Читать онлайн «Nelly Dean»
‘Do you think that is wise? Will you be giving him a son’s portion? What will that mean for Hindley?’
‘If Hindley cannot welcome the lad as a brother, so much the worse for him. He must do as he is bid while I am still master in this house.’
‘He is your son.’
‘Aye, and his mother’s.’
‘From whom he gets a loving heart and a merry spirit, if they be not trampled down by harsh treatment.’
‘Mrs Dean, I have listened to you on the subject of your daughter, and I have responded not ungenerously, I think, to your plea on her behalf. But I will not be dictated to by you about the way I raise my own children. I trust that is understood?’
‘Forgive me, sir. I still have something of a mother’s feeling for my old nursling, and I couldn’t wish to see him slighted for a child who has no prior claims on your heart. But I had no wish to give offence. You must do as you think best, of course. And I thank you heartily for what you have done for Nell.’ With this I heard sounds suggestive of my mother wrapping her shawl again in preparation for leaving.
‘Will you not stop in to visit with my wife? She would be grieved to hear that you’d come and gone without seeing her.’
‘Perhaps it would be best not to mention it, then.’
‘Not possible, I’m afraid – the children will have brought her word already. Do go in and see her – and while you are there you can tell her of my decision about Nell. She will be glad of it – I know she has been sorely grieved by all this.’ The master spoke with some embarrassment here. I guessed – what I later learned was true – that he had had hard words from the mistress over the new child and my expulsion, and he did not feel it would be conducive to his dignity or authority as master of the house to confess directly to suspending my punishment so soon. ‘You are also best able to explain to her about Nelly’s new duties,’ he added, ‘which of course it will be her task to oversee.’
‘Very well then, I will just stop in briefly to speak to her.’
‘While you are there, please tell her that I will be up in the high pasture this afternoon, so she should not expect me to dinner.’
With that they went their separate ways, my mother heading into the house, and the master taking off with his brisk, long strides towards the heights behind the house – which, fortunately, lay in another direction than my own way. No sooner had they disappeared from view than I began extracting myself from my hiding place. This proved awkward, for my entrance had dislodged much of the wickerwork lining the passageway, and I was hard-pressed to make progress while detaching the snagged prickles that threatened to tear my clothes. My dress made it out unscathed, but my arms and face were not so lucky – a fact that I realized would require some explanation when I saw my mother again, as I was supposed to have been sitting quietly at home all the while. No sooner did I emerge than Hindley pounced on me with a shout.
‘Nell, I’m so glad you’re back. It would be too much to have that filthy little horror foisted upon us and lose you too all at one blow. But what in Heaven have you been doing? You look like the cat’s been at you.’
‘Hush, Hindley – keep your voice low and come around the corner behind this wall – I’m not supposed to be here now. I had to scurry roundabout to get here without Mother spotting me, and I took a tumble into some brambles on the way.’ I didn’t think it wise to mention my eavesdropping, as Hindley would insist on hearing everything that had been said, and I knew from long experience that his discretion was not to be relied on.
‘Is your mother here now?’
‘She’s stepped in to see the mistress, I believe to see about my coming back.’
‘Well, let’s hear them, then. Come over here beneath the window, and I’ll lift you up.’
‘Better I should lift you – you’re smaller than I am.’
‘Nonsense! I’m older, and anyway you’re only a girl.’ In fact, I was the elder, though only by a few months, but from the time he could talk Hindley had always insisted it was he, and if anyone asked his age would always proudly claim his full years while subtracting one from mine, as in ‘I am four, and Nelly is three.’ At the time, this had been terribly galling to my childish dignity, but my mother would not let me contradict him. As she said, it only made folk think me forward for my age, which was no harm to me. By this time, I had grown so used to Hindley’s claim to be my elder that I all but forgot that it wasn’t so. So I let him grasp me about the knees and heave me up, but he staggered about so that I begged him to put me down.
‘Hindley, please let’s switch places,’ I said. ‘If your face is spotted at the window you’ll get only a scolding from your mother, but I shall be in a peck of trouble with my mother and the master both if I’m caught. And anyway,’ I added cannily, ‘you are better at gripping the sill than I am, which takes off a good deal of the weight.’ So Hindley allowed me to lift him up, and overheard just enough to announce to me with great importance the news I had already gleaned from my nest in the gooseberry bush.
‘You’re to come back after church next Sunday,’ he said, ‘but you’re to be a servant now, Nell, and you’ll get a shilling a week! I wish I was a servant – no lessons to do, and more pocket money than I shall ever see. But you’ll share with me, won’t you, Nell?’
‘All my wages will go to my father,’ I said, ‘and if I get no lessons, there’ll be no play either: I shall have to work all day, so you needn’t be jealous. But hush now – I want to hear what else is said.’ I lowered him to the ground, for in truth the conversation was perfectly audible from there, and easier to follow without Hindley relaying his own versions from above.
‘I am so glad we are to have Nelly back with us, Mary,’ the mistress was saying. ‘I was sorely grieved that she should be sent away on so slight a fault. But I do verily think my husband has gone mad! How could he bring this creature here all the way from Liverpool, and then turn on our own children so? And it’s worse than that – he’s named the child Heathcliff, after our firstborn! It is cruel of him, don’t you think? Positively cruel to bring that name before me every day!’ She began sobbing bitterly. Hindley’s eyes filled with tears too.
‘The little beast!’ he hissed. ‘I shall make him pay for this – just watch me.’ Poor Hindley never could bear to see his mother cry (though it was a common enough occurrence), and generally contrived to get angry at someone else, to cover his own grief for her. In this case, I saw that the new child would bear the brunt of the anger Hindley dared not show towards his father. To be honest, I was not inclined to take the new child’s part either, for I still felt aggrieved myself that he had pushed me, as I saw it, from my place with the children at the Heights.
From the window came the familiar sounds of my mother soothing and cheering her old friend, as the mistress’s sobs gradually subsided into sighs. ‘You mustn’t take it so, Helen,’ my mother was saying. ‘It was a good deed, surely, to rescue the poor child from starvation or worse on the streets, and now that he is here it will be your duty to bring him up to be a credit to the family. Probably Mr Earnshaw thought that giving the boy the name of your firstborn would help you to feel a mother’s affection for him. I am sure he meant you no harm by it. You know you have been sad not to be able to have more children about you, and now here is another little one come to you as if by magic, like the return of your lost child. And that Nelly is coming back as a servant need not grieve you either – it only means she’ll be spending her days helping you instead of scampering over the moors with Hindley. Really, she’ll be more like a daughter to you than ever. And I shall have to come over here more often myself, at first, to help her learn her new duties.’
‘I wish you could be here always, Mary,’ said the mistress with a sigh. ‘Those were the happiest years, when you were here, and I have never managed so well since you left. Why did you have to get married and go away?’
‘It was you who married first, Helen, long before me,’ said my mother gently. ‘And if I had not married and had Nell, what would have become of Hindley? He would have died like all the rest, would he not? Those times seem happy to you now because you remember what you had then and have not now, but you forget that you didn’t have your bairns then, and thought you never would, and that grieved you sorely. We never get all we want in this world. We must bear the trials God sends to us, and do our duty with a cheerful heart.’ Then, with special firmness, she added, ‘And your duty now is to this child, to Heathcliff.’
‘Heathcliff,’ the mistress sighed. ‘I suppose I must accustom myself to using it.’
‘It won’t take long – you’ll see,’ my mother replied, ‘but I cannot stay longer, Helen. I’ve left Nelly at home by herself, waiting to hear what is to become of her, and I should prefer to be back before Tom gets home, too.’
‘Send Nelly my love, then, and tell her how glad I shall be to have her back again, and she must not mind too much about the work, for I will be an easy mistress to her.’
‘I’ll send your love to be sure,’ said my mother, ‘but as to her work, I’ll tell her nothing of the sort, and really, Helen, you will do her no favours by encouraging idleness, unless you have a fortune hidden somewhere you are planning to endow her with. Nelly will always have to earn her bread, like the rest of us, and the sooner she resigns herself to that, the happier she will be.’
I did not stay to hear more, for now I had to contrive to get home before my mother, and make it look as if I’d never left. ‘Hindley,’ I said, ‘do you think you can manage to delay my mother a few minutes, so I can get well away before she sets out?’
‘Leave it to me,’ he said with a grin, delighted as always to have a hand in mischief of any kind. ‘You know your mother can never resist an appeal from her old nursling.’ He took off for the door, while I took one of our more circuitous and well-hidden routes back towards my parents’ cottage.
I soon saw that it would be hard to keep out of sight and ahead of my mother all the way (though stout, she was a brisk walker), and still arrive in time to compose myself and my story for her arrival, but I thought of something that would save me a good portion of my trip, and serve as excuse for my injuries as well. I brought myself around nigh and to one side of her, climbed up on a hummock, and waved, calling ‘Mother, Mother!’ from a direction that was neither before nor behind her path.
‘Nelly! What brings you here? I told you to stay at home. And what in Heaven have you done to yourself?’ she added, noticing the scratches on my arms and face.
‘I’m very sorry, Mother, but I just couldn’t stay. I was … I had …’ There was no need to pretend my embarrassment. ‘I didn’t know what I should say if Father came in, and I grew anxious, so I ran out onto the moors and came to meet you, and then there were brambles in my way, and I got tangled in them.’ This was all true enough as far as it went, but I then bethought me that I ought to show some suspense about the result of her errand, and begged her to tell me if I would be permitted to return.
‘Yes, Nelly, you are to go home with them after church on Sunday. But you shall be earning wages now, and must not go running off to the moors with the other children.’
‘And what am I to do until then? Will I stay here with you and Father?’
‘You will, for tonight anyway – but don’t fear, Nell, all will be well with him, you’ll see. Come with me now, and I’ll tell you all about it.’ She told me, of course, a good deal less than all I had heard for myself, but I listened with as much interest as if it were all new to me. The events of that day had set me thinking about a number of things I had not given much thought to until then, and had made my mother an object of interest and curiosity to me in a way she had never been before.
Dusk was approaching by the time we reached the cottage, but my father was not yet home. My mother hurried to build up the fire and set supper in motion. She was just looking at my scratches, and putting salve on the deeper ones, when we heard my father’s footsteps outside. She waved me into an inconspicuous corner, where I cowered, trying to quell my fear and be ready to compose my face into a smile when he should spot me. He came in without looking around, and sat down heavily in his chair by the fire. My mother quickly brought him a mug of tea and a large slice of bread and butter. He took these in either hand and leaned back with a sigh.
‘How did the job go on?’ she asked solicitously. ‘Did you finish it today?’
‘Noo, I did not. It’s bigger nor I thought – half the wall ’ill have to come down a’ the north side, and be done all anew. I’d told the fellow at the start he munna think it war only a hole to be filled in, if the wall round it weren’t fit, and so it weren’t. But he took it with an ill grace, all the same. I asked for payment today, and he were right shy of givin’ it. Said as how he’d pay when the job were done, but I were having none of that. “I’ve earned me wages,” I said to him. “Ye needn’t fear that I won’t finish the job – I’ve never left one unfinished yet, and I’m not starting now. But I’ve got t’ buy me bread and pay me rent same as the next man, and I don’t see why I should be stinted because another man’s wall is in worse shape than he thought.”
‘“Nought a penny till the job is done,” says ee. “I know your ways, and if I pay you now, you’ll be drunk tomorrow, and my cows ’ill ’ve the cold wind on their backs another day.” Can you believe that? I’d aff a mind to swing my fist at him.
‘“And what are we to do without my wages tomorrow? Are we to have porridge for our Sunday dinner for the sake of your cows?” I asked.’
‘Fie, Tom,’ my mother interjected, her voice drifting into broader Yorkshire than she ever employed at the Heights, ‘when have I ever given you porridge for Sunday dinner? There’ll be roast fowl and ale, and apple pasty, same as ever, whether you get your wages tomorrow or Saturday, or not till Monday. And there’s money in the house now too – look, Nelly’s come home, and she’s earning wages now. Here’s two shillings for you, and she’s to have one every week.’
I took this as my cue to emerge from the corner, and I did my best to look cheerful and glad to see him.
‘Hello, Father,’ I said, with a bit of a curtsey.
‘Hoo, “Father” is it? Well, aren’t we the fine lady,’ he said, but he was hampered by the tea and bread in either hand from offering worse hostilities than this.
‘Whisht, husband,’ my mother chided, ‘is that any way to greet your daughter who’s just brought you her first wages, like a good girl?’
‘What wages? I ’aven’t seen any yet.’
‘She’s afraid to come near ye, most likely. If you can’t be friendly the first time you’ve seen her in six months, I’ll just tell her to bring her wages elsewhere.’
‘Aw right then,’ he said, and, balancing his slice atop his mug, he extended a large, calloused hand to me in a reasonable imitation of friendship. I came forward, at my mother’s encouraging nod, and put my small hand in his great one for a brief shake, before proffering the shillings. ‘Eh, you’re a good enough lass,’ he said, pulling me a foot or two closer and tousling my hair, at which I needed every ounce of self-control I had not to flinch. Then my mother motioned me to a stool at the other side of the fire, and handed me a mug and slice of my own before settling into the other chair herself. I had little appetite, but I was grateful for anything that would save me looking at or talking to my father, and so took to eating and drinking with a great show of earnestness, and we all sat munching in silence for some time.
His supper finished, my father rose and headed for the door.
‘I’ll just step out to the Ox and Plough to meet a man about a job of work,’ he said.
‘Aye, go then,’ said my mother, with as much good humour as if she believed him. When he was gone, she put an arm around me and heaved a sigh.
‘Well done, Nelly, you’re a good lass. He’ll drink that off at the inn, and before he’s back we’ll have you tucked snug into bed up the ladder in the loft, where he never goes. And anyway, he’s not one of those men who become more violent with drink – quite the contrary, thank Heaven.’
It was a better end than I could have imagined to a day begun so badly, but for all that I could not help collapsing into her arms and sobbing as if my heart were broken. ‘Why does he hate me so?’ I wailed – rather to my own surprise, I must confess, since normally I did not think myself much concerned about what he thought of me, only provided I were out of reach of his fists. But, of all that had distressed me that day, this was the safest to express to my mother, and the likeliest to earn her sympathy, so perhaps that had something to do with it.
My mother never had much patience for tears, but on this occasion she did no more than tighten her arms and ease me down beside her by the fire, rocking gently, until my sobs began to subside.
‘He doesn’t hate you, Nelly,’ she said at last. ‘How could he? He doesn’t know you at all.’
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