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‘God bless thee, darling!’ I cried, forgetting instantaneously my foolish fears. ‘Hareton, it’s Nelly! Nelly, thy nurse.’
He retreated out of arm’s length, and picked up a large flint.
‘I am come to see thy father, Hareton,’ I added, guessing from the action that Nelly, if she lived in his memory at all, was not recognised as one with me.
He raised his missile to hurl it; I commenced a soothing speech, but could not stay his hand: the stone struck my bonnet; and then ensued, from the stammering lips of the little fellow, a string of curses, which, whether he comprehended them or not, were delivered with practised emphasis, and distorted his baby features into a shocking expression of malignity. You may be certain this grieved more than angered me. Fit to cry, I took an orange from my pocket, and offered it to propitiate him. He hesitated, and then snatched it from my hold; as if he fancied I only intended to tempt and disappoint him. I showed another, keeping it out of his reach.
‘Who has taught you those fine words, my bairn?’ I inquired. ‘The curate?’
‘Damn the curate, and thee! Gie me that,’ he replied.
‘Tell us where you got your lessons, and you shall have it,’ said I. ‘Who’s your master?’
‘Devil daddy,’ was his answer.
‘And what do you learn from daddy?’ I continued.
He jumped at the fruit; I raised it higher. ‘What does he teach you?’ I asked.
‘Naught,’ said he, ‘but to keep out of his gait. Daddy cannot bide me, because I swear at him.’
‘Ah! and the devil teaches you to swear at daddy?’ I observed.
‘Ay—nay,’ he drawled.
‘I asked if he liked Mr. Heathcliff.’
‘Ay!’ he answered again.
Desiring to have his reasons for liking him, I could only gather the sentences—‘I known’t: he pays dad back what he gies to me—he curses daddy for cursing me. He says I mun do as I will.’
‘And the curate does not teach you to read and write, then?’ I pursued.
‘No, I was told the curate should have his—teeth dashed down his—throat, if he stepped over the threshold—Heathcliff had promised that!’
I put the orange in his hand, and bade him tell his father that a woman called Nelly Dean was waiting to speak with him, by the garden gate. He went up the walk, and entered the house; but, instead of Hindley, Heathcliff appeared on the door-stones; and I turned directly and ran down the road as hard as ever I could race, making no halt till I gained the guide-post, and feeling as scared as if I had raised a goblin. This is not much connected with Miss Isabella’s affair: except that it urged me to resolve further on mounting vigilant guard, and doing my utmost to check the spread of such bad influence at the Grange: even though I should wake a domestic storm, by thwarting Mrs. Linton’s pleasure.
The next time Heathcliff came my young lady chanced to be feeding some pigeons in the court. She had never spoken a word to her sister-in-law for three days; but she had likewise dropped her fretful complaining, and we found it a great comfort. Heathcliff had not the habit of bestowing a single unnecessary civility on Miss Linton, I knew. Now, as soon as he beheld her, his first precaution was to take a sweeping survey of the house-front. I was standing by the kitchen-window, but I drew out of sight. He then stepped across the pavement to her, and said something: she seemed embarrassed, and desirous of getting away; to prevent it, he laid his hand on her arm. She averted her face: he apparently put some question which she had no mind to answer. There was another rapid glance at the house, and supposing himself unseen, the scoundrel had the impudence to embrace her.
‘Judas! Traitor!’ I ejaculated. ‘You are a hypocrite, too, are you? A deliberate deceiver.’
‘Who is, Nelly?’ said Catherine’s voice at my elbow: I had been over-intent on watching the pair outside to mark her entrance.
‘Your worthless friend!’ I answered, warmly: ‘the sneaking rascal yonder. Ah, he has caught a glimpse of us—he is coming in! I wonder will he have the heart to find a plausible excuse for making love to Miss, when he told you he hated her?’
Mrs. Linton saw Isabella tear herself free, and run into the garden; and a minute after, Heathcliff opened the door. I couldn’t withhold giving some loose to my indignation; but Catherine angrily insisted on silence, and threatened to order me out of the kitchen, if I dared to be so presumptuous as to put in my insolent tongue.
‘To hear you, people might think you were the mistress!’ she cried. ‘You want setting down in your right place! Heathcliff, what are you about, raising this stir? I said you must let Isabella alone!—I beg you will, unless you are tired of being received here, and wish Linton to draw the bolts against you!’
‘God forbid that he should try!’ answered the black villain. I detested him just then. ‘God keep him meek and patient! Every day I grow madder after sending him to heaven!’
‘Hush!’ said Catherine, shutting the inner door! ‘Don’t vex me. Why have you disregarded my request? Did she come across you on purpose?’
‘What is it to you?’ he growled. ‘I have a right to kiss her, if she chooses; and you have no right to object. I am not your husband: you needn’t be jealous of me!’
‘I’m not jealous of you,’ replied the mistress; ‘I’m jealous for you. Clear your face: you sha’n’t scowl at me! If you like Isabella, you shall marry her. But do you like her? Tell the truth, Heathcliff! There, you won’t answer. I’m certain you don’t.’
‘And would Mr. Linton approve of his sister marrying that man?’ I inquired.
‘Mr. Linton should approve,’ returned my lady, decisively.
‘He might spare himself the trouble,’ said Heathcliff: ‘I could do as well without his approbation. And as to you, Catherine, I have a mind to speak a few words now, while we are at it. I want you to be aware that I know you have treated me infernally—infernally! Do you hear? And if you flatter yourself that I don’t perceive it, you are a fool; and if you think I can be consoled by sweet words, you are an idiot: and if you fancy I’ll suffer unrevenged, I’ll convince you of the contrary, in a very little while! Meantime, thank you for telling me your sister-in-law’s secret: I swear I’ll make the most of it. And stand you aside!’
‘What new phase of his character is this?’ exclaimed Mrs. Linton, in amazement. ‘I’ve treated you infernally—and you’ll take your revenge! How will you take it, ungrateful brute? How have I treated you infernally?’
‘I seek no revenge on you,’ replied Heathcliff, less vehemently. ‘That’s not the plan. The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don’t turn against him; they crush those beneath them. You are welcome to torture me to death for your amusement, only allow me to amuse myself a little in the same style, and refrain from insult as much as you are able. Having levelled my palace, don’t erect a hovel and complacently admire your own charity in giving me that for a home. If I imagined you really wished me to marry Isabel, I’d cut my throat!’