Hold Fast To Your Dreams – Episode 08

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

She hesitated at the thought of creeping upstairs on her own without permission. But she and Ben had been given the keys in order to get on with things.

She made her way to the passageway which led to the green baize door separating the servants’ quarters from the front of the house.

As Jenny opened the door, a feeling of unease crept over her. All was dark, the dense foliage around the house enclosing it in an eerie green haze.

The doors to the rooms were shut, and Jenny tried to guess which was which.

She knew that old Lady Bracken had been confined to her bed for some time, and that Mrs Skeggs had taken her meals up to her on trays.

Jenny wondered which rooms Eleanor and Robert Bracken had been using. Perhaps the rest hadn’t been used for years.

She opened one of the doors and peered inside, wishing she’d brought a candle as the draperies had been pulled, letting in no light at all.

In the darkness she could see the shapes of furniture covered in dust sheets.

Slowly she went to the window, pulling open the draperies and letting in a shaft of light.

She turned round, then, with a gasp of horror, screamed. Against the wall was the monstrous head of a creature, its wild eyes staring at her from under a mane of snaky hair.

For a heart-stopping second she stood paralysed; then there was the sound of running feet and Ben’s voice.

“Jenny! Where are you?”

As Ben ran to her side, she fell into his arms, terror dissolving into laughter.

“Oh, Ben! Look – it’s a mask! There on the wall.”

He turned, jumping in surprise at the sight of the terrifying monster.

“What in the world?”

As they walked across the room a beam of sunlight illuminated the extraordinary object.

“I’ve never been so frightened in my life,” Jenny said, still trembling.

“Well, who wouldn’t be. Look at it – half animal, half man.” They stared at the huge mask, fascinated and repelled at the same time.

“It’s big enough for two people to wear. What is it made of?” Jenny asked.

“Looks like animal skins.”

“These feathers are beautiful,” Jenny observed. “And what could this long hair be from?”

“An animal tail, I expect.”

Jenny looked around her. Two walls were filled with books from floor to ceiling.

“Imagine hanging this on the wall of your library!”

Ben lifted the dust sheet from one of the covered pieces of furniture.

“What else do you suppose is here?”

He threw off the sheet, revealing a leather chair, then a table.

Then he lifted another.

“Oh!” Jenny gasped again as a statue loomed before them. It was a large wooden column made of carved animal heads, with leather thongs and beads cascading from the top.

“Where could all these things have come from?”

“I’d guess Africa. Look at these animal heads – elephants, monkeys . . .”

“Yes, it does all look African, doesn’t it?”

She remembered an occasion when Mr Runciman had caught Philip, the Farrington House footman, with a book he’d borrowed from the library without permission. Walking past, Jenny had blushed at the sight of the pictures of the tribesmen and their wives.

She remembered their headdresses were not unlike the mask.

“No-one can say this isn’t an adventure,” Ben said, taking her hand. “Let’s try another room.”

“Oh, Ben, thank heavens you’re here. I didn’t think you’d be back for a while.”

“An odd feeling came over me – something told me you needed me.”

“I always will, Ben.”

He hugged her.

They walked out of the library into the hallway. Ben opened a different door, but this time the curtains were open and sunshine flooded the oak-panelled room.

To be continued…

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