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‘Where else?’ she asked.
He looked vexed, and suggested the kitchen as a more suitable place for him. Mrs. Linton eyed him with a droll expression—half angry, half laughing at his fastidiousness.
‘No,’ she added, after a while; ‘I cannot sit in the kitchen. Set two tables here, Ellen: one for your master and Miss Isabella, being gentry; the other for Heathcliff and myself, being of the lower orders. Will that please you, dear? Or must I have a fire lighted elsewhere? If so, give directions. I’ll run down and secure my guest. I’m afraid the joy is too great to be real!’
She was about to dart off again; but Edgar arrested her.
‘You bid him step up,’ he said, addressing me; ‘and, Catherine, try to be glad, without being absurd. The whole household need not witness the sight of your welcoming a runaway servant as a brother.’
I descended, and found Heathcliff waiting under the porch, evidently anticipating an invitation to enter. He followed my guidance without waste of words, and I ushered him into the presence of the master and mistress, whose flushed cheeks betrayed signs of warm talking. But the lady’s glowed with another feeling when her friend appeared at the door: she sprang forward, took both his hands, and led him to Linton; and then she seized Linton’s reluctant fingers and crushed them into his. Now, fully revealed by the fire and candlelight, I was amazed, more than ever, to behold the transformation of Heathcliff. He had grown a tall, athletic, well-formed man; beside whom my master seemed quite slender and youth-like. His upright carriage suggested the idea of his having been in the army. His countenance was much older in expression and decision of feature than Mr. Linton’s; it looked intelligent, and retained no marks of former degradation. A half-civilised ferocity lurked yet in the depressed brows and eyes full of black fire, but it was subdued; and his manner was even dignified: quite divested of roughness, though stern for grace. My master’s surprise equalled or exceeded mine: he remained for a minute at a loss how to address the ploughboy, as he had called him. Heathcliff dropped his slight hand, and stood looking at him coolly till he chose to speak.
‘Sit down, sir,’ he said, at length. ‘Mrs. Linton, recalling old times, would have me give you a cordial reception; and, of course, I am gratified when anything occurs to please her.’
‘And I also,’ answered Heathcliff, ‘especially if it be anything in which I have a part. I shall stay an hour or two willingly.’
He took a seat opposite Catherine, who kept her gaze fixed on him as if she feared he would vanish were she to remove it. He did not raise his to her often: a quick glance now and then sufficed; but it flashed back, each time more confidently, the undisguised delight he drank from hers. They were too much absorbed in their mutual joy to suffer embarrassment. Not so Mr. Edgar: he grew pale with pure annoyance: a feeling that reached its climax when his lady rose, and stepping across the rug, seized Heathcliff’s hands again, and laughed like one beside herself.
‘I shall think it a dream to-morrow!’ she cried. ‘I shall not be able to believe that I have seen, and touched, and spoken to you once more. And yet, cruel Heathcliff! you don’t deserve this welcome. To be absent and silent for three years, and never to think of me!’
‘A little more than you have thought of me,’ he murmured. ‘I heard of your marriage, Cathy, not long since; and, while waiting in the yard below, I meditated this plan—just to have one glimpse of your face, a stare of surprise, perhaps, and pretended pleasure; afterwards settle my score with Hindley; and then prevent the law by doing execution on myself. Your welcome has put these ideas out of my mind; but beware of meeting me with another aspect next time! Nay, you’ll not drive me off again. You were really sorry for me, were you? Well, there was cause. I’ve fought through a bitter life since I last heard your voice; and you must forgive me, for I struggled only for you!’
‘Catherine, unless we are to have cold tea, please to come to the table,’ interrupted Linton, striving to preserve his ordinary tone, and a due measure of politeness. ‘Mr. Heathcliff will have a long walk, wherever he may lodge to-night; and I’m thirsty.’
She took her post before the urn; and Miss Isabella came, summoned by the bell; then, having handed their chairs forward, I left the room. The meal hardly endured ten minutes. Catherine’s cup was never filled: she could neither eat nor drink. Edgar had made a slop in his saucer, and scarcely swallowed a mouthful. Their guest did not protract his stay that evening above an hour longer. I asked, as he departed, if he went to Gimmerton?
‘No, to Wuthering Heights,’ he answered: ‘Mr. Earnshaw invited me, when I called this morning.’
Mr. Earnshaw invited him! and he called on Mr. Earnshaw! I pondered this sentence painfully, after he was gone. Is he turning out a bit of a hypocrite, and coming into the country to work mischief under a cloak? I mused: I had a presentiment in the bottom of my heart that he had better have remained away.
About the middle of the night, I was wakened from my first nap by Mrs. Linton gliding into my chamber, taking a seat on my bedside, and pulling me by the hair to rouse me.
‘I cannot rest, Ellen,’ she said, by way of apology. ‘And I want some living creature to keep me company in my happiness! Edgar is sulky, because I’m glad of a thing that does not interest him: he refuses to open his mouth, except to utter pettish, silly speeches; and he affirmed I was cruel and selfish for wishing to talk when he was so sick and sleepy. He always contrives to be sick at the least cross! I gave a few sentences of commendation to Heathcliff, and he, either for a headache or a pang of envy, began to cry: so I got up and left him.’
‘What use is it praising Heathcliff to him?’ I answered. ‘As lads they had an aversion to each other, and Heathcliff would hate just as much to hear him praised: it’s human nature. Let Mr. Linton alone about him, unless you would like an open quarrel between them.’
‘But does it not show great weakness?’ pursued she. ‘I’m not envious: I never feel hurt at the brightness of Isabella’s yellow hair and the whiteness of her skin, at her dainty elegance, and the fondness all the family exhibit for her. Even you, Nelly, if we have a dispute sometimes, you back Isabella at once; and I yield like a foolish mother: I call her a darling, and flatter her into a good temper. It pleases her brother to see us cordial, and that pleases me. But they are very much alike: they are spoiled children, and fancy the world was made for their accommodation; and though I humour both, I think a smart chastisement might improve them all the same.’
‘You’re mistaken, Mrs. Linton,’ said I. ‘They humour you: I know what there would be to do if they did not. You can well afford to indulge their passing whims as long as their business is to anticipate all your desires. You may, however, fall out, at last, over something of equal consequence to both sides; and then those you term weak are very capable of being as obstinate as you.’