Hold Fast To Your Dreams – Episode 19

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

The dining-room at Farrington House glowed with candlelight, the arrangements of roses and greenery filling the air with fragrance.  

When the Farringtons had returned from San Francisco they had been as aghast as Runciman the butler had feared at the electric lighting that had been installed in their absence.  

To their relief, the dining-room had been spared. 

Runciman had given an extra polish to the magnificent silver centrepiece used for special occasions: a sculpture of the 1st Marquess of Farrington standing on the deck of HMS Valour 

It was more precious than ever, as some paintings and a piece of Oriental pottery had been sold to raise funds for house repairs.  

Malaika sat in the place of honour beside Lord Farrington. Runciman approached the table with the fish course fanned out on a silver tray.  

Hugh looked up. 

“By Jove, Runciman, is that Pheasant of the Sea?” 

“Indeed, sir. Mrs Wiggan prepared the turbot especially for your homecoming.” 

Excitement had been at fever pitch below stairs. All had risen admirably to preparations for the celebratory dinner – once they’d recovered from the extraordinary news.  

Some of the younger servants had been only vaguely aware that Lord Farrington had a brother.   

There had been rumblings years ago, when one of the housemaids had found a photograph of Lord Farrington as a child, with an older boy sitting beside him, both staring out above their frilled collars.  

Runciman had caught her with it, and his reprimand had been so severe that no-one dared whisper about it again. 

Runciman stood beside Malaika, the platter balanced on his arm as he took the silver fish slice in his hand.  

“May I offer you, Madam, Lady . . .?” He faltered, an unaccustomed flush rising in his cheeks. 

“I beg your pardon, Runciman,” Hugh said. “My fault entirely. I must explain my wife’s esteemed lineage.”  

He said a few words to Malaika in her own language. She nodded, lowering her eyes. 

“Malaika has agreed for you to know that she is the favourite daughter of King Jabari Bentu. She is, in fact, a princess.” 

Thea clapped her hands to her cheeks.  

“A princess in the family? How thrilling!” 

Lady Farrington’s eyes darted to her husband. 

“I see,” Reginald Farrington said, clearing his throat. “Very impressive. Perhaps Runciman, you might address his lordship’s wife as . . .” 

“Surely it should be Your Royal Highness!” Thea interrupted. “The King’s daughters are introduced that way.” 

“Actually, darling,” Bertrand said, “that term of address would only be used for the first introduction. Thereafter the princess would be addressed as Ma’am.” 

Thea frowned and looked across at Malaika.  

“You wouldn’t want Runciman to call you that, would you?” 

A smile graced Malaika’s face.  

“In my country, we believe Onipa ne asem. 

Hugh beamed.  

“It means it is the human being that counts. You see, a title doesn’t hold much meaning.” 

Malaika nodded.  

“It would be the wish of my father and mother for me to be called the name they gave to me, when honey and bitter herbs were placed upon my head.  

“Both will be part of every person’s life. I hope to be worthy of this gift.” 

Lady Farrington sensed warmth and friendship from her words. 

“In Africa, a name is regarded as a promise,” Hugh explained, “and with that come hopes and expectations. Malaika’s parents bestowed upon her the blessings of all that her name implies – goodness, love, trust and a kind of redemption. 

Reginald’s daughter, Florence, sighed.  

“Perhaps that’s been my trouble all along. ‘Florence’ doesn’t sound very inspiring. How beautifully you speak, Malaika.” 

“She has been an exemplary pupil,” Hugh said. “Far better than I ever was. But over the years I’ve picked up a number of different dialects, which is more than can be said of most of our lot over there,” he added, a hint of the old swagger in his tone.  

“You’d be surprised at the complexity of the languages.  

“Runciman, poor man, do serve the fish.” 

“With pleasure, sir. And if I may be so bold to suggest – would Lady Malaika be satisfactory?” 

“Jolly good,” Hugh said with a chuckle. 

Lord Farrington gave a grateful nod to his butler, who had begun to look rather worn.

To be continued…

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