“He knew!” exclaimed Olga involuntarily.
“Lor’ bless yer, no!” Mrs. Briggs’s tone held unquestioning conviction. “‘E was frownin’ to ’isself all the time, and I could see as ’e was pretty mad that ’e’d come too late. I weren’t sorry myself,” she asserted boldly. “For I’d ’oped against ’ope after ’is last visit that ’e’d never see pore mother again alive. I couldn’t ‘a’ stood it! There, I just couldn’t.”
Quite unexpectedly Mrs. Briggs suddenly broke down and dropped into a chair. Violet sprang to comfort, while Olga took possession of the rolling-pin and continued the pastry-making with deft hands.
After an interval poor Mrs. Briggs managed to recover somewhat of the hard demeanour that usually characterized her. “I’ve no call to fret,” she said. “And don’t you go rubbin’ my dirty face with your clean ’andkerchief, Miss Violet. I ain’t fit for you to touch, my dear.”
“I’m only trying to get off the flour,” explained Violet. “But I’m afraid you’ll have to wash it after all. It’s all gone into paste.”
“And there’s Miss Olga a-makin’ my tarts for me like a ministerin’ angel,” said Mrs. Briggs, with a watery smile. “It’s a pity you couldn’t ‘a’ seen ’er in ’er coffin; for it was a beautiful coffin. Briggs said it was as fine a one as ’e’d seen. Well, well! She’s gone, pore soul. And now you young ladies must try some of my rhubarb wine.”
She rose briskly, and went to a cupboard. “We drank some of it at the funeral,” she said. “And everyone liked it—even Briggs. But I thought I’d save the rest for when you came. Miss Olga always likes my rhubarb wine.”
The rhubarb wine proved at least a welcome distraction, and under its genial influence Mrs. Briggs’s spirits rose. She was quite cheery by the time her two visitors took their leave. They left her waving farewell from her doorstep, the patches of paste still upon her ruddy countenance, but with no other traces of her recent distress visible.
“Rum old thing!” said Violet. “I want to go round to the Priory and see Cork and Pluto next. I like to drop in unexpectedly when Bruce is away, and make sure that they are treated properly.”
“We haven’t much time,” observed Olga.
“Oh, nonsense! Make time! We’re not slaves,” said Violet imperiously.
And Olga turned in the direction of the Priory without further words. It always took less time to yield to her friend’s behests than to argue against them.