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Authors: Gwen Kirkwood

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BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
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‘They weren’t living there,’ Sam said. ‘I suppose that makes a difference. Sir Trevor wasn’t married, was he?’

‘Not that we ever heard,’ Alex said, ‘but Mrs Walters reckons there’s a child, about eleven or twelve.
she’s staying with friends in Gloucester until the end of the school term. I don’t know which of the Wilshaw twins she belongs to, though. I’m surprised the gossipy Mrs Brex doesn’t know. They had a private nurse in to help care for Sir Trevor towards the end and it sounds as though Mrs Brex’s nose was put out of joint having to cook for her.’

‘Some folks don’t know when they’re well off. She’ll have had things too easy when none of the family were living at the Manor.’

It was the longest conversation Sam and Alex had had in recent years and Rosemary could tell Sam was pleased, as she was too, but she was genuinely sorry to hear about the death of Trevor Wilshaw. It was a long time since she had seen either him or his sister but she still remembered the mischievous twinkle in their eyes when they had come to lunch as her mother’s guests at Langton Tower. They had not liked their other haughty neighbour any more than she had and she had been glad of their humorous support, as well as their understanding of her situation. At the time her mother had been trying to match her up with someone she considered more suitable than a working farmer like Samuel Caraford. Tired, angry and at the end of her tether, Rosemary remembered she had been unpardonably rude to her mother and her other guests. Although only seventeen at the time, Ellen Wilshaw had rescued her by suggesting she showed them around the gardens.

‘I don’t suppose Ellen Wilshaw will remember me after all these years,’ she said to Sam, ‘but I would like to attend the funeral. It wouldn’t do Billy any harm to attend a funeral which is not too closely
connected to him either. I think he would have found Liam’s a terrible ordeal if he had been able to attend. I shouldn’t think the Wilshaws have many friends left in this area after being away so long. They both went to college in Gloucestershire when they left school and they have never actually lived up here since.’

‘Mmm, weren’t their parents displeased because their daughter insisted on studying the same course as her brother?’

‘Yes.’ Rosie grinned suddenly. ‘I think her mother had even stronger views than mine about what young ladies should do. She thought Ellen should marry a suitable husband and not have a job. Instead she chose a particularly male environment. It was something to do with estate management, I think. I heard later that Ellen Wilshaw had developed a keen interest in valuing and dealing in antiques and she was very good at it. I think the twins were in partnership together. I never heard of either of them being married,’ Rosie mused. ‘I wonder which of them has the wee girl?’

‘No doubt we shall hear eventually but I expect she will arouse some curiosity amongst the locals, poor bairn.’

‘Who will arouse curiosity?’ Billy asked, coming into the kitchen. His parents explained and asked if he wanted to accompany them and Uncle Alex to the funeral.

‘I suppose I could go to represent the third generation of Bengairney Carafords,’ he said. ‘I can sympathize with the child if she is the object of gossip though. I’ve had my share of that.’

The parish church was surprisingly full by the time the Carafords arrived so they were forced to take seats nearer the front than they would have chosen. There was a mixture of regret, curiosity and genuine sympathy. The laird seemed too young to die and most of the locals regarded him as the last of another county family. There was much craning of scrawny necks when Ellen Wilshaw came in through the vestry at the front of the church. Rosemary sensed at once that her grief was profound at the loss of her twin. Beside her, and almost as tall, was the slim figure of a girl. Billy was surprised. She might not be a woman yet but she was certainly more than a child, even though her honey-gold hair was still worn in a thick plait almost down to her waist. It was clear that both of them had shed tears recently but the faces they presented briefly to the waiting congregation were composed and pale. Billy admired their dignity. Ellen Wilshaw’s eyes scanned the sea of faces for a few seconds as she made her way to the seat reserved for them at
the front of the church. Her eyes widened slightly in recognition as they met Rosemary’s.

After the service the congregation filed past the woman and the girl standing together at the door. Ellen’s face looked strained, her thick wavy hair tinged with grey. Rosemary had expected to do no more than murmur her sympathy and pass on with the rest of the congregation but Ellen clasped her hand in both of hers.

‘There are refreshments up at the Manor. I hope you will join us there, Rosemary, if you can? You and your – your family?’ Her eyes skimmed over Sam, Alex and Billy standing close beside her. It was clear they were all together but Ellen obviously didn’t know which of the two men was her husband.

‘Very well, thank you, if you’re sure?’

‘I am sure. It is a relief to see a familiar face.’ She gave a strained smile. ‘Also I need to speak to the few remaining tenants eventually.’ Her eyes moved to Sam and Alex.

Rosemary was surprised again when Ellen and the girl joined their table with a great sigh of relief after circulating around the guests at the other tables set out in the Manor dining room.

‘Funerals are never easy, are they?’ she said with a wan smile. ‘I know one of these fine gentlemen is your husband, Rosemary, but I don’t know which one. Presumably you are all tenants on the Scarth Estate?’

‘This is Samuel, my husband,’ Rosemary introduced them, ‘and Alex, my brother-in-law. He farms Bengairney so he is your tenant. Sam and I are at Martinwold. This is our son, Billy. He hopes to farm
too but he is going to university in September.’

‘Aah, then I would welcome a talk with you, Billy,’ Ellen said, summoning a smile. ‘Maybe funerals are not the time and place for such things but we don’t have a lot of time in Scotland right now so I need to seize every opportunity to make contact and find out what I need to know. Please forgive me. I think you will understand, Rosemary, my grief for my brother is deep and sincere, but for Kimberley’s sake I must move on.’

‘We all understand, Ellen,’ Rosemary said gently. ‘I didn’t really think you would remember me after all these years, but if there is anything we can do to help….’

‘Of course I remember you.’ Ellen gave a glimpse of the old mischievous smile Rosemary remembered. ‘Trevor and I never forgot when your mother invited us all to that lunch at Langton Tower.’ She lowered her voice and glanced across the room. ‘And you put our snooty neighbour in his place. We did admire your spirit. I think it was that which helped me stand up to my own parents when they were so opposed to me planning my own future.’

‘Gosh, is that Harry Lanshaw?’ Rosemary gasped, following her gaze. ‘He looks very … er, portly.’

‘He looks an old man, if you ask me,’ Ellen said bluntly. ‘Fat and bald already. You made a much better choice with Samuel.’ She smiled at Sam.

‘Thank you, I’m glad you approve,’ he said, smiling back at her.

‘Indeed I do. Some people have all the luck.’ She turned her eyes on Alex. ‘Do you have a wife, Mr Caraford?’

‘Call me Alex, please, everyone else does, including your brother when he came round for his annual inspection of the farm. And no, I’m not married. I’m a confirmed bachelor. My brother had all the luck when it came to choosing a wife.’

‘I see.’ Ellen raised her eyebrows. Both Alex and Sam had kept their thick thatch of chestnut-coloured hair and the sprinkling of silver at their sideburns added an air of elegance, especially today, when they were smartly dressed in their dark suits and white shirts. Neither of them ever seemed to put on weight so they looked tanned and fit. Rosie was proud of them.

‘It is your son, Billy, whose advice I think we need first,’ Ellen went on. ‘This is my niece, Kimberley. She is at school in Gloucestershire but I am selling my business down there and both of our houses. I feel we should make a new start. Kimberley agrees, don’t you, dear?’

‘Yes, I loved coming to Scotland whenever Daddy brought us here for the holidays,’ the girl said simply. Rosie guessed she would have her father’s and aunt’s merry smile when the occasion was not so sad.

‘This will mean a change of school. Maybe Billy will tell us about the school he attended and whether he would recommend it?’ She looked at Billy. ‘Would you have time to call on us one day soon? We need to go back south to wind up our affairs down there but we would appreciate hearing your opinion, Billy. Wouldn’t we, dear?’

‘Yes. I shall be moving to secondary school,’ Kimberley said. ‘That will be bad enough, but I’d prefer it if I only need to move once. Although I know
it’s making everything a rush for Aunt Ellen.’ She glanced apologetically at her aunt.

‘Don’t worry about that, darling. You’re all I have now and I shall do everything in my power to make you happy. We both miss your father so much, but he wanted us to be happy and he seemed pleased to know we would be moving back to Scotland, even though we are selling the remainder of the estate.’

‘Ah, so Bengairney will be to sell then?’ Alex said.

‘I’m afraid so, and Highfold. We must have a meeting to discuss things but I would like to settle our affairs in Gloucester first and get Kimberley settled at school up here.’

‘That makes sense,’ Rosemary said, ‘but it might be better if you could both come to Martinwold to talk to Billy. You could come for coffee, or for Sunday lunch if you like? You see, Billy lost part of his left leg in an accident in the summer and he is not driving again yet.’

Billy’s mouth tightened and his brows came down in a scowl when Kimberley caught her breath in a gasp. All he wanted was to be normal, but he knew his mother was right, it would be more convenient for them to come to Martinwold. He would never be normal again as far as girls were concerned, he thought dejectedly. That was probably the reason Fenella Lennox had made no effort to see him again. He looked up at the light touch of Kimberley’s fingers on the back of his hand.

‘That must have been a terrible ordeal, and so painful,’ she said softly. ‘We didn’t know. We don’t want to be a nuisance, only….’ She chewed her lip. ‘I feel quite nervous about going to a larger school and
of course I have such a different accent. I suppose some of the girls will mock me for that.’

‘The Academy is a mixed school.’ He looked at her thick shining hair. ‘I guarantee that for every girl who mocks there’ll be a boy who admires you.’ Billy’s own eyes widened as soon as the words were out. The girl was only twelve, for goodness’ sake. Whatever had possessed him to speak his thoughts aloud?

‘Thank you for saying that. It would be a relief if some of them are friendly.’

‘I don’t think you need to worry, but I’ll ask a few people I know. I’m sure at least one must have a younger sister starting at the Academy after the summer.’

‘That would be so good, if I knew even one familiar face.’

So it was arranged that Ellen Wilshaw and her niece would come to lunch the following Sunday before they returned to Gloucestershire. Rosemary was pleased when Alex agreed to join them. It was good to see him and Sam getting back to their old friendly rivalry without the tensions and undercurrents which had spoiled their relationship. Alex would have an opportunity to buy Bengairney now and he admitted he was lucky to be in a position to do so, thanks to the generous price Sam had paid when he bought out his share in Martinwold.

When Sunday came it was even more surprising to both Rosemary and Sam to witness the ease with which Alex and Ellen Wilshaw conversed over lunch. During the conversation it became clear they had already had two meetings at Bengairney since the day of the funeral.

Billy felt almost avuncular towards twelve-year-old Kimberley and he answered her questions patiently. He promised to introduce her to some of the teachers and friends he had known when she and her aunt returned to Scotland.

‘Fenella Lennox is still at the Academy so she would have been a good person to show you round and introduce you to people but my family and hers are not in contact anymore,’ he said. ‘Her brother was my best friend. He was killed in the car accident when I lost my leg.’ His mouth tightened. He knew the Lennox household were going through a miserable time but he thought Fenella could have managed to see him somehow, if she had really wanted to. He had a feeling she would not be the first, or the last, girl to cast him aside once they knew he was a cripple. His mother kept telling him he was not a cripple but she didn’t know how he felt, or how much Fenella’s desertion fretted him.

Rosemary felt embarrassed when Ellen Wilshaw insisted on helping her to carry dishes back to the kitchen and clear away the meal.

‘It’s a long time since I lived the grand life, Rosemary. Who do you think does it when I’m at home?’ Ellen asked with a laugh. ‘Anyway, isn’t this the time when confidences are exchanged, over the dirty dishes?’

‘I suppose it used to be,’ Rosemary admitted. ‘I have a dishwasher for most of the dishes now and I will leave the roasting tins until later, but you can come and help me make some coffee, if you like,’ she added, glancing at Billy and Kimberley, deep in conversation. ‘Take Kimberley through to the sitting room, Billy. Do
you want coffee now, Sam, or are you and Alex going out for a walk round the animals first?’

‘Oh, we’ll have a walk round the cows,’ they said in unison and everyone laughed.

Once they were alone together in the kitchen, Rosie explained about the earlier estrangement between them and the reason.

‘Sam and his family were always so close. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see them friends again, and I know it will please Tania, tremendously. Tania is their sister, as well as my best friend, so it was often awkward when she invited all of us for a family gathering at Shawlands.’

‘You wouldn’t believe they’d ever had a wrong word to see them together now,’ Ellen said, watching their retreating figures through the kitchen window. ‘I really like Alex. We’ve met a couple of times already and he definitely wants to buy Bengairney as a sitting tenant and he’s offered a fair price. That is such a relief. I already have a prospective purchaser for the Manor House provided I agree to sell the Home Farm along with it. The two sales should ease our situation until I settle my own affairs and the proceeds should cover the inheritance tax this time.’

‘Will it be a wrench to sell the Manor when it was your family home?’ Rosie asked gently.

‘Not a bit. It always was a draughty old house and it never had the style and character that your father’s house had at Langton Tower. Besides, it costs such a lot to keep up these rambling old mansions these days, between maintenance and heating and council tax, then you need labour. No, I shall have no regrets. I shall sell Highfold Farm too once we’re settled up
here. Whatever money remains after we’ve paid the tax man has to be put in trust for Kimberley for her education. Dear Trevor, he was so anxious I should not be out of pocket caring for her, but she is as dear to me as if she were my own child. He made me chief executive and trustee and did everything in his power to make sure she would be in my care but I shall try to adopt her if the authorities will allow a single woman to adopt a teenager.’ She grimaced. ‘Officials can be so bound by rules they forget about the human elements sometimes.’

‘Should I assume Kimberley’s mother doesn’t…?’

‘Fran is dead, but she and Trevor were not married. She was a keen showjumper and really quite splendid. It meant more to her than having a husband or a family. She thought it was a tragedy when she became pregnant. She blamed Trevor, although she was supposed to be on the pill. They had a terrible row. She wanted an abortion, but even her parents opposed that. Almost as soon as Kimberley was born Fran was back in the saddle.’

‘How awful,’ Rosemary breathed. ‘Most mothers love their babies the minute they’re born, although I think my mother considered me a bit of a burden, come to think of it.’

‘Fran made it clear the child was Trevor’s
or she would put her up for adoption,’ Ellen said grimly. Trevor and I had bought a house soon after we settled in Gloucestershire and set up our business, but when a house came for sale only a few hundred yards away I bought it for myself. It was a good investment and it meant I was independent if either of us married, but we were still near to each
other.’ Her voice shook, but she cleared her throat and went on. ‘We were so close, Rosemary. I miss him terribly.’

‘I’m sure you do,’ Rosemary agreed softly.

‘Anyway, Francine arranged for a nursemaid to live in when she returned to her horses.’

‘A nursemaid? For such a young baby?’

‘Yes. She was very young and had no real experience of looking after babies on her own. Trevor asked me to move in with them to supervise her and to avoid any gossip. I’m the nearest Kimberley has had to a mother of her own. Fran was rarely at home and Kimberley was barely two years old when Fran went to South America hoping to buy a horse she considered good enough for the Olympics. She was giving one a trial when she fell off and broke her neck. It sounds cruel to say it, but it was a blessing she was killed. She would have hated to be an invalid. She was so full of energy and plans and ambitions. As a child she was utterly spoiled but she could be very loveable too. It broke her parents’ hearts. They moved to the South of France and they have never taken any interest in Kimberley. They’re both dead now but Fran had an uncle, her mother’s brother. I’m terribly afraid he might try to interfere with Kimberley’s care when he hears Trevor has died. He didn’t approve of the way Fran’s parents ignored their only grandchild because Fran and Trevor were not married.’

BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
3.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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