She finished drearily, and the bluff old Admiral cleared his throat. There was something wrong with the scheme of things when his Petronella couldn’t have the moon if she wanted it!
“And what can I do—what can any woman do?” Petronella demanded, turning on him. “I can’t go to him and say, ‘Please marry me.’ I can’t even think it”; her cheeks burned. “And he’d die before he’d say another word, and I suppose that now we’ll go on growing old, and I’ll get thinner and thinner, and he’ll get fatter and fatter, and I’ll be an old maid, and he’ll marry some woman who’s poor enough to satisfy his pride, and—well, that will be the end of it, uncle.”
“The end of it?” said the gentleman who had once commanded a squadron. “Well, I guess not, Petronella, if you want him. Oh, the man’s a fool!”
“He’s not a fool, uncle.” The sparks in Petronella’s eyes matched the sparks in the Admiral’s.
“Well, if he’s worthy of you—”
Petronella laid her cheek against his hand. “The question is not,” she said, faintly, “of his worthiness, but of mine, dear uncle.”
Dumbly the Admiral gazed down at that drooping head. Could this be Petronella—confident, imperious, the daughter of a confident and imperious race?
He took refuge in the question, “But who is coming at five?”
“He is coming. He is passing through Boston on his way to visit his mother in Maine. I asked him to come. I told him I was down here by the sea, and intended to spend Christmas at Great Rock because you were here, and because this was the house I lived in when I was a little girl, and that I wanted him to see it; and—I told him the truth, uncle.”
“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—”