Wuthering Heights (Chapter 6)
A charming introduction to a hermit’s life! Four weeks’ torture, tossing, and sickness! Oh, these bleak winds and bitter northern skies, and impassable roads, and dilatory country surgeons! And oh, this dearth of the human physiognomy! and, worse than all, the terrible intimation of Kenneth that I need not expect to be out of doors till spring!
Mr. Heathcliff has just honoured me with a call. About seven days ago he sent me a brace of grouse—the last of the season. Scoundrel! He is not altogether guiltless in this illness of mine; and that I had a great mind to tell him. But, alas! how could I offend a man who was charitable enough to sit at my bedside a good hour, and talk on some other subject than pills and draughts, blisters and leeches? This is quite an easy interval. I am too weak to read; yet I feel as if I could enjoy something interesting. Why not have up Mrs. Dean to finish her tale? I can recollect its chief incidents, as far as she had gone. Yes: I remember her hero had run off, and never been heard of for three years; and the heroine was married. I’ll ring: she’ll be delighted to find me capable of talking cheerfully. Mrs. Dean came.
‘It wants twenty minutes, sir, to taking the medicine,’ she commenced.
‘Away, away with it!’ I replied; ‘I desire to have—’
‘The doctor says you must drop the powders.’
‘With all my heart! Don’t interrupt me. Come and take your seat here. Keep your fingers from that bitter phalanx of vials. Draw your knitting out of your pocket—that will do—now continue the history of Mr. Heathcliff, from where you left off, to the present day. Did he finish his education on the Continent, and come back a gentleman? or did he get a sizar’s place at college, or escape to America, and earn honours by drawing blood from his foster-country? or make a fortune more promptly on the English highways?’
‘He may have done a little in all these vocations, Mr. Lockwood; but I couldn’t give my word for any. I stated before that I didn’t know how he gained his money; neither am I aware of the means he took to raise his mind from the savage ignorance into which it was sunk: but, with your leave, I’ll proceed in my own fashion, if you think it will amuse and not weary you. Are you feeling better this morning?’
‘That’s good news.’
* * * * *
I got Miss Catherine and myself to Thrushcross Grange; and, to my agreeable disappointment, she behaved infinitely better than I dared to expect. She seemed almost over-fond of Mr. Linton; and even to his sister she showed plenty of affection. They were both very attentive to her comfort, certainly. It was not the thorn bending to the honeysuckles, but the honeysuckles embracing the thorn. There were no mutual concessions: one stood erect, and the others yielded: and who can be ill-natured and bad-tempered when they encounter neither opposition nor indifference? I observed that Mr. Edgar had a deep-rooted fear of ruffling her humour. He concealed it from her; but if ever he heard me answer sharply, or saw any other servant grow cloudy at some imperious order of hers, he would show his trouble by a frown of displeasure that never darkened on his own account. He many a time spoke sternly to me about my pertness; and averred that the stab of a knife could not inflict a worse pang than he suffered at seeing his lady vexed. Not to grieve a kind master, I learned to be less touchy; and, for the space of half a year, the gunpowder lay as harmless as sand, because no fire came near to explode it. Catherine had seasons of gloom and silence now and then: they were respected with sympathising silence by her husband, who ascribed them to an alteration in her constitution, produced by her perilous illness; as she was never subject to depression of spirits before. The return of sunshine was welcomed by answering sunshine from him. I believe I may assert that they were really in possession of deep and growing happiness.
It ended. Well, we must be for ourselves in the long run; the mild and generous are only more justly selfish than the domineering; and it ended when circumstances caused each to feel that the one’s interest was not the chief consideration in the other’s thoughts. On a mellow evening in September, I was coming from the garden with a heavy basket of apples which I had been gathering. It had got dusk, and the moon looked over the high wall of the court, causing undefined shadows to lurk in the corners of the numerous projecting portions of the building. I set my burden on the house-steps by the kitchen-door, and lingered to rest, and drew in a few more breaths of the soft, sweet air; my eyes were on the moon, and my back to the entrance, when I heard a voice behind me say,—‘Nelly, is that you?’
It was a deep voice, and foreign in tone; yet there was something in the manner of pronouncing my name which made it sound familiar. I turned about to discover who spoke, fearfully; for the doors were shut, and I had seen nobody on approaching the steps. Something stirred in the porch; and, moving nearer, I distinguished a tall man dressed in dark clothes, with dark face and hair. He leant against the side, and held his fingers on the latch as if intending to open for himself. ‘Who can it be?’ I thought. ‘Mr. Earnshaw? Oh, no! The voice has no resemblance to his.’
‘I have waited here an hour,’ he resumed, while I continued staring; ‘and the whole of that time all round has been as still as death. I dared not enter. You do not know me? Look, I’m not a stranger!’
A ray fell on his features; the cheeks were sallow, and half covered with black whiskers; the brows lowering, the eyes deep-set and singular. I remembered the eyes.
‘What!’ I cried, uncertain whether to regard him as a worldly visitor, and I raised my hands in amazement. ‘What! you come back? Is it really you? Is it?’
‘Yes, Heathcliff,’ he replied, glancing from me up to the windows, which reflected a score of glittering moons, but showed no lights from within. ‘Are they at home? where is she? Nelly, you are not glad! you needn’t be so disturbed. Is she here? Speak! I want to have one word with her—your mistress. Go, and say some person from Gimmerton desires to see her.’
‘How will she take it?’ I exclaimed. ‘What will she do? The surprise bewilders me—it will put her out of her head! And you are Heathcliff! But altered! Nay, there’s no comprehending it. Have you been for a soldier?’
‘Go and carry my message,’ he interrupted, impatiently. ‘I’m in hell till you do!’
He lifted the latch, and I entered; but when I got to the parlour where Mr. and Mrs. Linton were, I could not persuade myself to proceed. At length I resolved on making an excuse to ask if they would have the candles lighted, and I opened the door.
They sat together in a window whose lattice lay back against the wall, and displayed, beyond the garden trees, and the wild green park, the valley of Gimmerton, with a long line of mist winding nearly to its top (for very soon after you pass the chapel, as you may have noticed, the sough that runs from the marshes joins a beck which follows the bend of the glen). Wuthering Heights rose above this silvery vapour; but our old house was invisible; it rather dips down on the other side. Both the room and its occupants, and the scene they gazed on, looked wondrously peaceful. I shrank reluctantly from performing my errand; and was actually going away leaving it unsaid, after having put my question about the candles, when a sense of my folly compelled me to return, and mutter, ‘A person from Gimmerton wishes to see you ma’am.’
‘What does he want?’ asked Mrs. Linton.
‘I did not question him,’ I answered.
‘Well, close the curtains, Nelly,’ she said; ‘and bring up tea. I’ll be back again directly.’
She quitted the apartment; Mr. Edgar inquired, carelessly, who it was.
‘Some one mistress does not expect,’ I replied. ‘That Heathcliff—you recollect him, sir—who used to live at Mr. Earnshaw’s.’
‘What! the gipsy—the ploughboy?’ he cried. ‘Why did you not say so to Catherine?’
‘Hush! you must not call him by those names, master,’ I said. ‘She’d be sadly grieved to hear you. She was nearly heartbroken when he ran off. I guess his return will make a jubilee to her.’
Mr. Linton walked to a window on the other side of the room that overlooked the court. He unfastened it, and leant out. I suppose they were below, for he exclaimed quickly: ‘Don’t stand there, love! Bring the person in, if it be anyone particular.’ Ere long, I heard the click of the latch, and Catherine flew up-stairs, breathless and wild; too excited to show gladness: indeed, by her face, you would rather have surmised an awful calamity.
‘Oh, Edgar, Edgar!’ she panted, flinging her arms round his neck. ‘Oh, Edgar darling! Heathcliff’s come back—he is!’ And she tightened her embrace to a squeeze.
‘Well, well,’ cried her husband, crossly, ‘don’t strangle me for that! He never struck me as such a marvellous treasure. There is no need to be frantic!’
‘I know you didn’t like him,’ she answered, repressing a little the intensity of her delight. ‘Yet, for my sake, you must be friends now. Shall I tell him to come up?’
‘Here,’ he said, ‘into the parlour?’
‘Where else?’ she asked.
He looked vexed, and suggested the kitchen as a more suitable place for him. Mrs. Linton eyed him with a droll expression—half angry, half laughing at his fastidiousness.
‘No,’ she added, after a while; ‘I cannot sit in the kitchen. Set two tables here, Ellen: one for your master and Miss Isabella, being gentry; the other for Heathcliff and myself, being of the lower orders. Will that please you, dear? Or must I have a fire lighted elsewhere? If so, give directions. I’ll run down and secure my guest. I’m afraid the joy is too great to be real!’
She was about to dart off again; but Edgar arrested her.
‘You bid him step up,’ he said, addressing me; ‘and, Catherine, try to be glad, without being absurd. The whole household need not witness the sight of your welcoming a runaway servant as a brother.’
I descended, and found Heathcliff waiting under the porch, evidently anticipating an invitation to enter. He followed my guidance without waste of words, and I ushered him into the presence of the master and mistress, whose flushed cheeks betrayed signs of warm talking. But the lady’s glowed with another feeling when her friend appeared at the door: she sprang forward, took both his hands, and led him to Linton; and then she seized Linton’s reluctant fingers and crushed them into his. Now, fully revealed by the fire and candlelight, I was amazed, more than ever, to behold the transformation of Heathcliff. He had grown a tall, athletic, well-formed man; beside whom my master seemed quite slender and youth-like. His upright carriage suggested the idea of his having been in the army. His countenance was much older in expression and decision of feature than Mr. Linton’s; it looked intelligent, and retained no marks of former degradation. A half-civilised ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows and eyes full of black fire, but it was subdued; and his manner was even dignified: quite divested of roughness, though stern for grace. My master’s surprise equalled or exceeded mine: he remained for a minute at a loss how to address the ploughboy, as he had called him. Heathcliff dropped his slight hand, and stood looking at him coolly till he chose to speak.
‘Sit down, sir,’ he said, at length. ‘Mrs. Linton, recalling old times, would have me give you a cordial reception; and, of course, I am gratified when anything occurs to please her.’
‘And I also,’ answered Heathcliff, ‘especially if it be anything in which I have a part. I shall stay an hour or two willingly.’
He took a seat opposite Catherine, who kept her gaze fixed on him as if she feared he would vanish were she to remove it. He did not raise his to her often: a quick glance now and then sufficed; but it flashed back, each time more confidently, the undisguised delight he drank from hers. They were too much absorbed in their mutual joy to suffer embarrassment. Not so Mr. Edgar: he grew pale with pure annoyance: a feeling that reached its climax when his lady rose, and stepping across the rug, seized Heathcliff’s hands again, and laughed like one beside herself.
‘I shall think it a dream to-morrow!’ she cried. ‘I shall not be able to believe that I have seen, and touched, and spoken to you once more. And yet, cruel Heathcliff! you don’t deserve this welcome. To be absent and silent for three years, and never to think of me!’
‘A little more than you have thought of me,’ he murmured. ‘I heard of your marriage, Cathy, not long since; and, while waiting in the yard below, I meditated this plan—just to have one glimpse of your face, a stare of surprise, perhaps, and pretended pleasure; afterwards settle my score with Hindley; and then prevent the law by doing execution on myself. Your welcome has put these ideas out of my mind; but beware of meeting me with another aspect next time! Nay, you’ll not drive me off again. You were really sorry for me, were you? Well, there was cause. I’ve fought through a bitter life since I last heard your voice; and you must forgive me, for I struggled only for you!’
‘Catherine, unless we are to have cold tea, please to come to the table,’ interrupted Linton, striving to preserve his ordinary tone, and a due measure of politeness. ‘Mr. Heathcliff will have a long walk, wherever he may lodge to-night; and I’m thirsty.’
She took her post before the urn; and Miss Isabella came, summoned by the bell; then, having handed their chairs forward, I left the room. The meal hardly endured ten minutes. Catherine’s cup was never filled: she could neither eat nor drink. Edgar had made a slop in his saucer, and scarcely swallowed a mouthful. Their guest did not protract his stay that evening above an hour longer. I asked, as he departed, if he went to Gimmerton?
‘No, to Wuthering Heights,’ he answered: ‘Mr. Earnshaw invited me, when I called this morning.’
Mr. Earnshaw invited him! and he called on Mr. Earnshaw! I pondered this sentence painfully, after he was gone. Is he turning out a bit of a hypocrite, and coming into the country to work mischief under a cloak? I mused: I had a presentiment in the bottom of my heart that he had better have remained away.
About the middle of the night, I was wakened from my first nap by Mrs. Linton gliding into my chamber, taking a seat on my bedside, and pulling me by the hair to rouse me.
‘I cannot rest, Ellen,’ she said, by way of apology. ‘And I want some living creature to keep me company in my happiness! Edgar is sulky, because I’m glad of a thing that does not interest him: he refuses to open his mouth, except to utter pettish, silly speeches; and he affirmed I was cruel and selfish for wishing to talk when he was so sick and sleepy. He always contrives to be sick at the least cross! I gave a few sentences of commendation to Heathcliff, and he, either for a headache or a pang of envy, began to cry: so I got up and left him.’
‘What use is it praising Heathcliff to him?’ I answered. ‘As lads they had an aversion to each other, and Heathcliff would hate just as much to hear him praised: it’s human nature. Let Mr. Linton alone about him, unless you would like an open quarrel between them.’
‘But does it not show great weakness?’ pursued she. ‘I’m not envious: I never feel hurt at the brightness of Isabella’s yellow hair and the whiteness of her skin, at her dainty elegance, and the fondness all the family exhibit for her. Even you, Nelly, if we have a dispute sometimes, you back Isabella at once; and I yield like a foolish mother: I call her a darling, and flatter her into a good temper. It pleases her brother to see us cordial, and that pleases me. But they are very much alike: they are spoiled children, and fancy the world was made for their accommodation; and though I humour both, I think a smart chastisement might improve them all the same.’
‘You’re mistaken, Mrs. Linton,’ said I. ‘They humour you: I know what there would be to do if they did not. You can well afford to indulge their passing whims as long as their business is to anticipate all your desires. You may, however, fall out, at last, over something of equal consequence to both sides; and then those you term weak are very capable of being as obstinate as you.’
‘And then we shall fight to the death, sha’n’t we, Nelly?’ she returned, laughing. ‘No! I tell you, I have such faith in Linton’s love, that I believe I might kill him, and he wouldn’t wish to retaliate.’
I advised her to value him the more for his affection.
‘I do,’ she answered, ‘but he needn’t resort to whining for trifles. It is childish and, instead of melting into tears because I said that Heathcliff was now worthy of anyone’s regard, and it would honour the first gentleman in the country to be his friend, he ought to have said it for me, and been delighted from sympathy. He must get accustomed to him, and he may as well like him: considering how Heathcliff has reason to object to him, I’m sure he behaved excellently!’
‘What do you think of his going to Wuthering Heights?’ I inquired. ‘He is reformed in every respect, apparently: quite a Christian: offering the right hand of fellowship to his enemies all around!’
‘He explained it,’ she replied. ‘I wonder as much as you. He said he called to gather information concerning me from you, supposing you resided there still; and Joseph told Hindley, who came out and fell to questioning him of what he had been doing, and how he had been living; and finally, desired him to walk in. There were some persons sitting at cards; Heathcliff joined them; my brother lost some money to him, and, finding him plentifully supplied, he requested that he would come again in the evening: to which he consented. Hindley is too reckless to select his acquaintance prudently: he doesn’t trouble himself to reflect on the causes he might have for mistrusting one whom he has basely injured. But Heathcliff affirms his principal reason for resuming a connection with his ancient persecutor is a wish to install himself in quarters at walking distance from the Grange, and an attachment to the house where we lived together; and likewise a hope that I shall have more opportunities of seeing him there than I could have if he settled in Gimmerton. He means to offer liberal payment for permission to lodge at the Heights; and doubtless my brother’s covetousness will prompt him to accept the terms: he was always greedy; though what he grasps with one hand he flings away with the other.’
‘It’s a nice place for a young man to fix his dwelling in!’ said I. ‘Have you no fear of the consequences, Mrs. Linton?’
‘None for my friend,’ she replied: ‘his strong head will keep him from danger; a little for Hindley: but he can’t be made morally worse than he is; and I stand between him and bodily harm. The event of this evening has reconciled me to God and humanity! I had risen in angry rebellion against Providence. Oh, I’ve endured very, very bitter misery, Nelly! If that creature knew how bitter, he’d be ashamed to cloud its removal with idle petulance. It was kindness for him which induced me to bear it alone: had I expressed the agony I frequently felt, he would have been taught to long for its alleviation as ardently as I. However, it’s over, and I’ll take no revenge on his folly; I can afford to suffer anything hereafter! Should the meanest thing alive slap me on the cheek, I’d not only turn the other, but I’d ask pardon for provoking it; and, as a proof, I’ll go make my peace with Edgar instantly. Good-night! I’m an angel!’