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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

Dallas was in a high state of contentment


did you get in?'

'With my uncle.'

'Holland House! I have heard that the society there is very fine.'

'It has the best society of any house in London; and that is the same, I suppose, as to say any house in the world.'

'Do you happen to know that by experience?'

'Yes; its positive, not its relative character,' he said, smiling.

'But you-- However, I suppose you pass for an Englishman.'

'Yes, but I have seen Americans there. My late uncle, Mr. Strahan, was a very uncommon man, full of rare knowledge, and very highly regarded by those who knew him. Lord Holland was a great friend of his, and he was always welcomed at Holland House. I slipped in under his wing.'

'Then since Mr. Strahan's death you do not go there any more?'

'Yes, I have been there. Lord Holland is one of the most kindly men in the kingdom, and he has not withdrawn the kindness he showed me as Mr. Strahan's nephew and favourite.'

'If you go _there_, you must go into a great deal of London society,' said Betty, wondering. 'I am afraid you have been staying at home for our sakes. Mrs. Dallas would not like that.'

'No,' said Pitt, 'the case

is not such. Once in a while I have gone to Holland House, but I have not time for general society.'

'Not time!'

'No,' said Pitt, smiling at her expression.

'Not time for society! That is--_is_ it possibly--because of Martin's court, and the Duke of Trefoil's alley, and the like?'

'What do you think?' said Pitt, his eyes sparkling with amusement. 'There is society and society, you know. Can you drink from two opposite sides of a cup at the same time?'

'But one has _duties_ to Society!' objected Betty, bewildered somewhat by the argument and the smile together.

'So I think, and I am trying to meet them. Do not mistake me. I do not mean to undervalue _real_ society; I will take gladly all I can that will give me mental stimulus and refreshment. But the round of fashion is somewhat more vapid than ever, I grant you, after a visit to my lace-mender. Those two things cannot go on together. Shall we walk home? It is not very far from here. I am afraid I have tired you!'

Betty denied that; but she walked home very silently.



This interruption of the pleasure sights was alone in its kind. Pitt let the subject that day so thoroughly handled thenceforth drift out of sight; he referred to it no more; and continually, day after day, he gave himself up to the care of providing new entertainment for his guests. Drives into the country, parties on the river, visits to grand places, to picture galleries, to curiosities, to the British Museum, alternated with and succeeded each other. Pitt seemed untireable. Mrs. Dallas was in a high state of contentment, trusting that all things were going well for her hopes concerning her son and Miss Frere; but Betty herself was going through an experience of infinite pain. It was impossible not to enjoy at the moment these enjoyable things; the life at Pitt's old Kensington house was like a fairy tale for strangeness and prettiness; but Betty was living now under a clear impression of the fact that it _was_ a fairy tale, and that she must presently walk out of it. And gradually the desire grew uppermost with her to walk out of it soon, while she could do so with grace and of her own accord. The pretty house which she had so delighted in began to oppress her. She would presently be away, and have no more to do with it; and somebody else would be brought there to reign and enjoy as mistress. It tormented Betty, that thought. Somebody else would come there, would have a right there; would be cherished and cared for and honoured, and have the privilege of standing by Pitt in his works and plans, helping him, and sympathizing with him. A floating image of a fair, stately woman, with speaking grey eyes and a wonderful pure face, would come before her when she thought of these things, though she told herself it was little likely that _she_ would be the one; yet Betty could think of no other, and almost felt superstitiously sure at last that Esther it would be, in spite of everything. Esther it would be, she was almost sure, if she, Betty, spoke one little word of information; would she have done well to speak it? Now it was too late.

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