Wuthering Heights (Chapter 5)
On the morning of a fine June day my first bonny little nursling, and the last of the ancient Earnshaw stock, was born. We were busy with the hay in a far-away field, when the girl that usually brought our breakfasts came running an hour too soon across the meadow and up the lane, calling me as she ran.
‘Oh, such a grand bairn!’ she panted out. ‘The finest lad that ever breathed! But the doctor says missis must go: he says she’s been in a consumption these many months. I heard him tell Mr. Hindley: and now she has nothing to keep her, and she’ll be dead before winter. You must come home directly. You’re to nurse it, Nelly: to feed it with sugar and milk, and take care of it day and night. I wish I were you, because it will be all yours when there is no missis!’
‘But is she very ill?’ I asked, flinging down my rake and tying my bonnet.
‘I guess she is; yet she looks bravely,’ replied the girl, ‘and she talks as if she thought of living to see it grow a man. She’s out of her head for joy, it’s such a beauty! If I were her I’m certain I should not die: I should get better at the bare sight of it, in spite of Kenneth. I was fairly mad at him. Dame Archer brought the cherub down to master, in the house, and his face just began to light up, when the old croaker steps forward, and says he—“Earnshaw, it’s a blessing your wife has been spared to leave you this son. When she came, I felt convinced we shouldn’t keep her long; and now, I must tell you, the winter will probably finish her. Don’t take on, and fret about it too much: it can’t be helped. And besides, you should have known better than to choose such a rush of a lass!”’
‘And what did the master answer?’ I inquired.
‘I think he swore: but I didn’t mind him, I was straining to see the bairn,’ and she began again to describe it rapturously. I, as zealous as herself, hurried eagerly home to admire, on my part; though I was very sad for Hindley’s sake. He had room in his heart only for two idols—his wife and himself: he doted on both, and adored one, and I couldn’t conceive how he would bear the loss.
When we got to Wuthering Heights, there he stood at the front door; and, as I passed in, I asked, ‘how was the baby?’
‘Nearly ready to run about, Nell!’ he replied, putting on a cheerful smile.
‘And the mistress?’ I ventured to inquire; ‘the doctor says she’s—’
‘Damn the doctor!’ he interrupted, reddening. ‘Frances is quite right: she’ll be perfectly well by this time next week. Are you going up-stairs? will you tell her that I’ll come, if she’ll promise not to talk. I left her because she would not hold her tongue; and she must—tell her Mr. Kenneth says she must be quiet.’
I delivered this message to Mrs. Earnshaw; she seemed in flighty spirits, and replied merrily, ‘I hardly spoke a word, Ellen, and there he has gone out twice, crying. Well, say I promise I won’t speak: but that does not bind me not to laugh at him!’
Poor soul! Till within a week of her death that gay heart never failed her; and her husband persisted doggedly, nay, furiously, in affirming her health improved every day. When Kenneth warned him that his medicines were useless at that stage of the malady, and he needn’t put him to further expense by attending her, he retorted, ‘I know you need not—she’s well—she does not want any more attendance from you! She never was in a consumption. It was a fever; and it is gone: her pulse is as slow as mine now, and her cheek as cool.’
He told his wife the same story, and she seemed to believe him; but one night, while leaning on his shoulder, in the act of saying she thought she should be able to get up to-morrow, a fit of coughing took her—a very slight one—he raised her in his arms; she put her two hands about his neck, her face changed, and she was dead.
As the girl had anticipated, the child Hareton fell wholly into my hands. Mr. Earnshaw, provided he saw him healthy and never heard him cry, was contented, as far as regarded him. For himself, he grew desperate: his sorrow was of that kind that will not lament. He neither wept nor prayed; he cursed and defied: execrated God and man, and gave himself up to reckless dissipation. The servants could not bear his tyrannical and evil conduct long: Joseph and I were the only two that would stay. I had not the heart to leave my charge; and besides, you know, I had been his foster-sister, and excused his behaviour more readily than a stranger would. Joseph remained to hector over tenants and labourers; and because it was his vocation to be where he had plenty of wickedness to reprove.
The master’s bad ways and bad companions formed a pretty example for Catherine and Heathcliff. His treatment of the latter was enough to make a fiend of a saint. And, truly, it appeared as if the lad were possessed of something diabolical at that period. He delighted to witness Hindley degrading himself past redemption; and became daily more notable for savage sullenness and ferocity. I could not half tell what an infernal house we had. The curate dropped calling, and nobody decent came near us, at last; unless Edgar Linton’s visits to Miss Cathy might be an exception. At fifteen she was the queen of the country-side; she had no peer; and she did turn out a haughty, headstrong creature! I own I did not like her, after infancy was past; and I vexed her frequently by trying to bring down her arrogance: she never took an aversion to me, though. She had a wondrous constancy to old attachments: even Heathcliff kept his hold on her affections unalterably; and young Linton, with all his superiority, found it difficult to make an equally deep impression. He was my late master: that is his portrait over the fireplace. It used to hang on one side, and his wife’s on the other; but hers has been removed, or else you might see something of what she was. Can you make that out?
Mrs. Dean raised the candle, and I discerned a soft-featured face, exceedingly resembling the young lady at the Heights, but more pensive and amiable in expression. It formed a sweet picture. The long light hair curled slightly on the temples; the eyes were large and serious; the figure almost too graceful. I did not marvel how Catherine Earnshaw could forget her first friend for such an individual. I marvelled much how he, with a mind to correspond with his person, could fancy my idea of Catherine Earnshaw.
‘A very agreeable portrait,’ I observed to the house-keeper. ‘Is it like?’
‘Yes,’ she answered; ‘but he looked better when he was animated; that is his everyday countenance: he wanted spirit in general.’
Catherine had kept up her acquaintance with the Lintons since her five-weeks’ residence among them; and as she had no temptation to show her rough side in their company, and had the sense to be ashamed of being rude where she experienced such invariable courtesy, she imposed unwittingly on the old lady and gentleman by her ingenious cordiality; gained the admiration of Isabella, and the heart and soul of her brother: acquisitions that flattered her from the first—for she was full of ambition—and led her to adopt a double character without exactly intending to deceive any one. In the place where she heard Heathcliff termed a ‘vulgar young ruffian,’ and ‘worse than a brute,’ she took care not to act like him; but at home she had small inclination to practise politeness that would only be laughed at, and restrain an unruly nature when it would bring her neither credit nor praise.
Mr. Edgar seldom mustered courage to visit Wuthering Heights openly. He had a terror of Earnshaw’s reputation, and shrunk from encountering him; and yet he was always received with our best attempts at civility: the master himself avoided offending him, knowing why he came; and if he could not be gracious, kept out of the way. I rather think his appearance there was distasteful to Catherine; she was not artful, never played the coquette, and had evidently an objection to her two friends meeting at all; for when Heathcliff expressed contempt of Linton in his presence, she could not half coincide, as she did in his absence; and when Linton evinced disgust and antipathy to Heathcliff, she dared not treat his sentiments with indifference, as if depreciation of her playmate were of scarcely any consequence to her. I’ve had many a laugh at her perplexities and untold troubles, which she vainly strove to hide from my mockery. That sounds ill-natured: but she was so proud it became really impossible to pity her distresses, till she should be chastened into more humility. She did bring herself, finally, to confess, and to confide in me: there was not a soul else that she might fashion into an adviser.
Mr. Hindley had gone from home one afternoon, and Heathcliff presumed to give himself a holiday on the strength of it. He had reached the age of sixteen then, I think, and without having bad features, or being deficient in intellect, he contrived to convey an impression of inward and outward repulsiveness that his present aspect retains no traces of. In the first place, he had by that time lost the benefit of his early education: continual hard work, begun soon and concluded late, had extinguished any curiosity he once possessed in pursuit of knowledge, and any love for books or learning. His childhood’s sense of superiority, instilled into him by the favours of old Mr. Earnshaw, was faded away. He struggled long to keep up an equality with Catherine in her studies, and yielded with poignant though silent regret: but he yielded completely; and there was no prevailing on him to take a step in the way of moving upward, when he found he must, necessarily, sink beneath his former level. Then personal appearance sympathised with mental deterioration: he acquired a slouching gait and ignoble look; his naturally reserved disposition was exaggerated into an almost idiotic excess of unsociable moroseness; and he took a grim pleasure, apparently, in exciting the aversion rather than the esteem of his few acquaintances.
Catherine and he were constant companions still at his seasons of respite from labour; but he had ceased to express his fondness for her in words, and recoiled with angry suspicion from her girlish caresses, as if conscious there could be no gratification in lavishing such marks of affection on him. On the before-named occasion he came into the house to announce his intention of doing nothing, while I was assisting Miss Cathy to arrange her dress: she had not reckoned on his taking it into his head to be idle; and imagining she would have the whole place to herself, she managed, by some means, to inform Mr. Edgar of her brother’s absence, and was then preparing to receive him.
‘Cathy, are you busy this afternoon?’ asked Heathcliff. ‘Are you going anywhere?’
‘No, it is raining,’ she answered.
‘Why have you that silk frock on, then?’ he said. ‘Nobody coming here, I hope?’
‘Not that I know of,’ stammered Miss: ‘but you should be in the field now, Heathcliff. It is an hour past dinnertime: I thought you were gone.’
‘Hindley does not often free us from his accursed presence,’ observed the boy. ‘I’ll not work any more to-day: I’ll stay with you.’
‘Oh, but Joseph will tell,’ she suggested; ‘you’d better go!’
‘Joseph is loading lime on the further side of Penistone Crags; it will take him till dark, and he’ll never know.’
So, saying, he lounged to the fire, and sat down. Catherine reflected an instant, with knitted brows—she found it needful to smooth the way for an intrusion. ‘Isabella and Edgar Linton talked of calling this afternoon,’ she said, at the conclusion of a minute’s silence. ‘As it rains, I hardly expect them; but they may come, and if they do, you run the risk of being scolded for no good.’
‘Order Ellen to say you are engaged, Cathy,’ he persisted; ‘don’t turn me out for those pitiful, silly friends of yours! I’m on the point, sometimes, of complaining that they—but I’ll not—’
‘That they what?’ cried Catherine, gazing at him with a troubled countenance. ‘Oh, Nelly!’ she added petulantly, jerking her head away from my hands, ‘you’ve combed my hair quite out of curl! That’s enough; let me alone. What are you on the point of complaining about, Heathcliff?’
‘Nothing—only look at the almanack on that wall;’ he pointed to a framed sheet hanging near the window, and continued, ‘The crosses are for the evenings you have spent with the Lintons, the dots for those spent with me. Do you see? I’ve marked every day.’
‘Yes—very foolish: as if I took notice!’ replied Catherine, in a peevish tone. ‘And where is the sense of that?’
‘To show that I do take notice,’ said Heathcliff.
‘And should I always be sitting with you?’ she demanded, growing more irritated. ‘What good do I get? What do you talk about? You might be dumb, or a baby, for anything you say to amuse me, or for anything you do, either!’
‘You never told me before that I talked too little, or that you disliked my company, Cathy!’ exclaimed Heathcliff, in much agitation.
‘It’s no company at all, when people know nothing and say nothing,’ she muttered.
Her companion rose up, but he hadn’t time to express his feelings further, for a horse’s feet were heard on the flags, and having knocked gently, young Linton entered, his face brilliant with delight at the unexpected summon she had received. Doubtless Catherine marked the difference between her friends, as one came in and the other went out. The contrast resembled what you see in exchanging a bleak, hilly, coal country for a beautiful fertile valley; and his voice and greeting were as opposite as his aspect. He had a sweet, low manner of speaking, and pronounced his words as you do: that’s less gruff than we talk here, and softer.
‘I’m not come too soon, am I?’ he said, casting a look at me: I had begun to wipe the plate, and tidy some drawers at the far end in the dresser.
‘No,’ answered Catherine. ‘What are you doing there, Nelly?’
‘My work, Miss,’ I replied. (Mr. Hindley had given me directions to make a third party in any private visits Linton chose to pay.)
She stepped behind me and whispered crossly, ‘Take yourself and your dusters off; when company are in the house, servants don’t commence scouring and cleaning in the room where they are!’
‘It’s a good opportunity, now that master is away,’ I answered aloud: ‘he hates me to be fidgeting over these things in his presence. I’m sure Mr. Edgar will excuse me.’
‘I hate you to be fidgeting in my presence,’ exclaimed the young lady imperiously, not allowing her guest time to speak: she had failed to recover her equanimity since the little dispute with Heathcliff.
‘I’m sorry for it, Miss Catherine,’ was my response; and I proceeded assiduously with my occupation.
She, supposing Edgar could not see her, snatched the cloth from my hand, and pinched me, with a prolonged wrench, very spitefully on the arm. I’ve said I did not love her, and rather relished mortifying her vanity now and then: besides, she hurt me extremely; so I started up from my knees, and screamed out, ‘Oh, Miss, that’s a nasty trick! You have no right to nip me, and I’m not going to bear it.’
‘I didn’t touch you, you lying creature!’ cried she, her fingers tingling to repeat the act, and her ears red with rage. She never had power to conceal her passion, it always set her whole complexion in a blaze.
‘What’s that, then?’ I retorted, showing a decided purple witness to refute her.
She stamped her foot, wavered a moment, and then, irresistibly impelled by the naughty spirit within her, slapped me on the cheek: a stinging blow that filled both eyes with water.
‘Catherine, love! Catherine!’ interposed Linton, greatly shocked at the double fault of falsehood and violence which his idol had committed.
‘Leave the room, Ellen!’ she repeated, trembling all over.
Little Hareton, who followed me everywhere, and was sitting near me on the floor, at seeing my tears commenced crying himself, and sobbed out complaints against ‘wicked aunt Cathy,’ which drew her fury on to his unlucky head: she seized his shoulders, and shook him till the poor child waxed livid, and Edgar thoughtlessly laid hold of her hands to deliver him. In an instant one was wrung free, and the astonished young man felt it applied over his own ear in a way that could not be mistaken for jest. He drew back in consternation. I lifted Hareton in my arms, and walked off to the kitchen with him, leaving the door of communication open, for I was curious to watch how they would settle their disagreement. The insulted visitor moved to the spot where he had laid his hat, pale and with a quivering lip.
‘That’s right!’ I said to myself. ‘Take warning and begone! It’s a kindness to let you have a glimpse of her genuine disposition.’
‘Where are you going?’ demanded Catherine, advancing to the door.
He swerved aside, and attempted to pass.
‘You must not go!’ she exclaimed, energetically.
‘I must and shall!’ he replied in a subdued voice.
‘No,’ she persisted, grasping the handle; ‘not yet, Edgar Linton: sit down; you shall not leave me in that temper. I should be miserable all night, and I won’t be miserable for you!’
‘Can I stay after you have struck me?’ asked Linton.
Catherine was mute.
‘You’ve made me afraid and ashamed of you,’ he continued; ‘I’ll not come here again!’
Her eyes began to glisten and her lids to twinkle.
‘And you told a deliberate untruth!’ he said.
‘I didn’t!’ she cried, recovering her speech; ‘I did nothing deliberately. Well, go, if you please—get away! And now I’ll cry—I’ll cry myself sick!’
She dropped down on her knees by a chair, and set to weeping in serious earnest. Edgar persevered in his resolution as far as the court; there he lingered. I resolved to encourage him.
‘Miss is dreadfully wayward, sir,’ I called out. ‘As bad as any marred child: you’d better be riding home, or else she will be sick, only to grieve us.’
The soft thing looked askance through the window: he possessed the power to depart as much as a cat possesses the power to leave a mouse half killed, or a bird half eaten. Ah, I thought, there will be no saving him: he’s doomed, and flies to his fate! And so it was: he turned abruptly, hastened into the house again, shut the door behind him; and when I went in a while after to inform them that Earnshaw had come home rabid drunk, ready to pull the whole place about our ears (his ordinary frame of mind in that condition), I saw the quarrel had merely effected a closer intimacy—had broken the outworks of youthful timidity, and enabled them to forsake the disguise of friendship, and confess themselves lovers.
Intelligence of Mr. Hindley’s arrival drove Linton speedily to his horse, and Catherine to her chamber. I went to hide little Hareton, and to take the shot out of the master’s fowling-piece, which he was fond of playing with in his insane excitement, to the hazard of the lives of any who provoked, or even attracted his notice too much; and I had hit upon the plan of removing it, that he might do less mischief if he did go the length of firing the gun.
He entered, vociferating oaths dreadful to hear; and caught me in the act of stowing his son away in the kitchen cupboard. Hareton was impressed with a wholesome terror of encountering either his wild beast’s fondness or his madman’s rage; for in one he ran a chance of being squeezed and kissed to death, and in the other of being flung into the fire, or dashed against the wall; and the poor thing remained perfectly quiet wherever I chose to put him.
‘There, I’ve found it out at last!’ cried Hindley, pulling me back by the skin of my neck, like a dog. ‘By heaven and hell, you’ve sworn between you to murder that child! I know how it is, now, that he is always out of my way. But, with the help of Satan, I shall make you swallow the carving-knife, Nelly! You needn’t laugh; for I’ve just crammed Kenneth, head-downmost, in the Black-horse marsh; and two is the same as one—and I want to kill some of you: I shall have no rest till I do!’
‘But I don’t like the carving-knife, Mr. Hindley,’ I answered; ‘it has been cutting red herrings. I’d rather be shot, if you please.’
‘You’d rather be damned!’ he said; ‘and so you shall. No law in England can hinder a man from keeping his house decent, and mine’s abominable! Open your mouth.’ He held the knife in his hand, and pushed its point between my teeth: but, for my part, I was never much afraid of his vagaries. I spat out, and affirmed it tasted detestably—I would not take it on any account.
‘Oh!’ said he, releasing me, ‘I see that hideous little villain is not Hareton: I beg your pardon, Nell. If it be, he deserves flaying alive for not running to welcome me, and for screaming as if I were a goblin. Unnatural cub, come hither! I’ll teach thee to impose on a good-hearted, deluded father. Now, don’t you think the lad would be handsomer cropped? It makes a dog fiercer, and I love something fierce—get me a scissors—something fierce and trim! Besides, it’s infernal affectation—devilish conceit it is, to cherish our ears—we’re asses enough without them. Hush, child, hush! Well then, it is my darling! wisht, dry thy eyes—there’s a joy; kiss me. What! it won’t? Kiss me, Hareton! Damn thee, kiss me! By God, as if I would rear such a monster! As sure as I’m living, I’ll break the brat’s neck.’
Poor Hareton was squalling and kicking in his father’s arms with all his might, and redoubled his yells when he carried him up-stairs and lifted him over the banister. I cried out that he would frighten the child into fits, and ran to rescue him. As I reached them, Hindley leant forward on the rails to listen to a noise below; almost forgetting what he had in his hands. ‘Who is that?’ he asked, hearing some one approaching the stairs’-foot. I leant forward also, for the purpose of signing to Heathcliff, whose step I recognised, not to come further; and, at the instant when my eye quitted Hareton, he gave a sudden spring, delivered himself from the careless grasp that held him, and fell.
There was scarcely time to experience a thrill of horror before we saw that the little wretch was safe. Heathcliff arrived underneath just at the critical moment; by a natural impulse he arrested his descent, and setting him on his feet, looked up to discover the author of the accident. A miser who has parted with a lucky lottery ticket for five shillings, and finds next day he has lost in the bargain five thousand pounds, could not show a blanker countenance than he did on beholding the figure of Mr. Earnshaw above. It expressed, plainer than words could do, the intensest anguish at having made himself the instrument of thwarting his own revenge. Had it been dark, I daresay he would have tried to remedy the mistake by smashing Hareton’s skull on the steps; but, we witnessed his salvation; and I was presently below with my precious charge pressed to my heart. Hindley descended more leisurely, sobered and abashed.
‘It is your fault, Ellen,’ he said; ‘you should have kept him out of sight: you should have taken him from me! Is he injured anywhere?’
‘Injured!’ I cried angrily; ‘if he is not killed, he’ll be an idiot! Oh! I wonder his mother does not rise from her grave to see how you use him. You’re worse than a heathen—treating your own flesh and blood in that manner!’ He attempted to touch the child, who, on finding himself with me, sobbed off his terror directly. At the first finger his father laid on him, however, he shrieked again louder than before, and struggled as if he would go into convulsions.
‘You shall not meddle with him!’ I continued. ‘He hates you—they all hate you—that’s the truth! A happy family you have; and a pretty state you’re come to!’
‘I shall come to a prettier, yet, Nelly,’ laughed the misguided man, recovering his hardness. ‘At present, convey yourself and him away. And hark you, Heathcliff! clear you too quite from my reach and hearing. I wouldn’t murder you to-night; unless, perhaps, I set the house on fire: but that’s as my fancy goes.’
While saying this he took a pint bottle of brandy from the dresser, and poured some into a tumbler.
‘Nay, don’t!’ I entreated. ‘Mr. Hindley, do take warning. Have mercy on this unfortunate boy, if you care nothing for yourself!’
‘Any one will do better for him than I shall,’ he answered.
‘Have mercy on your own soul!’ I said, endeavouring to snatch the glass from his hand.
‘Not I! On the contrary, I shall have great pleasure in sending it to perdition to punish its Maker,’ exclaimed the blasphemer. ‘Here’s to its hearty damnation!’
He drank the spirits and impatiently bade us go; terminating his command with a sequel of horrid imprecations too bad to repeat or remember.
‘It’s a pity he cannot kill himself with drink,’ observed Heathcliff, muttering an echo of curses back when the door was shut. ‘He’s doing his very utmost; but his constitution defies him. Mr. Kenneth says he would wager his mare that he’ll outlive any man on this side Gimmerton, and go to the grave a hoary sinner; unless some happy chance out of the common course befall him.’
I went into the kitchen, and sat down to lull my little lamb to sleep. Heathcliff, as I thought, walked through to the barn. It turned out afterwards that he only got as far as the other side the settle, when he flung himself on a bench by the wall, removed from the fire and remained silent.
I was rocking Hareton on my knee, and humming a song that began,—
It was far in the night, and the bairnies grat,
The mither beneath the mools heard that,
when Miss Cathy, who had listened to the hubbub from her room, put her head in, and whispered,—‘Are you alone, Nelly?’
‘Yes, Miss,’ I replied.
She entered and approached the hearth. I, supposing she was going to say something, looked up. The expression of her face seemed disturbed and anxious. Her lips were half asunder, as if she meant to speak, and she drew a breath; but it escaped in a sigh instead of a sentence. I resumed my song; not having forgotten her recent behaviour.
‘Where’s Heathcliff?’ she said, interrupting me.
‘About his work in the stable,’ was my answer.
He did not contradict me; perhaps he had fallen into a doze. There followed another long pause, during which I perceived a drop or two trickle from Catherine’s cheek to the flags. Is she sorry for her shameful conduct?—I asked myself. That will be a novelty: but she may come to the point—as she will—I sha’n’t help her! No, she felt small trouble regarding any subject, save her own concerns.
‘Oh, dear!’ she cried at last. ‘I’m very unhappy!’
‘A pity,’ observed I. ‘You’re hard to please; so many friends and so few cares, and can’t make yourself content!’
‘Nelly, will you keep a secret for me?’ she pursued, kneeling down by me, and lifting her winsome eyes to my face with that sort of look which turns off bad temper, even when one has all the right in the world to indulge it.
‘Is it worth keeping?’ I inquired, less sulkily.
‘Yes, and it worries me, and I must let it out! I want to know what I should do. To-day, Edgar Linton has asked me to marry him, and I’ve given him an answer. Now, before I tell you whether it was a consent or denial, you tell me which it ought to have been.’
‘Really, Miss Catherine, how can I know?’ I replied. ‘To be sure, considering the exhibition you performed in his presence this afternoon, I might say it would be wise to refuse him: since he asked you after that, he must either be hopelessly stupid or a venturesome fool.’
‘If you talk so, I won’t tell you any more,’ she returned, peevishly rising to her feet. ‘I accepted him, Nelly. Be quick, and say whether I was wrong!’
‘You accepted him! Then what good is it discussing the matter? You have pledged your word, and cannot retract.’
‘But say whether I should have done so—do!’ she exclaimed in an irritated tone; chafing her hands together, and frowning.
‘There are many things to be considered before that question can be answered properly,’ I said, sententiously. ‘First and foremost, do you love Mr. Edgar?’
‘Who can help it? Of course I do,’ she answered.
Then I put her through the following catechism: for a girl of twenty-two it was not injudicious.
‘Why do you love him, Miss Cathy?’
‘Nonsense, I do—that’s sufficient.’
‘By no means; you must say why?’
‘Well, because he is handsome, and pleasant to be with.’
‘Bad!’ was my commentary.
‘And because he is young and cheerful.’
‘And because he loves me.’
‘Indifferent, coming there.’
‘And he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighbourhood, and I shall be proud of having such a husband.’
‘Worst of all. And now, say how you love him?’
‘As everybody loves—You’re silly, Nelly.’
‘Not at all—Answer.’
‘I love the ground under his feet, and the air over his head, and everything he touches, and every word he says. I love all his looks, and all his actions, and him entirely and altogether. There now!’
‘Nay; you are making a jest of it: it is exceedingly ill-natured! It’s no jest to me!’ said the young lady, scowling, and turning her face to the fire.
‘I’m very far from jesting, Miss Catherine,’ I replied. ‘You love Mr. Edgar because he is handsome, and young, and cheerful, and rich, and loves you. The last, however, goes for nothing: you would love him without that, probably; and with it you wouldn’t, unless he possessed the four former attractions.’
‘No, to be sure not: I should only pity him—hate him, perhaps, if he were ugly, and a clown.’
‘But there are several other handsome, rich young men in the world: handsomer, possibly, and richer than he is. What should hinder you from loving them?’
‘If there be any, they are out of my way: I’ve seen none like Edgar.’
‘You may see some; and he won’t always be handsome, and young, and may not always be rich.’
‘He is now; and I have only to do with the present. I wish you would speak rationally.’
‘Well, that settles it: if you have only to do with the present, marry Mr. Linton.’
‘I don’t want your permission for that—I shall marry him: and yet you have not told me whether I’m right.’
‘Perfectly right; if people be right to marry only for the present. And now, let us hear what you are unhappy about. Your brother will be pleased; the old lady and gentleman will not object, I think; you will escape from a disorderly, comfortless home into a wealthy, respectable one; and you love Edgar, and Edgar loves you. All seems smooth and easy: where is the obstacle?’
‘Here! and here!’ replied Catherine, striking one hand on her forehead, and the other on her breast: ‘in whichever place the soul lives. In my soul and in my heart, I’m convinced I’m wrong!’
‘That’s very strange! I cannot make it out.’
‘It’s my secret. But if you will not mock at me, I’ll explain it: I can’t do it distinctly; but I’ll give you a feeling of how I feel.’
She seated herself by me again: her countenance grew sadder and graver, and her clasped hands trembled.
‘Nelly, do you never dream queer dreams?’ she said, suddenly, after some minutes’ reflection.
‘Yes, now and then,’ I answered.
‘And so do I. I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind. And this is one: I’m going to tell it—but take care not to smile at any part of it.’
‘Oh! don’t, Miss Catherine!’ I cried. ‘We’re dismal enough without conjuring up ghosts and visions to perplex us. Come, come, be merry and like yourself! Look at little Hareton! he’s dreaming nothing dreary. How sweetly he smiles in his sleep!’
‘Yes; and how sweetly his father curses in his solitude! You remember him, I daresay, when he was just such another as that chubby thing: nearly as young and innocent. However, Nelly, I shall oblige you to listen: it’s not long; and I’ve no power to be merry to-night.’
‘I won’t hear it, I won’t hear it!’ I repeated, hastily.
I was superstitious about dreams then, and am still; and Catherine had an unusual gloom in her aspect, that made me dread something from which I might shape a prophecy, and foresee a fearful catastrophe. She was vexed, but she did not proceed. Apparently taking up another subject, she recommenced in a short time.
‘If I were in heaven, Nelly, I should be extremely miserable.’
‘Because you are not fit to go there,’ I answered. ‘All sinners would be miserable in heaven.’
‘But it is not for that. I dreamt once that I was there.’
‘I tell you I won’t hearken to your dreams, Miss Catherine! I’ll go to bed,’ I interrupted again.
She laughed, and held me down; for I made a motion to leave my chair.
‘This is nothing,’ cried she: ‘I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy. That will do to explain my secret, as well as the other. I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.’
Ere this speech ended I became sensible of Heathcliff’s presence. Having noticed a slight movement, I turned my head, and saw him rise from the bench, and steal out noiselessly. He had listened till he heard Catherine say it would degrade her to marry him, and then he stayed to hear no further. My companion, sitting on the ground, was prevented by the back of the settle from remarking his presence or departure; but I started, and bade her hush!
‘Why?’ she asked, gazing nervously round.
‘Joseph is here,’ I answered, catching opportunely the roll of his cartwheels up the road; ‘and Heathcliff will come in with him. I’m not sure whether he were not at the door this moment.’
‘Oh, he couldn’t overhear me at the door!’ said she. ‘Give me Hareton, while you get the supper, and when it is ready ask me to sup with you. I want to cheat my uncomfortable conscience, and be convinced that Heathcliff has no notion of these things. He has not, has he? He does not know what being in love is!’
‘I see no reason that he should not know, as well as you,’ I returned; ‘and if you are his choice, he’ll be the most unfortunate creature that ever was born! As soon as you become Mrs. Linton, he loses friend, and love, and all! Have you considered how you’ll bear the separation, and how he’ll bear to be quite deserted in the world? Because, Miss Catherine—’
‘He quite deserted! we separated!’ she exclaimed, with an accent of indignation. ‘Who is to separate us, pray? They’ll meet the fate of Milo! Not as long as I live, Ellen: for no mortal creature. Every Linton on the face of the earth might melt into nothing before I could consent to forsake Heathcliff. Oh, that’s not what I intend—that’s not what I mean! I shouldn’t be Mrs. Linton were such a price demanded! He’ll be as much to me as he has been all his lifetime. Edgar must shake off his antipathy, and tolerate him, at least. He will, when he learns my true feelings towards him. Nelly, I see now you think me a selfish wretch; but did it never strike you that if Heathcliff and I married, we should be beggars? whereas, if I marry Linton I can aid Heathcliff to rise, and place him out of my brother’s power.’
‘With your husband’s money, Miss Catherine?’ I asked. ‘You’ll find him not so pliable as you calculate upon: and, though I’m hardly a judge, I think that’s the worst motive you’ve given yet for being the wife of young Linton.’
‘It is not,’ retorted she; ‘it is the best! The others were the satisfaction of my whims: and for Edgar’s sake, too, to satisfy him. This is for the sake of one who comprehends in his person my feelings to Edgar and myself. I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, Ishould still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable; and—’
She paused, and hid her face in the folds of my gown; but I jerked it forcibly away. I was out of patience with her folly!
‘If I can make any sense of your nonsense, Miss,’ I said, ‘it only goes to convince me that you are ignorant of the duties you undertake in marrying; or else that you are a wicked, unprincipled girl. But trouble me with no more secrets: I’ll not promise to keep them.’
‘You’ll keep that?’ she asked, eagerly.
‘No, I’ll not promise,’ I repeated.
She was about to insist, when the entrance of Joseph finished our conversation; and Catherine removed her seat to a corner, and nursed Hareton, while I made the supper. After it was cooked, my fellow-servant and I began to quarrel who should carry some to Mr. Hindley; and we didn’t settle it till all was nearly cold. Then we came to the agreement that we would let him ask, if he wanted any; for we feared particularly to go into his presence when he had been some time alone.
‘And how isn’t that nowt comed in fro’ th’ field, be this time? What is he about? girt idle seeght!’ demanded the old man, looking round for Heathcliff.
‘I’ll call him,’ I replied. ‘He’s in the barn, I’ve no doubt.’
I went and called, but got no answer. On returning, I whispered to Catherine that he had heard a good part of what she said, I was sure; and told how I saw him quit the kitchen just as she complained of her brother’s conduct regarding him. She jumped up in a fine fright, flung Hareton on to the settle, and ran to seek for her friend herself; not taking leisure to consider why she was so flurried, or how her talk would have affected him. She was absent such a while that Joseph proposed we should wait no longer. He cunningly conjectured they were staying away in order to avoid hearing his protracted blessing. They were ‘ill eneugh for ony fahl manners,’ he affirmed. And on their behalf he added that night a special prayer to the usual quarter-of-an-hour’s supplication before meat, and would have tacked another to the end of the grace, had not his young mistress broken in upon him with a hurried command that he must run down the road, and, wherever Heathcliff had rambled, find and make him re-enter directly!
‘I want to speak to him, and I must, before I go upstairs,’ she said. ‘And the gate is open: he is somewhere out of hearing; for he would not reply, though I shouted at the top of the fold as loud as I could.’
Joseph objected at first; she was too much in earnest, however, to suffer contradiction; and at last he placed his hat on his head, and walked grumbling forth. Meantime, Catherine paced up and down the floor, exclaiming—‘I wonder where he is—I wonder where he can be! What did I say, Nelly? I’ve forgotten. Was he vexed at my bad humour this afternoon? Dear! tell me what I’ve said to grieve him? I do wish he’d come. I do wish he would!’
‘What a noise for nothing!’ I cried, though rather uneasy myself. ‘What a trifle scares you! It’s surely no great cause of alarm that Heathcliff should take a moonlight saunter on the moors, or even lie too sulky to speak to us in the hay-loft. I’ll engage he’s lurking there. See if I don’t ferret him out!’
I departed to renew my search; its result was disappointment, and Joseph’s quest ended in the same.
‘Yon lad gets war und war!’ observed he on re-entering. ‘He’s left th’ gate at t’ full swing, and Miss’s pony has trodden dahn two rigs o’ corn, and plottered through, raight o’er into t’ meadow! Hahsomdiver, t’ maister ‘ull play t’ devil to-morn, and he’ll do weel. He’s patience itsseln wi’ sich careless, offald craters—patience itsseln he is! Bud he’ll not be soa allus—yah’s see, all on ye! Yah mun’n’t drive him out of his heead for nowt!’
‘Have you found Heathcliff, you ass?’ interrupted Catherine. ‘Have you been looking for him, as I ordered?’
‘I sud more likker look for th’ horse,’ he replied. ‘It ’ud be to more sense. Bud I can look for norther horse nur man of a neeght loike this—as black as t’ chimbley! und Heathcliff’s noan t’ chap to coom at my whistle—happen he’ll be less hard o’ hearing wi’ ye!’
It was a very dark evening for summer: the clouds appeared inclined to thunder, and I said we had better all sit down; the approaching rain would be certain to bring him home without further trouble. However, Catherine would not be persuaded into tranquillity. She kept wandering to and fro, from the gate to the door, in a state of agitation which permitted no repose; and at length took up a permanent situation on one side of the wall, near the road: where, heedless of my expostulations and the growling thunder, and the great drops that began to plash around her, she remained, calling at intervals, and then listening, and then crying outright. She beat Hareton, or any child, at a good passionate fit of crying.
About midnight, while we still sat up, the storm came rattling over the Heights in full fury. There was a violent wind, as well as thunder, and either one or the other split a tree off at the corner of the building: a huge bough fell across the roof, and knocked down a portion of the east chimney-stack, sending a clatter of stones and soot into the kitchen-fire. We thought a bolt had fallen in the middle of us; and Joseph swung on to his knees, beseeching the Lord to remember the patriarchs Noah and Lot, and, as in former times, spare the righteous, though he smote the ungodly. I felt some sentiment that it must be a judgment on us also. The Jonah, in my mind, was Mr. Earnshaw; and I shook the handle of his den that I might ascertain if he were yet living. He replied audibly enough, in a fashion which made my companion vociferate, more clamorously than before, that a wide distinction might be drawn between saints like himself and sinners like his master. But the uproar passed away in twenty minutes, leaving us all unharmed; excepting Cathy, who got thoroughly drenched for her obstinacy in refusing to take shelter, and standing bonnetless and shawlless to catch as much water as she could with her hair and clothes. She came in and lay down on the settle, all soaked as she was, turning her face to the back, and putting her hands before it.
‘Well, Miss!’ I exclaimed, touching her shoulder; ‘you are not bent on getting your death, are you? Do you know what o’clock it is? Half-past twelve. Come, come to bed! there’s no use waiting any longer on that foolish boy: he’ll be gone to Gimmerton, and he’ll stay there now. He guesses we shouldn’t wait for him till this late hour: at least, he guesses that only Mr. Hindley would be up; and he’d rather avoid having the door opened by the master.’
‘Nay, nay, he’s noan at Gimmerton,’ said Joseph. ‘I’s niver wonder but he’s at t’ bothom of a bog-hoile. This visitation worn’t for nowt, and I wod hev’ ye to look out, Miss—yah muh be t’ next. Thank Hivin for all! All warks togither for gooid to them as is chozzen, and piked out fro’ th’ rubbidge! Yah knaw whet t’ Scripture ses.’ And he began quoting several texts, referring us to chapters and verses where we might find them.
I, having vainly begged the wilful girl to rise and remove her wet things, left him preaching and her shivering, and betook myself to bed with little Hareton, who slept as fast as if everyone had been sleeping round him. I heard Joseph read on a while afterwards; then I distinguished his slow step on the ladder, and then I dropped asleep.
Coming down somewhat later than usual, I saw, by the sunbeams piercing the chinks of the shutters, Miss Catherine still seated near the fireplace. The house-door was ajar, too; light entered from its unclosed windows; Hindley had come out, and stood on the kitchen hearth, haggard and drowsy.
‘What ails you, Cathy?’ he was saying when I entered: ‘you look as dismal as a drowned whelp. Why are you so damp and pale, child?’
‘I’ve been wet,’ she answered reluctantly, ‘and I’m cold, that’s all.’
‘Oh, she is naughty!’ I cried, perceiving the master to be tolerably sober. ‘She got steeped in the shower of yesterday evening, and there she has sat the night through, and I couldn’t prevail on her to stir.’
Mr. Earnshaw stared at us in surprise. ‘The night through,’ he repeated. ‘What kept her up? not fear of the thunder, surely? That was over hours since.’
Neither of us wished to mention Heathcliff’s absence, as long as we could conceal it; so I replied, I didn’t know how she took it into her head to sit up; and she said nothing. The morning was fresh and cool; I threw back the lattice, and presently the room filled with sweet scents from the garden; but Catherine called peevishly to me, ‘Ellen, shut the window. I’m starving!’ And her teeth chattered as she shrank closer to the almost extinguished embers.
‘She’s ill,’ said Hindley, taking her wrist; ‘I suppose that’s the reason she would not go to bed. Damn it! I don’t want to be troubled with more sickness here. What took you into the rain?’
‘Running after t’ lads, as usuald!’ croaked Joseph, catching an opportunity from our hesitation to thrust in his evil tongue. ‘If I war yah, maister, I’d just slam t’ boards i’ their faces all on ’em, gentle and simple! Never a day ut yah’re off, but yon cat o’ Linton comes sneaking hither; and Miss Nelly, shoo’s a fine lass! shoo sits watching for ye i’ t’ kitchen; and as yah’re in at one door, he’s out at t’other; and, then, wer grand lady goes a-courting of her side! It’s bonny behaviour, lurking amang t’ fields, after twelve o’ t’ night, wi’ that fahl, flaysome divil of a gipsy, Heathcliff! They think I’m blind; but I’m noan: nowt ut t’ soart!—I seed young Linton boath coming and going, and I seed yah’ (directing his discourse to me), ‘yah gooid fur nowt, slattenly witch! nip up and bolt into th’ house, t’ minute yah heard t’ maister’s horse-fit clatter up t’ road.’
‘Silence, eavesdropper!’ cried Catherine; ‘none of your insolence before me! Edgar Linton came yesterday by chance, Hindley; and it was I who told him to be off: because I knew you would not like to have met him as you were.’
‘You lie, Cathy, no doubt,’ answered her brother, ‘and you are a confounded simpleton! But never mind Linton at present: tell me, were you not with Heathcliff last night? Speak the truth, now. You need not be afraid of harming him: though I hate him as much as ever, he did me a good turn a short time since that will make my conscience tender of breaking his neck. To prevent it, I shall send him about his business this very morning; and after he’s gone, I’d advise you all to look sharp: I shall only have the more humour for you.’
‘I never saw Heathcliff last night,’ answered Catherine, beginning to sob bitterly: ‘and if you do turn him out of doors, I’ll go with him. But, perhaps, you’ll never have an opportunity: perhaps, he’s gone.’ Here she burst into uncontrollable grief, and the remainder of her words were inarticulate.
Hindley lavished on her a torrent of scornful abuse, and bade her get to her room immediately, or she shouldn’t cry for nothing! I obliged her to obey; and I shall never forget what a scene she acted when we reached her chamber: it terrified me. I thought she was going mad, and I begged Joseph to run for the doctor. It proved the commencement of delirium: Mr. Kenneth, as soon as he saw her, pronounced her dangerously ill; she had a fever. He bled her, and he told me to let her live on whey and water-gruel, and take care she did not throw herself downstairs or out of the window; and then he left: for he had enough to do in the parish, where two or three miles was the ordinary distance between cottage and cottage.
Though I cannot say I made a gentle nurse, and Joseph and the master were no better, and though our patient was as wearisome and headstrong as a patient could be, she weathered it through. Old Mrs. Linton paid us several visits, to be sure, and set things to rights, and scolded and ordered us all; and when Catherine was convalescent, she insisted on conveying her to Thrushcross Grange: for which deliverance we were very grateful. But the poor dame had reason to repent of her kindness: she and her husband both took the fever, and died within a few days of each other.
Our young lady returned to us saucier and more passionate, and haughtier than ever. Heathcliff had never been heard of since the evening of the thunder-storm; and, one day, I had the misfortune, when she had provoked me exceedingly, to lay the blame of his disappearance on her: where indeed it belonged, as she well knew. From that period, for several months, she ceased to hold any communication with me, save in the relation of a mere servant. Joseph fell under a ban also: he would speak his mind, and lecture her all the same as if she were a little girl; and she esteemed herself a woman, and our mistress, and thought that her recent illness gave her a claim to be treated with consideration. Then the doctor had said that she would not bear crossing much; she ought to have her own way; and it was nothing less than murder in her eyes for any one to presume to stand up and contradict her. From Mr. Earnshaw and his companions she kept aloof; and tutored by Kenneth, and serious threats of a fit that often attended her rages, her brother allowed her whatever she pleased to demand, and generally avoided aggravating her fiery temper. He was rather too indulgent in humouring her caprices; not from affection, but from pride: he wished earnestly to see her bring honour to the family by an alliance with the Lintons, and as long as she let him alone she might trample on us like slaves, for aught he cared! Edgar Linton, as multitudes have been before and will be after him, was infatuated: and believed himself the happiest man alive on the day he led her to Gimmerton Chapel, three years subsequent to his father’s death.
Much against my inclination, I was persuaded to leave Wuthering Heights and accompany her here. Little Hareton was nearly five years old, and I had just begun to teach him his letters. We made a sad parting; but Catherine’s tears were more powerful than ours. When I refused to go, and when she found her entreaties did not move me, she went lamenting to her husband and brother. The former offered me munificent wages; the latter ordered me to pack up: he wanted no women in the house, he said, now that there was no mistress; and as to Hareton, the curate should take him in hand, by-and-by. And so I had but one choice left: to do as I was ordered. I told the master he got rid of all decent people only to run to ruin a little faster; I kissed Hareton, said good-by; and since then he has been a stranger: and it’s very queer to think it, but I’ve no doubt he has completely forgotten all about Ellen Dean, and that he was ever more than all the world to her and she to him!
* * * * *
At this point of the housekeeper’s story she chanced to glance towards the time-piece over the chimney; and was in amazement on seeing the minute-hand measure half-past one. She would not hear of staying a second longer: in truth, I felt rather disposed to defer the sequel of her narrative myself. And now that she is vanished to her rest, and I have meditated for another hour or two, I shall summon courage to go also, in spite of aching laziness of head and limbs.