Wuthering Heights > Chapter 8
Bookmark Wuthering Heights, chapter 8 for future reference.
- by Emily Brontë
ON the morning of a fine June day my first bonny little nursling,
and the last of the ancient Earnshaw stock, was born. We were busy
with the hay in a far-away field, when the girl that usually
brought our breakfasts came running an hour too soon across the
meadow and up the lane, calling me as she ran.
'Oh, such a grand bairn!' she panted out. 'The finest lad that
ever breathed! But the doctor says missis must go: he says she's
been in a consumption these many months. I heard him tell Mr.
Hindley: and now she has nothing to keep her, and she'll be dead
before winter. You must come home directly. You're to nurse it,
Nelly: to feed it with sugar and milk, and take care of it day and
night. I wish I were you, because it will be all yours when there
is no missis!'
'But is she very ill?' I asked, flinging down my rake and tying my
'I guess she is; yet she looks bravely,' replied the girl, 'and she
talks as if she thought of living to see it grow a man. She's out
of her head for joy, it's such a beauty! If I were her I'm certain
I should not die: I should get better at the bare sight of it, in
spite of Kenneth. I was fairly mad at him. Dame Archer brought
the cherub down to master, in the house, and his face just began to
light up, when the old croaker steps forward, and says he -
"Earnshaw, it's a blessing your wife has been spared to leave you
this son. When she came, I felt convinced we shouldn't keep her
long; and now, I must tell you, the winter will probably finish
her. Don't take on, and fret about it too much: it can't be
helped. And besides, you should have known better than to choose
such a rush of a lass!"'
'And what did the master answer?' I inquired.
'I think he swore: but I didn't mind him, I was straining to see
the bairn,' and she began again to describe it rapturously. I, as
zealous as herself, hurried eagerly home to admire, on my part;
though I was very sad for Hindley's sake. He had room in his heart
only for two idols - his wife and himself: he doted on both, and
adored one, and I couldn't conceive how he would bear the loss.
When we got to Wuthering Heights, there he stood at the front door;
and, as I passed in, I asked, 'how was the baby?'
'Nearly ready to run about, Nell!' he replied, putting on a
'And the mistress?' I ventured to inquire; 'the doctor says she's -
'Damn the doctor!' he interrupted, reddening. 'Frances is quite
right: she'll be perfectly well by this time next week. Are you
going up-stairs? will you tell her that I'll come, if she'll
promise not to talk. I left her because she would not hold her
tongue; and she must - tell her Mr. Kenneth says she must be
I delivered this message to Mrs. Earnshaw; she seemed in flighty
spirits, and replied merrily, 'I hardly spoke a word, Ellen, and
there he has gone out twice, crying. Well, say I promise I won't
speak: but that does not bind me not to laugh at him!'
Poor soul! Till within a week of her death that gay heart never
failed her; and her husband persisted doggedly, nay, furiously, in
affirming her health improved every day. When Kenneth warned him
that his medicines were useless at that stage of the malady, and he
needn't put him to further expense by attending her, he retorted,
'I know you need not - she's well - she does not want any more
attendance from you! She never was in a consumption. It was a
fever; and it is gone: her pulse is as slow as mine now, and her
cheek as cool.'
He told his wife the same story, and she seemed to believe him; but
one night, while leaning on his shoulder, in the act of saying she
thought she should be able to get up to-morrow, a fit of coughing
took her - a very slight one - he raised her in his arms; she put
her two hands about his neck, her face changed, and she was dead.
As the girl had anticipated, the child Hareton fell wholly into my
hands. Mr. Earnshaw, provided he saw him healthy and never heard
him cry, was contented, as far as regarded him. For himself, he
grew desperate: his sorrow was of that kind that will not lament.
He neither wept nor prayed; he cursed and defied: execrated God
and man, and gave himself up to reckless dissipation. The servants
could not bear his tyrannical and evil conduct long: Joseph and I
were the only two that would stay. I had not the heart to leave my
charge; and besides, you know, I had been his foster-sister, and
excused his behaviour more readily than a stranger would. Joseph
remained to hector over tenants and labourers; and because it was
his vocation to be where he had plenty of wickedness to reprove.
The master's bad ways and bad companions formed a pretty example
for Catherine and Heathcliff. His treatment of the latter was
enough to make a fiend of a saint. And, truly, it appeared as if
the lad WERE possessed of something diabolical at that period. He
delighted to witness Hindley degrading himself past redemption; and
became daily more notable for savage sullenness and ferocity. I
could not half tell what an infernal house we had. The curate
dropped calling, and nobody decent came near us, at last; unless
Edgar Linton's visits to Miss Cathy might be an exception. At
fifteen she was the queen of the country-side; she had no peer; and
she did turn out a haughty, headstrong creature! I own I did not
like her, after infancy was past; and I vexed her frequently by
trying to bring down her arrogance: she never took an aversion to
me, though. She had a wondrous constancy to old attachments: even
Heathcliff kept his hold on her affections unalterably; and young
Linton, with all his superiority, found it difficult to make an
equally deep impression. He was my late master: that is his
portrait over the fireplace. It used to hang on one side, and his
wife's on the other; but hers has been removed, or else you might
see something of what she was. Can you make that out?
Mrs. Dean raised the candle, and I discerned a soft-featured face,
exceedingly resembling the young lady at the Heights, but more
pensive and amiable in expression. It formed a sweet picture. The
long light hair curled slightly on the temples; the eyes were large
and serious; the figure almost too graceful. I did not marvel how
Catherine Earnshaw could forget her first friend for such an
individual. I marvelled much how he, with a mind to correspond
with his person, could fancy my idea of Catherine Earnshaw.
'A very agreeable portrait,' I observed to the house-keeper. 'Is
'Yes,' she answered; 'but he looked better when he was animated;
that is his everyday countenance: he wanted spirit in general.'
Catherine had kept up her acquaintance with the Lintons since her
five-weeks' residence among them; and as she had no temptation to
show her rough side in their company, and had the sense to be
ashamed of being rude where she experienced such invariable
courtesy, she imposed unwittingly on the old lady and gentleman by
her ingenious cordiality; gained the admiration of Isabella, and
the heart and soul of her brother: acquisitions that flattered her
from the first - for she was full of ambition - and led her to
adopt a double character without exactly intending to deceive any
one. In the place where she heard Heathcliff termed a 'vulgar
young ruffian,' and 'worse than a brute,' she took care not to act
like him; but at home she had small inclination to practise
politeness that would only be laughed at, and restrain an unruly
nature when it would bring her neither credit nor praise.
Mr. Edgar seldom mustered courage to visit Wuthering Heights
openly. He had a terror of Earnshaw's reputation, and shrunk from
encountering him; and yet he was always received with our best
attempts at civility: the master himself avoided offending him,
knowing why he came; and if he could not be gracious, kept out of
the way. I rather think his appearance there was distasteful to
Catherine; she was not artful, never played the coquette, and had
evidently an objection to her two friends meeting at all; for when
Heathcliff expressed contempt of Linton in his presence, she could
not half coincide, as she did in his absence; and when Linton
evinced disgust and antipathy to Heathcliff, she dared not treat
his sentiments with indifference, as if depreciation of her
playmate were of scarcely any consequence to her. I've had many a
laugh at her perplexities and untold troubles, which she vainly
strove to hide from my mockery. That sounds ill-natured: but she
was so proud it became really impossible to pity her distresses,
till she should be chastened into more humility. She did bring
herself, finally, to confess, and to confide in me: there was not
a soul else that she might fashion into an adviser.
Mr. Hindley had gone from home one afternoon, and Heathcliff
presumed to give himself a holiday on the strength of it. He had
reached the age of sixteen then, I think, and without having bad
features, or being deficient in intellect, he contrived to convey
an impression of inward and outward repulsiveness that his present
aspect retains no traces of. In the first place, he had by that
time lost the benefit of his early education: continual hard work,
begun soon and concluded late, had extinguished any curiosity he
once possessed in pursuit of knowledge, and any love for books or
learning. His childhood's sense of superiority, instilled into him
by the favours of old Mr. Earnshaw, was faded away. He struggled
long to keep up an equality with Catherine in her studies, and
yielded with poignant though silent regret: but he yielded
completely; and there was no prevailing on him to take a step in
the way of moving upward, when he found he must, necessarily, sink
beneath his former level. Then personal appearance sympathised
with mental deterioration: he acquired a slouching gait and
ignoble look; his naturally reserved disposition was exaggerated
into an almost idiotic excess of unsociable moroseness; and he took
a grim pleasure, apparently, in exciting the aversion rather than
the esteem of his few acquaintance.
Catherine and he were constant companions still at his seasons of
respite from labour; but he had ceased to express his fondness for
her in words, and recoiled with angry suspicion from her girlish
caresses, as if conscious there could be no gratification in
lavishing such marks of affection on him. On the before-named
occasion he came into the house to announce his intention of doing
nothing, while I was assisting Miss Cathy to arrange her dress:
she had not reckoned on his taking it into his head to be idle; and
imagining she would have the whole place to herself, she managed,
by some means, to inform Mr. Edgar of her brother's absence, and
was then preparing to receive him.
'Cathy, are you busy this afternoon?' asked Heathcliff. 'Are you
'No, it is raining,' she answered.
'Why have you that silk frock on, then?' he said. 'Nobody coming
here, I hope?'
'Not that I know of,' stammered Miss: 'but you should be in the
field now, Heathcliff. It is an hour past dinnertime: I thought
you were gone.'
'Hindley does not often free us from his accursed presence,'
observed the boy. 'I'll not work any more to-day: I'll stay with
'Oh, but Joseph will tell,' she suggested; 'you'd better go!'
'Joseph is loading lime on the further side of Penistone Crags; it
will take him till dark, and he'll never know.'
So, saying, he lounged to the fire, and sat down. Catherine
reflected an instant, with knitted brows - she found it needful to
smooth the way for an intrusion. 'Isabella and Edgar Linton talked
of calling this afternoon,' she said, at the conclusion of a
minute's silence. 'As it rains, I hardly expect them; but they may
come, and if they do, you run the risk of being scolded for no
'Order Ellen to say you are engaged, Cathy,' he persisted; 'don't
turn me out for those pitiful, silly friends of yours! I'm on the
point, sometimes, of complaining that they - but I'll not - '
'That they what?' cried Catherine, gazing at him with a troubled
countenance. 'Oh, Nelly!' she added petulantly, jerking her head
away from my hands, 'you've combed my hair quite out of curl!
That's enough; let me alone. What are you on the point of
complaining about, Heathcliff?'
'Nothing - only look at the almanack on that wall;' he pointed to a
framed sheet hanging near the window, and continued, 'The crosses
are for the evenings you have spent with the Lintons, the dots for
those spent with me. Do you see? I've marked every day.'
'Yes - very foolish: as if I took notice!' replied Catherine, in a
peevish tone. 'And where is the sense of that?'
'To show that I DO take notice,' said Heathcliff.
'And should I always be sitting with you?' she demanded, growing
more irritated. 'What good do I get? What do you talk about? You
might be dumb, or a baby, for anything you say to amuse me, or for
anything you do, either!'
'You never told me before that I talked too little, or that you
disliked my company, Cathy!' exclaimed Heathcliff, in much
'It's no company at all, when people know nothing and say nothing,'
Her companion rose up, but he hadn't time to express his feelings
further, for a horse's feet were heard on the flags, and having
knocked gently, young Linton entered, his face brilliant with
delight at the unexpected summon she had received. Doubtless
Catherine marked the difference between her friends, as one came in
and the other went out. The contrast resembled what you see in
exchanging a bleak, hilly, coal country for a beautiful fertile
valley; and his voice and greeting were as opposite as his aspect.
He had a sweet, low manner of speaking, and pronounced his words as
you do: that's less gruff than we talk here, and softer.
'I'm not come too soon, am I?' he said, casting a look at me: I
had begun to wipe the plate, and tidy some drawers at the far end
in the dresser.
'No,' answered Catherine. 'What are you doing there, Nelly?'
'My work, Miss,' I replied. (Mr. Hindley had given me directions
to make a third party in any private visits Linton chose to pay.)
She stepped behind me and whispered crossly, 'Take yourself and
your dusters off; when company are in the house, servants don't
commence scouring and cleaning in the room where they are!'
'It's a good opportunity, now that master is away,' I answered
aloud: 'he hates me to be fidgeting over these things in his
presence. I'm sure Mr. Edgar will excuse me.'
'I hate you to be fidgeting in MY presence,' exclaimed the young
lady imperiously, not allowing her guest time to speak: she had
failed to recover her equanimity since the little dispute with
'I'm sorry for it, Miss Catherine,' was my response; and I
proceeded assiduously with my occupation.
She, supposing Edgar could not see her, snatched the cloth from my
hand, and pinched me, with a prolonged wrench, very spitefully on
the arm. I've said I did not love her, and rather relished
mortifying her vanity now and then: besides, she hurt me
extremely; so I started up from my knees, and screamed out, 'Oh,
Miss, that's a nasty trick! You have no right to nip me, and I'm
not going to bear it.'
'I didn't touch you, you lying creature!' cried she, her fingers
tingling to repeat the act, and her ears red with rage. She never
had power to conceal her passion, it always set her whole
complexion in a blaze.
'What's that, then?' I retorted, showing a decided purple witness
to refute her.
She stamped her foot, wavered a moment, and then, irresistibly
impelled by the naughty spirit within her, slapped me on the cheek:
a stinging blow that filled both eyes with water.
'Catherine, love! Catherine!' interposed Linton, greatly shocked
at the double fault of falsehood and violence which his idol had
'Leave the room, Ellen!' she repeated, trembling all over.
Little Hareton, who followed me everywhere, and was sitting near me
on the floor, at seeing my tears commenced crying himself, and
sobbed out complaints against 'wicked aunt Cathy,' which drew her
fury on to his unlucky head: she seized his shoulders, and shook
him till the poor child waxed livid, and Edgar thoughtlessly laid
hold of her hands to deliver him. In an instant one was wrung
free, and the astonished young man felt it applied over his own ear
in a way that could not be mistaken for jest. He drew back in
consternation. I lifted Hareton in my arms, and walked off to the
kitchen with him, leaving the door of communication open, for I was
curious to watch how they would settle their disagreement. The
insulted visitor moved to the spot where he had laid his hat, pale
and with a quivering lip.
'That's right!' I said to myself. 'Take warning and begone! It's
a kindness to let you have a glimpse of her genuine disposition.'
'Where are you going?' demanded Catherine, advancing to the door.
He swerved aside, and attempted to pass.
'You must not go!' she exclaimed, energetically.
'I must and shall!' he replied in a subdued voice.
'No,' she persisted, grasping the handle; 'not yet, Edgar Linton:
sit down; you shall not leave me in that temper. I should be
miserable all night, and I won't be miserable for you!'
'Can I stay after you have struck me?' asked Linton.
Catherine was mute.
'You've made me afraid and ashamed of you,' he continued; 'I'll not
come here again!'
Her eyes began to glisten and her lids to twinkle.
'And you told a deliberate untruth!' he said.
'I didn't!' she cried, recovering her speech; 'I did nothing
deliberately. Well, go, if you please - get away! And now I'll
cry - I'll cry myself sick!'
She dropped down on her knees by a chair, and set to weeping in
serious earnest. Edgar persevered in his resolution as far as the
court; there he lingered. I resolved to encourage him.
'Miss is dreadfully wayward, sir,' I called out. 'As bad as any
marred child: you'd better be riding home, or else she will be
sick, only to grieve us.'
The soft thing looked askance through the window: he possessed the
power to depart as much as a cat possesses the power to leave a
mouse half killed, or a bird half eaten. Ah, I thought, there will
be no saving him: he's doomed, and flies to his fate! And so it
was: he turned abruptly, hastened into the house again, shut the
door behind him; and when I went in a while after to inform them
that Earnshaw had come home rabid drunk, ready to pull the whole
place about our ears (his ordinary frame of mind in that
condition), I saw the quarrel had merely effected a closer intimacy
- had broken the outworks of youthful timidity, and enabled them to
forsake the disguise of friendship, and confess themselves lovers.
Intelligence of Mr. Hindley's arrival drove Linton speedily to his
horse, and Catherine to her chamber. I went to hide little
Hareton, and to take the shot out of the master's fowling-piece,
which he was fond of playing with in his insane excitement, to the
hazard of the lives of any who provoked, or even attracted his
notice too much; and I had hit upon the plan of removing it, that
he might do less mischief if he did go the length of firing the