Hi again! I'm sorry the third chapter took so long, but I had to revise it several times until I felt it was really good/worth publishing.
I'd like to thank you all so much for the reviews I've received, I never expected to get so many responses, so thank you!
Thanks to Alex (thank you so much for your thoughts! very helpful! this chapter will definitely show a rockier side to the Isabella/Edgar dynamic. last chapter was more about settling in, but now we're making progress. What I aim to show is that even though they care for each other, there are certain restrictions and unspoken rules Isabella has to obey and Edgar doesn't and that affects their relationship. We know from the book how Edgar refused to help her when things got tough with Heathcliff and I hope I capture the beginnings of that here. And your idea about how the couples parallel each other is spot on. I'm of the same opinion and will continue on this trail:) oh and I'm glad you noticed my little inside jokes:), vampirelladan, Utsukushii Wonder and Guest (very happy you liked it! I am continuing it, of course).
Please share more of your wonderful thoughts and enjoy!
Isabella set her plan in motion the very next day.
Her brother was responsible for Heathcliff and she, for Catherine Earnshaw, but that did not mean she could not help both. She was certain that if she could "reform" Miss Earnshaw, she would have a better chance of moulding Heathcliff, too. The boy seemed so attached to Catherine that it would be no surprise if he followed in her footsteps.
But Isabella would soon find out Catherine Earnshaw was an even bigger challenge than Heathcliff.
She visited the girl every morning and stayed with her for several hours at a time, reading to her from her colourful edition of Letters For Young Ladies, but half the time Catherine yawned and made faces.
"This is very important, you know," Isabella chided. "You should listen, it's sound advice for when we grow up."
"I'm already grown up," Catherine retorted.
"No, I'm afraid you're not."
"Anyway, I don't need that nonsense to teach me anything."
"It's not nonsense! But if you'd like, I could sneak in a novel from time to time. Miss Barch won't notice. It's just awfully risky to read novels out loud."
"Novels? That sounds even stupider."
"You're wrong about that! They're very clever! Well, if you don't like letters or novels, you might like plays. My brother doesn't allow me to read Shakespeare without him - we always read together in the library you see, he's very particular about his edition - but I could borrow some Marlowe from him, he doesn't care about that one–"
"Oh, please, do shut up about reading! I'd rather get bored alone, thank you very much!" Catherine exclaimed at one point.
Isabella tried not to take it as an insult. The girl was obviously still ill.
Not one to give up easily, she proposed playing cards instead.
"As long as there's no prattle about books and manners," Catherine warned.
"No prattle, I promise," Isabella assured her cheerfully, even though she was more than a little hurt that the girl didn't seem to like her.
She was trying her hardest to smile and be friendly, but Catherine was making no effort to be pleasant. In fact, she was beginning to suspect the girl despised her. She wondered what she had done to earn it.
Playing cards turned out to be a bad idea.
Catherine was a cheat and Isabella noticed from the start.
"Why don't you let me shuffle the cards?" she offered, but Catherine seethed at that.
"You'll only ruin it! I have my method."
"But it's not very fair, is it?" Isabella asked gently.
"Are you calling me a liar?!"
"No! Of course not! It's just that – I play it differently," Isabella argued.
"Well, this is how I play with Heathcliff. I'd rather play with him. I'm sure you'd rather play with your snivelling brother, too. But young master Heathcliff is not allowed here, young lady," Catherine whined, mimicking Sarah, the maid's voice.
"Well, he's not, of course, it would be improper," Isabella replied, her voice tighter than usual. "And my brother doesn't snivel."
"Doesn't he? I hear him by my door sometimes. I bet he'd like to see me. The stupid fool."
"How do you know it's not Heathcliff by your door?" Isabella retorted, looking down upset. "He's the one usually there."
Catherine burst into a fit of laughter. "Comparing that sop to my Heathcliff! Like comparing ash to fire!"
Isabella felt the slight was meant for her too. How could she herself compare to the great and bold Catherine Earnshaw? She was so much more interesting and mysterious than her. She called people fools and laughed in their faces. Isabella would never have the courage to do that.
"You haven't even seen him properly. When you do, you'll see Edgar is an excellent young man," Isabella spoke, resolving to turn to better feelings. She was supposed to be a young lady, not a child.
"Why don't you marry him, then, if you like him so much?" Catherine teased, grinning.
Isabella turned scarlet.
"That is… that is grossly irreverent! You shouldn't speak like that!" Miss Barch had told her to contradict any free-thinker she met by calling whatever they said "grossly irreverent".
Catherine rolled her eyes.
"It was only a joke."
"We must not joke about these things," Isabella admonished severely.
"And why ever not?" she asked and stared straight into her eyes. Isabella realized she was being serious. For the first time since they had met, she was asking her a genuine question.
Before she had time to answer, Miss Barch knocked on the door and entered the room.
"Miss Linton, I believe Miss Earnshaw needs her rest. Come. It's high time for your studies."
Isabella sighed and set down the cards.
"I shall return to you this afternoon, if you like."
Catherine turned up her nose.
"When will I be able to leave this room?"
"Perhaps you will when you stop asking so many impolite questions," Miss Barch spoke up, giving the girl a chilling glare.
Catherine only shrugged and turned away, but Isabella was still unconsoled as she followed Miss Barch to her study room.
"She looks so miserable sometimes, Miss Barch. I don't know how to help her."
"You already spend too much time with that little heathen, if you ask me."
"I do not think she's a heathen. She just misses Heathcliff so much."
"Humph! Those two do not share any Christian love, I'll tell you that."
"What kind of love do they share, Miss Barch?" Isabella asked, looking back towards the corridor, expecting to see Heathcliff appear at Catherine's door.
But her governess remained silent and marched on.
Isabella kept thinking about it all throughout her lessons.
Love, whatever form it may take, could not be so terrible, could it?
God always spoke in the gospels about loving one another. That is what she had read and the written word did not lie. Miss Barch had told her so.
If Catherine and Heathcliff shared a true bond, Christian or not, there must be something redeemable about their souls, after all. They weren't heathens if they loved each other honestly.
Isabella wanted to believe this and so she did.
"It's my mother's old herbal book. It looks a bit tattered on the outside, but look! These drawings are so beautiful! Look at the plants, they're so strange! I thought you might like them."
Catherine skimmed through the fragile pages carelessly, stopping here and there to look at something that had caught her eye.
Isabella watched her expression hopefully. She stood close by, to make sure Catherine did not accidentally tear out any page, as she seemed prone to do.
"Which one is your favourite? Is it this one?" Isabella asked, smiling.
Catherine had placed her index finger on one of the sketches.
"Heliotropes? They're supposed to signify devotion," Isabella supplied.
"I want to see Heathcliff. When do I get to see Heathcliff?" she suddenly asked, pressing the book shut.
"Oh, you don't like the plants -"
"It's been more than six nights! I will die if I don't see him soon!" she moaned wretchedly.
"I'm afraid I can't -"
"But how can you be so cruel?!"
"I swear, if there was anything I could do, I would -"
"Where is he right now, do you know?"
"I - I believe my brother mentioned they were going for a walk at breakfast."
"A walk to where? Is he leaving without me?" Catherine asked alarmed.
"Of course not! They're only walking around the grounds. They're not permitted to go further without leaving word with Father."
"Rules, rules and rules again! Don't you get tired of them?"
Isabella bowed her head.
"Sometimes. But I understand they're good for me. For us."
Catherine ignored her. She suddenly sat up, an idea entering her head.
"If he's walking around the grounds, he will pass by this window, too, won't he?" she asked, her eyes lighting up.
Isabella frowned. "I suppose they might -"
"Quick, then! Take me to the window! I only need your shoulder. I can walk."
"Catherine, you must not -!"
"If you don't help me, I'll crawl on my hands and knees."
"Please, you are too weak to be walking."
"I'm not weak!"
Finally, the girl pleaded and begged in such a violent manner that Isabella could do nothing to quiet her down except help her out of bed.
She thought it would only be a few steps to the window and nothing bad would happen. In any case, Sarah would come if she called for her.
Struggling to keep her up by the waist, Isabella guided her towards the window.
The girl clung to her like ivy and coiled her hands around Isabella's neck until she felt quite suffocated.
But it was pleasant being this close to a girl who had rejected her so far. It almost felt like friendship.
When they reached the window, Catherine's hand shot up to open it.
"No, you mustn't," Isabella interjected, placing a hand over hers. "I carried you to the window, but you cannot open it. And neither can I."
She sounded so serious, even Catherine shrank a little.
"What's so bad about a window?"
"I - I'm sorry, it's forbidden."
"Is everything forbidden to you?"
"No... but some things just are. And I happen to agree."
Catherine made a face.
"No, you don't. It's so warm and stuffy in here! Don't you long for fresh air?"
Isabella knew in her heart she'd like nothing better than to smell the crisp morning air, but she also knew it was wrong. She shook her head.
"We can only look out."
Catherine eventually gave up. "I don't need air, then. As long as I see him."
"You don't mean we'll be standing by the window until they show up, do you?"
Catherine smiled for the first time since she'd been brought into the house.
"I mean exactly that."
Isabella tried to pull her away. "Come on, you've looked enough. Sarah will punish you. And me, for taking you out of bed."
"No one punishes me!" Catherine bellowed, holding onto the sill. "You can go if you like, but I'm standing here."
Isabella sighed and stared at the door worriedly.
She could just call someone, Sarah, Miss Barch, anyone, and this entire charade would be over. But Catherine was smiling for once and she didn't look miserable. Would it be so terrible if she saw Heathcliff?
She knew she couldn't let her stand there alone, in any case. So, she waited with Catherine, hoping the girl would eventually grow bored and ask to be taken back to bed.
Luck wasn't on her side. Just when she thought she saw Catherine yawn, she noticed a familiar figure rounding the corner.
Indeed, it was her brother, strutting down the lane, with Heathcliff on his tails looking as grim and aloof as ever.
Edgar was pointing at the grounds to his left, where a hothouse had been erected, but Heathcliff looked down at his feet and ignored him.
Isabella was not quick enough to stop Catherine.
The girl slammed her palms against the window panes.
She didn't yell or call out his name, but Heathcliff looked up, as if he'd recognized her from the sound alone.
His face underwent a curious transformation. It did not light up as Catherine's had; it became darker, if possible. But that darkness was rich and strong and it had a glow of its own. His lips thinned until they were one deep line. He lifted one arm towards the window and his fingers seemed to grip the air. Catherine pressed her face against the pane.
That is when Edgar noticed the commotion.
He followed Heathcliff's gaze and discovered the two girls at the window.
"Isabella!" her brother cried in disbelief. "What are you doing up there?"
Isabella turned as red as a beetroot. Now she was done for. Her brother would certainly scold her for this.
But Edgar fell quiet the moment his eyes landed on Catherine.
It was as if a spell had been cast on him. He couldn't help staring at this ethereal creature, dressed all in white, like a spectral ghost from another age.
He quite forgot about his little sister.
He probably even forgot that it was a half-disrobed Catherine Earnshaw he was staring at. She was not so much beautiful as she was magnetic, and both Edgar and Heathcliff were loath to look away.
Catherine smiled broadly upon noticing young Linton's enchanted expression.
"I told you your brother is a stupid fool."
Isabella pulled her away in time. She would not hear Catherine's protests. Sarah had come into the room.
"Back to bed right now!"
Isabella let the maid take care of Catherine. She felt relief when the girl's weight no longer hung from her neck.
She went to the window to draw the curtain.
Her brother was gone. He was probably coming up right this moment to reprimand her, but Heathcliff was still there, watching the window like a hawk.
She shook her head at him, meaning to say Catherine was not coming out again, but he didn't seem to notice she was there. He looked right through her.
Isabella felt a strong chill run down her body. She felt as if she had caught a glimpse of her future; she would be the girl everyone looked through. The girl who would never open windows. Heathcliff's presence only made it worse.
She moved away from the window and let the curtain fall.
She shouldn't have worried about her brother's disapproval. When they met again in the afternoon, the entire affair seemed forgotten. At least, Edgar meant to bury it. He made no mention of it at all. As if it had never happened. And he said no word of reproach.
Instead, he complained about Heathcliff. He was having trouble with his charge, too.
"He doesn't want to do anything! He can't stand still for a full minute! He likes walking outside but won't look at anything I show him or listen to a thing I say. He's not interested in nature or poetry or theology or anything of worth! When I disclosed to him my interest in natural philosophy he didn't even understand what I meant!"
Edgar was talking to her privately in the back garden, as Isabella picked up crocuses for the dinner table.
"Did you explain about natural philosophy?" she asked, watching her brother pace back and forth.
"I did! And he said it's something only a girl would find worth studying! He's such an ignoramus, I can't stand it!"
"Where is he right now?"
"Somewhere in the kitchens or maybe in the basement for all I know! At least he's not roaming about in the meadows. He even asked if he could go watch the field workers. When I'm supposed to civilize him!"
Isabella frowned as she twirled a crocus stem between her fingers. Edgar's anger was not strong. He was merely talking to be heard. She could sense his mind was elsewhere.
"Maybe you're wrong."
"I only mean, he might be interested in nature. Just not the way you and I are interested in nature."
"How do you mean?"
"We like fields, gardens and hothouses. Maybe he likes…wild meadows and dark forests. He seems to like to wander. Catherine told me they would run about like that together. Of course, she wouldn't tell me anything else…"
"Do you think she likes doing all these things with Heathcliff in earnest?" he asked, his voice coming out strangled with emotion.
Maybe he had not buried the incident, after all.
"It seems hard to imagine someone so beautiful in the company of someone so…" he trailed off.
Edgar smiled. "That's a nice way of putting it, Bella."
Isabella shrugged. "I don't think she's lying. She's certainly as unpleasant as he is sometimes. Maybe he rubbed off on her."
"Do you think when she'll be able to come down to our study we'll be able to cheer her up and make her better?"
Isabella's smile was wan. "I am sure of it." But she wasn't.
"How is she?"
Isabella was startled for a moment before she realized who it was. She was getting used to his presence. Heathcliff stood by the door to the study, watching her carefully.
She was putting back the notebooks she had written in for the past hour and did not look in his direction for fear she might get their order wrong.
Miss Barch would come back any moment now anyway.
Sunlight was streaming through the tall windows, weak and pale, a sign of a hard winter coming.
Heathcliff misread her silence for condescension and stepped up to her, placing a hand over her notebooks.
Isabella looked up in fright.
"What are you doing?"
With one quick movement, all the notebooks fell from her lap in a heap on the floor.
"You weren't answering my question."
Isabella glared at him.
"If Miss Barch sees what you've done -!"
"You mean what you've done," he corrected, smirking.
Isabella's cheeks turned red.
"I was going to tell you about Catherine, but now I won't! Not until you apologize."
Heathcliff's smirk faded. He took a step closer.
"I can do worse than that," he said, pointing at the notebooks.
Isabella lifted her chin.
"I'm not afraid of you."
"You should be. Small, weak things like you have no defence against the likes of me."
Isabella suddenly grabbed the ruler that was still lying on the table and pointed it at him.
"I have this."
Heathcliff chuckled and pushed it aside, but Isabella jabbed him with it again.
"You think a piece of wood will keep me at bay?" he asked and his voice sounded calm and terrible.
She felt her resolve melting, but she kept her hand still anyway.
Stepping over her notebooks, he grabbed the ruler with both hands and pried it away from her fingers. She tried to reach for it, but he held it at arm's length.
"You won't take it back, will you?"
If she had been younger, she might have jumped for it. But she was a young lady now. She couldn't make a fool of herself.
"Let me show you what I'll do to you," he spoke and gritting his teeth, he bent the ruler until it was near breaking point.
"Don't!" Isabella yelped.
Heathcliff's eyes danced with strange joy as he saw tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
He was about to snap it in two, when a shrill cry came from the door.
"What is the meaning of this?! Master Heathcliff, Miss Linton!"
Miss Barch carried Heathcliff out of the study by his ears, which he protested only in form. He was smiling even as he was being yelled at, satisfied that he had frightened little Isabella Linton. He stared back at her as he left the room, but she had wiped her tears away.
The next time Isabella and Catherine played cards, Isabella applied a different tactic.
Since Miss Earnshaw liked talking about Heathcliff so much, she would oblige her.
She thought if she could get Catherine to talk about someone she liked, she might grow warmer towards Isabella, too.
"Tell me more about him," Isabella encouraged.
Catherine thought it was suspicious at first, but since she couldn't talk to Heathcliff, talking about him seemed better than nothing.
"He's fearsome. He's a fine brute. A wonderful brute. A man like no other."
"A brute?" Isabella echoed.
"Yes. Not one of those perfumed coxcombs you see in town. They're nothing but fine clothes. He's flesh and bones."
"Edgar is flesh and bones, too…" Isabella commented to herself. I'm flesh and bones, too.
"We're to run away together soon, you know. I'm not afraid you'll tell, because you can't stop us."
"How – how would you run away?"
"Heathcliff has a plan. He's not stupid, you know. He might seem quiet all the time, but he's always thinking."
Isabella nodded. "I know he's not stupid." That's why he's so cruel.
"He's mean and hard and ruthless, but so am I. And I love him that way," Catherine added, looking into the distance.
So she does love him. But is this an honest love? Or is it a heathen love? Isabella asked herself once more, tormented by notions she did not understand.
"You probably don't know what love is," Catherine said scathingly.
"Well, no… I suppose, I don't. I love God and my family, but –"
"Pah! God! Family! You haven't felt love until you've loved something horrible."
Isabella frowned. "Something horrible? Is Heathcliff something horrible?"
But Catherine remained silent, looking into the distance again with a lost look in her eye.
That night, Isabella heard feet shuffling down the corridor. But she didn't get out of bed to see. She knew by now it was Heathcliff, lying down by Catherine's door again. And she wasn't shocked anymore. It was the third time this week.
A fortnight had passed since the two guests had shown up at Thrushcross Grange and not much had changed.
She told Edgar she was getting on better with Catherine, but it was only half truth. Edgar too esteemed Heathcliff was growing more docile, but she knew they were both lying to themselves.
Mr. Linton was always gone with business to town but whenever he had the chance, in the evenings or in the mornings, he asked the two how they were progressing. He rarely exchanged words with Heathcliff. Rather, he joked about Heathcliff in his presence and made some droll remarks about the younger Mr. Earnshaw, which amused Heathcliff terribly. But Isabella felt her father should be doing more to rear Heathcliff in the right direction. Catherine might be coerced in time by Miss Barch, but the trouble was that Edgar's tutor had been dismissed the year before and there was no male authority to set Heathcliff right.
Not to mention, her brother would be shipped off to school any day now, and then what would happen?
She did not want to think about these things, but they kept her awake at night.
She only hoped that, by that time, both Heathcliff and Catherine would be sent back home.
Come now, Isabella, you've given up so easily?
Her mother's voice came clearly into her thoughts. Stern, but kind.
What happened to your dreams of making Catherine your friend? And educating Heathcliff?
So you've hit a snag and you now want them gone? What kind of young woman harbours such ill feelings? What kind of mistress will you be, after all, if you can't control your own household?
Isabella sat up in bed and prayed silently to her mother.
"I'm sorry, Mamma. You are right, of course. I will try harder."
When she settled down to go to sleep, she heard feet shuffling down the corridor again. And she could swear she heard Heathcliff laughing.