Wuthering Heights

Page 45 of 88

‘Hush, hush!  He’s a human being,’ I said.  ‘Be more charitable: there are worse men than he is yet!’

‘He’s not a human being,’ she retorted; ‘and he has no claim on my charity.  I gave him my heart, and he took and pinched it to death, and flung it back to me.  People feel with their hearts, Ellen: and since he has destroyed mine, I have not power to feel for him: and I would not, though he groaned from this to his dying day, and wept tears of blood for Catherine!  No, indeed, indeed, I wouldn’t!’  And here Isabella began to cry; but, immediately dashing the water from her lashes, she recommenced.  ‘You asked, what has driven me to flight at last?  I was compelled to attempt it, because I had succeeded in rousing his rage a pitch above his malignity.  Pulling out the nerves with red hot pincers requires more coolness than knocking on the head.  He was worked up to forget the fiendish prudence he boasted of, and proceeded to murderous violence.  I experienced pleasure in being able to exasperate him: the sense of pleasure woke my instinct of self-preservation, so I fairly broke free; and if ever I come into his hands again he is welcome to a signal revenge.

‘Yesterday, you know, Mr. Earnshaw should have been at the funeral.  He kept himself sober for the purpose—tolerably sober: not going to bed mad at six o’clock and getting up drunk at twelve.  Consequently, he rose, in suicidal low spirits, as fit for the church as for a dance; and instead, he sat down by the fire and swallowed gin or brandy by tumblerfuls.

‘Heathcliff—I shudder to name him! has been a stranger in the house from last Sunday till to-day.  Whether the angels have fed him, or his kin beneath, I cannot tell; but he has not eaten a meal with us for nearly a week.  He has just come home at dawn, and gone up-stairs to his chamber; locking himself in—as if anybody dreamt of coveting his company!  There he has continued, praying like a Methodist: only the deity he implored is senseless dust and ashes; and God, when addressed, was curiously confounded with his own black father!  After concluding these precious orisons—and they lasted generally till he grew hoarse and his voice was strangled in his throat—he would be off again; always straight down to the Grange!  I wonder Edgar did not send for a constable, and give him into custody!  For me, grieved as I was about Catherine, it was impossible to avoid regarding this season of deliverance from degrading oppression as a holiday.

‘I recovered spirits sufficient to bear Joseph’s eternal lectures without weeping, and to move up and down the house less with the foot of a frightened thief than formerly.  You wouldn’t think that I should cry at anything Joseph could say; but he and Hareton are detestable companions.  I’d rather sit with Hindley, and hear his awful talk, than with “t’ little maister” and his staunch supporter, that odious old man!  When Heathcliff is in, I’m often obliged to seek the kitchen and their society, or starve among the damp uninhabited chambers; when he is not, as was the case this week, I establish a table and chair at one corner of the house fire, and never mind how Mr. Earnshaw may occupy himself; and he does not interfere with my arrangements.  He is quieter now than he used to be, if no one provokes him: more sullen and depressed, and less furious.  Joseph affirms he’s sure he’s an altered man: that the Lord has touched his heart, and he is saved “so as by fire.”  I’m puzzled to detect signs of the favourable change: but it is not my business.

‘Yester-evening I sat in my nook reading some old books till late on towards twelve.  It seemed so dismal to go up-stairs, with the wild snow blowing outside, and my thoughts continually reverting to the kirk-yard and the new-made grave!  I dared hardly lift my eyes from the page before me, that melancholy scene so instantly usurped its place.  Hindley sat opposite, his head leant on his hand; perhaps meditating on the same subject.  He had ceased drinking at a point below irrationality, and had neither stirred nor spoken during two or three hours.  There was no sound through the house but the moaning wind, which shook the windows every now and then, the faint crackling of the coals, and the click of my snuffers as I removed at intervals the long wick of the candle.  Hareton and Joseph were probably fast asleep in bed.  It was very, very sad: and while I read I sighed, for it seemed as if all joy had vanished from the world, never to be restored.

‘The doleful silence was broken at length by the sound of the kitchen latch: Heathcliff had returned from his watch earlier than usual; owing, I suppose, to the sudden storm.  That entrance was fastened, and we heard him coming round to get in by the other.  I rose with an irrepressible expression of what I felt on my lips, which induced my companion, who had been staring towards the door, to turn and look at me.

‘“I’ll keep him out five minutes,” he exclaimed.  “You won’t object?”

‘“No, you may keep him out the whole night for me,” I answered.  “Do! put the key in the lock, and draw the bolts.”

‘Earnshaw accomplished this ere his guest reached the front; he then came and brought his chair to the other side of my table, leaning over it, and searching in my eyes for a sympathy with the burning hate that gleamed from his: as he both looked and felt like an assassin, he couldn’t exactly find that; but he discovered enough to encourage him to speak.

‘“You, and I,” he said, “have each a great debt to settle with the man out yonder!  If we were neither of us cowards, we might combine to discharge it.  Are you as soft as your brother?  Are you willing to endure to the last, and not once attempt a repayment?”

‘“I’m weary of enduring now,” I replied; “and I’d be glad of a retaliation that wouldn’t recoil on myself; but treachery and violence are spears pointed at both ends; they wound those who resort to them worse than their enemies.”

‘“Treachery and violence are a just return for treachery and violence!” cried Hindley.  “Mrs. Heathcliff, I’ll ask you to do nothing; but sit still and be dumb.  Tell me now, can you?  I’m sure you would have as much pleasure as I in witnessing the conclusion of the fiend’s existence; he’ll be your death unless you overreach him; and he’ll be my ruin.  Damn the hellish villain!  He knocks at the door as if he were master here already!  Promise to hold your tongue, and before that clock strikes—it wants three minutes of one—you’re a free woman!”

‘He took the implements which I described to you in my letter from his breast, and would have turned down the candle.  I snatched it away, however, and seized his arm.

‘“I’ll not hold my tongue!” I said; “you mustn’t touch him.  Let the door remain shut, and be quiet!”

‘“No!  I’ve formed my resolution, and by God I’ll execute it!” cried the desperate being.  “I’ll do you a kindness in spite of yourself, and Hareton justice!  And you needn’t trouble your head to screen me; Catherine is gone.  Nobody alive would regret me, or be ashamed, though I cut my throat this minute—and it’s time to make an end!”

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