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‘Is he come back, then?’ asked the hermit, glaring like a hungry wolf.
‘Yes—we came just now,’ I said; ‘but he left me by the kitchen door; and when I would have gone in, your little boy played sentinel over the place, and frightened me off by the help of a bull-dog.’
‘It’s well the hellish villain has kept his word!’ growled my future host, searching the darkness beyond me in expectation of discovering Heathcliff; and then he indulged in a soliloquy of execrations, and threats of what he would have done had the ‘fiend’ deceived him.
I repented having tried this second entrance, and was almost inclined to slip away before he finished cursing, but ere I could execute that intention, he ordered me in, and shut and re-fastened the door. There was a great fire, and that was all the light in the huge apartment, whose floor had grown a uniform grey; and the once brilliant pewter-dishes, which used to attract my gaze when I was a girl, partook of a similar obscurity, created by tarnish and dust. I inquired whether I might call the maid, and be conducted to a bedroom! Mr. Earnshaw vouchsafed no answer. He walked up and down, with his hands in his pockets, apparently quite forgetting my presence; and his abstraction was evidently so deep, and his whole aspect so misanthropical, that I shrank from disturbing him again.
You’ll not be surprised, Ellen, at my feeling particularly cheerless, seated in worse than solitude on that inhospitable hearth, and remembering that four miles distant lay my delightful home, containing the only people I loved on earth; and there might as well be the Atlantic to part us, instead of those four miles: I could not overpass them! I questioned with myself—where must I turn for comfort? and—mind you don’t tell Edgar, or Catherine—above every sorrow beside, this rose pre-eminent: despair at finding nobody who could or would be my ally against Heathcliff! I had sought shelter at Wuthering Heights, almost gladly, because I was secured by that arrangement from living alone with him; but he knew the people we were coming amongst, and he did not fear their intermeddling.
I sat and thought a doleful time: the clock struck eight, and nine, and still my companion paced to and fro, his head bent on his breast, and perfectly silent, unless a groan or a bitter ejaculation forced itself out at intervals. I listened to detect a woman’s voice in the house, and filled the interim with wild regrets and dismal anticipations, which, at last, spoke audibly in irrepressible sighing and weeping. I was not aware how openly I grieved, till Earnshaw halted opposite, in his measured walk, and gave me a stare of newly-awakened surprise. Taking advantage of his recovered attention, I exclaimed—‘I’m tired with my journey, and I want to go to bed! Where is the maid-servant? Direct me to her, as she won’t come to me!’
‘We have none,’ he answered; ‘you must wait on yourself!’
‘Where must I sleep, then?’ I sobbed; I was beyond regarding self-respect, weighed down by fatigue and wretchedness.
‘Joseph will show you Heathcliff’s chamber,’ said he; ‘open that door—he’s in there.’
I was going to obey, but he suddenly arrested me, and added in the strangest tone—‘Be so good as to turn your lock, and draw your bolt—don’t omit it!’
‘Well!’ I said. ‘But why, Mr. Earnshaw?’ I did not relish the notion of deliberately fastening myself in with Heathcliff.
‘Look here!’ he replied, pulling from his waistcoat a curiously-constructed pistol, having a double-edged spring knife attached to the barrel. ‘That’s a great tempter to a desperate man, is it not? I cannot resist going up with this every night, and trying his door. If once I find it open he’s done for; I do it invariably, even though the minute before I have been recalling a hundred reasons that should make me refrain: it is some devil that urges me to thwart my own schemes by killing him. You fight against that devil for love as long as you may; when the time comes, not all the angels in heaven shall save him!’
I surveyed the weapon inquisitively. A hideous notion struck me: how powerful I should be possessing such an instrument! I took it from his hand, and touched the blade. He looked astonished at the expression my face assumed during a brief second: it was not horror, it was covetousness. He snatched the pistol back, jealously; shut the knife, and returned it to its concealment.
‘I don’t care if you tell him,’ said he. ‘Put him on his guard, and watch for him. You know the terms we are on, I see: his danger does not shock you.’
‘What has Heathcliff done to you?’ I asked. ‘In what has he wronged you, to warrant this appalling hatred? Wouldn’t it be wiser to bid him quit the house?’
‘No!’ thundered Earnshaw; ‘should he offer to leave me, he’s a dead man: persuade him to attempt it, and you are a murderess! Am I to lose all, without a chance of retrieval? Is Hareton to be a beggar? Oh, damnation! I will have it back; and I’ll have his gold too; and then his blood; and hell shall have his soul! It will be ten times blacker with that guest than ever it was before!’
You’ve acquainted me, Ellen, with your old master’s habits. He is clearly on the verge of madness: he was so last night at least. I shuddered to be near him, and thought on the servant’s ill-bred moroseness as comparatively agreeable. He now recommenced his moody walk, and I raised the latch, and escaped into the kitchen. Joseph was bending over the fire, peering into a large pan that swung above it; and a wooden bowl of oatmeal stood on the settle close by. The contents of the pan began to boil, and he turned to plunge his hand into the bowl; I conjectured that this preparation was probably for our supper, and, being hungry, I resolved it should be eatable; so, crying out sharply, ‘I’ll make the porridge!’ I removed the vessel out of his reach, and proceeded to take off my hat and riding-habit. ‘Mr. Earnshaw,’ I continued, ‘directs me to wait on myself: I will. I’m not going to act the lady among you, for fear I should starve.’
‘Gooid Lord!’ he muttered, sitting down, and stroking his ribbed stockings from the knee to the ankle. ‘If there’s to be fresh ortherings—just when I getten used to two maisters, if I mun hev’ a mistress set o’er my heead, it’s like time to be flitting. I niver did think to see t’ day that I mud lave th’ owld place—but I doubt it’s nigh at hand!’
This lamentation drew no notice from me: I went briskly to work, sighing to remember a period when it would have been all merry fun; but compelled speedily to drive off the remembrance. It racked me to recall past happiness and the greater peril there was of conjuring up its apparition, the quicker the thible ran round, and the faster the handfuls of meal fell into the water. Joseph beheld my style of cookery with growing indignation.
‘Thear!’ he ejaculated. ‘Hareton, thou willn’t sup thy porridge to-neeght; they’ll be naught but lumps as big as my neive. Thear, agean! I’d fling in bowl un’ all, if I wer ye! There, pale t’ guilp off, un’ then ye’ll hae done wi’ ‘t. Bang, bang. It’s a mercy t’ bothom isn’t deaved out!’