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- Many Kingdoms - 4/34 -

never married; and he remains deeply interested as to the source of that rose. He would be very grateful to any one who could tell him where the thing came from. The nearest he ever came to this was when a man who knew a good deal about flowers once inspected the faded rose, at Varick's request, and listened to the description of how it looked when fresh.

"Why, yes," he said, "I know that variety. It grows in Italy, but I don't think it's known here. They call it the _Toinnette!_"



It is quite possible that not even Raymond Mortimer Prescott himself could have told definitely the day or the hour when Lily Bell first came into his life; and as Raymond Mortimer Prescott was not only the sole person privileged to enjoy Miss Bell's society, but was also the sole person who had been permitted to gaze upon her charms at all, it would seem that inquiries directed elsewhere were destined to prove fruitless. Raymond himself, moreover, was not communicative; he had the reserve of an only child whose early efforts at conversation had been discouraged by parents selfishly absorbed in "grown-up" interests, and whose home was too remote from other country homes to attract playmates.

His mother was a nervous invalid, and almost in infancy Raymond had grasped the fact that his absence seemed to be of more definite benefit to her than any other remedy for neurasthenia. His father was a busy man, absent from home for weeks at a time, and bearing this exile with a jovial cheerfulness which did not always characterize his moods when he deigned to join the family circle. Occasionally the elder Prescott experienced a twinge of conscience when he looked at his son, ten years of age now, the possessor of a superbly healthy body and presumably of the social aspirations of growing Americans. In such moments of illumination the father reflected uneasily that "the little beggar must have a beastly lonesome time of it"; then, surveying the little beggar's choice company of pets, gazing upon the dam he had built with his own busy hands, inspecting approvingly his prowess in the swimming-hole and with his fish-rods, even noting, in his conscientious appraisal of his heir's assets, the self-assertive quality of the freckles on his nose and the sunburn on the whole of his visage, this perfunctory American parent easily decided that nothing need be changed for another year or two. It was impossible even for a scrupulous conscience to make a youthful martyr of Raymond Mortimer. Not the most rabid New England brand could compass that, and certainly Raymond Mortimer Prescott, Sr., had no such possession. The housekeeper, Miss Greene, a former trained nurse who had charge of the boy in infancy, looked after his clothes and his meals. Notwithstanding his steadfast elusiveness, she had also succeeded in making him master of extremely elementary knowledge of letters and figures. Beyond this he was arrogantly ignorant, even to the point of being ignorant of his ignorance. He had his dogs, his rods and tackle, his tool-house, unlimited fresh air, sunshine, and perfect health; in addition he had Lily Bell.

How long he may have enjoyed the pleasure of this young person's company unobserved by his elders is a matter of surmise; it may well have been a long time, for family curiosity never concerned itself with Raymond Mortimer unless he was annoyingly obtrusive or disobedient. But the first domestic records of her arrival, kept naturally enough by Miss Greene, whose lonely spinster heart was the boy's domestic refuge, went back to a day in June when he was five. He was in his nursery and she in an adjoining room, the communicating door of which was open. She had heard him in the nursery talking to himself, as she supposed, for a long time. At last his voice took on a note of childish irritation, and she distinctly heard his words.

"But it won't be right that way," he was saying, earnestly. "Don't you see it won't be right that way? There won't be nothing to hold up the top."

There was a long silence, in the midst of which Miss Greene stole cautiously to the nursery door and looked in. The boy was on his knees on the floor, an ambitious structure of blocks before him, which he had evidently drawn back to contemplate. His eyes were turned from it, however, and his head was bent a little to the left. He wore a look of great attention and annoyance. He seemed to be listening to a prolonged argument.

"All right," he said, at last. "I'll do it. But it ain't right, and you'll be sorry when you see it fall." He hurriedly rearranged the block structure, adding to the tremulously soaring tower on the left side. True to his prediction, it fell with a crash, destroying other parts of the edifice in its downfall. The boy turned on his unseen companion a face in which triumph and disgust were equally blended. "There, now!" he taunted; "didn't I tell you so, Lily Bell? But you never will b'lieve what I say--jes like girls!"

Miss Greene hurriedly withdrew, lifting to the ceiling eyes of awed surprise. For some reason which she was subsequently unable to explain, she asked the boy no questions; but she watched him more closely after this, and discovered that, however remote the date of Miss Bell's first appearance, she was now firmly established as a daily guest--an honored one whose influence, though mild, was almost boundless, and whose gentle behests were usually unhesitatingly obeyed. Occasionally, as in the instance of the blocks, Raymond Mortimer combated them; once or twice he disobeyed them. But on the second of these occasions he drooped mournfully through the day, bearing the look of one adrift in the universe; and the observant Miss Greene noted that the following day was a strenuous one, occupied with eager fulfilment of the unexpressed wishes of Lily Bell, who had evidently returned to his side. Again and again the child did things he most obviously would have preferred not to do. The housekeeper looked on with deep but silent interest until she heard him say, for perhaps the tenth time, "Well, I don't like it, but I will if you really want me to." Then she spoke, but so casually that the boy, absorbed in his play, felt nothing unusual in the question.

"Whom are you talking to, Raymond?" she asked, as she rounded the heel of the stocking she was knitting. He replied abstractedly, without raising his eyes from the work he was doing.

"To Lily Bell," he said.

Miss Greene knitted in silence for a moment. Then, "Where is she?" she asked.

"Why, she's here!" said the child. "Right beside me!"

Miss Greene hesitated and took the plunge. "I don't see her," she remarked, still casually.

This time the boy raised his head and looked at her. There was in his face the slight impatience of one who deals with an inferior understanding.

"'Course you don't," he said, carelessly. "You can't. No one can't see Lily Bell but 'cept me."

Miss Greene felt snubbed, but persevered.

"She doesn't seem to be playing very nicely to-day," she hazarded.

He gave her a worried look.

"She isn't," he conceded, "not very. 'Most always she's very, very nice, but she's kind of cross to-day. I guess p'r'aps," he speculated, frankly, "you're 'sturbing her by talking so much."

Miss Greene accepted the subtle hint and remained silent. From that time, however, Raymond Mortimer counted on her acceptance of Lily Bell as a recognized personality, and referred to her freely.

"Lily Bell wants us to go on a picnic to-morrow," he announced, one day when he was six. "She says let's go on the island under the willow an' have egg-san'wiches an' ginger-ale for lunch."

Miss Greene carried out the programme cheerfully, for the child made singularly few requests. Thomas, the gardener, was to row them over, and Miss Greene, a stout person who moved with difficulty, seated herself in the stem of the boat with a sigh of relief, and drew Raymond Mortimer down beside her. He wriggled out of her grasp and struggled to his feet, his stout legs apart, his brown eyes determined.

"You can't sit there, please, Miss Greene," he said, almost austerely. "Lily Bell wants to sit there with me. You can take the other seat."

For once the good-natured Miss Greene rebelled.

"I'll do no such thing," she announced, firmly, "flopping round and upsetting the boat and perhaps drowning us all. You and your Lily Bell can sit together in the middle and let me be."

An expression of hope flitted across the child's face. "Will that do, Lily Bell?" he asked, eagerly. The reply was evidently unfavorable, for his jaw fell and he flushed. "She says it won't," he announced, miserably. "I'm awful sorry, Miss Greene, but we'll have to 'sturb you."

If Miss Lily Bell had been in the habit of making such demands, the housekeeper would have continued to rebel. As it was, she had grave doubts of the wisdom of establishing such a dangerous precedent as compliance with the absurd request. But Raymond Mortimer's distress was so genuine, and the pleasure of the picnic so obviously rested on her surrender, that she made it, albeit slowly and with groans and dismal predictions. The boy's face beamed as he thanked her.

"I was so 'fraid Lily Bell would be cross," he confided to her, as he sat sedately on his half of the stern-seat. "But she's all right, an' we're going to have a lovely time."

That prediction was justified by events, for the occasion was a brilliant one, and Lily Bell's share in it so persistent and convincing that at times Miss Greene actually found herself sharing in the delusion of the little girl's presence. Her good-natured yielding in the matter of the seat, moreover, had evidently commended her to Miss Bell's good graces, and that young person brought out the choicest assortment of her best manners to do honor to the grown-up guest.

"Lily Bell wants you to have this seat, Miss Greene, 'cause it's in the shade an' has a nice back," said Raymond, delightedly, almost as soon as they had reached the island; and Miss Greene flopped into it with a sigh of content in the realization that Miss Bell did not

Many Kingdoms - 4/34

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