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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

Colonel Gainsborough bade Esther show him her flowers


After

he had gone, Colonel Gainsborough bade Esther show him her flowers. She brought the dish to his sofa. The colonel reviewed them with a somewhat jealous eye, did not seem to perceive their beauty, and told her to take them away again. But the next day, when Esther was not in the room, he examined the collection carefully, looking to see if there were anything that looked like contraband 'Christmas greens.' There were some sprigs of laurel and holly, that served to make the hues of the bouquet more varied and rich. _That_ the colonel did not think of; all he saw was that they were bits of the objectionable 'Christmas.' Colonel Gainsborough carefully pulled them out and threw them in the fire; and nothing, I fear, saved the laurustinus and japonica from a like fate but their exquisite large blossoms. Esther was not slow to miss the green leaves abstracted from her vase.

'Papa,' she said, in some bewilderment, 'I think somebody has been at my flowers; there is some green gone.'

'I took out some sprigs of laurel and holly,' said her father. 'I cannot have any Christmas decorations here.'

'Oh, papa, Pitt did not mean them for any such thing!'

'Whether he meant it or no, I prefer not to have them there.'

Esther was silenced, but she watched her vase with rather anxious eyes after that time. However, there was no

more meddling; the brilliant blossoms were allowed to adorn the place and Esther's life as long as they would, or could. She cherished them to the utmost of her knowledge, all the rather that Pitt was gone away again; she gave them fresh water, she trimmed off the unsightly dry leaves and withered blossoms; but all would not do; they lasted for a time, and then followed the law of their existence and faded. What Esther did then, was to fetch a large old book and lay the different sprigs, leaves or flowers, carefully among its pages and put them to dry. She loved every leaf of them. They were associated in her mind with all that pleasant interlude of Christmas: Pitt's coming, his kindness; their going after greens together, and dressing the house. The bright interlude was past; Pitt had gone back to college; and the little girl cherished the faded green things as something belonging to that good time which was gone. She would dry them carefully and keep them always, she thought.

A day or two later, her father noticed that the vase was empty, and asked Esther what she had done with her flowers?

'They were withered, papa; they were spoilt; I could not keep them.'

'What did you do with them?'

'Papa, I thought I would try to dry them.'

'Yes, and what did you do with them?'

'Papa, I put them in that old, odd volume of the Encyclopaedia.'

'Bring it here and let me see.'

Much wondering and a little discomfited, Esther obeyed. She brought the great book to the side of the sofa, and turned over the pages carefully, showing the dried and drying leaves. She had a great love to them; what did her father want with them?

'What do you propose to do with those things, when they are dry? They are staining the book.'

'It's an old book, papa; it is no harm, is it?'

'What are you going to do with them? Are they to remain here permanently?'


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