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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

The carpet beyond the drugget was old and faded


The

morning was not far advanced, and the mending was not finished, when the unwonted door-knocker sounded again. This time the door was opened by some one whom Pitt did not know, and who did not know him; for Mrs. Bounder had come into town, and, as Barker's hands were just in her bread, had volunteered to go to the door for her. Pitt was ushered into the little parlour, in which, as nobody was there, he had leisure to make several observations. Yesterday he had had no leisure for them. Now he looked about him. That the fortunes of the family must have come down very much it was evident. Such a street, in the first place; then this little bit of a house; and then, there was more than that; he could see tokens unmistakeable of scantness of means. The drugget was well worn, had been darned in two places--very neatly, but darned it was, and the rest of it threatened breaches. The carpet beyond the drugget was old and faded, and the furniture?--Pitt wondered if it could be the same furniture, it looked so different here. There was the colonel's couch, however; he recognised that, although in its chintz cover, which was no longer new, but faded like the carpet. Books on the table were certainly the colonel's books; but no pictures were on the walls, no pretty trifles lying about; nothing was there that could testify of the least margin of means for anything that was not strictly necessary. Yet it was neat and comfortable; but Pitt felt that expenditures were very closely measured, and
no latitude allowed to ease or to fancy. He stood a few minutes, looking and taking all this in; and then the inner door opened, and he forgot it instantly. At one stroke, as it were, the mean little room was transformed into a sacred temple, and here was the priestess. The two young people stood a second or two silent, facing each other.

But Esther knew him at once; and more, as she met the frank, steadfast eyes that she had known and trusted so long ago, she trusted them at once again and perfectly. There was no mistaking either their truth or their kindness. In spite of his new connections and alienated life, her old friend had not forgotten her. She extended her hand, with a flash of surprise and pleasure in her face, which was not a flash but a dawn, for it grew and brightened into warmer kindliness.

'Pitt Dallas!' she said. 'It is really you!'

The two hands met and clasped and lay in each other, but Pitt had no words for what went on within him. With the first sight of Esther he knew that he had met his fate. Here was all that he had left six or seven years ago, how changed! The little head, so well set on its shoulders, with its wealth of beautifully ordered hair; those wonderful grave, soft, sweet, thoughtful eyes; the character of the quiet mouth; the pure dignity and grace of the whole creature,--all laid a spell upon the man. He found no words to speak audibly; but in his mind words heaped on words, and he was crying to himself, 'Oh, my beauty! Oh, my gazelle! My fair saint! My lily! My Queen!' What right he had to the personal pronoun does not appear; however, we know that appropriation is an instinct of humanity for that which it likes. And it may also be noted, that Pitt never thought of calling Esther a _rose_. Nor would any one else. That was not her symbol. Roses are sweet, sweeter than anything, and yielding in fairness to nothing; but--let me be pardoned for saying it--they are also common. And Esther was rather something apart, rare. If I liken her to a lily, I do not mean those fair white lilies which painters throw at the feet of Franciscan monks, and dedicate also to the Virgin,--Annunciation lilies, so called. They are common too, and rather specially emblems of purity. What I am thinking of, and what Pitt was thinking of, is, on the contrary, one of those unique exotic lilies, which are as much wonders of colour as marvels of grace; apart, reserved, pure, also lofty, and delicate to the last degree; queening it over all the rest of the flowers around, not so much by official pre-eminence of beauty as by the superiority of the spiritual nature. A difference internal and ineffable, which sets them of necessity aside of the crowd and above it.


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