Robinswood Estate, County Waterford, Ireland. 1946.
Years of neglect and abandonment have left the family seat of the Keneficks almost derelict, but the new Lord Kenefick and his charming young wife Kate are determined to breathe life into the old house once more.
The war is over, and they have survived, so now they must set about making a bright future for themselves and their family. But the shadows of the past are ever lurking, and there are many who are not willing to see the new Lady Kenefick as anything more than the housekeeper's daughter.
Kate’s family, the Murphys, find themselves once more inextricably entwined with both the Keneficks and Robinswood, but this time everything is different - or at least they hope it is.
The legacy of the war cannot be erased, and the events of those fateful years will not be forgotten. Can Robinswood provide a haven for those who need it, or are the scars of the past too deep?
Release date: February 17, 2019
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 440
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Return to Robinswood
Brighton, England, 1946
Dermot Murphy sat opposite his son-in-law and said nothing.
‘Well? What do you think?’ Sam Kenefick asked, trying to figure out what was going on behind Dermot’s inscrutable face. Kate’s father had hardly changed a bit in the war years. He was tall and as strong as an ox, and his dark copper hair was thick with very little grey. Kate and Aisling looked nothing like him – they were Mediterranean-looking, all dark and curvy like their mother – but Eve, Kate’s other sister, was his spitting image.
The murmur of conversation, the occasional burst of laughter, the general hum of a busy Brighton pub all around them seemed a million miles away. The euphoria of the war being over at long last was wearing off, and life was still hard for people. But the old-world pub with its brass fittings and dark wood interior seemed to help melt people’s cares away, and there was a general air of bonhomie.
‘What do I think?’ He repeated the question.
Sam swallowed. Dermot Murphy was a man he admired immensely, and he had done so all his life, but his father-in-law didn’t suffer fools gladly. Sam needed to convince him to return to Robinswood.
‘Look, Dermot, it’s a good offer – well, it’s the best offer I can make you at any rate. Kate wants to go home, and for her, home has always been and will always be Robinswood.’
‘With all due respect, Sam, the fact that Robinswood was my family’s home didn’t seem to bother you too much in 1940 when we were thrown out by your mother. I know it was she who did the evicting, but you’d inherited it by then, and you did nothing.’
Sam knew Dermot’s lifelong mistrust of the English had not melted away when his daughter became the new Lady Kenefick. British titles did not impress him. He decided honesty was best. ‘You’re right. And I’m deeply ashamed of that. I should have taken more of a role, but I just wanted to fly, and I was caught up in the excitement of the war. I should not have left the management of Robinswood to my mother, nor should I have allowed her to leave you all homeless. Your family and mine have worked together for a very long time, and it was shabbily done. My father would have been appalled.’
Dermot took a sip of his pint and grimaced. Warm British beer was no match for a creamy pint of Guinness in the pub in Kilthomand. ‘My family worked for yours, Sam, not with. I worked for your father, God rest him, and Isabella and the girls worked for your mother. So let’s not sugarcoat this. Also – and I don’t mean any offence – but what in the name of God do you know about farming? You’re not an outdoor man, and you look like a gust of wind would knock you over.’ He winked to show he wasn’t being unkind.
Sam always felt like a schoolboy around Dermot, and the man was right – he was slight and boyish looking. But he desperately wanted to go home, to put everything right. He really believed things were different now; the class structures of the past were just as demolished as the buildings of London, and it was a new era.
He grinned. ‘I am actually tougher than I look. And you’re right, I don’t know much about farming, but I’ll learn. And who better to teach me than the best groundskeeper Robinswood ever had? And now that we have Jack to consider, it’s for him as well. I’ve inherited the title and not much else, as you know, but I really think if we went back together, we could make a go of it. There’s nothing you don’t know about running the estate. Goodness knows, you did it all singlehandedly when my father was distracted by whiskey and horses. The point is, none of us thought we’d make it through the war, but here we are, in one piece, and it feels like another chance, an opportunity to put things right. Not just for our generation, but for little Jack as well. I know he’s only tiny, but one day he’ll be Lord Kenefick, and I want that to mean something.’ Sam knew he sounded like an overenthusiastic schoolboy, but he and Kate really wanted to go back to Robinswood, and the only way it would work would be if Dermot and Isabella came as well.
Dermot smiled at the mention of his first grandson, though the idea that Kate’s son was going to be a peer of the British realm, the country Dermot and so many others had fought tooth and nail to remove from Irish soil, was odd to say the least.
‘Well, it is certainly something to think about. I’ll talk to Isabella, see what she thinks. As you’ve no doubt come to realise, the women are the decision-makers in this family.’ He smiled and took another sip of his pint.
Isabella had insisted on coming over to Brighton for the birth of Kate’s baby. The whole thing had gone smoothly, and little Jack Kenefick was a lovely little lad who was thriving under his mother and grandmother’s devotion. They were due to go back to Dublin tomorrow.
‘The ladies’ rule is something I am well aware of.’ Sam smiled. ‘But Kate and I are in complete agreement on this. The only way we can do it and not end up in the poorhouse is if you and Isabella are in on it with us.’
‘Right, so explain to me again – and in detail this time – what you have in mind.’ Dermot sat back.
Sam, encouraged, went on. ‘So, our plan is to return to Robinswood and not open all of the house yet. It was in terrible condition when we left, and that was six years ago, so I can only imagine the state of it now. But Kate thinks we could open the small back wing – remember where Father had his study and sitting room? We could manage in that section for a while until we got the house back into some kind of habitable condition.’
Dermot said nothing, but he thought they were being overly optimistic at best and, at worst, positively delusional.
‘Meanwhile, we take the land back from Charlie Warren – he’s on a rolling year-to-year lease – get it into full production and start producing food for export. I gave him twelve months’ notice six months ago.’
Dermot was impressed. At least the lad had been thinking it through; it wasn’t some mad notion.
‘The whole of the United Kingdom is crying out for food, and we can make a killing supplying it to them. I haven’t a clue of how we’d do it, I’ll be honest. But you do, and I am willing to work day and night if need be.’
‘Well, we are living, as you know, off my RAF salary and the rent of the land, but since Mother has remarried, she is no longer my responsibility, financially speaking. Perry Goodall has quite enough money for both of them. She sends her love, by the way, and is very sorry she wasn’t here when Jack was born, but Perry needed her to play hostess for some business contacts of his in Nice. They are all British, but he’s entertaining them on his new yacht, I believe. Now that the war is over, people can’t get enough of travel and the good things in life, I suppose.’ Sam shrugged.
‘Is he good to her, that Perry Goodall?’ Dermot asked.
Sam smiled, and Dermot knew why. The idea that he would come to care about Sam’s snobby upper-crust mother was an odd one. But life was strange, and over time, resentment had turned to grudging respect and now, after all these years, was bordering on affection.
‘Lord Goodall, as she refers to him when he’s not there – Perry darling when he is – is actually besotted with her. They make an odd couple, no doubt about it. He’s about a foot shorter than her for starters, but he is loaded, and he knows everyone, and he’s thrilled to bits to have my mother on his arm, so it’s all working out fine. Kate gets a great kick out of him, and he really enjoys her – he thinks she’s hilarious.’
‘I’m glad. Give her our regards when you speak to her. By the way, have you mentioned your harebrained scheme to her?’ He grinned to take the sting out of his words.
‘Actually, I have. In fact, when we spoke about it, she was the one who said the only way it could be done is if you and Isabella were in on it with us. She’s even given over all her entitlements to my father’s estate to me to help out financially, her only proviso being she never has to go back there.’ Sam chuckled.
‘She was never happy there anyway, that’s for sure.’
‘No indeed.’ Sam nodded. ‘She has no love of Ireland, and she remembers Robinswood as draughty, cold and damp. She was endlessly trying to make ends meet while maintaining a façade of wealth and attempting to manage my father as part of the bargain.’
Dermot chuckled at the memory of the previous Lord Kenefick. ‘Old Austin was a great man for the horses and the bottle, and he was known all over Munster for his generosity, but he didn’t want to face the facts. He left your mother in a right old mess. I did try to warn him, but he wouldn’t listen, so I can’t say I blame her for never wanting to darken the door of that place again.’
Sam paused, then asked the question he had debated about as he prepared for today’s pitch. ‘And you? Can you go back in there, after everything?’
His father-in-law shrugged. ‘I could, I suppose. It’s just a house. And to be honest with you, I saw so much during the Troubles with the British in the twenties to haunt a man, that what happened in Robinswood was nothing by comparison. So no, if I refuse this, it’s not because I’m too scared or upset to go into that house again.’
‘All right. So here’s my offer in a nutshell. You and Isabella move back into your old farmhouse, which I will sign over legally to you. That is your home, you should never have been forced to leave it, and now you never will be. Charlie Warren’s lease of the land will be up in the time it will take us to get organised. I have three months left on my commission before I’m discharged. We work the estate together, and we split the profits fifty-fifty.’
Dermot held his hand up. ‘That’s generous, Sam, but I don’t need your charity. We’re fine and settled at the Hamilton-Brooks place. Eve is with us, and we’ve a home there for as long as we want, so we don’t need handouts.’
Sam cursed inwardly. He’d overdone it. Dermot Murphy was a proud man, and it had hurt him deeply to leave Robinswood six years ago.
‘It’s not charity, it’s a plea. I want this so badly, and so does Kate. Whatever terms you dictate will be fine with us.’
Dermot gazed at him, saying nothing. Sam held his nerve. Eventually, the older man spoke. ‘If I do it – and it’s a big if – I’ll have to talk to Isabella, and she may not want to. She likes it in Dublin, and she loves Georgie and Arthur. If she agrees, I’ll take the house, but it’s a seventy-thirty split to you. It’s your land, for God’s sake.’
‘Fine, fine, whatever you say. This could be fantastic. The harder we work, the more we make. Then as we make money, and I’m sure we will, you can either keep your share or you have the option to buy some land from me at half of the market value. The only other thing I’ll ask in return is that you help me get Robinswood habitable again. Kate has an idea that we open it up as a kind of country house hotel, Isabella doing the cooking – just a restaurant to begin with, but converting the rooms into guest bedrooms eventually.’
‘Your mother would have a canary at the idea of riff-raff wandering the corridors of Robinswood.’ Dermot chuckled.
‘She doesn’t care. She has Perry’s very plush mansion to swan about in. And anyway, it’s not hers, it’s mine, and I just want to find a way we can live there. That house is too big for Kate and me, and everything has changed now. All that nonsense about class and position is a thing of the past.’
Dermot raised one eyebrow sceptically. ‘It has and it hasn’t changed, then, young Sam. It has and it hasn’t.’
Kate crept down the stairs in their lovely terraced home on the Brighton seafront. Her feet sank into the plush carpet, and the mirror in the hallway reflected the sparkling chandelier. She had joked with Sam the previous night about how the mirror was admonishing her every day for her still flabby belly after having Jack. She felt frumpy and out of shape. Sam was so gorgeous, with his grey eyes, curly hair and tall, slender body. She adored him. Mammy assured her she’d be back to herself in no time, but she longed to fit into her cinch-waisted dresses.
She knew she was just like their mother, dark hair that would hang in corkscrew curls if she didn’t tie it up, red lips, green flashing eyes. Mammy always said she was descended from the Spanish traders who brought wine to Galway, and Sam always said that Kate looked every inch a beautiful senorita.
Mammy and Jack were having a snooze upstairs. She could still hardly believe she and Sam were married, with a baby and a home of their own. Jack was delicious, and she could look at him for hours. Her eyes fell on the new phone. While she was in hospital, Sam got a telephone installed as a surprise, and she was able to make calls to Eve and Aisling, which eased the pain of being away from her sisters. She felt very posh having a phone of her own in the house.
Who should she ring? Eve was in Dublin, working at the same house as their parents, where she’d been since her husband of just over a year died in an accident at work. They thought for a long time that Eve would never get over losing Jack. But slowly, she was coming back to herself, though it had taken six years. She was coming to visit Kate and the baby once their parents went back to relieve her, and Kate couldn’t wait. She worried for her sister, stuck all day with another widow and her two children. Elena and Georgie and Arthur were nice, but it was such an isolating life. Eve would never meet anyone else if she stayed cooped up there. And she was gorgeous. She could have had any man she wanted, but she was living like a nun. Anytime Kate brought it up about her getting back out there, Eve shut her down instantly.
Aisling was in a village in Devon with her husband, Mark. Something wasn’t right there, though it was hard to pinpoint what exactly was wrong. Sam and Mark had been great friends when she and Aisling started seeing them, but Sam went up through the ranks quickly – all due to his title and nothing to do with his ability according to him – and Mark had a good war, she thought. But Aisling and Mark never called to see them in Brighton, nor did they invite Sam and Kate to Devon. Once the weather got warmer, maybe she could suggest it, and she and Jack could take the train down to visit.
She could call Framington Hall, Perry’s incredibly beautiful house, except Perry and Violet were in France. Anyway, she’d only have to thank him for the hideous silver mug he’d sent for Jack, and she was a terrible liar. She had promptly put it with all the other horrible old stuff in the attic. She wanted all new, shiny, clean furniture, none of those big old heavy wooden things she’d had to dust in Robinswood as a child.
She and Sam had been to visit Framington Hall often, and it made Robinswood look like a broken-down old doll’s house. Perry was a good sort, though, and he always made Kate feel so welcome. He wasn’t all ‘Lord of the Manor’; he was quite ordinary in fact. It was one of the reasons she liked him.
She was still taken aback when people called her Lady Kenefick. She wondered what on earth the people of Kilthomand would make of little Kate Murphy coming back as the mistress of Robinswood with the title and all. They’d hate her for it probably.
She decided on Eve. She dialled the number for the Hamilton-Brooks home in Dublin, really hoping Elena didn’t answer. Elena probably didn’t mind Eve using the phone, and Kate always called Eve, not the other way around, and always waited until the children were in bed, but she would still rather if Eve didn’t have to feel beholden. The rest of the Murphys didn’t care too much about working for the gentry over the years, always tipping the cap and bending the knee to them – though she suspected Daddy hated it more than he let on – but it always rankled with Kate. Still here she was, Lady Kenefick herself now… Incredible. Still, she couldn’t be any worse than the last Lady Kenefick, she supposed. She’d have given a hundred pounds to see their faces back in Kilthomand when word got out.
Admittedly, Elena was nothing like Sam’s mother. She was in her late thirties and really beautiful in that very peaches-and-cream English way. Eve and she were very close, Kate knew.
She spoke to the operator. ‘Dublin three-one-five, please.’
The usual few clicks and then the ring. It never ceased to give her a thrill. Imagine – she could just talk to her sister, all the way over in Dublin, whenever she wanted.
‘Hello? Hamilton-Brooks residence, Eve speaking.’
‘Eve, it’s me!’ she said, trying to keep her voice down so as not to wake Jack but still be loud enough for her sister to hear her.
‘Kate, hi! How’s everything? How’s Jack?’
Kate felt the familiar tug on her heart as her sister mentioned her son’s name. She had asked Eve when she was pregnant if she would like the baby, if he were a boy, to be named after her Jack, and Eve was so touched. Little Jack Kenefick was named for his Uncle Jack O’Neill who died when he was only twenty-five years old.
‘Oh, he’s great, though how I’m going to manage him next week without Mammy around, I’ve no idea. My boobs are killing me, and I won’t even mention what things are like downstairs, if you know what I mean…’
‘Kate!’ Eve admonished with a scream of laughter. It was good to hear her laugh. ‘You’ll be the talk of the parish!’
Kate could picture her sister laughing, her gorgeous red hair tumbling over her shoulders as she threw her head back. Eve had the most infectious laugh, and there was a time when they feared they would never hear it again.
Her sister died a bit when she lost Jack, her gorgeous curvy figure becoming thin and her green eyes unable to hide the deep pain she felt. These days, however, she was better, and Kate loved to see it. If only she didn’t lock herself away.
‘Ah, it’s all right, Eve. This isn’t like Kilthomand, with the operator listening in to every conversation. We’re not interesting enough for them in London or Dublin. Two old sisters wittering on about their aches and pains.’
‘Ha, ha! Remember that, when people would make a call at home? People used to say goodnight to Mossy as well as to whomever they were talking to.’ Eve giggled at the memory of the old postmaster who ran the telephone exchange in Kilthomand. He was nice but notoriously slow.
‘I do. Speaking of Kilthomand, tonight’s the night. Sam is meeting Daddy to ask him about going back.’
‘So you two are really doing this?’ Eve replied, fascinated.
‘Oh, I’d love it. We’ve a nice life here, and a lovely house and everything, but England is just so dreary now, and I miss home. I really do. I’ve had enough of the big lights to last a lifetime. I think we could make a go of it too, but only if Daddy can be convinced.’
‘I’d have thought he’d jump at the idea. He loved it there.’
‘Well, fingers crossed. You know Daddy can be prickly, and he’s not getting any younger, either.’ Kate was trying to be rational.
‘He’s as fit as a trout, and he’s only in his fifties. And Mammy too. I presume you told her first?’
‘Of course I did, but Sam thinks I didn’t, and Daddy will think the first she hears of it will be from him, you know.’ Kate laughed, and Eve joined in. She knew exactly.
‘If anyone can swing this, it will be you.’ Eve said. ‘Especially if Mammy wants it, then you’ll be heading back to Robinswood for sure.’ Eve was convinced. ‘Hey, imagine the old biddies calling you Lady Kenefick. ’Twill stick in their throats.’ She giggled.
‘I was just thinking that exact thought. It would be worth going back to see the look on old Ma Lacey’s face. I wonder if she’s still buttering her little Seanie’s toast for him?’ Kate grinned.
‘He was a right eejit, all right. When I think of the way he treated our Aisling…’ Eve was still cross at how the local draper’s son had humiliated their younger sister. ‘Still, she has Mark now.’
‘Hmm.’ Kate was non-committal.
‘Have you heard from her? I wrote, and I got a really short reply, not like Ais at all.’
‘Yes, I thought the same. I figured I might have been imagining it. She seems kind of distant or something.’
Both women were worried about Aisling. She was the gentlest of the three. She had Mammy’s Spanish looks, just like Kate, though her hair was poker straight and she was much more low-key.
‘Well, if you two wind up back in Robinswood, at least she could go over to visit. It would be good for any troubled soul to wander round the grounds at least.’
‘And how about you, Eve? Do you want to come back? We’ve always room for an extra pair of hands – there’ll be so much to be done.’ Kate deliberately kept her voice light, but she knew the seriousness behind the words.
There was a brief pause.
‘I don’t think so. Thanks for asking, though, and I have thought about it. But Elena and I have plans for here, and we both need to be here. And I know Georgie and Arthur will be going away to school, but still… And especially if Mammy and Daddy do go back, Elena needs me. Is that all right?’
Kate had known what her sister’s answer would be, but she still had to ask. ‘Of course it is. I understand completely. But know this – Robinswood will always be a home for you should you ever want or need it.’
Eve smiled at the intensity of her younger sister’s promise. Kate was passionate and fiery, and woe betide you if you got on the wrong side of her, but she was loyal and kind and wanted to do the best for everyone.
‘Thanks, Kate. Or should I say, thank you, ma’am.’ She chuckled.
‘Oh, dear God, don’t you start that. ’Tis going to be bad enough going back without you lot all teasing me as well. Sam thinks I’m paranoid that everyone in the village will be talking about me and saying what a gold-digger I am, bagging the lord of the manor. And if only they knew we haven’t a brass bob.’ Kate sighed.
‘It’s going to be weird, though, isn’t it?’ Eve mused. ‘I mean, leaving like we did, thinking we’d never go back, you and Ais joining up, me heartbroken over Jack, and now here we all are. Life is odd sometimes, isn’t it?’
‘It certainly is. I have to pinch myself all the time. I just pray Daddy agrees. In my head, we’re going back already, and I have so many plans for the place…’
‘Not wanting to be a wet blanket, Kate, but how are you going to pay to get the house up and running again? I mean, I know Charlie Warren has been working the land, and he’s a good farmer, whatever else he is, so Daddy could take the estate over again fairly easily. But wasn’t it lack of money to fix it up that made Lady Violet leave in the first place?’ Eve didn’t want her sister to get herself into something that was going to prove to be impossible. Kate always was a great one for big ideas.
‘We’ve talked about that. I was thinking we could just open the east wing. It’s the bit you could section off most easily – it even has its own door. Remember, Austin got that put in so Violet wouldn’t know what time he got back from the races. We could turn that small drawing room into a living room, and Daddy could make a little kitchen out of Austin’s old office. There’s that storage room behind and then the bathroom and the small bedroom. Those few rooms would be enough for Sam and Jack and me, and we could do the rest of the house bit by bit.’
As her sister digested this plan, Kate mistook her silence for disapproval. ‘You think I’m mad, don’t you?’
Eve heard the disappointment in her voice. ‘No, I don’t. I’d probably do the same in your position, actually. Sam is Lord Kenefick and you are now Lady Kenefick, and you should be there, raising your family at Robinswood. It’s Jack’s family home too, and it’s such a lovely place to grow up – we should know. So no, I think you are doing the right thing, but it’s going to be a lot of hard work.’
They chatted about life in general, Kate moaning about how there was hardly any nice food to buy even though the celebrations of VE Day were almost a year ago.
‘I’ll send another parcel tomorrow,’ Eve promised.
‘Please do send a parcel, but make sure you keep it under the five pounds weight, or they’ll take it off our ration. A woman down the street got done last week for using the ration books of two people that were dead. Honestly, it’s worse now than when the flipping war was on. They’ve cut soap and bacon and loads of things. If Sam didn’t bring things home from the mess, I swear we’d starve.’
‘You’ll miss that when he’s discharged.’
‘We will, but I’ll be glad to have him out of uniform. Another three months, he reckons, and he’ll be out.’
‘And then the real work begins, and you’ll be Lady Kenefick the Third!’ Eve laughed. ‘And speaking of Lady Keneficks, how’s Lillian? Last time we spoke, she was dreading Beau going back to America.’
‘I haven’t seen her. Beau was sent back almost six months ago, and she’s not been seen since. I’d say she’ll probably have to find some chinless wonder with a load of cash, and she’ll provide an heir, and everyone will be happy. She had a phone conversation with Sam the other day, presumably about him paying her rent. Some things never change.’
‘Ah, don’t be mean,’ Eve admonished. ‘She’s improved so much. Remember what a snobby cow she was when she was young? She’ll talk to you now at least. Do you really think it was just a fling with Beau?’
Kate sighed. ‘It’s hard to know. She did seem mad about him and him her, but wartime is different – anything goes. I know, she is miles better…still a snob, though. And I do feel sorry for her. At first, I was sure she was only knocking about with Beau to scandalise her mother, but she really loved him, and him her too, inexplicably. Beau is a sweetheart, such a nice man and so gentle and mannerly, though he does talk about God a lot. They have a different kind of way of going on about religion, I think. Anyway, he asked the Americans if he would be allowed to stay, but they were having none of it. I thought they might even get married here – mixed marriage isn’t illegal – but the U.S. Army wouldn’t allow it.’
‘So what’s going to happen?’ Eve asked. She found the idea of Lady Lillian Kenefick having a black man as a husband fascinating.
‘Nothing, I’d imagine. She’d marry him in a heartbeat, I’d say, but Beau told us that it was actually illegal for him to marry her in America. I can’t see him coming back to England, so I suppose she’ll have to forget about him and move on to marry anyone who’ll have her. I do hope it’s soon, though. We can’t support her, and she seems to expect it. Though having had relations with Beau isn’t going to do much for her already dodgy-looking prospects.’ Kate chuckled. She and her sister-in-law had reached an entente cordiale but were by no means friends.
‘Still, it is sad for them. He was good for her, softened her or something,’ Eve mused.
‘Don’t I know it! She’ll no doubt be back to the entitled madam she was before now that Beau isn’t here to put a bit of manners on her. Oh, that’s Jack wailing. Mammy stayed up with him last night so I could rest, so I better go. Mammy and Daddy will be back in Dublin with you next week, and I’ll have to be a mammy all on my own!’
‘Give my darling nephew a cuddle from his auntie Eve and tell him I’ll see him soon.’ Eve hung up.
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