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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

The elder Dallas never stirred

It was evening. Miss Frere and Pitt had had a ride that afternoon--a long and very spirited one. It might be the last they would take together, and she had enjoyed it with the keenness of that consciousness; as a grain of salt intensifies sweetness, or as discords throw out the value of harmony. Pitt had been bright and lively as much as ever, the ride had been gay, and the one regret on Betty's mind as they dismounted was that she had not more time before her to try what she could do. Pitt, as yet at least, had not grown a bit precise or sanctimonious; he had not talked nonsense, indeed, but then he never had paid her the very poor compliment of doing that. All the more, she as well as the others was startled by what came out in the evening.

All supper-time Pitt was particularly talkative and bright. Mrs. Dallas's face took a gleam from the brightness, and even Mr. Dallas roused up to bear his part in the conversation. When supper was done they still sat round the table, lingering in talk. Then, after a slight pause which had set in, Pitt leaned forward a little and spoke, looking alternately at one and the other of his parents.

'Mother,--father,--I wish you would do one thing before I go away.'

At the change in his tone all three present had pricked up their ears, and every eye was now upon him.

'What is that, Pitt?' his mother said anxiously.

'Have family prayer.'

If a bombshell had suddenly alighted on the table and there exploded, there would have been, no doubt, more feeling of fright, but not more of shocked surprise. Dumb silence followed. Angry eyes were directed towards the speaker from the top and from the bottom of the table. Miss Frere cast down hers with the inward thought, 'Oh, you foolish, foolish fellow! what did you do that for, and spoil everything!' Pitt waited a little.

'It is duty,' he said. 'You yourselves will grant me that.'

'And you fancy it is _your_ duty to remind us of ours!' said his father, with contained scorn.

The mother's agitation was violent--so violent that she had difficulty to command herself. What it was that moved her so painfully she could not have told; her thoughts were in too much of a whirl. Between anger, and fear, and something else, she was in the greatest confusion, and not able to utter a syllable. Betty sat internally railing at Pitt's folly.

'The only question is, Is it duty?--in either case,' the son said steadfastly.

'Exactly!' said his father. 'Well, you have done yours; and I will do mine.'

His wife wondered at his calmness, and guessed that it was studied. Neither of them was prepared for Pitt's next word.

'Will you?' he said simply. 'And will you let me make a beginning now? Because I am going away?'

'Do what you like,' said the older man, with indescribable expression. Betty interpreted it to be restrained rage. His wife thought it was a moved conscience, or mere policy and curiosity; she could not tell which. The words were enough, however, whatever had moved them. Pitt took a Bible and read, still sitting at the table, the Parable of the Talents; and then he kneeled down. The elder Dallas never stirred. Betty knelt at once. Mrs. Dallas sat still at first, but then slipped from her chair to the floor and buried her face in her hands, where tears that were exceedingly bitter flowed beyond all her power to hinder them. For Pitt was praying, and to his mother's somewhat shocked astonishment, not in any words from a book, but in words--where did he get them?--that broke her heart. They were solemn and sweet, tender and simple; there was neither boldness nor shyness in them, although there was a frankness at which Mrs. Dallas wondered, along with the tenderness that quite subdued her.

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