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 . . .

The People's Friend - - This Week -

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.