Summary: Chapter XXI

Cathy despairs over her cousin’s sudden departure from Thrushcross Grange. Nelly tries to keep up with the news of young Linton, quizzing the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights whenever she meets her in the nearby town of Gimmerton. She learns that Heathcliff loathes his sniveling son and cannot bear to be alone with him. She also learns that Linton continues to be frail and sickly.

One day, when Cathy is sixteen, she and Nelly are out bird-hunting on the moors. Nelly loses sight of Cathy for a moment, then finds her conversing with Heathcliff and Hareton. Cathy says that she thinks she has met Hareton before and asks if Heathcliff is his father. Heathcliff says no, but that he does have a son back at the house. He invites Cathy and Nelly to pay a visit to Wuthering Heights to see the boy. Nelly, always suspicious of Heathcliff, disapproves of the idea, but Cathy, not realizing that this son is her cousin Linton, is curious to meet the boy, and Nelly cannot keep her from going.

At Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff tells Nelly that he hopes Cathy and his son will be married someday. For their part, the cousins do not recognize one another—they have changed much in three years—and because Linton is too sickly and self-pitying to show Cathy around the farm, she leaves with Hareton instead, all the while mocking the latter’s illiteracy and lack of education. Heathcliff forces Linton to go after them.

At Thrushcross Grange the next day, Cathy tells her father about her visit and demands to know why he has kept her relatives secret. Edgar tries to explain, and eventually Cathy comes to understand his disdain for Heathcliff. But although Edgar gently implores her not to have any contact with Linton, Cathy cannot resist exchanging letters with the boy covertly. Nelly discovers the correspondence, and, much to Cathy's dismay, destroys Linton’s letters to her. She then sends a note to Wuthering Heights requesting that Linton desist in his part of the correspondence. However, she does not alert Edgar to the young people’s relationship.

Summary: Chapter XXII

Edgar’s health begins to fail, and, as a result, he spends less time with Cathy. Nelly attempts in vain to fill the companionship role formerly played by the girl’s father. One winter day, during a walk in the garden, Cathy climbs the wall and stretches for some fruit on a tree. In the process, her hat falls off her head and down to the other side of the wall. Nelly allows Cathy to climb down the wall to retrieve it, but, once on the other side, Cathy is unable to get back over the wall by herself.

Nelly looks for the key to the gate, and suddenly Heathcliff appears, telling Cathy that it was cruel of her to break off her correspondence with Linton. He accuses her of toying with his son’s affections, and he urges her to visit Linton while he is away the following week. He claims that Linton may be dying of a broken heart. Cathy believes him and convinces Nelly to take her to Wuthering Heights the next morning. Nelly assents in the hope that the sight of Linton will expose Heathcliff’s lie.

Summary: Chapter XXIII

The following morning, Cathy and Nelly ride in the rain to Wuthering Heights, where they find Linton engaged in his customary whining. He speaks to Cathy about the possibility of marriage. Annoyed, Cathy shoves his chair in a fit of temper. Linton begins to cough and says that Cathy has assaulted him and has injured his already fragile health. He fills Cathy with guilt and requests that she nurse him back to health herself. After Nelly and Cathy ride home, Nelly discovers that she has caught a cold from traveling in the rain. Cathy nurses both her father and Nelly during the day, but, by night, she begins traveling in secret to be with Linton.

Summary: Chapter XXIV

After Nelly recuperates, she notices Cathy's suspicious behavior and quickly discovers where she has been spending her evenings. Cathy tells Nelly the story of her visits to Wuthering Heights, including one incident in which Hareton proves to her that he can read a name inscribed above the manor’s entrance: it is his own name, carved by a distant ancestor who shared it. But Cathy asks if he can read the date—1500—and he must confess that he cannot. Cathy calls him a dunce. Enraged, Hareton interrupts her visit with Linton, bullying the weak young man and forcing him to go upstairs. In a later moment of contrition, he attempts to apologize for his behavior, but Cathy angrily ignores him and goes home.

When she returns to Wuthering Heights a few days later, Linton blames her for his humiliation. She leaves, but she returns two days later to tell him that she will never visit him again. Distressed, Linton asks for her forgiveness. After she has heard Cathy's story, Nelly reveals the girl’s secret to Edgar. Edgar immediately forbids her from visiting Linton again, but he agrees to invite Linton to come to Thrushcross Grange.

Summary: Chapter XXV

At this point, Nelly interrupts her story to explain to Lockwood its chronology: the events that she has just described happened the previous winter, only a little over a year ago. Nelly says that the previous year, it never crossed her mind that she would entertain a stranger by telling him the story. But she wonders how long he will remain a stranger, speculating that he might fall in love with the beautiful young Cathy. Lockwood confesses that he might, but says that he doubts his love would ever be requited. Besides, he says, these moors are not his home; he must return soon to the outside world. Still, he remains enraptured by the story, and he urges Nelly to continue. She obliges.

Young Cathy agrees to abide by her father’s wishes and stops sneaking out to visit Linton. But Linton never visits the Grange, either—he is very frail, as Nelly reminds Edgar. Edgar worries over his daughter’s happiness, and over the future of his estate. He says that if marrying Linton would make Cathy happy, he would allow it, despite the fact that it would ensure that Heathcliff would inherit Thrushcross Grange. Edgar’s health continues to fail, as does Linton’s. Eventually, Edgar agrees to allow Cathy to meet Linton, not at Wuthering Heights, but on the moors, not realizing that the young man is as close to death as he is himself.

Summary: Chapter XXVI

When Cathy and Nelly ride to their meeting with Linton, they do not find him in the agreed-upon spot—he has not ventured far from Wuthering Heights. He appears frail and weak, but he insists that his health is improving. The youth seems nervous and looks fearfully over his shoulder at the house. At the end of their visit, Cathy agrees to meet Linton again on the following Thursday. On the way home, Cathy and Nelly worry over Linton’s health, but they decide to wait until their next meeting before coming to any conclusions.

Analysis: Chapters XXI–XXVI

As Nelly tells Lockwood, her story has now nearly caught up with the present. Hareton was born in the summer of 1778; the first Catherine married Edgar in 1783 (a fact that can be extrapolated from Nelly’s claim in 1801 to have been living at Thrushcross Grange for about eighteen years); and young Cathy was born in 1784, first met her cousins in 1797, and carried on her romance with Linton in the winter of 1800–1801, just over a year ago (see “Chronology”).

Read more about how Nelly affects the tone of the novel.

The realization that Nelly has been narrating recent events should come as something of a surprise to the reader, to whom these events have seemed strange and distant. Now, both the reader and Lockwood realize that the story he has been hearing is not remote history, but bears on the present. Indeed, the events that Lockwood has just heard recounted may partially explain the interactions of the characters at Wuthering Heights when he first visited.

Apart from supplying important chronological information, these chapters largely help to further the generational drama, illustrating the similarities and differences between the first and second generations of main characters. Cathy's taunting of Hareton for his ignorance directly parallels the first Catherine’s taunting of Heathcliff, just as Heathcliff’s oppression of Hareton parallels Hindley’s oppression of Heathcliff. In addition, these chapters demonstrate that Heathcliff accomplishes his revenge methodically, punishing his dead contemporaries by manipulating and bullying their children.

Read more about generational repetition as a motif.

By this point in the novel, revenge has supplanted love as the main force bearing upon Heathcliff’s behavior. His acts take on a sense of urgency as he hurries to have Cathy married to Linton before the boy dies. This plot evidences the way that Heathcliff makes a pawn of everyone—even his own son. Indeed, Heathcliff may despise Linton more than any other character in the novel. Worried that Linton will not outlive Edgar, Heathcliff hastens to secure his claim on Thrushcross Grange by uniting his son with Edgar’s daughter.

Read more about revenge as a theme.