Tenderly and patiently Parson Dorrance endeavored to soothe her, to convince her that his words sprung from a hasty impulse which he would be able wholly to put aside and forget. The one thing that he longed now to do, the only reparation that he felt was left for him to make to her, was to enable her, if possible, to look on him as she had done before. But Mercy herself made this more difficult. Suddenly wiping her tears, she looked very steadily into his face, and said slowly,—“It is not of the least use, Mr. Dorrance, for you to say this sort of thing to me. You can’t deceive me. I know exactly how you love me, and how you always will love me. And, oh, I wish I were dead! It can never be any thing but pain to you to see me,—never,” and she wept more bitterly than before.
“You do not know me, Mercy,” replied the Parson, speaking as slowly as she had done. “All my life has been one long sacrifice of my own chief preferences. It is not hard for me to do it.”
Mercy clasped her hands tighter, and groaned,—
“Oh, I know it! I know it! and I said you were on a plane above all thought of personal happiness.”
The Parson looked bewildered, but went on,—
“You do love me, my child, very dearly, do you not?”
“Oh, you know I do!” cried Mercy. “You know I do!”
“Yes, I know you do, or I should not have said that. You know I am all alone in the world, do you not?”
“Yes,” moaned Mercy.
“Very well. Now remember that you and Lizzy are my two children, and that the greatest happiness I can have, the greatest help in my loneliness, is the love of my two daughters. You will not refuse me this help, will you? You will let me be just as I was before, will you not?”
Mercy did not answer.
“Will you try, Mercy?” he said in a tone almost of the old affectionate authority; and Mercy again moaned rather than said,—
Then Parson Dorrance kissed her hair where his hand had lain a few moments before, and said,—
“Now I must go. Good-by, my child.”
But Mercy did not look up; and he closed the door gently, leaving her sitting there bowed and heart-stricken, in the little room so gay with the bright flowers she had gathered on her “sweet yesterday.”
The winter set in before its time, and with almost unprecedented severity. Early in the last week in November, the whole country was white with snow, the streams were frozen solid, and the cold was intense. Week after week the mercury ranged from zero to ten, fifteen, and even twenty below, and fierce winds howled night and day. It was a terrible winter for old people. They dropped on all sides, like leaves swept off of trees in autumn gales. It was startling to read the death records in the newspapers, so large a proportion of them were of men and women past sixty.