Читать онлайн «Nelly Dean»
I had just drawn up the bucket from the well when I heard the steady clump of horses’ feet approaching. It was Dr Kenneth, and Bodkin behind him on a pony. I began waving my arms and shouting to them at the top of my voice, terrified that they would pass by without stopping (and that will tell you something of my state of mind, for there was no earthly reason for anyone to be on that road, unless it were to visit us). They clucked up their horses and hastened over to me, and it wasn’t until they were a dozen yards away that I recollected I had only my shift on! I quickly grabbed the bucket to my chest for cover, but it was full of water, of course, which duly sloshed all down my front. This, you may be sure, improved neither my appearance nor my composure. But good Dr Kenneth’s face expressed nothing but its habitual kind concern.
‘Good heavens, Nelly, poor child, whatever is the matter?’
‘Oh, Dr Kenneth, I didn’t listen to you, and now Heathcliff has the fever terribly bad, and nothing I can do will bring it down, and I’m afraid he will die,’ I sobbed out, and then commenced to babble incoherently about my long night, and my desperate efforts to cool the feverish child. Before I finished, Dr Kenneth turned his horse and hurried off to the house, pausing only to say a few words to his son in a voice too low for me to hear. His departure, and the relief that Heathcliff was now in better hands than mine, seemed to drain from me the last ounce of my desperate energy, and I crumpled to the ground and wrapped my arms around my knees, crying uncontrollably and shivering in my wet shift as if I had a chill wind on me instead of the same still heat as before. Bodkin slipped off his pony and came over to wrap his jacket around me, turning his head away as I hastily buttoned it down the front. Then he helped me up from the ground and half led, half carried me into the kitchen. There he blew up the fire, made tea, and put a mug of it before me with some oatcakes and a bit of jam he found in the storeroom. I shook my head – I could not imagine finding the strength to eat or drink.
‘None of that, Nelly. This is doctor’s orders. Food and something hot to drink, he said, and I’m not to leave you until you’ve swallowed some of each.’ I did manage to take some, then, which revived me enough to remind me how hungry I was, and I set to with some eagerness.
‘And now, Nelly, tell me where I may find a nightdress for you.’
‘They’re upstairs, in the cupboard in my room – that’s the second on the right,’ I said, and then added, in some confusion, ‘but I can’t put on nightclothes now – it’s already morning.’
But Bodkin was already heading up the stairs.
‘Morning for those who have been sleeping all night, perhaps,’ he said, ‘but bedtime for you. Again, these are my father’s orders.’ And then he was off, to return a minute later with one of my nightdresses. ‘Here you are, milady,’ he said, ‘and here is your dressing room’ (opening the storeroom door with a flourish). That coaxed a laugh from me.
‘I can change more easily in my own room.’
‘Very likely, but you have not had near enough breakfast yet, and I can’t have you spilling jam on my best summer jacket.’
‘Is this your best?’ I asked doubtfully (it was a remarkably threadbare garment).
‘My best, my worst, and my middling all, for it’s my only one. Now go and change.’ I thought it best to obey, and indeed it felt good to get out of the wet shift and into something clean and dry. I felt shy of coming out of the storeroom in only my nightdress though, and poked my head through the door to say so.
‘You forget I am in training to be a doctor, Nell,’ he said. ‘Seeing folks in their nightclothes is a hazard of my chosen profession, just as getting run through with a sword is for a cavalry officer.’
‘Well, call up all your professional courage, then, for here I come.’
Bodkin put some bread and cheese in front of me, and refreshed my mug of tea.
‘You would be astonished at what we’ve seen in this heat, Nelly,’ he went on. ‘Some of it makes your wet shift look like a noble sacrifice to the cause of modesty.’ I laughed and shook my head. ‘No, truly,’ he said, laughing himself, ‘do you know Old Elspeth?’
‘I know of her,’ I said.
‘Well, Father and I called by her cottage yesterday afternoon.’
‘Was she ill?’ I interrupted. ‘It doesn’t speak well of her art, that she couldn’t cure herself, but had to call in a doctor to help.’
‘Nothing of the sort; she’s as hale as ever – it was we who needed her.’
‘Really! And I thought doctors and herbwomen were at daggers drawn.’
‘Not in this case. Father respects her. She serves more of the poor than he could get to if there were three of him, he says, and serves them well. And she makes a salve for the rheumatics that is better than anything. Gentlefolk won’t touch it if they know it comes from her, so Father buys it from her and dispenses it as his own concoction, and thus keeps everybody happy. But to get back to my story: we rode up to her cottage and knocked at the door, but there was no answer, and then we heard her in the garden behind the cottage, so we went round there. You know she is rather deaf, so I suppose she didn’t hear us coming. When we came upon her, she stood up from behind a bush, and can you guess what she was wearing, Nell?’ I shook my head. ‘A broad-brimmed straw hat!’ he announced, making his eyes wide with feigned shock.
‘Well, what is so surprising about that?’ I asked, a little puzzled. ‘I wear one myself, when I am working outside on a sunny day.’ Bodkin gazed at me expectantly, his eyes twinkling.
‘I am telling you, she was wearing … a broad-brimmed straw hat.’ It hit me then.
‘And nothing else?’ I gasped.
‘Not a stitch. The hat was the sum total of her costume. A woman over eighty! I tell you, I needed every ounce of my professional courage not to turn tail and flee.’ I collapsed into helpless laughter, and he with me, and we both sat there giggling like a pair of naughty children.
‘I would love to have seen her face when she saw you there,’ I said at last.
‘You would have seen little to amuse you, actually, for her face showed no awkward consciousness at all. I tell you, a savage chief from the Americas could not have borne his nakedness with more dignity than that old woman. She simply turned and strode into the cottage, then emerged later, clothed, and with the pot of salve for my father, and we all exchanged the usual pleasantries as if nothing had happened. As we were leaving, Father turned to me and asked, “So, Robin, what do you make of that?” “Well, Father,” I replied, “I know that older ladies often cling to the fashions of their youth, but I had not realized that Elspeth was old enough to take hers from Mother Eve.” That made him laugh, and then we said not another word about it.’
‘You are a funny fellow, Bodkin.’
‘Well, laughter is the only medication I am at present qualified to dispense – that and tea,’ he added, ‘and the occasional article of dry clothing. And I see that those have had their usual miraculous restorative effect, so let us get you off to bed.’ But, before we could head up the stairs, we met the master and Dr Kenneth coming down.
‘What, not abed yet, Nelly?’ the doctor said. ‘Off with you, then, post haste.’
‘Please, sir,’ I asked, my old anxiety suddenly returning, ‘how is Heathcliff?’
‘His fever has broken, thanks to you,’ he said, ‘and he is resting peacefully. He should make a full recovery, as will Cathy and Hindley. This young woman, sir,’ he said, turning to the master, ‘has done heroic service for yon poor lad – all night long she ran back and forth to the old well, and up and down these stairs, to ease his fever with cooling baths – it was her own thought, and I could not have had a better one myself – and she wore herself near to collapse doing it. You have her to thank that he will pull through.’
The master looked haggard and worn himself, from worry and sleepless nights nursing his wife, but at this he turned to me, and I saw tears in his eyes.
‘Come here, child,’ he said hoarsely. When I came up to him, he gestured me to kneel in front of him, and put both hands on my head. ‘God bless you, Ellen Dean,’ he said in a choked voice, ‘I think you were born to be the salvation of this house, and I swear that while I live you will always have a home here.’ His hands rested on my head, and we both remained there in silence, he standing, I kneeling and looking at the floor, for what seemed a long time, and then he said again, ‘God bless you,’ and released me. I was weeping by then, and could scarcely rise, but Bodkin helped me up, and led me up the stairs. At the top I saw Hindley, out of bed and poking his head out of his door. He flashed on me a look of such anger and pain that I realized he must have heard every word below.
‘How could you?’ he hissed at me as I passed, but I was too exhausted to face him just then, so I turned away without answering, and let Bodkin lead me to my room and put me into my bed, where I fell instantly into a deep sleep that lasted the whole of that day and the following night.
I awoke at dawn, as usual, but with a vague sense that everything was changed, as if a whole new world had taken shape around me while I slept, so that I was startled to see the same old familiar surroundings. As I dressed, memories came back to account for this feeling: my efforts for Heathcliff, and their success, and the praise I had received for them, but most of all, Mr Earnshaw’s heartfelt blessing, and his promise that I should always have a home at Wuthering Heights. I had thought that I had long since put away the bitter memory of my earlier expulsion, but somewhere in the back of my mind it must have still rankled. Now that pain was gone, as if the pressure of the master’s hands on my head had been a baptism that washed away all my old sins, and made me a new person – one who belonged at Wuthering Heights, and had claims there.
About Heathcliff, too, I had new and warmer feelings. I had employed all my wits and all my strength to save his life, and I had saved it. So the doctor told me, so I believed myself, and so, I was sure, Heathcliff knew too. How could I not now value more greatly the life I had saved? And Heathcliff’s need had touched me. As I had nursed him through that horrible night, I had kept up a steady gentle patter of reassurance and affection, such as a mother uses to her child. The words came naturally to my lips, and I believe I would have said the like for anyone I nursed so, but once spoken, they seemed to bring their own truth with them, and Heathcliff became no longer the troublesome brat I had always thought him, but my poor bairn, my good little laddie, my darling boy. And I saw, too, their effect on him: through the night, each time I returned to his bedside, his eyes would seek out mine and his lips move to say my name, and I saw in his face what I had never seen there for me before: trust, and gratitude, and love.
Hindley I tried not to think about, only telling myself that he could not really wish me to have let Heathcliff die, and that he would come round in time.
By the time I had thus taken stock of my mental world, I was washed and dressed. The terrible heat, I noticed, had broken at last, and all nature seemed to be celebrating it. At any rate, it was a beautiful day, of that crystalline sunny clearness we see so rarely here, that makes the very lungs leap to take in the fresh air, carries the sounds of birds for miles around, and gives the edges of objects the sharpness of a knife-blade. I went downstairs. Joseph was back in his old place – Dr Kenneth must have declared the house free of infection – but no one else was up yet. His was not the face I would have chosen to see first that morning, but my mood was too buoyant to let him affect it.
‘Good morning, Joseph. I hope you slept well?’ I asked cheerfully.
‘Not as well as you did, spending the whole of yesterday lazing in your bed, from what I hear.’
‘Doctor’s orders. Same as kept you from having to lift a finger in here while I was run off my feet the whole of last week. Not that I’m complaining,’ I added brightly, ‘for I managed very well on my own. Dr Kenneth said I saved Heathcliff’s life, and the master gave me his blessing, and told me I was born to be the salvation of the family.’ This had the desired effect – Joseph scowled and turned away, but could not think of a word to say in response that would not appear to disparage these two authorities.
‘Now that you’re here,’ I went on, ‘can you tell me what happened yesterday while I was asleep? Is the mistress up from her bed yet? Or any of the children? And what of the master? He looked worn to a ravelling when last I saw him.’
‘Hindley and Cathy are out of their beds, but they’re to keep themselves quiet and not goo out a’doors, and t’ doctor says Heathcliff’s past the wust of it, but he still needs a few days rest a-bed. T’ mistress is still ill, and t’ master still gies all his time to nursing her. If ye want to make yeself useful, ye’ll bring up a tray for both on them – thin milk porridge for t’ mistress an’ summat more hearty for t’ master.’
‘I know what they need,’ I said, ‘haven’t I been bringing trays for them all week?’ I hastened to put together the tray, adding a pot of tea and a small pitcher of milk before carrying it upstairs. Outside their room, I knocked softly at the door, as I had been instructed to do. The master opened the door, but, instead of taking the tray inside, he stepped out with me into the hall.
‘She’s sleeping now,’ he whispered. ‘Let’s not disturb her. I’ll eat downstairs.’
‘Please, sir,’ I ventured, as we went down the hall together, ‘how is Mrs Earnshaw now? What did the doctor say?’
‘Never mind what the doctor said. Mrs Earnshaw is still weak, but mending. Her measles are clearing up – it just took a little longer with her than with the children because she is older. She needs time to rest, and no disturbances. Trouble between the children especially frets her, and that will slow her recovery. I have arranged with the curate to take over their lessons, but apart from that I am counting on you to keep the peace, Nelly, for they are all fond of you. Do you think you can do that?’
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