I was much struck by the changed expression on Phoebe’s face as soon as I had entered the room. She certainly looked very ill, and when I questioned her avowed she had suffered a good deal of pain in the night; but the wild hard look had left her eyes. There was intense depression, but that was all.
She evidently enjoyed the singing as much as ever: and I took care to sing my best. When I had finished I produced a story that I thought suitable, and began to read to her. She listened for about half an hour before she showed a symptom of weariness. At the first sign I stopped.
‘Will you do something to please me in return?’ I asked, when she had thanked me very civilly. ’I want you to go on with this book by yourself now. I know what you are going to say—that you never read—that it makes your head ache and tires you. But, if you care to please me, you will waive all these objections, and we can talk over the story to-morrow.’ Then I told her about my invitation for this evening, and about the beautiful Miss Hamilton, whose sweet face had interested me. And when we had chatted quite comfortably for a little while I rose to take my leave.
Of course she could not let me go without one sharp little word.
‘You have been kinder to me to-day,’ she said, pausing slightly. ’I suppose that is because I let you take your own way with me.’
‘Every one likes his own way,’ I said lightly. ’If I have been kinder to you, as you say, possibly it is because you have deserved kindness more.’ And I smiled at her and patted the thin hand, as though she were a child, and so ‘went on my way rejoicing,’ as they say in the good old Book.
UP AT GLADWYN
Uncle Max had never been famous for punctuality. He was slightly Bohemian in his habits, and rather given to desultory bachelor ways; but his domestic timekeeper, Mrs. Drabble, ruled him most despotically in the matter of meals, and it was amusing to see how she kept him and Mr. Tudor in order: neither of them ventured to keep the dinner waiting, for fear of the housekeeper’s black looks; such an offence they knew would be expiated by cold fish and burnt-up steaks. Uncle Max might invite the bishop to dine, but if his lordship chose to be late Mrs. Drabble would take no pains to keep her dinner hot.
’If gentlemen like to shilly-shally with their food, they must take things as they find them,’ she would say; and if her master ever ventured to remonstrate with her, she took care that he should suffer for it for a week.
‘We must humour Mother Drabble,’ Mr. Tudor would say good-humouredly. ’Every one has a crotchet, and, after all, she is a worthy little woman, and makes us very comfortable. I never knew what good cooking meant until I came to the vicarage.’ And indeed Mrs. Drabble’s custards and flaky crust were famed in the village. Miss Darrell had once begged very humbly that her cook Parker might take a lesson from her, but Mrs. Drabble refused point-blank.