Hold Fast To Your Dreams – Episode 37

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

Jenny poured a cup of Lapsang from the Brackens’ gleaming silver pot. She handed the delicate Wedgwood cup to Lady Farrington, then did the same for Lord Hugh and Malaika.  

“Thank you, my dear,” Lady Farrington said. “It is most kind of you to have us at such short notice.” 

“Not at all, Lady Farrington. I – I am so pleased that you have come, but I’m terribly sorry that Lord and Lady Bracken are in London.  

“I’m afraid they aren’t due back until tomorrow. It must be a great disappointment to you, having come all this way, but your letter only arrived yesterday, and –” 

“It is for me to apologise, Jenny. In truth, dear, we are here to see you.” 

Jenny felt her mouth go dry.  

“To see me?” She took a sip of the tea, burning her mouth. 

“Yes,” Lady Farrington said, her voice unnaturally bright, “though of course we would have loved to have seen your employers as well. 

“I wrote to you both, just in case Lady Bracken was away, which indeed is the case.  

“We didn’t want to miss the chance of seeing you,” she said, pulling up the corners of her mouth in a perfectly sculpted smile.   

“Thank you, Lady Farrington. It is an honour to have you, of course.”   

Her letter had been a very strange and unwelcome surprise.  

Jenny had felt uneasy when she’d read that the three of them would be coming to Orchard End.  

They were travelling in that direction to visit an old friend, and thought it would be a pleasant break in their journey to stop by for a cup of tea. 

Another envelope with the Farrington House seal had arrived at the same time, addressed to Lady Bracken.  

It had all been utterly unlike Lady Farrington, and actually quite rude to expect Eleanor to welcome them at short notice, Jenny had thought.  

And of all times for such a thing to happen – just when Eleanor had gone off to London on such an important mission.  

Jenny had felt exhausted with all that had been going on and had needed time on her own, and with Ben. It was not only Eleanor who had an important task ahead of her. 

“Jenny, I wish you could come with me,” Eleanor had beseeched. “I won’t know which fabrics to choose.” 

“Of course you will. And remember – you don’t have to decide on the spot. Just choose whatever strikes you, and the shops will give you samples to bring home.”  

Jenny would have loved nothing better than to step through the doors of Liberty’s and Morris and Co. on Oxford Street, drinking in the glorious swirls of colour and design and imagining how the new, lighter-style fabrics would catch the light when hung at the windows. 

Eleanor had bitten her lip.  

“What if I get confused and –?” 

“It doesn’t matter; it will only mean that you’re opening yourself to all the possibilities! You can narrow it down later.  

“Enjoy yourself, Eleanor, and think how beautiful it could all look.” 

“But you will help, won’t you – with the narrowing down?” 

“Of course I will. But . . .”  

Eleanor had nodded.  

“I promise I’ll talk to Robert about the budget on the way back. I do know he wants me to be happy,” she’d added. 

“And I must talk to Ben,” Jenny had told herself.  

It wasn’t going to be easy. He’d been feeling so low and frustrated, and given to explosions of anger, which reminded Jenny all too well of the Ben who had first come to the cottage – a sullen young man who had fallen into bad ways.  

But the beauty of the countryside, the healing powers of gardening and Jenny’s love had all transformed him. 

Jenny had never been able quite to erase her fear of the old Ben somehow reappearing.  

It frightened her to see that he had begun to retreat into himself, and she noticed that he’d stopped talking to her about his frustrations.  

She wanted to tell him what she’d been doing to help – that Eleanor was going to try to convince Robert to give him a bigger budget, and the freedom to do all that he’d hoped in the Orchard End garden.  

She feared giving Ben false hope. She’d wished at least to sweeten it with a special meal for him when he came in.  

But all her plans had been thrown into disarray by this untimely visit. 

The air felt heavy with tension, and the steady clicking of the clock seemed to grow louder in Jenny’s head.  

She turned to speak to Malaika, but the exotic woman’s eyes were fixed reverently on the haunting painting above the mantel, as were Lord Hugh’s.  

Jenny remembered the plate of sandwiches and cake she had painstakingly prepared for the visit, and she set her cup down, the delicate handle catching in her hand as it clattered into the saucer.  

How peculiar it felt to be having tea with members of the family in the drawing-room, as if she were the lady of the house. 

To be continued…

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