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‘Now, Mrs. Dean,’ Zillah went on, seeing me not pleased by her manner, ‘you happen think your young lady too fine for Mr. Hareton; and happen you’re right: but I own I should love well to bring her pride a peg lower. And what will all her learning and her daintiness do for her, now? She’s as poor as you or I: poorer, I’ll be bound: you’re saying, and I’m doing my little all that road.’
Hareton allowed Zillah to give him her aid; and she flattered him into a good humour; so, when Catherine came, half forgetting her former insults, he tried to make himself agreeable, by the housekeeper’s account.
‘Missis walked in,’ she said, ‘as chill as an icicle, and as high as a princess. I got up and offered her my seat in the arm-chair. No, she turned up her nose at my civility. Earnshaw rose, too, and bid her come to the settle, and sit close by the fire: he was sure she was starved.
‘“I’ve been starved a month and more,” she answered, resting on the word as scornful as she could.
‘And she got a chair for herself, and placed it at a distance from both of us. Having sat till she was warm, she began to look round, and discovered a number of books on the dresser; she was instantly upon her feet again, stretching to reach them: but they were too high up. Her cousin, after watching her endeavours a while, at last summoned courage to help her; she held her frock, and he filled it with the first that came to hand.
‘That was a great advance for the lad. She didn’t thank him; still, he felt gratified that she had accepted his assistance, and ventured to stand behind as she examined them, and even to stoop and point out what struck his fancy in certain old pictures which they contained; nor was he daunted by the saucy style in which she jerked the page from his finger: he contented himself with going a bit farther back and looking at her instead of the book. She continued reading, or seeking for something to read. His attention became, by degrees, quite centred in the study of her thick silky curls: her face he couldn’t see, and she couldn’t see him. And, perhaps, not quite awake to what he did, but attracted like a child to a candle, at last he proceeded from staring to touching; he put out his hand and stroked one curl, as gently as if it were a bird. He might have stuck a knife into her neck, she started round in such a taking.
‘“Get away this moment! How dare you touch me? Why are you stopping there?” she cried, in a tone of disgust. “I can’t endure you! I’ll go upstairs again, if you come near me.”
‘Mr. Hareton recoiled, looking as foolish as he could do: he sat down in the settle very quiet, and she continued turning over her volumes another half hour; finally, Earnshaw crossed over, and whispered to me.
‘“Will you ask her to read to us, Zillah? I’m stalled of doing naught; and I do like—I could like to hear her! Dunnot say I wanted it, but ask of yourseln.”
‘“Mr. Hareton wishes you would read to us, ma’am,” I said, immediately. “He’d take it very kind—he’d be much obliged.”
‘She frowned; and looking up, answered—
‘“Mr. Hareton, and the whole set of you, will be good enough to understand that I reject any pretence at kindness you have the hypocrisy to offer! I despise you, and will have nothing to say to any of you! When I would have given my life for one kind word, even to see one of your faces, you all kept off. But I won’t complain to you! I’m driven down here by the cold; not either to amuse you or enjoy your society.”
‘“What could I ha’ done?” began Earnshaw. “How was I to blame?”
‘“Oh! you are an exception,” answered Mrs. Heathcliff. “I never missed such a concern as you.”
‘“But I offered more than once, and asked,” he said, kindling up at her pertness, “I asked Mr. Heathcliff to let me wake for you—”
‘“Be silent! I’ll go out of doors, or anywhere, rather than have your disagreeable voice in my ear!” said my lady.
‘Hareton muttered she might go to hell, for him! and unslinging his gun, restrained himself from his Sunday occupations no longer. He talked now, freely enough; and she presently saw fit to retreat to her solitude: but the frost had set in, and, in spite of her pride, she was forced to condescend to our company, more and more. However, I took care there should be no further scorning at my good nature: ever since, I’ve been as stiff as herself; and she has no lover or liker among us: and she does not deserve one; for, let them say the least word to her, and she’ll curl back without respect of any one. She’ll snap at the master himself, and as good as dares him to thrash her; and the more hurt she gets, the more venomous she grows.’
At first, on hearing this account from Zillah, I determined to leave my situation, take a cottage, and get Catherine to come and live with me: but Mr. Heathcliff would as soon permit that as he would set up Hareton in an independent house; and I can see no remedy, at present, unless she could marry again; and that scheme it does not come within my province to arrange.
* * * * *
Thus ended Mrs. Dean’s story. Notwithstanding the doctor’s prophecy, I am rapidly recovering strength; and though it be only the second week in January, I propose getting out on horseback in a day or two, and riding over to Wuthering Heights, to inform my landlord that I shall spend the next six months in London; and, if he likes, he may look out for another tenant to take the place after October. I would not pass another winter here for much.
Yesterday was bright, calm, and frosty. I went to the Heights as I proposed: my housekeeper entreated me to bear a little note from her to her young lady, and I did not refuse, for the worthy woman was not conscious of anything odd in her request. The front door stood open, but the jealous gate was fastened, as at my last visit; I knocked and invoked Earnshaw from among the garden-beds; he unchained it, and I entered. The fellow is as handsome a rustic as need be seen. I took particular notice of him this time; but then he does his best apparently to make the least of his advantages.
I asked if Mr. Heathcliff were at home? He answered, No; but he would be in at dinner-time. It was eleven o’clock, and I announced my intention of going in and waiting for him; at which he immediately flung down his tools and accompanied me, in the office of watchdog, not as a substitute for the host.
We entered together; Catherine was there, making herself useful in preparing some vegetables for the approaching meal; she looked more sulky and less spirited than when I had seen her first. She hardly raised her eyes to notice me, and continued her employment with the same disregard to common forms of politeness as before; never returning my bow and good-morning by the slightest acknowledgment.
‘She does not seem so amiable,’ I thought, ‘as Mrs. Dean would persuade me to believe. She’s a beauty, it is true; but not an angel.’
Earnshaw surlily bid her remove her things to the kitchen. ‘Remove them yourself,’ she said, pushing them from her as soon as she had done; and retiring to a stool by the window, where she began to carve figures of birds and beasts out of the turnip-parings in her lap. I approached her, pretending to desire a view of the garden; and, as I fancied, adroitly dropped Mrs. Dean’s note on to her knee, unnoticed by Hareton—but she asked aloud, ‘What is that?’ And chucked it off.