Read Leaf II - A Love-Letter, Loaded of The Melting of Molly, free online book, by Maria Thompson Daviess, on ReadCentral.com.

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 back and bowed again.  Then I felt still more fluttered as I went into the house, but I received the third cold plunge of the day when I reached the front hall.

“Mary,” said Aunt Adeline in a voice that sounded as if it had been buried and never resurrected, “if you are going to continue in such an unseemly course of conduct I hope you will remove your mourning, which is an empty mockery and an insult to my own widowhood.”

“Yes, Aunt Adeline, I’ll go take it off this very minute,” I heard myself answer her airily, to my own astonishment.  I might have known that if I ever got one of those smiles it would go to my head!  Without another word I sailed into my room and closed the door softly.

Slowly I unbuttoned that black dress that symbolised the ending of six years of the blackness, and the rosy dimpling thing in snowy lingerie with tags of blue ribbon that stood in front of my mirror was as new-born as any other hour-old similar bundle of linen and lace in Hillsboro.  Fortunately, an old white lawn dress could be pulled from the top shelf of the cupboard in a hurry, and the Molly that came out of that room was ready for life and a lot of it.

And again, fortunately, Aunt Adeline had retired with a violent headache, and Jane was carrying her in a hot water-bottle with a broad smile on her face.  Jane sees the world from the kitchen window and understands everything.  She had laid a large thick letter on the hall table where I couldn’t fail to see it.

I took possession of it and carried it to a bench in the garden that backs up against the purple sprayed lilacs and is flanked by two rows of tall purple and white iris that stand in line ready for a Virginia reel with a delicate row of the poet’s narcissus across the broad path.  I love my flowers.  I love them swaying on their stems in the wind, and I like to snatch them and crush the life out of them against my breast and face.  I have been to bed every night this spring with a bunch of cool violets against my cheek, and I feel that I am going to dance with my tall row of hollyhocks as soon as they are old enough to hold up their heads and take notice.  They always remind me of very stately gentlemen, and I have wondered if the little narcissus weren’t shaking their ruffles at them.

A real love-letter ought to be like a cream puff with a drop of dynamite in it.  Alfred’s was that kind.  I felt warm and happy down to my toes as I read it, and I turned round so that old Lilac Bush couldn’t peep over my shoulder at what he said.

He wrote from Rome this time, where he had been sent on some sort of diplomatic mission to the Vatican, and his letter about the Ancient City on her seven hills was a prose-poem in itself.  I was so interested that I read on and on and forgot it was almost toast-apple time.

Of course, anybody that is anybody would be interested in Father Tiber and the old Colosseum, but what made me forget the one slice of dry toast and the apple was the way he seemed to be connecting me up with all those wonderful old antiquities that had never even seen me.  Because of me he had felt and written that poem descriptive of old Tiber, and the moonlight had lit up the Colosseum just because I was over here lighting up Hillsboro.  Of course, that is not the way he put it all, but there is no place to really copy what he did say down into this imp book and, anyway, that is the sentiment he expressed, boiled down and sugared over.

That’s just what I mean love boiled down and sugared over is apt to get an explosive flavour, and one had better be careful with that kind if one is timid; which I’m not.  As I said, also, I am ready for a little more of life, so I read on without fear.  And, to be fair, Alfred had well boiled his own last paragraph.  It snapped; and I jumped and gasped.  I almost thought I didn’t quite like it, and was going to read it over again to see, when I saw a procession coming over from Dr. John’s, and I laid the bombshell down on the bench.

First came the red setter that is always first with Dr. John, and then he came himself, leading Billy by the hand.  It was Billy, but the most subdued Billy I ever saw, and I held out my arms and started for him.

“Wait a minute, please, Molly,” said the doctor in a voice he always uses when he’s punishing Billy and me.  “Bill came to apologise to you for being rude to your your guest.  He told me all about it, and I think he’s sorry.  Tell Mrs. Carter you are sorry, son.”  When that man speaks to me as if I were just any old body else, I hate him so it is a wonder I don’t show it more than I do.  But there was nothing to say, and I looked at Billy, and Billy looked at me.

Then suddenly he stretched out his little arms to me, and the dimples winked at me from all over his darling face.

“Molly, Molly,” he said, with a perfect rapture of chuckles in his voice, “now you look just as pretty as you do when you go to bed all whity all over.  You can kiss my kiss-spot a hundred times while I bear-hug you for that nice not-black dress,” and before any stern person could have stopped us I was on my knees on the grass kissing my fill from the “kiss-spot” on the back of his neck, while he hugged all the starch out of the old white dress.

And Dr. John sat down on the bench quick, and laughed out loud one of the very few times I ever heard him do it.  He was looking down at us, but I didn’t laugh up into his eyes.  I was afraid.  I felt it was safer to go on kissing the kiss-spot for the present.

“Bill,” he said, with his voice dancing, “that’s the most effective apology I ever heard.  You were sorry to some point.”

Then suddenly Billy stiffened right in my arms, and looked me straight in the face, and said in the doctor’s own brisk tones, even with his Cupid mouth set in the same straight line

“I say I’m sorry, Molly, but bother that man, and I’ll hit him yet!”

What could we say?  What could we do?  We didn’t try.  I busied myself in tying the string on Billy’s blouse that had come untied in the bear-hug, and the doctor suddenly discovered the letter on the bench.  I saw him see it without looking in his direction at all.

“And how many pounds are we nearer the scarlet-runner state of existence, Mrs. Molly?” he asked me before I had finished tying the blouse, in the nicest voice in the world, fairly cracking with friendship and good humour and hateful things like that.  Why I should have wanted him to get huffy over that letter is more than I can say.  But I did; and he didn’t.

“Over twenty, and most of the time I am so hungry I could eat Aunt Adeline.  I dream about Billy, fried with cream gravy,” I answered, as I kissed again the back of the head that was beginning to nod down against my breast.  Long shadows lay across the garden, and the white-headed old snow-ball was signalling out of the dusk to a Dorothy Perkins rose down the walk in a scandalous way.  At best, spring is just the world’s match-making old chaperon, and ought to be watched.  I still sat on the grass, and I began to cuddle Billy’s bare knees in the skirt of my dress so the gnats couldn’t get at them.

“But, Mrs. Molly, isn’t it worth it all?” asked the doctor as he bent over toward us and looked down with something wonderful and kind in his eyes that seemed to rest on us like a benediction.  “You have been just as plucky as a girl can be, and in only a little over two months you have grown as lightfooted and hearty as a boy. I think nothing could be lovelier than you are now, but you can get off those other few pounds if you want to.  You know, don’t you, that I have known how hard some of it was, and I haven’t been able to eat as much as I usually do, thinking how hungry you are?  But isn’t it all worth it?  I think it is.  Alfred Bennett is a very great man, and it is right that he should have a very lovely wife to go out into the world with him.  And as lovely as you are I think it is wonderful of you to make all this sacrifice to be still lovelier for him.  I am glad I can help you, and it has taught me something to see how how faithful a woman can be across years and then in this smaller thing!  Now give me Bill and you get your apple and toast.  Don’t forget to take your letter in out of the dew.”  I sat perfectly still and held Billy tighter in my arms as I looked up at his father, and then after I had thought as long as I could stand it, I spoke right out at him as mad as could be, and I don’t to this minute know why.

“Nobody in the world ever doubted that a woman could be faithful if she had anything to be faithful to,” I said as I let him take Billy out of my arms at last.  “Faithfulness is what a woman flowers, only it takes a man to pick his posy.”  With which I marched into the house and left him standing with Billy in his arms, I hope dumbfounded.  I didn’t look back to see.  I always leave that man’s presence so mad I can never look back at him.  And wouldn’t it make any woman rage to have a man pick out another man for her to be faithful to when she hadn’t made any decision about it her own self?

I wonder just how old Judge Wade is?  I believe I will make up with Aunt Adeline enough before I go to bed to find out why he has never married.