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Open Features: Her Grandmother's Secret

Monica Howard's tale concerns the secret revealed by the bequest of a painting of the walled garden at Hampton Court Palace.

Jane left the house, saying “Hello” to the postman who was delivering mail to her neighbours, hurrying to catch the bus due at 8.45 am.

“Good morning Jane,'' was the greeting when she boarded the bus. "Are you going to work today?”

“Hello Jim, single to Bushy Park please. No. I’m going to see an artist about a painting.”

She had recently been given a painting which had been owned by her grandmother. When she opened its rear panel a letter fell out. It revealed a mystery. Grandmother Alice had been happily married to Bert for as long as Jane had known her. The letter, addressed to Alice, concerned shared walks and a mutual interest in flowers. It was signed "With all my love, Sam.''

Jane had asked her mother Rosemary about the letter. She had never heard of this man Sam. Grandfather Bert was dead. If he knew the secret he had taken it to his grave. Jane had checked her family tree in local archives,but there was no mention of a Sam.

After studying the painting more closely she noticed a signature in one corner: H R Brown. She thumbed through the phone book, finding a painter of that name. She phoned him. He said he might be able to help, but he needed to see the picture.

She was trying to imagine what Mr Brown would say when Jim shouted "Bushy Park. Give my regards to your mother.”

Mr Brown's studio was only a short walk from the bus stop. He was a man in his late sixties, with grey hair and eyes, and he welcomed her into a large room filled with paintings and antique furniture.

She unwrapped her painting which was of the walled garden at Hampton Court Palace. It showed a blaze of summer colours, with trees and bushes and a gardener hoeing in the background.

Mr Brown remembered the picture. He had painted it for a gardener at Hampton Court, a man called Sam West. He thought Sam had a son.

Jane thanked Mr Brown, then she went for a walk in a local park to sort out her thoughts.

She did not sleep well that night. She found it hard to accept that her Grandmother had had an affair with another man, and at the same time she was annoyed that her grandmother had not confided in her.

The next morning found her waiting at the bus stop, heading for work. It was raining, but Jim was his usual witty self. She paid for her ticket and sat in a front seat. Something made her inspect the ticket. It contained a message. "“Will you have dinner with me tonight? - Jim West.''

Jane was unattached and accepted the invitation. That evening Jim came to her house to pick her up. Over dinner they talked about their relatives. "What was your grandfather's name?'' she asked. She was shocked when he repled "Sam West.''

Jim confirmed that Sam had been a gardener at Hampton Court Palace.

"It seems that my grandmother and your grandfather were lovers,'' said Jane. "And we are the only ones who know their secret.''

As they parted company that night Jim had just one question.

"Can I see you again Jane?''

Story by Monica Howard.
Copyright 2009

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