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‘You’ll do well,’ replied I. ‘But I must remain with my mistress: to mind your son is not my business.’
‘You are very stiff,’ said Heathcliff, ‘I know that: but you’ll force me to pinch the baby and make it scream before it moves your charity. Come, then, my hero. Are you willing to return, escorted by me?’
He approached once more, and made as if he would seize the fragile being; but, shrinking back, Linton clung to his cousin, and implored her to accompany him, with a frantic importunity that admitted no denial. However I disapproved, I couldn’t hinder her: indeed, how could she have refused him herself? What was filling him with dread we had no means of discerning; but there he was, powerless under its grip, and any addition seemed capable of shocking him into idiotcy. We reached the threshold; Catherine walked in, and I stood waiting till she had conducted the invalid to a chair, expecting her out immediately; when Mr. Heathcliff, pushing me forward, exclaimed—‘My house is not stricken with the plague, Nelly; and I have a mind to be hospitable to-day: sit down, and allow me to shut the door.’
He shut and locked it also. I started.
‘You shall have tea before you go home,’ he added. ‘I am by myself. Hareton is gone with some cattle to the Lees, and Zillah and Joseph are off on a journey of pleasure; and, though I’m used to being alone, I’d rather have some interesting company, if I can get it. Miss Linton, take your seat by him. I give you what I have: the present is hardly worth accepting; but I have nothing else to offer. It is Linton, I mean. How she does stare! It’s odd what a savage feeling I have to anything that seems afraid of me! Had I been born where laws are less strict and tastes less dainty, I should treat myself to a slow vivisection of those two, as an evening’s amusement.’
He drew in his breath, struck the table, and swore to himself, ‘By hell! I hate them.’
‘I am not afraid of you!’ exclaimed Catherine, who could not hear the latter part of his speech. She stepped close up; her black eyes flashing with passion and resolution. ‘Give me that key: I will have it!’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t eat or drink here, if I were starving.’
Heathcliff had the key in his hand that remained on the table. He looked up, seized with a sort of surprise at her boldness; or, possibly, reminded, by her voice and glance, of the person from whom she inherited it. She snatched at the instrument, and half succeeded in getting it out of his loosened fingers: but her action recalled him to the present; he recovered it speedily.
‘Now, Catherine Linton,’ he said, ‘stand off, or I shall knock you down; and, that will make Mrs. Dean mad.’
Regardless of this warning, she captured his closed hand and its contents again. ‘We will go!’ she repeated, exerting her utmost efforts to cause the iron muscles to relax; and finding that her nails made no impression, she applied her teeth pretty sharply. Heathcliff glanced at me a glance that kept me from interfering a moment. Catherine was too intent on his fingers to notice his face. He opened them suddenly, and resigned the object of dispute; but, ere she had well secured it, he seized her with the liberated hand, and, pulling her on his knee, administered with the other a shower of terrific slaps on both sides of the head, each sufficient to have fulfilled his threat, had she been able to fall.
At this diabolical violence I rushed on him furiously. ‘You villain!’ I began to cry, ‘you villain!’ A touch on the chest silenced me: I am stout, and soon put out of breath; and, what with that and the rage, I staggered dizzily back and felt ready to suffocate, or to burst a blood-vessel. The scene was over in two minutes; Catherine, released, put her two hands to her temples, and looked just as if she were not sure whether her ears were off or on. She trembled like a reed, poor thing, and leant against the table perfectly bewildered.
‘I know how to chastise children, you see,’ said the scoundrel, grimly, as he stooped to repossess himself of the key, which had dropped to the floor. ‘Go to Linton now, as I told you; and cry at your ease! I shall be your father, to-morrow—all the father you’ll have in a few days—and you shall have plenty of that. You can bear plenty; you’re no weakling: you shall have a daily taste, if I catch such a devil of a temper in your eyes again!’
Cathy ran to me instead of Linton, and knelt down and put her burning cheek on my lap, weeping aloud. Her cousin had shrunk into a corner of the settle, as quiet as a mouse, congratulating himself, I dare say, that the correction had alighted on another than him. Mr. Heathcliff, perceiving us all confounded, rose, and expeditiously made the tea himself. The cups and saucers were laid ready. He poured it out, and handed me a cup.
‘Wash away your spleen,’ he said. ‘And help your own naughty pet and mine. It is not poisoned, though I prepared it. I’m going out to seek your horses.’
Our first thought, on his departure, was to force an exit somewhere. We tried the kitchen door, but that was fastened outside: we looked at the windows—they were too narrow for even Cathy’s little figure.
‘Master Linton,’ I cried, seeing we were regularly imprisoned, ‘you know what your diabolical father is after, and you shall tell us, or I’ll box your ears, as he has done your cousin’s.’
‘Yes, Linton, you must tell,’ said Catherine. ‘It was for your sake I came; and it will be wickedly ungrateful if you refuse.’
‘Give me some tea, I’m thirsty, and then I’ll tell you,’ he answered. ‘Mrs. Dean, go away. I don’t like you standing over me. Now, Catherine, you are letting your tears fall into my cup. I won’t drink that. Give me another.’ Catherine pushed another to him, and wiped her face. I felt disgusted at the little wretch’s composure, since he was no longer in terror for himself. The anguish he had exhibited on the moor subsided as soon as ever he entered Wuthering Heights; so I guessed he had been menaced with an awful visitation of wrath if he failed in decoying us there; and, that accomplished, he had no further immediate fears.
‘Papa wants us to be married,’ he continued, after sipping some of the liquid. ‘And he knows your papa wouldn’t let us marry now; and he’s afraid of my dying if we wait; so we are to be married in the morning, and you are to stay here all night; and, if you do as he wishes, you shall return home next day, and take me with you.’
‘Take you with her, pitiful changeling!’ I exclaimed. ‘You marry? Why, the man is mad! or he thinks us fools, every one. And do you imagine that beautiful young lady, that healthy, hearty girl, will tie herself to a little perishing monkey like you? Are you cherishing the notion that anybody, let alone Miss Catherine Linton, would have you for a husband? You want whipping for bringing us in here at all, with your dastardly puling tricks: and—don’t look so silly, now! I’ve a very good mind to shake you severely, for your contemptible treachery, and your imbecile conceit.’