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Catherine remains at Thrushcross Grange for five weeks and returns home at Christmas. During this period her manners have improved considerably. Additionally, she seems more beautiful and more gentle. In contrast, Heathcliff has become more unkempt than ever during her absence. On her return she kisses Heathcliff, but she laughs at his careless appearance and compares him unfavorably with her newfound friend, Edgar Linton. Heathcliff is hurt by her comments and takes an instant dislike to Edgar.
The next day the Lintons are to come to Wuthering Heights. At this news, Heathcliff grows sullen and goes out to wander on the moors. He returns home and asks Nelly to make him "decent" and promises to "be good." At Nelly's suggestion, he plans to greet the Lintons when they come; however, before their arrival, Hindley orders him out of the room. When Heathcliff meets Edgar, he makes a remark about Heathcliff's appearance; Heathcliff immediately reacts with violence. He "seized a tureen of hot apple sauce . . . and dashed it full against the speaker's (Edgar's) face and neck." Heathcliff is then sent to the attic.
During the evening's entertainment Catherine manages to escape the company and joins Heathcliff in the attic for a while. Nelly pities the hungry boy and brings him to the kitchen. She is shocked to learn that he is planning revenge on Hindley, who has banished him to the attic.
The main events of this chapter are Cathy's return home from the Grange and the visit to the Heights by the Lintons on the following day. The visit of Edgar and Isabella is marred by an unpleasant incident. Heathcliff throws a plate full of applesauce right into Edgar's face because Edgar makes an adverse comment about Heathcliff's unkempt hair.
The characters of Cathy and Heathcliff are further developed, hinting at the coming separation between them. Catherine's visit to the Grange has led to changes in her that will affect all their lives. Catherine has now become conscious of the fact that Heathcliff looks dirty and that he does not bother to wash himself or brush his hair. Her criticism of his unruly appearance hurts Heathcliff. He is at first defiant towards Cathy, but he soon realizes the truth of what she has said. Accordingly, he seeks Nelly's help in improving his appearance. Nelly's kindness towards the boy is seen in the encouraging words she speaks to him at this time.
Heathcliff's wild side is clearly portrayed in the chapter. Apart from his violent behavior towards Edgar, he contemplates revenge upon Hindley. It does not matter, he says, how long it takes him to enact his revenge, but he will make Hindley pay. Another development in this chapter is that Cathy seems now to be equally interested in Heathcliff and Edgar. She has certainly not given up Heathcliff. In fact, she defies her brother and manages to meet Heathcliff secretly in the attic where he is confined. But it is obvious that she also cares about Edgar.
In the concluding paragraphs of this chapter, more light is thrown on Nelly's character. She interrupts her tale to say a few words about herself. She says that she is a steady, reasonable kind of person who has learned some wisdom from the books in her master's library. The break in Nelly's tale provides a moment of relief, situates the events of the story, and explains her skill as a storyteller. Lockwood comments that "excepting a few provincialisms of slight consequence," his housekeeper has no marks of the manners that he has always associated with her class. He feels that she has thought a good deal more than servants usually do and has cultivated her reflective faculties. At the end of the chapter, Lockwood praises her skill as a storyteller and requests her to continue.