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Wuthering Heights, Chapter 20 - The Best Place to Curl Up with a Good Book [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
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Wuthering Heights, Chapter 20 [Jun. 26th, 2007|01:07 pm]
Big Comfy Chair

bigcomfychair

[cpt_babypants]


CHAPTER XX



TO obviate the danger of this threat being fulfilled, Mr. Linton
commissioned me to take the boy home early, on Catherine's pony;
and, said he - 'As we shall now have no influence over his destiny,
good or bad, you must say nothing of where he is gone to my
daughter: she cannot associate with him hereafter, and it is
better for her to remain in ignorance of his proximity; lest she
should be restless, and anxious to visit the Heights. Merely tell
her his father sent for him suddenly, and he has been obliged to
leave us.'

Linton was very reluctant to be roused from his bed at five
o'clock, and astonished to be informed that he must prepare for
further travelling; but I softened off the matter by stating that
he was going to spend some time with his father, Mr. Heathcliff,
who wished to see him so much, he did not like to defer the
pleasure till he should recover from his late journey.

'My father!' he cried, in strange perplexity. 'Mamma never told me
I had a father. Where does he live? I'd rather stay with uncle.'

'He lives a little distance from the Grange,' I replied; 'just
beyond those hills: not so far, but you may walk over here when
you get hearty. And you should be glad to go home, and to see him.
You must try to love him, as you did your mother, and then he will
love you.'

'But why have I not heard of him before?' asked Linton. 'Why
didn't mamma and he live together, as other people do?'

'He had business to keep him in the north,' I answered, 'and your
mother's health required her to reside in the south.'

'And why didn't mamma speak to me about him?' persevered the child.
'She often talked of uncle, and I learnt to love him long ago. How
am I to love papa? I don't know him.'

'Oh, all children love their parents,' I said. 'Your mother,
perhaps, thought you would want to be with him if she mentioned him
often to you. Let us make haste. An early ride on such a
beautiful morning is much preferable to an hour's more sleep.'

'Is SHE to go with us,' he demanded, 'the little girl I saw
yesterday?'

'Not now,' replied I.

'Is uncle?' he continued.

'No, I shall be your companion there,' I said.

Linton sank back on his pillow and fell into a brown study.

'I won't go without uncle,' he cried at length: 'I can't tell
where you mean to take me.'

I attempted to persuade him of the naughtiness of showing
reluctance to meet his father; still he obstinately resisted any
progress towards dressing, and I had to call for my master's
assistance in coaxing him out of bed. The poor thing was finally
got off, with several delusive assurances that his absence should
be short: that Mr. Edgar and Cathy would visit him, and other
promises, equally ill-founded, which I invented and reiterated at
intervals throughout the way. The pure heather-scented air, the
bright sunshine, and the gentle canter of Minny, relieved his
despondency after a while. He began to put questions concerning
his new home, and its inhabitants, with greater interest and
liveliness.

'Is Wuthering Heights as pleasant a place as Thrushcross Grange?'
he inquired, turning to take a last glance into the valley, whence
a light mist mounted and formed a fleecy cloud on the skirts of the
blue.

'It is not so buried in trees,' I replied, 'and it is not quite so
large, but you can see the country beautifully all round; and the
air is healthier for you - fresher and drier. You will, perhaps,
think the building old and dark at first; though it is a
respectable house: the next best in the neighbourhood. And you
will have such nice rambles on the moors. Hareton Earnshaw - that
is, Miss Cathy's other cousin, and so yours in a manner - will show
you all the sweetest spots; and you can bring a book in fine
weather, and make a green hollow your study; and, now and then,
your uncle may join you in a walk: he does, frequently, walk out
on the hills.'

'And what is my father like?' he asked. 'Is he as young and
handsome as uncle?'

'He's as young,' said I; 'but he has black hair and eyes, and looks
sterner; and he is taller and bigger altogether. He'll not seem to
you so gentle and kind at first, perhaps, because it is not his
way: still, mind you, be frank and cordial with him; and naturally
he'll be fonder of you than any uncle, for you are his own.'

'Black hair and eyes!' mused Linton. 'I can't fancy him. Then I
am not like him, am I?'

'Not much,' I answered: not a morsel, I thought, surveying with
regret the white complexion and slim frame of my companion, and his
large languid eyes - his mother's eyes, save that, unless a morbid
touchiness kindled them a moment, they had not a vestige of her
sparkling spirit.

'How strange that he should never come to see mamma and me!' he
murmured. 'Has he ever seen me? If he has, I must have been a
baby. I remember not a single thing about him!'

'Why, Master Linton,' said I, 'three hundred miles is a great
distance; and ten years seem very different in length to a grown-up
person compared with what they do to you. It is probable Mr.
Heathcliff proposed going from summer to summer, but never found a
convenient opportunity; and now it is too late. Don't trouble him
with questions on the subject: it will disturb him, for no good.'

The boy was fully occupied with his own cogitations for the
remainder of the ride, till we halted before the farmhouse garden-
gate. I watched to catch his impressions in his countenance. He
surveyed the carved front and low-browed lattices, the straggling
gooseberry-bushes and crooked firs, with solemn intentness, and
then shook his head: his private feelings entirely disapproved of
the exterior of his new abode. But he had sense to postpone
complaining: there might be compensation within. Before he
dismounted, I went and opened the door. It was half-past six; the
family had just finished breakfast: the servant was clearing and
wiping down the table. Joseph stood by his master's chair telling
some tale concerning a lame horse; and Hareton was preparing for
the hayfield.

'Hallo, Nelly!' said Mr. Heathcliff, when he saw me. 'I feared I
should have to come down and fetch my property myself. You've
brought it, have you? Let us see what we can make of it.'

He got up and strode to the door: Hareton and Joseph followed in
gaping curiosity. Poor Linton ran a frightened eye over the faces
of the three.

'Sure-ly,' said Joseph after a grave inspection, 'he's swopped wi'
ye, Maister, an' yon's his lass!'

Heathcliff, having stared his son into an ague of confusion,
uttered a scornful laugh.

'God! what a beauty! what a lovely, charming thing!' he exclaimed.
'Hav'n't they reared it on snails and sour milk, Nelly? Oh, damn
my soul! but that's worse than I expected - and the devil knows I
was not sanguine!'

I bid the trembling and bewildered child get down, and enter. He
did not thoroughly comprehend the meaning of his father's speech,
or whether it were intended for him: indeed, he was not yet
certain that the grim, sneering stranger was his father. But he
clung to me with growing trepidation; and on Mr. Heathcliff's
taking a seat and bidding him 'come hither' he hid his face on my
shoulder and wept.

'Tut, tut!' said Heathcliff, stretching out a hand and dragging him
roughly between his knees, and then holding up his head by the
chin. 'None of that nonsense! We're not going to hurt thee,
Linton - isn't that thy name? Thou art thy mother's child,
entirely! Where is my share in thee, puling chicken?'

He took off the boy's cap and pushed back his thick flaxen curls,
felt his slender arms and his small fingers; during which
examination Linton ceased crying, and lifted his great blue eyes to
inspect the inspector.

'Do you know me?' asked Heathcliff, having satisfied himself that
the limbs were all equally frail and feeble.

'No,' said Linton, with a gaze of vacant fear.

'You've heard of me, I daresay?'

'No,' he replied again.

'No! What a shame of your mother, never to waken your filial
regard for me! You are my son, then, I'll tell you; and your
mother was a wicked slut to leave you in ignorance of the sort of
father you possessed. Now, don't wince, and colour up! Though it
is something to see you have not white blood. Be a good lad; and
I'll do for you. Nelly, if you be tired you may sit down; if not,
get home again. I guess you'll report what you hear and see to the
cipher at the Grange; and this thing won't be settled while you
linger about it.'

'Well,' replied I, 'I hope you'll be kind to the boy, Mr.
Heathcliff, or you'll not keep him long; and he's all you have akin
in the wide world, that you will ever know - remember.'

'I'll be very kind to him, you needn't fear,' he said, laughing.
'Only nobody else must be kind to him: I'm jealous of monopolising
his affection. And, to begin my kindness, Joseph, bring the lad
some breakfast. Hareton, you infernal calf, begone to your work.
Yes, Nell,' he added, when they had departed, 'my son is
prospective owner of your place, and I should not wish him to die
till I was certain of being his successor. Besides, he's MINE, and
I want the triumph of seeing MY descendant fairly lord of their
estates; my child hiring their children to till their fathers'
lands for wages. That is the sole consideration which can make me
endure the whelp: I despise him for himself, and hate him for the
memories he revives! But that consideration is sufficient: he's
as safe with me, and shall be tended as carefully as your master
tends his own. I have a room up-stairs, furnished for him in
handsome style; I've engaged a tutor, also, to come three times a
week, from twenty miles' distance, to teach him what he pleases to
learn. I've ordered Hareton to obey him: and in fact I've
arranged everything with a view to preserve the superior and the
gentleman in him, above his associates. I do regret, however, that
he so little deserves the trouble: if I wished any blessing in the
world, it was to find him a worthy object of pride; and I'm
bitterly disappointed with the whey-faced, whining wretch!'

While he was speaking, Joseph returned bearing a basin of milk-
porridge, and placed it before Linton: who stirred round the
homely mess with a look of aversion, and affirmed he could not eat
it. I saw the old man-servant shared largely in his master's scorn
of the child; though he was compelled to retain the sentiment in
his heart, because Heathcliff plainly meant his underlings to hold
him in honour.

'Cannot ate it?' repeated he, peering in Linton's face, and
subduing his voice to a whisper, for fear of being overheard. 'But
Maister Hareton nivir ate naught else, when he wer a little 'un;
and what wer gooid enough for him's gooid enough for ye, I's
rayther think!'

'I SHA'N'T eat it!' answered Linton, snappishly. 'Take it away.'

Joseph snatched up the food indignantly, and brought it to us.

'Is there aught ails th' victuals?' he asked, thrusting the tray
under Heathcliff's nose.

'What should ail them?' he said.

'Wah!' answered Joseph, 'yon dainty chap says he cannut ate 'em.
But I guess it's raight! His mother wer just soa - we wer a'most
too mucky to sow t' corn for makking her breead.'

'Don't mention his mother to me,' said the master, angrily. 'Get
him something that he can eat, that's all. What is his usual food,
Nelly?'

I suggested boiled milk or tea; and the housekeeper received
instructions to prepare some. Come, I reflected, his father's
selfishness may contribute to his comfort. He perceives his
delicate constitution, and the necessity of treating him tolerably.
I'll console Mr. Edgar by acquainting him with the turn
Heathcliff's humour has taken. Having no excuse for lingering
longer, I slipped out, while Linton was engaged in timidly
rebuffing the advances of a friendly sheep-dog. But he was too
much on the alert to be cheated: as I closed the door, I heard a
cry, and a frantic repetition of the words -

'Don't leave me! I'll not stay here! I'll not stay here!'

Then the latch was raised and fell: they did not suffer him to
come forth. I mounted Minny, and urged her to a trot; and so my
brief guardianship ended.

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