Sometimes, while meditating on these things in solitude, I’ve got up in a sudden terror, and put on my bonnet to go see how all was at the farm. I’ve persuaded my conscience that it was a duty to warn him how people talked regarding his ways; and then I’ve recollected his confirmed bad habits, and, hopeless of benefiting him, have flinched from re-entering the dismal house, doubting if I could bear to be taken at my word.
One time I passed the old gate, going out of my way, on a journey to Gimmerton. It was about the period that my narrative has reached: a bright frosty afternoon; the ground bare, and the road hard and dry. I came to a stone where the highway branches off on to the moor at your left hand; a rough sand-pillar, with the letters W. H. cut on its north side, on the east, G., and on the south-west, T. G. It serves as a guide-post to the Grange, the Heights, and village. The sun shone yellow on its grey head, reminding me of summer; and I cannot say why, but all at once a gush of child’s sensations flowed into my heart. Hindley and I held it a favourite spot twenty years before. I gazed long at the weather-worn block; and, stooping down, perceived a hole near the bottom still full of snail-shells and pebbles, which we were fond of storing there with more perishable things; and, as fresh as reality, it appeared that I beheld my early playmate seated on the withered turf: his dark, square head bent forward, and his little hand scooping out the earth with a piece of slate. ‘Poor Hindley!’ I exclaimed, involuntarily. I started: my bodily eye was cheated into a momentary belief that the child lifted its face and stared straight into mine! It vanished in a twinkling; but immediately I felt an irresistible yearning to be at the Heights. Superstition urged me to comply with this impulse: supposing he should be dead! I thought—or should die soon!—supposing it were a sign of death! The nearer I got to the house the more agitated I grew; and on catching sight of it I trembled in every limb. The apparition had outstripped me: it stood looking through the gate. That was my first idea on observing an elf-locked, brown-eyed boy setting his ruddy countenance against the bars. Further reflection suggested this must be Hareton, my Hareton, not altered greatly since I left him, ten months since.
‘God bless thee, darling!’ I cried, forgetting instantaneously my foolish fears. ‘Hareton, it’s Nelly! Nelly, thy nurse.’
He retreated out of arm’s length, and picked up a large flint.
‘I am come to see thy father, Hareton,’ I added, guessing from the action that Nelly, if she lived in his memory at all, was not recognised as one with me.
He raised his missile to hurl it; I commenced a soothing speech, but could not stay his hand: the stone struck my bonnet; and then ensued, from the stammering lips of the little fellow, a string of curses, which, whether he comprehended them or not, were delivered with practised emphasis, and distorted his baby features into a shocking expression of malignity. You may be certain this grieved more than angered me. Fit to cry, I took an orange from my pocket, and offered it to propitiate him. He hesitated, and then snatched it from my hold; as if he fancied I only intended to tempt and disappoint him. I showed another, keeping it out of his reach.
‘Who has taught you those fine words, my bairn?’ I inquired. ‘The curate?’
‘Damn the curate, and thee! Gie me that,’ he replied.
‘Tell us where you got your lessons, and you shall have it,’ said I. ‘Who’s your master?’
‘Devil daddy,’ was his answer.
‘And what do you learn from daddy?’ I continued.
He jumped at the fruit; I raised it higher. ‘What does he teach you?’ I asked.