“My sister Honor had golden curls like that,” she whispered.
“They were in the family, Bobby,” Honor answered. “Your granny had them, too, when she was a girl.”
There was a long pause. Mercy’s eyes were half-glazed. But her vision was inward now.
“The mignonette will be growin’ in the gardens, Bobby,” she murmured.
“Yes, Bobby, and the heart’s-ease,” said Honor, softly. “We lived in the country, you know, Bobby.”
“There is flowers in the country,” Bobby declared gravely.
“Yes, and trees,” said Honor. “I wonder if your granny remembers when we were larruped for stealin’ apples.”
“Ay, that I do, Bobby, he, he,” croaked the dying creature, with a burst of enthusiasm. “We was a pair o’ tomboys. The farmer he ran after us cryin’ ‘Ye! ye!’ but we wouldn’t take no gar. He, he, he!”
Honor wept at the laughter. The native idiom, unheard for half a century, made her face shine under the tears. “Don’t let your granny excite herself, Bobby. Let me give her her drink.” She moved the boy aside, and Mercy’s lips automatically opened to the draught.
“Tom was wi’ us, Bobby,” she gurgled, still vibrating with amusement, “and he tumbled over on the heather. He, he!”
“Tom is dead this forty year, Bobby,” whispered Honor.
Mercy’s head fell back, and an expression of supreme exhaustion came over the face. Half an hour passed. Bobby was called down to dinner. The doctor had been sent for. The silent sisters were alone. Suddenly Mercy sat up with a jerk.
“It be growin’ dark, Tom,” she said hoarsely, “’haint it time to call the cattle home from the ma’shes?”
“She’s talkin’ rubbidge again,” said Honor, chokingly. “Tell her she’s in London, Bobby.”
A wave of intelligence traversed the sallow face. Still sitting up, Mercy bent towards the side of the bed. “Ah, is Honor still there? Kiss me—Bobby.” Her hands groped blindly. Honor bent down and the old women’s withered lips met.
And in that kiss Mercy passed away into the greater Silence.
* * * * *
On a memorable morning of early December, London opened its eyes on a frigid grey mist. There are mornings when King Fog masses his molecules of carbon in serried squadrons in the city, while he scatters them tenuously in the suburbs; so that your morning train may bear you from twilight to darkness. But to-day the enemy’s manoeuvring was more monotonous. From Bow even unto Hammersmith there draggled a dull, wretched vapour, like the wraith of an impecunious suicide come into a fortune immediately after the fatal deed. The barometers and thermometers had sympathetically shared its depression, and their spirits (when they had any) were low. The cold cut like a many-bladed knife.