The Best Of Both Worlds – Episode 43

“Bert!” Thea called out. “Where are you?”

Lord Witney stood in the drawing-room, his eyes locked in helpless horror on the tangle of wires which snaked up the walls. Soon the team of electricians would remove the wood panelling in order to embed the wires behind the plasterwork, and then fixtures would be mounted round the room.

The morning before, after a steam engine and boiler had been installed in an outbuilding in order to power two electric generators, a trench had been dug along the side of the garden to the house. For the last two days long wires had been threaded up to the bedrooms, morning room and drawing rooms. Still to come were his father’s study, the library and kitchen.

“It will be more expensive, but my stars, Bert, don’t you think that Mrs Wiggan deserves some luxury? And what a surprise for your father!”

Somehow it hadn’t occurred to Lord Witney to enquire as to what would be involved in this mammoth job. Thea had found the gas lamps depressing, and after the success of the racing track she’d had built on the grounds during the summer, she was eager for further improvements. The motor races she’d organised had brought in considerable revenue, and her monthly allowance more than covered the cost of all she’d had done in the house and grounds since the Farringtons’ departure.

Somehow, though he couldn’t fathom it now, Witney had had the impression all along that these ideas had been his own. It had been so exhilarating, sitting with Thea and planning it all.

“What a marvellous idea, Bert. You are clever!” That was what she’d said, but . . .

“There you are!” Thea beamed into her husband’s dazed face. “It’s getting dark and they’ve nearly finished. We don’t have to wait for all the details before we try it, do we? The walls can be tidied tomorrow.”

“But will it be safe yet?” As he looked into Thea’s eyes he felt the usual skittering of his pulse that left him weak with love for her.

“Of course, you silly boy! And you, the Master of the House, shall flip the switch!” She lifted her face to him for a kiss and he bent down, his mouth covering her soft lips.

“Darling Bert,” she whispered. “Won’t it be marvellous! I’m afraid there isn’t time to do the study and kitchen today. But soon, my dearest, soon!”

One of the dogs bounded in and skidded to a halt at Thea’s feet, followed by Runciman who, balancing a tray in one hand, took a lunge to grab the dog by his collar.

“My lord, a cable has arrived, from America.”

“A cable?” Witney quickly took the envelope before sinking into a chair.

As he read, waves of surprise alternated with something else he couldn’t quite define. He had felt it before – it was the day he’d gone off to the St Louis Fair. As he’d stood onboard ship, the wind in his face, he’d felt an extraordinary freedom and a thrilling belief that anything was possible. He’d not felt it since . . . until now.

He looked up.

“It’s from Father,” he said slowly. “He’s taking Mother and Florence to California, and he expects they’ll be gone for another three months. ‘Will explain in due course’, it says.”

“So my darling Bert will continue to be Master of the House!” Thea exclaimed adoringly. “Now, where is Jenny?”

She bustled out of the room, leaving her husband and Runciman, who had managed to get the dog to sit.

“I wonder, my lord, do you require some evening refreshment? A sherry perhaps, or a tot of whisky?”

“I think, Runciman, that would do very well, thank you,” he said.

* * * *

The Countess of Witney and the entire staff stood together in the courtyard. The mansion loomed up in the darkness, lit only by a crescent moon and a sprinkling of stars, as Runciman had been instructed to extinguish every gas lamp and candle in the house. Runciman felt he was snuffing out something much greater. Nothing would ever be the same, and he had touched his handkerchief to his eyes before going to join the others.

Jenny shivered in the darkness, missing Emily and her family with a deep ache. Three months, and where should she send her next letter? Emily had asked her to enquire about Will, and she had. But Jenny wasn’t sure the Countess had taken in the question. She’d have to ask again, but it was difficult finding the right moment.

Everyone waited, and from over the hills came the distant chime of the church clock. One . . . two . . .

On the stroke of eight the generators roared into action and Farrington House sprang to life with a blaze of bright yellow light. Everyone gasped and then all was silent for a moment as they looked on in wonder. Lord Witney appeared and there was a burst of applause as he descended the steps.

As Runciman gazed up to the garishly illuminated windows he found himself struck with a surprising feeling of awe. Like it or not, this was a product of exploration and discovery. Farrington House had soared into the future, and he and everyone standing here was a part of it. If such a thing could happen, what else might be in store for them all?


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