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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMolly Make-believe - Chapter 9
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Molly Make-believe - Chapter 9 Post by :bear60 Category :Long Stories Author :Eleanor Hallowell Abbott Date :April 2012 Read :800

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Molly Make-believe - Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX

With 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 and sat staring--staring into the dying fire. Nine o'clock rang out dully from the nearest church spire; ten o'clock, eleven o'clock followed in turn with monotonous, chiming insistency. Gradually the relaxing steam-radiators began to grunt and grumble into a chill quietude. Gradually along the bare, bleak stretches of unrugged floor little cold draughts of air came creeping exploringly to his feet.

And still he sat staring--staring into the fast graying ashes.

"Oh, Glory! Glory!" he said. "Think what it would mean if all that wonderful imagination were turned loose upon just one fellow! Even if she didn't love you, think how she'd play the game! And if she did love you--Oh, lordy; Lordy! LORDY!"

Towards midnight, to ease the melancholy smell of the dying lamp, he drew reluctantly forth from his deepest blanket-wrapper pocket the little knotted handkerchief that encased the still-treasured handful of fragrant fir-balsam, and bending groaningly forward in his chair sifted the brittle, pungent needles into the face of the one glowing ember that survived. Instantly in a single dazzling flash of flame the tangible forest symbol vanished in intangible fragrance. But along the hollow of his hand,--across the edge of his sleeve,--up from the ragged pile of books and papers,--out from the farthest, remotest corners of the room, lurked the unutterable, undestroyable sweetness of all forests since the world was made.

Almost with a sob in his throat Stanton turned again to the box of letters on his table.

By dawn the feverish, excited sleeplessness in his brain had driven him on and on to one last, supremely fantastic impulse. Writing to Cornelia he told her bluntly, frankly,

"DEAR CORNELIA:

"When I asked you to marry me, you made me promise very solemnly at the time that if I ever changed my mind regarding you I would surely tell you. And I laughed at you. Do you remember? But you were right, it seems, and I was wrong. For I believe that I have changed my mind. That is:--I don't know how to express it exactly, but it has been made very, very plain to me lately that I do not by any manner of means love you as little as you need to be loved.

"In all sincerity,

"CARL."

To which surprising communication Cornelia answered immediately; but the 'immediately' involved a week's almost maddening interim,

"DEAR CARL:

"Neither mother nor I can make any sense whatsoever out of your note. By any possible chance was it meant to be a joke? You say you do not love me 'as little' as I need to be loved. You mean 'as much', don't you? Carl, what do you mean?"

Laboriously, with the full prospect of yet another week's agonizing strain and suspense, Stanton wrote again to Cornelia.

"DEAR CORNELIA:

"No, I meant 'as little' as you need to be loved. I have no adequate explanation to make. I have no adequate apology to offer. I don't think anything. I don't hope anything. All I know is that I suddenly believe positively that our engagement is a mistake. Certainly I am neither giving you all that I am capable of giving you, nor yet receiving from you all that I am capable of receiving. Just this fact should decide the matter I think.

"CARL."

Cornelia did not wait to write an answer to this. She telegraphed instead. The message even in the telegraph operator's handwriting looked a little nervous.

"Do you mean that you are tired of it?" she asked quite boldly.

With miserable perplexity Stanton wired back. "No, I couldn't exactly say that I was tired of it."

Cornelia's answer to that was fluttering in his hands within twelve hours.

"Do you mean that there is someone else?" The words fairly ticked themselves off the yellow page.

It was twenty-four hours before Stanton made up his mind just what to reply. Then, "No, I couldn't exactly say there is anybody else," he confessed wretchedly.

Cornelia's mother answered this time. The telegram fairly rustled with sarcasm. "You don't seem to be very sure about anything," said Cornelia's mother.

Somehow these words brought the first cheerful smile to his lips.

"No, you're quite right. I'm not at all sure about anything," he wired almost gleefully in return, wiping his pen with delicious joy on the edge of the clean white bed-spread.

Then because it is really very dangerous for over-wrought people to try to make any noise like laughter, a great choking, bitter sob caught him up suddenly, and sent his face burrowing down like a night-scared child into the safe, soft, feathery depths of his pillow--where, with his knuckles ground so hard into his eyes that all his tears were turned to stars, there came to him very, very slowly, so slowly in fact that it did not alarm him at all, the strange, electrifying vision of the one fact on earth that he _was sure of: a little keen, luminous, brown-eyed face with a look in it, and a look for him only--so help him God!--such as he had never seen on the face of any other woman since the world was made. Was it possible?--was it really possible? Suddenly his whole heart seemed to irradiate light and color and music and sweet smelling things.

(Illustration: Cornelia's mother answered this time)

"Oh, Molly, Molly, Molly!" he shouted. "I want _you_! I want _you_!"

In the strange, lonesome days that followed, neither burly flesh-and-blood Doctor nor slim paper sweetheart tramped noisily over the threshold or slid thuddingly through the letter-slide.

No one apparently was ever coming to see Stanton again unless actually compelled to do so. Even the laundryman seemed to have skipped his usual day; and twice in succession the morning paper had most annoyingly failed to appear. Certainly neither the boldest private inquiry nor the most delicately worded public advertisement had proved able to discover the whereabouts of "Molly Make-Believe," much less succeeded in bringing her back. But the Doctor, at least, could be summoned by ordinary telephone, and Cornelia and her mother would surely be moving North eventually, whether Stanton's last message hastened their movements or not.

In subsequent experience it seemed to take two telephone messages to produce the Doctor. A trifle coolly, a trifle distantly, more than a trifle disapprovingly, he appeared at last and stared dully at Stanton's astonishing booted-and-coated progress towards health.

"Always glad to serve you--professionally," murmured the Doctor with an undeniably definite accent on the word 'professionally'.

"Oh, cut it out!" quoted Stanton emphatically. "What in creation are you so stuffy about?"

"Well, really," growled the Doctor, "considering the deception you practised on me--"

"Considering nothing!" shouted Stanton. "On my word of honor, I tell you I never consciously, in all my life before, ever--ever--set eyes upon that wonderful little girl, until that evening! I never knew that she even existed! I never knew! I tell you I never knew--_anything_!"

As limply as any stout man could sink into a chair, the Doctor sank into the seat nearest him.

"Tell me instantly all about it," he gasped.

"There are only two things to tell," said Stanton quite blithely. "And the first thing is what I've already stated, on my honor, that the evening we speak of was actually and positively the first time I ever saw the girl; and the second thing is, that equally upon my honor, I do not intend to let it remain--the last time!"

"But Cornelia?" cried the Doctor. "What about Cornelia?"

Almost half the sparkle faded from Stanton's eyes.

"Cornelia and I have annulled our engagement," he said very quietly. Then with more vehemence, "Oh, you old dry-bones, don't you worry about Cornelia! I'll look out for Cornelia. Cornelia isn't going to get hurt. I tell you I've figured and reasoned it all out very, very carefully; and I can see now, quite plainly, that Cornelia never really loved me at all--else she wouldn't have dropped me so accidentally through her fingers. Why, there never was even the ghost of a clutch in Cornelia's fingers."

"But you loved _her_," persisted the Doctor scowlingly.

It was hard, just that second, for Stanton to lift his troubled eyes to the Doctor's face. But he did lift them and he lifted them very squarely and steadily.

"Yes, I think I did--love Cornelia," he acknowledged frankly. "The very first time that I saw her I said to myself. 'Here is the end of my journey,' but I seem to have found out suddenly that the mere fact of loving a woman does not necessarily prove her that much coveted 'journey's end.' I don't know exactly how to express it, indeed I feel beastly clumsy about expressing it, but somehow it seems as though it were Cornelia herself who had proved herself, perfectly amiably, no 'journey's end' after all, but only a way station not equipped to receive my particular kind of a permanent guest. It isn't that I wanted any grand fixings. Oh, can't you understand that I'm not finding any fault with Cornelia. There never was any slightest pretence about Cornelia. She never, never even in the first place, made any possible effort to attract me. Can't you see that Cornelia _looks to me to-day exactly the way that she looked to me in the first place; very, amazingly, beautiful. But a traveler, you know, cannot dally indefinitely to feed his eyes on even the most wonderful view while all his precious lifelong companions,--his whims, his hobbies, his cravings, his yearnings,--are crouching starved and unwelcome outside the door.

"And I can't even flatter myself," he added wryly; "I can't even flatter myself that my--going is going to inconvenience Cornelia in the slightest; because I can't see that my coming has made even the remotest perceptible difference in her daily routine. Anyway--" he finished more lightly, "when you come right down to 'mating', or 'homing', or 'belonging', or whatever you choose to call it, it seems to be written in the stars that plans or no plans, preferences or no preferences, initiatives or no initiatives, we belong to those--and to those only, hang it all!--who happen to love _us most!"

Fairly jumping from his chair the Doctor snatched hold of Stanton's shoulder.

"Who happen to love _us most?" he repeated wildly. "Love _us_? _us_? For heaven's sake, who's loving you _now_?"

Utterly irrelevantly, Stanton brushed him aside, and began to rummage anxiously among the books on his table.

"Do you know much about Vermont?" he asked suddenly. "It's funny, but almost nobody seems to know anything about Vermont. It's a darned good state, too, and I can't imagine why all the geographies neglect it so." Idly his finger seemed to catch in a half open pamphlet, and he bent down casually to straighten out the page. "Area in square miles--9,565," he read aloud musingly. "Principal products--hay, oats, maple-sugar--" Suddenly he threw down the pamphlet and flung himself into the nearest chair and began to laugh. "Maple-sugar?" he ejaculated. "Maple-sugar? Oh, glory! And I suppose there are some people who think that maple-sugar is the sweetest thing that ever came out of Vermont!"

The Doctor started to give him some fresh advice--but left him a bromide instead.

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CHAPTER VIIIEverything 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,
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