Hold Fast To Your Dreams – Episode 24

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

Jenny whisked off the sheet that enshrouded a dressing-table, sending up showers of dust which swirled in the morning sunlight.  

Coughing, she hurried to the window and tried to pull up the sash, but it was stuck fast. She pulled and rattled the window frame, and with another immense effort it jerked free.  

She opened it wide, letting in the welcome breeze, then turned and looked around the bedroom, trying to assess how much there was to do.  

She’d decided to start with the smallest guest room, which would accommodate one of the group of visitors that Eleanor Bracken had airily told her would be arriving in four days’ time. 

“Or is it three? I can’t remember. One of them is a vegetarian – isn’t that extraordinary? And,” she added dramatically, “another is Russian!” 

“Lady Bracken, I need to know exactly when they’ll be arriving!” 

“Of course. But you needn’t cook anything special. These people live for more than meals. You wouldn’t believe the conversations they have! Not that I understand much of it.” 

“May I ask when Lord Bracken will be returning?” 

“Not for another week or so. He has work to do in town, he says. So there won’t be many of us for you to look after – about six, I think. Now, I have to go back to London on the late train, but I’ll return in a couple of days before they all arrive.” 

“Lady Bracken!” 

But she’d already left.  

That had been yesterday afternoon. Last night Jenny had longed to spill it out to Ben, but he’d been so disconsolate about the garden she hadn’t dared.  

The sunny morning had done nothing to lift his spirits. 

“‘Just tidy it up a bit,’ he says,” Ben had scoffed, slapping his razor against the strop with unnecessary force. “What’s the point of us being here, Jenny? I was better off at Farrington House. At least Mr Mott respected me.” 

Jenny had touched his arm soothingly. 

“Things could change, Ben. Lord Bracken might decide he wants to make something of the garden, after all.” 

“You think that’s likely? We should never have come. And we can’t go crawling back now. I’d be so humiliated, having been hired as head gardener.” 

Jenny had tried to think of a way to counter what he’d said, but she was engulfed in her own worries. 

“Which part of the garden are you going to work on today?” she’d asked, trying to lighten the moment. 

“I don’t know. It’s all so overgrown, clearing it will only leave empty space.” 

“Maybe that will encourage Lord Bracken to take your advice.” 

“He’ll never do that. Can’t you understand?” he’d exploded, and Jenny had felt tears welling up. 

“I’m just trying to help you feel better about it, Ben. I’m not having the jolliest time myself. I have four bedrooms to clean and make ready for Eleanor Bracken’s guests.  

“I have to think what to cook for them, and order the food, and . . .”   

“We’ve both made a big mistake!” Ben had stormed out of the house. 

Now she sank down on to the saggy guest bed, tears streaming down her cheeks. There was dusting and scrubbing to be done, rugs to beat, beds to make.  

Where was the linen kept? She hoped it was clean.  

And that was only the beginning, with decisions to make about meals, and all the cooking. She hadn’t the faintest idea how to go about any of it.  

Ben was already furious, and it seemed both of them were fairly expendable as far as the Brackens were concerned.  

What would become of them? 

Jenny closed her eyes, trying to still her muddled thoughts.  

And then, out of her anguish, it felt as if a mysterious gift had suddenly been bestowed from the blue, as a plan began to take shape in her mind. 

Runciman waited nervously at the door of the drawing-room as Mrs Wiggan stood before the whole family. 

“I beg your pardon, my lady, my lord. I know this is very irregular –” 

“What is it, Mrs Wiggan?” Lady Farrington asked impatiently. 

“My lady, it’s Jenny, Jenny Callow. She’s ever so upset. She telephoned, you see, from Orchard End – or rather from the town. There isn’t a telephone at the house, so she’d walked all the way to the hotel.”  

“Jenny telephoned?” Thea was alarmed. “Whatever has happened? Is she all right?” 

“Well, my lady, it seems she’s desperate for help. From me and from her stepmother.“ 

“Oh, that dear girl!” Thea said frantically. “What is the name of this hotel?”   

“The Brackenbury, my lady. Jenny is still there – she said she’d wait, in case Mr Runciman might telephone her back.” 

Thea leaped from her chair.  

“I shall telephone her at once. Runciman, please tell Perkins to go to the cottage and fetch Mrs Callow in the carriage, and bring her here.  

“He mustn’t alarm her – tell him to explain that I need to see her on a matter of importance.  

“How I wish darling Jenny and Ben had never gone to Orchard End! I must say, I didn’t like the look of those Brackens when they suddenly appeared at the wedding. 

“Mrs Wiggan,” Thea went on, “you and Sarah and I should go to Orchard End just as soon as possible.  

“And I have had a lovely idea! Malaika, perhaps you’d like to come along as well?” 

Lady Farrington looked from the departing Thea to Mrs Wiggan.  

But Lord Farrington’s eyes were on his brother, who sat beside Malaika, his face a ghostly white. 

“Did she say Bracken?” Hugh’s breathing had quickened. “From Orchard End?” 

“Of course!” Reginald said slowly, looking at his brother. “I hadn’t grasped the connection before, though the name sounded familiar.  

“Surely Robert Bracken must be the son of Charles, that arrogant, unpleasant boy who was several years above you at boarding school? I remember the fear that gripped you at the end of the Christmas holiday when it was time to go back to school.” 

But Hugh sat staring at nothing, his stony expression unreadable. 

To be continued…

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