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- Many Kingdoms - 5/34 -
intend to usurp all the choice spots, as her persistence earlier in the day might possibly have suggested to a suspicious mind. There, alternately reading and dozing, she incidentally listened to the flow of conversation poured forth by her small charge, varied only by occasional offerings to her, usually suggested by Miss Bell and ranging from the minnow he had succeeded in catching with a worm and a bent pin to the choicest tidbits of the luncheon. There were two glasses for the ginger-ale. Miss Greene had one and Lily Bell the other. Raymond Mortimer gallantly drank from the bottle.
"Why don't you use Lily Bell's glass?" was Miss Greene's very natural inquiry. It would seem, indeed, that two such congenial souls would have welcomed the closer union this suggestion invited, but Raymond Mortimer promptly dispelled that illusion.
"She doesn't want to," he responded, gloomily.
In other details, however, Miss Lily Bell was of an engaging sweetness and of a yielding disposition of the utmost correctness. Again and again Raymond Mortimer succeeded in convincing her, by the force and eloquence of his arguments, of the superiority of his ideas on fort building, fishing, and other occupations which filled the day. Miss Greene's heart yearned over the boy as he came to her during the mid- day heat and cuddled down comfortably by her side, heavy-eyed and tired after his exertions.
"Where's Lily Bell?" she asked, brushing his damp hair off his forehead and wondering whether she was also privileged to enjoy the unseen presence of the guest of honor.
"She's back there under the tree takin' a nap," murmured the boy, drowsily, indicating the exact spot with a grimy little hand. "She tol' me to come an' stay with you for a while."
Miss Greene smiled, deeply touched by this sweet mingling of coyness and thoughtfulness on the maiden's part.
"What does Lily Bell call you?" she asked, with interest. The boy snuggled down on the grass beside her and rested his head comfortably in her lap.
"She knows my name's Raymond Mortimer," he said, sleepily, "but she calls me 'Bill' for short." Then, more sleepily, "I asked her to," he added. In another moment his eyelids had dropped and he too was in the Land of Nod, whither Lily Bell had happily preceded him.
During the next four years Miss Greene was privileged to spend many days in the society of Miss Lily Bell, and the acquaintance between them ripened into a pleasant friendship. To her great satisfaction she found Miss Bell's name one to conjure with in those moments of friction which are unavoidable in the relations of old and young.
"I don't think Lily Bell would like that," she began to say, tentatively, when differences of opinion as to his conduct came up between Raymond and herself. "I think _she_ likes a gentlemanly boy."
Unless her young charge was in a very obstinate mood the reminder usually prevailed, and it was of immense value in overcoming the early prejudice of the small boy against soap and water.
"Isn't Lily Bell clean?" she had inquired one day when he was eight and the necessity of the daily tubbing was again being emphasized to him.
Raymond conceded that she was.
"When she first comes she is," he added. "'Course she gets dirty when we play. Why, sometimes she gets awful dirty!"
The excellent and wise woman saw her opportunity, and promptly grasped it.
"Ah," she exclaimed, "that's the point. I want you to start out clean and to go to bed clean. If you'll promise me to take a tub before you dress in the morning, and another before you go to bed at night, I don't care how dirty you get in the mean time."
This happy compromise effected, she was moved to ask more particularly how Miss Lily Bell looked. She recalled now that she had never heard her described. Raymond Mortimer, she discovered, was no better than the rest of his sex when it came to a description of feminine features and apparel, but on two points his testimony was absolute. Lily Bell had curls and she wore pantalettes. The last word was not in his vocabulary, and it was some time before he succeeded in conveying the correct impression to Miss Greene's mind.
"Don't you remember the little girls in mamma's old Godey books?" he asked, at last, very anxiously, seeing that his early imperfect description had led to an apparent oscillation of Miss Greene's imagination between the paper ruffle of a lamb-chop and a frilly sunbonnet. "They have slippers an' 'lastic bands an' scallopy funnels coming down under their skirts. Well"--this with a long-drawn sigh of relief as she beamed into acquiescence--"that's how Lily Bell looks!"
Long before this the family had accepted Lily Bell as a part of the domestic circle, finding her a fairly trustworthy and convenient playmate for the boy. Not always, of course; for it was very inconvenient to leave a vacant seat beside Raymond Mortimer when they went driving, but this had to be done or Raymond stayed at home rather than desert his cherished Lily. It was long before his father forgot the noble rebuke administered by his son on one occasion when the elder Prescott, thoughtlessly ignoring the presence of Miss Bell, sought to terminate the argument by sitting down by the boy's side. The shrieks of that youth, usually so self-contained, rent the ambient air.
"Father, _father!_" he howled, literally dancing up and down in his anguish, "you're sitting on Lily Bell!" Then, at the height of the uproar, he stopped short, an expression of overwhelming relief covering his face. "Oh no, you ain't, either," he cried, ecstatically. "She jumped out. But she won't go now, so neither will I"; and he promptly joined his imaginary playmate in the road. Pausing there, he gave his abashed parent a glance of indescribable reproach and a helpful hint on etiquette.
"Don't you know," he asked, stonily, "that gentlemen don't _never_ sit on ladies?" Striding gloomily back to the house, presumably close by the side of the outraged maiden, he left his convulsed parent to survive as best he could the deprivation of their presence. This Mr. Prescott did with reluctance. He was beginning to find the society of his son and Lily Bell both interesting and exhilarating. He showed, in fact, a surprising understanding of and sympathy with "the love- affair," as he called it. "The poor little beggar had to have something," he said, indulgently, "and an imaginary play-mate is as safe as anything I know." Therefore he referred to Miss Bell respectfully in conversation with his son, and, save on the tragic occasion just chronicled, treated her with distinguished consideration.
His wife's acceptance of the situation was less felicitous. Mrs. Prescott, whose utter lack of a sense of humor had long saddened her domestic circle, suddenly felt the birth of one now that was even more saddening, and the cause of it was Lily Bell. She referred to that young person wholly without respect, and was convulsed by foolish laughter when her son soberly replied. The boy resented this attitude --first sullenly, then fiercely.
"She acts as if there _wasn't_ really any Lily Bell," he confided to his father, in a moment of such emotion. "I don't think that's nice or p'lite, an' it hurts Lily Bell's feelings."
"That's bad," said the father, soberly. "We mustn't have that. I'll speak to your mother."
He did subsequently, and to such good effect that the expression of Mrs. Prescott's amusement was temporarily checked. But Raymond Mortimer's confidence was temporarily blighted, and he kept his little friend and his mother as far apart as possible. Rarely after that did Lily Bell seek the invalid's room with the boy, though she frequently accompanied him to his father's library when that gentleman was home and, presumably, listened with awe to their inspiring conversation. Mr. Prescott had begun to talk to his boy "as man to man," as he once put it, and the phrase had so delighted the boy, now ten, that his father freely gave him the innocent gratification of listening to it often. Moreover, it helped in certain conversations where questions of morals came up. As the small son of an irate father, Raymond Mortimer might not have been much impressed by the parental theory that watermelons must not be stolen from the patches of their only neighbor, a crusty old bachelor. As a man of the world, however, listening to the views of one wiser and more experienced, he was made to see that helping one's self to the melons of another is really not the sort of thing a decent chap can do. Lily Bell, too, held the elder man's opinion.
"She says she doesn't like it, either," the boy confided to his father with an admiring sigh. "She never would go with me, you know. My!"-- this with a heavier sigh--"I'm 'fraid if I do all the things you an' Lily Bell want me to I'll be awful good!"
His father sought to reassure him on this point, but he himself was beginning to cherish a lurking fear of a different character. Was longer continuance of this dream companionship really wise? So far, if it had influenced the boy at all, it had been for good. But he was growing older; he was almost eleven. Was it not time that this imaginary child friend should be eliminated in favor of--of what? The father's mind came up against the question and recoiled, blankly. Not exercise, not outdoor pursuits, not pets, for Raymond Mortimer had all these and more. His little girl friend had not made him a milksop. He was an active, energetic, live, healthy-minded boy, with all a boy's normal interests. When he built kennels for his dogs and made hutches for his rabbits, Lily Bell stood by, it is true, but her friendly supervision but added to the vigor and excellence of his work. Indeed, Lily, despite her pantalettes, seemed to have a sporty vein in her. Still, the father reflected uneasily, it could lead to no good--this continued abnormal development of the imagination. For Lily Bell was as real to the boy at ten as she had been at six.
What could be done? With what entering wedge could one begin to dislodge this persistent presence? If one sent the boy away, Lily Bell, of course, would go, too. If one brought--if--one--brought--
Mr. Prescott jumped to his feet and slapped his knee with enthusiasm. He had solved his problem, and the solution was exceedingly simple. What, indeed, but another little girl! A real little girl, a flesh- and-blood little girl, a jolly, active little girl, who, as Mr. Prescott inelegantly put it to himself, "would make Lily Bell, with her ringlets and her pantalettes, look like thirty cents." Surely in the circle of their friends and relatives there must be a little girl who could be borrowed and introduced--oh, casually and with infinite tact!--into their menage for a few months. Mr. Prescott, well pleased
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