Читать онлайн «Nelly Dean»
‘But he acts as if he does.’
‘He was … not kind to you when you were just a little thing, and that sits heavy on his conscience now. He’s not a bad man, Nelly. I can’t excuse how he has treated you, but I want you to know that in the main he is not a bad man. He has never laid a finger on me, nor done me any more wrong than to drink wages he ought to save. And then perhaps I’ve taken too much care to keep you clear of him, so that he feels awkward with you, and acts rough to cover it. But you got off to a good start with him today, and perhaps these few days at home will prove a blessing in disguise, and make you better friends in future.’
I could see that she was convincing herself as she spoke, but I remembered too vividly her urgency in pleading with Mr Earnshaw for my return to the Heights to feel the same confidence in her assurances. Nor had she really answered my question.
‘But why me?’ I persisted. ‘He liked little Tommy well enough. Is it only because I’m a girl? Or is it because I was – because I’m the eldest?’
She sighed heavily, and let silence gather for a time. When she finally spoke, it was with some reluctance: ‘When a man marries beneath himself, Nell – and let this be a lesson to you – he raises his wife to his level. His friends and relations may wish he had looked higher, but that just puts the more responsibility on his wife to ensure that he never regrets his choice. But when a woman marries down, she brings shame on herself and no credit to her husband. She is thought less of for it, and he partakes in some measure of her shame. I did your father no service by marrying him.’
That my mother had married ‘beneath her’ was not news to me – it being a rather frequent subject of querulous commentary by Mrs Earnshaw – but I was surprised to hear her own it so frankly, and it emboldened me to ask what I had never dared to ask before: ‘Why did you marry him then?’
My mother flushed at this, and I could have pinched myself. I knew very well why they had married – as did anyone else who had ever looked in the parish record to compare the date of their marriage with that of my birth.
‘I mean,’ I stumbled, ‘why him?’
‘I was over forty years old, Nelly, and I had never been a beauty, even in my youth. I had no fortune aside from some little savings out of my wages, nor any prospects of any, and no family remaining who could be of material assistance to a husband of mine. It is true that I had better birth and education than many in my situation, and some claim to family connection with the Earnshaws, but that would not be enough to tempt a man of any stature unless it were backed by more tangible attractions of person or property. Thomas Dean earned day wages by the work of his hands, and possessed but little book learning, true, but his skill was much in demand and well paid, and his character was generally respected. It was said, too, that he had been a most devoted son to his mother, who was but lately dead, and perhaps it was that made him look so kindly on a plain woman eight years his elder. At any rate, he smiled whenever he saw me, and made all manner of excuses to come by the Heights to visit, and in time … well, I thought I could not do better, and might do a great deal worse.’
‘But why should you have wished to do anything – I mean, to change your situation at all?’ I persisted. I had crossed into forbidden territory already, I felt, and thought I might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and ask all my questions at once. ‘That is what Mrs Earnshaw cannot understand. She says you were already mistress of Wuthering Heights in all but name, because she was so often ill, and even that you had the best of it, for you got more in wages than she ever did in pin money.’
‘She ought not to say such things,’ my mother snapped, looking nettled. ‘She forgets that I earned the household more than my wages and her pin money combined, selling the surplus butter and eggs that came out of my own good management of the dairy and poultry. Had I been mistress indeed that money would have been mine by right.’
‘Please don’t be angry at her,’ I cried, stricken with guilt for having provoked her to lash out at the mistress, whom I loved dearly. ‘Mrs Earnshaw never meant it seriously, I’m sure – it was only for a joke, and because she wishes you were still there, you know.’
‘Don’t fret about it, Nelly,’ she said, softening. ‘I am not really angry at her – I know she meant no harm. She only means that I did the work of a mistress, and held some of a mistress’s authority over the servants. And she was always sorry that she could not do those things herself, as she thought she ought to, so she envied me that. But she doesn’t understand, because she hasn’t felt it, how it is to have the work and cares and responsibilities of a mistress without’ – she paused to find the right words – ‘without a mistress’s honours, or privileges. I wanted a home of my own, even if it were a humble one, and children too, if that were still possible. I thought that I could give your father a better home than a woman of his own class could, and that would make up for … any disparities in what we brought to our marriage. And so I have done, so far as material things go. When I saw that he was prone to drinking, I made sure that I could put food on the table and clothes on our backs and make up the rent on this cottage, by my own efforts, and I have managed it in such a way that there is scarcely ever money about that he could demand of me for his own uses. But his pride has suffered from it, I think. If he knew that his own comfort and mine depended on what he brought home, if he had to face an empty belly or the threat of eviction, perhaps he would not be so ready to drink all he earns, and the need of drink would not have grown on him as much as it has. And that is why I say that I did him no favour in marrying him.’
I had never before heard my mother speak so frankly about my father or her marriage. I was much struck by the regret in her voice, and I found myself thinking more kindly of my father than I had ever done before. In that state I was bundled off to bed in the loft, and it was not until I was almost asleep that I realized that she had never answered my first question.
I awoke the next morning in considerable confusion, partly from the unfamiliar setting, though I soon recollected where I was, but more so because the morning was far advanced, and I was accustomed to being woken at dawn. I made haste down the ladder, expecting a scolding for my laziness, but my mother seemed cheerful enough.
‘Good morning, little sleepyhead,’ she said with a smile. ‘Your father is off to work long since, but I thought after all the excitement of yesterday it would be as well to let you sleep in for once – we’ll have you back in harness soon enough.’ Whereupon she placed before me a mug of tea and a freshly baked oatcake spread liberally with butter and jam – a rare treat. And so it went on all day. My mother seemed inclined, most unusually, to be indulgent, and even make a fuss of me. She asked but little of me in the way of chores, so I found it easy to do more than she asked, and felt for the first time with her how pleasant it is to do labour that is offered in kindness and accepted with gratitude, instead of being demanded as a right.
My father did get at least some of his wages that day – or so we presumed, at any rate, from his not appearing at home until long after supper, and showing every sign that a good portion of his pay had been put to its usual use. I was already up in the loft again by the time he came in, but I was wide awake and peering over the edge of the ladder hole to watch him, counting on the darkness to hide me.
‘Where’s Nelly?’ he asked, good-humouredly enough, and on being told that I was abed, bellowed, ‘Nelly! wake up and come down from there, lass, and see what I’ve brought ye.’
Seeing my mother nod encouragement, I obeyed, whereupon he pulled out from under his jacket a large and somewhat sodden parcel wrapped in paper. ‘Look here,’ he said, placing it on the table and unwrapping it to show a sizeable joint of fresh pork, ‘Braithwaite had just killed a pig, and he gev it me along wi’ half of my wages, an’ said he were sorry for what he said yesterday, and he hoped my Sunday dinner would be fine as ony man’s. But I thought that as you’d be gone back to the Heights before then, and as the wife here has already promised me roast fowl on Sunday’ – here he grinned at my mother, with a flirtatious twinkle that gave me a glimpse of what she had seen in him to marry him – ‘that we’d ’ave it tomorrow instead.’
I had no need to force a smile with my thanks this time, and as for my mother, she pounced on the joint with delight and began exclaiming over its size and beauty.
‘Eh, leave off, woman. It’s only a bit o’ pork, after all. The fuss you’re making, you’d think I’d brought home the Infant Jesus.’ I couldn’t repress a laugh at this, it was so apt a description of my mother’s rapturous attentions to the pink blob still half-swaddled in paper on the table, whereupon my father gave me a broad smile and a wink. My mother affected to be nettled by his teasing, but it was clear she was pleased. In short, we formed just then, however briefly, a plausible picture of a happy little family, and, as each of us knew how unlikely that was, we felt something like awe at its appearance, almost as if (I later thought) the humble joint of pork had been the Infant Jesus indeed, sent to bring peace and goodwill to us all.
The next day was devoted to the feast. In addition to the roast, my father had the night before given my mother a handful of coins ‘for any such fixin’s as ye ’aven’t got about the house’. So early that morning, my mother and I walked into the little market town to do our shopping. Along the way, she practically skipped with pleasure, her delight in the occasion making her seem almost girlish despite her age and heavy form.
‘It’s grand to see how he’s taken to you at last, isn’t it, Nelly? It’s just as I thought – he only felt awkward because of the temper he showed you as a little child, but he’s over that now and ready to be right fond of you. It’s rare for him to bring home so much of his wages as he gave me last night, and I know he did that for your sake. To think you thought he hated you! I hope you don’t think that now, do you?’
‘No, I suppose not,’ I said cautiously, ‘but do you think it will last?’ I was thinking of how she had told me that he couldn’t hate me because he didn’t know me, and reflecting that this was scarcely less true of his affection now. And I was half afraid that in her enthusiasm she would decide against sending me back to the Heights. Glad as I was for my father’s newfound friendliness – and it gladdened me more than I would ever have expected it would – I had no wish to trade for it the only home I had ever known, and the companionship of the people I had learned to love as my own family.
‘Well, we shall have to be careful not to try it too much, shan’t we?’ she answered, seeing my worries in my face. ‘You’ll go back to the Heights tomorrow, and from then he’ll see you only on your days off once a month, when you’ll be bringing him your wages for real.’
We reached town, and bought flour, sugar, raisins, and tea, and a few bottles of ale for my father. Then she made me stay looking at bonnets in a shop window while she paid a visit to a pastrycook’s shop, whence she returned with a small bundle tied up in white string. The rest of the day was spent preparing such a feast as I had never seen apart from Christmas or Easter, even at the Heights. My mother was a tireless worker, but usually steady and methodical in her work. Yet today she seemed almost frantic, as if by the sheer energy of her preparations for this one meal she could shore up and make permanent the good relations that had suddenly blossomed among us. She scoured the cupboards and garden for extra delicacies, and wound up undertaking more dishes at once than her small hearth could accommodate. At length she was driven to the expedient of making up a small fire in the yard, over which she set a pot with a suet pudding to boil and a small turnspit with the roast, leaving me to attend to them both while she concentrated on more complex matters within.
My father came home earlier than usual, having finished Braithwaite’s wall not long after noon, but evidently my mother had expected this, for by the time he arrived the only evidence of our labours was the rich array of dishes crowded onto the clean white cloth on the table, and her own rather flushed and worn appearance – me she had already sent to wash and change into my Sunday best. My father seemed delighted by everything, and responded to my mother’s apologies for her own disarray by sweeping her into his arms for a kiss, and declaring she looked younger than the day he married her. Then, to my great astonishment, he did the same by me, then looked me up and down and declared me ‘the prettiest girl for ten mile around’ – a patent falsehood, but I blushed with pleasure all the same.
‘And for that, and because you’re a working lass now, and comin’ on for a grown woman, I’ve brought ye a bit of summat,’ wherewith he handed me a small package done up in blue paper. I opened it to find a pretty pink and green hair ribbon, of the sort travelling pedlars sell for a ha’penny. It was a small thing enough, but so much more than I ever expected of him that I felt my throat closing and my eyes filling with tears as I tried to thank him. It was hard for me to believe that this was the same man for whom I had felt such terror all my life, and from whom I had heard my mother beg Mr Earnshaw to protect me, only two days before.
‘She’s overcome, aren’t you, Nelly?’ my mother said hastily, apparently fearing a misinterpretation of my response. ‘Such a lovely thing, isn’t it?’ I nodded and smiled, but was still unable to speak.
‘Overworn is more likely,’ said my father. ‘You must have driven her hard to get all this made since this morning. She’s quite the slave-driver, isn’t she?’ he added aside to me in a loud whisper, at which I laughed and nodded again. ‘Come, let’s all eat before the poor girl faints away altogether.’
And so we sat down together, to such a meal as I had never imagined eating in that house: my father jovial, and full of a gentle, teasing wit I had not known he possessed; my mother continually looking from one to the other of us, her face lit with joy; and myself, so lost in wonder at it all that I scarcely tasted the rich pork, the pudding, the apple sauce and buttered greens, or even the magical-looking little iced cakes, adorned with tiny candied flowers, that my mother produced with a flourish at the end. When we were done it was still early afternoon. My father pushed back his chair and sighed deeply with satisfaction, then looked about, as if in some puzzlement what to do next.
‘Did you ever settle with that fellow about the job, the other night at the Ox and Plough?’ my mother asked innocently.
‘Er, not entirely,’ my father replied, his face clearing, ‘but he’ll be there tonight, I expect. Maybe I’ll just drop by and see.’ And with that he was off.
As we were clearing the things from the table, my mother turned the conversation to my new role at the Heights.
‘So, Nelly, now you are to be a servant in earnest. How shall you feel about that, do you think?’
‘I shan’t like it,’ I said frankly, ‘for Hindley and Cathy will get to play, the same as ever, only I won’t be able to join them any more. And how will Hindley learn his lessons, if I am not there to help him? And I shan’t have lessons at all, so I will not learn anything more. I will become as ignorant as Martha, who can scarcely write her own name.’
‘You would have to forget a great deal of the lessons you have had already, to become as ignorant as that,’ my mother replied. ‘And what is to stop you pursuing your lessons on your own? The books will still be there, and you are clever enough not to need help from a teacher, are you not? Indeed, you can still help Hindley with his lessons, and, in helping him, learn them yourself.’
‘But when will I be able to do that? The servants at the Heights are up before the family in the morning, and go to bed at the same time, and they work all the time in between.’
‘Oh, they will not be so hard on you as all that, just at first,’ said my mother. ‘And as you take on more responsibilities, you will find yourself more mistress of your time than you imagine. In just a few years you can become the housekeeper there, as I was, and a housekeeper sets her own tasks, and directs the other servants at theirs. If she manages her work well, she can always make time for herself to read and study.’
My mother meant well, I’m sure, but the more she talked, the more bleak and laborious my future looked to me. Could a housekeeper make time to roll down hills and play hide-and-seek on the moors? And by the time I became one, would I even remember how to do these things? I decided to change the subject.
‘The new boy, Heathcliff,’ I asked her, ‘is he to be a servant, too?’
My mother sighed heavily. ‘I don’t rightly know what they plan for him in future, but at present he is to be raised with the children, so you must think of him as one of the family, and treat him accordingly.’
This was no more than I had learned for myself already, but hearing it from her was too much for me. ‘Why am I to be cast out, and he set up as my master? He is just some filthy boy off the streets, while I have been there almost from my birth, and I am Hindley’s foster-sister besides, and his kin, too, on our mothers’ side!’
‘You don’t need to tell me that, Nell,’ she said. ‘But I have always told you that you were not to think of yourself as one of the family, and nothing Mr Earnshaw does for this boy changes that. He has his own reasons, no doubt, that you cannot understand.’
‘Well, but I wish …’
‘Fie, Nell, do not make wishes. If you cannot pray for it or work for it, you may be sure it will do you no good to wish for it, and it may do ill. Come and sit here, and I will tell you a story about a wish, and the trouble it brought.’
And so she did, and I will tell it to you. But to do that, I must take a fresh sheet, and give it a proper title, and all.
The Heart’s Wish
‘You know that there are many stories about folk who help some magical creature – say a little man caught in a tree, or a hunted beast who turns out to be a man in disguise – and are granted three wishes in return? Well, once, not long ago, and near here, there was a man, a poor farmer on bad land, who was weary of breaking his back day after day, year after year, to put food in bellies that were never more than half full. Hearing these stories, he took it into his head that he must find a fairy or a goblin, and gain from it the wishes that would lift the burden of his laborious life, and allow him to live in ease and comfort. But he was not content to wait until he should stumble over such an opportunity, nor did he wish to waste his time and anger his neighbours by saving every hunted beast that came his way, in the hopes it might prove to be magical, so instead he resolved to catch one. Well, he gathered up every story of magical folk from all the country around, and sifted and sorted them in his mind, to determine what were their habits, where they might be found, and how he might get one into his power. Accordingly, he began leaving a cup of sweetened milk and a small plate of oatcakes (which he could ill spare) on the hearth at night, and in the morning he always found it gone. His wife derided him for his efforts. “What a fool you are to waste good food and drink on idle fancies, when it might have gone into our own bellies!” she said. “It is sure to be rats who have eaten the food, and now they will be all over the house, looking for more.”
‘“Nay, wife,” he replied, “but look at how the dishes are left: the cup scoured clean and placed neatly on the plate, and both shifted to the side of the hearth, to be out of the way. We have lured a Brownie into the house, just as I hoped.”
‘Well, his wife demurred, but he kept on feeding the Brownie, and soon even she was convinced of its existence, by the good effects it produced. For all at once their thin and sickly cow grew fatter and began giving more and richer milk, and when the time came for her to be bred, she gave birth to twin heifers, who both throve as much as if there had only been the one. The oats that year yielded twice the normal crop on the same ground as before; the cabbages in the garden grew larger than their own heads, and the carrots so long and thick and close together they could not be pulled from the ground, but had to be dug out with a spade (yet sweet-tasting withal), and all the other vegetables throve in the like manner. For once there was more than the family could eat themselves, so the wife took butter and vegetables to market, where their beauty and sweetness brought excellent prices. With the money, she bought a piglet and a flock of chickens, to be fed up on the excess of their produce, and these throve as well as the rest.
‘Soon the farmer was able to improve and enlarge his tumbled-down cottage, and his children grew fat and strong, and were enabled to better their condition by attending the school in the village. As a consequence, they gained reputations with their neighbours as excellent farmers and managers, the more so as they were placed in such an unpromising location, so that they were treated with great respect, and their opinions sought on all sorts of questions, where before they had only been pitied for the poverty of their condition.
‘Now, you might think the farmer would be happy with this, but he had not forgotten his hope of gaining three wishes that would allow him to live at ease for ever after. So the farmer conceived a plan to get the resident Brownie into his power, that he might compel it to grant him wishes. When he told his wife of this, she grew angry. “How can you be such a fool!” she said. “Since the Brownie has taken up residence in our house, everything we touch has prospered. Our larder and storeroom are full; we have money for all our needs. Our neighbours think well of us, and our children are moving up in the world. If you seek to wring more from the Brownie than he has freely given us already, he may withdraw his favour from us, and cause us to lose all our prosperity. Rest content with what you have.”
‘“When I first set out to bring the Brownie into the house,” her husband replied, “you called me a fool, too, and told me I was wasting scarce food on old tales that no sensible person believed. But you were wrong, and now we are the better for it. Now, when I seek for more you tell me again that I am a fool. Why should I listen to you?”
‘“It is true that I did not wish you to waste food taken out of our own children’s bellies, and for good reason. If a man with a wife and family to provide for wishes to gamble his last penny for a fortune, surely it is his wife’s duty to speak against it, and it is hardly foolish in her to do so even if he prove her wrong by winning a fortune indeed, as I cannot deny that you have done. But when you lured the Brownie into our house, it was in service of what any man has a right to wish: good reward for his labour, security against hard times, and a better life for his children. But now you seek to return cruelty for kindness, and betrayal for trust, and for what? That you may sit at ease, and have all done for you without any effort at all! Since Adam, all men must eat their bread by the sweat of their brow, and why should you be exempt? Whether it were foolish or wise to put out food that might have served only to fatten mice may be proved by the result, but in this you do wrong whether you succeed or not, and no good can come of it.”
‘Well, the man saw that his wife would not be swayed, so he said no more of it. But neither would he give over his plan. And so, working in secret, he constructed a cage out of the roots of a graveyard yew tree and long vines of bindweed, and wove into it watercress and rosemary to restrain magic. He made a floor for it too, of the same materials, but did not fasten it to the rest. Then he waited for the new moon, for he knew the powers of such creatures wax and wane with the moon. The day before he put his plan into execution, he coaxed his wife into going to visit her relations in town for a few days, and to take their children with her, so that she might not interfere. That evening, he suspended the main part of the cage above the hearth, artfully concealing it among the hams and strings of onions that hung from the rafters. He put the floor of it under the hearthrug just under the cage, then he set out on top of it a pork pie, iced cakes, and a tankard of strong ale for the Brownie – finer victuals than he was used to receiving – and set the trap to spring when the creature should lift up the heavy tankard. This done, he concealed himself in the pantry, keeping the door slightly ajar that he might peep out and watch the success of his plan.
‘As soon as the clock struck midnight, the Brownie appeared. He was no larger than a toddling child, but wizened and dark, like meat that’s been smoked over a slow fire, with wide yellow eyes like a cat’s. He appeared startled at the sight of the fine victuals laid out for him, but tossed the iced cakes into his broad mouth without hesitation, and then lifted the tankard for a draught of ale. No sooner had he done so than the trap was sprung: the cage fell down with a crash around the Brownie, and before he could gather his wits to lift it up again, the man sprang out from his hiding place and, flinging himself on top of the cage, bound the floor of it to the rest with more bindweed and cress. Then, lighting a candle from the smouldering fire, he inspected his catch.
‘At first the Brownie scuttled about inside the cage, up and down and all around, testing every inch of it and chattering incomprehensibly to himself like an angry squirrel. But he found no flaw in the workmanship: the cage was tightly made, and the yew roots, which had grown from the flesh of the dead, proved too strong for the little Brownie, whose powers were bound up with living things like crops and beasts. When he discovered this, the creature hunched himself up in the far corner, hugged his bony knees to himself, and turning his cat’s eyes balefully on his captor, addressed him in a high, grating voice: “Well,” he said, “this is a fine return you have made me for all my help to you. What is it you want from me: are your pigs not fat enough? Is the butter that comes in great lumps from the churning not sweet enough for your taste? What have you turned your hand to since I came here that has not thriven? And all I have asked in return is a small share of it left for me by the hearth. So what would you now?”
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