Hold Fast To Your Dreams – Episode 36

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

“He’ll have his work cut out for him. The place needs a lot doing to it. I suspect Lord Bracken had been running low on funds for some time. 

“Perhaps that’s why he went to Africa – in hopes of making a fortune.” 

“Well, he returned empty handed. Except for all that clobber he brought back. Masks and spears and the like. And that picture.”  

He shook his head, letting out a long breath. 

“Which picture is that?” 

“It’s an animal – hangs on the wall. I never liked it – always looked a little eerie, like a ghost animal or something. Elands, they’re called. I always knew it was a bad omen.” 

“What do you mean,
Mr Dickson?” 

“Such a business, that was. Broke Lady Bracken’s heart.”  

He paused for a moment, his face darkening with the memory. 

“The picture?” Lady Farrington urged. 

“I’ll tell you the whole story. The lord came back, airy as you please. Did he bring back a fortune?  

“Not a bit of it. But he hung that blasted picture on the wall and gazed at it all the time – that’s what the housekeeper told me.  

“Anyway, three days after he got back, I was out in the kitchen garden when I heard Lady Bracken cry out. It was dreadful.  

“I ran in and there was Lord Bracken, lying on the floor. Could barely speak, and Lady Bracken was in a terrible state.  

“I leaned down to see if I could do anything – I wasn’t sure, you see, if he’d broken his back or something. That’s when I heard him whisper.” 

“Whisper? What was he saying?” Lady Farrington asked. 

“He was talking about that blasted animal! ‘Eland, eland,’ he kept saying over and over, and then something about one year.  

“‘Wait one year.’ I heard something about ‘safe, safe’. Then he died. It was a terrible thing.” 

“How dreadful! But if he said the word safe, surely he meant for his wife to look inside the family safe?” 

“Yes, we did that as soon as everything settled down. There was nothing in it.  

“But Lady Bracken was a clever woman. She thought about it all the time. One day she called me in – she knew she could trust me.  

“She told me she’d put it all together in her mind – the eland; wait one year and safe.  

“She was convinced that her husband had brought back the picture because it was very valuable. But for some reason he must have wanted her to wait one year – until it was safe, in some way – to sell it.  

He sighed. 

“It did seem to make sense. The more we thought about it, the more exciting it got. Lady Bracken didn’t dare show the picture to anyone.  

“She thought maybe other people might guess how valuable it was, and word would get round. She was afraid of being cheated, or that it might get stolen.  

“For a whole year she lived like a hermit. Nobody came to the house. Young Robert was at school, and it was strange for him when he came home for the holidays. Couldn’t have any friends to stay.  

“Anyway, the year was up, and Lady Bracken wrote to some dealers. I’ll never forget her excitement. She thought it would be the beginning of a new life.  

“The dealers, they came out to the house, one by one. But it was worthless. It broke her heart, and she was never the same again.” 

An immense heaviness gathered in Lady Farrington’s chest.  

“Well, thank you for meeting with me, Mr Dickson,” she said at last. “It was good of you to take this time.” 

“Not at all, my lady. I’m sorry I couldn’t help. Do give my best regards to Thomas. I’d like to see him one of these days.” 

“I will,” she said. 

He stood and hurried to reach the door. 

“Door keeps jamming.”  

He gave it a push and a fragment of moulding broke off the door frame, leaving a gap in the wall and dust on the floor. 

“My apologies, my lady.”   

But Lady Farrington had stopped, her eyes fixed on the splintery gap. 

“Mr Dickson,” she said, her voice sounding hollow. “Is the picture of the eland in a frame?” 

“A frame?” He cocked his head to one side, thinking. “I believe it is, my lady.” 

“Thank you. You have been most kind.”   

To be continued…

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