Brenda Stuart returns to her late husband’s home, devastated by her loss only to find herself accused of bestowing favours upon the Germans. Life has been difficult for her over the war, having been held in an internment camp in France simply because of her nationality. Thankful that her son at least is safe in the care of his grandmother, she now finds that she has lost him too, and her life is in complete turmoil.
Prue, her beloved sister-
Can they resolve their problems and manage to rebuild their lives now that the war is at last over?
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RAIN POUNDED upon the windows as the small bus wound its way along narrow lanes. The sound of its grinding gears as it lurched around a bend and began to climb steeply upwards stirred Brenda from a deep sleep. Blinking herself awake, she gazed out at the scramble of sharp peaks, jutting rocks and smooth green-
Eventually the vehicle stopped and the driver called out, ‘Trowbridge Hall.’ Hitching her heavy bag high on to her shoulder, Brenda climbed out of the warmth of the bus into the chill damp of the valley. When first she’d set off from France she’d felt dizzy with anticipation, filled with hope. But much as she had longed to reach her destination, now a nervous tension was setting in. She could remember all too well the scowls, furious arguments and strong tone of disapproval on the day she’d been thrown out of the manor house all those years ago.
Today it felt strangely silent as Brenda walked down the rutted track, the only sound that of her boots squelching in the mud, a clogging mist swirling about her. Thankfully it had at last stopped raining. Turning a corner, she paused to gaze up at the tall chimneys, mullioned windows and grey stone walls of this grand house. For a moment her nervousness faded even if the mist did not. When at a low ebb during her recent troubles she would often bring to mind the majesty of these rolling hills, and the autumn glory of the scabious, goldenrod and blue harebells that clustered the verges. The memory of this place had at times helped to keep her sane.
Her heartbeat quickened as she recalled coming to work here back in the spring of 1939. That was the day she and Jack had first met, and despite her being no more than a mere scullery maid and he the son of a wealthy land owner, they’d fallen in love almost at first sight. At just seventeen she’d been young and eager for a new life, utterly captivated by his good looks, his gentle kindness, and the way his blue-
‘I thought I’d show you around,’ he’d said with a twinkling smile the first time she’d found him there. The thought had thrilled her.
‘Oh, that would be lovely.’ She’d felt herself blushing even as her insides tingled with excitement.
They’d stepped out along the path into the wood, the dog at his heels as Jack explained how he didn’t want her to get lost. ‘It’s not a good idea to venture too far on your own as it’s all too easy to lose your way in these woods,’ he’d warned.
‘I confess I am more accustomed to the busy streets of Manchester,’ Brenda had admitted, gazing in wonder at the bluebells in bloom. It was May and she could hear the rippling chatter of fieldfares celebrating the coming of warmer weather. ‘Or at least the Castlefield part of the city. I’m more used to walking along canal towpaths than in woodlands. Never really been out much in the countryside before, but it is so beautiful here I’d love to explore it.’
‘Then take care if you set out for a walk to always leave markers, such as a small pile of stones at every turn in the path to mark your way. We call them cairns. Then you can retrace your steps by following them on your return.’
‘What a wonderful idea. Thank you, I’ll remember that.’
‘And if you should ever get lost, follow a stream downhill towards the river, then walk north along the riverbank back to the house. You can judge the direction by checking the green moss that grows on the northern side of the trees. It certainly does here in the Pennines. But it would be safer and much more fun, don’t you think, if we were to walk out together? And Kit does love a good walk,’ he’d said, introducing her to the farm collie.
Meeting his gaze, she knew in that moment they were meant for each other, and his desire for them to walk out together had little to do with the dog. The expression in his eyes was utterly captivating, reaching to the heart of her.
After that, it seemed perfectly natural for them to meet up every single evening. And when he eventually stole a kiss she’d responded with eagerness, loving it when he almost lifted her off her feet to gather her in his arms. Explosions of pleasure had shot through her, almost as if she’d been waiting her entire life for this moment.
Fond as Brenda was of the city of Manchester where she’d been raised in an orphanage by nuns and still had many friends, she instantly fell in love with the beauty of Saddleworth, and the dramatic and rugged Pennine hills and moorland. She soon came to think of herself as a country girl, if working class and a bit plain and plump with fluffy brown hair. Jack, however, always regarded her as gorgeously curvaceous, and adored the twinkle in her downward-