Hold Fast To Your Dreams – Episode 07

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

Jenny stood in the kitchen of Orchard End, inspecting the freshly scrubbed flagged floor. Her back ached and her hands were red and raw, but she sighed with satisfaction.

The oak dresser, which had been dusty and stacked with grimy crockery and tarnished copper moulds, now gleamed, the assortment of bowls, jugs, pots and utensils bright and lustrous.

She filled the kettle and put it on the range, her spirits sinking as she surveyed the grate and large double ovens. It would take hours to blacklead it and polish the handles to the shine that Mrs Wiggan had always insisted upon.

It was only now that Jenny realised the relentless drudgery that the housemaids had endured at Farrington House while she had enjoyed her duties above stairs as lady’s maid.

But that life was behind her for ever. And after all, as Ben had asked her last night, what had she expected? That Eleanor Bracken would be warm and welcoming, and immediately see Jenny as talented, indispensable and a trusted confidant, the way the countess had?

“It’s not that, Ben. It’s just that she’s so different. I can’t imagine talking to her about the house and her plans for it. And my duties are so unclear.”

“I wonder when they’re coming back from London,” Ben mused. “I must talk to Bracken about the budget. I’ve so many ideas! There’s a perfect place on the west side of the house for a fountain . . .” He was lit up with grand plans.

This morning they had woken at dawn, and Ben couldn’t wait to begin work.

“I’m going to tackle the walled garden this morning. It’s choked with weeds and I’m not even sure what’s planted there.

“There are huge fields beyond the garden, but they’ve just been left to seed. Mr Mott told me that, many years ago, there was a thriving farm.”

Jenny cleared away the breakfast dishes.

“I wonder what happened. It makes me worry about Dad.”

“Nothing will happen to the Farrington House farmland, Jenny. The countess will see to that.”

“You’re right.” She squared her shoulders. “I’d love to start on our cottage today, but I’d better see to the big house first. Mrs Skeggs said to her knowledge nobody has been hired in her place.

“Eleanor Bracken must plan to cook herself. After all, it’s just the two of them. Who knows what she has in mind for the cleaning. The house will look awfully unwelcoming to the Brackens when they do get back.”

“We’ve hardly seen the place. Maybe it’s in pretty good nick as it is.”

“The kitchen certainly isn’t. I’ll start there. When you come back for lunch, we could explore the big house together. I feel strange poking around on my own.”

“It is gloomy,” Ben said, “but when I get the shrubbery cut back there’ll be more light. Maybe it’s a blessing if the Brackens don’t return for a while. There’s so much to get done; we must do all we can to impress them from the start.”

Jenny felt herself tighten.

“Does that mean my cleaning the whole house, from top to bottom? I’d never thought that was expected of me.”

“We have to make it a success, Jenny!”

“I’m sorry, Ben – I just feel overwhelmed.” She looked into his eyes. “I want to make this cottage our home. But the big house has to come first.”

She felt exhausted at the thought of what was ahead of her, but then he kissed her, melting her heart as he always did.

“This cottage is already our home, Jenny, and it’s perfect, because you’re here. That’s all that matters to me. I wouldn’t care if it were a shack made of sticks.”

She smiled, her strength and resolve returning.

“I am happy here. It’s plain and rough, but it feels cosy and welcoming, as if it wants us to live here. I think the former gardener must be a lovely man. The cottage is clean and has a friendly spirit, even though there’s nothing pretty in it.”

“He’s Mr Mott’s cousin; that says a lot. But you’re wrong to say there’s nothing pretty in it when the loveliest woman in the world is standing here.”

Ben kissed her again, long and lingering, then took her by the shoulders.

“I’ll be back before lunch, and then we’ll look around.”

Now, Jenny made herself a cup of tea and looked at the clock. Ben wouldn’t be back for another half hour.

She could go upstairs and have a quick look round first, just to see how much needed to be done.

Maybe he was right, and the rest of the house was more habitable than the kitchen had been.

To be continued…

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