I tried not to look astonished at this strange speech. I must let this poor creature talk, or how should I ever find out the root of her disease? so I answered quietly that no doubt she was right, that in that place of outer darkness there should be weeping, without tears, and a gnashing of teeth, beside which our bitterest human sorrow would seem like nothing.
‘That is true,’ she returned, with a groan; ’but, Miss Garston, hell has begun for me here; for three years I have been in torment, and rightly too,—and rightly too,—for I never was a good woman, never like Susan, who read her Bible and went to church. Oh, she is a good creature, is Susan.’
’I am glad to hear it, Phoebe: so, you see, your affliction, heavy as it is,—and I am not saying it is not heavy,—is not without alleviation. The Merciful Father, who has laid this cross upon you, has given you this kind companion as a consoler. What a comfort you must be to each other! what a divine work has been given to you both to do,—to bring up that motherless little creature, who must owe her very life and happiness to you!’
She lay and looked at me with an expression of bewildered astonishment, and at this moment Miss Locke opened the door, carrying a little tea-tray for her sister. I had a glimpse of Kitty curled up on the mat outside the door, with the skipping-rope still in her hand. She had evidently been listening to the singing, for she crept away, but in the distance I could hear her humming ‘Ye banks and braes’ in a sweet childish treble that was very harmonious and true.
ONE OF GOD’S HEROINES
No. I was quite right when I told poor Phoebe that her sad case was not without alleviation. I was still more sure of the truth of my words when I saw with what care Miss Locke had prepared the invalid’s meal, and how gently she helped to place her in a proper position. There was evidently no want of love between the sisters; only on one side the love was more self-sacrificing and unselfish than the other. It needed only a look at Susan Locke’s spare form and thin, careworn face to tell me that she was wearing herself out in her sister’s service. Phoebe looked in her face and broke into a harsh laugh, to poor Susan’s great alarm.
’What do you think Miss Garston has been saying, Susan? That we must be a comfort to each other. Fancy my being a comfort to you! You poor thing, when I am the plague and burden of your life,’ And she laughed again, in a way that was scarcely mirthful.
‘Nay, Phoebe, you have no need to say such things,’ returned her sister sadly; but she was probably used to this sort of speeches. ’I am bound to take care of you and Kitty, who are all I have left in the world. It is not that I find it hard, but that you might make it easier by looking a little cheered sometimes.’
Phoebe took this gentle rebuke somewhat scornfully.