He had heard her calling for help. And he knew that she had reached the door that, not half an hour ago, he himself had locked. It hadn't been difficult at the time, hadn't felt like a betrayal.
It did now.
'If you want to see your father before he dies,' Linton was saying, 'then you must obey Heathcliff – you must!'
How would such a delicate and sweet creature survive at Wuthering Heights? How could Catherine possibly live here, among them, always in fear of Heathcliff?
Now, standing in the hall, listening to the fight inside, listening to Catherine's shouts of anger and pain and fear, Hareton wanted to turn away from the shame of it, wanted to run away and hide.
And then Heathcliff himself appeared and made for the kitchen.
'Don't!' began Hareton, and then stopped, frightened at the sound of his own voice.
'What?' asked Heathcliff, dangerously low.
'Just… Don't be too… hard on her.' Hareton faltered. 'She'll come round, I know she will.'
'You do, do you? And I suppose you're an expert on these matters?' Heathcliff snorted and continued into the kitchen.
Hareton looked at the ground, cursing himself. Why did he have to speak out? It was stupid, damn stupidity, nothing more. All he had succeeded in doing was irritating Heathcliff, and that was not good news for anybody.
'Well, I take it from this touching scene that you have made your offer of marriage, and young Miss Linton is expressing some misgivings,' came Heathcliff's voice from the kitchen.
'Give me that key,' said Catherine forcefully. 'I would not marry him if you keep me here for ever!'
'By this time tomorrow,' said Heathcliff ominously, 'I will be your father, so you had better get used to appeasing me.'
She had been shut in her mother's bedroom. A small mercy. It felt comforting to be so close to her mother, on the eve of her wedding day.
She had planned her wedding so many times in her mind, going over who would be present and what she would wear. And now it seemed as though she would have no say in anything. Not even the bridegroom. She was to marry Linton, and that was the end of it.
Suddenly the door opened and Nelly appeared. Catherine ran to her and they embraced.
'Nelly! I've been so foolish.' She pulled away, urgently. 'My father-'
'He is gravely ill, my love,' Nelly said sadly. 'He may not last the light.'
She bit her lip, struggling to keep tears from falling. 'Please take me home.'
Nelly turned to Hareton, who was standing awkwardly in the doorway. 'Please,' she said. 'Let her go – just to see her father. I know you, Hareton, I knew you when you were a boy – I know you're not like Heathcliff.'
Hareton turned from her. 'Don't speak to me.'
'Oh, Nelly! Is he… Did he… Has he asked for me?'
'No, my sweet. He is sleeping. He does not even know that you have gone. But you should not have come here-'
'I know that, I see that now! Oh, I was so stupid! I was selfish and unthinking, and – oh! – if only I hadn't left Papa!'
Out in the corridor, Hareton turned from the scene, closing the door slowly and locking it behind him. Some small part of him wished he could free the two inmates, but… It would not be possible.
There was a chair positioned in the corridor on which he now sat. Heathcliff had charged him with 'guard duties', as he put it. It was a black business, indeed, and Hareton would be glad when it was all over. It made him feel dirty.
It was Nelly again. Couldn't she leave him alone? She seemed to think that because she was once his sole protector and guardian – that because she raised him when he was small – she had some kind of a hold over him – that she somehow knew him, better than he knew himself.
'I know this scheme is not of your devising! I know there is good in you!'
Couldn't she just be quiet? Couldn't she see that he had no choice? Even if he wanted to, there was no way he could possibly let them out. Heathcliff would quite literally kill him.