Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
Part 2 out of 3
here?' he answered, warmly. 'I am only afraid you have treated me
so kindly that I shall always be turning up on your hands.'
'That's right,' she replied. 'Only don't go and make yourself ill
by over-work. I hope you'll go on with a cup of new milk every
morning, for I am sure that is the best medicine; and put a
teaspoonful of rum in it, if you like; many a one speaks highly
of that, only we had no rum in the house.' I brought with me an
atmosphere of active life which I think he had begun to miss; and
it was natural that he should seek my company, after his week of
retirement. Once I saw Phillis looking at us as we talked
together with a kind of wistful curiosity; but as soon as she
caught my eye, she turned away, blushing deeply.
That evening I had a little talk with the minister. I strolled
along the Hornby road to meet him; for Holdsworth was giving
Phillis an Italian lesson, and cousin Holman had fallen asleep
over her work. Somehow, and not unwillingly on my part, our talk
fell on the friend whom I had introduced to the Hope Farm.
'Yes! I like him!' said the minister, weighing his words a little
as he spoke. 'I like him. I hope I am justified in doing it, but
he takes hold of me, as it were; and I have almost been afraid
lest he carries me away, in spite of my judgment.'
'He is a good fellow; indeed he is,' said I. 'My father thinks
well of him; and I have seen a deal of him. I would not have had
him come here if I did not know that you would approve of him.'
'Yes,' (once more hesitating,) 'I like him, and I think he is an
upright man; there is a want of seriousness in his talk at times,
but, at the same time, it is wonderful to listen to him! He makes
Horace and Virgil living, instead of dead, by the stories he
tells me of his sojourn in the very countries where they lived,
and where to this day, he says--But it is like dram-drinking. I
listen to him till I forget my duties, and am carried off my
feet. Last Sabbath evening he led us away into talk on profane
subjects ill befitting the day.' By this time we were at the
house, and our conversation stopped. But before the day was out,
I saw the unconscious hold that my friend had got over all the
family. And no wonder: he had seen so much and done so much as
compared to them, and he told about it all so easily and
naturally, and yet as I never heard any one else do; and his
ready pencil was out in an instant to draw on scraps of paper all
sorts of illustrations--modes of drawing up water in Northern
Italy, wine-carts, buffaloes, stone-pines, I know not what. After
we had all looked at these drawings, Phillis gathered them
together, and took them. It is many years since I have seen thee,
Edward Holdsworth, but thou wast a delightful fellow! Ay, and a
good one too; though much sorrow was caused by thee!
Just after this I went home for a week's holiday. Everything was
prospering there; my father's new partnership gave evident
satisfaction to both parties. There was no display of increased
wealth in our modest household; but my mother had a few extra
comforts provided for her by her husband. I made acquaintance
with Mr and Mrs Ellison, and first saw pretty Margaret Ellison,
who is now my wife. When I returned to Eltham, I found that a
step was decided upon, which had been in contemplation for some
time; that Holdsworth and I should remove our quarters to Hornby;
our daily presence, and as much of our time as possible, being
required for the completion of the line at that end.
Of course this led to greater facility of intercourse with the
Hope Farm people. We could easily walk out there after our day's
work was done, and spend a balmy evening hour or two, and yet
return before the summer's twilight had quite faded away. Many a
time, indeed, we would fain have stayed longer--the open air, the
fresh and pleasant country, made so agreeable a contrast to the
close, hot town lodgings which I shared with Mr Holdsworth; but
early hours, both at eve and morn, were an imperative necessity
with the minister, and he made no scruple at turning either or
both of us out of the house directly after evening prayer, or
'exercise', as he called it. The remembrance of many a happy day,
and of several little scenes, comes back upon me as I think of
that summer. They rise like pictures to my memory, and in this
way I can date their succession; for I know that corn harvest
must have come after hay-making, apple-gathering after
The removal to Hornby took up some time, during which we had
neither of us any leisure to go out to the Hope Farm. Mr
Holdsworth had been out there once during my absence at home. One
sultry evening, when work was done, he proposed our walking out
and paying the Holmans a visit. It so happened that I had omitted
to write my usual weekly letter home in our press of business,
and I wished to finish that before going out. Then he said that
he would go, and that I could follow him if I liked. This I did
in about an hour; the weather was so oppressive, I remember, that
I took off my coat as I walked, and hung it over my arm. All the
doors and windows at the farm were open when I arrived there, and
every tiny leaf on the trees was still. The silence of the place
was profound; at first I thought that it was entirely deserted;
but just as I drew near the door I heard a weak sweet voice begin
to sing; it was cousin Holman, all by herself in the house-place,
piping up a hymn, as she knitted away in the clouded light. She
gave me a kindly welcome, and poured out all the small domestic
news of the fortnight past upon me, and, in return, I told her
about my own people and my visit at home.
'Where were the rest?' at length I asked.
Betty and the men were in the field helping with the last load of
hay, for the minister said there would be rain before the
morning. Yes, and the minister himself, and Phillis, and Mr
Holdsworth, were all there helping. She thought that she herself
could have done something; but perhaps she was the least fit for
hay-making of any one; and somebody must stay at home and take
care of the house, there were so many tramps about; if I had not
had something to do with the railroad she would have called them
navvies. I asked her if she minded being left alone, as I should
like to go arid help; and having her full and glad permission to
leave her alone, I went off, following her directions: through
the farmyard, past the cattle-pond, into the ashfield, beyond
into the higher field with two holly-bushes in the middle. I
arrived there: there was Betty with all the farming men, and a
cleared field, and a heavily laden cart; one man at the top of
the great pile ready to catch the fragrant hay which the others
threw up to him with their pitchforks; a little heap of cast-off
clothes in a corner of the field (for the heat, even at seven
o'clock, was insufferable), a few cans and baskets, and Rover
lying by them panting, and keeping watch. Plenty of loud, hearty,
cheerful talking; but no minister, no Phillis, no Mr Holdsworth.
Betty saw me first, and understanding who it was that I was in
search of, she came towards me.
'They're out yonder--agait wi' them things o' Measter
Holdsworth's.' So 'out yonder' I went; out on to a broad upland
common, full of red sand-banks, and sweeps and hollows; bordered
by dark firs, purple in the coming shadows, but near at hand all
ablaze with flowering gorse, or, as we call it in the south,
furze-bushes, which, seen against the belt of distant trees,
appeared brilliantly golden. On this heath, a little way from the
field-gate, I saw the three. I counted their heads, joined
together in an eager group over Holdsworth's theodolite. He was
teaching the minister the practical art of surveying and taking a
level. I was wanted to assist, and was quickly set to work to
hold the chain. Phillis was as intent as her father; she had
hardly time to greet me, so desirous was she to hear some answer
to her father's question. So we went on, the dark clouds still
gathering, for perhaps five minutes after my arrival. Then came
the blinding lightning and the rumble and quick-following
rattling peal of thunder right over our heads. It came sooner
than I expected, sooner than they had looked for: the rain
delayed not; it came pouring down; and what were we to do for
shelter? Philiis had nothing on but her indoor things--no bonnet,
no shawl. Quick as the darting lightning around us, Holdsworth
took off his coat and wrapped it round her neck and shoulders,
and, almost without a word, hurried us all into such poor shelter
as one of the overhanging sand-banks could give. There we were,
cowered down, close together, Phillis innermost, almost too
tightly packed to free her arms enough to divest herself of the
coat, which she, in her turn, tried to put lightly over
Holdsworth's shoulders. In doing so she touched his shirt.
'Oh, how wet you are!' she cried, in pitying dismay; 'and you've
hardly got over your fever! Oh, Mr Holdsworth, I am so sorry!' He
turned his head a little, smiling at her.
'If I do catch cold, it is all my fault for having deluded you
into staying out here!' but she only murmured again, 'I am so
sorry.' The minister spoke now. 'It is a regular downpour. Please
God that the hay is saved! But there is no likelihood of its
ceasing, and I had better go home at once, and send you all some
wraps; umbrellas will not be safe with yonder thunder and
Both Holdsworth and I offered to go instead of him; but he was
resolved, although perhaps it would have been wiser if
Holdsworth, wet as he already was, had kept himself in exercise.
As he moved off, Phillis crept out, and could see on to the
storm-swept heath. Part of Holdsworth's apparatus still remained
exposed to all the rain. Before we could have any warning, she
had rushed out of the shelter and collected the various things,
and brought them back in triumph to where we crouched. Holdsworth
had stood up, uncertain whether to go to her assistance or not.
She came running back, her long lovely hair floating and
dripping, her eyes glad and bright, and her colour freshened to a
glow of health by the exercise and the rain.
'Now, Miss Holman, that's what I call wilful,' said Holdsworth,
as she gave them to him. 'No, I won't thank you' (his looks were
thanking her all the time). 'My little bit of dampness annoyed
you, because you thought I had got wet in your service; so you
were determined to make me as uncomfortable as you were yourself.
It was an unchristian piece of revenge!'
His tone of badinage (as the French call it) would have been
palpable enough to any one accustomed to the world; but Phillis
was not, and it distressed or rather bewildered her.
'Unchristian' had to her a very serious meaning; it was not a
word to be used lightly; and though she did not exactly
understand what wrong it was that she was accused of doing, she
was evidently desirous to throw off the imputation. At first her
earnestness to disclaim unkind motives amused Holdsworth; while
his light continuance of the joke perplexed her still more; but
at last he said something gravely, and in too low a tone for me
to hear, which made her all at once become silent, and called out
her blushes. After a while, the minister came back, a moving mass
of shawls, cloaks, and umbrellas. Phillis kept very close to her
father's side on our return to the farm. She appeared to me to be
shrinking away from Holdsworth, while he had not the slightest
variation in his manner from what it usually was in his graver
moods; kind, protecting, and thoughtful towards her. Of course,
there was a great commotion about our wet clothes; but I name the
little events of that evening now because I wondered at the time
what he had said in that low voice to silence Phillis so
effectually, and because, in thinking of their intercourse by the
light of future events, that evening stands out with some
prominence. I have said that after our removal to Hornby our
communications with the farm became almost of daily occurrence.
Cousin Holman and I were the two who had least to do with this
intimacy. After Mr Holdsworth regained his health, he too often
talked above her head in intellectual matters, and too often in
his light bantering tone for her to feel quite at her ease with
him. I really believe that he adopted this latter tone in
speaking to her because he did not know what to talk about to a
purely motherly woman, whose intellect had never been cultivated,
and whose loving heart was entirely occupied with her husband,
her child, her household affairs and, perhaps, a little with the
concerns of the members of her husband's congregation, because
they, in a way, belonged to her husband. I had noticed before
that she had fleeting shadows of jealousy even of Phillis, when
her daughter and her husband appeared to have strong interests
and sympathies in things which were quite beyond her
comprehension. I had noticed it in my first acquaintance with
them, I say, and had admired the delicate tact which made the
minister, on such occasions, bring the conversation back to such
subjects as those on which his wife, with her practical
experience of every-day life, was an authority; while Phillis,
devoted to her father, unconsciously followed his lead, totally
unaware, in her filial reverence, of his motive for doing so.
To return to Holdsworth. The minister had at more than one time
spoken of him to me with slight distrust, principally occasioned
by the suspicion that his careless words were not always those of
soberness and truth. But it was more as a protest against the
fascination which the younger man evidently exercised over the
elder one more as it were to strengthen himself against yielding
to this fascination--that the minister spoke out to me about this
failing of Holdsworth's, as it appeared to him. In return
Holdsworth was subdued by the minister's uprightness and
goodness, and delighted with his clear intellect--his strong
healthy craving after further knowledge. I never met two men who
took more thorough pleasure and relish in each other's society.
To Phillis his relation continued that of an elder brother: he
directed her studies into new paths, he patiently drew out the
expression of many of her thoughts, and perplexities, and
unformed theories--scarcely ever now falling into the vein of
banter which she was so slow to understand.
One day--harvest-time--he had been drawing on a loose piece of
paper-sketching ears of corn, sketching carts drawn by bullocks
and laden with grapes--all the time talking with Phillis and me,
cousin Holman putting in her not pertinent remarks, when suddenly
he said to Phillis,--
'Keep your head still; I see a sketch! I have often tried to draw
your head from memory, and failed; but I think I can do it now.
If I succeed I will give it to your mother. You would like a
portrait of your daughter as Ceres, would you not, ma'am?'
'I should like a picture of her; yes, very much, thank you, Mr
Holdsworth; but if you put that straw in her hair,' (he was
holding some wheat ears above her passive head, looking at the
effect with an artistic eye,) 'you'll ruffle her hair. Phillis,
my dear, if you're to have your picture taken, go up-stairs, and
brush your hair smooth.'
'Not on any account. I beg your pardon, but I want hair loosely
flowing.' He began to draw, looking intently at Phillis; I could
see this stare of his discomposed her--her colour came and went,
her breath quickened with the consciousness of his regard; at
last, when he said, 'Please look at me for a minute or two, I
want to get in the eyes,' she looked up at him, quivered, and
suddenly got up and left the room. He did not say a word, but
went on with some other part of the drawing; his silence was
unnatural, and his dark cheek blanched a little. Cousin Holman
looked up from her work, and put her spectacles down.
'What's the matter? Where is she gone?'
Holdsworth never uttered a word, but went on drawing. I felt
obliged to say something; it was stupid enough, but stupidity was
better than silence just then.
'I'll go and call her,' said I. So I went into the hall, and to
the bottom of the stairs; but just as I was going to call
Phillis, she came down swiftly with her bonnet on, and saying,
'I'm going to father in the five-acre,' passed out by the open
'rector,' right in front of the house-place windows, and out at
the little white side-gate. She had been seen by her mother and
Holdsworth, as she passed; so there was no need for explanation,
only cousin Holman and I had a long discussion as to whether she
could have found the room too hot, or what had occasioned her
sudden departure. Holdsworth was very quiet during all the rest
of that day; nor did he resume the portrait-taking by his own
desire, only at my cousin Holman's request the next time that he
came; and then he said he should not require any more formal
sittings for only such a slight sketch as he felt himself capable
of making. Phillis was just the same as ever the next time I saw
her after her abrupt passing me in the hall. She never gave any
explanation of her rush out of the room.
So all things went on, at least as far as my observation reached
at the time, or memory can recall now, till the great
apple-gathering of the year. The nights were frosty, the mornings
and evenings were misty, but at mid-day all was sunny and bright,
and it was one mid-day that both of us being on the line near
Heathbridge, and knowing that they were gathering apples at the
farm, we resolved to spend the men's dinner-hour in going over
there. We found the great clothes-baskets full of apples,
scenting the house, and stopping up the way; and an universal air
of merry contentment with this the final produce of the year. The
yellow leaves hung on the trees ready to flutter down at the
slightest puff of air; the great bushes of Michaelmas daisies in
the kitchen-garden were making their last show of flowers. We
must needs taste the fruit off the different trees, and pass our
judgment as to their flavour; and we went away with our pockets
stuffed with those that we liked best. As we had passed to the
orchard, Holdsworth had admired and spoken about some flower
which he saw; it so happened he had never seen this old-fashioned
kind since the days of his boyhood. I do not know whether he had
thought anything more about this chance speech of his, but I know
I had not--when Phillis, who had been missing just at the last
moment of our hurried visit, re-appeared with a little nosegay of
this same flower, which she was tying up with a blade of grass.
She offered it to Holdsworth as he stood with her father on the
point of departure. I saw their faces. I saw for the first time
an unmistakable look of love in his black eyes; it was more than
gratitude for the little attention; it was tender and
beseeching--passionate. She shrank from it in confusion, her
glance fell on me; and, partly to hide her emotion, partly out of
real kindness at what might appear ungracious neglect of an older
friend, she flew off to gather me a few late-blooming China
roses. But it was the first time she had ever done anything of
the kind for me.
We had to walk fast to be back on the line before the men's
return, so we spoke but little to each other, and of course the
afternoon was too much occupied for us to have any talk. In the
evening we went back to our joint lodgings in Hornby. There, on
the table, lay a letter for Holdsworth, which had be en forwarded
to him from Eltham. As our tea was ready, and I had had nothing
to eat since morning, I fell to directly without paying much
attention to my companion as he opened and read his letter. He
was very silent for a few minutes; at length he said,
'Old fellow! I'm going to leave you!'
'Leave me!' said I. 'How? When?'
'This letter ought to have come to hand Sooner. It is from
Greathed the engineer' (Greathed was well known in those days; he
is dead now, and his name half-forgotten); 'he wants to see me
about Some business; in fact, I may as well tell you, Paul, this
letter contains a very advantageous proposal for me to go out to
Canada, and superintend the making of a line there.' I was in
utter dismay. 'But what will Our company say to that?' 'Oh,
Greathed has the superintendence of this line, you know; and he
is going to be engineer in chief to this Canadian line; many of
the Shareholders in this company are going in for the other, so I
fancy they will make no difficulty in following Greathed's lead.
He says he has a young man ready to put in my place.'
'I hate him,' said I.
'Thank you,' said Holdsworth, laughing.
'But you must not,' he resumed; 'for this is a very good thing
for me, and, of course, if no one can be found to take my
inferior work, I can't be spared to take the superior. I only
wish I had received this letter a day Sooner. Every hour is of
consequence, for Greathed says they are threatening a rival line.
Do you know, Paul, I almost fancy I must go up tonight? I can
take an engine back to Eltham, and catch the night train. I
should not like Greathed to think me luke-warm.'
'But you'll come back?' I asked, distressed at the thought of
this sudden parting.
'Oh, yes! At least I hope so. They may want me to go out by the
next steamer, that will be on Saturday.' He began to eat and
drink standing, but I think he was quite unconscious of the
nature of either his food or his drink.
'I will go to-night. Activity and readiness go a long way in our
profession. Remember that, my boy! I hope I shall come back, but
if I don't, be sure and recollect all the words of wisdom that
have fallen from my lips. Now where's the portmanteau? If I can
gain half an hour for a gathering up of my things in Eltham, so
much the better. I'm clear of debt anyhow; and what I owe for my
lodgings you can pay for me out of my quarter's salary, due
'Then you don't think you will come back?' I said, despondingly.
'I will come back some time, never fear,' said he, kindly. 'I may
be back in a couple of days, having been found in-competent for
the Canadian work; or I may not be wanted to go out so soon as I
now anticipate. Anyhow you don't suppose I am going to forget
you, Paul this work out there ought not to take me above two
years, and, perhaps, after that, we may be employed together
again.' Perhaps! I had very little hope. The same kind of happy
days never returns. However, I did all I could in helping him:
clothes, papers, books, instruments; how we pushed and
struggled--how I stuffed. All was done in a much shorter time
than we had calculated upon, when I had run down to the sheds to
order the engine. I was going to drive him to Eltham. We sate
ready for a summons. Holdsworth took up the little nosegay that
he had brought away from the Hope Farm, and had laid on the
mantel-piece on first coming into the room. He smelt at it, and
caressed it with his lips.
'What grieves me is that I did not know--that I have not said
good-bye to--to them.'
He spoke in a grave tone, the shadow of the coming separation
falling upon him at last.
'I will tell them,' said I. 'I am sure they will be very sorry.'
Then we were silent.
'I never liked any family so much.'
'I knew you would like them.'
'How one's thoughts change,--this morning I was full of a hope,
Paul.' He paused, and then he said,--
'You put that sketch in carefully?'
'That outline of a head?' asked I. But I knew he meant an
abortive sketch of Phillis, which had not been successful enough
for him to complete it with shading or colouring.
'Yes. What a sweet innocent face it is! and yet so--Oh, dear!' He
sighed and got up, his hands in his pockets, to walk up and down
the room in evident disturbance of mind. He suddenly stopped
opposite to me.
'You'll tell them how it all was. Be sure and tell the good
minister that I was so sorry not to wish him good-bye, and to
thank him and his wife for all their kindness. As for
Phillis,--please God in two years I'll be back and tell her
myself all in my heart.'
'You love Phillis, then?' said I.
'Love her! Yes, that I do. Who could help it, seeing her as I
have done? Her character as unusual and rare as her beauty! God
bless her! God keep her in her high tranquillity, her pure
innocence.--Two years! It is a long time.--But she lives in such
seclusion, almost like the sleeping beauty, Paul,'--(he was
smiling now, though a minute before I had thought him on the
verge of tears,) --'but I shall come back like a prince from
Canada, and waken her to my love. I can't help hoping that it
won't be difficult, eh, Paul?'
This touch of coxcombry displeased me a little, and I made no
answer. He went on, half apologetically,--
'You see, the salary they offer me is large; and beside that,
this experience will give me a name which will entitle me to
expect a still larger in any future undertaking.'
'That won't influence Phillis.'
'No! but it will make me more eligible in the eyes of her father
and mother.' I made no answer.
'You give me your best wishes, Paul,' said he, almost pleading.
'You would like me for a cousin?'
I heard the scream and whistle of the engine ready down at the
'Ay, that I should,' I replied, suddenly softened towards my
friend now that he was going away. 'I wish you were to be married
to-morrow, and I were to be best man.'
'Thank you, lad. Now for this cursed portmanteau (how the
minister would be shocked); but it is heavy!' and off we sped
into the darkness. He only just caught the night train at Eltham,
and I slept, desolately enough, at my old lodgings at Miss
Dawsons', for that night. Of course the next few days I was
busier than ever, doing both his work and my own. Then came a
letter from him, very short and affectionate. He was going out in
the Saturday steamer, as he had more than half expected; and by
the following Monday the man who was to succeed him would be down
at Eltham. There was a P.S., with only these words:-- 'My nosegay
goes with me to Canada, but I do not need it to remind me of Hope
Saturday came; but it was very late before I could go out to the
farm. It was a frosty night, the stars shone clear above me, and
the road was crisping beneath my feet. They must have heard my
footsteps before I got up to the house. They were sitting at
their usual employments in the house-place when I went in.
Phillis's eyes went beyond me in their look of welcome, and then
fell in quiet disappointment on her work.
'And where's Mr Holdsworth?' asked cousin Holman, in a minute or
two. 'I hope his cold is not worse,--I did not like his short
I laughed awkwardly; for I felt that I was the bearer of
'His cold had need be better--for he's gone--gone away to
I purposely looked away from Phillis, as I thus abruptly told my
'To Canada!' said the minister.
'Gone away!' said his wife. But no word from Phillis.
'Yes!' said I. 'He found a letter at Hornby when we got home the
other night-- when we got home from here; he ought to have got it
sooner; he was ordered to go up to London directly, and to see
some people about a new line in Canada, and he's gone to lay it
down; he has sailed to-day. He was sadly grieved not to have time
to come out and wish you all good-by; but he started for London
within two hours after he got that letter. He bade me thank you
most gratefully for all your kindnesses; he was very sorry not to
come here once again.' Phillis got up and left the room with
'I am very sorry,' said the minister.
'I am sure so am I!' said cousin Holman. 'I was real fond of that
lad ever since I nursed him last June after that bad fever.'
The minister went on asking me questions respecting Holdsworth's
future plans; and brought out a large old-fashioned atlas, that
he might find out the exact places between which the new railroad
was to run. Then supper was ready; it was always on the table as
soon as the clock on the stairs struck eight, and down came
Phillis--her face white and set, her dry eyes looking defiance to
me, for I am afraid I hurt her maidenly pride by my glance of
sympathetic interest as she entered the room. Never a word did
she say--never a question did she ask about the absent friend,
yet she forced herself to talk.
And so it was all the next day. She was as pale as could be, like
one who has received some shock; but she would not let me talk to
her, and she tried hard to behave as usual. Two or three times I
repeated, in public, the various affectionate messages to the
family with which I was charged by Holdsworth; but she took no
more notice of them than if my words had been empty air. And in
this mood I left her on the Sabbath evening.
My new master was not half so indulgent as my old one. He kept up
strict discipline as to hours, so that it was some time before I
could again go out, even to pay a call at the Hope Farm.
It was a cold misty evening in November. The air, even indoors,
seemed full of haze; yet there was a great log burning on the
hearth, which ought to have made the room cheerful. Cousin Holman
and Phillis were sitting at the little round table before the
fire, working away in silence. The minister had his books out on
the dresser, seemingly deep in study, by the light of his
solitary candle; perhaps the fear of disturbing him made the
unusual stillness of the room. But a welcome was ready for me
from all; not noisy, not demonstrative--that it never was; my
damp wrappers were taken off; the next meal was hastened, and a
chair placed for me on one side of the fire, so that I pretty
much commanded a view of the room. My eye caught on Phillis,
looking so pale and weary, and with a sort of aching tone (if I
may call it so) in her voice. She was doing all the accustomed
things--fulfilling small household duties, but somehow
differently--I can't tell you how, for she was just as deft and
quick in her movements, only the light spring was gone out of
them. Cousin Holman began to question me; even the minister put
aside his books, and came and stood on the opposite side of the
fire-place, to hear what waft of intelligence I brought. I had
first to tell them why I had not been to see them for so
long--more than five weeks. The answer was simple enough;
business and the necessity of attending strictly to the orders of
a new superintendent, who had not yet learned trust, much less
indulgence. The minister nodded his approval of my conduct, and
said,-- 'Right, Paul! "Servants, obey in all things your master
according to the flesh." I have had my fears lest you had too
much licence under Edward Holdsworth.'
'Ah,' said cousin Holman, 'poor Mr Holdsworth, he'll be on the
salt seas by this time!'
'No, indeed,' said I, 'he's landed. I have had a letter from him
from Halifax.' Immediately a shower of questions fell thick upon
me. When? How? What was he doing? How did he like it? What sort
of a voyage? &c.
'Many is the time we have thought of him when the wind was
blowing so hard; the old quince-tree is blown down, Paul, that on
the right-hand of the great pear-tree; it was blown down last
Monday week, and it was that night that I asked the minister to
pray in an especial manner for all them that went down in ships
upon the great deep, and he said then, that Mr Holdsworth might
be already landed; but I said, even if the prayer did not fit
him, it was sure to be fitting somebody out at sea, who would
need the Lord's care. Both Phillis and I thought he would be a
month on the seas.' Phillis began to speak, but her voice did not
come rightly at first. It was a little higher pitched than usual,
when she said,--
'We thought he would be a month if he went in a sailing-vessel,
or perhaps longer. I suppose he went in a steamer?'
'Old Obadiah Grimshaw was more than six weeks in getting to
America,' observed cousin Holman.
'I presume he cannot as yet tell how he likes his new work?'
asked the minister.
'No! he is but just landed; it is but one page long. I'll read it
to you, shall I?--
'"Dear Paul,--We are safe on shore, after a rough passage.
Thought you would like to hear this, but homeward-bound steamer
is making signals for letters. Will write again soon. It seems a
year since I left Hornby. Longer since I was at the farm. I have
got my nosegay safe. Remember me to the Holmans.--Yours, E. H."'
'That's not much, certainly,' said the minister. 'But it's a
comfort to know he's on land these blowy nights.'
Phillis said nothing. She kept her head bent down over her work;
but I don't think she put a stitch in, while I was reading the
letter. I wondered if she understood what nosegay was meant; but
I could not tell. When next she lifted up her face, there were
two spots of brilliant colour on the cheeks that had been so pale
before. After I had spent an hour or two there, I was bound to
return back to Hornby. I told them I did not know when I could
come again, as we--by which I mean the company--had undertaken
the Hensleydale line; that branch for which poor Holdsworth was
surveying when he caught his fever.
'But you'll have a holiday at Christmas,' said my cousin. 'Surely
they'll not be such heathens as to work you then?'
'Perhaps the lad will be going home,' said the minister, as if to
mitigate his wife's urgency; but for all that, I believe he
wanted me to come. Phillis fixed her eyes on me with a wistful
expression, hard to resist. But, indeed, I had no thought of
resisting. Under my new master I had no hope of a holiday long
enough to enable me to go to Birmingham and see my parents with
any comfort; and nothing could be pleasanter to me than to find
myself at home at my cousins' for a day or two, then. So it was
fixed that we were to meet in Hornby Chapel on Christmas Day, and
that I was to accompany them home after service, and if possible
to stay over the next day.
I was not able to get to chapel till late on the appointed day,
and so I took a seat near the door in considerable shame,
although it really was not my fault. When the service was ended,
I went and stood in the porch to await the coming out of my
cousins. Some worthy people belonging to the congregation
clustered into a group just where I stood, and exchanged the good
wishes of the season. It had just begun to snow, and this
occasioned a little delay, and they fell into further
conversation. I was not attending to what was not meant for me to
hear, till I caught the name of Phillis Holman. And then I
listened; where was the harm?
'I never saw any one so changed!'
'I asked Mrs Holman,' quoth another, '"Is Phillis well?" and she
just said she had been having a cold which had pulled her down;
she did not seem to think anything of it.'
'They had best take care of her,' said one of the oldest of the
good ladies; 'Phillis comes of a family as is not long-lived. Her
mother's sister, Lydia Green, her own aunt as was, died of a
decline just when she was about this lass's age.'
This ill-omened talk was broken in upon by the coming out of the
minister, his wife and daughter, and the consequent interchange
of Christmas compliments. I had had a shock, and felt
heavy-hearted and anxious, and hardly up to making the
appropriate replies to the kind greetings of my relations. I
looked askance at Phillis. She had certainly grown taller and
slighter, and was thinner; but there was a flush of colour on her
face which deceived me for a time, and made me think she was
looking as well as ever. I only saw her paleness after we had
returned to the farm, and she had subsided into silence and
quiet. Her grey eyes looked hollow and sad; her complexion was of
a dead white. But she went about just as usual; at least, just as
she had done the last time I was there, and seemed to have no
ailment; and I was inclined to think that my cousin was right
when she had answered the inquiries of the good-natured gossips,
and told them that Phillis was suffering from the consequences of
a bad cold, nothing more. I have said that I was to stay over the
next day; a great deal of snow had come down, but not all, they
said, though the ground was covered deep with the white fall. The
minister was anxiously housing his cattle, and preparing all
things for a long continuance of the same kind of weather. The
men were chopping wood, sending wheat to the mill to be ground
before the road should become impassable for a cart and horse. My
cousin and Phillis had gone up-stairs to the apple-room to cover
up the fruit from the frost. I had been out the greater part of
the morning, and came in about an hour before dinner. To my
surprise, knowing how she had planned to be engaged, I found
Phillis sitting at the dresser, resting her head on her two hands
and reading, or seeming to read. She did not look up when I came
in, but murmured something about her mother having sent her down
out of the cold. It flashed across me that she was crying, but I
put it down to some little spirt of temper; I might have known
better than to suspect the gentle, serene Phillis of crossness,
poor girl; I stooped down, and began to stir and build up the
fire, which appeared to have been neglected. While my head was
down I heard a noise which made me pause and listen--a sob, an
unmistakable, irrepressible sob. I started up.
'Phillis!' I cried, going towards her, with my hand out, to take
hers for sympathy with her sorrow, whatever it was. But she was
too quick for me, she held her hand out of my grasp, for fear of
my detaining her; as she quickly passed out of the house, she
'Don't, Paul! I cannot bear it!' and passed me, still sobbing,
and went out into the keen, open air.
I stood still and wondered. What could have come to Phillis? The
most perfect harmony prevailed in the family, and Phillis
especially, good and gentle as she was, was so beloved that if
they had found out that her finger ached, it would have cast a
shadow over their hearts. Had I done anything to vex her? No: she
was crying before I came in. I went to look at her book--one of
those unintelligible Italian books. I could make neither head nor
tail of it. I saw some pencil-notes on the margin, in
Could that be it? Could that be the cause of her white looks, her
weary eyes, her wasted figure, her struggling sobs? This idea
came upon me like a flash of lightning on a dark night, making
all things so clear we cannot forget them afterwards when the
gloomy obscurity returns. I was still standing with the book in
my hand when I heard cousin Holman's footsteps on the stairs, and
as I did not wish to speak to her just then, I followed Phillis's
example, and rushed out of the house. The snow was lying on the
ground; I could track her feet by the marks they had made; I
could see where Rover had joined her. I followed on till I came
to a great stack of wood in the orchard--it was built up against
the back wall of the outbuildings,--and I recollected then how
Phillis had told me, that first day when we strolled about
together, that underneath this stack had been her hermitage, her
sanctuary, when she was a child; how she used to bring her book
to study there, or her work, when she was not wanted in the
house; and she had now evidently gone back to this quiet retreat
of her childhood, forgetful of the clue given me by her footmarks
on the new-fallen snow. The stack was built up very high; but
through the interstices of the sticks I could see her figure,
although I did not all at once perceive how I could get to her.
She was sitting on a log of wood, Rover by her. She had laid her
cheek on Rover's head, and had her arm round his neck, partly for
a pillow, partly from an instinctive craving for warmth on that
bitter cold day. She was making a low moan, like an animal in
pain, or perhaps more like the sobbing of the wind. Rover, highly
flattered by her caress, and also, perhaps, touched by sympathy,
was flapping his heavy tail against the ground, but not otherwise
moving a hair, until he heard my approach with his quick erected
ears. Then, with a short, abrupt bark of distrust, he sprang up
as if to leave his mistress. Both he and I were immovably still
for a moment. I was not sure if what I longed to do was wise: and
yet I could not bear to see the sweet serenity of my dear
cousin's life so disturbed by a suffering which I thought I could
assuage. But Rover's ears were sharper than my breathing was
noiseless: he heard me, and sprang out from under Phillis's
'Oh, Rover, don't you leave me, too,' she plained out.
'Phillis!' said I, seeing by Rover's exit that the entrance to
where she sate was to be found on the other side of the stack.
'Phillis, come out! You have got a cold already; and it is not
fit for you to sit there on such a day as this. You know how
displeased and anxious it would make them all.'
She sighed, but obeyed; stooping a little, she came out, and
stood upright, opposite to me in the lonely, leafless orchard.
Her face looked so meek and so sad that I felt as if I ought to
beg her pardon for my necessarily authoritative words.
'Sometimes I feel the house so close,' she said; 'and I used to
sit under the wood-stack when I was a child. It was very kind of
you, but there was no need to come after me. I don't catch cold
'Come with me into this cow-house, Phillis. I have got something
to say to you; and I can't stand this cold, if you can.
I think she would have fain run away again; but her fit of energy
was all spent. She followed me unwillingly enough that I could
see. The place to which I took her was full of the fragrant
breath of the cows, and was a little warmer than the outer air. I
put her inside, and stood myself in the doorway, thinking how I
could best begin. At last I plunged into it.
'I must see that you don't get cold for more reasons than one; if
you are ill, Holdsworth will be so anxious and miserable out
there' (by which I meant Canada)--
She shot one penetrating look at me, and then turned her face
away with a slightly impatient movement. If she could have run
away then she would, but I held the means of exit in my own
power. 'In for a penny, in for a pound,' thought I, and I went on
'He talked so much about you, just before he left--that night
after he had been here, you know--and you had given him those
flowers.' She put her hands up to hide her face, but she was
listening now--listening with all her ears. 'He had never spoken
much about you before, but the sudden going away unlocked his
heart, and he told me how he loved you, and how he hoped on his
return that you might be his wife.'
'Don't,' said she, almost gasping out the word, which she had
tried once or twice before to speak; but her voice had been
choked. Now she put her hand backwards; she had quite turned away
from me, and felt for mine. She gave it a soft lingering
pressure; and then she put her arms down on the wooden division,
and laid her head on it, and cried quiet tears. I did not
understand her at once, and feared lest I had mistaken the whole
case, and only annoyed her. I went up to her. 'Oh, Phillis! I am
so sorry--I thought you would, perhaps, have cared to hear it; he
did talk so feelingly, as if he did love you so much, and somehow
I thought it would give you pleasure.'
She lifted up her head and looked at me. Such a look! Her eyes,
glittering with tears as they were, expressed an almost heavenly
happiness; her tender mouth was curved with rapture--her colour
vivid and blushing; but as if she was afraid her face expressed
too much, more than the thankfulness to me she was essaying to
speak, she hid it again almost immediately. So it was all right
then, and my conjecture was well-founded! I tried to remember
something more to tell her of what he had said, but again she
'Don't,' she said. She still kept her face covered and hidden. In
half a minute she added, in a very low voice, 'Please, Paul, I
think I would rather not hear any more I don't mean but what I
have--but what I am very much obliged--Only--only, I think I
would rather hear the rest from himself when he comes back.'
And then she cried a little more, in quite a different way. I did
not say any more, I waited for her. By-and-by she turned towards
me--not meeting my eyes, however; and putting her hand in mine
just as if we were two children, she said,--
'We had best go back now--I don't look as if I had been crying,
'You look as if you had a bad cold,' was all the answer I made.
'Oh! but I am quite well, only cold; and a good run will warm me.
Come along, Paul.'
So we ran, hand in hand, till, just as we were on the threshold
of the house, she stopped,--
'Paul, please, we won't speak about that again.'
When I went over on Easter Day I heard the chapel-gossips
complimenting cousin Holman on her daughter's blooming looks,
quite forgetful of their sinister prophecies three months before.
And I looked at Phillis, and did not wonder at their words. I had
not seen her since the day after Christmas Day. I had left the
Hope Farm only a few hours after I had told her the news which
had quickened her heart into renewed life and vigour. The
remembrance of our conversation in the cow-house was vividly in
my mind as I looked at her when her bright healthy appearance was
remarked upon. As her eyes met mine our mutual recollections
flashed intelligence from one to the other. She turned away, her
colour heightening as she did so. She seemed to be shy of me for
the first few hours after our meeting, and I felt rather vexed
with her for her conscious avoidance of me after my long absence.
I had stepped a little out of my usual line in telling her what I
did; not that I had received any charge of secrecy, or given even
the slightest promise to Holdsworth that I would not repeat his
words. But I had an uneasy feeling sometimes when I thought of
what I had done in the excitement of seeing Phillis so ill and in
so much trouble. I meant to have told Holdsworth when I wrote
next to him; but when I had my half-finished letter before me I
sate with my pen in my hand hesitating. I had more scruple in
revealing what I had found out or guessed at of Phillis's secret
than in repeating to her his spoken words. I did not think I had
any right to say out to him what I believed--namely, that she
loved him dearly, and had felt his absence even to the injury of
her health. Yet to explain what I had done in telling her how he
had spoken about her that last night, it would be necessary to
give my reasons, so I had settled within myself to leave it
alone. As she had told me she should like to hear all the details
and fuller particulars and more explicit declarations first from
him, so he should have the pleasure of extracting the delicious
tender secret from her maidenly lips. I would not betray my
guesses, my surmises, my all but certain knowledge of the state
of her heart. I had received two letters from him after he had
settled to his business; they were full of life and energy; but
in each there had been a message to the family at the Hope Farm
of more than common regard; and a slight but distinct mention of
Phillis herself, showing that she stood single and alone in his
memory. These letters I had sent on to the minister, for he was
sure to care for them, even supposing he had been unacquainted
with their writer, because they were so clever and so
picturesquely worded that they brought, as it were, a whiff of
foreign atmosphere into his circumscribed life. I used to wonder
what was the trade or business in which the minister would not
have thriven, mentally I mean, if it had so happened that he had
been called into that state. He would have made a capital
engineer, that I know; and he had a fancy for the sea, like many
other land-locked men to whom the great deep is a mystery and a
fascination. He read law-books with relish; and, once happening
to borrow De Lolme on the British Constitution (or some such
title), he talked about jurisprudence till he was far beyond my
depth. But to return to Holdsworth's letters. When the minister
sent them back he also wrote out a list of questions suggested by
their perusal, which I was to pass on in my answers to
Holdsworth, until I thought of suggesting direct correspondence
between the two. That was the state of things as regarded the
absent one when I went to the farm for my Easter visit, and when
I found Phillis in that state of shy reserve towards me which I
have named before. I thought she was ungrateful; for I was not
quite sure if I had done wisely in having told her what I did. I
had committed a fault, or a folly, perhaps, and all for her sake;
and here was she, less friends with me than she had even been
before. This little estrangement only lasted a few hours. I think
that as Soon as she felt pretty sure of there being no
recurrence, either by word, look, or allusion, to the one subject
that was predominant in her mind, she came back to her old
sisterly ways with me. She had much to tell me of her own
familiar interests; how Rover had been ill, and how anxious they
had all of them been, and how, after some little discussion
between her father and her, both equally grieved by the
sufferings of the old dog, he had been remembered in the
household prayers', and how he had begun to get better only the
very next day, and then she would have led me into a conversation
on the right ends of prayer, and on special providences, and I
know not what; only I 'jibbed' like their old cart-horse, and
refused to stir a step in that direction. Then we talked about
the different broods of chickens, and she showed me the hens that
were good mothers, and told me the characters of all the poultry
with the utmost good faith; and in all good faith I listened, for
I believe there was a good deal of truth in all she said. And
then we strolled on into the wood beyond the ash-meadow, and both
of us sought for early primroses, and the fresh green crinkled
leaves. She was not afraid of being alone with me after the first
day. I never saw her so lovely, or so happy. I think she hardly
knew why she was so happy all the time. I can see her now,
standing under the budding branches of the grey trees, over which
a tinge of green seemed to be deepening day after day, her
sun-bonnet fallen back on her neck, her hands full of delicate
wood-flowers, quite unconscious of my gaze, but intent on sweet
mockery of some bird in neighbouring bush or tree. She had the
art of warbling, and replying to the notes of different birds,
and knew their song, their habits and ways, more accurately than
any one else I ever knew. She had often done it at my request the
spring before; but this year she really gurgled, and whistled,
and warbled just as they did, out of the very fulness and joy of
her heart. She was more than ever the very apple of her father's
eye; her mother gave her both her own share of love, and that of
the dead child who had died in infancy. I have heard cousin
Holman murmur, after a long dreamy look at Phillis, and tell
herself how like she was growing to Johnnie, and soothe herself
with plaintive inarticulate sounds, and many gentle shakes of the
head, for the aching sense of loss she would never get over in
this world. The old servants about the place had the dumb loyal
attachment to the child of the land, common to most agricultural
labourers; not often stirred into activity or expression. My
cousin Phillis was like a rose that had come to full bloom on the
sunny side of a lonely house, sheltered from storms. I have read
in some book of poetry,--
A maid whom there were none to praise, And very few to love.
And somehow those lines always reminded me of Phillis; yet they
were not true of her either. I never heard her praised; and out
of her own household there were very few to love her; but though
no one spoke out their approbation, she always did right in her
parents' eyes out of her natural simple goodness and wisdom.
Holdsworth's name was never mentioned between us when we were
alone; but I had sent on his letters to the minister, as I have
said; and more than once he began to talk about our absent
friend, when he was smoking his pipe after the day's work was
done. Then Phillis hung her head a little over her work, and
listened in silence.
'I miss him more than I thought for; no offence to you, Paul. I
said once his company was like dram-drinking; that was before I
knew him; and perhaps I spoke in a spirit of judgment. To some
men's minds everything presents itself strongly, and they speak
accordingly; and so did he. And I thought in my vanity of
censorship that his were not true and sober words; they would not
have been if I had used them, but they were so to a man of his
class of perceptions. I thought of the measure with which I had
been meting to him when Brother Robinson was here last Thursday,
and told me that a poor little quotation I was making from the
Georgics savoured of vain babbling and profane heathenism. He
went so far as to say that by learning other languages than our
own, we were flying in the face of the Lord's purpose when He had
said, at the building of the Tower of Babel, that He would
confound their languages so that they should not understand each
other's speech. As Brother Robinson was to me, so was I to the
quick wits, bright senses, and ready words of Holdsworth.'
The first little cloud upon my peace came in the shape of a
letter from Canada, in which there were two or three sentences
that troubled me more than they ought to have done, to judge
merely from the words employed. It was this:--'I should feel
dreary enough in this out-of-the-way place if it were not for a
friendship I have formed with a French Canadian of the name of
Ventadour. He and his family are a great resource to me in the
long evenings. I never heard such delicious vocal music as the
voices of these Ventadour boys and girls in their part songs; and
the foreign element retained in their characters and manner of
living reminds me of some of the happiest days of my life.
Lucille, the second daughter, is curiously like Phillis Holman.'
In vain I said to myself that it was probably this likeness that
made him take pleasure in the society of the Ventadour family. In
vain I told my anxious fancy that nothing could be more natural
than this intimacy, and that there was no sign of its leading to
any consequence that ought to disturb me. I had a presentiment,
and I was disturbed; and I could not reason it away. I dare say
my presentiment was rendered more persistent and keen by the
doubts which would force themselves into my mind, as to whether I
had done well in repeating Holdsworth's words to Phillis. Her
state of vivid happiness this summer was markedly different to
the peaceful serenity of former days. If in my thoughtfulness at
noticing this I caught her eye, she blushed and sparkled all
over, guessing that I was remembering our joint secret. Her eyes
fell before mine, as if she could hardly bear me to see the
revelation of their bright glances. And yet I considered again,
and comforted myself by the reflection that, if this change had
been anything more than my silly fancy, her father or her mother
would have perceived it. But they went on in tranquil
unconsciousness and undisturbed peace.
A change in my own life was quickly approaching. In the July of
this year my occupation on the----railway and its branches came
to an end. The lines were completed, and I was to leave
----shire, to return to Birmingham, where there was a niche
already provided for me in my father's prosperous business. But
before I left the north it was an understood thing amongst us all
that I was to go and pay a visit of some weeks at the Hope Farm.
My father was as much pleased at this plan as I was; and the dear
family of cousins often spoke of things to be done, and sights to
be shown me, during this visit. My want of wisdom in having told
'that thing' (under such ambiguous words I concealed the
injudicious confidence I had made to Phillis) was the only
drawback to my anticipations of pleasure.
The ways of life were too simple at the Hope Farm for my coming
to them to make the slightest disturbance. I knew my room, like a
son of the house. I knew the regular course of their days, and
that I was expected to fall into it, like one of the family. Deep
summer peace brooded over the place; the warm golden air was
filled with the murmur of insects near at hand, the more distant
sound of voices out in the fields, the clear faraway rumble of
carts over the stone-paved lanes miles away. The heat was too
great for the birds to be singing; only now and then one might
hear the wood-pigeons in the trees beyond the Ashfield. The
cattle stood knee-deep in the pond, flicking their tails about to
keep off the flies. The minister stood in the hay-field, without
hat or cravat, coat or waistcoat, panting and smiling. Phillis
had been leading the row of farm-servants, turning the swathes of
fragrant hay with measured movement. She went to the end--to the
hedge, and then, throwing down her rake, she came to me with her
free sisterly welcome. 'Go, Paul!' said the minister. 'We need
all hands to make use of the sunshine to-day. "Whatsoever thine
hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might." It will be a
healthy change of work for thee, lad; and I find best rest in
change of work.' So off I went, a willing labourer, following
Phillis's lead; it was the primitive distinction of rank; the boy
who frightened the sparrows off the fruit was the last in our
rear. We did not leave off till the red sun was gone down behind
the fir-trees bordering the common. Then we went home to
supper--prayers--to bed; some bird singing far into the night, as
I heard it through my open window, and the poultry beginning
their clatter and cackle in the earliest morning. I had carried
what luggage I immediately needed with me from my lodgings and
the rest was to be sent by the carrier. He brought it to the farm
betimes that morning, and along with it he brought a letter or
two that had arrived since I had left. I was talking to cousin
Holman--about my mother's ways of making bread, I remember;
cousin Holman was questioning me, and had got me far beyond my
depth--in the house-place, when the letters were brought in by
one of the men, and I had to pay the carrier for his trouble
before I could look at them. A bill--a Canadian letter! What
instinct made me so thankful that I was alone with my dear
unobservant cousin? What made me hurry them away into my
coat-pocket? I do not know. I felt strange and sick, and made
irrelevant answers, I am afraid. Then I went to my room,
ostensibly to carry up my boxes. I sate on the side of my bed and
opened my letter from Holdsworth. It seemed to me as if I had
read its contents before, and knew exactly what he had got to
say. I knew he was going to be married to Lucille Ventadour; nay,
that he was married; for this was the 5th of July, and he wrote
word that his marriage was fixed to take place on the 29th of
June. I knew all the reasons he gave, all the raptures he went
into. I held the letter loosely in my hands, and looked into
vacancy, yet I saw the chaffinch's nest on the lichen-covered
trunk of an old apple-tree opposite my window, and saw the
mother-bird come fluttering in to feed her brood,--and yet I did
not see it, although it seemed to me afterwards as if I could
have drawn every fibre, every feather. I was stirred up to action
by the merry sound of voices and the clamp of rustic feet coming
home for the mid-day meal. I knew I must go down to dinner; I
knew, too, I must tell Phillis; for in his happy egotism, his
new-fangled foppery, Holdsworth had put in a P.S., saying that he
should send wedding-cards to me and some other Hornby and Eltham
acquaintances, and 'to his kind friends at Hope Farm'. Phillis
had faded away to one among several 'kind friends'. I don't know
how I got through dinner that day. I remember forcing myself to
eat, and talking hard; but I also recollect the wondering look in
the minister's eyes. He was not one to think evil without cause;
but many a one would have taken me for drunk. As soon as I
decently could I left the table, saying I would go out for a
walk. At first I must have tried to stun reflection by rapid
walking, for I had lost myself on the high moorlands far beyond
the familiar gorse-covered common, before I was obliged for very
weariness to slacken my pace. I kept wishing--oh! how fervently
wishing I had never committed that blunder; that the one little
half-hour's indiscretion could be blotted out. Alternating with
this was anger against Holdsworth; unjust enough, I dare say. I
suppose I stayed in that solitary place for a good hour or more,
and then I turned homewards, resolving to get over the telling
Phillis at the first opportunity, but shrinking from the
fulfilment of my resolution so much that when I came into the
house and saw Phillis (doors and windows open wide in the sultry
weather) alone in the kitchen, I became quite sick with
apprehension. She was standing by the dresser, cutting up a great
household loaf into hunches of bread for the hungry labourers who
might come in any minute, for the heavy thunder-clouds were
overspreading the sky. She looked round as she heard my step.
'You should have been in the field, helping with the hay,' said
she, in her calm, pleasant voice. I had heard her as I came near
the house softly chanting some hymn-tune, and the peacefulness of
that seemed to be brooding over her now.
'Perhaps I should. It looks as if it was going to rain.
'Yes; there is thunder about. Mother has had to go to bed with
one of her bad headaches. Now you are come in--
'Phillis,' said I, rushing at my subject and interrupting her, 'I
went a long walk to think over a letter I had this morning--a
letter from Canada. You don't know how it has grieved me. I held
it out to her as I spoke. Her colour changed a little, but it was
more the reflection of my face, I think, than because she formed
any definite idea from my words. Still she did not take the
letter. I had to bid her to read it, before she quite understood
what I wished. She sate down rather suddenly as she received it
into her hands; and, spreading it on the dresser before her, she
rested her forehead on the palms of her hands, her arms supported
on the table, her figure a little averted, and her countenance
thus shaded. I looked out of the open window; my heart was very
heavy. How peaceful it all seemed in the farmyard! Peace and
plenty. How still and deep was the silence of the house!
Tick-tick went the unseen clock on the wide staircase. I had
heard the rustle once, when she turned over the page of thin
paper. She must have read to the end. Yet she did not move, or
say a word, or even sigh. I kept on looking out of the window, my
hands in my pockets. I wonder how long that time really was? It
seemed to me interminable--unbearable. At length I looked round
at her. She must have felt my look, for she changed her attitude
with a quick sharp movement, and caught my eyes.
'Don't look so sorry, Paul,' she said. 'Don't, please. I can't
bear it. There is nothing to be sorry for. I think not, at least.
You have not done wrong, at any rate.' I felt that I groaned, but
I don't think she heard me. 'And he,--there's no wrong in his
marrying, is there? I'm sure I hope he'll be happy. Oh! how I
hope it!' These last words were like a wail; but I believe she
was afraid of breaking down, for she changed the key in which she
spoke, and hurried on.
'Lucille--that's our English Lucy, I suppose? Lucille Holdsworth!
It's a pretty name; and I hope--I forget what I was going to say.
Oh! it was this. Paul, I think we need never speak about this
again; only remember you are not to be sorry. You have not done
wrong; you have been very, very kind; and if I see you looking
grieved I don't know what I might do;--I might breakdown, you
know.' I think she was on the point of doing so then, but the
dark storm came dashing down, and the thunder-cloud broke right
above the house, as it seemed. Her mother, roused from sleep,
called out for Phillis; the men and women from the hay-field came
running into shelter, drenched through. The minister followed,
smiling, and not unpleasantly excited by the war of elements;
for, by dint of hard work through the long summer's day, the
greater part of the hay was safely housed in the barn in the
field. Once or twice in the succeeding bustle I came across
Phillis, always busy, and, as it seemed to me, always doing the
right thing. When I was alone in my own room at night I allowed
myself to feel relieved; and to believe that the worst was over,
and was not so very bad after all. But the succeeding days were
very miserable. Sometimes I thought it must be my fancy that
falsely represented Phillis to me as strangely changed, for
surely, if this idea of mine was well-founded, her parents--her
father and mother--her own flesh and blood--would have been the
first to perceive it. Yet they went on in their household peace
and content; if anything, a little more cheerfully than usual,
for the 'harvest of the first-fruits', as the minister called it,
had been more bounteous than usual, and there was plenty all
around in which the humblest labourer was made to share. After
the one thunderstorm, came one or two lovely serene summer days,
during which the hay was all carried; and then succeeded long
soft rains filling the ears of corn, and causing the mown grass
to spring afresh. The minister allowed himself a few more hours
of relaxation and home enjoyment than usual during this wet
spell: hard earth-bound frost was his winter holiday; these wet
days, after the hay harvest, his summer holiday. We sate with
open windows, the fragrance and the freshness called out by the
soft-falling rain filling the house-place; while the quiet
ceaseless patter among the leaves outside ought to have had the
same lulling effect as all other gentle perpetual sounds, such as
mill-wheels and bubbling springs, have on the nerves of happy
people. But two of us were not happy. I was sure enough of
myself, for one. I was worse than sure,--I was wretchedly anxious
about Phillis. Ever since that day of the thunderstorm there had
been a new, sharp, discordant sound to me in her voice, a sort of
jangle in her tone; and her restless eyes had no quietness in
them; and her colour came and went without a cause that I could
find out. The minister, happy in ignorance of what most concerned
him, brought out his books; his learned volumes and classics.
Whether he read and talked to Phillis, or to me, I do not know;
but feeling by instinct that she was not, could not be, attending
to the peaceful details, so strange and foreign to the turmoil in
her heart, I forced myself to listen, and if possible to
'Look here!' said the minister, tapping the old vellum-bound book
he held; 'in the first Georgic he speaks of rolling and
irrigation, a little further on he insists on choice of the best
seed, and advises us to keep the drains clear. Again, no Scotch
farmer could give shrewder advice than to cut light meadows while
the dew is on, even though it involve night-work. It is all
living truth in these days.' He began beating time with a ruler
upon his knee, to some Latin lines he read aloud just then. I
suppose the monotonous chant irritated Phillis to some irregular
energy, for I remember the quick knotting and breaking of the
thread with which she was sewing. I never hear that snap repeated
now, without suspecting some sting or stab troubling the heart of
the worker. Cousin Holman, at her peaceful knitting, noticed the
reason why Phillis had so constantly to interrupt the progress of
'It is bad thread, I'm afraid,' she said, in a gentle sympathetic
voice. But it was too much for Phillis.
'The thread is bad--everything is bad--I am so tired of it all!'
And she put down her work, and hastily left the room. I do not
suppose that in all her life Phillis had ever shown so much
temper before. In many a family the tone, the manner, would not
have been noticed; but here it fell with a sharp surprise upon
the sweet, calm atmosphere of home. The minister put down ruler
and book, and pushed his spectacles up to his forehead. The
mother looked distressed for a moment, and then smoothed her
features and said in an explanatory tone,--'It's the weather, I
think. Some people feel it different to others. It always brings
on a headache with me.' She got up to follow her daughter, but
half-way to the door she thought better of it, and came back to
her seat. Good mother! she hoped the better to conceal the
unusual spirt of temper, by pretending not to take much notice of
it. 'Go on, minister,' she said; 'it is very interesting what you
are reading about, and when I don't quite understand it, I like
the sound of your voice.' So he went on, but languidly and
irregularly, and beat no more time with his ruler to any Latin
lines. When the dusk came on, early that July night because of
the cloudy sky, Phillis came softly back, making as though
nothing had happened. She took up her work, but it was too dark
to do many stitches; and she dropped it soon. Then I saw how her
hand stole into her mother's, and how this latter fondled it with
quiet little caresses, while the minister, as fully aware as I
was of this tender pantomime, went on talking in a happier tone
of voice about things as uninteresting to him, at the time, I
very believe, as they were to me; and that is saying a good deal,
and shows how much more real what was passing before him was,
even to a farmer, than the agricultural customs of the ancients.
I remember one thing more,--an attack which Betty the servant
made upon me one day as I came in through the kitchen where she
was churning, and stopped to ask her for a drink of buttermilk.
'I say, cousin Paul,' (she had adopted the family habit of
addressing me generally as cousin Paul, and always speaking of me
in that form,) 'something's amiss with our Phillis, and I reckon
you've a good guess what it is. She's not one to take up wi' such
as you,' (not complimentary, but that Betty never was, even to
those for whom she felt the highest respect,) 'but I'd as lief
yon Holdsworth had never come near us. So there you've a bit o'
my mind.' And a very unsatisfactory bit it was. I did not know
what to answer to the glimpse at the real state of the case
implied in the shrewd woman's speech; so I tried to put her off
by assuming surprise at her first assertion.
'Amiss with Phillis! I should like to know why you think anything
is wrong with her. She looks as blooming as any one can do.'
'Poor lad! you're but a big child after all; and you've likely
never heared of a fever-flush. But you know better nor that, my
fine fellow! so don't think for to put me off wi' blooms and
blossoms and such-like talk. What makes her walk about for hours
and hours o' nights when she used to be abed and asleep? I sleep
next room to her, and hear her plain as can be. What makes her
come in panting and ready to drop into that chair,'--nodding to
one close to the door,-- 'and it's "Oh! Betty, some water,
please"? That's the way she comes in now, when she used to come
back as fresh and bright as she went out. If yon friend o' yours
has played her false, he's a deal for t' answer for; she's a lass
who's as sweet and as sound as a nut, and the very apple of her
father's eye, and of her mother's too' only wi' her she ranks
second to th' minister. You'll have to look after yon chap, for
I, for one, will stand no wrong to our Phillis.'
What was I to do, or to say? I wanted to justify Holdsworth, to
keep Phillis's secret, and to pacify the woman all in the same
breath. I did not take the best course, I'm afraid.
'I don't believe Holdsworth ever spoke a word of--of love to her
in all his life. I'm sure he didn't.'
'Ay. Ay! but there's eyes, and there's hands, as well as tongues;
and a man has two o' th' one and but one o' t'other.'
'And she's so young; do you suppose her parents would not have
'Well! if you axe me that, I'll say out boldly, "No". They've
called her "the child" so long--"the child" is always their name
for her when they talk on her between themselves, as if never
anybody else had a ewe-lamb before them--that she's grown up to
be a woman under their very eyes, and they look on her still as
if she were in her long clothes. And you ne'er heard on a man
falling in love wi' a babby in long clothes!'
'No!' said I, half laughing. But she went on as grave as a judge.
'Ay! you see you'll laugh at the bare thought on it--and I'll be
bound th' minister, though he's not a laughing man, would ha'
sniggled at th' notion of falling in love wi' the child. Where's
Holdsworth off to?'
'Canada,' said I, shortly.
'Canada here, Canada there,' she replied, testily. 'Tell me how
far he's off, instead of giving me your gibberish. Is he a two
days' journey away? or a three? or a week?'
'He's ever so far off--three weeks at the least,' cried I in
despair. 'And he's either married, or just going to be. So
there.' I expected a fresh burst of anger. But no; the matter was
too serious. Betty sate down, and kept silence for a minute or
two. She looked so miserable and downcast, that I could not help
going on, and taking her a little into my confidence.
'It is quite true what I said. I know he never spoke a word to
her. I think he liked her, but it's all over now. The best thing
we can do--the best and kindest for her--and I know you love her,
'I nursed her in my arms; I gave her little brother his last
taste o' earthly food,' said Betty, putting her apron up to her
'Well! don't let us show her we guess that she is grieving;
she'll get over it the sooner. Her father and mother don't even
guess at it, and we must make as if we didn't. It's too late now
to do anything else.'
'I'll never let on; I know nought. I've known true love mysel',
in my day. But I wish he'd been farred before he ever came near
this house, with his "Please Betty" this, and "Please Betty"
that, and drinking up our new milk as if he'd been a cat. I hate
such beguiling ways.'
I thought it was as well to let her exhaust herself in abusing
the absent Holdsworth; if it was shabby and treacherous in me, I
came in for my punishment directly.
'It's a caution to a man how he goes about beguiling. Some men do
it as easy and innocent as cooing doves. Don't you be none of
'em, my lad. Not that you've got the gifts to do it, either;
you're no great shakes to look at, neither for figure, nor yet
for face, and it would need be a deaf adder to be taken in wi'
your words, though there may be no great harm in em. A lad of
nineteen or twenty is not flattered by such an out-spoken opinion
even from the oldest and ugliest of her sex; and I was only too
glad to change the subject by my repeated injunctions to keep
Phillis's secret. The end of our conversation was this speech of
'You great gaupus, for all you're called cousin o' th'
minister--many a one is cursed wi' fools for cousins--d'ye think
I can't see sense except through your spectacles? I give you
leave to cut out my tongue, and nail it up on th' barn-door for a
caution to magpies, if I let out on that poor wench, either to
herself, or any one that is hers, as the Bible says. Now you've
heard me speak Scripture language, perhaps you'll be content, and
leave me my kitchen to myself.'
During all these days, from the 5th of July to the 17th, I must
have forgotten what Holdsworth had said about cards. And yet I
think I could not have quite forgotten; but, once having told
Phillis about his marriage, I must have looked upon the after
consequence of cards as of no importance. At any rate they came
upon me as a surprise at last. The penny-post reform, as people
call it, had come into operation a short time before; but the
never-ending stream of notes and letters which seem now to flow
in upon most households had not yet begun its course; at least in
those remote parts. There was a post-office at Hornby; and an old
fellow, who stowed away the few letters in any or all his
pockets, as it best suited him, was the letter-carrier to
Heathbridge and the neighbourhood. I have often met him in the
lanes thereabouts, and asked him for letters. Sometimes I have
come upon him, sitting on the hedge-bank resting; and he has
begged me to read him an address, too illegible for his
spectacled eyes to decipher. When I used to inquire if he had
anything for me, or for Holdsworth (he was not particular to whom
he gave up the letters, so that he got rid of them somehow, and
could set off homewards), he would say he thought that he had,
for such was his invariable safe form of answer; and would fumble
in breast-pockets, waistcoat-pockets, breeches-pockets, and, as a
last resource, in coat-tail pockets; and at length try to comfort
me, if I looked disappointed, by telling me, 'Hoo had missed this
toime, but was sure to write to-morrow;' 'Hoo' representing an
Sometimes I had seen the minister bring home a letter which he
had found lying for him at the little shop that was the
post-office at Heathbridge, or from the grander establishment at
Hornby. Once or twice Josiah, the carter, remembered that the old
letter-carrier had trusted him with an epistle to 'Measter', as
they had met in the lanes. I think it must have been about ten
days after my arrival at the farm, and my talk to Phillis cutting
bread-and-butter at the kitchen dresser, before the day on which
the minister suddenly spoke at the dinner-table, and said,--
'By-the-by, I've got a letter in my pocket. Reach me my coat
here, Phillis.' The weather was still sultry, and for coolness
and ease the minister was sitting in his shirt-sleeves. 'I went
to Heathbridge about the paper they had sent me, which spoils all
the pens--and I called at the post-office, and found a letter for
me, unpaid,--and they did not like to trust it to old Zekiel. Ay!
here it is! Now we shall hear news of Holdsworth,--I thought I'd
keep it till we were all together.' My heart seemed to stop
beating, and I hung my head over my plate, not daring to look up.
What would come of it now? What was Phillis doing? How was she
looking? A moment of suspense,--and then he spoke again. 'Why!
what's this? Here are two visiting tickets with his name on, no
writing at all. No! it's not his name on both. MRS Holdsworth!
The young man has gone and got married.' I lifted my head at
these words; I could not help looking just for one instant at
Phillis. It seemed to me as if she had been keeping watch over my
face and ways. Her face was brilliantly flushed; her eyes were
dry and glittering; but she did not speak; her lips were set
together almost as if she was pinching them tight to prevent
words or sounds coming out. Cousin Holman's face expressed
surprise and interest.
'Well!' said she, 'who'd ha' thought it! He's made quick work of
his wooing and wedding. I'm sure I wish him happy. Let me
see'--counting on her fingers,--'October, November, December,
January, February, March, April, May, June, July,--at least we're
at the 28th,--it is nearly ten months after all, and reckon a
month each way off--'
'Did you know of this news before?' said the minister, turning
sharp round on me, surprised, I suppose, at my silence,--hardly
suspicious, as yet.
'I knew--I had heard--something. It is to a French Canadian young
lady,' I went on, forcing myself to talk. 'Her name is
'Lucille Ventadour!' said Phillis, in a sharp voice, out of tune.
'Then you knew too!' exclaimed the minister. We both spoke at
once. I said, 'I heard of the probability of--and told Phillis.'
She said, 'He is married to Lucille Ventadour, of French descent;
one of a large family near St. Meurice; am not I right?' I nodded
'Paul told me,--that is all we know, is not it? Did you see the
Howsons, father, in Heathbridge?' and she forced herself to talk
more than she had done for several days, asking many questions,
trying, as I could see, to keep the conversation off the one raw
surface, on which to touch was agony. I had less self-command;
but I followed her lead. I was not so much absorbed in the
conversation but what I could see that the minister was puzzled
and uneasy; though he seconded Phillis's efforts to prevent her
mother from recurring to the great piece of news, and uttering
continual exclamations of wonder and surprise. But with that one
exception we were all disturbed out of our natural equanimity,
more or less. Every day, every hour, I was reproaching myself
more and more for my blundering officiousness. If only I had held
my foolish tongue for that one half-hour; if only I had not been
in such impatient haste to do something to relieve pain! I could
have knocked my stupid head against the wall in my remorse. Yet
all I could do now was to second the brave girl in her efforts to
conceal her disappointment and keep her maidenly secret. But I
thought that dinner would never, never come to an end. I suffered
for her, even more than for myself. Until now everything which I
had heard spoken in that happy household were simple words of
true meaning. If we bad aught to say, we said it; and if any one
preferred silence, nay if all did so, there would have been no
spasmodic, forced efforts to talk for the sake of talking, or to
keep off intrusive thoughts or suspicions.
At length we got up from our places, and prepared to disperse;
but two or three of us had lost our zest and interest in the
daily labour. The minister stood looking out of the window in
silence, and when he roused himself to go out to the fields where
his labourers were working, it was with a sigh; and he tried to
avert his troubled face as he passed us on his way to the door.
When he had left us, I caught sight of Phillis's face, as,
thinking herself unobserved, her countenance relaxed for a moment
or two into sad, woeful weariness. She started into briskness
again when her mother spoke, and hurried away to do some little
errand at her bidding. When we two were alone, cousin Holman
recurred to Holdsworth's marriage. She was one of those people
who like to view an event from every side of probability, or even
possibility; and she had been cut short from indulging herself in
this way during dinner.
'To think of Mr Holdsworth's being married! I can't get over it,
Paul. Not but what he was a very nice young man! I don't like her
name, though; it sounds foreign. Say it again, my dear. I hope
she'll know how to take care of him, English fashion. He is not
strong, and if she does not see that his things are well aired, I
should be afraid of the old cough'
'He always said he was stronger than he had ever been before,
after that fever.' 'He might think so, but I have my doubts. He
was a very pleasant young man, but he did not stand nursing very
well. He got tired of being coddled, as he called it. J hope
they'll soon come back to England, and then he'll have a chance
for his health. I wonder now, if she speaks English; but, to be
sure, he can speak foreign tongues like anything, as I've heard
the minister say.' And so we went on for some time, till she
became drowsy over her knitting, on the sultry summer afternoon;
and I stole away for a walk, for I wanted some solitude in which
to think over things, and, alas! to blame myself with poignant
stabs of remorse.
I lounged lazily as soon as I got to the wood. Here and there the
bubbling, brawling brook circled round a great stone, or a root
of an old tree, and made a pool; otherwise it coursed brightly
over the gravel and stones. I stood by one of these for more than
half an hour, or, indeed, longer, throwing bits of wood or
pebbles into the water, and wondering what I could do to remedy
the present state of things. Of course all my meditation was of
no use; and at length the distant sound of the horn employed to
tell the men far afield to leave off work, warned me that it was
six o'clock, and time for me to go home. Then I caught wafts of
the loud-voiced singing of the evening psalm. As I was crossing
the Ashfield, I saw the minister at some distance talking to a
man. I could not hear what they were saying, but I saw an
impatient or dissentient (I could not tell which) gesture on the
part of the former, who walked quickly away, and was apparently
absorbed in his thoughts, for though be passed within twenty
yards of me, as both our paths converged towards home, he took no
notice of me. We passed the evening in a way which was even worse
than dinner-time. The minister was silent, depressed, even
irritable. Poor cousin Holman was utterly perplexed by this
unusual frame of mind and temper in her husband; she was not well
herself, and was suffering from the extreme and sultry heat,
which made her less talkative than usual. Phillis, usually so
reverently tender to her parents, so soft, so gentle, seemed now
to take no notice of the unusual state of things, but talked to
me--to any one, on indifferent subjects, regardless of her
father's gravity, of her mother's piteous looks of bewilderment.
But once my eyes fell upon her hands, concealed under the table,
and I could see the passionate, convulsive manner in which she
laced and interlaced her fingers perpetually, wringing them
together from time to time, wringing till the compressed flesh
became perfectly white. What could I do? I talked with her, as I
saw she wished; her grey eyes had dark circles round them and a
strange kind of dark light in them; her cheeks were flushed, but
her lips were white and wan. I wondered that others did not read
these signs as clearly as I did. But perhaps they did; I think,
from what came afterwards, the minister did. Poor cousin Holman!
she worshipped her husband; and the outward signs of his
uneasiness were more patent to her simple heart than were her
daughter's. After a while she could bear it no longer. She got
up, and, softly laying her hand on his broad stooping shoulder,
'What is the matter, minister? Has anything gone wrong?'
He started as if from a dream. Phillis hung her head, and caught
her breath in terror at the answer she feared. But he, looking
round with a sweeping glance, turned his broad, wise face up to
his anxious wife, and forced a smile, and took her hand in a
'I am blaming myself, dear. I have been overcome with anger this
afternoon. I scarcely knew what I was doing, but I turned away
Timothy Cooper. He has killed the Ribstone pippin at the corner
of the orchard; gone and piled the quicklime for the mortar for
the new stable wall against the trunk of the tree--stupid fellow!
killed the tree outright--and it loaded with apples!'
'And Ribstone pippins are so scarce,' said sympathetic cousin
'Ay! But Timothy is but a half-wit; and he has a wife and
children. He had often put me to it sore, with his slothful ways,
but I had laid it before the Lord, and striven to bear with him.
But I will not stand it any longer, it's past my patience. And he
has notice to find another place. Wife, we won't talk more about
it.' He took her hand gently off his shoulder, touched it with
his lips; but relapsed into a silence as profound, if not quite
so morose in appearance, as before. I could not tell why, but
this bit of talk between her father and mother seemed to take all
the factitious spirits out of Phillis. She did not speak now, but
looked out of the open casement at the calm large moon, slowly
moving through the twilight sky. Once I thought her eyes were
filling with tears; but, if so, she shook them off, and arose
with alacrity when her mother, tired and dispirited, proposed to
go to bed immediately after prayers. We all said good-night in
our separate ways to the minister, who still sate at the table
with the great Bible open before him, not much looking up at any
of our salutations, but returning them kindly. But when I, last
of all, was on the point of leaving the room, he said, still
scarcely looking up,--
'Paul, you will oblige me by staying here a few minutes. I would
fain have some talk with you.'
I knew what was coming, all in a moment. I carefully shut--to the
door, put out my candle, and sate down to my fate. He seemed to
find some difficulty in beginning, for, if I had not heard that
he wanted to speak to me, I should never have guessed it, he
seemed so much absorbed in reading a chapter to the end. Suddenly
he lifted his head up and said,--
'It is about that friend of yours, Holdsworth! Paul, have you any
reason for thinking he has played tricks upon Phillis?' I saw
that his eyes were blazing with such a fire of anger at the bare
idea, that I lost all my presence of mind, and only repeated,--
'Played tricks on Phillis!'
'Ay! you know what I mean: made love to her, courted her, made
her think that he loved her, and then gone away and left her. Put
it as you will, only give me an answer of some kind or another--a
true answer, I mean--and don't repeat my words, Paul.'
He was shaking all over as he said this. I did not delay a moment
in answering him,--
'I do not believe that Edward Holdsworth ever played tricks on
Phillis, ever made love to her; he never, to my knowledge, made
her believe that he loved her.'
I stopped; I wanted to nerve up my courage for a confession, yet
I wished to save the secret of Phillis's love for Holdsworth as
much as I could; that secret which she had so striven to keep
sacred and safe; and I had need of some reflection before I went
on with what I had to say.
He began again before I had quite arranged my manner of speech.
It was almost as if to himself,--'She is my only child; my little
daughter! She is hardly out of childhood; I have thought to
gather her under my wings for years to come her mother and I
would lay down our lives to keep her from harm and grief.' Then,
raising his voice, and looking at me, he said, 'Something has
gone wrong with the child; and it seemed to me to date from the
time she heard of that marriage. It is hard to think that you may
know more of her secret cares and sorrows than I do,--but perhaps
you do, Paul, perhaps you do,--only, if it be not a sin, tell me
what I can do to make her happy again; tell me.'
'It will not do much good, I am afraid,' said I, 'but I will own
how wrong I did; I don't mean wrong in the way of sin, but in the
way of judgment. Holdsworth told me just before he went that he
loved Phillis, and hoped to make her his wife, and I told her.'
There! it was out; all my part in it, at least; and I set my lips
tight together, and waited for the words to come. I did not see
his face; I looked straight at the wall Opposite; but I heard him
once begin to speak, and then turn over the leaves in the book
before him. How awfully still that room was I The air outside,
how still it was! The open windows let in no rustle of leaves, no
twitter or movement of birds--no sound whatever. The clock on the
stairs-- the minister's hard breathing--was it to go on for ever?
Impatient beyond bearing at the deep quiet, I spoke again,--
'I did it for the best, as I thought.'
The minister shut the book to hastily, and stood up. Then I saw
how angry he was.
'For the best, do you say? It was best, was it, to go and tell a
young girl what you never told a word of to her parents, who
trusted you like a son of their own?'
He began walking about, up and down the room close under the open
windows, churning up his bitter thoughts of me.
'To put such thoughts into the child's head,' continued he; 'to
spoil her peaceful maidenhood with talk about another man's love;
and such love, too,' he spoke scornfully now--a love that is
ready for any young woman. Oh, the misery in my poor little
daughter's face to-day at dinner--the misery, Paul! I thought you
were one to be trusted--your father's son too, to go and put such
thoughts into the child's mind; you two talking together about
that man wishing to marry her.'
I could not help remembering the pinafore, the childish garment
which Phillis wore so long, as if her parents were unaware of her
progress towards womanhood. Just in the same way the minister
spoke and thought of her now, as a child, whose innocent peace I
had spoiled by vain and foolish talk. I knew that the truth was
different, though I could hardly have told it now; but, indeed, I
never thought of trying to tell; it was far from my mind to add
one iota to the sorrow which I had caused. The minister went on
walking, occasionally stopping to move things on the table, or
articles of furniture, in a sharp, impatient, meaningless way,
then he began again,--
'So young, so pure from the world! how could you go and talk to
such a child, raising hopes, exciting feelings--all to end thus;
and best so, even though I saw her poor piteous face look as it
did. I can't forgive you, Paul; it was more than wrong--it was
wicked--to go and repeat that man's words.'
His back was now to the door, and, in listening to his low angry
tones, he did not hear it slowly open, nor did he see Phillis.
standing just within the room, until he turned round; then he
stood still. She must have been half undressed; but she had
covered herself with a dark winter cloak, which fell in long
folds to her white, naked, noiseless feet. Her face was strangely
pale: her eyes heavy in the black circles round them. She came up
to the table very slowly, and leant her hand upon it, saying
'Father, you must not blame Paul. I could not help hearing a
great deal of what you were saying. He did tell me, and perhaps
it would have been wiser not, dear Paul! But--oh, dear! oh, dear!
I am so sick with shame! He told me out of his kind heart,
because he saw--that I was so very unhappy at his going away. She
hung her head, and leant more heavily than before on her
'I don't understand,' said her father; but he was beginning to
understand. Phillis did not answer till he asked her again. I
could have struck him now for his cruelty; but then I knew all.
'I loved him, father!' she said at length, raising her eyes to
the minister's face. 'Had he ever spoken of love to you? Paul
'Never.' She let fall her eyes, and drooped more than ever. I
almost thought she would fall.
'I could not have believed it,' said he, in a hard voice, yet
sighing the moment he had spoken. A dead silence for a moment.
'Paul! I was unjust to you. You deserved blame, but not all that
I said.' Then again a silence. I thought I saw Phillis's white
lips moving, but it might have been the flickering of the
candlelight--a moth had flown in through the open casement, and
was fluttering round the flame; I might have saved it, but I did
not care to do so, my heart was too full of other things. At any
rate, no sound was heard for long endless minutes. Then he
said,--'Phillis! did we not make you happy here? Have we not
loved you enough?'
She did not seem to understand the drift of this question; she
looked up as if bewildered, and her beautiful eyes dilated with a
painful, tortured expression. He went on, without noticing the
look on her face; he did not see it, I am sure.
'And yet you would have left us, left your home, left your father
and your mother, and gone away with this stranger, wandering over
the world.' He suffered, too; there were tones of pain in the
voice in which he uttered this reproach. Probably the father and
daughter were never so far apart in their lives, so
unsympathetic. Yet some new terror came over her, and it was to
him she turned for help. A shadow came over her face, and she
tottered towards her father; falling down, her arms across his
knees, and moaning out,--
'Father, my head! my head!' and then slipped through his
quick-enfolding arms, and lay on the ground at his feet.
I shall never forget his sudden look of agony while I live;
never! We raised her up; her colour had strangely darkened; she
was insensible. I ran through the back-kitchen to the yard pump,
and brought back water. The minister had her on his knees, her
head against his breast, almost as though she were a sleeping
child. He was trying to rise up with his poor precious burden,
but the momentary terror had robbed the strong man of his
strength, and he sank back in his chair with sobbing breath.
'She is not dead, Paul! is she?' he whispered, hoarse, as I came
near him. I, too, could not speak, but I pointed to the quivering
of the muscles round her mouth. Just then cousin Holman,
attracted by some unwonted sound, came down. I remember I was
surprised at the time at her presence of mind, she seemed to know
so much better what to do than the minister, in the midst of the
sick affright which blanched her countenance, and made her
tremble all over. I think now that it was the recollection of
what had gone before; the miserable thought that possibly his
words had brought on this attack, whatever it might be, that so
unmanned the minister. We carried her upstairs, and while the
women were putting her to bed, still unconscious, still slightly
convulsed, I slipped out, and saddled one of the horses, and rode
as fast as the heavy-trotting beast could go, to Hornby, to find
the doctor there, and bring him back. He was out, might be
detained the whole night. I remember saying, 'God help us all!'
as I sate on my horse, under the window, through which the
apprentice's head had appeared to answer my furious tugs at the
night-bell. He was a good-natured fellow. He said,--
'He may be home in half an hour, there's no knowing; but I
daresay he will. I'll send him out to the Hope Farm directly he
comes in. It's that good-looking young woman, Holman's daughter,
that's ill, isn't it?'
'It would be a pity if she was to go. She's an only child, isn't
she? I'll get up, and smoke a pipe in the surgery, ready for the
governor's coming home. I might go to sleep if I went to bed
'Thank you, you're a good fellow!' and I rode back almost as
quickly as I came. It was a brain fever. The doctor said so, when
he came in the early summer morning. I believe we had come to
know the nature of the illness in the night-watches that had gone
before. As to hope of ultimate recovery, or even evil prophecy of
the probable end, the cautious doctor would be entrapped into
neither. He gave his directions, and promised to come again; so
soon, that this one thing showed his opinion of the gravity of
By God's mercy she recovered, but it was a long, weary time
first. According to previously made plans, I was to have gone
home at the beginning of August. But all such ideas were put
aside now, without a word being spoken. I really think that I was
necessary in the house, and especially necessary to the minister
at this time; my father was the last man in the world, under such
circumstances, to expect me home.
I say, I think I was necessary in the house. Every person (1 had
almost said every creature, for all the dumb beasts seemed to
know and love Phillis) about the place went grieving and sad, as
though a cloud was over the sun. They did their work, each
striving to steer clear of the temptation to eye-service, in
fulfilment of the trust reposed in them by the minister. For the
day after Phillis had been taken ill, he had called all the men
employed on the farm into the empty barn; and there he had
entreated their prayers for his only child; and then and there he
had told them of his present incapacity for thought about any
other thing in this world but his little daughter, lying nigh
unto death, and he had asked them to go on with their daily
labours as best they could, without his direction. So, as I say,
these honest men did their work to the best of their ability, but
they slouched along with sad and careful faces, coming one by one
in the dim mornings to ask news of the sorrow that overshadowed
the house; and receiving Betty's intelligence, always rather
darkened by passing through her mind, with slow shakes of the
head, and a dull wistfulness of sympathy. But, poor fellows, they
were hardly fit to be trusted with hasty messages, and here my
poor services came in. One time I was to ride hard to Sir William
Bentinck's, and petition for ice out of his ice-house, to put on
Phillis's head. Another it was to Eltham I must go, by train,
horse, anyhow, and bid the doctor there come for a consultation,
for fresh symptoms had appeared, which Mr Brown, of Hornby,
considered unfavour able. Many an hour have I sate on the
window-seat, half-way up the stairs, close by the old clock,
listening in the hot stillness of the house for the sounds in the
sick-room. The minister and I met often, but spoke together
seldom. He looked so old--so old! He shared the nursing with his
wife; the strength that was needed seemed to be given to them
both in that day. They required no one else about their child.
Every office about her was sacred to them; even Betty only went
into the room for the most necessary purposes. Once I saw Phillis
through the open door; her pretty golden hair had been cut off
long before; her head was covered with wet cloths, and she was
moving it backwards and forwards on the pillow, with weary,
never-ending motion, her poor eyes shut, trying in the old
accustomed way to croon out a hymn tune, but perpetually breaking
it up into moans of pain. Her mother sate by her, tearless,
changing the cloths upon her head with patient solicitude. I did
not see the minister at first, but there he was in a dark corner,
down upon his knees, his hands clasped together in passionate
prayer. Then the door shut, and I saw no more. One day he was
wanted; and I had to summon him. Brother Robinson and another
minister, hearing of his 'trial', had come to see him. I told him
this upon the stair-landing in a whisper. He was strangely
'They will want me to lay bare my heart. I cannot do it. Paul,
stay with me. They mean well; but as for spiritual help at such a
time--it is God only, God only, who can give it.
So I went in with him. They were two ministers from the
neighbourhood; both older than Ebenezer Holman; but evidently
inferior to him in education and worldly position. I thought they
looked at me as if I were an intruder, but remembering the
minister's words I held my ground, and took up one of poor
Phillis's books (of which I could not read a word) to have an
ostensible occupation. Presently I was asked to 'engage in
prayer', and we all knelt down; Brother Robinson 'leading', and
quoting largely as I remember from the Book of Job. He seemed to
take for his text, if texts are ever taken for prayers,
'Behold thou hast instructed many; but now it is come upon thee,
and thou faintest, it toucheth thee and thou art troubled.' When
we others rose up, the minister continued for some minutes on his
knees. Then he too got up, and stood facing us, for a moment,
before we all sate down in conclave. After a pause Robinson
'We grieve for you, Brother Holman, for your trouble is great.
But we would fain have you remember you are as a light set on a
hill; and the congregations are looking at you with watchful
eyes. We have been talking as we came along on the two duties
required of you in this strait; Brother Hodgson and me. And we
have resolved to exhort you on these two points. First, God has
given you the opportunity of showing forth an example of
resignation.' Poor Mr Holman visibly winced at this word. I could
fancy how he had tossed aside such brotherly preachings in his
happier moments; but now his whole system was unstrung, and
'resignation' seemed a term which presupposed that the dreaded
misery of losing Phillis was inevitable. But good stupid Mr
Robinson went on. 'We hear on all sides that there are scarce any
hopes of your child's recovery; and it may be well to bring you
to mind of Abraham; and how he was willing to kill his only child
when the Lord commanded. Take example by him, Brother Holman. Let
us hear you say, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord!"'
There was a pause of expectancy. I verily believe the minister
tried to feel it; but he could not. Heart of flesh was too
strong. Heart of stone he had not.
'I will say it to my God, when He gives me strength,--when the
day comes,' he spoke at last.
The other two looked at each other, and shook their heads. I
think the reluctance to answer as they wished was not quite
unexpected. The minister went on 'There are vet' he said, as if
to himself. 'God has given me a great heart for hoping, and I
will not look forward beyond the hour.' Then turning more to
them,--and speaking louder, he added: 'Brethren, God will
strengthen me when the time comes, when such resignation as you
speak of is needed. Till then I cannot feel it; and what I do not
feel I will not express; using words as if they were a charm.' He
was getting chafed, I could see. He had rather put them out by
these speeches of his; but after a short time and some more
shakes of the head, Robinson began again,--
'Secondly, we would have you listen to the voice of the rod, and
ask yourself for what sins this trial has been laid upon you;
whether you may not have been too much given up to your farm and
your cattle; whether this world's learning has not puffed you up
to vain conceit and neglect of the things of God; whether you
have not made an idol of your daughter?'
'I cannot answer--I will not answer'.' exclaimed the minister.
'My sins I confess to God. But if they were scarlet (and they are
so in His sight),' he added, humbly, 'I hold with Christ that
afflictions are not sent by God in wrath as penalties for sin.'
'Is that orthodox, Brother Robinson?' asked the third minister,
in a deferential tone of inquiry.
Despite the minister's injunction not to leave him, I thought
matters were getting so serious that a little homely interruption
would be more to the purpose than my continued presence, and I
went round to the kitchen to ask for Betty's help.
''Od rot 'em!' said she; 'they're always a-coming at
ill-convenient times; and they have such hearty appetites,
they'll make nothing of what would have served master and you
since our poor lass has been ill. I've but a bit of cold beef in
th' house; but I'll do some ham and eggs, and that 'll rout 'em
from worrying the minister. They're a deal quieter after they've
had their victual. Last time as old Robinson came, he was very
reprehensible upon master's learning, which he couldn't compass
to save his life, so he needn't have been afeard of that
temptation, and used words long enough to have knocked a body
down; but after me and missus had given him his fill of victual,
and he'd had some good ale and a pipe, he spoke just like any
other man, and could crack a joke with me.'
Their visit was the only break in the long weary days and nights.
I do not mean that no other inquiries were made. I believe that
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