He entered, vociferating oaths dreadful to hear; and caught me in the act of stowing his son sway in the kitchen cupboard. Hareton was impressed with a wholesome terror of encountering either his wild beast’s fondness or his madman’s rage; for in one he ran a chance of being squeezed and kissed to death, and in the other of being flung into the fire, or dashed against the wall; and the poor thing remained perfectly quiet wherever I chose to put him.
‘There, I’ve found it out at last!’ cried Hindley, pulling me back by the skin of my neck, like a dog. ‘By heaven and hell, you’ve sworn between you to murder that child! I know how it is, now, that he is always out of my way. But, with the help of Satan, I shall make you swallow the carving-knife, Nelly! You needn’t laugh; for I’ve just crammed Kenneth, head-downmost, in the Black-horse marsh; and two is the same as one—and I want to kill some of you: I shall have no rest till I do!’
‘But I don’t like the carving-knife, Mr. Hindley,’ I answered; ‘it has been cutting red herrings. I’d rather be shot, if you please.’
‘You’d rather be damned!’ he said; ‘and so you shall. No law in England can hinder a man from keeping his house decent, and mine’s abominable! Open your mouth.’ He held the knife in his hand, and pushed its point between my teeth: but, for my part, I was never much afraid of his vagaries. I spat out, and affirmed it tasted detestably—I would not take it on any account.
‘Oh!’ said he, releasing me, ‘I see that hideous little villain is not Hareton: I beg your pardon, Nell. If it be, he deserves flaying alive for not running to welcome me, and for screaming as if I were a goblin. Unnatural cub, come hither! I’ll teach thee to impose on a good-hearted, deluded father. Now, don’t you think the lad would be handsomer cropped? It makes a dog fiercer, and I love something fierce—get me a scissors—something fierce and trim! Besides, it’s infernal affectation—devilish conceit it is, to cherish our ears—we’re asses enough without them. Hush, child, hush! Well then, it is my darling! wisht,w dry thy eyes—there’s a joy; kiss me. What! it won’t? Kiss me, Hareton! Damn thee, kiss me! By God, as if I would rear such a monster! As sure as I’m living, I’ll break the brat’s neck.’
Poor Hareton was squalling and kicking in his father’s arms with all his might, and redoubled his yells when he carried him up-stairs and lifted him over the banister. I cried out that he would frighten the child into fits, and ran to rescue him. As I reached them, Hindley leant forward on the rails to listen to a noise below; almost forgetting what he had in his hands. ‘Who is that?’ he asked, hearing some one approaching the stairs’-foot. I leant forward also, for the purpose of signing to Heathcliff, whose step I recognised, not to come further; and, at the instant when my eye quitted Hareton, he gave a sudden spring, delivered himself from the careless grasp that held him, and fell.
There was scarcely time to experience a thrill of horror before we saw that the little wretch was safe. Heathcliff arrived underneath just at the critical moment; by a natural impulse he arrested his descent, and setting him on his feet, looked up to discover the author of the accident. A miser who has parted with a lucky lottery ticket for five shillings, and finds next day he has lost in the bargain five thousand pounds, could not show a blanker countenance than he did on beholding the figure of Mr. Earnshaw above. It expressed, plainer than words could do, the intensest anguish at having made himself the instrument of thwarting his own revenge. Had it been dark, I daresay he would have tried to remedy the mistake by smashing Hareton’s skull on the steps; but, we witnessed his salvation; and I was presently below with my precious charge pressed to my heart. Hindley descended more leisurely, sobered and abashed.
‘It is your fault, Ellen,’ he said; ‘you should have kept him out of sight: you should have taken him from me! Is he injured anywhere?’