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‘Worse,’ I replied, ‘because more sullen with it.’
‘I’ve a pleasure in him,’ he continued, reflecting aloud. ‘He has satisfied my expectations. If he were a born fool I should not enjoy it half so much. But he’s no fool; and I can sympathise with all his feelings, having felt them myself. I know what he suffers now, for instance, exactly: it is merely a beginning of what he shall suffer, though. And he’ll never be able to emerge from his bathos of coarseness and ignorance. I’ve got him faster than his scoundrel of a father secured me, and lower; for he takes a pride in his brutishness. I’ve taught him to scorn everything extra-animal as silly and weak. Don’t you think Hindley would be proud of his son, if he could see him? almost as proud as I am of mine. But there’s this difference; one is gold put to the use of paving-stones, and the other is tin polished to ape a service of silver. Mine has nothing valuable about it; yet I shall have the merit of making it go as far as such poor stuff can go. His had first-rate qualities, and they are lost: rendered worse than unavailing. I have nothing to regret; he would have more than any but I are aware of. And the best of it is, Hareton is damnably fond of me! You’ll own that I’ve outmatched Hindley there. If the dead villain could rise from his grave to abuse me for his offspring’s wrongs, I should have the fun of seeing the said offspring fight him back again, indignant that he should dare to rail at the one friend he has in the world!’
Heathcliff chuckled a fiendish laugh at the idea. I made no reply, because I saw that he expected none. Meantime, our young companion, who sat too removed from us to hear what was said, began to evince symptoms of uneasiness, probably repenting that he had denied himself the treat of Catherine’s society for fear of a little fatigue. His father remarked the restless glances wandering to the window, and the hand irresolutely extended towards his cap.
‘Get up, you idle boy!’ he exclaimed, with assumed heartiness.
‘Away after them! they are just at the corner, by the stand of hives.’
Linton gathered his energies, and left the hearth. The lattice was open, and, as he stepped out, I heard Cathy inquiring of her unsociable attendant what was that inscription over the door? Hareton stared up, and scratched his head like a true clown.
‘It’s some damnable writing,’ he answered. ‘I cannot read it.’
‘Can’t read it?’ cried Catherine; ‘I can read it: it’s English. But I want to know why it is there.’
Linton giggled: the first appearance of mirth he had exhibited.
‘He does not know his letters,’ he said to his cousin. ‘Could you believe in the existence of such a colossal dunce?’
‘Is he all as he should be?’ asked Miss Cathy, seriously; ‘or is he simple: not right? I’ve questioned him twice now, and each time he looked so stupid I think he does not understand me. I can hardly understand him, I’m sure!’
Linton repeated his laugh, and glanced at Hareton tauntingly; who certainly did not seem quite clear of comprehension at that moment.
‘There’s nothing the matter but laziness; is there, Earnshaw?’ he said. ‘My cousin fancies you are an idiot. There you experience the consequence of scorning “book-larning,” as you would say. Have you noticed, Catherine, his frightful Yorkshire pronunciation?’
‘Why, where the devil is the use on’t?’ growled Hareton, more ready in answering his daily companion. He was about to enlarge further, but the two youngsters broke into a noisy fit of merriment: my giddy miss being delighted to discover that she might turn his strange talk to matter of amusement.
‘Where is the use of the devil in that sentence?’ tittered Linton. ‘Papa told you not to say any bad words, and you can’t open your mouth without one. Do try to behave like a gentleman, now do!’
‘If thou weren’t more a lass than a lad, I’d fell thee this minute, I would; pitiful lath of a crater!’ retorted the angry boor, retreating, while his face burnt with mingled rage and mortification! for he was conscious of being insulted, and embarrassed how to resent it.
Mr. Heathcliff having overheard the conversation, as well as I, smiled when he saw him go; but immediately afterwards cast a look of singular aversion on the flippant pair, who remained chattering in the door-way: the boy finding animation enough while discussing Hareton’s faults and deficiencies, and relating anecdotes of his goings on; and the girl relishing his pert and spiteful sayings, without considering the ill-nature they evinced. I began to dislike, more than to compassionate Linton, and to excuse his father in some measure for holding him cheap.
We stayed till afternoon: I could not tear Miss Cathy away sooner; but happily my master had not quitted his apartment, and remained ignorant of our prolonged absence. As we walked home, I would fain have enlightened my charge on the characters of the people we had quitted: but she got it into her head that I was prejudiced against them.
‘Aha!’ she cried, ‘you take papa’s side, Ellen: you are partial I know; or else you wouldn’t have cheated me so many years into the notion that Linton lived a long way from here. I’m really extremely angry; only I’m so pleased I can’t show it! But you must hold your tongue about my uncle; he’s my uncle, remember; and I’ll scold papa for quarrelling with him.’
And so she ran on, till I relinquished the endeavour to convince her of her mistake. She did not mention the visit that night, because she did not see Mr. Linton. Next day it all came out, sadly to my chagrin; and still I was not altogether sorry: I thought the burden of directing and warning would be more efficiently borne by him than me. But he was too timid in giving satisfactory reasons for his wish that she should shun connection with the household of the Heights, and Catherine liked good reasons for every restraint that harassed her petted will.
‘Papa!’ she exclaimed, after the morning’s salutations, ‘guess whom I saw yesterday, in my walk on the moors. Ah, papa, you started! you’ve not done right, have you, now? I saw—but listen, and you shall hear how I found you out; and Ellen, who is in league with you, and yet pretended to pity me so, when I kept hoping, and was always disappointed about Linton’s coming back!’
She gave a faithful account of her excursion and its consequences; and my master, though he cast more than one reproachful look at me, said nothing till she had concluded. Then he drew her to him, and asked if she knew why he had concealed Linton’s near neighbourhood from her? Could she think it was to deny her a pleasure that she might harmlessly enjoy?
‘It was because you disliked Mr. Heathcliff,’ she answered.
‘Then you believe I care more for my own feelings than yours, Cathy?’ he said. ‘No, it was not because I disliked Mr. Heathcliff, but because Mr. Heathcliff dislikes me; and is a most diabolical man, delighting to wrong and ruin those he hates, if they give him the slightest opportunity. I knew that you could not keep up an acquaintance with your cousin without being brought into contact with him; and I knew he would detest you on my account; so for your own good, and nothing else, I took precautions that you should not see Linton again. I meant to explain this some time as you grew older, and I’m sorry I delayed it.’