Chapter 7: Gold into Lead
by Ivy Darcourt
Stomping her hooves, Angelina lowed sharply, but her demand for attention bore no fruit for Heathcliff and Hindley were immersed in a staring contest. In the dim light of the flickering lantern, Heathcliff's eyes glittered fiercely as Hindley flinched first, presumably to rummage through the large pocket of his riding coat.
"You have no right to interfere between father and son. But then that is the way of a cuckoo, is it not?" whimpered Hindley, who sat sprawled in the hay, his back resting against a post. Having found what he wanted, he cast a sideways glance at Heathcliff.
"You were an unworthy son, and now you are an unworthy father," declared Heathcliff, who crossed his arms and stared with narrowed eyes at Hindley. Heathcliff's gaze carried such authority that an outside observer might have feared they'd inadvertently crossed into the Underworld only to stumble upon Lord Hades judging some unfortunate shade. "Your father thought you weak," added Heathcliff.
"Shut up!" shouted Hindley, attempting to stand, but failing. Defeated, he did manage to pull a flask from his pocket and remove the cork. "You may not speak for my father."
"Ah, but I was far closer to Father than ever you were. Your trifling nature disappointed him." Heathcliff smiled weirdly as he stared down on the bane of his childhood. "I overheard him speak of it once to a fortuneteller, of all people. He feared your actions would lead to the demise of the Earnshaw family and thus the Heights. He was quite prescient."
"Unfortunately, he did not have the insight to realize the thief hid right under his nose." Pressing his back against a post, Hindley took a long pull from his flask, and then pushed himself upward in an awkward effort to stand. Once upright, he swayed, hugging the pole as though he clung to a ship's mast in a storm.
"Must you drink yourself into oblivion every night?" asked Heathcliff with disgust.
"You should try it."
"And why is that?"
"It is a great panacea for all that pains."
"I don't want pain relief; pain keeps me focused. Truly, I would miss it; it has been a loyal companion for a very long time."
"How can you bear it?" asked Hindley, sliding down the post to sit once more in the hay.
"My capacity to bear pain is in great part due to your persistent efforts. Thank you for that," said Heathcliff, continuing to gaze with pitiless eyes at the lost soul that was Cathy's brother. "Living with pain is second nature to me, and, because of that, I have no illusions as to nature of this world. Truly, you were once a worthy opponent. Now you're just contemptible."
"Oh come now, are you telling me you never seek relief in whiskey or women?" Hindley crooked his head to one side, squinting upward with rheumy eyes, the whites of which were decidedly yellowed. He looked old and unwell. "What about that washerwoman? There is a great deal of talk about the two of you in Gimmerton."
"Oisin's mother?" laughed Heathcliff. "My tenant?"
Angelina bellowed once more, and this time Heathcliff answered her call. Petting her nose, he led her out of the milking stall and into her night enclosure where he secured her.
"Indeed, no one would blame you," said Hindley after another sip from his flask. "All men have needs, and I've heard it told that, when it comes to women, gypsy men are like stallions that've caught the scent of a mare in heat."
"Do I detect a bit of envy?" smirked Heathcliff. "I suppose you covet my power to give satisfaction. However, I never mix business and pleasure, and, as to my needs, you will never know how, where or even if I take my pleasure."
"Are you saying you are chaste as well as an abstainer?" Hindley had a hearty laugh over that. "I don't believe it. Or did you think no one could hear you and Isabella Linton carrying on? Joseph prayed himself into a stupor."
Heathcliff chuckled. "Joseph? Overindulge in fervor? Never!"
"You and your wife drove him mad, though I'm not sure whether it was with envy or disgust."
"That woman pestered me day and night; she nearly killed me. She might have been a courtesan in another world."
"Such indulgences take the bitterness out of time's passage."
"But they are like a lantern to sunlight."
"What are you prattling about?"
"You know what I'm talking about."
"No. I do not."
"I am describing the difference between indulgence and love."
"In lieu of love indulgence will do. Besides, indulgence beckons oblivion."
"Why would I wish to forget the one I keep closest?"
"I assume you mean my dear sister, not her sister-in-law," said Hindley, with a superior smile as if he had pronounced something of great wit and insight. "You know, I have thought deeply about Catherine's short life, and I've come to count her death a fortunate circumstance for it puts her out of your reach forever."
"Much like Frances for you," spat Heathcliff, suppressing with all his considerable will the desire to thrash Hindley.
"Dog, you may not pronounce that blessed woman's name," screamed Hindley, trying to lunge at Heathcliff. Like all drunks his moods were mercurial. "Frances was as perfect as her love. She and I were happy; unlike you and Catherine. My sister was in your thrall; that is not love."
"You don't understand anything. It was I who was in Cathy's thrall," laughed Heathcliff, pushing Hindley back with his boot. "Your sister is a real sorceress. Unfortunately she did not have the strength to face her destiny in life. It seems to run in your family."
"My sister was happy until your return," said Hindley, struggling to remove Heathcliff's boot from his chest.
"As difficult as it may be, refrain from your usual idiocy. Cathy married Edgar Linton so she could escape the daily misery of your drunken excesses." Heathcliff gave Hindley one last shove before retreating.
"I was in deep mourning; something you should understand." Hindley devolved into drunken tears.
"And are you still in deep mourning? Is that the excuse you use every time you raise the bottle to your lips?"
"My drinking habits befit landed gentry," declared Hindley, wiping his eyes on his coat sleeve while trying to appear stately. "Besides, I drink with good reason; you should take it up instead of wandering gloomily about the Heights like a dog seeking its master. Though in truth it would limit my amusement, since your suffering is my greatest delight; many's the night I drink to your misery. Shall we toast our mutual woe?" Hindley held the flask up to Heathcliff.
"I never touch hard spirits."
"Too cheap, I suppose."
"I have things to accomplish that require a clear head. You should try it. The apothecary can dry you out."
"That quack – never! Besides, I doubt the Mister Kenneth will come willingly to my aid."
"Why? What have you done now?"
"Let's just say he'll need a good bathing when he gets home. It seemed so funny at the time – pushing him off his horse and holding his head in the bog, but now …"
"You realize you've acted the idiot?"
"How can I carry on without drink? Frances is gone – deep in the ground – moldering – disappearing - while her brat consorts with the likes of you … She should never have gotten with child. "
"I suppose you were a complete innocent in the matter. Odd that's not how I remember it."
"That child bears a curse."
"Now Hareton's to blame for her death," said Heathcliff, eyeing him closely. "But you are his father; thus you are the begetter of her death. And this cross you bear gives you reason to fritter your life away, shirking both your fatherly duties and those of your position?"
"Who are you to judge me? If I still mourn Frances that is my own concern; besides you are hardly one to criticize. Your obsession with my sister even in death borders on madness."
"Frances left you a strong, healthy son whom you see fit to make miserable. Certainly she would despise you for the way you treat him."
"Hareton is the author of his mother's death, not I. Whenever I look upon that child I wish to squeeze him until he screams."
"You dishonor Frances' memory with your base self-indulgence."
"You are a hypocrite; Catherine would be horrified by your miserly ways."
"If Catherine were alive and my wife, I would spare no expense to ensure her happiness. As for myself, I enjoy my work and prefer a simple, frugal life. What else is there?"
"Where did you get all that money?"
"Why would I trust you with such a confidence? Just be grateful I found wealth and returned to save you and your son."
"Save me? From what have you saved me?"
"Homelessness or worse, debtor's prison."
"What an imagination you have. I have never been in danger of debtor's prison."
"If you had not leased your land to me, you would have leased it to another; otherwise you could not pay for your gambling habit or any of the other frivolous addictions that rule your life."
"Gamblers do not go to debtor's prison."
"No, but they are subject to severe physical injury or even death at the hands of thugs if they do not pay what they owe. And you, for all your bragging, are a coward, Hindley. It was inevitable that you would seek an investor willing to accept the legalities of a fee tail. You may thank whatever luck you have left that I am cleverer than most in regard to that conundrum. No matter what the case, the lost income from the rental properties would have forced you to lease back your pasture land, leading you into further debt, just as you are in debt to me. However, unlike other investors, I shall never throw you and Hareton out or send you off to debtor's prison though you deserve it, you ungrateful peg."
"Why, Heathcliff, why not send me to that hell?" asked Hindley. He seemed weak as he slumped, leaning on his elbow with a sigh. "It would be a just revenge."
"That is for you to contemplate."
"Is it Father? Or Catherine?" demanded Hindley, twisting awkwardly to look up at Heathcliff. "No, it's Hareton; isn't it? You do not wish him the ignominy of a debtor father."
"The likes of you will never understand, Hindley." Heathcliff turned his back and moved to the shadows; the sight of Hindley, who showed obvious signs of serious illness, unsettled him.
"It was slaving; wasn't it? That was how you prospered. How else would a low life like you make such a fortune? You must know that is what people whisper."
"I shall say this. Never would I stoop to slaving - ever; I'll add an extra sovereign to your monthly allowance if you spread that about."
"You care what people say? Why?"
"Do you want the money or not?" growled Heathcliff, turning back to Hindley. So fierce was his expression that in the deep shadows of the flickering lantern light he resembled a wrathful deity.
Rubbing his eyes, Hindley shook his head; he seemed to be having trouble focusing. "How do you do that?"
"Appear so strange. For a moment I thought you had transformed into a demon."
"Wasn't that issue settled long ago?"
"It must have been a trick of the light. Back to the matter at hand, how did you accumulate all that money, Heathcliff?"
"I earned it," replied Heathcliff, examining his old nemesis, who lay sprawled in the hay utterly helpless. "Sadly, you consider work beneath you, but your son will know how to occupy his time in worthwhile endeavor."
"Earned it how? Pirating?"
"Tell me, Hindley, what have you observed in regard to my business acumen?"
"I have not paid attention."
"I suppose you believe such considerations beneath you, but perhaps you should start taking note. You might learn something and improve your condition."
"No one of any worth works for money. Besides, I am close to the end of my rope, the end of which rapidly unravels; I have no desire to slow the inevitable."
"Even if you were offered means?"
"From the likes of you? Never."
"Thus the Earnshaw line dwindles. Now get up - unless you wish to sleep in the cow barn. I have things to do."
Hindley tried to rise, but he could not coordinate his torso with his extremities. Chanting a string of oaths, Heathcliff reached down and pulled his beloved Cathy's brother to his unsteady feet, and then, stooping, threw the inebriate over his shoulder. Dead weight, Hindley hung like a sack of potatoes as Joseph entered the barn.
"Wha' ha' ye dun to ta master?" asked the wizened, ancient acolyte.
"He's drunk," answered Heathcliff. "Take the lantern and go before me. Then you may prepare him some food."
"Liar! Ye ha' killed 'im. Murderer."
"You must kill the gypsy thief and revenge me, my faithful, old servant," said Hindley in a ghostly, wavering voice.
"Did ye 'ear tha'?" asked Joseph, shivering. "Ta' master calls form ta' other side."
"The other side of what you old fart?" demanded Heathcliff. "Hurry up, old man, he's heavy."
"The weight o' ye eternal damnation."
"Avenge me," moaned Hindley.
"Stop it, Hindley, or I will kill you," threatened Heathcliff.
Hindley laughed manically as the terrified Joseph shook like one afflicted with palsy. "Ye canna' silence a ghost."
"He is not dead. Now lead the way, old man," growled Heathcliff over Hindley's ghostly moans. "Cease, Hindley or I'll throw you to the ground."
"Ah, but you can no longer cause me pain," moaned Hindley. At this Joseph ran like a man one quarter his age with the devil on his tail. Unfortunately, he'd absconded with the lantern.
"Well done," said Heathcliff. "Now we must find our way in darkness." He waited motionless allowing, his eyes to adjust.
"He just makes it so easy," Hindley laughed, but then he whispered. "I believe it would be in your best interest to put me down; I'm going to be ill."
Heathcliff dropped Hindley to the ground where the dissolute fell to his knees and did indeed become quite ill. At the sight Heathcliff cursed; this was bad. He'd have to change his plans.
"Bloody hell, Hindley!" shouted Heathcliff. "I should make you clean this up."
Hindley lay on the pavers, moaning and gasping for air.
"Joseph! Get out here! And bring the lantern."
"Nay," shouted the old man from the kitchen entrance. "'Tis cursed where the undead walk."
"If you don't do as I say, I will drag your boney ass out here."
Joseph quickly disappeared as in a fury Heathcliff stormed toward the house, but before he could enter, the old man reappeared carrying a lantern. He walked tentatively toward Hindley, examining him. "Did ye bring 'em back to life?" the old man asked. Heathcliff rolled his eyes.
"If I could bring people back from the dead, would I be living here?"
"I ask ye ag'in. Di' ye raise him from the beyond?"
"Of course not, he's just dead drunk." Heathcliff stated this knowing he would never change the old man's mind. Tomorrow Joseph would spread the word – Heathcliff the necromancer – and Hindley would never deny it. He'd use it; the denizens of Gimmerton would buy him drinks so they might hear every detail of how he'd returned from the gates of hell.
"Suf'ren Jesus," declared Joseph as they stood over Hindley. "Heathcliff, ye be a wicked one, but yer powers are na' to be toyed with."
"I'm going for the apothecary," said Heathcliff. "Get him inside, and lay him out. Then clean this up – no wait, Mister Kenneth may want to see it for diagnosis."
"I canna move the likes of ta' mast'r on me own."
"Go and prepare his bed; and then bring him some food."
Heathcliff helped Hindley to his feet, lifting him over his shoulder after which he carried the stricken man into the house and up to his bedroom where he dropped the inebriate unceremoniously on his bed. All the while Heathcliff wondered why he bothered aiding the author of his childhood troubles.
"Are you sure you wish to continue on this path?" Heathcliff asked as he removed Hindley's great cloak and boots.
"I have no choice."
"Yes, you do. Think of your son."
"I cannot stop; when I do I'm madder than when I drink."
"There are cures available; I will extend your credit."
"Is that what you are doing in the upstairs garret with all your crucibles, retorts and chemicals? Looking for a cure for the drink?"
"What I do in the garret is my affair. As to the cure there is a place by the sea in Weymouth."
"You would actually pay for my cure? I hear it is quite costly."
"I said I would extend your credit."
"No, my life is forfeit."
"Have you no imagination, Hindley?"
"Imagination? What has that to do with anything?"
"Imagine yourself recovered and, through the effort, master of the Heights again."
Hindley stared at Heathcliff as if considering such a miraculous change of circumstances. After a time he smiled. "But where would you go, Heathcliff? Hasn't taking the Heights for your own been your objective?"
"It has, but in truth it is a means to an end."
"Stop tormenting me with hope, cuckoo. You know I can never repay you."
Hindley reached under his mattress and pulled out a flask, but before he could drink Heathcliff swept in and took it from him.
"Give it, cuckoo," screamed Hindley. With terror in his eyes, he trembled.
"Wha' ha ye done to ta' master?" shouted Joseph from the doorway. He carried a tray with bowl of soup and cup of warm milk upon it.
"What took you so long, old man?" demanded Heathcliff, but he continued without waiting for an answer. "I'm going for Mister Kenneth. Do not under any circumstances let him imbibe spirits."
"But he canna' be stopped."
"Feed him and get him to sleep."
"He t'won't obey me. E'en now he cries like a bairn for its mother's milk." Indeed, Hindley wailed like a child. In frustration Heathcliff poured whiskey from the flask into the soup and then the milk.
"Eat and drink if you want your spirits."
Hindley put the soup bowl to his lips and gulped it down after which he lay back, closing his eyes. Joseph and Heathcliff watched him until, convinced he slept, Heathcliff made to leave, but Hindley roused at the creak of the floor boards.
"Where are you going?" he croaked.
"For the apothecary."
"May I remind you that Mister Kenneth is quite irritated with me."
"So you said; nevertheless he will come."
"I need no one."
"You're skin and eyes are as yellow as a turnip and your vomit is bloodied. You need to be seen."
"But who will pay him, Heathcliff?"
"I shall add it to your debt."
"Joseph, go for Mister Kenneth. I have business with Heathcliff."
"'Tis me Bible study time ye are taken up with yer foolishness."
"Go, old man or I'll send you packing! And who else would hire the likes of you, you Bible-thumping jackass?" roared Hindley.
Joseph left grumbling bitterly under his breath. When they were alone Hindley gazed up at Heathcliff. His eyes glittered in the candle light and the irises, though blue, appeared opaque and soulless.
"I have figured out how you made your money."
"Tell me; I can't wait."
"You have discovered the method for making lead into gold. That is what you are doing in the upstairs garrets."
Utterly surprised, Heathcliff laughed.
"I have no need; I have more money than I will ever need, and I'm exceedingly good at investing. My money just grows more money."
"Then what are you doing up there? I hear you pacing at all hours of the night. And I don't believe you; how could you be good with money?"
"It is another sort of gold I strive for. And it was your father, Hareton Earnshaw, taught me how to invest."
"Another sort of gold?"
"You know, Hindley it amazes me that you would sooner believe I can convert lead into gold than make good investments."
"You said I should use my imagination."
"And you choose to think only of material gain."
"Teach me the method or I will kill you." Hindley pulled an old revolver from under his pillow and waved it at Heathcliff who laughed at the rusty thing which was probably not loaded.
"That would be impossible even if I knew how. Your gift lies in the opposite direction."
"Truly, Hindley, your expertise lay in changing gold into lead."