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Authors: Gwen Kirkwood

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BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
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‘But there is something then?’ Ellen asked. ‘I sensed something wasn’t right too.’

‘Oh, Aunt Ellen, everyone is happy you and Uncle Alex have got married,’ Kim cried, seeing the sheen of tears in the eyes of her beloved aunt. ‘It’s the awful news about Mr Lennox committing suicide that
spoiled everything. We didn’t want to tell you yet. Aunt Rosemary thought it might cast a shadow so we all agreed not to mention it until tomorrow.’

Alex stared at her then sat down with a gasp.

‘Sydney Lennox has committed suicide? That’s certainly not pleasant news to come home to. Still, I’m relieved to know the atmosphere is not disapproval of our marriage.’

‘Of course not, never that, old man,’ Sam said, getting up and clapping him on the back. ‘Come on through to the room and we’ll try to put the news about Syd Lennox aside for tonight.’

‘No, you were right,’ Alex said, noticing his wife’s pale face. ‘You look shocked, Ellen.’

‘I am. Mr Lennox would get the letter from our solicitor on Saturday morning,’ she said in a low voice, her blue eyes deeply troubled. ‘It was a final reminder asking for his decision about Highfold. It was probably the last straw. Supposing he was incapable of making a decision? My letter may have pushed him over the edge. Oh Alex, I couldn’t bear it if he took his life because of anything I have done.’

‘I don’t think anyone really knows what made him do it,’ Rosemary said quietly. ‘Sam and I went to see Jane Lennox yesterday evening to offer our help. She is in an awful state and blaming herself too. She had spent the weekend in Glasgow and intended returning on Sunday evening, but Fenella persuaded her to stay until Monday afternoon. The police notified them. Fenella has returned home with her mother. She feels she’s to blame too because she persuaded her mother to spend the weekend away from Syd and the farm. So you see, Ellen, it’s no use blaming yourself.
Everyone can’t be responsible.’

‘Maybe not,’ Ellen said doubtfully. ‘He must have felt very low though.’

‘Apparently he had been very violent towards Jane on Thursday evening when she told him she was going to spend the weekend in Glasgow with Fenella. He struck her several times so she told him if he didn’t get help she would leave him altogether because she couldn’t go on any longer the way they were. Now she regrets saying that. She called at Doctor Jamieson’s surgery on her way to the station and told him he had to persuade Syd to get help because she was at the end of her tether. He gave her something for her bruises and promised to call on Syd at home. Apparently he had done so. His car was there for some time, according to the older man who works at Highfold. Apparently Doctor Jamieson had tried to persuade Syd to go into hospital for treatment but he was adamant he couldn’t leave the farm. Eventually he persuaded Syd to take the medication he had brought. We, Sam and I, suspect even the good doctor may be having some regrets because he had not fully understood how badly Syd needed help. Jane says the doctor is adamant that he emphasized Syd must take the medication according to the instructions and he had promised he would. He rarely drank alcohol but when they found him the bottle of pills was empty and he appeared to have drunk quite a lot of whisky.’

‘Syd Lennox hasn’t been himself since the first time Derek got into trouble with the police,’ Sam said firmly. ‘It had all got too much for him and I don’t think anyone was to blame. He has been neglecting his work for quite a while. All we can do now is help
Jane deal with things.’ He looked at Ellen. ‘I expect she will want to discuss the tenancy with you once the funeral is past.’

‘Of course.’ Ellen nodded. ‘Will it be a public funeral?’

‘No,’ Rosemary said. ‘They thought it would be better to have it private but Jane is expecting us to go. You too, Alex, as her nearest neighbours, so I’m sure it would be in order for you to accompany Alex as his wife, Ellen. It’s not my place to tell you but all Jane wants is to get away from Highfold, to sell
up as quickly as she can, and leave the area.’

‘Oh dear. Poor woman. She must be distraught.’

‘She is, but she seemed very sure about that.’

‘Is she needing help with the farm?’ Alex asked. ‘Is there anything I can do?’

‘Yes, she needs all the help we can give her.’ Sam looked glum. ‘I’d say things have been deteriorating for some time. The young worker seems a decent enough lad but he hasn’t been there long so he doesn’t know much about farming yet. Jane never had much to do with the farm or the book-keeping since Derek left school. She thought Syd didn’t want her to know how often he helped Derek out of trouble. She seems utterly bewildered.’

‘So who is doing the milking?’ Alex asked.

‘Billy is home from university for Christmas so he is managing the milking here, with a bit of help from young Toby to do any lifting. I milked the cows at Highfold last night and this morning. Syd Lennox usually did the milking himself so there’s nobody else.’

‘I’m afraid we shall have nothing but farming for the
rest of the evening now,’ Rosemary said, rolling her eyes heavenward. ‘But I can understand why Jane wants to sell up as soon as possible. The trouble is it takes ages to arrange a sale, checking ear numbers, printing a catalogue and advertising.’

‘It’s not a pedigree herd so they could be sold at an ordinary auction, but you’re right about the ear tags and I could see at a glance that there’s quite a few missing,’ Sam declared. ‘All the animals will have to be checked and replacement tags ordered and put in their ears before any of them can be moved anywhere. Meanwhile I’m keeping spare wellingtons and overalls in the car to wear when I’m there, in case there’s any disease I don’t know about yet. As soon as the funeral is over, if you could spare one of your men for a whole day, Alex, we could run all the cattle through the race and make a note of those with missing tags. Fenella is home from university so I expect she will write them down as I call them out. It’s better for her to be busy. She should be able to check each number against the registration certificates too. That would be a big help.’

‘It would that,’ Alex agreed. ‘Half the work these days is paperwork. I’ll tell you what, though, if Jane Lennox really decides she wants a quick sale, without the trouble of getting the cattle washed and groomed ready for market, I know a dealer over in
who might offer for the whole herd. I know he does that sometimes. She will not get as much money but it would be a lot less bother, especially when she doesn’t know much about them and has no reliable men to help her.’

‘That would certainly be one solution,’ Sam said slowly, ‘especially since I shall not be free to help
when Billy returns to university, or if milking twice a day, every day, proves too much for him.’

‘Oh, Dad!’ Billy muttered in exasperation. ‘You’re still not convinced I can farm, are you?’

‘No, I’m not, but you’re not the problem right now. Alex, as soon as an opportunity arises I’ll mention your suggestion to Jane Lennox. When does the tenancy expire, Ellen?’

‘The solicitor stated that we need to know by the end of May,’ Ellen said, ‘but obviously this changes a lot of things and I would agree to whatever suits her, even if Mrs Lennox wants to leave as soon as she can sell her stock. In fact I’d prefer her to do that, rather than sub-let the farm. That could lead to all sorts of problems. As Kim’s trustee I want to do whatever is best.’

The following day Ellen drew Kim aside. ‘Highfold Farm will belong to you when you’re eighteen, Kim. I’m afraid it will be the bulk of your father’s legacy once the taxes have been paid. That makes you almost the landlord. I know you’re very young but I think it would be appropriate for you to attend Mr Lennox’s funeral with us, if you feel up to it.’

‘Aye, I agree,’ Alex said. ‘You’re a sensible lassie and you’ll be on holiday from school.’

Billy was surprised to see how upset Fenella was at the funeral considering the trouble and heartache Syd Lennox had caused recently. She had been desperate to get away from home because of him. Kim was standing beside him with Alex on her other side. She watched as the older girl turned to Billy and buried her face against his shoulder. Without hesitation he
held her close. It was obvious they knew each other very well. Kim knew it was ridiculous to feel a stab of jealousy at such a time, but it took her unawares.

‘I didn’t think he would do anything like this,’ Fenella sobbed. ‘I thought I hated him for the way he treated Mum, and now I feel it’s all my fault. I wanted her to spend the weekend with me. I even persuaded her to stay another night. He wouldn’t have done it if she’d been there.’

‘It’s no use blaming yourself, Fen,’ Billy said gruffly. ‘He must have been terribly depressed. He would have done it another time, or found another way.’

‘That’s what Doctor Jamieson said, but I can only think of the times when Liam and I were small and he was so patient and kind to us then.’

‘If it was anybody’s fault I think it was Derek’s. It must have been an awful disappointment to his father when he kept getting into serious trouble.’

‘Billy’s right, lassie,’ Alex said, stepping forward. ‘And after Derek was killed it’s natural for his father to remember only the good things and shut out the way he behaved, just as you’re only remembering the good man Syd Lennox used to be. It’s as it should be. I hear you’re doing well at university and enjoying your course? You will have to concentrate on that now and make your mother proud of you, then you can both put this behind you and move forward.’

‘Th–thank you, Mr Caraford,’ Fenella said, grateful for Alex’s kindly tone and the fact that he didn’t blame her for what had happened, but she knew it would be a long time before either she, or her mother, could forgive themselves.

Alex had showed Kim how to fill in and check the animal passports against the ear tags which every animal had to have. He was pleased when she showed an interest for he found the increasing record-keeping a laborious job and Kim seemed pleased to help. He mentioned this to Sam and suggested he should ask Kim to help when he went to sort out all the cattle at Highfold. Fenella had not done that sort of thing before but she stood beside the pens where the men were chasing the cattle through and made a note of the numbers for each animal when Sam called them out. She made a separate column for all those who had lost a tag because the regulations demanded they be duplicated. Replacement tags would have to be ordered, purchased and attached before the animals could be moved anywhere.

‘I’d no idea all this had to be done,’ she said to Sam. ‘He – my f–father – never asked for help, not even from Mum.’

‘It will be good practice for when you’re a qualified vet. You’ll have to go round the herds checking for tuberculosis and you need the ear numbers to identify the animals then.’

‘Yes, I suppose I shall. It’s strange that the government have more regulations for identifying cattle than they do for children, or even adults.’

Sam glanced at her and grinned.

‘You don’t fancy two big floppy ear tags in your ears, do you? Mind you, implants are beginning to take their place so they can be read off as the animals go by the machine. It will save a lot of time and stress
once the snags are ironed out if they can all be done that way.’

Later Fenella went into the house to help Kim sort out the passports. These resembled a cheque book of cards with barcodes and numbers which had already been registered at a central government office. It was essential that the numbers tallied with the numbers on the ear tags.

‘I reckon he had a filing system known only to himself,’ Fenella muttered as she and Kim struggled to get them into some sort of order.

‘I often heard my father grumble when he sold animals through the auction ring and later discovered the farmer had not brought the correct paperwork,’ Kim said. ‘I didn’t understand what he was talking about then.’

‘Fenella and I will be truly grateful to Alex Caraford if he can arrange a sale for us with a dealer,’ Jane Lennox said, bringing them a cup of coffee. ‘A lot of people will think I’m foolish to give up the tenancy immediately but money is not everything. I need peace of mind and I shall never find it here now.’ She had forgotten that Kim was a schoolgirl still. She was tall and slim and her young face was serious with concentration.

‘I thought Billy might have come to help too,’ Fenella said, making no effort to hide her disappointment.

‘He is doing the milking at Martinwold while his father is milking the cows here, for your mother. He starts at five in the morning, then he has them all to milk again in the afternoon. Too much standing around is not good for his leg.’

‘OK, OK,’ Fenella said, quirking an eyebrow. ‘I only
asked.’ She eyed Kim’s increased colour curiously. ‘I do believe you’re sweet on him.’

‘Of course I’m not!’ Kim frowned fiercely. ‘Anyway, he’s my cousin now.’

‘Only by marriage. That wouldn’t make any difference if you fancied him. He was a lovely guy when he and my brother were friends. Half the girls in my class were sweet on him, including me. Having a peg leg makes a difference though. There will be so many things he can’t do. According to Mum, his parents are hoping he will decide on some other kind of career when he finishes university.’

‘But he loves the farm, and his animals. He says there are ways round problems if you look for them. I believe he will return home to farm,’ Kim protested, ‘and I’m sure he will make a success of it.’

‘It’s not so easy as you think with animals, but we shall see. He’s a handsome fellow, isn’t he, even if he has lost a leg. I suppose I can’t blame you for falling for him, especially when you are so young. I keep forgetting that. You look so much older, especially now you’ve got a ponytail instead of your plaits.’ Kim scowled and got on with the work. She wondered if Fenella was warning her that Billy was hers and she intended to marry him when they both finished at university. She never thought about him having only one leg but she supposed lots of girls would, especially if they were mad about dancing.

Alex was bitterly disappointed with the offer which Lou Hanson, the dealer, made for the Lennox cattle.

BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
7.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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