The Copy Cat
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.”