Chapter One



It was a hot summer, the summer of 1886, when Hannah first saw the man. She had been in the front garden and happened to look up to the summit of the Downs just as he came into view. Nearing midday, the sun was high in the sky. She had to lift her hand to shield her eyes so that she could see more clearly, but something compelled her to watch the mans progress.

At first, it wasnt apparent how tall he was because he was bent over the burden on his cart, but as he began the slow descent, he leant back, digging his heels into the dusty chalk track in his effort to prevent the weight of the cart running away with him. And then she could see that he was a tall man, uncommonly tall, in stiff Sunday clothes and a hard felt hat obscuring the upper half of his face so that the only part visible was a square chin and a wide mouth set in a grim line.

A small girl trailed in his shadow, dragging along a smaller boy. A solemn girl of six or seven, who kept craning her head upwards to dart uncertain eyes at the man, like a young dog trying to judge its masters mood and hoping to understand what was expected of it. She, too, was in her Sunday best; a blue cotton dress covered by a spotless white apron. On her feet she wore black button boots, coated with a fine film of dust, and her bright golden hair was tied back from her ace with a blue ribbon. The little boy sucked his thumb.

Every so often the man stopped to adjust his load, unhurriedly and with great care, as if the cart contained his most treasured possession. He stroked the box and patted it two or three times before resuming his journey.

Hannah, curious, watched him as he came into the lane that led past her cottage and into the village. She was still standing at the gate as he passed by. He neither paused nor greeted her, but continued on, staring straight ahead as if he hadnt seen her. The small boy, still sucking his thumb, fingers hooked over his nose, twisted his head to look back at her with round and innocent eyes.

Hannah saw, then, what was on the cart. It was a plain wooden box made of new wood, partly covered by a cloth of worn linen. She wished now that she hadnt been standing there and lowered her eyes.

She hadnt realised that the man was taking a coffin to the graveyard.


* * *





‘No man wants to buy damaged goods,’ Lily’s ma told her before she went into service. She tried to drum it into Lily that she should keep herself to herself and never let a man take advantage.

‘There’s time enough for that sort of thing when you’ve got a wedding band on your finger. Let him give you his name first,’ she said, ‘because if you let a man take liberties, he’ll think you’re cheap and lose interest.’

‘What do you mean?’ Lily asked.

Her question was only met with mutterings that told her nothing. Lily found the conversation vaguely uncomfortable so when her ma asked her if she understood she said “yes” although she didn’t really.

And that’s why Lily was unprepared when Edward Boyd-Taylor slipped quietly into her room that night.

She had been lying on her back in the narrow, lumpy bed, gazing up through the little fanlight in the roof at a few pale stars, while she relived every moment of the day. She couldn’t remember when she had ever felt so happy. It was as much as she could do not to jump out of bed and light the candle stub again so that she could take another peek at the beautiful hat and bury her nose in the delicate bunch of violets. But it was almost midnight, she must be up at six and she was already beginning to feel sleepy.

She had almost dropped off when she sensed there was someone in the room and even before she opened her eyes she could tell it was him by the distinctive fragrance of his expensive cologne.

‘Are you awake, Lily?’ he whispered.

She blinked at the flickering light of a candle held a few feet from her nose and saw Edward, shadows leaping and fluttering over his handsome face, as he looked down on her.

‘What are you doing here?’ she gasped.

‘I wanted to see you. We had such a lovely day that I didn’t want it to end.’

For a moment she was hardly able to speak for the shock of seeing him there. ‘But... but I shall get into trouble if they catch you in here.’

His face spread into a wide grin. ‘Then we shall have to make sure that they don’t, won’t we?’

Smothering a laugh, he turned and placed the candle on top of the battered chest of drawers. He peered curiously about the room, such a narrow cramped space, so small that there was hardly room for the bed and chest, and his eyes alighted on two sketches that Lily had pinned up on the wall.

‘Did you do those?’ he asked.

Lily sat up in bed and pushed the hair from her eyes. She drew her legs up and hugging her knees, found herself answering him. ‘Yes. That one’s my parents’ house in Pimberton and the other is my brother, Josh, only I didn’t get his nose quite right.’

‘You draw remarkably well.’

It was all very well for him, she thought, standing there making ordinary conversation, as if he was in the drawing room downstairs instead of here in her room, but her mind was whirling at the thought of what would happen if they were discovered. It wouldn’t be him that would be for the high jump, not the master’s son. No, it would be her. She’d be sent packing and no mistake.

At that moment, to add to her torment, she heard hurrying footsteps on the bare floorboards of the passage outside. Edward heard it too and frowned. Lily froze, holding her breath, straining to hear until she heard the click of a door shutting.

‘You really shouldn’t be here,’ she persisted. Half of her, the sensible half, wanted him to leave and the other half, the half that was terribly in love with him, wanted him to stay.

Ignoring her remark, he sat on the edge of the bed. ‘Where did you learn to draw like that?’

‘Nowhere. They’re just scribblings. I’ve always done it.’

There was an awkward silence. Lily watched him while he studied her drawings, thinking how handsome he was; especially when he smiled. She liked the way his fair hair curled at the back of his neck. She even liked the walrus moustache, now she was getting used to it, although it did make him look older than his nineteen years.

‘Do you like it?’ he asked.

She wasn’t sure what he was talking about until he nodded his head towards the red and white hat box.

‘Oh yes, yes. And the violets. I cadged an old fish paste jar from Cook for them. Aren’t they lovely?’ She reached out for the little arrangement and taking them up, buried her nose in the delicate flowers. ‘There!’ she said, holding them out to him.

He took them from her, replaced them on the chest and started to stroke her arm. ‘You know, Lily, hardly a minute goes by when I’m not thinking of you.’

She sat, breathless, hardly able to believe her ears. She could tell, by the way he looked at her, how sincere he was.

‘How pretty you look with your hair loose about your face like that. The loveliest girl I have ever seen!’

Lily opened her eyes wide. No one had ever told her that before.

‘Don’t look so surprised. I’m telling you the simple truth. You do know, Lily, that I’m dreadfully in love with you?’

He took her hand and she watched, fascinated, as he turned it over, uncurled her fingers and kissed her open palm. The moustache tickled, making her smile.

‘You do believe me, don’t you? You don’t think I’m leading you on?’

‘Oh, no Edward. I’ve never thought that!



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