These characters belong to Emily Bronte. This story is based on Nellie Dean's vague comments in chapter four and the poem "The Two Children" also by Emily Bronte. I've posted the poem on my profile page.
View from the Heights
By Ivy Rangee
Chapter One: The Naming
The lost boy didn't know what sounds passed for names in this world of hungry ghosts, but these pale strangers called him 'It', even as they tormented him. They had presumptuously given him that short, harsh name; he knew because, whenever they pointed at him, they said 'It.' Perhaps the odd sound meant something auspicious, but he doubted it. He'd been taught manners before his abduction, so he had tried to tell them his true name; but, in their dimness, his polite introduction had fallen on deaf ears. A fortunate turn of events in retrospect, for when he woke this very morning on the hard, cold floor of the upstairs hallway, he'd remembered his mother's words. Gifting another with your name grants them the power to bind you; be cautious in your confidence. Now, having spent time in this place, he knew without a doubt he should keep his true name hidden from these terrible people who would shun a lost boy.
The master had been angry when he opened his bedroom door to find the boy curled up on the floor blocking his exit. His face red with fury, the old man had shouted as the boy shrank back in expectation of a blow for the sin of sleeping in a forbidden spot. But to the boy's relief it was not he that had erred, instead, the master railed at a maidservant - the same who had scrubbed the boy raw the night before. She bowed slightly and spoke in supplication; the boy could tell by her tone. He even recognized the final word she spoke, master; one of his kidnappers had been addressed in that manner. When the master closed his door, the maidservant dragged the boy downstairs, growling angry sounds. She washed and dressed him, and, when she was done, she boxed his ears until he fell at her feet. Confused by her actions, he wondered why she punished him, and then realized the master must have ordered it. Grabbing his arm, she yanked him to his feet and shook him violently, all the while glaring at him with cruel, angry eyes. When she had sated her rage, she pushed him into the next room where she forced him to sit at the dining table.
Feeling dizzy and ill, the boy rested his head on the table's smooth, cool surface, while he waited alone. After what seemed an eternity, the maidservant returned from the kitchen and set the table, while the boy watched with interest, having no experience of such elaborate place settings. When she left, he picked up the plate she had set before him; in it, he saw the reflection of a battered waif, and he quickly set it back down. An intense longing for his mother brought tears to his eyes, which he wiped away just in time, for the family entered, followed closely by the maid who carried a tray of food, which she placed on the table. The boy cowered in his seat as Missus Earnshaw glared at him with her severe stone-grey eyes. Advancing on him quickly, she crossed behind him, grabbing his ear and twisting with an upward motion, which forced him to sit up straight. The boy scrutinized her as she took her seat at the end of the table, but he immediately averted his eyes when she caught him watching her. With the family seated, the master rang a little silver bell, which brought the household servants, who joined them at the table.
Intense hunger, the result of weeks of deprivation, drove the boy to gluttony as he scarfed down his porridge, not caring that the ghostly people of this dark house frowned at him in disapproval – all except the master, who gently patted the boy's head. After he'd sated his appetite somewhat, he looked up to see the master's son and little daughter pointing at him. They laughed with such derision that he stopped eating for a moment to examine his skin and clothes. Finding nothing wrong except for the fit of the clothes, which hung loosely on his emaciated body, he went back to his food with gusto, this being the most delicious muck he'd ever tasted.
When the meal ended, the maidservant led the boy to the kitchen where she cleaned his face and hands, watching him with a sour expression. He tried to thank her, but she ignored him, shoving him to the door when she had completed her harsh ablutions. She pointed outside to the barnyard, and, pinching him till he flinched, she pushed him outside.
The boy explored the yard, entering the stable, where he whispered to the horses as they nickered in answer. A beautiful brown mare with a white blaze nuzzled him while he fed her hay, just as out of the shadow stepped the old manservant, who slapped the boy's behind, exiling him from the barn. This was the last straw; the boy walked rapidly to the front gate in search of a way out of this hell. Why had the master brought him here, where he was not wanted?
Finding the gate locked, the boy shook it violently. With no other option, he climbed the slats; he would go over it and find his way back to the other place; there he would wait for his brother's return. When he stood on the top rung, he spread his arms and leaped, only to be seized midflight by a grim old workman, who held the boy by the collar, letting him dangle midair. With a captive audience, the old curmudgeon took the opportunity to babble on at the boy in a rough incomprehensible dialect. With relief, the boy heard the master's shout; unfortunately, this was followed by a malignant chuckle as the old workman let him fall. Jumping to his feet, the boy ran for the master, who beckoned him from the front doorway.
Gently taking the boy's hand, the master led him indoors, where they sat together at the hearth. The man put out his arms, and the world weary boy climbed into his lap, grateful for the comfort and warmth. Without warning, the master shouted, startling the boy, but, after a while, a maidservant brought milk and cheese, which the man fed to the child.
With his stomach full, the boy rested against the master, who sang in low susurrations as the boy fell asleep in his lap. When the boy woke he lay alone in a chair by the hearth; he snuggled down, dozing there comfortably, for life in the busy city had been harsh.
The boy woke once again, but this time to blows. The master's son stood above him snapping a riding crop, as he shouted and pointed. "It, It." The boy jumped to his feet and ran only to go sprawling the floor when tripped by the master's daughter, who laughed as she kicked his back. He tried to get away, though it wasn't the physical pain that drove him; he'd suffered much worse. It was their hatred that tormented him.
A new maidservant, different from the one that had left him on the stairs, stormed to his rescue, leading him to the kitchen, where she cleaned him up and gave him an apple. Like the first maid, she took him to the door, where she spoke severely, all the while shaking her finger in his face. Ignoring her, he licked the apple and smiled; it seemed in this hell, rewards could be had in return for pain. He laughed, and ran outdoors, speeding round to the front of the house where the sun shined brightly. There sitting on a smooth, warm rock under an apple tree, he considered his situation as he nibbled the delicious treat.
Later, after an opulent midday meal, an old maidservant dragged the boy and the master's daughter up the back stairs and down a narrow hallway to the little girl's bedroom. Once there she washed their faces and hands, removed their shoes, and then, pointing to the bed, she spoke what the boy thought must be a command. With a squeal of delight, the little girl ran to her bed and leaped, landing in the middle, where she rose to her feet and bounced up and down. The maidservant shouted at her, but the girl giggled, making no move to stop. Shaking her head and clucking her tongue, the old woman led the boy to the bed and shoved him. Unsure of what she wanted, he leaped on the bed, imitating the little girl. But the servant shouted again, and, grabbing him, she pinched his belly very hard, forcing him to lie down. The little girl frowned and lay down as well. Again, the maid spoke harshly, but, undeterred, the child stuck out her tongue, pulling the sides of her mouth with her fingers. With that the servant stormed across the room, slamming the door on her way out.
The boy looked warily at the master's daughter, who stood and, with a malicious smirk, grabbed his hair and yanked. Laughing, she held up a tuft in triumph. His eyes narrowed; much as he would never show how badly that had hurt, so he would pay her back in kind. Grabbing her hair, he pulled, eliciting a yelp. She pounced on him, biting his shoulder, while he pinched her with all his might as he nipped her arm. With fierce, angry eyes, she bore down on him, returning with a hard punch to his ribs, but instead of fighting, this time he got up and went to the far end of the room, where he sat, cross legged, in the corner, ignoring her.
She babbled at him, but he refused to look at her, though he heard her call his name, 'It'. She fell silent, and, after a while, he snuck a glance; she slept peacefully, with her face relaxed into its natural contours, and he thought her the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen. He moved in short intervals, closer and still closer, gradually crossing the room, and, each time he stopped his pilgrimage, he held vigil before the child goddess. Finally, he found himself at her bedside, where he knelt with tears coursing down his cheeks, beauty having always been his weakness. Trembling, he reached out to touch her, just as her eyes shot open. She seized his hand, twisting his pinky finger back as if she would break it, but when she looked at his face, she stopped, her expression softening.
Time ceased as they gazed at each other, resuming only when she broke eternity by pointing to herself, carefully enunciating, "Cathy."
He looked at her and cocked his head, perplexed.
She repeated the action several times before he understood, and shyly pointed to her, whispering, "Cat…ty."
She shook her head, repeating, "Cath…eee." Showing him how her tongue touched her front teeth.
"Cath…eee," he said. "Cath…eee, Cath…eee, Cath…eee."
Her triumph sent her into fits of delight as she bounced up and down with glee, clapping her hands. When she calmed, she pointed to herself again, saying, "Cathy."
And he, a quick study, replied, "Cathy."
Elated, she pointed to him. She wanted his name, but he would not give her his true one, at least not yet. Instead, he pointed to himself and said, 'It'.
"It?" she replied.
He nodded his head in the affirmative, "It."
This seemed to displease her as she frowned, pointing at him again.
"It," he replied. "It, It, It, It, It."
"No," she said, shaking her head, and he imitated her.
Cathy jumped to her feet, pacing back and forth, deep in thought. But while she did this, footsteps could be heard in the hallway, and she made a running leap for the bed. Lying down and closing her eyes, she opened them for a moment and indicated through gesture that the boy should pretend to sleep, which he did – just in time - for the door swung open, and in hobbled the old maidservant. He heard Cathy pretend to snore, and he did the same, after which the maidservant closed the door and left. Cathy immediately opened her eyes, laughing through her nose as if she snored still, and he imitated her. This she found hysterical, and she began to make all sorts of rude sounds which he repeated until they heard the door creak open.
The elderly maidservant watched them, her hands on her rotund hips. "Miss Catherine!" she said, her tone severe. The woman continued her angry speech, but the boy did not understand her crude sounds. Cathy paid her no mind at all, instead, she ran to the maid and took her hand, pointing to the servant and saying, "El…sie."
The boy smiled at her impudence and repeated, "E…sie."
"No! El…sie." She ran back to him with her black hair flying and her cheeks aflame, which enhanced the intensity of her remarkable dark eyes.
"El…sie," she said, showing him how her tongue touched the roof of her mouth.
"El…sie," he said with perfect diction.
"Elsie," she repeated, bringing the boy to the maidservant.
"Elsie," he said with a slight bow to the maid.
Cathy and Elsie shared a look of surprise, and then they proceeded to carry on a heated debate, until, with a tragic expression, Cathy turned and trudged across the room, throwing herself dramatically on the bed. Elsie shook her head with the hint of a smile as she pushed the boy. He took that to mean he should go to bed too. Then she closed the door. Cathy brought her finger to her lips, whispering, "Shhh." The boy waited quietly until the heavy footsteps of the departing maid could be heard moving away from their door and down the back stairs to the kitchen. Cathy smiled as she reached for his hand, but her eyes closed, and this time she truly slept. The boy smiled and did the same.
When the two woke, Cathy jumped from the bed, put on her shoes and walked to the door. "Come," she said, waving him to her. He stared at her, sleepy and uncomprehending.
"Come," she repeated, and this time she waved strenuously. He repeated the word and the action, until understanding dawned on him. Expecting a smile, he obeyed her, but she frowned at his feet, shaking her head and pointing to his shoes.
"Shoe," she said, holding one, after she had retrieved them.
"Shoe," he repeated.
"Shoes," she said, placing both side by side. He dutifully repeated – two gets an sss.
"You-put on." And saying this she went through the motions of putting on a shoe.
The boy did as directed, but he could not manage the fastenings; he'd never in his life had shoes with laces. In fact, he'd rarely had anything but rags to cover his feet. When Cathy saw that he couldn't tie his shoes; she sat down on the floor and, with great patience, taught him that very moment.
Dressed and full of energy, they ran to the master's library where she carried on an ardent discussion with her father. The boy knew they spoke of him for he heard the word 'it' repeated many times. Frowning, he realized, Cathy must be telling the master the extent of the boy's ignorance and, expecting punishment, he slunk to a corner and stood in the shadows.
"Boy," called the master.
"It," said Cathy, waving to him. When the boy did not respond, she took his hand and dragged him to the master. The boy did not know why he held back; he had endured much worse treatment than he had so far received here.
The master patted him gently on the head, saying, "Heathcliff."
"Heath…cliff," added Cathy, pointing at him.
"Hea…ciff," said the boy.
"No," said Cathy, a strict and relentless teacher. "Heath…cliff." She sounded it several times as he tried to replicate it. After a period of trial and error, he managed the long, but beautiful sound.
"Cathy," said Cathy, pointing to herself.
"Heathcliff," said the boy, pointing to himself.
"Heathcliff and Cathy," called the master, who reclined in an easy chair, smiling at the two children.
"Maestru," said Heathcliff, a faint smile crossing his solemn face.
The master shook his head as Cathy ran to him, and hugging her, the master said, "Not master, Papa."
"Papa," said the boy; he knew the word meant father. It was so like the word from his language, mpampas. The master took the boy on his knee, and gave him a piece of candied pear, which the boy savored, never having tasted anything so succulent. Not to be left out, Cathy climbed on the other knee and received the same treatment.
With the naming complete, Cathy and Papa spoke for a while, and then the two children left the study, walking through the house hand in hand while Cathy babbled, occasionally picking up an object and naming it. They left by the front door, entering the moor by the very gate Heathcliff had tried to flee over that morning.
Fate had intervened; if he had escaped, he never would have known Papa and better still, Cathy – the best girl ever. He looked to the heavens in thanks, as a warm wind ruffled his wild black hair. He heard Cathy giggle, and then she shouted something, taking off at a run. He laughed too, chasing her through the moors until they reached a rocky escarpment, which they climbed rapidly. When the two stood at the top, they breathed deeply while an east wind gusted around them full of the rich scents of the late summer. From this spot, the two children could see for miles over the harsh and magnificent scenery of the heath, as for the second time that day Heathcliff fell in love.
"Heathcliff," said Cathy several times, walking around the cliff top, and pointing to the heather that covered it.
"Heathcliff?" repeated the boy.
She nodded, and he knew she had named him after this fierce landscape – a name surprisingly close to his true name. Gazing at her, Heathcliff rejoiced in her perceptiveness; Cathy had seen into his soul with acceptance, something he had thought impossible among these hungry ghosts. A keening noise pierced the air and his attention flew to the sky, where, overhead, a flock of small birds careened. He pointed to the sky, but, while the two watched the avian exhibition, a projectile hit one bird, and it fell to their feet.
"Hindley!" said Cathy with ire, nodding to her brother, who stood in the distance with a slingshot. Heathcliff knelt, and, picking up the bird, he watched the older boy do a celebratory dance. Frowning at the display, Heathcliff turned his attention back to the bird cupped in his hand, gently massaging it, as he sang an impromptu prayer of healing. Cathy knelt beside him, observing intently, but she looked up for a moment and then pointed. Heathcliff followed her finger to see Hindley approaching at a trot. He brought the bird to his lips, whispering to it as the spark of life returned its eyes, and it rustled in his hands.
"Heathcliff," whispered Cathy, her eyes glowing in admiration.
The young boy stretched his arms out before him, and, lifting them into the air, he launched the bird. It spiraled above them in search of its mates, just as Hindley drew near. Cathy grabbed Heathcliff and kissed him fiercely. Then she took his hand, and they ran. The older boy chased them, but he was no match for the two, and he disappeared in the distance as they sped like heathen angels over the moor.
In bed that night, Heathcliff lay awake beside Cathy, listening to her gentle breathing. He ran his fingers over his cheek, cherishing the spot where her lips had touched his skin. How long had it been since anyone kissed him? Closing his eyes, his mother appeared, as if through a veil; in the hazy vision it must have been bedtime, for shadows danced in firelight, as she hugged and kissed him. Overcome with silent tears, he realized such recollections came at the cost of unfulfillable yearnings; he would put such things aside, for that was long ago, before his brother and he had been spirited away from the smoky encampment by the Red Bird River.