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Authors: Gwen Kirkwood

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BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
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‘Then we shall call you Kim too,’ Rosemary said with a smile. ‘Isn’t that right, Billy?’

‘Whatever you say,’ Billy said. ‘What’s in a name? It’s the person that counts. So are you coming with me for a look round the animals?’

‘Yes, I’d love to do that.’

‘You can borrow my wellingtons, Kim,’ Rosemary said.

‘Thank you. I will bring my own if I do come again.’

Billy was pleased that Kim showed a keen interest in the animals and asked intelligent questions about their feed and their health. She asked why they all
had two big ear tags. He explained that it was a government regulation and even if they died, or went for slaughter, they still had to have their own number and a record of it had to be sent to the government offices.

‘It is since the BSE outbreak so that every animal can be traced. I believe there are more records for cattle than there are for humans now. Come on and we’ll walk up the field so you can see the heifers. They are carrying their first calf so we need to check them every day.’ He looked at her out of the corner of his eye to see if she knew what he was talking about but she merely nodded.

‘Your Uncle Alex explained a bit about that and about choosing semen from different bulls for his breeding programme when he needs a new blood line, and about using artificial insemination. It sounded quite interesting. I shall have to wait and see how I get on at school but if Aunt Ellen insists I must go to university I thought I might like to study animal genetics.’

‘Really? I’m amazed at Uncle Alex telling you all that – about his breeding programme, I mean.’

‘Well, I did ask him, and I’m not a child, you know.’

‘If you say so,’ Billy teased. ‘Actually, it’s hard to remember you’re only twelve. I suppose you’ve had more trouble in your life than most girls your age. It has made you more serious and mature.’

‘Tell me about your friend, the one who died. Mary Appleby says he was brilliant at school. Her brother told her he wanted to be a doctor.’

Amazingly Billy found himself telling her about Liam and the things they had done together and how much
he missed his friendship. When she asked about the accident, he found himself telling her details he had never spoken of before, including how afraid he had been just before it happened. He told her about some of his experiences in the hospital too, things he had never mentioned to anyone else.

It was after eleven when Ellen Wilshaw telephoned to apologize for leaving Kimberley so long.

‘Don’t worry about her, Ellen. She and Billy have gone for a walk together. You may as well join us for dinner when you collect her. I’ll have it ready by 12.30.’

‘Well, if you’re sure you don’t mind.’

‘Of course not. And by the way Kimberley has asked us to call her Kim. She says her friends all called her that. Do you mind?’

‘Mind? Of course not. Trevor often called her Kim, too. Kimberley was her mother’s choice of name. I didn’t know she had a preference.’

As soon as Ellen put the phone down, Rosemary dialled the Bengairney number. There was no reply so she tried Alex’s mobile. He answered immediately.

‘I didn’t think you’d feel like cooking Sunday lunch after having a late night, Alex,’ Rosemary said with laughter in her voice. ‘Come over and join us and tell us all about your evening and the local gossip.’

‘What gossip?’ Alex asked sharply, his heartbeat quickening. Surely he and Ellen had not caused any gossip yet?

‘I don’t know what gossip,’ Rosemary chuckled. ‘But there’s usually some. Anyway, Kim is still here. Ellen is collecting her soon and they’ll be staying for lunch so you may as well join us, unless a night’s
dancing tires you out these days?’ she added with a mischievous laugh.

‘Dancing never tired me out, as you should know. As a matter of fact the evening made me feel like a spring chicken again so I’ll be with you for lunch. And thanks, Rosemary. I’ll see you in a wee while.’ Rosemary nodded to herself, a small smile lifting the corners of her mouth. Alex sounded on top of the world. If there was a spark of attraction between Alex and Ellen Wilshaw, there was no harm in helping it along a little.

True to her promise, Fenella Lennox kept a special lookout for Kim on induction day when the new year’s students came to look around the school. She was patient and thorough, answering her and Mary Appleby’s questions and giving them advice about the quirks of the various teachers and how to cope with the dinner queues, but she couldn’t quite dispel the feeling of embarrassment when she recalled how nasty her father had been to Kim’s aunt and it made her a little stiff and awkward when she addressed Kim directly. When she showed them where the toilet block was, Mary asked if new pupils still got bullied by the older girls in there.

‘Oh no, there should not be any bullying anywhere in school,’ Fenella declared.

‘If there is bullying, I expect I shall be one of those they pick on.’ Kim grimaced. ‘I have only to speak for them to realize I’m different and a newcomer to this area.’ Fenella frowned as she looked at their anxious faces. Kim had sensed a reserve in the older girl’s manner
when she was addressing her personally, and it was not there with Mary. She wondered if Fenella resented her because her father had been their landlord, or maybe because Aunt Ellen was friendly with Rosemary Caraford and her family and that included Billy. After all, he and Fenella did seem to be special friends. He had said she could swim like a fish, and he had asked her to look out for her today. It never occurred to her that Fenella’s reserve towards her was on account of Syd Lennox and the shame she felt after his obnoxious behaviour towards Ellen Wilshaw when she had called to discuss the tenancy.

‘Come with me,’ Fenella said now, as though reaching a decision. ‘I will show you Mrs Burgess’s room and introduce you both if she is in. If you have the slightest hint of bullying she would want to know and she would deal with it tactfully, without involving you personally. We did have a group of girls who were bullies two years ago and she dealt with them.’

Later that evening, Mary was full of praise for Fenella Lennox as she ate her evening meal with her parents and brother. The following day Michael made a point of seeking out Fenella and thanked her for her kindness to his young sister and her friend Kim. Fenella looked up at him, her eyes widening in surprise. She felt warmed by his praise.

‘It was no trouble. I had Liam to look out for me when I moved schools, but you will have moved on?’

‘Yes, as a matter of fact I shall be taking Liam’s place and sharing a flat with Billy Caraford. I hope you don’t mind?’

‘Of course not. Billy will need somebody and we both miss Liam terribly.’ Her voice croaked and Michael
reached out and put a gentle hand on her arm.

‘I understand,’ he said simply and Fenella saw the sincerity in his brown eyes. After that the two of them often stopped for a chat if they happened to be having dinner at the same time, or when they met in the library. Fenella wondered why she had never noticed Michael before, but then she had not paid much attention to the older boys, except for Liam and Billy and their close friends. She found herself telling him about Liam and their home life and eventually she confided her worries about her father’s mental state and how frightened she was in case he injured her mother more seriously. Michael was a good listener. He had already heard about Syd Lennox’s irrational behaviour from his father. The man had caused trouble when he delivered some bullocks to the slaughterhouse but he did not tell Fenella that.

Kim settled in at the Academy better than Ellen had dared to hope, reassuring her that her decision to move back to Scotland had been good for both of them. Mary Appleby was proving to be a true friend. In spite of the difference in their backgrounds the two girls got on well and had a lot in common, including a determination to do their best at school. Ellen offered a silent thank you to Billy for introducing her niece to Mary, as well as to other first-year pupils. He was a thoroughly nice young man, even if he did sometimes withdraw into some dark world of his own. Considering his life-changing experiences of the past year, she felt that was understandable.

Billy and Michael Appleby started at university and
embarked on a new phase in their lives too. Sam had bought an automatic car for Billy but neither he nor Rosemary could resist issuing several admonitions to drive carefully.

‘Don’t worry so much,’ Billy said irritably. ‘Anyone would think the crash was my fault. I am careful and I intend to come home once a fortnight to take my turn with the relief milking.’ Gradually he was learning to accept that some things he had once taken for granted were difficult, if not impossible, but they often made him irritable and even depressed.

‘An extra pair of hands for the milking is always welcome,’ Sam said, ‘but we expect you to make the most of your time at university, both with work and pleasure.’ He was also learning to accept when Billy offered to help. One of the doctors had explained that the psychological effects of losing a limb were often as devastating as the physical ones and if Billy wanted to attempt things they should encourage him to have a go.

Rosemary could scarcely believe a year had passed since the accident. She rarely heard from Jane Lennox but she knew from the talk on the country grapevine that Mr Lennox was getting even more difficult to live with and he still refused to accept Derek’s death, and his part in the crash. Fenella had done exceptionally well in her school examinations and was starting university a year earlier than usual. Several of the sales representatives, who called at both farms, were convinced Sydney Lennox had driven her away from home with his foul temper and irrational outbursts.

Ellen Wilshaw was finding him impossible to deal with as a tenant of the Scarth Estate. She had given
him a year from her brother’s death to decide whether he wanted to buy his farm as a sitting tenant, or retire and give up the tenancy. The general opinion was that he would be foolish to miss the opportunity to buy Highfold, even if he had to borrow the money. He could make a good profit if he sold it with vacant possession. He simply refused to commit himself, or to discuss his plans, and meanwhile fences and buildings were deteriorating for want of maintenance. Ellen had been to see him twice recently and both times he had walked away, muttering and swearing to himself.

‘His wife apologized profusely,’ Ellen said to Rosemary. ‘She seems a nice person but God knows how she puts up with such a boor of a man. He’s not normal if you ask me. I shall have to see our solicitor and ask him to write Mr Lennox a letter, giving him a deadline. Otherwise I don’t believe he’ll ever reach a decision. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to Alex for buying Bengairney, and settling up so quickly. He’s been able to advise me on lots of other things too. It has been such a help with sorting out Trevor’s affairs, and of course they affect Kim too.’

‘Speaking of Alex, how are the two of you getting on?’ Rosemary asked, her blue eyes dancing with mischief. ‘Sam said you had been at the market with him and you were helping him wash and groom his heifers ready for the sale as though you’d been doing it all your life.’

‘It’s not so very different to grooming ponies for a show and I did plenty of that when we were young. I really enjoyed the day. Alex is so good at explaining what needs to be done and why. He’s very good
company, Rosie. I never imagined I could be this happy and content after Trevor died, but the year has gone so quickly.’

‘Mmm, we’ve noticed Alex seems to have a permanent smile on his face these days,’ Rosie teased. Ellen blushed. Since the night of the dinner dance she and Alex had spent several very pleasant afternoons together, both at Charmwood and at Bengairney, but they were both aware their respective housekeepers were insatiable gossips so they tried to be discreet.

‘Kim likes Alex and I think children have an instinct about these things. He’s very patient with her. He’s even teaching her to milk when she’s there at the weekends.’

‘We think both you and Kim have been very good for Alex. He used to be wonderful with our three children, at least until he and Sam quarrelled. You have restored him to the humorous, good-natured man he used to be.’

‘You think so? Then I’m glad. I’ve been very grateful for the nights you have had Kim to stay. It has given us an opportunity to be alone together and get to know each other better. I would like to ask you an even bigger favour, Rosemary,’ Ellen added diffidently.

‘Ask away. I can always refuse.’

‘I – we – we wondered whether you would mind having Kim to stay for a long weekend? I would like to accompany Alex to a pedigree sale down south in about a month’s time. That will be nearly Christmas.’ Ellen’s colour had deepened in spite of her efforts to appear nonchalant.

‘Of course we wouldn’t mind having Kim to stay. She could get the bus to school from here. It will be
no problem. You and Alex go ahead and make your arrangements.’

Arrangements? Ellen caught her breath. Had Rosie guessed what they were planning?

Jane Lennox had bought a flat in Glasgow, using the money from her first husband’s life insurance. Fenella would be there for several years and she felt it would be a good investment, especially if they let one room to a fellow student to help with overhead expenses. Fenella felt a sense of release to be away from Syd Lennox and his moods. She enjoyed her studies and she was happier than she had thought possible after Liam’s death, especially since she had found such an understanding friend in Michael Appleby. They kept in regular contact by email, exchanging news, sharing problems and simply enjoying discussions together.

‘It’s such a relief to be away from home and his sudden outbursts of temper,’ she told her mother on the telephone. ‘Couldn’t you make an excuse to do some Christmas shopping, Mum, and come for a weekend? Joanne goes home every third weekend so we could arrange it for when she’s away. It would be lovely with just the two of us.’

‘Christmas?’ Jane Lomax sighed heavily. ‘I can hardly believe it’s that time again. It would be lovely to see you, Fen, and to get away from here for a couple of nights. I’ll see what I can do.’

As it happened, Ellen and Alex were away the same weekend that Jane planned to stay in Glasgow. Billy had finished lectures and brought work home with him for the Christmas holidays. He was surprised at how pleased he felt when he discovered Kim was
staying at Martinwold for four nights.

‘Your mother said you were due home, Billy, so I brought my swimsuit in case we go swimming again.’

‘That’s good, but I must take my turn at the milking and keep my hand in if I’m going to farm. Anyway, I need to earn some money, you know.’

‘I could get up early and help you,’ Kim offered eagerly. She was offended when Billy threw back his head and laughed aloud. Her cheeks burned and her blue eyes sparked angrily. ‘What’s so funny about that?’ she snapped.

‘You are. You wouldn’t know which end of the cow to put the teat-cups on.’ Rosemary had entered the kitchen in time to hear the end of the conversation and she bit back a smile of amusement. Billy was going to get the come-uppance he deserved, she thought. She had heard Alex telling Sam how Kim helped with the cows whenever she was at Bengairney. He had been impressed at the speed with which she had learned to milk, but he was even more delighted that she was beginning to recognize the cows by name and asking questions about their pedigrees. Rosie knew Kim was both intelligent and practical, as well as observant, and she was not without spirit now she knew them all better.

‘Do you want to bet?’ she challenged Billy now.

‘Nice girls don’t bet.’

‘I can’t help being a girl and I never pretended to be nice. That’s just a label you think should fit me because my father was the laird around here. I’ll bet you the entry money to the swimming baths that I can put a milking unit on a cow as quickly as you can.’

‘I may have only one leg but I still have two good arms and I’m pretty good at milking, I’ll have you know. Still want to bet?’ Billy looked at her keenly. ‘How do you know you’ll be able to reach? We stand in a pit, you know.’

‘I’ve seen it. So is it a bet?’

‘OK. If I win you pay me into the swimming. And give me a kiss,’ he added, a devilish light appearing in his green eyes. Both Rosemary and Kim’s eyes widened at Billy’s audacious suggestion. Kim blushed a little but she was determined not to give in. She had never kissed a boy yet but that didn’t stop her having teenage fantasies.

‘I think I’m safe. It’s a bet.’

As it turned out, Billy was astonished at how quick and efficient Kim was in the parlour. She was tall for her age and could reach the cows more easily than his mother. He had been so sure he would beat her easily, he didn’t even pretend to hurry. He opened his mouth in surprise and Kim laughed aloud at his expression.

‘So, Billy Caraford, you owe me. You have to pay me into the swimming baths.’

‘I concede defeat,’ Billy said. ‘I will pay you in, as well as giving you a kiss.’ He loved to see the ready colour spring to her cheeks. She was so young and fresh. ‘But you cheated.’

‘Cheated?’ Kim squeaked indignantly. ‘How could I cheat with something like this?’

‘Someone has been teaching you and you didn’t tell me. No wonder Mother was smiling. She knew you would win, didn’t she?’

‘Your Uncle Alex lets me help him in the milking
parlour when I’m at Bengairney. I love everything about that place; the house is so homely, and I love the farm. He’s teaching me the names of all the cows and I’m learning some of the pedigrees. He even let me help him with his records one weekend.’

‘He did?’ Billy was amazed both at her eagerness to help and his uncle’s willingness to encourage her, considering he was such a keen breeder. ‘I reckon you and your mother have changed Uncle Alex. He even looks younger and he’s like he used to be when I was little, always teasing and having a bit of a laugh.’

‘He’s nice. Aunt Ellen and I both think so. In fact, Aunt Ellen says, except for Daddy, he’s the nicest man she’s ever met.’

When the milking was finished, Billy and Kim were ravenous for breakfast. They both grabbed for the last slice of toast amidst a burst of laughter, which gladdened Rosemary’s heart. A year ago she had almost despaired of ever seeing Billy laugh again.

BOOK: Darkest Before Dawn
12.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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