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The Melting of Molly

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 ina kind of tingle. However, I'll do the best I can and not hold myself atall responsible for myself, and then who will there be to blame?

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

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

  "So you're digging up the bachelor-buttons, Mrs. Molly?" the doctorasked as he leaned over the gate. I went on digging without looking upat him. I couldn't look up because I was blushing still worse. SometimesI hate that man, and if he wasn't Billy's father I wouldn't be asfriendly 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 inhis 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 miserablehe can't do it; not this spring! I wish I dare burn it up and forgetabout it, but I daren't! This record on the first page is enough toreduce me--to tears, and I wonder why it doesn't.

  I weigh one hundred and sixty pounds, set down in black and white, andit is a tragedy! I don't believe that man at the weighing machine is sovery reliable in his weights, though he had a very pleasant smile whilehe 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 atme. I thought I was taller, but I suppose I shall have to believe my ownyardstick.

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

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

  Still, that letter was enough to upset anybody, and no wonder I ranright 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 beenagitated enough to let him take the letter right out of my hand and readit.

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

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

  "Not ten, only _eight!_ He went away when I was seventeen," I answeredwith 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 intoa twenty-inch waist, blue muslin rag you wore at parting? No wonderAlfred didn't succeed as a bank clerk, but had to make his hit in thecolonies. He's such a big gun that it is a pity he had to return to hisnative heath and find even such a slight disappointment as a one-yardwaist measure around his--his--"

  "Oh, it's not, it's not that much," I fairly gasped and I couldn't helpthe tears coming into my eyes. I have never said much about it, butnobody knows how it hurts me to be as--large as I am. Just writing itdown in a book mortifies me dreadfully. It's been coming on worse andworse every year since I married. Poor Mr. Carter had a very goodappetite, and I don't know why I should have felt that I had to eat somuch every day to keep him company; I wasn't always so considerate abouthim. 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--noamusement left but himself; and--and--I just couldn't help the tearscoming and dripping as I thought about it all and that awful waistmeasure in inches.

  "Stop crying this minute, Molly," said Dr. John suddenly in the deepvoice he uses to Billy and me when we are really ill or tired. "You knowI 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 hisbushy 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 AlfredBennett. My heart almost broke when he went away. I used to be beautifuland slim, and now I feel as if my own fat ghost has come to haunt me allmy 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 andgave me one good shake.

  "You foolish child," he said in the deepest voice I almost ever heardhim use. "You are just a lovely perfect flower, but if you will behappier to have Alfred Bennett come and find you as slim as a scarletrunner, 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 becomforted by being called a "perfect flower"? I looked out between myfingers to see what more he was going to say, but he had turned to ashelf and taken down two books.

  "Now," he said in his most businesslike voice, as cool as a bucket ofwater fresh from the spring, "it is no trouble at all to take off yoursurplus avoirdupois at the rate of two and a half pounds a week if youfollow these directions. As I take it, you are about twenty-five poundsover your normal weight. It will take over two months to reduce you,and we will allow an extra month for further beautifying, so that whenMr. Bennett arrives he will find the lady of his adoration in proper trimto be adored. Yes, just be still until I write these directions in thislittle red leather blank-book for you, and every day I want you to keepan exact record of the conditions of which I make note. No, don't talkwhile I make out these diet lists! I wish you would go upstairs and seeif 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 neededBilly badly at that very moment. I took him out of his little cot byDr. 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 verylittle not to have a mother to rock him all the times he needs it, thatI take every opportunity to give it to him I find--when he's unconsciousand can't help himself. She died before she ever even saw him, and I'vealways 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 babycan be worse than your own. He didn't like children, and the baby'scrying disturbed him, so many a night I walked Billy out in the gardenuntil daylight, while
Mr. Carter and Dr. John both slept. Always hislittle, warm, wilty body has comforted me for the emptiness of nothaving a little one of my own. And he's very congenial, too, for he'sslim and flowery, pink and dimply, and as mannish as his father, infunny little flashes.

  "Git a stick to punch it, Molly," he was murmuring in his sleep. Then Iheard 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 hishand, and his mouth was set in a straight line and his eyes were deepback under their brows. I don't like him that way, yet my heart jumpedso it was hard to look as meek as I felt it best under thecircumstances; 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, andfollow all the directions. Also make every record I have noted so thatI 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 wecan be sure of buttoning that blue muslin dress without even the aid ofthe button-hook." His voice had the "if you can" note in it that alwayssets me off.

  "Had we better get the kiddie some thinner night-rigging?" he hastenedto 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'llattend to those night-clothes myself to-morrow," I answered, and Isailed out of that surgery and down the path toward my own house beyondhis hedge. But I carried this book tight in my hand, and I made up mymind 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 farinto 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 bitof comfort to hear Aunt Adeline snoring away in her room upstairs. Ittakes the greatest congeniality to make a person's snoring a pleasure toanybody, and Aunt Adeline and I are not that way.

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

  Mr. Henderson has been dead forty-two years. He only lived three monthsafter he married Aunt Adeline, and her crepe veil is over a yard longyet. Men are the dust under her feet, but she likes Dr. John to comeover 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 poorMr. Carter's liver for a year before he died. I just go on rockingBilly and singing hymns to him in such a way that I can't hear theconversation. Mr. Carter's liver got on my nerves alive, and deadit does worse. But it hurts when the doctor has to take the littlesleep-boy out of my arms to carry him home; though I like it when hesays under his breath, "Thank you, Molly."

  And as I sat and thought how near he and I had been to each other in allour troubles, I excused myself for running to him with that letter, andI acknowledged to myself that I had no right to get vexed when he teasedme, for he had been kind and interested about helping me get thin by thetime Alfred came back to see me. I couldn't tell which I was blushingall 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 whenhe left me.

  Why don't people realise that a seventeen-year-old girl's heart is asensitive wind-flower that may be shattered by a breath? Mine shatteredwhen 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 sheinsisted on marrying me to him. Poor Mr. Carter!

  No, I wasn't nineteen, and this town was full of women who were auntsand cousins and law-kin to me, and nobody did anything for me. They allsaid, with a sigh of relief, "It will be such a nice safe thing foryou, 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! Ofthat I feel sure. Hillsboro is like that. It settled itself here in thisnorth country a few hundreds of years ago, and has been hatching andclucking over its own small affairs ever since. All the houses standback from the street with their wings spread out over their gardens, andmothers here go on hovering even to the third and fourth generation.Lots of times young, long-legged boys scramble out of the nests and gooff 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 andmarries a girl and takes her away with him, but mostly they stay and goto 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 theyall clucked me over into this Carter nest, which they consideredwell-feathered for me. It gave them all a sensation when they found outfrom 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. Johnits guardian, though I sometimes feel that the responsibility of memakes him treat me as if he were my step-grandfather-in-law. But all inall, though stiff in its manners, Hillsboro is lovely and loving; andcouldn't inquisitiveness be called just real affection with a kind ofturn in its eye?

  And there I sat in my front room, being embraced in a perfume ofeverybody's lilacs and hawthorns and affectionate interest andmoonlight, with a letter in my hand from the man whose two photographsand letters I used to keep locked up in my desk. Is it any wonder Itingled when he told me that he had never come back because he couldn'thave me, and that now the minute he landed in England he was going tolay his heart at my feet? I added his colonial honours to his prostrateheart myself, and my own beat at the prospect. All the eight years fadedaway, and I was again back in the old garden down at Aunt Adeline'scottage saying good-bye, folded up in his arms. That's the way my memoryput the scene to me, but the word "folded" made me remember that bluemuslin dress again. I had promised to keep it and wear it for him whenhe came back--and I couldn't forget that the blue belt was justtwenty-three inches and mine is--no, I _won't_ write it. I had gotthat dress out of the old trunk not ten minutes after I had read theletter 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 theletter and the little book and laughed until the tears ran down mycheeks.

  Then, before I went to bed, I went round my garden and had familyprayers with my flowers. I do that because they are all the family I'vegot, 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 togo out. I hate to go to sleep and leave it burning, for he sits up solate and he is so gaunt and thin and tired-looking most times. That'swhat the last prayer is about, almost always--sleep for him and no nightcall!