Authors: Gwen Kirkwood
‘If the pair of you eat much more you’ll sink like bricks in the swimming pool,’ she teased.
‘Kim sinks like a brick anyway,’ Billy laughed. Secretly he had been delighted to find he could still swim so much better than she could.
‘I do not sink!’ Kim said indignantly. ‘Even if I can’t do the crawl like you can or swim like a fish, like your girlfriend, it doesn’t …’
‘Which girlfriend?’ Billy demanded with a scowl. He avoided most of the girls at university. Both he and Michael had been dismayed at the way a lot of the girls slept around as readily as they kissed goodnight. Billy had lost a lot of his confidence around girls since the accident. He never attempted to dance and he
had never enjoyed much alcohol. He was even more wary of getting drunk now. In these respects he and Michael Appleby were well suited. ‘Which girlfriend?’ he repeated, wondering if Michael’s young sister had mentioned the three Indian girls who frequently visited their flat.
‘I don’t know how many you’ve got but you told me yourself that Fenella Lennox could swim like a fish.’
‘Well, so she can, but then Fen and Liam seemed to excel at most things.’
‘I see,’ Kim muttered. ‘I’m going to get changed.’
Later she covered the lengths of the baths in her own steady breaststroke while Billy gave himself an exhilarating workout. It was the crawl he enjoyed most, especially now. At university he often went to the gym to keep up the strength of his shoulders and upper body as the physiotherapist at the hospital had advised. He rested at the end of the swimming baths, waiting for Kim to reach him. It was still early and there weren’t many others in the pool.
‘You’re very good for my morale, Kim,’ he said with a grin when she joined him.
‘What do you mean by that?’ she demanded. Billy frowned. It was not like Kim to be short with him and she had been unusually quiet on the way into town. He had never seen her moody before. He didn’t know what he had said or done to make her this way.
‘What do I mean? Just that swimming is still
I can do well. If you had been competitive like Liam or Fen I’m not sure that I would have risked coming with you. Come on, we’ll do another couple of lengths at a nice leisurely pace before we get out, eh?’
‘All right.’ Kim smiled suddenly. Billy smiled back,
relieved. It was like the sun breaking through the clouds. His twin sisters and his Ritchie cousins were all much older than him and he rather liked having a sort of adopted younger sister. Even the first time they had come swimming together she had not flinched at the sight of his stump. In fact she had asked if she could touch it and her fingers had stroked it gently. ‘Pleased to meet you, Charlie,’ she had said with a wide grin and given it a little pat. Between the two of them, his stump was always referred to as Charlie now. She was quick to notice when he had been doing something which caused discomfort. Then she would ask, ‘Is Charlie hurting today?’ She never made him feel like a freak and he wondered whether Fenella would really be as phlegmatic, for all her tough words about being a vet and needing to see all sorts of wounds. After all, he was a human being, not one of her animals. She would soon be home for the Christmas holidays too but he doubted whether she would risk coming to see him and he knew he couldn’t go over to Highfold while her father still bore him a grudge.
Kim was helping clear away after their Sunday lunch when the telephone rang.
‘I’ll get it,’ Sam called from the hall, then, ‘It’s for you Kim. It’s your Aunt Ellen.’
‘Oh, I wonder if something’s wrong. They’re not due back until tomorrow evening.’ She disappeared into the hall. Rosemary and Billy heard her sudden whoop of delight and their eyes widened. Kim was usually very composed for a teenager. She had left the hall door open and they could hear her chattering and
asking questions but they had no idea what about.
‘You’ll never guess what Aunt Ellen has done!’ she said, bounding back into the kitchen. She stopped short and her expression sobered. ‘I do hope you will be as pleased as I am. They’ve got married at a register office. They wanted me to be the first to know. Isn’t it exciting? We’re going to move our stuff to Bengairney and live there, all the time.’
‘Oh, Kim! I am every bit as delighted as you are,’ Rosemary said warmly. ‘I think they were attracted the first time they met. I am so very happy for them, and I’m pleased you are happy too. I know Alex will be good and kind to both of you.’
‘That’s exactly what Daddy wished for Aunt Ellen – a good, kind man as a companion. Isn’t it wonderful!’ She did a little dance around the kitchen table.
‘Billy, go into the room and tell your father the news,’ Rosemary said, smiling broadly.
‘Oh, I nearly forgot. Uncle Alex is going to telephone tonight to speak to both of you. I think they would like to stay away another two nights, if it’s all right for me to stay longer?’
‘Of course it’s all right, Kim. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like. This will be your last week at school, I think? Before the Christmas holidays begin, I mean.’
‘It’s the last full week and three days next week.’ She sent Billy a mischievous glance. ‘It’s only lazy university students who get long holidays.’
‘I’ll have you know, young Kim, I have worked hard this term and I’ve finished early. Most of them will not be home until the end of next week.’
‘Aunt Ellen says we shall spend the holidays moving
our stuff to Bengairney. I’m so excited,’ she laughed, doing another little dance around the kitchen with the remaining dishes.
‘I wonder if Ellen intends to sell your present house now then?’ Rosemary pondered.
‘I asked her that but she said she will keep it for now. Uncle Alex has had a brilliant idea.’
‘Yes. He suggests she furnish the lounge and dining room and the main entrance hall to show how elegant her antique pieces of furniture could look in someone’s home. We have carpets and some polished floors already and she could leave most of the light fittings so it will look good. It will be easy to move pieces around when some are sold or when Aunt Ellen buys new items. She is aiming at building up a name for quality.’
‘It doesn’t sound as though Uncle Alex minds having a wife with a separate business of her own?’ Billy remarked.
‘They have obviously discussed it if it was Alex’s idea to use the house as a setting for antiques instead of doing up the barns as a showroom. Ellen will have the upstairs for her own use and office space, and she’ll have the kitchen and toilet facilities to herself when she’s there at meal times. It sounds ideal. Alex is used to running his own business. He will be more than happy to have the bonus of a wife and family, with Ellen and Kim, living at Bengairney.’
‘I don’t think I would want my wife to have a business of her own. I’d want her to help me, like you help Dad.’
‘You’re a young chauvinist, Billy. You may have to
change your ideas if you get a career girl like Fenella Lennox for a wife. Anyway, I kept on my own business, running the gardens up at Langton Tower, when your father and I were first married. I had to give up when the twins were born, of course, but I still did the accounts and kept my share of the partnership until I passed it on to Rena.’
‘I didn’t know you still worked at the garden centre after you married Dad.’
‘It was before you were born. I’ve always been here for you, and spoiled you no doubt.’ She turned to Kim. ‘I’m going to phone Alex’s sister, Tania. She will be as pleased by this news as we are. I think we must make a celebration meal for Tuesday evening for when they come home. Do you think they would like that?’
‘Oh yes! I think it’s a super idea. Can I help?’ Her eyes shone with excitement. ‘I do wish I didn’t need to go to school. Maybe I could bake this afternoon? I can make chocolate cake and Swiss rolls and shortbread. Or – or did you mean to do something else?’ she asked diffidently. ‘I mean, more like dinner?’
‘I’ll phone Tania and then we’ll decide between the three of us,’ Rosemary said. ‘If we decide on dinner maybe you could make a pudding, Kim?’
‘I know how to make a good trifle. At least Daddy said it was good, but I’d need to wait until after school for that….’ Her face fell with disappointment. ‘I can make cheesecake, and lemon duchess, and I love chocolate and cherry gateau, but we would need to shop for the ingredients, I suppose? I’d love to do something to let them know how happy I am for them.’
‘We’ll think of something, Kim,’ Rosemary said warmly, and gave her a hug.
‘We shall be able to give old Jim, the postie, a bit of news for once,’ Billy said gleefully. ‘He always knows what’s going on before everyone else. I’ll give you a lift to school on Monday so you don’t need to leave so early, Kim, then you can see his face when you tell him.’
‘All right.’ She nodded and gave a conspiratorial grin. It was the first time in her life she had had anyone young to share her thoughts and plans and Billy was a lot more patient than she had expected after their first meeting at her father’s funeral. He was also a lot more sensitive about his disability than she had first realized. Although she was six years younger than he was, she felt strangely protective over that.
On Monday morning Kim was dressed in her school uniform and had her books packed ready to leave when they saw Jim and his red post van turning into the farmyard.
‘It’s time we were leaving, but watch his face when we tell him the news,’ Billy whispered, pulling open the door before the postman even had time for his usual rat-tat-tat. ‘Good morning, Jim. We’ve got news for you for once. Tell him, Kim.’
‘B–but you can’t have heard already!’ Jim gasped hoarsely. ‘They only found him this morning. The police are there now. It can’t have got round the parish yet….’
Billy and Kim drew back, staring at him, noticing his unusual pallor. His eyes were not crinkling with laughter today. They looked dull with shock.
‘Come in, Jim,’ Rosemary said, looking over the shoulders of Billy and Kim. She sensed at once that
something had shaken the elderly postman. ‘You look as though you could do with a seat and a cup of tea. Has something upset you?’
‘It’s the shock. Suicide! I never thought he’d do that. Well, I know the man hasna been himsel’ for a long time, but….’ He shook his grey head in bewilderment. ‘I never thought he’d take his own life.’
‘Wh–who are you talking about?’ Rosemary asked, pouring boiling water into the teapot and pushing the milk and sugar closer to Jim. She saw his hands were shaking.
‘Highfold. Mrs Lennox is in Glasgow, visiting her lassie this weekend. A terrible black eye she had on Friday morning.’
‘Do you mean Syd Lennox? Has he…?’
‘Aye. The lad who works for him couldna get any reply so he got the other man. He was dead when they found him. The police are there. I left the letters and came on here.’
‘He’s taken his own life?’ Rosemary repeated. She was stunned. It took courage to do something like that, either that or the deepest despair. She glanced up. ‘It’s time you were on your way, Billy, or Kim will be late for school. I–I don’t think either of you should mention this until we’re sure about, well, sure what has happened.’ They both nodded, subdued, their young faces filled with dismay, unable to take in the news. Suicide. It was such a final step to take. In that moment Billy forgot all the recent bitterness and distress Syd Lennox had caused. He remembered the hard-working kindly man he had been when he and Liam were young boys. This sort of thing only happened in other communities, to other people,
to strangers. Kim had never met the man but she knew Aunt Ellen had had trouble with him and she sensed the effect his death was having on Billy and his mother. She shivered.
Rosemary and Kim had made a delicious meal for Alex and Ellen’s return. Rena and her family had come down to join the celebration as well as Tania and her husband, Struan Ritchie, and Billy’s cousins, Christine and Steve. They were older than Billy but neither of them were married yet. Kim was tall and mature for her age and Steve flirted outrageously with her. ‘Can’t you see you’re embarrassing her?’ Billy hissed, angrily. ‘She’s too young for your usual flirting.’
‘You wouldn’t be jealous, Cousin Billy? Or would you?’ Steve teased, cocking an eyebrow at him. ‘Mind you, I don’t blame you. She’ll be a stunner in another couple of years.’ Billy glowered at him, relieved when Uncle Alex and his new bride arrived and distracted everyone’s attention. Irrepressible as always, Steve couldn’t resist commenting.
‘Uncle Alex always said he was a confirmed bachelor. Now here he is, acting like a schoolboy in love. He even looks ten years younger. Marriage must agree with him, eh? Our new Aunt Ellen isn’t half bad either.’
‘No, she’s not. She’s a very nice person,’ Billy said. ‘I expect your mother will be inviting them to your house, especially now Dad and Uncle Alex are good friends again.’
The meal went well but Alex had always been sensitive to atmosphere and several times he was aware
of glances being exchanged or topics of conversation changed, especially between Rosemary, Sam and Tania. It irritated him and made him wary.
‘I’ll bring the coffee through to the sitting room,’ Rosemary said at one point, standing up. Alex frowned, aware that she had interrupted the conversation deliberately. He stood up quickly.
‘Before you move, Ellen and I would like to thank you for a delicious meal to welcome us home, but if there’s one thing I never could stand it’s insincerity. I can sense the undercurrents. I can’t help it if you don’t approve of us getting married, or of the way we have done it in private. This is the way we wanted it. Ellen has made me happier than I ever believed possible. So if any of you have something to say, for God’s sake get it off your chests and say it – not that I think our marriage has anything to do with any of you, except perhaps Kim, and I believe her congratulations are genuine.’ He watched Rosemary and Sam exchange the inevitable speaking glance. ‘Well?’ he demanded.
‘We’re all delighted you and Ellen are married,’ Sam said, clearing his throat. ‘We’re pleased to see you both looking so happy. If you do sense an undercurrent, then I’m sorry, but it has nothing to do with your marriage. We’re as pleased about it as you are yourselves.’