Under The Elm Tree – Episode 20

ARE Joe and Cathie here by any chance?” Leanna asked abruptly. “Only I’ve come to pick her up and nobody’s at home.”

Cathie appeared beside Ella.

“Mummy!” she cried. “We’ve been playing a brilliant game. It’s got a really funny name.”

Leanna raised her eyebrows, then she smiled and her face softened.

“What’s that, then?” she asked, bending down to give the little girl a hug.

“Tiddlywinks.” Immediately, Cathie began to chuckle again.

Her laughter was infectious, and Ella couldn’t help joining in.

“Won’t you come in?” she asked Leanna. “We were having tea and cakes. Would you like to join us?”

“Cake? I hope it doesn’t spoil her appetite for dinner.”

“Oh,” Ella said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think of that.”

“People without children never do,” Leanna replied as she followed her in. “Hello, Joe,” she said. “I won’t stay, thanks. I’ve got a lot to do. Say goodbye to Daddy, Cathie.”

The little girl wrapped her arms around Joe’s legs, and he leaned down and lifted her up.

“Bye, sweetie,” he said. “See you the day after tomorrow, OK?” Cathie nodded vigorously. “Do you know what day that’ll be?”

“Christmas Eve!” Cathie replied excitedly, throwing her arms around his neck.

“Quite right. I’ll bring your present round so that you can open it on Christmas morning.”

“Have you got a present for Dusty, too? He might be upset if he doesn’t have a present, and I don’t think Father Christmas brings toys to kittens.”

“I’ve got one for Dusty, too.” He laughed. “You can help him open it on Boxing Day when you come round.”

“OK,” she said, wriggling down to the floor. “Bye, Ella.”

“Bye, Cathie. Have a happy Christmas.”

“Oh, by the way,” Leanna said, turning to Ella. “Joe told me you have a painting you’d like evaluated?”

“Yes,” Ella replied tentatively, remembering Joe saying his ex-wife worked in an art gallery. “We found it a couple of weeks ago. No-one in the family’s ever seen it before, and we’d like to know a bit more about it.” She went to the sideboard, and brought it forward for her to see.

Immediately, Leanna’s attitude became professional. She leaned close, peering at it.

“I’ll take it with me and ask Roland at the gallery what he thinks, if you like? He specialises in portraits.” Ella hesitated. “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of it,” Leanna assured her, “but if you’d rather not . . .” She turned away.

“No, no. It’s just that, well, we’ve only just found it.” She smiled. “Please take it, we’ll be grateful for any help you can give us. I’ll go and get some bubble wrap.”

After all, she reasoned, they had to start somewhere if they were to unravel the mystery of the painting. Just because Leanna was being frosty towards her, it didn’t mean she couldn’t be trusted, did it?

December 1938

“I just can’t believe you’d do such a thing. I really can’t!”

Joyce, Kitty and Florence were sitting at the little kitchen table while Muriel stood by the sink. They were all staring at George, who stood disconsolately beneath a bunch of mistletoe that hung from the ceiling.

“You knew that money was for our Joyce’s wedding breakfast, and our Christmas dinner,” Muriel added. “The butcher’s hardly going to let me have the goose I ordered if I can’t pay for it, is he?”

Her words set Florence wailing.

“No Christmas dinner?” she cried. “George, you idiot. All we’ll have is vegetables. What sort of Christmas is that?”

“Hush, Flo,” Muriel told her sternly. She walked towards George and stood in front of him. “Why, son?” she asked. “Why did you do it?”

George hung his head.

“I wanted to win some money for you and Dad,” he muttered. “The lads at work said Royal Blue was a cert at the races. I know things are tight, what with Dad being laid up and everything. It was going to be a surprise.”

Muriel pursed her lips.

“Well, it was certainly that,” she said.

“I’ll pay it back, Mother, I promise.”

“How are you going to do that on an apprentice’s wages?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll find a way. I will, you’ll see.”

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”.