Tag Archives: Summer of Words

By the Butterfly Tree: Prologue

Back in the summer of 2013, I began to write a serial story, which appeared on this blog in instalments. It was eventually finished in eighteen parts. I never expected it to be that long. It sort of warmed up, and ran away with me a bit. I rather enjoyed the exercise, to be honest. At the end of this post, I’ll give you a link to an explanation of how this story began. But first, there’s a small matter to clear up, namely, that this story never had a prologue. Now, real authors just about always put one in. I knew this, of course, so why didn’t I do the same?

Well, there’s just one good reason why not, and here it is: until I got beyond part six, I had no idea of how the story was going to turn out. So there you are.

Now, by and by, a prologue got written, and yet, so far, I’ve never published it. So, encouraged by a few prompts, here it is!

* * *

Not all summer days are warm and sunny. This was one such exception. A cloudy, overcast afternoon had given way to a rainy evening; something like what a native of Donegal, they tell me, would term ‘a soft class of a day’. Those of less idyllic turn of phrase would simply, at this point, refer to rain coming down in stair-rods.
In the living-room of a cosy cottage in a rural setting, a retired carpenter, who had made his way up to becoming manager, in his time, of the carpentry and joinery department of a large shipyard, was reading from some sheets of notepaper by the light of a table-lamp at the side of the well-used armchair in which he sat. In consideration of this sudden change in the weather, a wood fire now burned in the inglenook fireplace. On the opposite side of the fireplace sat his wife, in another similar armchair, with an assortment of sewing materials and various garments to mend arranged about her. As she watched her husband, a dreamy smile crossed her face as she reflected on the vista of feelings they shared…
Suddenly, he put down the hand-written sheets. As a puzzled frown crossed his face, he began to intently question her. Questions she could make no sense of. His erratic manner and tone, so foreign to him, frankly worried her. She had never seen him in this state, not ever.
“Are you all right, sweetheart?”
“I think I will be, in a minute or two.”
She grinned as he left the room, glancing out of the window as he did so. This was his stock reply when he meant he needed the toilet. But, instead of the the creaking of the stairs, she heard the rattle of the coat pegs of the hall stand, followed a few moments later by the click of the back door of the kitchen being opened, then shut with a bang.
“Really,” she muttered to herself, as she looked into her work-basket for dark green cotton, “At times, I think that accident must have turned his brain, after all.”
Her work-basket did not contradict her.

* * *

So, there you are. Let me know (below) if that entices you to read any more. Of course if it does, you’ll need that link I promised you. So, here it is. I flatter myself to suggest that if you’ve come this far down the page, you just might even click on it.

I’m linking this post to Friday Fiction at Nikki Young Writes.

Nikki Young Writes

Also, because the scene in the text above represents a fleeting moment in my story as a whole, I’m linking with ‘The Prompt’ by Sara from mumturnedmom here.

Oh, and it’s Tuesday…!


Edit, 27 June 2016:
Because this story was written just for fun, I’m linking it to…

The Pramshed
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By the Butterfly Tree: Part Eighteen

And here it is… At last, the final part of my little story that grew… You can start at the beginning here.

It had been a warm, sunny, and, for Laura, a strenuous morning. Elizabeth and Philippa McGeogh were at last asleep again after a feed each. Prior to this, they had jointly and simultaneously appealed to the universe in regard of their perceived lack of nourishment. Feeling rather exhausted, Laura had just made a cup of tea and allowed herself the luxury of sitting down to drink it. Then she stood up again with a gasp, as the telephone rang.

(Ross was now deputy project manager; Balfour, McAllen had now provided him with a phone at home, and a car – he’d already learned to drive using another of the firm’s vehicles. Robert McAllen figured that both were a good investment in this young man. Living near the city as they did, it was a dial type telephone, too, not like they had out in the villages, such as where Ross’s grandpa now lived.)

“Harbourside, four two three seven…?”
Laura heard an operator cut in. “Connecting you, caller…”
“Hello…? Oh, Laura, it’s Grandma Helen here. How are you, pet?”
Laura sighed. “Shattered, to be honest. Their ladyships are snoozing and I’m drinking tea before facing the rest of the housework. What about you?”
“Och, not so bad for an old one. But you try and look after yourself as well. I really rang you because Grandpa and I have just been thinking – now that you’re just about on your feet, and we’ve sorted a few things here, we’d like to have a wee party for you all. Maybe you and Ross – bring the twins, of course – Ross’s folks and Janet, your Sarah with Geoff and wee Paul, and Sarah’s folks if they’ll come. D’you think you could make next Saturday?”
“Oh, I’d love that. It’d be a lovely break. I’ll tell Ross tonight. I’m sure he’ll want to speak to Grandpa. Sometimes I feel a bit stuck on a treadmill, here. I mean, Ross helps how he can, and everything, but…”
“Listen, pet. Going from being a couple to a family of four’s bound to have knocked you sideways a wee bit – both of you. I’ll tell you what: come a bit early – say just after lunch. We can have woman talk while Ross helps Grandpa set stuff out, if he wouldn’t mind.”
“That’s sweet of you. You’re sure you can manage, though? It sounds a lot.”
“Och, well, it’ll be a squash, but we’re all used to that. Now, I’d better see what Grandpa’s up to. See you soon. ‘Bye, pet.”
“Love to you both. ‘Bye.”
Now drinking lukewarm tea, Laura once again blessed the day she had married into the McGeoch family.

The twins, complete with demountable pram and a varied assortment of baby-related sundry items, were now ensconced in the back of the Morris 1000 Traveller. Laura leaned back in the passenger seat, and very soon dozed off as Ross made his way to South Hills. On this sunny summer afternoon, he felt the luckiest man alive. As the close urban atmosphere gave place to country air, he wound down the window. Life was tiring, but good.
Once some warm greetings had been exchanged, and the twins’ pram set up in a shady part of the lower back garden, Ross helped Archie to arrange the living room to the best advantage, and set bottles and glasses at the ready. They grinned as they heard the steady stream of non-stop chatter emanating from the kitchen.
“If I were you, I wouldna strike a match out there, laddie.”
Ross looked up. “Too much gas about?” It was an old joke, but Archie’s favourite.

“Look, Grandma Helen, there’s not much left to do. If I just put this cream on the trifle, would you check on the twins for me? Make sure Grandpa’s OK, though, as you go.” Laura knew that, put like that, Helen would need no second bidding. Sure enough, she paused only to finish her cup of tea, before entering the living room. The menfolk had done well, Helen thought. She was looking forward to a lovely evening. Ross was polishing glasses with a tea cloth. Archie was just emptying the vacuum-cleaner he had been using, in the small yard at the side of the cottage. Ross had been joking with him earlier about this method of cleaning.
“You have electricity, grandpa? Right out here, in the wilds?”
“Och, aye, laddie. Real glass in the windies, an’ a’.”
When it came to repartee, it would be a very smart fellow indeed who ever beat Archie McGeoch.

Ross walked through to the kitchen to find Laura, with her back to the doorway, putting the finishing touches to the trifle. From behind, he grabbed her in a bear-hug. “Guess who?”
“I should know by now. Careful, you, or you’ll get plastered in cream.”
“I should be so lucky.”
“No comment.” Laura turned to give her husband a tantalising peck on the lips, before tackling a few bits of washing-up.
In the meantime, Helen had stepped out through the French doors and onto the terrace at the back of the cottage, and now looked down into the lower part of the garden, lost in thought. Then, very deliberately, she walked across to where Archie had come round from the side yard. Without a word, she took his hand. Together, they descended the short flight of steps, and walked across to where Laura had carefully positioned the twins’ pram. At that moment, two peacock butterflies settled on the top blanket before returning to the buddleia, drawn by the heavy scent.

Quietly and gently, Archie and Helen kissed, and then Archie’s eyes filled. Helen reached for the handkerchief in her sleeve, and dabbed her own eyes, before resting her hands on her husband’s shoulders. His face and body were now racked with unstoppable sobs. Lines of tears ran unheeded down Helen’s face.

Ross and Laura had now finished the last details of the preparations they had been attending to, and went to join the others in the garden. As they took in the scene that met them, they stood quietly at the other side of the pram, holding hands very tightly. Then, as Laura looked into the pram at her children, she felt an overpowering surge of emotion; a tide of maternal love. As she turned her head slightly to look at her husband, Ross caught the smile that started in the corners of her eyes and spread over her whole face. The same smile that had first knocked him senseless.

Still not a word was spoken. All the talking had already been done. It seemed that, just as the tears were streaming down the two older faces, so pain, grief, and sorrow were pouring out of their hearts, draining away to leave only inward joy behind. While the four watched as the pram blanket gently rose and fell, and listened to the gentle murmers of the sleeping pair, each knew what the other three were thinking. The circle of life was complete. At last, twin babies dozed, close by the butterfly tree.

* * * The end * * *

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By the Butterfly Tree: Part Seventeen

My story heads towards its close… but if you’re new to this piece of fiction, it’s best to start here.

Alex Balfour, production director of Balfour, McAllen and Company (Engineering) Limited, looked down from the office walkway at the fabrication shop. The foreman, Ross McGeoch, was going from job to job, checking that everything was going as smoothly as humanly possible. That young man was a gem, Alex reflected. He blessed the day that his uncle, Robert McAllen, had taken him on as an apprentice after he’d done some summer holiday work for the firm, several years previously. He’d make a terrific project manager when Uncle Jo retired, he thought.
As he watched for a few moments longer, though, it seemed that something wasn’t quite right this morning. Ross seemed to be… what? Sort of… jumpy. Bothered. He’d just fetched another drawing from the office. Oh, and it must have been the wrong one. Now he was frowning, and dashing off for something else. And so on it went. Not like him at all. Something wasn’t quite right. Alex decided that a friendly chat at coffee-time would be in order. If there was a way he could help, he’d try and get out of him what the trouble was, he thought, as he headed for the stairway.

At ten fifteen, Ross made his way to the top offices. Alex had seen him earlier, and just said he’d like ‘a wee chat over a coffee.’ It was the the way Alex solved everything.
“So.” Alex pushed a cup and saucer in front of Ross, and pointed to the sugar bowl and biscuits on a tray.”How’s it all going?”
“Oh, a few snags on the Matthewson job, but nothing that can’t be sorted by the day’s end.”
“Good. Now… Listen, laddie. I don’t want to pry, but you don’t seem quite yourself today. Just happened to notice you seemed a bit… worried, maybe?”
Ross sipped his coffee, flicked one hand through his hair, and shrugged with a half grin. Not the usual cheery one, Alex thought. “Oh, I dunno…”
Alex just smiled, drank his own coffee, and waited. He knew Ross by now. Sure enough, he suddenly sighed. “Thanks for being so decent about this. It’s about Laura, the wifey.”
“Go on…?”
“Well, as I think I’ve told you, there’s a bairn on the way, yes? She’s about half way. Well, you know how they give mums-to-be all kinds of check-ups these days? Blood tests, and what all? Laura’s been for them all, regular as clockwork, and no problems to report. Then, just the other day, she got a letter. Putting it simply, it turned out that they wanted to repeat one of the tests, so it was down to the clinic for a blood sample repeat. She tried to get out of them what it was all about. Eventually, someone admitted that the result they’d got was a bit abnormal, so they wanted to run the test again. It happened all the time, they said. They didn’t make any big deal of it, so she wasn’t too bothered. Anyway, yesterday, she gets a letter in the post. Again, cutting it short, it was an appointment to go up to the hospital. Not a lot of explanation, except for some reference to this same test. Now of course, she’s worried sick. And, to be frank, so am I.”
“So when’s the appointment?”
“This Friday morning.”
“Right. Thursday afternoon, just make sure everything’s ticking O.K, especially the Matthewson stuff, of course. Then, Friday, take the morning off, and go with that lass of yours. No need to book anything out – I’ll square it with Uncle Bob. Would that help?”
Ross felt that a lead weight had been lifted off his back. “That would be absolutely terrific. Thank you ever so much for your concern.”
Alex lowered his voice. “A word, laddie. You’ve made a very positive contribution to this firm in the time you’ve been with us. I’m quite sure I speak for all the directors when I say that I wish you both all the best, and I fervently hope nothing’s wrong. But in any case, I think you should accompany your wife. And… give her the directors’ best wishes, will you?”

On Friday morning, Ross and Laura made their way to the obstetrics and gynaecology department of the local hospital. Laura was just holding herself calm as she gave her name at the reception desk. Fortunately, the sister on duty that day was one of a growing new breed, who realised that setting people at ease went a long way in antenatal care.
“Ah! Teamwork, I see. Always good.” She motioned towards the seats in an inner waiting area. Not all staff took this view, Laura knew. She sighed with relief. The sister looked at her notes. “Laura McGeoch, is it? Right. One of the ladies here will see you shortly. And then the prof will see you, too…” She rolled her eyes. “That’s when he appears. I’m sorry about this. I think us lot here are having a wee whip-round for a nice clock for him, as a retirement present. Only we’re no’ goin’ to wait for his retirement. We’re going to make it an alarm clock.” Ross and Laura grinned.

After a short interval, a young midwife beckoned to Laura and led her into a side-room. “O.K… I’m Gina, by the way. I’ve checked the notes, so let’s have a look at you, and a wee feel of that tummy.”
Laura made herself comfortable on the couch, partly undressed. Gina carefully and painstakingly inched her gentle fingers over Laura’s tummy, using a stethoscope at the same time. At length, she stopped and smiled. “Well, so far, so good. But, if you don’t mind, I’ll not say any more until Mr Munro’s seen you.”
Laura rejoined Ross to await Professor Munro’s arrival. In the bustle around him, Ross had tried unsuccessfully to read a magazine. He was glad to see that Laura looked a little more relaxed. After around half an hour, Laura was called away to see Mr Peter Munro.

The Professor did only about as much as Gina had done. Finally he smiled.
“O.K, fine. Relax. Your husband’s with you, I gather? I think we’ll call him in.”
When Ross was called, he felt sick, and then relieved as he took in the smile of the consultant. He and Laura sat down in front of his desk. And then Peter Munro, a man with bushy eyebrows over clear grey-blue eyes, a mop of greying hair, and more letters after his name than in it, began a part of his job that he rather enjoyed.

“Well, first of all, Mr and Mrs McGeoch, I must apologise to you if all this procedure has given you cause for alarm. I can imagine how you both may have felt over the last few days, having got one of the hospital’s standard letters without much explanation.” Clearing his throat, he went on. “However, I’m very glad to be able to say that, in your case, there is absolutely no need to worry any longer.” Noting the visible signs of relief on the two faces in front of him, he continued. “Very simply, we routinely do tests to look at the amount of a certain substance in the mother’s blood. If it’s higher than usual, it can mean there’s a problem. But in this case, there’s another factor we need to take into account.” He paused, savouring the moment. Ross looked puzzled, then broke in.
“I hope this doesn’t get much more complicated, professor.”
Peter Munro looked up calmly and smiled, holding the fingers of both hands like steeples as he did so. “There… isn’t really a complicated way to say the next bit, even if I tried.”
He turned to Laura. “You are expecting twins, Mrs McGeoch. Congratulations, both of you.”

The eighteenth and final part is now published here!

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By the Butterfly Tree – Part Sixteen

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.

Dear Ross,
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.
“I’m sorry.”
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…?”
“Yes, sweetheart…?”
“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!

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By the Butterfly Tree – Part Fifteen

OK, so it’s been a while. But what better time to release a bit more of this treacle-tin serial than Valentine’s Weekend? And once again, if you’re new to this little effort, it’s best to begin here.

“Just look at that!” Ross was awestruck.
“Wow!” Laura whispered.
The young couple gasped as seagulls soared, turned and dived in the sea breeze, the sky full of a non-stop display of aerobatics.

“Love it. Almost as much as I…”
Ross cut her off with a kiss as she began to blush, and she squeezed his hand. He would have taken her to the pictures or dancing more often, if she had cared for that. But she loved walks at the coast more than anything else, after the first time Ross had offered and they had taken a bus trip one Saturday. They had done the same this time; Laura had made a packed lunch for them and Ross had bought lemonade and some sweets and chocolate for the journey. They often joked about Laura being a cheap date.
“Told you before about that, poppet. Nothing cheap about you. Just not expensive to keep…” And so the lovers’ banter would go on.

They fell silent as they walked on down the cliff path to another vantage point, where they sat on a wooden bench and finished the last of their lunch. The breeze brought with it the tang of salt spray. Arms at each other’s backs, they gazed into the distance, to the outlines of the islands westward. After a few minutes, Ross felt the weight of Laura’s head falling against his shoulder. As he caught the clean smell of her hair shampoo, he saw that her eyes had closed. He was thoughtful as she dozed. He knew that her working week tired her out; she left her cousin’s house at seven every morning in order to be in time for work. She was home by six, if she was lucky, and her bus ran to time. And yet, as he held her close, it somehow felt so right. He waited until she woke with a start.

“Laura, poppet…”
“I’m just thinking we might do something different next Saturday. Just for a, y’know, change, like…”
Laura recognised the mischief in the way Ross left the suggestion hanging. She tolerated this for three and a half seconds.
“Out with it, then, ye wee terror!” As a general rule, the more excited or impatient she got, the more her mild-mannered parlance would metamorphose into the vernacular. Ross , at just over five feet ten tall compared with Laura’s five foot three, and (on Laura’s own admission to her aunt and her cousin) gentle as a lamb, would probably always be her ‘wee terror’.

“Well… I was thinking we could maybe go into town. I’d a wee bit shopping in mind. Like… looking for a ring for the fourth finger of somebody’s left hand. Yours, for instance.”

There. He’d said it. Words he’d wondered for ages just how they would come out. And as it happened, words that Laura wanted to hear, yet dreaded. There was nothing for it; she would have to face him out, right now.

“Ross, sweetheart… There’s something I need to talk about.” It came out in a sudden rush.
“Erm… you’ve decided you don’t want to marry me quite so much after all? Is that it?”
“Of course not, ye daft lummox!” Playfully, she punched Ross’s shoulder. Too late, she saw the grin. “Listen. I wanted to tell about this before, but somehow, I just couldn’t. You see, I didn’t want you to think I was rushing you.”

Help. Girls. How could you ever understand them? Understand this one, anyway?

“Could you explain yourself, if that’s possible, O dearest light of my life?”
“Ooh, am I really?” It was Laura’s turn at mock seriousness before Ross caught the look in her eyes. “Well, it’s like this. I knew you’d want to do… what you just said. Sometime. But, you know that first time you came with me to Auntie Kath’s, and you noticed Sarah’s wedding photo?

This was making less sense than ever.

“Yes… What’s that got to do with the price of cheese?”
“Well, you know how you remarked on the necklace she was wearing, in the photo? And how I said it was a sort of family heirloom? It was my granny’s. I didn’t know her ’cause she died quite young, and my granddad did too. But, you see, in her will, she said that Auntie Kath’s first daughter should have the necklace, and my mum’s first daughter should have her engagement ring. So Auntie kept the necklace safe, and mum kept the ring – I don’t know where. I saw it once, when I was a wee mite. It was beautiful. I think it had a diamond, with pink gems at each side. I didn’t know it was meant to be mine, then. Auntie told me about it one day. Anyway, there was the war, of course, and then…” Laura sighed. “…there wasn’t mum to ask, when I grew up. I know our house was bombed, and mum killed. But… I just wondered if there’d be any place it might have been taken to. You know, to the City Hall people, or something. Did they check houses before they pulled them down? Of course, I know a lot of stuff was just blown to bits. But what do you reckon?”
“Well…” It was Ross’s turn to sigh. “Now I get the idea. I can see why this means a lot to you, poppet. But I’ve no clue how to find anything out. Wait, though. My grandpa was a volunteer fireman in the war. They must have had rules about that sort of thing. We could ask him, if you don’t mind him knowing, you know, how serious things are with… us.”
“’Course I don’t. He’s guessed already, if I know your grandpa at all. But would you talk to him, sweetheart? And, if we did get it back, and I wanted it to be my engagement ring, would you mind?”
“If that’s what you’d like, Poppet, I’m happy. I go and see him one evening in the week anyway, now I’m not at college. You go and see your auntie and uncle, don’t you? Can you find out as much as you can, like, say, what the ring looked like, the address of your old home, the date of the raid when your poor mum was killed, all stuff like that? Anything at all. I mean, if it is safe somewhere, I don’t suppose they hand out lost property like this on a nod an’ a wink.”
“You’re on. I see Auntie, you see Grandpa. Is that it?”
“And if nothing comes of it – though it would be lovely if it did, for your granny’s sake, too – I get to buy you a ring. But if we do get your granny’s ring back, I buy you a necklace, or something like that. Whatever you’d like.” Ross went on, mimicking the accent of one of the American characters in the last film they had been to see together. “Do I have a deal, Miss Millar?”

Laura’s reply wasn’t given in words.

Part sixteen is now published here.

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By the Butterfly Tree – Part Thirteen

For the new year comes the next part of my story, the first one in the third and final section. If you haven’t read the previous instalments, then please go here to read about how this little effort began, and then follow the links.

It was Ross McGeoch’s first ‘day release’ Tuesday. Instead of heading to the metalwork and engineering firm where he was now an apprentice, he had headed into the city, to the new technical college so symbolic of post-war Britain. All kinds of work-related subjects were taught to young people, under one roof. The local bus company even put on special college services.
The morning had been full of getting to know the place, finding classrooms, meeting tutors, and generally getting a feel for college life. A kind of life that seemed good to Ross. You were on your honour much more than in school. He was determined to show everyone that he could, and would, take it seriously. He’d done well at school, and the head, and everyone else, had expected that he’d enter the sixth form. But Ross had been adamant. He wanted an apprenticeship with the firm he’d done ‘holiday work’ for, and to study engineering at college. And so far, this had worked out.
He was reflecting on this as he now sat in the dining hall, a plate of spaghetti bolognaise in front of him and a bowl of apple pie and custard at his side. Breakfast was a distant memory. An awful lot seemed to have happened since then. A typical lad, his mum would have said…

He was roused from this reverie by a muffled chorus of female voices. A group of girls had walked into the servery area. They chatted spiritedly as they selected their meals and queued to pay. Two of them called to another. “You sitting with us, Laura?”
The three girls were obviously new to the place, like he was, Ross thought. Then, as they walked by to find a table, the one bringing up the rear looked around her. Catching sight of Ross, she smiled for a moment before walking on.

A fraction of a second that blew Ross McGeoch’s mind.

As he made his way to the first afternoon lesson, he realised he had a problem. College, he could cope with. Lessons, he could cope with. Walking up to a girl he’d only just half-met, to ask her out, he struggled with.

Especially if she was, in his estimation, the most beautiful girl in the world.

 * * *

It was a Tuesday late in November when the whole area was blanketed in thick freezing fog. As students returned to lessons after the college lunch break, an announcement was relayed to each classroom. The bus company had telephoned to advise the college that no special services, and few general ones, were now expected to run that afternoon. The principal had decided to end the teaching day after the first afternoon lesson. All students were advised to make their way home as best they could. At two-twenty, Ross fastened his coat and slung his haversack onto his shoulders, then made for the main exit. As he pushed his way through the swing doors, a silhouette came into view ahead of him. As he stepped forward, it became clear that this was another student, preparing, no doubt, for a long walk.
“We just stride it out, eh?” Ross called out, cheerfully. Then he blinked as the other student turned in response. “Oh… It’s Laura, isn’t it?” Goodness, she could even send that smile through fog, he thought. Then, rather self-consciously, he asked “You got far to walk?”
It turned out that she lived about a mile from Ross’s own home. Falteringly, he suggested “We could walk together, if you like…?” When she readily accepted, his heart leapt.

Conversation was stilted, at first. For one thing, they had to find their way through the fog, to roads they were familiar with. Then, gradually, they began to talk more freely, to compare themselves with each other, first of all as far as college went, and then about life in general. Laura was doing a secretarial course and was hoping to progress to accountancy. She worked for a plumbing and heating firm, at their office, not too far from home. Or rather, her cousin’s home, where she lived. At Ross’s prompting, Laura went on. It never occurred to her that she had never told so much of her life story to anyone before. Some long time afterwards, she admitted that it had something to do with a pair of intense blue eyes…

Laura had been orphaned in the war. Her father was killed in action, her mother in an air-raid. Thankfully, her aunt had taken her in and treated her like another daughter, Her cousin, Sarah, was twenty-two and married. As her aunt and uncle’s home was in a village some miles outside the city, and a long way from Laura’s work and college, her cousin had recently offered her a home. She still saw her Auntie Katherine and Uncle Fred quite often.
“Sorry I’m so nosey,” Ross cut in. “I didn’t want you to talk about stuff you’d rather not.” He thought about what it would be like to hardly know anything about his own mother, and suddenly felt awkward for asking so much.
“Aw, no, that’s all right – I mean… I don’t think it’s nosey…” Laura began to laugh. “Anyway, you’ve told me as much about you.”
Soon they turned into the main road near to Sarah’s home, on a new estate. It was now very dark, and they had to pick their way from one street light to the next. They said little for several minutes. Ross knew that Laura’s journey was nearly complete. He gulped for a moment…

“I never thought today would turn out like this, but I’ve enjoyed walking and talking with you. Would you… care to come out with me, some time?”

There. He’d said it. He waited. Laura’s voice was almost a whisper in the fog.

“I’d like that, Ross. Thank you.”

They agreed to meet the following Saturday, and go to watch a film. But, as she walked through the gate of Sara’s house, Laura realised that it wasn’t really the prospect of a good film that mattered to her.

You can now read part fourteen here.

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By the Butterfly Tree – Part Twelve

My story continues… For a brief introduction and a link to the beginning, go here.

It was eight o’clock on a blustery evening in late November. Sister Helen Anderson switched off the main lights. Annie Fraser and Evie Jamieson were quietly moving between beds and cots, taking pulses, listening out for cries of pain, alert for signs of dangerous fever or any other crises among their young charges. It would be a long night. Many diseases of childhood could still be fatal; the right nursing could save a young life.
As Annie and Evie worked out on the ward, Helen sat in the office, checking reports and other paperwork left by the day shift, working by the light of her reading lamp. Then, satisfied, she quietly joined the two dedicated young women at their duties.
Tonight, there were only the three of them; night shifts did not, as a rule, warrant many staff. There was little hustle and bustle, in contrast with the hectic schedule the day shift had. Except, of course, when there had been raids. Emergencies had occurred back to back and side by side for hours at a time. Helen blinked and shook herself at the memory…

The night wore on. The coordination was almost uncanny. Little needed to be said, just a few words of counsel, now and then, would pass between Helen and the other two. She made them take it in turns to have short breaks, making sure they had drinks and a bite to eat.
“Sister,” whispered Evie, as she re-entered the ward, “You’ll need a drink, yourself… Annie and I will call you if there’s trouble. Promise.” She spread out one hand, holding it over where she knew her heart ought to be, and winked. Many in Helen’s position would not have tolerated the familiarity, but there was a special bond here; maybe some good could come out of a war, after all…
Helen sighed appreciatively. “Thank you, Evie. Just give me a few minutes.”

As Evie and Annie kept up their vigil on the ward, Helen was thinking as she drank her tea. It so happened that, at the end of this shift, they would all get a break until Monday morning. Now was as good a time as any, she thought…

Back on the ward, she looked around, taking fresh note of the condition of the more seriously ill children, then returned to the office to make her own notes for the day shift. She made one last tour of the ward, then beckoned to Evie and Annie with a nod.
“Ladies, when we finish, I’d be glad if I could have a word on the way out. Is that all right?” Then, noticing their concern, she added “It’s all right – you’re not in trouble, either of you!”

With the dawn came more wind and rain. The two younger women were waiting in the lobby of the staff entrance as Helen met them.
“Thank you, both. Sorry to detain you like this. You see, it’s nothing to do with this place. I just wanted to ask you both a favour.”
The other two looked up questioningly in response.
“It’s like this. I’ve been invited to a wedding, and I’ve been asked to bring a couple of friends. It’s a good few weeks away, yet – after Christmas – but I’m a bit nervous about it, to be honest. I’ve never really been used to parties and such, and… I’d really appreciate it if you’d both oblige.”
Evie looked at Annie, then spoke for them both. “Oblige? It’d be our pleasure. But… Do we know the couple getting hitched?”
Helen’s eyes melted into her trade-mark twinkle. “I think you know the bride-to-be. And the groom, just a little. Helen Anderson’s getting married to Archie McGeoch.”
The two young women gasped, and then visibly rocked. Annie’s eyes seemed to grow stalks. For once, she was dumb. For several seconds, the scene was reminiscent of an old silent movie; the picture was striking. Annie’s lips began to move, but the sound just didn’t come.

Evie reached into her pocket for a handkerchief. “Oh! Sister! I’m… so happy for you… Both of you!”
Annie just nodded. Helen looked into the faces of the other two with appreciation. “Thank you, both. And, er, off duty, it’s ‘Helen’. OK?

Just after mid-day on the same day, at the end of an early shift, Archie and George Baird were walking together in the direction of the bicycle sheds. “George,” said Archie, in a querying tone, “I want to ask ye something.”
“What’s that, Archie?”
“I’ve a little job needin’ doing.”
Now, George was well-known for his skills at such things as setting up wireless sets, or checking and testing accumulators. Generous by nature, he was sometimes unfairly taken advantage of, but rarely declined to help. And, anyway, he’d have done anything for Archie. He began to imagine what his friend might want.
“How can I help ye?”
“Well, George, it’s no’ for a wee bittie yet, but I was wonderin’… Would you be ma best man?”

This part is the end of section two of the whole story. I never expected to get this far. That’s why it’s a magic moment for me. The content of this part also has a magic moment in it. So I’m linking up with this week’s ‘Magic Moments’ hosted by Jaime at The Oliver’s Madhouse.

Update: part thirteen, which opens the third and final section of this story,
is now published here.

Oh, and… To Helen at All at Sea… Thanks again!

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By the Butterfly Tree – Part Eleven

First of all, a note to new readers: Thank you for coming along. If you haven’t done so already, take a look here, which explains how this story came to be written, and then gives you a link to the beginning. I hope you like this story – and the rest of this blog. Take a seat… 😉

Now, those of you who’ve followed this story so far: Yeah, all right, all right, I know it’s been a while! Mojo didn’t dry up, but available opportunity did. But here we are, back again by popular demand because I now have time. You’re up to part ten…? Then read on! 😉

Now that Archie had been back at work for several days, everyone who knew him – from the apprentices who had sometimes borne the brunt of his recent morose state, to the shipyard managers – could hardly fail to notice his new lightness of mood and general good humour. Some put this down to the enforced period of rest he’d had, even suggesting that the accident had been a blessing in disguise. Others, perhaps facetiously, suggested that the bang on the head that he’d sustained had actually put something right in his brain. All of them welcomed the change, however. Archie would nod, even smile, as he passed those he knew. He’d even joined a few mates one evening for a drink at a nearby pub.

Not long after this, on a Saturday evening, Archie took himself off for a walk to clear his mind. He had been wondering for some days now how he should thank Helen for her concern for him. At least, that was what he asked himself. Somehow, he found himself heading for the infirmary. Perhaps she’d be on duty, or he might enquire at the children’s ward. He was well-known there, after all. He looked around as he turned in at the gates and approached the main entrance. Inevitably, the grounds weren’t as well-kept as they had been before the war…

And then it hit him. The heady scent of buddleia, still in flower. Just by a low brick wall at the edge of a path, a few remaining blooms trembled slightly in the gentle breeze. He walked over, once again lost in all kinds of thoughts, as he had been on that day over two years before. And then, for the second time in only a month or so, he found himself roused from his swirling thoughts by a voice he knew.

“It’s been beautiful, this year. I… Oh…!
As Archie turned to face the speaker, Helen jumped as she recognised him.
“Archie! What are you doing here?”
“Ha! Your turn to ask that, now! Well, actually, as it happens, it was you I’d come to see. I… just wanted to thank you… for coming to see me that evening. It was a life-saver, Helen. Really…”
“Och, Archie, what else could I have done?”
“Listen, Helen. I’d like to tell you why it meant so much to me. I take it, you’ve just finished for today?” As Helen nodded, Archie went on. “Have you time to share a cuppie with me while I tell ye? It willnae be anything fancy round here, after what this war’s done, but I’d be glad if you’d spare me a chat…”

In a tiny, but clean and cosy, side-street café nearby, Archie talked of how losing Jenny had made him think back over his life so many times. He talked about his flying days in France, about what he’d seen of war, first hand. It occurred to him that he’d never talked to anyone like this before. It was as if some massive knot inside his mind was slowly coming undone. As he paused now and then, to ponder, Helen gently replied with accounts of her own experiences as a young army nurse during the same years.

At length, it was time for the café to close. As they left, the evening air struck cooler.
“Helen, I’m sorry. I should have asked how you were getting home. I hope I havena’…”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll easy get the next tram.”
They walked together to the tram stop, still talking, but about life as it was now, right up to date. It never occurred to either of them to think that there was anything at all odd about how this chance meeting had gone. Sharing the twists and turns of a curious web of life, how Helen had cared for her own parents until they both passed away, how Archie had got back into work after leaving the army, when so many other men had been left on the streets… and then they both stood silent for a few moments.

“I was wondering… Could we have another chat like this, some time? Maybe go for a walk someplace, if you get a day off… A Sunday, mebbes…?
Archie looked hopefully into Helen’s face. He almost jumped as he saw the characteristic smile that started in the corners of her eyes.
“I… I do get some Sundays off, Archie. Next Sunday, I’ll be off, as it works out. And, you know… I’d like to do that. I’d like it very much.”
As they heard the hissing and clanking of the tram in the distance, Archie and Helen arranged where to meet, in eight days’ time.

* * *

Archie turned up his jacket collar as he headed home. He was tired, but easier in his mind than he’d been for some time. And then he realised: it had been a very long time indeed.

And meanwhile, a very thoughtful middle-aged nursing sister was going home on a tram, dabbing her eyes.

You can read part twelve here.

This part of my story took a bit more thought to write than previous ones. Also, there is more thinking involved for the fictional characters. So, once again, this post is linked to
‘Prose for Thought’ hosted by Vicky at ‘Verily, Victoria Vocalises’.

Prose for Thought
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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Ten

It’s no use protesting: Summer is now over. But, for me, the inspiration of Summer of Words as started by Helen, who blogs at All At Sea continues. After a long pause, necessitated by everyday pressures, my story continues. If you’re new to my story, you can begin here.

It was just two years since Jenny had been taken to hospital. In the world around, many changes were happening. America had entered the war with a vengeance – literally. In medicine, the widespread use of penicillin was just emerging like a chicken hatching from an egg. The relief of Malta had been a great morale booster for the allies. What, sadly, hadn’t changed was the morose state of Archie McGeoch.

Just about everyone who new Archie said that things couldn’t stay like this for ever. Something had to happen, they said, although none of them cared to venture just what it might be. Many hoped and prayed that he wouldn’t injure himself through carelessness with sharp tools, of which, of course, he used plenty, or get hit by a tram or other vehicle as a result of not looking where he was going.

The collective prophecy was finally fulfilled one busy morning, when the vessel Archie was working on was almost complete. Senior men like himself, George Baird, and several more were making dozens of last-minute checks and adjustments, and he’d slept badly the night before. As he climbed a stairway rather fast, he lost his footing and fell, hitting his head on a section of guard-rail with a sickening thud. Another carpenter caught him as he fell backwards, unconscious. A slight graze belied the seriousness of the injury; as help was sent for, Archie drifted between one black-out and the next, and was very sick. He was stretchered to the main entrance to the yard, and from there, an ambulance took him to hospital.

Once admitted, he was kept under observation for severe concussion; he was still drifting in and out of consciousness, and very confused. Then he would sleep for hours at a time. When fully awake, he had no memory of what had happened to him. X-ray pictures revealed a hairline crack in his skull; doctors anxiously checked for any signs of permanent brain damage. Sometimes he would wake suddenly, and call out, usually something to do with the ship he’d been working on.

Back at the shipyard, workmates waited anxiously for news. As next-of-kin, Muriel had, of course, been advised, and a message was sent to Leslie, who was once again given compassionate leave, and began a long journey home.

Thankfully, after two days, Archie’s condition seemed to improve. He could eat and drink a little, by himself, and make his way, with help, across the ward to the bathroom; he just seemed to be extremely tired, still sleeping for long periods. Muriel was able to see him for a few minutes, and he seemed to cheer up considerably, asking at once about his grandson. He was thrilled, too, to see his own son in his RAF uniform – Leslie was now a wing commander – the next day. Again, they talked for just a few minutes.

As his strength and clarity of mind began to improve, nurses urged him to take his time and not to worry. He’d be right as rain soon enough, they said. Gradually, the feeling of exhaustion lessened, but then his old feelings of sadness and anger began to bug him…

It was the end of his fourth day in hospital. The usual bustle of the nurses’ shift change began. Archie closed his eyes, falling into a pensive mood. Then after a few minutes, a gentle, but clear, female voice near him roused him with a jolt.

“Good evening, young man. I hear you’ve been sparring with pieces of metalwork, without asking my permission.”

“Who…? What…?” Archie roused himself and looked up. “Helen…? What are you doing here?”

“Well, I happen to work in this hospital, don’t forget.”

“Yes, I know, but…?”

“Listen, Archie. Let’s just say, a wee birdie told me what had happened to you. And I thought of all the times you checked up on wee bairns you’d rescued. Was I going to come off shift and go home without seeing how you were doing? Now, just take care, don’t try and run a mile just yet, and you’re going to be O.K. I’ve seen the notes. All right?”

“Helen, this is… very kind of you. It… it’s much appreciated.”

“Archie, it’s the least I could do. Take care, now.” With a squeeze of Archie’s hand and then a final wave, she was gone…

And so was Archie’s black mood. He slept soundly through the night, and woke up eager for breakfast.

You can now read part eleven here.

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Summer of Words: By the Butterfly Tree – Part Nine

Here at last is the next part of my story! If you’ve come to this story for the first time, you can begin here, or read this post to learn how it all began!

When Archie went to see his wife the following evening, he was told that she was being made ready for surgery the next day. The consensus of opinion among the doctors who had examined her was that it was likely she had gallstones. He was advised not to visit on the next evening, but the evening after that, he found his wife in good spirits, despite some post-operative pain. Things seemed to be going the right way. He was therefore somewhat taken aback when, on the Friday evening, he was met by the ward sister as he left after bidding Jenny good night. “Mr. McGeoch – could I just have a word with you?”
In the office, they were joined by a doctor. Together, they explained gently; the report of Jenny’s surgery had come through. The surgeon had, indeed found – and removed – gallstones. Sadly, he had found a lot more besides. Jenny had cancer of the pancreas. No further treatment was possible. Archie swayed at the news. After a few moments, he mustered up a whisper. “How long has she got, d’you think?”
The young doctor sighed. “It really is very hard to say. Sometimes it’s just weeks, but maybe several months. I should add that we haven’t said anything to your wife about this, at present.”
Archie just felt sick. A nurse brought him a cup of tea, which he accepted gratefully. Stunned, he thanked the ward sister for her care, and for her consideration in waiting to the end of the visit to talk to him. “Not at all, Mr. McGeoch… I can only say again how sorry we are to be giving you news like this.” This was a part of her job that never got easier with practise, Sister Symmonds thought.

Archie made his way home in a daze. He realised he needed to tell Muriel the awful news, and so headed first to his son and daughter-in-law’s home. She was devastated. At once, she promised to get word to Leslie as quickly as possible. Then, returning home and feeling the need of male company, and knowing of his concern, he knocked on his neighbour’s door. Jim Hamilton beckoned Archie inside. He noted the anguish written on Archie’s face, and motioned him towards a chair. At the news, he covered his face with his hands. Lizzie, who had listened too, gasped with shock. “Archie, laddie, I’ve nae words…” Moving to his sideboard, he quietly found a bottle, and poured each of them a dram…

In the days that followed, Archie’s life became a kind of blurred routine. Friends and neighbours, as well as Muriel, helped all they could. By day, Archie threw himself into his work to occupy his mind. Each evening, he visited Jenny, who, in the short term, was gradually feeling better. Leslie was given brief compassionate leave to visit his mother; she was moved almost to tears at the sight of him in uniform – he was now promoted to Wing Commander. For his own part, a lump rose in his throat as he thought of the years of motherhood that she had given him. “I’ll be back soon, Mum” he called out, as he left the ward before his eyes filled.

It was some days later, just as there was a suggestion of Jenny being allowed to go home, that her condition took a turn for the worse. In the weeks that followed, she had good days and bad days, but was clearly deteriorating steadily. One evening, she whispered to Archie as he sat beside her. “Archie, love… I’m not going to get better, am I?” In reply, Archie just squeezed her hand. Jenny squeezed a reply. Nothing more needed to be said.

It was a wet Saturday evening in November when, with Archie and Leslie at her side – miraculously, Leslie had been given leave that very weekend – Jenny slipped away. Even after this, with the support of family and friends, Archie remained calm and composed. It was not until after the simple funeral – a burial in the grounds of the little church they had often attended – that his nerve broke. He sank into a morose state, fluctuating between tears of anguish and silent, sullen anger. Anger with himself, for being alive. Anger with life itself. He’d come through ‘the last lot’ against all odds, with hardly a scratch; as an auxiliary fireman, he’d only sustained a few bruises and scratches. Those two fateful nights, just eight months before, had claimed over five hundred lives, but not his, or Jenny’s. And now, this devil illness had taken her. It wasn’t fair!

Only one person seemed to be able to give Archie some measure of relief and comfort: his grandson. “Grandpa?” Ross said one day, “Can we go for a walk again soon? We might see a butterfly tree.” Archie turned away for a moment, half grinning, half weeping. Oh, the innocent optimism of childhood, that didn’t let a simple thing like the imminent onset of winter spoil the chances of seeing a shrub in bloom…

You can now read part ten here:

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