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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

''Christmas' stammered Esther


you believed it! Of course.'

'How could I help believing it?' said Esther, smiling; but her eyes avoided Pitt now, and her colour went and came. 'It was a very straight story.'

'Yet not a bit of truth in it. Oh yes, they came over to see me; but I have never thought of marrying Miss Frere, nor any other lady; nor ever shall, unless--you have forgotten me, Esther?'

Esther sat so motionless that Pitt might have thought she had not heard him, but for the swift flashing colour which went and came. She had heard him well enough, and she knew what the words were meant to signify, for the tone of them was unmistakeable; but answer, in any way, Esther could not. She was a very fair image of maidenly modesty and womanly dignity, rather unmistakeable, too, in its way; but she spoke not, nor raised an eyelid.

'Have you forgotten me, Esther?' he repeated gently.

She did not answer then. She was moveless for another instant; and then, rising, with a swift motion she passed out of the room. But it was not the manner of dismissal or leave-taking, and Pitt waited for what was to come next. And in another moment or two she was there again, all covered with blushes, and her eyes cast down, down upon an old book which she held in her hand and presently held open. She was standing before him now, he having risen when she rose.

From the very fair brow and rosy cheek and soft line of the lips, Pitt's eye at last went down to the book she held before him. There, on the somewhat large page, lay a dried flower. The petals were still velvety and rich coloured, and still from them came a faint sweet breath of perfume. What did it mean? Pitt looked, and then looked closer.

'It is a Cheiranthus,' he said; 'the red variety. What does it mean, Esther? What does it say to my question?'

He looked at her eagerly; but if he did not know, Esther could not tell him. She was filled with confusion. What dreadful thing was this, that his memory should be not so good as hers! She could not speak; the lovely shamefaced flushes mounted up to the delicate temples and told their tale, but Pitt, though he read them, did not at once read the flower. Esther made a motion as if she would take it away, but he prevented her and looked closer.

'The red Cheiranthus,' he repeated. 'Did it come from Seaforth? I remember, old Macpherson used to have them in his greenhouse. Esther!--did _I_ bring it to you?'

'Christmas'--stammered Esther. 'Don't you remember?'

'Christmas! Of course I do! It was in _that_ bouquet? What became of the rest of it?'

'Papa made me burn all the rest,' said Esther, with her own cheeks now burning. And she would have turned away, leaving the book in his hands, with an action of as shy grace as ever Milton gave to his Eve; but Pitt got rid of the book and took herself in his arms instead.

And then for a few minutes there was no more conversation. They had reached a point of mutual understanding where words would have been superfluous.

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