Under The Elm Tree – Episode 57


SUSAN gave a long, deep sigh.

“We did break in, though,” she admitted. “It was a stupid prank. One I’ve regretted all my life. I’m truly sorry for it.”

“Please don’t worry. It’s all in the past. When I think of all the stupid things I did when I was growing up . . .” He smiled. “The thing is, my great-grandfather should never have accused you without proof. He put two and two together and made five, and our family owes you an apology for that. I’ve managed to track your friend down and have written to him, too.”

As they talked, Susan realised that the whole sorry business was over at last, and a huge sense of relief washed over her.

Eventually, the subject changed and they began to talk about their respective businesses.

“My husband and I run guided wildlife tours,” Chloe told them. “We’re both passionate about the natural world.”

“We are, too,” Greg replied. “We hire out day boats to people wanting to explore the Broads. This year we’ll have Bella, too. That’s the barge we’re renovating.”

“Don’t forget the B and B,” Susan added. “We’re trying to capture a bigger slice of the market,” she explained.

Richard was thoughtful for a moment.

“I wonder if we could join forces?” He turned to his wife beside him. “What do you think, darling?”

Chloe nodded slowly.

“It could help both our businesses,” she agreed. “We provide the wildlife expertise and you provide the accommodation and the boats.”

“Do you know,” Greg replied, his face lighting up and his voice full of enthusiasm, “I think that could work.”

****

“Hello, dear.”

Ella looked up, secateurs in hand. She was in the garden tidying the shrubs. It was her way of thanking the Paggets for letting her stay on so long in the cottage.

The garden and lane were shrouded in a thick mist so she hadn’t seen Margaret approaching.

“Hello!” She tossed a small forsythia branch on to a heap on the path and walked through the gate, bending down to pat Ruby, who was wagging her tail furiously. “How lovely to see you both.”

Margaret smiled at her.

“I couldn’t let you go without saying goodbye.”

Ella shook her head sadly.

“Actually, I wish I wasn’t going,” she confided, “but I can’t live on my savings for ever.”

Margaret shifted her position, leaning more heavily on her walking stick.

“Would you like to come in?” Ella asked.

“That would be very nice, dear,” she replied. “I could do with a little sit-down before I walk back.”

Ella ushered Margaret into the living-room.

“Sorry it’s so bare,” she said, her voice echoing in the almost empty room. There were only two hard chairs left, and she pulled one of them closer so Margaret could sit down.

“I’m glad I caught you, dear,” Margaret said, dropping on to the chair. “There’s something that’s been nagging at me.”

“Oh?”

“I didn’t want you to leave with the wrong impression about your grandparents’ marriage,” she explained. “Despite what they’d been through, they were very happy. The war tore a lot of people apart, but your grandfather waited for Kitty until she was able to move forward again.” She paused for a moment. “The night before their wedding, she came round to see me.

“I knew it was about Tam even before she spoke,” she continued.

“‘I can never forget Tam,’ your gran told me. ‘He will always have a place in my heart. I can’t stop loving him just because he’s dead. But I love Sid, too. Our friendship has grown, and I know we’ll be happy. Is that wrong?’

“She needed to acknowledge what she and Tam had together,” Margaret explained. “So I told her that if she carried on and had a happy life, it would mean that Tam wouldn’t have died in vain.”

She smiled wistfully.

“I believed that then,” she said, “and I still believe it now.”

After lunch, as the sun began to cut through the mist, Ella finished tidying the garden and packed her suitcase in the car. Then she loaded the remaining boxes she was taking to her parents’ house in Norfolk before checking the cottage for the final time.

She went into each of the rooms in turn to make sure she hadn’t missed anything, but really it was to say goodbye.

“It’s been marvellous staying here,” she said out loud and the words echoed back to her. “But,” she added, squaring her shoulders, “as you used to say, Gran, there’s only one way through life, and that’s forwards.”

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 aspiring tip to new writers is to “write from your imagination”.