“The first thing Mrs. Linton did,” she said, “on her arrival at the Heights, was to run upstairs, 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 saving, 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.