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- Many Kingdoms - 7/34 -


looked back at her. The man nodded solemnly.

"I'd try if I were you," he said. "I'd try mighty hard. You don't want her around. She's spoiling everything. Besides," he added, half to himself, "it's time the boy got over his nonsense."

Margaret Hamilton reflected, her small face brightening.

"Are you very, very sure it wouldn't be wicked?" she asked, hopefully.

"Yep. Perfectly sure. Go in and win!"

Greatly cheered by this official sanction, Margaret Hamilton the following day made her second suggestion of a day _a deux_.

"All by ourselves," she repeated, firmly. "An' not Lily Bell, 'cos she'd spoil it. An' you row me to the island. Don't let's take Thomas."

This was distinctly wrong. The children were not allowed to take the boat save under Thomas's careful eye; but, as has been pointed out, Margaret Hamilton had her faults. Raymond Mortimer struggled weakly in the gulf of temptation, then succumbed and went under.

"All right," he said, largely, "I will. We'll have lunch, too, and p'r'aps I'll build a fire."

"We'll play we're cave-dwellers," contributed Margaret Hamilton, whose invention always exceeded his own, and whose imagination had recently been stimulated by Miss Greene, who occasionally read aloud to the children. "You hunt an' get the food an' bring it home, an' I'll cook it. You be the big, brave man an' I'll be your--your mate," she concluded, quoting freely from the latest interesting volume to which she had lent an ear.

The picture appealed to Raymond Mortimer. With a manly stride he approached the boat, helped her in, loosened it from its moorings, and cast off. His brow dark with care, he loftily ordered her to steer, and spoke no more until they had safely made their landing.

Alone on their desert island, the two children faithfully carried out the programme of the day. With dry branches gathered by his mate the intrepid male soon made a fire, and retreating hurriedly to a point comfortably distant from it, they gazed upon their work. Fishing and the cleaning and cooking of their catch filled the morning; and if, indeed, the cleaning is something the mind would mercifully pass over, those chiefly concerned were satisfied and ate with prodigious appetite.

"It's awful funny," said Raymond Mortimer, comfortably, as they reposed under a tree after their repast, "but when Lily Bell an' I used to come here--"

He stopped and gazed apprehensively behind him, as if fearful that the unbidden guest was even now within hearing. Apparently reassured, he resumed: "When Lily Bell an' I used to come we 'most always went to sleep after awhile. I--we--got kind of tired talking, I guess. But when you an' I talk I don't get tired."

Margaret Hamilton flushed with delight, but an excess of maidenly modesty overcame her at the same moment.

"Why don't you?" she inquired, coyly.

"'Cos I like you better."

Margaret Hamilton gasped, sputtered, looked around her. Everything was in its place; there had been no submarine upheaval. The boy was there and he had said this thing, the full meaning of which burst suddenly upon her. Rising to her feet, she hurled herself upon him with the impetuosity of her intense nature.

"Do you really?" she gasped and gurgled. "Do you? Oh, do you? Oh, Ray, I'm so glad!"

And she kissed him!

Disengaging himself with dignity from the clinging embrace of the maiden, the outraged youth rose to his feet.

"Don't you ever do that again, Margaret Hamilton Perry," he said, slowly, and with awful sternness. "Don't you ever. Lily Bell never, never did such a thing!"

She retreated, but unabashed.

"It's 'cause I was so glad," she said, happily. "Real girls always do; they're like that. But I won't any more. You like me best, just the same, don't you?" she inquired, anxiously.

He came cautiously nearer.

"Yes, I do," he said, coldly, "but don't you try that any more, or I won't!"

Then they talked of cave-dwellers, and of the pleasant warmth of an open-air fire on an August day, and of marvellous things they would do during the coming weeks. And the absorption of their conversation was such that when the faithful Thomas, having rowed after them, stealthily approached and smote the boy upon the back, they yelled in startled unison.

That no rancor lingered in the mind of Raymond Mortimer toward the too-demonstrative Margaret Hamilton was proved by the careless remark he made to his father when, some days later, that gentleman uttered a jocund inquiry as to the health of Lily Bell.

His son stared at him for an instant, as one who seeks to recall the snows of yester-year.

"Oh," he said, at last, "I haven't seen her for a long time. She doesn't come round now."

Then, as his father grinned widely over these melancholy tidings, the son flushed crimson.

"Well, I don't care," he said, hotly. "It's all your fault. Didn't you tell me I had to 'muse Margaret? Didn't you? Well--I am. I ain't got time for two. An', anyhow," he concluded, with Adamitic instinct, "Lily Bell stopped coming herself!"

The exorcism of Lily Bell was complete. Unlike more substantial Lily Bells of larger growth, she had known how to make her disappearance coincide with a wish to that effect on the part of her gentleman friend.

III

HER LAST DAY

For some time--possibly an hour or more--she sat perfectly still, staring at a wavering line made on the floor by a stray sunbeam which had forced its way through the window of her hotel sitting-room. At first she looked unseeingly, with the dull, introspective gaze of the melancholic. Then she began to notice the thing, and to fear it, and to watch for outlines of a quivering human face, and to tremble a little. Surely there had been a face--she thought vaguely, and puckered her brow in an effort to remember. It was half an hour before she realized what it was, and the passing of fifteen minutes more had been ticked off by a clock on the table near her when she lifted her glance enough to follow the beam along the floor, up the wall, to the pane where it had entered. She rose suddenly. It was long since she had made a consciously voluntary movement, and she knew this. She drew a deep breath as she stood up, and almost on the instant she experienced a life-giving sensation of poise and freedom. The weight fell from her feet, the blackness in which she had lived for weeks unwrapped itself from around her like a departing fog, her lax muscles tightened. She groped her way to the window and stood there for a moment, resting her cheek against the cool pane and gazing up at the sky. Presently her eyes dropped to the level of a distant water-line, and she saw the river and the trees that fringed its distant bank, and the swiftly moving boats on its surface.

She was better. She knew all that this meant, how much and how little. For an interval, long or short, as it should happen to be, she was again a rational human being. She abruptly swerved around from the window and swept the room with her eyes, recognizing it as the one she was occupying before she "went under," as she put it to herself, and trying, from association with the familiar objects around her, to form some idea of the length of this attack.

At the beginning of her breakdown the intervals between intelligent consciousness and insanity had been long. She was herself, or was able to keep herself fairly in hand, the greater part of the time, and chaos, when it came, lasted only for a few days or weeks. Recently this condition had been reversed. She had lost knowledge of time, but she felt that centuries must have passed since those last flying, blessed hours when she knew herself at least for what she was. She grasped now at her returning reason, with a desperate, shuddering little moan, which she quickly stifled. Some one must be near, she remembered, on guard: her nurse, or a hotel maid if the nurse was taking one of her infrequent outings. Whoever was in charge of her must be in the next room, for the door was open between the two. The nurse would welcome her return, the patient reflected. It was her habit--a singularly pathetic habit, the nurse had found it--to refer always to her attacks as "absences," and to temporary recovery as "returns."

She moved toward the open door and then stopped, feeling suddenly that she was not yet ready to talk to any one, even the nurse, for whom she had a casually friendly feeling based on dependence and continued association. She wished to think--dear God, to be able to think again!--and there seemed so much thinking to be done and so little time in which to do it. Her heart dropped a beat as she realized that. On how much time could she safely count, she wondered. A week? A few days? It had never been less than a week, until the last episode. She turned from the thought of that with a sick shudder, but memory dragged it up and ruthlessly held it before her--the hour, the moment, the very place she was sitting when it occurred. She had been talking to a friend, who unconsciously said something that annoyed and excited her. She saw now that friend's face growing dim before her eyes--at first puzzled, then frightened, then writhing and twisting into hideous shapes, she thought, until in her horror she had struck at it. She must not think of that, she knew, as she set her teeth and pulled herself up short. She had a will of extraordinary strength, her physicians and nurses had conceded, and she resolved that it should


Many Kingdoms - 7/34

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