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Authors: Gwen Kirkwood

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BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
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‘Tell your Uncle Alex we shall send them an email when we get settled but I think he has made a very generous offer. Your father and I have had a long discussion during the journey.’

‘What sort of offer?’ Billy asked curiously. ‘What have you and Dad been discussing?’

‘I expect Alex will tell you all about it. It will be up to you and Kim to decide. I must go now. Look after yourself, Billy. Carol sends her love.’ The line went dead and Billy stared at it in frustration. What was his mother talking about?

He was busier than he had anticipated without his father and with the winter work. All the animals were inside now and needing to be fed, cleaned and bedded each day. Jim Sharpe had left without notice, but of his own accord. It had been left to Billy to hire a new man just before his parents left for Australia. His
name was Hugh Brown and Billy felt he was going to be a reliable man with the stock. He was pleasant and conscientious, almost an exact opposite to the
moody Jim. He still had a lot to learn about the way things were done at Martinwold, where things were stored, how the rations were made up and mixed for the various classes of stock, especially the dairy cows, but he was keen and willing. He had only been married a year and his wife was expecting their first baby. The farm cottage was their first home together and they were enjoying painting and decorating it. As a result Billy had little time to visit Bengairney and he was happy when Kim called on him every second evening to eat their evening meal together.

‘Mum said they had had a big discussion during the journey. Something to do with us and a suggestion from Uncle Alex. I don’t know what she was talking about. Have you heard anything, Kim?’

‘No, unless it has something to do with Aunt Ellen’s trip down south to take part in a television programme about antiques?’

‘I can’t see what that has to do with us, can you?’

‘No, not really.’ She looked up at him with a wide smile. ‘I shall be staying on my own while they’re away so you’ll have to come and see me then.’

‘I’ll certainly do that.’ Billy chuckled, giving her a hug and finishing it off with a long kiss. ‘Nothing will keep me away. I’m glad Uncle Alex and Aunt Ellen have taken our engagement so well.’

It was Christmas Eve before Billy was at Bengairney for any length of time.

‘We’ve had several emails from your mother, Billy,
but I expect you’ve heard all the news too?’

‘You mean about Carol expecting another baby? Yes, Mum said that. I’d never heard about her having two miscarriages before. Apparently she had planned to go with Paddy on a sailing trip to do some diving while Mum and Dad were there to look after young Angus, but she’s not going now. I’m amazed that Dad has agreed to go in her place. I didn’t know he was that fond of sailing?’

‘Neither did I,’ Alex laughed. ‘He used to be a good swimmer but I can’t imagine him wanting to dive. I believe there’s about half a dozen of them going.’

‘Mmm, so it seems. What was it Mum and Dad were discussing on the journey out? Mum said you’d be telling me all about it?’

‘Aye, I thought I’d better mention my suggestion to Sam first. I didn’t want any more family quarrels if he took offence. Of course, I know it will be up to you, and Kim, in the end. After all, Highfold Farm belongs to Kim now that she is eighteen. It will have vacant possession by next May.’

Billy tensed. Kim had never mentioned anything about Highfold to him. He blinked and tried to pay attention as Alex explained his idea for the three-way partnership and installing robots at Bengairney. He had expected his nephew would be thrilled at the prospect but instead Billy was staring at him and his face was dark with anger, just as Alex remembered his own father. In fact, Billy resembled Steven Caraford, his grandfather, in many ways, not least his pride and independence. Billy turned to Kim.

‘You never told me that Highfold Farm belongs to you, Kim,’ he said accusingly.

‘I didn’t really know or at least I never thought about it,’ she said simply and looked at Ellen for help.

‘Bengairney and Highfold were two of the rented farms left after the taxes were paid when my father died. My brother’s death meant a second lot of taxes. Anything left after they were paid was Kim’s
As you know, Alex bought Bengairney outright and we sold the Home Farm. That leaves Highfold. It was in trust for Kim until her eighteenth birthday. She can sell it or do what she wishes with it, but surely Alex is right, Billy? It will make a really good unit along with Bengairney and give you sufficient scope to employ decent men and manage the whole enterprise as a single business. It will also let Alex have more time for leisure if you take over.’

Still Billy stared stonily at them all, his mouth tight.

‘A three-way partnership!’ he snapped. ‘Some partnership with my wife supplying one farm, my uncle another, not to mention the famous Bengairney herd. What have I got to offer this partnership? Damn all! My father is a long way off being ready to hand over Martinwold, or anything else.’

‘In one of her emails your mother said if you and Kim agreed your father was willing to transfer half the Martinwold herd to your name and for you to move them here, to Bengairney. Sam reckons he could build up the numbers again in three to six years, but he’s not sure he wants to keep as many cows when you will not be there to help him.’

‘I’m not ungrateful to my father for his offer,’ Billy said tightly, ‘but it still makes me a—a pauper in this so-called partnership. If you don’t mind I don’t think I will stay for the meal.’ He moved to the door and went
out to the car without so much as a goodnight to any of them. He didn’t hear Kim call his name in distress. He didn’t wait to see her white face, or the way her lovely eyes filled with tears.

It was the most miserable Christmas either Billy or Kim could remember. Kim tried to telephone but Billy was not answering either the house phone or his mobile. She considered going to Martinwold to talk to him.

‘Leave him to stew, lassie,’ Alex advised unhappily. ‘He’s an ungrateful young wretch. I should have guessed the Caraford pride might stand in his way. When he’s had time to cool off you might point out to him that he’ll be supplying the manager’s skill as well as a lot of the labour, and if he doesn’t make a decent job of it there’ll be no profit for any of us.’

Even so, Alex emailed Australia to tell Sam he’d made a pig’s ear of his proposal and Billy had walked out on them all and he wanted to wring his neck for making Kim so miserable.

It was Christmas night before Billy thought of sending Christmas greetings to his parents. There was an email from them already waiting for him.

‘We tried to telephone to wish you Happy Christmas but it would be breakfast time there and maybe you had not come in,’ his mother had written. ‘Since then we have had an email from Alex. Your father and I think you should go over and apologize to him, and especially to Kim. It is not her fault she has inherited a farm. One day you will inherit Martinwold. Although you will need to pay Carol part of its value, you will still be a very lucky man. Swallow your stupid pride
and grow up, Billy. Kim is a lovely girl and you’re letting your own pride stand in the way of happiness.’

Billy read the rest of the email and the general news, including his parents’ delight in sharing Christmas with young Angus, but he could not bring himself to reply. They didn’t understand how he felt and he wasn’t sure whether he and Uncle Alex would agree over everything when it came to working together every day – or at least that was what he told himself as he tossed and turned in bed and couldn’t sleep.

Consequently he was deadly tired by the evening of Boxing Day when news came through from Australia that shook him to the core. Carol’s husband and another man had died while out on the diving trip and his father was missing, also feared drowned.

‘I must go to see Billy,’ Kim said the moment Alex told her the news. ‘He’s all alone and he’ll be devastated.’

‘It’s very late,’ Ellen said doubtfully. ‘But there’s no doubt Billy will be in need of comfort,’ she added quickly, seeing Kim’s lower lip tremble with distress.

‘God, this is a terrible thing to happen,’ Alex said when they heard Kim’s car draw away. ‘I can’t imagine how Rosemary must be feeling. As for Carol, poor lassie, expecting another baby and with a young son to bring up on her own. Thank God we parted good friends.’

‘It certainly puts things into perspective,’ Ellen agreed sadly. ‘I hope Billy sees things more clearly and seizes his chance of happiness while he can. I’m sure he will have had a most unhappy Christmas. Kim certainly has.’

Billy rubbed his eyes fiercely when he saw the outdoor light come on and Kim’s yellow car drawing up at the door. It was a cold night and she ran straight inside and almost literally into his arms. She could
feel him trembling and she knew she had done the right thing to come.

‘I don’t know what to say to comfort you, Billy.’ She hugged him tightly and felt him bow his head to rest his cheek against the warmth of her neck. ‘I suppose you heard the same as Uncle Alex? He’s terribly upset.’

‘Aye,’ Billy said gruffly. ‘It was Mum who phoned. She said the doctor had been and given Carol a mild sedative and said she must rest for the sake of the baby. I can tell she’s putting on a brave face for the sake of Carol and wee Angus.’

‘She must be feeling as though her own world has turned upside-down but Uncle Alex says she’s always been brave in times of trouble. Is the fire on, Billy? Shall we go through to the room?’

‘I expect it’s nearly out. I–I haven’t been able to think straight since Mum phoned.’ They went through to the room together and Kim poked the embers into life and put on some of the smaller logs. It was comforting to see the flames dancing up the chimney and she added coal. Billy watched in silence, his face drawn and pale.

‘I know you will not be able to sleep much tonight, Billy, so we may as well be warm in here together.’

‘I haven’t been able to sit still since Mum phoned,’ Billy admitted. ‘I hope the shock doesn’t make Carol lose this baby too. She loves children. She was always good with me when we were young. She meant to be a teacher but it was love at first sight for her and Paddy. They hadn’t known each other long but they got married so that she could go back to Australia with him. It’s made me think they were right to seize
their chance of happiness.’

‘Oh Billy, I’m sure they were. I suppose there is no doubt about Paddy being dead?’

‘No, they found his body, and the other man. I don’t know exactly what happened but I think they had been diving. Mum said something about a shark attack, although they didn’t expect sharks where they were going.’

‘And your father? Uncle Alex said they hadn’t found his—his body?’

‘He had been swimming.’ He shook his head. ‘I can’t believe he’s dead. Mum said the same. Unless they find his body, I don’t know how she will be able to accept it.’

‘It must be dreadful, and them being in a strange country and so far away.’ Kim couldn’t suppress a shiver and Billy’s arm tightened, drawing her closer.

‘I keep trying not to think about it. I mean, you hear of men being attacked by a shark and never seen again.’

‘Did you eat any supper, Billy?’

‘No.’ He shook his head. ‘It didn’t seem right. I mean, doing normal things.’

‘I know. Aunt Ellen said that’s how you would feel. She said she couldn’t eat when my father died. They’d always been so close. She said I must see that you eat something because you have to keep up your strength for your mother’s sake. She is going to need all your help and support.’

‘I suppose so,’ Billy said.

‘So shall I make us some sandwiches and coffee, or would you like me to cook you some bacon and egg? I’ll bring it in here on a tray.’

‘Will you have some too?’

‘Yes. We couldn’t eat our meal either after we got the news, but I’m peckish now and it’s such a cold night.’

‘All right. It will have to be something tasty then to tempt us.’

‘OK, bacon and egg it is then.’ Kim set the bacon to cook on the Aga and went upstairs to Billy’s room, then changed her mind and went to the spare bedroom where she knew there was a king-size bed with duvet and pillows. She carried them down to the hall. She couldn’t leave Billy alone tonight, whatever Aunt Ellen thought of her staying alone with him. She dumped them on the long seat in the hall and went to see to the food.

Half an hour later they both ate with the appetites of the young and energetic.

‘You were right, Kim, I do feel better for that.’ He lifted the trays and set them aside then he drew her close. ‘I’m so sorry I was such an ungrateful bugger the other night. I still can’t come to terms with Uncle Alex’s suggestion, or the fact that you will own a farm of your own. I still feel I shall be the pauper with nothing to offer.’

‘Uncle Alex says you have the most important thing of all to give – your knowledge and your labour, not to mention your youth. He said he wished he was your age again, then he added with a grin “so long as Ellen could be there as well”. He say he doesn’t know half the stuff about computers that you know, and the robot system is dependent on them.’

Billy was silent for some time, staring into the fire, then he stirred himself.

‘Well, I’m truly sorry I hurt you, Kim, walking out the way I did, and being so – so childish, but everything has changed now. I–I don’t know what will happen without Dad. I must consider Mother before everything else. There will probably be inheritance taxes to pay on Martinwold.’ He pushed his hands through his hair. ‘God only knows what will happen, but remember this, Kim, I do love you and I don’t want us to throw away our lives because of my stupid pride.’

‘That’s good then, because I love you too, Billy Caraford. Now I’m going to clear away our dishes while you make us a big bed on the floor in front of the fire. The duvet is in the hall. Now, don’t argue because you know you will probably not sleep at all if you go to bed alone.’

When Kim returned from the kitchen she saw that Billy had spread a thick travelling rug on the floor and piled on the pillows and the big duvet. She blushed as she looked from the bed to him. He raised his dark brows in question.

‘I understand if you’ve changed your mind, Kim,’ he said softly, ‘but I would welcome your company tonight, and I promise not to do anything you don’t want me to do. Can you trust me?’

‘You know I trust you, Billy,’ Kim said simply and knelt beside him on the floor. He drew her gently into the curve of his arm.

‘I feel so restless,’ he said. ‘If Dad is really dead I think I ought to feel it in here.’ He tapped his chest with a clenched fist. ‘If I could believe it, I think I could accept it, but I can’t. Did you feel like that when your father died, Kim?’ He leaned up on his elbow
and looked down into her face.

‘No, but it was different. The hardest part was when I knew he was terminally ill. I couldn’t accept it. I wept and raged and – and I even screamed at Aunt Ellen, but she was hurting too. They were twins and they had always been together, and they were business partners too and my father wanted to move back here.’ She sighed. ‘Looking back I must have made that first week hell for Aunt Ellen but she convinced me that we must be as kind and cheerful as we could so that my father could be happy in our company for all the time he had left. She was right, of course. I think I grew up five years in that one week. It is different in your father’s case. He is so far away and if they don’t find his body it will be dreadful for your mother. You will have to be strong for her sake, Billy.’ As she talked she slipped her hand inside his shirt and stroked his chest soothingly. Her hand moved down to his stomach. Innocent and diffident though she still was, Kim knew with a feminine instinct as old as time that this was the way to comfort Billy and bring him a measure of peace, maybe even a few hours of sleep. She heard him draw in his breath as her hand moved to his thigh. Slowly, gently, he began to undress her, pausing every now and then to kiss her, or to look into her eyes and make sure she still wanted him as much as he wanted, and needed, her. Then they were lost from the real world, exploring a new world of exquisite discovery, together at last.

They were sound asleep in each other’s arms when the shrill ring of the telephone in the hall disturbed them. The fire was burning low but Kim could still see her watch.

‘It’s 2.30 in the morning,’ she said, sitting upright. Billy shivered and pulled on his shirt as he strode quickly towards the hall. Kim couldn’t hear the conversation but she knew Billy would be cold when he returned. She piled more logs on the fire and some pieces of coal, but she was shivering with nerves and the chill air of the winter night. She pulled on her blouse and sweater but she couldn’t lie down again.

‘They’ve found him!’ Billy burst into the room. ‘A fishing boat picked him up and they have taken him to a hospital some distance away. He’s unconscious but he’s alive, Kim. Thank God he’s alive.’

‘Oh Billy, that’s wonderful,’ Kim breathed, holding out a hand to pull him back under the covers and get warmed while he told her everything he knew.

‘It was Mother who phoned. She hasn’t seen him yet. The boat had picked him up quite a distance from where their own boat had set out. He was floating on his back and completely exhausted, barely conscious in fact, but they pulled him aboard and wrapped him up then alerted the coastguard to have an ambulance waiting. Mother could hardly speak for relief, but she’s desperately worried about Carol. She is going to phone again when they have more news but she says she will feel better when she has seen Dad and spoken to him. Carol’s mother-in-law has offered to come and stay with Carol and Angus while Mother travels to the hospital. She wants to stay beside Dad until he can be moved but she says she feels torn between Carol and wee Angus, and Dad needing her.’

‘We shall have to tell Uncle Alex,’ Kim said. ‘He will be so relieved.’

‘Yes, I’ll phone and tell him. Even though Dad is so
ill, it’s such a relief. The doctor at the hospital told Mum he was extremely fit and once they get some fluids into him they expect him to recover completely.’ He reached for his mobile and phoned Bengairney while Kim tucked the duvet round him to warm him up.

‘Uncle Alex is as relieved as we are,’ Billy said, setting aside his phone.

‘I can understand how difficult it will be for Aunt Rosemary,’ Kim said softly, ‘grieving for Carol when she has lost her husband, and yet filled with relief and joy at the news of Uncle Sam.’

‘Yes, so can I,’ Billy said, snuggling closer, holding her tightly to share each other’s warmth. A little while later when they had warmed each other from top to toe, he whispered, ‘It will be even better this time, Kim.’

‘Yes,’ she breathed exultantly. ‘Oh yes.’ Her passion rose to match his own.

It was the middle of February before Sam and Rosemary arrived back from Australia. Carol and Angus were with them. Carol was finding it difficult to make any decisions but she had agreed to stay at Martinwold until her baby was born. The day after their arrival, Rena came down on her own to see her twin. They were identical except for a birth spot on Carol’s neck. They talked and talked. Rosemary left them closeted together, knowing they had always shared their
thoughts and she knew it was the best thing for Carol now. She had been too quiet and withdrawn but time with Rena might relieve her tension until she felt ready to make decisions and take up the threads of her life again.

‘Leaving them together seemed the most sensible
thing to do,’ Rosemary said to Ellen. ‘Carol and Rena were always close. But you will understand that, being a twin yourself.’

‘Indeed I do. I know nothing will make up for losing her husband but having a loving family around her must be a great comfort. Billy says Angus is a lovely wee boy and he follows his grandfather everywhere.’

‘He does. He knows he has to go to school soon but he was used to having a pony at home so Sam has promised to buy him one as soon as he starts school here, to sweeten the pill a little. Once he has settled in I don’t think he should have too much trouble. He is a bright boy.’

‘Yes, Billy says he’s continually asking questions about the cows. I gather he was not used to dairy animals?’

‘No, his other grandfather, and his father, had sheep and beef and crops. He’s fascinated with the milking parlour. Between his lively company, and the enforced rest, Sam seems to have been
. Angus’s grandparents have promised to come over to visit after the baby is born. My heart goes out to them. They have a daughter and other
, but Paddy was their only son. If Carol decides to stay over here Sam is going to apply for planning permission to do up the old dairy cottage. It would give her a measure of privacy and independence but it is only at the other side of the farmsteading so we would be on hand to help and Angus will be able to see the animals and the farm as often as he wants. Farm children are lucky to have so much freedom and so many things to interest them.’

Carol gave birth to a baby girl at the end of June and her parents-in-law came over for the christening at the end of August and stayed for six weeks. Before they left, Rosemary had a long talk with them. She was relieved and grateful that they understood Carol’s decision to stay in Scotland and make her home at Martinwold.

Ellen’s television series had gone well and she had been booked for another series in a year’s time, but she had not bargained for the extra trade it had brought to her own fledgling business.

‘Alex is a tower of strength,’ she confided to Rosemary. ‘I don’t want the business to get too big and take over my life – not now.’ She grinned. ‘But he has helped me clear one of the Charmwood barns and do it up so that I can hold auctions there whenever I accumulate too much stuff. He introduced me to the Bailey Brothers. They do local furniture removals; they only have one lorry. They are careful and clean and we have made an arrangement with them to help with any house clearances I take on. They’re very obliging when I need to deliver larger items of furniture, or rearrange pieces here at the house for showing the public. Come through and I’ll show you the sunroom we have built on. It’s almost finished, except the floor.’

BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
7.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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