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Authors: Gwen Kirkwood

Darkest Before Dawn

BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
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Darkest Before the Dawn

Gwen Kirkwood

My thanks to Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary for explaining the procedures and diligence involved during and after a serious road accident, particularly regarding the care of the victims and the need to establish their correct identities, and to contact their relatives with sensitivity and understanding.

I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to Francis and Jacquie McFaul for their frank discussion following a leg amputation: the personal anguish, the physical, life-changing difficulties, and the need for love, patience and support from those nearest and dearest, whose lives are also affected.

Rosemary Caraford felt a shiver of apprehension at the sight of the blue lights of a police car drawing up at her door. Why should she feel this peculiar premonition of disaster tonight? Normally she was a practical, level-headed woman and she would be the first to admit it was ridiculous to feel any sort of alarm. The police were only doing their job, and they often needed to come to the farm to report a minor road accident which had demolished part of a fence, especially when there were animals in the field which might stray onto the road and cause another accident. Sometimes they came to enquire about the tenants in one of the cottages – all perfectly simple explanations. She straightened her shoulders, opened the door and looked questioningly at the two police officers, summoning her usual ready smile despite her exhaustion after a hard day’s work. In spite of her resolve to be calm and sensible, her heart raced at their first question.

‘Yes, this is Martinwold Farm.’ She could feel
the colour ebbing from her face. ‘William Alexander Caraford? Yes, this is his address. Billy is our son.’ She was an intelligent and capable woman but right now her brain seemed to be turning to mush. She couldn’t remember the registration number of Billy’s car. Why did the police need it, or Billy? She stared at Sergeant Gregory and Police Constable Hazel Jacobs. She was too agitated by their presence and their carefully worded questions to think clearly. It had been a long day, but a satisfying one, beginning with the good news brought by Jim Atkins, the postie, who had arrived while they were still finishing breakfast.

It was a sunny August morning and the postman was whistling happily when he arrived at Martinwold Farm. Billy jumped to his feet, his breakfast forgotten. Tension and excitement warred with each other over his lean young face. This was the day for the exam results. All he’d ever wanted to do was follow in his father’s footsteps and farm but he knew farming needed some education these days if he was to keep up with modern trends and all the regulations which kept pouring in from Brussels. In any case, he had been brought up to make the most of his abilities and opportunities. At seventeen that meant concentrating on his schoolwork.

‘You’re early this morning, Jim,’ Sam Caraford greeted the postman with a smile.

‘Aye, the young folk are all waiting impatiently for these.’ He pointed to the large brown envelope on top of the pile and grinned across at Billy, already stretching out a hand for the letter.

‘Sure you don’t want me to open it?’ his father teased. 

‘Not on your life,’ Billy said, ripping open the envelope, holding his breath. ‘Yes! Yes!’ he yelled seconds later. ‘I’ve passed! I’ve passed them all! They’re all A grades, even my French.’

‘We never doubted you’d pass them, did we, Sam?’ his mother said, beaming with pride.

‘Aye, it pays to work hard.’ The elderly postman nodded. ‘But ye’re a clever laddie anyway. So is your pal, Liam, up at Highfold. I’ve just come from there. He said I could tell you he has passed all his exams too and he’s looking forward to meeting up for a celebration at Gino’s tonight. He’s a grand laddie, young Liam. He’s ten times the lad o’ that wastrel
half-brother
o’ his. All Derek Lennox and his gang care about is drinking. Drugs as weel if the rumours be true, but his father willna hear a word against him, not even after he lost his driving licence and then took his brand new Range Rover without permission and crashed it.’

‘You don’t really think Derek takes drugs, do you, Jim?’ Rosemary asked anxiously. ‘Surely there’s not many people take drugs in a country area like this?’

‘There may not be as many as in the city, but from what I hear there’s a fair few, and Derek Lennox and his gang are amongst ’em. He’s breaking Mrs Lennox’s heart, so he is.’ He sighed heavily.

‘Yes, so I believe,’ Rosemary said. ‘Jane has always done her best to treat him the same as Liam and Fenella, her own two children, but since Derek reached his teens she says he resents all her efforts to be a good mother to him. I know she has a struggle trying to guide him. It’s a pity his own father doesn’t give his support.’

‘Young Derek threw away his own opportunities as soon as he started secondary school and got in with a gang. He didn’t pass any exams and I reckon he’s jealous o’ young Liam now,’ Jim Aitken said, shaking his grey head. ‘Young folk have great opportunities these days. It’s good to see some of ye making the most o’ them, Billy. I wish you, and young Liam, the best o’ luck, laddie. He’s hoping ye’ll phone him as soon as ye’ve opened your results. Young Fenella has done well too. She tells me she wants to be a vet. It looks like she’ll be following the pair o’ ye to university in another couple o’ years.’

‘Thanks, Jim.’ Billy grinned at him. ‘I’ll phone Highfold right away.’ The old postman nodded. He enjoyed his job. He knew the affairs of most of the country folk and he shared their joys and their sorrows, but there were changes ahead and he was hoping they wouldn’t come before he was ready to retire.

‘I can see there’ll be a crowd at Gino’s tonight,’ his father said when the postman had gone, whistling on his way. Sam knew the young folk gathered at the coffee shop in town when they had anything to celebrate. The owner, a second-generation Italian, always made them welcome so long as they didn’t get too rowdy.

‘I’ll phone Liam,’ Billy said. ‘I knew he would do brilliantly. He’s set his heart on a career in medical research. He can’t wait to get away from Derek’s scorn. Even Mr Lennox disapproves of him planning to spend years at university.’

‘Derek Lennox is probably wishing he’d worked harder himself when he had the chance, instead of
bunking off with his friends at every opportunity,’ Rosemary said.

‘I don’t know what he thinks,’ Billy said, his young face troubled, ‘but he’s in with a really bad crowd. Liam says his mother is worried sick but Derek’s father refuses to listen to any criticism so long as Derek plans to follow in his footsteps and take over the tenancy of Highfold. The trouble is, he’s hardly ever there, and when he is, Liam says he’s not fit to work. It’s Liam who has done most of the extra work at the silage and harvest this summer, even though he has no desire to farm. He feels it’s his duty to help his stepfather and work for his keep.’

‘Yes, the vet was saying the same thing when he was here the other day,’ Sam said. ‘He had been doing the TB testing at Highfold and he said it was Liam who had all the ear numbers and records sorted in readiness. Syd Lennox will miss him more than he realizes when he goes to university. It needs more than brawn these days to keep up with things.’

‘I’ll go and phone Liam now,’ Billy said, ‘but celebrations at Gino’s will have to wait until tomorrow night. The contractor wants to finish combining the Langlee field by tonight. Here’s hoping we don’t have any breakdowns.’

‘Och, I reckon we shall manage if we get a good start,’ his father said. ‘We’ll excuse you from working late in the field if you deal with the milking?’

‘Oh yes, I can do that OK,’ Billy said eagerly. He loved all the farm work and the changing seasons, but most of all he enjoyed working with the dairy herd.

‘Your mother and I are proud of you, son. You deserve a wee celebration with your friends. Anyway, we shall have
to get used to managing without you when you go away to university.’

‘We–ell, if you’re sure.’ Billy didn’t like leaving any job unfinished. ‘It’s true most of our friends will be at Gino’s tonight, even if some of them have not got the grades they hoped for. Will you be able to give Liam and me a lift into town then, Mum?’

‘I reckon we can do better than a lift, can’t we, Rosie?’ Sam looked across at his wife with a conspiratorial smile. ‘You’ll be eighteen next month. You’ve been driving tractors since you could reach the pedals and it’s nearly a year since you passed your driving test. We know you’re steady, so we’ve bought you a wee car of your own. It’s not a new one, mind you,’ Sam warned, ‘but it’s in good condition. It’s only had one owner, an elderly lady, so it hasn’t done a big mileage. We’ve registered and insured it in your own name but the rest will be up to you. That should be enough to make you go carefully, eh?’

‘A car of my own?’ Billy echoed, his blue eyes shining. ‘Really?’ He turned to look at his mother. She smiled back at him.

‘It was to be for your birthday but Willie Blake knew the previous owner and he said it was a bargain. It’s been ready to drive away for the past month, but Willie agreed to keep it at the garage. You’ve worked hard, Billy, and we were sure you’d do well in your exams. Anyway, your father has an ulterior motive, haven’t you, Sam?’

‘Oh aye.’ Sam grinned at them both. ‘We thought if you have your own wheels you’ll be able to come home for the weekend once a month and do the relief milking.’

‘That’s brilliant,’ Billy said. ‘I’ll come every fortnight and keep to my present routine, doing the relief milking every second weekend as I’ve done for the past two years. I’ve been saving up and I’ll need to keep on earning money when I’m living away from home.’

‘And buying your own petrol, as well as toothpaste and shampoo!’ his mother teased.

‘My own car? I can’t believe it!’ He seized his mother in a bear hug, lifting her off her chair. Rosemary Caraford was small and neat and Billy was even taller than his father now.

‘Put me down! Behave yourself,’ she squeaked, shaking her head and laughing. ‘You were such a puny wee thing. How you ever grew so big and strong I don’t know.’

‘Will you run him into the garage to pick up the car, Rosie?’ Sam asked. ‘It’s a silver Vauxhall Astra, Billy.’

‘I don’t care what make it is so long as it goes and I can be independent,’ Billy said happily. ‘To be honest, that was the worst bit about going away to university, not being able to get home regularly and see what was going on with the cows and the farm. Now everything will be perfect.’ He grinned and hugged his mother again, then turned to Sam. ‘Thanks, Dad,’ he said a little gruffly. Sam slapped him on the back.

‘You’re a good laddie. We shall miss you when you go away.’

The milking was finished, the parlour all washed up, ready for the morning milking, and the cows had been taken back to their pasture for the night. It was a lovely summer evening. Billy dashed up
to the house to grab a sandwich and a cup of tea before he collected Liam and his sister. Fenella was meeting her own friends at Gino’s and she had asked for a lift when she heard Billy had got a car of his own. Their mothers had taken turns at chauffeuring their offspring to various school or sports functions ever since the two boys started primary school. They would be independent now, Billy thought happily. They were neighbouring farmers and the two families got on well – or at least they had until about two years ago when Derek Lennox had appeared in court on a charge of dangerous driving.

He had run into the car of a middle-aged couple before knocking down a long length of fencing and ending up in one of the Martinwold fields. Although there were animals grazing in the field he had left his vehicle and run home without reporting the accident. Fortunately the driver of a van had seen the crash and stopped to help the couple in the other car. They had reported the accident to the police but Samuel Caraford had been called as a witness to corroborate the police report concerning the broken fencing and the car abandoned in his field. Since then Mr Lennox had barely spoken to any of the Carafords.

‘It isn’t just your family,’ Liam had said to Billy apologetically. ‘My dad is making life hell for Fenella and me, and we think it’s even worse for my mother. She’s moved into the spare bedroom but she still tries to humour him. It makes me furious inside when he ignores her. She looks so unhappy. He keeps muttering about the time I spend at school and doing my homework. He wants me to leave school and work on the farm, but I’d only be running after him and
Derek, and he knows I’ve always wanted a career in medical research. You’d think he would understand when my real dad was a doctor.’ Billy listened and agreed with his friend, knowing talking to him was Liam’s way of dealing with the increasing stress at home. Derek had missed school at every opportunity and left as soon as he could, without qualifications or ambition to do anything except enjoy life.

‘It’s not worth arguing with either my dad or Derek,’ Liam told Billy bitterly one day after he had allowed Derek to provoke him. ‘I told him any career was better than throwing my life away on drink and drugs as he was doing. I reminded him that he’s never fit to drive machinery before midday.’ Liam had arrived at school with a black eye and a bruised cheek. The man he regarded as his father had struck him. It was a shock. The blow had made him aware of his real place in the Lennox family. He and his sister only bore Syd Lennox’s name because he had adopted them when he had married their mother, but Derek bore his father’s blood as well as his name. As a doctor their own father had died while struggling to save the lives of fellow passengers during a train crash. His mother had been expecting Fenella at the time and Liam had been two years old. They had moved to live at his grandparents’ farm and Fenella had been born three months later.

‘My mum had known the Lennox family for years,’ Liam once told Billy. ‘She had been at school with the first Mrs Lennox. Fenella and I had no dad and Derek had no mum so I suppose marriage was a convenient solution.’ Billy did not miss the undertone of bitterness in his voice. ‘We’ve always regarded him as
our dad,’ Liam went on. ‘He has been good to us until recently. Since Derek left school and Fenella and I have made our own choices to aim at university, his attitude has changed.’

‘I expect it’s hard for him to see his own son making such a mess of life, when you and Fenella are working hard and doing so well at school,’ Billy replied,
subconsciously
quoting his own mother, but the episode had strengthened Liam’s determination to do well at school and get away to university at the first
opportunity
.

‘If Derek wants to throw his life away then let him get on with it. I intend to make a life for myself. If I can do some good for other folks along the way then that will be a bonus. Fenella wants to be a vet. Mum says she has enough money set aside from our grandfather’s legacy to help both of us with university expenses, so we won’t be depriving Derek of anything.’

BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
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