Wuthering Heights

Page 75 of 88

She scornfully withdrew.  In her absence I began to beg for Zillah’s place at the Heights, offering to resign mine to her; but he would suffer it on no account.  He bid me be silent; and then, for the first time, allowed himself a glance round the room and a look at the pictures.  Having studied Mrs. Linton’s, he said—‘I shall have that home.  Not because I need it, but—’  He turned abruptly to the fire, and continued, with what, for lack of a better word, I must call a smile—‘I’ll tell you what I did yesterday!  I got the sexton, who was digging Linton’s grave, to remove the earth off her coffin lid, and I opened it.  I thought, once, I would have stayed there: when I saw her face again—it is hers yet!—he had hard work to stir me; but he said it would change if the air blew on it, and so I struck one side of the coffin loose, and covered it up: not Linton’s side, damn him!  I wish he’d been soldered in lead.  And I bribed the sexton to pull it away when I’m laid there, and slide mine out too; I’ll have it made so: and then by the time Linton gets to us he’ll not know which is which!’

‘You were very wicked, Mr. Heathcliff!’ I exclaimed; ‘were you not ashamed to disturb the dead?’

‘I disturbed nobody, Nelly,’ he replied; ‘and I gave some ease to myself.  I shall be a great deal more comfortable now; and you’ll have a better chance of keeping me underground, when I get there.  Disturbed her?  No! she has disturbed me, night and day, through eighteen years—incessantly—remorselessly—till yesternight; and yesternight I was tranquil.  I dreamt I was sleeping the last sleep by that sleeper, with my heart stopped and my cheek frozen against hers.’

‘And if she had been dissolved into earth, or worse, what would you have dreamt of then?’ I said.

‘Of dissolving with her, and being more happy still!’ he answered.  ‘Do you suppose I dread any change of that sort?  I expected such a transformation on raising the lid—but I’m better pleased that it should not commence till I share it.  Besides, unless I had received a distinct impression of her passionless features, that strange feeling would hardly have been removed.  It began oddly.  You know I was wild after she died; and eternally, from dawn to dawn, praying her to return to me her spirit!  I have a strong faith in ghosts: I have a conviction that they can, and do, exist among us!  The day she was buried, there came a fall of snow.  In the evening I went to the churchyard.  It blew bleak as winter—all round was solitary.  I didn’t fear that her fool of a husband would wander up the glen so late; and no one else had business to bring them there.  Being alone, and conscious two yards of loose earth was the sole barrier between us, I said to myself—“I’ll have her in my arms again!  If she be cold, I’ll think it is this north wind that chills me; and if she be motionless, it is sleep.”  I got a spade from the tool-house, and began to delve with all my might—it scraped the coffin; I fell to work with my hands; the wood commenced cracking about the screws; I was on the point of attaining my object, when it seemed that I heard a sigh from some one above, close at the edge of the grave, and bending down.  “If I can only get this off,” I muttered, “I wish they may shovel in the earth over us both!” and I wrenched at it more desperately still.  There was another sigh, close at my ear.  I appeared to feel the warm breath of it displacing the sleet-laden wind.  I knew no living thing in flesh and blood was by; but, as certainly as you perceive the approach to some substantial body in the dark, though it cannot be discerned, so certainly I felt that Cathy was there: not under me, but on the earth.  A sudden sense of relief flowed from my heart through every limb.  I relinquished my labour of agony, and turned consoled at once: unspeakably consoled.  Her presence was with me: it remained while I re-filled the grave, and led me home.  You may laugh, if you will; but I was sure I should see her there.  I was sure she was with me, and I could not help talking to her.  Having reached the Heights, I rushed eagerly to the door.  It was fastened; and, I remember, that accursed Earnshaw and my wife opposed my entrance.  I remember stopping to kick the breath out of him, and then hurrying up-stairs, to my room and hers.  I looked round impatiently—I felt her by me—I could almost see her, and yet I could not!  I ought to have sweat blood then, from the anguish of my yearning—from the fervour of my supplications to have but one glimpse!  I had not one.  She showed herself, as she often was in life, a devil to me!  And, since then, sometimes more and sometimes less, I’ve been the sport of that intolerable torture!  Infernal! keeping my nerves at such a stretch that, if they had not resembled catgut, they would long ago have relaxed to the feebleness of Linton’s.  When I sat in the house with Hareton, it seemed that on going out I should meet her; when I walked on the moors I should meet her coming in.  When I went from home I hastened to return; she must be somewhere at the Heights, I was certain!  And when I slept in her chamber—I was beaten out of that.  I couldn’t lie there; for the moment I closed my eyes, she was either outside the window, or sliding back the panels, or entering the room, or even resting her darling head on the same pillow as she did when a child; and I must open my lids to see.  And so I opened and closed them a hundred times a night—to be always disappointed!  It racked me!  I’ve often groaned aloud, till that old rascal Joseph no doubt believed that my conscience was playing the fiend inside of me.  Now, since I’ve seen her, I’m pacified—a little.  It was a strange way of killing: not by inches, but by fractions of hairbreadths, to beguile me with the spectre of a hope through eighteen years!’

Mr. Heathcliff paused and wiped his forehead; his hair clung to it, wet with perspiration; his eyes were fixed on the red embers of the fire, the brows not contracted, but raised next the temples; diminishing the grim aspect of his countenance, but imparting a peculiar look of trouble, and a painful appearance of mental tension towards one absorbing subject.  He only half addressed me, and I maintained silence.  I didn’t like to hear him talk!  After a short period he resumed his meditation on the picture, took it down and leant it against the sofa to contemplate it at better advantage; and while so occupied Catherine entered, announcing that she was ready, when her pony should be saddled.

‘Send that over to-morrow,’ said Heathcliff to me; then turning to her, he added: ‘You may do without your pony: it is a fine evening, and you’ll need no ponies at Wuthering Heights; for what journeys you take, your own feet will serve you.  Come along.’

‘Good-bye, Ellen!’ whispered my dear little mistress.

As she kissed me, her lips felt like ice.  ‘Come and see me, Ellen; don’t forget.’

‘Take care you do no such thing, Mrs. Dean!’ said her new father.  ‘When I wish to speak to you I’ll come here.  I want none of your prying at my house!’

He signed her to precede him; and casting back a look that cut my heart, she obeyed.  I watched them, from the window, walk down the garden.  Heathcliff fixed Catherine’s arm under his: though she disputed the act at first evidently; and with rapid strides he hurried her into the alley, whose trees concealed them.


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