Wuthering Heights (Chapter 20)

Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronté

Chapter 20

I was summoned to Wuthering Heights, within a fortnight of your leaving us, she said; and I obeyed joyfully, for Catherine’s sake. My first interview with her grieved and shocked me: she had altered so much since our separation.  Mr. Heathcliff did not explain his reasons for taking a new mind about my coming here; he only told me he wanted me, and he was tired of seeing Catherine: I must make the little parlour my sitting-room, and keep her with me. It was enough if he were obliged to see her once or twice a day. She seemed pleased at this arrangement; and, by degrees, I smuggled over a great number of books, and other articles, that had formed her amusement at the Grange; and flattered myself we should get on in tolerable comfort.  The delusion did not last long.  Catherine, contented at first, in a brief space grew irritable and restless. For one thing, she was forbidden to move out of the garden, and it fretted her sadly to be confined to its narrow bounds as spring drew on; for another, in following the house, I was forced to quit her frequently, and she complained of loneliness: she preferred quarrelling with Joseph in the kitchen to sitting at peace in her solitude.  I did not mind their skirmishes: but Hareton was often obliged to seek the kitchen also, when the master wanted to have the house to himself! and though in the beginning she either left it at his approach, or quietly joined in my occupations, and shunned remarking or addressing him—and though he was always as sullen and silent as possible—after a while, she changed her behaviour, and became incapable of letting him alone: talking at him; commenting on his stupidity and idleness; expressing her wonder how he could endure the life he lived—how he could sit a whole evening staring into the fire, and dozing.

‘He’s just like a dog, is he not, Ellen?’ she once observed, ‘or a cart-horse?  He does his work, eats his food, and sleeps eternally! What a blank, dreary mind he must have!  Do you ever dream, Hareton?  And, if you do, what is it about?  But you can’t speak to me!’

Then she looked at him; but he would neither open his mouth nor look again.

‘He’s, perhaps, dreaming now,’ she continued.  ‘He twitched his shoulder as Juno twitches hers.  Ask him, Ellen.’

‘Mr. Hareton will ask the master to send you up-stairs, if you don’t behave!’ I said.  He had not only twitched his shoulder but clenched his fist, as if tempted to use it.

‘I know why Hareton never speaks, when I am in the kitchen,’ she exclaimed, on another occasion.  ‘He is afraid I shall laugh at him.  Ellen, what do you think?  He began to teach himself to read once; and, because I laughed, he burned his books, and dropped it: was he not a fool?’

‘Were not you naughty?’ I said; ‘answer me that.’

‘Perhaps I was,’ she went on; ‘but I did not expect him to be so silly.  Hareton, if I gave you a book, would you take it now?  I’ll try!’

She placed one she had been perusing on his hand; he flung it off, and muttered, if she did not give over, he would break her neck.

‘Well, I shall put it here,’ she said, ‘in the table-drawer; and I’m going to bed.’

Then she whispered me to watch whether he touched it, and departed.  But he would not come near it; and so I informed her in the morning, to her great disappointment.  I saw she was sorry for his persevering sulkiness and indolence: her conscience reproved her for frightening him off improving himself: she had done it effectually.  But her ingenuity was at work to remedy the injury: while I ironed, or pursued other such stationary employments as I could not well do in the parlour, she would bring some pleasant volume and read it aloud to me.  When Hareton was there, she generally paused in an interesting part, and left the book lying about: that she did repeatedly; but he was as obstinate as a mule, and, instead of snatching at her bait, in wet weather he took to smoking with Joseph; and they sat like automatons, one on each side of the fire, the elder happily too deaf to understand her wicked nonsense, as he would have called it, the younger doing his best to seem to disregard it.  On fine evenings the latter followed his shooting expeditions, and Catherine yawned and sighed, and teased me to talk to her, and ran off into the court or garden the moment I began; and, as a last resource, cried, and said she was tired of living: her life was useless.

Mr. Heathcliff, who grew more and more disinclined to society, had almost banished Earnshaw from his apartment.  Owing to an accident at the commencement of March, he became for some days a fixture in the kitchen.  His gun burst while out on the hills by himself; a splinter cut his arm, and he lost a good deal of blood before he could reach home.  The consequence was that, perforce, he was condemned to the fireside and tranquillity, till he made it up again.  It suited Catherine to have him there: at any rate, it made her hate her room up-stairs more than ever: and she would compel me to find out business below, that she might accompany me.

On Easter Monday, Joseph went to Gimmerton fair with some cattle; and, in the afternoon, I was busy getting up linen in the kitchen.  Earnshaw sat, morose as usual, at the chimney corner, and my little mistress was beguiling an idle hour with drawing pictures on the window-panes, varying her amusement by smothered bursts of songs, and whispered ejaculations, and quick glances of annoyance and impatience in the direction of her cousin, who steadfastly smoked, and looked into the grate.  At a notice that I could do with her no longer intercepting my light, she removed to the hearthstone.  I bestowed little attention on her proceedings, but, presently, I heard her begin—‘I’ve found out, Hareton, that I want—that I’m glad—that I should like you to be my cousin now, if you had not grown so cross to me, and so rough.’

Hareton returned no answer.

‘Hareton, Hareton, Hareton! do you hear?’ she continued.

‘Get off wi’ ye!’ he growled, with uncompromising gruffness.

‘Let me take that pipe,’ she said, cautiously advancing her hand and abstracting it from his mouth.

Before he could attempt to recover it, it was broken, and behind the fire.  He swore at her and seized another.

‘Stop,’ she cried, ‘you must listen to me first; and I can’t speak while those clouds are floating in my face.’

‘Will you go to the devil!’ he exclaimed, ferociously, ‘and let me be!’

‘No,’ she persisted, ‘I won’t: I can’t tell what to do to make you talk to me; and you are determined not to understand.  When I call you stupid, I don’t mean anything: I don’t mean that I despise you.  Come, you shall take notice of me, Hareton: you are my cousin, and you shall own me.’

‘I shall have naught to do wi’ you and your mucky pride, and your damned mocking tricks!’ he answered.  ‘I’ll go to hell, body and soul, before I look sideways after you again.  Side out o’ t’ gate, now, this minute!’

Catherine frowned, and retreated to the window-seat chewing her lip, and endeavouring, by humming an eccentric tune, to conceal a growing tendency to sob.

‘You should be friends with your cousin, Mr. Hareton,’ I interrupted, ‘since she repents of her sauciness.  It would do you a great deal of good: it would make you another man to have her for a companion.’

‘A companion!’ he cried; ‘when she hates me, and does not think me fit to wipe her shoon!  Nay, if it made me a king, I’d not be scorned for seeking her good-will any more.’

‘It is not I who hate you, it is you who hate me!’ wept Cathy, no longer disguising her trouble.  ‘You hate me as much as Mr. Heathcliff does, and more.’

‘You’re a damned liar,’ began Earnshaw: ‘why have I made him angry, by taking your part, then, a hundred times? and that when you sneered at and despised me, and—Go on plaguing me, and I’ll step in yonder, and say you worried me out of the kitchen!’

‘I didn’t know you took my part,’ she answered, drying her eyes; ‘and I was miserable and bitter at everybody; but now I thank you, and beg you to forgive me: what can I do besides?’

She returned to the hearth, and frankly extended her hand.  He blackened and scowled like a thunder-cloud, and kept his fists resolutely clenched, and his gaze fixed on the ground.  Catherine, by instinct, must have divined it was obdurate perversity, and not dislike, that prompted this dogged conduct; for, after remaining an instant undecided, she stooped and impressed on his cheek a gentle kiss.  The little rogue thought I had not seen her, and, drawing back, she took her former station by the window, quite demurely.  I shook my head reprovingly, and then she blushed and whispered—‘Well! what should I have done, Ellen?  He wouldn’t shake hands, and he wouldn’t look: I must show him some way that I like him—that I want to be friends.’

Whether the kiss convinced Hareton, I cannot tell: he was very careful, for some minutes, that his face should not be seen, and when he did raise it, he was sadly puzzled where to turn his eyes.

Catherine employed herself in wrapping a handsome book neatly in white paper, and having tied it with a bit of ribbon, and addressed it to ‘Mr. Hareton Earnshaw,’ she desired me to be her ambassadress, and convey the present to its destined recipient.

‘And tell him, if he’ll take it, I’ll come and teach him to read it right,’ she said; ‘and, if he refuse it, I’ll go upstairs, and never tease him again.’

I carried it, and repeated the message; anxiously watched by my employer.  Hareton would not open his fingers, so I laid it on his knee.  He did not strike it off, either.  I returned to my work.  Catherine leaned her head and arms on the table, till she heard the slight rustle of the covering being removed; then she stole away, and quietly seated herself beside her cousin.  He trembled, and his face glowed: all his rudeness and all his surly harshness had deserted him: he could not summon courage, at first, to utter a syllable in reply to her questioning look, and her murmured petition.

‘Say you forgive me, Hareton, do.  You can make me so happy by speaking that little word.’

He muttered something inaudible.

‘And you’ll be my friend?’ added Catherine, interrogatively.

‘Nay, you’ll be ashamed of me every day of your life,’ he answered; ‘and the more ashamed, the more you know me; and I cannot bide it.’

‘So you won’t be my friend?’ she said, smiling as sweet as honey, and creeping close up.

I overheard no further distinguishable talk, but, on looking round again, I perceived two such radiant countenances bent over the page of the accepted book, that I did not doubt the treaty had been ratified on both sides; and the enemies were, thenceforth, sworn allies.

The work they studied was full of costly pictures; and those and their position had charm enough to keep them unmoved till Joseph came home.  He, poor man, was perfectly aghast at the spectacle of Catherine seated on the same bench with Hareton Earnshaw, leaning her hand on his shoulder; and confounded at his favourite’s endurance of her proximity: it affected him too deeply to allow an observation on the subject that night.  His emotion was only revealed by the immense sighs he drew, as he solemnly spread his large Bible on the table, and overlaid it with dirty bank-notes from his pocket-book, the produce of the day’s transactions.  At length he summoned Hareton from his seat.

‘Tak’ these in to t’ maister, lad,’ he said, ‘and bide there.  I’s gang up to my own rahm.  This hoile’s neither mensful nor seemly for us: we mun side out and seearch another.’

‘Come, Catherine,’ I said, ‘we must “side out” too: I’ve done my ironing.  Are you ready to go?’

‘It is not eight o’clock!’ she answered, rising unwillingly.

‘Hareton, I’ll leave this book upon the chimney-piece, and I’ll bring some more to-morrow.’

‘Ony books that yah leave, I shall tak’ into th’ hahse,’ said Joseph, ‘and it’ll be mitch if yah find ’em agean; soa, yah may plase yerseln!’

Cathy threatened that his library should pay for hers; and, smiling as she passed Hareton, went singing up-stairs: lighter of heart, I venture to say, than ever she had been under that roof before; except, perhaps, during her earliest visits to Linton.

The intimacy thus commenced grew rapidly; though it encountered temporary interruptions.  Earnshaw was not to be civilized with a wish, and my young lady was no philosopher, and no paragon of patience; but both their minds tending to the same point—one loving and desiring to esteem, and the other loving and desiring to be esteemed—they contrived in the end to reach it.

You see, Mr. Lockwood, it was easy enough to win Mrs. Heathcliff’s heart.  But now, I’m glad you did not try.  The crown of all my wishes will be the union of those two.  I shall envy no one on their wedding day: there won’t be a happier woman than myself in England.

On the morrow of that Monday, Earnshaw being still unable to follow his ordinary employments, and therefore remaining about the house, I speedily found it would be impracticable to retain my charge beside me, as heretofore.  She got downstairs before me, and out into the garden, where she had seen her cousin performing some easy work; and when I went to bid them come to breakfast, I saw she had persuaded him to clear a large space of ground from currant and gooseberry bushes, and they were busy planning together an importation of plants from the Grange.

I was terrified at the devastation which had been accomplished in a brief half-hour; the black-currant trees were the apple of Joseph’s eye, and she had just fixed her choice of a flower-bed in the midst of them.

‘There!  That will be all shown to the master,’ I exclaimed, ‘the minute it is discovered.  And what excuse have you to offer for taking such liberties with the garden?  We shall have a fine explosion on the head of it: see if we don’t!  Mr. Hareton, I wonder you should have no more wit than to go and make that mess at her bidding!’

‘I’d forgotten they were Joseph’s,’ answered Earnshaw, rather puzzled; ‘but I’ll tell him I did it.’

We always ate our meals with Mr. Heathcliff.  I held the mistress’s post in making tea and carving; so I was indispensable at table.  Catherine usually sat by me, but to-day she stole nearer to Hareton; and I presently saw she would have no more discretion in her friendship than she had in her hostility.

‘Now, mind you don’t talk with and notice your cousin too much,’ were my whispered instructions as we entered the room.  ‘It will certainly annoy Mr. Heathcliff, and he’ll be mad at you both.’

‘I’m not going to,’ she answered.

The minute after, she had sidled to him, and was sticking primroses in his plate of porridge.

He dared not speak to her there: he dared hardly look; and yet she went on teasing, till he was twice on the point of being provoked to laugh.  I frowned, and then she glanced towards the master: whose mind was occupied on other subjects than his company, as his countenance evinced; and she grew serious for an instant, scrutinizing him with deep gravity.  Afterwards she turned, and recommenced her nonsense; at last, Hareton uttered a smothered laugh.  Mr. Heathcliff started; his eye rapidly surveyed our faces, Catherine met it with her accustomed look of nervousness and yet defiance, which he abhorred.

‘It is well you are out of my reach,’ he exclaimed.  ‘What fiend possesses you to stare back at me, continually, with those infernal eyes?  Down with them! and don’t remind me of your existence again.  I thought I had cured you of laughing.’

‘It was me,’ muttered Hareton.

‘What do you say?’ demanded the master.

Hareton looked at his plate, and did not repeat the confession.  Mr. Heathcliff looked at him a bit, and then silently resumed his breakfast and his interrupted musing.  We had nearly finished, and the two young people prudently shifted wider asunder, so I anticipated no further disturbance during that sitting: when Joseph appeared at the door, revealing by his quivering lip and furious eyes that the outrage committed on his precious shrubs was detected.  He must have seen Cathy and her cousin about the spot before he examined it, for while his jaws worked like those of a cow chewing its cud, and rendered his speech difficult to understand, he began:—

‘I mun hev’ my wage, and I mun goa!  I hed aimed to dee wheare I’d sarved fur sixty year; and I thowt I’d lug my books up into t’ garret, and all my bits o’ stuff, and they sud hev’ t’ kitchen to theirseln; for t’ sake o’ quietness.  It wur hard to gie up my awn hearthstun, but I thowt I could do that!  But nah, shoo’s taan my garden fro’ me, and by th’ heart, maister, I cannot stand it!  Yah may bend to th’ yoak an ye will—I noan used to ’t, and an old man doesn’t sooin get used to new barthens.  I’d rayther arn my bite an’ my sup wi’ a hammer in th’ road!’

‘Now, now, idiot!’ interrupted Heathcliff, ‘cut it short!  What’s your grievance?  I’ll interfere in no quarrels between you and Nelly.  She may thrust you into the coal-hole for anything I care.’

‘It’s noan Nelly!’ answered Joseph.  ‘I sudn’t shift for Nelly—nasty ill nowt as shoo is.  Thank God! shoo cannot stale t’ sowl o’ nob’dy!  Shoo wer niver soa handsome, but what a body mud look at her ‘bout winking.  It’s yon flaysome, graceless quean, that’s witched our lad, wi’ her bold een and her forrard ways—till—Nay! it fair brusts my heart!  He’s forgotten all I’ve done for him, and made on him, and goan and riven up a whole row o’ t’ grandest currant-trees i’ t’ garden!’ and here he lamented outright; unmanned by a sense of his bitter injuries, and Earnshaw’s ingratitude and dangerous condition.

‘Is the fool drunk?’ asked Mr. Heathcliff.  ‘Hareton, is it you he’s finding fault with?’

‘I’ve pulled up two or three bushes,’ replied the young man; ‘but I’m going to set ’em again.’

‘And why have you pulled them up?’ said the master.

Catherine wisely put in her tongue.

‘We wanted to plant some flowers there,’ she cried.  ‘I’m the only person to blame, for I wished him to do it.’

‘And who the devil gave you leave to touch a stick about the place?’ demanded her father-in-law, much surprised.  ‘And who ordered you to obey her?’ he added, turning to Hareton.

The latter was speechless; his cousin replied—‘You shouldn’t grudge a few yards of earth for me to ornament, when you have taken all my land!’

‘Your land, insolent slut!  You never had any,’ said Heathcliff.

‘And my money,’ she continued; returning his angry glare, and meantime biting a piece of crust, the remnant of her breakfast.

‘Silence!’ he exclaimed.  ‘Get done, and begone!’

‘And Hareton’s land, and his money,’ pursued the reckless thing.  ‘Hareton and I are friends now; and I shall tell him all about you!’

The master seemed confounded a moment: he grew pale, and rose up, eyeing her all the while, with an expression of mortal hate.

‘If you strike me, Hareton will strike you,’ she said; ‘so you may as well sit down.’

‘If Hareton does not turn you out of the room, I’ll strike him to hell,’ thundered Heathcliff.  ‘Damnable witch! dare you pretend to rouse him against me?  Off with her!  Do you hear?  Fling her into the kitchen!  I’ll kill her, Ellen Dean, if you let her come into my sight again!’

Hareton tried, under his breath, to persuade her to go.

‘Drag her away!’ he cried, savagely.  ‘Are you staying to talk?’  And he approached to execute his own command.

‘He’ll not obey you, wicked man, any more,’ said Catherine; ‘and he’ll soon detest you as much as I do.’

‘Wisht! wisht!’ muttered the young man, reproachfully; ‘I will not hear you speak so to him.  Have done.’

‘But you won’t let him strike me?’ she cried.

‘Come, then,’ he whispered earnestly.

It was too late: Heathcliff had caught hold of her.

‘Now, you go!’ he said to Earnshaw.  ‘Accursed witch! this time she has provoked me when I could not bear it; and I’ll make her repent it for ever!’

He had his hand in her hair; Hareton attempted to release her locks, entreating him not to hurt her that once.  Heathcliff’s black eyes flashed; he seemed ready to tear Catherine in pieces, and I was just worked up to risk coming to the rescue, when of a sudden his fingers relaxed; he shifted his grasp from her head to her arm, and gazed intently in her face.  Then he drew his hand over his eyes, stood a moment to collect himself apparently, and turning anew to Catherine, said, with assumed calmness—‘You must learn to avoid putting me in a passion, or I shall really murder you some time!  Go with Mrs. Dean, and keep with her; and confine your insolence to her ears.  As to Hareton Earnshaw, if I see him listen to you, I’ll send him seeking his bread where he can get it!  Your love will make him an outcast and a beggar.  Nelly, take her; and leave me, all of you!  Leave me!’

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