Cathy hates her concerned parents and tries to run away to Boston. Her father catches her and beats her, which makes her more respectful and helpful around the house. One night, however, Cathy steals all the money from her father’s safe, sets a fire in the house, pours chicken blood all over the floor, and locks the house from the outside on her way out. The house burns down, killing her parents, who are trapped inside. When the townspeople find the chicken blood, they believe that Cathy has been murdered.
Cathy, now using the pseudonym Catherine Amesbury, appears before Mr. Edwards, a man who runs a ring of prostitutes at inns throughout New England. The usually cold and cynical Mr. Edwards is surprised to feel a powerful sexual attraction to Cathy. Unbeknownst to his wife, he decides to keep Cathy for himself and puts her up in a small house. Cathy begins to steal from Mr. Edwards and manipulates him into fearing her.
After some time, the miserable Mr. Edwards learns something of Cathy’s background. One night, he gets her drunk, and she becomes violent and threatens him with a broken wineglass. He forces her to come with him to a remote area and then beats her severely. Shocked at himself, Mr. Edwards returns home to his wife, leaving Cathy bloodied in a field that happens to be near the Trask farm in Connecticut. Cathy crawls away and eventually arrives on the Trasks’ doorstep.
In the time just before Cathy’s sudden arrival, Charles and Adam struggle to get along on the farm. They bicker constantly, as Adam hates Charles’s insistence on waking at 4:30 every morning to work the farm (even though the inheritance from Cyrus has made them very rich), while Charles cannot stand Adam’s criticism and laziness. Adam tries to talk Charles into going to California, but Charles has no interest in leaving the farm. Adam begins to leave on trips for longer and longer periods of time, traveling first to Boston and then to South America. When Adam returns from Buenos Aires, he sees that Charles has bought more land. He tells Charles the story of his months on the chain gang after the war.
Cathy crawls up to the Trasks’ doorstep, covered in blood and dirt. Charles does not want to keep her in the house because he fears that it will ruin his reputation. Adam, however, says that Cathy is too weak to be sent away, so he cares for her tenderly. The sheriff questions Cathy about her beating, but she writes—she cannot speak because her jaw is broken—that she does not remember anything.
Cathy remains at the farm for some time, all the while against Charles’s wishes. One day, Charles confronts her while Adam is away on an errand, telling her that he does not believe that she has really lost her memory. Charles convinces Cathy that she already told him about her past during a bout of delirium brought about by her injuries. Cathy falls for the trick, and Charles sneers at her gullibility.