’Cheered! The woman actually says cheered, when I am already on the border-land of the place of torment. Was I not as good as dead and buried three years ago? And did not father always tell us that hell begins in this world for the wicked?’
’Ay, that was father’s notion; and I was never clever enough to argue with him. But you are not wicked, my woman, only a bit tiresome and perverse and wanting in faith.’ And Miss Locke, who was used to these wild moods, patted her sister’s shoulder, and bade her drink her tea before it got cold, in a sensible matter-of-fact way, that was not without its influence on the wayward creature; for she did not refuse the comforting draught.
I took my leave soon after this, after promising to repeat my visit on the next evening. Phoebe bade me good-bye rather coldly, but I took no notice of her contrary mood. Miss Locke followed me out of the room, and asked me anxiously what I thought of her sister.
‘It is difficult to judge,’ I returned, hesitating a little. ’You must remember this is only my second visit, and I have not made much way with her. She is in a state of bodily and mental discomfort very painful to witness. If I am not mistaken, she is driving herself half-crazy with introspection and self-will. You must not give way to this morbid desire to increase her own wretchedness. She needs firmness as well as kindness.’
Miss Locke looked at me wistfully a moment.
’What am I to do? She would fret herself into a fever if I crossed her whims. Directly you have left the house she will be asking for that wire blind again, though it would do her poor eyes good to see the thrushes feeding on the lawn, and there is the little robin that comes to us every winter and taps at the window for crumbs; but she would shut them all out,—birds, and sunshine, and flowers.’
’Just as she would shut out her Father’s love, if she could; but it is all round her, and no inward or outward darkness can hinder that. Miss Locke, you must be very firm. You must not move the flowers or replace the blind on any pretext whatever. She must be comforted in spite of herself. She reminds me of some passionate child who breaks all its toys because some wish has been denied. We are sorry for the child’s disappointment, but a wise parent would inflict punishment for the fit of passion.’
Miss Locke sighed; her mouth twitched with repressed emotion. She was evidently an affectionate, reticent woman, who found it difficult to express her feelings.
‘I am keeping you standing all this time,’ she said apologetically, ’and I might have asked you to sit down a minute in our little kitchen. Let me pour you out a cup of tea, Miss Garston. Kitty and I were just going to begin.’
I accepted this offer, as I thought Miss Locke evidently wanted to speak to me. She seemed pleased at my acquiescence, and told Kitty to stay with her aunt Phoebe a few minutes.