Paul Irving was a dreamer of dreams. As far back as he could remember, his existence had been coloured by an awareness of-- something-- that other people lived their whole lives without seeing. He was a lonely boy, so those other people pronounced in pitying syllables, but if you asked Paul himself, he would tell you that he had never ever felt lonely. He had been a solitary child in a Boston mansion, and then equally solitary in an out-of-the-way homestead by the shore in Avonlea, but in imagination he had travelled the galaxies with companions more vivacious and varied than you could ever meet in Avonlea. So he was very satisfied with his small world. Armed with a passport to fairyland, you could be happy anywhere.
Until he had met Dora, though, he had never had a real friend. Oh, there was Teacher, whom he loved very dearly, and of course Father, whom he loved best in the world. They were his chums as well as his favourite people (you couldn't call Grandmother a chum although he loved her dutifully), but they were adults. Just last summer he had heard Young Mary Joe complain "dat Paul, ee never plays with boys 'is own age, so dat is why ee eez so queer." He didn't like to be called queer, and the boys at school were alright but they did laugh at his big words and bookish ways. He knew he could never talk to them about anything he was really thinking. And then entered Dora Keith, who listened so adoringly to his every word. Even when he told her of his dearest fancies, she had not laughed once, or called him queer.
She was worth a dozen boys!
Her one fault, which distressed her so, was that she had no imagination. Paul had never thought he could be friends with someone who was not "that kind", the kind who dreamed. Friendship, though, is a capricious thing: two souls can connect without resembling one another in the least. So it was with Paul and Dora: each was the first floating spar in the other's life.
"Paul is trying to cultivate my imagination," Dora told Minnie May importantly one morning as they walked to school. "I think he's finding it a trying task, even if he doesn't say so. We read the loveliest story books together, and then he makes up something wonderful out of his own head, and he tells me to try to do so too. I try my hardest, but I can never come up with anything. I am just too stupid."
"You mean he's teaching you to tell lies?" Minnie May asked bluntly. Minnie May knew the history of the Haunted Wood they were traversing that very minute. "You know Mother doesn't approve of stories at all and she says Miss Shirley teaches us far too many things that aren't true. Oh, Dora, it's wicked to tell stories."
Dora was mollified and Paul had to try a different tack. Two days later, Dora was watching the path so intently as they walked to school that Minnie May asked her if she was pretending to look like a Sloane.
"Oh, no," Dora took her eyes off the peeling bark of a silver birch. "Paul's told me to look for something beautiful in nature, that we could imagine things about. He can talk to the trees and flowers for hours, you see, but all for all I can tell these are just plain stumps and moss, and there's nothing so special about them."
"Oh, talking to trees is it? I used to do that myself. I like the woods real well and it seemed a shame not to talk aloud in them, so long as everything I said was true." Minnie May admitted with a grin.
She scanned the ground keenly, and plucked a spray of holly. "Take this, isn't this nice? I bet they didn't have anything half so nice in the States where Paul came from. The little red berries make me think of rubies, like some fine lady came by and dropped her jewels in the snow. If you'd asked me for help, Paul wouldn't have stumped you for something from the woods to talk about."
So even Minnie May was better at this than she was! Dora took the holly, but she could not spin a yarn about it any more than stones could speak.
Paul was surprised one lunch hour when Dora came into the woodshed, her cheeks stung crimson from the blowing snow.
"i had a dream," she breathed excitedly. "And I think you'll approve. You see, I dreamed there was an old woman who lived alone for ever so long in the woods, waiting for her lover to return, but he didn't."
"Then she died. It was tremenjusly romantic." Dora concluded placidly.
Paul twisted the pencil in his mittened hand meditatively.
"That would make a lovely story," he said at last, "if only you imagined more into it. See, was the woman beautiful long ago, when she knew her lover? What was her house in the woods like: is it a cold, desolate villa or a cozy hut? Why had her lover left her?"
"Of course she was beautiful." Dora retorted, rising to the bait at once. "That was why her lover loved her. She has apple-cheeks and red, red lips like Diana Barry, and a coil of golden hair 'round the crown of her head, like how Ruby Gillis wears hers."
"Is she proud?" Paul asked, trying to picture the fair lady.
"She could be. If so, then she lives in an old house all alone, a haunted one." Dora added, pleased with her dramatic touch.
"Haunted by her memories," Paul agreed. "She'll have cherry trees in her yard but to her they'll be slim white ghosts of memory, and there'll be rose-bushes that have never bloomed since her lover left her."
"And she'll walk around in the garden wearing nothing but stiff, starched black dresses and a bonnet."
"And there'll be an old well, vine-hung and lichened, which she looks into every morning and is haunted by her aging reflection - having broke every mirror in the house when her lover deserted her because her beauty made her bitter - and in which she finally jumps into and drowns."
"Stop!" Dora shouted. "You're scaring me."
Over the weeks they refined the story. The old woman was really a princess - it didn't matter when you were imagining things, that there weren't any real princesses on P. E. Island. They christened her Princess Eleanora. She had been changed at birth by an old nurse. Her lover was a gentleman from Kingsport (Paul wanted him to be Bostonian, but Dora declared that they weren't having ant Yankees in the story), whose family thought she was beneath his station, and called him away before he could marry her. For the rest of his life they prevented him from coming back. So Princess Eleanora wasted away day by day, until she was as a ghost beyond recognition. She never knew that her lover had truly loved her, and still treasured all the mementoes she had given him: her lace hankerchief from their first dance together, a locket with her portrait in it, and the engagement ring he never had the chance to give her.
"Then his family tries to make him marry another girl, but he can't because he loved her so." Dora decided.
"No, he marries again, and has a happy life, although he never forgets her."
"He wouldn't! That would be so terribly unfair to her!"
"She is the tragic heroine, and I think it's more striking if he is happy and she isn't."
Dora began to sniffle. "I feel so sorry for her, Paul!" she whispered.
"Hush.. Princess Eleanora isn't really real, you know."
Dora shook her head vehemently.
"We don't know any one just like her, Dora. You only read of princesses and stories like that in books. 'Sides, we'll have his family find out she was a princess after all, and then they'll make him come back. And everyone will be happy?"
Only much later did Dora realize that they had woven the story around tidbits they had heard of Miss Lavendar Lewis. Then, she guiltily began to pray for the latter -tragic heroine, hag and damsel-in-distress of their own make-belief-'s deliverance.