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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWuthering Heights - Chapter XXXIV
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Wuthering Heights - Chapter XXXIV Post by :Newhomebusiness Category :Long Stories Author :Emily Bronte Date :January 2011 Read :1063

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Wuthering Heights - Chapter XXXIV

FOR some days after that evening Mr. Heathcliff shunned meeting us
at meals; yet he would not consent formally to exclude Hareton and
Cathy. He had an aversion to yielding so completely to his
feelings, choosing rather to absent himself; and eating once in
twenty-four hours seemed sufficient sustenance for him.

One night, after the family were in bed, I heard him go downstairs,
and out at the front door. I did not hear him re-enter, and in the
morning I found he was still away. We were in April then: the
weather was sweet and warm, the grass as green as showers and sun
could make it, and the two dwarf apple-trees near the southern wall
in full bloom. After breakfast, Catherine insisted on my bringing
a chair and sitting with my work under the fir-trees at the end of
the house; and she beguiled Hareton, who had perfectly recovered
from his accident, to dig and arrange her little garden, which was
shifted to that corner by the influence of Joseph's complaints. I
was comfortably revelling in the spring fragrance around, and the
beautiful soft blue overhead, when my young lady, who had run down
near the gate to procure some primrose roots for a border, returned
only half laden, and informed us that Mr. Heathcliff was coming in.
'And he spoke to me,' she added, with a perplexed countenance.

'What did he say?' asked Hareton.

'He told me to begone as fast as I could,' she answered. 'But he
looked so different from his usual look that I stopped a moment to
stare at him.'

'How?' he inquired.

'Why, almost bright and cheerful. No, ALMOST nothing - VERY MUCH
excited, and wild, and glad!' she replied.

'Night-walking amuses him, then,' I remarked, affecting a careless
manner: in reality as surprised as she was, and anxious to
ascertain the truth of her statement; for to see the master looking
glad would not be an every-day spectacle. I framed an excuse to go
in. Heathcliff stood at the open door; he was pale, and he
trembled: yet, certainly, he had a strange joyful glitter in his
eyes, that altered the aspect of his whole face.

'Will you have some breakfast?' I said. 'You must be hungry,
rambling about all night!' I wanted to discover where he had been,
but I did not like to ask directly.

'No, I'm not hungry,' he answered, averting his head, and speaking
rather contemptuously, as if he guessed I was trying to divine the
occasion of his good humour.

I felt perplexed: I didn't know whether it were not a proper
opportunity to offer a bit of admonition.

'I don't think it right to wander out of doors,' I observed,
'instead of being in bed: it is not wise, at any rate this moist
season. I daresay you'll catch a bad cold or a fever: you have
something the matter with you now!'

'Nothing but what I can bear,' he replied; 'and with the greatest
pleasure, provided you'll leave me alone: get in, and don't annoy
me.'

I obeyed: and, in passing, I noticed he breathed as fast as a cat.

'Yes!' I reflected to myself, 'we shall have a fit of illness. I
cannot conceive what he has been doing.'

That noon he sat down to dinner with us, and received a heaped-up
plate from my hands, as if he intended to make amends for previous
fasting.

'I've neither cold nor fever, Nelly,' he remarked, in allusion to
my morning's speech; 'and I'm ready to do justice to the food you
give me.'

He took his knife and fork, and was going to commence eating, when
the inclination appeared to become suddenly extinct. He laid them
on the table, looked eagerly towards the window, then rose and went
out. We saw him walking to and fro in the garden while we
concluded our meal, and Earnshaw said he'd go and ask why he would
not dine: he thought we had grieved him some way.

'Well, is he coming?' cried Catherine, when her cousin returned.

'Nay,' he answered; 'but he's not angry: he seemed rarely pleased
indeed; only I made him impatient by speaking to him twice; and
then he bid me be off to you: he wondered how I could want the
company of anybody else.'

I set his plate to keep warm on the fender; and after an hour or
two he re-entered, when the room was clear, in no degree calmer:
the same unnatural - it was unnatural - appearance of joy under his
black brows; the same bloodless hue, and his teeth visible, now and
then, in a kind of smile; his frame shivering, not as one shivers
with chill or weakness, but as a tight-stretched cord vibrates - a
strong thrilling, rather than trembling.

I will ask what is the matter, I thought; or who should? And I
exclaimed - 'Have you heard any good news, Mr. Heathcliff? You
look uncommonly animated.'

'Where should good news come from to me?' he said. 'I'm animated
with hunger; and, seemingly, I must not eat.'

'Your dinner is here,' I returned; 'why won't you get it?'

'I don't want it now,' he muttered, hastily: 'I'll wait till
supper. And, Nelly, once for all, let me beg you to warn Hareton
and the other away from me. I wish to be troubled by nobody: I
wish to have this place to myself.'

'Is there some new reason for this banishment?' I inquired. 'Tell
me why you are so queer, Mr. Heathcliff? Where were you last
night? I'm not putting the question through idle curiosity, but -
'

'You are putting the question through very idle curiosity,' he
interrupted, with a laugh. 'Yet I'll answer it. Last night I was
on the threshold of hell. To-day, I am within sight of my heaven.
I have my eyes on it: hardly three feet to sever me! And now
you'd better go! You'll neither see nor hear anything to frighten
you, if you refrain from prying.'

Having swept the hearth and wiped the table, I departed; more
perplexed than ever.

He did not quit the house again that afternoon, and no one intruded
on his solitude; till, at eight o'clock, I deemed it proper, though
unsummoned, to carry a candle and his supper to him. He was
leaning against the ledge of an open lattice, but not looking out:
his face was turned to the interior gloom. The fire had smouldered
to ashes; the room was filled with the damp, mild air of the cloudy
evening; and so still, that not only the murmur of the beck down
Gimmerton was distinguishable, but its ripples and its gurgling
over the pebbles, or through the large stones which it could not
cover. I uttered an ejaculation of discontent at seeing the dismal
grate, and commenced shutting the casements, one after another,
till I came to his.

'Must I close this?' I asked, in order to rouse him; for he would
not stir.

The light flashed on his features as I spoke. Oh, Mr. Lockwood, I
cannot express what a terrible start I got by the momentary view!
Those deep black eyes! That smile, and ghastly paleness! It
appeared to me, not Mr. Heathcliff, but a goblin; and, in my
terror, I let the candle bend towards the wall, and it left me in
darkness.

'Yes, close it,' he replied, in his familiar voice. 'There, that
is pure awkwardness! Why did you hold the candle horizontally? Be
quick, and bring another.'

I hurried out in a foolish state of dread, and said to Joseph -
'The master wishes you to take him a light and rekindle the fire.'
For I dared not go in myself again just then.

Joseph rattled some fire into the shovel, and went: but he brought
it back immediately, with the supper-tray in his other hand,
explaining that Mr. Heathcliff was going to bed, and he wanted
nothing to eat till morning. We heard him mount the stairs
directly; he did not proceed to his ordinary chamber, but turned
into that with the panelled bed: its window, as I mentioned
before, is wide enough for anybody to get through; and it struck me
that he plotted another midnight excursion, of which he had rather
we had no suspicion.

'Is he a ghoul or a vampire?' I mused. I had read of such hideous
incarnate demons. And then I set myself to reflect how I had
tended him in infancy, and watched him grow to youth, and followed
him almost through his whole course; and what absurd nonsense it
was to yield to that sense of horror. 'But where did he come from,
the little dark thing, harboured by a good man to his bane?'
muttered Superstition, as I dozed into unconsciousness. And I
began, half dreaming, to weary myself with imagining some fit
parentage for him; and, repeating my waking meditations, I tracked
his existence over again, with grim variations; at last, picturing
his death and funeral: of which, all I can remember is, being
exceedingly vexed at having the task of dictating an inscription
for his monument, and consulting the sexton about it; and, as he
had no surname, and we could not tell his age, we were obliged to
content ourselves with the single word, 'Heathcliff.' That came
true: we were. If you enter the kirkyard, you'll read, on his
headstone, only that, and the date of his death.

Dawn restored me to common sense. I rose, and went into the
garden, as soon as I could see, to ascertain if there were any
footmarks under his window. There were none. 'He has stayed at
home,' I thought, 'and he'll be all right to-day.' I prepared
breakfast for the household, as was my usual custom, but told
Hareton and Catherine to get theirs ere the master came down, for
he lay late. They preferred taking it out of doors, under the
trees, and I set a little table to accommodate them.

On my re-entrance, I found Mr. Heathcliff below. He and Joseph
were conversing about some farming business; he gave clear, minute
directions concerning the matter discussed, but he spoke rapidly,
and turned his head continually aside, and had the same excited
expression, even more exaggerated. When Joseph quitted the room he
took his seat in the place he generally chose, and I put a basin of
coffee before him. He drew it nearer, and then rested his arms on
the table, and looked at the opposite wall, as I supposed,
surveying one particular portion, up and down, with glittering,
restless eyes, and with such eager interest that he stopped
breathing during half a minute together.

'Come now,' I exclaimed, pushing some bread against his hand, 'eat
and drink that, while it is hot: it has been waiting near an
hour.'

He didn't notice me, and yet he smiled. I'd rather have seen him
gnash his teeth than smile so.

'Mr. Heathcliff! master!' I cried, 'don't, for God's sake, stare as
if you saw an unearthly vision.'

'Don't, for God's sake, shout so loud,' he replied. 'Turn round,
and tell me, are we by ourselves?'

'Of course,' was my answer; 'of course we are.'

Still, I involuntarily obeyed him, as if I was not quite sure.
With a sweep of his hand he cleared a vacant space in front among
the breakfast things, and leant forward to gaze more at his ease.

Now, I perceived he was not looking at the wall; for when I
regarded him alone, it seemed exactly that he gazed at something
within two yards' distance. And whatever it was, it communicated,
apparently, both pleasure and pain in exquisite extremes: at least
the anguished, yet raptured, expression of his countenance
suggested that idea. The fancied object was not fixed, either:
his eyes pursued it with unwearied diligence, and, even in speaking
to me, were never weaned away. I vainly reminded him of his
protracted abstinence from food: if he stirred to touch anything
in compliance with my entreaties, if he stretched his hand out to
get a piece of bread, his fingers clenched before they reached it,
and remained on the table, forgetful of their aim.

I sat, a model of patience, trying to attract his absorbed
attention from its engrossing speculation; till he grew irritable,
and got up, asking why I would not allow him to have his own time
in taking his meals? and saying that on the next occasion I needn't
wait: I might set the things down and go. Having uttered these
words he left the house, slowly sauntered down the garden path, and
disappeared through the gate.

The hours crept anxiously by: another evening came. I did not
retire to rest till late, and when I did, I could not sleep. He
returned after midnight, and, instead of going to bed, shut himself
into the room beneath. I listened, and tossed about, and, finally,
dressed and descended. It was too irksome to lie there, harassing
my brain with a hundred idle misgivings.

I distinguished Mr. Heathcliff's step, restlessly measuring the
floor, and he frequently broke the silence by a deep inspiration,
resembling a groan. He muttered detached words also; the only one
I could catch was the name of Catherine, coupled with some wild
term of endearment or suffering; and spoken as one would speak to a
person present; low and earnest, and wrung from the depth of his
soul. I had not courage to walk straight into the apartment; but I
desired to divert him from his reverie, and therefore fell foul of
the kitchen fire, stirred it, and began to scrape the cinders. It
drew him forth sooner than I expected. He opened the door
immediately, and said - 'Nelly, come here - is it morning? Come in
with your light.'

'It is striking four,' I answered. 'You want a candle to take up-
stairs: you might have lit one at this fire.'

'No, I don't wish to go up-stairs,' he said. 'Come in, and kindle
ME a fire, and do anything there is to do about the room.'

'I must blow the coals red first, before I can carry any,' I
replied, getting a chair and the bellows

He roamed to and fro, meantime, in a state approaching distraction;
his heavy sighs succeeding each other so thick as to leave no space
for common breathing between.

'When day breaks I'll send for Green,' he said; 'I wish to make
some legal inquiries of him while I can bestow a thought on those
matters, and while I can act calmly. I have not written my will
yet; and how to leave my property I cannot determine. I wish I
could annihilate it from the face of the earth.'

'I would not talk so, Mr. Heathcliff,' I interposed. 'Let your
will be a while: you'll be spared to repent of your many
injustices yet! I never expected that your nerves would be
disordered: they are, at present, marvellously so, however; and
almost entirely through your own fault. The way you've passed
these three last days might knock up a Titan. Do take some food,
and some repose. You need only look at yourself in a glass to see
how you require both. Your cheeks are hollow, and your eyes blood-
shot, like a person starving with hunger and going blind with loss
of sleep.'

'It is not my fault that I cannot eat or rest,' he replied. 'I
assure you it is through no settled designs. I'll do both, as soon
as I possibly can. But you might as well bid a man struggling in
the water rest within arms' length of the shore! I must reach it
first, and then I'll rest. Well, never mind Mr. Green: as to
repenting of my injustices, I've done no injustice, and I repent of
nothing. I'm too happy; and yet I'm not happy enough. My soul's
bliss kills my body, but does not satisfy itself.'

'Happy, master?' I cried. 'Strange happiness! If you would hear
me without being angry, I might offer some advice that would make
you happier.'

'What is that?' he asked. 'Give it.'

'You are aware, Mr. Heathcliff,' I said, 'that from the time you
were thirteen years old you have lived a selfish, unchristian life;
and probably hardly had a Bible in your hands during all that
period. You must have forgotten the contents of the book, and you
may not have space to search it now. Could it be hurtful to send
for some one - some minister of any denomination, it does not
matter which - to explain it, and show you how very far you have
erred from its precepts; and how unfit you will be for its heaven,
unless a change takes place before you die?'

'I'm rather obliged than angry, Nelly,' he said, 'for you remind me
of the manner in which I desire to be buried. It is to be carried
to the churchyard in the evening. You and Hareton may, if you
please, accompany me: and mind, particularly, to notice that the
sexton obeys my directions concerning the two coffins! No minister
need come; nor need anything be said over me. - I tell you I have
nearly attained MY heaven; and that of others is altogether
unvalued and uncovered by me.'

'And supposing you persevered in your obstinate fast, and died by
that means, and they refused to bury you in the precincts of the
kirk?' I said, shocked at his godless indifference. 'How would you
like it?'

'They won't do that,' he replied: 'if they did, you must have me
removed secretly; and if you neglect it you shall prove,
practically, that the dead are not annihilated!'

As soon as he heard the other members of the family stirring he
retired to his den, and I breathed freer. But in the afternoon,
while Joseph and Hareton were at their work, he came into the
kitchen again, and, with a wild look, bid me come and sit in the
house: he wanted somebody with him. I declined; telling him
plainly that his strange talk and manner frightened me, and I had
neither the nerve nor the will to be his companion alone.

'I believe you think me a fiend,' he said, with his dismal laugh:
'something too horrible to live under a decent roof.' Then turning
to Catherine, who was there, and who drew behind me at his
approach, he added, half sneeringly, - 'Will YOU come, chuck? I'll
not hurt you. No! to you I've made myself worse than the devil.
Well, there is ONE who won't shrink from my company! By God! she's
relentless. Oh, damn it! It's unutterably too much for flesh and
blood to bear - even mine.'

He solicited the society of no one more. At dusk he went into his
chamber. Through the whole night, and far into the morning, we
heard him groaning and murmuring to himself. Hareton was anxious
to enter; but I bid him fetch Mr. Kenneth, and he should go in and
see him. When he came, and I requested admittance and tried to
open the door, I found it locked; and Heathcliff bid us be damned.
He was better, and would be left alone; so the doctor went away.

The following evening was very wet: indeed, it poured down till
day-dawn; and, as I took my morning walk round the house, I
observed the master's window swinging open, and the rain driving
straight in. He cannot be in bed, I thought: those showers would
drench him through. He must either be up or out. But I'll make no
more ado, I'll go boldly and look.'

Having succeeded in obtaining entrance with another key, I ran to
unclose the panels, for the chamber was vacant; quickly pushing
them aside, I peeped in. Mr. Heathcliff was there - laid on his
back. His eyes met mine so keen and fierce, I started; and then he
seemed to smile. I could not think him dead: but his face and
throat were washed with rain; the bed-clothes dripped, and he was
perfectly still. The lattice, flapping to and fro, had grazed one
hand that rested on the sill; no blood trickled from the broken
skin, and when I put my fingers to it, I could doubt no more: he
was dead and stark!

I hasped the window; I combed his black long hair from his
forehead; I tried to close his eyes: to extinguish, if possible,
that frightful, life-like gaze of exultation before any one else
beheld it. They would not shut: they seemed to sneer at my
attempts; and his parted lips and sharp white teeth sneered too!
Taken with another fit of cowardice, I cried out for Joseph.
Joseph shuffled up and made a noise, but resolutely refused to
meddle with him.

'Th' divil's harried off his soul,' he cried, 'and he may hev' his
carcass into t' bargin, for aught I care! Ech! what a wicked 'un
he looks, girning at death!' and the old sinner grinned in mockery.
I thought he intended to cut a caper round the bed; but suddenly
composing himself, he fell on his knees, and raised his hands, and
returned thanks that the lawful master and the ancient stock were
restored to their rights.

I felt stunned by the awful event; and my memory unavoidably
recurred to former times with a sort of oppressive sadness. But
poor Hareton, the most wronged, was the only one who really
suffered much. He sat by the corpse all night, weeping in bitter
earnest. He pressed its hand, and kissed the sarcastic, savage
face that every one else shrank from contemplating; and bemoaned
him with that strong grief which springs naturally from a generous
heart, though it be tough as tempered steel.

Mr. Kenneth was perplexed to pronounce of what disorder the master
died. I concealed the fact of his having swallowed nothing for
four days, fearing it might lead to trouble, and then, I am
persuaded, he did not abstain on purpose: it was the consequence
of his strange illness, not the cause.

We buried him, to the scandal of the whole neighbourhood, as he
wished. Earnshaw and I, the sexton, and six men to carry the
coffin, comprehended the whole attendance. The six men departed
when they had let it down into the grave: we stayed to see it
covered. Hareton, with a streaming face, dug green sods, and laid
them over the brown mould himself: at present it is as smooth and
verdant as its companion mounds - and I hope its tenant sleeps as
soundly. But the country folks, if you ask them, would swear on
the Bible that he WALKS: there are those who speak to having met
him near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house.
Idle tales, you'll say, and so say I. Yet that old man by the
kitchen fire affirms he has seen two on 'em looking out of his
chamber window on every rainy night since his death:- and an odd
thing happened to me about a month ago. I was going to the Grange
one evening - a dark evening, threatening thunder - and, just at
the turn of the Heights, I encountered a little boy with a sheep
and two lambs before him; he was crying terribly; and I supposed
the lambs were skittish, and would not be guided.

'What is the matter, my little man?' I asked.

'There's Heathcliff and a woman yonder, under t' nab,' he
blubbered, 'un' I darnut pass 'em.'

I saw nothing; but neither the sheep nor he would go on so I bid
him take the road lower down. He probably raised the phantoms from
thinking, as he traversed the moors alone, on the nonsense he had
heard his parents and companions repeat. Yet, still, I don't like
being out in the dark now; and I don't like being left by myself in
this grim house: I cannot help it; I shall be glad when they leave
it, and shift to the Grange.

'They are going to the Grange, then?' I said.

'Yes,' answered Mrs. Dean, 'as soon as they are married, and that
will be on New Year's Day.'

'And who will live here then?'

'Why, Joseph will take care of the house, and, perhaps, a lad to
keep him company. They will live in the kitchen, and the rest will
be shut up.'

'For the use of such ghosts as choose to inhabit it?' I observed.

'No, Mr. Lockwood,' said Nelly, shaking her head. 'I believe the
dead are at peace: but it is not right to speak of them with
levity.'

At that moment the garden gate swung to; the ramblers were
returning.

'THEY are afraid of nothing,' I grumbled, watching their approach
through the window. 'Together, they would brave Satan and all his
legions.'

As they stepped on to the door-stones, and halted to take a last
look at the moon - or, more correctly, at each other by her light -
I felt irresistibly impelled to escape them again; and, pressing a
remembrance into the hand of Mrs. Dean, and disregarding her
expostulations at my rudeness, I vanished through the kitchen as
they opened the house-door; and so should have confirmed Joseph in
his opinion of his fellow-servant's gay indiscretions, had he not
fortunately recognised me for a respectable character by the sweet
ring of a sovereign at his feet.

My walk home was lengthened by a diversion in the direction of the
kirk. When beneath its walls, I perceived decay had made progress,
even in seven months: many a window showed black gaps deprived of
glass; and slates jutted off here and there, beyond the right line
of the roof, to be gradually worked off in coming autumn storms.

I sought, and soon discovered, the three headstones on the slope
next the moor: on middle one grey, and half buried in the heath;
Edgar Linton's only harmonized by the turf and moss creeping up its
foot; Heathcliff's still bare.

I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths
fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind
breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever
imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.

The End

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