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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

'Does anybody read Spenser now


That

day remained fixed in Betty's memory for ever, with all its details, sharp cut in. The moment they entered the building, the greatness and beauty of the place seemed to overshadow her, and roused up all the higher part of her nature. With that, it stirred into keen life the feeling of being shut out from the life she wanted. The Abbey, with the rest of all the wonders and antiquities and rich beauties of the city, belonged to the accessories of Pitt's position and home; belonged so in a sort to him; and the sense of the beauty which she could not but feel met in the girl's heart with the pain which she could not bid away, and the one heightened the other, after the strange fashion that pain and pleasure have of sharpening each other's powers. Betty took in with an intensity of perception all the riches of the Abbey that she was capable of understanding; and her capacity in that way was far beyond the common. She never in her life had been quicker of appreciation. The taste of beauty and the delight of curiosity were at times exquisite; never failing to meet and heighten that underlying pain which had so moved her whole nature to sentient life. For the commonplace and the indifferent she had to-day no toleration at all; they were regarded with impatient loathing. Accordingly, the progress round the Poets' corner, which Mrs. Dallas would make slowly, was to Betty almost intolerable. She must go as the rest went, but she went making silent protest.

'You

do not care for the poets, Miss Betty,' remarked Mr. Dallas jocosely.

'I see here very few names of poets that I care about,' she responded. 'To judge by the rest, I should say it was about as much of an honour to be left out of Westminster Abbey as to be put in.'

'Fie, fie, Miss Betty! what heresy is here! Westminster Abbey! why, it is the one last desire of ambition.'

'I am beginning to think ambition is rather an empty thing, sir.'

'See, here is Butler. Don't you read _Hudibras?_'

'No, sir.'

'You should. It's very clever. Then here is Spenser, next to him. You are devoted to _The Faerie Queene_, of course!'

'I never read it.'

'You might do worse,' remarked Pitt, who was just before them with his mother.

'Does anybody read Spenser now?'

'It is a poor sign for the world if they do not.'

'One cannot read everything,' said Betty. 'I read Shakspeare; I am glad to see _his_ monument.'

It was a relief to pass on at last from the crowd of literary folk into the nobler parts of the Abbey; and yet, as the impression of its wonderful beauty and solemn majesty first fully came upon Miss Frere, it was oddly accompanied by an instant jealous pang: 'He will bring somebody else here some day, who will come as often as she likes, be at home here, and enjoy the Abbey as if it were her own property.' And Betty wished she had never come; and in the same inconsistent breath was exceedingly rejoiced that she had come. Yes, she would take all of the beauty in that she could; take it and keep it in her memory for ever; taste it while she had it, and live on the after-taste for the rest of her life. But the taste of it was at the moment sharp with pain.


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