For years I had been trying to prepare myself for my mother’s death, trying to foresee how she would die, seeing myself when she was dead. Even then I knew it was a vain thing I did, but I am sure there was no morbidness in it. I hoped I should be with her at the end, not as the one she looked at last but as him from whom she would turn only to look upon her best-beloved, not my arm but my sister’s should be round her when she died, not my hand but my sister’s should close her eyes. I knew that I might reach her too late; I saw myself open a door where there was none to greet me, and go up the old stair into the old room. But what I did not foresee was that which happened. I little thought it could come about that I should climb the old stair, and pass the door beyond which my mother lay dead, and enter another room first, and go on my knees there.
My mother’s favourite paraphrase is one known in our house as David’s because it was the last he learned to repeat. It was also the last thing she read-
Art thou afraid his power shall fail
When comes thy evil day?
And can an all-creating arm
Grow weary or decay?
I heard her voice gain strength as she read it, I saw her timid face take courage, but when came my evil day, then at the dawning, alas for me, I was afraid.
In those last weeks, though we did not know it, my sister was dying on her feet. For many years she had been giving her life, a little bit at a time, for another year, another month, latterly for another day, of her mother, and now she was worn out. ‘I’ll never leave you, mother.’ - ‘Fine I know you’ll never leave me.’ I thought that cry so pathetic at the time, but I was not to know its full significance until it was only the echo of a cry. Looking at these two then it was to me as if my mother had set out for the new country, and my sister held her back. But I see with a clearer vision now. It is no longer the mother but the daughter who is in front, and she cries, ‘Mother, you are lingering so long at the end, I have ill waiting for you.’
But she knew no more than we how it was to be; if she seemed weary when we met her on the stair, she was still the brightest, the most active figure in my mother’s room; she never complained, save when she had to depart on that walk which separated them for half an hour. How reluctantly she put on her bonnet, how we had to press her to it, and how often, having gone as far as the door, she came back to stand by my mother’s side. Sometimes as we watched from the window, I could not but laugh, and yet with a pain at my heart, to see her hasting doggedly onward, not an eye for right or left, nothing in her head but the return. There was always my father in the house, than whom never was a more devoted husband, and often there were others, one daughter in particular, but they scarce dared tend my mother - this one snatched the cup jealously from their hands. My mother liked it best from her. We all knew this. ‘I like them fine, but I canna do without you.’ My sister, so unselfish in all other things, had an unwearying passion for parading it before us. It was the rich reward of her life.