Tuesday, February 19, 2013
WUTHERING NIGHTS (SEVEN)
His cravings had been less extreme this evening and he was fairly sure the parlour, where he kept his supply of freshly caught game, was locked. He did not wish this stranger to encounter an instant surprise. It would turn her off ever returning and Heath did not want to risk that just yet. He could only imagine the look of horror on her face if she was to discover his secret. They reached the gates through the midnight mist and Heath stopped the car with a jolt. He drove the vehicle fast and hard. He was not used to having guests. Heath had little thought for his passenger. Katarina arrived at the house looking white and surprised.
The girl shivered.
‘Are you cold?’
‘Here, take this,’ he said absently.
Heath pulled a red shawl out of the glove compartment and handed it to her.
‘It was your mother’s,’ he added.
Katarina didn’t bother to ask what it was doing in his car.
The girl’s fingers had practically frozen during the twenty minute drive that took them from icy country lane to mansion gates. Katarina had heard about this place only once during her childhood, had seen it from the heath but had never dared venture into its overrun grounds. They entered the hidden garden through the foggy, wrought iron gates that led to Hareton Hall.
After a few minutes of walking across slippery grounds, strange, open-mouthed statues greeted Katarina at the grand entrance.
Her father had never allowed her to speak of the Spencers and especially not her uncle. But recently, she and her cousin Linus had connected via the web and Katarina was more than a little intrigued about the mysterious ‘other half’ of her family. The outside lights came on as they walked over the gravel towards the front door which was overrun with creepers.
Her father would be concerned about her late night visit to The Hall but Katarina was fed up with being wrapped in egg shells. She pulled the red shawl round her shoulders and stuffed her curls into her woollen cap, dragging it over her ears.
‘Quick,’ Heath said, rubbing his hands. ‘It’s frozen out here. Be careful of the ice.’
She took his arm, surprised at how hard and strong the muscles felt. She hadn’t expected her workaholic uncle to be so welcoming.
‘I give the staff leave on weekends, can’t stand them about me and I usually work on Saturdays anyway,’ he added, amiably enough. Rude, arrogant, reclusive were all words she had heard in connection with this man. So far, he was nothing like his press.
Apart from a few cobwebs at the side of the stone entrance, which was covered with climbing plants, the interior of the hall was miraculous; turning a simple switch lit up grand chandeliers that led to a parlour, kitchen and vast hall and dining room. There was a series of ancestral portraits lining the walls to the right of the entrance - one of her mother. The interiors were lush but tasteful.
Heath wandered into the kitchen after they’d walked the length of the entrance.
Katarina was agog. She was used to being the richest girl at her all-girls’ school but she had never seen such opulence. Her hand brushed the entrance hall side table and wall
of mirrors as they walked towards the drawing room.
‘Ah, I see Greta’s left a note. Greta was my housekeeper and she used to look after your mother and me…when we were little. She was not much older than we were. Seems funny now,’ he mused as he found the key to the cabinet.
‘Greta locks it, she gets worried when I drink alone,’ Heath said, ‘but I know where she hides the key.’
Katarina looked around her.
‘Another drink?’ Heath asked.
‘Yes,’ Katarina said…
‘Brandy is best on cold winter nights,’ Heath chuckled to himself, pouring her less than he normally would, though she had officially reached legal drinking age. Katarina wondered if he was over the limit but his hand was steady as he carried the decanter into the Edwardian drawing room. Drinking brandy in the evenings was as normal to Heath as breathing.
‘Was this once…a ballroom?’ Katarina asked as she unwound her red scarf with the graceful moves of a ballet dancer.
‘It was not,’ Heath said, sitting easily on the black leather sofa.
‘It is definitely big enough…’
‘Funny. I remember thinking that when I arrived here the first time. Actually, the ballroom was upstairs. For some reason, the children’s rooms were built connecting to it, so we often heard dancing - “partying” as you’d put it - loud noises, fighting. He noticed the look of surprise on Kate’s face.
‘Not home yet, apparently. Probably at a dance club.’
‘Oh. I met him once online…’
‘How modern,’ Heath mused.
Heath checked his text as the wind started to howl and announce its presence in a storm. The rain trickled down slowly at first, like water on tin, then the storm gushed through the
open window, spraying its fury over the low table and threatening a vase of flowers. Katarina moved to hold it upright.
Heath’s phone beeped, relaying a text.
‘That’s Linus. He won’t be home for an hour or so; nice of him to let me know. To be honest Katarina, I thought you might be a…good influence on my son.’
Heath pulled the window down as far as it would go, shutting out most of the storm.
‘Why? Is he out of control?’ Katarina joked.
Heath turned to look at the girl squarely.
‘He is spoiled, Katarina, and weak. I fear I may have indulged him.’
Katarina glanced at the photographs on the wall. She wasn’t sure how to respond to his directness.
‘But you have…another…son?’
‘Oh, that’s Harrison’s wife’s brother, Hinton. He lives here and works in the evenings. You may have already met him. He studies at the same college,’ Heath said, starting to feel the familiar tightness in his arms. He’d need to feed and take his medication soon.
Katarina had told Heath during the car trip all about where she studied.
‘I’ve heard about him,’ she said, reluctant to tell Heath about his nephew’s reputation. The girl looked around and sighed as the storm and the darkness swamping the confines of The Hall seemed to embrace her. Heath was taken aback at the image she made in the half-light, so similar to the photographs he had of Kate, tucked away in his wardrobe. The need to take his vitamins and drink Magenta overcame Heath. He quickly excused himself and began to walk out of the room.
‘I’ll get some photographs,’ he offered. ‘Should keep you busy until Linus returns at some unearthly hour. I’m not even sure which club he’s gone to but once he’s out he doesn’t come home until late. I could drive you back to The Grange, but to be honest, we should wait for the weather to clear.’
‘Of course,’ Katarina said. There was obviously no choice since storm warning, news flashes were being broadcast. Heath turned to leave the room and Katarina flicked the switch on the flat screen and turned on some music instead. Something old and classical, Katarina thought. The low lighting flashed once and then the power went completely: no television, no CD, no sound except the thrashing of water on trees.
‘I’ll get the candles,’ Heath offered. ‘I know where Greta keeps them,’ he added.
Kate froze. The house was way creepier in the dark.
Moments later, Heath came back with lamps for each of them.
‘Old-fashioned, I know, but they work.’
It occurred to Heath that from outside the window any stranger could see him entertaining a young female. Of course, they’d have to make it past the vast security on the neighbouring property, which he also owned, to find this place. Still, the thought suddenly bothered him as he pulled the curtains. His intentions for this girl had nothing to do with forming any kind of connection with her. She was merely the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle that formed his bizarre life, if that’s what it was called.
He was determined not to let her realize she was trapped. The girl must want to stay, he thought, at least for now. He wondered how to get her to agree, as he stopped in the kitchen and took his medication mixed with protein powder. Heath was able to drink a variety of blood but tonight he felt like 0-negative. He glanced out the window as he guzzled, noting the heaviness of the rain. The dark, vicious winters fuelled his fantasies… and his nightmares. When he finished drinking, he thought he should find the photographs first - distract the girl.
He’d heard the neighbours at the pub gossiping about Hareton Hall but their stories had never bothered him until now.
He ventured into Kate’s old room in the half-light and opened the door to her wardrobe which was a converted spare room. Her things had barely been touched since they’d been packed away when Kate had left The Hall forever. He was tall and could easily reach the top shelf but her many shoes had been piled together. There was a loud crash as some folders tumbled down in front of him.
Blast that boy, he thought. Of course Hinton had been in here rummaging through their old school texts and files. People often wondered why he’d adopted Hinton from Harrison as a six year old, but he never liked to comment publicly on family matters. He didn’t believe in filling the gossip columns with his motives and every minute detail of his family
life though people in cyberspace now did. It was bad enough that the many girlfriends he’d had over the years since his wife left him had talked about him publicly. Heath felt social networking sometimes degenerated into an excuse for public one-upmanship and he wanted no part of that. But then, he had more than most to hide.
He wondered what the boy could possibly have been looking for in the room that now housed a filing cabinet in the corner. He recalled a recent conversation with Greta as he rummaged…
‘Let’s be honest Heath, I’m fed up with your haphazard lifestyle. I promised to stay until the children were raised and they’re grown up now…almost. They don’t need me anymore and nor do you. Everything’s under control.’
‘Don’t leave us, Greta.’
‘That’s not the point Heath. The place itself is just filled with ghosts. I don’t mean literally, I mean from the past…and you should think about selling it…for your own good. I have my own children to raise, Heath. Move on. Get married again. Start anew. Put away the old ways, Heath. Revive yourself. That’s my advice, for all the good it will do…’
Heath had looked at her as if she were mad. He’d even had the house redecorated just to please her and had converted the drawing room into a room of Edwardian taste bathed in blue light, a blue-seeming flame in the fireplace, candles and candelabras and lush crystal chandeliers. The lounge room had been updated from its 80’s look to the modern era with sunken leather furniture and various reference journals and magazines lining the covered shelves. Heath had always refused to take down the portraits.
‘I tell you Heath, living in the past is no good for anyone…’ Greta had told him.
‘You don’t know the half,’ he’d said dismissively as he walked down the stairs and out the door to the office building he worked in (and owned) deep in the City of London.
On this night, he turned up the paraffin lamp to find what he was seeking and reached to grasp it.
Meanwhile, Katarina, who felt a little like a trapped bird waiting out the storm which had begun in earnest, wandered over to the fire and started going through a pile of old CDs (there were even some old vinyl albums!) which lay around the edges of the brick. Her cousins mostly liked the same music although both of them seemed to be more into “house” than she was.
She was glad her father, a kind man, had taught her to appreciate all musical styles over the years even though he’d insisted on piano lessons to fill The Grange with the music that had left it, along with her mother. Katarina noticed the grand piano gathering dust in the corner and imagined her mother, Kate, once playing it.
Katarina remembered her mother’s face from photographs. She had been so young when she had Katarina, only eighteen. Katarina glanced into the glass above the fire. The girl realised, as she rubbed the life back into her cold cheeks, that her mother had been the same age as she was now; the same age as her uncle would remember her.
Weary from the long day and warmed with brandy, Katarina slumped on the couch. It was a good thing she didn’t need to go back to college tomorrow, or anywhere, really. The rain and hail began to pelt down forming sleet outside the window. She texted her father, so he wouldn’t worry. There was no need to fill him in on the details. He’d assume she was with friends. Besides, it would be foolhardy to travel on the country roads just now, though the haunted interiors of this opulent palace made her feel like a trapped bird.
Wuthering Nights link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0087EUMD6