Hold Fast To Your Dreams – Episode 23

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

“You’re suggesting I plough over the fields and plant strawberries? I’m not a greengrocer! I’ve been a farmer all my life, and that’s what I’m going to stay.” 

“Joe, sit down,” Sarah said, trying to keep calm. “Not all the fields, but we need to think in new ways.  

“It’s common knowledge there’s trouble at the Big House. Everyone is talking about the wheat crop, and how American imports are taking over.  

“Besides, you’ve said yourself your knees are giving out, even with the tractor.” 

“I’ll work the way I’ve always done until I drop.” 

“Joe, everybody knows Lord Farrington will be making changes, but we don’t know what they are.  

“The countess has been good to us, and if I could talk to her and find out what’s what, and tell her what I’ve been thinking –” 

“You women are going to make the decisions, are you? Get it all sorted and give me orders?” 

“Nobody’s giving you orders!” Sarah said, exasperated. “Joseph Callow, you’re so stubborn.  

“The world is changing all around us. If we don’t bend and change with it, well, then . . .” She drifted off, not wanting to finish her sentence. 

“How is growing strawberries going to save us, Sarah? Do you think all that will be easier on me?  

“First of all, we’d need help – a lot of it. And it would have to be done before the first frost to have any hope of a June harvest.” 

“As I say, I need to speak to the countess. But here’s what I think.” Sarah perched herself across from Joe. “You know Mrs Thacket? Well, she has a cousin who’s in service, and the master has opened the house up to visitors, just the way the Farringtons are doing with the countess’s racing track.  

“There’s nothing special like that at this other place – just the house and garden. But gentry seem to like walking around and going for picnics in the grounds – strawberry cream teas and big luncheons in those fine baskets. It’s become fashionable.”  

She leaned forward. 

“Some of the tenant farmers are growing berries now, for the teas and for folk who visit the houses. They’re selling them in some of the big markets, too. There’s quite a demand.” 

“You can’t grow strawberries year round!” 

“You could grow daffodils in the spring for those garden markets, and for selling at Farrington House. For the rest of the year you can grow other things – maybe wheat, just for animal feed. That kind of farming wouldn’t be quite so hard on you, Joe.  

“I don’t want you to work until you drop. What kind of life is that? And you’ve told me a hundred times you won’t have me working at the glove factory in town.” 

“I won’t.” 

“That’s where the picnics come in. You can bet the countess is going to have lots of those motor races, having gone to so much trouble having the track built.  

“Imagine if the visitors could buy a picnic, all ready in a basket, to eat after the races! But Mrs Wiggan couldn’t possibly prepare for a crowd when she’s got the family and their personal guests to cook for, and Lord Farrington won’t hire more staff when he planning to do just the opposite. So . . .”   

“So what?” 

“I could offer to help Mrs Wiggan, and so could Beth! I’ve packed a fine picnic in my day, and there’s no reason we’d be unwelcome in that kitchen.  

“The whole thing would take some book-keeping to keep the money straight. Our Johnny’s getting on so well with his sums that I expect he’d be proud to take on that job.  

“Once we’ve shown Lord Farrington how useful we can be, why, he wouldn’t dream of turning us out.  

“I’m sure the countess would be keen. That lady is fond of you, Joe. Remember the day she first came to the cottage?” 

None of them would ever forget the day the countess had called on them.  

By the time she had finished a cup of Sarah’s tea and brack, Joseph had been paid for two puppies who would have had to be put to a watery end and Jenny had been employed at Farrington House as the countess’s lady’s maid.  

Little Beth was overjoyed for the two pups, as well as being allowed to keep the third.  

For weeks afterwards, Sarah had shaken her head in wonder, remembering the look of admiration that had been on the lady’s face as she’d greeted Joe. 

“You have the most divine family, Mr Callow. You must be very proud. Do you know, it seems that everything I’ve ever really wanted is right here in this happy little home.” 

“Let me write to her, Joe,” Sarah said now. 

He leaned back in his chair and stretched his weary knees.  

“I’m going to be a laughing stock.” 

“Nonsense. Everyone will admire you, as I always have, and always will. I love every obstinate bone in your body.” 

He took a long breath.   

“Even the creaky ones?” 

“Those most of all.”   

To be continued…

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