Hold Fast To Your Dreams
It had been Emily’s dream for such a long time. But could she let James do this for her?
LADY FARRINGTON looked at Hugh in alarm. What had come over him? She took a breath to speak, but her daughter-inlaw suddenly stood up, bustling Malaika out of the room by the elbow.
Thea was taking charge again. How exhausting the girl was! Why, her conduct was scarcely better than those ill-behaved puppies of hers, chasing up and down the corridors of Farrington House.
Lady Farrington sighed. If only Bertrand had met some other girl – like that young woman they’d met a few weeks ago.
On the other hand, Lady Farrington mused, Thea, with her vast fortune and her dreadful racing track, was their only hope now
that they faced ruin. It was no good dwelling on regrets.
Bertrand looked from his mother to his father and uncle.
“I must talk to Thea. Please tell Runciman I won’t be having coffee.”
“Fine, Bertrand. But we’ll need to speak later on.”
Lord Farrington’s face was strained with the tension that had appeared from the moment Mrs Wiggan had told them of Jenny’s telephone call, asking for help, from the Brackenbury Hotel.
The mention of Orchard End and the Bracken family had seemed to invade the room like a menacing cloud, turning Hugh’s face to an ashen mask before it drifted over Lord Farrington.
Lady Farrington sighed. It was all very wearing, and now she had to deal with Thea’s plan of sending a rescue party to help the Callow girl. It seemed ridiculously dramatic, summoning the girl’s stepmother and whisking Mrs Wiggan off as well.
“Reginald, this won’t do. Of course I feel for the girl, but she’s nothing to do with us. I know she was once Thea’s lady’s maid, but she’s moved on, just as her sister did.
“I will never understand Emily choosing to remain in the ruins of California when Bertrand was willing to bring her back to England and the position we had kept for her. After that, do we owe either of these Callows anything?”
“Julia, we will discuss it later,” Lord Farrington said, his voice tremulous.
“What is it?” she asked fearfully.
Lord Farrington looked from his wife to Hugh, then back again.
“It’s complicated, Julia. Do you remember I told you about the dreadful chap who had tormented Hugh at school? It was Charles Bracken – the father of the man who now owns Orchard End.”
“Yes, I remember the name,” she said, feeling a guilty wave of relief.
Old wounds brought to light – it was this, then, that had caused the pale faces.
“An unfortunate coincidence,” she said, turning to Hugh. “It is painful recalling difficult times. But, of course, they were your school days, many years ago.”
“Not as long ago as that,” Hugh said, his voice heavy. “If my last sight of Bracken had been him laughing into my face after he’d held my head under the water in the swimming baths, then I’d be a different man today.
“But it wasn’t. I met up with him again – in Africa.” “How extraordinary!” “Not really,” Hugh continued. “A lot of chaps made a bee-line for the diamond mines in Kimberley.” His eyes clouded, lost in memories; then they suddenly flashed with anger.
“I’ll never forget the sight of Bracken standing there. I travel halfway across the world, and of all people, there he was, standing in front of me at some bar.
“I’d been in the mines all day and was covered in dust. Had a raging thirst, and there he was, with a cold beer in his hand.”
His bitter laugh cut the air.
“Of all the many stupid things I’ve ever done – I trusted him. ‘Heard you were here. What a lark, eh? Well, I want to make amends, old chap,’ he said. ‘I know I didn’t treat you very well – let me make it up to you.’
“How could I have believed him? The long and the short of it was that he cheated me. I had a lead, you see, and he’d somehow found out about it.
“He said he knew things, too – we could pool our knowledge and make twice the killing. And by God, we did. But he disappeared. Took the lot – an enormous cache of stones.”
Every muscle in Hugh’s face was taut.
“If it hadn’t been for my darling angel, Malaika, I swear I’d have gone mad.”
Lady Farrington was unable to think of anything to say. She could hardly bear to see her husband so distraught by the sudden appearance of Hugh.
He’d never got over Hugh abandoning and betraying him – for that was how it had felt.
Now there was the extraordinary coincidence of Charles Bracken and Orchard End, though perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising, since the school they had attended was located halfway between the two houses.
A memory drifted into her mind. It had been shortly after she and Reginald had returned from honeymoon.
The head gardener, Mr Mott, had welcomed her with a bouquet of flowers grown specially for the occasion.
A young bride, she’d been eager to build friendly but dignified relations with the servants. She’d stood there, her heart aglow with love for Reginald, breathless with excitement about her new life.
There would be parties to plan, new draperies to choose for the drawingroom, the nursery to be refurbished.
And it would all be just as she wanted.
She, the youngest of three daughters and the least clever, had somehow charmed the shy and gentle Reginald Farrington.
“Thank you, Mott,” she’d said, smiling into his face. “They’re lovely. It was very thoughtful of you.”
“I’m honoured, my lady. Very glad those blooms came on so well. The weather’s been good to us. Hope it lasts.”
“Indeed. Do you have plans for the garden this summer?”
“Yes, my lady, digging a new border along the west side. It looks like I’ll get it done sooner than expected. I was due to go fishing with my cousin, Alf Dickson. He’s head gardener at a big house called Orchard End –some miles away.”
“How nice. And when will this be?”
“Sadly, it’s all been called off, on account of the lord of the house, name of Bracken. He’d just got back from Africa – something to do with diamond mining.
“The poor man, rest his soul, suffered a stroke his second day back and died instantly.
“Lady Bracken is devastated, and Alf, well, he’s devoted to the mistress. So he can’t leave – not now.”
“Oh, I am sorry, Mott. What a disappointment for you. I hope you and your cousin can go another time.”
“Thank you kindly, my lady. Who knows what will happen now? I’m worried for Alf, and his job, you see. Lady Bracken’s been left in a state. Money seems to have disappeared. Not sure how it’s happened.
“I don’t like the sound of these diamond mines and such like – trying to make money too quick. Sow in haste, regret in leisure, I always say.”
Now the memory ended ruefully as she reflected on their own situation. It seemed Mr Mott had been right about risky ventures.
But Reginald had only done what he’d thought was right. She must remember that.
And what other choice had there been? The chance to invest in the Ocean Shore Railway had felt like a godsend.
Of course, she had never trusted Charlie Allbright. The brash New Yorker had certainly not seemed an ideal father-in-law for Bertrand.
But he’d wanted to help them, and his suggestion of Reginald pouring what they had left into the project hadn’t been foolhardy.
It had been the earthquake that had turned San Francisco to ashes and plunged the railroad into the sea. Losing their fortune was no-one’s fault.
A thought flashed through Lady Farrington’s mind.
“Hugh, did you ever wonder what Charles Bracken did with the diamonds?”
“I gather his widow struggled to keep up Orchard End after he died, and to raise their son. If Charles had brought a fist full of diamonds back to England, then he must have lost them. Or perhaps they were stolen.”
“Yes, but stolen in Africa, or here?”
“So,” she pressed, “it is possible that he brought the diamonds back to England.”
“I suppose, but as I said, there certainly is no evidence that he did.”
“Unless he put them somewhere.” Her mind was racing. “A safe deposit vault, perhaps?”
“He’d have to have gone to London – there’s one in Victoria Street,” Reginald mused, “and the newer one in Chancery Lane.”
“But Charles Bracken died the second day after returning from Africa, didn’t he?” Lady Farrington said. “He wouldn’t have had time to go off to London and investigate safe deposit vaults. Where would his ship have docked?”
“Southampton,” Hugh said. “He could have gone to London before making his way back home.”
“We could find that out, couldn’t we?” Lady Farrington argued. “There would be records of the dates ships from Africa had docked, and it would be easy to find
Old wounds had been brought to light by hearing the name Bracken
out when Charles Bracken died.” “Where is all this going, Julia?” Reginald’s voice was edged with irritation. “If Bracken had returned with a cache of diamonds, wouldn’t he have told his wife where he’d put them? It doesn’t sound like she was left with much.”
“Perhaps he was about to tell her, but for some reason he wanted, or needed, to wait for a while.
“So he put them somewhere safe. Somewhere closer than London, where he could get to them quickly and easily.”
Hugh pondered for a moment, interest beginning to light his eyes.
“Are you suggesting he hid them somewhere at Orchard End? And then, having done the deed, the wretch died before telling his wife?”
“It’s possible, isn’t it? And if they were found,” she continued, “then they belong to you, Hugh.” Reginald scoffed. “This is preposterous. If Bracken did bring them back, how could anyone ever find them? Besides, only half of them would belong to Hugh. The rest would go to the young Brackens.”
“For heaven’s sake, Reg!” Hugh exploded, his energy rekindled with anger. “The man was a cheat.”
“Even if it were only half,” Lady Farrington continued, “it would still be a fortune.”
“But it could be that something happened to the diamonds while Charles was still in Africa,” Reginald said. “Maybe he didn’t bring them back at all.”
“Reginald, don’t you think it would be a good idea to try to find out?” Lady Farrington beseeched. “At least to ask a few questions.
“To find out who last saw Charles Bracken; who might have met him on the voyage back, and who he talked to in that first crucial day after he arrived home? Aren’t you even a little curious?”
“It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Reginald said, shaking his head. “What is the point?”
Lady Farrington sighed. Feelings of hopelessness and failure were beginning to colour her husband’s every thought.
She remembered the quiet strength and confidence that had captivated her when they’d met, and the gentle authority that had won the respect of every servant who had ever been in his employ.
As the years had gone by, her love for him had grown and deepened.
Now, it was her turn to be strong. She refused to let him be beaten down. She must grab every chance there was.
“Reginald,” she said, looking intently into his eyes, “I don’t think it would be wise just to ignore this. Particularly as this haystack is now being looked after by Jenny.” She sat taller in her chair. “Upon reflection, Thea’s idea of going to help the girl is actually rather a good one. And don’t you think it would be advisable, Hugh, for you to go along as well?”
The San Francisco trolley rattled to a stop and James helped Emily on to the street.
“This is all very mysterious, James. Where are you taking me?” “You’ll see.”
He guided her along, past grim ruins of houses sitting between shiny new shop fronts.
His pace slowed and he stopped, moving her carefully towards the edge of the pavement and turning her to face a tall gabled house that sat back from the street on an elevated site.
She stared, transfixed. There was a porch blackened by fire damage, and the top step had collapsed. But the ornate columns and the lacy gingerbread trim were undamaged.
There was a turret at the right, with tall, south-facing windows that reminded Emily of a favourite picture from the precious book of fairy tales that she had grown up with.
As one of the few books that the family owned, the children had treasured it.
For a moment she was distracted, thinking of them all and wondering if Sarah had begun reading to little Joey from it.
“Well,” James said, “what do you think? Because of the damage, the family has moved out and relocated in another part of the city, as so many have done. They’re renting out the premises now.
“At the moment the left side of the house is occupied by a couple of brothers. One runs a pharmacy, and the other a barber’s shop.
“But the turret is empty. There was some damage to one of the rooms, but nothing that can’t be mended.”
She looked at him, bewildered.
“There are two rooms on the ground floor,” he went on, as if not noticing her confusion. “Neither is very large, but there’s a fair amount of space and four small rooms above it.
“It’s all very light and airy – good for sewing, and your window display would be superb.”
“My window display?” She turned to him, her eyes huge with wonder and disbelief.
“It’s yours, dear girl. That is, if you want it. Your dream shop, as well as a place to live, with room for your friend Becky and her grandmother.”
She could scarcely breathe.
“But, James, how could I ever . . .?”
“Afford it? Well, I’m going to advance you whatever you need to start with. After that it will be up to you to make ends meet.”
He assumed a look of severity, like a stern father making a point to a child.
“I don’t know what to say!”
This had been her dream for such a long time. But how could she let him do this for her?
“You’ll have to move quickly,” he added. “I’ve talked to the brothers and they’re willing to hold on for a day, but no longer.”
She found it hard to meet his eyes. Her mother and James were the only people in her life who had ever truly believed in her and urged her to reach for the stars. Of course Dad loved her, and Sarah, and her brothers and sisters.
But her mother’s love had been all-encompassing. She had loved the whole of Emily, even those parts of her that had not yet been discovered – the potential for becoming all that she could be.
In her heart she knew that James loved her, too. He’d all but asked her to marry him, that day when she’d visited him in the field hospital. But he’d also said he just wanted her to be happy, no matter what. It was a generous love.
Would she feel right, accepting so much from him, and giving him nothing in return?
But she wanted this. She imagined it all – the whirr of the machines; the hive of activity; the exquisite window display that would light up the whole street.
She could feel his eyes on her, then his strong hand reached up and brushed a wisp of hair from her face.
Lifting her chin, he gazed at her.
“Emily, I know how much you want this – and deserve it. And I also know why you’re not leaping at the chance.”
She took a breath, her heart pounding as she groped for the right thing to say.
“I want this for you,” he said softly. “All I ask in return is for you to say yes to it. Anything else that I may wish for, or dream of, is absolutely separate. Please believe that.”
He took her by the shoulders, his eyes narrowing.
“And you’re to make it a success of it, do you hear?”
Then he pulled her to him and hugged her like an old friend or a sister.
“How about sleeping on it, and you can tell me your decision tomorrow? I’ll meet you at the sewingcentre first thing in the morning.
“By the way, I didn’t give those brothers an inkling as to what sort of establishment their turret was to become. They may have been expecting a soda fountain!
“I’m not sure what they’ll make of a couturier from England. They may take some convincing.” “James . . .”
“Shh. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. Speaking of soda fountains, shall we go and find one?”
Jenny stood at the window, watching for the carriage that would take Sarah and Mrs Wiggan back to the train station at Brackenbury.
The morning sunlight dazzled through the glass, for it seemed that, only hours after they’d stepped in the door, the ladies had started scrubbing, polishing and cooking up a storm to make ready for Eleanor Bracken’s guests.
The rescue party – for that was what it had felt like to Jenny – had arrived at Orchard End four days ago, along with the extraordinary surprise of Lord Farrington’s brother and his exotic wife, who had come along and stayed for the duration at the Brackenbury Hotel, making frequent visits to Orchard End.
Jenny had been transfixed by the beautiful African woman’s regal carriage and richly embroidered clothes.
But she found Lord Hugh a puzzling man. He was charming, to be sure, but there was something about him she didn’t trust.
She was sure she’d seen him rummaging in the drawers of old Lord Farrington’s study, and Ben had mentioned seeing him walking round the grounds and trying to force open the door of the old ice house that had long been abandoned.
If only there had been more time to talk to Sarah. There was so much that Jenny had wanted to hear about, so much advice she’d wanted to ask.
But Sarah and Mrs Wiggan had come with a mission, and it had been a success. Eleanor’s weekend guests had been fed and accommodated and, peculiar a group as they had been, each had been pleased.
“Well, that’s it, then.” Mrs Wiggan’s voice rang out from the landing, and Jenny hurried up the stairs to help.
“There’s no sign of the carriage yet,” she told them, “but it’s still a little early. Here, let me take that, Mrs Wiggan.”
She took the case. “Leave your case, Sarah. Ben will carry it down.”
“I’ve hardly seen the lad.” Sarah frowned.
“I know,” Jenny said apologetically. “I’m sure he’ll come and say goodbye, though. I haven’t seen Lady Bracken yet this morning. I asked last night what time she’d like morning tea, but she said to let her sleep.”
“I’ve been inside for too long,” Mrs Wiggan remarked. “Since the carriage isn’t here yet, I’ll go out for a breath of air.”
“Shall we come with you, Mrs Wiggan?”
But Mrs Wiggan waved her hand in the air.
“No, I’ll just have a bit of peace,” she said, but Jenny well remembered what a soft heart she had, underneath the brusqueness. “You two have a little chat, and I’ll be back shortly.”
She took herself off, and Jenny smiled at Sarah.
“I’ll put the front door ajar and we’ll hear the carriage.” She led Sarah into the drawing-room, clearing away Eleanor’s cigarette holder.
“I’m so glad we have a little more time,” Sarah said, as they sank into a brocade chaise.
She gave Jenny’s hand a squeeze.
“You’ve been doing a fine job here, love,” she said.
“Oh, Sarah, do you really think so? It was so strange, finding everything in such a state, and not having any idea what was expected of us.
“I really have tried my best, but I just felt overwhelmed by the prospect of the party. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“There’s nowhere I’d rather be than helping you, sweetheart. And the Farrington House parties have always been a joint effort. Mrs Wiggan has been in her element, though she’d never admit it!”
Not trusting the Orchard End kitchen to be up to her standard, Mrs Wiggan had brought along a trunk filled with copper vessels and fluted moulds embossed on the bottom with the Farrington House crest, along with her precious notebook of recipes.
“That chap with the long beard couldn’t get enough of her beef in jelly. Where was he from, anyway?” Sarah asked.
“Russia, I think,” Jenny said. “I remember there was a lady who came to lunch at Farrington House a long time ago – she was thought to be a Russian princess. She had the same sort of accent.”
“A shame about that lady in the shiny pyjamas – the one who recited all that poetry. She wouldn’t touch the beef, or the potted pigeon.”
“She’s a vegetarian.” Sarah laughed lightly. “Even Mrs Wiggan has never had to cope with that before! All I can say is, thank heavens you swallowed that pride of yours.” Her voice softened.
“You never explained in your letters how things were here. I had a feeling that Orchard End wasn’t quite what you’d hoped for.”
“I’m just worried about Ben. He’s terribly disappointed and ashamed, though he has no reason to be. But that’s why he’s been avoiding you these past days.
“You see, Robert Bracken won’t put up the funds for Ben to do what he’d set his heart on. Ben’s working himself to the bone, trying to clear the grounds, and digging some beds.
“But when I think of the grand plans he had! It’s just terrible for him. I feel he could explode at any moment – just walk out and . . .”
“Now, we mustn’t think such things, love. We need to remember that there’s always a way round a situation, but sometimes it means adapting and changing, and thinking in a different way.
“Your dad has trouble with that. He’s never had to do it, so I think it scares him.
“I expect everyone wants the same thing in some ways – to make the most of whatever there is. But it can be jolly hard finding a way to make that work for everyone at the same time!”
Jenny sighed heavily. “Sometimes Ben gets that look in his eyes – it reminds me of when he first came to live with us.”
She looked up at Sarah, knowing she didn’t have to elaborate.
It had been nearly three years ago that Sarah had arranged for her nephew to come to live with the Callows, but it felt like a lifetime.
Ben had been headed for nothing but trouble, and his brush with the law had been devastating for his mother, Sarah’s sister.
He’d been an angry, unpleasant lad when he’d arrived, but the hard farm work with Joe, and Sarah’s strict but kind family values, had done him a world of good.
It was obvious from the start that he’d fallen instantly in love with Jenny. Sarah had feared this would be the end of him, as at first Jenny had hardly been able to bear him.
“He was a very different young man
“There’s a way around everything, but we may need to adapt”
“And you were a different girl, if I may remind you!”
It had been something of a miracle, the way Ben and Jenny had gradually come to understand each other, kindred spirits that had intertwined into a firm belief in one another.
Ben had been able to see into Jenny’s heart, and she had finally lost hers to him.
Jenny smiled, a little embarrassed to remember how difficult she’d been.
“I felt so frustrated and out of place, I suppose. Emily was good at everything, and seemed so sure of what she wanted to do at Farrington House. I wanted something special for myself, too.”
“But you were a huge success at Farrington House,” Sarah insisted. “The countess was devoted to you, and still is. And Emily couldn’t have done what she did without you. You became a team, with the designing and sewing.
“You and Ben are a wonderful team, too. Somehow, it will work out.”
Eleanor’s head ached from the moment she opened her eyes. The pillows had become hot and matted, and she turned her face from the sliver of blinding sunlight that shone through a gap in the curtains.
Thank heavens she’d told Jenny not to disturb her. The sight of that perky, smiling girl would have been too much to bear.
What a humiliating disaster it had all been. Oh, yes, her guests had enjoyed themselves – there was no question about that.
But she might as well have been invisible. She’d tried to talk to each of them, but somehow she’d been unable to think of a thing to say.
After being asked if she’d read this book or that, or been to this play or that poetry reading, and having to answer no to every question, she’d finally given up.
She remembered being taught at school that, if you couldn’t think of anything to say, then being a good listener was the best option.
But she hadn’t understood anything that was being talked about, and the long recitations and discussions had bored her.
In between, it seemed that Jenny, along with her stepmother and that formidable cook – who seemed to have appeared at the door like magic – had been as happy as larks, laughing and chatting, filled with endless energy and delight with the proceedings.
And the extraordinary couple who had swept in with them, uninvited, had stolen the whole show.
What a beauty that African woman was. And her dashing husband seemed unable to take his eyes off her, his hand round her waist as he constantly admired her and sang her praises.
How would it feel to be the object of such adoration?
Tears welled up in Eleanor’s eyes, spilling over and wetting the sheet.
Why had she done it – invited all those people she scarcely knew, and spent so much money entertaining them? She hadn’t thought how she would explain it all to Robert.
And not one of them had come in order to spend time with her. Some barely had enough money to live on, and had simply come knowing they’d be well fed.
Eleanor took a deep breath, trying to steady herself, wishing desperately for a cup of tea.
She didn’t want to get up – her head ached too much – but she also didn’t want to ring downstairs.
She eased herself upright, wrapped herself in her dressing-gown and, so as not to be heard, tiptoed barefoot to the landing.
Earlier she’d heard the ladies upstairs chattering, and Jenny was doubtless busying herself tidying up.
All seemed quiet now, and with luck, she might be able to get to the kitchen without being discovered. In any case, she had to take the chance.
Taking hold of the rail, she gingerly made her way downstairs.
Now she heard voices from the drawing-room – it sounded like Jenny and her stepmother.
She stopped, her heart pounding.
“Poor Eleanor Bracken didn’t seem to enjoy herself very much.”
Eleanor gripped the bannister, then slid slowly to a sitting position on the stair.
“Poor Eleanor Bracken.” She’d been poor Eleanor as a child, and then later on at school, when she seemed unable to achieve anything.
Poor Eleanor was who she’d always be.
“She seems, I don’t know – lost, I suppose.”
“What does she do all day?” the other voice said.
Their voices became muffled and Eleanor strained to listen. It was so painful hearing what they thought of her, and yet she couldn’t stop herself.
“I keep thinking about what you said about finding ways round problems, Sarah. Do you remember, when you arrived?
“You were talking about Dad and Ben, and how sometimes people need to think differently.” “Yes.”
“Well, this weekend, I had an idea. Sarah, I just can’t stop thinking about it!
“I think it could make everything better – for Ben, for me, and for Eleanor Bracken; for everyone, really.
“I don’t know Eleanor, but there’s something about her.”
“What’s that?” There was a silence, and Eleanor felt a single tear roll down her cheek.
“There’s something about her. She reminds me, in a way, of myself.” “Of you?”
“Yes. She seems so unsettled – like she’s searching inside herself for something. I wish I could get to know her.
“There’s something about her that I really like, even though she doesn’t think much of me.
“I wish I could help her. This idea I’ve had – oh, Sarah, I think it could change everything!”
Eleanor became aware that the pounding in her head had stopped.
She settled herself more comfortably on the stair, the fear of being discovered completely forgotten as she waited, and listened . . .
To be continued.