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- Many Kingdoms - 6/34 -
with himself, winked a Machiavellian wink and sought his wife, ostensibly to consult her, but in reality to inform her that he had made up his mind, and that it would be her happy privilege to attend to the trivial details of carrying out his plan.
In exactly three weeks Margaret Hamilton Perry was established in the Prescott homestead for a visit of indefinite length, and in precisely three hours after her arrival Margaret Hamilton had annexed the Prescott homestead and its inmates and all the things appertaining thereto and made them her own. She was the most eager and adorable of small, fat girls--alive from the crown of her curly head to the soles of her sensible little spring-heeled shoes. As Mr. Prescott subsequently remarked in a moment of extreme self-appreciation, if she had been made to order she couldn't have filled the bill better. Born and bred in the city, the country was to her a mine of unexplored delights. The shyness of Raymond Mortimer, suddenly confronted by this new personality and the immediate need of entertaining it, gave way before the enthusiasm of the little girl over his pets, his favorite haunts, the works of his hands--everything in which he had a share. Clinging to his hand in a rapturous panic as they visited the animals, she expatiated on the privileges of those happy beings who lived always amid such delights.
"I wish I didn't ever have to go away again," she ended, wistfully.
"I wish you didn't, either," said Raymond, gallantly, and then was shocked at himself. Was this loyalty to Lily Bell? The reflection gave a tinge of coldness to his next utterance. When Margaret Hamilton, cheered by the tribute, asked, confidently, "May I play with you lots and help you to make things?" the boy's response lagged.
"Yes," he said, finally, "if Lily Bell will let you."
"Who's Lily Bell?"
"She--why, she's the girl I play with! Everybody knows Lily Bell!"
Some of the brightness was gone from the eager face.
"Will she like me?" she asked, at last.
"I don't know--I guess--p'r'aps so."
"Will I like her?"
"I don't know. You can't see her, you know."
"Can't see her? Why can't I see her? Doesn't she come here, ever?"
"Oh yes, she's here all the time, but--" The boy squirmed. For the first time in his short life he was--_was_ he--ashamed of Lily Bell? No; not that. Never that! He held his small head high, and his lips set; but he was a boy, after all, and his voice, to cover the embarrassment, took on a tone of lofty superiority.
"Nobody ever does see her but me," he asserted. "They'd like to, but they don't."
"Why don't they?"
Verily, this was a persistent child. The boy was in for complete surrender, and he made it.
"She ain't a little girl like you," he explained, briefly. "She doesn't have any home, and I don't know where she comes from--heaven, maybe," he hazarded, desperately, as a sort of "When in doubt, play trumps." "But she comes, an' no one but me sees her, an' we play."
"Huh!" This without enthusiasm from Margaret Hamilton Perry. She eyed him remotely for a moment. Then, with an effort at understanding, she spoke again.
"I shouldn't think that would be very much fun," she said, candidly. "Just pretendin' there's a little girl when there ain't! I should think it would be lots nicer--" She hesitated, a sense of delicacy restraining her from making the point she so obviously had in mind.
"Anyhow," she added, handsomely, "I'll like her an' play with her if you do."
Raymond Mortimer was relieved but doubtful. Memories of the extreme contrariness of Lily Bell on occasion overcame him.
"If she'll let you," he repeated, doggedly.
Margaret Hamilton stared at him and her eyes grew big.
"Won't you let me, if she doesn't?" she gasped. "Why--why--" The situation overcame her. The big, brown eyes filled suddenly. A small gingham back rippling with fat sobs was presented to Raymond Mortimer. In him was born immediately man's antipathy to woman's tears.
"Oh, say," he begged, "don't cry; please don't." He approached the gingham back and touched it tentatively. "She will let you play with us," he urged. And then, moved to entire recklessness as the sobs continued, "_I'll make her!"_ he promised. The gingham back stopped heaving; a wet face was turned toward him, and a rainbow arched their little heaven as Margaret Hamilton smiled. Her first triumph was complete.
It is to be regretted that Lily Bell did not at once lend herself to the fulfilment of this agreeable understanding. True, she appeared daily, as of yore, and Margaret Hamilton was permitted to enter her presence and join her games, but the exactions of Lily Bell became hourly more annoying. It was evident that Raymond Mortimer felt them as such, for his anguished blushes testified to the fact when he repeated them to the victim.
"She wants you to go away off and sit down, so's you can't hear what we're saying," he said to Margaret Hamilton one day. "I don't think it's very p'lite of her, but she says you must."
This brief criticism of Lily Bell, the first the boy had ever uttered, cheered the little girl in her exile. "Never mind," she said. "I don't care--much. I know it isn't your fault." For by this time she, too, was under the influence of the spell of convincing reality which Raymond Mortimer succeeded in throwing over his imaginary friend.
"She does things Ray wouldn't do," she once confided to Miss Greene. "I mean," hastily, as she suddenly realized her own words--"I mean she makes him think--he thinks she thinks--Oh, I don't know how to 'splain it to you!" And Margaret Hamilton hastily abandoned so complicated a problem. In reality she was meeting it with a wisdom far beyond her years. The boy was in the grip of an obsession. Margaret Hamilton would have been sadly puzzled by the words, but in her wise little head lay the idea they convey.
"He thinks she really is here, an' he thinks he's got to be nice to her because they're such ve-ry old fren's," she told herself. "But she isn't very nice lately, an' she makes him cross, so maybe by-an'-by he'll get tired an' make her act better; or maybe--"
But that last "maybe" was too daring to have a place even in the very furthest back part of a little girl's mind.
She lent herself with easy good-nature to Lily Bell's exactions. She had no fondness for that young person, and she let it be seen that she had none, but she was courteous, as to a fellow-guest.
"Pooh! I don't mind," was her usual comment on Miss Bell's behests; and this cheerful acceptance threw into strong relief the dark shadows of Lily Bell's perversity. Once or twice she proposed a holiday.
"Couldn't we go off somewhere, just by ourselves, for a picnic," she hazarded, one morning--"an' not ask Lily Bell?"
It was a bold suggestion, but the conduct of Miss Bell had been especially reprehensible the day before, and even the dauntless spirit of Margaret Hamilton was sore with the strife.
"Wouldn't you like a--a rest, too?" she added, insinuatingly. Apparently the boy would, for without comment he made the preparations for the day, and soon he and the child were seated side by side in the boat in which the old gardener rowed them over to their beloved island.
It was a perfect day. Nothing was said about Lily Bell, and her presence threw no cloud on those hours of sunshine. Seated adoringly by the boy's side, Margaret Hamilton became initiated into the mysteries of bait and fishing, and the lad's respect for his companion increased visibly when he discovered that she could not only bait his hooks for him, but could string the fish, lay the festive board for luncheon, and set it forth. This was a playmate worth while. Raymond Mortimer, long a slave to the exactions of Lily Bell, for whom he had thanklessly fetched and carried, relaxed easily into the comfort of man's more congenial sphere, and permitted himself to be waited on by woman.
In such and other ways the month of August passed. Margaret Hamilton, like the happy-hearted child she was, sang through the summer days and knitted more closely around her the hearts of her companions.
With the almost uncanny wisdom characteristic of her, she refrained from discussing Lily Bell with the other members of the family. Possibly she took her cue from Raymond Mortimer, who himself spoke of her less and less as the weeks passed; but quite probably it was part of an instinct which forbids one to discuss the failings of one's friends. Lily Bell was to Margaret Hamilton a blot on the boy's scutcheon. She would not point it out even to him, actively as her practical little soul revolted against his self-deception. Once, however, in a rare moment of candor, she unbosomed herself to Mr. Prescott.
"I don't like her very well," she said, referring, of course, to Lily Bell. "She's so silly! I hate to pretend an' pretend an' do things we don't want to do when we could have such good times just by ourselves."
She buried her nose in his waistcoat as she spoke and sniffed rather dismally. It had been a trying day. Lily Bell had been much _en evidence_, and her presence had weighed perceptibly upon the spirits of the two children.
"Can't you get rid of her?" suggested the man, shamelessly. "A real meat little girl like you ought to do away with a dream kid--an imaginary girl--don't you think?"
Margaret Hamilton raised her head and looked long into the eyes that
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