Hold Fast To Your Dreams

The re­turn of Hugh after so many years was cause for cel­e­bra­tion, and not a lit­tle cu­rios­ity . . .

The People's Friend - - News - by Deb­o­rah Siep­mann

THE din­ing-room at Far­ring­ton House glowed with can­dle­light, the ar­range­ments of roses and green­ery fill­ing the air with fra­grance.

When the Far­ring­tons had re­turned from San Fran­cisco they had been as aghast as Runci­man the but­ler had feared at the elec­tric light­ing that had been in­stalled in their ab­sence.

To their re­lief, the din­ing-room had been spared.

Runci­man had given an ex­tra pol­ish to the mag­nif­i­cent sil­ver cen­tre­piece used for spe­cial oc­ca­sions: a sculp­ture of the 1st Mar­quess of Far­ring­ton stand­ing on the deck of HMS Val­our.

It was more pre­cious than ever, as some paint­ings and a piece of Ori­en­tal pot­tery had been sold to raise funds for house re­pairs.

Malaika sat in the place of hon­our be­side Lord Far­ring­ton. Runci­man ap­proached the ta­ble with the fish course fanned out on a sil­ver tray.

Hugh looked up.

“By Jove, Runci­man, is that Pheas­ant of the Sea?”

“In­deed, sir. Mrs Wig­gan pre­pared the tur­bot es­pe­cially for your home­com­ing.”

Ex­cite­ment had been at fever pitch be­low stairs. All had risen ad­mirably to prepa­ra­tions for the cel­e­bra­tory din­ner – once they’d re­cov­ered from the ex­tra­or­di­nary news.

Some of the younger ser­vants had been only vaguely aware that Lord Far­ring­ton had a brother.

There had been rum­blings years ago, when one of the house­maids had found a pho­to­graph of Lord Far­ring­ton as a child, with an older boy sit­ting be­side him, both star­ing out above their frilled col­lars.

Runci­man had caught her with it, and his rep­ri­mand had been so se­vere that no-one dared whis­per about it again.

Runci­man stood be­side Malaika, the plat­ter bal­anced on his arm as he took the sil­ver fish slice in his hand.

“May I of­fer you, Madam, Lady . . .?” He fal­tered, an un­ac­cus­tomed flush ris­ing in his cheeks.

“I beg your par­don, Runci­man,” Hugh said. “My fault en­tirely. I must ex­plain my wife’s es­teemed lin­eage.”

He said a few words to Malaika in her own lan­guage. She nod­ded, low­er­ing her eyes.

“Malaika has agreed for you to know that she is the favourite daugh­ter of King Jabari Bentu. She is, in fact, a princess.”

Thea clapped her hands to her cheeks.

“A princess in the fam­ily? How thrilling!”

Lady Far­ring­ton’s eyes darted to her hus­band.

“I see,” Regi­nald Far­ring­ton said, clear­ing his throat. “Very im­pres­sive. Per­haps Runci­man, you might ad­dress his lord­ship’s wife as . . .”

“Surely it should be Your Royal High­ness!” Thea in­ter­rupted. “The King’s daugh­ters are in­tro­duced that way.”

“Ac­tu­ally, dar­ling,” Ber­trand said, “that term of ad­dress would only be used for the first in­tro­duc­tion. There­after the princess would be ad­dressed as Ma’am.”

Thea frowned and looked across at Malaika.

“You wouldn’t want Runci­man to call you that, would you?”

A smile graced Malaika’s face.

“In my coun­try, we be­lieve Onipa ne asem.”

Hugh beamed.

“It means it is the hu­man be­ing that counts. You see, a ti­tle doesn’t hold much mean­ing.”

Malaika nod­ded.

“It would be the wish of my fa­ther and mother for me to be called the name they gave to me, when honey and bit­ter herbs were placed upon my head.

“Both will be part of ev­ery per­son’s life. I hope to be wor­thy of this gift.”

Lady Far­ring­ton sensed warmth and friend­ship from her words.

“In Africa, a name is re­garded as a prom­ise,” Hugh ex­plained, “and with that come hopes and ex­pec­ta­tions. Malaika’s par­ents be­stowed upon her the bless­ings of all that her name im­plies – good­ness, love, trust and a kind of redemp­tion.

Regi­nald’s daugh­ter, Florence, sighed.

“Per­haps that’s been my trou­ble all along. ‘Florence’ doesn’t sound very in­spir­ing. How beau­ti­fully you speak, Malaika.”

“She has been an ex­em­plary pupil,” Hugh said. “Far bet­ter than I ever was. But over the years I’ve picked up a num­ber of dif­fer­ent di­alects, which is more than can be said of most of our lot over there,” he added, a hint of the old swag­ger in his tone.

“You’d be sur­prised at the com­plex­ity of the lan­guages.

“Runci­man, poor man, do serve the fish.”

“With plea­sure, sir. And if I may be so bold to sug­gest – would Lady Malaika be sat­is­fac­tory?”

“Jolly good,” Hugh said with a chuckle.

Lord Far­ring­ton gave a grate­ful nod to his but­ler, who had be­gun to look rather worn.

After the sur­prise ar­rival ear­lier that day, Runci­man had taken Mrs Wig­gan aside, guid­ing her into his pantry be­fore telling her that Mas­ter Hugh, as they’d re­mem­bered him, was not dead, but was alive and well and up­stairs with his African wife.

He’d had to give Mrs Wig­gan a tot of brandy. She’d be­come as hys­ter­i­cal with joy as she had been with sor­row all those years be­fore, when young Hugh had run away to sea.

She had al­ways been fond of him, from her first days at Far­ring­ton House when she’d started as a kitchen maid.

Hugh had been a mis­chievous lad, and Regi­nald had of­ten taken the rap for some of his brother’s pranks.

Their fa­ther had been wise to this, and Regi­nald had won his fa­ther’s re­spect and trust.

But it had been Hugh, with his rak­ish charm and star­tlingly blue eyes, who had been the ap­ple of his mother’s eye.

Soon after Hugh’s de­par­ture she had taken ill and died from shock and grief, as did her hus­band three years later, in his case from anger.

He had gone into such a de­cline; so fu­ri­ous with Hugh, who he’d been sure had caused his beloved wife’s death, that he’d been un­able to func­tion.

Regi­nald was sum­moned home from board­ing school. As he watched his fa­ther crum­ble he was filled with trep­i­da­tion, for he saw the writ­ing on the wall.

Regi­nald waited and waited, cer­tain his beloved brother would re­turn. But fi­nally it was clear that he must be­come the mas­ter of the house.

It had been Runci­man, a young man him­self who was just start­ing out in his ca­reer, who had told Regi­nald what his du­ties would be when the time came, and who had ex­plained, with the ju­di­cious tact of a diplo­mat, the way his fa­ther liked things to be done.

“Isn’t it won­der­ful that Hugh and Malaika will be here for the grand open­ing of my races?” Thea beamed. “Hugh, do they have mo­tor cars in Africa? I can’t imag­ine they do, with those ele­phants to ride on!”

“Did you go on sa­fari, Hugh?” Ber­trand added. “You haven’t told us much about what you did over there. It’s a mys­tery.”

Lord Far­ring­ton had been star­ing at his plate, but now he looked up, his eyes dark with in­ten­sity as he looked at his brother.

“That’s a long story,” Hugh said, run­ning a hand through the shock of hair that had fallen char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally across his fore­head.

His eyes darted to Runci­man, who had cleared away the main course and was re­ceiv­ing a plat­ter from one of the kitchen maids.

“I say, is that the pud­ding? I must pay a visit be­low stairs to dear Mrs Wig­gan. Cap­i­tal job she’s done.

“Malaika, my an­gel,” he con­tin­ued, “you must try this. But not too much, Runci­man. She is not ac­cus­tomed to such rich­ness; nor, for that mat­ter, am I.

“Tell me more, Thea, about this grand open­ing of yours.”

Thea chat­tered about her plans, and at last it was time for the ladies to re­treat, leav­ing the men to their port.

Ber­trand tact­fully rose with them.

“I’m afraid I have work to do. Would you ex­cuse me?”

“Of course, Ber­trand,” Lord Far­ring­ton said, grat­i­tude in his tone.

The broth­ers sat silently in the can­dle glow till, at last, Regi­nald spoke.

It had fallen on Regi­nald to be the mas­ter of the house

“I know you, Hughie. What are you hid­ing? And how could you have gone off like that? Did you get my let­ters? I never heard a word – not even when Mother died, and then Fa­ther.

“I thought you were –” His voice broke.

Hugh shook his head. “It’s the same old story. I failed. And you have suc­ceeded. You kept it all go­ing, just as Fa­ther would have.”

“It’s not what it seems. We have our trou­bles.”

“What might those be?” Hugh chuck­led. “Flir­ta­tious foot­men be­low stairs?” Regi­nald was silent. “I’m sorry, Reg. I do owe you an ex­pla­na­tion. I had a plan, you see. I was fed up and had botched it at school. Just couldn’t set­tle, couldn’t work.”

“But you were al­ways the clever one, Hughie! You could have passed those ex­ams any day – you hardly needed to open a book.”

“I couldn’t con­cen­trate. I thought I’d go mad if I had to stay an­other day at school. Home sti­fled me.

“Mother thought I’d con­quer the world, and Fa­ther thought I was good for noth­ing.” Hugh shrugged.

“You, well, I could see it all be­fore you – suc­cess, se­cu­rity. It was harder be­cause you were so blasted good to me. You al­ways seemed the older brother.”

“I loved you, Hughie. I ad­mired you – and en­vied you. You were like a comet, daz­zling every­one with­out hav­ing to try. You con­founded the masters – you wouldn’t do what they wanted, but they ad­mired you even so.

“I knew I could never mea­sure up, so I lost my­self in school work. And now, the hero re­turns, with a beauty in tow. She’s mag­nif­i­cent, your Malaika. Is she re­ally a princess?”

“Yes, and it’s a mir­a­cle that she’s my wife. I was do­ing some trad­ing with her fa­ther – I was quite good at the lan­guage by then – and Malaika and I fell in love.

“How­ever, as I was an out­sider, it would have been im­pos­si­ble for me to marry her.

“Then, one night, she was kid­napped by a ri­val tribe. I man­aged to save her, and nearly lost my life do­ing it. Her fa­ther was so over­come with grat­i­tude that he blessed our union.”

Hugh stared into the can­dle­light.

“As for the hero re­turn­ing, that had been my plan once – after I made a for­tune in di­a­mond min­ing. But, as I said, I failed, al­though, to be fair, I was cheated. It’s a long story.”

“We’re more alike than you think,” Regi­nald said re­signedly. “I, too, have lost a for­tune – or what was left of it. Down the drain – or rather the sea. The Pa­cific, to be ex­act.”

“What are you talk­ing about?” Hugh stared.

“It seems I will be forced to . . .” He stopped. “We’ll save that for an­other evening. For the mo­ment, I’m im­mensely glad to see you, Hughie.

“I’m glad to be here as well. Nearly got crushed, you see, in the great earth­quake. Did you hear about San Fran­cisco?”

“You were in Cal­i­for­nia? Why?”

“It’s not un­like the story you told me. Any­way, it seems we’re both get­ting a sec­ond chance. For now – fancy a lit­tle cricket? Re­mem­ber how we used to play un­til it was too dark to see the ball?”

“How could I for­get. You’re in for a york­ing, of course.”

“I know.”

Emily stepped off the sleek elec­tric street­car and made her way along the freshly laid cob­bles of the wide street.

Down­town San Fran­cisco was alive with the spirit of re­nais­sance. Painted doors and bright awnings of shops and restau­rants sat be­tween grim ru­ins strewn with pieces of cable car track, warped by the fires that had raged through the city only months be­fore.

It felt a life­time ago that she and the Far­ring­tons had first ar­rived. They had rid­den through the streets in a horse-drawn car­riage, and Emily had seen the cable cars rat­tling and clang-clang­ing up the steep hills.

Now, the speedy new street­cars out­num­bered them.

As she reached the cor­ner she could see the café where she was to meet James.

A wave of guilt and con­fu­sion coursed through her. Why had she agreed to meet him after all this time? They had been ex­chang­ing let­ters for months – why hadn’t she just left it at that?

The last time she’d seen him, he’d been re­cu­per­at­ing in a tent at the field hospi­tal.

It was typ­i­cal of him, a ded­i­cated doc­tor, that as a re­sult of his try­ing to help the poverty-stricken Chi­nese, he had caught the ter­ri­ble dis­ease that had swept through the dev­as­ta­tion of Chi­na­town in the weeks after the earth­quake.

But the ex­pe­ri­ence had made him more de­ter­mined to work for the com­mon good.

“My dear Emily, I’ve seen such en­ergy and spirit here,” James had said. “I feel frus­trated, be­cause I want to be in the thick of it, help­ing the re­lief ef­fort.

“But I will re­cover, and so will the city. It will be­come more beau­ti­ful than ever.”

She’d seen the ten­der­ness in his eyes that day as he’d looked at her.

“My great­est hope is for us to help make this hap­pen to­gether, Emily. But it would be wrong for me to ask you to make a com­mit­ment so soon.

“You must reach deep within your­self and choose the path that feels right.”

Emily’s heart had been torn in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. James had given her so much. He’d opened up a world of cul­ture, and given her wings to soar.

And she’d used those wings to fly away from him, away from Will, away from her fam­ily.

Now she was alone and needed help. How could she be so self­ish – so weak?

She must get a mes­sage to him to apol­o­gise and ex­plain that she had made a mis­take in agree­ing to meet with him.

But sud­denly, there he was, stand­ing in front of her, the bright sun­shine glint­ing off the tinges of grey that had ap­peared in his dark hair. “Emily.”

He was still thin from the ill­ness, a lit­tle hag­gard, but his eyes were as bright as ever. He reached for her hand, and as he drew it gen­tly to his lips she felt tears prick the back of her eyes.

He’d seen into her feel­ings in the un­canny way he had from the first time they’d met, the day he’d come to at­tend to Florence’s in­fluenza not long after the fam­ily had ar­rived in San Fran­cisco.

“We have a lot to catch up on.”

He took her arm and led her down the street and through a door­way.

“Dot­tore Camp­bell! And Sig­no­rina.” The swarthy pro­pri­etor bowed his head with great cer­e­mony and Emily found her­self smil­ing in spite of her turmoil.

“Sig­nor Ber­tolli,” James said, “I don’t be­lieve Miss Cal­low has ever had Ital­ian cof­fee.”

“Ah! Leave this with me,

Dot­tore,” he said, show­ing them to a ta­ble, “I will pre­pare my caffe spe­ciale!

And we are am­ici for long time, no? Call me Lu­ciano.”

Emily smiled. James was well-liked and re­spected amongst every­one, from the destitute Chi­nese to the aris­toc­racy who had

Could Emily re­ally take ad­van­tage of James’s feel­ings for her?

danced at the Palace Ho­tel the night be­fore the earth­quake.

She found her voice at last.

“It’s won­der­ful to see you look­ing so well, James. But I . . .” She looked into his eyes and felt her throat catch once more.

“Why do you apol­o­gise?” he asked gen­tly. “I’m de­lighted you agreed to come after all this time. See­ing you is won­der­ful.

“You look tired, though. You’ve been work­ing much harder than you’ve im­plied.”

Emily found her­self pour­ing out her prob­lems at the sew­ing cen­tre, while sip­ping the de­li­cious cof­fee with its cloud of cream.

“You’re do­ing a re­mark­able thing, Emily, and you should feel proud of your­self. Don’t waste your en­ergy over those women who seem to be against you. Keep your eye on your ul­ti­mate goal.”

“Per­haps that’s the prob­lem. I’m not sure what will hap­pen with the cen­tre. Soon we’ll be forced to leave the camp, and I guess we’ll go our sep­a­rate ways.”

“Is that what you’d like to hap­pen?”

She bit her lip, un­sure. “You’re kind to talk about this with me, James.”

“Kind­ness has noth­ing to do with it, as you know.”

Con­science pricked again, but he stopped her.

“The first thing is prac­ti­cal­ity. You need some­where to live, and so does your friend Becky. And you need a place to pur­sue your sew­ing and de­sign­ing, if that’s still your dream.”

Emily smiled. “You’re the only per­son who knows about that dream, James. I’ve been afraid to tell any­one else – even Sarah and Jenny. I’d for­got­ten about it re­cently – I’ve just been try­ing to keep go­ing.”

“Never set­tle for less than your dreams, Emily. It’s time for you to look ahead, to your fu­ture and all it can be.”

The fond­ness she’d al­ways felt for him washed over her. There were so many tugs at her heart – from home, from Will and from her own de­ter­mi­na­tion to suc­ceed. Could she do that com­pletely on her own?

At the same time, could she ac­cept help from this won­der­ful man, know­ing that he loved her?

“It makes sense to think big in terms of premises,” he went on. “You’ll need space for the women to join you, should you want to con­tinue the sew­ing cen­tre.

“Or, if you de­cide to go into busi­ness for your­self, you’ll need to em­ploy help. Be­cause you will be very suc­cess­ful.”

“James, it sounds like a mir­a­cle, but I can­not pos­si­bly . . .”

He held up his hand. “I never want to hear ‘can­not’ again.”

Some­thing seemed to be re­leased in­side her. Would it be so wrong to let this man lift some of the weight of worry and re­spon­si­bil­ity from her shoul­ders? Or would it be tak­ing ad­van­tage of his feel­ings for her?

Did she love him, or was she swept away by the ex­cit­ing fu­ture he painted for her?

James laid a dol­lar bill on the ta­ble, then ush­ered her out on to the sun­lit street.

“I have some­thing to show you.”

She felt the strength of his hand on her waist as he helped her on to a street­car.

“You’re sug­gest­ing I plough over the fields and plant straw­ber­ries? I’m not a green­gro­cer! I’ve been a farmer all my life, and that’s what I’m go­ing to stay.”

“Joe, sit down,” Sarah said, try­ing to keep calm. “Not all the fields, but we need to think in new ways.

“It’s com­mon knowl­edge there’s trou­ble at the Big House. Every­one is talk­ing about the wheat crop, and how Amer­i­can im­ports are tak­ing over.

“Be­sides, you’ve said your­self your knees are giv­ing out, even with the trac­tor.”

“I’ll work the way I’ve al­ways done un­til I drop.”

“Joe, ev­ery­body knows Lord Far­ring­ton will be mak­ing changes, but we don’t know what they are.

“The count­ess has been good to us, and if I could talk to her and find out what’s what, and tell her what I’ve been think­ing –”

“You women are go­ing to make the de­ci­sions, are you? Get it all sorted and give me or­ders?”

“No­body’s giv­ing you or­ders!” Sarah said, ex­as­per­ated. “Joseph Cal­low, you’re so stub­born.

“The world is chang­ing all around us. If we don’t bend and change with it, well, then . . .” She drifted off, not want­ing to fin­ish her sen­tence.

“How is grow­ing straw­ber­ries go­ing to save us, Sarah? Do you think all that will be eas­ier on me?

“First of all, we’d need help – a lot of it. And it would have to be done be­fore the first frost to have any hope of a June har­vest.”

“As I say, I need to speak to the count­ess. But here’s what I think.” Sarah perched her­self across from Joe. “You know Mrs Thacket? Well, she has a cousin who’s in ser­vice, and the mas­ter has opened the house up to vis­i­tors, just the way the Far­ring­tons are do­ing with the count­ess’s rac­ing track.

“There’s noth­ing spe­cial like that at this other place – just the house and gar­den. But gen­try seem to like walk­ing around and go­ing for pic­nics in the grounds – straw­berry cream teas and big lun­cheons in those fine bas­kets. It’s be­come fash­ion­able.”

She leaned for­ward. “Some of the tenant farm­ers are grow­ing berries now, for the teas and for folk who visit the houses. They’re selling them in some of the big mar­kets, too. There’s quite a de­mand.”

“You can’t grow straw­ber­ries year round!”

“You could grow daf­fodils in the spring for those gar­den mar­kets, and for selling at Far­ring­ton House. For the rest of the year you can grow other things – maybe wheat, just for an­i­mal feed. That kind of farm­ing wouldn’t be quite so hard on you, Joe.

“I don’t want you to work un­til you drop. What kind of life is that? And you’ve told me a hun­dred times you won’t have me work­ing at the glove fac­tory in town.”

“I won’t.”

“That’s where the pic­nics come in. You can bet the count­ess is go­ing to have lots of those mo­tor races, hav­ing gone to so much trou­ble hav­ing the track built.

“Imag­ine if the vis­i­tors could buy a pic­nic, all ready in a bas­ket, to eat after the races! But Mrs Wig­gan couldn’t pos­si­bly pre­pare for a crowd when she’s got the fam­ily and their per­sonal guests to cook for, and Lord Far­ring­ton won’t hire more staff when he plan­ning to do just the op­po­site. So . . .”

“So what?”

“I could of­fer to help Mrs Wig­gan, and so could Beth! I’ve packed a fine pic­nic in my day, and there’s no rea­son we’d be un­wel­come in that kitchen.

“The whole thing would take some book-keep­ing to keep the money straight. Our Johnny’s get­ting on so well with his sums that I ex­pect he’d be proud to take on that job.

“Once we’ve shown Lord Far­ring­ton how use­ful we can be, why, he wouldn’t dream of turn­ing us out.

“I’m sure the count­ess would be keen. That lady is fond of you, Joe. Re­mem­ber the day she first came to the cot­tage?”

None of them would ever for­get the day the count­ess had called on them.

By the time she had fin­ished a cup of Sarah’s tea and brack, Joseph had been paid for two pup­pies who would have had to be put to a wa­tery end and Jenny had been em­ployed at Far­ring­ton House as the count­ess’s lady’s maid.

Lit­tle Beth was over­joyed for the two pups, as well as be­ing al­lowed to keep the third.

For weeks af­ter­wards, Sarah

had shaken her head in won­der, re­mem­ber­ing the look of ad­mi­ra­tion that had been on the lady’s face as she’d greeted Joe.

“You have the most divine fam­ily, Mr Cal­low. You must be very proud. Do you know, it seems that ev­ery­thing I’ve ever re­ally wanted is right here in this happy lit­tle home.”

“Let me write to her, Joe,” Sarah said now.

He leaned back in his chair and stretched his weary knees.

“I’m go­ing to be a laugh­ing stock.”

“Non­sense. Every­one will ad­mire you, as I al­ways have, and al­ways will. I love ev­ery ob­sti­nate bone in your body.”

He took a long breath. “Even the creaky ones?” “Those most of all.”

Jenny whisked off the sheet that en­shrouded a dress­ing-ta­ble, send­ing up show­ers of dust which swirled in the morn­ing sun­light.

Cough­ing, she hur­ried to the win­dow and tried to pull up the sash, but it was stuck fast. She pulled and rat­tled the win­dow frame, and with an­other im­mense ef­fort it jerked free.

She opened it wide, let­ting in the wel­come breeze, then turned and looked around the bed­room, try­ing to as­sess how much there was to do.

She’d de­cided to start with the small­est guest room, which would ac­com­mo­date one of the group of vis­i­tors that Eleanor Bracken had air­ily told her would be ar­riv­ing in four days’ time.

“Or is it three? I can’t re­mem­ber. One of them is a veg­e­tar­ian – isn’t that ex­tra­or­di­nary? And,” she added dra­mat­i­cally, “an­other is Rus­sian!”

“Lady Bracken, I need to know ex­actly when they’ll be ar­riv­ing!”

“Of course. But you needn’t cook any­thing spe­cial. These peo­ple live for more than meals. You wouldn’t be­lieve the con­ver­sa­tions they have! Not that I un­der­stand much of it.”

“May I ask when Lord Bracken will be re­turn­ing?”

“Not for an­other week or so. He has work to do in town, he says. So there won’t be many of us for you to look after – about six, I think. Now, I have to go back to Lon­don on the late train, but I’ll re­turn in a cou­ple of days be­fore they all ar­rive.”

“Lady Bracken!”

But she’d al­ready left. That had been yes­ter­day af­ter­noon. Last night Jenny had longed to spill it out to Ben, but he’d been so dis­con­so­late about the gar­den she hadn’t dared.

The sunny morn­ing had done noth­ing to lift his spir­its.

“‘Just tidy it up a bit,’ he says,” Ben had scoffed, slap­ping his ra­zor against the strop with un­nec­es­sary force. “What’s the point of us be­ing here, Jenny? I was bet­ter off at Far­ring­ton House. At least Mr Mott re­spected me.”

Jenny had touched his arm sooth­ingly.

“Things could change, Ben. Lord Bracken might de­cide he wants to make some­thing of the gar­den, after all.”

“You think that’s likely? We should never have come. And we can’t go crawl­ing back now. I’d be so hu­mil­i­ated, hav­ing been hired as head gar­dener.”

Jenny had tried to think of a way to counter what he’d said, but she was en­gulfed in her own wor­ries.

“Which part of the gar­den are you go­ing to work on to­day?” she’d asked, try­ing to lighten the mo­ment.

“I don’t know. It’s all so over­grown, clear­ing it will only leave empty space.”

“Maybe that will en­cour­age Lord Bracken to take your ad­vice.”

“He’ll never do that. Can’t you un­der­stand?” he’d ex­ploded, and Jenny had felt tears welling up.

“I’m just try­ing to help you feel bet­ter about it, Ben. I’m not hav­ing the jol­liest time my­self. I have four bed­rooms to clean and make ready for Eleanor Bracken’s guests.

“I have to think what to cook for them, and or­der the food, and . . .”

“We’ve both made a big mis­take!” Ben had stormed out of the house.

Now she sank down on to the saggy guest bed, tears stream­ing down her cheeks. There was dust­ing and scrub­bing to be done, rugs to beat, beds to make.

Where was the linen kept? She hoped it was clean.

And that was only the be­gin­ning, with de­ci­sions to make about meals, and all the cook­ing. She hadn’t the faintest idea how to go about any of it.

Ben was al­ready fu­ri­ous, and it seemed both of them were fairly ex­pend­able as far as the Brack­ens were con­cerned.

What would be­come of them?

Jenny closed her eyes, try­ing to still her mud­dled thoughts.

And then, out of her an­guish, it felt as if a mys­te­ri­ous gift had sud­denly been be­stowed from the blue, as a plan be­gan to take shape in her mind.

Runci­man waited ner­vously at the door of the draw­ing-room as Mrs Wig­gan stood be­fore the whole fam­ily.

“I beg your par­don, my lady, my lord. I know this is very ir­reg­u­lar –”

“What is it, Mrs Wig­gan?” Lady Far­ring­ton asked im­pa­tiently.

“My lady, it’s Jenny, Jenny Cal­low. She’s ever so upset. She tele­phoned, you see, from Or­chard End – or rather from the town. There isn’t a tele­phone at the house, so she’d walked all the way to the ho­tel.”

“Jenny tele­phoned?” Thea was alarmed. “What­ever has hap­pened? Is she all right?”

“Well, my lady, it seems she’s des­per­ate for help. From me and from her step­mother.“

“Oh, that dear girl!” Thea said fran­ti­cally. “What is the name of this ho­tel?”

“The Brack­en­bury, my lady. Jenny is still there – she said she’d wait, in case Mr Runci­man might tele­phone her back.”

Thea leaped from her chair.

“I shall tele­phone her at once. Runci­man, please tell Perkins to go to the cot­tage and fetch Mrs Cal­low in the car­riage, and bring her here.

“He mustn’t alarm her – tell him to ex­plain that I need to see her on a mat­ter of im­por­tance.

“How I wish dar­ling Jenny and Ben had never gone to Or­chard End! I must say, I didn’t like the look of those Brack­ens when they sud­denly ap­peared at the wed­ding.

“Mrs Wig­gan,” Thea went on, “you and Sarah and I should go to Or­chard End just as soon as pos­si­ble.

“And I have had a lovely idea! Malaika, per­haps you’d like to come along as well?”

Lady Far­ring­ton looked from the de­part­ing Thea to Mrs Wig­gan.

But Lord Far­ring­ton’s eyes were on his brother, who sat be­side Malaika, his face a ghostly white.

“Did she say Bracken?” Hugh’s breath­ing had quick­ened. “From Or­chard End?”

“Of course!” Regi­nald said slowly, look­ing at his brother. “I hadn’t grasped the con­nec­tion be­fore, though the name sounded fa­mil­iar.

“Surely Robert Bracken must be the son of Charles, that ar­ro­gant, un­pleas­ant boy who was sev­eral years above you at board­ing school? I re­mem­ber the fear that gripped you at the end of the Christ­mas hol­i­day when it was time to go back to school.”

But Hugh sat star­ing at noth­ing, his stony ex­pres­sion un­read­able.

As Jenny wept, over­whelmed by her du­ties, an idea formed

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