Under The Elm Tree – Episode 17

LET’S get a move on, then,” Tam said. “We can look around then go to the picture house, if you like?” he added as they started off across the green. “‘Sidewalks Of London’ is showing.”

“Vivien Leigh! She’s my favourite actress,” Kitty replied, smiling delightedly.

Half an hour later, they were stepping down from the bus on to the pavement at the top of town. They waited for a tram to rattle past before making their way down the cobbled high street.

Kitty loved Farchester, with its soaring cathedral spire and quaint uneven shop roofs, especially at this time of year when the narrow pavements were full of bustling Christmas shoppers.

A band beside the market cross began playing “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”, and as the strains drifted up the high street towards them, a feeling of happiness welled up in her. It’s just because it’s Christmas, she told herself sternly, nothing more than that.

They wandered down to the bottom of town, enjoying the jolly atmosphere and looking in the shop windows as they went.

“That’s where my sister Joyce lives,” Kitty told him as they passed St Martin’s Road. “Mum’s cousin Edie runs a boarding house and Joyce has a room there.”

“Joyce is your elder sister, isn’t she?”

She nodded.

“My younger sister Flo’s going to stay there, too, when she starts her apprenticeship at Otterby’s.”

Tam was quiet for a moment and Kitty wondered if she’d said something wrong.

“You’re very lucky,” he said eventually.

“Lucky?” She looked up at him. “How?”

“Having siblings. There’s just me and my parents in my family,” he said.

“It’s not all fun.” She smiled. She wouldn’t have swapped her lot for anything, but she couldn’t help thinking of the difficulties her family faced, too. The long hours her father put in at the farm, for instance, and the lack of money. Her mother had to scrimp and save just to feed them sometimes. And now there was the worry of his accident.

She missed Joyce, and her brother George was only ever a whisker away from trouble with his devil-may-care attitude to life. And as for Flo, well, her greatest delight seemed to lie in being contrary!

No, family life wasn’t always easy.

“Thank you for a wonderful outing, Tam,” Kitty said later that evening after he’d walked her home.

“Perhaps we could do it again some time?” he replied. It was a dark night, with no moon or stars visible, but she could tell by the tone of his voice that he was smiling. He stepped closer, and her heart began to beat fast. Was he going to kiss her? Did she want him to?

Of course she did! But as he bent his head to hers, his lips did not meet hers. He simply pressed his cheek lightly against hers in the kind of embrace he might have given an aunt.

“Goodnight,” he whispered, and Kitty was glad he couldn’t see her blushes. How could she have been so presumptuous as to think he liked her in that way?

“Goodnight, Tam,” she murmured, turning quickly away and making her way up the path towards the cottage. What a fool she was!

Her embarrassment was soon forgotten, however, when she noticed a strip of light spilling out beneath the back door on to the step. Oh, dear, I hope Mother’s not waiting up for me, she thought. Perhaps Dad has taken a turn for the worse? Hurriedly, she pressed down the latch.

The scene that greeted her as she stepped into the kitchen did little to allay her fears, for her mum was sitting at the table, her head in her hands.

“Whatever is it?” Kitty cried, moving quickly across the little room to put her arm around her mother’s shoulders. She could tell by her red-rimmed eyes that she’d been crying.

Muriel lifted a corner of her apron to wipe her cheeks.

“Don’t you take any notice of me, my girl,” she said. “I’m just being silly. It was just a bit of a shock, that’s all.”

“What was, Mother? Tell me.”

Muriel pointed to an old Brooke Bond tea caddy which stood on the oil tablecloth, its lid upturned beside it. It was the tin they stored their money in. Kitty picked it up and looked inside.

It was empty.

“All the money for our Joyce’s wedding breakfast, and the Christmas dinner, too,” she said. “It’s all gone. Oh, Kitty, whatever are we going to do?”

As she stared into the tin, Kitty felt anger surge up inside her. Who, in their quiet little village where everyone trusted one another, would do such a despicable thing?

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.