Wuthering Heights (Chapter 15)
Summer drew to an end, and early autumn: it was past Michaelmas, but the harvest was late that year, and a few of our fields were still uncleared. Mr. Linton and his daughter would frequently walk out among the reapers; at the carrying of the last sheaves they stayed till dusk, and the evening happening to be chill and damp, my master caught a bad cold, that settled obstinately on his lungs, and confined him indoors throughout the whole of the winter, nearly without intermission.
Poor Cathy, frightened from her little romance, had been considerably sadder and duller since its abandonment; and her father insisted on her reading less, and taking more exercise. She had his companionship no longer; I esteemed it a duty to supply its lack, as much as possible, with mine: an inefficient substitute; for I could only spare two or three hours, from my numerous diurnal occupations, to follow her footsteps, and then my society was obviously less desirable than his.
On an afternoon in October, or the beginning of November—a fresh watery afternoon, when the turf and paths were rustling with moist, withered leaves, and the cold blue sky was half hidden by clouds—dark grey streamers, rapidly mounting from the west, and boding abundant rain—I requested my young lady to forego her ramble, because I was certain of showers. She refused; and I unwillingly donned a cloak, and took my umbrella to accompany her on a stroll to the bottom of the park: a formal walk which she generally affected if low-spirited—and that she invariably was when Mr. Edgar had been worse than ordinary, a thing never known from his confession, but guessed both by her and me from his increased silence and the melancholy of his countenance. She went sadly on: there was no running or bounding now, though the chill wind might well have tempted her to race. And often, from the side of my eye, I could detect her raising a hand, and brushing something off her cheek. I gazed round for a means of diverting her thoughts. On one side of the road rose a high, rough bank, where hazels and stunted oaks, with their roots half exposed, held uncertain tenure: the soil was too loose for the latter; and strong winds had blown some nearly horizontal. In summer Miss Catherine delighted to climb along these trunks, and sit in the branches, swinging twenty feet above the ground; and I, pleased with her agility and her light, childish heart, still considered it proper to scold every time I caught her at such an elevation, but so that she knew there was no necessity for descending. From dinner to tea she would lie in her breeze-rocked cradle, doing nothing except singing old songs—my nursery lore—to herself, or watching the birds, joint tenants, feed and entice their young ones to fly: or nestling with closed lids, half thinking, half dreaming, happier than words can express.
‘Look, Miss!’ I exclaimed, pointing to a nook under the roots of one twisted tree. ‘Winter is not here yet. There’s a little flower up yonder, the last bud from the multitude of bluebells that clouded those turf steps in July with a lilac mist. Will you clamber up, and pluck it to show to papa?’ Cathy stared a long time at the lonely blossom trembling in its earthy shelter, and replied, at length—‘No, I’ll not touch it: but it looks melancholy, does it not, Ellen?’
‘Yes,’ I observed, ‘about as starved and suckless as you: your cheeks are bloodless; let us take hold of hands and run. You’re so low, I daresay I shall keep up with you.’
‘No,’ she repeated, and continued sauntering on, pausing at intervals to muse over a bit of moss, or a tuft of blanched grass, or a fungus spreading its bright orange among the heaps of brown foliage; and, ever and anon, her hand was lifted to her averted face.
‘Catherine, why are you crying, love?’ I asked, approaching and putting my arm over her shoulder. ‘You mustn’t cry because papa has a cold; be thankful it is nothing worse.’
She now put no further restraint on her tears; her breath was stifled by sobs.
‘Oh, it will be something worse,’ she said. ‘And what shall I do when papa and you leave me, and I am by myself? I can’t forget your words, Ellen; they are always in my ear. How life will be changed, how dreary the world will be, when papa and you are dead.’
‘None can tell whether you won’t die before us,’ I replied. ‘It’s wrong to anticipate evil. We’ll hope there are years and years to come before any of us go: master is young, and I am strong, and hardly forty-five. My mother lived till eighty, a canty dame to the last. And suppose Mr. Linton were spared till he saw sixty, that would be more years than you have counted, Miss. And would it not be foolish to mourn a calamity above twenty years beforehand?’
‘But Aunt Isabella was younger than papa,’ she remarked, gazing up with timid hope to seek further consolation.
‘Aunt Isabella had not you and me to nurse her,’ I replied. ‘She wasn’t as happy as Master: she hadn’t as much to live for. All you need do, is to wait well on your father, and cheer him by letting him see you cheerful; and avoid giving him anxiety on any subject: mind that, Cathy! I’ll not disguise but you might kill him if you were wild and reckless, and cherished a foolish, fanciful affection for the son of a person who would be glad to have him in his grave; and allowed him to discover that you fretted over the separation he has judged it expedient to make.’
‘I fret about nothing on earth except papa’s illness,’ answered my companion. ‘I care for nothing in comparison with papa. And I’ll never—never—oh, never, while I have my senses, do an act or say a word to vex him. I love him better than myself, Ellen; and I know it by this: I pray every night that I may live after him; because I would rather be miserable than that he should be: that proves I love him better than myself.’
‘Good words,’ I replied. ‘But deeds must prove it also; and after he is well, remember you don’t forget resolutions formed in the hour of fear.’
As we talked, we neared a door that opened on the road; and my young lady, lightening into sunshine again, climbed up and seated herself on the top of the wall, reaching over to gather some hips that bloomed scarlet on the summit branches of the wild-rose trees shadowing the highway side: the lower fruit had disappeared, but only birds could touch the upper, except from Cathy’s present station. In stretching to pull them, her hat fell off; and as the door was locked, she proposed scrambling down to recover it. I bid her be cautious lest she got a fall, and she nimbly disappeared. But the return was no such easy matter: the stones were smooth and neatly cemented, and the rose-bushes and black-berry stragglers could yield no assistance in re-ascending. I, like a fool, didn’t recollect that, till I heard her laughing and exclaiming—‘Ellen! you’ll have to fetch the key, or else I must run round to the porter’s lodge. I can’t scale the ramparts on this side!’
‘Stay where you are,’ I answered; ‘I have my bundle of keys in my pocket: perhaps I may manage to open it; if not, I’ll go.’
Catherine amused herself with dancing to and fro before the door, while I tried all the large keys in succession. I had applied the last, and found that none would do; so, repeating my desire that she would remain there, I was about to hurry home as fast as I could, when an approaching sound arrested me. It was the trot of a horse; Cathy’s dance stopped also.
‘Who is that?’ I whispered.
‘Ellen, I wish you could open the door,’ whispered back my companion, anxiously.
‘Ho, Miss Linton!’ cried a deep voice (the rider’s), ‘I’m glad to meet you. Don’t be in haste to enter, for I have an explanation to ask and obtain.’
‘I sha’n’t speak to you, Mr. Heathcliff,’ answered Catherine. ‘Papa says you are a wicked man, and you hate both him and me; and Ellen says the same.’
‘That is nothing to the purpose,’ said Heathcliff. (He it was.) ‘I don’t hate my son, I suppose; and it is concerning him that I demand your attention. Yes; you have cause to blush. Two or three months since, were you not in the habit of writing to Linton? making love in play, eh? You deserved, both of you, flogging for that! You especially, the elder; and less sensitive, as it turns out. I’ve got your letters, and if you give me any pertness I’ll send them to your father. I presume you grew weary of the amusement and dropped it, didn’t you? Well, you dropped Linton with it into a Slough of Despond. He was in earnest: in love, really. As true as I live, he’s dying for you; breaking his heart at your fickleness: not figuratively, but actually. Though Hareton has made him a standing jest for six weeks, and I have used more serious measures, and attempted to frighten him out of his idiotcy, he gets worse daily; and he’ll be under the sod before summer, unless you restore him!’
‘How can you lie so glaringly to the poor child?’ I called from the inside. ‘Pray ride on! How can you deliberately get up such paltry falsehoods? Miss Cathy, I’ll knock the lock off with a stone: you won’t believe that vile nonsense. You can feel in yourself it is impossible that a person should die for love of a stranger.’
‘I was not aware there were eavesdroppers,’ muttered the detected villain. ‘Worthy Mrs. Dean, I like you, but I don’t like your double-dealing,’ he added aloud. ‘How could you lie so glaringly as to affirm I hated the “poor child”? and invent bugbear stories to terrify her from my door-stones? Catherine Linton (the very name warms me), my bonny lass, I shall be from home all this week; go and see if have not spoken truth: do, there’s a darling! Just imagine your father in my place, and Linton in yours; then think how you would value your careless lover if he refused to stir a step to comfort you, when your father himself entreated him; and don’t, from pure stupidity, fall into the same error. I swear, on my salvation, he’s going to his grave, and none but you can save him!’
The lock gave way and I issued out.
‘I swear Linton is dying,’ repeated Heathcliff, looking hard at me. ‘And grief and disappointment are hastening his death. Nelly, if you won’t let her go, you can walk over yourself. But I shall not return till this time next week; and I think your master himself would scarcely object to her visiting her cousin.’
‘Come in,’ said I, taking Cathy by the arm and half forcing her to re-enter; for she lingered, viewing with troubled eyes the features of the speaker, too stern to express his inward deceit.
He pushed his horse close, and, bending down, observed—‘Miss Catherine, I’ll own to you that I have little patience with Linton; and Hareton and Joseph have less. I’ll own that he’s with a harsh set. He pines for kindness, as well as love; and a kind word from you would be his best medicine. Don’t mind Mrs. Dean’s cruel cautions; but be generous, and contrive to see him. He dreams of you day and night, and cannot be persuaded that you don’t hate him, since you neither write nor call.’
I closed the door, and rolled a stone to assist the loosened lock in holding it; and spreading my umbrella, I drew my charge underneath: for the rain began to drive through the moaning branches of the trees, and warned us to avoid delay. Our hurry prevented any comment on the encounter with Heathcliff, as we stretched towards home; but I divined instinctively that Catherine’s heart was clouded now in double darkness. Her features were so sad, they did not seem hers: she evidently regarded what she had heard as every syllable true.
The master had retired to rest before we came in. Cathy stole to his room to inquire how he was; he had fallen asleep. She returned, and asked me to sit with her in the library. We took our tea together; and afterwards she lay down on the rug, and told me not to talk, for she was weary. I got a book, and pretended to read. As soon as she supposed me absorbed in my occupation, she recommenced her silent weeping: it appeared, at present, her favourite diversion. I suffered her to enjoy it a while; then I expostulated: deriding and ridiculing all Mr. Heathcliff’s assertions about his son, as if I were certain she would coincide. Alas! I hadn’t skill to counteract the effect his account had produced: it was just what he intended.
‘You may be right, Ellen,’ she answered; ‘but I shall never feel at ease till I know. And I must tell Linton it is not my fault that I don’t write, and convince him that I shall not change.’
What use were anger and protestations against her silly credulity? We parted that night—hostile; but next day beheld me on the road to Wuthering Heights, by the side of my wilful young mistress’s pony. I couldn’t bear to witness her sorrow: to see her pale, dejected countenance, and heavy eyes: and I yielded, in the faint hope that Linton himself might prove, by his reception of us, how little of the tale was founded on fact.
The rainy night had ushered in a misty morning—half frost, half drizzle—and temporary brooks crossed our path—gurgling from the uplands. My feet were thoroughly wetted; I was cross and low; exactly the humour suited for making the most of these disagreeable things. We entered the farm-house by the kitchen way, to ascertain whether Mr. Heathcliff were really absent: because I put slight faith in his own affirmation.
Joseph seemed sitting in a sort of elysium alone, beside a roaring fire; a quart of ale on the table near him, bristling with large pieces of toasted oat-cake; and his black, short pipe in his mouth. Catherine ran to the hearth to warm herself. I asked if the master was in? My question remained so long unanswered, that I thought the old man had grown deaf, and repeated it louder.
‘Na—ay!’ he snarled, or rather screamed through his nose. ‘Na—ay! yah muh goa back whear yah coom frough.’
‘Joseph!’ cried a peevish voice, simultaneously with me, from the inner room. ‘How often am I to call you? There are only a few red ashes now. Joseph! come this moment.’
Vigorous puffs, and a resolute stare into the grate, declared he had no ear for this appeal. The housekeeper and Hareton were invisible; one gone on an errand, and the other at his work, probably. We knew Linton’s tones, and entered.
‘Oh, I hope you’ll die in a garret, starved to death!’ said the boy, mistaking our approach for that of his negligent attendant.
He stopped on observing his error: his cousin flew to him.
‘Is that you, Miss Linton?’ he said, raising his head from the arm of the great chair, in which he reclined. ‘No—don’t kiss me: it takes my breath. Dear me! Papa said you would call,’ continued he, after recovering a little from Catherine’s embrace; while she stood by looking very contrite. ‘Will you shut the door, if you please? you left it open; and those—those detestable creatures won’t bring coals to the fire. It’s so cold!’
I stirred up the cinders, and fetched a scuttleful myself. The invalid complained of being covered with ashes; but he had a tiresome cough, and looked feverish and ill, so I did not rebuke his temper.
‘Well, Linton,’ murmured Catherine, when his corrugated brow relaxed, ‘are you glad to see me? Can I do you any good?’
‘Why didn’t you come before?’ he asked. ‘You should have come, instead of writing. It tired me dreadfully writing those long letters. I’d far rather have talked to you. Now, I can neither bear to talk, nor anything else. I wonder where Zillah is! Will you’ (looking at me) ‘step into the kitchen and see?’
I had received no thanks for my other service; and being unwilling to run to and fro at his behest, I replied—‘Nobody is out there but Joseph.’
‘I want to drink,’ he exclaimed fretfully, turning away. ‘Zillah is constantly gadding off to Gimmerton since papa went: it’s miserable! And I’m obliged to come down here—they resolved never to hear me up-stairs.’
‘Is your father attentive to you, Master Heathcliff?’ I asked, perceiving Catherine to be checked in her friendly advances.
‘Attentive? He makes them a little more attentive at least,’ he cried. ‘The wretches! Do you know, Miss Linton, that brute Hareton laughs at me! I hate him! indeed, I hate them all: they are odious beings.’
Cathy began searching for some water; she lighted on a pitcher in the dresser, filled a tumbler, and brought it. He bid her add a spoonful of wine from a bottle on the table; and having swallowed a small portion, appeared more tranquil, and said she was very kind.
‘And are you glad to see me?’ asked she, reiterating her former question and pleased to detect the faint dawn of a smile.
‘Yes, I am. It’s something new to hear a voice like yours!’ he replied. ‘But I have been vexed, because you wouldn’t come. And papa swore it was owing to me: he called me a pitiful, shuffling, worthless thing; and said you despised me; and if he had been in my place, he would be more the master of the Grange than your father by this time. But you don’t despise me, do you, Miss—?’
‘I wish you would say Catherine, or Cathy,’ interrupted my young lady. ‘Despise you? No! Next to papa and Ellen, I love you better than anybody living. I don’t love Mr. Heathcliff, though; and I dare not come when he returns: will he stay away many days?’
‘Not many,’ answered Linton; ‘but he goes on to the moors frequently, since the shooting season commenced; and you might spend an hour or two with me in his absence. Do say you will. I think I should not be peevish with you: you’d not provoke me, and you’d always be ready to help me, wouldn’t you?’
‘Yes,’ said Catherine, stroking his long soft hair: ‘if I could only get papa’s consent, I’d spend half my time with you. Pretty Linton! I wish you were my brother.’
‘And then you would like me as well as your father?’ observed he, more cheerfully. ‘But papa says you would love me better than him and all the world, if you were my wife; so I’d rather you were that.’
‘No, I should never love anybody better than papa,’ she returned gravely. ‘And people hate their wives, sometimes; but not their sisters and brothers: and if you were the latter, you would live with us, and papa would be as fond of you as he is of me.’
Linton denied that people ever hated their wives; but Cathy affirmed they did, and, in her wisdom, instanced his own father’s aversion to her aunt. I endeavoured to stop her thoughtless tongue. I couldn’t succeed till everything she knew was out. Master Heathcliff, much irritated, asserted her relation was false.
‘Papa told me; and papa does not tell falsehoods,’ she answered pertly.
‘My papa scorns yours!’ cried Linton. ‘He calls him a sneaking fool.’
‘Yours is a wicked man,’ retorted Catherine; ‘and you are very naughty to dare to repeat what he says. He must be wicked to have made Aunt Isabella leave him as she did.’
‘She didn’t leave him,’ said the boy; ‘you sha’n’t contradict me.’
‘She did,’ cried my young lady.
‘Well, I’ll tell you something!’ said Linton. ‘Your mother hated your father: now then.’
‘Oh!’ exclaimed Catherine, too enraged to continue.
‘And she loved mine,’ added he.
‘You little liar! I hate you now!’ she panted, and her face grew red with passion.
‘She did! she did!’ sang Linton, sinking into the recess of his chair, and leaning back his head to enjoy the agitation of the other disputant, who stood behind.
‘Hush, Master Heathcliff!’ I said; ‘that’s your father’s tale, too, I suppose.’
‘It isn’t: you hold your tongue!’ he answered. ‘She did, she did, Catherine! she did, she did!’
Cathy, beside herself, gave the chair a violent push, and caused him to fall against one arm. He was immediately seized by a suffocating cough that soon ended his triumph. It lasted so long that it frightened even me. As to his cousin, she wept with all her might, aghast at the mischief she had done: though she said nothing. I held him till the fit exhausted itself. Then he thrust me away, and leant his head down silently. Catherine quelled her lamentations also, took a seat opposite, and looked solemnly into the fire.
‘How do you feel now, Master Heathcliff?’ I inquired, after waiting ten minutes.
‘I wish she felt as I do,’ he replied: ‘spiteful, cruel thing! Hareton never touches me: he never struck me in his life. And I was better to-day: and there—’ his voice died in a whimper.
‘I didn’t strike you!’ muttered Cathy, chewing her lip to prevent another burst of emotion.
He sighed and moaned like one under great suffering, and kept it up for a quarter of an hour; on purpose to distress his cousin apparently, for whenever he caught a stifled sob from her he put renewed pain and pathos into the inflexions of his voice.
‘I’m sorry I hurt you, Linton,’ she said at length, racked beyond endurance. ‘But I couldn’t have been hurt by that little push, and I had no idea that you could, either: you’re not much, are you, Linton? Don’t let me go home thinking I’ve done you harm. Answer! speak to me.’
‘I can’t speak to you,’ he murmured; ‘you’ve hurt me so that I shall lie awake all night choking with this cough. If you had it you’d know what it was; but you’ll be comfortably asleep while I’m in agony, and nobody near me. I wonder how you would like to pass those fearful nights!’ And he began to wail aloud, for very pity of himself.
‘Since you are in the habit of passing dreadful nights,’ I said, ‘it won’t be Miss who spoils your ease: you’d be the same had she never come. However, she shall not disturb you again; and perhaps you’ll get quieter when we leave you.’
‘Must I go?’ asked Catherine dolefully, bending over him. ‘Do you want me to go, Linton?’
‘You can’t alter what you’ve done,’ he replied pettishly, shrinking from her, ‘unless you alter it for the worse by teasing me into a fever.’
‘Well, then, I must go?’ she repeated.
‘Let me alone, at least,’ said he; ‘I can’t bear your talking.’
She lingered, and resisted my persuasions to departure a tiresome while; but as he neither looked up nor spoke, she finally made a movement to the door, and I followed. We were recalled by a scream. Linton had slid from his seat on to the hearthstone, and lay writhing in the mere perverseness of an indulged plague of a child, determined to be as grievous and harassing as it can. I thoroughly gauged his disposition from his behaviour, and saw at once it would be folly to attempt humouring him. Not so my companion: she ran back in terror, knelt down, and cried, and soothed, and entreated, till he grew quiet from lack of breath: by no means from compunction at distressing her.
‘I shall lift him on to the settle,’ I said, ‘and he may roll about as he pleases: we can’t stop to watch him. I hope you are satisfied, Miss Cathy, that you are not the person to benefit him; and that his condition of health is not occasioned by attachment to you. Now, then, there he is! Come away: as soon as he knows there is nobody by to care for his nonsense, he’ll be glad to lie still.’
She placed a cushion under his head, and offered him some water; he rejected the latter, and tossed uneasily on the former, as if it were a stone or a block of wood. She tried to put it more comfortably.
‘I can’t do with that,’ he said; ‘it’s not high enough.’
Catherine brought another to lay above it.
‘That’s too high,’ murmured the provoking thing.
‘How must I arrange it, then?’ she asked despairingly.
He twined himself up to her, as she half knelt by the settle, and converted her shoulder into a support.
‘No, that won’t do,’ I said. ‘You’ll be content with the cushion, Master Heathcliff. Miss has wasted too much time on you already: we cannot remain five minutes longer.’
‘Yes, yes, we can!’ replied Cathy. ‘He’s good and patient now. He’s beginning to think I shall have far greater misery than he will to-night, if I believe he is the worse for my visit: and then I dare not come again. Tell the truth about it, Linton; for I musn’t come, if I have hurt you.’
‘You must come, to cure me,’ he answered. ‘You ought to come, because you have hurt me: you know you have extremely! I was not as ill when you entered as I am at present—was I?’
‘But you’ve made yourself ill by crying and being in a passion.—I didn’t do it all,’ said his cousin. ‘However, we’ll be friends now. And you want me: you would wish to see me sometimes, really?’
‘I told you I did,’ he replied impatiently. ‘Sit on the settle and let me lean on your knee. That’s as mamma used to do, whole afternoons together. Sit quite still and don’t talk: but you may sing a song, if you can sing; or you may say a nice long interesting ballad—one of those you promised to teach me; or a story. I’d rather have a ballad, though: begin.’
Catherine repeated the longest she could remember. The employment pleased both mightily. Linton would have another, and after that another, notwithstanding my strenuous objections; and so they went on until the clock struck twelve, and we heard Hareton in the court, returning for his dinner.
‘And to-morrow, Catherine, will you be here to-morrow?’ asked young Heathcliff, holding her frock as she rose reluctantly.
‘No,’ I answered, ‘nor next day neither.’ She, however, gave a different response evidently, for his forehead cleared as she stooped and whispered in his ear.
‘You won’t go to-morrow, recollect, Miss!’ I commenced, when we were out of the house. ‘You are not dreaming of it, are you?’
‘Oh, I’ll take good care,’ I continued: ‘I’ll have that lock mended, and you can escape by no way else.’
‘I can get over the wall,’ she said laughing. ‘The Grange is not a prison, Ellen, and you are not my gaoler. And besides, I’m almost seventeen: I’m a woman. And I’m certain Linton would recover quickly if he had me to look after him. I’m older than he is, you know, and wiser: less childish, am I not? And he’ll soon do as I direct him, with some slight coaxing. He’s a pretty little darling when he’s good. I’d make such a pet of him, if he were mine. We should never quarrel, should we after we were used to each other? Don’t you like him, Ellen?’
‘Like him!’ I exclaimed. ‘The worst-tempered bit of a sickly slip that ever struggled into its teens. Happily, as Mr. Heathcliff conjectured, he’ll not win twenty. I doubt whether he’ll see spring, indeed. And small loss to his family whenever he drops off. And lucky it is for us that his father took him: the kinder he was treated, the more tedious and selfish he’d be. I’m glad you have no chance of having him for a husband, Miss Catherine.’
My companion waxed serious at hearing this speech. To speak of his death so regardlessly wounded her feelings.
‘He’s younger than I,’ she answered, after a protracted pause of meditation, ‘and he ought to live the longest: he will—he must live as long as I do. He’s as strong now as when he first came into the north; I’m positive of that. It’s only a cold that ails him, the same as papa has. You say papa will get better, and why shouldn’t he?’
‘Well, well,’ I cried, ‘after all, we needn’t trouble ourselves; for listen, Miss,—and mind, I’ll keep my word,—if you attempt going to Wuthering Heights again, with or without me, I shall inform Mr. Linton, and, unless he allow it, the intimacy with your cousin must not be revived.’
‘It has been revived,’ muttered Cathy, sulkily.
‘Must not be continued, then,’ I said.
‘We’ll see,’ was her reply, and she set off at a gallop, leaving me to toil in the rear.
We both reached home before our dinner-time; my master supposed we had been wandering through the park, and therefore he demanded no explanation of our absence. As soon as I entered I hastened to change my soaked shoes and stockings; but sitting such awhile at the Heights had done the mischief. On the succeeding morning I was laid up, and during three weeks I remained incapacitated for attending to my duties: a calamity never experienced prior to that period, and never, I am thankful to say, since.
My little mistress behaved like an angel in coming to wait on me, and cheer my solitude; the confinement brought me exceedingly low. It is wearisome, to a stirring active body: but few have slighter reasons for complaint than I had. The moment Catherine left Mr. Linton’s room she appeared at my bedside. Her day was divided between us; no amusement usurped a minute: she neglected her meals, her studies, and her play; and she was the fondest nurse that ever watched. She must have had a warm heart, when she loved her father so, to give so much to me. I said her days were divided between us; but the master retired early, and I generally needed nothing after six o’clock, thus the evening was her own. Poor thing! I never considered what she did with herself after tea. And though frequently, when she looked in to bid me good-night, I remarked a fresh colour in her cheeks and a pinkness over her slender fingers, instead of fancying the line borrowed from a cold ride across the moors, I laid it to the charge of a hot fire in the library.
At the close of three weeks I was able to quit my chamber and move about the house. And on the first occasion of my sitting up in the evening I asked Catherine to read to me, because my eyes were weak. We were in the library, the master having gone to bed: she consented, rather unwillingly, I fancied; and imagining my sort of books did not suit her, I bid her please herself in the choice of what she perused. She selected one of her own favourites, and got forward steadily about an hour; then came frequent questions.
‘Ellen, are not you tired? Hadn’t you better lie down now? You’ll be sick, keeping up so long, Ellen.’
‘No, no, dear, I’m not tired,’ I returned, continually.
Perceiving me immovable, she essayed another method of showing her disrelish for her occupation. It changed to yawning, and stretching, and—
‘Ellen, I’m tired.’
‘Give over then and talk,’ I answered.
That was worse: she fretted and sighed, and looked at her watch till eight, and finally went to her room, completely overdone with sleep; judging by her peevish, heavy look, and the constant rubbing she inflicted on her eyes. The following night she seemed more impatient still; and on the third from recovering my company she complained of a headache, and left me. I thought her conduct odd; and having remained alone a long while, I resolved on going and inquiring whether she were better, and asking her to come and lie on the sofa, instead of up-stairs in the dark. No Catherine could I discover up-stairs, and none below. The servants affirmed they had not seen her. I listened at Mr. Edgar’s door; all was silence. I returned to her apartment, extinguished my candle, and seated myself in the window.
The moon shone bright; a sprinkling of snow covered the ground, and I reflected that she might, possibly, have taken it into her head to walk about the garden, for refreshment. I did detect a figure creeping along the inner fence of the park; but it was not my young mistress: on its emerging into the light, I recognised one of the grooms. He stood a considerable period, viewing the carriage-road through the grounds; then started off at a brisk pace, as if he had detected something, and reappeared presently, leading Miss’s pony; and there she was, just dismounted, and walking by its side. The man took his charge stealthily across the grass towards the stable. Cathy entered by the casement-window of the drawing-room, and glided noiselessly up to where I awaited her. She put the door gently too, slipped off her snowy shoes, untied her hat, and was proceeding, unconscious of my espionage, to lay aside her mantle, when I suddenly rose and revealed myself. The surprise petrified her an instant: she uttered an inarticulate exclamation, and stood fixed.
‘My dear Miss Catherine,’ I began, too vividly impressed by her recent kindness to break into a scold, ‘where have you been riding out at this hour? And why should you try to deceive me by telling a tale? Where have you been? Speak!’
‘To the bottom of the park,’ she stammered. ‘I didn’t tell a tale.’
‘And nowhere else?’ I demanded.
‘No,’ was the muttered reply.
‘Oh, Catherine!’ I cried, sorrowfully. ‘You know you have been doing wrong, or you wouldn’t be driven to uttering an untruth to me. That does grieve me. I’d rather be three months ill, than hear you frame a deliberate lie.’
She sprang forward, and bursting into tears, threw her arms round my neck.
‘Well, Ellen, I’m so afraid of you being angry,’ she said. ‘Promise not to be angry, and you shall know the very truth: I hate to hide it.’
We sat down in the window-seat; I assured her I would not scold, whatever her secret might be, and I guessed it, of course; so she commenced—
‘I’ve been to Wuthering Heights, Ellen, and I’ve never missed going a day since you fell ill; except thrice before, and twice after you left your room. I gave Michael books and pictures to prepare Minny every evening, and to put her back in the stable: you mustn’t scold him either, mind. I was at the Heights by half-past six, and generally stayed till half-past eight, and then galloped home. It was not to amuse myself that I went: I was often wretched all the time. Now and then I was happy: once in a week perhaps. At first, I expected there would be sad work persuading you to let me keep my word to Linton: for I had engaged to call again next day, when we quitted him; but, as you stayed up-stairs on the morrow, I escaped that trouble. While Michael was refastening the lock of the park door in the afternoon, I got possession of the key, and told him how my cousin wished me to visit him, because he was sick, and couldn’t come to the Grange; and how papa would object to my going: and then I negotiated with him about the pony. He is fond of reading, and he thinks of leaving soon to get married; so he offered, if I would lend him books out of the library, to do what I wished: but I preferred giving him my own, and that satisfied him better.
‘On my second visit Linton seemed in lively spirits; and Zillah (that is their housekeeper) made us a clean room and a good fire, and told us that, as Joseph was out at a prayer-meeting and Hareton Earnshaw was off with his dogs—robbing our woods of pheasants, as I heard afterwards—we might do what we liked. She brought me some warm wine and gingerbread, and appeared exceedingly good-natured, and Linton sat in the arm-chair, and I in the little rocking chair on the hearth-stone, and we laughed and talked so merrily, and found so much to say: we planned where we would go, and what we would do in summer. I needn’t repeat that, because you would call it silly.
‘One time, however, we were near quarrelling. He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high up overhead, and the blue sky and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly. That was his most perfect idea of heaven’s happiness: mine was rocking in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright white clouds flitting rapidly above; and not only larks, but throstles, and blackbirds, and linnets, and cuckoos pouring out music on every side, and the moors seen at a distance, broken into cool dusky dells; but close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze; and woods and sounding water, and the whole world awake and wild with joy. He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee. I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk: I said I should fall asleep in his; and he said he could not breathe in mine, and began to grow very snappish. At last, we agreed to try both, as soon as the right weather came; and then we kissed each other and were friends.
‘After sitting still an hour, I looked at the great room with its smooth uncarpeted floor, and thought how nice it would be to play in, if we removed the table; and I asked Linton to call Zillah in to help us, and we’d have a game at blindman’s-buff; she should try to catch us: you used to, you know, Ellen. He wouldn’t: there was no pleasure in it, he said; but he consented to play at ball with me. We found two in a cupboard, among a heap of old toys, tops, and hoops, and battledores and shuttlecocks. One was marked C., and the other H.; I wished to have the C., because that stood for Catherine, and the H. might be for Heathcliff, his name; but the bran came out of H., and Linton didn’t like it. I beat him constantly: and he got cross again, and coughed, and returned to his chair. That night, though, he easily recovered his good humour: he was charmed with two or three pretty songs—your songs, Ellen; and when I was obliged to go, he begged and entreated me to come the following evening; and I promised. Minny and I went flying home as light as air; and I dreamt of Wuthering Heights and my sweet, darling cousin, till morning.
‘On the morrow I was sad; partly because you were poorly, and partly that I wished my father knew, and approved of my excursions: but it was beautiful moonlight after tea; and, as I rode on, the gloom cleared. I shall have another happy evening, I thought to myself; and what delights me more, my pretty Linton will. I trotted up their garden, and was turning round to the back, when that fellow Earnshaw met me, took my bridle, and bid me go in by the front entrance. He patted Minny’s neck, and said she was a bonny beast, and appeared as if he wanted me to speak to him. I only told him to leave my horse alone, or else it would kick him. He answered in his vulgar accent, “It wouldn’t do mitch hurt if it did;” and surveyed its legs with a smile. I was half inclined to make it try; however, he moved off to open the door, and, as he raised the latch, he looked up to the inscription above, and said, with a stupid mixture of awkwardness and elation: “Miss Catherine! I can read yon, now.”
‘“Wonderful,” I exclaimed. “Pray let us hear you—you are grown clever!”
‘He spelt, and drawled over by syllables, the name—“Hareton Earnshaw.”
‘“And the figures?” I cried, encouragingly, perceiving that he came to a dead halt.
‘“I cannot tell them yet,” he answered.
‘“Oh, you dunce!” I said, laughing heartily at his failure.
‘The fool stared, with a grin hovering about his lips, and a scowl gathering over his eyes, as if uncertain whether he might not join in my mirth: whether it were not pleasant familiarity, or what it really was, contempt. I settled his doubts, by suddenly retrieving my gravity and desiring him to walk away, for I came to see Linton, not him. He reddened—I saw that by the moonlight—dropped his hand from the latch, and skulked off, a picture of mortified vanity. He imagined himself to be as accomplished as Linton, I suppose, because he could spell his own name; and was marvellously discomfited that I didn’t think the same.’
‘Stop, Miss Catherine, dear!’—I interrupted. ‘I shall not scold, but I don’t like your conduct there. If you had remembered that Hareton was your cousin as much as Master Heathcliff, you would have felt how improper it was to behave in that way. At least, it was praiseworthy ambition for him to desire to be as accomplished as Linton; and probably he did not learn merely to show off: you had made him ashamed of his ignorance before, I have no doubt; and he wished to remedy it and please you. To sneer at his imperfect attempt was very bad breeding. Had you been brought up in his circumstances, would you be less rude? He was as quick and as intelligent a child as ever you were; and I’m hurt that he should be despised now, because that base Heathcliff has treated him so unjustly.’
‘Well, Ellen, you won’t cry about it, will you?’ she exclaimed, surprised at my earnestness. ‘But wait, and you shall hear if he conned his A B C to please me; and if it were worth while being civil to the brute. I entered; Linton was lying on the settle, and half got up to welcome me.
‘“I’m ill to-night, Catherine, love,” he said; “and you must have all the talk, and let me listen. Come, and sit by me. I was sure you wouldn’t break your word, and I’ll make you promise again, before you go.”
‘I knew now that I mustn’t tease him, as he was ill; and I spoke softly and put no questions, and avoided irritating him in any way. I had brought some of my nicest books for him: he asked me to read a little of one, and I was about to comply, when Earnshaw burst the door open: having gathered venom with reflection. He advanced direct to us, seized Linton by the arm, and swung him off the seat.
‘“Get to thy own room!” he said, in a voice almost inarticulate with passion; and his face looked swelled and furious. “Take her there if she comes to see thee: thou shalln’t keep me out of this. Begone wi’ ye both!”
‘He swore at us, and left Linton no time to answer, nearly throwing him into the kitchen; and he clenched his fist as I followed, seemingly longing to knock me down. I was afraid for a moment, and I let one volume fall; he kicked it after me, and shut us out. I heard a malignant, crackly laugh by the fire, and turning, beheld that odious Joseph standing rubbing his bony hands, and quivering.
‘“I wer sure he’d sarve ye out! He’s a grand lad! He’s getten t’ raight sperrit in him! He knaws—ay, he knaws, as weel as I do, who sud be t’ maister yonder—Ech, ech, ech! He made ye skift properly! Ech, ech, ech!”
‘“Where must we go?” I asked of my cousin, disregarding the old wretch’s mockery.
‘Linton was white and trembling. He was not pretty then, Ellen: oh, no! he looked frightful; for his thin face and large eyes were wrought into an expression of frantic, powerless fury. He grasped the handle of the door, and shook it: it was fastened inside.
‘“If you don’t let me in, I’ll kill you!—If you don’t let me in, I’ll kill you!” he rather shrieked than said. “Devil! devil!—I’ll kill you—I’ll kill you!”
Joseph uttered his croaking laugh again.
‘“Thear, that’s t’ father!” he cried. “That’s father! We’ve allas summut o’ either side in us. Niver heed, Hareton, lad—dunnut be ‘feard—he cannot get at thee!”
‘I took hold of Linton’s hands, and tried to pull him away; but he shrieked so shockingly that I dared not proceed. At last his cries were choked by a dreadful fit of coughing; blood gushed from his mouth, and he fell on the ground. I ran into the yard, sick with terror; and called for Zillah, as loud as I could. She soon heard me: she was milking the cows in a shed behind the barn, and hurrying from her work, she inquired what there was to do? I hadn’t breath to explain; dragging her in, I looked about for Linton. Earnshaw had come out to examine the mischief he had caused, and he was then conveying the poor thing up-stairs. Zillah and I ascended after him; but he stopped me at the top of the steps, and said I shouldn’t go in: I must go home. I exclaimed that he had killed Linton, and I would enter. Joseph locked the door, and declared I should do “no sich stuff,” and asked me whether I were “bahn to be as mad as him.” I stood crying till the housekeeper reappeared. She affirmed he would be better in a bit, but he couldn’t do with that shrieking and din; and she took me, and nearly carried me into the house.
‘Ellen, I was ready to tear my hair off my head! I sobbed and wept so that my eyes were almost blind; and the ruffian you have such sympathy with stood opposite: presuming every now and then to bid me “wisht,” and denying that it was his fault; and, finally, frightened by my assertions that I would tell papa, and that he should be put in prison and hanged, he commenced blubbering himself, and hurried out to hide his cowardly agitation. Still, I was not rid of him: when at length they compelled me to depart, and I had got some hundred yards off the premises, he suddenly issued from the shadow of the road-side, and checked Minny and took hold of me.
‘“Miss Catherine, I’m ill grieved,” he began, “but it’s rayther too bad—”
‘I gave him a cut with my whip, thinking perhaps he would murder me. He let go, thundering one of his horrid curses, and I galloped home more than half out of my senses.
‘I didn’t bid you good-night that evening, and I didn’t go to Wuthering Heights the next: I wished to go exceedingly; but I was strangely excited, and dreaded to hear that Linton was dead, sometimes; and sometimes shuddered at the thought of encountering Hareton. On the third day I took courage: at least, I couldn’t bear longer suspense, and stole off once more. I went at five o’clock, and walked; fancying I might manage to creep into the house, and up to Linton’s room, unobserved. However, the dogs gave notice of my approach. Zillah received me, and saying “the lad was mending nicely,” showed me into a small, tidy, carpeted apartment, where, to my inexpressible joy, I beheld Linton laid on a little sofa, reading one of my books. But he would neither speak to me nor look at me, through a whole hour, Ellen: he has such an unhappy temper. And what quite confounded me, when he did open his mouth, it was to utter the falsehood that I had occasioned the uproar, and Hareton was not to blame! Unable to reply, except passionately, I got up and walked from the room. He sent after me a faint “Catherine!” He did not reckon on being answered so: but I wouldn’t turn back; and the morrow was the second day on which I stayed at home, nearly determined to visit him no more. But it was so miserable going to bed and getting up, and never hearing anything about him, that my resolution melted into air before it was properly formed. It had appeared wrong to take the journey once; now it seemed wrong to refrain. Michael came to ask if he must saddle Minny; I said “Yes,” and considered myself doing a duty as she bore me over the hills. I was forced to pass the front windows to get to the court: it was no use trying to conceal my presence.
‘“Young master is in the house,” said Zillah, as she saw me making for the parlour. I went in; Earnshaw was there also, but he quitted the room directly. Linton sat in the great arm-chair half asleep; walking up to the fire, I began in a serious tone, partly meaning it to be true—
‘“As you don’t like me, Linton, and as you think I come on purpose to hurt you, and pretend that I do so every time, this is our last meeting: let us say good-bye; and tell Mr. Heathcliff that you have no wish to see me, and that he mustn’t invent any more falsehoods on the subject.”
‘“Sit down and take your hat off, Catherine,” he answered. “You are so much happier than I am, you ought to be better. Papa talks enough of my defects, and shows enough scorn of me, to make it natural I should doubt myself. I doubt whether I am not altogether as worthless as he calls me, frequently; and then I feel so cross and bitter, I hate everybody! I am worthless, and bad in temper, and bad in spirit, almost always; and, if you choose, you may say good-bye: you’ll get rid of an annoyance. Only, Catherine, do me this justice: believe that if I might be as sweet, and as kind, and as good as you are, I would be; as willingly, and more so, than as happy and as healthy. And believe that your kindness has made me love you deeper than if I deserved your love: and though I couldn’t, and cannot help showing my nature to you, I regret it and repent it; and shall regret and repent it till I die!”
‘I felt he spoke the truth; and I felt I must forgive him: and, though we should quarrel the next moment, I must forgive him again. We were reconciled; but we cried, both of us, the whole time I stayed: not entirely for sorrow; yet I was sorry Linton had that distorted nature. He’ll never let his friends be at ease, and he’ll never be at ease himself! I have always gone to his little parlour, since that night; because his father returned the day after.
‘About three times, I think, we have been merry and hopeful, as we were the first evening; the rest of my visits were dreary and troubled: now with his selfishness and spite, and now with his sufferings: but I’ve learned to endure the former with nearly as little resentment as the latter. Mr. Heathcliff purposely avoids me: I have hardly seen him at all. Last Sunday, indeed, coming earlier than usual, I heard him abusing poor Linton cruelly for his conduct of the night before. I can’t tell how he knew of it, unless he listened. Linton had certainly behaved provokingly: however, it was the business of nobody but me, and I interrupted Mr. Heathcliff’s lecture by entering and telling him so. He burst into a laugh, and went away, saying he was glad I took that view of the matter. Since then, I’ve told Linton he must whisper his bitter things. Now, Ellen, you have heard all. I can’t be prevented from going to Wuthering Heights, except by inflicting misery on two people; whereas, if you’ll only not tell papa, my going need disturb the tranquillity of none. You’ll not tell, will you? It will be very heartless, if you do.’
‘I’ll make up my mind on that point by to-morrow, Miss Catherine,’ I replied. ‘It requires some study; and so I’ll leave you to your rest, and go think it over.’
I thought it over aloud, in my master’s presence; walking straight from her room to his, and relating the whole story: with the exception of her conversations with her cousin, and any mention of Hareton. Mr. Linton was alarmed and distressed, more than he would acknowledge to me. In the morning, Catherine learnt my betrayal of her confidence, and she learnt also that her secret visits were to end. In vain she wept and writhed against the interdict, and implored her father to have pity on Linton: all she got to comfort her was a promise that he would write and give him leave to come to the Grange when he pleased; but explaining that he must no longer expect to see Catherine at Wuthering Heights. Perhaps, had he been aware of his nephew’s disposition and state of health, he would have seen fit to withhold even that slight consolation.