Under Two Shires Oak – Episode 09

“DON’T let him see me, please don’t let him see me!” Grace chanted the words like a prayer as she fled across the field away from the figure on horseback.

The old oak that had for centuries given shelter to the folk of this part of the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border waved its branches in the wind that would soon bring the first snow of the famously freezing winter of 1946.

“Hurry to me,” she could almost believe it was calling. “Hurry to Two Shires Oak.” Though its branches were bare of concealing foliage, its trunk was wide enough to hide behind. Pressing against the rough bark, Grace watched horse and rider pass.

She had always preferred to avoid Lord Alderarche of Alderarche Hall, where she worked as a maid. Running away from him was something new!

But the man was no longer just her employer, he was also stepfather of Philip, the young artist who had expressed his love for her.

She kept reading that the war, so recently over, had changed everything and smashed down class barriers. That the world was a different place from how it had been in 1939. Well, no-one had told them at the Hall!

His Lordship had made his opposition to Phil’s interest in her clear from the start, and now his hostility was so open that she dreaded, really dreaded, seeing him.

As she watched his departing figure, she wished Evie and Francesca were with her as in the old days, when they had sat here under Two Shires Oak and laughed and joked.

The old days . . . Grace shook her head. In fact, relatively little time had elapsed. But so much had happened. After the explosion in the mine, Francesca’s father, Ian, had closed it down to concentrate on business interests in London. Just like that, he had shut the pit that had employed almost all the village men, including Evie’s dad.

The village was a virtual ghost town now, with both her friends and their families gone.

She sighed. In that, true, the world had changed.

But not all for the worse. Returning to Alderarche Hall, Grace was soon smiling again as Phil handed her a pretty silver frame. Carefully mounted within the frame was her set of the three leaves that she, Evie and Francesca had each taken from the old oak on that last day they’d spent together under its boughs.

A memento of their friendship – as though any of them would forget!

She’d mentioned to Phil that she needed a way to preserve them, and was delighted with what he’d done for her. His artworks, including portraits of her, were on big, big canvases, the paint applied with energetic passion.

But this had been so delicately done. She longed to kiss him, but didn’t dare, not in the Hall’s main corridor.

That didn’t, however, stop him reaching out to her.

“What if someone sees?”

“What if they do?” This was said with his characteristic boldness. Then, “Can’t a man kiss the woman he wants to be his wife? Will you marry me, Grace?” Now his voice was soft as a whisper.

Then his arms were round her, just giving her time to say, “Yes, yes, yes” before his lips found hers. And she didn’t care who saw them . . . until, opening her eyes, she saw Phil’s mother standing staring.

Quickly Grace loosed herself. But by then the older woman had gone.

“Your mother!”

“Let’s tell them the news,” Phil said.

“I’m not sure they’ll be pleased.” Suddenly she was filled with fear.

He took her hand.

“It will be fine. My stepfather has been difficult, I know, but Mother will be thrilled. Remember, it isn’t so long since she herself married.”

His face darkened.

“In truth, I wish she’d picked someone else. I didn’t want her to be alone after my father’s death, but . . .” He broke off. “Shall I speak to them alone first?”

“It might be better.”

She watched nervously as he strode towards the back drawing-room.

Her head spun. She was going to be Phil’s wife. Phil’s wife!

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”.