The Kirrins and the
of the Sandy-haired Dwarf
by Robin Gordon
The deed box
© Copyright Robin Gordon, 2001
"After all this excitement," said Julian, "our news rather fades into insignificance. The boys and I went over to the Church today to check for any damage, and Andrew found a secret cupboard down in the tunnel, and in it was this - a deed box labelled H.A. Kirrin. We've levered the padlock off, but we decided not to open it until we were all together. Well, here goes!"
Julian put the box on the table before him and opened the lid. Inside he found a package wrapped in oilcloth, and inside the oilcloth a bundle of official-looking documents, and on top a letter. Julian read it aloud.
Dear Edward and Frank,
I hope you both got through the war safely. If you are opening this, I suppose I must have been killed, but that's something a man has to face if he's going to do his duty to his country. You know all about that, so I will not go on.
These are sworn copies of the title deeds of all our properties, drawn up by John Trevissick and witnessed by some friends of mine in due form. I'm hiding them in the secret cupboard in the church that only we know about, because I think that while we are all at the front Father is likely to be swindled. John Trevissick agrees with me. He cannot stand the new partner his father has taken on, and he fears that while he is away fighting for King and Country the new man will take over the business entirely. As you know, old Mr Trevissick is ailing, and before this war came along he was planning to retire and leave the business to John.
The new partner is called Michael O'Shaughnessy. I am convinced that he is as crooked as they come. He's a rum looking customer, a sort of dwarf with short legs and a big head, but it is not his appearance that makes me distrust him, after all one of my best friends is a cripple who looks like a real villain until you get to know him. There is something evil about O'Shaughnessy. Jasper detests him and growls every time he comes to the house, and I have never known him to be wrong about anyone.
If you get back and I don't, use these deeds to reclaim anything O'Shaughnessy has stolen.
Best of luck
"It's from my father," said Aunt Fanny. "He was killed in 1916. He was the last. Both his brothers were already dead. I was in the room when Grandfather got the message from the War Office. I was only a little girl, younger than Fran is now, and I was sitting quietly in a corner, reading or playing with my dolls, or perhaps sewing, when Jane brought it in. It was terrible."
She paused, and then told them what happened.
Little Fanny was sitting quietly in the corner of the room sewing with her favourite doll by her side. She was always quiet these days, trying not to disturb her granny and grandfather who were always so sad since her father and uncles had gone away to the war.
Her grandfather, Arthur Kirrin, was sitting in the big wooden armchair near the window where he could read his newspaper. The print was very small and the old man used a magnifying glass to make it out. Then the maid brought in an envelope. Arthur Kirrin took it with trembling hand, tore it open, and gave a harsh cry that brought Granny hurrying through from the kitchen.
"He should never have gone!" Arthur Kirrin stared blindly at the sheet of white paper in his left hand. From the War Office: Regret to inform you that Major Henry Kirrin ..."
"He didn't have to go! Why? -- Edward, Frank, now Henry! -- This bloody war has wiped us out. There's not a Kirrin left."
"There's Fanny," said his wife.
"A girl!" snapped Arthur. "A little girl of twelve. If he'd had a son. At least the name would have continued. Henry! Henry! Edward! Frank! All gone."
"We must do what we can to preserve the estate for Fanny," said Victoria Kirrin. "Don't slump into despair, Arthur. We must keep going for Fanny."
His hand was working convulsively on the arm of his chair and he seemed not to hear her. Out in the garden Jasper suddenly raised his muzzle and howled. He howled miserably as if the world was ending. Jasper was Henry's dog, and he knew. For the last two days he had prowled up and down whining, and at night he had howled. Arthur had been uneasy.
"Henry's gone," he had said, when Jasper had howled, and now the news was in his hand in black and white. The same telegraphic message that had already come twice to Kirrin cottage in that terrible year of 1916.
Arthur!" Granny screamed. His hand was still jerking convulsively on the arm of the chair. His eyes had turned up as if he was trying to look backwards into his head, and in the yard outside Caesar, Arthur's own dog, joined his deep bass bloodhound's bay to the labrador's howls.
Apoplexy. She must send for the doctor. Tom must take one of the horses and ride down to the village. Pray God Doctor Tregenza was at home. Then the Rector. It was Mr Stringer now since the death of old Dr James Kirrin, Arthur's uncle, who had been Rector of Kirrin since he came down from Oxford back in 1852.
Tom was despatched on Richmond, Henry's own chestnut cob. She sat with Arthur, holding his hand and murmuring soothing words. He opened his eyes. He looked terrified. He knew that something had happened to him, something beyond his control, something that had turned him from an active man in charge of Kirrin estate to a mere husk at the mercy of fate. His eyes filled with tears and she knew that he had not forgotten.
"..n.y!" he muttered, "Dwrd! Fnk!"
He couldn't speak. Would he regain control of his tongue? If not she would have to take charge. Make sure everything was kept in good order for little Fanny when she came of age. That mother of hers ... Yes she would help all she could, but she was a weak little thing. She would be in her room now, lying on her bed in floods of tears. The doctor first, then the Rector, then after that if she had to, the solicitor. Not old Mr Trevissick, worse luck, nor his son John, who was in France, and if things didn't improve soon, would be buried there like his friends Henry, Edward and Frank Kirrin. It would be Mr O'Shaughnessy she would have to see, Michael O'Shaughnessy, who was in sole charge of the business, and whom she neither liked nor trusted.
"O'Shaughnessy!" cried several of the children together.
"Are you sure?" Julian asked, "Yes, it must be right. It's in the letter too."
"What was he like?" demanded Harry.
"I've never forgotten him," said Great Aunt Fanny. "He was a horrible man: short, like a dwarf, with a big head and an ugly scowling face ..."
"But that's our O'Shaughnessy!" cried Harry. "How could it be."
"No, Harry," said Dick. "Our O'Shaughnessy couldn't have been around in 1916. Michael O'Shaughnessy must have been Liam O'Shaughnessy's grandfather or great grandfather."
"Of course!" said Jonathan.
"There must be a strain of dwarfism in the family," said Julian.
"And a strain of crookedness," said Dick. "Go on, Aunt Fanny. What happened next?"
"The solicitor used to come to the house a lot, bringing papers to sign," continued Aunt Fanny. "My grandfather never recovered properly. With a lot of effort he could make us understand simple things, but he could never talk properly again, or walk, or really understand what was going on. My granny did her best, but Mr O'Shaughnessy was really in charge. I suppose, looking back on it, that he must have persuaded them to give him power of attorney."
"What's that?" asked Fran.
"It means he was given full authority to conduct any business on behalf of the Kirrin family: sell land, buy and sell shares, anything that needed to be done," Julian explained. "He didn't need to have permission any more. Anything could be done on his signature."
"I bet he swindled us!" said Harry vehemently.
"Undoubtedly," said Julian. "Let's look at the deeds."
Among the deeds was a map of the Kirrin area showing the family property.
"Aha!" said Dick. "Look here! That field there! That's where the IRA were building their arsenal and leisure centre."
"And it's rightfully ours!" burst out Harry.
"Yes it is," said Dick, "and I'm going to make sure it's returned to us. Then it will be up to George and Aunt Fanny, and you, Harry, to decide what to do with it."
"Why them? Why Harry?" demanded Nick.
"Those three are all Arthur Kirrin's direct heirs," Dick explained. "Anyway, now we know how the IRA got their hands on it. Michael O'Shaughnessy must have sold it to himself for a nominal sum that he probably abstracted from the Kirrin family accounts anyway, but he couldn't make use of it while any of the old Kirrin's were still alive. He must have left it to his son, and so it came down to Liam O'Shaughnessy. I'll bet he had no idea what to do with it until McNally found out. Then McNally probably persuaded O'Shaughnessy into handing it over. It explains, too, why a nasty little pervert like O'Shaughnessy was such a big shot in the operation: he had the land, they needed it, so they had to give him a starring role."
"But how are we going to get it back?" asked George.
"We'd need good lawyers," said Dick, "and though I don't know any, my boss has influence in all sorts of places."
"The Duke!" cried Harry exultantly. "Tell us about the Duke Uncle D... , I mean ... DAD!"
"It's just a nickname," said Dick evasively. "We could have called him the Boss or the King, or even the Big Cheese, but somehow we decided on Duke. I'll take these papers and show them to him. He's got contacts everywhere. If anyone can sort it out, he can."
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