Perhaps we shall never come back. And I am going to give Rosalie all the loveliness that life can hold for her. Now and then she whispers that she never knew love until I taught it to her. That what she felt for Perry was but the echo of his own need of her.
“But I’d tramp the muddy roads with you, Jim Crow.”
I wonder if she really means it. I wish with all my heart that I might know it true. I have never told her of my fears and I believe that I can make her happy. I shall try not to look too far beyond the days we shall have in the Louvre and the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace. We shall search for beauty, and perhaps I can teach her to find it, before it is too late, in the things that count.
“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.”