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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

Here was still the wallflower


a week later it happened that Esther bethought her to open the Encyclopaedia again, to look at _the marks her flowers had left_ on the pages. For they _had_ stained the book a little, and here and there she could discern the outline of a sprig, and trace a faint dash of colour left behind by the petals of some flower rich in its dyes. If it appears from this that the colonel was right in checking the feeling which ran to such extremes, I cannot help that; I am reporting the facts. Esther turned over the book from one place to another where her flowers had lain. Here had been heath; there coronilla; here--oh, here was _still_ the wallflower! Dried beautifully; delicate and unbroken, and perfect and sweet. There was nothing else left, but here was the wallflower. A great movement of joy filled Esther's heart; then came a doubt. Must this be burned too? Would this one little sprig matter? She had obeyed her father, and destroyed all the rest of the bouquet; and this wallflower had been preserved without her knowledge. Since it had been saved, might it not be saved? Esther looked, studied, hesitated; and finally could not make up her mind without further order to destroy this last blossom. She never thought of asking her father's mind about it. The child knew instinctively that he would not understand her; a sorrowful thing for a child to know; it did not occur to her that if he _had_ understood her feeling, he would have been still less likely to favour it. She kept the wallflower,
took it away from its exposed situation in the Encyclopaedia, and put it in great safety among her own private possessions.



The months were many and long before there came another break in the monotony of Esther's life. The little girl was thrown upon her own ressources, and that is too hard a position for her years, or perhaps for any years. She had literally no companion but her father, and it is a stretch of courtesy to give the name to him. Another child would have fled to the kitchen for society, at least to hear human voices. Esther did not. The instincts of a natural high breeding restrained her, as well as the habits in which she had been brought up. Mrs. Barker waited upon her at night and in the morning, at her dressing and undressing: sometimes Esther went for a walk, attended by Christopher; the rest of the time she was either alone, or in the large, orderly room where Colonel Gainsborough lay upon the sofa, and there Esther was rather more alone than anywhere else. The colonel was reading; reverence obliged her to keep quiet; he drew long breaths of weariness or sadness every now and then, which every time came like a cloud over such sunshine as she had been able to conjure up; and besides all that, notwithstanding the sighs and the reading, her father always noticed and knew what she was doing. Now it is needless to say that Colonel Gainsborough had forgotten what it was to be a child; he was therefore an incompetent critic of a child's doings or judge of a child's wants. He had an impatience for what he called a 'waste of time;' but Esther was hardly old enough to busy herself exclusively with history and geography; and the little innocent amusements to which she had recourse stood but a poor chance under his censorship. 'A waste of time, my daughter,' he would say, when he saw Esther busy perhaps with some childish fancy work, or reading something from which she promised herself entertainment, but which the colonel knew promised nothing more. A word from him was enough. Esther would lay down her work or put away the book, and then sit in forlorn uncertainty what she should do to make the long hours drag less heavily. History and geography and arithmetic she studied, in a sort, with her father; and Colonel Gainsborough was not a bad teacher, so far as the progress of his scholar was concerned. So far as her pleasure went, the lessons were very far behind those she used to have with Pitt. And the recitations were short. Colonel Gainsborough gave his orders, as if he were on a campaign, and expected to see them fulfilled. Seeing them fulfilled, he turned his attention at once to something else.

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