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Authors: Gwen Kirkwood

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BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
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‘No, I’d like to see her and Amanda and hear what they’re saying about it. Mum and Dad avoid mentioning the Lennoxes but Rev. McCally came in for a visit and he let a few things slip. Did you know he had to visit Mum and Dad and ask them to stay away from Liam’s funeral?’ His voice broke. ‘That’s not what Liam would have wanted. He always said Martinwold was his second home and my parents always made him welcome.’

‘It’s impossible to keep secrets in a small
Rena sighed. ‘If you ask me it’s better to be open about things. Mr Lennox seems to be blaming our family for everything. It’s my guess he is at least partly responsible for the horrible insinuations in the newspapers. Mum says his grief is driving him crazy.’

‘I see.’ Billy frowned then met Rena’s eyes steadily. ‘I think he was getting a bit that way even before the crash. Derek had been going off the rails ever since he was in second year at the Academy, but Liam said he had been worse this past year. His father must
have known he was drinking, even if he didn’t realize he was taking drugs, but he refused to hear any criticism. He – he hit Liam when he dared to criticize.’

‘Poor Liam,’ Rena said with a catch in her voice. ‘One of your teachers has been to see Mum and Dad, you know. He said Liam had a brilliant brain and he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. I’d better warn you he also thinks you would be wasting your time doing agriculture now. He told them you have the ability to do almost anything with science with three A-grade science subjects and A passes in three other subjects. Mum and Dad seem to agree that you should apply for a different course too. Accountancy they’re thinking, so that you can sit down to do your work.’

‘No way!’ Billy stared at her. ‘Dad knows all I’ve ever wanted to do is farm. I’ve been thinking I should skip university altogether.’ Rena looked uncomfortable.

‘Dad doesn’t think you’ll be able to farm with – with only one leg,’ she said gently.

‘Well, I know some things won’t be so easy, and maybe some will be impossible. I’m not so stupid that I think it will not make any difference, but farming is all I’ve dreamed about for as long as I can remember. When I used to stay at Bengairney for my holidays, Grandpa Caraford used to say I would make a first-rate stockman one day. He said I had good observational skills and they were as important as doing the hard graft. I didn’t really understand what he meant then. I shall have to find ways around the things I can’t manage myself and ways to compensate.’

‘I’m only warning you to be prepared for some opposition,’ Rena said. ‘It has been a big blow to Dad too.
His plans have centred around you and the future of Martinwold, almost since you were born, certainly since you showed such an interest in the farm and the animals. That was the reason he and Uncle Alex quarrelled, as you know. He insisted on buying Uncle Alex’s share of Martinwold, and each of them farming separately, to make sure it would belong to you one day.’

‘I forgot to tell you Uncle Alex came in to visit me again this week. That’s the second time he’s been, but I was only vaguely aware of him the first time. I didn’t know whether I should mention it to Mum and Dad.’

‘I’m sure it would be all right to tell them now. The accident has been a terrible shock to everyone. This sort of thing brings people to their senses and puts things in perspective. It was a shame they quarrelled. Uncle Alex was such fun when Carol and I went to stay at Bengairney when Granny and Grandpa were alive. He always said he would never marry. He used to tease Mum and say she was the only girl he’d ever wanted to marry. It annoyed Dad a bit. I think there was some truth in it now that I’m grown up and married myself. I suspect Uncle Alex was hurt that Dad didn’t trust him to pass his share of Martinwold to you, without them needing to make it all official and exchange money and deeds and everything.’

‘Well, I wish he and Dad hadn’t quarrelled. I enjoyed his visit. He discussed the farm and his herd and he’s the only one who still assumes I shall follow my dreams. Anyway, what did Mum say about my future?’ Billy asked drily.

‘She’s thankful that you’re alive and that the head
injuries were not as serious as the doctors feared. So long as you’re able to do something which satisfies you, I don’t think Mum will interfere.’

‘Well, the only thing which will satisfy me is farming,’ Billy said stubbornly. ‘Thanks for preparing me for some opposition from Dad, Rena.’

Fenella Lennox was nervous when she entered the small hospital ward alone. Amanda was off school with a summer cold so Rena had dropped Fenella off at the hospital while she did her shopping in the town.

‘Hello, Fenella.’ Billy felt wary, even though he had known her all her life and had always liked Liam’s young sister. He was unsure what her reaction might be. Did she share her father’s opinion that he was to blame for Liam’s death because he had his own car that night?

‘Oh Billy, I’ve been desperate to see you and beg your forgiveness.’

‘My forgiveness, Fen?’ He was surprised. Her eyes widened at his use of her shortened name. ‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘Liam always called you Fen when he was talking about you.’

‘I–I don’t mind. It was his – his pet name for me. I miss him so much, Billy.’ Before either of them realized it, they were weeping together.

‘Me too. Oh God, you don’t know how much I wish we’d never jumped in the car after Derek. Liam only did it for me, I know he did.’

‘What’s all this then?’ a voice interrupted. ‘Are you upsetting my patient, young lady?’ Nurse Palmer asked, but cheerfully. ‘You’re supposed to cheer him up, you know.’

‘I–I know. I–I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get upset.’ Both Billy and Fenella reached for a tissue and blew their noses and wiped away tears.

‘This is my friend’s young sister, Fenella Lennox,’ Billy said. ‘I d–don’t know what came over me. I haven’t done that with anybody else.’ Except an
night when you thought no one knew, Nurse Palmer thought.

‘It will do you a world of good, young man. You have been too buttoned up. Far too controlled for a young man who has come through such a trauma. Tears help to wash away the grief, you know. There’s no need to be ashamed of them. It’s natural to miss a well-loved brother or a good friend. Take as long as you like, young lady. I’ll come back later with my charts.’ She walked briskly away, leaving Fenella and Billy staring awkwardly at each other until Billy summoned a wobbly smile.

‘I thought you might blame me after the stuff I read in the papers.’

‘Oh Billy, I hoped you’d never see the papers. I–I think my father was to blame for a lot of that. He’s been terrible. He’s making Mum’s life hell, in fact. Mine too, when I’m at home, but at least I get away to school. Mum sent you some sweets and some grapes, by the way. She would have come to see you too only it would cause more trouble. I hate him when he’s like this. He must realize it was all Derek’s fault.’

‘Derek is dead,’ Billy said flatly. ‘He can’t speak for himself, even if he had wanted to. Mr Lennox knows that. I expect he’s clinging to the image of Derek he has in his memory.’ He couldn’t help the bitterness when he thought of the contrast with Liam, so
innocent, so honest and truthful.

‘Well, I’m working terribly hard at school. If I can get enough higher grades to go to university after fifth year I shall go a year early and escape from the awful atmosphere.’

‘But you’re not seventeen until next summer.’

‘I know, but Glasgow might accept me if my grades are all As. The sooner I can get away from home the better. It’s a long course anyway to be a vet so a year early would help. I don’t know how Mum can stick things at home. She knows how I feel. She hopes my father will get better with time but she does understand how I miss Liam and how angry I feel because my father thinks he’s the only one who is suffering. Mum says if things are still as bad by next summer she might help me buy a flat. I could rent out a room to help with expenses and she might come to stay sometimes for the weekend. I’d like that. There’s nothing to keep me here now,’ she added bitterly.

‘I’m sure you’re clever enough, Fen, if you’re sure it’s what you want,’ Billy said, ‘but you always said you wanted to go to Edinburgh.’

‘I know but that was mainly because you and Liam would have been there.’ She summoned a smile. ‘I thought I’d get lifts home. Now all I want is to get away.’

‘I hate to see you so miserable, Fenella.’

‘I miss Liam terribly.’ She caught her breath on a sob and Billy reached out and stroked her hand.

‘I shall have to wait until next year too if I still decide to go for a degree. Part of me thinks I shouldn’t bother then I could go home and get on with my life.’

‘Oh, surely you’ll have even more need to get a
degree now, Billy? Mr Fisher said I was to tell you he’d like to come in and talk to you about a change of career. He says you have lots of options with your exam results.’

‘He always did consider agriculture was a waste of time,’ Billy said drily.

‘Only for you, because you’ve done so well at school.’

‘Well, farming is all I’ve ever wanted to do, whatever anybody says,’ Billy stated belligerently. Fenella reached forward and squeezed his hand.

‘I know that, Billy, but even your parents don’t think it will be possible now – now….’

‘Now that I shall have a peg leg, you mean,’ Billy finished bitterly. ‘Don’t be afraid to mention it, Fen. I’m learning to accept it but it doesn’t mean to say I shall let it change my whole life. Think of all the servicemen who lose limbs and still lead useful lives. Think of all those children in Africa who have stepped on mines and lost both their legs. At least I can still see and think and I have two good arms.’ He grimaced wryly. ‘As Rev. McCally says, I have to count my blessings.’

‘I know. I don’t think it will be easy, though, carrying buckets of milk from the parlour or feeding calves when all they seem to want is to knock you over and spill the milk getting at the bucket. And what about calving cows when there’s problems?’

‘If you make a good vet, maybe I’ll send for you to do that.’ For the first time since the accident some of the strain and tension left Billy’s lean face and a glimmer of a smile hovered around his mouth. Passing the ward, Sister Palmer nodded with satisfaction. That child in her school uniform seemed to be helping her
patient after all.

‘Do you mind if I come again and bring Amanda with me, Billy? So long as my father doesn’t find out, of course, and if Rena will give us a lift again? Some of the boys talked about coming too. Jim Finlay and Phil Maxwell are staying on at school to try for better grades.’

‘I’m not going to be here much longer. I’d have been mobile quicker if I hadn’t broken my arm and a couple of ribs. I’m hoping to get home as soon as I can manage the crutches.’ He hated having to depend on the nurses every time he wanted the toilet, or anything else. He was impatient to try anything which would give him a measure of independence.

‘Well, you played enough rugby so I suppose you should have strong shoulders to take your weight,’ Fenella said.

‘Rugby.’ He groaned. ‘There’ll be no more of that, or football. Oh, God.’ He bowed his head in his hands in a gesture of despair. ‘Sometimes I wish….’

‘No! Don’t say it, Billy. Never, ever wish you’d died like Liam.’ Fenella’s voice caught in her throat. ‘There’s so many other things you can do. You have to think positively or you’ll be as bad as my father,’ she added. ‘Every word he utters is something negative. You’ll still be able to sing when you come to parties. You still have your brains. Promise me you’ll make the most of what you have, Billy. It is what Liam would have wanted. You know it is.’

‘I suppose so,’ Billy muttered. He pulled himself up straighter in the bed. ‘All right then, Miss Lennox, I shall start by doing exercises to get the strength back in my arms and shoulders and I shall tell that
pretty little physio I intend to get moving under my own steam as soon as the doctors say my ribs have healed properly.’

‘You’re sounding more cheerful, Billy,’ Rena said, coming in to join them. ‘I believe your visit has done him good, Fenella. Let me know if you want a lift another day. It’s no problem. I drive past your school on my way from Langton Gardens anyway when I’m heading for Dumfries.’

The months which followed were a period of ups and many downs for Billy as he struggled to regain some independence. He was dismayed to find his own parents seriously believed he would change all his plans and ambitions and pursue a sedentary career. His mother suggested law or accountancy and he almost wished he had not worked so hard at school and done so well in his exams. Even more
was his father pointing out the tasks he would never be able to do around the farm, such as chasing the cattle when they were moved from field to field or loaded in a lorry to be sold: calving cows could be stubborn to manage, especially when they were in difficulties and suffering pain, and even doing the artificial insemination could be risky if one caught him off balance.

‘Then I shall have to go back to using the
insemination service,’ he said stubbornly. ‘There has to be a way round the things I can’t do myself. If that pilot, Bader, could fly an aeroplane without any
legs then surely I deserve to have a go at following my dream to farm when I’ve only lost half a leg. I shall have to be a good manager and make sure I employ men who can do the tasks I can’t do myself,’ he argued. ‘Uncle Alex believes I can do it. He says a good manager is worth three men.’

‘We don’t employ any spare labour on farms these days for you to manage. In fact fewer men want work on dairy farms with early mornings and seven days a week,’ Sam said. ‘Fate usually guarantees it is when a man is off that you need him most. I’m lucky. Your mother has always been there, and willing, when I needed an extra pair of hands, as your grandmother was for your grandfather at Bengairney.’

‘I suppose you think I’m not likely to get a wife at all if I’m a peg-leg farmer,’ Billy snapped. He thought about Fenella Lennox. She had promised to visit him again in hospital but she hadn’t come back. Neither had she visited him since he had come home. Of course, she was only a schoolgirl but deep down he was hurt by Fenella’s absence because she was one of the few people who really understood what had happened that fateful night. More than that, she knew how much he missed Liam. He had thought they could share their loss. He shrugged. He would stand on his own feet. He gave a mental grimace. He didn’t have feet any more, only a foot.

‘Of course, I didn’t mean you wouldn’t get a wife,’ his father denied hastily. ‘At least not on account of your leg. I meant most modern women prefer a career away from the farm these days. We all have to face facts, Billy. It’s breaking your mother’s heart to see you so frustrated. All our plans and dreams were for
you to take over the farm from us and carry on. Now we count our blessings and we’re thankful you’re alive.’

In his heart Billy knew his parents only wanted what they thought was best for him. After all, the continuing future of Martinwold had been his father’s dream, as well as his own, and they’d had plans to continue breeding and improving the Martinwold herd.

Uncle Alex, Aunt Tania and his father had grown up at Bengairney and his mother had spent all her spare time there too. She had always said what a happy home it was when they were young. It was a rented farm but Uncle Alex had continued to live there with his parents until they died. He didn’t have a wife to help him, but he had built up one of the best herds in Scotland, especially since he had farmed alone. Billy knew his own parents had moved into Martinwold when they married but the two farms had been run together as one business until the rift between his father and uncle.

Billy knew his father had borrowed enough money from the bank to buy Uncle Alex’s share of Martinwold and the two farms had been run independently since then. Having been bought out, Uncle Alex had ample capital to make improvements at Bengairney if he wanted.

‘I haven’t made any changes,’ he explained to Billy during one of their discussions at the hospital. ‘I know your father thought I would but I have no wife or family, except for you, laddie, and Bengairney is a rented farm. Improvements would increase the value
of the farm and if it ever comes to sell I’d like to be the one to buy it. There will be time enough for changes if that happens. Meanwhile I reckon land is about the best investment a man can make, especially if he’s a farmer.’ Their discussion had helped Billy understand the rift but he was sorry he had been the unwitting cause.

On another visit his uncle had admitted the money from selling his share of Martinwold had come in useful in some respects.

‘I spent a good bit of money buying in new
for the Bengairney herd but I’m reaping the rewards now. They are proving a great success. In fact if I sold my herd now I could afford to retire, but I enjoy the challenge too much to give up farming yet.’

‘You couldn’t possibly give up, Uncle Alex,’ Billy said. ‘You’re too young and you’d be miserable without your cows.’

‘Aye, I suppose I would, though I don’t think that when I’ve to get up in the middle of the night to calve a heifer when its blowing a blizzard.’ They grinned at each other, knowing everything had its ups and downs. Alex Caraford was well known in markets all over the country and his animals continually brought in the highest prices. Two of the Bengairney bulls had been approved for artificial insemination and they had brought in yet more income from semen sales.

Billy knew his father’s hopes and dreams had been concentrated on himself. As an only son he would carry on the Caraford name and together they had planned to make a success of both Martinwold farm and the Martinwold herd. So why could his parents not accept that he still wanted to farm, even if he was a cripple?

During his enforced year at home, Billy tried too hard to prove that he was normal and could do everything a more able-bodied man could do. Twice he had ignored the signs, and the pain, and walked too long and consequently inflamed the stump where his artificial leg fitted. The doctor at the hospital had warned him that if he continued to ignore their advice this could have serious consequences. If the stump did not heal and harden sufficiently, he might need to remove more of his leg, including his knee joint.

At times like this Billy sought the privacy of his bedroom. He felt like bursting into tears and once or twice his spirits had been so low he thought he would have been better off like Liam. His collie Bib seemed to sense his young master’s need for comfort and invariably crept upstairs to scratch softly on the bedroom door. Billy always welcomed the dog’s undemanding affection. ‘Sometimes I think you’re the only one who is pleased to have me home, Bib,’ he often said, stroking his silky ears. When they were young he and his sisters had never been allowed to have pets in their bedrooms. His mother had insisted animals were happiest in their own beds and if the children wanted to share them they could go to the kennel, or the rabbit hutch, or the cage. Now Bib went upstairs in search of her master and no one commented. He didn’t know his mother’s heart ached for him, or that she understood how much he needed the silent sympathy of his dog. Billy had named him Bib because he had a white patch beneath his chin with a narrow white strip on either side which Billy
fancied looked like a bib with strings attached. Apart from a tan patch over one ear and eye, the rest of Bib was a glossy black. Bib’s mother had been an excellent dog for working with cattle but Sam was her master. She had never worked for anyone else and she was getting too old for much work now so Bib would have been a welcome addition to Martinwold, if only he was more biddable. Unfortunately he was too enthusiastic when it came to rounding up the cattle and they did not need, or appreciate, an eager young dog continuously circling and snapping at their heels. A well-trained cow dog could save a lot of time, and in Billy’s case a lot of effort, but frequently he had had to leave his canine friend tied in his kennel while he walked the extra distance to rouse a few contented cows who sleepily ignored the rest making their way in for milking.

‘Maybe we’ll get a quad bike when you come home from university – that is if you still want to farm,’ his father had said, ‘but we’ll wait and see.’

Alex had started visiting Martinwold again since Billy had been home.

‘Take every opportunity they offer while you’re at university, Billy,’ he advised one Sunday afternoon when they were alone in the sitting room after lunch. ‘If they arrange farm visits or trips abroad, grasp the chance to see how other farmers do things. There’s always something new to learn for all of us. You never know what ideas you might pick up. And the same with any extra study modules, which might be useful. It doesn’t matter whether you take an exam in them or not but knowledge is never wasted. Of course I wouldn’t like to see you cramming so much in you
have no time to enjoy yourself, laddie,’ he added with a grin. ‘But you must make sure your studies come first to get a good degree.’ He began to laugh. ‘Lecture over. I confess this is a case of do as I say, not as I did. I couldn’t wait to get on with my life and all I wanted was to get home and farm.’

‘But you have no regrets?’

‘No – at least not about studying, or being a farmer.’

At the end of April Alex Caraford telephoned Martinwold to pass on some unexpected news.

‘The young laird has died,’ he said without preamble.

‘The young laird! He’s dead?’ Sam echoed. ‘But when? I mean, I’d heard he was unwell and that he and his sister were staying at Scarth Manor again, but I didn’t know it was that serious.’

‘No, I don’t think anyone realized he was terminally ill,’ Alex said in troubled tones, ‘but the housekeeper up at the Manor has spread the word, and my Mrs Walters couldn’t wait to tell me when she arrived for work at Bengairney this morning.’ Mrs Walters, an honest and efficient woman who did plain cooking for Alex five mornings a week, was friends with Mrs Brex, housekeeper up at the Manor.

‘It doesn’t seem many years since the old laird died,’ Sam mused. ‘Father insisted all three of us should go to the funeral and pay our respects because we had been tenants at Bengairney for so long.’

‘Aye. There were more tenants then. They were all there.’

‘Rosemary used to know the laird and his sister when they were all younger. They were twins. I’m sure she will want to go to the funeral. Shall we pick
you up and we can all go together, if you let us know when the funeral will be?’

‘Thanks, Sam.’ There was relief in Alex’s voice. ‘I didn’t fancy going on my own. There’s so few other tenants left.’

‘I know. They sold some of the farms to pay the inheritance tax when the old laird died.’

‘Home Farm is the biggest, and the best, and they still have it in their own hands. They employ a manager,’ Alex said. ‘Apart from that they only own Bengairney and Highfold, and the smallholding at West Charmwood.’

‘Trevor and Ellen Wilshaw are a few years younger than Rosemary, and you, Alex,’ Sam said, ‘so they can’t be fifty yet either. It’s too young to die.’

‘Nobody has any say in these things,’ Alex said flatly. ‘Youth will not stop them having more taxes to pay, unless the old laird made some sort of provision.’

‘I doubt if he would do that, otherwise he would have prepared for settling his own affairs. He had plenty of years to think about it. Are you thinking they might sell Bengairney this time?’

‘It’s a possibility, don’t you think?’

‘It sure is. As a sitting tenant you’d get a bargain, Alex. You would buy it, wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s too good a chance to miss.’

‘Well, land is a good investment but I’ve neither wife nor child to consider, or to pass it on to.’

‘Maybe not, but when you get tired of farming you’d get a good profit with vacant possession. You used to fancy seeing something of the world. You could take a world cruise.’

‘I suppose so.’ Alex hesitated, then hurried into
speech. ‘I was a silly bugger for resenting you wanting to buy my share of Martinwold. I can see that now. I thought you had the wife I’d always wanted, and then you got a son. Then you wanted to own the land we’d all worked so bloody hard to buy when Mr Turner died. I suppose I was jealous, but I was too angry to see that at the time.’ Sam was silent for several seconds.

‘That makes two silly buggers, then – you and me both. I was afraid you’d get married and have children of your own. I wanted to control things to make sure Billy inherited Martinwold.’

‘But that was the thing, Sam. I knew I’d never marry. I thought you should have trusted me to pass on my share of Martinwold to Billy.’

‘Never say never, Alex. Twelve years ago you were only in your early thirties and still dancing like you did when you were eighteen, with half the females eager to partner you. We were sure you’d get married and have children of your own.’

‘Instead I’m a confirmed, crusty old bachelor,’ Alex said.

‘I’m not so sure about that. I’ll bet Ginny Green would give up her veterinary practice and marry you tomorrow if you asked her. She always had a crush on you, even when she was a schoolgirl.’

‘Ah, Sam, you’d organize the world if you could,’ Alex said, but he chuckled and Sam was pleased to hear that. ‘Ginny is a grand lassie and a good vet, but I don’t love her and it’s too late now.’

‘It’s never too late,’ Sam said, ‘but I’ve learned my lesson.’ His hand trembled as he held the phone. ‘As soon as Billy started school I was making plans. Then
we nearly lost him. I never want to live through a nightmare like that again. I tell you, Alex, I thank God every day that he’s alive, and it doesn’t matter anymore whether he wants to farm or not so long as he’s here and happy.’

‘I know. It seems to me he’s still as keen to farm though. I reckon you’ll have to support him, whatever problems he has to face.’

‘Aye, we’re learning to accept that. But back to Bengairney – you would buy if it is to sell, wouldn’t you, Alex? I mean you’ll have at least half the capital from your share of Martinwold, and if I can help at all you know I will.’

‘Thanks, but the money wouldn’t be a problem,’ Alex said. ‘We’ll have to wait and see. The laird and his sister have a business of their own as land agents and auctioneers in Gloucestershire but I doubt if they’ll have had time to accumulate enough spare wealth to settle taxes in the time since the old laird died. Their income from the estate would be drastically reduced with so few farms. Bengairney has been well maintained, I’ll grant the laird that. All the buildings are in good repair. Mrs Walters keeps hinting that the house is needing modernized, of course. I believe the Lennoxes’ place at Highfold has been well maintained too. The Manor House is the one most in need of repairs, from what I hear, even though it’s their own home.’

BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
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