Wuthering Heights (Chapter 14)
We had sad work with little Cathy that day: she rose in high glee, eager to join her cousin, and such passionate tears and lamentations followed the news of his departure that Edgar himself was obliged to soothe her, by affirming he should come back soon: he added, however, ‘if I can get him’; and there were no hopes of that. This promise poorly pacified her; but time was more potent; and though still at intervals she inquired of her father when Linton would return, before she did see him again his features had waxed so dim in her memory that she did not recognise him.
When I chanced to encounter the housekeeper of Wuthering Heights, in paying business visits to Gimmerton, I used to ask how the young master got on; for he lived almost as secluded as Catherine herself, and was never to be seen. I could gather from her that he continued in weak health, and was a tiresome inmate. She said Mr. Heathcliff seemed to dislike him ever longer and worse, though he took some trouble to conceal it: he had an antipathy to the sound of his voice, and could not do at all with his sitting in the same room with him many minutes together. There seldom passed much talk between them: Linton learnt his lessons and spent his evenings in a small apartment they called the parlour: or else lay in bed all day: for he was constantly getting coughs, and colds, and aches, and pains of some sort.
‘And I never know such a fainthearted creature,’ added the woman; ‘nor one so careful of hisseln. He will go on, if I leave the window open a bit late in the evening. Oh! it’s killing, a breath of night air! And he must have a fire in the middle of summer; and Joseph’s bacca-pipe is poison; and he must always have sweets and dainties, and always milk, milk for ever—heeding naught how the rest of us are pinched in winter; and there he’ll sit, wrapped in his furred cloak in his chair by the fire, with some toast and water or other slop on the hob to sip at; and if Hareton, for pity, comes to amuse him—Hareton is not bad-natured, though he’s rough—they’re sure to part, one swearing and the other crying. I believe the master would relish Earnshaw’s thrashing him to a mummy, if he were not his son; and I’m certain he would be fit to turn him out of doors, if he knew half the nursing he gives hisseln. But then he won’t go into danger of temptation: he never enters the parlour, and should Linton show those ways in the house where he is, he sends him up-stairs directly.’
I divined, from this account, that utter lack of sympathy had rendered young Heathcliff selfish and disagreeable, if he were not so originally; and my interest in him, consequently, decayed: though still I was moved with a sense of grief at his lot, and a wish that he had been left with us. Mr. Edgar encouraged me to gain information: he thought a great deal about him, I fancy, and would have run some risk to see him; and he told me once to ask the housekeeper whether he ever came into the village? She said he had only been twice, on horseback, accompanying his father; and both times he pretended to be quite knocked up for three or four days afterwards. That housekeeper left, if I recollect rightly, two years after he came; and another, whom I did not know, was her successor; she lives there still.
Time wore on at the Grange in its former pleasant way till Miss Cathy reached sixteen. On the anniversary of her birth we never manifested any signs of rejoicing, because it was also the anniversary of my late mistress’s death. Her father invariably spent that day alone in the library; and walked, at dusk, as far as Gimmerton kirkyard, where he would frequently prolong his stay beyond midnight. Therefore Catherine was thrown on her own resources for amusement. This twentieth of March was a beautiful spring day, and when her father had retired, my young lady came down dressed for going out, and said she asked to have a ramble on the edge of the moor with me: Mr. Linton had given her leave, if we went only a short distance and were back within the hour.
‘So make haste, Ellen!’ she cried. ‘I know where I wish to go; where a colony of moor-game are settled: I want to see whether they have made their nests yet.’
‘That must be a good distance up,’ I answered; ‘they don’t breed on the edge of the moor.’
‘No, it’s not,’ she said. ‘I’ve gone very near with papa.’
I put on my bonnet and sallied out, thinking nothing more of the matter. She bounded before me, and returned to my side, and was off again like a young greyhound; and, at first, I found plenty of entertainment in listening to the larks singing far and near, and enjoying the sweet, warm sunshine; and watching her, my pet and my delight, with her golden ringlets flying loose behind, and her bright cheek, as soft and pure in its bloom as a wild rose, and her eyes radiant with cloudless pleasure. She was a happy creature, and an angel, in those days. It’s a pity she could not be content.
‘Well,’ said I, ‘where are your moor-game, Miss Cathy? We should be at them: the Grange park-fence is a great way off now.’
‘Oh, a little further—only a little further, Ellen,’ was her answer, continually. ‘Climb to that hillock, pass that bank, and by the time you reach the other side I shall have raised the birds.’
But there were so many hillocks and banks to climb and pass, that, at length, I began to be weary, and told her we must halt, and retrace our steps. I shouted to her, as she had outstripped me a long way; she either did not hear or did not regard, for she still sprang on, and I was compelled to follow. Finally, she dived into a hollow; and before I came in sight of her again, she was two miles nearer Wuthering Heights than her own home; and I beheld a couple of persons arrest her, one of whom I felt convinced was Mr. Heathcliff himself.
Cathy had been caught in the fact of plundering, or, at least, hunting out the nests of the grouse. The Heights were Heathcliff’s land, and he was reproving the poacher.
‘I’ve neither taken any nor found any,’ she said, as I toiled to them, expanding her hands in corroboration of the statement. ‘I didn’t mean to take them; but papa told me there were quantities up here, and I wished to see the eggs.’
Heathcliff glanced at me with an ill-meaning smile, expressing his acquaintance with the party, and, consequently, his malevolence towards it, and demanded who ‘papa’ was?
‘Mr. Linton of Thrushcross Grange,’ she replied. ‘I thought you did not know me, or you wouldn’t have spoken in that way.’
‘You suppose papa is highly esteemed and respected, then?’ he said, sarcastically.
‘And what are you?’ inquired Catherine, gazing curiously on the speaker. ‘That man I’ve seen before. Is he your son?’
She pointed to Hareton, the other individual, who had gained nothing but increased bulk and strength by the addition of two years to his age: he seemed as awkward and rough as ever.
‘Miss Cathy,’ I interrupted, ‘it will be three hours instead of one that we are out, presently. We really must go back.’
‘No, that man is not my son,’ answered Heathcliff, pushing me aside. ‘But I have one, and you have seen him before too; and, though your nurse is in a hurry, I think both you and she would be the better for a little rest. Will you just turn this nab of heath, and walk into my house? You’ll get home earlier for the ease; and you shall receive a kind welcome.’
I whispered Catherine that she mustn’t, on any account, accede to the proposal: it was entirely out of the question.
‘Why?’ she asked, aloud. ‘I’m tired of running, and the ground is dewy: I can’t sit here. Let us go, Ellen. Besides, he says I have seen his son. He’s mistaken, I think; but I guess where he lives: at the farmhouse I visited in coming from Penistone Crags. Don’t you?’
‘I do. Come, Nelly, hold your tongue—it will be a treat for her to look in on us. Hareton, get forwards with the lass. You shall walk with me, Nelly.’
‘No, she’s not going to any such place,’ I cried, struggling to release my arm, which he had seized: but she was almost at the door-stones already, scampering round the brow at full speed. Her appointed companion did not pretend to escort her: he shied off by the road-side, and vanished.
‘Mr. Heathcliff, it’s very wrong,’ I continued: ‘you know you mean no good. And there she’ll see Linton, and all will be told as soon as ever we return; and I shall have the blame.’
‘I want her to see Linton,’ he answered; ‘he’s looking better these few days; it’s not often he’s fit to be seen. And we’ll soon persuade her to keep the visit secret: where is the harm of it?’
‘The harm of it is, that her father would hate me if he found I suffered her to enter your house; and I am convinced you have a bad design in encouraging her to do so,’ I replied.
‘My design is as honest as possible. I’ll inform you of its whole scope,’ he said. ‘That the two cousins may fall in love, and get married. I’m acting generously to your master: his young chit has no expectations, and should she second my wishes she’ll be provided for at once as joint successor with Linton.’
‘If Linton died,’ I answered, ‘and his life is quite uncertain, Catherine would be the heir.’
‘No, she would not,’ he said. ‘There is no clause in the will to secure it so: his property would go to me; but, to prevent disputes, I desire their union, and am resolved to bring it about.’
‘And I’m resolved she shall never approach your house with me again,’ I returned, as we reached the gate, where Miss Cathy waited our coming.
Heathcliff bade me be quiet; and, preceding us up the path, hastened to open the door. My young lady gave him several looks, as if she could not exactly make up her mind what to think of him; but now he smiled when he met her eye, and softened his voice in addressing her; and I was foolish enough to imagine the memory of her mother might disarm him from desiring her injury. Linton stood on the hearth. He had been out walking in the fields, for his cap was on, and he was calling to Joseph to bring him dry shoes. He had grown tall of his age, still wanting some months of sixteen. His features were pretty yet, and his eye and complexion brighter than I remembered them, though with merely temporary lustre borrowed from the salubrious air and genial sun.
‘Now, who is that?’ asked Mr. Heathcliff, turning to Cathy. ‘Can you tell?’
‘Your son?’ she said, having doubtfully surveyed, first one and then the other.
‘Yes, yes,’ answered he: ‘but is this the only time you have beheld him? Think! Ah! you have a short memory. Linton, don’t you recall your cousin, that you used to tease us so with wishing to see?’
‘What, Linton!’ cried Cathy, kindling into joyful surprise at the name. ‘Is that little Linton? He’s taller than I am! Are you Linton?’
The youth stepped forward, and acknowledged himself: she kissed him fervently, and they gazed with wonder at the change time had wrought in the appearance of each. Catherine had reached her full height; her figure was both plump and slender, elastic as steel, and her whole aspect sparkling with health and spirits. Linton’s looks and movements were very languid, and his form extremely slight; but there was a grace in his manner that mitigated these defects, and rendered him not unpleasing. After exchanging numerous marks of fondness with him, his cousin went to Mr. Heathcliff, who lingered by the door, dividing his attention between the objects inside and those that lay without: pretending, that is, to observe the latter, and really noting the former alone.
‘And you are my uncle, then!’ she cried, reaching up to salute him. ‘I thought I liked you, though you were cross at first. Why don’t you visit at the Grange with Linton? To live all these years such close neighbours, and never see us, is odd: what have you done so for?’
‘I visited it once or twice too often before you were born,’ he answered. ‘There—damn it! If you have any kisses to spare, give them to Linton: they are thrown away on me.’
‘Naughty Ellen!’ exclaimed Catherine, flying to attack me next with her lavish caresses. ‘Wicked Ellen! to try to hinder me from entering. But I’ll take this walk every morning in future: may I, uncle? and sometimes bring papa. Won’t you be glad to see us?’
‘Of course,’ replied the uncle, with a hardly suppressed grimace, resulting from his deep aversion to both the proposed visitors. ‘But stay,’ he continued, turning towards the young lady. ‘Now I think of it, I’d better tell you. Mr. Linton has a prejudice against me: we quarrelled at one time of our lives, with unchristian ferocity; and, if you mention coming here to him, he’ll put a veto on your visits altogether. Therefore, you must not mention it, unless you be careless of seeing your cousin hereafter: you may come, if you will, but you must not mention it.’
‘Why did you quarrel?’ asked Catherine, considerably crestfallen.
‘He thought me too poor to wed his sister,’ answered Heathcliff, ‘and was grieved that I got her: his pride was hurt, and he’ll never forgive it.’
‘That’s wrong!’ said the young lady: ‘some time I’ll tell him so. But Linton and I have no share in your quarrel. I’ll not come here, then; he shall come to the Grange.’
‘It will be too far for me,’ murmured her cousin: ‘to walk four miles would kill me. No, come here, Miss Catherine, now and then: not every morning, but once or twice a week.’
The father launched towards his son a glance of bitter contempt.
‘I am afraid, Nelly, I shall lose my labour,’ he muttered to me. ‘Miss Catherine, as the ninny calls her, will discover his value, and send him to the devil. Now, if it had been Hareton!—Do you know that, twenty times a day, I covet Hareton, with all his degradation? I’d have loved the lad had he been some one else. But I think he’s safe from her love. I’ll pit him against that paltry creature, unless it bestir itself briskly. We calculate it will scarcely last till it is eighteen. Oh, confound the vapid thing! He’s absorbed in drying his feet, and never looks at her.—Linton!’
‘Yes, father,’ answered the boy.
‘Have you nothing to show your cousin anywhere about, not even a rabbit or a weasel’s nest? Take her into the garden, before you change your shoes; and into the stable to see your horse.’
‘Wouldn’t you rather sit here?’ asked Linton, addressing Cathy in a tone which expressed reluctance to move again.
‘I don’t know,’ she replied, casting a longing look to the door, and evidently eager to be active.
He kept his seat, and shrank closer to the fire. Heathcliff rose, and went into the kitchen, and from thence to the yard, calling out for Hareton. Hareton responded, and presently the two re-entered. The young man had been washing himself, as was visible by the glow on his cheeks and his wetted hair.
‘Oh, I’ll ask you, uncle,’ cried Miss Cathy, recollecting the housekeeper’s assertion. ‘That is not my cousin, is he?’
‘Yes,’ he, replied, ‘your mother’s nephew. Don’t you like him!’
Catherine looked queer.
‘Is he not a handsome lad?’ he continued.
The uncivil little thing stood on tiptoe, and whispered a sentence in Heathcliff’s ear. He laughed; Hareton darkened: I perceived he was very sensitive to suspected slights, and had obviously a dim notion of his inferiority. But his master or guardian chased the frown by exclaiming—
‘You’ll be the favourite among us, Hareton! She says you are a—What was it? Well, something very flattering. Here! you go with her round the farm. And behave like a gentleman, mind! Don’t use any bad words; and don’t stare when the young lady is not looking at you, and be ready to hide your face when she is; and, when you speak, say your words slowly, and keep your hands out of your pockets. Be off, and entertain her as nicely as you can.’
He watched the couple walking past the window. Earnshaw had his countenance completely averted from his companion. He seemed studying the familiar landscape with a stranger’s and an artist’s interest. Catherine took a sly look at him, expressing small admiration. She then turned her attention to seeking out objects of amusement for herself, and tripped merrily on, lilting a tune to supply the lack of conversation.
‘I’ve tied his tongue,’ observed Heathcliff. ‘He’ll not venture a single syllable all the time! Nelly, you recollect me at his age—nay, some years younger. Did I ever look so stupid: so “gaumless,” as Joseph calls it?’
‘Worse,’ I replied, ‘because more sullen with it.’
‘I’ve a pleasure in him,’ he continued, reflecting aloud. ‘He has satisfied my expectations. If he were a born fool I should not enjoy it half so much. But he’s no fool; and I can sympathise with all his feelings, having felt them myself. I know what he suffers now, for instance, exactly: it is merely a beginning of what he shall suffer, though. And he’ll never be able to emerge from his bathos of coarseness and ignorance. I’ve got him faster than his scoundrel of a father secured me, and lower; for he takes a pride in his brutishness. I’ve taught him to scorn everything extra-animal as silly and weak. Don’t you think Hindley would be proud of his son, if he could see him? almost as proud as I am of mine. But there’s this difference; one is gold put to the use of paving-stones, and the other is tin polished to ape a service of silver. Mine has nothing valuable about it; yet I shall have the merit of making it go as far as such poor stuff can go. His had first-rate qualities, and they are lost: rendered worse than unavailing. I have nothing to regret; he would have more than any but I are aware of. And the best of it is, Hareton is damnably fond of me! You’ll own that I’ve outmatched Hindley there. If the dead villain could rise from his grave to abuse me for his offspring’s wrongs, I should have the fun of seeing the said offspring fight him back again, indignant that he should dare to rail at the one friend he has in the world!’
Heathcliff chuckled a fiendish laugh at the idea. I made no reply, because I saw that he expected none. Meantime, our young companion, who sat too removed from us to hear what was said, began to evince symptoms of uneasiness, probably repenting that he had denied himself the treat of Catherine’s society for fear of a little fatigue. His father remarked the restless glances wandering to the window, and the hand irresolutely extended towards his cap.
‘Get up, you idle boy!’ he exclaimed, with assumed heartiness.
‘Away after them! they are just at the corner, by the stand of hives.’
Linton gathered his energies, and left the hearth. The lattice was open, and, as he stepped out, I heard Cathy inquiring of her unsociable attendant what was that inscription over the door? Hareton stared up, and scratched his head like a true clown.
‘It’s some damnable writing,’ he answered. ‘I cannot read it.’
‘Can’t read it?’ cried Catherine; ‘I can read it: it’s English. But I want to know why it is there.’
Linton giggled: the first appearance of mirth he had exhibited.
‘He does not know his letters,’ he said to his cousin. ‘Could you believe in the existence of such a colossal dunce?’
‘Is he all as he should be?’ asked Miss Cathy, seriously; ‘or is he simple: not right? I’ve questioned him twice now, and each time he looked so stupid I think he does not understand me. I can hardly understand him, I’m sure!’
Linton repeated his laugh, and glanced at Hareton tauntingly; who certainly did not seem quite clear of comprehension at that moment.
‘There’s nothing the matter but laziness; is there, Earnshaw?’ he said. ‘My cousin fancies you are an idiot. There you experience the consequence of scorning “book-larning,” as you would say. Have you noticed, Catherine, his frightful Yorkshire pronunciation?’
‘Why, where the devil is the use on’t?’ growled Hareton, more ready in answering his daily companion. He was about to enlarge further, but the two youngsters broke into a noisy fit of merriment: my giddy miss being delighted to discover that she might turn his strange talk to matter of amusement.
‘Where is the use of the devil in that sentence?’ tittered Linton. ‘Papa told you not to say any bad words, and you can’t open your mouth without one. Do try to behave like a gentleman, now do!’
‘If thou weren’t more a lass than a lad, I’d fell thee this minute, I would; pitiful lath of a crater!’ retorted the angry boor, retreating, while his face burnt with mingled rage and mortification! for he was conscious of being insulted, and embarrassed how to resent it.
Mr. Heathcliff having overheard the conversation, as well as I, smiled when he saw him go; but immediately afterwards cast a look of singular aversion on the flippant pair, who remained chattering in the door-way: the boy finding animation enough while discussing Hareton’s faults and deficiencies, and relating anecdotes of his goings on; and the girl relishing his pert and spiteful sayings, without considering the ill-nature they evinced. I began to dislike, more than to compassionate Linton, and to excuse his father in some measure for holding him cheap.
We stayed till afternoon: I could not tear Miss Cathy away sooner; but happily my master had not quitted his apartment, and remained ignorant of our prolonged absence. As we walked home, I would fain have enlightened my charge on the characters of the people we had quitted: but she got it into her head that I was prejudiced against them.
‘Aha!’ she cried, ‘you take papa’s side, Ellen: you are partial I know; or else you wouldn’t have cheated me so many years into the notion that Linton lived a long way from here. I’m really extremely angry; only I’m so pleased I can’t show it! But you must hold your tongue about my uncle; he’s my uncle, remember; and I’ll scold papa for quarrelling with him.’
And so she ran on, till I relinquished the endeavour to convince her of her mistake. She did not mention the visit that night, because she did not see Mr. Linton. Next day it all came out, sadly to my chagrin; and still I was not altogether sorry: I thought the burden of directing and warning would be more efficiently borne by him than me. But he was too timid in giving satisfactory reasons for his wish that she should shun connection with the household of the Heights, and Catherine liked good reasons for every restraint that harassed her petted will.
‘Papa!’ she exclaimed, after the morning’s salutations, ‘guess whom I saw yesterday, in my walk on the moors. Ah, papa, you started! you’ve not done right, have you, now? I saw—but listen, and you shall hear how I found you out; and Ellen, who is in league with you, and yet pretended to pity me so, when I kept hoping, and was always disappointed about Linton’s coming back!’
She gave a faithful account of her excursion and its consequences; and my master, though he cast more than one reproachful look at me, said nothing till she had concluded. Then he drew her to him, and asked if she knew why he had concealed Linton’s near neighbourhood from her? Could she think it was to deny her a pleasure that she might harmlessly enjoy?
‘It was because you disliked Mr. Heathcliff,’ she answered.
‘Then you believe I care more for my own feelings than yours, Cathy?’ he said. ‘No, it was not because I disliked Mr. Heathcliff, but because Mr. Heathcliff dislikes me; and is a most diabolical man, delighting to wrong and ruin those he hates, if they give him the slightest opportunity. I knew that you could not keep up an acquaintance with your cousin without being brought into contact with him; and I knew he would detest you on my account; so for your own good, and nothing else, I took precautions that you should not see Linton again. I meant to explain this some time as you grew older, and I’m sorry I delayed it.’
‘But Mr. Heathcliff was quite cordial, papa,’ observed Catherine, not at all convinced; ‘and he didn’t object to our seeing each other: he said I might come to his house when I pleased; only I must not tell you, because you had quarrelled with him, and would not forgive him for marrying aunt Isabella. And you won’t. You are the one to be blamed: he is willing to let us be friends, at least; Linton and I; and you are not.’
My master, perceiving that she would not take his word for her uncle-in-law’s evil disposition, gave a hasty sketch of his conduct to Isabella, and the manner in which Wuthering Heights became his property. He could not bear to discourse long upon the topic; for though he spoke little of it, he still felt the same horror and detestation of his ancient enemy that had occupied his heart ever since Mrs. Linton’s death. ‘She might have been living yet, if it had not been for him!’ was his constant bitter reflection; and, in his eyes, Heathcliff seemed a murderer. Miss Cathy—conversant with no bad deeds except her own slight acts of disobedience, injustice, and passion, arising from hot temper and thoughtlessness, and repented of on the day they were committed—was amazed at the blackness of spirit that could brood on and cover revenge for years, and deliberately prosecute its plans without a visitation of remorse. She appeared so deeply impressed and shocked at this new view of human nature—excluded from all her studies and all her ideas till now—that Mr. Edgar deemed it unnecessary to pursue the subject. He merely added: ‘You will know hereafter, darling, why I wish you to avoid his house and family; now return to your old employments and amusements, and think no more about them.’
Catherine kissed her father, and sat down quietly to her lessons for a couple of hours, according to custom; then she accompanied him into the grounds, and the whole day passed as usual: but in the evening, when she had retired to her room, and I went to help her to undress, I found her crying, on her knees by the bedside.
‘Oh, fie, silly child!’ I exclaimed. ‘If you had any real griefs you’d be ashamed to waste a tear on this little contrariety. You never had one shadow of substantial sorrow, Miss Catherine. Suppose, for a minute, that master and I were dead, and you were by yourself in the world: how would you feel, then? Compare the present occasion with such an affliction as that, and be thankful for the friends you have, instead of coveting more.’
‘I’m not crying for myself, Ellen,’ she answered, ‘it’s for him. He expected to see me again to-morrow, and there he’ll be so disappointed: and he’ll wait for me, and I sha’n’t come!’
‘Nonsense!’ said I, ‘do you imagine he has thought as much of you as you have of him? Hasn’t he Hareton for a companion? Not one in a hundred would weep at losing a relation they had just seen twice, for two afternoons. Linton will conjecture how it is, and trouble himself no further about you.’
‘But may I not write a note to tell him why I cannot come?’ she asked, rising to her feet. ‘And just send those books I promised to lend him? His books are not as nice as mine, and he wanted to have them extremely, when I told him how interesting they were. May I not, Ellen?’
‘No, indeed! no, indeed!’ replied I with decision. ‘Then he would write to you, and there’d never be an end of it. No, Miss Catherine, the acquaintance must be dropped entirely: so papa expects, and I shall see that it is done.’
‘But how can one little note—?’ she recommenced, putting on an imploring countenance.
‘Silence!’ I interrupted. ‘We’ll not begin with your little notes. Get into bed.’
She threw at me a very naughty look, so naughty that I would not kiss her good-night at first: I covered her up, and shut her door, in great displeasure; but, repenting half-way, I returned softly, and lo! there was Miss standing at the table with a bit of blank paper before her and a pencil in her hand, which she guiltily slipped out of sight on my entrance.
‘You’ll get nobody to take that, Catherine,’ I said, ‘if you write it; and at present I shall put out your candle.’
I set the extinguisher on the flame, receiving as I did so a slap on my hand and a petulant ‘cross thing!’ I then quitted her again, and she drew the bolt in one of her worst, most peevish humours. The letter was finished and forwarded to its destination by a milk-fetcher who came from the village; but that I didn’t learn till some time afterwards. Weeks passed on, and Cathy recovered her temper; though she grew wondrous fond of stealing off to corners by herself and often, if I came near her suddenly while reading, she would start and bend over the book, evidently desirous to hide it; and I detected edges of loose paper sticking out beyond the leaves. She also got a trick of coming down early in the morning and lingering about the kitchen, as if she were expecting the arrival of something; and she had a small drawer in a cabinet in the library, which she would trifle over for hours, and whose key she took special care to remove when she left it.
One day, as she inspected this drawer, I observed that the playthings and trinkets which recently formed its contents were transmuted into bits of folded paper. My curiosity and suspicions were roused; I determined to take a peep at her mysterious treasures; so, at night, as soon as she and my master were safe upstairs, I searched, and readily found among my house keys one that would fit the lock. Having opened, I emptied the whole contents into my apron, and took them with me to examine at leisure in my own chamber. Though I could not but suspect, I was still surprised to discover that they were a mass of correspondence—daily almost, it must have been—from Linton Heathcliff: answers to documents forwarded by her. The earlier dated were embarrassed and short; gradually, however, they expanded into copious love-letters, foolish, as the age of the writer rendered natural, yet with touches here and there which I thought were borrowed from a more experienced source. Some of them struck me as singularly odd compounds of ardour and flatness; commencing in strong feeling, and concluding in the affected, wordy style that a schoolboy might use to a fancied, incorporeal sweetheart. Whether they satisfied Cathy I don’t know; but they appeared very worthless trash to me. After turning over as many as I thought proper, I tied them in a handkerchief and set them aside, relocking the vacant drawer.
Following her habit, my young lady descended early, and visited the kitchen: I watched her go to the door, on the arrival of a certain little boy; and, while the dairymaid filled his can, she tucked something into his jacket pocket, and plucked something out. I went round by the garden, and laid wait for the messenger; who fought valorously to defend his trust, and we spilt the milk between us; but I succeeded in abstracting the epistle; and, threatening serious consequences if he did not look sharp home, I remained under the wall and perused Miss Cathy’s affectionate composition. It was more simple and more eloquent than her cousin’s: very pretty and very silly. I shook my head, and went meditating into the house. The day being wet, she could not divert herself with rambling about the park; so, at the conclusion of her morning studies, she resorted to the solace of the drawer. Her father sat reading at the table; and I, on purpose, had sought a bit of work in some unripped fringes of the window-curtain, keeping my eye steadily fixed on her proceedings. Never did any bird flying back to a plundered nest, which it had left brimful of chirping young ones, express more complete despair, in its anguished cries and flutterings, than she by her single ‘Oh!’ and the change that transfigured her late happy countenance. Mr. Linton looked up.
‘What is the matter, love? Have you hurt yourself?’ he said.
His tone and look assured her he had not been the discoverer of the hoard.
‘No, papa!’ she gasped. ‘Ellen! Ellen! come up-stairs—I’m sick!’
I obeyed her summons, and accompanied her out.
‘Oh, Ellen! you have got them,’ she commenced immediately, dropping on her knees, when we were enclosed alone. ‘Oh, give them to me, and I’ll never, never do so again! Don’t tell papa. You have not told papa, Ellen? say you have not? I’ve been exceedingly naughty, but I won’t do it any more!’
With a grave severity in my manner I bade her stand up.
‘So,’ I exclaimed, ‘Miss Catherine, you are tolerably far on, it seems: you may well be ashamed of them! A fine bundle of trash you study in your leisure hours, to be sure: why, it’s good enough to be printed! And what do you suppose the master will think when I display it before him? I hav’n’t shown it yet, but you needn’t imagine I shall keep your ridiculous secrets. For shame! and you must have led the way in writing such absurdities: he would not have thought of beginning, I’m certain.’
‘I didn’t! I didn’t!’ sobbed Cathy, fit to break her heart. ‘I didn’t once think of loving him till—’
‘Loving!’ cried I, as scornfully as I could utter the word. ‘Loving! Did anybody ever hear the like! I might just as well talk of loving the miller who comes once a year to buy our corn. Pretty loving, indeed! and both times together you have seen Linton hardly four hours in your life! Now here is the babyish trash. I’m going with it to the library; and we’ll see what your father says to such loving.’
She sprang at her precious epistles, but I held them above my head; and then she poured out further frantic entreaties that I would burn them—do anything rather than show them. And being really fully as much inclined to laugh as scold—for I esteemed it all girlish vanity—I at length relented in a measure, and asked,—‘If I consent to burn them, will you promise faithfully neither to send nor receive a letter again, nor a book (for I perceive you have sent him books), nor locks of hair, nor rings, nor playthings?’
‘We don’t send playthings,’ cried Catherine, her pride overcoming her shame.
‘Nor anything at all, then, my lady?’ I said. ‘Unless you will, here I go.’
‘I promise, Ellen!’ she cried, catching my dress. ‘Oh, put them in the fire, do, do!’
But when I proceeded to open a place with the poker the sacrifice was too painful to be borne. She earnestly supplicated that I would spare her one or two.
‘One or two, Ellen, to keep for Linton’s sake!’
I unknotted the handkerchief, and commenced dropping them in from an angle, and the flame curled up the chimney.
‘I will have one, you cruel wretch!’ she screamed, darting her hand into the fire, and drawing forth some half-consumed fragments, at the expense of her fingers.
‘Very well—and I will have some to exhibit to papa!’ I answered, shaking back the rest into the bundle, and turning anew to the door.
She emptied her blackened pieces into the flames, and motioned me to finish the immolation. It was done; I stirred up the ashes, and interred them under a shovelful of coals; and she mutely, and with a sense of intense injury, retired to her private apartment. I descended to tell my master that the young lady’s qualm of sickness was almost gone, but I judged it best for her to lie down a while. She wouldn’t dine; but she reappeared at tea, pale, and red about the eyes, and marvellously subdued in outward aspect. Next morning I answered the letter by a slip of paper, inscribed, ‘Master Heathcliff is requested to send no more notes to Miss Linton, as she will not receive them.’ And, henceforth, the little boy came with vacant pockets.