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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

Dallas called for a civil visit of enquiry


no one can't be two different people at one and the same time, Miss Esther. Which I would say, if there is, it ain't me.'

If this was not conclusive, at least it was unanswerable by Esther, and the subject was dropped. Whether Esther pursued the search after comfort, no one knew; indeed, no one knew she wanted it. The colonel certainly not; he had taken her question to be merely a speculative one. It did sometimes occur to Barker that her young charge moped; or, as she expressed it to Mr. Bounder, 'didn't live as a child had a right to;' but it was not her business, and she had spoken truly: her business was the thing Mrs. Barker minded exclusively.

So Esther went on living alone, and working her way, as she could, alone, out of all the problems that suggested themselves to her childish mind. What sort of a character would grow up in this way, in such a close mental atmosphere and such absence of all training or guiding influences, was an interesting question, which, however, never presented itself before Colonel Gainsborough's mind. That his child was all right, he was sure; indeed how could she go wrong? She was her mother's daughter, in the first place; and in the next place, his own; _noblesse oblige_, in more ways than one; and then--she saw nobody! That was a great safeguard. But the one person whom Esther did see, out of her family, or I should say the two persons, sometimes speculated about her; for

to them the subject had a disagreeable practical interest. Mr. Dallas came now and then to sit and have a chat with the colonel; and more rarely Mrs. Dallas called for a civil visit of enquiry; impelled thereto partly by her son's instances and reminders. She communicated her views to her husband.

'She is living a dreadful life, for a child. She will be everything that is unnatural and premature.'

Mr. Dallas made no answer.

'And I wish she was out of Seaforth; for as we cannot get rid of her, we must send away our own boy.'

'Humph!' said her husband. 'Are you sure? Is that a certain necessity?'

'Hildebrand, you would like to have him finish his studies at Oxford?' said his wife appealingly.

'Yes, to be sure; but what has that to do with the other thing? You started from that little girl over there.'

'Do you want Pitt to make her his wife?'

'No!' with quiet decision.

'He'll do it; if you do not take all the better care.'

'I don't see that it follows.'

'You do not see it, Hildebrand, but I do. Trust me.'

'What do you reason from?'

'You won't trust me? Well, the girl will be very handsome; she'll be _very_ handsome, and that always turns a young man's head; and then, you see, she is a forlorn child, and Pitt has taken it in to his head to replace father and mother, and be her good genius. I leave you to judge if that is not a dangerous part for him to play. He writes to me every now and then about her.'

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