And so the story continues. Once again, if you’re new to this little saga, it’s best to begin here.
Archie and Helen now lived in an old, but cosy and refurbished, cottage in a village some fifteen miles out of the city. They had moved there after they had both finally retired from the shipyard and the hospital, having lived, to begin with, in the small town-house that had first belonged to Helen’s parents.
When Ross reached the cottage by bicycle, on the Thursday evening after Laura had told him the story of her granny’s bequests, he hugged his step-grandma in greeting.
“How are you, Grandma Helen? You look younger every time I come.”
Helen grinned back at him. “Och, you with your flattery – what are you after this time?”
When she had married Archie, she had been deeply conscious of the special place Jenny had had in the family, and didn’t want to presume to walk into their lives. Archie, on the other hand, had wanted her to be welcome and at ease. As Jenny had always been ‘Granny’ they had settled on ‘Grandma Helen’ which, everyone said, suited her fine.
Over tea and biscuits, Ross explained slowly about how things were between him and Laura (as if I didna ken, thought Archie) and then Laura’s problem. Archie and Helen listened with interest, nodding, smiling, and then sighing as the story unfolded. Finally, Archie confirmed Ross’s thoughts.
“I think what you said to Laura’s about the size of it, laddie. The more details we’ve got, the better. Names, addresses, dates, whatever. If her auntie could write it like a letter, and sign it, that would be good too, I think. It might at least be a lever to put a bit of pressure on the provost’s office. I’ll go up there, if you like. Of course, a lot of the folk I knew in the fire service and such will have retired now, but… you never know…”
Ross finished his tea, had a look at what Archie and Helen had been doing to their little house and garden, and went home.
After work the following night, he called to see Laura before she visited her auntie and uncle, that weekend. On the Sunday afternoon, Uncle Fred would take her to the nearest branch-line station, where she would get the last train home.
She saw Ross only briefly, after both of them finished work, on Monday, but told Ross that her Auntie had listened to what she’d asked her, and would write down all she knew in a letter, then post it to her.
“She even said she’d look through a tin box that was in the attic, for old letters and stuff. She didn’t want to get anything wrong, and spoil any chance there might be.”
“Well… At least we’ll all have made an effort, poppet. We’ll see what Grandpa makes of it.” Ross himself was rather dubious, but hadn’t the heart to say so.
The promised letter came the following Monday. Laura passed it on to Ross that evening, and on the following evening, he made the journey to the cottage once again. The day had been dull and rainy at times, and further rain was likely, so he didn’t stay long at the cottage. After quick drink of orange squash, he started on his return journey, and, indeed, just reached home before the skies opened again.
When Ross got home from work on Thursday, a letter was waiting for him. It was from Archie, and very short.
I’ve read the letter and notes that Laura’s Auntie wrote. I’d
like to check a few details. Could you and Laura come to
tea on Saturday? We’d love to see her again, anyway.
All the best, laddie.
Love from Grandma Helen, and me too,
Saturday dawned fine and warm. As Laura now had a bicycle of her own, she and Ross decided to cycle to the cottage together instead of taking the bus. It would give them an appetite for tea, which, Ross said, they would need.
When Helen had given them drinks and biscuits, Archie first took Ross outside. “We’ll talk the serious stuff in a few minutes. I just want to show you something, before I forget.” Leaving Laura and Helen together, Archie led Ross to the small yard that was covered by a lean-to roof, supported on the cottage side by metal brackets, which were badly rusted.
“I was wondering, laddie, do you think you could get some fresh ones made, at your firm?” Ross was sure that he could, and together, they measured the brackets before returning inside.
As they sat down in the living room, Laura seemed a bit upset, Ross thought. O well, if so, she would tell him later.
“Right, then,” Archie began, cheerfully “I think Grandma Helen and Laura have had a wee chat, so that’s something cleared up…?” As both nodded, Archie saw Ross’s puzzled face. “Don’t worry, Laddie, you’ll understand very soon. One more question…”
Archie dipped into his pocket, and placed a small, battered, fibreboard box on the coffee table in front of him, opening it as he did so.
“Is this the one, do you think…?”
Laura and Ross gasped in unison. A beautiful diamond, flanked by two vivid pink sapphires, flashed up at them from a gold ring. Helen held Laura as she slumped backwards. Ross’s face became a puzzled frown.
“But… Grandpa… How did you do this so quickly? What about all the legal checks, and stuff…?”
“Ah, well, you see, I didna have to trouble the City Hall. I just had to go to the garden shed.”
The young couple’s faces made a picture no artist could ever aspire to producing.
Slowly and carefully, Archie explained about the walk he’d taken, that summer, all those years ago. About finding the gas-mask case, and leaving it to Jenny to take it to the police station. And how Jenny had been struck down with her illness before she could make the errand…
In the height of Archie’s concern for Jenny, the gas-mask case had been forgotten. It had lain on the cellar-head shelf until the time when Archie had moved out when he married Helen. She had helped him to clear the house. The contents of the cellar shelves she had put into some old packing-cases, then transferred to the cellar of her own house, intending to go through the stuff with Archie, later. Some memories would still be raw, she had thought. Then, when they moved to the cottage, the same packing-cases were put in the shed. There they remained, undisturbed, until, on Tuesday evening, Archie had opened Kath’s letter and read the words ‘They lived at number fifteen, Trafalgar Terrace…’
Laura took Ross’s hand and led him into the garden. She leant against his chest, sobbing, and gasping for breath.
Ross held her, gently patting her back as if she were a baby. Finally, he asked her what the matter was.
“My baby sisters. I should have told you. You see, ever since that foggy day when you walked me home, I loved you. But I’d always said to myself that I wouldn’t let any boy make friends with me, just out of pity. So I said nothing. Then, somehow, as we got serious, it got harder. Will you forgive me?”
Ross’s eyes were filling, now.
“My dear precious poppet, there is nothing to forgive.”
Their faces closed on each other.
After a lovely meal, Laura felt better. Ross, of course, now realised that the discussion about the lean-to had been a ploy to leave Laura and Helen alone together. Wise, kind old grandpa. Now, he led Laura outside again. They had offered to help wash up, but Archie and Helen had told them to take time together. Wise again, thought Ross.
They were standing within sight and scent of the buddleia in the cottage garden.
“Laura, my poppet…?”
“I’ve a wee box in my pocket. I wondered… whether you wanted to, you know, try something on?”
This was the moment Laura had been longing for. With great difficulty, the steeled herself.
“Ross… Leslie… McGeoch. When it comes to trying anything on, you are the best, all right. On. One. Knee. Now!”
* * *
It was time for two blissfully happy young people to cycle home. But before they left, Archie had one more question. Had had agreed to keep the gas-mask case and the rest of the papers, for the time being, but he showed one very small one to Laura, that had been enclosed with the ring. It carried only the words ‘To E.M.E. From A.R.B. 22 March 1920’.
“Laura, your auntie said that your granddad was Alistair Buchannon, and had been in the RAF, is that right?”
“Yes, I remember being told that much.”
“What was your granny’s maiden name, did you ever hear?”
Laura frowned, screwing up her eyes in thought.
“Yes… Wait a minute… Got it! She was Elizabeth Ellison.”
Part seventeen is now published here!