Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
 
Cousin Phillis
By Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–1865)
 
From Cousin Phillis

THE MORROW was blue, and sunny, and beautiful; the very perfection of an early summer’s day. Mr. Holdsworth was all impatience to be off into the country; morning had brought back his freshness and strength, and consequent eagerness to be doing. I was afraid we were going to my cousin’s farm rather too early, before they would expect us; but what could I do with such a restless vehement man as Holdsworth was that morning? We came down upon the Hope Farm before the dew was off the grass on the shady side of the lane; the great house-dog was loose, basking in the sun near the closed side door. I was surprised at this door being shut, for all summer long it was open from morning to night; but it was only on latch. I opened it, Rover watching me with half-suspicious, half-trustful eyes. The room was empty.
  1
  “I don’t know where they can be,” said I. “But come in and sit down while I go and look for them. You must be tired.”  2
  “Not I. This sweet balmy air is like a thousand tonics. Besides this room is hot, and smells of those pungent wood-ashes. What are we to do?”  3
  “Go round to the kitchen. Betty will tell us where they are.”  4
  So we went round into the farm yard. Rover accompanying us out of a grave sense of duty. Betty was washing out her milk-pans in the cold bubbling spring-water that constantly trickled in and out of a stone trough. In such weather as this most of her kitchen work was done out of doors.  5
  “Eh, dear!” said she, “the minister and missus is away at Hornby! They ne’er thought of your coming so betimes! The missus had some errands to do, and she thought as she’d walk with the minister and be back by dinner time.”  6
  “Did not they expect us to dinner?” said I.  7
  “Well they did, and they did not, as I may say. Missus said to me the cold lamb would do well enough if you did not come; and if you did I was to put on a chicken and some bacon to boil; and I’ll go and do it now, for it is hard to boil bacon enough.”  8
  “And is Phillis gone too?” Mr. Holdsworth was making friends with Rover.  9
  “No! she’s just somewhere about. I’ll reckon you find her in the kitchen garden, getting peas.”  10
  “Let us go there,” said Holdsworth, suddenly leaving off his play with the dog.  11
  So I led the way into the kitchen garden. It was in the first promise of a summer profuse in vegetables and fruits. Perhaps it was not so much cared for as other parts of the property; but it was more attended to than most kitchen gardens belonging to farmhouses. There were borders of flowers along each side of the gravel walks; and there was an old sheltering wall on the north side covered with tolerably choice fruit-trees; there was a slope down to the fish-pond at the end, where there were great strawberry beds; and raspberry bushes and rose bushes grew wherever there was a space; it seemed a chance which had been planted. Long rows of peas stretched at right angles from the main walk, and I saw Phillis stooping down among them, before she saw us. As soon as she heard our cranching steps on the gravel, she stood up, and shading her eyes from the sun recognised us. She was quite still for a moment, and then came slowly towards us, blushing a little from evident shyness. I had never seen Phillis shy before.  12
  “This is Mr. Holdsworth, Phillis,” said I, as soon as I had shaken hands with her. She glanced up at him, and then looked down more flushed than ever at his grand formality of taking off his hat and bowing; such manners had never been seen at Hope Farm before.  13
  “Father and mother are out. They will be so sorry; you did not write, Paul, as you said you would.”  14
  “It was my fault,” said Holdsworth, understanding what she meant as well as if she had put it more fully into words. “I have not yet given up all the privileges of an invalid; one of which is indecision. Last night, when your cousin asked me at what time we were to start, I really could not make up my mind.”  15
  Phillis seemed as if she could not make up her mind what to do with us. I tried to help her—  16
  “Have you finished getting peas?” taking hold of the half-filled basket she was unconsciously holding in her hand; “or may we stay and help you?”  17
  “If you would. But perhaps it will tire you, sir?” added she, speaking now to Holdsworth.  18
  “Not a bit,” said he. “It will carry me back twenty years in my life, when I used to gather peas in my grandfather’s garden. I suppose I may eat a few as I go along?”  19
  “Certainly, sir. But if you went to the strawberry beds you would find some strawberries ripe, and Paul can show you where they are.”  20
  “I am afraid you distrust me. I can assure you I know the exact fulness at which peas should be gathered. I take great care not to pluck them when they are unripe. I will not be turned off as unfit for my work.”  21
  This was a style of half-joking that Phillis was not accustomed to. She looked for a moment as if she would have liked to defend herself from the playful charge of distrust made against her, but she ended by not saying a word. We all plucked our peas in busy silence for the next five minutes. Then Holdsworth lifted himself up from between the rows, and said a little wearily—  22
  “I am afraid I must strike work. I am not as strong as I fancied myself.”  23
  Phillis was full of penitence immediately. He did, indeed, look pale; and she blamed herself for having allowed him to help her.  24
  “It was very thoughtless of me. I did not know—I thought, perhaps, you really liked it. I ought to have offered you something to eat, sir! O Paul, we have gathered quite enough; how stupid I was to forget that Mr. Holdsworth had been ill!” And in a blushing hurry she led the way towards the house. We went in, and she moved a heavy cushioned chair forwards, into which Holdsworth was only too glad to sink. Then with deft and quiet speed she brought on a little tray, wine, water, cake, home-made bread, and newly-churned butter. She stood by in some anxiety till, after bite and sup, the colour returned to Mr. Holdsworth’s face, and he would fain have made us some laughing apologies for the fright he had given us. But then Phillis drew back from her innocent show of care and interest, and relapsed into the cold shyness habitual to her when she was first thrown into the company of strangers. She brought out the last week’s county paper (which Mr. Holdsworth had read five days ago), and then quietly withdrew; and then he subsided into languor, leaning back and shutting his eyes as if he would go to sleep. I stole into the kitchen after Phillis; but she had made the round of the corner of the house outside, and I found her sitting on the horse-mount, with her basket of peas, and a basin into which she was shelling them. Rover lay at her feet, snapping now and then at the flies. I went to her, and tried to help her; but somehow the sweet crisp young peas found their way more frequently into my mouth than into the basket, while we talked together in a low tone.  25
 
 
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