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Wuthering Heights, Page 2

Emily Brontë


  Yesterday afternoon set in misty and cold. I had half a mind to spend itby my study fire, instead of wading through heath and mud to WutheringHeights. On coming up from dinner, however, (N.B.--I dine between twelveand one o'clock; the housekeeper, a matronly lady, taken as a fixturealong with the house, could not, or would not, comprehend my request thatI might be served at five)--on mounting the stairs with this lazyintention, and stepping into the room, I saw a servant-girl on her kneessurrounded by brushes and coal-scuttles, and raising an infernal dust asshe extinguished the flames with heaps of cinders. This spectacle droveme back immediately; I took my hat, and, after a four-miles' walk,arrived at Heathcliff'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 airmade me shiver through every limb. Being unable to remove the chain, Ijumped over, and, running up the flagged causeway bordered withstraggling gooseberry-bushes, knocked vainly for admittance, till myknuckles tingled and the dogs howled.

  'Wretched inmates!' I ejaculated, mentally, 'you deserve perpetualisolation from your species for your churlish inhospitality. At least, Iwould not keep my doors barred in the day-time. I don't care--I will getin!' So resolved, I grasped the latch and shook it vehemently.Vinegar-faced Joseph projected his head from a round window of the barn.

  'What are ye for?' he shouted. 'T' maister's down i' t' fowld. Go roundby th' end o' t' laith, if ye went to spake to him.'

  'Is there nobody inside to open the door?' I hallooed, responsively.

  'There's nobbut t' missis; and shoo'll not oppen 't an ye mak' yerflaysome dins till neeght.'

  'Why? Cannot you tell her whom I am, eh, Joseph?'

  'Nor-ne me! I'll hae no hend wi't,' muttered the head, vanishing.

  The snow began to drive thickly. I seized the handle to essay anothertrial; when a young man without coat, and shouldering a pitchfork,appeared in the yard behind. He hailed me to follow him, and, aftermarching through a wash-house, and a paved area containing a coal-shed,pump, and pigeon-cot, we at length arrived in the huge, warm, cheerfulapartment where I was formerly received. It glowed delightfully in theradiance of an immense fire, compounded of coal, peat, and wood; and nearthe table, laid for a plentiful evening meal, I was pleased to observethe 'missis,' an individual whose existence I had never previouslysuspected. I bowed and waited, thinking she would bid me take a seat.She looked at me, leaning back in her chair, and remained motionless andmute.

  'Rough weather!' I remarked. 'I'm afraid, Mrs. Heathcliff, the door mustbear the consequence of your servants' leisure attendance: I had hardwork to make them hear me.'

  She never opened her mouth. I stared--she stared also: at any rate, shekept her eyes on me in a cool, regardless manner, exceedinglyembarrassing and disagreeable.

  'Sit down,' said the young man, gruffly. 'He'll be in soon.'

  I obeyed; and hemmed, and called the villain Juno, who deigned, at thissecond interview, to move the extreme tip of her tail, in token of owningmy acquaintance.

  'A beautiful animal!' I commenced again. 'Do you intend parting with thelittle ones, madam?'

  'They are not mine,' said the amiable hostess, more repellingly thanHeathcliff himself could have replied.

  'Ah, your favourites are among these?' I continued, turning to an obscurecushion full of something like cats.

  'A strange choice of favourites!' she observed scornfully.

  Unluckily, it was a heap of dead rabbits. I hemmed once more, and drewcloser to the hearth, repeating my comment on the wildness of theevening.

  'You should not have come out,' she said, rising and reaching from thechimney-piece two of the painted canisters.

  Her position before was sheltered from the light; now, I had a distinctview of her whole figure and countenance. She was slender, andapparently scarcely past girlhood: an admirable form, and the mostexquisite little face that I have ever had the pleasure of beholding;small features, very fair; flaxen ringlets, or rather golden, hangingloose on her delicate neck; and eyes, had they been agreeable inexpression, that would have been irresistible: fortunately for mysusceptible heart, the only sentiment they evinced hovered between scornand a kind of desperation, singularly unnatural to be detected there. Thecanisters were almost out of her reach; I made a motion to aid her; sheturned upon me as a miser might turn if any one attempted to assist himin counting his gold.

  '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 an apron over her neat blackfrock, and standing with a spoonful of the 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 the proper person to ask me.'

  She flung the tea back, spoon and all, and resumed her chair in a pet;her forehead corrugated, and her red under-lip pushed out, like a child'sready to cry.

  Meanwhile, the young man had slung on to his person a decidedly shabbyupper garment, and, erecting himself before the blaze, looked down on mefrom the corner of his eyes, for all the world as if there were somemortal feud unavenged between us. I began to doubt whether he were aservant or not: his dress and speech were both rude, entirely devoid ofthe superiority observable in Mr. and Mrs. Heathcliff; his thick browncurls were rough and uncultivated, his whiskers encroached bearishly overhis cheeks, and his hands were embrowned like those of a common labourer:still his bearing was free, almost haughty, and he showed none of adomestic's assiduity in attending on the lady of the house. In theabsence of clear proofs of his condition, I deemed it best to abstainfrom noticing his curious conduct; and, five minutes afterwards, theentrance of Heathcliff relieved me, in some measure, from myuncomfortable state.

  'You see, sir, I am come, according to promise!' I exclaimed, assumingthe cheerful; 'and I fear I shall be weather-bound for half an hour, ifyou can afford me shelter during that space.'

  'Half an hour?' he said, shaking the white flakes from his clothes; 'Iwonder you should select the thick of a snow-storm to ramble about in. Doyou know that you run a risk of being lost in the marshes? Peoplefamiliar with these moors often miss their road on such evenings; and Ican tell you there is no chance of a change at present.'

  'Perhaps I can get a guide among your lads, and he might stay at theGrange till morning--could you spare me one?'

  'No, I could not.'

  'Oh, indeed! Well, then, I must trust to my own sagacity.'


  'Are you going to mak' the tea?' demanded he of the shabby coat, shiftinghis ferocious gaze from me to the young lady.

  'Is _he_ to have any?' she asked, appealing to Heathcliff.

  'Get it ready, will you?' was the answer, uttered so savagely that Istarted. The tone in which the words were said revealed a genuine badnature. I no longer felt inclined to call Heathcliff a capital fellow.When the preparations were finished, he invited me with--'Now, sir, bringforward your chair.' And we all, including the rustic youth, drew roundthe table: an austere silence prevailing while we discussed our meal.

  I thought, if I had caused the cloud, it was my duty to make an effort todispel it. They could not every day sit so grim and taciturn; and it wasimpossible, however ill-tempered they might be, that the universal scowlthey wore was their every-day countenance.

  'It is strange,' I began, in the interval of swallowing one cup of teaand receiving another--'it is strange how custom can mould our tastes andideas: many could not imagine the existence of happiness in a life ofsuch complete exile from the world as you spend, Mr. Heathcliff; yet,I'll venture to say, that, surrounded by your family, and with youramiable lady as the presiding genius over your home and heart--'

  'My amiable lady!' he interrupted, with an almost diabolical sneer on hisface. 'Where is she--my amiable lady?'

bsp; 'Mrs. Heathcliff, your wife, I mean.'

  'Well, yes--oh, you would intimate that her spirit has taken the post ofministering angel, and guards the fortunes of Wuthering Heights, evenwhen her body is gone. Is that it?'

  Perceiving myself in a blunder, I attempted to correct it. I might haveseen there was too great a disparity between the ages of the parties tomake it likely that they were man and wife. One was about forty: aperiod of mental vigour at which men seldom cherish the delusion of beingmarried for love by girls: that dream is reserved for the solace of ourdeclining years. The other did not look seventeen.

  Then it flashed upon me--'The clown at my elbow, who is drinking his teaout of a basin and eating his bread with unwashed hands, may be herhusband: Heathcliff junior, of course. Here is the consequence of beingburied alive: she has thrown herself away upon that boor from sheerignorance that better individuals existed! A sad pity--I must beware howI cause her to regret her choice.' The last reflection may seemconceited; it was not. My neighbour struck me as bordering on repulsive;I knew, through experience, that I was tolerably attractive.

  'Mrs. Heathcliff is my daughter-in-law,' said Heathcliff, corroboratingmy surmise. He turned, as he spoke, a peculiar look in her direction: alook of hatred; unless he has a most perverse set of facial muscles thatwill not, like those of other people, interpret the language of his soul.

  'Ah, certainly--I see now: you are the favoured possessor of thebeneficent fairy,' I remarked, turning to my neighbour.

  This was worse than before: the youth grew crimson, and clenched hisfist, with every appearance of a meditated assault. But he seemed torecollect himself presently, and smothered the storm in a brutal curse,muttered on my behalf: which, however, I took care not to notice.

  'Unhappy in your conjectures, sir,' observed my host; 'we neither of ushave the privilege of owning your good fairy; her mate is dead. I saidshe was my daughter-in-law: therefore, she must have married my son.'

  'And this young man is--'

  'Not my son, assuredly.'

  Heathcliff smiled again, as if it were rather too bold a jest toattribute the paternity of that bear to him.

  'My name is Hareton Earnshaw,' growled the other; 'and I'd counsel you torespect it!'

  'I've shown no disrespect,' was my reply, laughing internally at thedignity with which he announced himself.

  He fixed his eye on me longer than I cared to return the stare, for fearI might be tempted either to box his ears or render my hilarity audible.I began to feel unmistakably out of place in that pleasant family circle.The dismal spiritual atmosphere overcame, and more than neutralised, theglowing physical 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 a word ofsociable conversation, I approached a window to examine the weather. Asorrowful sight I saw: dark night coming down prematurely, and sky andhills mingled in one bitter whirl of wind and suffocating snow.

  'I don't think it possible for me to get home now without a guide,' Icould not help exclaiming. 'The roads will be buried already; and, ifthey were bare, I could scarcely distinguish a foot in advance.'

  'Hareton, drive those dozen sheep into the barn porch. They'll becovered if left in the fold all night: and put a plank before them,' saidHeathcliff.

  'How must I do?' I continued, with rising irritation.

  There was no reply to my question; and on looking round I saw only Josephbringing in a pail of porridge for the dogs, and Mrs. Heathcliff leaningover the fire, diverting herself with burning a bundle of matches whichhad fallen from the chimney-piece as she restored the tea-canister to itsplace. The former, when he had deposited his burden, took a criticalsurvey of the room, and in cracked tones grated out--'Aw wonder how yahcan faishion to stand thear i' idleness un war, when all on 'ems goanout! Bud yah're a nowt, and it's no use talking--yah'll niver mend o'yerill ways, but goa raight to t' divil, like yer mother afore ye!'

  I imagined, for a moment, that this piece of eloquence was addressed tome; and, sufficiently enraged, stepped towards the aged rascal with anintention 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 ofbeing carried away bodily, whenever you mention the devil's name? I warnyou to refrain from provoking me, or I'll ask your abduction as a specialfavour! Stop! look here, Joseph,' she continued, taking a long, darkbook from a shelf; 'I'll show you how far I've progressed in the BlackArt: I shall soon be competent to make a clear house of it. The red cowdidn't die by chance; and your rheumatism can hardly be reckoned amongprovidential visitations!'

  'Oh, wicked, wicked!' gasped the elder; 'may the Lord deliver us fromevil!'

  'No, reprobate! you are a castaway--be off, or I'll hurt you seriously!I'll have you all modelled in wax and clay! and the first who passes thelimits I fix shall--I'll not say what he shall be done to--but, you'llsee! Go, I'm looking at you!'

  The little witch put a mock malignity into her beautiful eyes, andJoseph, trembling with sincere horror, hurried out, praying, andejaculating 'wicked' as he went. I thought her conduct must be promptedby a species of dreary fun; and, now that we were alone, I endeavoured tointerest her in my distress.

  'Mrs. Heathcliff,' I said earnestly, 'you must excuse me for troublingyou. I presume, because, with that face, I'm sure you cannot help beinggood-hearted. Do point out some landmarks by which I may know my wayhome: I have no more idea how to get there than you would have how to getto London!'

  'Take the road you came,' she answered, ensconcing herself in a chair,with a candle, and the long book open before her. 'It is brief advice,but as sound as I can give.'

  'Then, if you hear of me being discovered dead in a bog or a pit full ofsnow, your conscience won't whisper that it is partly your fault?'

  'How so? I cannot escort you. They wouldn't let me go to the end of thegarden wall.'

  '_You_! I should be sorry to ask you to cross the threshold, for myconvenience, on such a night,' I cried. 'I want you to tell me my way,not to _show_ it: or else to persuade Mr. Heathcliff to give me a guide.'

  'Who? There is himself, Earnshaw, Zillah, Joseph and I. Which would youhave?'

  '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 nothing to do with it.'

  'I hope it will be a lesson to you to make no more rash journeys on thesehills,' cried Heathcliff's stern voice from the kitchen entrance. 'As tostaying here, I don't keep accommodations for visitors: you must share abed with Hareton or Joseph, if you do.'

  'I can sleep on a chair in this room,' I replied.

  'No, no! A stranger is a stranger, be he rich or poor: it will not suitme to permit any one the range of the place while I am off guard!' saidthe unmannerly wretch.

  With this insult my patience was at an end. I uttered an expression ofdisgust, and pushed past him into the yard, running against Earnshaw inmy haste. It was so dark that I could not see the means of exit; and, asI wandered round, I heard another specimen of their civil behaviouramongst each other. At first the young man appeared about to befriendme.

  'I'll go with him as far as the park,' he said.

  'You'll go with him to hell!' exclaimed his master, or whatever relationhe bore. 'And who is to look after the horses, eh?'

  'A man's life is of more consequence than one evening's neglect of thehorses: somebody must go,' murmured Mrs. Heathcliff, more kindly than Iexpected.

  'Not at your command!' retorted Hareton. 'If you set store on him, you'dbetter be quiet.'

  'Then I hope his ghost will haunt you; and I hope Mr. Heathcliff willnever get another tenant till the Grange is a ruin,' she answered,sharply.

  'Hearken, hearken, shoo's cursing on 'em!' muttered Joseph, towards whomI had been steering.

p; He sat within earshot, milking the cows by the light of a lantern, whichI seized unceremoniously, and, calling out that I would send it back onthe morrow, rushed to the nearest postern.

  '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 my throat, bearingme down, and extinguishing the light; while a mingled guffaw fromHeathcliff and Hareton put the copestone on my rage and humiliation.Fortunately, the beasts seemed more bent on stretching their paws, andyawning, and flourishing their tails, than devouring me alive; but theywould suffer no resurrection, and I was forced to lie till theirmalignant masters pleased to deliver me: then, hatless and trembling withwrath, I ordered the miscreants to let me out--on their peril to keep meone minute longer--with several incoherent threats of retaliation that,in their indefinite depth of virulency, smacked of King Lear.

  The vehemence of my agitation brought on a copious bleeding at the nose,and still Heathcliff laughed, and still I scolded. I don't know whatwould have concluded the scene, had there not been one person at handrather more rational than myself, and more benevolent than myentertainer. This was Zillah, the stout housewife; who at length issuedforth to inquire into the nature of the uproar. She thought that some ofthem had been laying violent hands on me; and, not daring to attack hermaster, she turned her vocal artillery against the younger scoundrel.

  'Well, Mr. Earnshaw,' she cried, 'I wonder what you'll have agait next?Are we going to murder folk on our very door-stones? I see this housewill never do for me--look at t' poor lad, he's fair choking! Wisht,wisht; you mun'n't go on so. Come in, and I'll cure that: there now,hold ye still.'

  With these words she suddenly splashed a pint of icy water down my neck,and pulled me into the kitchen. Mr. Heathcliff followed, his accidentalmerriment expiring quickly in his habitual moroseness.

  I was sick exceedingly, and dizzy, and faint; and thus compelled perforceto accept lodgings under his roof. He told Zillah to give me a glass ofbrandy, and then passed on to the inner room; while she condoled with meon my sorry predicament, and having obeyed his orders, whereby I wassomewhat revived, ushered me to bed.