This is a fine Victorian novel with action, intrigue, big houses and hardworking Yorkshire folk. It starts predictably with a brutal landlord and an innocent nursemaid. Its country setting and the thoughts and desires of the two children are remarkable. The story develops as their governess finds a man injured in a mantrap. She takes him to a herbal medicine lady, Judith, who applies honey poultices, and he drinks willow bark tea and eats a curd tart called a beestings pie. Judith recognises him as William, her former lover. Old memories are revived as she nurses him after his injury. Their past love story emerges as the two, now in their 40s, poignantly remember their teens, when Judith was sent away bearing William’s child.
New characters appear as the brutal landlord’s staff and the farmer’s beaters prepare for a shoot by poacher’s moon. The story is full of good country detail, though excitement is blurred with too many single syllable names for the reader to remember – Sam, Will, Tom, Sim, Sue and Kate. With such a number of concurrent stories, by the book’s middle I was wondering what or who it was about with so many budding romances and prospects of marriage. A highlight is when a young farmer’s fiancée is poached by his father, a general, on the night of the poacher’s moon.
Almost everything is right about the feel of this book. Typeface, size, length, setting, characters and action are all convincing. The book rounds off with a wedding and health complications for our heroine, but then a happy family Christmas, when Kate is reunited with her former charges. Needless to say the brutal landlord dies in a hunting accident. Did he fall or was he pushed?