Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights: Ch. 8

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Chapter VIII

On the morning of a fine June day my first bonny little nursling, and the last of the ancient Earnshaw stock, was born.  We were busy with the hay in a far-away field, when the girl that usually brought our breakfasts came running an hour too soon across the meadow and up the lane, calling me as she ran.

‘Oh, such a grand bairn!’ she panted out.  ‘The finest lad that ever breathed!  But the doctor says missis must go: he says she’s been in a consumption these many months.  I heard him tell Mr. Hindley: and now she has nothing to keep her, and she’ll be dead before winter.  You must come home directly.  You’re to nurse it, Nelly: to feed it with sugar and milk, and take care of it day and night.  I wish I were you, because it will be all yours when there is no missis!’

‘But is she very ill?’ I asked, flinging down my rake and tying my bonnet.

‘I guess she is; yet she looks bravely,’ replied the girl, ‘and she talks as if she thought of living to see it grow a man.  She’s out of her head for joy, it’s such a beauty!  If I were her I’m certain I should not die: I should get better at the bare sight of it, in spite of Kenneth.  I was fairly mad at him.  Dame Archer brought the cherub down to master, in the house, and his face just began to light up, when the old croakerw steps forward, and says he—“Earnshaw, it’s a blessing your wife has been spared to leave you this son.  When she came, I felt convinced we shouldn’t keep her long; and now, I must tell you, the winter will probably finish her.  Don’t take on, and fret about it too much: it can’t be helped.  And besides, you should have known better than to choose such a rushw of a lass!”’

‘And what did the master answer?’ I inquired.

‘I think he swore: but I didn’t mind him, I was straining to see the bairn,’ and she began again to describe it rapturously.  I, as zealous as herself, hurried eagerly home to admire, on my part; though I was very sad for Hindley’s sake.  He had room in his heart only for two idols—his wife and himself: he doted on both, and adored one, and I couldn’t conceive how he would bear the loss.

When we got to Wuthering Heights, there he stood at the front door; and, as I passed in, I asked, ‘how was the baby?’

‘Nearly ready to run about, Nell!’ he replied, putting on a cheerful smile.

‘And the mistress?’ I ventured to inquire; ‘the doctor says she’s—’

‘Damn the doctor!’ he interrupted, reddening.  ‘Frances is quite right: she’ll be perfectly well by this time next week.  Are you going up-stairs? will you tell her that I’ll come, if she’ll promise not to talk.  I left her because she would not hold her tongue; and she must—tell her Mr. Kenneth says she must be quiet.’

I delivered this message to Mrs. Earnshaw; she seemed in flighty spirits, and replied merrily, ‘I hardly spoke a word, Ellen, and there he has gone out twice, crying.  Well, say I promise I won’t speak: but that does not bind me not to laugh at him!’

Poor soul!  Till within a week of her death that gay heart never failed her; and her husband persisted doggedly, nay, furiously, in affirming her health improved every day.  When Kenneth warned him that his medicines were useless at that stage of the malady, and he needn’t put him to further expense by attending her, he retorted, ‘I know you need not—she’s well—she does not want any more attendance from you!  She never was in a consumption.  It was a fever; and it is gone: her pulse is as slow as mine now, and her cheek as cool.’

He told his wife the same story, and she seemed to believe him; but one night, while leaning on his shoulder, in the act of saying she thought she should be able to get up to-morrow, a fit of coughing took her—a very slight one—he raised her in his arms; she put her two hands about his neck, her face changed, and she was dead.

X [w] croaker

"One who talks dismally or despondingly, one who forebodes or prophesies evil" (OED). 

X [w] rush


A slim, weak girl.

Rushes were waterside and marsh stalks that were gathered into a bundle and dipped in animal fat to produce the poor man's candle.