Bart's world is contained in a crumbling family manor house, ruled by a reptilian housekeeper. The attics are dangerous and are about to change his life forever...
The world fell on his head. He shook the dust from his hair and tried to move, wondering why these things always seemed to happen to him. It was strange that he had never before noticed the old globe perched on the rotting shelf above him. It was so big that he knew he would never be able to put it back on his own. And put it back he must.
The attics were forbidden spaces and for that reason he was inexplicably drawn to them. What ten year- old would not be able to resist the almost magnetic pull? For Bart they were the hidden escape routes from his bully of an older brother, his parents’ obsessive preoccupation with keeping the ancestral Manor House from crumbling and the eagle-eyed, snooping housekeeper. The attics were dangerous. But he didn’t care. Nobody seemed to be interested in him until he got into trouble. And that was quite often.
Bart stretched out his gangly legs and rubbed his head experimentally. Good job he had such thick hair. Mind you, it was the only good thing about it: he hated his red hair. It provided great ammunition for the local children to mock him with. He was a loner and the only person he trusted was Jessie, his sister. Perhaps he could find her and she could help him to put the globe back before Mrs Garton did any sneaking around: she loved to tittle-tattle to his parents.
Trying to get up from the uneven floor, he leaned on the metal base of the globe and heard a soft click. Afraid he’d damaged it, he ran his hand over the metal and was puzzled to find a gap. The light filtering through the murky attic window was so dim that it was impossible to see any detail. He felt his way to the door and, closing it carefully behind him, he went to find Jessie and a torch.
The globe clicked again.
The Manor House
Bart would have loved to slide all the way down to the next floor on the highly-polished banister but even he knew that was risking a bit too much. Mrs Garton would love to catch him doing that. She was like a ten-eyed toad with less warmth. She seemed to like wearing shiny clothes which made her look even more like a reptile. Sometimes Bart wondered why she got such pleasure out of telling his parents about his escapades.
He walked down the wide staircase carefully, feeling a headache starting up. He hoped Jessie was in her bedroom. A huge portrait of one of their ugliest ancestors hung at the bottom of the staircase and as Bart passed he automatically stuck his tongue out at it. He couldn’t understand why they had so many of these awful paintings in the Grand Hall. Why did the walls have to be painted red? The flaking walls and serious- looking cracks made the whole entrance look as if it could dissolve into a pile of rubble at the slightest touch.
His parents, Lord and Lady Balfour, had inherited the house when his grandfather died. He really missed Granper. They had been such good friends: Bart had been named after his grandfather and they had always been together. Granper loved telling him stories about the past when the Manor House was full of eye-popping people and alive to grand parties. What he didn’t tell Bart was that the family fortunes had dwindled to nothing and that the family was desperately trying to find ways to make enough money to keep the house habitable.
Bart’s parents were good people: his father was liked by all who met him and he loved his horses; his mother was a gentle person with a strong feel for what was right and what was wrong. But neither of them was a business person. They had tried all sorts of ways to make the Manor House self-supporting. The latest venture was week-end hunting parties and Bart now dreaded the weekend invasion by strangers.
“Jessie!” he shouted.
No reply. He didn’t want to go down the next flight of stairs in case Mrs Garton was lurking. He poked his head round Jessie’s bedroom door and saw that her wellington boots were missing. So, she was somewhere in the garden: probably down by the stables feeding Milky Way.
He knew just how to get into the grounds without anyone seeing him. Silently, Bart crept across the landing to a panel in the wall. After looking carefully around, he pressed a carved rose and the panel slid open. He slipped into the opening and the panel closed behind him. Granper had told Bart things that nobody else knew about.
He took the torch from its niche and made his way down the crumbling stone steps. He had done this so many times and still nobody, except Jessie, knew anything about this secret staircase. It ended at a solid wooden door and Bart grasped the large metal handle with both hands and wrestled it open. It led into a small stone room with another sliding panel into the orangerie outside.
Few people went into the orangerie nowadays but all the same Bart listened intently, just in case. All clear. He quickly crept through the gap and closed the entrance behind him. Luckily for Bart, the orangerie had fallen into disrepair long ago, with plants having returned to their natural jungle-like state and providing perfect camouflage. He made for the broken glass that let him exit into a clump of bushes. Pushing a branch aside, he stood up straight.
No. Mrs. Garton.