Wuthering Heights (Chapter 18)

Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronté

Chapter 18

The evening after the funeral, my young lady and I were seated in the library; now musing mournfully—one of us despairingly—on our loss, now venturing conjectures as to the gloomy future.

We had just agreed the best destiny which could await Catherine would be a permission to continue resident at the Grange; at least during Linton’s life: he being allowed to join her there, and I to remain as housekeeper.  That seemed rather too favourable an arrangement to be hoped for; and yet I did hope, and began to cheer up under the prospect of retaining my home and my employment, and, above all, my beloved young mistress; when a servant—one of the discarded ones, not yet departed—rushed hastily in, and said ‘that devil Heathcliff’ was coming through the court: should he fasten the door in his face?

If we had been mad enough to order that proceeding, we had not time.  He made no ceremony of knocking or announcing his name: he was master, and availed himself of the master’s privilege to walk straight in, without saying a word.  The sound of our informant’s voice directed him to the library; he entered and motioning him out, shut the door.

It was the same room into which he had been ushered, as a guest, eighteen years before: the same moon shone through the window; and the same autumn landscape lay outside.  We had not yet lighted a candle, but all the apartment was visible, even to the portraits on the wall: the splendid head of Mrs. Linton, and the graceful one of her husband.  Heathcliff advanced to the hearth.  Time had little altered his person either.  There was the same man: his dark face rather sallower and more composed, his frame a stone or two heavier, perhaps, and no other difference.  Catherine had risen with an impulse to dash out, when she saw him.

‘Stop!’ he said, arresting her by the arm.  ‘No more runnings away!  Where would you go?  I’m come to fetch you home; and I hope you’ll be a dutiful daughter and not encourage my son to further disobedience.  I was embarrassed how to punish him when I discovered his part in the business: he’s such a cobweb, a pinch would annihilate him; but you’ll see by his look that he has received his due!  I brought him down one evening, the day before yesterday, and just set him in a chair, and never touched him afterwards.  I sent Hareton out, and we had the room to ourselves.  In two hours, I called Joseph to carry him up again; and since then my presence is as potent on his nerves as a ghost; and I fancy he sees me often, though I am not near.  Hareton says he wakes and shrieks in the night by the hour together, and calls you to protect him from me; and, whether you like your precious mate, or not, you must come: he’s your concern now; I yield all my interest in him to you.’

‘Why not let Catherine continue here,’ I pleaded, ‘and send Master Linton to her?  As you hate them both, you’d not miss them: they can only be a daily plague to your unnatural heart.’

‘I’m seeking a tenant for the Grange,’ he answered; ‘and I want my children about me, to be sure.  Besides, that lass owes me her services for her bread.  I’m not going to nurture her in luxury and idleness after Linton is gone.  Make haste and get ready, now; and don’t oblige me to compel you.’

‘I shall,’ said Catherine.  ‘Linton is all I have to love in the world, and though you have done what you could to make him hateful to me, and me to him, you cannot make us hate each other.  And I defy you to hurt him when I am by, and I defy you to frighten me!’

‘You are a boastful champion,’ replied Heathcliff; ‘but I don’t like you well enough to hurt him: you shall get the full benefit of the torment, as long as it lasts.  It is not I who will make him hateful to you—it is his own sweet spirit.  He’s as bitter as gall at your desertion and its consequences: don’t expect thanks for this noble devotion.  I heard him draw a pleasant picture to Zillah of what he would do if he were as strong as I: the inclination is there, and his very weakness will sharpen his wits to find a substitute for strength.’

‘I know he has a bad nature,’ said Catherine: ‘he’s your son.  But I’m glad I’ve a better, to forgive it; and I know he loves me, and for that reason I love him.  Mr. Heathcliff you have nobody to love you; and, however miserable you make us, we shall still have the revenge of thinking that your cruelty arises from your greater misery.  You are miserable, are you not?  Lonely, like the devil, and envious like him?  Nobody loves you—nobody will cry for you when you die!  I wouldn’t be you!’

Catherine spoke with a kind of dreary triumph: she seemed to have made up her mind to enter into the spirit of her future family, and draw pleasure from the griefs of her enemies.

‘You shall be sorry to be yourself presently,’ said her father-in-law, ‘if you stand there another minute.  Begone, witch, and get your things!’

She scornfully withdrew.  In her absence I began to beg for Zillah’s place at the Heights, offering to resign mine to her; but he would suffer it on no account.  He bid me be silent; and then, for the first time, allowed himself a glance round the room and a look at the pictures.  Having studied Mrs. Linton’s, he said—‘I shall have that home.  Not because I need it, but—’  He turned abruptly to the fire, and continued, with what, for lack of a better word, I must call a smile—‘I’ll tell you what I did yesterday!  I got the sexton, who was digging Linton’s grave, to remove the earth off her coffin lid, and I opened it.  I thought, once, I would have stayed there: when I saw her face again—it is hers yet!—he had hard work to stir me; but he said it would change if the air blew on it, and so I struck one side of the coffin loose, and covered it up: not Linton’s side, damn him!  I wish he’d been soldered in lead.  And I bribed the sexton to pull it away when I’m laid there, and slide mine out too; I’ll have it made so: and then by the time Linton gets to us he’ll not know which is which!’

‘You were very wicked, Mr. Heathcliff!’ I exclaimed; ‘were you not ashamed to disturb the dead?’

‘I disturbed nobody, Nelly,’ he replied; ‘and I gave some ease to myself.  I shall be a great deal more comfortable now; and you’ll have a better chance of keeping me underground, when I get there.  Disturbed her?  No! she has disturbed me, night and day, through eighteen years—incessantly—remorselessly—till yesternight; and yesternight I was tranquil.  I dreamt I was sleeping the last sleep by that sleeper, with my heart stopped and my cheek frozen against hers.’

‘And if she had been dissolved into earth, or worse, what would you have dreamt of then?’ I said.

‘Of dissolving with her, and being more happy still!’ he answered.  ‘Do you suppose I dread any change of that sort?  I expected such a transformation on raising the lid—but I’m better pleased that it should not commence till I share it.  Besides, unless I had received a distinct impression of her passionless features, that strange feeling would hardly have been removed.  It began oddly.  You know I was wild after she died; and eternally, from dawn to dawn, praying her to return to me her spirit!  I have a strong faith in ghosts: I have a conviction that they can, and do, exist among us!  The day she was buried, there came a fall of snow.  In the evening I went to the churchyard.  It blew bleak as winter—all round was solitary.  I didn’t fear that her fool of a husband would wander up the glen so late; and no one else had business to bring them there.  Being alone, and conscious two yards of loose earth was the sole barrier between us, I said to myself—“I’ll have her in my arms again!  If she be cold, I’ll think it is this north wind that chills me; and if she be motionless, it is sleep.”  I got a spade from the tool-house, and began to delve with all my might—it scraped the coffin; I fell to work with my hands; the wood commenced cracking about the screws; I was on the point of attaining my object, when it seemed that I heard a sigh from some one above, close at the edge of the grave, and bending down.  “If I can only get this off,” I muttered, “I wish they may shovel in the earth over us both!” and I wrenched at it more desperately still.  There was another sigh, close at my ear.  I appeared to feel the warm breath of it displacing the sleet-laden wind.  I knew no living thing in flesh and blood was by; but, as certainly as you perceive the approach to some substantial body in the dark, though it cannot be discerned, so certainly I felt that Cathy was there: not under me, but on the earth.  A sudden sense of relief flowed from my heart through every limb.  I relinquished my labour of agony, and turned consoled at once: unspeakably consoled.  Her presence was with me: it remained while I re-filled the grave, and led me home.  You may laugh, if you will; but I was sure I should see her there.  I was sure she was with me, and I could not help talking to her.  Having reached the Heights, I rushed eagerly to the door.  It was fastened; and, I remember, that accursed Earnshaw and my wife opposed my entrance.  I remember stopping to kick the breath out of him, and then hurrying up-stairs, to my room and hers.  I looked round impatiently—I felt her by me—I could almost see her, and yet I could not!  I ought to have sweat blood then, from the anguish of my yearning—from the fervour of my supplications to have but one glimpse!  I had not one.  She showed herself, as she often was in life, a devil to me!  And, since then, sometimes more and sometimes less, I’ve been the sport of that intolerable torture!  Infernal! keeping my nerves at such a stretch that, if they had not resembled catgut, they would long ago have relaxed to the feebleness of Linton’s.  When I sat in the house with Hareton, it seemed that on going out I should meet her; when I walked on the moors I should meet her coming in.  When I went from home I hastened to return; she must be somewhere at the Heights, I was certain!  And when I slept in her chamber—I was beaten out of that.  I couldn’t lie there; for the moment I closed my eyes, she was either outside the window, or sliding back the panels, or entering the room, or even resting her darling head on the same pillow as she did when a child; and I must open my lids to see.  And so I opened and closed them a hundred times a night—to be always disappointed!  It racked me!  I’ve often groaned aloud, till that old rascal Joseph no doubt believed that my conscience was playing the fiend inside of me.  Now, since I’ve seen her, I’m pacified—a little.  It was a strange way of killing: not by inches, but by fractions of hairbreadths, to beguile me with the spectre of a hope through eighteen years!’

Mr. Heathcliff paused and wiped his forehead; his hair clung to it, wet with perspiration; his eyes were fixed on the red embers of the fire, the brows not contracted, but raised next the temples; diminishing the grim aspect of his countenance, but imparting a peculiar look of trouble, and a painful appearance of mental tension towards one absorbing subject.  He only half addressed me, and I maintained silence.  I didn’t like to hear him talk!  After a short period he resumed his meditation on the picture, took it down and leant it against the sofa to contemplate it at better advantage; and while so occupied Catherine entered, announcing that she was ready, when her pony should be saddled.

‘Send that over to-morrow,’ said Heathcliff to me; then turning to her, he added: ‘You may do without your pony: it is a fine evening, and you’ll need no ponies at Wuthering Heights; for what journeys you take, your own feet will serve you.  Come along.’

‘Good-bye, Ellen!’ whispered my dear little mistress.

As she kissed me, her lips felt like ice.  ‘Come and see me, Ellen; don’t forget.’

‘Take care you do no such thing, Mrs. Dean!’ said her new father.  ‘When I wish to speak to you I’ll come here.  I want none of your prying at my house!’

He signed her to precede him; and casting back a look that cut my heart, she obeyed.  I watched them, from the window, walk down the garden.  Heathcliff fixed Catherine’s arm under his: though she disputed the act at first evidently; and with rapid strides he hurried her into the alley, whose trees concealed them.

I have paid a visit to the Heights, but I have not seen her since she left: Joseph held the door in his hand when I called to ask after her, and wouldn’t let me pass.  He said Mrs. Linton was ‘thrang,’ and the master was not in.  Zillah has told me something of the way they go on, otherwise I should hardly know who was dead and who living.  She thinks Catherine haughty, and does not like her, I can guess by her talk.  My young lady asked some aid of her when she first came; but Mr. Heathcliff told her to follow her own business, and let his daughter-in-law look after herself; and Zillah willingly acquiesced, being a narrow-minded, selfish woman.  Catherine evinced a child’s annoyance at this neglect; repaid it with contempt, and thus enlisted my informant among her enemies, as securely as if she had done her some great wrong.  I had a long talk with Zillah about six weeks ago, a little before you came, one day when we foregathered on the moor; and this is what she told me.

‘The first thing Mrs. Linton did,’ she said, ‘on her arrival at the Heights, was to run up-stairs, without even wishing good-evening to me and Joseph; she shut herself into Linton’s room, and remained till morning.  Then, while the master and Earnshaw were at breakfast, she entered the house, and asked all in a quiver if the doctor might be sent for? her cousin was very ill.

‘“We know that!” answered Heathcliff; “but his life is not worth a farthing, and I won’t spend a farthing on him.”

‘“But I cannot tell how to do,” she said; “and if nobody will help me, he’ll die!”

‘“Walk out of the room,” cried the master, “and let me never hear a word more about him!  None here care what becomes of him; if you do, act the nurse; if you do not, lock him up and leave him.”

‘Then she began to bother me, and I said I’d had enough plague with the tiresome thing; we each had our tasks, and hers was to wait on Linton: Mr. Heathcliff bid me leave that labour to her.

‘How they managed together, I can’t tell.  I fancy he fretted a great deal, and moaned hisseln night and day; and she had precious little rest: one could guess by her white face and heavy eyes.  She sometimes came into the kitchen all wildered like, and looked as if she would fain beg assistance; but I was not going to disobey the master: I never dare disobey him, Mrs. Dean; and, though I thought it wrong that Kenneth should not be sent for, it was no concern of mine either to advise or complain, and I always refused to meddle.  Once or twice, after we had gone to bed, I’ve happened to open my door again and seen her sitting crying on the stairs’-top; and then I’ve shut myself in quick, for fear of being moved to interfere.  I did pity her then, I’m sure: still I didn’t wish to lose my place, you know.

‘At last, one night she came boldly into my chamber, and frightened me out of my wits, by saying, “Tell Mr. Heathcliff that his son is dying—I’m sure he is, this time.  Get up, instantly, and tell him.”

‘Having uttered this speech, she vanished again.  I lay a quarter of an hour listening and trembling.  Nothing stirred—the house was quiet.

‘She’s mistaken, I said to myself.  He’s got over it.  I needn’t disturb them; and I began to doze.  But my sleep was marred a second time by a sharp ringing of the bell—the only bell we have, put up on purpose for Linton; and the master called to me to see what was the matter, and inform them that he wouldn’t have that noise repeated.

‘I delivered Catherine’s message.  He cursed to himself, and in a few minutes came out with a lighted candle, and proceeded to their room.  I followed.  Mrs. Heathcliff was seated by the bedside, with her hands folded on her knees.  Her father-in-law went up, held the light to Linton’s face, looked at him, and touched him; afterwards he turned to her.

‘“Now—Catherine,” he said, “how do you feel?”

‘She was dumb.

‘“How do you feel, Catherine?” he repeated.

‘“He’s safe, and I’m free,” she answered: “I should feel well—but,” she continued, with a bitterness she couldn’t conceal, “you have left me so long to struggle against death alone, that I feel and see only death!  I feel like death!”

‘And she looked like it, too!  I gave her a little wine.  Hareton and Joseph, who had been wakened by the ringing and the sound of feet, and heard our talk from outside, now entered.  Joseph was fain, I believe, of the lad’s removal; Hareton seemed a thought bothered: though he was more taken up with staring at Catherine than thinking of Linton.  But the master bid him get off to bed again: we didn’t want his help.  He afterwards made Joseph remove the body to his chamber, and told me to return to mine, and Mrs. Heathcliff remained by herself.

‘In the morning, he sent me to tell her she must come down to breakfast: she had undressed, and appeared going to sleep, and said she was ill; at which I hardly wondered.  I informed Mr. Heathcliff, and he replied,—“Well, let her be till after the funeral; and go up now and then to get her what is needful; and, as soon as she seems better, tell me.”’

Cathy stayed upstairs a fortnight, according to Zillah; who visited her twice a day, and would have been rather more friendly, but her attempts at increasing kindness were proudly and promptly repelled.

Heathcliff went up once, to show her Linton’s will.  He had bequeathed the whole of his, and what had been her, moveable property, to his father: the poor creature was threatened, or coaxed, into that act during her week’s absence, when his uncle died.  The lands, being a minor, he could not meddle with.  However, Mr. Heathcliff has claimed and kept them in his wife’s right and his also: I suppose legally; at any rate, Catherine, destitute of cash and friends, cannot disturb his possession.

‘Nobody,’ said Zillah, ‘ever approached her door, except that once, but I; and nobody asked anything about her.  The first occasion of her coming down into the house was on a Sunday afternoon.  She had cried out, when I carried up her dinner, that she couldn’t bear any longer being in the cold; and I told her the master was going to Thrushcross Grange, and Earnshaw and I needn’t hinder her from descending; so, as soon as she heard Heathcliff’s horse trot off, she made her appearance, donned in black, and her yellow curls combed back behind her ears as plain as a Quaker: she couldn’t comb them out.

‘Joseph and I generally go to chapel on Sundays:’ the kirk, you know, has no minister now, explained Mrs. Dean; and they call the Methodists’ or Baptists’ place (I can’t say which it is) at Gimmerton, a chapel.  ‘Joseph had gone,’ she continued, ‘but I thought proper to bide at home.  Young folks are always the better for an elder’s over-looking; and Hareton, with all his bashfulness, isn’t a model of nice behaviour.  I let him know that his cousin would very likely sit with us, and she had been always used to see the Sabbath respected; so he had as good leave his guns and bits of indoor work alone, while she stayed.  He coloured up at the news, and cast his eyes over his hands and clothes.  The train-oil and gunpowder were shoved out of sight in a minute.  I saw he meant to give her his company; and I guessed, by his way, he wanted to be presentable; so, laughing, as I durst not laugh when the master is by, I offered to help him, if he would, and joked at his confusion.  He grew sullen, and began to swear.

‘Now, Mrs. Dean,’ Zillah went on, seeing me not pleased by her manner, ‘you happen think your young lady too fine for Mr. Hareton; and happen you’re right: but I own I should love well to bring her pride a peg lower.  And what will all her learning and her daintiness do for her, now?  She’s as poor as you or I: poorer, I’ll be bound: you’re saying, and I’m doing my little all that road.’

Hareton allowed Zillah to give him her aid; and she flattered him into a good humour; so, when Catherine came, half forgetting her former insults, he tried to make himself agreeable, by the housekeeper’s account.

‘Missis walked in,’ she said, ‘as chill as an icicle, and as high as a princess.  I got up and offered her my seat in the arm-chair.  No, she turned up her nose at my civility.  Earnshaw rose, too, and bid her come to the settle, and sit close by the fire: he was sure she was starved.

‘“I’ve been starved a month and more,” she answered, resting on the word as scornful as she could.

‘And she got a chair for herself, and placed it at a distance from both of us.  Having sat till she was warm, she began to look round, and discovered a number of books on the dresser; she was instantly upon her feet again, stretching to reach them: but they were too high up.  Her cousin, after watching her endeavours a while, at last summoned courage to help her; she held her frock, and he filled it with the first that came to hand.

‘That was a great advance for the lad.  She didn’t thank him; still, he felt gratified that she had accepted his assistance, and ventured to stand behind as she examined them, and even to stoop and point out what struck his fancy in certain old pictures which they contained; nor was he daunted by the saucy style in which she jerked the page from his finger: he contented himself with going a bit farther back and looking at her instead of the book.  She continued reading, or seeking for something to read.  His attention became, by degrees, quite centred in the study of her thick silky curls: her face he couldn’t see, and she couldn’t see him.  And, perhaps, not quite awake to what he did, but attracted like a child to a candle, at last he proceeded from staring to touching; he put out his hand and stroked one curl, as gently as if it were a bird.  He might have stuck a knife into her neck, she started round in such a taking.

‘“Get away this moment!  How dare you touch me?  Why are you stopping there?” she cried, in a tone of disgust.  “I can’t endure you!  I’ll go upstairs again, if you come near me.”

‘Mr. Hareton recoiled, looking as foolish as he could do: he sat down in the settle very quiet, and she continued turning over her volumes another half hour; finally, Earnshaw crossed over, and whispered to me.

‘“Will you ask her to read to us, Zillah?  I’m stalled of doing naught; and I do like—I could like to hear her!  Dunnot say I wanted it, but ask of yourseln.”

‘“Mr. Hareton wishes you would read to us, ma’am,” I said, immediately.  “He’d take it very kind—he’d be much obliged.”

‘She frowned; and looking up, answered—

‘“Mr. Hareton, and the whole set of you, will be good enough to understand that I reject any pretence at kindness you have the hypocrisy to offer!  I despise you, and will have nothing to say to any of you!  When I would have given my life for one kind word, even to see one of your faces, you all kept off.  But I won’t complain to you!  I’m driven down here by the cold; not either to amuse you or enjoy your society.”

‘“What could I ha’ done?” began Earnshaw.  “How was I to blame?”

‘“Oh! you are an exception,” answered Mrs. Heathcliff.  “I never missed such a concern as you.”

‘“But I offered more than once, and asked,” he said, kindling up at her pertness, “I asked Mr. Heathcliff to let me wake for you—”

‘“Be silent!  I’ll go out of doors, or anywhere, rather than have your disagreeable voice in my ear!” said my lady.

‘Hareton muttered she might go to hell, for him! and unslinging his gun, restrained himself from his Sunday occupations no longer.  He talked now, freely enough; and she presently saw fit to retreat to her solitude: but the frost had set in, and, in spite of her pride, she was forced to condescend to our company, more and more.  However, I took care there should be no further scorning at my good nature: ever since, I’ve been as stiff as herself; and she has no lover or liker among us: and she does not deserve one; for, let them say the least word to her, and she’ll curl back without respect of any one.  She’ll snap at the master himself, and as good as dares him to thrash her; and the more hurt she gets, the more venomous she grows.’

At first, on hearing this account from Zillah, I determined to leave my situation, take a cottage, and get Catherine to come and live with me: but Mr. Heathcliff would as soon permit that as he would set up Hareton in an independent house; and I can see no remedy, at present, unless she could marry again; and that scheme it does not come within my province to arrange.

* * * * *

Thus ended Mrs. Dean’s story.  Notwithstanding the doctor’s prophecy, I am rapidly recovering strength; and though it be only the second week in January, I propose getting out on horseback in a day or two, and riding over to Wuthering Heights, to inform my landlord that I shall spend the next six months in London; and, if he likes, he may look out for another tenant to take the place after October.  I would not pass another winter here for much.

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