The first subdued hues of morning streaked the sky, the daylight waxing languidly over the barren landscape as though the sun offended the dismal Heights by having the temerity to rise. I imagined from the heavens the Heights must appear like a doomed sentinel amongst a valley of gaunt trees mute and stark as skeletons. The sorry affair of Heathcliff's flight recapitulated itself in my mind, a whole day had passed since then, the worst thoughts of calamity assailed my mind - suppose my master lay dead somewhere? I trembled to recall the strange utterances that had befallen his lips addressed to Cathy's supposed ghost, they only hinted at the arcane ruminations that must by ever forming themselves in his brain. My master failed to comprehend that he and Cathy were sundered from each other by the pall of death and he lived in two states; firstly, in sanguine expectation of seeing her again each time a casement should rattle or a door creak open, and secondly in brooding morbidly on the too short time they had passed together.
I bethought myself that mayhap now was the time to search for Heathcliff and I imagined the veritable catalogue of castigations that would have overflown old Joseph's lips had he known of my current enterprise. He would have considered it folly indeed for me to seek out a man whom he was convinced was beyond all religious redemption and described Heathcliff's fate as divine retribution in his inimitable sombre tones. Despite my misgivings, I found my shawl and commenced out of the front door. The mist without was like an infernal miasma, it crept forwards inexorably and engulfed all it touched with its bleak kiss. I confess I had to pause to summon courage to my aid for I could scarce see fifty yards ahead of me. Suddenly, something stirred abroad in the gloom. A dark mass converged amongst the thick mist and resolved itself into a strange shape, I crossed myself in fear lest a strange beast should pounce from the shadows and tear me to pieces. In the haze from amidst the shadows the shape became more defined, and gathered speed apace until I realised this was no infernal beast bent on destruction but master Heathcliff accompanied by the very last person on this earth I imagined would offer my master succour. The pair stumbled forwards, Heathcliff's near listless form being supported by the efforts of his sworn enemy – Edgar! These two were bitter rivals still, Heathcliff's re-appearance had caused a hostility between the two men which had not cooled since Cathy's death, I looked upwards as if I would speak to Cathy directly 'And it is you who have sown the seeds of this discord!' I well remembered what had passed between Heathcliff and Cathy during their fateful meeting which occured three years after Heathcliff had abandoned the Heights...
It was fortuitous that I should be upstairs, laying out my mistress' clothes for the morrow when I chanced to hear a firm step on the flagstones outside. I threw a glance outside the window, in full expectation of seeing my master, Edgar Linton, returning home, and was surprised instead to see a gentleman advancing towards the porch. I was mindful that the arrival of a visitor would be most congenial to my mistress' spirits, for it was a rare occurrence indeed for anyone (much less a gentleman) to visit this part of the country without having stumbled upon it accidentally in need of shelter or escape, furthering the inhabitants notion that only the most foolhardy or miserable would ever venture here. I hastened towards the door of Thrushcross Grange at the sound of the bell, intrigued to discover what the import of the stranger's visit was; I feared it must be urgent, for the bell sounded with an alarming ferocity.
Upon opening the door I beheld a gentleman on the threshold whose physiognomy struck me immediately, there was a fire that lurked beneath his dark eyes and an eminence in his gait that gave him a most pre-possessing air. I believe I have never been more shocked in all my life, with the realisation that Heathcliff stood before me; no longer the scrawny lad with matted, unkempt hair who had caused me a world of trouble at the Heights - for here he stood before me a veritable gentleman, and I immediately wondered whether the money spent to effect this transformation had been acquired by fair means or foul. The abject horror of the situation dawned before the advent of speech. 'Mr Heathcliff' I uttered finally, astounded and momentarily at a loss how to continue, for ours was ever a precarious relationship, reliant on the turn of my mistress' moods as to whether I should assume the role of peacekeeper betwixt them after their arguments or assume a stern authority to curb their waywardness. 'I would speak to your mistress, Nelly Dean' he said archly, looking beyond me into the cottage doubtless to gain a glimpse of his treasured Cathy.
I was perceptive enough to realise that Cathy had long since reconciled herself to the idea that she should never see Heathcliff again, what new world of misery should would be besieged with should Mr Heathcliff return? Thus I had no time to prevaricate and immediately formed my resolve that under no circumstances should he enter Thushcross Grange and disturb the happy equilibrium that reigned here. I was as succinct with my implied disapproval of the idea as I dared be, 'as you have no doubt been apprised she is now Mrs Linton (a taciturn look clouded his visage). I hardly think your visit a prudent course of action, perhaps it would be best for her to remain ignorant of any odious recollections your presence might recall of her former life'.
My cautionary words went unheeded, and had rather the adverse effect of acting as a spur to his intention of seeing Cathy, for he struck his arm forcefully against the door and his eyes blazed defiantly upon my face, upturned in horror towards his. He towered above me and I was cowed into submission, for his verbal threat could hardly have been more lucid, 'You will yield this door and admit me, or I shall enter without due invitation which I fear would greatly upset Mr Linton's pretensions to gentility'.
The prodigal spoke in curt tones 'I crave only a few words with your mistress and whilst you are no doubt solicitous for the sobriety of your household (here a sly grin passed his face) and feel it incumbent on yourself to preserve moral standards, I have not toiled and thought of naught else these three years to be impeded by you, Nelly Dean' at these words his eyes seemed to sparkle with malice, and I immediately gathered that whilst he looked quite the gentleman, he had clearly not divested himself of his abrasive temper or bad manners. He knew I could but acquiesce to his demand, for he was in a temper and I being accustomed to his capricious nature knew of the dangers faced by anyone rash enough to oppose him. My eyes betrayed my reluctance, however I perceived Heathcliff's determination was not to be borne and despite my reservations I was forced to take a step backwards. Heathcliff saw fit to saunter in; if you please, surveying all he saw with a look of derision, the only feasible emotion he saw fit to accord the house, for he stood there in a grim contemplation of all about him whilst I went to tell Cathy of her unexpected visitor.
It was with great anxiety that I sought my mistress, my mind racing with admonishments about my failure to keep Heathcliff from setting foot into Thrushcross Grange. I found Cathy alone in a room upstairs, pretending to read a novel. It is much to be lamented that our relationship had continued much the same since she had married and moved into her new home, whilst we were not averse to each other's company I had tried (albeit in vain) to correct Cathy's spoilt nature. The parity of our ages meant that this was a hard task indeed, and I believe Cathy regarded me a strange mix of disdain and approbation, for after all, whether willingly or no, I was her only confidante.
'Put the book away please, Miss Cathy, for what I have to say is important' was my first remark.
Cathy responded with her usual disdain: 'Nelly, when will you finish mending the lace on my blue gown? Is it not the finest lace you have ever seen? - Nay Nelly, I am loath to put the book aside for I am just at the most interesting part, for the nobles are about to commence a duel over the heart of the fair lady Juliet'.
'A fine way for gentlemen to behave' was my sage commentary. 'Miss Cathy, please remember to whom you speak, and if you insist on telling falsehoods at least trouble to be holding the volume the right way round first' (here I turned the book for her).
My mistress had the nerve to laugh and fix me with her bold stare, 'Nelly, you chide me as though I were still an infant, I have not forgotten the tempest of upbraidings I received at the Heights and am in no mood to countenance any further ones from you now; please remember that I am Mrs Linton and that you should strive from now on to hold a servile tongue in your head as befits your station'. After this pretty speech my mistress was pleased to fling the book away from her, it landed with its spine flat against the floor, its pages facing the ceiling, and I conjectured the pages had chanced to remain open at the duel scene, for some morbid fancy persisted within me that a meeting between these twain tempers of my former charges would be disastrous for all involved.
However, I did as I was bid by my mistress and held my tongue from uttering the rebuke her remarks deserved, 'If you please, Mrs Linton (I confess I intoned the name with significance, and earned a surly look from Cathy) there is someone to see you...'
'Good Nelly, this is most fortuitous, for I have not seen a living soul other than Edgar and yourself for what seems an eternity'. Cathy began preening herself at a small mirror above the fireplace, (vanity was ever a fault I sought to curb in her but never succeeded), before I could censure my mistress' use of hyperbole and the implicit criticism of my own and the masters' company. I saw her face assume a dispassionate look in the reflection of the mirror, 'oh, I am sure it is only Joseph, come to beg victuals for that feckless brother of mine, for no doubt he has gambled all he has and shall lose our home to someone more worthless than he is, if such a forlorn creature exists'. I was shocked that the latter consideration elicited greater sentiment than the imminent downfall of her sibling.
'Miss Cathy...' I began, eager to make her aware of the snare awaiting her, 'later, Nelly –see to it that the dress looks perfect, I won't have Miss Isabella's finery outdo mine as mistress of Thrushcross Grange, and pick that book up'.
Cathy commenced to leave the room, and I had to entreat her perforce, 'I beg of you to stay a moment', Cathy stopped momentarily at these words, for the word 'beg' is one I seldom, if ever, use; but her character being as obdurate as Mr Heathcliff's I only heightened her anticipation of the guest awaiting her as she turned and hastened towards the parlour.
Thus evading my warning Cathy hurried onwards and I immediately proceeded after my mistress, but fearing it impolitic to enter the parlour myself I stood concealed behind the doorway; neither one perceived my presence as I peered in on the scene. There was a short period of silence proceeded by a sound of elation from Miss Cathy upon her discovery, and she rushed towards him like one beside herself and seized his hands, 'Heathcliff! I had thought never to see you again!', her wonderment found an unwelcome counterpart in the fleeting fraught expression that passed across Heathcliff's eyes and on the instant vanished to leave his implacable stern look (ere long it should become a permanent grimace). 'I cannot believe it! continued Cathy, 'I shall arise tomorrow and think this all a dream', here she laughed and said 'and Nelly told me a gentleman was here to visit me'.
Heathcliff's reply was strangely curt, disrupting the tenor of Cathy's contentment, 'Nelly Dean knew better than to gainsay one she thought a gentleman, and in this respect her character aligns with her mistress' perfectly'. His eyes were like that of a man tracking its quarry, silently awaiting the first false step to ensnare their victim.
Cathy withdrew her hands silently from his, and spoke with a calmness I believed alien to her nature, 'you are precipitate in what you believe, Heathcliff'. There was a lull in her speech, yet Heathcliff did not reply. A tension pervaded the atmosphere like the lowering of great thunder clouds before a storm.
The pitch of my mistress' voice was turned to one of distress 'what is it ails you Heathcliff? Cannot you even feign happiness after three years of separation?'
The reply was acrid 'to dissemble was ere your chiefest merit, Cathy, not mine – I was never pleased to put on airs and graces as you were, thinking a new dress would make you a different person, and yet the very pith of your nature remains the same.'
My mistress looked nettled and was about to reply when a strange smile twisted Heathcliff's lips, 'Come, Cathy, I see that you are in excellent health, and that my absence has not caused you to languish; especially being in the care of one whose only predilection in life is to seek your love in vain.'
'Villain!' I could not but help give vent to my feelings in my mind, and was pleased with Cathy's own rally on behalf of my master, 'you should not impugn the character of a good man, when our own is not above scrutiny.'
Here the fiend's countenance brightened, 'Our own?' he replied, 'you meant to say 'my own' I believe? (I was shocked that he should move towards her, and have the impudence to embrace her!), 'you know then that we share a unique soul'.
'Speak not of love! was her acrid rebuke as she struggled against his embrace, and drew herself up to her full height 'you abandoned me three years ago without even a word of farewell or a backwards glance. My soul revolted at your disappearance and I sought you frantically amongst the rocks and grasses we used to play in – the King and his Queen. I was reduced to a state a pauper would have been ashamed of! lashed with rain and shivering, cold, dirty and oppressed with the knowledge that you had fled me. I would fain I have died then, Heathcliff; do not imagine my life with Edgar has been untainted by memories of being forsaken by one I loved'. My master's sneer changed to one of concern and he looked grave indeed, 'Aha! she exclaimed, 'I see that words have fled you, now you perceive that you were bold in your conjectures of my happiness'.
Heathcliff's voice was authoritative, like one seeking to return order to chaos 'I went to seek my fortune Cathy, you knew that I would return'.
Here Cathy regarded him in wonderment and spoke with mock affectation, 'Yes, forgive me, your Highness, for now with all your magnanimity you see fit to bestow a visit on me, only to put on surly airs and graces!'
I gathered my own shawl about Heathcliff as he and Edgar approached Wuthering Heights. He was in an appalling state, haggard and filthy, barely able to utter a coherent sentence.
'Hurry sir', I exhorted Edgar, 'move with all haste, we must get him in front of a warm fire before he catches cold and perishes'.
Edgar, I perceived, hastened not a jot, and instead replied, 'I found him, itinerant soul that he is, very close to my property. At first I thought him a ghost he was so pale and withdrawn'. Upon entering the house Edgar and I managed to seat Heathcliff in his chair beside the fire whilst his body still shivered from the exertion of having wandered miles in freezing weather, heedless of direction, and perhaps (I feared) without a care as to returning home.
'Do not look upon this as an act of charity, Heathcliff' began Edgar, 'in fact it is rather the opposite, it does not stem from any sense of altruism. I enjoy your discomfiture immensely; you may comprehend more readily the torment you caused poor Cathy when she sought you out all those years ago'. Heathcliff's eyes which had been wandering restlessly fixed themselves on Edgar and I saw the malign light that shone in them.
Edgar spoke like one possessed, no sooner had he finished this diatribe against Heathcliff than he began a new one, 'I must live each day with the abominable knowledge that Cathy spurned me for an avaricious fiend; you are served well for you may bask in vainglory to your heart's content; the sole proprietor of Wuthering Heights. I imagine this was your true goal in pursuing Cathy, what does a creature without a soul know of such a refined feeling as love?
'Go to the deuce' Heathcliff uttered through clenched teeth. Edgar revelled in his rivals' momentary loss for words, weakened as he was, 'so this is the only rebuttal the feted Heathcliff, whom controversy courts so ardently, can offer'. Edgar had the effrontery to sit on one of the chairs by the grate, made bold by his speech. Here he was checked by Heathcliff, 'Damn your impudence man, you are merely the donkey who wore the lion's mane, you speak thus on borrowed courage for you see I am weak, when I am well again I shall strike you down'. Edgar replied bitterly, 'do you not imagine I have been tormented by you enough? I suffered misery each time Cathy looked at you as though the earth could afford no greater prodigy. You may wonder at my confidence, but I have grown bold since Cathy's death and it is you who are to blame; to suggest that you parley with a spectre is a nonsense, it is your way of coping with the misery you inflicted'. There was a brief silence as Edgar reflected, 'nature must have erred to hold such a twain as you'.
Heathcliff looked weary and I was shocked to see his face blighted by a solitary tear, 'perhaps that is why she was taken from me; each attempt I make to seek her out, if even for a second is a fruitless travail; I must be endlessly frustrated and my body sequestered here on earth is in a very purgatory. Cathy's spirit is somewhere betwixt this earth and the firmament, wither I know not. Why did you not leave me to perdition? If there is another world beyond the clouds of the sky, I could have sought Cathy out, I would have known her instantly for I am Cathy and our souls are of the same kind. The abyss of my own misery gapes before me as a blank void. Wuthering Heights is become a sepulchre and I am its living inmate, this is the fate that loving Cathy has brought me to'.