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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

And bearing no trace of boyish wilfulness


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the time that it was over to-day, and the table cleared, Esther's mood had changed; and she no longer found the box of casts attractive. She had seen what was in it so often before, and she knew just what she should find. At the same time she was in desperate want of something to amuse her, or at least to pass away the time, which went so slowly if unaided. She bethought her of trying another box, or series of boxes, over which she had seen her father and mother spend hours together; but the contents hitherto had not seemed to her interesting. The key was on the same chain with the key of the casts; Esther sat down on the floor by one of the windows, having shoved one of the boxes into that neighbourhood, turned the key, and opened the cover. Her father was lying on the couch again and gave her no attention, and Esther made no call upon him for help.

An hour or two had passed. Esther had not changed her place, and the box, which contained a quantity of coins, was still open; but the child's hands lay idly in her lap, and her eyes were gazing into vacancy. Looking back, perhaps, at the images of former days; smiling images of light and love, in scenes where her mother's figure filled all the foreground. Colonel Gainsborough did not see how the child sat there, nor what an expression of dull, hopeless sorrow lay upon her features. All the life and variety of which her face was abundantly capable had disappeared; the corners of the mouth drawn down,

the brow rigid, the eyes rayless, she sat an image of childish desolation. She looked even stupid, if that were possible to Esther's features and character.

What the father did not see was revealed to another person, who came in noiselessly at the open door. This new-comer was a young man, hardly yet arrived at the dignity of young manhood; he might have been eighteen, but he was really older than his years. His figure was well developed, with broad shoulders and slim hips, showing great muscular power and the symmetry of beauty as well. The face matched the figure; it was strong and fine, full of intelligence and life, and bearing no trace of boyish wilfulness. If wilfulness was there, which I think, it was rather the considered and consistent wilfulness of a man. As he came in at the open door, Esther's position and look struck him; he paused half a minute. Then he came forward, came to the colonel's sofa, and standing there bowed respectfully.

The colonel's book went down. 'Ah, William,' said he, in a tone of indifferent recognition.

'How do you do, sir, to-day?'

'Not very well! my strength seems to be giving way, I think, by degrees.'

'We shall have warm weather for you soon again, sir; that will do you good.'

'I don't know,' said the colonel. 'I doubt it; I doubt it. Unless it could give me the power of eating, which it cannot.

'You have no appetite?'

'That does not express it.'

There was an almost imperceptible flash in the eyes that were looking down at him, the features, however, retaining their composed gravity.

'Perhaps shad will tempt you. We shall have them very soon now. Can't you eat shad?'

'Shad,' repeated the colonel. 'That's your New England piscatory dainty? I have never found out why it is so reckoned.'


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