Maria Thompson Daviess.

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Note: This version of _The Melting of Molly_ is a British magazine
publication and differs significantly from the American novel
publication, also in the Project Gutenberg library at
http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/15817





THE MELTING OF MOLLY

by

MARIA THOMPSON DAVIESS







Leaf I.

The Bachelor's-Buttons.


I don't know how all this is going to end, and I wish my mind wasn't in
a kind of tingle. However, I'll do the best I can and not hold myself at
all responsible for myself, and then who will there be to blame?

There are a great many kinds of good-feeling in this world, from radiant
joy down to perfect bliss; but this spring I have got an attack of just
old-fashioned happiness that looks as if it might become chronic.

I am so happy that I planted my garden all crooked, my eyes upon the
clouds with the birds sailing against them, and when I became conscious
I found wicked flaunting poppies sprouted right up against the sweet
modest clove-pinks, while the whole paper of bachelor's-buttons was
sowed over everything - which I immediately began to dig right up again,
blushing furiously to myself over the trowel, and glad that I had caught
myself before they grew up to laugh in my face. However, I got that
laugh anyway, and I might just as well have left them, for Billy ran to
the gate and called Dr. John to come in and make Molly stop digging up
his buttons. Billy claims everything in this garden, and he thought they
would grow up into the kind of buttons you pop out of a gun.

"So you're digging up the bachelor-buttons, Mrs. Molly?" the doctor
asked as he leaned over the gate. I went on digging without looking up
at him. I couldn't look up because I was blushing still worse. Sometimes
I hate that man, and if he wasn't Billy's father I wouldn't be as
friendly with him as I am. But somebody _has_ to look after Billy.

I believe it will be a real relief to write down how I feel about him in
his old book, and I shall do it whenever I can't stand him any longer;
and if he gave the horrid, red leather thing to me to make me miserable
he can't do it; not this spring! I wish I dare burn it up and forget
about it, but I daren't! This record on the first page is enough to
reduce me - to tears, and I wonder why it doesn't.

I weigh one hundred and sixty pounds, set down in black and white, and
it is a tragedy! I don't believe that man at the weighing machine is so
very reliable in his weights, though he had a very pleasant smile while
he was weighing me. Still, I had better get some scales of my own,
smiles are so deceptive.

I am five feet three inches tall or short, whichever way one looks at
me. I thought I was taller, but I suppose I shall have to believe my own
yardstick.

But as to my waist measure, I positively refuse to write that down, even
if I have half promised Dr. John a dozen times over to do it, while I
only really left him to _suppose_ I would. It is bad enough to know
that your belt has to be reduced to twenty-three inches without putting
down how much it measures now in figures to insult yourself with. No, I
intend to have this for my happy spring.

Yes, I suppose it would have been lots better for my happiness if I had
kept quiet about it all, but at the time I thought I had better consult
him over the matter. Now I'm sorry I did. That is one thing about being
a widow, you are accustomed to consulting a man, whether you want to or
not, and you can't get over the habit immediately. Poor Mr. Carter, my
husband, hasn't been dead much over six years, and I must be missing him
most awfully, though just lately I can't remember not to forget about
him a great deal of the time.

Still, that letter was enough to upset anybody, and no wonder I ran
right across my garden, through Billy's hedge-hole and over into Dr.
John's surgery to tell him about it; but I ought not to have been
agitated enough to let him take the letter right out of my hand and read
it.

"So after ten years Alfred Bennett is coming back to offer his
bachelor's-buttons to you, Mrs. Molly?" he said in the voice he always
uses when he makes fun of Billy and me, and which never fails to make us
both mad.

I didn't look at him directly, but I felt his hand shake with the letter
in it.

"Not ten, only _eight!_ He went away when I was seventeen," I answered
with dignity, wishing I dared be snappy at him: though I never am.

"And after eight years he wants to come back and find you squeezed into
a twenty-inch waist, blue muslin rag you wore at parting? No wonder
Alfred didn't succeed as a bank clerk, but had to make his hit in the
colonies. He's such a big gun that it is a pity he had to return to his
native heath and find even such a slight disappointment as a one-yard
waist measure around his - his - "

"Oh, it's not, it's not that much," I fairly gasped and I couldn't help
the tears coming into my eyes. I have never said much about it, but
nobody knows how it hurts me to be as - large as I am. Just writing it
down in a book mortifies me dreadfully. It's been coming on worse and
worse every year since I married. Poor Mr. Carter had a very good
appetite, and I don't know why I should have felt that I had to eat so
much every day to keep him company; I wasn't always so considerate about
him. Then he didn't want me to go for long walks with the dogs any more,
because married women oughtn't to, or ride horseback either - no
amusement left but himself; and - and - I just couldn't help the tears
coming and dripping as I thought about it all and that awful waist
measure in inches.

"Stop crying this minute, Molly," said Dr. John suddenly in the deep
voice he uses to Billy and me when we are really ill or tired. "You know
I was only teasing you and I won't let you - "

But I sobbed some more. I like him when his eyes come out from under his
bushy brows and are all tender and full of sorry for us.

"I can't help it," I gulped in my sleeve. "I did use to like Alfred
Bennett. My heart almost broke when he went away. I used to be beautiful
and slim, and now I feel as if my own fat ghost has come to haunt me all
my life. I am so ashamed! If a woman can't cry over her own dead beauty,
what can she cry over?" By this time I was really crying.

Then what happened to me was that Dr. John took me by the shoulders and
gave me one good shake.

"You foolish child," he said in the deepest voice I almost ever heard
him use. "You are just a lovely perfect flower, but if you will be
happier to have Alfred Bennett come and find you as slim as a scarlet
runner, I can show you how to do it. Will you do just as I tell you?"

"Yes, I will," I sniffed in a comforted voice. What woman wouldn't be
comforted by being called a "perfect flower"? I looked out between my
fingers to see what more he was going to say, but he had turned to a
shelf and taken down two books.

"Now," he said in his most businesslike voice, as cool as a bucket of
water fresh from the spring, "it is no trouble at all to take off your
surplus avoirdupois at the rate of two and a half pounds a week if you
follow these directions. As I take it, you are about twenty-five pounds
over your normal weight. It will take over two months to reduce you,
and we will allow an extra month for further beautifying, so that when
Mr. Bennett arrives he will find the lady of his adoration in proper trim
to be adored. Yes, just be still until I write these directions in this
little red leather blank-book for you, and every day I want you to keep
an exact record of the conditions of which I make note. No, don't talk
while I make out these diet lists! I wish you would go upstairs and see
if you don't think we ought to get Billy a thinner set of nightgowns.
It seems to me he must be too warm in the ones he is wearing."

When he speaks to me in that tone of voice I always do it. And I needed
Billy badly at that very moment. I took him out of his little cot by
Dr. John's big bed and sat down with him in my arms over by the window,
through which the early moon came streaming. Billy is so little, so very
little not to have a mother to rock him all the times he needs it, that
I take every opportunity to give it to him I find - when he's unconscious
and can't help himself. She died before she ever even saw him, and I've
always tried to do what I could to make it up to him.

Poor Mr. Carter said when Billy cut his teeth that a neighbour's baby
can be worse than your own. He didn't like children, and the baby's
crying disturbed him, so many a night I walked Billy out in the garden
until daylight, while Mr. Carter and Dr. John both slept. Always his
little, warm, wilty body has comforted me for the emptiness of not
having a little one of my own. And he's very congenial, too, for he's
slim and flowery, pink and dimply, and as mannish as his father, in
funny little flashes.

"Git a stick to punch it, Molly," he was murmuring in his sleep. Then I
heard the doctor call me and I had to kiss him, put him back in his bed,
and go downstairs.

Dr. John was standing by the table with this horrid small book in his
hand, and his mouth was set in a straight line and his eyes were deep
back under their brows. I don't like him that way, yet my heart jumped
so it was hard to look as meek as I felt it best under the
circumstances; but I looked out from under my lashes cautiously.

"There you are, Mrs. Molly," he said briskly as he handed me this book.
"Get weighed and measured and sized-up generally in the morning, and
follow all the directions. Also make every record I have noted so that
I can have the proper data to help you as you go along - or rather down.
And if you will be faithful about it to me, or rather Alfred, I think we
can be sure of buttoning that blue muslin dress without even the aid of
the button-hook." His voice had the "if you can" note in it that always
sets me off.

"Had we better get the kiddie some thinner night-rigging?" he hastened
to ask as I was just about to explode. He knows the signs.

"Thank you, Dr. Moore! I hate the very ground you walk on, and I'll
attend to those night-clothes myself to-morrow," I answered, and I
sailed out of that surgery and down the path toward my own house beyond
his hedge. But I carried this book tight in my hand, and I made up my
mind that I would do it all if it killed me. I would show him I could be
_faithful_ - to whom I would decide later on. But I hadn't read far
into this book when I committed myself to myself like that!

I don't know just how long I sat by the open window all by myself,
bathed in a perfect flood of moonlight and loneliness. It was not a bit
of comfort to hear Aunt Adeline snoring away in her room upstairs. It
takes the greatest congeniality to make a person's snoring a pleasure to
anybody, and Aunt Adeline and I are not that way.

When poor Mr. Carter died, the next day she said, "Now, Mary, you are
entirely too young to live all your long years of widowhood alone, and
as I am in the same condition, I will let my cottage, and move up the
street into your house to protect and console you." And she did - the
moving and the protecting.

Mr. Henderson has been dead forty-two years. He only lived three months
after he married Aunt Adeline, and her crêpe veil is over a yard long
yet. Men are the dust under her feet, but she likes Dr. John to come
over and sit with us, because she can consult with him about what Mr.
Henderson really died of, and talk with him about the sad state of poor
Mr. Carter's liver for a year before he died. I just go on rocking
Billy and singing hymns to him in such a way that I can't hear the
conversation. Mr. Carter's liver got on my nerves alive, and dead
it does worse. But it hurts when the doctor has to take the little
sleep-boy out of my arms to carry him home; though I like it when he
says under his breath, "Thank you, Molly."

And as I sat and thought how near he and I had been to each other in all
our troubles, I excused myself for running to him with that letter, and
I acknowledged to myself that I had no right to get vexed when he teased
me, for he had been kind and interested about helping me get thin by the
time Alfred came back to see me. I couldn't tell which I was blushing
all to myself about, the "perfect flower" he had called me, or the
"lovely lily" Alfred had reminded me in his letter that I had been when
he left me.

Why don't people realise that a seventeen-year-old girl's heart is a
sensitive wind-flower that may be shattered by a breath? Mine shattered
when Alfred went away to find something he could do to make a living,
and Aunt Adeline gave the hard green stem to Mr. Carter when she
insisted on marrying me to him. Poor Mr. Carter!

No, I wasn't nineteen, and this town was full of women who were aunts
and cousins and law-kin to me, and nobody did anything for me. They all
said, with a sigh of relief, "It will be such a nice safe thing for
you, Molly." And they really didn't mean anything by tying up a gay,
frolicking, prancing colt of a girl with a terribly ponderous bridle.

No, the town didn't mean anything but kindness by marrying me to Mr.
Carter, and they didn't consider him in the matter at all, poor man! Of
that I feel sure. Hillsboro is like that. It settled itself here in this
north country a few hundreds of years ago, and has been hatching and
clucking over its own small affairs ever since. All the houses stand
back from the street with their wings spread out over their gardens, and
mothers here go on hovering even to the third and fourth generation.
Lots of times young, long-legged boys scramble out of the nests and go
off and decide to grow up where their crow will be heard by the world.
Alfred was one of them.

And, too, occasionally some man comes along from the big world and
marries a girl and takes her away with him, but mostly they stay and go
to hovering life on a corner of the family estate. That's what I did.

I was a poor, little, lonely chick with frivolous tendencies, and they
all clucked me over into this Carter nest, which they considered
well-feathered for me. It gave them all a sensation when they found out
from the will just how well it was feathered. And it gave me one too.
All that money would make me nervous if Mr. Carter hadn't made Dr. John
its guardian, though I sometimes feel that the responsibility of me
makes him treat me as if he were my step-grandfather-in-law. But all in
all, though stiff in its manners, Hillsboro is lovely and loving; and
couldn't inquisitiveness be called just real affection with a kind of
turn in its eye?

And there I sat in my front room, being embraced in a perfume of
everybody's lilacs and hawthorns and affectionate interest and
moonlight, with a letter in my hand from the man whose two photographs
and letters I used to keep locked up in my desk. Is it any wonder I
tingled when he told me that he had never come back because he couldn't
have me, and that now the minute he landed in England he was going to
lay his heart at my feet? I added his colonial honours to his prostrate
heart myself, and my own beat at the prospect. All the eight years faded
away, and I was again back in the old garden down at Aunt Adeline's
cottage saying good-bye, folded up in his arms. That's the way my memory
put the scene to me, but the word "folded" made me remember that blue
muslin dress again. I had promised to keep it and wear it for him when
he came back - and I couldn't forget that the blue belt was just
twenty-three inches and mine is - no, I _won't_ write it. I had got
that dress out of the old trunk not ten minutes after I had read the
letter and measured it.

No, nobody would blame me for running right across the garden to Dr.
John with such a real trouble as that! All of a sudden I hugged the
letter and the little book and laughed until the tears ran down my
cheeks.

Then, before I went to bed, I went round my garden and had family
prayers with my flowers. I do that because they are all the family I've
got, and God knows that all His budding things need encouragement,
whether it is a widow or a snowball-bush. He'll give it to us!

And I'm praying again as I sit here and watch for the doctor's light to
go out. I hate to go to sleep and leave it burning, for he sits up so
late and he is so gaunt and thin and tired-looking most times. That's
what the last prayer is about, almost always - sleep for him and no night
call!




Leaf II.

A Love-Letter, Loaded.


The very worst page in this red book is the fifth. It says -

"Breakfast - one slice of dry toast, one egg, fruit and a small cup of
coffee, no sugar, no cream." And me with two Jersey cows full of the
richest cream in Hillsboro, out in my meadow!

"Dinner, one small lean chop, slice of toast, spinach or lettuce salad.
No dessert or sweet." My poultry-yard is full of fat little chickens,
and I wish I were a sheep if I have to eat lettuce and spinach for
grass. At least I'd have more than one chop inside me then.

"Supper - slice of toast and an apple." Why the apple? Why supper at all?

Oh, I'm hungry, hungry until I cry in my sleep when I dream about a
muffin! I thought at first that getting out of bed before my eyes are
fairly open, and turning myself into a circus acrobat by doing every
kind of overhand, foot, arm and leg contortion that the mind of cruel
man could invent to torture a human being with, would kill me before I
had been at it a week, but when I read on page sixteen that as soon as
all that horror was over I must jump right into the tub of cold water,
I kicked, metaphorically speaking. And I've been kicking ever since,
literally to keep from freezing.

But as cruel as freezing is, it doesn't compare to the tortures of being
melted. Jane administers it to me, and her faithful heart is so wrung
with compassion that she perspires almost as much as I do. She wrings a
linen sheet out in a cauldron of hot water and shrouds me in it - and
then more and more blanket windings envelop me until I am like the mummy
of some Egyptian giantess.

Once I got so discouraged at the idea of having all this misery in this
life that I mingled tears with the beads of perspiration that rolled
down my cheeks, and she snatched me out of those steaming wrappings in
less time than it takes to tell it, soused me in a tub of cold water,
fed me with a chicken wing and mashed potatoes, and the information that
I was "good-looking enough for _anybody_ to eat up alive without
all this foolishness," all in a very few seconds. Now I have to beg her
to help me, and I heard her tell her nephew, who does the gardening,
that she felt like an undertaker with such goings-on. At any rate, if it
all kills me it won't be my fault if people tell untruths in saying that
I was "beautiful in death."

But now that more than a month has passed, I really don't mind it so
much. I feel so strong and prancy all the time that I can't keep from
bubbling. I have to smile at myself.

Then another thing that helps is Billy and his ball. I never could
really play with him before, but now I can't help it. But an awful thing
happened about that yesterday. We were in the garden playing over by the
lilac bushes, and Billy always beats me because when it goes down the
slope he throws himself down and rolls over on the grass. I went after
him. And what did Billy do but begin the kind of a tussle we always have
in the big armchair in the living-room! Billy chuckled and squealed,
while I laughed myself all out of breath. And then, looking right over
my front hedge, I discovered Judge Wade. I wish I could write down how
I felt, for I never had that sensation before, and I don't believe I'll
ever have it again.

I have always thought that Judge Wade was really the most wonderful man
in Hillsboro, not because he is a judge so young in life that there is
only a white sprinkle in his lovely black hair that grows back off his
head like Napoleon's and Charles Wesley's, but because of his smile,
which you wait for so long that you glow all over when you get it. I
have seen him do it once or twice at his mother when he seats her in
their pew at church, and once at little Mamie Johnson when she gave him
a flower through their fence as he passed by one day last week, but I
never thought I should have one all to myself. But there it was, a most
beautiful one, long and slow and distinctly mine - at least I didn't
think much of it was for Billy. I sat up and blushed as red all over as
I do when I first hit that tub of cold water.

"I hope you'll forgive an intruder, Mrs. Carter, but how could a mortal
resist a peep into such a fairy garden if he spied the queen and her
faun at play?" he said in a voice as wonderful as the smile. By that
time I had pushed in all my hairpins. Billy stood spread-legged as near
in front of me as he could get, and said, in the rudest possible tone of
voice -

"Get away from my Molly, man!"

I never was so mortified in all my life, and I scrambled to my feet and
came over to the hedge to get between him and Billy.

"It's a lovely day, isn't it, Judge Wade?" I asked with the greatest
interest, which I didn't really feel, in the weather; but what could I
think of to say? A woman is apt to keep the image of a good many of the
grand men she sees passing around her in queer niches in her brain, and
when one steps out and speaks to her for the first time it is confusing.
Of course, I have known the judge and his mother all my life, for she is
one of Aunt Adeline's best friends, but I had a feeling from the look in
his eyes that that very minute was the first time he had ever seen me.
It was lovely, and I blushed still more as I put my hand up to my cheek
so that I wouldn't have to look right at him.

"About the loveliest day that ever happened in Hillsboro," he said, and
there was still more of the delicious smile, "though I hadn't noticed it
so especially until - "

But I never knew what he had intended to say, for Billy suddenly swelled
up like a little turkey-cock and cut out with his switch at the judge.

"Go away, man, and let my Molly alone!" he said, in a perfect
thunder-tone of voice; but I almost laughed, for it had such a sound in
it like Dr. John's at his most positive times with Billy and me.

"No, no, Billy; the judge is just looking over the hedge at our flowers!
Don't you want to give him a rose?" I hurried to say, as the smile died
out of Judge Wade's face and he looked at Billy intently.

"How like John Moore the youngster is!" he said, and his voice was so
cold to Billy that it hurt me, and I was afraid Billy would notice it.
Coldness in people's voices always makes me feel just like ice-cream
tastes. But Billy's answer was still more rude.

"You'd better go, man, before I bring my father to set our dog on you,"
he exploded, and, before I could stop him, his thin little legs went
trundling down the garden path toward home.

Then the judge and I both laughed. We couldn't help it. The judge leaned
farther over the fence, and I went a little nearer before I knew it.

"You don't need to keep a personal dog, do you, Mrs. Carter?" he asked,
with a twinkle that might have been a spark in his eyes, and just at
that moment another awful thing happened. Aunt Adeline came out of the
front door, and said in the most frozen tone of voice -

"Mary, I wish to speak to you in the house," and then walked back
through the front door without even looking in Judge Wade's direction,
though he had waved his hat with one of his mother's own smiles when he
had seen her before I did. One of my most impossible habits is, when
there is nothing else to do I laugh. I did it then, and it saved the
day, for we both laughed into each other's eyes, and, before we realised
it, we were within whispering distance.

"No, I don't - don't - need any dog," I said softly, hardly glancing out
from under my lashes, because I was afraid to risk looking straight at
him again so soon. I could fairly feel Aunt Adeline's eyes boring into
my back.

"It would take the hydra-headed monster of - may I bring my mother to
call on you and the - Mrs. Henderson?" he asked, and poured the wonder
smile all over me. Again I almost caught my breath.

"I do wish you would, Aunt Adeline is so fond of Mrs. Wade!" I said in a
positive flutter that I hope he didn't see; but I am afraid he did, for
he hesitated as if he wanted to say something to calm me, then bowed
mercifully and went on down the street. He didn't put on the hat he had
held in his hand all the while he stood by the hedge until he had looked


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Online LibraryMaria Thompson DaviessThe Melting of Molly → online text (page 1 of 6)