Under The Elm Tree – Episode 56

SUSAN looked up. She was balanced precariously on the roof of Bella, giving her a final coat of shiny green paint. A young couple were walking across the yard.

“We’re looking for a Mrs Susan Cooper,” the man called up to her.

Susan carefully laid her paintbrush across the top of the open tin and made her way to the front of the barge.

“I’m Mrs Cooper.” She nodded, stepping down to stand beside the visitors. “How can I help you?”

She gave them her best smile. Perhaps they were customers wanting to make a holiday booking?

“Richard Stonethwaite, Colonel Stonethwaite’s great-grandson,” he said, holding out his hand. “This is Chloe, my wife.”

In the past the name would have given her the jitters, she thought, shaking hands with them each in turn. But since her talk with Ella, it didn’t seem to have the same hold upon her as it used to.

“Pleased to meet you,” she said, nevertheless intrigued as to why they were there.

“Is there anywhere we can talk?”

“Of course. Come inside the house.” She turned towards the barge. “Greg?”

A grey head appeared out of the main cabin door.

“What is it, love?” he began. “Ah, visitors.” He smiled, stepping off the barge and making his way towards them.

“Greg, this is Colonel Stonethwaite’s great-grandson,” Susan said, widening her eyes at him as Greg extended his hand in greeting. “We were going into the house. Would you like to join us, darling?”

As she led them through to the new extension, her mind whirred. What on earth could they want?

She felt herself becoming defensive again. Oh, dear, could it possibly be about the bracelet that had been found?

As they passed the painting of Kitty, Richard stopped.

“That’s not by Thomas Dodd, is it?” he asked, walking nearer and peering at it. “I do apologise, but he was my great-uncle,” he added. “It’s very like his style.”

“Actually, it is,” Susan replied, and they all stood for a moment, staring at the painting of Kitty. “It’s of my mother.”

“Great-uncle Tam died very young,” Richard told her. “He was a pilot in the Battle of Britain.”

“I know,” Susan said. Now it was Richard’s turn to look surprised.

“My daughter Ella has been researching the painting,” she explained. “She found it recently when she was clearing my mother’s cottage.”

“Was that in Wembury?”

“Why, yes. Do you live there?”

“No, no. We live here, quite close actually, at Hickling. We’re practically neighbours.” He smiled.

“Do sit down, all of you,” Greg interrupted. “Don’t stand on ceremony.”

“I suppose you know that Wembury House is being turned into apartments?” Richard asked when they were all seated, and Susan and Greg nodded.

“It’s my brother’s project – he’s the one who inherited the house,” he explained, “but he’s abroad at the moment so the police contacted me.”

“The police?” Susan’s mouth went dry.

Richard nodded.

“One of the workmen found this.” He drew out a gold bracelet made up of stars linked together and set with emeralds.

She gasped. So it was about the bracelet! It matched the description of it perfectly. This was the piece of jewellery that had caused her so much anguish over the years.

“I went down to Farchester last weekend to collect it,” he continued. “I remembered my father talking about a bracelet that had gone missing years ago. He said that two teenagers had broken into the house and stolen it.

“But, of course, when it turned up I knew that couldn’t have been true, so I went to Farchester Library and did a bit of research.” He looked at Susan meaningfully. “This is proof of their innocence.”

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”.