Chapters 18–21 Summary and Analysis
Nelly watches young Cathy grow up over the next twelve years. By the time Cathy is thirteen, she is beautiful, smart, and kind—though somewhat spoiled by her father. Cathy leads a very sheltered life, and at her father’s insistence, she is confined to the grounds of Thrushcross Grange and is told nothing about the existence of Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights. The spirited young Cathy continually begs to be allowed to venture beyond the confines of Thrushcross Grange to Penistone Crags, a rock outcropping on the moors that can be seen from her window. Knowing that Wuthering Heights is on the way to Penistone Crags, Edgar and Nelly refuse to let her go. One day, Edgar leaves to visit his dying sister, intending to take young Linton into his care. During the three weeks in which Edgar is away, it is left to Nelly to entertain an increasingly bored Cathy. Cathy is allowed to ride her pony around the grounds, but when she fails to appear for tea one day, Nelly realizes that she must have set off for Penistone Crags on her own. Setting off in pursuit, Nelly stops at Wuthering Heights after noticing one of Cathy’s dogs in the yard. Cathy is inside, having visited Penistone Crags with Hareton, who is now eighteen. Nelly tries to convince Cathy to leave immediately, but Cathy resists. When Cathy realizes that Hareton is a servant and not, as she assumed, the son of the master of Wuthering Heights, her easy affection for him is quickly replaced with disdain. Cathy is horrified when the maid at Wuthering Heights reveals—much to Nelly’s chagrin—that Hareton is actually Cathy’s cousin. Cathy refuses to believe it, and during her denials, she lets slip that her “real” cousin is in London being fetched by her father. Nelly, knowing that everything that is said will get back to Heathcliff, finally convinces Cathy to leave. On the way home, Nelly begs Cathy not to tell her father about the visit to Wuthering Heights, warning her that he might fire Nelly if he ever found out.
Once Isabella dies, Edgar writes that he will soon be returning to Thrushcross Grange and orders accommodations to be prepared for young Linton Heathcliff, who will be returning with him. Cathy is very excited about the arrival of her cousin and hopes that he will become her new playmate. When Linton finally arrives, both Edgar and Nelly warn Cathy that her cousin is not as strong or spirited as she is, especially given the recent death of his mother. Indeed, Linton begins crying almost immediately, sobbing that he does not want to sit on a chair. An exasperated Edgar tells Nelly that he hopes Linton’s weak health and babyish personality will improve now that he has a robust playmate his own age. The family is interrupted by the arrival of Joseph, who informs Edgar that he has been sent to fetch Heathcliff’s son. Frustrated in the knowledge that he has no legal claim to Linton, Edgar reluctantly agrees to send him to Wuthering Heights in the morning.
Desiring to protect Cathy and knowing there is nothing he can do for Linton, Edgar orders Nelly to take the boy to Wuthering Heights early in the morning. He decides to tell Cathy that Linton went away to live with his father and deliberately hides the fact that he lives nearby. Linton is very reluctant to leave Thrushcross Grange, especially as his mother apparently never mentioned his father to him. Linton asks why he has never met or heard of his father before, and Nelly lies and tells him that Heathcliff’s business and Isabella’s health prevented them from living in the same part of the country. When they arrive at Wuthering Heights, Linton is terrified by the rough surroundings and Heathcliff’s intimidating presence. Heathcliff scorns his son’s weak and pale appearance and shocks Linton by calling his mother a “wicked slut.” Nelly asks Heathcliff to be kinder to Linton, given his frail condition. Heathcliff replies that he has already prepared a room for him and ordered Joseph and Hareton to obey him. Nelly tries to sneak away while Linton is distracted, but Linton notices and begs Nelly not to leave him at Wuthering Heights. Ignoring his pleas, Nelly shuts the door and rides back on Cathy’s...
(The entire section is 1893 words.)