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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

The next day began for Esther quite in its wonted wise


dint of hard work on your part, and deprivation on mine!'

'Papa,' said Esther, the smile fading away,--what did he mean by deprivation?--'I thought--I hoped you were comfortable?'

'Comfortable!' groaned and growled the colonel again. 'I believe, Esther, you have forgotten what comfort means. Or rather, you never knew. For _us_ to be in a prison like this, and shut out from the world!'

'Papa, I never thought you cared for the world. And this does not feel like a prison to me. I have been very happy here, and free, and oh, so thankful! If you remember how we were before, papa.'

'All the same,' said the colonel, 'it is not fitting that those who are meant for the world should live out of it. I wish I had taken you home years ago. You see nobody. You have seen nobody all your life but one family; and I wish you had never seen them!'

'The Dallases? Oh, why, papa?'

'You do not care for them, I suppose, _now?_'

'I do not care for them at all, papa. I did care for one of them very much, once; but I have given him up long ago. When I found he had forgotten us, it was not worth while for me to remember. That is all dead. His father and mother,--I doubt if ever they were real friends, to you or to me, papa.'

'I am

inclined to think William was not so much to blame. It was his father's fault, perhaps.'

'It does not make much difference,' said Esther easily. 'If anything could make him forsake us--after the old times--he is not worth thinking about; and I do not think of him. That is an ended thing.'

There was a little something in the tone of the last words which allowed the hearer to divine that the closing of that chapter had not been without pain, and that the pain had perhaps scarcely died out. But he did not pursue the subject, nor say any more about anything. He only watched his daughter, uninterruptedly, though stealthily. Watched every line of her figure; glanced at the sweet, fair face; followed every quiet graceful movement. Esther was studying, and part of the time she was drawing, absorbed in her work; yet throughout, what most struck her father was the high happiness that sat on her whole person. It was in the supreme calm of her brow; it was in a half-appearing smile, which hardly broke, and yet informed the soft lips with a constant sweetness; it seemed to the colonel to appear in her very positions and movements, and probably it was true, for the lines of peace are not seen in an uneasy figure, nor do the movements of grace come from a restless spirit. The colonel's own brow should have unbent at the sweet sight, but it did not. He drew his brows lower and lower over his watching eyes, and now and then set his teeth, in a grim kind of way for which there seemed no sort of provocation. 'The heart knoweth his own bitterness;' no doubt Colonel Gainsborough's tasted its own particular draught that night, which he shared with nobody.



The next day began for Esther quite in its wonted wise, and it will be no harm to see how that was. She was up very early, a long while before the sun; and after a somewhat careful dressing, for it was not in Esther's nature to do anything imperfectly, she went down-stairs, to her father's little study or dwelling room. It was free for her use at this time of day; the colonel took a late breakfast, and was never up long before it. This had grown to be his invalid habit; in the early days of his life and of military service, no doubt it had been different. The room was empty and still at this hour; even Mrs. Barker was not yet astir, and a delightful sense of privacy and security encompassed the temporary occupant. The weather was still warm; no fire would be needed till it was time for the colonel's toast. Moving like a mouse, or better, like a gentle domestic spirit, Esther lit a lamp, opened a window to let the morning air in, and sat down to her book.

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