Hold Fast To Your Dreams – Episode 21

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

“I’m sorry, Reg. I do owe you an explanation. I had a plan, you see. I was fed up and had botched it at school. Just couldn’t settle, couldn’t work.” 

“But you were always the clever one, Hughie! You could have passed those exams any day – you hardly needed to open a book.” 

“I couldn’t concentrate. I thought I’d go mad if I had to stay another day at school. Home stifled me.  

“Mother thought I’d conquer the world, and Father thought I was good for nothing.” Hugh shrugged. 

“You, well, I could see it all before you – success, security. It was harder because you were so blasted good to me. You always seemed the older brother.” 

“I loved you, Hughie. I admired you – and envied you. You were like a comet, dazzling everyone without having to try. You confounded the masters – you wouldn’t do what they wanted, but they admired you even so.  

“I knew I could never measure up, so I lost myself in school work. And now, the hero returns, with a beauty in tow. She’s magnificent, your Malaika. Is she really a princess?” 

“Yes, and it’s a miracle that she’s my wife. I was doing some trading with her father – I was quite good at the language by then – and Malaika and I fell in love.  

“However, as I was an outsider, it would have been impossible for me to marry her.  

“Then, one night, she was kidnapped by a rival tribe. I managed to save her, and nearly lost my life doing it. Her father was so overcome with gratitude that he blessed our union.”  

Hugh stared into the candlelight.  

“As for the hero returning, that had been my plan once – after I made a fortune in diamond mining. But, as I said, I failed, although, to be fair, I was cheated. It’s a long story.” 

“We’re more alike than you think,” Reginald said resignedly. “I, too, have lost a fortune – or what was left of it. Down the drain – or rather the sea. The Pacific, to be exact.” 

“What are you talking about?” Hugh stared.  

“It seems I will be forced to . . .” He stopped. “We’ll save that for another evening. For the moment, I’m immensely glad to see you, Hughie.  

“I’m glad to be here as well. Nearly got crushed, you see, in the great earthquake. Did you hear about San Francisco?” 

“You were in California? Why?” 

“It’s not unlike the story you told me. Anyway, it seems we’re both getting a second chance. For now – fancy a little cricket? Remember how we used to play until it was too dark to see the ball?” 

“How could I forget. You’re in for a yorking, of course.” 

“I know.” 

Emily stepped off the sleek electric streetcar and made her way along the freshly laid cobbles of the wide street.  

Downtown San Francisco was alive with the spirit of renaissance. Painted doors and bright awnings of shops and restaurants sat between grim ruins strewn with pieces of cable car track, warped by the fires that had raged through the city only months before. 

It felt a lifetime ago that she and the Farringtons had first arrived. They had ridden through the streets in a horse-drawn carriage, and Emily had seen the cable cars rattling and clang-clanging up the steep hills.  

Now, the speedy new streetcars outnumbered them. 

As she reached the corner she could see the café where she was to meet James.  

A wave of guilt and confusion coursed through her. Why had she agreed to meet him after all this time? They had been exchanging letters for months – why hadn’t she just left it at that? 

The last time she’d seen him, he’d been recuperating in a tent at the field hospital.  

It was typical of him, a dedicated doctor, that as a result of his trying to help the poverty-stricken Chinese, he had caught the terrible disease that had swept through the devastation of Chinatown in the weeks after the earthquake.  

But the experience had made him more determined to work for the common good. 

“My dear Emily, I’ve seen such energy and spirit here,” James had said. “I feel frustrated, because I want to be in the thick of it, helping the relief effort.  

“But I will recover, and so will the city. It will become more beautiful than ever.” 

She’d seen the tenderness in his eyes that day as he’d looked at her.  

“My greatest hope is for us to help make this happen together, Emily. But it would be wrong for me to ask you to make a commitment so soon.  

“You must reach deep within yourself and choose the path that feels right.” 

Emily’s heart had been torn in different directions. James had given her so much. He’d opened up a world of culture, and given her wings to soar.  

And she’d used those wings to fly away from him, away from Will, away from her family.  

Now she was alone and needed help. How could she be so selfish – so weak?  

She must get a message to him to apologise and explain that she had made a mistake in agreeing to meet with him. 

To be continued…

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