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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

What did Esther mean by this want of comfort


loving friend,


The colonel read this somewhat peculiar document with wondering attention. He got to the end, and began again, with his mind in a good deal of confusion. A second reading left him more confused than the first, and he began the third time. What did Esther mean by this want of comfort? How could she want comfort? And what was this strange thing that she had found? And how came she to be pouring out her mind in this fashion to Pitt, to him of all people? The colonel was half touched, half jealous, half awed. What had his child learned in her strange solitary Bible study? He had heard of religious ecstasies and religious enthusiasts; devotees; people set apart by a singular experience; was his Esther possibly going to be anything like that? He did not wish it. He wanted her certainly to be a good woman, and a religious woman; he did not want her to be extravagant. And this sounded extravagant, even visionary. How had she got it? What had Pitt Dallas to do with it? Was it for want of _him_ that Esther had set up such a cry for comfort? The colonel liked nothing of all the questions that started up in his mind; and the only satisfactory thing was that in some way Esther seemed to be feeling happy. But her father did not want her to be given over to a visionary happiness, which in the end would desert her. He sat up a long time reading and brooding over the letter. Finally he

closed it and sealed it again, and resolved to let it go off, and to have a talk with his daughter.



It cost the colonel a strange amount of trouble to get to that talk. For an old soldier and man of the world to ask a little innocent girl about her meaning of words she had written, would seem a simple matter enough; but there was something about it that tied the colonel's tongue. He could not bring himself to broach the subject at breakfast, with the clear homely daylight streaming upon the breakfast table, and Esther moving about and attending to her usual morning duties; all he could do was to watch her furtively. This creature was growing up out of his knowledge; he looked to see what outward signs of change might be visible. He saw a fair, slim girl, no longer a little girl certainly, with a face that still was his child's face, he thought. And yet, as he looked, he slowly came to the conviction that it was the face of something more than a child. The old simplicity and the old purity were there indeed; but now there was a blessed calm upon the brow, and the calmness had a certain lofty quality; and the sweetness, which was more than ever, was refined and deep. It was not the sweetness of hilarious childhood, but something that had a more distant source than childhood draws from. The colonel ate his breakfast without knowing what he was eating; however, he could not talk to Esther at that time. He waited till evening had come round again, and the lamp was lit, and he was taking his toast and tea, with Esther ministering to him in her wonted course.

'How old are you, Esther?' he began suddenly.

'Near fifteen, papa.'

'Fifteen! Humph!'

'Why, papa? Had you forgotten?'

'At the moment.' Then he began again. 'I sent your letter off.'

'Thank you, papa.'

'It was sealed up. Why did you seal it? Did you mean me not to read it?'

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