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A Red Wallflower by Susan Warner

Esther feared something was troubling him


The

colonel was absent several days. There was no telegraphing in those times, and so the day of his return could not be notified; but when a week had passed, Esther began to look for him. It was the first time he had ever been away from her, and so, of course, it was the first coming home. Esther felt it deserved some sort of celebration. The stage arrived towards evening, she knew.

'I think maybe he will be here to-night, Barker,' she said. 'What is there we could have for supper that papa likes particularly?'

'Indeed, Miss Esther, the colonel favours nothing more than another, as I know. His toast and tea, that is all he cares for nights, mostly.'

'Toast and tea!' said Esther disparagingly.

'It's the most he cares for, as I know,' the housekeeper repeated. 'There's them quails Mr. Dallas sent over; they's nice and fat, and to be sure quails had ought to be eaten immediate. I can roast two or three of 'em, if you're pleased to order it; but the colonel, it's my opinion he won't care what you have. The gentlemen learns it so in the army, I'm thinkin'. The colonel never did give himself no care about what he had for dinner, nor for no other time.'

Esther knew that; however, she ordered the quails, and watched eagerly for her father. He came, too, that same evening. But the quails hardly got their deserts, nor

Esther neither, for that matter. The colonel seemed to be unregardful of the one as much as of the other. He gave his child a sufficiently kind greeting, indeed, when he first came in; but then he took his usual seat on the sofa, without his usual book, and sat as if lost in thought. Tea was served immediately, and I suppose the colonel had had a thin dinner, for he consumed a quail and a half; yet satisfactory as this was in itself, Esther could not see that her father knew what he was eating. And after tea he still neglected his book, and sat brooding, with his head leaning on his hand. He had not said one word to his daughter concerning the success or non-success of his mission; and eager as she was, it was not in accordance with the way she had been brought up that she should question him. She asked him nothing further than about his own health and condition, and the length and character of his journey; which questions were shortly disposed of, and then the colonel sat there with his head in his hand, doing nothing that he was wont to do. Esther feared something was troubling him, and could not bear to leave him to himself. She came near softly, and very softly let her finger-tips touch her father's brow and temples, and stroke back the hair from them. She ventured no more.

Perhaps Colonel Gainsborough could not bear so much. Perhaps he was reminded of the only other fingers which had had a right since his boyhood to touch him so. Yet he would not repel the gentle hand, and to avoid doing that he did another very uncommon thing; he drew Esther down into his arms and put her on his knee, leaning his head against her shoulder. It was exceeding pleasant to the girl, as a touch of sympathy and confidence; however, for that night the confidence went no further; the colonel said nothing at all. He was in truth overcome with the sadness of leaving his home and his habits and the place of his wife's grave. As he re-entered Seaforth and entered his house, this sadness had come over him; he could not shake it off; indeed, he did not try; he gave him self up to it, and forgot Esther, or rather forgot what he owed her. And Esther, who had done what she could, sat still on her father's knee till she was weary, and wished he would release her. Yet perhaps, she thought, it was a pleasure to him to have her there, and she would not move or speak. So they remained until it was past Esther's bedtime.


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