Read Leaf VI - Conflagration of The Melting of Molly, free online book, by Maria Thompson Daviess, on

Most parties are just bunches of selfish people who go off in the corners and have good times all by themselves; but in Hillsboro it is not that way.  Everybody that is not invited helps the hostess get ready and have nice things for the others, and sometimes I think they really have the best time of all.

This morning Aunt Bettie came up my front steps before breakfast with a large basketful of things for my dinner, and I wondered what I would have collected to be served to those people by the time all my neighbours had made their prize contributions.  It took Aunt Bettie and Jane a half-hour to unpack her things and set them in the refrigerator and on the pantry shelves.  One was a plump fruit-cake that had been keeping company, in a tight box, with other equally rich cakes ever since the New Year.  It was ripe, or smelt so.  It made me feel very hungry.

A little later Jane was exclaiming over a two-year-old ham that had been simmered in some wonderful liquor and larded with egg dressing, when Mrs. Johnson came in and began to unpack her basket.

I had planned to have a lot of food and had ordered some things up from a caterer in the city, but I telegraphed to them not to deliver them until the next day, even if they did spoil.  How could I use smelts when Mrs. Wade had sent me word that she was going to bake some brook trout by a recipe of the judge’s grandmother’s?  Mrs. Hampton Buford had let me know about two fat little summer turkeys she was going to stuff with chestnuts, and roast fowl seemed foolish eating beside them.  But when the little bit of a baby pig, roasted whole with an apple in its mouth, looking too frisky and innocent for worlds with his little baked tail curled up in the air, arrived from Mrs. Caruthers Cain, I went out into the garden and laughed at the idea of having spent money for lobsters.

When I got back in the kitchen things were well under way, everything smelling grand, and Aunt Bettie in full swing matching up my dinner guests.

“Nobody in this town could suit me better than Pet Buford for a daughter-in-law, and I believe I’ll have all the east rooms done up with blue chintz for her.  I think that would be the best thing to set off her blue eyes and fair hair,” she was saying as she cut orange peel into strips.

“You’ve planned the refurnishing of that east wing to suit the style of nearly every girl in Hillsboro since Tom put on long trousers, Bettie Pollard, and they are just as they have been for fifteen years since you did up the whole house,” said Mrs. Johnson as she poured a wine-glass half full from one bottle and added a tablespoonful from another.

“Well, I think he is really interested now from the way he spent most of his time with her down at the hotel the other night, and I have hopes I never had before.  Now, Molly, do put him between you and her, sort of cornered, so he can’t even see Ruth Clinton.  She is too old for him.”  And Tom’s mother looked at me over the orange-peel as to a confederate.

“Humph, I’d like to see you or Molly or any woman ‘corner’ Tom Pollard,” said Mrs. Johnson with a wry smile as she tasted the concoction in the wine-glass.

“I have to put him at the end of the table because he is my kinsman and the only host I’ve got at present, Aunt Bettie,” I said regretfully.  I always take every chance to rub in Tom’s and my relationship on Aunt Bettie, so that she won’t notice our friendliness.

“I’d put John Moore at the head of the table if I were you, Molly Carter, because he’s about the only man you’ve invited that has got any sense left since you and that Clinton girl took to going about Hillsboro.  He’s a host of steadiness in himself, and the way he ignores all you women, who would run after him if he would let you, shows what he is.  He has my full confidence,” and as she delivered herself of this judgment of Dr. John, Mrs. Johnson drove in all the corks tight and began to pound spice.

“He’s not out of the widower-woods yet, Caroline,” said Aunt Bettie with her most speculative smile.  “I have about decided on him for Ruth since the judge has taken to following Molly about as bad as Billy Moore does.  But don’t any of you say a word, for John’s very timid, and I don’t believe, in spite of all these years, he’s had a single notion yet.  He doesn’t see a woman as anything but a patient at the end of a spoon, and mighty kind and gentle he does the dosing of them, too.  Just the other day dearie me, Jane, what has boiled over now?” And in the excitement that ensued I escaped to the garden.

Yes, Aunt Bettie is right about Dr. John; he doesn’t see a woman, and there is no way to make him.  What she had said about it made me realise that he had always been like that, and I told myself that there was no reason in the world why my heart should beat in my slippers on that account.  Still I don’t see why Ruth Clinton should have her head literally thrown against that stone wall, and I wish Aunt Bettie wouldn’t.  It seemed like a desecration even to try to match-make him, and it made me hot with indignation all over.  I dug so fiercely at the roots of my phlox with a trowel I had picked up that they groaned so loud I could almost hear them.  I felt as if I must operate on something.  And it was in this mood that Alfred’s letter found me.

It had a surprise in it, and I sat back on the grass and read it with my heart beating like a hammer.  He was leaving Paris the day he had posted it, and he was due to arrive in London almost as soon as it did, just any hour now I calculated in a flash.  And “from London immediately to Hillsboro” he had written in words that fairly sung themselves off the paper.  I was frightened so frightened that the letter shook in my hands, and with only the thought of being sure that I might be alone for a few minutes with it, I fled to the garret.

Surely no woman ever in all the world read such a letter as that, and no wonder my breath almost failed me.  It was a love-letter in which the cold paper was turned into a heart that beat against mine, and I bowed my head over it as I wetted it with tears.  I knew then that I had taken his coming back lightly; had fussed over it and been silly-proud of it; while not really caring at all.  All that awful reducing my waist measure seemed just a lack of confidence in his love for me; he wouldn’t have minded if I weighed five hundred pounds, I felt sure.  He loved me really, really, really; and I had sat and weighed him with a lot of men who were nothing more than amused by my chatter, or taken with my beauty, and who wouldn’t have known such love if it were shown to them through a telescope.

I reached into a trunk that stood just beside me and took out a box that I hadn’t looked into for years.  His letters were all there, and his photographs, that were very handsome.  I could hardly see them through my tears, but I knew that they were dim in places with being cried over when I had put them away years ago after Aunt Adeline decided that I was to be married.  I kissed the poor little-girl cry-spots; and with that a perfect flood of tears rose to my eyes but they didn’t fall, for there, right in front of me, stood a more woe-stricken human being than I could possibly be, if I judged by appearances.

“Molly, Molly,” gulped Billy, “I am so ill I’m going to die here on the floor,” and he sank into my arms.

“Oh, Billy, what is the matter?” I gasped and gave him a little terrified shake.

“Mamie Johnson did it poked her finger down her throat and mine, too,” he wailed against my breast.  “We was full of things people gived us to eat and couldn’t eat no more.  She said if we did that with our fingers it would make room for some more then.  She did it, and I’m going to die dead dead!

“No, no, pet; you’ll be all right in a second.  Stay quiet here in your Molly’s lap and you will be well in just a few minutes,” I said with a smile I hid in his yellow mop as I kissed the drake-tail kiss-spot.  “Where’s Mamie?” I thought to ask with the greatest apprehension.

“In the garden eating cup-cake Jane baked hot for both of us,” he answered, snuggling close and much comforted.

“Don’t ever, ever do that again, Billy,” I said, giving him both a hug and a shake.  “It’s piggy to eat more than is good for you and then still want more.  What would your father say?”

“Father isn’t no good, and I don’t care what he says,” answered Billy with spirit.  “He don’t play no more, and he don’t laugh no more, and he don’t eat no more hardly, too.  I’m not going to live in that house with him more’n two days longer.  I want to come over and sleep in your bed and have you to play with me, Molly.”

“Don’t say that, darling, ever again,” I said as I bent over him.  “Your father is the best man in the world, and you must never, never leave him.”

“I ’spect I will, when I get big enough to kill a bear,” answered Billy decidedly.  “I say, do you think Mamie saved even a little piece of that cake?  I ’spect I had better go see,” and he slipped out of my arms and was gone before I could hold him.

It is a lonely house across the garden with the big and the tiny man in it all by themselves!  And tears, from another corner of my heart entirely, rose to my eyes at the thought, but they, too, never fell, for I heard Mrs. Johnson calling, and I had to run down quick and see what new delicacy had arrived for my party.

Somehow I didn’t enjoy dressing to-night for my dinner, and when I was ready I stood before the mirror and looked at myself a long time.  I was very tall and slim and well, I suppose I might say regal in that amethyst crepe with the soft rose-point, but I looked to myself about the eyes as I had been doing for years.  And to-night that René triumph made me feel no different from one of Miss Hettie Primm’s conceptions that I had been wearing for ages with indifference and total lack of style.  I shrugged my shoulder with what I thought was sadness, though it felt a trifle like temper, too, and went on down into the garden to see if any of my flowers had a cheer-up message for me.

But it was a bored garden I stepped into just as the last purple flush of day was being drunk down by the night.  The tall white lilies laid their heads over on my breast and went to sleep before I had said a word to them, and the nasturtiums snarled round my feet until they got my slippers stained with green.  Only Billy’s bachelor’s-buttons stood up stiff and sturdy, slightly flushed with imbibing the night dew.  I felt cheered at the sight of them, and bent down to gather a bunch of them to wear, even if they did clash with my amethyst draperies, when an amused smile, that was done out loud, came from the path just behind me.

“Don’t gather them all to-night, Mrs. Molly,” said Dr. John teasingly, as he stooped beside me.  “Leave a few for for the others.”  I waked up in a half-second, and so did all those prying flowers, I felt sure.

“I was just gathering them for place bouquets for for the girls,” I said stupidly as I moved over a little nearer to him.  Why it is that the minute that man comes near me I get warm and comfortable and stupid, and as young as Billy, and bubbly and sad and happy and cross, is more than I can say, but I do.  I never possibly know how to answer any remark that he may happen to make, unless it is something that makes me lose my temper.  His next remark was the usual spark.

“Better give them the run of the garden alone, Mrs. Molly.  No chance for them unless you do,” he said laughingly, “or the buttons, either,” he added under his breath so I could just hear it.  I wish Mrs. Johnson could have heard how soft his voice lingered over that little half-sentence.  She is so experienced she could have told me if it meant but, of course, he isn’t like other men!

There are lots of questions I’m going to ask Alfred after I’m married to him.

“Oh, you Molly,” came a hail in Tom’s voice from the gate, just as I was making up my mind to try and think of something to wither the doctor with, and he and Ruth Clinton came up the front walk to meet us.  I wondered why I was having a party in my house when being alone in my garden with just a neighbour was so much more interesting, but I had to begin to enjoy myself right off, for in a few minutes all the rest came.

I don’t think I ever saw my house look so lovely before.  Mrs. Johnson had put all the flowers out of hers and Mrs. Cain’s garden all over everything, and the table was a mass of soft pink roses that were shedding perfume and nodding at one another in their most society manner.  There is no glimmer in the world like that which comes from really old polished silver and rosewood and mahogany, and one’s great-great-grandmother’s hand-woven linen feels like Oriental silk across one’s knees.

Suddenly I felt very stately and granddamey and responsible as I looked at them all across the roses and sparkling glass.  They were lovely women, all of them, and could such men be found anywhere else in the world?  When I left them all to go out into the big universe to meet the distinctions that I knew my future husband would have for me, would I sit at table with people who loved me like this?  I saw Pet Buford say something to Tom about me that I know was lovely from the way he smiled at me; and the judge’s eyes were a full cup for any woman to have offered her.  Then in a flash it all seemed to go to my head, and tears rose to my eyes, and there I might have been crying at my own party if I hadn’t felt a strong warm hand laid on mine as it rested on my lap and Dr. John’s kind voice teased into my ears “Steady, Mrs. Molly, there’s the loving-cup to come yet,” he whispered.  I hated him, but held on to his thumb tight for half a minute.  He didn’t know what the matter really was, but he understood what I needed.  He always does.

And after that everybody had a good time, Jane and her nephew as much as anybody, and I could see Aunt Bettie and Mrs. Johnson peeping in the pantry door, having the time of their lives, too.

That dinner was going like an airship on a high wind, when something happened to tangle its tail feathers, and I can hardly write it for trembling yet.  It was a simple little telegram, but it might have been nitro-glycerine on a tear for the way it acted.  It was for me, but the nephew handed it to Tom, and he opened it and, looking at me, he solemnly read it out loud.  It said

  “Arrived this noon.  Have I your permission to come to Hillsboro
  immediately?  Answer.  ALFRED.”

It was dreadful!  Nobody said a word, and Tom laid the telegram right down in his plate, where it immediately began to soak up the dressing of his salad.  He was so white and shaky that Pet looked at him in amazement, and then I am sure she had the good sense to find his hand under the cloth and hold it, for his shoulder hovered against hers, and the colour came back to his face as he smiled down at her.  I don’t believe I’ll ever get the courage to look at Tom again until he marries Pet, which he’ll do now, I feel sure.

And as for the judge and Ruth Clinton, I was glad they were sitting beside each other, for I could avoid that side of the table with my eyes until I had steadied myself a few seconds at least.  The surprise made the others I had been dining seem statues from the stone age, and only Mr. Graves’ fork failed to hang fire.  His appetite is as strong as his nerves, and Delia Hawes looked at his composure with the relief plain in her eyes.  Henrietta’s smile in the judge’s direction was doubtful.  But they were not all my lovers, and why that awful silence?

I couldn’t say a word, and I am sure I don’t know what I should have done if it hadn’t been for the doctor.  He leaned forward, and his deep eyes came out in their wonderful way and seemed to collect every pair of eyes at the table, even the most astounded.  We all held our breaths and waited for him to speak.

“No wonder we are all stricken dumb at Mrs. Carter’s telegram,” he said in his deep voice that commands everybody and everything, even the terrors of birth and death.  “The whole town will be paralysed at the news that its most distinguished citizen is only going to give them two days to get ready to receive him.  I can see the panic the brass band will have now getting the brass polished up, and I want to be the one to tell Mayor Pollard myself, so as to suggest to him to have at least a two-hour speech of welcome to hand out at the train.  We’ll make it a great time for him when he lands in the old town.”

Tom took Pet home early, and I hope they walked in the moonlight for hours.  Tom is the kind of man that any pretty girl who is sympathetic enough in the moonlight could comfort for anything.  I’m not at all worried about him, but

The hour I sat in the garden and talked to Judge Wade must have brought grey hairs to my head if it was daylight and I could see them.  Ruth Clinton had said good-bye with the loveliest haunted look in her great dark eyes, and I had felt as if I had killed something that was alive.  Dr. John had been called from his coffee to a patient and had gone with just a friendly word of good night, and the others had at last left the judge and me alone also in the moonlight, which I wished in my heart somebody would put out.

To-night he looked me in the face and told me how to marry, and I’m not sure yet that I won’t do as he says.  Of course I’m in love with Alfred, but if he wants me he had better get me away quick before the judge makes all his arrangements.  A woman loves to be courted with poems and flowers and deference, but she’s wonderfully apt to marry the man who says, “Don’t argue, but put on your bonnet and come with me.”

Oh, I’m crying, crying in my heart, which is worse than in my eyes, as I sit and look across my garden, where the cold moon is hanging low over the tall trees behind the doctor’s house and his light in his room is burning warm and bright.  They are right:  he doesn’t care if I am going away for ever with Alfred.  His quick eulogy of him, and the lovely warm look he poured over poor frightened me at his side, told me that once and for all.  Still, we have been so close together over his baby, and I have grown so dependent on him for so many things, that it cuts into me like a hot knife that he shouldn’t care if he lost me even for a neighbour.  I shouldn’t mind not having any husband if I could always live close by him and Billy like this, and if I married Judge Wade no, I don’t like that! Of course, I’m going with Alfred, now that an accident has made me announce the fact to the whole town before he even knows it himself, but wherever I go, that light in the room with that lonely man is going to burn in my heart.  I hope it will throw a glow over Alfred!