He killed the dog because it smelled the contract on his heart.
“Do come to me, Heathcliff,” Catherine said, her skin sallow and pinched against her bones. He was there in an instant, pulling her close, bruising her back and cursing the unborn child holding space between them. Her thin breath was hardly sturdy enough to feel on his neck, and it was cold as death. These were the final moments, the moments he’d paid for so desperately, the moments he’d caused. “Forgive me,” she whispered.
“I forgive what you have done,” he said into her hair. “What you have done to me. I love my murderer – but yours? How can I?”
“I shall not pity you. You have killed me, and thriven on it, I think.” Her delicate fingers squeezed his arms, her hands touched his cheeks and she forced him to look into her pale, rainy, empty eyes. “How strong you are! How many years do you mean to live after I am gone?”
Heathcliff kissed her dry lips. He kissed her, and he crushed her.
She became wild then, pink fever rimming her eyes, and burrowed her fingernails into his back. “I wish I could hold you until we are both dead!”
“I die with you,” he swore, too soft for echoing against the high arched rafters of her lying-in chamber.
Mr. Earnshaw had arrived after seven years at the door beneath the heather. It was a large, flat rock painted with lichens in green, gold, and a gray that highlighted the shadows of the moor. The hag waited, her skin hanging off thin bones and her eyes glowing like moons. Beside her stood a little boy, just seven years of age then. He scowled and tucked himself behind the hag’s ragged skirts. Black devil eyes glared at Mr. Earnshaw from under the child’s heavy brow, and Mr. Earnshaw wondered at the temper of his son. “Come, boy,” he said in a coaxing voice, such as one used with angry horses and wild dogs. “I am come to take you home.”
“I am home,” the boy said, finding the hag’s bony hand and winding her fingers with his own.
“You shall have a brother and sister to play with and all the lands of my manor for your adventures.” Mr. Earnshaw crouched down. “It is your duty to go with me, after so long away.”
The boy raised his burning eyes to the hag, who nodded and whispered something that Mr. Earnshaw could not hear. Her teeth were the greenish color of corpses.
Scowling still, the boy stepped away from the hag and bowed to Mr. Earnshaw, who returned the gesture. “I called you Heathcliff when you were born, and so shall you be named again.”
Heathcliff was not to tell his family where he had been his whole life, though in truth it would be no hardship, for his impressions of the wild, dark place faded with every pace at his father’s side. By dawn, they arrived at a crossroads, and when Heathcliff spat and whispered a spell to sooth the gate guardians, Mr. Earnshaw knocked the back of his head gently. “Now, none of that, son. You’re to be civilized now, and no longer make bargains with their kind.”
It was stupid, Heathcliff knew to either listen to such foolishness or to appear to disobey. So he held the spell in his heart, and smiled. “Yes, Father.”
Mr. Earnshaw winced. “Ah, Heathcliff, you must not call me such. I found you in Liverpool where I’ve been on business, and as such you are a mere foundling. Mrs. Earnshaw would never understand that you did not die but that I was forced to offer you as, erm, collateral. Love her well, and your brother and sister, but they cannot know you are of our blood.”
Heathcliff shrugged and said nothing. It meant little to him the details of the situation. More and more he made plans to run off into the mountains the moment he was able.
When he was revealed to the family, in the kitchen of a house made of gray stones and sadness, Heathcliff bared his teeth and crossed his arms over his chest to ward off evil. Mr. Earnshaw frowned, Mrs. Earnshaw covered her mouth in horror, and the boy Hindley, who was to be his brother, sneered.
But little Catherine laughed. Her eyes were round and dark, sparkling with wildness. She raised her narrow chin and said, “Oh, Father, he is a very beast!”
Heathcliff thought, I know you, and his lips fell down to cover his teeth. He marshaled his expression and bowed at her. Again, Catherine laughed. But she held out her hands and grasped his.
Mr. Earnshaw brought him fine clothes and had him sit at the dinner table with the family. His days were awful and boring and Heathcliff despised every moment he wasn’t running with Catherine across the moorland. All the others fell away, Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw, Hindley, Ellen the housekeeper and Joseph who served on the land. They were shadows to Heathcliff in the harsh, brilliant light of Catherine.
He took her out into the wilderness, through brambles and marshland to hunt up mushroom rings and tree-gates. They stole milk and honey and picked clover flowers and heather to weave together as gifts. Heathcliff taught her the spells he knew for opening doors and summoning revels, and Catherine took them and made them stronger. She spun and whirled and as they grew older, it was he who followed her through the brambles and marshlands. He would not imagine any other way.
“We are like the rocks and the earth, Heathcliff,” Catherine said to him, crouched down over a circle etched in the dirt. “We are the same, only our bodies are separate. Our hearts and souls are the same. Are one.”
“I am you,” he said, and he smiled the smile he shared only with her. He was thirteen then, and Mr. Earnshaw was ill. Mrs. Earnshaw had died already, and Hindley was away at a university. There were no boundaries imposed upon he and Catherine except by Ellen, who was quiet and kind to Heathcliff.
“We’ll always be like this, too, you know.” Catherine pressed her hand to his. He nodded, because he always did as she said. But this he knew to be true; he could always tell truth from lies.
It was the dog that ended it all, the fluffed, pathetic dog that the Linton brats fought over so hard and harsh that Catherine and Heathcliff laughed to see their delicate tears. But their laughter got them caught, and the bull-dog was loosed and bit into Catherine’s ankle. For that she remained at Thrushcross Grange where she fell in love with Edgar Linton.
And three years later, she declared to Ellen that she could not marry Heathcliff.
The hard, gray moor reeled under his feet as Heathcliff fled, her words an echo in his brain: It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now. And what had he done? She had made her own growing admiration for the spineless, pale Edgar Linton plain to him, and no manner of whispering through door or masked looks of passion and desperation mattered next to it would degrade me.
He tripped and gouged his palms on the sharp stones. Blood trickled down his wrists and he knelt among the heather. Thunderclouds gathered, mirroring the dark roll of the moorland all around, violet, grey, yellow and black like a blossom of bruises. With his thumb, he pressed against the wound on his left palm until the blood came faster. It spattered on the leaves of heather before the first drops of rain.
“Get out,” he said, “get out of me.” He pressed the ragged edges of the cut. “I want you out of me.” It hurt, but no more than that bastard Hindley’s fists or the wretched strain of Heathcliff’s lungs as he breathed his so-called degradation of Catherine. If she hated him so much, he would flush her from his body, from his soul – but as their souls were made of the same thing, he despaired, how could he do it but with his own death?
“I’ll die,” Heathcliff whispered to the moor. “I’ll die, here, and the rain will wash my body into you. Have me, have my body and heart and soul – I don’t want it anymore.”
Thunder growled, low enough that he shuddered. The rain hit the ground, soaked into his hair until it dripped onto his forehead and gave him tears that streamed past his eyes and down his cheeks. They tasted like fire where they gathered in the corners of his mouth.
“Mean you those words?”
Heathcliff scuttled back at the scratched voice, and whirled around until he faced a hunched figure in a tattered gray robe. Even as the rain poured down, the edges of the robe fluttered slowly as if the woman stood in her own pocket of air. And water fell through her. “What do you want, creature?” He yelled into the storm.
The cowled head raised and he saw eyes like moonlight surrounded by cascading, wrinkled flesh. She smiled and her teeth were green under scarlet lips. “To help you, child. You offer your blood and soul, and I would take your bargain.”
Heathliff bared his own teeth. He knew this storm had and would not be cowed by her, and did not fear her power to sunder his body and cast the pieces about the moorland.
“Tell me, child, your age.”
“Sixteen.” Rain lashed at his face, catching in his lashes. He was cold and clamped his jaw against shivers.
“And so filled with rage and love and longing – I admire the depths of your passion. Like one of my own sisters.”
“How old are you?” Heathcliff asked in turn.
She laughed, and the thunder cracked. “What will you give, for the chance to win your love?”
“You will give your heart to me, and your soul, and when you die, you will come below to serve us in our halls.”
“Your heart. Your soul. And what do you ask for that?”
Catherine had said, of Edgar Linton, he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighborhood, and I shall be proud of having such a husband. “Riches. I want my fortunes.”
“Come with me, child, and choose them.” The hag held out a hand, nails blackened and skin falling away from the bones.
He took it. The storm hag laughed and crowed, “Two souls for the gift of one. How we shall feast!”
And Heathcliff knew what he had done.
He strung Isabella Linton’s dog up in a tree and watched it suffocate before it could reveal his secret.
Charlotte Bronte: “Heathcliff, indeed, stands unredeemed.”