Hold Fast To Your Dreams – Episode 31

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

Jenny stood back, admiring the vase of creamy roses that she had brought up to the drawing-room.  

“That’s pretty,” Eleanor piped up, and Jenny whirled round, steadying herself. 

“Oh, you did give me a start!” She gasped. “I didn’t see you come in, my lady.” 

Eleanor stood in the hazy morning light at the back of the room, her dressing-gown rumpled and her cropped hair in disarray. 

“I slept late, and came down while you were seeing off your stepmother and the cook. She seems rather terrifying, but your stepmother is nice.”   

She breathed in the spicy sweetness of the roses.  

“Goodness, that scent is extraordinary. Where did they come from?” 

Jenny stifled a puff of exasperation.  

“Your garden. My husband has been working very hard.” 

Eleanor didn’t respond and Jenny felt a wave of guilt. Anyone could be forgiven for not assuming the roses had come from Orchard End.  

But when Ben had spied a few straggly blooms poking out from behind a tangle of bramble, he’d hacked and pruned his way through, uncovering what he proudly told Jenny was a Madame Alfred Carriere. 

“Ben has an extraordinary way with flowers and plants. He knows all their names, too,” Jenny said, remembering his careful pronunciation of the French.   

A rush of pride coursed through her, thinking of all that Ben had learned from the books Mr Mott had lent him.  

He’d been working harder than ever, but it seemed to Jenny that the thrill and fascination he’d once felt had faded away.   

Eleanor shrugged.  

“Gardens must be a lot of work. The house that Mummy chose for us in London just has a bit of paving, and a border on each side. She sends a man round to do it.”   

Yawning, she sank down on a chaise and gazed vacantly up at the mysterious animal painting above the mantel. 

Jenny’s resentment of Eleanor and her husband returned. They had so much, but did they appreciate it?  

She turned and busied herself picking up a few petals that had drifted to the floor. 

“That painting gives me the shivers,” Eleanor blurted out. “And all those awful masks and spears.”  

Her voice was tremulous and Jenny looked up in concern. 

“My lady, I . . .” 

“Please stop calling me that. Mummy thinks it’s just marvellous that I have a title,” Eleanor went on, mocking the sound of her mother’s voice.  

“But every time someone says it, it’s followed by ‘in Lady Bracken’s day we did this; Lady Bracken this; Lady Bracken that’. Oh, if only we hadn’t come here!” 

She dissolved into tears and Jenny moved a chair nearer and sat down.  

“I’m sorry, it’s only proper to –” 

“I don’t care about proper,” Eleanor said through her tears. “Call me Eleanor.” 

“If you’re sure.” 

Eleanor wiped her nose on her handkerchief.  

“I heard you talking – you and your stepmother. I was sitting on the staircase when you were in the drawing-room together. You’re right, I do feel lost.” 

Jenny’s mouth went dry. How could she have been so careless?  

“Oh, my lady, I mean Eleanor, I’m so sorry. It’s just that I’ve been concerned about you.”  

She searched her memory, wondering exactly what Eleanor had heard.  

“I apologise if I caused offence. I’d hoped your party had been enjoyable for you, and I was worried that perhaps it had been a little . . . tiring. Moving to a new area can be difficult.” 

“I hate this house!” Eleanor spat out. “And the wonderful Lady Bracken has made it impossible for us not to spend almost all of our time here.  

“What could have possessed her to make such a stupid requirement in her will?  

“It’s worse for me than for Robert. He’s always going off to work and leaving me here.” 

“Is it about half of each month that you’re here?” Jenny asked. “I can imagine that you miss being in your house in London, and being surrounded by your own things.” 

“But I’m not, that’s just it!” Eleanor said, her voice weak and defeated. “That house is very nice – of course it would be, because Mummy’s taste is impeccable.  

“She did it all, you see. For a surprise,” she added, a hint of sarcasm in her voice. 

Jenny didn’t know what to say. She considered changing the subject and mentioning Eleanor’s friends in the hope of lightening the mood, but it seemed clear that she hadn’t enjoyed her party.   

Jenny suddenly felt protective, as if something of Sarah had flooded into her. And true to form, it was tempered by a streak of Sarah’s straightforward practicality.  

“It seems to me that, if you have to spend a lot of time on your own here, then you’re justified in making it more to your liking.”  

Hearing the confidence in her own voice filled Jenny with renewed resolve. She looked up at the painting.  

“It is an eerie picture, but I rather like it.  

“I have to agree about the other things, though,” she added. “They scared the wits out of me when I first discovered them!” 

Eleanor looked up, her expression wary but interested. 

“Surely we can put that mask somewhere else,” Jenny went on. “The attic, perhaps?” 

“I hadn’t thought of that. But Robert wants the painting to stay here in the drawing-room,” Eleanor said disconsolately. “Apparently his father adored it.” 

“This is a lovely room, really,” Jenny remarked. “The wood is such a warm colour, if only the curtains weren’t so heavy and dingy.  

“And the furniture is covered in such dark fabric. Just think how it would look if everything were lighter, with a bit more colour here and there.  

“Curtains made of linen instead of velvet,” she mused, “and perhaps that brocade wallpaper could be replaced with something fresh and floral – or maybe pastel stripes?”  

Jenny had got so involved that she’d almost forgotten Eleanor.  

To be continued…

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