Ebooka przeczytasz w aplikacjach Legimi na:
Odsłuch ebooka (TTS) dostępny w abonamencie „ebooki+audiobooki bez limitu” w aplikacji Legimi na:
Table of Contents
First digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri
1801.—I have just returned from a visit to mylandlord—the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubledwith. This is certainly a beautiful country! In allEngland, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation socompletely removed from the stir of society. Aperfectmisanthropist’s heaven: and Mr. Heathcliff and I aresuch a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. Acapital fellow! He little imagined how my heart warmedtowards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciouslyunder their brows, as I rode up, and when his fingers shelteredthemselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in hiswaistcoat, as I announced my name.
‘Mr. Heathcliff?’ I said.
A nod was the answer.
‘Mr. Lockwood, your new tenant, sir. I do myself thehonour of calling as soon as possible after my arrival, to expressthe hope that I have not inconvenienced you by my perseverance insoliciting the occupation of Thrushcross Grange: I heard yesterdayyou had had some thoughts—’
‘Thrushcross Grange is my own, sir,’ he interrupted,wincing. ‘I should not allow any one to inconvenienceme, if I could hinder it—walk in!’
The ‘walk in’ was uttered with closed teeth, andexpressed the sentiment, ‘Go to the Deuce:’ even thegate over which he leant manifested no sympathising movement to thewords; and I think that circumstance determined me to accept theinvitation: I felt interested in a man who seemed moreexaggeratedly reserved than myself.
When he saw my horse’s breast fairly pushing the barrier,he did put out his hand to unchain it, and then sullenly precededme up the causeway, calling, as we entered thecourt,—‘Joseph, take Mr. Lockwood’s horse; andbring up some wine.’
‘Here we have the whole establishment of domestics, Isuppose,’ was the reflection suggested by this compoundorder. ‘No wonder the grass grows up between the flags,and cattle are the only hedge-cutters.’
Joseph was an elderly, nay, an old man: very old, perhaps,though hale and sinewy. ‘The Lord help us!’ hesoliloquised in an undertone of peevish displeasure, whilerelieving me of my horse: looking, meantime, in my face so sourlythat I charitably conjectured he must have need of divine aid todigest his dinner, and his pious ejaculation had no reference to myunexpected advent.
Wuthering Heights is thename of Mr. Heathcliff’sdwelling. ‘Wuthering’ being a significantprovincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult towhich its station is exposed instormy weather. Pure, bracingventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: onemayguess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by theexcessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; andby a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, asif craving alms of the sun. Happily, the architect hadforesight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set inthe wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.
Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity ofgrotesque carving lavished over the front, and especiallyabout theprincipal door; above which, among a wilderness of crumblinggriffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date‘1500,’ and the name ‘HaretonEarnshaw.’ I would have made a few comments, andrequested a short history of the place from the surly owner; buthis attitude at the door appeared to demand my speedy entrance, orcomplete departure, and I had no desire to aggravate his impatienceprevious to inspecting the penetralium.
One stop brought us into the family sitting-room, without anyintroductory lobby or passage: they call it here ‘thehouse’ pre-eminently. It includes kitchen and parlour,generally; but I believe at Wuthering Heights the kitchen is forcedto retreat altogether into another quarter: at least Idistinguished a chatter oftongues, and a clatter of culinaryutensils, deep within; and I observed no signs of roasting,boiling, or baking, about the huge fireplace; nor any glitter ofcopper saucepans and tin cullenders on the walls. One end,indeed, reflected splendidly both light and heat from ranks ofimmense pewter dishes, interspersed with silver jugs and tankards,towering row after row, on a vast oak dresser, to the veryroof. The latter had never been under-drawn: its entireanatomy lay bare to an inquiring eye, exceptwhere a frame of woodladen with oatcakes and clusters of legs of beef, mutton, and ham,concealed it. Above the chimney were sundry villainous oldguns, and a couple of horse-pistols: and, by way of ornament, threegaudily-painted canisters disposed along its ledge. The floorwas of smooth, white stone; the chairs, high-backed, primitivestructures, painted green: one or two heavy black ones lurking inthe shade. In an arch under the dresser reposed a huge,liver-coloured bitch pointer, surrounded by aswarm of squealingpuppies; and other dogs haunted other recesses.
The apartment and furniture would have been nothingextraordinary as belonging to a homely, northern farmer, with astubborn countenance, and stalwart limbs set out to advantage inknee-breeches and gaiters. Such an individual seated in hisarm-chair, his mug of ale frothing on the round table before him,is to be seen in any circuit of five or six miles among thesehills, if you go at the right time after dinner. But Mr.Heathcliff formsa singular contrast to his abode and style ofliving. He is a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress andmanners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a countrysquire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with hisnegligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure; and rathermorose. Possibly, some people might suspect him of a degreeof under-bred pride; I have a sympathetic chord within that tellsme it is nothing of the sort: I know, by instinct, his reservesprings from anaversion to showy displays of feeling—tomanifestations of mutual kindliness. He’ll love andhate equally under cover, and esteem it a species of impertinenceto be loved or hated again. No, I’m running on toofast: I bestow my own attributes over-liberally on him. Mr.Heathcliff may have entirelydissimilar reasons for keeping his handout of the way when he meets a would-be acquaintance, to thosewhich actuate me. Let me hope my constitution is almostpeculiar: my dear mother used to say I should never have acomfortable home; and only last summer I proved myself perfectlyunworthy of one.
While enjoying a month of fine weather at the sea-coast, I wasthrown into the company of a most fascinating creature: a realgoddess in my eyes, as long as she took no notice of me. I‘never told my love’ vocally; still, if looks havelanguage, the merest idiot might have guessed I was over head andears: she understood me at last, and looked a return—thesweetest of all imaginable looks. And what did I do? Iconfess it with shame—shrunk icily into myself, like a snail;at every glance retired colder and farther; till finally the poorinnocent was led to doubt her own senses, and, overwhelmed withconfusion at her supposed mistake, persuaded her mamma todecamp. By this curious turn of disposition I have gained thereputation of deliberate heartlessness; how undeserved, I alone canappreciate.
I took a seat at the end of the hearthstone opposite thattowards which my landlord advanced, and filled up an intervalofsilence by attempting to caress the canine mother, who had lefther nursery, and was sneaking wolfishly to the back of my legs, herlip curled up, and her white teeth watering for a snatch. Mycaress provoked a long, guttural gnarl.
‘You’d better let thedog alone,’ growled Mr.Heathcliff in unison, checking fiercer demonstrations with a punchof his foot. ‘She’s not accustomed to bespoiled—not kept for a pet.’ Then, striding to aside door, he shouted again, ‘Joseph!’
Joseph mumbled indistinctly in the depths of the cellar, butgave no intimation of ascending; so his master dived down to him,leaving mevis-à-visthe ruffianly bitch and a pair of grimshaggy sheep-dogs, who shared with her a jealous guardianship overall my movements. Not anxious to come in contact with theirfangs, I sat still; but, imagining they would scarcely understandtacit insults, I unfortunately indulged in winking and making facesat the trio, and some turn of my physiognomy so irritated madam,that she suddenly broke into afury and leapt on my knees. Iflung her back, and hastened to interpose the table betweenus. This proceeding aroused the whole hive: half-a-dozenfour-footed fiends, of various sizes and ages, issued from hiddendens to the common centre. I felt my heels and coat-lapspeculiar subjects of assault; and parrying off the largercombatants as effectually as I could with the poker, I wasconstrained to demand, aloud, assistance from some of the householdin re-establishing peace.
Mr. Heathcliff and his man climbed the cellar steps withvexatious phlegm: I don’t think they moved one second fasterthan usual, though the hearth was an absolute tempest of worryingand yelping. Happily, an inhabitant of the kitchen made moredespatch: a lusty dame, with tucked-upgown, bare arms, andfire-flushed cheeks, rushed into the midst of us flourishing afrying-pan: and used that weapon, and her tongue, to such purpose,that the storm subsided magically, and she only remained, heavinglike a sea after a high wind, when hermaster entered on thescene.
‘What the devil is the matter?’ he asked, eyeing mein a manner that I could ill endure, after this inhospitabletreatment.
‘What the devil, indeed!’ I muttered. ‘The herd of possessed swine could have had no worse spiritsinthem than those animals of yours, sir. You might as wellleave a stranger with a brood of tigers!’
‘They won’t meddle with persons who touchnothing,’ he remarked, putting the bottle before me, andrestoring the displaced table. ‘The dogs do right tobevigilant. Take a glass of wine?’
‘No, thank you.’
‘Not bitten, are you?’
‘If I had been, I would have set my signet on thebiter.’ Heathcliff’s countenance relaxed into agrin.
‘Come, come,’ he said, ‘you are flurried, Mr.Lockwood. Here, take a littlewine. Guests are soexceedingly rare in this house that I and my dogs, I am willing toown, hardly know how to receive them. Your health,sir?’
I bowed and returned the pledge; beginning to perceive that itwould be foolish to sit sulking for the misbehaviour of a pack ofcurs; besides, I felt loth to yield the fellow further amusement atmy expense; since his humour took that turn. He—probably swayed by prudential consideration of the follyof offending a good tenant—relaxed a little in the laconicstyle of chipping off his pronouns and auxiliary verbs, andintroduced what he supposed would be a subject of interest tome,—a discourse on the advantages and disadvantages of mypresent place of retirement. I found him very intelligent onthe topics we touched; and before I went home, I was encouraged sofar as to volunteer another visit to-morrow. He evidentlywished no repetition of my intrusion. I shall go,notwithstanding. It is astonishing how sociable I feel myselfcompared with him.
Yesterday afternoon set in misty and cold. I had half amind to spend it by my study fire, instead of wading through heathand mud to Wuthering Heights. On coming up from dinner,however, (N.B.—I dine between twelve and one o’clock;the housekeeper, a matronly lady, taken as a fixture along with thehouse, could not, or would not, comprehend my request that I mightbe served at five)—on mounting the stairs with this lazyintention, and stepping into the room, I saw a servant-girl on herknees surrounded bybrushes and coal-scuttles, and raising aninfernal dust as she extinguished the flames with heaps ofcinders. This spectacle drove me back immediately; I took myhat, and, after a four-miles’ walk, arrived atHeathcliff’s garden-gate just in time to escape the firstfeathery flakes of a snow-shower.
On that bleak hill-top the earth was hard with a black frost,and the air made me shiver through every limb. Being unableto remove the chain, I jumped over, and, running up the flaggedcauseway bordered withstraggling gooseberry-bushes, knocked vainlyfor admittance, till my knuckles tingled and the dogs howled.
‘Wretched inmates!’ I ejaculated, mentally,‘you deserve perpetual isolation from your species for yourchurlish inhospitality. At least, I wouldnot keep my doorsbarred in the day-time. I don’t care—I will getin!’ So resolved, I grasped the latch and shook itvehemently. Vinegar-faced Joseph projected his head from around window of the barn.
‘What are ye for?’ he shouted. ‘T’maister’s downi’ t’ fowld. Go round byth’ end o’ t’ laith, if ye went to spake tohim.’
‘Is there nobody inside to open the door?’ Ihallooed, responsively.
‘There’s nobbut t’ missis; and shoo’llnot oppen ’t an ye mak’ yer flaysome dins tillneeght.’
‘Why? Cannot you tell her whom I am, eh,Joseph?’
‘Nor-ne me! I’ll hae no hendwi’t,’ muttered the head, vanishing.
The snow began to drive thickly. I seized the handle toessay another trial; when a young man without coat, and shoulderinga pitchfork, appeared in theyard behind. He hailed me tofollow him, and, after marching through a wash-house, and a pavedarea containing a coal-shed, pump, and pigeon-cot, we at lengtharrived in the huge, warm, cheerful apartment where I was formerlyreceived. It glowed delightfully in the radiance of animmense fire, compounded of coal, peat, and wood; and near thetable, laid for a plentiful evening meal, I was pleased to observethe ‘missis,’ an individual whose existence I had neverpreviously suspected. I bowed and waited,thinking she wouldbid me take a seat. She looked at me, leaning back in herchair, and remained motionless and mute.
‘Rough weather!’ I remarked. ‘I’mafraid, Mrs. Heathcliff, the door must bear the consequence of yourservants’ leisure attendance: I had hard work to make themhear me.’
She never opened her mouth. I stared—she staredalso: at any rate, she kept her eyes on me in a cool, regardlessmanner, exceedingly embarrassing and disagreeable.
‘Sit down,’ said the young man, gruffly. ‘He’ll be insoon.’
I obeyed; and hemmed, and called the villain Juno, who deigned,at this second interview, to move the extreme tip of her tail, intoken of owning my acquaintance.
‘A beautiful animal!’ I commenced again. ‘Do you intend parting with the little ones,madam?’
‘They are not mine,’ said the amiable hostess, morerepellingly than Heathcliff himself could have replied.
‘Ah, your favourites are among these?’ I continued,turning to an obscure cushion full of something like cats.
‘A strange choice of favourites!’ she observedscornfully.
Unluckily, it was a heap of dead rabbits. I hemmed oncemore, and drew closer to the hearth, repeating my comment on thewildness of the evening.
‘You should not have come out,’ she said, rising andreaching from the chimney-piece two of the painted canisters.
Her position before was sheltered from the light; now, I had adistinct view of her whole figure and countenance. She wasslender, and apparently scarcely past girlhood: an admirable form,and the most exquisite littleface that I have ever had the pleasureof beholding; small features, very fair; flaxen ringlets, or rathergolden, hanging loose on her delicate neck; and eyes, had they beenagreeable in expression, that would have been irresistible:fortunately for my susceptible heart, the only sentiment theyevinced hovered between scorn and a kind of desperation, singularlyunnatural to be detected there. The canisters were almost outof her reach; I made a motion to aid her; she turned upon me as amiser might turnif any one attempted to assist him in counting hisgold.
‘I don’t want your help,’ she snapped;‘I can get them for myself.’
‘I beg your pardon!’ I hastened to reply.
‘Were you asked to tea?’ she demanded, tying anapron over her neat black frock, and standing with a spoonful ofthe leaf poised over the pot.
‘I shall be glad to have a cup,’ I answered.
‘Were you asked?’ she repeated.
‘No,’ I said, half smiling. ‘You are theproper person to ask me.’
She flung the tea back, spoon and all, and resumed her chair ina pet; her forehead corrugated, and her red under-lip pushed out,like a child’s ready to cry.
Meanwhile, the young man had slung on to his person a decidedlyshabby upper garment, and, erecting himself before the blaze,looked down on me from the corner of his eyes, for all the world asif there were some mortal feud unavenged between us. I beganto doubt whether he were a servant or not: his dress and speechwere both rude, entirely devoid of the superiority observable inMr. and Mrs. Heathcliff;his thick brown curls were rough anduncultivated, his whiskers encroached bearishly over his cheeks,and his hands were embrowned like those of a common labourer: stillhis bearing was free, almost haughty, and he showed none of adomestic’s assiduity inattending on the lady of thehouse. In the absence of clear proofs of his condition, Ideemed it best to abstain from noticing his curious conduct; and,five minutes afterwards, the entrance of Heathcliff relieved me, insome measure, from my uncomfortable state.
‘You see, sir, I am come, according to promise!’ Iexclaimed, assuming the cheerful; ‘and I fear I shall beweather-bound for half an hour, if you can afford me shelter duringthat space.’
‘Half an hour?’ he said, shaking the white flakesfrom hisclothes; ‘I wonder you should select the thick of asnow-storm to ramble about in. Do you know that you run arisk of being lost in the marshes? People familiar with thesemoors often miss their road on such evenings; and I can tell youthere is no chance of a change at present.’
‘Perhaps I can get a guide among your lads, and he mightstay at the Grange till morning—could you spare meone?’
‘No, I could not.’
‘Oh, indeed! Well, then, I must trust to my ownsagacity.’
‘Are you going to mak’ thetea?’ demanded he ofthe shabby coat, shifting his ferocious gaze from me to the younglady.
‘Isheto have any?’ she asked, appealing toHeathcliff.
‘Get it ready, will you?’ was the answer, uttered sosavagely that I started. The tone in which the wordswere saidrevealed a genuine bad nature. I no longer felt inclined tocall Heathcliff a capital fellow. When the preparations werefinished, he invited me with—‘Now, sir, bring forwardyour chair.’ And we all, including the rustic youth,drew round thetable: an austere silence prevailing while wediscussed our meal.
I thought, if I had caused the cloud, it was my duty to make aneffort to dispel it. They could not every day sit so grim andtaciturn; and it was impossible, however ill-tempered they mightbe, that the universal scowl they wore was their every-daycountenance.
‘It is strange,’ I began, in the interval ofswallowing one cup of tea and receiving another—‘it isstrange how custom can mould our tastes and ideas: many could notimagine the existence of happiness in a life of such complete exilefrom the world as you spend, Mr. Heathcliff; yet, I’llventure to say, that, surrounded by your family, and with youramiable lady as the presiding genius over your home andheart—’
‘My amiable lady!’ heinterrupted, with an almostdiabolical sneer on his face. ‘Where is she—myamiable lady?’
‘Mrs. Heathcliff, your wife, I mean.’
‘Well, yes—oh, you would intimate that her spirithas taken the post of ministering angel, and guards the fortunes ofWuthering Heights, even when her body is gone. Is thatit?’
Perceiving myself in a blunder, I attempted to correct it. I might have seen there was too great a disparity between the agesof the parties to make it likely that they were man and wife. One was aboutforty: a period of mental vigour at which men seldomcherish the delusion of being married for love by girls: that dreamis reserved for the solace of our declining years. The otherdid not look seventeen.
Then it flashed upon me—‘The clown at my elbow,whois drinking his tea out of a basin and eating his bread withunwashed hands, may be her husband: Heathcliff junior, ofcourse. Here is the consequence of being buried alive: shehas thrown herself away upon that boor from sheer ignorance thatbetter individuals existed! A sad pity—I must bewarehow I cause her to regret her choice.’ The lastreflection may seem conceited; it was not. My neighbourstruck me as bordering on repulsive; I knew, through experience,that I was tolerably attractive.
‘Mrs.Heathcliff is my daughter-in-law,’ saidHeathcliff, corroborating my surmise. He turned, as he spoke,a peculiar look in her direction: a look of hatred; unless he has amost perverse set of facial muscles that will not, like those ofother people, interpret the language of his soul.
‘Ah, certainly—I see now: you are the favouredpossessor of the beneficent fairy,’ I remarked, turning to myneighbour.
This was worse than before: the youth grew crimson, and clenchedhis fist, with every appearance of a meditated assault. Buthe seemed to recollect himself presently, and smothered the stormin a brutal curse, muttered on my behalf: which, however, I tookcare not to notice.
‘Unhappy in your conjectures, sir,’ observed myhost; ‘we neither of us have the privilege of owning yourgood fairy; her mate is dead. I said she was mydaughter-in-law: therefore, she must have married myson.’
‘And this young man is—’
‘Not my son, assuredly.’
Heathcliff smiled again, as if it were rather too bold a jest toattributethe paternity of that bear to him.
‘My name is Hareton Earnshaw,’ growled the other;‘and I’d counsel you to respect it!’
‘I’ve shown no disrespect,’ was my reply,laughing internally at the dignity with which he announcedhimself.
He fixed his eye on me longer than I cared to return the stare,for fear I might be tempted either to box his ears or render myhilarity audible. I began to feel unmistakably out of placein that pleasant family circle. The dismal spiritualatmosphere overcame, and more than neutralised, the glowingphysical comforts round me; and I resolved to be cautious how Iventured under those rafters a third time.
The business of eating being concluded, and no one uttering aword of sociable conversation, I approached a window to examinetheweather. A sorrowful sight I saw: dark night coming downprematurely, and sky and hills mingled in one bitter whirl of windand suffocating snow.
‘I don’t think it possible for me to get home nowwithout a guide,’ I could not help exclaiming. ‘The roads will be buried already; and, if they were bare, Icould scarcely distinguish a foot in advance.’
‘Hareton, drive those dozen sheep into the barnporch. They’ll be covered if left in the fold allnight: and put a plank before them,’ said Heathcliff.
‘How must I do?’ I continued, with risingirritation.
There was no reply to my question; and on looking round I sawonly Joseph bringing in a pail of porridge for the dogs, and Mrs.Heathcliff leaning over the fire, diverting herself with burning abundle ofmatches which had fallen from the chimney-piece as sherestored the tea-canister to its place. The former, when hehad deposited his burden, took a critical survey of the room, andin cracked tones grated out—‘Aw wonder how yah canfaishion to stand thear i’ idleness un war, when all on’ems goan out! Bud yah’re a nowt, and it’sno use talking—yah’ll niver mend o’yer ill ways,but goa raight to t’ divil, like yer mother aforeye!’
I imagined, for a moment, that this piece of eloquence wasaddressed to me; and, sufficiently enraged, stepped towards theaged rascal with an intention of kicking him out of the door. Mrs. Heathcliff, however, checked me by her answer.
‘You scandalous old hypocrite!’ she replied. ‘Are you not afraid of being carried away bodily, wheneveryou mention the devil’s name? I warn you to refrainfrom provoking me, or I’ll ask your abduction as a specialfavour! Stop! look here, Joseph,’ she continued, takinga long, dark book from a shelf; ‘I’ll show you how farI’ve progressed inthe Black Art: I shall soon be competent tomake a clear house of it. The red cow didn’t die bychance; and your rheumatism can hardly be reckoned amongprovidential visitations!’
‘Oh, wicked, wicked!’ gasped the elder; ‘maythe Lord deliver us from evil!’
‘No, reprobate! you are a castaway—be off, orI’ll hurt you seriously! I’ll have you allmodelled in wax and clay! and the first who passes the limits I fixshall—I’ll not say what he shall be done to—but,you’ll see! Go, I’m looking at you!’
The little witch put a mock malignity into her beautiful eyes,and Joseph, trembling with sincere horror, hurried out, praying,and ejaculating ‘wicked’ as he went. I thoughther conduct must be prompted by a species of dreary fun; and, nowthat we were alone, I endeavoured to interest her in mydistress.
‘Mrs. Heathcliff,’ I said earnestly, ‘you mustexcuse me for troubling you. I presume, because, with thatface, I’m sure you cannot help being good-hearted. Dopoint out some landmarks by which I may know my wayhome: I have nomore idea how to get there than you would have how to get toLondon!’
‘Take the road you came,’ she answered, ensconcingherself in a chair, with a candle, and the long book open beforeher. ‘It is brief advice, but as sound as I cangive.’
‘Then, if you hear of me being discovered dead in a bog ora pit full of snow, your conscience won’t whisper that it ispartly your fault?’
‘How so? I cannot escort you. Theywouldn’t let me go to the end of the garden wall.’
‘You! I should be sorry to ask you to cross thethreshold, for my convenience, on such a night,’ Icried. ‘I want you to tell me my way, not toshowit: orelse to persuade Mr. Heathcliff to give me a guide.’
‘Who? There is himself, Earnshaw, Zillah, JosephandI. Which would you have?’
‘Are there no boys at the farm?’
‘No; those are all.’
‘Then, it follows that I am compelled to stay.’
‘That you may settle with your host. I have nothingto do with it.’
‘I hope it will be a lesson to you to make no more rashjourneys on these hills,’ cried Heathcliff’s sternvoice from the kitchen entrance. ‘As to staying here, Idon’t keep accommodations for visitors: you must share a bedwith Hareton or Joseph, if you do.’
‘I can sleep on a chair in this room,’ Ireplied.
‘No, no! A stranger is a stranger, be he rich orpoor: it will not suit me to permit any one the range of the placewhile I am off guard!’ said the unmannerly wretch.
With this insult my patience was at an end. I uttered anexpression of disgust, and pushed past him into the yard, runningagainst Earnshaw in my haste. It was so dark that I could notsee the means of exit; and, as I wandered round, I heard anotherspecimen of their civil behaviour amongst each other. Atfirst the young man appeared about to befriend me.
‘I’ll go with him as far as the park,’ hesaid.
‘You’ll go with him to hell!’ exclaimed hismaster, or whatever relation he bore. ‘And who is tolook after the horses, eh?’
‘A man’s life is of more consequence than oneevening’s neglectof the horses: somebody must go,’murmured Mrs. Heathcliff, more kindly than I expected.
‘Not at your command!’ retorted Hareton. ‘If you set store on him, you’d better bequiet.’
‘Then I hope his ghost will haunt you; and I hope Mr.Heathcliff will never get another tenant till the Grange is aruin,’ she answered, sharply.
‘Hearken, hearken, shoo’s cursing on’em!’ muttered Joseph, towards whom I had beensteering.
He sat within earshot, milking the cows by the light of alantern, which I seized unceremoniously, and, calling out that Iwould send it back on the morrow, rushed to the nearestpostern.
‘Maister, maister, he’s staling t’lanthern!’ shouted the ancient, pursuing my retreat. ‘Hey, Gnasher! Hey, dog! Hey Wolf, holld him,holld him!’
On opening the little door, two hairy monsters flew at mythroat, bearing me down, and extinguishing the light; while amingled guffaw from Heathcliff and Hareton put the copestone on myrage and humiliation. Fortunately, the beasts seemed morebent on stretchingtheir paws, and yawning, and flourishing theirtails, than devouring me alive; but they would suffer noresurrection, and I was forced to lie till their malignant masterspleased to deliver me: then, hatless and trembling with wrath, Iordered the miscreants to let me out—on their peril to keepme one minute longer—with several incoherent threats ofretaliation that, in their indefinite depth of virulency, smackedof King Lear.
The vehemence of my agitation brought on a copious bleeding atthe nose, and still Heathcliff laughed, and still I scolded. I don’t know what would have concluded the scene, had therenot been one person at hand rather more rational than myself, andmore benevolent than my entertainer. This was Zillah, thestout housewife; who at length issued forth to inquire into thenature of the uproar. She thought that some of them had beenlaying violent hands on me; and, not daring to attack her master,she turned her vocal artillery against the younger scoundrel.
‘Well, Mr. Earnshaw,’ she cried, ‘I wonderwhat you’ll have agait next? Are we going to murderfolk on our very door-stones? I see this house will never dofor me—look at t’ poor lad, he’s fairchoking! Wisht, wisht; you mun’n’t go onso. Come in, and I’ll cure that: there now, hold yestill.’
With these words she suddenly splashed a pint of icy water downmy neck, and pulled me into the kitchen. Mr. Heathclifffollowed, his accidental merriment expiring quickly in his habitualmoroseness.
I was sick exceedingly, and dizzy, and faint; and thus compelledperforce to accept lodgings under his roof. He told Zillah togive me a glass of brandy, and then passed on to the innerroom;while she condoled with me on my sorry predicament, and havingobeyed his orders, whereby I was somewhat revived, ushered me tobed.
While leading the way upstairs, she recommended that I shouldhide the candle, and not make a noise; for her master had an oddnotion about the chamber she would put me in, and never let anybodylodge there willingly. I asked the reason. She did notknow, she answered: she had only lived there a year or two; andthey had so many queer goings on, she could not begin to becurious.
Too stupefied to be curious myself, I fastened my door andglanced round for the bed. The whole furniture consisted of achair, a clothes-press, and a large oak case, with squares cut outnear the top resembling coach windows. Having approached thisstructure, I looked inside, and perceived it to be a singular sortof old-fashioned couch, very conveniently designed to obviate thenecessity for every member of the family having a room tohimself. In fact, it formed a little closet, and the ledge ofa window, which it enclosed, served as a table. I slid backthe panelled sides, got in with my light, pulled them togetheragain, and felt secure against the vigilance of Heathcliff, andevery one else.
The ledge, where I placed my candle, had a few mildewed bookspiled up in one corner; and it was covered with writing scratchedon the paint. This writing, however, was nothing but a namerepeated in all kinds of characters, large andsmall—Catherine Earnshaw, here and there varied toCatherineHeathcliff, and then again toCatherine Linton.
In vapid listlessness I leant my head against thewindow, andcontinued spelling over CatherineEarnshaw—Heathcliff—Linton, till my eyes closed; butthey had not rested five minutes when a glare of white lettersstarted from the dark, as vivid as spectres—the air swarmedwith Catherines; and rousing myself to dispel the obtrusive name, Idiscovered my candle-wick reclining on one of the antique volumes,and perfuming the place with an odour of roasted calf-skin. Isnuffed it off, and, very ill at ease under the influence of coldand lingering nausea, satup and spread open the injured tome on myknee. It was a Testament, in lean type, and smellingdreadfully musty: a fly-leaf bore theinscription—‘Catherine Earnshaw, her book,’ and adate some quarter of a century back. I shut it, and took upanother andanother, till I had examined all. Catherine’s library was select, and its state of dilapidationproved it to have been well used, though not altogether for alegitimate purpose: scarcely one chapter had escaped, a pen-and-inkcommentary—at least the appearance of one—coveringevery morsel of blank that the printer had left. Some weredetached sentences; other parts took the form of a regular diary,scrawled in an unformed, childish hand. At the top of anextra page (quite a treasure, probably, when first lighted on) Iwas greatly amused to behold an excellent caricature of my friendJoseph,—rudely, yet powerfully sketched. An immediateinterest kindled within me for the unknown Catherine, and I beganforthwith to decipher her faded hieroglyphics.
‘An awful Sunday,’ commenced the paragraphbeneath. ‘I wish my father were back again. Hindley is a detestable substitute—his conduct to Heathcliffis atrocious—H. and I are going to rebel—we took ourinitiatory step this evening.
‘All day had been flooding with rain; we could not go tochurch, so Joseph must needs get up a congregation in the garret;and, while Hindley and his wife basked downstairs before acomfortable fire—doing anything but reading their Bibles,I’ll answer for it—Heathcliff, myself, and the unhappyploughboy were commanded to take our prayer-books, and mount: wewere ranged in a row, on a sack of corn, groaning and shivering,and hoping that Joseph would shiver too, so that he might give us ashort homily for his own sake. A vain idea! The servicelasted precisely three hours; and yet my brother had the face toexclaim, when he saw us descending, “What, donealready?” On Sunday evenings we used to be permitted toplay, if we did not make much noise; now a mere titter issufficient to sendus into corners.
‘“You forget you have a master here,” says thetyrant. “I’ll demolish the first who puts me outof temper! I insist on perfect sobriety and silence. Oh, boy! was that you? Frances darling, pull his hair as yougo by: I heard him snaphis fingers.” Frances pulled hishair heartily, and then went and seated herself on herhusband’s knee, and there they were, like two babies, kissingand talking nonsense by the hour—foolish palaver that weshould be ashamed of. We made ourselves as snugas our meansallowed in the arch of the dresser. I had just fastened ourpinafores together, and hung them up for a curtain, when in comesJoseph, on an errand from the stables. He tears down myhandiwork, boxes my ears, and croaks:
‘“T’ maister nobbutjust buried, and Sabbathnot o’ered, und t’ sound o’ t’ gospel stilli’ yer lugs, and ye darr be laiking! Shame on ye! sitye down, ill childer! there’s good books eneugh ifye’ll read ’em: sit ye down, and think o’ yersowls!”
‘Saying this, he compelledus so to square our positionsthat we might receive from the far-off fire a dull ray to show usthe text of the lumber he thrust upon us. I could not bearthe employment. I took my dingy volume by the scroop, andhurled it into the dog-kennel, vowing I hated a good book. Heathcliff kicked his to the same place. Then there was ahubbub!
‘“Maister Hindley!” shouted ourchaplain. “Maister, coom hither! MissCathy’s riven th’ back off ‘Th’ Helmeto’ Salvation,’ un’ Heathcliff’s pawsed hisfit into t’ first part o’ ‘T’ Brooad Way toDestruction!’ It’s fair flaysome that ye let’em go on this gait. Ech! th’ owd man wadha’ laced ’em properly—but he’sgoan!”
‘Hindley hurried up from his paradise on the hearth, andseizing one of us by the collar, and the other by the arm, hurledboth into the back-kitchen; where, Joseph asseverated, “owdNick” would fetch us as sure as we were living: and, socomforted, we each sought a separate nook to await hisadvent. I reached this book, and a pot of ink from a shelf,and pushed the house-door ajar to give me light, and I have got thetime on with writing for twenty minutes; but my companion isimpatient, and proposes that we should appropriate thedairywoman’s cloak, and have a scamper on the moors, underits shelter. A pleasantsuggestion—and then, if the surlyold man come in, he may believe his prophecy verified—wecannot be damper, or colder, in the rain than we arehere.’
* * * * * *
I suppose Catherine fulfilled her project, for the next sentencetook up another subject: she waxed lachrymose.
‘How little did I dream that Hindley would ever make mecry so!’ she wrote. ‘My head aches, till I cannotkeep it on the pillow; and still I can’t give over. Poor Heathcliff! Hindley calls him a vagabond, andwon’t let himsit with us, nor eat with us any more; and, hesays, he and I must not play together, and threatens to turn himout of the house if we break his orders. He has been blamingour father (how dared he?) for treating H. too liberally; andswears he will reduce him to his right place—’
* * * * * *
I began to nod drowsily over the dim page: my eye wandered frommanuscript to print. I saw a red ornamentedtitle—‘Seventy Times Seven, and the First of theSeventy-First. A Pious Discourse delivered by the ReverendJabezBranderham, in the Chapel of Gimmerden Sough.’ Andwhile I was, half-consciously, worrying my brain to guess whatJabez Branderham would make of his subject, I sank back in bed, andfell asleep. Alas, for the effects of bad tea and badtemper! What else could it be that made me pass such aterrible night? I don’t remember another that I can atall compare with it since I was capable of suffering.
I began to dream, almost before I ceased to be sensible of mylocality. I thought it was morning; andI had set out on myway home, with Joseph for a guide. The snow lay yards deep inour road; and, as we floundered on, my companion wearied me withconstant reproaches that I had not brought a pilgrim’s staff:telling me that I could never get into the house without one, andboastfully flourishing a heavy-headed cudgel, which I understood tobe so denominated. For a moment I considered it absurd that Ishould need such a weapon to gain admittance into my ownresidence. Then a new idea flashed across me. I was notgoing there: we were journeying to hear the famous Jabez Branderhampreach, from the text—‘Seventy Times Seven;’ andeither Joseph, the preacher, or I had committed the ‘First ofthe Seventy-First,’ and were to be publicly exposed andexcommunicated.
We came to the chapel. I have passed it really in mywalks, twice or thrice; it lies in a hollow, between two hills: anelevated hollow, near a swamp, whose peaty moisture is said toanswer all the purposes of embalming on the few corpsesdepositedthere. The roof has been kept whole hitherto; but asthe clergyman’s stipend is only twenty pounds per annum, anda house with two rooms, threatening speedily to determine into one,no clergyman will undertake the duties of pastor: especially as itis currently reported that his flock would rather let him starvethan increase the living by one penny from their own pockets. However, in my dream, Jabez had a full and attentive congregation;and he preached—good God! what a sermon; divided intofourhundredand ninetyparts, each fully equal to an ordinary addressfrom the pulpit, and each discussing a separate sin! Wherehesearched for them, I cannot tell. He had his private mannerof interpreting the phrase, and it seemed necessary the brothershould sindifferent sins on every occasion. They were of themost curious character: odd transgressions that I never imaginedpreviously.
Oh, how weary I grow. How I writhed, and yawned, andnodded, and revived! How I pinched and pricked myself, andrubbed my eyes, and stood up, and sat down again, and nudged Josephto inform me if he wouldeverhave done. I was condemned tohear all out: finally, he reached the ‘First of theSeventy-First.’ At that crisis, a sudden inspirationdescended on me; I was moved to rise and denounce Jabez Branderhamas the sinner of the sin that no Christian need pardon.
‘Sir,’ I exclaimed, ‘sitting here within thesefour walls, at one stretch, I have endured and forgiven the fourhundred and ninety heads of your discourse. Seventy timesseven times have I plucked up my hat and been about todepart—Seventy times seven times have you preposterouslyforced me to resume my seat. The four hundred andninety-first is too much. Fellow-martyrs, have at him! Drag him down, and crush him toatoms, that the place which knowshim may know him no more!’
‘Thou art the Man!’ cried Jabez, after a solemnpause, leaning over his cushion. ‘Seventy times seventimes didst thou gapingly contort thy visage—seventy timesseven did I take counsel with mysoul—Lo, this is humanweakness: this also may be absolved! The First of theSeventy-First is come. Brethren, execute upon him thejudgment written. Such honour have all His saints!’
With that concluding word, the whole assembly, exalting theirpilgrim’s staves, rushed round me in a body; and I, having noweapon to raise in self-defence, commenced grappling with Joseph,my nearest and most ferocious assailant, for his. In theconfluence of the multitude, several clubs crossed; blows, aimed atme, fellon other sconces. Presently the whole chapelresounded with rappings and counter rappings: every man’shand was against his neighbour; and Branderham, unwilling to remainidle, poured forth his zeal in a shower of loud taps on the boardsof the pulpit, which responded so smartly that, at last, to myunspeakable relief, they woke me. And what was it that hadsuggested the tremendous tumult? What had playedJabez’s part in the row? Merely the branch of afir-tree that touched my lattice as the blast wailed by, andrattled its dry cones against the panes! I listeneddoubtingly an instant; detected the disturber, then turned anddozed, and dreamt again: if possible, still more disagreeably thanbefore.
This time, I remembered I was lying in the oak closet,and Iheard distinctly the gusty wind, and the driving of the snow; Iheard, also, the fir bough repeat its teasing sound, and ascribedit to the right cause: but it annoyed me so much, that I resolvedto silence it, if possible; and, I thought, I rose andendeavouredto unhasp the casement. The hook was soldered into thestaple: a circumstance observed by me when awake, butforgotten. ‘I must stop it, nevertheless!’ Imuttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching anarm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, myfingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! Theintense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back myarm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voicesobbed,‘Let me in—let mein!’ ‘Who areyou?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengagemyself. ‘Catherine Linton,’ it replied,shiveringly (why did I think ofLinton? I hadreadEarnshawtwenty times for Linton)—‘I’m comehome: I’d lost my way on the moor!’ As it spoke,Idiscerned, obscurely, a child’s face looking through thewindow. Terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless toattempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to thebroken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down andsoaked the bedclothes: still it wailed, ‘Let me in!’and maintained its tenacious grip, almost maddening me withfear. ‘How can I!’ I said at length. ‘Letmego, if you want me to let you in!’ Thefingers relaxed, I snatched mine through the hole, hurriedly piledthe books up in a pyramid against it, and stopped my ears toexclude the lamentable prayer. I seemed to keep them closedabove a quarter of an hour; yet, the instant I listened again,there was the doleful cry moaning on! ‘Begone!’ Ishouted. ‘I’ll neverlet you in, not if you begfor twenty years.’ ‘It is twenty years,’mourned the voice: ‘twenty years. I’ve been awaif for twenty years!’ Thereat began a feeblescratching outside, and the pile of books moved as if thrustforward. I tried to jump up;but could not stir a limb; and soyelled aloud, in a frenzy of fright. To my confusion, Idiscovered the yell was not ideal: hasty footsteps approached mychamber door; somebody pushed it open, with a vigorous hand, and alight glimmered through the squares at the top of the bed. Isat shuddering yet, and wiping the perspiration from my forehead:the intruder appeared to hesitate, and muttered to himself. At last, he said, in a half-whisper, plainly not expecting ananswer, ‘Is any one here?’ I considered it bestto confess my presence; for I knew Heathcliff’s accents, andfeared he might search further, if I kept quiet. With thisintention, I turned and opened the panels. I shall not soonforget the effect my action produced.
Heathcliff stood near theentrance, in his shirt and trousers;with a candle dripping over his fingers, and his face as white asthe wall behind him. The first creak of the oak startled himlike an electric shock: the light leaped from his hold to adistance of some feet, and hisagitation was so extreme, that hecould hardly pick it up.
‘It is only your guest, sir,’ I called out, desirousto spare him the humiliation of exposing his cowardicefurther. ‘I had the misfortune to scream in my sleep,owing to a frightful nightmare. I’m sorry I disturbedyou.’
‘Oh, God confound you, Mr. Lockwood! I wish you wereat the—’ commenced my host, setting the candle on achair, because he found it impossible to hold it steady. ‘And who showed you up into this room?’ he continued,crushing his nails into his palms, and grinding his teeth to subduethe maxillary convulsions. ‘Who was it? I’ve a good mind to turn them out of the house thismoment?’
‘It was your servant Zillah,’ I replied, flingingmyself on to the floor, and rapidly resumingmy garments. ‘I should not care if you did, Mr. Heathcliff; she richlydeserves it. I suppose that she wanted to get another proofthat the place was haunted, at my expense. Well, itis—swarming with ghosts and goblins! You have reason inshutting it up, I assure you. No one will thank you for adoze in such a den!’
‘What do you mean?’ asked Heathcliff, ‘andwhat are you doing? Lie down and finish out the night, sinceyouarehere; but, for heaven’s sake! don’t repeat thathorrid noise: nothing couldexcuse it, unless you were having yourthroat cut!’
‘If the little fiend had got in at the window, sheprobably would have strangled me!’ I returned. ‘I’m not going to endure the persecutions of yourhospitable ancestors again. Was not the ReverendJabezBranderham akin to you on the mother’s side? Andthat minx, Catherine Linton, or Earnshaw, or however she wascalled—she must have been a changeling—wicked littlesoul! She told me she had been walking the earth these twentyyears: a just punishment forher mortal transgressions, I’veno doubt!’
Scarcely were these words uttered when I recollected theassociation of Heathcliff’s with Catherine’s name inthe book, which had completely slipped from my memory, till thusawakened. I blushed at my inconsideration: but, withoutshowing further consciousness of the offence, I hastened toadd—‘The truth is, sir, I passed the first part of thenight in—’ Here I stopped afresh—I wasabout to say ‘perusing those old volumes,’ then itwould have revealed my knowledge of their written, as well as theirprinted, contents; so, correcting myself, I went on—‘inspelling over the name scratched on that window-ledge. Amonotonous occupation, calculated to set me asleep, like counting,or—’
‘Whatcanyou mean by talking inthis way tome!’thundered Heathcliff with savage vehemence. ‘How—howdareyou, under my roof?—God! he’smad to speak so!’ And he struck his forehead withrage.
I did not know whether to resent this language or pursue myexplanation; but he seemed so powerfully affected that I took pityand proceeded with my dreams; affirming I had never heard theappellation of ‘Catherine Linton’ before, but readingit often over produced an impression which personified itself whenI had no longer my imagination under control. Heathcliffgradually fell back into the shelter of the bed, as I spoke;finally sitting down almost concealed behind it. I guessed,however, by his irregular and intercepted breathing, that hestruggled to vanquish an excess of violent emotion. Not likingto show him that I had heard the conflict, I continued my toiletterather noisily, looked at my watch, and soliloquised on the lengthof the night: ‘Not three o’clock yet! I couldhave taken oath it had been six. Time stagnates here: we mustsurely have retired to rest at eight!’
‘Always at nine in winter, and rise at four,’ saidmy host, suppressing a groan: and, as I fancied, by the motion ofhis arm’s shadow, dashing a tear from his eyes. ‘Mr. Lockwood,’ he added, ‘you may go into myroom:you’ll only be in the way, coming down-stairs so early:and your childish outcry has sent sleep to the devil forme.’
‘And for me, too,’ I replied. ‘I’ll walk in the yard till daylight, and thenI’ll be off; and you need not dread a repetition of myintrusion. I’m now quite cured of seeking pleasure insociety, be it country or town. A sensible man ought to findsufficient company in himself.’
‘Delightful company!’ muttered Heathcliff. ‘Take the candle, and go where you please. I shall joinyou directly. Keep out of the yard, though, the dogs areunchained; and thehouse—Juno mounts sentinel there,and—nay, you can only ramble about the steps andpassages. But, away with you! I’ll come in twominutes!’
I obeyed, so far as to quit the chamber; when, ignorant wherethe narrow lobbies led, I stood still, and was witness,involuntarily, to a piece of superstition on the part of mylandlord which belied, oddly, his apparent sense. He got onto the bed, and wrenched open the lattice, bursting, as he pulledatit, into an uncontrollable passion of tears. ‘Come in!come in!’ he sobbed. ‘Cathy, do come. Oh,do—oncemore! Oh! my heart’s darling! hearmethistime, Catherine, at last!’ The spectre showed aspectre’s ordinary caprice: it gave no sign of being; but thesnow and wind whirled wildly through, even reaching my station, andblowing out the light.
There was such anguish in the gush of grief that accompaniedthis raving, that my compassion made me overlook its folly, and Idrew off, half angry to have listened at all, and vexed at havingrelated my ridiculous nightmare, since it produced that agony;thoughwhywas beyond my comprehension. I descended cautiouslyto the lower regions, and landed in the back-kitchen, where a gleamof fire, raked compactly together, enabled me to rekindle mycandle. Nothing was stirring except a brindled, grey cat,which crept from the ashes, and saluted me with a querulousmew.
Two benches, shaped in sections of a circle, nearly enclosed thehearth; on one of these Istretched myself, and Grimalkin mountedthe other. We were both of us nodding ere any one invaded ourretreat, and then it was Joseph, shuffling down a wooden ladderthat vanished in the roof, through a trap: the ascent to hisgarret, I suppose. He casta sinister look at the little flamewhich I had enticed to play between the ribs, swept the cat fromits elevation, and bestowing himself in the vacancy, commenced theoperation of stuffing a three-inch pipe with tobacco. Mypresence in his sanctum was evidently esteemed a piece of impudencetoo shameful for remark: he silently applied the tube to his lips,folded his arms, and puffed away. I let him enjoy the luxuryunannoyed; and after sucking out his last wreath, and heaving aprofound sigh, he got up,and departed as solemnly as he came.
A more elastic footstep entered next; and now I opened my mouthfor a ‘good-morning,’ but closed it again, thesalutation unachieved; for Hareton Earnshaw was performing hisorisonsotto voce, in a series of curses directed against everyobject he touched, while he rummaged a corner for a spade or shovelto dig through the drifts. He glanced over the back of thebench, dilating his nostrils, and thought as little of exchangingcivilities with me as with my companion the cat. I guessed,by his preparations, that egress was allowed, and, leaving my hardcouch, made a movement to follow him. He noticed this, andthrust at an inner door with the end of his spade, intimating by aninarticulate sound that there was the place where I must go, if Ichanged my locality.
It opened into the house, where the females were already astir;Zillah urging flakes of flame up the chimney with a colossalbellows; and Mrs. Heathcliff, kneeling on the hearth, reading abook by the aid of theblaze. She held her hand interposedbetween the furnace-heat and her eyes, and seemed absorbed in heroccupation; desisting from it only to chide the servant forcovering her with sparks, or to push away a dog, now and then, thatsnoozled itsnose overforwardly into her face. I was surprisedto see Heathcliff there also. He stood by the fire, his backtowards me, just finishing a stormy scene with poor Zillah; whoever and anon interrupted her labour to pluck up the corner of herapron, and heave an indignant groan.
‘And you, you worthless—’ he broke out as Ientered, turning to his daughter-in-law, and employing an epithetas harmless as duck, or sheep, but generally represented by adash—. ‘There you are, at your idle tricksagain! The rest of them do earn their bread—you live onmy charity! Put your trash away, and find something todo. You shall pay me for the plague of having you eternallyin my sight—do you hear, damnable jade?’
‘I’ll put my trash away, because you can make me ifI refuse,’ answered the young lady, closing her book, andthrowing it on a chair. ‘But I’ll not doanything, though you should swear your tongue out, except what Iplease!’
Heathcliff lifted his hand, and the speaker sprang to a saferdistance, obviously acquainted withits weight. Having nodesire to be entertained by a cat-and-dog combat, I stepped forwardbriskly, as if eager to partake the warmth of the hearth, andinnocent of any knowledge of the interrupted dispute. Eachhad enough decorum to suspend further hostilities: Heathcliffplaced his fists, out of temptation, in his pockets; Mrs.Heathcliff curled her lip, and walked to a seat far off, where shekept her word by playing the part of a statue during the remainderof my stay. That was not long. I declinedjoining theirbreakfast, and, at the first gleam of dawn, took an opportunity ofescaping into the free air, now clear, and still, and cold asimpalpable ice.
My landlord halloed for me to stop ere I reached the bottom ofthe garden, and offered to accompany me across the moor. Itwas well he did, for the whole hill-back was one billowy, whiteocean; the swells and falls not indicating corresponding rises anddepressions in the ground: many pits, at least, were filled to alevel; and entire ranges of mounds, the refuse of the quarries,blotted from the chart which my yesterday’s walk leftpictured in my mind. I had remarked on one side of the road,at intervals of six or seven yards, a line of upright stones,continued through the whole length of the barren: these wereerected and daubed with lime on purpose to serve as guides in thedark, and also when a fall, like the present, confounded the deepswamps on either hand with the firmer path: but, excepting a dirtydot pointing up here and there, all tracesof their existence hadvanished: and my companion found it necessary to warn me frequentlyto steer to the right or left, when I imagined I was following,correctly, the windings of the road.
We exchanged little conversation, and he halted at theentranceof Thrushcross Park, saying, I could make no errorthere. Our adieux were limited to a hasty bow, and then Ipushed forward, trusting to my own resources; for theporter’s lodge is untenanted as yet. The distance fromthe gate to the grange is two miles;I believe I managed to make itfour, what with losing myself among the trees, and sinking up tothe neck in snow: a predicament which only those who haveexperienced it can appreciate. At any rate, whatever were mywanderings, the clock chimed twelve asI entered the house; and thatgave exactly an hour for every mile of the usual way from WutheringHeights.
My human fixture and her satellites rushed to welcome me;exclaiming, tumultuously, they had completely given me up:everybody conjectured that I perished last night; and they werewondering how they must set about the search for my remains. I bid them be quiet, now that they saw me returned, and, benumbedto my very heart, I dragged up-stairs; whence, after putting on dryclothes, and pacing to and fro thirty or forty minutes, to restorethe animal heat, I adjourned to my study, feeble as a kitten:almost too much so to enjoy the cheerful fire and smoking coffeewhich the servant had prepared for my refreshment.
What vain weathercocks we are! I, who had determined tohold myself independent of all social intercourse, and thanked mystars that, at length, I had lighted on a spot where it was next toimpracticable—I, weak wretch, after maintaining till dusk astruggle with low spirits and solitude, was finally compelled tostrike my colours; and under pretence of gaining informationconcerning the necessities of my establishment, I desired Mrs.Dean, when she brought in supper, to sit down while I ate it;hoping sincerely she would prove a regular gossip, and either rouseme to animation or lull me to sleep by her talk.
‘You have lived here a considerable time,’ Icommenced; ‘did you not say sixteen years?’
‘Eighteen, sir: I came when the mistress was married, towait on her; after she died, the master retained me for hishousekeeper.’
There ensued a pause. She was not a gossip, I feared;unless about her own affairs, and those could hardly interestme. However, having studied for an interval, with a fist oneither knee, and a cloudof meditation over her ruddy countenance,she ejaculated—‘Ah, times are greatly changed sincethen!’
‘Yes,’ I remarked, ‘you’ve seen a goodmany alterations, I suppose?’
‘I have: and troubles too,’ she said.
‘Oh, I’ll turn the talk on my landlord’sfamily!’ I thought to myself. ‘A good subject tostart! And that pretty girl-widow, I should like to know herhistory: whether she be a native of the country, or, as is moreprobable, an exotic that the surlyindigenaewill not recognise forkin.’ With this intention I asked Mrs. Dean whyHeathcliff let Thrushcross Grange, and preferred living in asituation and residence so much inferior. ‘Is he notrich enough to keep the estate in good order?’ Iinquired.
‘Rich, sir!’ she returned. ‘He hasnobody knows what money, and every year it increases. Yes,yes, he’s rich enough to live in a finer house than this: buthe’s very near—close-handed; and, if he had meant toflit to Thrushcross Grange, as soon as he heard of a good tenant hecould not have borne to missthe chance of getting a few hundredsmore. It is strange people should be so greedy, when they arealone in the world!’
‘He had a son, it seems?’
‘Yes, he had one—he is dead.’
‘And that young lady, Mrs. Heathcliff, is hiswidow?’
‘Where did she come from originally?’
‘Why, sir, she is my late master’s daughter:Catherine Linton was her maiden name. I nursed her, poorthing! I did wish Mr. Heathcliff would remove here, and thenwe might have been together again.’
‘What! Catherine Linton?’ Iexclaimed,astonished. But a minute’s reflection convinced me itwas not my ghostly Catherine. ‘Then,’ Icontinued, ‘my predecessor’s name wasLinton?’
‘And who is that Earnshaw: Hareton Earnshaw, who liveswith Mr. Heathcliff? Are they relations?’
‘No; he is the late Mrs. Linton’s nephew.’
‘The young lady’s cousin, then?’
‘Yes; and her husband was her cousin also: one on themother’s, the other on the father’s side: Heathcliffmarried Mr. Linton’s sister.’
‘I see the house at Wuthering Heightshas“Earnshaw” carved over the front door. Are theyan old family?’
‘Very old, sir; and Hareton is the last of them, as ourMiss Cathy is of us—I mean, of the Lintons. Have youbeen to Wuthering Heights? I beg pardon for asking; but Ishould like to hear how she is!’
‘Mrs. Heathcliff? she looked very well, and very handsome;yet, I think, not very happy.’
‘Oh dear, I don’t wonder! And how did you likethe master?’
‘A rough fellow, rather, Mrs. Dean. Is not that hischaracter?
‘Rough as a saw-edge, andhard as whinstone! The lessyou meddle with him the better.’
‘He must have had some ups and downs in life to make himsuch a churl. Do you know anything of his history?’
‘It’s a cuckoo’s, sir—I know all aboutit: except where he was born, and who were his parents, and how hegot his money at first. And Hareton has been cast out like anunfledged dunnock! The unfortunate lad is the only one in allthis parish that does not guess how he has been cheated.’
‘Well, Mrs. Dean, it will be a charitable deed totell mesomething of my neighbours: I feel I shall not rest if I go to bed;so be good enough to sit and chat an hour.’
‘Oh, certainly, sir! I’ll just fetch a littlesewing, and then I’ll sit as long as you please. Butyou’ve caught cold: I saw you shivering, and you must havesome gruel to drive it out.’
The worthy woman bustled off, and I crouched nearer the fire; myhead felt hot, and the rest of me chill: moreover, I was excited,almost to a pitch of foolishness, through my nerves andbrain. This caused me to feel, not uncomfortable, but ratherfearful (as I am still) of serious effects from the incidents ofto-day and yesterday. She returned presently, bringing asmoking basin and a basket of work; and, having placed the formeron the hob, drew inher seat, evidently pleased to find me socompanionable.