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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

''Can't beat a white camellia for manners


And, as I said, nobody knew; nobody helped her; the months of that winter rolled slowly and gloomily over her. Esther was between fourteen and fifteen now; her mind just opening to a consciousness of its powers, and a growing dawn of its possibilities. Life was unfolding, not its meaning, but something of its extent and richness to her; less than ever could she content herself to have it a desert. The study went on all through the winter with no visible change or result. But with the breaking spring the darkness and ice-bound state of Esther's mind seemed to break up too. Another look came into the girl's face--a high quiet calm; a light like the light of the spring itself, so gracious and tender and sweet. Esther was changed. The duties which she had done all along with a dull punctuality were done now with a certain blessed alacrity; her eye got its life of expression again, and a smile more sweet than any former ones came readily to the lips. I do not think the colonel noticed all this; or if he noticed at all, he simply thought Esther was glad of the change of season; the winter, to be sure, had kept her very much shut up. The servants were more observing.

'Do you know, we're a-goin' to have a beauty in this 'ere house?' inquired Christopher one evening of his sister, with a look of sly search, as if to see whether she knew it.

'Air we?' asked the housekeeper.

'A beauty, and no mistake. Why, Sarah, can't you see it?'

'I sees all there is to see in the family,' the housekeeper returned with a superior air.

'Then you see that. She's grown and changed uncommon, within a year.'

'She's a very sweet young lady,' Mrs. Barker agreed.

'And she's goin' to be a stunner for looks,' Christopher repeated, with that same sly observation of his sister's face. 'She'll be better-lookin' than ever her mother was.'

'Mrs. Gainsborough was a handsome woman too,' said the housekeeper. 'But Miss Esther's very promisin'--you're right there; she's very promisin'. She's just beginnin' to show what she will be.'

'She's got over her dumps lately uncommon. I judged the dumps was natural enough, sitiwated as she is; but she's come out of 'em. She's openin' up like a white camellia; and there ain't anythin' that grows that has less shadow to it; though maybe it ain't what you'd call a gay flower,' added Christopher thoughtfully.

'Is that them stiff white flowers as has no smell to 'em?'

'The same, Mrs. Barker--if you mean what I mean.'

'Then I wouldn't liken Miss Esther to no sich. She's sweet, she is, and she ain't noways stiff. She has just which I call the manners a young lady ought to have.'

'Can't beat a white camellia for manners,' responded Christopher jocularly.

So the servants saw what the father did not. I think he hardly knew even that Esther was growing taller.

One evening in the spring, Esther was as usual making tea for her father. As usual also the tea-time was very silent. The colonel sometimes carried on his reading alongside of his tea-cup; at other times, perhaps, he pondered what he had been reading.

'Papa,' said Esther suddenly, 'would it be any harm if I wrote a letter to Pitt?'


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