’I have made Susan miserable, I know that; and she is never impatient with me if I am ever so cross with her. Ah, I deserve my punishment, for I have been a selfish, hateful creature all my life. I do think sometimes that an evil spirit lives in me.’
’There is One who can cast it out; but you must ask Him, Phoebe. Such a few words will do: “Lord help me!” Now we have talked enough, and Susan will be coming back from church. I mean to sing you the evening hymn, and then I must go.’ And, almost before I had finished the last line, Phoebe, exhausted with emotion, had sunk into a refreshing sleep, and I crept softly out of the room to watch for Susan’s return.
I felt strangely weary as I walked home. It was almost as though I had witnessed a human soul struggling in the grasp of some evil spirit. It was the first time I had ever ministered to mental disease. Never before had I realised what self-will, unchastened by sorrow and untaught by religion, can bring a woman to. Once or twice that evening I had doubted whether the brain were really unhinged; but I had come to the conclusion that it was only excess of morbid excitement.
My way home led me past the vicarage. Just as I was in sight of it, two figures came out of the gate and waited to let me pass. One of them was the churchwarden, Mr. Townsend, and the other was Mr. Hamilton. It was impossible to avoid recognition in the bright moonlight; but I was rather amazed when I heard Mr. Hamilton bid Mr. Townsend good-night, and a moment after he overtook me.
’You are out late to-night, Miss Garston. Do you always mean to play truant from evening service?’
I told him how I had spent my time, but I suppose my voice betrayed inward fatigue, for he said, rather kindly,—
’This sort of work does not suit you; you are looking quite pale this evening. You must not let your feelings exhaust you. I am sorry for Phoebe myself, but she is a very tiresome patient. Do you think you have made any impression on her?’
He seemed rather astonished when I briefly mentioned the subject of our talk.
’Did she tell you about herself? Come, you have made great progress. Let her get rid of some of the poison that seems to choke her, and then there will be some chance of doing her good. She has taken a great fancy to you, that is evident; and, if you will allow me to say so, I think you are just the person to influence her.’
‘It is a very difficult piece of work,’ I returned; but he changed the subject so abruptly that I felt convinced that he knew how utterly jaded I was. He told me a humorous anecdote about a child that made me laugh, and when we reached the gate of the cottage he bade me, rather peremptorily, put away all worrying thoughts and to go to bed, which piece of advice I followed as meekly as possible, after first reading a passage out of my favourite Thomas a Kempis; but I thought of Phoebe all the time I was reading it: