in manner.”

“You please me by saying so. She is to marry Fritz, and I wish that to happen before I die.”

Receiving no answer to this–for, of course, I had nothing to say–he startled me with a sudden question. “You disapprove of cousins marrying?”

I could only murmur that a great deal depended on circumstances.

“And there are circumstances in this case. Besides, they are second cousins only. And they both look forward to it. I am not one to force their inclinations, you understand–though, of course, they know it to be my wish–the wish of both of us, I may say; for Melchior is at one with me in this. Wilhelmina accepts her future–speaks of it, indeed, with gaiety. And as for Fritz–though they have not seen each other since he was a mere boy and she an infant–as for Fritz, he writes–but you shall judge from his last letter.”

He felt among the packets and selected one. “I know one from t’other by the knots,” he explained. “I am an old seaman! Now here is his last, written from the South Pacific station. He sends his love to ‘Mina, and jokes about her being husband-high: ‘but she must grow, if we are to do credit to the Van der Knoopes at the altar.’ It seems that he is something below the traditional height of our family; but a thorough seaman, for all his modesty. There, sir: you will find the passage on the fourth page, near the top.”

I took the letter; and there, to be sure, read the words the old Admiral had quoted. But it struck me that Fritz Van der Knoope used a very ladylike handwriting, and of a sort not usually taught on H.M.S. Britannia.

“In two years’ time the lad will be home, all being well. And then, of course, we shall see.”

“Of what rank is he?”

“At present a second lieutenant. His age is but twenty-one. The Van der Knoopes have all followed the sea, as the portraits in this house will tell you. Ay, and we have fought against England in our time. As late as 1672, Adrian Van der Knoope commanded a ship under De Ruyter when he outgeneralled the English in Southwold Bay. But since 1688 our swords have been at the service of our adopted country; and she has used them, sir.”