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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

Dallas was a woman and a mother


To the great chagrin of his mother, and, indeed, of everybody, Pitt took his departure a few days before the necessary set termination of his visit. He must, he declared, have a few days to run down from London into the country and find out the Gainsborough family; if Colonel Gainsborough and his daughter had really gone home, he must know.

'What on earth do you want to know for?' his lather had angrily asked. 'What concern is it to you, in any way? Pitt, I wish you would take all the time you have and use it to make yourself agreeable to Miss Frere. Where could you do better?'

'I have no time for that now, sir.'

'Time! What is time? Don't you admire her?'

'Everyone must do that.'

'I have an idea she don't dislike you. It would suit your mother and me very well. She has not money, but she has everything else. There has been no girl more admired in Washington these two winters past; no girl. You would have a prize, I can tell you, that many a one would like to hinder your getting.'

'I have no time, sir, now; and I must find out my old friends, first of all.'

'Do you mean, you want to marry _that_ girl?' said Mr. Dallas, imprudently flaming out.

Pitt was at the moment engaged in mending up a precious old

volume, which by reason of age and use had become dangerously dilapidated. He was manipulating skilfully, as one accustomed to the business, with awl and a large needle, surrounded by his glue-pot and bits of leather and paper. At the question he lifted up his head and looked at his father. Mr. Dallas did not like the look; it was too keen and had too much recognition in it; he feared he had unwarily showed his play. But Pitt answered then quietly, going on with his work again.

'I said nothing of that, sir; I do not know anything about that. My old friends may be in distress; both or one of them; it is not at all unlikely, I think. If things had gone well with them, you would have been almost sure to hear of their whereabouts at least. I made a promise, at any rate, and I am bound to find them, one side or the other of the Atlantic.'

'Don Quixote!' muttered his father. 'Colonel Gainsborough, I have no doubt, has gone home to his people, whom he ought never to have left.'

'In that case I can certainly find them.'

Mr. Dallas seldom made the mistake of spoiling his cause with words; he let the matter drop, though his mouth was full of things he would have liked to speak.

So the time came for Pitt's departure, and he went; and the two women he left behind him hardly dared to look at each other; the one lest she should betray her sorrow, and the other lest she should seem to see it. Betty honestly suffered. She had found Pitt's society delightful; it had all the urbanity without the emptiness of that she was accustomed to. Whether right or wrong, he was undoubtedly a person in earnest, who meant his life to be something more than a dream or a play, and who had higher ends in view than to understand dining, or even to be an acknowledged critic of light literature, or a leader of fashion. Higher ends even than to be at the head of the State or a leader of its armies. There was enough natural nobleness in Betty to understand Pitt, at least in a degree, and to be mightily attracted by all this. And his temper was so fine, his manners so pleasant, his tender deference to his mother so beautiful. Ah, such a man's wife would be well sheltered from some of the harshest winds that blow in the face of human nature! Even if he were a little fanatical, it was a fanaticism which Betty half hoped, half inconsistently feared, would fade away with time. He had stayed just long enough to kindle a tire in her heart, which now she could not with a blow or a breath extinguish; not long enough for the fire to catch any loose tinder lying about on the outskirts of his. Pitt rode away heart-whole, she was obliged to confess to herself, so far, at least, as she was concerned; and Betty had nothing to do now but to feel how that fire bit her, and to stifle the smoke of it. Mrs. Dallas was a woman and a mother, and she saw what Betty would not have had her see for any money.


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