When Ellen and Cathy rode to meet Linton, they had to go quite close to Wuthering Heights to find him. He was evidently very ill, though he claimed to be better: "his large blue eyes wandered timidly over her; the hollowness round them, transforming to haggard wildness, the languid expression they once possessed" (261). Linton had a hard time making conversation with Cathy, and was clearly not enjoying their talk, so she decided to leave. Surprisingly, Linton then looked anxiously towards Wuthering Heights and begged her to stay longer, and to tell her father he was in "tolerable health" (262). Cathy half-heartedly agreed, and Linton soon fell into some kind of slumber. He woke suddenly and seemed to be terrified that his father might come. Eventually, Cathy and Ellen returned home, perplexed by his strange behavior.
This chapter reveals a level of cruelty in Heathcliff that has not been seen before. He has no reason to hate his son beyond the fact that he is a Linton, and yet he is perfectly willing to fill Linton’s last days with terror and despair. Linton's life is singularly hopeless, and the mere fact that Brontë invented it testifies to the darkness of her vision. Linton is unlikable and dislikes everyone; he will die without ever achieving anything worthwhile or good, and probably without ever having been happy. A more pointless, bitter existence could hardly be imagined. In contrast, Heathcliff seems energetic and happy in this section of the novel, such that he seems to draw vitality from his son’s misery.
A week later, Ellen and Cathy were to visit Linton again. Edgar was much sicker, and Cathy didn't want to leave him, but he encouraged her relationship with Linton, hoping to ensure his daughter's welfare thereby. Linton "received us with greater animation on this occasion; not the animation of high spirits though, nor yet of joy; it looked more like fear" (266). Cathy was angry that she had had to leave her father, and she was disgusted by Linton's abject admissions of terror of his father. Heathcliff came upon them, and asked Ellen how much longer Edgar had to live: he was worried that Linton would die before Edgar, thus preventing the marriage. Heathcliff then ordered Linton to get up and bring Cathy into the house, which he did, against Cathy's will: "Linton... implored her to accompany him, with a frantic importunity that admitted no denial" (269). Heathcliff pushed Ellen into the house as well and locked the door behind them. When Cathy protested that she must get home to her father, Heathcliff slapped her brutally and made it clear that she wouldn't leave Wuthering Heights until she married Linton. Linton showed his true character: as Heathcliff said, "He'll undertake to torture any number of cats if their teeth be drawn, and their claws pared” (274). Cathy and Heathcliff declared their mutual hatred. Ellen remained imprisoned separately from Cathy for five days with Hareton as her jailer: he gave her food but refused to speak to her beyond what was necessary. She did not know what was happening to Cathy.
This chapter provides further evidence of Linton's bad character; he thinks exclusively of himself despite Cathy’s pain and terror. Cathy's pity and kindness are the causes of her misfortunes here: in the presence of Heathcliff's intelligent hatred, her good qualities only leave her vulnerable to his plans.
On the fifth afternoon of the captivity, Zillah released Ellen, explaining that Heathcliff said she could go home and that Cathy would follow in time to attend her father's funeral. Edgar was not dead yet, but soon would be. Ellen asked Linton where Catherine was, and he answered that she was shut upstairs, that they were married, and that he was glad she was being treated harshly. Apparently he resented that she hadn't wished to marry him. He was annoyed by her crying, and was glad when Heathcliff struck her as punishment.
Ellen rebuked Linton for his selfishness and unkindness, and went to the Grange to get help. Edgar was glad to hear his daughter was safe and would be home soon: he was almost dead, at the age of 39. Upon hearing of Heathcliff’s plot to take control of his estate, Edgar sent for Mr. Green, the local attorney, to change his will so that his money would be held in a trust for Cathy. However, Heathcliff bought off Mr. Green and the lawyer did not arrive until it was too late to change the will. The men sent to Wuthering Heights to rescue Cathy returned without her, having believed Heathcliff's tale that she was too sick to travel. Very early the next morning, however, Catherine came back by herself, joyful to hear that her father was still alive. She had convinced Linton to help her escape. Ellen asked her to tell Edgar that she would be content with Linton so that he could die happy, to which she agreed. Edgar died "blissfully” (283). Catherine was stony-eyed with grief. Mr. Green, now employed by Heathcliff, gave all the servants but Ellen notice to quit, and hurried the funeral.
One part of Heathcliff's revenge fails: Cathy manages to escape in time to see her father again, and Edgar dies happy. Given the great importance attached to last words and dying moments, this is a notable victory for Cathy, and an essential one if all of Heathcliff's evil work is to be undone in the end. If Edgar had died miserably, no amount of happy endings could ever have undone that tragedy. This chapter also includes some brief satire of lawyers; much as in modern society, many Victorians considered lawyers to be untrustworthy. Mr. Green’s willingness to be bought by the highest bidder demonstrates a moral bankruptcy that rivals Heathcliff’s.
Heathcliff came to the Grange to fetch Catherine to Wuthering Heights to take care of Linton, who was dying in terror of his father. When Ellen begged him to allow Cathy and Linton to live at the Grange, Heathcliff explained that he wanted to get a tenant for the estate (Mr. Lockwood, as it turned out). Catherine agreed to go because Linton was all she had to love, and explained that she pitied Heathcliff because no one loved him. Then she left the room.
Heathcliff, in a strange mood, told Ellen what he had done the night before. He had bribed the sexton who was digging Edgar's grave to uncover his Catherine's coffin, so he could see her face again––he said it was hers yet. The sexton told him that the face would change if air blew on it, so he tore himself away from contemplating it, and struck one side of the coffin loose and bribed the sexton to put his body in with Catherine's when he was dead. Ellen was shocked, and scolded him for disturbing the dead, at which he replied that on the contrary she had haunted him night and day for eighteen years, and––"yesternight, I was tranquil. I dreamt I was sleeping my last sleep, by that sleeper, with my heart stopped, and my cheek frozen against hers” (289).
Heathcliff then told Ellen what he had done the night after Catherine's burial (the night he beat up Hindley). He had gone to the kirkyard and dug up the coffin "to have her in his arms again” (289), but while he was wrenching at the screws he suddenly felt sure of her living presence. He was consoled, but tortured as well: from that night for 18 years he constantly felt as though he could almost see her, but not quite. He tried sleeping in her room, but constantly opened his eyes to see if she were there, he felt so sure she was.
Heathcliff finished his story, and Cathy sadly bade farewell to Ellen.
Heathcliff's continued love for Catherine's dead body after 18 years emphasizes the physical, yet non-physical nature of their relationship. It would appear to physical in a way that transcends conventional ideas about sexuality: Heathcliff was pleased to see that Catherine still looked like herself after 18 years, but claimed that if she had been "dissolved into earth, or worse" (289) he would have been no less comforted by the proximity to her body. His idea of heaven is to be utterly and completely unified with Catherine in body, as in spirit––and this could just as well mean to disintegrate into dust together as to be joined in the act of love. The difference between these two forms of union is that while people are joined during sexual intercourse, their separate bodies and identities remain clear. But in Heathcliff and Catherine's corporeal and spiritual unity, as envisioned by him, an observer would not be able to tell "which is which” (288) This is similar to Catherine's statement in Chapter 9 that she was Heathcliff.
Ellen has now more or less reached the present time in her narrative, and tells Lockwood what Zillah told her about Cathy’s reception at Wuthering Heights. Cathy spent all her time in Linton's room, and when she came out she asked Heathcliff to call a doctor, because Linton was very sick. Heathcliff replied: "We know that! But his life is not worth a farthing” (292). Cathy was thus left to care for her dying cousin all by herself––Zillah, Hareton and Joseph would not help her––and became haggard and bewildered from lack of sleep. Finally Linton died, and when Heathcliff asked Cathy how she felt, she said: "He's safe and I'm free. I should feel very well but you have left me so long to struggle against death, alone, that I feel and see only death! I feel like death!" (294) Hareton was sorry for her.
Cathy was ill for the next two weeks. Heathcliff informed her that Linton had left all of his and his wife's property to himself. One day when Heathcliff was out, Cathy came downstairs. Hareton made shy, friendly advances, which she angrily rejected. He asked Zillah to ask Cathy to read for them (he was illiterate, but wished to learn) but she refused on the grounds that she had been forsaken during Linton's illness, and had no reason to care for Hareton or Zillah. Hareton said that he had in fact asked Heathcliff to be allowed to relieve her of some of her duties, but was denied. Cathy was in no mood to forgive, however, and thus became the unfriendly young woman whom Lockwood had seen at Wuthering Heights. According to Zillah: "She'll snap at the master himself, and as good dares him to thrash her; and the more hurt she gets, the more venomous she grows" (297). Ellen wanted to get a cottage and live there with Cathy, but Heathcliff would not permit it. Ellen now believes that the only way Cathy might escape from Wuthering Heights is to marry a second time.
Some believe that difficult and painful experiences open the door to personal growth. If this is the case, Cathy’s short marriage to Linton should have caused her to grow a great deal from the happy and innocent girl she had formerly been. Instead, it appears to make her venomous and permanently angry. However, one might make the argument that the humbling she undergoes is necessary because, without it, she never would have bothered to see the good in Hareton. Is the time Cathy spends caring for Linton a complete loss, or does she learn anything valuable from it? This is related to the question of whether Wuthering Heights is a Christian novel: in Christian theology, suffering is usually considered ennobling. See the analysis of the next chapter for a discussion of the role of education and books in Cathy and Hareton’s relationship.