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cats THE COPY-CAT

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THAT affair of Jim Simmons’s cats never became known. Two little boys and a little girl can keep a secret — that is, sometimes. The two little boys had the advantage of the little girl because they could talk over the affair together, and the little girl, Lily Jennings, had no intimate girl friend to tempt her to confidence. She had only little Amelia Wheeler, commonly called by the pupils of Madame’s school “The Copy-Cat.”

Amelia was an odd little girl — that is, everybody called her odd. She was that rather unusual creature, a child with a definite ideal; and that ideal was Lily Jennings. However, nobody knew that. If Amelia’s mother, who was a woman of strong character, had suspected, she would have taken strenuous measures to prevent such a peculiar state of affairs; the more so because she herself did not in the least approve of Lily Jennings. Mrs. Diantha Wheeler (Amelia’s father had died when she was a baby) often remarked to her own mother, Mrs. Stark, and to her motherin-law, Mrs. Samuel Wheeler, that she did not feel that Mrs. Jennings was bringing up Lily exactly as she should. “That child thinks entirely too much of her looks,” said Mrs. Diantha. “When she walks past here she switches those ridiculous frilled frocks of hers as if she were entering a ball-room, and she tosses her head and looks about to see if anybody is watching her. If I were to see Amelia doing such things I should be very firm with her.”

“Lily Jennings is a very pretty child,” said Motherin-law Wheeler, with an under-meaning, and Mrs. Diantha flushed. Amelia did not in the least resemble the Wheelers, who were a handsome set. She looked remarkably like her mother, who was a plain woman, only little Amelia did not have a square chin. Her chin was pretty and round, with a little dimple in it. In fact, Amelia’s chin was the pretti-est feature she had. Her hair was phenomenally straight. It would not even yield to hot curling-irons, which her grandmother Wheeler had tried sur-reptitiously several times when there was a little girls’ party. “I never saw such hair as that poor child has in all my life,” she told the other grandmother, Mrs. Stark. “Have the Starks always had such very straight hair?”

Mrs. Stark stiffened her chin. Her own hair was very straight. “I don’t know,” said she, “that the Starks have had any straighter hair than other people. If Amelia does not have anything worse to contend with than straight hair I rather think she will get along in the world as well as most people.”

“It’s thin, too,” said Grandmother Wheeler, with a sigh, “and it hasn’t a mite of color. Oh, well, Amelia is a good child, and beauty isn’t everything.” Grandmother Wheeler said that as if beauty were a great deal, and Grandmother Stark arose and shook out her black silk skirts. She had money, and loved to dress in rich black silks and laces.

“It is very little, very little indeed,” said she, and she eyed Grandmother Wheeler’s lovely old face, like a wrinkled old rose as to color, faultless as to feature, and swept about by the loveliest waves of shining silver hair.

Then she went out of the room, and Grandmother Wheeler, left alone, smiled. She knew the worth of beauty for those who possess it and those who do not. She had never been quite reconciled to her son’s marrying such a plain girl as Diantha Stark, although she had money. She considered beauty on the whole as a more valuable asset than mere gold. She regretted always that poor little Amelia, her only grandchild, was so very plain-looking. She always knew that Amelia was very plain, and yet sometimes the child puzzled her. She seemed to see reflections of beauty, if not beauty itself, in the little colorless face, in the figure, with its too-large joints and utter absence of curves. She sometimes even wondered privately if some subtle resemblance to the handsome Wheelers might not be in the child and yet appear. But she was mistaken. What she saw was pure mimicry of a beautiful ideal.

Little Amelia tried to stand like Lily Jennings; she tried to walk like her; she tried to smile like her; she made endeavors, very often futile, to dress like her. Mrs. Wheeler did not in the least approve of furbelows for children. Poor little Amelia went clad in severe simplicity; durable woolen frocks in winter, and washable, unfadable, and non-soil-showing frocks in summer. She, although her mother had perhaps more money wherewith to dress her than had any of the other mothers, was the plainest-clad little girl in school. Amelia, moreover, never tore a frock, and, as she did not grow rapidly, one lasted several seasons. Lily Jennings was destructive, although dainty. Her pretty clothes were renewed every year. Amelia was helpless before that problem. For a little girl burning with aspirations to be and look like another little girl who was beautiful and wore beautiful clothes, to be obliged to set forth for Madame’s on a lovely spring morning, when thin attire was in evidence, dressed in dark-blue-and-white-checked gingham, which she had worn for three summers, and with sleeves which, even to childish eyes, were anachronisms, was a trial. Then to see Lily flutter in a frock like a perfectly new white flower was torture; not because of jealousy — Amelia was not jealous; but she so admired the other little girl, and so loved her, and so wanted to be like her.

As for Lily, she hardly ever noticed Amelia. She was not aware that she herself was an object of adoration; for she was a little girl who searched for admiration in the eyes of little boys rather than little girls, although very innocently. She always glanced slyly at Johnny Trumbull when she wore a pretty new frock, to see if he noticed. He never did, and she was sharp enough to know it. She was also child enough not to care a bit, but to take a queer pleasure in the sensation of scorn which she felt in consequence. She would eye Johnny from head to foot, his boy’s clothing somewhat spotted, his bulging pockets, his always dusty shoes, and when he twisted uneasily, not understanding why, she had a thrill of purely feminine delight. It was on one such occasion that she first noticed Amelia Wheeler particularly.

It was a lovely warm morning in May, and Lily was a darling to behold — in a big hat with a wreath of blue flowers, her hair tied with enormous blue silk bows, her short skirts frilled with eyelet embroidery, her slender silk legs, her little white sandals. Ma-dame’s maid had not yet struck the Japanese gong, and all the pupils were out on the lawn, Amelia, in her clean, ugly gingham and her serviceable brown sailor hat, hovering near Lily, as usual, like a common, very plain butterfly near a particularly resplendent blossom. Lily really noticed her. She spoke to her confidentially; she recognized her fully as another of her own sex, and presumably of similar opinions.

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