Sunday, May 19, 2013

(#Four: The Grange) Wuthering Nights: Inspired by Wuthering Heights

Chapter Four
The Grange
     It was so cold Greta noticed Kate’s breath first as she entered the kitchen and placed her school bag on the floor. Heath dawdled behind his eye-catching counterpart. Kate was meticulous about her appearance. Her perfect curls lay in bunches behind her ears, tied in royal blue ribbons, the colours of her school. Her long socks were not rippled as other children’s were. In fact, the uniform she wore was in good condition, unstained and nearly uncrushed. Greta looked at Kate again. She knew that after her mother had fled, literally fled the house one night to go gallivanting around  Europe with a man she’d met in rehab, Kate had become unmanageable - but bunking school? She really didn’t know what to do about this.
  From the moment Kate had been born her Papa had indulged her every childish whim, much to the displeasure of her mother who worried that the child would be spoiled and difficult, like Harrison. Well, he was in boarding school where Kate would surely be sent soon, just as her older brother had been. 
    As for the “wild child”, as Greta thought of him, he looked completely unkempt – shirt hanging out, hair unbrushed, knees scratched. He ran upstairs to Kate’s bedroom (a converted ballroom) or to his own, the more modestly sized room opposite, to play video games and listen to music. The children would lounge around on the floor (strewn with the striped wrappers of Kate’s favourite boiled sweets) in the afternoons. They ate and listened to music, hardly bothering to even attempt their homework.
    Heath had long ago discovered the path around the side of the house, through the kitchen door where the new au pair was standing and peeling potatoes for dinner. He fled past their elderly gardener and crept inside the kitchen, thinking he might sneak past, but Greta was too quick. She grabbed him by the hands.
    ‘What Greta?’
    ‘Don’t say “what”, I know what you’ve been doing…or rather not doing.’
    ‘You just said “what”…’
    ‘That’s not what I meant…’
    ‘Said it again…’
    ‘Oh, you little rascal…’
     Heath sighed.
    ‘What is it Greta?’
    ‘You haven’t been to school, have you? You and Kate have been gallivanting on the High Street. I can’t believe you’ve not been detained by police! The meadow must be too freezing even for both of you…scamps. And look at that bruise on your leg, Kate.’
     Kate moved behind the bench protectively. She didn’t want Greta to have too much knowledge about the behind-the-scenes household warfare.
    ‘If that’s Harrison’s doing, I told you to tell me if he ever tries to hit either of you again! He’s twice your age. Honestly, I don’t know what this family has come to ever since your mother left. I’ll be calling social services next…or they’ll be calling me…’
    ‘Oh don’t do that Greta. I just…knocked into something when I was out riding…at pony club.’
    Heath looked at Kate quickly, knowing if they told on Harrison again, it would only make matters worse the next time he came home.
    ‘I told you to tell me if that older brother of yours so much as raises his voice. He wouldn’t dare do it in my presence. But that doesn’t give either of you an excuse to avoid school. It’s a good thing Harrison is going away to University. By then, he won’t even be coming home for holidays…’
   Heath and Kate were too quick. Greta talked on whilst they ate everything on the kitchen countertop behind her.
   When Greta stopped talking, Kate took a bottle of fizzy drink and Heath grabbed a packet of Parma ham and they raced up the stairs, rejoicing in the time when their play room was empty of responsible adults (almost always). They had the whole ancient second floor to themselves in the afternoons. They could play their games or crawl outside, along the ledge that connected them to the ground and the road that led them to The Grange. Heath liked to go fishing in the stream and learned to make an open fire and cook the food on it. He was more and more interested in living in this natural, primal way, even at such a young age.
    Annabelle and Edmund Hunt were the same age as Heath and Kate and their nearest neighbours. They were so stuck up neither Heath nor Kate had ever spoken to them. The blonde girl had poked her tongue out at Kate once during ballet lessons at the local church hall. Neither of the girls had spoken to each another since.  
     Kate and Heath lived in a world of their own - a world with a secret language and two rooms that adjoined each other with archaic light fittings, tall ceilings and furniture passed down through generations. There was a shabby opulence surrounding their secret society of two. Kate’s room had a canopied bed with cream sheets and a blanket and an old fashioned cream lace doll.
    On occasions when the neighbourhood children were invited to tea, the doll’s house intrigued all of Kate’s jealous little acquaintances (mainly from school). But Kate never let Heath catch her staring at the perfect dolls in their pristine world longingly. She knew he’d think envy beneath her.
    As he grew older, he became tougher and more boisterous, wanting to be outside more than inside which, Greta reasoned, was only natural in an almost twelve-year old boy. Heath remembered little of his origins. It was as if he’d only ever existed in Kate’s world, something he knew to be untrue.  Yet Kate’s father was the only father he remembered. Mr Spencer had been kind to him so he loved him as he loved Kate. But he knew her father was not his real father and that the “blood” running through his veins had some kind of magic in it. He felt different to other boys his age - happier roaming the woods than sitting in a classroom.   
     Harrison, in his final year of school, was still a problem. Once, when he was home from school for a weekend and Mr Spencer was at a business conference in Brussels, Greta was called away for the afternoon. Kate’s older brother rounded up the children after she left and locked them together in the attic after inviting some of his older school friends round to party. Harrison thought it would be fun to terrify the “little kids”. Neither Kate nor Heath rewarded him with their tears but there had been an all-out fight in the hallway after the children had somehow managed to break the lock. Harrison hadn’t expected this but it was the last time he underestimated Heath’s strength.
    When Kate’s father arrived home early, only to discover Heath and Kate amidst a mess of teen partying and chaos, he hit the roof. Mr Spencer packed Harrison off to the strictest boy’s boarding school in the South of England to complete his finals. It was a place where corporal punishment was yet to be banned another reason for the older brother to harbour resentment against the smaller children. They were soon to be packed off to Scotland, to a co-educational school, strict but far less rigid than where Harrison was going.
    It was summer by then; Mr Spencer had grown frail just as Heath and Kate grew stronger and taller.
    Hampstead was quiet. It was as if the entire borough had gone on holiday. Heath had taken to staying outside but on one particular rainy and overcast day, Kate took an entire chicken and a jug of orange juice out of the fridge and set out lunch in the upstairs playroom.
     They sat together, enjoying their meal that last Saturday before they were due to board the train to Scotland.  Both Kate and Heath had grown more studious in preparation for boarding school. They even finished reading the required list of books, lying on their backs, in the window seats of the playroom. Kate smiled at Heath - sometimes she thought her father had brought Heath home to be her exclusive friend.
     September arrived after an endless summer of reading and night swimming in the indoor pool. The day before they were due to leave for Scotland, bright sun shone through the bay windows. Heath, uncomfortable, pulled his amulet close to his chest. His eyes felt sensitive to the light.
     ‘C’mon children,’ Greta said, wanting to make their last day at Hareton Hall memorable. ‘Rise and shine. It’s a lovely day.  Why don’t we all take a picnic outside and go to Hampstead Heath? School doesn’t start until Monday. C’mon, get dressed.’
    The children were excited as they pulled on their shoes.
     In the parklands, Greta spread the checked blanket out on the lavender field under an umbrella and the children hungrily heaped food on plates. Heath got bitten by ants but barely made a peep even when Greta soothed his calf with warm tea. The boy had never known such care and in all his young years, never seen a spread of such magnificence. He ate three pieces of turkey, a chicken leg, ham, a left over chop, a slice of bacon and a huge glass of orange juice. Kate and Greta drank tea and ate most of the cucumber sandwiches.
     Afterwards, the children went running to the ponds to feed the ducks. As Greta lay reading a magazine, Kate and Heath discovered the hidden conservatory in a secluded part of the park. It was like being in another world, one far removed from London or Spain or family fighting or anywhere they had ever known - a glass palace with a covered in roof and shards of dappled, muted light (not enough to make Heath’s skin burn). The building was filled with remarkable tropical trees and flowers growing in an adjusted temperature. There were even garden chairs to sit on and stare in wonderment at the magical surroundings. Both children thought the same thing; that they’d found a remarkable secret, a place where they could hide…and meet.