I had had both the sisters on my hands. Those hours of fearful suspense had told on Phoebe, and for a week or two we were very anxious about her.
I kept the extent of her illness from Susan, and she never knew that Mr. Hamilton visited her daily. Strange to say, Phoebe gave us little trouble. She bore her bodily sufferings with surprising patience, and even made light of them; and she would thank me most gratefully when I waited on her.
I was never long in her room. There was no reading or singing now. Nothing would induce her to keep me from Susan. She used to beg me to go back to Susan and leave her to Kitty. I never forgot Susan’s look of astonishment when I told her this.
‘Somehow, it doesn’t sound like Phoebe,’ she said, looking at me a little wistfully. ’Are you sure you understand her, Miss Garston?—that something has not put her out? She has often sulked with me like that.’
‘Oh, Phoebe never sulks now,’ I returned, smiling at this view of the case. ’She is not like the same woman, Susan. She thinks of other people now.’ Miss Locke heard me silently, but I saw that she was still incredulous. She was not sanguine enough to hope for a miracle; and surely only a miracle could change Phoebe’s sullen and morbid nature.
The sisters were longing to meet, but the helplessness of the one and the long-protracted weakness of the other kept them long apart, though only a short flight of stairs divided them.
At last I thought we might venture to bring Susan into Phoebe’s room.
The weather was less severe, and Susan seemed a little stronger, so Kitty and I hurried ourselves in preparation for a festive tea in Phoebe’s room.
She watched us with unconcealed interest as we spread the tea-cloth, and arranged the best china, and then placed an easy-chair by her bedside.
The room really looked very bright and cosy. A little gray kitten that I had brought Kitty was asleep on the quilt; Phoebe had taken a great fancy to the pretty, playful little creature, and it was always with her; Kitty’s large wax doll was lying with its curly head on her pillow.
Susan trembled very much as she entered the room, leaning heavily on my arm. Phoebe lay quite motionless, watching her as she walked slowly towards the bed, then her face suddenly grew pitiful, and she held out her arms.
’Oh, how ill you look, my poor Susan, and so old and gray! but what does it matter, so that I have got my Susan back? If you had died, I should have died too; God never meant to punish me like that.’ And she stroked and kissed her face as though she were a child, and for a little while the two sisters mingled their tears together.
Susan was too weak for much emotion, so I placed her comfortably in her easy-chair, and bade her look at Phoebe without troubling to talk; but her heart was too full for silence.
‘Why, my woman,’ she burst out, ’you look real bonnie! I do believe your face has got a bit of colour in it, and you remind me of the old Phoebe; nay,’ as Phoebe laughed at this, ’I never thought to hear you laugh again, my dearie.’