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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMolly Make-believe - Chapter 8
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Molly Make-believe - Chapter 8 Post by :johneze Category :Long Stories Author :Eleanor Hallowell Abbott Date :April 2012 Read :3379

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Molly Make-believe - Chapter 8

CHAPTER VIII

Everything that was discreet and engaged-to-be-married in Stanton's conservative make-up exploded suddenly into one utterly irresponsible speech.

"You little witch!" he cried out. "You little beauty! For heaven's sake come over here and sit down in this chair where I can look at you! I want to talk to you! I--"

Pirouetting once more before the mirror, she divided one fleet glance between admiration for herself and scorn for Stanton.

"Oh, yes, I felt perfectly sure that you'd insist upon having me 'pretty'!" she announced sternly. Then courtesying low to the ground in mock humility, she began to sing-song mischievously:


"So Molly, Molly made-her-a-face,
Made it of rouge and made it of lace.
Long as the rouge and the lace are fair,
Oh, Mr. Man, what do you care?"


"You don't need any rouge or lace to make _you pretty!" Stanton fairly shouted in his vehemence. "Anybody might have known that that lovely, little mind of yours could only live in a--"

"Nonsense!" the girl interrupted, almost temperishly. Then with a quick, impatient sort of gesture she turned to the table, and picking up book after book, opened it and stared in it as though it had been a mirror. "Oh, maybe my mind is pretty enough," she acknowledged reluctantly. "But likelier than not, my face is not becoming--to me."

Crossing slowly over to Stanton's side she seated herself, with much jingling, rainbow-colored, sandalwood-scented dignity, in the chair that the Doctor had just vacated.

"Poor dear, you've been pretty sick, haven't you?" she mused gently. Cautiously then she reached out and touched the soft, woolly cuff of his blanket-wrapper. "Did you really like it?" she asked.

Stanton began to smile again. "Did I really like it?" he repeated joyously. "Why, don't you know that if it hadn't been for you I should have gone utterly mad these past few weeks? Don't you know that if it hadn't been for you--don't you know that if--" A little over-zealously he clutched at the tinsel fringe on the oriental lady's fan. "Don't you know--don't you know that I'm--engaged to be married?" he finished weakly.

The oriental lady shivered suddenly, as any lady might shiver on a November night in thin silken clothes. "Engaged to be married?" she stammered. "Oh, yes! Why--of course! Most men are! Really unless you catch a man very young and keep him absolutely constantly by your side you cannot hope to walk even into his friendship--except across the heart of some other woman." Again she shivered and jingled a hundred merry little bangles. "But why?" she asked abruptly, "why, if you're engaged to be married, did you come and--buy love-letters of me? My love-letters are distinctly for lonely people," she added severely.

"How dared you--How dared you go into the love-letter business in the first place?" quizzed Stanton dryly. "And when it comes to asking personal questions, how dared you send me printed slips in answer to my letters to you? Printed slips, mind you!... How many men are you writing love-letters to, anyway?"

The oriental lady threw out her small hands deprecatingly. "How many men? Only two besides yourself. There's such a fad for nature study these days that almost everybody this year has ordered the 'Gray-Plush Squirrel' series. But I'm doing one or two 'Japanese Fairies' for sick children, and a high school history class out in Omaha has ordered a weekly epistle from William of Orange."

"Hang the High School class out in Omaha!" said Stanton. "It was the love-letters that I was asking about."

"Oh, yes, I forgot," murmured the oriental lady. "Just two men besides yourself, I said, didn't I? Well one of them is a life convict out in an Illinois prison. He's subscribed for a whole year--for a fortnightly letter from a girl in Killarney who has got to be named 'Katie'. He's a very, very old man, I think, but I don't even know his name 'cause he's only a number now--'4632'--or something like that. And I have to send all my letters over to Killarney to be mailed--Oh, he's awfully particular about that. And it was pretty hard at first working up all the geography that he knew and I didn't. But--pshaw! You're not interested in Killarney. Then there's a New York boy down in Ceylon on a smelly old tea plantation. His people have dropped him, I guess, for some reason or other; so I'm just 'the girl from home' to him, and I prattle to him every month or so about the things he used to care about. It's easy enough to work that up from the social columns in the New York papers--and twice I've been over to New York to get special details for him; once to find out if his mother was really as sick as the Sunday paper said, and once--yes, really, once I butted in to a tea his sister was giving, and wrote him, yes, wrote him all about how the moths were eating up the big moose-head in his own front hall. And he sent an awfully funny, nice letter of thanks to the Serial-Letter Co.--yes, he did! And then there's a crippled French girl out in the Berkshires who is utterly crazy, it seems, about the 'Three Musketeers', so I'm d'Artagnan to her, and it's dreadfully hard work--in French--but I'm learning a lot out of that, and--"

"There. Don't tell me any more!" cried Stanton.

Then suddenly the pulses in his temples began to pound so hard and so loud that he could not seem to estimate at all just how loud he was speaking.

"Who are you?" he insisted. "Who are you? Tell me instantly, I say! _Who are you anyway?_"

The oriental lady jumped up in alarm. "I'm no one at all--to you," she said coolly, "except just--Molly Make-Believe."

Something in her tone seemed to fairly madden Stanton.

"You shall tell me who you are!" he cried. "You shall! I say you shall!"

Plunging forward he grabbed at her little bangled wrists and held them in a vise that sent the rheumatic pains shooting up his arms to add even further frenzy to his brain.

"Tell me who you are!" he grinned. "You shan't go out of here in ten thousand years till you've told me who you are!"

Frightened, infuriated, quivering with astonishment, the girl stood trying to wrench her little wrists out of his mighty grasp, stamping in perfectly impotent rage all the while with her soft-sandalled, jingling feet.

"I won't tell you who I am! I won't! I won't!" she swore and reswore in a dozen different staccato accents. The whole daring passion of the Orient that costumed her seemed to have permeated every fiber of her small being.

Then suddenly she drew in her breath in a long quivering sigh. Staring up into her face, Stanton gave a little groan of dismay, and released her hands.

"Why, Molly! Molly! You're--crying," he whispered. "Why, little girl! Why--"

Backing slowly away from him, she made a desperate effort to smile through her tears.

"Now you've spoiled everything," she said.

"Oh no, not--everything," argued Stanton helplessly from his chair, afraid to rise to his feet, afraid even to shuffle his slippers on the floor lest the slightest suspicion of vehemence on his part should hasten that steady, backward retreat of hers towards the door.

Already she had re-acquired her cloak and overshoes and was groping out somewhat blindly for her veil in a frantic effort to avoid any possible chance of turning her back even for a second on so dangerous a person as himself.

"Yes, everything," nodded the small grieved face. Yet the tragic, snuffling little sob that accompanied the words only served to add a most entrancing, tip-nosed vivacity to the statement.

"Oh, of course I know," she added hastily. "Oh, of course I know perfectly well that I oughtn't to have come alone to your rooms like this!" Madly she began to wind the pink veil round and round and round her cheeks like a bandage. "Oh, of course I know perfectly well that it wasn't even remotely proper! But don't you think--don't you think that if you've always been awfully, awfully strict and particular with yourself about things all your life, that you might have risked--safely--just one little innocent, mischievous sort of a half hour? Especially if it was the only possible way you could think of to square up everything and add just a little wee present besides? 'Cause nothing, you know, that you can _afford to give ever seems exactly like giving a really, truly present. It's got to hurt you somewhere to be a 'present'. So my coming here this evening--this way--was altogether the bravest, scariest, unwisest, most-like-a-present-feeling-thing that I could possibly think of to do--for you. And even if you hadn't spoiled everything, I was going away to-morrow just the same forever and ever and ever!"

Cautiously she perched herself on the edge of a chair, and thrust her narrow, gold-embroidered toes into the wide, blunt depths of her overshoes. "Forever and ever!" she insisted almost gloatingly.

"Not forever and _ever_!" protested Stanton vigorously. "You don't think for a moment, do you, that after all this wonderful, jolly friendship of ours, you're going to drop right out of sight as though the earth had opened?"

Even the little quick, forward lurch of his shoulders in the chair sent the girl scuttling to her feet again, one overshoe still in her hand.

Just at the edge of the door-mat she turned and smiled at him mockingly. Really it had been a long time since she had smiled.

"Surely you don't think that you'd be able to recognize me in my street clothes, do you?" she asked bluntly.

Stanton's answering smile was quite as mocking as hers.

"Why not?" he queried. "Didn't I have the pleasure of choosing your winter hat for you? Let me see,--it was brown, with a pink rose--wasn't it? I should know it among a million."

With a little shrug of her shoulders she leaned back against the door and stared at him suddenly out of her big red-brown eyes with singular intentness.

"Well, _will you call it an equivalent to one week's subscription?" she asked very gravely.

Some long-sleeping devil of mischief awoke in Stanton's senses.

"Equivalent to one whole week's subscription?" he repeated with mock incredulity. "A whole week--seven days and nights? Oh, no! No! No! I don't think you've given me, yet, more than about--four days' worth to think about. Just about four days' worth, I should think."

Pushing the pink veil further and further back from her features, with plainly quivering hands, the girl's whole soul seemed to blaze out at him suddenly, and then wince back again. Then just as quickly a droll little gleam of malice glinted in her eyes.

"Oh, all right then," she smiled. "If you really think I've given you only four days' and nights' worth of thoughts--here's something for the fifth day and night."

Very casually, yet still very accurately, her right hand reached out to the knob of the door.

"To cancel my debt for the fifth day," she said, "do you really 'honest-injun' want to know who I am? I'll tell you! First, you've seen me before."

"What?" cried Stanton, plunging forward in his chair.

Something in the girl's quick clutch of the door-knob warned him quite distinctly to relax again into his cushions.

"Yes," she repeated triumphantly. "And you've talked with me too, as often as twice! And moreover you've danced with me!"

Tossing her head with sudden-born daring she reached up and snatched off her curly black wig, and shook down all around her such a great, shining, utterly glorious mass of mahogany colored hair that Stanton's astonishment turned almost into faintness.

"What?" he cried out. "What? You say I've seen you before? Talked with you? Waltzed with you, perhaps? Never! I haven't! I tell you I haven't! I never saw that hair before! If I had, I shouldn't have forgotten it to my dying day. Why--"

With a little wail of despair she leaned back against the door. "You don't even remember me _now_?" she mourned. "Oh dear, dear, dear! And I thought _you were so beautiful!" Then, woman-like, her whole sympathy rushed to defend him from her own accusations. "Oh, well, it was at a masquerade party," she acknowledged generously, "and I suppose you go to a great many masquerades."

Heaping up her hair like so much molten copper into the hood of her cloak, and trying desperately to snare all the wild, escaping tendrils with the softer mesh of her veil, she reached out a free hand at last and opened the door just a crack.

"And to give you something to think about for the sixth day and night," she resumed suddenly, with the same strange little glint in her eyes, "to give you something to think about the sixth day, I'll tell you that I really was hungry--when I asked you for your toast. I haven't had anything to eat to-day; and--"

(Illustration: "What?" cried Stanton, plunging forward in his chair)

Before she could finish the sentence Stanton had sprung from his chair, and stood trying to reason out madly whether one single more stride would catch her, or lose her.

"And as for something for you to think about the seventh day and night," she gasped hurriedly. Already the door had opened to her hand and her little figure stood silhouetted darkly against the bright, yellow-lighted hallway, "here's something for you to think about for _twenty_-seven days and nights!" Wildly her little hands went clutching at the woodwork. "I didn't know you were engaged to be married," she cried out passionately, "and I _loved you--_loved you--_loved you!"

Then in a flash she was gone.

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CHAPTER IXWith absolute finality the big door banged behind her. A minute later the street door, four flights down, rang out in jarring reverberation. A minute after that it seemed as though every door in every house on the street slammed shrilly. Then the charred fire-log sagged down into the ashes with a sad, puffing sigh. Then a whole row of books on a loosely packed shelf toppled over on each other with soft jocose slaps.Crawling back into his Morris chair with every bone in his body aching like a magnetized wire-skeleton charged with pain, Stanton collapsed again into his pillows
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Jumping to his feet, the Doctor stood staring wildly from Stanton's amazed face to the perfectly calm, perfectly accustomed air of poise that characterized every movement of the pink-shrouded visitor. The amazement in fact never wavered for a second from Stanton's blush-red visage, nor the supreme serenity from the lady's whole attitude. But across the Doctor's startled features a fearful, outraged consciousness of having been deceived, warred mightily with a consciousness of unutterable mirth.Advancing toward the fireplace with a rather slow-footed, hesitating gait, the little visitor's attention focused suddenly on the cluttered table and she cried out with unmistakable delight. "Why,
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