With streaming face and an expression of agony, Linton had thrown his nerveless frame along the ground: he seemed convulsed with exquisite terror.
`Oh!' he sobbed, `I cannot bear it! Catherine, Catherine, I'm a traitor, too, and I dare not tell you! But leave me, and I shall be killed! Dear Catherine, my life is in your hands: and you have said you loved me, and if you did, it wouldn't harm you. You'll not go, then? kind, sweet, good Catherine! And perhaps you will consent--and he'll let me die with you!'
My young lady, on witnessing his intense anguish, stooped to raise him. The old feeling of indulgent tenderness overcame her vexation, and she grew thoroughly moved and alarmed.
`Consent to what?' she asked. `To stay? Tell me the meaning of this strange talk, and I will. You contradict your own words, and distract me! Be calm and frank, and confess at once all that weighs on your heart. You wouldn't injure me, Linton, would you? You wouldn't let any enemy hurt me, if you could prevent it? I'll believe you are a coward for yourself, but not a cowardly betrayer of your best friend.'
`But my father threatened me,' gasped the boy, clasping his attenuated fingers, `and I dread him--I dread him! I dare not tell!'
`Oh, well!' said Catherine, with scornful compassion, `keep your secret: I'm no coward. Save yourself; I'm not afraid!'
Her magnanimity provoked his tears: he wept wildly, kissing her supporting hands, and yet could not summon courage to speak out. I was cogitating what the mystery might be, and determined Catherine should never suffer, to benefit him or anyone else, by my goodwill; when hearing a rustle among the ling, I looked up and saw Mr Heathcliff almost close upon us, descending the Heights. He didn't cast a glance towards my companions, though they were sufficiently near for Linton's sobs to be audible; but hailing me in the almost hearty tone he assumed to none besides, and the sincerity of which I couldn't avoid doubting, he said:
`It is something to see you so near"to my house, Nelly. How are you at the Grange? Let us hear. The rumour goes', he added in a lower tone, `that Edgar Linton is on his deathbed: perhaps they exaggerate his illness!'
`No; my master is dying,' I replied: `it is true enough. A sad thing it will be for us all, but a blessing for him!'
`How long will he last, do you think?' he asked.
`I don't know,' I said.
`Because,' he continued, looking at the two young people, who were fixed under his eye--Linton appeared as if he could not venture to stir or raise his head, and Catherine could not move, on his account--`because that lad yonder seems determined to beat me; and I'd thank his uncle to be quick, and go before him. Hallo! has the whelp been playing that game long? I did give him some lessons about snivelling. Is he pretty lively with Miss Linton generally?'
`Lively? no--he has shown the greatest distress,' I answered. `To see him, I should say, that instead of rambling with his sweetheart on the hills, he ought to be in bed, under the hands of a doctor.'
`He shall be in a day or two,' muttered Heathcliff. `But first--get up, Linton! Get up!' he shouted. `Don't grovel on the ground there: up, this moment!'
Linton had sunk prostrate again in another paroxysm of helpless fear, caused by his father's glance towards him, I suppose: there was nothing else to produce such humiliation. He made several efforts to
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