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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

It was no longer the little Esther of Seaforth times


Pitt

could not understand his manner, and went away with half a frown and half a smile upon his face, after saying that he would call in the morning.

It had happened all this while that Esther was busy up-stairs, and so had not heard the voices, nor even knew that her father had a visitor. She came down soon after his departure to prepare the tea. The lamp was lit, the little fire kindled for the kettle, the table brought up to the colonel's couch, which, as in old time, he liked to have so; and Esther made his toast and served him with his cups of tea, in just the old fashion. But the way her father looked at her was _not_ just in the old fashion. He noticed how tall she had grown,--it was no longer the little Esther of Seaforth times. He noticed the lovely lines of her supple figure, as she knelt before the fire with the toasting-fork, and raised her other hand to shield her face from the blaze. His eye lingered on her rich hair in its abundant coils; on the delicate hands; but though it went often to the face it as often glanced away and did not dwell there. Yet it could not but come back again; and the colonel's own face took a grim set as he looked. Oddly enough, he said never a word of the event of the afternoon.

'You had somebody here, papa, a little while ago, Barker says?'

'Yes.'

'Who was it?'

'Called

himself a gentleman on business.'

'What business, papa? It is not often that business comes here. It wasn't anything about taxes?'

'No.'

'I've got all _that_ ready,' said Esther contentedly, 'so he may come when he likes,--the tax man, I mean. What business was this then, papa?'

'It was something about an old account, my dear, that he wanted to set right. There had been a mistake, it seems.'

'Anything to pay?' inquired Esther with a little anxiety.

'No. It's all right; or so he says.'

Esther thought it was somewhat odd, but, however, was willing to let the subject of a settled account go; and she had almost forgotten it, when her father broached a very different subject.

'Would you like to go to live in Seaforth again, Esther?'

'Seaforth, papa?' she repeated, much wondering at the question. 'No, I think not. I loved Seaforth once--dearly!--but we had friends there then; or we thought we had. I do not think it would be pleasant to be there now.'

'Then what do you think of our going back to England? You do not like _this_ way of life, I suppose, in this pitiful place? I have kept you here too long!'

What had stirred the colonel up to so much speculation? Esther hesitated.

'Papa, I know our friends there seem very eager to have us; and so far it would be good; but--if we went back, have we enough to live upon and be independent?'

'No.'

'Then I would rather be here. We are doing very nicely, papa; you are comfortable, are you not? I am very well placed, and earning money--enough money. Really we are not poor any longer. And it is so nice to be independent!'

'Not poor!' said the colonel, between a groan and a growl. 'What do you call poor? For you and for me to be in this doleful street is to be all that, I should say.'

'Papa,' said Esther, her lips wreathing into a smile, 'I think nobody is poor who can live and pay his debts. And we have no debts at all.'


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