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"I couldn't bring any cookies, either," said Lee Westminster; "there weren't any cookies in the jar."
"And I couldn't bring the potatoes, because the outside cellar door was locked," said Arnold Carruth. "I had to go down the back stairs and out the south door, and the inside cellar door opens out of our dining-room, and I daren't go in there."
"Then we might as well go home," said Johnny Trumbull. "If I had been you, Jim Patterson, I would have brought that old hen if her tail-feathers had come out. Seems to me you scare awful easy."
"Guess if you had heard her squawk!" said Jim, resentfully. "If you want to try to lick me, come on, Johnny Trumbull. Guess you don't darse call me scared again."
Johnny eyed him standing there in the gloom. Jim was not large, but very wiry, and the ground was not suited for combat. Johnny, although a victor, would probably go home considerably the worse in appearance; and he could anticipate the consequences were his father to encounter him.
"Shucks!" said Johnny Trumbull, of the fine old Trumbull family and Madame's exclusive school. "Shucks! who wants your old hen? We had chicken for dinner, anyway."
"So did we," said Arnold Carruth.
"We did, and corn," said Lee.
"We did," said Jim.
Lily stepped forth from the alder-bush. "If," said she, "I were a boy, and had started to have a chicken-roast, I would have HAD a chicken-roast."
But every boy, even the valiant Johnny Trumbull, was gone in a mad scutter. This sudden apparition of a girl was too much for their nerves. They never even knew who the girl was, although little Arnold Carruth said she had looked to him like "Copy-Cat," but the others scouted the idea.
Lily Jennings made the best of her way out of the wood across lots to the road. She was not in a particularly enviable case. Amelia Wheeler was presumably in her bed, and she saw nothing for it but to take the difficult way to Amelia's.
Lily tore a great rent in the gingham going up the cedar-tree, but that was nothing to what followed. She entered through Amelia's window, her prim little room, to find herself confronted by Amelia's mother in a wrapper, and her two grandmothers. Grandmother Stark had over her arm a beautiful white embroidered dress. The two old ladies had entered the room in order to lay the white dress on a chair and take away Amelia's gingham, and there was no Amelia. Mrs. Diantha had heard the commotion, and had risen, thrown on her wrapper, and come. Her mother had turned upon her.
"It is all your fault, Diantha," she had declared.
"My fault?" echoed Mrs. Diantha, bewildered. "Where is Amelia?"
"We don't know," said Grandmother Stark, "but you have probably driven her away from home by your cruelty."
"Yes, cruelty. What right had you to make that poor child look like a fright, so people laughed at her? We have made her some dresses that look decent, and had come here to leave them, and to take away those old gingham things that look as if she lived in the almshouse, and leave these, so she would either have to wear them or go without, when we found she had gone."
It was at that crucial moment that Lily entered by way of the window.
"Here she is now," shrieked Grandmother Stark. "Amelia, where --" Then she stopped short.
Everybody stared at Lily's beautiful face suddenly gone white. For once Lily was frightened. She lost all self-control. She began to sob. She could scarcely tell the absurd story for sobs, but she told, every word.
Then, with a sudden boldness, she too turned on Mrs. Diantha. "They call poor Amelia 'CopyCat,'" said she, "and I don't believe she would ever have tried so hard to look like me only my mother dresses me so I look nice, and you send Amelia to school looking awfully." Then Lily sobbed again.
"My Amelia is at your house, as I understand?" said Mrs. Diantha, in an awful voice.
"Let me go," said Mrs. Diantha, violently, to Grandmother Stark, who tried to restrain her. Mrs. Diantha dressed herself and marched down the street, dragging Lily after her. The little girl had to trot to keep up with the tall woman's strides, and all the way she wept.
It was to Lily's mother's everlasting discredit, in Mrs. Diantha's opinion, but to Lily's wonderful relief, that when she heard the story, standing in the hall in her lovely dinner dress, with the strains of music floating from the drawing-room, and cigar smoke floating from the dining-room, she laughed. When Lily said, "And there wasn't even any chickenroast, mother," she nearly had hysterics.
"If you think this is a laughing matter, Mrs. Jennings, I do not," said Mrs. Diantha, and again her dislike and sorrow at the sight of that sweet, mirthful face was over her. It was a face to be loved, and hers was not.
"Why, I went up-stairs and kissed the child good night, and never suspected," laughed Lily's mother.
"I got Aunt Laura's curly, light wig for her," explained Lily, and Mrs. Jennings laughed again.
It was not long before Amelia, in her gingham, went home, led by her mother -- her mother, who was trembling with weakness now. Mrs. Diantha did not scold. She did not speak, but Amelia felt with wonder her little hand held very tenderly by her mother's long fingers.
When at last she was undressed and in bed, Mrs. Diantha, looking very pale, kissed her, and so did both grandmothers.
Amelia, being very young and very tired, went to sleep. She did not know that that night was to mark a sharp turn in her whole life. Thereafter she went to school "dressed like the best," and her mother petted her as nobody had ever known her mother could pet.
It was not so very long afterward that Amelia, out of her own improvement in appearance, developed a little stamp of individuality.
One day Lily wore a white frock with blue ribbons, and Amelia wore one with coral pink. It was a particular day in school; there was company, and tea was served.
"I told you I was going to wear blue ribbons," Lily whispered to Amelia. Amelia smiled lovingly back at her.
"Yes, I know, but I thought I would wear pink."
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Freeman's Short Stories -by- Mary E. Wilkins Freeman