Wuthering Heights (Chapter 10)

Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronté

Chapter 10

About twelve o’clock that night was born the Catherine you saw at Wuthering Heights: a puny, seven-months’ child; and two hours after the mother died, having never recovered sufficient consciousness to miss Heathcliff, or know Edgar.  The latter’s distraction at his bereavement is a subject too painful to be dwelt on; its after-effects showed how deep the sorrow sunk.  A great addition, in my eyes, was his being left without an heir.  I bemoaned that, as I gazed on the feeble orphan; and I mentally abused old Linton for (what was only natural partiality) the securing his estate to his own daughter, instead of his son’s.  An unwelcomed infant it was, poor thing!  It might have wailed out of life, and nobody cared a morsel, during those first hours of existence.  We redeemed the neglect afterwards; but its beginning was as friendless as its end is likely to be.

Next morning—bright and cheerful out of doors—stole softened in through the blinds of the silent room, and suffused the couch and its occupant with a mellow, tender glow.  Edgar Linton had his head laid on the pillow, and his eyes shut.  His young and fair features were almost as deathlike as those of the form beside him, and almost as fixed: but his was the hush of exhausted anguish, and hers of perfect peace.  Her brow smooth, her lids closed, her lips wearing the expression of a smile; no angel in heaven could be more beautiful than she appeared.  And I partook of the infinite calm in which she lay: my mind was never in a holier frame than while I gazed on that untroubled image of Divine rest.  I instinctively echoed the words she had uttered a few hours before: ‘Incomparably beyond and above us all!  Whether still on earth or now in heaven, her spirit is at home with God!’

I don’t know if it be a peculiarity in me, but I am seldom otherwise than happy while watching in the chamber of death, should no frenzied or despairing mourner share the duty with me.  I see a repose that neither earth nor hell can break, and I feel an assurance of the endless and shadowless hereafter—the Eternity they have entered—where life is boundless in its duration, and love in its sympathy, and joy in its fulness.  I noticed on that occasion how much selfishness there is even in a love like Mr. Linton’s, when he so regretted Catherine’s blessed release!  To be sure, one might have doubted, after the wayward and impatient existence she had led, whether she merited a haven of peace at last.  One might doubt in seasons of cold reflection; but not then, in the presence of her corpse.  It asserted its own tranquillity, which seemed a pledge of equal quiet to its former inhabitant.

Do you believe such people are happy in the other world, sir?  I’d give a great deal to know.

I declined answering Mrs. Dean’s question, which struck me as something heterodox.  She proceeded:

Retracing the course of Catherine Linton, I fear we have no right to think she is; but we’ll leave her with her Maker.

The master looked asleep, and I ventured soon after sunrise to quit the room and steal out to the pure refreshing air.  The servants thought me gone to shake off the drowsiness of my protracted watch; in reality, my chief motive was seeing Mr. Heathcliff.  If he had remained among the larches all night, he would have heard nothing of the stir at the Grange; unless, perhaps, he might catch the gallop of the messenger going to Gimmerton.  If he had come nearer, he would probably be aware, from the lights flitting to and fro, and the opening and shutting of the outer doors, that all was not right within.  I wished, yet feared, to find him.  I felt the terrible news must be told, and I longed to get it over; but how to do it I did not know.  He was there—at least, a few yards further in the park; leant against an old ash-tree, his hat off, and his hair soaked with the dew that had gathered on the budded branches, and fell pattering round him.  He had been standing a long time in that position, for I saw a pair of ousels passing and repassing scarcely three feet from him, busy in building their nest, and regarding his proximity no more than that of a piece of timber.  They flew off at my approach, and he raised his eyes and spoke:—‘She’s dead!’ he said; ‘I’ve not waited for you to learn that.  Put your handkerchief away—don’t snivel before me.  Damn you all! she wants none of your tears!’

I was weeping as much for him as her: we do sometimes pity creatures that have none of the feeling either for themselves or others.  When I first looked into his face, I perceived that he had got intelligence of the catastrophe; and a foolish notion struck me that his heart was quelled and he prayed, because his lips moved and his gaze was bent on the ground.

‘Yes, she’s dead!’ I answered, checking my sobs and drying my cheeks.  ‘Gone to heaven, I hope; where we may, every one, join her, if we take due warning and leave our evil ways to follow good!’

‘Did she take due warning, then?’ asked Heathcliff, attempting a sneer.  ‘Did she die like a saint?  Come, give me a true history of the event.  How did—?’

He endeavoured to pronounce the name, but could not manage it; and compressing his mouth he held a silent combat with his inward agony, defying, meanwhile, my sympathy with an unflinching, ferocious stare.  ‘How did she die?’ he resumed, at last—fain, notwithstanding his hardihood, to have a support behind him; for, after the struggle, he trembled, in spite of himself, to his very finger-ends.

‘Poor wretch!’ I thought; ‘you have a heart and nerves the same as your brother men!  Why should you be anxious to conceal them?  Your pride cannot blind God!  You tempt him to wring them, till he forces a cry of humiliation.’

‘Quietly as a lamb!’ I answered, aloud.  ‘She drew a sigh, and stretched herself, like a child reviving, and sinking again to sleep; and five minutes after I felt one little pulse at her heart, and nothing more!’

‘And—did she ever mention me?’ he asked, hesitating, as if he dreaded the answer to his question would introduce details that he could not bear to hear.

‘Her senses never returned: she recognised nobody from the time you left her,’ I said.  ‘She lies with a sweet smile on her face; and her latest ideas wandered back to pleasant early days.  Her life closed in a gentle dream—may she wake as kindly in the other world!’

‘May she wake in torment!’ he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion.  ‘Why, she’s a liar to the end!  Where is she?  Not there—not in heaven—not perished—where?  Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings!  And I pray one prayer—I repeat it till my tongue stiffens—Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living; you said I killed you—haunt me, then!  The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe.  I know that ghosts have wandered on earth.  Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!  Oh, God! it is unutterable!  I cannot live without my life!  I cannot live without my soul!’

He dashed his head against the knotted trunk; and, lifting up his eyes, howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast being goaded to death with knives and spears.  I observed several splashes of blood about the bark of the tree, and his hand and forehead were both stained; probably the scene I witnessed was a repetition of others acted during the night.  It hardly moved my compassion—it appalled me: still, I felt reluctant to quit him so.  But the moment he recollected himself enough to notice me watching, he thundered a command for me to go, and I obeyed.  He was beyond my skill to quiet or console!

Mrs. Linton’s funeral was appointed to take place on the Friday following her decease; and till then her coffin remained uncovered, and strewn with flowers and scented leaves, in the great drawing-room.  Linton spent his days and nights there, a sleepless guardian; and—a circumstance concealed from all but me—Heathcliff spent his nights, at least, outside, equally a stranger to repose.  I held no communication with him: still, I was conscious of his design to enter, if he could; and on the Tuesday, a little after dark, when my master, from sheer fatigue, had been compelled to retire a couple of hours, I went and opened one of the windows; moved by his perseverance to give him a chance of bestowing on the faded image of his idol one final adieu.  He did not omit to avail himself of the opportunity, cautiously and briefly; too cautiously to betray his presence by the slightest noise.  Indeed, I shouldn’t have discovered that he had been there, except for the disarrangement of the drapery about the corpse’s face, and for observing on the floor a curl of light hair, fastened with a silver thread; which, on examination, I ascertained to have been taken from a locket hung round Catherine’s neck.  Heathcliff had opened the trinket and cast out its contents, replacing them by a black lock of his own.  I twisted the two, and enclosed them together.

Mr. Earnshaw was, of course, invited to attend the remains of his sister to the grave; he sent no excuse, but he never came; so that, besides her husband, the mourners were wholly composed of tenants and servants.  Isabella was not asked.

The place of Catherine’s interment, to the surprise of the villagers, was neither in the chapel under the carved monument of the Lintons, nor yet by the tombs of her own relations, outside.  It was dug on a green slope in a corner of the kirk-yard, where the wall is so low that heath and bilberry-plants have climbed over it from the moor; and peat-mould almost buries it.  Her husband lies in the same spot now; and they have each a simple headstone above, and a plain grey block at their feet, to mark the graves.

That Friday made the last of our fine days for a month.  In the evening the weather broke: the wind shifted from south to north-east, and brought rain first, and then sleet and snow.  On the morrow one could hardly imagine that there had been three weeks of summer: the primroses and crocuses were hidden under wintry drifts; the larks were silent, the young leaves of the early trees smitten and blackened.  And dreary, and chill, and dismal, that morrow did creep over!  My master kept his room; I took possession of the lonely parlour, converting it into a nursery: and there I was, sitting with the moaning doll of a child laid on my knee; rocking it to and fro, and watching, meanwhile, the still driving flakes build up the uncurtained window, when the door opened, and some person entered, out of breath and laughing!  My anger was greater than my astonishment for a minute.  I supposed it one of the maids, and I cried—‘Have done!  How dare you show your giddiness here; What would Mr. Linton say if he heard you?’

‘Excuse me!’ answered a familiar voice; ‘but I know Edgar is in bed, and I cannot stop myself.’

With that the speaker came forward to the fire, panting and holding her hand to her side.

‘I have run the whole way from Wuthering Heights!’ she continued, after a pause; ‘except where I’ve flown.  I couldn’t count the number of falls I’ve had.  Oh, I’m aching all over!  Don’t be alarmed!  There shall be an explanation as soon as I can give it; only just have the goodness to step out and order the carriage to take me on to Gimmerton, and tell a servant to seek up a few clothes in my wardrobe.’

The intruder was Mrs. Heathcliff.  She certainly seemed in no laughing predicament: her hair streamed on her shoulders, dripping with snow and water; she was dressed in the girlish dress she commonly wore, befitting her age more than her position: a low frock with short sleeves, and nothing on either head or neck.  The frock was of light silk, and clung to her with wet, and her feet were protected merely by thin slippers; add to this a deep cut under one ear, which only the cold prevented from bleeding profusely, a white face scratched and bruised, and a frame hardly able to support itself through fatigue; and you may fancy my first fright was not much allayed when I had had leisure to examine her.

‘My dear young lady,’ I exclaimed, ‘I’ll stir nowhere, and hear nothing, till you have removed every article of your clothes, and put on dry things; and certainly you shall not go to Gimmerton to-night, so it is needless to order the carriage.’

‘Certainly I shall,’ she said; ‘walking or riding: yet I’ve no objection to dress myself decently.  And—ah, see how it flows down my neck now!  The fire does make it smart.’

She insisted on my fulfilling her directions, before she would let me touch her; and not till after the coachman had been instructed to get ready, and a maid set to pack up some necessary attire, did I obtain her consent for binding the wound and helping to change her garments.

‘Now, Ellen,’ she said, when my task was finished and she was seated in an easy-chair on the hearth, with a cup of tea before her, ‘you sit down opposite me, and put poor Catherine’s baby away: I don’t like to see it!  You mustn’t think I care little for Catherine, because I behaved so foolishly on entering: I’ve cried, too, bitterly—yes, more than any one else has reason to cry.  We parted unreconciled, you remember, and I sha’n’t forgive myself.  But, for all that, I was not going to sympathise with him—the brute beast!  Oh, give me the poker!  This is the last thing of his I have about me:’ she slipped the gold ring from her third finger, and threw it on the floor.  ‘I’ll smash it!’ she continued, striking it with childish spite, ‘and then I’ll burn it!’ and she took and dropped the misused article among the coals.  ‘There! he shall buy another, if he gets me back again.  He’d be capable of coming to seek me, to tease Edgar.  I dare not stay, lest that notion should possess his wicked head!  And besides, Edgar has not been kind, has he?  And I won’t come suing for his assistance; nor will I bring him into more trouble.  Necessity compelled me to seek shelter here; though, if I had not learned he was out of the way, I’d have halted at the kitchen, washed my face, warmed myself, got you to bring what I wanted, and departed again to anywhere out of the reach of my accursed—of that incarnate goblin!  Ah, he was in such a fury!  If he had caught me!  It’s a pity Earnshaw is not his match in strength: I wouldn’t have run till I’d seen him all but demolished, had Hindley been able to do it!’

‘Well, don’t talk so fast, Miss!’ I interrupted; ‘you’ll disorder the handkerchief I have tied round your face, and make the cut bleed again.  Drink your tea, and take breath, and give over laughing: laughter is sadly out of place under this roof, and in your condition!’

‘An undeniable truth,’ she replied.  ‘Listen to that child!  It maintains a constant wail—send it out of my hearing for an hour; I sha’n’t stay any longer.’

I rang the bell, and committed it to a servant’s care; and then I inquired what had urged her to escape from Wuthering Heights in such an unlikely plight, and where she meant to go, as she refused remaining with us.

‘I ought, and I wished to remain,’ answered she, ‘to cheer Edgar and take care of the baby, for two things, and because the Grange is my right home.  But I tell you he wouldn’t let me!  Do you think he could bear to see me grow fat and merry—could bear to think that we were tranquil, and not resolve on poisoning our comfort?  Now, I have the satisfaction of being sure that he detests me, to the point of its annoying him seriously to have me within ear-shot or eyesight: I notice, when I enter his presence, the muscles of his countenance are involuntarily distorted into an expression of hatred; partly arising from his knowledge of the good causes I have to feel that sentiment for him, and partly from original aversion.  It is strong enough to make me feel pretty certain that he would not chase me over England, supposing I contrived a clear escape; and therefore I must get quite away.  I’ve recovered from my first desire to be killed by him: I’d rather he’d kill himself!  He has extinguished my love effectually, and so I’m at my ease.  I can recollect yet how I loved him; and can dimly imagine that I could still be loving him, if—no, no!  Even if he had doted on me, the devilish nature would have revealed its existence somehow.  Catherine had an awfully perverted taste to esteem him so dearly, knowing him so well.  Monster! would that he could be blotted out of creation, and out of my memory!’

‘Hush, hush!  He’s a human being,’ I said.  ‘Be more charitable: there are worse men than he is yet!’

‘He’s not a human being,’ she retorted; ‘and he has no claim on my charity.  I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death, and flung it back to me.  People feel with their hearts, Ellen: and since he has destroyed mine, I have not power to feel for him: and I would not, though he groaned from this to his dying day, and wept tears of blood for Catherine!  No, indeed, indeed, I wouldn’t!’  And here Isabella began to cry; but, immediately dashing the water from her lashes, she recommenced.  ‘You asked, what has driven me to flight at last?  I was compelled to attempt it, because I had succeeded in rousing his rage a pitch above his malignity.  Pulling out the nerves with red hot pincers requires more coolness than knocking on the head.  He was worked up to forget the fiendish prudence he boasted of, and proceeded to murderous violence.  I experienced pleasure in being able to exasperate him: the sense of pleasure woke my instinct of self-preservation, so I fairly broke free; and if ever I come into his hands again he is welcome to a signal revenge.

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