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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

The colonel sighed again once or twice


One

day Pitt came, as he still often did, to read with the colonel; more for the pleasure of the thing, and for the colonel's own sake, than for any need still existing. He found the colonel alone. It was afternoon of a warm day in August, and Esther had gone with Mrs. Barker to get blackberries, and was not yet returned. The air came in faintly through the open windows, a little hindered by the blinds which were drawn to moderate the light.

'How do you do, sir, to-day?' the young man asked, coming in with something of the moral effect of a breeze. 'This isn't the sort of weather one would like for going on a forlorn-hope expedition.'

'In such an expedition it doesn't matter much what weather you have,' said the colonel; 'and I do not think it matters much to me. I am much the same in all weathers; only that I think I am failing gradually. Gradually, but constantly.'

'You do not show it, colonel.'

'No, perhaps not; but I feel it.'

'You do not care about hearing me read to-day, perhaps?'

'Yes, I do; it distracts me; but first there is a word I want to say to you, Pitt.'

He did not go on at once to say it, and the young man waited respectfully. The colonel sighed, passed his hand over his brow once or twice, sighed again.

justify;">'You are going to England, William?'

'They say so, sir. My father and mother seem to have set their minds on it.'

'Quite right, too. There's no place in the world like Oxford or Cambridge for a young man. Oxford or Cambridge,--which, William?'

'Oxford, sir, I believe.'

'Yes; that would suit your father's views best. How do you expect to get there? Will you go this year?'

'Oh yes, sir; that seems to be the plan. My father is possessed with the fear that I may grow to be not enough of an Englishman--or too much of an American; I don't know which.'

'I think you will be a true Englishman. Yet, if you live here permanently, you will have to be the other thing too. A man owes it to the country of his adoption; and I think your father has no thought of returning to England himself?'

'None at all, sir.'

'How will you go? You cannot take passage to England.'

'That can be managed easily enough. Probably I should take passage in a ship bound for Lisbon; from there I could make my way somehow to London.'

For, it may be mentioned, the time was the time of the last American struggle with England, early in the century; and the high seas were not safe and quiet as now.

The colonel sighed again once or twice, and repeated that gesture with his hand over his brow.

'I suppose there is no telling how long you will be gone, if you once go?'

'I cannot come home every vacation,' said Pitt lightly. 'But since my father and mother have made up their minds to that, I must make up mine.'

'So you will be gone years,' said the colonel thoughtfully. 'Years. I shall not be here when you return, William.'

'You are not going to change your habitation, sir?' said the young man, though he knew what the other meant well enough.

'Not for any other upon earth,' said the colonel soberly. 'But I shall not be here, William. I am failing constantly. Slowly, if you please, but constantly. I am not as strong as I look, and I am far less well than your father believes. I should know best; and I know I am failing. If you remain in England three years, or even two years, when you come back I shall not be here.'


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