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Authors: Gwen Kirkwood

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BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
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‘They’ve always got on well together, the pair of them,’ Alex mused, frowning thoughtfully. ‘But she’s far too young to be serious about anybody yet. You don’t think Billy has been encouraging her, do you?’ he asked sharply. ‘If he has I’ll be having a word with that young fellow. I don’t want him hurting our lassie.’

Ellen smiled and moved to hug him.

‘We’re both lucky,’ she said, ‘Kim as well as me. You’re very protective with her. In fact I think you would spoil her if she was the type to be spoiled.
In this instance I don’t think you can blame Billy. I doubt if he has even noticed she is no longer a schoolgirl. Boys take longer to grow up and mature than girls. Besides, underneath his handsome and confident façade I have a feeling that Billy could be easily hurt himself. He’s more sensitive than he wants us to believe. Losing a leg must be a terrible blow to a fit young man who had enjoyed sport and who has run around the farm since he could toddle.’

‘Aye, it must have been a big blow to him, but he’s never made a fuss. It was a blow to all of us. Sam and Rosie still worry and wonder if they’re doing the right thing letting him come home to farm.’

‘His heart is in it and his mind is made up. I think he’ll make a success. He may want to make changes to suit his own abilities, but who could blame him for that?’

‘You have a soft spot for Billy yourself, I think?’ Alex looked curiously at his wife’s serious face. ‘Are you telling me you wouldn’t mind if my nephew and your niece were to become a couple?’

‘Only if it is what they both want and if they can make each other happy,’ Ellen said seriously. ‘I never believe in interfering in other people’s lives, certainly not when it comes to something as serious as marriage. Anyway they’re both too young for serious commitments. Anything can happen in the next few years. I hear Fenella Lennox is coming to work as a student for the summer in our local veterinary practice. I always thought Billy had feelings for her, but only time will tell.’

‘I wonder where she’s staying. I didn’t think the Lennoxes would want to come back.’

‘I heard she will be staying with the family of her old schoolfriend, according to Mrs Brex, and she usually knows all the gossip.’

Ellen’s intuition regarding Kim’s youthful yearnings was near the mark. She had really looked forward to Billy coming home for good from university but almost the first time she visited Martinwold after he had settled into a work routine she walked round to the building where the young calves were housed and heard him and Fenella laughing together. True, one of the older vets was there too, but he was busy injecting one of the calves. Kim saw Billy clap Fenella on the back then give her an affectionate hug. She didn’t wait for more but turned away and drove home in the little yellow car she had intended to show to Billy.

Once or twice she called at Martinwold in the evening to ask if Billy would like to go swimming with her and Mary but he never seemed to be there.

‘He’s gone to meet Fenella and some of their old schoolfriends at Gino’s,’ Rosemary said one night. ‘He’s never been back there since the night of the accident but Fenella persuaded him to go while she’s here. I’m pleased he agreed. It’s time he laid old ghosts to rest and got on with his life. You should join them,
dear. It’s where all the young folk meet. Mary and her brother will probably be there too.’

‘No, they’re not. Michael has started his new job so he was moving to Glasgow this week. Mary is home from university so I’m collecting her to go swimming. We just thought Billy might like to come too but it doesn’t matter.’ She gave what she hoped was a nonchalant shrug but Rosemary eyed her shrewdly as she made her way back to her little car. She thought Kim looked unusually despondent, and wondered if Ellen and Alex were working her too hard while she was on holiday from college. She didn’t know that Kim insisted on working. She enjoyed helping with both the farm and the antiques. She enjoyed history and learning about the background to various objects, especially furniture of different periods. She often enjoyed looking through Ellen’s reference books and she was already quite knowledgeable with information she had subconsciously absorbed from her aunt. She made up her mind she must not pester Billy so it was better to keep busy. She remembered Fenella telling her she had had a crush on him when they were at school; she had wondered then if Fenella was warning her off. Mary seemed to think Michael also had a girlfriend but he was keeping her identity a secret.

The summer Kim had so looked forward to was almost over and she was glad. Fenella Lennox had finished working with the local vets and gone back north to stay in her flat, although university was not due to start for another fortnight.

‘I wondered if she was hoping our local vets would take her on in the practice when she finishes next
year,’ Alex said, ‘but I reckon she would be better cutting her teeth with strangers in another area before she settles down where folks know her.’

‘Cutting her teeth?’ Ellen asked with a frown.

‘Learning the practical side. Making her mistakes somewhere else until she’s used to the real down-to-earth world of veterinary practice. Most young vets have a lot to learn when they first leave university and most of them make mistakes so it would be better if she made them amongst strangers, especially if she does mean to settle down here permanently.’

‘You think she will? Return to live round here, I mean?’

‘I don’t know. She spent a lot of time with Billy while she was here and they’ve known each other a long time.’

‘I see.’ Ellen glanced across at Kim but she was pretending to be absorbed in the book she was studying.

It was late November and the weather forecast had warned there would be snow showers in several areas but few people were prepared for the blizzard which started around midday and kept on coming. Alex had travelled down the M6 to a farm sale early that morning. Ellen had planned to spend the whole day at Charmwood Antiques. Most customers seemed to enjoy wandering from room to room to see pieces in appropriate settings but she wanted to complete a comprehensive inventory and price some of the smaller items she had acquired recently. When the snow began to fall thick and fast she was aware of Mrs Brex glancing out of the windows every few minutes
to view the long drive to the main road. Her fidgety manner distracted Ellen and she sighed.

‘I expect it will have cleared by nightfall,’ she said with a sigh, ‘but there will be no customers today so you would be better to go home now, Mrs B.’ The woman obeyed with an alacrity which made Ellen smile. Although the snow was not falling so heavily as the November day began to darken, the wind had risen, driving it into hedges and making drifts and ridges, filling roadside ditches and generally
the usual road signs and landmarks. The telephone shrilled, disturbing the silence of the large house. Ellen lifted the receiver with a sigh, stretching her aching back as she did so. Time to call a halt today, she thought.

‘Mrs Caraford, this is Mr Forden from the Lodge at your road end.’

‘Ah, hello, Mr Forden. Is your wife not so well again?’

‘She’s fine, thank you. That’s not why I’m phoning this time,’ he added with a smile in his voice. Ellen had chauffeured his wife to hospital more than once when she had taken one of her turns. ‘I thought I should warn you if you’re still up at your showrooms. There’s a tree down across the drive. It’s the big beech tree just after the bend. I didn’t want you to come on it suddenly and crash.’

‘Gosh! It’s such a huge tree. I can’t believe it….’

‘It’s true. I got a shock too. I was taking the wee dog for a last walk before dark when we came on it. It will take most of a day to clear it. Will you be all right up there? Have you food and will you be warm enough? You’re welcome to stay at the Lodge with us for the night but you would have to walk down the drive and
through the bushes.’

‘That’s very kind of you, Mr Forden, but I shall be all right up here. I usually have my lunch here so I always keep a small stock of food. The house is warm too so if you don’t mind I shall stay safe and warm where I am. I do thank you for letting me know about the tree, though.’

Ellen put the phone down and looked at her watch. Kim would have left the college and be heading home now so she would give her time to get in before she phoned Bengairney. She frowned, wondering if Alex was on his way back up the M6 yet and if the snow was as bad down there. It didn’t worry her spending the night on her own but she was thankful she had taken Alex’s advice and kept the kitchen for their private use with its Aga. She always had milk and bread, a few tins of soup, cheese and fruit. She wouldn’t starve. She smiled to herself. She had a choice of beds, not to mention three chaise longue and a couple of settees. The smile turned to a frown as a sudden gale whistled round the house, rattling the windows. She always kept a couple of travelling rugs in the car, usually for wrapping around pieces of furniture, but she might be glad of them if the storm put the electricity off. She would get the torch too. She had no candles here but then she’d never expected to be spending the night here. She had the beautiful antique oil lamp but that wouldn’t be much use without paraffin. She grabbed her anorak and zipped herself up. Even the short distance to the car left her cold and breathless. The phone was ringing again when she opened the door. She was tempted to ignore it but she dumped her stuff in the hall and ran to lift the receiver.

‘Oh, Aunt Ellen, thank goodness you’re still there. I tried the farm but….’

‘Kim? Kim, are you all right?’ Ellen knew she wasn’t. Her niece had learned at an early age to control her emotions but her voice was shaking. ‘Where are you?’

‘Stuck in a ditch.’ She gave a tremulous laugh, and tried to reassure her aunt. ‘I’m all right but the car behind skidded into me and knocked me into what seems to be a ditch at the side of the road. He – he’s bashed the back of my car.’

‘Never mind that. It will mend, so long as you’re all right. But I’m wondering what to do, who to get to pull you out. Alex won’t be back for ages and I can’t get out because there’s a tree blocking the bottom of the drive. I’ll phone Sam and see if he can recommend a breakdown lorry. Are you warm enough, Kim?’

‘Yes, I’ll be fine, so long as I don’t have to stay here all night. The man who knocked me into the ditch doesn’t seem to be able to shift his car either. He keeps revving furiously.’

‘Stay in your car and keep it locked. I’ll let you know what’s happening, dear.’

It was Rosemary who answered the telephone at Martinwold and Ellen explained their predicament.

‘I’ll go and tell Sam. He’ll probably take the Land Rover and tow Kim’s car out of the ditch. Don’t worry, Ellen. We’ll make sure Kim is all right and we’ll keep you informed.’

Sam and Billy were in the cubicle shed, gathering the cows up ready for the milking parlour. Sam immediately said he would go to the rescue.

‘I’ll come with you, Dad,’ Billy said. ‘Toby can start the milking until we get back.’

‘There’s no need for you to come,’ Sam said. ‘You’re safer here. The roads are bad.’

‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, Dad,’ Billy said angrily, ‘when will you start treating me like a normal man? You might need me to tie the rope to pull Kim’s car out, or to guide you. Anyway she might be hurt or suffering from shock and we need to get her car back home.’

‘Well, you’ll not be able to drive it. It’s not an automatic and you’re not insured.’

‘I’m coming anyway,’ Billy insisted stubbornly. Rosemary and Sam raised their eyebrows and looked at each other. Sam shrugged.

‘We’d better get the towing bar as well as a rope then in case we have to tow the car home.’

When they found Kim’s yellow car, the darkness made things more difficult but it was evident they needed to pull the car out from behind Kim’s before they could do anything else.

‘Have you exchanged names and addresses and insurances?’ Sam asked.

‘Yes, and I’ve made a note of his registration number,’ Kim said. The young man had been reluctant to give her any details. He knew he had been driving too fast and too close behind considering it was a minor road and conditions were bad, and he already had points on his licence.

‘I brought the blue flasher and one of the flashing lights off the tractor,’ Billy said, as two more cars drew up. ‘It will help warn the other cars as they approach.’

‘We’ll wait while you pull him out,’ the first driver offered. ‘It will be safer and give you more room to manoeuvre.’

‘Thanks,’ Sam said. ‘That’s a great help and better for everybody if we can clear the road.’ Billy tied the rope to the rear of the man’s car then guided his father in the Land Rover as he carefully pulled the car far enough back onto the road for the driver to straighten up. It was not too difficult and Billy went to untie the rope. He had barely loosened the knot before the young man shot away, sending a flurry of snow into Billy’s face and forcing him to jump aside. In his haste Billy slipped and fell backwards. He uttered a curse but before he could move Kim was out of her car and crouching beside him, seething with angry indignation at the man’s behaviour.

‘Billy, for God’s sake, are you all right, son?’ Sam asked, rushing to his side.

‘I’m fine. I’m all right,’ Billy snapped, exasperated with himself for falling over. Before he could try to rise, Kim and his father had hauled him onto his feet. He had forgotten how strong Kim was these days in spite of her slender build. She had once told him she got her muscles from helping Aunt Ellen move her furniture around. The driver of the first waiting car joined them in spite of the snow wetting his shoes and trouser bottoms.

‘There’s gratitude for you!’ he said angrily. ‘Did that bastard even say thank you?’

‘No, he didn’t, and Billy could have been seriously hurt,’ Kim said. The lights from the Land Rover showed the twin flags of indignant colour staining her cheeks. ‘But I’ve got his address and I shall let him know what I think of him.’

‘Now there’s a champion for you,’ the man said in a low voice to Billy. He winked. ‘I’d say it was almost
worth a tumble in the snow.’ He turned to Kim. ‘If you have his registration number, I’ll mention it to a friend of mine in the police force. Young men like that need to learn some road sense, as well as some consideration. I take it he ran into the back of you and pushed your car into the ditch?’

‘Yes, he did. He tried to pass and skidded into me, then he tried to deny it was his fault.’

‘Right,’ Sam said, tying the rope in place himself, ‘you jump in, lassie, and stay safe. I shouldn’t think there’s any damage to the steering but you never know and the far light may be broken.’

‘My poor wee car,’ Kim sighed as she climbed in.

‘I’ll get in beside you when we get you on the road,’ Billy said, noting she was trembling with reaction and trying not to show it. Apart from a large dent in the back of the car and a twisted front bumper, Kim’s car was fit to drive.

‘You go in front, lassie, and we’ll drive behind in the Land Rover,’ Sam said. ‘Go slowly. It will be better when we get to the main road. The gritting lorries will probably have been out now.’

‘Aye, I think this has taken everybody by surprise,’ the driver of the waiting car said. ‘It didn’t look like snow this morning when I left home. ‘

‘I suppose it’s the time of year,’ Sam said, ‘but so long as no one is injured.’

‘I’ll travel with Kim in case she’s nervous, Dad,’ Billy told his father. ‘Do you mind if I stay with her at Bengairney until Uncle Alex gets home? Ellen is stuck up at the antiques centre for the night.’

‘All right. But he’ll not be able to drive your car for you, Kim. You understand that? He has no licence or
insurance to cover a manual gearbox.’

‘I know,’ Kim nodded. ‘But it would be good to have company. I know it’s silly now that everything is all right but I can’t stop shaking.’

‘It’s reaction,’ the other driver said, his mouth tight. ‘I’ll see the police know about that arrogant young sod, never fear.’

‘You’ll be fine when we get going,’ Sam said, knowing there was no alternative. ‘Billy, you realize Alex could be very late by the time he gets over Shap. It’s usually worse there than here.’

‘I know. We’ll keep you posted if he phones. If he’s too late or too tired to drive me home I may stay the night. It’s Saturday so Kim could drive me home in his Land Rover in time for the milking in the morning. What d’you think?’

BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
10.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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