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Authors: Gwen Kirkwood

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BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
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‘Oh Billy, I’d never be ashamed of you. I’d be proud if you were my companion.’

‘Companion, eh? Mmm, well, we’ll see. Anyway we need to make Uncle Alex and Aunt Ellen realize you’re no longer a child, and that you have a mind of your own. They will probably object,’ he warned. ‘I need to know whether they disapprove of me personally, or the fact that you’re venturing into the adult world and I’m encouraging you.’

‘You really mean that, Billy? We’ll go out together, just the two of us?’

‘Of course just the two of us.’ He grinned and kissed her cheek, but Kim flung her arms around his neck and hugged him.

‘I knew you’d make me feel better,’ she said, ‘even though you haven’t done as I asked.’

‘Don’t tempt me further,’ Billy growled, fully aware of her full soft breasts pressed against his chest. ‘I’m only human, and I’ve wanted to take you out for a long time.’

‘Have you? Truly?’ Kim asked incredulously, leaning back to look into his face. Her mouth was temptingly close to his. ‘So you’re not doing this as a compromise because of – of….’

‘No,’ he groaned softly and kissed her fully on her parted lips. It was their first real kiss and Billy was astonished at the passion which flared between them. He pressed her closer, moulding her pliable young body to his. She felt his desire but she did not draw away and it was left to Billy to summon his willpower and draw back. He was breathing hard.

‘If you tempt me like that too often six months will seem like a lifetime,’ he murmured gruffly against her ear lobe. ‘Now shall we make that tea and a slice of rhubarb tart?’

‘I’ll make it,’ Kim said, smiling dreamily at him, ‘but only if you promise to give me a proper kiss goodnight before I leave, like a proper courting couple.’

‘I wouldn’t let you away without now that I’ve had a sample of your kisses, Miss Kimberley Wilshaw,’ Billy said with a grin, but inwardly he knew Kim had kindled emotions which had smouldered for some time when he was with her. ‘How about going to the swimming baths tomorrow evening? Then we’ll see what films are on at the cinema at the weekend. If there’s nothing we fancy locally we could drive down to Carlisle.’

‘Super.’ Kim gave a little skip of happiness as she went into the kitchen.

Neither Sam nor Rosemary seemed to notice that Billy was taking Kim out on a regular basis, or that their friendship was deepening into something
more serious than friendship between cousins. They had thoroughly enjoyed their holiday together and returned in high spirits. Sam still flatly refused to consider installing milk robots and Billy was bitterly disappointed. He had hoped they might have had them installed before his parents went to Australia at the year end.

‘One thing I do agree with you about, though, is Jim Sharpe,’ Sam said. ‘He’ll have to go. The other men complain that he wriggles out of the work at every opportunity. On top of that too many of our small tools have been going missing.’

‘But we marked them all with our initial and postcode using that invisible marker the police recommended.’

‘Yes, I know. They’ve been doing a few checks at the Saturday market in the town and some of our tools have turned up. Apparently the stallholder had bought them cheaply from Jim Sharpe so I don’t think we shall have a problem when we give him notice to leave.’

‘Well, I can’t say I shall be sorry to see him go,’ Billy said bitterly. ‘He reminds me about my leg, and the jobs I can’t manage, at every opportunity.’

The following week Ellen and Alex came over to Martinwold for Sunday lunch and to see the holiday photographs.

‘Billy said he would be back in time to join us for lunch,’ Rosemary said. ‘He seems to have taken up swimming again, but I’m sure it must be good for him. Is Kim not with you?’ Ellen and Alex looked at each other with raised brows.

‘No, she’s swimming too. With Billy. I expect they’ll return together. Billy picked her up earlier. Did you
see that piece in the paper about the man losing his licence due to dangerous driving? Kim says that’s the same man who knocked her off the road that time when it was snowing then shot off without so much as a thank you after Sam towed him out.’

‘Is that the same one?’ Sam asked. ‘One of the other drivers noted his number plate. He was going to mention it to the police. Maybe they have been keeping an eye on him.’

‘Yes, but it was not his first offence apparently, or so it said in the paper,’ Ellen remarked.

‘I didn’t see that,’ Rosemary said, ‘I was too busy reading about Kim. That is a lovely photo of her in the local paper as best student on her course. She seems to have won several other awards as well. Is she sure she doesn’t want to go on studying?’

‘Yes, she’s quite sure,’ Alex said, almost defensively. ‘You of all people should understand that, Rosemary. You had the ability but you didn’t want to spend years at university.’

‘That’s true,’ Rosemary admitted ruefully, ‘and what arguments I caused with my mother. So what is Kim going to do?’

‘I could employ her full-time,’ Ellen said. ‘She’s always been interested in history and she absorbs everything I tell her about antiques. I don’t think she realizes how much that helps when she’s talking to customers. They nearly always end up buying from her. Last week she finished off the auctioneering of the porcelain pieces for me because I was losing my voice. Her potted history of each piece was spot on. I am really proud of her, and Trevor would have been too. But Alex is claiming her for two days a week to
help him.’

‘She’ll probably end up getting married anyway,’ Alex said, ‘so we may as well enjoy her company while we can.’

‘She’s just a lassie yet,’ Sam said. ‘A pretty one, though, I must admit.’

‘Mmm, well, Billy seems to agree with you about that anyway,’ Alex said, with a wink at Ellen. ‘At least he’s been seeing her at every opportunity since she finished her studies.’

‘Billy? So that’s where he’s been going in the evenings?’ Rosemary remarked. ‘He’s certainly demanding plenty of clean shirts and jeans and I saw he had bought himself a lovely blue cashmere sweater.’

‘Och, Kim’s far too young to be serious, especially about Billy,’ Sam said. ‘They have always got on well together.’ He looked at Alex. ‘We worry that the loss of his leg will make things difficult for him when it comes to finding a suitable wife.’

‘Well, Kim is a lot happier than she’s been for the past year and they seem to be spending all their spare time together,’ Alex reflected amiably.

‘Aren’t you going to put a stop to it?’ Sam asked. ‘Kim’s far too young.’

‘She’s eighteen and she’s sensible,’ Ellen said. ‘It’s early days yet and she might have lots of boyfriends but Alex and I wish we had met years ago and not wasted so much of our lives. If Kim wanted to settle down with Billy, or another nice young man, we wouldn’t object, would we, Alex?’

‘It would please me greatly if it was somebody as interested in dairy farming as Billy is.’

‘That’s what you think,’ Sam said darkly. ‘You’d soon change your tune if he nagged you to spend more money than you can afford on robot milkers.’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Alex mused. ‘I’ve listened to what he says and I’ve been giving them some consideration. Ellen and I have a lot of time to make up. I don’t intend to spend my life working all the hours God sends like I used to do.’ He smiled warmly at his wife and Ellen nodded.

‘We’re agreed on that. We would like to enjoy each other’s company now.’

‘Mmm,’ Sam muttered, ‘I’m not ready to sit back and take things easy yet but Billy thinks he’s ready to take over and he’s forever wanting to make changes.’

‘Just like we did when we were young,’ Alex reminded him. ‘Remember how frustrated we got when we thought Father was going to turn down the opportunity to buy Martinwold?’

‘That was different,’ Sam said shortly. ‘It was a good investment. Anyway,’ he said, deciding it was better to change the subject, ‘I’ll get some glasses from the kitchen and we’ll have a drink while we wait for the youngsters to return.’

‘Yes, I’d better make sure the meat is not burning too,’ Rosemary said, following him into the kitchen. They both stopped in their tracks. Billy had just got out of his car and moved round to open the passenger door for Kim. Her hair was loose and still slightly damp after the swimming. She was tall but Billy was taller and she looked up at him with a smile. He slipped a hand under her hair, lifting it slightly and drawing her closer as he bent to exchange a long slow kiss.

‘Well! There’s nothing childlike or innocent about
that!’ Sam said. ‘Surely Kim is far too young? She can’t possibly know her own mind yet. I’d hate to see Billy getting hurt.’

‘Oh, I’m not so sure,’ Rosemary said with a reminiscent smile. ‘I knew who I wanted to marry when I was Kim’s age.’ She glanced up at Sam. He put an arm around her shoulders and hugged her. ‘We were married by the time I was twenty-one, remember?’

‘So we were,’ he murmured, ‘and it seems like yesterday. ‘I’ve never had any regrets, have you, sweetheart?’ He kissed her affectionately.

‘Not one. I think we should leave Billy and Kim to make their own decisions. They have both had serious problems in their young lives and coping with them has made them stronger and more mature than many at their age. I’d be happy if Billy had a nice girl like Kim for a wife.’

‘Where have the years gone?’ Sam asked with a sigh. ‘He’ll need somewhere to live if he gets married. I’m not ready to retire yet. It’s easy for Alex to talk but he hasn’t got a son nipping at his heels to move him on.’

‘I know you’re not ready to retire. It’s taken enough effort persuading you to arrange our visit to Carol in Australia. At least I shall know Billy will not be lonely while we’re away, especially over Christmas.’

‘Och, Billy and Kim might be all over by then. You know what young folks are like.’

‘Yes, they’re the same as we were at their age. The pair of them look so happy,’ Rosemary added with a sigh. ‘I can’t help but wish them well.’

Sam found it hard to accept that his youngest offspring was now a man in his own right. It amazed him that Billy’s relationship with Kim seemed to be going from strength to strength, spending most of their spare time together.

‘If this goes on we shall have to see about doing up one of the cottages for them to live in when we get back from Australia,’ Sam said. ‘I’m not ready to move out of Martinwold for a while yet, and while I’m here there will be no milk robots,’ he declared for the umpteenth time.

Rosemary sighed.

‘So you keep saying, dear.’

‘Well, there’s no need for Billy to be so bloody
. He could leave the buckets of colostrum in the milking parlour for someone else to carry out and feed the young calves. He insists on trying to do everything himself.’

‘He wants to prove he is as capable as other men. Even when he was a boy you used to tell him he had to learn how to do all the jobs about the farm or he
would be no use as a boss if he couldn’t show his men how to do things properly.’

‘But things are different for him now. He admits losing a leg has made a difference to his balance if he has to carry things.’

‘I know, Sam,’ Rosie sighed. ‘But he’s young and determined. Give him time.’

‘I’m trying but it doesn’t help when my own brother agrees with him about the robots, even if he is
them for a different reason.’

‘I know Alex is convinced the cows will give higher yields if they can be milked several times a day when their udders are full. You must admit it does seem more like nature intended.’

‘So he keeps saying,’ Sam said glumly, ‘but Alex has always concentrated on yields and breeding. We’re more commercial at Martinwold. I’ve noticed he’s always keen to go with Billy trekking down into England to see the latest robot installation.’

‘But you enjoy going with them and seeing other farms and the way other people do things, don’t you, Sam?’ Rosemary asked. She longed for her husband and son to agree about future policies, and Alex too. She had known Alex all her life. They were the same age and they had been at school together. They had been the best of friends in those days. But she knew how hard Sam had worked to make a success of Martinwold, first to pay off the bank loan when his father bought the farm, and then to pay out Alex’s share so that he was the sole owner. He had done that for Billy’s future, but neither of them were ready to hand over yet. Sam was only fifty-one and as fit as many younger men. She sighed. ‘Maybe six weeks in
Australia will make you see things differently, Sam.’

‘I doubt that. I reckon I shall be ready to come home after the first week.’ He grinned at her to show he was only partly serious. He was looking forward to seeing Carol again and they had never seen their eight-year-old grandson, except on Skype and that was not the same. The preparations were all made and Sam and Rosemary would leave home on 14 December. Ellen called at Martinwold to see them.

‘Since you will be away for Christmas,’ she said, ‘I thought we might have an early celebration the Sunday before you leave. Kim and I will do the cooking and have it at Bengairney. We’ll invite Tania and Struan. What do you think?’

‘I think it’s a splendid idea,’ Sam said, hearing the end of the conversation. ‘Rosemary is like a cat on hot bricks wondering if she has got everything packed and left enough food in the freezer for Billy, and washed everything that moves.’

‘He’s exaggerating,’ Rosemary said with a laugh, ‘but I do feel excited, and a bit nervous, now the time has come to go. We’ve never been away so long before and it’s such a long way.’

It was a happy family gathering the following Sunday. Between them Ellen and Kim had made a delicious meal and everyone was happily replete when Billy got to his feet and tapped his glass with a teaspoon.

‘Kim and I have some news we want to share with you all before Mum and Dad fly off to Australia. We hope you will wish us well. We have decided to get engaged.’

‘Engaged?’ Sam echoed incredulously. ‘But you
haven’t had time to get to know each other. I–I mean….’

Cousin Steve chuckled.

‘Come on, Uncle Sam, they’ve known each other since they were in nappies – well, maybe not that long, but for years anyway. I could see they were attracted last Christmas when Billy made the most of the mistletoe and Kim obviously enjoyed it.’

Sam looked at his nephew, opened his mouth, and closed it again.

‘Well, I’m very happy for you both,’ Rosemary said and came round the table to give each of them a hug and a kiss.

‘Aye, and so are we, aren’t we, Ellen?’ Alex announced, smiling from ear to ear.

‘We are indeed. We wouldn’t recommend waiting as long as we did.’

‘Did you two know about this?’ Sam asked almost accusingly.

‘We didn’t know about the engagement,’ Alex said, ‘but it’s a pleasant surprise.’

‘We’re not planning to get married for a year or maybe eighteen months, but we thought – at least I thought, this would convince you we are serious, Dad, and that we’re old enough to know our own minds.’

‘I see,’ Sam said slowly. ‘It seems we shall have to make some changes.’

‘There’ll be time enough for that when you come back from seeing Carol,’ Alex said gently, seeing the shock on his older brother’s face. He knew Sam was not ready to accept his son was a man and impatient to make his mark in life. He glanced across at Kim. She looked radiantly happy and he vowed he would
do all in his power to help the young couple face the hurdles which lay ahead. They were the nearest he would ever have to children of his own and he loved them both.

Later the young folks gathered in Bengairney’s small sitting room where their parents had once played as children. Ellen, Rosemary and Tania lingered in the kitchen, chatting and discussing the engagement as they cleared the dishes together.

‘Do you fancy walking off your dinner with a look around the cows, Sam?’ asked Alex.

‘Aye, good idea.’ Sam pushed back his chair and followed his brother outside.

‘You don’t know how lucky you are to have Billy keeping an eye on everything while you’re away,’ Alex said. ‘He might easily have decided to take the easy way out and opt for a desk job when he lost his leg.’

‘We’re lucky he wasna killed,’ Sam agreed with a sigh. ‘He’s never wanted to do anything but farm. If only he wouldn’t keep on about these bloody robots. I’d already spent a fortune extending and modernizing the milking parlour before he had his accident. I guessed he would want to expand and I didn’t mind that. It’s the way most folk are going, either that or get out of dairying. I’d never have spent the money if I’d known he was going to want robots, except that I don’t fancy them myself and I’m not intending to give up for many a year.’

‘None of us can see into the future. We just have to make the most of time while we have it. I intend to do that now – with Ellen, of course. She has been invited down to Bristol to do a series of television programmes on antiques in the spring. I knew she was knowledgeable
and a good auctioneer in her own field, but I didn’t realize she was so well known or that her opinions were highly respected.’ Alex sounded bemused.

‘I had no idea she was famous,’ Sam teased gently. ‘Seriously, Alex, that’s wonderful news. You must be proud of her, old boy.’

‘I am, and not so much of the old, thank you, big brother. The thing is it will be a series so she will have to go down several times to stay. I intend to go with her.’

‘You do? And leave the farm? I never thought I’d hear you say you were leaving your precious cows.’

‘I admit it will be tough. Nick Fellows is conscientious and a good stockman, but he says himself he never knows when to change the feeding or which bull to use. He can never make a decision without asking me first. You will be back from Australia by then and I wondered whether you would mind if Billy came to oversee things here whenever we’re away? If he’s willing I’m hoping he might do the relief milking when Nick is off but I wanted to be sure you’re agreeable before I ask him. Kim’s pretty good too and I reckon she’ll help. In fact I think we’d have a job keeping her away.’ He grinned.

‘I remember Rosie coming to help me before we were married,’ Sam mused, ‘and her mother played merry hell. Still, it’s been a bit of a shock to hear they are so serious.’

‘I have to confess I couldn’t be more pleased that Kim and Billy will be together. When you come back from Australia we’ll have a serious discussion, Sam. I have some suggestions to make but the last thing I want is for us to quarrel again. We were a pair of silly
buggers to fall out over the ownership of Martinwold. Billy is the nearest I’ll ever have to a son and he’s a grand fellow.’

‘Aye, I should have trusted you, I see that now, Alex. But you see you have married, after all, and things might have been different.’

‘Ellen understands that Bengairney was always our family home and she knows I always intended leaving everything to Billy. She agrees with that. She has her own business and a fine house with it.’

‘Well, now that you’ve told me so much you’ll need to tell me what’s on your mind, Alex. I promise not to blow your head off. I shall have plenty of time to think over any suggestions while we’re in Australia. I shall have a better idea of how finances are with Carol and her husband when I’ve seen them too. We’ve never given her any money or property yet, only her wedding and a cheque to cover household things.’

‘Aye, I can see you have to play fair with three of them to consider,’ Alex said thoughtfully. ‘That might be all the more reason to consider my suggestions then. You know I never modernized things here while Bengairney was rented. Things are different now I own it. I’m considering installing robots here after seeing some of the systems we have visited.’

‘Could ye afford them, after buying the farm?’ Sam asked in surprise.

‘Not outright, but I’ve been looking into the costs. I could lease them for a monthly payment with the option to buy them outright after ten years. Robots are relatively new and there will be a lot of improvements yet, I reckon,’ Alex remarked shrewdly. ‘So I think this may be the best way to go.’

‘I see. Between seeing Kim and your robots, Billy will be spending all his time at Bengairney,’ Sam said, half seriously.

Alex gave him a level look and drew a deep breath.

‘That’s just it,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t mind if he and Kim settled down here when they get married,
since you’re not ready for him to move into Martinwold.’ He held up his hand when Sam began to protest. ‘There’s a lot of things to discuss, but it would be grand to see Carafords continuing at Bengairney for another fifty years. That would have pleased our parents. There’s other considerations for the future though, as well. Kim inherited Highfold Farm from her father. Ellen was going to sell it and keep the money in trust but she decided to hang on and let Kim decide now she’s eighteen. It’s in my mind that Billy and Kim and myself could form a three-way partnership and farm Bengairney and Highfold land together. The bigger the enterprise the more men we can afford to employ and some day that will be better for Billy, especially when you and I are no longer fit to help him, Sam. I reckon he will be a good manager in a few more years when he’s had more experience, especially while he has the two of us to guide him, as our father did for us. As time goes on he will be better without so much physical work, so long as he can afford to employ men to do the manual work.’

‘That’s true,’ Sam mused.

‘I’d like to think of Billy and Kim and their bairns continuing the Caraford line at Bengairney. We were all brought up here. It’s always been a happy place.’

‘Aye, it has,’ Sam said slowly, looking round the
familiar farmyard. The old hayloft was still standing where he had found Rosie, all those years ago, half dead with cold and fatigue. ‘Aye, there’s a lot of memories for all of us here,’ he agreed, ‘but I’m not sure how a three-way partnership would work out.’

‘I need to discuss it with Ellen, of course,’ Alex said, ‘but so long as I knew my herd was in good hands – as it would be with Kim and Billy – I’d be happy to move out of the house and live at Charmwood. It’s a lovely old house and there’s plenty of room. We have discussed building on a sunroom at the back if we ever live there. I’d be back every day to work and to see how things were going here. As I said there’s a lot to discuss and iron out. Billy may not agree. I wouldn’t like to cause any more family rifts.’

‘No–o,’ Sam said. ‘I never expected anything like this, Alex. I’m not sure what Rosie will think about Billy living somewhere else.’

‘He’ll be doing that anyway when he gets married.’

‘That’s true. And he’d not be far away if he was here. We’ll not mention it to any of them yet, if you don’t mind. I’ll discuss it with Rosie when we’re on the plane to Australia. It will give her something else to think about. As for Billy and Kim, they’d be foolish not to accept such a generous offer, especially when it means they can be together, so I don’t see any problem there.’

‘Good.’ Alex gave a sigh of relief. ‘I was half afraid you’d blow up and refuse to consider the idea.’

‘It’s a generous offer,’ Sam said simply, ‘but in the end it will have to be Billy’s decision, and Kim’s.’ He smiled. ‘She’s a lovely lassie. I hope she’s sure about the future when she’s so young. Although we argue over the
robots I’d hate to see Billy hurt. Rosie says she knew her own mind when she was eighteen, in spite of her mother doing her best to come between us.’

‘She did too.’ Alex grinned. ‘I’d have stepped into your shoes like a shot then, if you’d given me half a chance, but I’ve been lucky in the end, even if I did wait a long time for happiness to come knocking at my door. As I said, Ellen and I mean to make the most of our time together now we have each other. I’d hate to see anything come between Billy and Kim though. I love them both as though they were my own bairns.’

Billy was not surprised when his mother telephoned from Australia to say they had arrived safely and Carol was overjoyed to see them, as was eight-year-old Angus.

BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
13.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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