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Mrs. Linton, on the third day, unbarred her door, and having finished the water in her pitcher and decanter, desired a renewed supply, and a basin of gruel, for she believed she was dying. That I set down as a speech meant for Edgar’s ears; I believed no such thing, so I kept it to myself and brought her some tea and dry toast. She ate and drank eagerly, and sank back on her pillow again, clenching her hands and groaning. ‘Oh, I will die,’ she exclaimed, ‘since no one cares anything about me. I wish I had not taken that.’ Then a good while after I heard her murmur, ‘No, I’ll not die—he’d be glad—he does not love me at all—he would never miss me!’
‘Did you want anything, ma’am?’ I inquired, still preserving my external composure, in spite of her ghastly countenance and strange, exaggerated manner.
‘What is that apathetic being doing?’ she demanded, pushing the thick entangled locks from her wasted face. ‘Has he fallen into a lethargy, or is he dead?’
‘Neither,’ replied I; ‘if you mean Mr. Linton. He’s tolerably well, I think, though his studies occupy him rather more than they ought: he is continually among his books, since he has no other society.’
I should not have spoken so if I had known her true condition, but I could not get rid of the notion that she acted a part of her disorder.
‘Among his books!’ she cried, confounded. ‘And I dying! I on the brink of the grave! My God! does he know how I’m altered?’ continued she, staring at her reflection in a mirror hanging against the opposite wall. ‘Is that Catherine Linton? He imagines me in a pet—in play, perhaps. Cannot you inform him that it is frightful earnest? Nelly, if it be not too late, as soon as I learn how he feels, I’ll choose between these two: either to starve at once—that would be no punishment unless he had a heart—or to recover, and leave the country. Are you speaking the truth about him now? Take care. Is he actually so utterly indifferent for my life?’
‘Why, ma’am,’ I answered, ‘the master has no idea of your being deranged; and of course he does not fear that you will let yourself die of hunger.’
‘You think not? Cannot you tell him I will?’ she returned. ‘Persuade him! speak of your own mind: say you are certain I will!’
‘No, you forget, Mrs. Linton,’ I suggested, ‘that you have eaten some food with a relish this evening, and to-morrow you will perceive its good effects.’
‘If I were only sure it would kill him,’ she interrupted, ‘I’d kill myself directly! These three awful nights I’ve never closed my lids—and oh, I’ve been tormented! I’ve been haunted, Nelly! But I begin to fancy you don’t like me. How strange! I thought, though everybody hated and despised each other, they could not avoid loving me. And they have all turned to enemies in a few hours: they have, I’m positive; the people here. How dreary to meet death, surrounded by their cold faces! Isabella, terrified and repelled, afraid to enter the room, it would be so dreadful to watch Catherine go. And Edgar standing solemnly by to see it over; then offering prayers of thanks to God for restoring peace to his house, and going back to his books! What in the name of all that feels has he to do with books, when I am dying?’
She could not bear the notion which I had put into her head of Mr. Linton’s philosophical resignation. Tossing about, she increased her feverish bewilderment to madness, and tore the pillow with her teeth; then raising herself up all burning, desired that I would open the window. We were in the middle of winter, the wind blew strong from the north-east, and I objected. Both the expressions flitting over her face, and the changes of her moods, began to alarm me terribly; and brought to my recollection her former illness, and the doctor’s injunction that she should not be crossed. A minute previously she was violent; now, supported on one arm, and not noticing my refusal to obey her, she seemed to find childish diversion in pulling the feathers from the rents she had just made, and ranging them on the sheet according to their different species: her mind had strayed to other associations.
‘That’s a turkey’s,’ she murmured to herself; ‘and this is a wild duck’s; and this is a pigeon’s. Ah, they put pigeons’ feathers in the pillows—no wonder I couldn’t die! Let me take care to throw it on the floor when I lie down. And here is a moor-cock’s; and this—I should know it among a thousand—it’s a lapwing’s. Bonny bird; wheeling over our heads in the middle of the moor. It wanted to get to its nest, for the clouds had touched the swells, and it felt rain coming. This feather was picked up from the heath, the bird was not shot: we saw its nest in the winter, full of little skeletons. Heathcliff set a trap over it, and the old ones dared not come. I made him promise he’d never shoot a lapwing after that, and he didn’t. Yes, here are more! Did he shoot my lapwings, Nelly? Are they red, any of them? Let me look.’
‘Give over with that baby-work!’ I interrupted, dragging the pillow away, and turning the holes towards the mattress, for she was removing its contents by handfuls. ‘Lie down and shut your eyes: you’re wandering. There’s a mess! The down is flying about like snow.’
I went here and there collecting it.
‘I see in you, Nelly,’ she continued dreamily, ‘an aged woman: you have grey hair and bent shoulders. This bed is the fairy cave under Penistone crags, and you are gathering elf-bolts to hurt our heifers; pretending, while I am near, that they are only locks of wool. That’s what you’ll come to fifty years hence: I know you are not so now. I’m not wandering: you’re mistaken, or else I should believe you really were that withered hag, and I should think I was under Penistone Crags; and I’m conscious it’s night, and there are two candles on the table making the black press shine like jet.’
‘The black press? where is that?’ I asked. ‘You are talking in your sleep!’
‘It’s against the wall, as it always is,’ she replied. ‘It does appear odd—I see a face in it!’
‘There’s no press in the room, and never was,’ said I, resuming my seat, and looping up the curtain that I might watch her.
‘Don’t you see that face?’ she inquired, gazing earnestly at the mirror.
And say what I could, I was incapable of making her comprehend it to be her own; so I rose and covered it with a shawl.
‘It’s behind there still!’ she pursued, anxiously. ‘And it stirred. Who is it? I hope it will not come out when you are gone! Oh! Nelly, the room is haunted! I’m afraid of being alone!’
I took her hand in mine, and bid her be composed; for a succession of shudders convulsed her frame, and she would keep straining her gaze towards the glass.
‘There’s nobody here!’ I insisted. ‘It was yourself, Mrs. Linton: you knew it a while since.’