She never spoke to her sister about what she read, but when Kitty and she were alone she would keep the child entranced for an hour together by the stories she told her out of Miss Garston’s books.
‘Sometimes Kitty sings to her, and sometimes they have a rare talk,’ Miss Locke would say. ’I am often too busy to do more than look in for five minutes or so, to see how they are getting on. Phoebe grumbles far less; it is wonderful to hear her say, sometimes, that she did not know it was bedtime, when I go in to fetch the lamp. Reading? ay, she is always reading; but she sleeps a deal, too.’
I used to look round Phoebe’s room with satisfaction now; it had quite lost its stiff, angular look. A dark crimson foot-quilt lay on the bed, a stand of green growing ferns was on the table, and two or three books were always placed beside her.
Some gay china figures that I had hunted out of the glass cupboard in the parlour enlivened the mantelpiece, and a simple landscape, with sheep feeding in a sunny field, hung opposite the bed. Some pretty cretonne curtains had replaced the dingy dark ones. Phoebe herself had a soft fleecy gray shawl drawn over her thin shoulders. Mr. Hamilton again and again commented on her improved appearance, but I always listened rather silently; the evil spirit that had taken possession of Phoebe had not finally left her; ‘and why could not we cast it out?’ used to come to my lips sometimes as I looked at her; but all the same I knew the Master-hand was needed for that.
Christmas Day fell this year on a Tuesday. On Sunday afternoon I had finished my rounds and was returning home to tea, when, as I was passing the Marshalls’ cottage, Peggy ran after me bareheaded to say her father had just arrived, and would I come in for a moment, as mother seemed a little faint, and granny was frightened.
I hastened back with the child; for, of course, in poor Mary’s state the least shock might prove fatal. I found Marshall stooping over the bed and supporting his wife with clumsy fondness, with the tears rolling clown his weather-beaten face.
’I’m ’most ‘feard she’s gone, missis,’ he said hoarsely. ’Poor lass, I took her too sudden, and she had not the strength of the little un there.’