Hold Fast To Your Dreams – Episode 06

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

The sun warmed Jenny’s face as she let herself slip back into the memories, her head resting on Ben’s shoulder as they waited, his hand drumming nervously on his knee.

“Waiting for someone?”

The stationmaster had been watching them.

“We were expecting to be collected and taken to Orchard End,” Ben said disconsolately.

“Orchard End?” The stationmaster looked as if he’d said they were going to the moon.

“Yes. My name’s Hanshaw. I’m to be head gardener. This is my wife, Jenny. Has there been any message for us from Lord Bracken?”

Again, there was the puzzled expression.

“No. Lord and Lady Bracken left yesterday on the morning train.”

“When are they due back?”

“Don’t know. Open ticket. They’re rarely here. Not like when old Lord Bracken ran the place.” He shook his head. “Sad about old Lady Bracken, too, may they rest in peace.”

“But surely someone is expecting us. How are we to get there?”

“If you wait a quarter of an hour, the postman will be round. He might give you a lift in the cart.”

“What about our cases?”

“Bit of a squeeze. You’ve just got the two?”

“Yes. The rest will be sent on after we’ve settled into the gardener’s cottage.”

“Alf Dickson’s place?” Again, the puzzled look. “Guess he’s getting on a bit – gone to live with his daughter, I think.”

“So I suppose only the butler and housekeeper are there today?”

“Hasn’t been a butler for years! Just Mrs Skeggs.”

“She’s the housekeeper?” Jenny said eagerly. “I expect she’s wondering what’s become of us.”

She smiled, feeling her spirits lifting. Things would fall into place once they arrived.

Jenny and Ben bumped along in the cart, wedged between their cases and postbags. The road was pitted, with trees thick on either side.

They came to a lay-by and the driver pulled the cart to a stop.

“Is this it?” Ben asked.

“Just along that path.”

Ben jumped down and then helped Jenny.

“Thank you.”

“Good luck to you.”

Ben picked up the cases.

“Are you all right carrying both, Ben?” Jenny asked, feeling weak after the ride.

“Yes, but you’d better lead the way.”

The path was choked with overhanging branches, letting in only cracks of sunlight. Jenny pushed aside a mass of leaves to reveal the house, looming ahead.

The door must once have been blue, though much of the paint had peeled away. It looked forlorn under a tangled mass of ivy, wisteria and rambler roses, which scrambled up the walls, obscuring some of the windows.

Setting down the cases, Ben pulled the rusty door knocker.

Jenny looked up at Ben, wanting to give him reassurance, but she felt her heart sinking.

He raised his hand to knock, but then they heard the sound of footsteps, and Jenny took a deep breath.

The door opened and a sullen face greeted them.


“Hello. You must be Mrs Skeggs.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Ben Hanshaw, the new gardener. This is my wife, Jenny.”

“Come in. I thought you’d arrive this week. They don’t tell me much.”

She stopped for a moment, frowning.

“How’d you get here?”

“The postman brought us,” Jenny said.

“Oh! Has he gone? He’ll be back this way, though. I’ll wait for him. I can get the next train. Going to live with my sister, you see.”

“You’re leaving?” Jenny couldn’t disguise her dismay.

“No use for me now. Come along – I’ll show you the range and you can boil up a kettle.”

“But who else is here? Is there a housemaid?”

“Housemaid?” Mrs Skeggs laughed. “Good heavens, no. Come along.”

“Where is the gardener’s cottage?” Ben asked, looking through one of the grimy windows.

“You’ll see it from the back of the house,” she said, pushing Jenny along.

They went through the dark hallway and down the steps to the kitchen. There was a dresser stacked with crockery that looked none too clean, but the table was scrubbed and the range crackled, filling the room with heat.

“Just out there you’ll see the kitchen garden – well, it used to be. And across the field is the cottage.”

She showed Jenny round the kitchen, so different from Mrs Wiggan’s which was always bustling and filled with the smell of cooking.

“That’s about it.” Mrs Skeggs took off her apron. “I’ll be off, then.”

“Thank you,” Jenny said.

Mrs Skeggs disappeared and Jenny stood there for a moment, trying to get her bearings.

Then she walked to the door to look for Ben. She made her way past the straggly garden plot, and saw him striding across the field.

In the distance, she saw a tiny thatched cottage. A sheet flapped on a washing line tied between two trees, and there was an orchard to one side, with a small greenhouse at the end.

The sun shone so brightly on the cottage, that in comparison to the murky darkness of the big house it stood out like a lighthouse.

Jenny couldn’t imagine what lay ahead for them, but they had arrived at the place that was to be their first home.

Their new life, for better or worse, had begun.

To be continued…

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