At the close of three weeks I was able to quit my chamber and move about the house. And on the first occasion of my sitting up in the evening I asked Catherine to read to me, because my eyes were weak. We were in the library, the master having gone to bed: she consented, rather unwillingly, I fancied; and imagining my sort of books did not suit her, I bid her please herself in the choice of what she perused. She selected one of her own favourites, and got forward steadily about an hour; then came frequent questions.
‘Ellen, are not you tired? Hadn’t you better lie down now? You’ll be sick, keeping up so long, Ellen.’
‘No, no, dear, I’m not tired,’ I returned, continually.
Perceiving me immovable, she essayed another method of showing her disrelish for her occupation. It changed to yawning, and stretching, and—
‘Ellen, I’m tired.’
‘Give over then and talk,’ I answered.
That was worse: she fretted and sighed, and looked at her watch till eight, and finally went to her room, completely overdone with sleep; judging by her peevish, heavy look, and the constant rubbing she inflicted on her eyes. The following night she seemed more impatient still; and on the third from recovering my company she complained of a headache, and left me. I thought her conduct odd; and having remained alone a long while, I resolved on going and inquiring whether she were better, and asking her to come and lie on the sofa, instead of up-stairs in the dark. No Catherine could I discover up-stairs, and none below. The servants affirmed they had not seen her. I listened at Mr. Edgar’s door; all was silence. I returned to her apartment, extinguished my candle, and seated myself in the window.
The moon shone bright; a sprinkling of snow covered the ground,d and I reflected that she might, possibly, have taken it into her head to walk about the garden, for refreshment. I did detect a figure creeping along the inner fence of the park; but it was not my young mistress: on its emerging into the light, I recognised one of the grooms. He stood a considerable period, viewing the carriage-road through the grounds; then started off at a brisk pace, as if he had detected something, and reappeared presently, leading Miss’s pony; and there she was, just dismounted, and walking by its side. The man took his charge stealthily across the grass towards the stable. Cathy entered by the casement-windoww of the drawing-room, and glided noiselessly up to where I awaited her. She put the door gently too, slipped off her snowy shoes, untied her hat, and was proceeding, unconscious of my espionage, to lay aside her mantle, when I suddenly rose and revealed myself. The surprise petrified her an instant: she uttered an inarticulate exclamation, and stood fixed.
‘My dear Miss Catherine,’ I began, too vividly impressed by her recent kindness to break into a scold, ‘where have you been riding out at this hour? And why should you try to deceive me by telling a tale? Where have you been? Speak!’
‘To the bottom of the park,’ she stammered. ‘I didn’t tell a tale.’
‘And nowhere else?’ I demanded.
‘No,’ was the muttered reply.
‘Oh, Catherine!’ I cried, sorrowfully. ‘You know you have been doing wrong, or you wouldn’t be driven to uttering an untruth to me. That does grieve me. I’d rather be three months ill, than hear you frame a deliberate lie.’
She sprang forward, and bursting into tears, threw her arms round my neck.
‘Well, Ellen, I’m so afraid of you being angry,’ she said. ‘Promise not to be angry, and you shall know the very truth: I hate to hide it.’
We sat down in the window-seat; I assured her I would not scold, whatever her secret might be, and I guessed it, of course; so she commenced—