Hold Fast To Your Dreams – Episode 42

The main characters from the story Illustration: Sailesh Thakrar

Jenny had listened to every word that Lady Farrington had said. 

“I’m sorry, Lady Farrington, I couldn’t let you do such a thing.  

“I cannot stand by and let you take down that painting of the animal and dismantle it, simply on the suspicion of diamonds being hidden inside.  

“And behind the backs of the Brackens? They’re due back tomorrow –” 

“We cannot wait that long, Jenny,” Lady Farrington interrupted sharply.  

“Don’t forget, Lord Farrington may be drafting a letter to your father and the servants as we speak.” 

“But the painting is very precious to the Bracken family,” Jenny insisted. “I would never be forgiven. Ben and I will lose our positions here and –” 

“Jenny, I told you. It seems all but certain that diamonds are hidden in that frame!” Lady Farrington’s voice became shrill with fervour.  

“You only have to put the evidence together that I have just told you. Charles Bracken brought it back from Africa where he’d made off with diamonds and cheated poor Hugh.  

“And on his deathbed what word does he whisper repeatedly to his wife? Eland!   

“It’s obvious that he was trying to tell her how valuable the painting was, and yet you know what the dealers told her later on – that it was of no value.  

“Bracken was a clever man. Those diamonds are hidden somewhere in the painting,” Lady Farrington added wistfully. “Diamonds that could save my family, and yours, to say nothing of the servants.” 

Hugh had been standing by, having produced a hammer and various tools from a case he’d brought with him.  

Out of the tension floated the melodious voice of Malaika. 

“The eland is sacred for my people. He is a powerful animal who helps us reach the spirit world.  

“The painting is beautiful. Is this not why it was precious to the man who was dying?  

“Please do not destroy it. It is not yours to destroy.” 

Hugh turned to her, setting down his hammer.  

“My angel, we will not destroy the painting. We need only to look inside the frame.” 

But a great sadness came over Malaika’s face, and she cast her glistening eyes downward. 

“We must do this,” Hugh urged. “Not just for our sake, but for my brother’s family, and the people who work for them. And Jenny’s family, who will suffer greatly.”  

He turned to Jenny, 

“You and Ben won’t lose your jobs here. The Brackens will thank you for ever. I will share some of the fortune with them, I promise you that.  

“Now, may I go ahead? It is only the frame that I will touch.” 

“Could we at least wait until we can speak to them?” Jenny begged, her voice weakened to barely a whisper. 

“I told you,” Lady Farrington said coldly, “Lord Farrington has reached a point of desperation and there is not a moment to lose. Surely you will not stand by and see your family suffer in order to save few strips of wood?” 

If only Jenny could talk to Ben. But she knew he was working at the far end of the property.  

Could she trust them to wait until she’d gone out to find him? Who knows what would have happened by the time they got back to the house. 

She took a long breath, then slowly nodded in reluctant agreement.  

In a second Hugh had taken down the painting and had begun prising off the top of the frame, sending showers of dust on to the Persian carpet.  

Lady Farrington moved closer as he continued, sharp cracks blistering the air as the wood began to split and splinter.  

On he went, working his way down the sides and across the bottom until the canvas stood free.  

He cast it aside, and Jenny and Malaika caught it as it began to fall backwards against the hearth. 

Lady Farrington stepped into the centre of the splintered mess, and without heeding her skirt or her hands, she began wildly rummaging through the sticks. 

“You must hack open those bits.” She pointed to a pile of longer pieces, and Hugh began to split them in two, sending more clouds of dust and lethal shards into the air.  

Just then, through the agonising grinding of tools and fierce cracking of wood, there was a slam from the hallway followed by a jubilant voice, ringing through the air. 

“Hello! We’re back early!” 

Seconds later, Eleanor appeared in the doorway, her flushed face lit up in a radiant smile. Robert was close behind her. 

“Ah!” he said warmly. “I see we have –” 

He stopped, his eyes moving to the pile of destruction, then to the guilty, shocked faces of the assembled company.  

A look of scalding fury began to bleed into every part of his face.  

Jenny opened her mouth on a silent gasp as she met Eleanor’s horrified eyes, and as they all stood there together, the eland staring out in proud defiance, each of them saw their hopes and dreams for the future crumble and disintegrate into a hopeless mass of splinters and dust. 

To be continued…

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