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Authors: Gwen Kirkwood

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BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
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‘Lots of couples never marry these days,’ Rosemary remarked.

‘Oh, Trevor wanted to marry Francine, especially when he knew she was pregnant, but she considered
marriage was like being in chains and she wanted to be free.’

‘So what about your own business, Ellen? What are your plans when you return to Scotland? Or shouldn’t I ask?’ Rosemary said, her cheeks flushing.

‘Of course you can ask. I would so like us to be friends, Rosemary, and I always admired you and the way you managed your own life, instead of allowing your mother to manage it for you as she wanted to do.’

‘Oh, she accepted Sam in the end. How could she not? He’s so honest and genuine and kind. He’s always been a hard worker. We may not be as wealthy as she wanted but we’re comfortable and we’re happy. Besides, I never loved anyone else.’

‘You don’t know how lucky you are. I’ve never met a man I wanted to marry. Before he died it troubled Trevor. He said he and Kimberley had taken up too much of my life, but if I’d really loved someone I’m sure I wouldn’t have let anything interfere. I need to respect people who are my friends. I’ve never met the right man.’ She gave a small grin. ‘At least not yet.’

‘Where do you plan to live when you come back to Scotland if not at the Manor?’

‘We shall move into the house where my father’s land agent used to live. It’s substantial and built of local red sandstone. It has a lot of character. It has been rented out since our father died and Trevor took over the land agent’s job himself. Well, there were not enough farms left to merit employing an agent. The house is empty at present. Kimberley prefers it to the Manor House. In some respects she’s quite mature for her age. I’m looking forward to redecorating and
modernizing parts of it but it’s already habitable and it has a large comfortable kitchen which she loves.’

‘Home is what you make it,’ Rosemary said, pushing the kettle onto the hotplate when she heard Alex and Sam returning.

‘I agree. Our partner is buying our share of the business. He has made too good an offer to refuse now he has realized I intend returning to Scotland. He didn’t want me to sell to strangers because Trevor and I each owned a third of the company and the buyer would have been the major shareholder. His son will be joining him as an auctioneer and his nephew is a land agent. He admitted I had built up the furniture and antique sales myself and that kept us afloat after the foot and mouth outbreak when cattle sales went down to zero. Like you I’m fairly comfortable financially but I’m not the type to sit around and do nothing. I shall start a new business up here, specializing mainly in antiques. The tenants in Charmwood smallholding are retiring in May. I shall sell the land with vacant possession and keep the buildings. Trevor and I had a good look at them before he became too ill. The barn and two adjoining sheds are stone built. I could convert them into storage and a sale room with adjoining facilities.’

‘And of course Charmwood is close to the house where you will be living.’

‘Yes, it is. We thought Charmwood Antiques would be quite a good name too. All very convenient if things go according to plan. I do so want to give Kimberley a settled, happy home,’ Ellen said with a sigh. ‘She has had so many upheavals in her young life. I want to give her security and let her know she is loved.’

‘I’m sure she knows that already. It is so clear to us that you adore her and she seems to feel the same about you.’

‘I’m all the family she has, really.’

After a lot of consideration, Billy decided travelling on the bus would be one more challenge to overcome. Mounting unfamiliar steps still made him nervous but most of the buses had lower steps these days.

‘I could give you a lift to the Academy,’ his mother offered as soon as she realized that was where he wanted to go.

‘I don’t know how long I shall be. I’m planning to talk to Mr Fisher and I promised to find out if any of the folks I knew have younger sisters starting at the Academy for when Kimberley Wilshaw goes there after the summer. They will be returning to Scotland soon.’ He sighed. ‘Anyway, Mum, my pin leg is never going to go away or grow into a proper leg. I have to try and be a bit more independent before I go off to university in September.’

‘Yes, I suppose so, Billy, but do be careful, dear.’

‘I will, don’t worry, Mum.’

He was surprised that Kimberley’s aunt and his mother seemed to be keeping in touch with regular emails since the Wilshaws returned to Gloucestershire and he knew he couldn’t let them down. He would have been more surprised to know that Ellen Wilshaw and his Uncle Alex had been in contact even more frequently, and not always to do with business either.

At the Academy, he went first of all to see Mr Fisher, the careers adviser, who had visited him in hospital.

‘No, no, sir,’ he laughed, ‘I haven’t come to tell you I’ve changed my mind about my course in spite of your persuasive arguments. I still want to farm and my parents are coming round to the idea.’

‘We’re all glad you’re alive, Billy, and I’m pleased to see your old spirit returning. You never did let things beat you.’

Billy explained about Kimberley moving to the area and Mr Fisher promised to see what he could discover about next year’s intake while Billy went to see some of his old classmates and teachers. He was walking along the corridor towards the exit when a familiar voice called his name.

‘Hey, Billy, wait for me, please!’ Fenella Lennox hurried towards him. Billy paused warily, but Fenella was smiling broadly. ‘You don’t know how good it is to see you, Billy. And I’m amazed how fast you’re walking, and how erect you are. Mum will be so pleased when I tell her I’ve seen you.’ The shrill ringing of the bell startled them both. ‘Drat! I’m supposed to be going to English for the last period. Still, I can skip it for once. Even Mrs Taylor will understand when I tell her I wanted to talk to you while I have the chance.’

‘The chance?’ Billy repeated coolly, still wary. He was more hurt than he liked to admit that Liam’s sister had never been in contact during all the weeks he had been struggling to learn to walk, then back home, trying to do the jobs he had once done so easily. He frowned. ‘What do you mean the chance to talk to me? I haven’t been for a holiday to the moon.’

‘Oh, Billy, I don’t blame you for being bitter when your whole life has been turned upside-down, but I’m amazed at how well you’re managing. I’m really
pleased I’ve run into you here. Even my father can’t prevent me talking to you in school. Shall we go into the prefects room?’

‘You said you were going to come to the hospital again? I suppose the sight of a fellow in a
wheelchair
with a stump of a leg stretched out in front was enough to put you off too,’ he said bitterly. Fenella stared at him.

‘Some vet I shall make if something like that puts me off,’ she scoffed. ‘I wanted to visit you, but that day I got a lift with your sister my father had been at the vets and he drove back through the town, instead of along the old by-pass. I don’t think he can bear to go down that road since the accident. Anyway, he saw me getting out of Rena’s car and he guessed where we had been. I can’t tell you how angry he was. When he discovered Mum had known I intended to visit you he … he flew into a temper and hit her across her face. Then he didn’t speak to her for two whole weeks.’

‘But why?’

‘He–he still thinks it’s your fault Derek was killed. He never mentions Liam,’ she added bitterly, as they went into the quiet room and she closed the door behind them. ‘He can’t see that Mum and I are grieving too. Surely in his heart he must know that Derek was to blame, but he refuses to accept it.’

‘I see.’ Billy frowned. ‘It must be hard on your mother being there on her own all day. She never phones my mother now.’

‘No, she says it’s not worth the risk of him finding out. He’s been on the point of striking me a few times recently. He would have done it if Mum hadn’t
intervened. He hit her instead one of the times and gave her a terrible black eye and a bruised neck.’

‘Can’t the doctor do anything for him? He never used to be like that.’

‘He refuses to see the doctor. Mum got some pills to try to calm him down but he refuses to take them. He said she was trying to poison him. I–I almost dread going home.’

‘It certainly sounds a miserable place to be these days,’ Billy said slowly.

‘It is. I’m desperate to get away to university after fifth year. Mum thinks he has been cracking up ever since Derek started going off the rails. She’s afraid he’s losing his mind completely.’

‘Is it safe for you both to be there with him?’ Billy asked in troubled tones.

‘I–I don’t know. Usually Mum manages to calm him down or distract him. But Miss Wilshaw came to see him before she went back down south. She told him that he would have the opportunity to buy Highfold as a sitting tenant. She obviously believed she was offering him a golden opportunity but he flew off the handle with her too and told her his son had been killed and how dare she come and upset him, and what use was it to him to buy a farm when he hadn’t got a son anymore? She tried to explain the advantages to him. She even said he could have a year to think about it because Mr Caraford was already negotiating an early settlement for Bengairney. She thought that would calm him down but the mention of Caraford seemed to set him aflame. He stomped outside without even saying goodbye to Miss Wilshaw. Mum was terribly embarrassed.’

‘I’m sure Miss Wilshaw will understand.’

‘Mum tried to explain but she already knew about the accident. She said she was terribly sorry for the loss of both of her sons.’

‘When she had gone he came in and he unlocked the gun cupboard and took his gun out and started cleaning it. He kept muttering he would shoot the buggers….’ Fenella lifted her eyes to Billy’s face. She couldn’t tell him it was the Caraford name he kept repeating. ‘Eventually Mum persuaded him to let her put it back in the cupboard and she locked it and kept the key. When he went to bed she telephoned Doctor Jamieson and told him she was frightened he would use the gun. He telephoned the police. Of course they already knew what he’s like and about Derek and – and everything. They came the next day and said they were going round everyone inspecting the gun licences and checking the guns. They told him there was something wrong with his and they would have to take it away to be checked. Mum said he never made a murmur. He just let them take it without protest.’

‘That’s strange because I remember he used to enjoy going on a pheasant shoot with some of the other neighbours.’

‘Yes, he did, but Mum was happier when they took the gun away. He seems to have been calmer since. Not happy calm, you know, but sort of brooding and quiet. He only speaks in monosyllables.’

‘It must be very unpleasant,’ Billy sympathized. He noticed Fenella never referred to him as Dad now.

‘I waited and waited for you to come back for another visit to the hospital, and for you to bring Amanda, but
I think I understand now why you didn’t,’ he said slowly.

‘I thought about writing you a letter to explain but then you might have replied and that would have been awful if he found out. Anyway, why are you here? At school, I mean?’ She smiled and he noticed what a transformation it made. Her face was thinner and paler than he remembered and when he looked more closely he saw the strain around her eyes and mouth. He explained about Kimberley Wilshaw moving to a new school and not knowing anyone.

‘Oh, I will keep an eye out for her next term.’ Then she clapped a hand to her mouth. ‘But I shall not be here if I get to university!’ She frowned. ‘I’ll tell you what, though, Billy, I’ll find out when the new first years will be coming for their induction days. It should be soon. If she could come then I will show her round myself and introduce her to one or two people I know.’

‘Thanks, Fenella. I’m sure she will be grateful. She seems a nice kid, not at all snooty. She’s an orphan now that her father has died. That’s why they are selling the remains of the estate. Her aunt, Miss Wilshaw, is taking care of her.’

‘How awful. Poor girl. At least I have my mum. I shall try not to feel sorry for myself anymore.’ She gave him a glimpse of her old smile with the dimples.

‘Mr Fisher is making some enquiries too.’

True to his word, Mr Fisher telephoned Martinwold the following afternoon with the names of some of the girls who would be starting at the Academy.

‘One of them is the sister of Michael Appleby. Have you arranged for anyone else to share your flat at
university yet, Billy?’

‘No, I haven’t thought about it.’ He and Liam had planned to share a flat.

‘Then I wonder if you would consider Michael. You do remember him?’

‘I know who he is but I don’t know him well. He was always quiet, didn’t join in much.’

‘He works hard at his studies. Things do not come so easily to him as they did to you and Liam Lennox but I believe he will get there. He intends to study biochemistry. His parents are not wealthy but they want to give him and his sister the opportunities they never had, at least as far as they can afford. Michael doesn’t want to live in halls either. He can’t afford either the time or the money for a hectic social life. After you came to see me it occurred to me the two of you might do very well sharing a flat. I’m sure he will share both the chores and the expenses very fairly. He has a rather dry sense of humour when you get to know him.’

‘We could always give it a try,’ Billy said slowly. ‘I shall need someone to share expenses.’

‘I know you have changed, Billy, and that such a near-death experience must make you view things very differently but I hope you will still enjoy your student years, even though you cannot play the sports you enjoyed here at school. There will be the debating society. You were always good at that sort of thing, and you can still sing. How do you plan to get to lectures from your digs? Michael plans to take his cycle to save on bus fares.’

‘The flat is fairly convenient. There is a regular bus service but Liam and I had planned to take our bikes
too. Now…. Well, my parents are talking of buying an automatic car. Michael may not trust me to drive though, after all the stuff in the papers,’ he added bitterly.

BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
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