Under The Elm Tree – Episode 29

SUSAN shook her head as she snuggled against him.

“Uh-huh. I’ve looked at several sites, but I can’t find a Tam Stonethwaite anywhere.”

“Are you sure that’s his name, though?” Greg rubbed his chin. “I thought Ella said the signature was illegible?”

“It’s definitely Tam. It’s only the surname she can’t make out. Mum’s friend Margaret said he was the colonel’s nephew, so it must be Stonethwaite. She remembers the painting.”

“Ah, but what if the artist was his wife’s nephew? He’d have had a different surname then.”

Susan turned to look up at him.

“What a clever husband I have.” She smiled. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Tam won’t be his full name, either. It’s probably short for Thomas.”

Susan nodded.

“It doesn’t actually get us much further, though, does it? There must have been loads of artists painting in the late Thirties and early Forties. Thomas was a popular name back then.” She gave a deep sigh.

“It feels really important to find out about the painting, Greg. There’s a whole chapter in Mum’s life that none of us knows anything about. Perhaps it’s the fact that now she’s gone, and we can’t ask her,” she added sadly.

“What about her sister – the one in America? I know Joyce died, and your uncle George was lost at sea; I mean the one who emigrated to America as a GI bride. She’s still alive, isn’t she? She might know something.”

“Auntie Flo? She’s not very well. I had an e-mail from her daughter. No, I can’t bother her with it.” She paused. “I just don’t understand why Mum didn’t tell us about the painting. What was she hiding?”

“Ella thinks she was in love with the artist.”

“I know, darling, but if she was, then why didn’t they get married?” She leaned back, wrapping her arms around him again. “All the time I’m discovering new things about Mum, it feels in a funny way as if she’s still here. Is that strange?”

“Not strange at all, love. Different people grieve in different ways.”

“I don’t think I’m ready to let her go yet, Greg,” she whispered. “Not until we solve this mystery, anyway.”

Spring 1939

Kitty climbed the five-barred gate at the entrance to Wembury Farm, and balanced herself on top. She knew she was early, but the April sunshine was pleasant and she was content to wait.

For once the farmyard was deserted. No clanking of milk churns, no horses whinnying, not even one of the farm hands mucking out the stables. Only a wisp of smoke floating gently up from the farmhouse chimney. She turned her face to the late afternoon sun, enjoying the peace and quiet.

Suddenly she jumped as she felt an arm slip around her waist. Her movement made the gate wobble and she clutched the rough wooden bar as she turned round.

“Tam! You beast!” she exclaimed. “I could have fallen.”

“Ah, but you wouldn’t have, because I’ve got you safe.” He smiled as he placed his other hand on her waist and lifted her gently down. As their bodies brushed together, Kitty’s heart raced madly.

“Come on,” he said, pulling her forward. “It’s such a perfect day, let’s go for a walk.”

Hand in hand, they set off, making their way round the edge of the farm to the countryside beyond. Kitty stole a glance sideways at Tam. How well he looked compared to when he’d arrived five months ago, she thought. His shoulders had broadened and his step had grown in strength and vigour and he hardly coughed at all any more.

Working at the farm had done him good. From the day Mr Pagget had taken him on after Christmas, he’d started to improve.

“Why don’t we walk to Hamton?” he suggested. “We can get a cup of tea in the station tea rooms.”

Kitty hesitated.

“I don’t like going past the yard now that George isn’t there any more,” she admitted. She’d never thought she’d miss her irritating brother so much. “Nothing feels the same since he joined up and left home.”

“The boys at the farm keep talking about joining up,” Tam said.

Kitty’s heart gave a flip. She hoped he didn’t include himself in that.

“Even Sid?” she asked.

“Especially Sid.”

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”.