Hindley and his new wife, a simpering, silly woman named Frances, return to Wuthering Heights in time for Mr. Earnshaw’s funeral. Hindley immediately begins to take his revenge on Heathcliff, declaring that Heathcliff no longer will be allowed an education and instead will spend his days working in the fields like a common laborer. But, for the most part, Catherine and Heathcliff are able to escape Hindley’s notice, and when Heathcliff is free from his responsibilities they go off onto the moors together to play.
One evening, when Heathcliff and Catherine disappear, Hindley orders that the doors be bolted and that the children not be allowed into the house. Despite his charge, Nelly waits for them, and receives a shock when Heathcliff returns alone. He tells her that he and Catherine made the trip to Thrushcross Grange to spy on and tease Edgar and Isabella Linton, Mr. Linton’s children. Before they could succeed in their mission, Skulker, the Lintons’ guard dog, took them by surprise and chased them, biting Catherine’s ankle. Unable to return home, Catherine was taken inside Thrushcross Grange by a servant. However, the Lintons, repelled by Heathcliff’s rough appearance, forbade her playmate to stay with her. The following day, Mr. Linton pays a visit to Wuthering Heights to explain matters to Hindley and upbraids the young man for his mismanagement of Catherine. After Mr. Linton leaves, the humiliated Hindley furiously tells Heathcliff that he may have no further contact with Catherine.
Catherine spends five weeks recuperating at the Grange. Mrs. Linton determines to transform the girl into a young lady and spends her time educating Catherine in manners and social graces. Catherine returns to Wuthering Heights at Christmastime, wearing a lovely dress. Hindley says that Heathcliff may greet Catherine “like the other servants,” and, when he does so, she says he is dirty in comparison with the Linton children, to whom she has grown accustomed. Heathcliff’s feelings are wounded, and he storms out of the room, declaring that he will be as dirty as he likes. The Linton children come for dinner at Wuthering Heights the next day. Nelly helps Heathcliff to wash himself and put on suitable clothes after the boy declares his intention to be “good,” but Mrs. Linton has allowed Edgar and Isabella to attend under the condition that Heathcliff be kept away from them. Accordingly, Hindley orders that Heathcliff be locked in the attic until the end of dinner. Before the boy can be locked away, however, Edgar makes a comment about Heathcliff’s hair, and Heathcliff angrily flings hot applesauce in his face. Catherine clearly appears unhappy with Hindley’s treatment of Heathcliff, and after dinner she goes up to see him. Nelly frees the boy and gives him some supper in the kitchen. Heathcliff confides to Nelly that he intends to seek revenge on Hindley.
At this point, Nelly interrupts her narrative and rises to go, remarking that the night is growing late. Lockwood says that he intends to sleep late the next day and wishes to hear the rest of her story now. He urges her to continue in minute detail.
Nelly skips ahead a bit in her story, to the summer of 1778, several months after the Lintons’ visit and twenty-three years before Lockwood’s arrival at the Grange. Frances gives birth to a baby boy, Hareton, but she dies not long afterwards, the strain of childbirth having aggravated her chronic consumption. Hindley assigns Nelly the task of raising the baby, as he takes no interest in the child. Miserable at Frances’s death, Hindley begins to drink excessively and behaves abusively toward his servants—especially toward Heathcliff, who takes great pleasure in Hindley’s steady decline. Catherine continues to spend time with Edgar Linton, and she behaves like a proper lady while with him. However, when she is with Heathcliff, she acts as she always has. One afternoon, when Hindley is out of the house, Heathcliff declares that he will stay home from the fields and spend the day with Catherine. She tells him ruefully that Edgar and Isabella are planning to visit. When Heathcliff confronts her about the amount of time she spends with Edgar, she retorts that Heathcliff is ignorant and dull. At that moment, Edgar enters—without Isabella—and Heathcliff storms away.
Catherine asks Nelly to leave the room, but Nelly refuses, having been instructed by Hindley to act as Catherine’s chaperone in Edgar’s presence. Catherine pinches her and then slaps her, and when Hareton begins to cry, she shakes him. Edgar, appalled at Catherine’s behavior, attempts to restore order, and Catherine boxes his ears. Edgar is unable to cope with Catherine’s unladylike temper and hurries out of the house. On his way out, however, he catches a last glimpse of Catherine through the window; lured by her beauty, he comes back inside. Nelly now leaves them alone and interrupts them only to tell them that Hindley has arrived home, drunk and in a foul temper. When she next enters the room, she can tell that Catherine and Edgar have confessed their love for one another. Edgar hurries home to avoid Hindley, and Catherine goes to her chamber. Nelly goes to hide little Hareton and takes the shot out of Hindley’s gun, which he is fond of playing with in his drunken rages.