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"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.
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Freeman's Short Stories -by- Mary E. Wilkins Freeman