Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
Part 3 out of 3
all the neighbours hung about the place daily till they could
learn from some out-comer how Phillis Holman was. But they knew
better than to come up to the house, for the August weather was
so hot that every door and window was kept constantly open, and
the least sound outside penetrated all through. I am sure the
cocks and hens had a sad time of it; for Betty drove them all
into an empty barn, and kept them fastened up in the dark for
several days, with very little effect as regarded their crowing
and clacking. At length came a sleep which was the crisis, and
from which she wakened up with a new faint life. Her slumber had
lasted many, many hours. We scarcely dared to breathe or move
during the time; we had striven to hope so long, that we were
sick at heart, and durst not trust in the favourable signs: the
even breathing, the moistened skin, the slight return of delicate
colour into the pale, wan lips. I recollect stealing out that
evening in the dusk, and wandering down the grassy lane, under
the shadow of the over-arching elms to the little bridge at the
foot of the hill, where the lane to the Hope Farm joined another
road to Hornby. On the low parapet of that bridge I found Timothy
Cooper, the stupid, half-witted labourer, sitting, idly throwing
bits of mortar into the brook below. He just looked up at me as I
came near, but gave me no greeting either by word or gesture. He
had generally made some sign' of recognition to me, but this time
I thought he was sullen at being dismissed. Nevertheless I felt
as if it would be a relief to talk a little to some one, and I
sate down by him. While I was thinking how to begin, he yawned
'You are tired, Tim?' said I.
'Ay,' said he. 'But I reckon I may go home now.' 'Have you been
sitting here long?'
'Welly all day long. Leastways sin' seven i' th' morning.' 'Why,
what in the world have you been doing?' 'Nought.'
'Why have you been sitting here, then?'
'T' keep carts off.' He was up now, stretching himself, and
shaking his lubberly limbs.
'Carts! what carts?'
'Carts as might ha' wakened yon wench! It's Hornby market day. I
reckon yo're no better nor a half-wit yoursel'.' He cocked his
eye at me as if he were gauging my intellect.
'And have you been sitting here all day to keep the lane quiet?'
'Ay. I've nought else to do. Th' minister has turned me adrift.
Have yo' heard how th' lass is faring to-night?'
'They hope she'll waken better for this long sleep. Good night to
you, and God bless you, Timothy,' said I.
He scarcely took any notice of my words, as he lumbered across a
Stile that led to his cottage. Presently I went home to the farm.
Phillis had Stirred, had Spoken two or three faint words. Her
mother was with her, dropping nourishment into her scarce
conscious mouth. The rest of the household were summoned to
evening prayer for the first time for many days. It was a return
to the daily habits of happiness and health. But in these Silent
days our very lives had been an unspoken prayer. Now we met In
the house-place, and looked at each other with strange
recognition of the thankfulness on all Our faces. We knelt down;
we waited for the minister's voice. He did not begin as usual. He
could not; he was choking. Presently we heard the strong man's
sob. Then old John turned round on his knees, and said,--
'Minister, I reckon we have blessed the Lord wi' all our souls,
though we've ne'er talked about it; and maybe He'll not need
spoken words this night. God bless us all, and keep our Phillis
safe from harm! Amen.' Old John's impromptu prayer was all we had
'Our Phillis,' as he called her, grew better day by day from that
time. Not quickly; I sometimes grew desponding, and feared that
she would never be what she had been before; no more she has, in
I seized an early opportunity to tell the minister about Timothy
Cooper's unsolicited watch on the bridge during the long Summer's
'God forgive me!' said the minister. 'I have been too proud in my
own conceit. The first steps I take out of this house shall be to
I need hardly say Timothy was reinstated in his place on the
farm; and I have often since admired the patience with which his
master tried to teach him how to do the easy work which was
henceforward carefully adjusted to his capacity. Phillis was
carried down-stairs, and lay for hour after hour quite silent on
the great sofa, drawn up under the windows of the house-place.
She seemed always the same, gentle, quiet, and sad. Her energy
did not return with her bodily strength. It was sometimes pitiful
to see her parents' vain endeavours to rouse her to interest. One
day the minister brought her a set of blue ribbons, reminding her
with a tender smile of a former conversation in which she had
owned to a love of such feminine vanities. She spoke gratefully
to him, but when he was gone she laid them on one side, and
languidly shut her eyes. Another time I saw her mother bring her
the Latin and Italian books that she had been so fond of before
her illness--or, rather, before Holdsworth had gone away. That
was worst of all. She turned her face to the wall, and cried as
soon as her mother's back was turned. Betty was laying the cloth
for the early dinner. Her sharp eyes saw the state of the case.
'Now, Phillis!' said she, coming up to the sofa; 'we ha' done a'
we can for you, and th' doctors has done a' they can for you, and
I think the Lord has done a' He can for you, and more than you
deserve, too, if you don't do something for yourself. If I were
you, I'd rise up and snuff the moon, sooner than break your
father's and your mother's hearts wi' watching and waiting till
it pleases you to fight your Own way back to cheerfulness. There,
I never favoured long preachings, and I've said my say.'
A day or two after Phillis asked me, when we were alone, if I
thought my father and mother would allow her to go and stay with
them for a couple of months. She blushed a little as she faltered
out her wish for change of thought and scene.
'Only for a short time, Paul. Then--we will go back to the peace
of the old days. I know we shall; I can, and I will!'
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