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‘Catherine ill?’ he said, hastening to us. ‘Shut the window, Ellen! Catherine! why—’
He was silent. The haggardness of Mrs. Linton’s appearance smote him speechless, and he could only glance from her to me in horrified astonishment.
‘She’s been fretting here,’ I continued, ‘and eating scarcely anything, and never complaining: she would admit none of us till this evening, and so we couldn’t inform you of her state, as we were not aware of it ourselves; but it is nothing.’
I felt I uttered my explanations awkwardly; the master frowned. ‘It is nothing, is it, Ellen Dean?’ he said sternly. ‘You shall account more clearly for keeping me ignorant of this!’ And he took his wife in his arms, and looked at her with anguish.
At first she gave him no glance of recognition: he was invisible to her abstracted gaze. The delirium was not fixed, however; having weaned her eyes from contemplating the outer darkness, by degrees she centred her attention on him, and discovered who it was that held her.
‘Ah! you are come, are you, Edgar Linton?’ she said, with angry animation. ‘You are one of those things that are ever found when least wanted, and when you are wanted, never! I suppose we shall have plenty of lamentations now—I see we shall—but they can’t keep me from my narrow home out yonder: my resting-place, where I’m bound before spring is over! There it is: not among the Lintons, mind, under the chapel-roof, but in the open air, with a head-stone; and you may please yourself whether you go to them or come to me!’
‘Catherine, what have you done?’ commenced the master. ‘Am I nothing to you any more? Do you love that wretch Heath—’
‘Hush!’ cried Mrs. Linton. ‘Hush, this moment! You mention that name and I end the matter instantly by a spring from the window! What you touch at present you may have; but my soul will be on that hill-top before you lay hands on me again. I don’t want you, Edgar: I’m past wanting you. Return to your books. I’m glad you possess a consolation, for all you had in me is gone.’
‘Her mind wanders, sir,’ I interposed. ‘She has been talking nonsense the whole evening; but let her have quiet, and proper attendance, and she’ll rally. Hereafter, we must be cautious how we vex her.’
‘I desire no further advice from you,’ answered Mr. Linton. ‘You knew your mistress’s nature, and you encouraged me to harass her. And not to give me one hint of how she has been these three days! It was heartless! Months of sickness could not cause such a change!’
I began to defend myself, thinking it too bad to be blamed for another’s wicked waywardness. ‘I knew Mrs. Linton’s nature to be headstrong and domineering,’ cried I: ‘but I didn’t know that you wished to foster her fierce temper! I didn’t know that, to humour her, I should wink at Mr. Heathcliff. I performed the duty of a faithful servant in telling you, and I have got a faithful servant’s wages! Well, it will teach me to be careful next time. Next time you may gather intelligence for yourself!’
‘The next time you bring a tale to me you shall quit my service, Ellen Dean,’ he replied.
‘You’d rather hear nothing about it, I suppose, then, Mr. Linton?’ said I. ‘Heathcliff has your permission to come a-courting to Miss, and to drop in at every opportunity your absence offers, on purpose to poison the mistress against you?’
Confused as Catherine was, her wits were alert at applying our conversation.
‘Ah! Nelly has played traitor,’ she exclaimed, passionately. ‘Nelly is my hidden enemy. You witch! So you do seek elf-bolts to hurt us! Let me go, and I’ll make her rue! I’ll make her howl a recantation!’
A maniac’s fury kindled under her brows; she struggled desperately to disengage herself from Linton’s arms. I felt no inclination to tarry the event; and, resolving to seek medical aid on my own responsibility, I quitted the chamber.
In passing the garden to reach the road, at a place where a bridle hook is driven into the wall, I saw something white moved irregularly, evidently by another agent than the wind. Notwithstanding my hurry, I stayed to examine it, lest ever after I should have the conviction impressed on my imagination that it was a creature of the other world. My surprise and perplexity were great on discovering, by touch more than vision, Miss Isabella’s springer, Fanny, suspended by a handkerchief, and nearly at its last gasp. I quickly released the animal, and lifted it into the garden. I had seen it follow its mistress up-stairs when she went to bed; and wondered much how it could have got out there, and what mischievous person had treated it so. While untying the knot round the hook, it seemed to me that I repeatedly caught the beat of horses’ feet galloping at some distance; but there were such a number of things to occupy my reflections that I hardly gave the circumstance a thought: though it was a strange sound, in that place, at two o’clock in the morning.
Mr. Kenneth was fortunately just issuing from his house to see a patient in the village as I came up the street; and my account of Catherine Linton’s malady induced him to accompany me back immediately. He was a plain rough man; and he made no scruple to speak his doubts of her surviving this second attack; unless she were more submissive to his directions than she had shown herself before.
‘Nelly Dean,’ said he, ‘I can’t help fancying there’s an extra cause for this. What has there been to do at the Grange? We’ve odd reports up here. A stout, hearty lass like Catherine does not fall ill for a trifle; and that sort of people should not either. It’s hard work bringing them through fevers, and such things. How did it begin?’
‘The master will inform you,’ I answered; ‘but you are acquainted with the Earnshaws’ violent dispositions, and Mrs. Linton caps them all. I may say this; it commenced in a quarrel. She was struck during a tempest of passion with a kind of fit. That’s her account, at least: for she flew off in the height of it, and locked herself up. Afterwards, she refused to eat, and now she alternately raves and remains in a half dream; knowing those about her, but having her mind filled with all sorts of strange ideas and illusions.’
‘Mr. Linton will be sorry?’ observed Kenneth, interrogatively.
‘Sorry? he’ll break his heart should anything happen!’ I replied. ‘Don’t alarm him more than necessary.’
‘Well, I told him to beware,’ said my companion; ‘and he must bide the consequences of neglecting my warning! Hasn’t he been intimate with Mr. Heathcliff lately?’
‘Heathcliff frequently visits at the Grange,’ answered I, ‘though more on the strength of the mistress having known him when a boy, than because the master likes his company. At present he’s discharged from the trouble of calling; owing to some presumptuous aspirations after Miss Linton which he manifested. I hardly think he’ll be taken in again.’
‘And does Miss Linton turn a cold shoulder on him?’ was the doctor’s next question.