By the Butterfly Tree – Part Fourteen

The story continues… You can start here for an introduction and a link to the beginning.

After their evening meal had been eaten, and the table cleared, Ross opened his haversack, laid out some books, and sighed. Muriel grinned. “What aileth thee, young laddo o’ mine?”
“Trigonometry and vectors, that’s what, O excellent mother. Yesterday’s double lesson with Racecourse Ron.” Ronald Wetherby was a Yorkshireman, design engineer turned lecturer, who had settled down further North some years before.
“Who did you say? Anyway, you never had any trouble with maths.”
Ross explained, then went on. “This is a wee bitty up from tens and units take away sums, mum. An hour and a half of it. I tell you, he’s torn the knackers off me.”
“Ross, your sister is in the room.” Muriel tried to sound reproving. She found herself looking into a pair of piercing blue eyes that were like a carbon copy of those that had melted her like candle wax, some twenty years previously. She failed. Ross put on a breathy, ‘little boy’ voice.
“Sorry, mother dear. I forgot to take into account the tender ears and mind of my precious and beautiful twelve-year-old baby sister. I do apologise. But your dear devoted husband must take some of the blame. My daddy is in the RAF, in case you had forgotten.”

Leslie was away, on duty. Family meant everything to Muriel. Inwardly, she was now close to tears. Janet, writing in an exercise book at the other side of the table, appeared to be outwardly close to suffocation.

After an hour or so, during which Janet had finished an essay with apparently little effort (a born story-teller, Ross always said) and Muriel’s knitting had lengthened by several inches, Ross closed his books for the night.
“Yes, O fairly excellent son…?” There was such a thing as repartee, Muriel thought.
“Can I bring someone home to tea, sometime soon?”
“Of course you can, laddo. That’ll be Laura, I take it? Just give me fair warning, OK? Then my hair won’t be in curlers when she walks through the door.”
Janet cupped her hands round her mouth, in imitation of a megaphone. “Oh, would you just hear that, everyone? My brother has a steady!”
Ross rounded the table in five strides, and pinioned his sister against the wall with her hands behind her back.
“And, when she comes, you, young lady, can behave. It will be, shall we say, to your advantage. Do I make myself clear?”
Janet squealed. As her brother let her go, she ran upstairs to bed, helpless with giggles. Ross went to the kitchen.

“Cup of tea, Mum?”
The question broke into Muriel’s pensive mood. She wiped her eyes on her sleeve before she could reply to someone who reminded her very much of Group Captain Leslie McGeoch.

* * *

“Thank your mum again for me, would you, Ross? Saturday was lovely. You didn’t need to worry about Janet. She’s a wee scream. I like her. I can see why she’s such a good writer. Mind, I don’t believe she’s as dumb at maths as she makes out to be. I’m roped in as tutor, by the way.”
Ross and Laura were catching up with each other after college on Thursday evening. Both of them had had an exhausting day, and then evening lessons. Trust that scamp to know a good thing when she sees it, thought Ross. But wait a minute. What if she really did like the idea of Laura as a family member, and saw this as a ploy to get Laura into the house? Perhaps he owed his baby sister, after all…
“Oh and another thing. We all went to Uncle Fred and Auntie Kath’s on Sunday, and, like I say, you can’t hide much from her. She reckoned my face gave the game away. Honestly, to hear her talk, you’d think I was a right pettit lip before I met you. Anyway, she wants me to bring you there for a Sunday tea. Soon, she says. I made her promise not to put you through the mangle like she can. So you see…” Laura grinned. “if you want to have anything more to do with me, I’m afraid you’ve no choice.”
Ross held out his hands in a gesture of mock surrender. “O.K, O.K, I’ll come quietly… I might need to catch up on homework this weekend. Would the Sunday after this one be all right?”

Ross’s ordeal wasn’t as severe as Laura had made out that it would be. Uncle Fred was an aero engine fitter, and enjoyed talking engineering with Ross. And Auntie Kath was all right, Ross thought. She had a friendly kind of gruffness that he could cope with. He soon realised that both of them had been like a wonderful mum and dad to Laura, and had treated her the same as their own daughter, Sarah. “No more kids came along,” Kath remarked, as they were clearing up after tea, “but we had Laura.” She gave her niece an affectionate squeeze round the waist.
After helping her aunt, Laura showed Ross an album of photos of her cousin’s wedding. She joked that he might as well see who he’d have to meet next. Sarah and Jeffrey looked a striking pair, Ross thought. A stunning head-and-shoulders portrait of the bride bore a certain resemblance to Laura, he mused. A beautiful delicate necklace hung round her neck.
“Quite a looker, your cousin, isn’t she? Was the necklace new for the day?”
“Well, no, it’s a sort of family heirloom thing. But it was the first time that Sarah actually wore it.”

As they were preparing to leave, Ross was having a last chat about wartime planes with Fred. Laura slipped back to the kitchen. “Well, Auntie Kath,” she asked, cheekily, “Does he pass?”
Her aunt smiled, then looked very intently at Laura for several seconds without speaking. Then, dropping her voice almost to a hiss, she replied.
“Listen to me, Laura Millar. Young lady, I don’t exactly know how you hooked him, but, if you let that young man get away, you will have me to answer to.”

Part fifteen is now published here.

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