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‘Yes,’ said Catherine, stroking his long soft hair: ‘if I could only get papa’s consent, I’d spend half my time with you. Pretty Linton! I wish you were my brother.’
‘And then you would like me as well as your father?’ observed he, more cheerfully. ‘But papa says you would love me better than him and all the world, if you were my wife; so I’d rather you were that.’
‘No, I should never love anybody better than papa,’ she returned gravely. ‘And people hate their wives, sometimes; but not their sisters and brothers: and if you were the latter, you would live with us, and papa would be as fond of you as he is of me.’
Linton denied that people ever hated their wives; but Cathy affirmed they did, and, in her wisdom, instanced his own father’s aversion to her aunt. I endeavoured to stop her thoughtless tongue. I couldn’t succeed till everything she knew was out. Master Heathcliff, much irritated, asserted her relation was false.
‘Papa told me; and papa does not tell falsehoods,’ she answered pertly.
‘My papa scorns yours!’ cried Linton. ‘He calls him a sneaking fool.’
‘Yours is a wicked man,’ retorted Catherine; ‘and you are very naughty to dare to repeat what he says. He must be wicked to have made Aunt Isabella leave him as she did.’
‘She didn’t leave him,’ said the boy; ‘you sha’n’t contradict me.’
‘She did,’ cried my young lady.
‘Well, I’ll tell you something!’ said Linton. ‘Your mother hated your father: now then.’
‘Oh!’ exclaimed Catherine, too enraged to continue.
‘And she loved mine,’ added he.
‘You little liar! I hate you now!’ she panted, and her face grew red with passion.
‘She did! she did!’ sang Linton, sinking into the recess of his chair, and leaning back his head to enjoy the agitation of the other disputant, who stood behind.
‘Hush, Master Heathcliff!’ I said; ‘that’s your father’s tale, too, I suppose.’
‘It isn’t: you hold your tongue!’ he answered. ‘She did, she did, Catherine! she did, she did!’
Cathy, beside herself, gave the chair a violent push, and caused him to fall against one arm. He was immediately seized by a suffocating cough that soon ended his triumph. It lasted so long that it frightened even me. As to his cousin, she wept with all her might, aghast at the mischief she had done: though she said nothing. I held him till the fit exhausted itself. Then he thrust me away, and leant his head down silently. Catherine quelled her lamentations also, took a seat opposite, and looked solemnly into the fire.
‘How do you feel now, Master Heathcliff?’ I inquired, after waiting ten minutes.
‘I wish she felt as I do,’ he replied: ‘spiteful, cruel thing! Hareton never touches me: he never struck me in his life. And I was better to-day: and there—’ his voice died in a whimper.
‘I didn’t strike you!’ muttered Cathy, chewing her lip to prevent another burst of emotion.
He sighed and moaned like one under great suffering, and kept it up for a quarter of an hour; on purpose to distress his cousin apparently, for whenever he caught a stifled sob from her he put renewed pain and pathos into the inflexions of his voice.
‘I’m sorry I hurt you, Linton,’ she said at length, racked beyond endurance. ‘But I couldn’t have been hurt by that little push, and I had no idea that you could, either: you’re not much, are you, Linton? Don’t let me go home thinking I’ve done you harm. Answer! speak to me.’
‘I can’t speak to you,’ he murmured; ‘you’ve hurt me so that I shall lie awake all night choking with this cough. If you had it you’d know what it was; but you’ll be comfortably asleep while I’m in agony, and nobody near me. I wonder how you would like to pass those fearful nights!’ And he began to wail aloud, for very pity of himself.
‘Since you are in the habit of passing dreadful nights,’ I said, ‘it won’t be Miss who spoils your ease: you’d be the same had she never come. However, she shall not disturb you again; and perhaps you’ll get quieter when we leave you.’
‘Must I go?’ asked Catherine dolefully, bending over him. ‘Do you want me to go, Linton?’
‘You can’t alter what you’ve done,’ he replied pettishly, shrinking from her, ‘unless you alter it for the worse by teasing me into a fever.’
‘Well, then, I must go?’ she repeated.
‘Let me alone, at least,’ said he; ‘I can’t bear your talking.’
She lingered, and resisted my persuasions to departure a tiresome while; but as he neither looked up nor spoke, she finally made a movement to the door, and I followed. We were recalled by a scream. Linton had slid from his seat on to the hearthstone, and lay writhing in the mere perverseness of an indulged plague of a child, determined to be as grievous and harassing as it can. I thoroughly gauged his disposition from his behaviour, and saw at once it would be folly to attempt humouring him. Not so my companion: she ran back in terror, knelt down, and cried, and soothed, and entreated, till he grew quiet from lack of breath: by no means from compunction at distressing her.
‘I shall lift him on to the settle,’ I said, ‘and he may roll about as he pleases: we can’t stop to watch him. I hope you are satisfied, Miss Cathy, that you are not the person to benefit him; and that his condition of health is not occasioned by attachment to you. Now, then, there he is! Come away: as soon as he knows there is nobody by to care for his nonsense, he’ll be glad to lie still.’
She placed a cushion under his head, and offered him some water; he rejected the latter, and tossed uneasily on the former, as if it were a stone or a block of wood. She tried to put it more comfortably.
‘I can’t do with that,’ he said; ‘it’s not high enough.’
Catherine brought another to lay above it.
‘That’s too high,’ murmured the provoking thing.
‘How must I arrange it, then?’ she asked despairingly.
He twined himself up to her, as she half knelt by the settle, and converted her shoulder into a support.
‘No, that won’t do,’ I said. ‘You’ll be content with the cushion, Master Heathcliff. Miss has wasted too much time on you already: we cannot remain five minutes longer.’
‘Yes, yes, we can!’ replied Cathy. ‘He’s good and patient now. He’s beginning to think I shall have far greater misery than he will to-night, if I believe he is the worse for my visit: and then I dare not come again. Tell the truth about it, Linton; for I musn’t come, if I have hurt you.’
‘You must come, to cure me,’ he answered. ‘You ought to come, because you have hurt me: you know you have extremely! I was not as ill when you entered as I am at present—was I?’
‘But you’ve made yourself ill by crying and being in a passion.—I didn’t do it all,’ said his cousin. ‘However, we’ll be friends now. And you want me: you would wish to see me sometimes, really?’