SERIAL Hold Fast To Your Dreams by Deborah Siepmann
So much had happened in the space of a year, and the future was bright and promising . . .
ROBERT BRACKEN stared into the shamble of splintered wood, and then to the frameless painting. “What the devil?” “Lord Bracken, please let me explain,” Lady Farrington said. “I take full responsibility for this. I had been convinced that . . .”
She stopped, overcome with her folly and the prospect of explaining it. “I am most awfully sorry.” “You’d better tell me what this is about,” he said in measured tones.
The evening sun filled the room, lighting up the painting that had been set on to the mantel after Lady Farrington, Hugh and Malaika departed.
Robert had been sitting in shocked silence as he stared at it. Eleanor moved closer to him on the settee, reaching for his hand.
“It is the most extraordinary story. Do you believe it’s true, Robert?” He exhaled slowly. “There’s no way of knowing for certain what happened. But it’s more than possible that my father cheated Hugh Farrington.”
“Imagine if there really are diamonds hidden somewhere!”
He shrugged. “More likely my father gambled them away.”
His gaze dropped to the floor.
“Robert, please look at me. I can’t bear it when you’re distant.”
“Today I found out that my father was almost certainly a cheat and a thief, Eleanor! The fact is, I didn’t know him. He didn’t have much time for me – he was always involved in some business scheme.
“Then he went off to Africa. When he came back, he behaved strangely – buoyed up one minute, irritated the next. I don’t think Mother knew where she was with him. I certainly didn’t. But I never thought –” His voice fell. “What?”
“That I’d be forced to feel truly ashamed of him.”
“Oh, Robert.” She reached to him. “Whatever your father did, he must have done good things in his life, too, otherwise your mother wouldn’t have married him.
“Perhaps he was just weak. He wanted to make good and couldn’t, and became desperate. It doesn’t excuse what he did – if he did it – but underneath he must have cared about your well-being.
“And you, Robert, have come through difficult times and you’ve succeeded. You have much to feel proud of in yourself.”
“What have I ever done?”
“For one thing, you’ve made a success of your work.”
“I wouldn’t have the job if it weren’t for you and your father.”
“It doesn’t matter how you got the job. You’ve done well in it. More importantly, you’re a good, kind, honest man. And when you’re not full of worry, you’re also tremendous fun!” He grunted. “There’s something else, Robert Bracken,” she said tenderly. “I love you.”
She stroked his hair out of his eyes.
“So, here we are,” she continued, “with this house, handed to us on a platter. I know I’ve complained about being here, but you know I’ve always been stubborn.”
“I can understand your feelings,” he said disconsolately. “You were landed with something you never wanted.”
“But I couldn’t see the nose in front of my face until now. I think your mother knew we’d fall in love with Orchard End, and that’s why she made that stipulation in her will – to ensure we stayed here long enough for it to happen.
“Robert, could we make a fresh start here? Sell the London house and make this our very own home?”
He stared at her in disbelief and she laughed.
“That’s the way you looked when you first saw me with my hair bobbed!” He smiled.
“You’ve always been a bundle of surprises.”
“Let me tell you what I’ve been discussing with Jenny, and then you must talk to Ben. We don’t have much time – there’s so much to do and I must show you these fabric samples!”
Emily stood in the middle of the room, the walls glowing softly in the hazy morning light.
For the past week, the heavy cream curtain pulled across the wide window had shrouded the room from passers-by as she, Becky and Miriam had toiled away, stitching and pinning, attaching trimming to dresses and braiding to coats, making displays and putting the final touches on all that would be unveiled on opening morning.
The window decoration, last to take shape, now stood behind the curtain as the clock ticked, the hands making their way ever closer to half past nine.
Her head ached, for they had worked through the night to be ready for the grand opening.
Finally, with the sewing machine and work tables shut away in the utility room, and the room swept clean, Emily had sent the two of them upstairs for an hour of sleep.
Knowing she would be unable to drift off even for a few minutes, she had freshened up, changed her clothes and come downstairs again.
Now she gazed at the graceful dresses, blouses and smart skirts which hung on rails and hooks round the room.
She had designed them all, but now forgot which ones she’d stitched together and which had been delegated to Becky and Miriam.
Her eyes drifted to the pedestal desk in the corner on which a leather order book sat, its empty pages ready and waiting.
She took a deep breath, mustering every shred of confidence that she could.
The voices of the two brothers, one a barber and one a pharmacist, who had reluctantly let the rooms to her, echoed threateningly in her head.
“A dress shop?” They’d looked appalled.
James had stood silently by Emily’s side, but she had held her ground.
“Presumably some of the men you attend to have wives who need to shop. And I believe both men and women bring their custom to your pharmacy?”
“There are plenty of other places that sell clothes.”
“The garments in my shop will be exclusive designs,” she said, feeling her blood rising. “They won’t be copies of garments I made for my past customers.
“After all, the Countess of Witney and Lady Florence Farrington would not be pleased to hear that the dresses they wore for dining with the King of England had been replicated. Would you require references?” “Uh, references?” “Letters of recommendation.”
“Um, no, we want things up and running right away. Open your shop in two weeks, and if things are looking good after two more you can stay.”
“The rooms need painting,” Emily argued. “I will open in three weeks.”
“There’d better be plenty of business, or you’re out.”
How long had she dreamed of this – worked for it – but dared not to believe it could ever happen?
In a matter of minutes, she would pull aside the curtain, unlock the door, and Emily’s dream would be a reality.
She saw in her mind’s eye all the people who were so precious to her, and who in different ways had helped her on her journey to this moment. Her eyes filled with tears, remembering her mother’s voice.
“Promise me, dear Emily, that you will look after your brother and sisters the best you can. Never forget you have something special, my darling girl, something that glows inside you.
“I hope, one day, you are given a chance.”
Emily had tried her best at home for all those years, yet she’d felt the tug of wanting to create something for herself. Was it possible to throw herself into one without giving up the other?
Sarah, out of her generosity and wisdom, and Dad, through his love and wish for her happiness, had both understood.
What about Jenny? With an aching heart she thought of her sister, always so beautiful and so tempestuous when she was growing up.
Being younger, she’d been deprived of their mother from much earlier.
But Jenny had been the one to find love and marry. One day she would have children of her own, and would pour her talents and creativity into raising them.
Emily felt a stab of envy and longing. At odds with one another from time to time, yet they had found such closeness when they’d worked together at Farrington House.
When had their letters become fewer and farther between?
Tears ran down Emily’s cheeks. She missed her. If only Jenny could have been part of this; if only she were here right now.
She heard footsteps on the staircase and quickly wiped away her tears. “Emily! It’s nearly time!” “I can hardly believe it!” She turned to the excited faces of Becky and Miriam.
“There’s one minute left!” Becky cried.
Emily looked nervously to the curtained window.
“You should be the one to open it,” Miriam urged.
“I wonder if we’ll have any customers today?” Becky bit her lip.
“It’s bound to take time,” Miriam said sagely.
The clock reached the half hour. Emily walked to the window, and began pulling aside the curtain.
As she did so, she gave a gasp. There, on the other side of the glass, were more than a dozen women, some with children in tow. All were gazing with fascination and delight at the window display.
With the inside of the shop now in full view, more passers-by stopped to see what the commotion was about, and to marvel.
Becky, who as a child had always preferred building things with her brothers than playing with dolls, had constructed and painted a backdrop of buildings out of food crates and off-cuts of wood.
Set at either side of the window, they were an inspiring reminder that San Francisco had risen from the ashes of the earthquake with astonishing speed.
Garlands of leaves that Emily had cut from silk in vibrant shades of autumn drifted from
the window frame as a harbinger of the season to come.
Dressed in her russet walking suit and feathered hat, the mannequin Mrs Tom Cobley stood beside a small pram Miriam had borrowed, and over the hood were draped a child’s dress and pinafore and a boy’s pair of knickerbockers and jacket.
Miriam unlocked the door, and immediately there was a ding as it opened and several women stepped inside.
“At last! My sister and I are looking for something to wear for a wedding.”
Behind her, another woman stammered shyly.
“I shouldn’t have come in – but it all looks so beautiful. I need something simple, but I don’t know how much you charge.”
“I’m sure we can find something to suit your budget.” Emily smiled. “Why don’t we have a chat?”
“I declare the Farrington Motor Races open!” Lord Farrington snipped the blue ribbon and as it fluttered on to the racing track there was a cheer from the crowd that had been gathering from early in the day.
“Well done!” Bertrand beamed, putting a hand on his father’s shoulder.
“How thrilling!” Thea exclaimed. “Isn’t your grandfather simply divine!”
Yet again she lifted her sleeping baby out of the pram, to the disapproval of Lady Farrington. “Thea, he needs to sleep.” “And miss all the fun? But don’t you ever become a racing driver, my precious,” she whispered, nestling the baby’s soft head against her cheek. “Why, Viscount Bertie Charles Reginald Farrington, I believe you’ll be Prime Minister one day.”
Lady Farrington sighed, knowing it was no use expecting her daughter-inlaw to behave as a sensible mother would.
The very idea of bringing such a tiny baby outdoors, amidst all the noise and commotion, was shocking.
But her heart melted at the sight of her little grandson, and once again she said a silent prayer of thanks for the skill and country wisdom of Sarah Callow who had, with the help of Mrs Wiggan, safely brought the new gift of life into the world.
Little Bertie had lifted their hearts, and joy had rendered all else trivial.
Somehow, with the help of Thea’s fortune, and cutting back in whatever way they could – apart from letting the servants go – they would keep afloat. If Farrington House resembled a fun fair, then so be it.
“Reginald, that was splendid,” she said, looking into his eyes.
He smiled resignedly. “I’m glad it’s all off to a promising start. We’re lucky with the weather.”
“We’re lucky with more than that,” she whispered. “I feel so proud to be your wife. You have always been so strong, and such an example of dignity.
“Nothing has made you waver from that. I’m sorry to have embarrassed you.”
“You haven’t, Julia. You’ve always been a fighter – and a survivor. Even through the earthquake, and losing our last hope with that investment, you’ve always been strong, and stood by me. I’m a lucky man.
“But things will be hard, my darling, even with Thea’s fortune and the revenue from this bit of nonsense.” “It doesn’t matter.” They stood together, unaware of the excited crowd around them as the competitors and their mechanics began to push the cars on to the track, ready to be cranked up.
The golden autumn sun gleamed down on the awnings of the tea tent and candy-floss stalls. Mrs Wiggan and Sarah were working at fever pitch, packing picnics into the dozens of luncheon baskets which Runciman had managed to hire from suppliers in the area.
Beyond the racing track, the arc of the great wheel gleamed like a silver rainbow against the blue sky, the gondolas swinging, beckoning the fearless.
Thea looked anxiously up and down the line of cars.
“There he is! But where is his dad? Bertrand, you must find him!”
She hadn’t forgotten what she’d told Davey Callow, all those months ago at Jenny and Ben’s wedding, though at the time neither of them had dreamed that the promised drive in her motor car would be as a racer. “Davey!” she called. He looked up, scanning the crowd. Spying her, he gave the car a final push to the starting line, and ran over to see her.
“Why, even Mr Van Zyl never looked so dashing!” she exclaimed. “Thank heavens you said yes to taking his place.”
“I hope I’ll do well, my lady. I’m very honoured.”
“You’ll do splendidly. Why, I could see you’re a natural when you first tried her out.
“Remember what I told you: take the curves in three stages; turn in, feel the apex, and then out. Each curve is different – let it tell you when to brake.”
“Davey!” Joe pushed through the crowd. “Dad! I didn’t think –” “Didn’t think what? Bless me, just look at you. You’d better get a move on – isn’t it all about to start? Good luck, my boy!”
Davey grinned and left. Joe shook his head. “Seems like yesterday I was putting that lad up on a horse for the first time.”
“You must be very proud of him, Mr Callow,” Thea said. “I hope Bert and I do as well with our little one.”
The competitors pulled their helmets and goggles into place. Lady Farrington watched them, a grin lighting her face, and she looked up at her husband.
“They look as if they’re in fancy dress, with those goggle masks. What with one thing and the other, it seems that Farrington House is in fancy dress today as well!”
Lord Farrington cocked his head to one side.
“It seems up to the job, doesn’t it? It’s a good, strong place. If it can hold its own with a racing track, a big wheel, and candy floss, it will survive anything.”
He gazed across his domain, a look of pride and serenity spreading over his face.
“Speaking of that big wheel,” he said, taking her hand, “later on, may I tempt you to join me in a ride?”
Eleanor and Robert said goodbye to the last of the village guests who had flocked to Orchard End for what would long be remembered as the most festive occasion the people of Brackenbury had known.
Although hints of yellow and crimson had begun to flicker amidst the greenery, and the apples had reddened in the orchard, the days were still balmy.
Guests had lingered in the late afternoon sunlight, finishing the last of the sandwiches and cake and taking one last stroll round the garden, commenting on the surroundings.
“Such glorious borders! And I love the way it all seems to be divided into little rooms, with those curved paths. Extraordinary how much has been done in such a short time.”
“I think the gardener had some help.”
“Really? I thought he was on his own – Bracken being frugal, you know.”
“Well, I heard he sold some other property and has poured money into this house – inside and out. The gardener has at least one lad working for him.”
“He looks awfully young to be a head gardener, but he certainly knows what he’s about. What do you suppose is going to be around the corner from the rose beds?”
“I heard someone say he’s planning to build some sort of fountain . . .”
Now only Lord and Lady Farrington, Hugh and Malaika remained. Eleanor had insisted they be invited as a way to put the incident of the mangled picture frame behind them.
“We must invite them, Robert. After all, it’s not just a garden party – it’s a new beginning for us. We don’t want to start out our life here with the memory of that day hanging over us.”
Robert had nodded.
“And I have a feeling it might help to heal your feelings about your father,” she’d said gently.
“It’s a way to build bridges, and also feels like forgiveness – in all directions. Let’s blow the dust away and start everything afresh.”
“It does feel the right thing to do,” he’d agreed. “And don’t you think the painting looks much better in the new frame than in the old one? Good of the Farringtons to have it done for us so quickly.”
“You know I never liked it, but somehow I feel better about it now. That animal looks friendlier, especially with the beautiful new wallpaper behind him.”
“Would this be a good time for the ceremony?” Eleanor said now. “Let’s find Ben, and then we can decide on the spot.”
It had been Robert’s idea to plant a rowan, the Tree of Life.
“Hasn’t it been the most wonderful day!” Eleanor looked into his eyes, radiant with happiness.
“It has. And, Lady Bracken, you have been the most exemplary hostess. Don’t know how you put up with me, but I thank my stars that you do. I love you, bobbed hair and all.”
He ran a hand through her short locks and kissed her.
Then, hand in hand, they meandered through the garden in search of Ben.
“That is the perfect place,” Eleanor said, her arm in Robert’s as they looked to the top of the little hill.
Lord and Lady Farrington, Hugh and Malaika had been about to depart, and now lingered in the garden, waiting for a suitable moment to say their goodbyes.
Jenny had taken a break from clearing up, and now they made their way to watch as Ben began to dig, all marvelling at the view over the house and garden, and the woodland beyond.
Lady Farrington took her husband’s arm, her heart full as she remembered a similar ceremony in the early days at Farrington House.
Her youthful happiness and carefree hopes had faded long ago, yet a quieter, deeper serenity had come with all that she and Reginald had experienced.
So many things no longer felt important – the admiration of other wealthy families; a life of elegant dinners and balls.
Not only did she and Reginald have their family around them, could it be their true friends would be unconcerned with the style in which they lived and entertained?
And, though she had dreaded Thea’s racing track and the fun-fair atmosphere, it had been wonderful seeing so many people enjoying themselves.
Perhaps, along with the annual motor races, they might think about occasionally opening Farrington House to visitors. It would be nice to share it.
Ben stood back, wiping his forehead as he surveyed the prepared ground. It had been heavy digging, but the rowan would take well. He held the spade out to Robert to do the honours.
“Thank you, Ben. And may I congratulate you on the garden? You’re the talk of Brackenbury, and my only worry is that now everyone will want to poach you!
“Eleanor and I hope that you and Jenny will always want to stay with us. We’ll make it worth your while, you can be assured of that.” “Thank you, sir.” “None of that,” Robert scolded. “Call me Robert.”
Ben smiled, then lowered the tree, holding it steady as Robert shovelled the earth round it, to cheers from the company.
Robert turned to acknowledge them, and then caught the eye of Malaika, who stood stock still, gazing into the distance.
Robert stopped, taken aback by the look on her face. She whispered something to Hugh and he, too, lifted his chin, looking intently beyond. Then the two of them moved forward to join the others.
“Malaika has noticed something quite extraordinary,” Hugh said. “Do you see that big rock a little way off to the right?”
They turned to where he was pointing, Jenny hurrying to Ben’s side.
“What do you see?” Reginald asked.
“There, across the flat part at the front, do you see a shape?”
“Oh!” Jenny gasped. “I see it, outlined in the stone.”
The rays of the lowering sun lit up the indentation etched into the rock.
“Why, it’s that animal!” Eleanor said. “Just like the painting!”
Malaika nodded, her astonishment having softened to reverence.
“The spirit of the eland will always be with you here. It is a good place.”
Everyone continued to stare, then Robert made his way further up the hill to where the rock stood.
“Look,” he said, stooping down. “The outline has been chiselled out.”
Lady Farrington gasped. “Good God,” Hugh said. “I don’t suppose . . .?”
“Suppose what?” Eleanor asked, but Robert had already begun to kick the ground around the rock.
He went downhill and grabbed the spade, then ran back. As he began to shovel the earth away, the other men moved forward. “Help us, Reg,” Hugh said. Reginald took off his jacket, and they pushed and heaved until the rock tumbled over.
Robert began to dig again. They watched, each of them wondering yet already knowing. There was a thud, and he leaned down and picked up a muddy wooden box, cleaning it off with his hands.
Jenny tucked sprigs of holly and pine boughs along the mantel, the scarlet berries jewel-like amongst the greenery.
She still had presents to wrap, but she lowered herself into the chair in front of the fire, too weary from the morning’s exertions to do anything more.
When she’d told Ben that he was going to become a father, it had been the crowning glory of that extraordinary day, back in September, when the diamonds had been found in a wooden box on the hill.
Sarah had been right, of course. As her tummy grew, she would find the housework tiring.
“Make sure you pace yourself, sweetheart. Ben will understand, and won’t mind a jot if the cottage is a bit untidy and his meals are simpler than usual.”
Ben had understood, along with exploding with jubilation with her news.
She’d been keeping it from him for the entire week, even after the village midwife had assured her that all was well.
“Are you sure? Oh, my darling! When? Sit down!”
She’d hardly been able to get a word in to tell him that their baby would be born in the spring.
In between making plans, and thinking of names, they’d marvelled at all that had happened that day.
“Eleanor told me that, despite uncovering the fortune, Robert felt terrible, knowing that his father had cheated Hugh Farrington.”
“Well, he’s certainly making up for it,” Ben pointed out. “Isn’t it mysterious about his father hiding the diamonds? I wonder when he’d planned to dig them up.”
“Putting the story all together, it seemed that he was going to wait a year, maybe to let suspicion die down. But why go to all that trouble, etching the picture of the eland into the rock?”
“Bracken said . . .” Ben began.
“You mean Robert!” “Hard to get used to that. Robert said that his father was given to odd flights of fancy, like practical jokes – and nice things, too.
“One year, his wife’s birthday present was at the end of a treasure hunt. He’d gone to enormous trouble, making up clues and things, all for the fun of it. Robert said his mother loved it.
“Who knows, maybe he’d planned to