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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

When the door closed upon Pitt


'I

shall never leave this place again till I leave all that is earthly,' Colonel Gainsborough answered.

'May I take the liberty sometimes of writing to you, sir?'

'I should like it very much, William.'

'And if I find anything that would amuse Esther, sir, may I tell her about it?'

'I have no objection. She will be very much obliged to you. So you are going? Heaven be with you, my boy. You have lightened many an hour for me.'

He rose up and shook Pitt's hand, with a warm grasp and a dignified manner of leave-taking. But when Pitt would have taken Esther's hand, she brushed past him and went out into the hall. Pitt followed, with another bow to the colonel, and courteously shutting the door behind him, wishing the work well over. Esther, however, made no fuss, hardly any demonstration. She stood there in the hall and gave him her hand silently, I might say coldly, for the hand was very cold, and her face was white with suppressed feeling. Pitt grasped the hand and looked at the face; hesitated; then opened his arms and took her into them and kissed her. Was she not like a little sister? and was it possible to let this heartache go without alleviation? No doubt if the colonel had been present he would not have ventured such a breach of forms; but as it was Pitt defied forms. He clasped the sorrowing little girl

in his arms and kissed her brow and her cheek and her lips.

'I'm coming back again,' said he. 'See that you have everything all right for me when I come.'

Then he let her out of his arms and went off without another word. As he went home, he was ready to smile and shake himself at the warmth of demonstration into which he had been betrayed. He was not Esther's brother, and had no particular right to show himself so affectionate. The colonel would have been, he doubted, less than pleased, and it would not have happened in his dignified presence. But Esther was a child, Pitt said to himself, and a very tender child; and he could not be sorry that he had shown her the feeling was not all on her side. Perhaps it might comfort the child. It never occurred to him to reproach himself with showing more than he felt, for he had no occasion. The feeling he had given expression to was entirely genuine, and possibly deeper than he knew, although he shook his head, figuratively, at himself as he went home.

Esther, when the door closed upon Pitt, stood still for some minutes, in the realization that now it was all over and he was gone. The hall door was like a grim kind of barrier, behind which the light of her life had disappeared. It remained so stolidly closed! Pitt's hand did not open it again; the hand was already at a distance, and would maybe never push that door open any more. He was gone, and the last day of that summer vacation was over. The feeling absorbed Esther for a few minutes and made her as still as a stone. It _did_ comfort her that he had taken such a kindly leave of her, and at the same time it sealed the sense of her loss. For he was the only one in the world in whose heart it was to give her good earnest kisses like that; and he was away, away! Her father's affection for her was undoubted, nevertheless it was not his wont to give it that sort of expression. Esther was not comparing, however, nor reflecting; only filled with the sense of her loss, which for the moment chilled and stiffened her. She heard her father's voice calling her, and she went in.


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