AND OTHER STORIES
By Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
THE COCK OF THE WALK
DANIEL AND LITTLE DAN'L
BIG SISTER SOLLY
LITTLE LUCY ROSE
THE AMETHYST COMB
THE UMBRELLA MAN
THE BALKING OF CHRISTOPHER
THAT affair of Jim Simmons's cats never became known. Two little boys and a little girl can keep a secret—that is, sometimes. The two little boys had the advantage of the little girl because they could talk over the affair together, and the little girl, Lily Jennings, had no intimate girl friend to tempt her to confidence. She had only little Amelia Wheeler, commonly called by the pupils of Madame's school "The Copy-Cat."
Amelia was an odd little girl—that is, everybody called her odd. She was that rather unusual creature, a child with a definite ideal; and that ideal was Lily Jennings. However, nobody knew that. If Amelia's mother, who was a woman of strong character, had suspected, she would have taken strenuous measures to prevent such a peculiar state of affairs; the more so because she herself did not in the least approve of Lily Jennings. Mrs. Diantha Wheeler (Amelia's father had died when she was a baby) often remarked to her own mother, Mrs. Stark, and to her mother-in-law, Mrs. Samuel Wheeler, that she did not feel that Mrs. Jennings was bringing up Lily exactly as she should. "That child thinks entirely too much of her looks," said Mrs. Diantha. "When she walks past here she switches those ridiculous frilled frocks of hers as if she were entering a ballroom, and she tosses her head and looks about to see if anybody is watching her. If I were to see Amelia doing such things I should be very firm with her."
"Lily Jennings is a very pretty child," said Mother-in-law Wheeler, with an under-meaning, and Mrs. Diantha flushed. Amelia did not in the least resemble the Wheelers, who were a handsome set. She looked remarkably like her mother, who was a plain woman, only little Amelia did not have a square chin. Her chin was pretty and round, with a little dimple in it. In fact, Amelia's chin was the prettiest feature she had. Her hair was phenomenally straight. It would not even yield to hot curling-irons, which her grandmother Wheeler had tried surreptitiously several times when there was a little girls' party. "I never saw such hair as that poor child has in all my life," she told the other grandmother, Mrs. Stark. "Have the Starks always had such very straight hair?"
Mrs. Stark stiffened her chin. Her own hair was very straight. "I don't know," said she, "that the Starks have had any straighter hair than other people. If Amelia does not have anything worse to contend with than straight hair I rather think she will get along in the world as well as most people."
"It's thin, too," said Grandmother Wheeler, with a sigh, "and it hasn't a mite of color. Oh, well, Amelia is a good child, and beauty isn't everything." Grandmother Wheeler said that as if beauty were a great deal, and Grandmother Stark arose and shook out her black silk skirts. She had money, and loved to dress in rich black silks and laces.
"It is very little, very little indeed," said she, and she eyed Grandmother Wheeler's lovely old face, like a wrinkled old rose as to color, faultless as to feature, and swept about by the loveliest waves of shining silver hair.
Then she went out of the room, and Grandmother Wheeler, left alone, smiled. She knew the worth of beauty for those who possess it and those who do not. She had never been quite reconciled to her son's marrying such a plain girl as Diantha Stark, although she had money. She considered beauty on the whole as a more valuable asset than mere gold. She regretted always that poor little Amelia, her only grandchild, was so very plain-looking. She always knew that Amelia was very plain, and yet sometimes the child puzzled her. She seemed to see reflections of beauty, if not beauty itself, in the little colorless face, in the figure, with its too-large joints and utter absence of curves. She sometimes even wondered privately if some subtle resemblance to the handsome Wheelers might not be in the child and yet appear. But she was mistaken. What she saw was pure mimicry of a beautiful ideal.
Little Amelia tried to stand like Lily Jennings; she tried to walk like her; she tried to smile like her; she made endeavors, very often futile, to dress like her. Mrs. Wheeler did not in the least approve of furbelows for children. Poor little Amelia went clad in severe simplicity; durable woolen frocks in winter, and washable, unfadable, and non-soil-showing frocks in summer. She, although her mother had perhaps more money wherewith to dress her than had any of the other mothers, was the plainest-clad little girl in school. Amelia, moreover, never tore a frock, and, as she did not grow rapidly, one lasted several seasons. Lily Jennings was destructive, although dainty. Her pretty clothes were renewed every year. Amelia was helpless before that problem. For a little girl burning with aspirations to be and look like another little girl who was beautiful and wore beautiful clothes, to be obliged to set forth for Madame's on a lovely spring morning, when thin attire was in evidence, dressed in dark-blue-andwhite-checked gingham, which she had worn for three summers, and with sleeves which, even to childish eyes, were anachronisms, was a trial. Then to see Lily flutter in a frock like a perfectly new white flower was torture; not because of jealousy—Amelia was not jealous; but she so admired the other little girl, and so loved her, and so wanted to be like her.
As for Lily, she hardly ever noticed Amelia. She was not aware that she herself was an object of adoration; for she was a little girl who searched for admiration in the eyes of little boys rather than little girls, although very innocently. She always glanced slyly at Johnny Trumbull when she wore a pretty new frock, to see if he noticed. He never did, and she was sharp enough to know it. She was also child enough not to care a bit, but to take a queer pleasure in the sensation of scorn which she felt in consequence. She would eye Johnny from head to foot, his boy's clothing somewhat spotted, his bulging pockets, his always dusty shoes, and when he twisted uneasily, not understanding why, she had a thrill of purely feminine delight. It was on one such occasion that she first noticed Amelia Wheeler particularly.
It was a lovely warm morning in May, and Lily was a darling to behold—in a big hat with a wreath of blue flowers, her hair tied with enormous blue silk bows, her short skirts frilled with eyelet embroidery, her slender silk legs, her little white sandals. Madame's maid had not yet struck the Japanese gong, and all the pupils were out on the lawn, Amelia, in her clean, ugly gingham and her serviceable brown sailor hat, hovering near Lily, as usual, like a common, very plain butterfly near a particularly resplendent blossom. Lily really noticed her. She spoke to her confidentially; she recognized her fully as another of her own sex, and presumably of similar opinions.
"Ain't boys ugly, anyway?" inquired Lily of Amelia, and a wonderful change came over Amelia. Her sallow cheeks bloomed; her eyes showed blue glitters; her little skinny figure became instinct with nervous life. She smiled charmingly, with such eagerness that it smote with pathos and bewitched.
"Oh yes, oh yes," she agreed, in a voice like a quick flute obbligato. "Boys are ugly."
"Such clothes!" said Lily.
"Yes, such clothes!" said Amelia.
"Always spotted," said Lily.
"Always covered all over with spots," said Amelia.
"And their pockets always full of horrid things," said Lily.
"Yes," said Amelia.
Amelia glanced openly at Johnny Trumbull; Lily with a sidewise effect.
Johnny had heard every word. Suddenly he arose to action and knocked down Lee Westminster, and sat on him.
"Lemme up!" said Lee.
Johnny had no quarrel whatever with Lee. He grinned, but he sat still. Lee, the sat-upon, was a sharp little boy. "Showing off before the gals!" he said, in a thin whisper.
"Hush up!" returned Johnny.
"Will you give me a writing-pad—I lost mine, and mother said I couldn't have another for a week if I did—if I don't holler?" inquired Lee.
"Yes. Hush up!"
Lee lay still, and Johnny continued to sit upon his prostrate form. Both were out of sight of Madame's windows, behind a clump of the cedars which graced her lawn.
"Always fighting," said Lily, with a fine crescendo of scorn. She lifted her chin high, and also her nose.
"Always fighting," said Amelia, and also lifted her chin and nose. Amelia was a born mimic. She actually looked like Lily, and she spoke like her.
Then Lily did a wonderful thing. She doubled her soft little arm into an inviting loop for Amelia's little claw of a hand.
"Come along, Amelia Wheeler," said she. "We don't want to stay near horrid, fighting boys. We will go by ourselves."
And they went. Madame had a headache that morning, and the Japanese gong did not ring for fifteen minutes longer. During that time Lily and Amelia sat together on a little rustic bench under a twinkling poplar, and they talked, and a sort of miniature sun-and-satellite relation was established between them, although neither was aware of it. Lily, being on the whole a very normal little girl, and not disposed to even a full estimate of herself as compared with others of her own sex, did not dream of Amelia's adoration, and Amelia, being rarely destitute of self-consciousness, did not understand the whole scope of her own sentiments. It was quite sufficient that she was seated close to this wonderful Lily, and agreeing with her to the verge of immolation.
"Of course," said Lily, "girls are pretty, and boys are just as ugly as they can be."
"Oh yes," said Amelia, fervently.
"But," said Lily, thoughtfully, "it is queer how Johnny Trumbull always comes out ahead in a fight, and he is not so very large, either."
"Yes," said Amelia, but she realized a pang of jealousy. "Girls could fight, I suppose," said she.
"Oh yes, and get their clothes all torn and messy," said Lily.
"I shouldn't care," said Amelia. Then she added, with a little toss, "I almost know I could fight." The thought even floated through her wicked little mind that fighting might be a method of wearing out obnoxious and durable clothes.
"You!" said Lily, and the scorn in her voice wilted Amelia.
"Maybe I couldn't," said she.
"Of course you couldn't, and if you could, what a sight you'd be. Of course it wouldn't hurt your clothes as much as some, because your mother dresses you in strong things, but you'd be sure to get black and blue, and what would be the use, anyway? You couldn't be a boy, if you did fight."
"No. I know I couldn't."
"Then what is the use? We are a good deal prettier than boys, and cleaner, and have nicer manners, and we must be satisfied."
"You are prettier," said Amelia, with a look of worshipful admiration at Lily's sweet little face.
"You are prettier," said Lily. Then she added, equivocally, "Even the very homeliest girl is prettier than a boy."
Poor Amelia, it was a good deal for her to be called prettier than a very dusty boy in a fight. She fairly dimpled with delight, and again she smiled charmingly. Lily eyed her critically.
"You aren't so very homely, after all, Amelia," she said. "You needn't think you are."
Amelia smiled again.
"When you look like you do now you are real pretty," said Lily, not knowing or even suspecting the truth, that she was regarding in the face of this little ardent soul her own, as in a mirror.
However, it was after that episode that Amelia Wheeler was called "Copy-Cat." The two little girls entered Madame's select school arm in arm, when the musical gong sounded, and behind them came Lee Westminster and Johnny Trumbull, surreptitiously dusting their garments, and ever after the fact of Amelia's adoration and imitation of Lily Jennings was evident to all. Even Madame became aware of it, and held conferences with two of the under teachers.
"It is not at all healthy for one child to model herself so entirely upon the pattern of another," said Miss Parmalee.
"Most certainly it is not," agreed Miss Acton, the music-teacher.
"Why, that poor little Amelia Wheeler had the rudiments of a fairly good contralto. I had begun to wonder if the poor child might not be able at least to sing a little, and so make up for—other things; and now she tries to sing high like Lily Jennings, and I simply cannot prevent it. She has heard Lily play, too, and has lost her own touch, and now it is neither one thing nor the other."
"I might speak to her mother," said Madame, thoughtfully. Madame was American born, but she married a French gentleman, long since deceased, and his name sounded well on her circulars. She and her two under teachers were drinking tea in her library.
Miss Parmalee, who was a true lover of her pupils, gasped at Madame's proposition. "Whatever you do, please do not tell that poor child's mother," said she.
"I do not think it would be quite wise, if I may venture to express an opinion," said Miss Acton, who was a timid soul, and always inclined to shy at her own ideas.
"But why?" asked Madame.
"Her mother," said Miss Parmalee, "is a quite remarkable woman, with great strength of character, but she would utterly fail to grasp the situation."
"I must confess," said Madame, sipping her tea, "that I fail to understand it. Why any child not an absolute idiot should so lose her own identity in another's absolutely bewilders me. I never heard of such a case."
Miss Parmalee, who had a sense of humor, laughed a little. "It is bewildering," she admitted. "And now the other children see how it is, and call her 'Copy-Cat' to her face, but she does not mind. I doubt if she understands, and neither does Lily, for that matter. Lily Jennings is full of mischief, but she moves in straight lines; she is not conceited or self-conscious, and she really likes Amelia, without knowing why."
"I fear Lily will lead Amelia into mischief," said Madame, "and Amelia has always been such a good child."
"Lily will never MEAN to lead Amelia into mischief," said loyal Miss Parmalee.
"But she will," said Madame.
"If Lily goes, I cannot answer for Amelia's not following," admitted Miss Parmalee.
"I regret it all very much indeed," sighed Madame, "but it does seem to me still that Amelia's mother—"
"Amelia's mother would not even believe it, in the first place," said Miss Parmalee.
"Well, there is something in that," admitted Madame. "I myself could not even imagine such a situation. I would not know of it now, if you and Miss Acton had not told me."
"There is not the slightest use in telling Amelia not to imitate Lily, because she does not know that she is imitating her," said Miss Parmalee. "If she were to be punished for it, she could never comprehend the reason."
"That is true," said Miss Acton. "I realize that when the poor child squeaks instead of singing. All I could think of this morning was a little mouse caught in a trap which she could not see. She does actually squeak!—and some of her low notes, although, of course, she is only a child, and has never attempted much, promised to be very good."
"She will have to squeak, for all I can see," said Miss Parmalee. "It looks to me like one of those situations that no human being can change for better or worse."
"I suppose you are right," said Madame, "but it is most unfortunate, and Mrs. Wheeler is such a superior woman, and Amelia is her only child, and this is such a very subtle and regrettable affair. Well, we have to leave a great deal to Providence."
"If," said Miss Parmalee, "she could only get angry when she is called 'Copy-Cat.'" Miss Parmalee laughed, and so did Miss Acton. Then all the ladies had their cups refilled, and left Providence to look out for poor little Amelia Wheeler, in her mad pursuit of her ideal in the shape of another little girl possessed of the exterior graces which she had not.
Meantime the little "Copy-Cat" had never been so happy. She began to improve in her looks also. Her grandmother Wheeler noticed it first, and spoke of it to Grandmother Stark. "That child may not be so plain, after all," said she. "I looked at her this morning when she started for school, and I thought for the first time that there was a little resemblance to the Wheelers."
Grandmother Stark sniffed, but she looked gratified. "I have been noticing it for some time," said she, "but as for looking like the Wheelers, I thought this morning for a minute that I actually saw my poor dear husband looking at me out of that blessed child's eyes."
Grandmother Wheeler smiled her little, aggravating, curved, pink smile.
But even Mrs. Diantha began to notice the change for the better in Amelia. She, however, attributed it to an increase of appetite and a system of deep breathing which she had herself taken up and enjoined Amelia to follow. Amelia was following Lily Jennings instead, but that her mother did not know. Still, she was gratified to see Amelia's little sallow cheeks taking on pretty curves and a soft bloom, and she was more inclined to listen when Grandmother Wheeler ventured to approach the subject of Amelia's attire.
"Amelia would not be so bad-looking if she were better dressed, Diantha," said she.
Diantha lifted her chin, but she paid heed. "Why, does not Amelia dress perfectly well, mother?" she inquired.
"She dresses well enough, but she needs more ribbons and ruffles."
"I do not approve of so many ribbons and ruffles," said Mrs. Diantha. "Amelia has perfectly neat, fresh black or brown ribbons for her hair, and ruffles are not sanitary."
"Ruffles are pretty," said Grandmother Wheeler, "and blue and pink are pretty colors. Now, that Jennings girl looks like a little picture."
But that last speech of Grandmother Wheeler's undid all the previous good. Mrs. Diantha had an unacknowledged—even to herself—disapproval of Mrs. Jennings which dated far back in the past, for a reason which was quite unworthy of her and of her strong mind. When she and Lily's mother had been girls, she had seen Mrs. Jennings look like a picture, and had been perfectly well aware that she herself fell far short of an artist's ideal. Perhaps if Mrs. Stark had believed in ruffles and ribbons, her daughter might have had a different mind when Grandmother Wheeler had finished her little speech.
As it was, Mrs. Diantha surveyed her small, pretty mother-in-law with dignified serenity, which savored only delicately of a snub. "I do not myself approve of the way in which Mrs. Jennings dresses her daughter," said she, "and I do not consider that the child presents to a practical observer as good an appearance as my Amelia."
Grandmother Wheeler had a temper. It was a childish temper and soon over—still, a temper. "Lord," said she, "if you mean to say that you think your poor little snipe of a daughter, dressed like a little maid-of-all-work, can compare with that lovely little Lily Jennings, who is dressed like a doll!—"
"I do not wish that my daughter should be dressed like a doll," said Mrs. Diantha, coolly.
"Well, she certainly isn't," said Grandmother Wheeler. "Nobody would ever take her for a doll as far as looks or dress are concerned. She may be GOOD enough. I don't deny that Amelia is a good little girl, but her looks could be improved on."
"Looks matter very little," said Mrs. Diantha.
"They matter very much," said Grandmother Wheeler, pugnaciously, her blue eyes taking on a peculiar opaque glint, as always when she lost her temper, "very much indeed. But looks can't be helped. If poor little Amelia wasn't born with pretty looks, she wasn't. But she wasn't born with such ugly clothes. She might be better dressed."
"I dress my daughter as I consider best," said Mrs. Diantha. Then she left the room.
Grandmother Wheeler sat for a few minutes, her blue eyes opaque, her little pink lips a straight line; then suddenly her eyes lit, and she smiled. "Poor Diantha," said she, "I remember how Henry used to like Lily Jennings's mother before he married Diantha. Sour grapes hang high." But Grandmother Wheeler's beautiful old face was quite soft and gentle. From her heart she pitied the reacher after those high-hanging sour grapes, for Mrs. Diantha had been very good to her.
Then Grandmother Wheeler, who had a mild persistency not evident to a casual observer, began to make plans and lay plots. She was resolved, Diantha or not, that her granddaughter, her son's child, should have some fine feathers. The little conference had taken place in her own room, a large, sunny one, with a little storeroom opening from it. Presently Grandmother Wheeler rose, entered the storeroom, and began rummaging in some old trunks. Then followed days of secret work. Grandmother Wheeler had been noted as a fine needlewoman, and her hand had not yet lost its cunning. She had one of Amelia's ugly little ginghams, purloined from a closet, for size, and she worked two or three dainty wonders. She took Grandmother Stark into her confidence. Sometimes the two ladies, by reason of their age, found it possible to combine with good results.
"Your daughter Diantha is one woman in a thousand," said Grandmother Wheeler, diplomatically, one day, "but she never did care much for clothes."
"Diantha," returned Grandmother Stark, with a suspicious glance, "always realized that clothes were not the things that mattered."
"And, of course, she is right," said Grandmother Wheeler, piously. "Your Diantha is one woman in a thousand. If she cared as much for fine clothes as some women, I don't know where we should all be. It would spoil poor little Amelia."
"Yes, it would," assented Grandmother Stark. "Nothing spoils a little girl more than always to be thinking about her clothes."
"Yes, I was looking at Amelia the other day, and thinking how much more sensible she appeared in her plain gingham than Lily Jennings in all her ruffles and ribbons. Even if people were all noticing Lily, and praising her, thinks I to myself, 'How little difference such things really make. Even if our dear Amelia does stand to one side, and nobody notices her, what real matter is it?'" Grandmother Wheeler was inwardly chuckling as she spoke.
Grandmother Stark was at once alert. "Do you mean to say that Amelia is really not taken so much notice of because she dresses plainly?" said she.
"You don't mean that you don't know it, as observant as you are?" replied Grandmother Wheeler.
"Diantha ought not to let it go as far as that," said Grandmother Stark. Grandmother Wheeler looked at her queerly. "Why do you look at me like that?"
"Well, I did something I feared I ought not to have done. And I didn't know what to do, but your speaking so makes me wonder—"
Then Grandmother Wheeler went to her little storeroom and emerged bearing a box. She displayed the contents—three charming little white frocks fluffy with lace and embroidery.
"Did you make them?"
"Yes, I did. I couldn't help it. I thought if the dear child never wore them, it would be some comfort to know they were in the house."
"That one needs a broad blue sash," said Grandmother Stark.
Grandmother Wheeler laughed. She took her impecuniosity easily. "I had to use what I had," said she.
"I will get a blue sash for that one," said Grandmother Stark, "and a pink sash for that, and a flowered one for that."
"Of course they will make all the difference," said Grandmother Wheeler. "Those beautiful sashes will really make the dresses."
"I will get them," said Grandmother Stark, with decision. "I will go right down to Mann Brothers' store now and get them."
"Then I will make the bows, and sew them on," replied Grandmother Wheeler, happily.
It thus happened that little Amelia Wheeler was possessed of three beautiful dresses, although she did not know it.
For a long time neither of the two conspiring grandmothers dared divulge the secret. Mrs. Diantha was a very determined woman, and even her own mother stood somewhat in awe of her. Therefore, little Amelia went to school during the spring term soberly clad as ever, and even on the festive last day wore nothing better than a new blue gingham, made too long, to allow for shrinkage, and new blue hair-ribbons. The two grandmothers almost wept in secret conclave over the lovely frocks which were not worn.
"I respect Diantha," said Grandmother Wheeler. "You know that. She is one woman in a thousand, but I do hate to have that poor child go to school to-day with so many to look at her, and she dressed so unlike all the other little girls."
"Diantha has got so much sense, it makes her blind and deaf," declared Grandmother Stark. "I call it a shame, if she is my daughter."
"Then you don't venture—"
Grandmother Stark reddened. She did not like to own to awe of her daughter. "I VENTURE, if that is all," said she, tartly. "You don't suppose I am afraid of Diantha?—but she would not let Amelia wear one of the dresses, anyway, and I don't want the child made any unhappier than she is."
"Well, I will admit," replied Grandmother Wheeler, "if poor Amelia knew she had these beautiful dresses and could not wear them she might feel worse about wearing that homely gingham."
"Gingham!" fairly snorted Grandmother Stark. "I cannot see why Diantha thinks so much of gingham. It shrinks, anyway."
Poor little Amelia did undoubtedly suffer on that last day, when she sat among the others gaily clad, and looked down at her own common little skirts. She was very glad, however, that she had not been chosen to do any of the special things which would have necessitated her appearance upon the little flower-decorated platform. She did not know of the conversation between Madame and her two assistants.
"I would have Amelia recite a little verse or two," said Madame, "but how can I?" Madame adored dress, and had a lovely new one of sheer dull-blue stuff, with touches of silver, for the last day.
"Yes," agreed Miss Parmalee, "that poor child is sensitive, and for her to stand on the platform in one of those plain ginghams would be too cruel."
"Then, too," said Miss Acton, "she would recite her verses exactly like Lily Jennings. She can make her voice exactly like Lily's now. Then everybody would laugh, and Amelia would not know why. She would think they were laughing at her dress, and that would be dreadful."
If Amelia's mother could have heard that conversation everything would have been different, although it is puzzling to decide in what way.
It was the last of the summer vacation in early September, just before school began, that a climax came to Amelia's idolatry and imitation of Lily. The Jenningses had not gone away that summer, so the two little girls had been thrown together a good deal. Mrs. Diantha never went away during a summer. She considered it her duty to remain at home, and she was quite pitiless to herself when it came to a matter of duty.
However, as a result she was quite ill during the last of August and the first of September. The season had been unusually hot, and Mrs. Diantha had not spared herself from her duty on account of the heat. She would have scorned herself if she had done so. But she could not, strong-minded as she was, avert something like a heat prostration after a long walk under a burning sun, nor weeks of confinement and idleness in her room afterward.
When September came, and a night or two of comparative coolness, she felt stronger; still she was compelled by most unusual weakness to refrain from her energetic trot in her duty-path; and then it was that something happened.
One afternoon Lily fluttered over to Amelia's, and Amelia, ever on the watch, spied her.
"May I go out and see Lily?" she asked Grandmother Stark.
"Yes, but don't talk under the windows; your mother is asleep."
Amelia ran out.
"I declare," said Grandmother Stark to Grandmother Wheeler, "I was half a mind to tell that child to wait a minute and slip on one of those pretty dresses. I hate to have her go on the street in that old gingham, with that Jennings girl dressed up like a wax doll."
"I know it."
"And now poor Diantha is so weak—and asleep—it would not have annoyed her."
"I know it."
Grandmother Stark looked at Grandmother Wheeler. Of the two she possessed a greater share of original sin compared with the size of her soul. Moreover, she felt herself at liberty to circumvent her own daughter. Whispering, she unfolded a daring scheme to the other grandmother, who stared at her aghast a second out of her lovely blue eyes, then laughed softly.
"Very well," said she, "if you dare."
"I rather think I dare!" said Grandmother Stark. "Isn't Diantha Wheeler my own daughter?" Grandmother Stark had grown much bolder since Mrs. Diantha had been ill.
Meantime Lily and Amelia walked down the street until they came to a certain vacant lot intersected by a foot-path between tall, feathery grasses and goldenrod and asters and milkweed. They entered the foot-path, and swarms of little butterflies rose around them, and once in a while a protesting bumblebee.
"I am afraid we will be stung by the bees," said Amelia.
"Bumblebees never sting," said Lily; and Amelia believed her.
When the foot-path ended, there was the riverbank. The two little girls sat down under a clump of brook willows and talked, while the river, full of green and blue and golden lights, slipped past them and never stopped.
Then Lily proceeded to unfold a plan, which was not philosophical, but naughtily ingenious. By this time Lily knew very well that Amelia admired her, and imitated her as successfully as possible, considering the drawback of dress and looks.
When she had finished Amelia was quite pale. "I am afraid, I am afraid, Lily," said she.
"My mother will find out; besides, I am afraid it isn't right."
"Who ever told you it was wrong?"
"Nobody ever did," admitted Amelia.
"Well, then you haven't any reason to think it is," said Lily, triumphantly. "And how is your mother ever going to find it out?"
"I don't know."
"Isn't she ill in her room? And does she ever come to kiss you good night, the way my mother does, when she is well?"
"No," admitted Amelia.
"And neither of your grandmothers?"
"Grandmother Stark would think it was silly, like mother, and Grandmother Wheeler can't go up and down stairs very well."
"I can't see but you are perfectly safe. I am the only one that runs any risk at all. I run a great deal of risk, but I am willing to take it," said Lily with a virtuous air. Lily had a small but rather involved scheme simply for her own ends, which did not seem to call for much virtue, but rather the contrary.
Lily had overheard Arnold Carruth and Johnny Trumbull and Lee Westminster and another boy, Jim Patterson, planning a most delightful affair, which even in the cases of the boys was fraught with danger, secrecy, and doubtful rectitude. Not one of the four boys had had a vacation from the village that summer, and their young minds had become charged, as it were, with the seeds of revolution and rebellion. Jim Patterson, the son of the rector, and of them all the most venturesome, had planned to take—he called it "take"; he meant to pay for it, anyway, he said, as soon as he could shake enough money out of his nickel savings-bank—one of his father's Plymouth Rock chickens and have a chickenroast in the woods back of Dr. Trumbull's. He had planned for Johnny to take some ears of corn suitable for roasting from his father's garden; for Lee to take some cookies out of a stone jar in his mother's pantry; and for Arnold to take some potatoes. Then they four would steal forth under cover of night, build a camp-fire, roast their spoils, and feast.
Lily had resolved to be of the party. She resorted to no open methods; the stones of the fighting suffragettes were not for her, little honey-sweet, curled, and ruffled darling; rather the time-worn, if not time-sanctified, weapons of her sex, little instruments of wiles, and tiny dodges, and tiny subterfuges, which would serve her best.
"You know," she said to Amelia, "you don't look like me. Of course you know that, and that can't be helped; but you do walk like me, and talk like me, you know that, because they call you 'CopyCat.'"
"Yes, I know," said poor Amelia.
"I don't mind if they do call you 'Copy-Cat,'" said Lily, magnanimously. "I don't mind a bit. But, you see, my mother always comes up-stairs to kiss me good night after I have gone to bed, and tomorrow night she has a dinner-party, and she will surely be a little late, and I can't manage unless you help me. I will get one of my white dresses for you, and all you have to do is to climb out of your window into that cedar-tree—you know you can climb down that, because you are so afraid of burglars climbing up—and you can slip on my dress; you had better throw it out of the window and not try to climb in it, because my dresses tear awful easy, and we might get caught that way. Then you just sneak down to our house, and I shall be outdoors; and when you go up-stairs, if the doors should be open, and anybody should call, you can answer just like me; and I have found that light curly wig Aunt Laura wore when she had her head shaved after she had a fever, and you just put that on and go to bed, and mother will never know when she kisses you good night. Then after the roast I will go to your house, and climb up that tree, and go to bed in your room. And I will have one of your gingham dresses to wear, and very early in the morning I will get up, and you get up, and we both of us can get down the back stairs without being seen, and run home."
Amelia was almost weeping. It was her worshiped Lily's plan, but she was horribly scared. "I don't know," she faltered.
"Don't know! You've got to! You don't love me one single bit or you wouldn't stop to think about whether you didn't know." It was the world-old argument which floors love. Amelia succumbed.
The next evening a frightened little girl clad in one of Lily Jennings's white embroidered frocks was racing to the Jenningses' house, and another little girl, not at all frightened, but enjoying the stimulus of mischief and unwontedness, was racing to the wood behind Dr. Trumbull's house, and that little girl was clad in one of Amelia Wheeler's ginghams. But the plan went all awry.
Lily waited, snuggled up behind an alder-bush, and the boys came, one by one, and she heard this whispered, although there was no necessity for whispering, "Jim Patterson, where's that hen?"
"Couldn't get her. Grabbed her, and all her tail-feathers came out in a bunch right in my hand, and she squawked so, father heard. He was in his study writing his sermon, and he came out, and if I hadn't hid behind the chicken-coop and then run I couldn't have got here. But I can't see as you've got any corn, Johnny Trumbull."
"Couldn't. Every single ear was cooked for dinner."
"I couldn't bring any cookies, either," said Lee Westminster; "there weren't any cookies in the jar."
"And I couldn't bring the potatoes, because the outside cellar door was locked," said Arnold Carruth. "I had to go down the back stairs and out the south door, and the inside cellar door opens out of our dining-room, and I daren't go in there."
"Then we might as well go home," said Johnny Trumbull. "If I had been you, Jim Patterson, I would have brought that old hen if her tail-feathers had come out. Seems to me you scare awful easy."
"Guess if you had heard her squawk!" said Jim, resentfully. "If you want to try to lick me, come on, Johnny Trumbull. Guess you don't darse call me scared again."
Johnny eyed him standing there in the gloom. Jim was not large, but very wiry, and the ground was not suited for combat. Johnny, although a victor, would probably go home considerably the worse in appearance; and he could anticipate the consequences were his father to encounter him.
"Shucks!" said Johnny Trumbull, of the fine old Trumbull family and Madame's exclusive school. "Shucks! who wants your old hen? We had chicken for dinner, anyway."
"So did we," said Arnold Carruth.
"We did, and corn," said Lee.
"We did," said Jim.
Lily stepped forth from the alder-bush. "If," said she, "I were a boy, and had started to have a chicken-roast, I would have HAD a chicken-roast."
But every boy, even the valiant Johnny Trumbull, was gone in a mad scutter. This sudden apparition of a girl was too much for their nerves. They never even knew who the girl was, although little Arnold Carruth said she had looked to him like "Copy-Cat," but the others scouted the idea.
Lily Jennings made the best of her way out of the wood across lots to the road. She was not in a particularly enviable case. Amelia Wheeler was presumably in her bed, and she saw nothing for it but to take the difficult way to Amelia's.
Lily tore a great rent in the gingham going up the cedar-tree, but that was nothing to what followed. She entered through Amelia's window, her prim little room, to find herself confronted by Amelia's mother in a wrapper, and her two grandmothers. Grandmother Stark had over her arm a beautiful white embroidered dress. The two old ladies had entered the room in order to lay the white dress on a chair and take away Amelia's gingham, and there was no Amelia. Mrs. Diantha had heard the commotion, and had risen, thrown on her wrapper, and come. Her mother had turned upon her.
"It is all your fault, Diantha," she had declared.
"My fault?" echoed Mrs. Diantha, bewildered. "Where is Amelia?"
"We don't know," said Grandmother Stark, "but you have probably driven her away from home by your cruelty."
"Yes, cruelty. What right had you to make that poor child look like a fright, so people laughed at her? We have made her some dresses that look decent, and had come here to leave them, and to take away those old gingham things that look as if she lived in the almshouse, and leave these, so she would either have to wear them or go without, when we found she had gone."
It was at that crucial moment that Lily entered by way of the window.
"Here she is now," shrieked Grandmother Stark. "Amelia, where—" Then she stopped short.
Everybody stared at Lily's beautiful face suddenly gone white. For once Lily was frightened. She lost all self-control. She began to sob. She could scarcely tell the absurd story for sobs, but she told, every word.
Then, with a sudden boldness, she too turned on Mrs. Diantha. "They call poor Amelia 'CopyCat,'" said she, "and I don't believe she would ever have tried so hard to look like me only my mother dresses me so I look nice, and you send Amelia to school looking awfully." Then Lily sobbed again.
"My Amelia is at your house, as I understand?" said Mrs. Diantha, in an awful voice.
"Let me go," said Mrs. Diantha, violently, to Grandmother Stark, who tried to restrain her. Mrs. Diantha dressed herself and marched down the street, dragging Lily after her. The little girl had to trot to keep up with the tall woman's strides, and all the way she wept.
It was to Lily's mother's everlasting discredit, in Mrs. Diantha's opinion, but to Lily's wonderful relief, that when she heard the story, standing in the hall in her lovely dinner dress, with the strains of music floating from the drawing-room, and cigar smoke floating from the dining-room, she laughed. When Lily said, "And there wasn't even any chickenroast, mother," she nearly had hysterics.
"If you think this is a laughing matter, Mrs. Jennings, I do not," said Mrs. Diantha, and again her dislike and sorrow at the sight of that sweet, mirthful face was over her. It was a face to be loved, and hers was not.
"Why, I went up-stairs and kissed the child good night, and never suspected," laughed Lily's mother.
"I got Aunt Laura's curly, light wig for her," explained Lily, and Mrs. Jennings laughed again.
It was not long before Amelia, in her gingham, went home, led by her mother—her mother, who was trembling with weakness now. Mrs. Diantha did not scold. She did not speak, but Amelia felt with wonder her little hand held very tenderly by her mother's long fingers.
When at last she was undressed and in bed, Mrs. Diantha, looking very pale, kissed her, and so did both grandmothers.
Amelia, being very young and very tired, went to sleep. She did not know that that night was to mark a sharp turn in her whole life. Thereafter she went to school "dressed like the best," and her mother petted her as nobody had ever known her mother could pet.
It was not so very long afterward that Amelia, out of her own improvement in appearance, developed a little stamp of individuality.
One day Lily wore a white frock with blue ribbons, and Amelia wore one with coral pink. It was a particular day in school; there was company, and tea was served.
"I told you I was going to wear blue ribbons," Lily whispered to Amelia. Amelia smiled lovingly back at her.
"Yes, I know, but I thought I would wear pink."
THE COCK OF THE WALK
DOWN the road, kicking up the dust until he marched, soldier-wise, in a cloud of it, that rose and grimed his moist face and added to the heavy, brown powder upon the wayside weeds and flowers, whistling a queer, tuneless thing, which yet contained definite sequences—the whistle of a bird rather than a boy—approached Johnny Trumbull, aged ten, small of his age, but accounted by his mates mighty.
Johnny came of the best and oldest family in the village, but it was in some respects an undesirable family for a boy. In it survived, as fossils survive in ancient nooks and crannies of the earth, old traits of race, unchanged by time and environment. Living in a house lighted by electricity, the mental conception of it was to the Trumbulls as the conception of candles; with telephones at hand, they unconsciously still conceived of messages delivered with the old saying, "Ride, ride," etc., and relays of post-horses. They locked their doors, but still had latch-strings in mind. Johnny's father was a physician, adopting modern methods of surgery and prescription, yet his mind harked back to cupping and calomel, and now and then he swerved aside from his path across the field of the present into the future and plunged headlong, as if for fresh air, into the traditional past, and often with brilliant results.
Johnny's mother was a college graduate. She was the president of the woman's club. She read papers savoring of such feminine leaps ahead that they were like gymnastics, but she walked homeward with the gait of her great-grandmother, and inwardly regarded her husband as her lord and master. She minced genteelly, lifting her quite fashionable skirts high above very slender ankles, which were hereditary. Not a woman of her race had ever gone home on thick ankles, and they had all gone home. They had all been at home, even if abroad—at home in the truest sense. At the club, reading her inflammatory paper, Cora Trumbull's real self remained at home intent upon her mending, her dusting, her house economics. It was something remarkably like her astral body which presided at the club.
As for her unmarried sister Janet, who was older and had graduated from a young ladies' seminary instead of a college, whose early fancy had been guided into the lady-like ways of antimacassars and pincushions and wax flowers under glass shades, she was a straighter proposition. No astral pretensions had Janet. She stayed, body and soul together, in the old ways, and did not even project her shadow out of them. There is seldom room enough for one's shadow in one's earliest way of life, but there was plenty for Janet's. There had been a Janet unmarried in every Trumbull family for generations. That in some subtle fashion accounted for her remaining single. There had also been an unmarried Jonathan Trumbull, and that accounted for Johnny's old bachelor uncle Jonathan. Jonathan was a retired clergyman. He had retired before he had preached long, because of doctrinal doubts, which were hereditary. He had a little, dark study in Johnny's father's house, which was the old Trumbull homestead, and he passed much of his time there, debating within himself that matter of doctrines.
Presently Johnny, assiduously kicking up dust, met his uncle Jonathan, who passed without the slightest notice. Johnny did not mind at all. He was used to it. Presently his own father appeared, driving along in his buggy the bay mare at a steady jog, with the next professional call quite clearly upon her equine mind. And Johnny's father did not see him. Johnny did not mind that, either. He expected nothing different.
Then Johnny saw his mother approaching. She was coming from the club meeting. She held up her silk skirts high, as usual, and carried a nice little parcel of papers tied with ribbon. She also did not notice Johnny, who, however, out of sweet respect for his mother's nice silk dress, stopped kicking up dust. Mrs. Trumbull on the village street was really at home preparing a shortcake for supper.
Johnny eyed his mother's faded but rather beautiful face under the rose-trimmed bonnet with admiration and entire absence of resentment. Then he walked on and kicked up the dust again. He loved to kick up the dust in summer, the fallen leaves in autumn, and the snow in winter. Johnny was not a typical Trumbull. None of them had ever cared for simple amusements like that. Looking back for generations on his father's and mother's side (both had been Trumbulls, but very distantly related), none could be discovered who in the least resembled Johnny. No dim blue eye of retrospection and reflection had Johnny; no tendency to tall slenderness which would later bow beneath the greater weight of the soul. Johnny was small, but wiry of build, and looked able to bear any amount of mental development without a lasting bend of his physical shoulders. Johnny had, at the early age of ten, whopped nearly every boy in school, but that was a secret of honor. It was well known in the school that, once the Trumbulls heard of it, Johnny could never whop again. "You fellows know," Johnny had declared once, standing over his prostrate and whimpering foe, "that I don't mind getting whopped at home, but they might send me away to another school, and then I could never whop any of you fellows."
Johnny Trumbull kicking up the dust, himself dust-covered, his shoes, his little queerly fitting dun suit, his cropped head, all thickly powdered, loved it. He sniffed in that dust like a grateful incense. He did not stop dust-kicking when he saw his aunt Janet coming, for, as he considered, her old black gown was not worth the sacrifice. It was true that she might see him. She sometimes did, if she were not reading a book as she walked. It had always been a habit with the Janet Trumbulls to read improving books when they walked abroad. To-day Johnny saw, with a quick glance of those sharp, black eyes, so unlike the Trumbulls', that his aunt Janet was reading. He therefore expected her to pass him without recognition, and marched on kicking up the dust. But suddenly, as he grew nearer the spry little figure, he was aware of a pair of gray eyes, before which waved protectingly a hand clad in a black silk glove with dangling finger-tips, because it was too long, and it dawned swiftly upon him that Aunt Janet was trying to shield her face from the moving column of brown motes. He stopped kicking, but it was too late. Aunt Janet had him by the collar and was vigorously shaking him with nervous strength.
"You are a very naughty little boy," declared Aunt Janet. "You should know better than to walk along the street raising so much dust. No well-brought-up child ever does such things. Who are your parents, little boy?"
Johnny perceived that Aunt Janet did not recognize him, which was easily explained. She wore her reading-spectacles and not her far-seeing ones; besides, her reading spectacles were obscured by dust and her nephew's face was nearly obliterated. Also as she shook him his face was not much in evidence. Johnny disliked, naturally, to tell his aunt Janet that her own sister and brother-in-law were the parents of such a wicked little boy. He therefore kept quiet and submitted to the shaking, making himself as limp as a rag. This, however, exasperated Aunt Janet, who found herself encumbered by a dead weight of a little boy to be shaken, and suddenly Johnny Trumbull, the fighting champion of the town, the cock of the walk of the school, found himself being ignominiously spanked. That was too much. Johnny's fighting blood was up. He lost all consideration for circumstances, he forgot that Aunt Janet was not a boy, that she was quite near being an old lady. She had overstepped the bounds of privilege of age and sex, and an alarming state of equality ensued. Quickly the tables were turned. The boy became far from limp. He stiffened, then bounded and rebounded like wire. He butted, he parried, he observed all his famous tactics of battle, and poor Aunt Janet sat down in the dust, black dress, bonnet, glasses (but the glasses were off and lost), little improving book, black silk gloves, and all; and Johnny, hopeless, awful, irreverent, sat upon his Aunt Janet's plunging knees, which seemed the most lively part of her. He kept his face twisted away from her, but it was not from cowardice. Johnny was afraid lest Aunt Janet should be too much overcome by the discovery of his identity. He felt that it was his duty to spare her that. So he sat still, triumphant but inwardly aghast.
It was fast dawning upon him that his aunt was not a little boy. He was not afraid of any punishment which might be meted out to him, but he was simply horrified. He himself had violated all the honorable conditions of warfare. He felt a little dizzy and ill, and he felt worse when he ventured a hurried glance at Aunt Janet's face. She was very pale through the dust, and her eyes were closed. Johnny thought then that he had killed her.
He got up—the nervous knees were no longer plunging; then he heard a voice, a little-girl voice, always shrill, but now high pitched to a squeak with terror. It was the voice of Lily Jennings. She stood near and yet aloof, a lovely little flower of a girl, all white-scalloped frills and ribbons, with a big white-frilled hat shading a pale little face and covering the top of a head decorated with wonderful yellow curls. She stood behind a big baby-carriage with a pink-lined muslin canopy and containing a nest of pink and white, but an empty nest. Lily's little brother's carriage had a spring broken, and she had been to borrow her aunt's baby-carriage, so that nurse could wheel little brother up and down the veranda. Nurse had a headache, and the maids were busy, and Lily, who was a kind little soul and, moreover, imaginative, and who liked the idea of pushing an empty baby-carriage, had volunteered to go for it. All the way she had been dreaming of what was not in the carriage. She had come directly out of a dream of doll twins when she chanced upon the tragedy in the road.
"What have you been doing now, Johnny Trumbull?" said she. She was tremulous, white with horror, but she stood her ground. It was curious, but Johnny Trumbull, with all his bravery, was always cowed before Lily. Once she had turned and stared at him when he had emerged triumphant but with bleeding nose from a fight; then she had sniffed delicately and gone her way. It had only taken a second, but in that second the victor had met moral defeat.
He looked now at her pale, really scared face, and his own was as pale. He stood and kicked the dust until the swirling column of it reached his head.
"That's right," said Lily; "stand and kick up dust all over me. WHAT have you been doing?"
Johnny was trembling so he could hardly stand. He stopped kicking dust.
"Have you killed your aunt?" demanded Lily. It was monstrous, but she had a very dramatic imagination, and there was a faint hint of enjoyment in her tragic voice.
"Guess she's just choked by dust," volunteered Johnny, hoarsely. He kicked the dust again.
"That's right," said Lily. "If she's choked to death by dust, stand there and choke her some more. You are a murderer, Johnny Trumbull, and my mamma will never allow me to speak to you again, and Madame will not allow you to come to school. AND—I see your papa driving up the street, and there is the chief policeman's buggy just behind." Lily acquiesced entirely in the extraordinary coincidence of the father and the chief of police appearing upon the scene. The unlikely seemed to her the likely. "NOW," said she, cheerfully, "you will be put in state prison and locked up, and then you will be put to death by a very strong telephone."
Johnny's father was leaning out of his buggy, looking back at the chief of police in his, and the mare was jogging very slowly in a perfect reek of dust. Lily, who was, in spite of her terrific imagination, human and a girl, rose suddenly to heights of pity and succor. "They shall never take you, Johnny Trumbull," said she. "I will save you."
Johnny by this time was utterly forgetful of his high status as champion (behind her back) of Madame's very select school for select children of a somewhat select village. He was forgetful of the fact that a champion never cries. He cried; he blubbered; tears rolled over his dusty cheeks, making furrows like plowshares of grief. He feared lest he might have killed his aunt Janet. Women, and not very young women, might presumably be unable to survive such rough usage as very tough and at the same time very limber little boys, and he loved his poor aunt Janet. He grieved because of his aunt, his parents, his uncle, and rather more particularly because of himself. He was quite sure that the policeman was coming for him. Logic had no place in his frenzied conclusions. He did not consider how the tragedy had taken place entirely out of sight of a house, that Lily Jennings was the only person who had any knowledge of it. He looked at the masterful, fair-haired little girl like a baby. "How?" sniffed he.
For answer, Lily pointed to the empty baby-carriage. "Get right in," she ordered.
Even in this dire extremity Johnny hesitated. "Can't."
"Yes, you can. It is extra large. Aunt Laura's baby was a twin when he first came; now he's just an ordinary baby, but his carriage is big enough for two. There's plenty of room. Besides, you're a very small boy, very small of your age, even if you do knock all the other boys down and have murdered your aunt. Get in. In a minute they will see you."
There was in reality no time to lose. Johnny did get in. In spite of the provisions for twins, there was none too much room.
Lily covered him up with the fluffy pink-and-lace things, and scowled. "You hump up awfully," she muttered. Then she reached beneath him and snatched out the pillow on which he lay, the baby's little bed. She gave it a swift toss over the fringe of wayside bushes into a field. "Aunt Laura's nice embroidered pillow," said she. "Make yourself just as flat as you can, Johnny Trumbull."
Johnny obeyed, but he was obliged to double himself up like a jack-knife. However, there was no sign of him visible when the two buggies drew up. There stood a pale and frightened little girl, with a baby-carriage canopied with rose and lace and heaped up with rosy and lacy coverlets, presumably sheltering a sleeping infant. Lily was a very keen little girl. She had sense enough not to run. The two men, at the sight of Aunt Janet prostrate in the road, leaped out of their buggies. The doctor's horse stood still; the policeman's trotted away, to Lily's great relief. She could not imagine Johnny's own father haling him away to state prison and the stern Arm of Justice. She stood the fire of bewildered questions in the best and safest fashion. She wept bitterly, and her tears were not assumed. Poor little Lily was all of a sudden crushed under the weight of facts. There was Aunt Janet, she had no doubt, killed by her own nephew, and she was hiding the guilty murderer. She had visions of state prison for herself. She watched fearfully while the two men bent over the prostrate woman, who very soon began to sputter and gasp and try to sit up.
"What on earth is the matter, Janet?" inquired Dr. Trumbull, who was paler than his sister-inlaw. In fact, she was unable to look very pale on account of dust.
"Ow!" sputtered Aunt Janet, coughing violently, "get me up out of this dust, John. Ow!"
"What was the matter?"
"Yes, what has happened, madam?" demanded the chief of police, sternly.
"Nothing," replied Aunt Janet, to Lily's and Johnny's amazement. "What do you think has happened? I fell down in all this nasty dust. Ow!"
"What did you eat for luncheon, Janet?" inquired Dr. Trumbull, as he assisted his sister-inlaw to her feet.
"What I was a fool to eat," replied Janet Trumbull, promptly. "Cucumber salad and lemon jelly with whipped cream."
"Enough to make anybody have indigestion," said Dr. Trumbull. "You have had one of these attacks before, too, Janet. You remember the time you ate strawberry shortcake and ice-cream?"
Janet nodded meekly. Then she coughed again. "Ow, this dust!" gasped she. "For goodness' sake, John, get me home where I can get some water and take off these dusty clothes or I shall choke to death."
"How does your stomach feel?" inquired Dr. Trumbull.
"Stomach is all right now, but I am just choking to death with the dust." Janet turned sharply toward the policeman. "You have sense enough to keep still, I hope," said she. "I don't want the whole town ringing with my being such an idiot as to eat cucumbers and cream together and being found this way." Janet looked like an animated creation of dust as she faced the chief of police.
"Yes, ma'am," he replied, bowing and scraping one foot and raising more dust.
He and Dr. Trumbull assisted Aunt Janet into the buggy, and they drove off. Then the chief of police discovered that his own horse had gone. "Did you see which way he went, sis?" he inquired of Lily, and she pointed down the road, and sobbed as she did so.
The policeman said something bad under his breath, then advised Lily to run home to her ma, and started down the road.
When he was out of sight, Lily drew back the pink-and-white things from Johnny's face. "Well, you didn't kill her this time," said she.
"Why do you s'pose she didn't tell all about it?" said Johnny, gaping at her.
"How do I know? I suppose she was ashamed to tell how she had been fighting, maybe."
"No, that was not why," said Johnny in a deep voice.
"Why was it, then?"
Johnny began to climb out of the baby-carriage.
"What will she do next, then?" asked Lily.
"I don't know," Johnny replied, gloomily.
He was out of the carriage then, and Lily was readjusting the pillows and things. "Get that nice embroidered pillow I threw over the bushes," she ordered, crossly. Johnny obeyed. When she had finished putting the baby-carriage to rights she turned upon poor little Johnny Trumbull, and her face wore the expression of a queen of tragedy. "Well," said Lily Jennings, "I suppose I shall have to marry you when I am grown up, after all this."
Johnny gasped. He thought Lily the most beautiful girl he knew, but to be confronted with murder and marriage within a few minutes was almost too much. He flushed a burning red. He laughed foolishly. He said nothing.
"It will be very hard on me," stated Lily, "to marry a boy who tried to murder his nice aunt."
Johnny revived a bit under this feminine disdain. "I didn't try to murder her," he said in a weak voice.
"You might have, throwing her down in all that awful dust, a nice, clean lady. Ladies are not like boys. It might kill them very quickly to be knocked down on a dusty road."
"I didn't mean to kill her."
"You might have."
"Well, I didn't, and—she—"
"She spanked me."
"Pooh! That doesn't amount to anything," sniffed Lily.
"It does if you are a boy."
"I don't see why."
"Well, I can't help it if you don't. It does."
"Why shouldn't a boy be spanked when he's naughty, just as well as a girl, I would like to know?"
"Because he's a boy."
Lily looked at Johnny Trumbull. The great fact did remain. He had been spanked, he had thrown his own aunt down in the dust. He had taken advantage of her little-girl protection, but he was a boy. Lily did not understand his why at all, but she bowed before it. However, that she would not admit. She made a rapid change of base. "What," said she, "are you going to do next?"
Johnny stared at her. It was a puzzle.
"If," said Lily, distinctly, "you are afraid to go home, if you think your aunt will tell, I will let you get into Aunt Laura's baby-carriage again, and I will wheel you a little way."
Johnny would have liked at that moment to knock Lily down, as he had his aunt Janet. Lily looked at him shrewdly. "Oh yes," said she, "you can knock me down in the dust there if you want to, and spoil my nice clean dress. You will be a boy, just the same."
"I will never marry you, anyway," declared Johnny.
"Aren't you afraid I'll tell on you and get you another spanking if you don't?"
"Tell if you want to. I'd enough sight rather be spanked than marry you."
A gleam of respect came into the little girl's wisely regarding blue eyes. She, with the swiftness of her sex, recognized in forlorn little Johnny the making of a man. "Oh, well," said she, loftily, "I never was a telltale, and, anyway, we are not grown up, and there will be my trousseau to get, and a lot of other things to do first. I shall go to Europe before I am married, too, and I might meet a boy much nicer than you on the steamer."
"Meet him if you want to."
Lily looked at Johnny Trumbull with more than respect—with admiration—but she kept guard over her little tongue. "Well, you can leave that for the future," said she with a grown-up air.
"I ain't going to leave it. It's settled for good and all now," growled Johnny.
To his immense surprise, Lily curved her white embroidered sleeve over her face and began to weep.
"What's the matter now?" asked Johnny, sulkily, after a minute.
"I think you are a real horrid boy," sobbed Lily.
Lily looked like nothing but a very frilly, sweet, white flower. Johnny could not see her face. There was nothing to be seen except that delicate fluff of white, supported on dainty white-socked, white-slippered limbs.
"Say," said Johnny.
"You are real cruel, when I—I saved your—li-fe," wailed Lily.
"Say," said Johnny, "maybe if I don't see any other girl I like better I will marry you when I am grown up, but I won't if you don't stop that howling."
Lily stopped immediately. She peeped at him, a blue peep from under the flopping, embroidered brim of her hat. "Are you in earnest?" She smiled faintly. Her blue eyes, wet with tears, were lovely; so was her hesitating smile.
"Yes, if you don't act silly," said Johnny. "Now you had better run home, or your mother will wonder where that baby-carriage is."
Lily walked away, smiling over her shoulder, the smile of the happily subjugated. "I won't tell anybody, Johnny," she called back in her flute-like voice.
"Don't care if you do," returned Johnny, looking at her with chin in the air and shoulders square, and Lily wondered at his bravery.
But Johnny was not so brave and he did care. He knew that his best course was an immediate return home, but he did not know what he might have to face. He could not in the least understand why his aunt Janet had not told at once. He was sure that she knew. Then he thought of a possible reason for her silence; she might have feared his arrest at the hands of the chief of police. Johnny quailed. He knew his aunt Janet to be rather a brave sort of woman. If she had fears, she must have had reason for them. He might even now be arrested. Suppose Lily did tell. He had a theory that girls usually told. He began to speculate concerning the horrors of prison. Of course he would not be executed, since his aunt was obviously very far from being killed, but he might be imprisoned for a long term.
Johnny went home. He did not kick the dust any more. He walked very steadily and staidly. When he came in sight of the old Colonial mansion, with its massive veranda pillars, he felt chilly. However, he went on. He passed around to the south door and entered and smelled shortcake. It would have smelled delicious had he not had so much on his mind. He looked through the hall, and had a glimpse of his uncle Jonathan in the study, writing. At the right of the door was his father's office. The door of that was open, and Johnny saw his father pouring things from bottles. He did not look at Johnny. His mother crossed the hall. She had on a long white apron, which she wore when making her famous cream shortcakes. She saw Johnny, but merely observed, "Go and wash your face and hands, Johnny; it is nearly supper-time."
Johnny went up-stairs. At the upper landing he found his aunt Janet waiting for him. "Come here," she whispered, and Johnny followed her, trembling, into her own room. It was a large room, rather crowded with heavy, old-fashioned furniture. Aunt Janet had freed herself from dust and was arrayed in a purple silk gown. Her hair was looped loosely on either side of her long face. She was a handsome woman, after a certain type.
"Stand here, Johnny," said she. She had closed the door, and Johnny was stationed before her. She did not seem in the least injured nor the worse for her experience. On the contrary, there was a bright-red flush on her cheeks, and her eyes shone as Johnny had never seen them. She looked eagerly at Johnny.
"Why did you do that?" she said, but there was no anger in her voice.
"I forgot," began Johnny.
"Forgot what?" Her voice was strained with eagerness.
"That you were not another boy," said Johnny.
"Tell me," said Aunt Janet. "No, you need not tell me, because if you did it might be my duty to inform your parents. I know there is no need of your telling. You MUST be in the habit of fighting with the other boys."
"Except the little ones," admitted Johnny.
To Johnny's wild astonishment, Aunt Janet seized him by the shoulders and looked him in the eyes with a look of adoration and immense approval. "Thank goodness," said she, "at last there is going to be a fighter in the Trumbull family. Your uncle would never fight, and your father would not. Your grandfather would. Your uncle and your father are good men, though; you must try to be like them, Johnny."
"Yes, ma'am," replied Johnny, bewildered.
"I think they would be called better men than your grandfather and my father," said Aunt Janet.
"I think it is time for you to have your grandfather's watch," said Aunt Janet. "I think you are man enough to take care of it." Aunt Janet had all the time been holding a black leather case. Now she opened it, and Johnny saw the great gold watch which he had seen many times before and had always understood was to be his some day, when he was a man. "Here," said Aunt Janet. "Take good care of it. You must try to be as good as your uncle and father, but you must remember one thing—you will wear a watch which belonged to a man who never allowed other men to crowd him out of the way he elected to go."
"Yes, ma'am," said Johnny. He took the watch.
"What do you say?" inquired his aunt, sharply.
"That's right. I thought you had forgotten your manners. Your grandfather never did."
"I am sorry. Aunt Janet," muttered Johnny, "that I—"
"You need never say anything about that," his aunt returned, quickly. "I did not see who you were at first. You are too old to be spanked by a woman, but you ought to be whipped by a man, and I wish your grandfather were alive to do it."
"Yes, ma'am," said Johnny. He looked at her bravely. "He could if he wanted to," said he.
Aunt Janet smiled at him proudly. "Of course," said she, "a boy like you never gets the worst of it fighting with other boys."
"No, ma'am," said Johnny.
Aunt Janet smiled again. "Now run and wash your face and hands," said she; "you must not keep supper waiting. Your mother has a paper to write for her club, and I have promised to help her."
"Yes, ma'am," said Johnny. He walked out, carrying the great gold timepiece, bewildered, embarrassed, modest beneath his honors, but little cock of the walk, whether he would or no, for reasons entirely and forever beyond his ken.
JOHNNY TRUMBULL, he who had demonstrated his claim to be Cock of the Walk by a most impious hand-to-hand fight with his own aunt, Miss Janet Trumbull, in which he had been decisively victorious, and won his spurs, consisting of his late grandfather's immense, solemnly ticking watch, was to take a new path of action. Johnny suddenly developed the prominent Trumbull trait, but in his case it was inverted. Johnny, as became a boy of his race, took an excursion into the past, but instead of applying the present to the past, as was the tendency of the other Trumbulls, he forcibly applied the past to the present. He fairly plastered the past over the exigencies of his day and generation like a penetrating poultice of mustard, and the results were peculiar.
Johnny, being bidden of a rainy day during the midsummer vacation to remain in the house, to keep quiet, read a book, and be a good boy, obeyed, but his obedience was of a doubtful measure of wisdom.
Johnny got a book out of his uncle Jonathan Trumbull's dark little library while Jonathan was walking sedately to the post-office, holding his dripping umbrella at a wonderful slant of exactness, without regard to the wind, thereby getting the soft drive of the rain full in his face, which became, as it were, bedewed with tears, entirely outside any cause of his own emotions.
Johnny probably got the only book of an antiorthodox trend in his uncle's library. He found tucked away in a snug corner an ancient collection of Border Ballads, and he read therein of many unmoral romances and pretty fancies, which, since he was a small boy, held little meaning for him, or charm, beyond a delight in the swing of the rhythm, for Johnny had a feeling for music. It was when he read of Robin Hood, the bold Robin Hood, with his dubious ethics but his certain and unquenchable interest, that Johnny Trumbull became intent. He had the volume in his own room, being somewhat doubtful as to whether it might be of the sort included in the good-boy role. He sat beside a rainwashed window, which commanded a view of the wide field between the Trumbull mansion and Jim Simmons's house, and he read about Robin Hood and his Greenwood adventures, his forcible setting the wrong right; and for the first time his imagination awoke, and his ambition. Johnny Trumbull, hitherto hero of nothing except little material fistfights, wished now to become a hero of true romance.
In fact, Johnny considered seriously the possibility of reincarnating, in his own person, Robin Hood. He eyed the wide green field dreamily through his rain-blurred window. It was a pretty field, waving with feathery grasses and starred with daisies and buttercups, and it was very fortunate that it happened to be so wide. Jim Simmons's house was not a desirable feature of the landscape, and looked much better several acres away. It was a neglected, squalid structure, and considered a disgrace to the whole village. Jim was also a disgrace, and an unsolved problem. He owned that house, and somehow contrived to pay the taxes thereon. He also lived and throve in bodily health in spite of evil ways, and his children were many. There seemed no way to dispose finally of Jim Simmons and his house except by murder and arson, and the village was a peaceful one, and such measures were entirely too strenuous.
Presently Johnny, staring dreamily out of his window, saw approaching a rusty-black umbrella held at precisely the wrong angle in respect of the storm, but held with the unvarying stiffness with which a soldier might hold a bayonet, and knew it for his uncle Jonathan's umbrella. Soon he beheld also his uncle's serious, rain-drenched face and his long ambling body and legs. Jonathan was coming home from the post-office, whither he repaired every morning. He never got a letter, never anything except religious newspapers, but the visit to the post-office was part of his daily routine. Rain or shine, Jonathan Trumbull went for the morning mail, and gained thereby a queer negative enjoyment of a perfectly useless duty performed. Johnny watched his uncle draw near to the house, and cruelly reflected how unlike Robin Hood he must be. He even wondered if his uncle could possibly have read Robin Hood and still show absolutely no result in his own personal appearance. He knew that he, Johnny, could not walk to the post-office and back, even with the drawback of a dripping old umbrella instead of a bow and arrow, without looking a bit like Robin Hood, especially when fresh from reading about him.
Then suddenly something distracted his thoughts from Uncle Jonathan. The long, feathery grass in the field moved with a motion distinct from that caused by the wind and rain. Johnny saw a tiger-striped back emerge, covering long leaps of terror. Johnny knew the creature for a cat afraid of Uncle Jonathan. Then he saw the grass move behind the first leaping, striped back, and he knew there were more cats afraid of Uncle Jonathan. There were even motions caused by unseen things, and he reasoned, "Kittens afraid of Uncle Jonathan." Then Johnny reflected with a great glow of indignation that the Simmonses kept an outrageous number of half-starved cats and kittens, besides a quota of children popularly supposed to be none too well nourished, let alone properly clothed. Then it was that Johnny Trumbull's active, firm imagination slapped the past of old romance like a most thorough mustard poultice over the present. There could be no Lincoln Green, no following of brave outlaws (that is, in the strictest sense), no bows and arrows, no sojourning under greenwood trees and the rest, but something he could, and would, do and be. That rainy day when Johnny Trumbull was a good boy, and stayed in the house, and read a book, marked an epoch.
That night when Johnny went into his aunt Janet's room she looked curiously at his face, which seemed a little strange to her. Johnny, since he had come into possession of his grandfather's watch, went every night, on his way to bed, to his aunt's room for the purpose of winding up that ancient timepiece, Janet having a firm impression that it might not be done properly unless under her supervision. Johnny stood before his aunt and wound up the watch with its ponderous key, and she watched him.
"What have you been doing all day, John?" said she.
"Stayed in the house and—read."
"What did you read, John?"
"Do you mean to be impertinent, John?"
"No, ma'am," replied Johnny, and with perfect truth. He had not the slightest idea of the title of the book.
"What was the book?"
"A poetry book."
"Where did you find it?"
"In Uncle Jonathan's library."
"Poetry In Uncle Jonathan's library?" said Janet, in a mystified way. She had a general impression of Jonathan's library as of century-old preserves, altogether dried up and quite indistinguishable one from the other except by labels. Poetry she could not imagine as being there at all. Finally she thought of the early Victorians, and Spenser and Chaucer. The library might include them, but she had an idea that Spenser and Chaucer were not fit reading for a little boy. However, as she remembered Spenser and Chaucer, she doubted if Johnny could understand much of them. Probably he had gotten hold of an early Victorian, and she looked rather contemptuous.
"I don't think much of a boy like you reading poetry," said Janet. "Couldn't you find anything else to read?"
"No, ma'am." That also was truth. Johnny, before exploring his uncle's theological library, had peered at his father's old medical books and his mother's bookcases, which contained quite terrifying uniform editions of standard things written by women.
"I don't suppose there ARE many books written for boys," said Aunt Janet, reflectively.
"No, ma'am," said Johnny. He finished winding the watch, and gave, as was the custom, the key to Aunt Janet, lest he lose it.
"I will see if I cannot find some books of travels for you, John," said Janet. "I think travels would be good reading for a boy. Good night, John."
"Good night. Aunt Janet," replied Johnny. His aunt never kissed him good night, which was one reason why he liked her.
On his way to bed he had to pass his mother's room, whose door stood open. She was busy writing at her desk. She glanced at Johnny.
"Are you going to bed?" said she.
Johnny entered the room and let his mother kiss his forehead, parting his curly hair to do so. He loved his mother, but did not care at all to have her kiss him. He did not object, because he thought she liked to do it, and she was a woman, and it was a very little thing in which he could oblige her.
"Were you a good boy, and did you find a good book to read?" asked she.
"What was the book?" Cora Trumbull inquired, absently, writing as she spoke.
Cora laughed. "Poetry is odd for a boy," said she. "You should have read a book of travels or history. Good night, Johnny."
"Good night, mother."
Then Johnny met his father, smelling strongly of medicines, coming up from his study. But his father did not see him. And Johnny went to bed, having imbibed from that old tale of Robin Hood more of history and more knowledge of excursions into realms of old romance than his elders had ever known during much longer lives than his.
Johnny confided in nobody at first. His feeling nearly led him astray in the matter of Lily Jennings; he thought of her, for one sentimental minute, as Robin Hood's Maid Marion. Then he dismissed the idea peremptorily. Lily Jennings would simply laugh. He knew her. Moreover, she was a girl, and not to be trusted. Johnny felt the need of another boy who would be a kindred spirit; he wished for more than one boy. He wished for a following of heroic and lawless souls, even as Robin Hood's. But he could think of nobody, after considerable study, except one boy, younger than himself. He was a beautiful little boy, whose mother had never allowed him to have his golden curls cut, although he had been in trousers for quite a while. However, the trousers were foolish, being knickerbockers, and accompanied by low socks, which revealed pretty, dimpled, babyish legs. The boy's name was Arnold Carruth, and that was against him, as being long, and his mother firm about allowing no nickname. Nicknames in any case were not allowed in the very exclusive private school which Johnny attended.
Arnold Carruth, in spite of his being such a beautiful little boy, would have had no standing at all in the school as far as popularity was concerned had it not been for a strain of mischief which triumphed over curls, socks, and pink cheeks and a much-kissed rosebud of a mouth. Arnold Carruth, as one of the teachers permitted herself to state when relaxed in the bosom of her own family, was "as choke-full of mischief as a pod of peas. And the worst of it all is," quoth the teacher, Miss Agnes Rector, who was a pretty young girl, with a hidden sympathy for mischief herself—"the worst of it is, that child looks so like a cherub on a rosy cloud that even if he should be caught nobody would believe it. They would be much more likely to accuse poor little Andrew Jackson Green, because he has a snub nose and is a bit cross-eyed, and I never knew that poor child to do anything except obey rules and learn his lessons. He is almost too good. And another worst of it is, nobody can help loving that little imp of a Carruth boy, mischief and all. I believe the scamp knows it and takes advantage of it."
It is quite possible that Arnold Carruth did profit unworthily by his beauty and engagingness, albeit without calculation. He was so young, it was monstrous to believe him capable of calculation, of deliberate trading upon his assets of birth and beauty and fascination. However, Johnny Trumbull, who was wide awake and a year older, was alive to the situation. He told Arnold Carruth, and Arnold Carruth only, about Robin Hood and his great scheme.
"You can help," said this wise Johnny; "you can be in it, because nobody thinks you can be in anything, on account of your wearing curls."
Arnold Carruth flushed and gave an angry tug at one golden curl which the wind blew over a shoulder. The two boys were in a secluded corner of Madame's lawn, behind a clump of Japanese cedars, during an intermission.
"I can't help it because I wear curls," declared Arnold with angry shame.
"Who said you could? No need of getting mad."
"Mamma and Aunt Flora and grandmamma won't let me have these old curls cut off," said Arnold. "You needn't think I want to have curls like a girl, Johnny Trumbull."
"Who said you did? And I know you don't like to wear those short stockings, either."
"Like to!" Arnold gave a spiteful kick, first of one half-bared, dimpled leg, then of the other.
"First thing you know I'll steal mamma's or Aunt Flora's stockings and throw these in the furnace-I will. Do you s'pose a feller wants to wear these baby things? I guess not. Women are awful queer, Johnny Trumbull. My mamma and my aunt Flora are awful nice, but they are queer about some things."
"Most women are queer," agreed Johnny, "but my aunt Janet isn't as queer as some. Rather guess if she saw me with curls like a little girl she'd cut 'em off herself."
"Wish she was my aunt," said Arnold Carruth with a sigh. "A feller needs a woman like that till he's grown up. Do you s'pose she'd cut off my curls if I was to go to your house, Johnny?"
"I'm afraid she wouldn't think it was right unless your mother said she might. She has to be real careful about doing right, because my uncle Jonathan used to preach, you know."
Arnold Carruth grinned savagely, as if he endured pain. "Well, I s'pose I'll have to stand the curls and little baby stockings awhile longer," said he. "What was it you were going to tell me, Johnny?"
"I am going to tell you because I know you aren't too good, if you do wear curls and little stockings."
"No, I ain't too good," declared Arnold Carruth, proudly; "I ain't—HONEST, Johnny."
"That's why I'm going to tell you. But if you tell any of the other boys—or girls—"
"Tell girls!" sniffed Arnold.
"If you tell anybody, I'll lick you."
"Guess I ain't afraid."
"Guess you'd be afraid to go home after you'd been licked."
"Guess my mamma would give it to you."
"Run home and tell mamma you'd been whopped, would you, then?"
Little Arnold, beautiful baby boy, straightened himself with a quick remembrance that he was born a man. "You know I wouldn't tell, Johnny Trumbull."
"Guess you wouldn't. Well, here it is—" Johnny spoke in emphatic whispers, Arnold's curly head close to his mouth: "There are a good many things in this town have got to be set right," said Johnny.
Little Arnold stared at him. Then fire shone in his lovely blue eyes under the golden shadow of his curls, a fire which had shone in the eyes of some ancestors of his, for there was good fighting blood in the Carruth family, as well as in the Trumbull, although this small descendant did go about curled and kissed and barelegged.
"How'll we begin?" said Arnold, in a strenuous whisper.
"We've got to begin right away with Jim Simmons's cats and kittens."
"With Jim Simmons's cats and kittens?" repeated Arnold.
"That was what I said, exactly. We've got to begin right there. It is an awful little beginning, but I can't think of anything else. If you can, I'm willing to listen."
"I guess I can't," admitted Arnold, helplessly.
"Of course we can't go around taking away money from rich people and giving it to poor folks. One reason is, most of the poor folks in this town are lazy, and don't get money because they don't want to work for it. And when they are not lazy, they drink. If we gave rich people's money to poor folks like that, we shouldn't do a mite of good. The rich folks would be poor, and the poor folks wouldn't stay rich; they would be lazier, and get more drink. I don't see any sense in doing things like that in this town. There are a few poor folks I have been thinking we might take some money for and do good, but not many."
"Who?" inquired Arnold Carruth, in awed tones.
"Well, there is poor old Mrs. Sam Little. She's awful poor. Folks help her, I know, but she can't be real pleased being helped. She'd rather have the money herself. I have been wondering if we couldn't get some of your father's money away and give it to her, for one."
"Get away papa's money!"
"You don't mean to tell me you are as stingy as that, Arnold Carruth?"
"I guess papa wouldn't like it."
"Of course he wouldn't. But that is not the point. It is not what your father would like; it is what that poor old lady would like."
It was too much for Arnold. He gaped at Johnny.
"If you are going to be mean and stingy, we may as well stop before we begin," said Johnny.
Then Arnold Carruth recovered himself. "Old Mr. Webster Payne is awful poor," said he. "We might take some of your father's money and give it to him."
Johnny snorted, fairly snorted. "If," said he, "you think my father keeps his money where we can get it, you are mistaken, Arnold Carruth. My father's money is all in papers that are not worth much now and that he has to keep in the bank till they are."
Arnold smiled hopefully. "Guess that's the way my papa keeps HIS money."
"It's the way most rich people are mean enough to," said Johnny, severely. "I don't care if it's your father or mine, it's mean. And that's why we've got to begin with Jim Simmons's cats and kittens."
"Are you going to give old Mrs. Sam Little cats?" inquired Arnold.
Johnny sniffed. "Don't be silly," said he. "Though I do think a nice cat with a few kittens might cheer her up a little, and we could steal enough milk, by getting up early and tagging after the milkman, to feed them. But I wasn't thinking of giving her or old Mr. Payne cats and kittens. I wasn't thinking of folks; I was thinking of all those poor cats and kittens that Mr. Jim Simmons has and doesn't half feed, and that have to go hunting around folks' back doors in the rain, when cats hate water, too, and pick things up that must be bad for their stomachs, when they ought to have their milk regularly in nice, clean saucers. No, Arnold Carruth, what we have got to do is to steal Mr. Jim Simmons's cats and get them in nice homes where they can earn their living catching mice and be well cared for."
"Steal cats?" said Arnold.
"Yes, steal cats, in order to do right," said Johnny Trumbull, and his expression was heroic, even exalted.
It was then that a sweet treble, faltering yet exultant, rang in their ears.
"If," said the treble voice, "you are going to steal dear little kitty cats and get nice homes for them, I'm going to help."
The voice belonged to Lily Jennings, who had stood on the other side of the Japanese cedars and heard every word.
Both boys started in righteous wrath, but Arnold Carruth was the angrier of the two. "Mean little cat yourself, listening," said he. His curls seemed to rise like a crest of rage.
Johnny, remembering some things, was not so outspoken. "You hadn't any right to listen, Lily Jennings," he said, with masculine severity.
"I didn't start to listen," said Lily. "I was looking for cones on these trees. Miss Parmalee wanted us to bring some object of nature into the class, and I wondered whether I could find a queer Japanese cone on one of these trees, and then I heard you boys talking, and I couldn't help listening. You spoke very loud, and I couldn't give up looking for that cone. I couldn't find any, and I heard all about the Simmonses' cats, and I know lots of other cats that haven't got good homes, and—I am going to be in it."
"You AIN'T," declared Arnold Carruth.
"We can't have girls in it," said Johnny the mindful, more politely.
"You've got to have me. You had better have me, Johnny Trumbull," she added with meaning.
Johnny flinched. It was a species of blackmail, but what could he do? Suppose Lily told how she had hidden him—him, Johnny Trumbull, the champion of the school—in that empty baby-carriage! He would have more to contend against than Arnold Carruth with socks and curls. He did not think Lily would tell. Somehow Lily, although a little, befrilled girl, gave an impression of having a knowledge of a square deal almost as much as a boy would; but what boy could tell with a certainty what such an uncertain creature as a girl might or might not do? Moreover, Johnny had a weakness, a hidden, Spartanly hidden, weakness for Lily. He rather wished to have her act as partner in his great enterprise. He therefore gruffly assented.
"All right," he said, "you can be in it. But just you look out. You'll see what happens if you tell."
"She can't be in it; she's nothing but a girl," said Arnold Carruth, fiercely.
Lily Jennings lifted her chin and surveyed him with queenly scorn. "And what are you?" said she. "A little boy with curls and baby socks."
Arnold colored with shame and fury, and subsided. "Mind you don't tell," he said, taking Johnny's cue.
"I sha'n't tell," replied Lily, with majesty. "But you'll tell yourselves if you talk one side of trees without looking on the other."
There was then only a few moments before Madame's musical Japanese gong which announced the close of intermission should sound, but three determined souls in conspiracy can accomplish much in a few moments. The first move was planned in detail before that gong sounded, and the two boys raced to the house, and Lily followed, carrying a toadstool, which she had hurriedly caught up from the lawn for her object of nature to be taken into class.
It was a poisonous toadstool, and Lily was quite a heroine in the class. That fact doubtless gave her a more dauntless air when, after school, the two boys caught up with her walking gracefully down the road, flirting her skirts and now and then giving her head a toss, which made her fluff of hair fly into a golden foam under her daisy-trimmed straw hat.
"To-night," Johnny whispered, as he sped past.
"At half past nine, between your house and the Simmonses'," replied Lily, without even looking at him. She was a past-mistress of dissimulation.
Lily's mother had guests at dinner that night, and the guests remarked sometimes, within the little girl's hearing, what a darling she was.
"She never gives me a second's anxiety," Lily's mother whispered to a lady beside her. "You cannot imagine what a perfectly good, dependable child she is."
"Now my Christina is a good child in the grain," said the lady, "but she is full of mischief. I never can tell what Christina will do next."
"I can always tell," said Lily's mother, in a voice of maternal triumph.
"Now only the other night, when I thought Christina was in bed, that absurd child got up and dressed and ran over to see her aunt Bella. Tom came home with her, and of course there was nothing very bad about it. Christina was very bright; she said, 'Mother, you never told me I must not get up and go to see Aunt Bella,' which was, of course, true. I could not gainsay that."
"I cannot," said Lily's mother, "imagine my Lily's doing such a thing."
If Lily had heard that last speech of her mother's, whom she dearly loved, she might have wavered. That pathetic trust in herself might have caused her to justify it. But she had finished her dinner and had been excused, and was undressing for bed, with the firm determination to rise betimes and dress and join Johnny Trumbull and Arnold Carruth. Johnny had the easiest time of them all. He simply had to bid his aunt Janet good night and have the watch wound, and take a fleeting glimpse of his mother at her desk and his father in his office, and go whistling to his room, and sit in the summer darkness and wait until the time came.
Arnold Carruth had the hardest struggle. His mother had an old school friend visiting her, and Arnold, very much dressed up, with his curls falling in a shining fleece upon a real lace collar, had to be shown off and show off. He had to play one little piece which he had learned upon the piano. He had to recite a little poem. He had to be asked how old he was, and if he liked to go to school, and how many teachers he had, and if he loved them, and if he loved his little mates, and which of them he loved best; and he had to be asked if he loved his aunt Dorothy, who was the school friend and not his aunt at all, and would he not like to come and live with her, because she had not any dear little boy; and he was obliged to submit to having his curls twisted around feminine fingers, and to being kissed and hugged, and a whole chapter of ordeals, before he was finally in bed, with his mother's kiss moist upon his lips, and free to assert himself.