Chapter 13: Baby Birds and the Consequences of Cruelty
Part Six: The Law of Enantiodromia
By Ivy Darcourt
Thunder rumbled in the distance as Cathy tiptoed silently across her bedroom. Opening the door, she listened. From the sitting room drifted voices, and they spoke Heathcliff's name. Intent on investigating, she quietly latched the door behind her, and made her way to the narrow balcony that overlooked the sitting room. Once there, she lay on her belly and slithered to the balustrade where she hid, peeking between the spindles as below an inquisition took place.
"Why must you bring that out now?" demanded Nellie Dean, standing in the shadow cast by the cupboard. Cathy could just make out the maid as she cleared a great many dishes from the dinner table, placing them on a large tray. "The time is highly inappropriate."
"And why not?" laughed Hindley, kneeling to pull several bricks from the hearth. He retrieved a ragged red leather bound volume from beneath them. "You could have written this tome; you're so clever." He threw himself into Mister Earnshaw's favorite armchair and thumbed through the well worn pages, occasionally drinking from an unusually large goblet.
"Your mother and the curate will be back within the hour, expecting tea and dessert to be set out. Imagine the scene that would ensue should she to find you drooling over that. And you insult me; if I were to write a book it would in no way resemble The Crafty Chambermaid's Garland. It would be poetic, artful and deep." With an air of haughty superiority, Nellie bustled about gathering up the rest of the dishes. When the table was cleared she picked up the tray, placing it on the long bench seat.
"You know this book could be your biography." Watching Nellie, Hindley ran his thumb up and down the spine. "Are you sure you've never met the author?" Cathy could clearly make out the smirk on Hindley's face, though, truth be told, she had no idea what the two adolescents were going on about. Nevertheless, knowledge of this forbidden book and its hiding place would no doubt prove invaluable.
"In no way do the events in that volume resemble my life!" grumbled Nellie, vigorously wiping the table with a damp cloth.
"You do not fool me, Nellie Dean. You desire a similar fate as Bexelinda, this fictional maid – to rise above your station via marriage with the master's son. You already act like you own the place. If anyone could maneuver such an unlikely outcome, it's you."
"You, Master Hindley, are a drunk and a cad." Nellie threw the damp, cleaning cloth directly at his face where it rested for a moment before falling into his lap. Cathy stifled a giggle.
"Wait, except for my name that is a direct quote from the book," said Hindley, jumping to his feet. He took hold of the towel at diagonal corners, twirling it into a long narrow strip and then whipping it at Nellie's butt. It hit its rather large target with a prodigious thwak.
"Ow," yelped Nellie, glaring at Hindley, who now stood beside her preparing the towel for a second foray. She grabbed it, hiding it behind her back as he tried to reach for it. "I shall report your poor behavior to your father when he returns."
Eyeing her with a mischievous smirk, Hindley advanced on her, pressing her against the cupboard. "On my, how I do tremble at the very thought, but then I shall have to tell Papa what you have been up to. Thus blackmail will never work on me."
"I have done nothing you can report without incriminating yourself," said Nellie, slipping away from him, and crossing to the opposite side of the table.
"My point exactly. You know, dear Nellie, you are the most self-centered and cunningly domineering person I have ever met," said Hindley, following her. "You are like the tragic young heroine in that other book we read. You must remember; the jealous older sister who tricked her poor, trusting, innocent younger siblings into constant error, and then tattled on them so that she might seem morally superior. What was it called? Griselda Grimsley's Melancholy Treasons?"
"I shall not listen to such slander. Why, Miss Charlotte proclaimed me the moral center of this madhouse."
Hindley doubled up laughing. "You? The moral center? You think only of your own welfare; you're exactly like the crafty chambermaid. If you are the moral center than we're all bound for Hell. But perhaps that's what Miss Charlotte meant."
"You think you are better than me, but it the reverse. Miss Charlotte has said so."
"You are my social inferior; in all other ways we are equally depraved. Drop that prig; she's much too severe. I want my sweet, conniving Nellie. Remember what fun we've always had?" Hindley walked to fireplace; he stood behind Mister Earnshaw's chair, leaning against the pillar.
"I have my reasons for befriending her; and you, Sir, have gone too far. Now leave me be. I must set out tea and dessert before your mother's return. I will not be sacked again."
"Take it with you. But first get the candle; let's burn it," said Hindley as he reached behind the chair and pulled Heathcliff upright. With his booted foot he pushed the boy toward Nellie. "I want to know how it got free."
Cathy brought her small fist to her mouth and bit it in order to stifle a scream, something she'd learned from Heathcliff. Filthy and bruised, her dear friend stood with his hands bound before him. Nothing Hugh had said prepared her for the sight. Naked except for his britches, Heathcliff's hair fell in greasy strings over his grimy, grim face. Hindley mimicked the child's expression as he grabbed for the hearth broom with which he prodded Heathcliff's back repeatedly; the younger boy ignored the teasing. The unresponsiveness of his victim drove Hindley's rage, and he kicked the boy so hard that Heathcliff was lifted off his feet and fell, sprawling upon the polished rock floor.
Infuriated, Hindley yanked Heathcliff back to his feet as Nellie Dean emerged from the shadows of the cupboard with a lit candle. Slowly, she dripped hot wax on Heathcliff's shoulder. He flinched, but he did not cry out. Cathy swore a silent curse upon the maid and then mentally disowned Hindley.
"We have been at this for days," said Nellie. "He will never yield."
"It is not capable of yielding, Nellie, due to its dull insensibility. Did you not hear my mother's cousin's words? Eventually I will find where its sensitive spots lie, and then it will weep and moan, begging me, its master, for mercy. Won't I, scum?" said Hindley, kicking Heathcliff to the floor, again. "After that perhaps, if I am satiated, I will consider granting it mercy."
"You are wrong; he hides his pain to spite you. I'm tired of hurting him. He bores me."
"It is not a he; it is an it!" shouted Hindley. "Must I beat you too?"
"Come near me and I will hit you so hard it will dent that ugly square head of yours," growled Nellie. She'd picked up a large pewter pitcher which she held high, ready to strike.
Hindley and the angry maid glared at each other, but after a few moments Hindley slouched, his expression softening. "Now, now, Nellie, put that down. Come and give your sweet Hindley a kiss to show all is forgiven."
"Nay, Master Hindley, I've had enough of you." Nellie turned her back on him.
"Do you not love me anymore?" asked Hindley, grabbing Heathcliff by the hair and yanking him to his feet.
"Love you?" she gasped, lowering the pitcher. "How can I, when you betray me to my face? I saw you flirting with the ladies at Gimmerton Fair. Do you think me a slave to your attentions? "
"I am to be master of the Heights, Nellie, it is only appropriate I show off before the daughters of the local gentry. You are only a maidservant, but, that said, you are diabolically clever and far more interesting." Hindley stood and walked around Heathcliff, grabbing the boy's ear and twisting. "Hold him while beat him."
"I have no time. As you have so observantly pointed out I am only a servant, and thus I have evening duties to attend to. Besides you have beaten and poked every inch of him to no avail."
"I told you to call the thing it," growled Hindley, grabbing her chin.
"Let me go!" Nellie kicked him, but Cathy could not see where.
"But, Nellie, you hate it too," Hindley whined, hopping around on one leg while holding the other. "You said it needs punishing."
"It does need punishing, as does Miss Catherine. And I do hate it, Hindley, but there is a limit to how long I can exercise such vigorous rancor. All this has grown dull; besides there are far subtler and more painful ways to exact punishment though anything less than direct action would probably be lost on you."
Nellie crossed the room toward the kitchen with Hindley following her like a faithful dog. Once they were under the second floor hallway overhang Cathy could no longer see them likewise she was invisible to them. Seizing this opportunity, she got to her feet, waving her hands frantically so she might grab Heathcliff's attention. However her effort was unnecessary, for he stared at the place where she stood as if he'd been waiting for her to appear. He brought his fingers to his lips, signaling her to be quiet.
"Did you hear something?" asked Hindley. Cathy froze. All that could be heard was the rustling of Nellie's petticoats.
"Just you rattling about. Stop that, Hindley, I have work to do," came Nellie's rebuke followed by a loud slap.
"Will you come to my room later?" asked Hindley, obviously undeterred. The sound of rustling petticoats resumed.
"Not tonight, you have insulted me; I prefer to keep my own company in my own room." Nellie sounded positively pouty.
"Your room?" growled Hindley. You sleep where you sleep at my whim."
"Your father's whim!" Nellie reminded him, her voice filled with distain. "Do you have any idea how strange you Earnshaws are?"
"What do you mean by that? Be careful how you answer."
"Maidservants in other houses do not share an adjoining room with the master's son as a matter of course. Neither do street urchins sleep in the same bed as the master's daughter."
"We follow the old ways."
"But the old ways are no longer proper."
"How would you know?"
"I have my ways."
"It matters not; our case is different. You and I have been intimate since infancy; you are my milk-sibling."
"Aye, is that how you call it?"
They both laughed, and then Hindley murmured something Cathy could not hear. While Nellie and Hindley whispered and giggled, Cathy watched Heathcliff. He could see the two, whereas she remained blind to their doings. Whatever they were about, Heathcliff visibly relaxed, twisting his arms so he might reach into the pocket of his britches. With great effort he pulled forth a small knife, which he brought it to his mouth, removing its sheath with his teeth. She recognized it immediately as Hugh's. Heathcliff flipped it deftly so that it touched the rope that bound his wrists. Within minutes he cut himself free, though she could see he had nicked his wrist in the process.
Heathcliff let the ropes fall, re-sheathed the knife and hung it about his neck, afterward picking up a used napkin and tying around his wrist. That done, he made for a narrow panel beside the fire place, carefully prying it open. Turning back to Cathy, he pointed toward the back hallway, signaling her to meet him there. She did not need this cue for she already knew his plan. She just hoped he was still small enough to make it up the narrow hidden stairway behind the panel. It led to the second story garrets, and, when they were younger and smaller, they'd played in it. Few adults could fit through the narrow passage, and much as she and Heathcliff had inquired no one remembered its original use. In light of this mystery, Cathy had christened it Queen Mab's Way. Heathcliff slithered through the opening, closing it silently behind him. But as Cathy made to meet him, the floor of the narrow balcony creaked, forcing her to halt.
"What was that?" said Hindley.
"What is wrong with you?" asked Nellie. "You seem on edge tonight; it is probably nothing but the wind. Or perhaps it's ghosts?"
"Ghosts?" he whimpered.
"Yes, Hindley, you idiot. It must be ghosts."
"You laugh but they do walk the moor on nights such as this; I have seen their light."
"More likely it is your mother and her company. I must finish my work, and I believe it would be wise to clean it up," came Nellie's voice, soft and caressing. As she spoke Cathy lay down on her belly, listening. "Otherwise your mother will fly up when she sees what you have done."
"Why would you say that? Mother said it must be severely punished to drive out the demon."
"You have gone too far and sullied yourself. She will see that. He's a mess. You came close to killing him."
"So what? Everyone wants to be rid of it."
"No, you moron, not all! He's your father's pet. And Miss Catherine dotes on him."
"The old man's gone dotty, and Catherine's a stupid child," pouted Hindley. "Everyone else fears and despises it."
"You are an idiot. Already I have seen the kitchen servants showing him mercy. And Hugh the ploughboy probably set him free; no doubt that is why he gave notice. It is a natural law: anything pushed too far turns into its opposite. "
"I have not heard of such a law."
"It is in one of your father's books on science – the Law of Enantiodromia."
"You are so smart, my Nellie. What would I do without you?"
"You would flounder. Will the test be tonight?"
"Why do you think my cousin is here?"
"Fools!" laughed Nellie. "They're terrified of a boy."
"It is not a boy; it is a demon."
"This test reeks of ignorance."
"You may not speak of your betters that way."
"It is just an excuse, a way for your mother to get rid of him before …"
"Are you stupid, Hindley? Look at the poor woman; can you not see how ill she is? She wishes to leave you without a rival, and Cathy free of her demon playmate. It is her last act of motherly love."
"You lie; she will outlive me! Take it and get out of my sight!"
Cathy knelt; her mother was dying. Why hadn't she seen it? Her cruel words and refusal to give her mother the draught came to mind, and Cathy regretted her meanness. But her remorse quickly dissolved, her mother's approaching death did not give her the right to harm Heathcliff. The two ends were different: her mother's death would be the result of illness, but Heathcliff's death would be murder. How could her mother commit such a heinous act so close to the end? Cathy would not allow it, and the benefit would be twofold: Heathcliff would survive, and she would save her mother from committing a terrible sin.
Nellie reappeared, walking briskly to where Heathcliff had been. She turned back toward Hindley. "He's gone."
"Bloody hell," shouted Hindley. "Find it!" He followed Nellie and the two commenced a wild search for the boy, even looking in the cupboard.
Fortunately for Cathy, in their panic, neither Hindley nor Nellie noticed her bolt down the upstairs hall. When she reached the kitchen stairway Heathcliff was nowhere to be found, so she climbed the dusty steps to the second story garrets. There she headed along a narrow corridor of raw unvarnished wood. At the halfway point an even narrower side hall intersected, and she took this to a linen storage cabinet within which lay the well hidden exit of Queen Mab's Way. Opening the slim door, she found Heathcliff leaning against the wall, holding his wrist, his breath coming in quick, short huffs.
His appearance was almost more than she could endure, and hot tears filled her eyes. "Heathcliff," she whispered, hugging him.
"I missed you," said the boy, returning her embrace.
"What have they done to you?"
Heathcliff did not answer.
"I'm done with them, Heathcliff."
"I'm just done," whispered Heathcliff.
"You look so pale," said Cathy, running her hand over his forehead.
"My wrist - it's bleeding."
"Have no fear; I shall look after you."
This pronouncement brought a smile to Heathcliff's lips. "You?" he asked with more than a hint of skepticism.
"I've watched the apothecary. I shall apply pressure just like he does." Cathy stood and took a pillow casing, ripping it into strips.
"It's going to need more than pressure."
"I must have a look. Take off the napkin."
"Promise me you will not faint? I can barely manage myself let alone you."
"Please do not say the word faint. Just the sound of it makes me lightheaded," declared Cathy. "Wait, I need fortification." She took Missus Hull's draught from her pocket and lifted it to her lips. "Do you want some?"
"Yes," said Heathcliff, grabbing the bottle and taking a swig.
Cathy examined his wrist; in cutting the rope Heathcliff had managed to make a short but deep gash into his wrist. Medicine was not her forte. She closed her eyes for a moment, and, thinking of Roo ah ree's words, she summoned every ounce of inner strength she possessed. "I'm going to have to sew it up. I'll need a candle."
"This I must see," smirked Heathcliff, pulling the candle nub and flint he'd taken from Hugh's shed from his pocket.
"Are you insinuating that I'm unreliable?" said Cathy, lighting the candle and handing it to him. She could see his pain plainly on his face; as usual he wouldn't admit it.
"It's not an insinuation," said Heathcliff; he tried to laugh, but winced instead. "When it comes to caring for the injured, you're useless."
"I've changed right under your nose, and you failed to notice." She stood and, with her hands on her hips, she wiggled her butt at him, her manner haughty.
"Really?" Heathcliff laughed; this was exactly the reaction she desired. "Then I apologize; show me. What will you use for thread?"
"This," she said retrieving a sewing basket stored in the linen cabinet for simple, quick repairs. "Close your eyes."
"Absolutely not, I need to observe you carefully. For my own safety."
"And what does that mean?" Kneeling beside him, Cathy squinted and attempted to thread the needle; truth be told needlework too was beyond her. "Hold up the candle; I cannot see."
With a whimper, Heathcliff did as ordered. "It means that you are not touching me unless I see that your eyes remain open while you stitch me up."
"You have my assurances," she said with authority, trying to divert him with banter.
"You said that just like Solicitor Green. 'You have my assurances, Mister Earnshaw. I have the matter well in hand,'" Heathcliff intoned, imitating the man perfectly. "Only trouble is he never does; he always leaves something to chance, and Papa and I must find it."
"Please don't compare my assurances to that old fart's."
Heathcliff dissolved into laughter, exactly as Cathy wished. "Pray tell, how are your assurances any different than that legal gasbag's," asked the boy through his giggles.
"One, I am reliable, and two, I am gas free."
"Alright, but better do it quick, before I feel compelled to remind you that last statement is not true." At this a loud crack of thunder pierced the quiet, startling both children. It was followed by the pounding of rain upon the roof. "I rest my case, even the gods sit in judgment upon you."
"Hold the candle closer," said Cathy, wiping sweat from her brow. Heathcliff was right; she always closed her eyes while someone else did the patching up. And because of that she had no idea what to do, but nevertheless do it she must. With a deep fortifying breath, she finally got the thread through the needle. Afterward, pinching the skin on either side of the wound, she sunk the sharp point into Heathcliff's skin, pulling the thread taut. With the worst over she tied a neat knot and cut the needle free, Heathcliff didn't flinch, and his stoic bravery inspired her as the gash required two more stitches which she managed with aplomb.
"You'll need black drawing salve," she said with pride for she had acted with more courage than ever before.
"Here." Heathcliff pulled the small jar Hugh had given him from his pocket. "I need more draught."
"Just a sip. You'll fall asleep."
"What would happen if we drink the whole thing?"
"It would send us into a long, deep sleep; we might even die."
"I'm ready to slip away as long as we are together. I don't want to be drowned as a demon. Hindley and Nellie say they'll bury me at a crossroad where I'll be forced to haunt all who come my way. It sounds so dull; that's not how I wish to spend eternity. I'm not a demon, am I, Cathy?"
"I'll hear no talk of dying, Heathcliff, especially not after I just expended all that effort stitching you up. And no, you are not a demon. You are the best boy ever. If ever they did such a thing to you I should be buried with you as a suicide after I slash my wrists."
"But it wouldn't be dying exactly. Remember the picture from the book? We could go there."
"Which book? You are making no sense."
"The one where the children fly away into the night sky," said Heathcliff. His eyes had gone soft and dreamy, and Cathy found them bewitching in their beauty. When free of distress, Heathcliff was more handsome than any knight.
"The one where they are bewitched?" asked Cathy, forcing herself to look away from him so she might put away the needle and thread. Normally she would leave the mess for others straighten, but she wanted to erase any sign of their presence.
"Yes, they are made so tiny that they fly away in a wooden shoe turned winged boat with a drawing pen for a mast and silk handkerchief for a sail. How they did struggle to raise the mast." The boy smiled pensively, and Cathy recalled that this story had been his favorite when he'd first arrived at the Heights.
"And, though the witch who cast the shrinking spell follows them into the water, their sail catches a mighty gust of wind which sends the children careening down river at break neck speed," whispered Cathy, recalling the details. "All is well until a waterfall comes into view."
"When the children look down," said Heathcliff, staring into space as if the scene lay open before him. "The witch floats upon the roiling waters beneath, waiting for their inevitable fall. But Aeolus, god of winds, takes pity upon them, sending a gust of such force it fills the sails of the winged boat, lifting them into the stars.
"But the witch can fly too, and she follows them," growled Cathy.
"But just as she is upon them a hatch opens in what had before been the infinite dome of the Heavens. Beyond that break in the skies lies a new world the like of which is beyond comprehension."
"They know if they go through they might never return," said Cathy.
"Yet through that opening they fly for it is the only way they will ever be free of the witch that cursed them."
"The Key to Shut and Open. I remember," replied the girl, touching Heathcliff's grimy hand as if it were a treasure made of gold.
"Yes, that's the story. What was that place called?"
"Imaginal…We can drink the medicine and break through the Heavens to Imaginal together."
"You want to die?" asked Cathy, her heart filled with pity.
"Only if you do."
"No, no! I refuse; I considered it, but Roo ah ree has assured me it is not our time."
"Roo ah ree?"
"It was she who woke me. Otherwise I might have missed Hugh."
"She woke you? Is she real then?" asked Heathcliff.
"I don't know, but I asked her if we were bound for hell this very night."
"What did she say?"
"Hell is not for thee or he. It is a stranger fate awaits thee."
"That sounds just like her. But surely Imaginal is a stranger fate."
"Perhaps, but I am not ready to depart this world. Don't you want revenge anymore?"
"I want to climb into the wardrobe bed with you and be taken by sleep. I would go by my own hand rather than let them drown me."
"Fear not, Heathcliff; I know what to do."
"Cathy, do you hear the tempest outside?" he pleaded. "We'll not get far in this."
"Neither will anyone else."
"I'm done for. They will catch us and drown me. Let's go to your bed; I'll drink the rest of the draught and slip away."
"Nay, they won't drown you. and you'll not put an end to yourself. Put your trust in me."
But as Cathy said these words the sound of running footsteps came to them from the landing. Whoever made such a racket, they advanced quickly.
"Please Cathy, it's them."
Cathy looked into his eyes. "No!" she declared, though she found him difficult to resist.
"Will you turn me over to them then?"
"Never, now come with me."
"Don't ask questions just follow me."
Standing, Cathy held out her hand to the bedraggled boy. With a shrug he took it, as Cathy turned and opened the door to the linen closet. After a quick glance they made their way to the garret just across the hall. The room was used for storage, and it was full of antique junk; best of all it had a low ceiling with a skylight. Once inside she pushed a heavy old oak chair before the door and jammed it beneath the latch.
"Help me push this table underneath the skylight," Cathy ordered.
"Climb on the roof in this storm?"
"Don't worry; we only have to go a short distance."
"But there's lightning."
"I thought you were ready to die."
Heathcliff smiled; she had him there. "What if I am?"
"Shall we leave our destiny to the Lord of the Lightning?" she asked as they pushed the table beneath the skylight.
Heathcliff liked this turn of events immensely. "Yes! Oh Cathy, I should have trusted you; I just wish I had a sword."
"A sword? What good would that do?" said Cathy, scrambling onto the table with Heathcliff close behind.
"I should lift it to the Heavens and pray to the lightning god for aid." Saying this he unlatched the ceiling window and the two lifted it. Rain and wind poured through the opening as Heathcliff helped Cathy to the roof.
"Oh, Heathcliff, what a sight that would be. Surely the Sky God would reward such bravery."
Cathy turned and held out her hand, and Heathcliff took it. As he climbed through the opening, he heard the jammed door latch rattling, as someone shouted and tried to enter. Whoever it was they were too late, and he laughed as he made his way to freedom.