A tale of love and hardship set in wild and beautiful 19th century Cornwall.
Born into a once-respectable family, circumstances have reduced Roz Trevaskis to working at the local inn. In order to pay the fines incurred through her alcoholic mother’s drunken behaviour, Roz has put herself in debt to some unpleasant people, and has reluctantly turned to smuggling. When her half-brother, Tom, is offered a job as an apprentice on the estate of the local JP, Branoc Casvellan, Roz realises this is an opportunity to dig her family out of trouble.
Then Casvellan's brother catches smallpox, and it falls to Roz to nurse him – bringing her into close contact with her handsome employer. But how will Casvellan – and his family – react when the truth about Roz's life comes out?
The two men were sitting by the open window. As Roz approached, a man passed by outside.
‘Bit of all right that is,’ one of the men beamed up at her.
The other nodded. ‘Starving I am.’
Roz smiled as she put down the tray and set the steaming plates in front of them. A male figure filled the open doorway, briefly cutting off the light.
Looking up, Roz’s smile froze as she recognised Constable Colenso. Her stomach clenched with the all-too-familiar sense of dread. No, please no. Not again. She straightened, picking up the empty tray.
In his fustian breeches and brown coat, his hair drawn back into a queue above a wilting collar, the parish constable looked hot and uncomfortable and he crossed to the bar where Jack was drawing a pint of ale.
‘Any butter, is there?’ one of the men asked. ‘Miss?’
Roz dragged her attention back to her customers. ‘I’m sorry, what –?’
‘Butter? For the bread?’
‘Yes, of course. I’ll fetch it.’ Maybe the constable was here for something else entirely, nothing to do with her at all.
But as she started towards the kitchen passage she saw him turn from the bar and start towards her. She gripped the tray like a shield. Then realising the futility of her gesture, she let it drop to her side.
‘Sorry, Miss.’ In the dim smoky light she thought she saw pity behind the constable’s frown. ‘You’re to come with me.’
Even as fear leapt, so too did a spark of hope that this time the reason for the constable’s visit had nothing to do with her mother. ‘Is Tom –?’
‘Boy’s fine. He’s downalong with blacksmith. Sorry, Miss. ’Tis your mother.’
Again. He didn’t say it, but Roz heard it in his voice just the same. She swallowed the dryness in her throat. Yet another fine to pay. How was she supposed to – The room swayed.
His hand caught her arm. ‘Steady now. All right are you?’
She sucked in air. It tasted thick and stale. ‘Yes.’ The lie slipped easily from her tongue. As all her hopes had come to nothing and every effort had been flung back in her face, her ability to pretend that it didn’t hurt had become second nature. Where had her mother got the brandy from this time? And how had she paid for it?
‘Thank you, Mr Colenso. I’ll come as soon as I’ve finished here‘ –’
‘No, miss.’ He shook his head. ‘Now. The Justice said he want to see you right away.’
Roz pressed one hand to her stomach as dread spiked. Dread and something else, something – foolish, hopeless. Mr Casvellan had been kind – so far. But he would hold her responsible. She had given him her word. She really had tried. Yet what was she supposed to do? She couldn’t lock her mother in. ‘I –’ she gestured towards the kitchen. ‘I’m still – I have to –’
‘Want me to tell Jack, do you?’
‘No!’ Struggling for control she repeated more quietly, ‘No, Thank you. I’ll do it. Will you wait outside? Please? I’ll be with you directly.’
‘Quick as you can, miss.’ With a nod he turned and left.
Edging between the tables Roz hurried to the bar.
Jack continued wiping up spills on the polished wood as he jerked his chin forward. ‘Trouble?’
‘Bl – your mother?’
Roz nodded again. ‘Mr Casvellan wants to see me.’
‘Right now?’ Jack paused, his hand still. ‘John come to take you up there, has he?’
Roz guessed his thoughts were echoing hers. Never before had the Justice demanded she leave her job during working hours. So why had he this time? What was so urgent? What had her mother done? Fighting panic, Roz dipped her head, her face burning. ‘I’m really sorry.’
‘’T’idn’ your fault, girl. Go on then.’
‘Thank you. I’ll make up the time. I’ll –’‘
‘Never mind about that. Quick now, don’t keep ’n waiting.’
Roz hurried down the passage, untying her apron and pulling off her cap. ‘Annie, the two men who just came in want some butter for their bread. I have to go.’ She hung cap and apron on a hook behind the kitchen door.
Annie’s forehead puckered. ‘What’s on, my bird?’
‘The constable – I have to‘ –’ Roz shook her head, unable to continue, her throat stiff with tears of rage, frustration and grief.
‘Dear life!’ Annie snorted. ‘Not again. I know she’s your mother and all. But she’s a bleddy nuisance. Need a good thrashing, she do. Knock some sense into her.’
Keren had stopped washing the flag-stoned floor and was gaping at them.
‘Catching flies, girl?’ Annie snapped. ‘Get that floor wiped. If ’tis still wet when Nell come down she’ll give you what for.’
As Keren bent again to her task, Annie patted Roz’s shoulder and went to fetch the butter from the slate-shelved larder.
Her heart thudding, Roz dipped her hands in the pail of cold water and pressed them to her cheeks, her throat and the back of her neck. If only she had time to change and tidy her hair. What difference would that make? Shaking out her faded calico gown, she put on her hat. Her hands trembled as she tied the ribbons beneath her chin.
How many times had she been summoned to Trescowe? Each time her mother had promised it was the last, that from now on everything would be different. Roz had wanted so much to believe her. But despite all her support and encouragement, here they were again. No matter what she did, it was never enough.
‘You don’t understand,’ her mother would sob or snarl. ‘You have no idea what I’ve been through.’
Roz couldn’t argue. She didn’t know. So she bit her tongue, put her mother to bed, cleaned up the mess, and tried to find new hiding places so there would be enough money to buy food and pay their rent. But Tom was growing so fast. He needed new trousers, and his boots were falling apart.
Up till now she had managed to pay the fines. But doing so had put her in debt to Will Prowse. She knew the justice was losing patience. How much longer could she hope to keep her mother out of gaol?
Swinging the muslin kerchief about her shoulders she crossed it in front of her gown, tied the ends behind her back, and tipping her hat forward so her face was in shadow, she walked outside into hot sunshine where the constable waited.
'Romantic, gritty, evocative and moving - a wonderful read.'