Governess and mistress—he wanted her as both.…
The illegitimate daughter of an English lord, Sian Jones abandoned her heritage to live in a stalwart coal mining community in South Wales. Empowered by their cause, she’s engaged to be married to the leader of a revolutionary movement that is bracing itself against the tyranny of English mine owners. But Sian’s principles are unexpectedly shaken when she accepts a job as governess under Alexander Hyatt, the mysterious Marquess of Craille, the oppressive symbol of everything she has come to resist.
She never expected Alexander to upend all her expectations. He is sympathetic to her cause. He is a loving father. A man of wealth and position, he is fatally attractive. And he is offering his heart to the independent woman who has illuminated his life. Now, caught between two worlds, and between the promises and desires of two men, Sian must make a choice that will define her future—one that can only be made in the name of love.…
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Most of my books are set in England. But this one is set in my native Wales, and I immediately felt a change in myself, a heightened emotional involvement, as I wrote it. Wales is a land of hills and mountains, sea and cliffs, its own ancient language and culture, a deep spirituality, and music. Always music—the harp, church congregations singing in full harmony, choirs, particularly male voice choirs, often in the past made up of coal miners. Just the thought of it all can bring me to tears. Most of the Welsh coal mines are gone now, but there was a time when they dominated and blackened the countryside along the beautiful river valleys of South Wales.
Longing, my first all-Welsh book, originally published in 1995, has always been very precious to me. It is set in one of the coal-mining valleys in the first half of the nineteenth century, at a time when the owners were almost all wealthy Englishmen and life for the Welsh workers was hard, to say the least. Many of them became involved in the doomed Chartist movement to improve their living and working and political conditions.
The Marquess of Craille is a new owner, having only recently inherited and come to Wales. Siân Jones is the illegitimate daughter of an owner but has deliberately identified with the workers. She is the widow of a miner and is now engaged to the leader of the local Chartist movement. She is soon caught in the middle of a conflict between two men who seem destined to be natural enemies.
A common theme through the book is music, in particular the Welsh song “Hiraeth,” roughly translated “Longing,” that soul-deep yearning we all feel for our homeland and what is beyond our reach and our full understanding. The story is a deeply felt piece of the history of my own people and a passionate love story between two people for whom a future together seems an impossibility.
I do hope you will love this book as much as I always have.
PRAISE FOR THE NOVELS OF MARY BALOGH
ALSO BY MARY BALOGH
A SIGNET ECLIPSE BOOK
IT was rather late in the day to go walking, especially in a strange place. But the night was warm and moonlit, and the hills beckoned invitingly. Besides, a day and a half of traveling had made him stiff and restless, and since his arrival soon after noon he had been busy with his housekeeper and his butler. His agent had called to pay his respects and make arrangements for the coming days. And there had been Verity to amuse. If the journey had made him irritable, it had made her positively petulant. It was harder for a six-year-old to sit still and idle for hours on end than it was for an adult.
Now she was in bed, coaxed there by an elderly and indulgent nurse, and put to sleep by the stories he had read to her.
He was unable to give in to his own tiredness. Everything was so strange. He had been the owner of this property for longer than two years—ever since the death of his uncle, his mother’s brother—but he had never been here before. He did not even know much about it except that the quarterly reports sent by his agent showed it to be extremely prosperous. But then aristocrats, whose names and titles and wealth had grown out of large landed estates over several centuries, still frowned upon the idea of making money out of industry. It seemed very middle class and not quite the thing at all. Times were changing, but very often times changed faster than people.
Alexander Hyatt, Marquess of Craille, was the owner of a large area of land in one of the valleys of South Wales and the ironworks and coal mine on that land. The back of beyond, as his mother-in-law liked to describe it. It was not a compliment. She had been aghast when he had told her that he was going to take her granddaughter there for an indefinite period of time. It was in vain that he had reminded her that he also owned a castle there—Glanrhyd Castle—that had been built by his uncle’s predecessor.
Alex, standing at his bedroom window, still fully clothed, decided that late or not, strange or not, he was going to go out for a walk after all. The little he had seen of the surrounding area during the day had fascinated him—the narrow valley with steep, heather-covered hills to either side, the river at the bottom with rows of terraced houses beside it and on the lower slopes, the ironworks below the castle, largely hidden by the trees of the park. Glanrhyd Castle itself was built above the valley floor, a little removed from both the works and the houses.
The hills fascinated him. Steep, and yet not sheer, they closed in the valley, making it like a little world cut off from the outside. He felt almost as if he were in a foreign country. In a way, he supposed, he was.
He took a cloak with him in case the night was chillier than it had felt through his open window. But it was still almost warm outside. He strolled the gravel walks bordering the sloping lawns of the park and stood still to breathe in the fresh air and to listen to the sounds of insects. But he was not satisfied with such a sedate walk. The hills called to him. If he walked a little way across and up the slope beyond the park gates he would be able to look down on the valley and have a more panoramic view of it than he had had from the house. It would probably look lovely in the moonlight.
He did not intend to walk far as he soon realized that the hills did not ascend smoothly from the valley to the top. Rather they were rolling hills with peaks and hollows and even some sharp, unexpected drops. But there was no real danger as long as he was in no hurry. There was light enough to see by. And his guess had been correct. From above, and without the obstruction of the trees, he could see that the town was picturesque despite the smoking chimneys of the ironworks and despite the black coal tips he could see farther down the valley. Moonlight gleamed off the water of the river, which was broader than it had seemed from below. The houses, in long, snaking lines, looked sleepy and hugged the side of the hill as if for protection. There were very few lights. Obviously his workers went to bed early. Not that it was really early. He supposed it was close to midnight.
He should turn back. But there was a pleasant coolness in the air now, and he was reluctant to give up this only part of the day he had had to himself. If he strolled a little farther on, he thought, he would be able to look back up the valley from the other end of the town. Perhaps he would be able to see the castle above the works. It had been fancifully built, with numerous towers and turrets and long windows. He had been rather amused when he first set eyes on it. And rather pleased too. Somehow it escaped vulgarity, ornate as it was. Somehow it seemed to suit its setting.
He was not sure when he first became aware of a sound that was neither water nor wind nor insects. At first it was a feeling that seemed not quite associated with the ears. But it became more marked as he strolled on. It was the sound of voices. The murmured sound of many voices.
Alex stood still and concentrated. Where was it coming from? From below? But almost all the lights were out in the houses and the works were too far away, although some men would be on shift there. From the mine, then? No, the sound was coming from the hills.
He walked on more warily, more alertly, until the sound was unmistakably that of voices—men’s voices. And then there was one voice, speaking above the rest until they all fell silent, and speaking on. In a strange language, doubtless Welsh.
As he drew closer, Alex realized that he was approaching another of those unexpected peaks, behind which there was presumably another dip and a hollow. He could tell that he was close now. The voice was distinct. Whoever it was was in that hollow. He climbed carefully, ducking down as he approached the top so that his head would not be seen against the skyline. He inched up the last few feet so that he could look down.
His jaw almost dropped. Certainly his eyes widened. It was a large hollow, far larger than he had expected, and it was packed tight with men, now silent. Hundreds of them. Every single man from the valley below must be there.
The man who was addressing them was standing on a slight rise at one end of the hollow, so that all would be able to see him. He was a big man, not particularly tall, but broad and strong looking. He had a commanding presence, as he would have to have, Alex thought, to have called such a large gathering to order.
A meeting? On the mountain at midnight? He noticed suddenly that not one of the men held a lantern or any other light. It was true that the moonlight was bright enough, but it was surprising nonetheless that there were no lights. It was a clandestine meeting, then?
At first he thought he must be wrong. The broad, dark-haired speaker stepped down to give his place to a tall, thin man dressed all in black. He too spoke in Welsh, but it was clear from the way he spread his arms and from the tone of his voice when he began to speak that he was a preacher. And that he was praying. The men all bowed their heads reverently and remained silent throughout the lengthy prayer, only the occasional “Amen” interrupting the preacher’s voice.
A prayer meeting? Alex frowned and then felt amusement. He had been told that the Welsh were a devout people and that they were nonconformist almost to a man. But a mass prayer meeting at midnight when they should be at home asleep? He felt again the foreignness of this new home of his.
He probably would have retreated and left them to it if he had not spotted the woman. Like him, she was not part of the meeting. As far as he could see, its members were exclusively male. Like him, she was silently spying on it. She was hiding behind some large rocks a little lower than his hill and some distance away. She would not be able to see him. He edged over a little to his left to make sure.
He wondered what she was doing there and why she could not join the prayer meeting openly. Unless women were forbidden to do so. It looked as if that might be the case. It was impossible to tell if she was young or old. She wore a dark dress, which blended well with the rocks, and a lighter shawl, which was drawn up over her head. But she looked slim. She looked young. He watched her, intrigued, and ignored the feeling that he was spying on something that was none of his business.
Actually it was his business. This was his land. These were his people.
And then the prayer was finally at an end and the preacher stepped down to be replaced by the first speaker. Alex wished he could understand what was being said but realized that he must become accustomed to hearing Welsh spoken all around him. He was the intruder, after all. It was their country, not his.
And then suddenly he did understand. The language had switched to English—heavily accented but nevertheless quite understandable. The Welshman was introducing a speaker who was English. His fame had spread throughout the land and they were honored and privileged to have him bring his oratory to Wales. Would they all welcome Robert Mitchell?
They did so as a small, bespectacled, insignificant-looking young man took his place on the rise and lifted his arms for silence. He did not get it for some time. The men were applauding and whistling.
Robert Mitchell? Hell!
Robert Mitchell was one of the more famous of the Chartist orators who were traveling endlessly and tirelessly throughout the industrial districts of England and Wales these days, trying to persuade the people to put their signatures to the great Charter that was to have been presented to Parliament a few months ago but which still had not appeared there. The most famous orator of all, Henry Vincent, was in jail in Monmouth.
This was a Chartist meeting? Alex flattened himself against the hill suddenly and grew cold. He had not realized that Chartism had taken a hold at Cwmbran. Barnes, his agent, had never made mention of it. But Alex might have guessed, he supposed.
Robert Mitchell was speaking in a voice whose volume and resonant power belied his appearance. He was explaining simply and clearly what the object of the Charter was, what six basic demands it was to make of the government—the vote for every British male, annual Parliaments, secret ballots, and so on. Alex was quite familiar with the Charter’s demands. He was even sympathetic to them. But Chartism had somehow become the movement of the industrial working classes and it had become a movement of protest. Many feared that it had become revolutionary in its aims and methods.
This secret midnight meeting made him feel suddenly uneasy about Chartism. Why the secrecy if the aims were open and honest ones? He had never had to think too much about it before. It had never touched him closely. Now suddenly it was very close indeed.
The woman was still there, he noticed as Robert Mitchell harangued the crowd with the necessity of adding their signatures to the Charter and of paying their pennies to join the Chartist Association.
“There is power in numbers, my friends,” he shouted, stabbing the air with one fist and causing Alex to break out in a sweat. There was danger in the idea even if it might seem a reasonable one. Such was the power of the man’s oratory that his audience was responding to it with raised fists of their own and with shouts of assent. There were even some fervent amens.
“Everyone will sign the Charter.” The speech had ended and the stocky Welshman was back on the rise, though he still spoke in English out of deference to the guest speaker. “Unanimity is essential, men. Those who do not sign tonight or pay their pennies tonight will be asked why tomorrow.”
There seemed to be a definite threat in the words. But there were no dissenting voices, only universal enthusiasm as far as Alex could see. He would have a few questions to ask of Barnes tomorrow. But first, he would dearly like to know who the leader was, the strong, fiery Welshman who seemed to hold the men in the palm of his hand as well as Mitchell had. And who the preacher was.
The woman was moving away, cautiously leaving the protection of the rocks behind which she had been hiding and circling behind the rise that stood between her and the gathered men. The meeting would be breaking up soon. She was making her escape in good time. She was making her way in his direction, Alex could see.
He waited until she had passed the slope on which he lay, without looking up and seeing him, and then he followed her as she quickened her pace, her shawl held close about her head and shoulders. She had a long, lithe stride. She was undoubtedly a young woman. And a shapely one. His eyes moved over her from behind. Long legs. Shapely hips.
He waited until she hurried down into another hollow. Once out of it, he could see, she would be able to turn directly downward and would be in the town within a few minutes. He came up behind her, reaching a hand around to cover her mouth even as she sensed his presence and turned her head sharply. Large, frightened eyes looked into his while he hurried her behind some rocks so that they would be out of sight of anyone leaving the meeting early.
“You were not invited to the party?” he asked her, turning her so that her back was against the rocks. He removed his hand from her mouth but stood very close to her, his body almost against hers. Oh, yes, she was young. And beautiful. Her shawl had slipped from her head to reveal long hair worn loose. It looked almost black in the shadows. So did her eyes.
“Who are you?” She spoke to him in English, with a strongly lilting Welsh accent.
“It is a pity women are not invited to sign the Charter,” he said. “Would you have signed it and given them one more signature?”
She leaned her head back against the rock. Some of the terror had gone from her eyes, but she was breathing raggedly. “I don’t know who you are,” she said. “You are English. A spy? Did Mr. Barnes bring you in?”
“Who was the man leading the meeting?” he asked. “The dark, well-built Welshman?”
Her lips clamped together.
“He is from Cwmbran?” he asked. “He works there, perhaps?”
“I didn’t know him,” she said. “I don’t know who he is. There are men from other valleys at the meeting. They are not all from Cwmbran.”
He nodded. He did not believe her for a moment. “And the preacher?” he asked. “The one who opened the meeting with a long prayer? Who is he?”
Again the clamped lips. “I don’t know him either,” she said when he waited for an answer.
“And I suppose,” he said, “you did not recognize any of the men at the meeting either. They were all from other valleys. They just happened to choose this site for their meeting.”
“I suppose so,” she said lamely after a while. But she lifted her chin. “Who are you? Have you come to make trouble? It was a peaceful meeting. There was no harm in it. It is merely a petition to be presented to Parliament.”
“‘There is power in numbers, my friends,’” he quoted softly. “The words can be made to sound almost seditious, can’t they?”
“There is power,” she said, “in a number of signatures. That was what he meant. Who are you?” The fright was back in her eyes and in her voice suddenly. “What do you want with me?”
It must have been sudden fright over her realization of the fact that she was alone on the mountain with a stranger, he thought. She tried to step forward and around him, but he stood his ground so that for a moment, before she flattened herself against the rock again, her body pressed against his. Firm, generous breasts, warm thighs. He set one hand against the rock beside her head.
“And who are you?” he asked. “Are you from another valley too and don’t know yourself?”
Her chin came up but she said nothing for a while. “I shall scream,” she said.
“Then I shall do this.” He leaned forward and set his mouth over hers. But it was not a wise move. Her mouth was warm and soft. And he too was suddenly aware of how very alone they were, surrounded by shadows and cool night air and the droning of insects. Seduction had not been on his mind when he had pursued her and was definitely unwise under the circumstances. He drew his head back a few inches.
Her eyes were wide with terror and indignation. But she was a woman of some courage, he realized. Her chin stayed up and her eyes remained steady on his and she got herself silently under control.
“My guess is that you would not be overeager, anyway, to make your presence on the mountain known to any of the men back there,” he said. “I have the feeling that they would be a trifle annoyed. Who are you?”
“Let me go,” she said. “Any one of them would pound you into the ground for touching me. But I’ll not betray you if you will not betray me.”
“Ah,” he said, “an amicable bargain.” He took one step back from her. “So all those men would punish me for frightening you and stealing a kiss from you, would they? All those men you do not know.”
She ignored his last words. “I was not frightened,” she said.
He grinned at her and wished that circumstances were such that he could attempt seduction. It would be very sweet. He thought ruefully of how long it had been since he had had a woman. Too long. But now was not the time.
He stepped to one side so that she could make her escape. “If I were you,” he said, “I would stay off the mountains this late at night. There are too many dangers for a woman alone.”
“Thank you.” Her voice was heavy with sarcasm. “I shall remember that.”
“And I shall remember this night,” he said, “and some of the faces of the men at the Chartist meeting. Perhaps I will see those faces again one day—in the other valleys. I believe I may see yours a little closer than that.”
“Not if I can help it,” she said.
He grinned and gestured to the downward slope just beyond the shadows in which they stood. “Go,” he said, “before anyone else comes down and sees that you are out of your bed at this hour and in a place that no woman has any business being.”
He watched her make the effort not to bolt like a frightened rabbit. She lifted her shawl over her head again, her eyes on his, and then walked past him and out into the open, her back straight.
“Good night, maiden of Cwmbran,” he said softly.
She did not answer him. He noticed her pace quicken and her head come down as she hurried through the hollow and turned at its end to take the steep slope down to the town. She did not look back though he could almost see that her back was bristling with panic lest he was following her and was about to pounce on her again.
And so he was no farther forward than he had been before he caught up to her. She was a woman who could keep her mouth shut. He just hoped that she would keep it shut concerning him too. He was not sure that he wanted it known that he had unwittingly come upon a Chartist meeting. He did not wish to become embroiled in local politics when he had set foot in Cwmbran for the first time only hours before.
He should not have stopped the woman or spoken to her, he thought now that it was too late to do differently. Or kissed her. He should certainly not have done that. A fine first impression it would give. He was thankful that she had been where she was not supposed to be and would therefore be reluctant to tell anyone of the experience—even when she knew who he was, which would surely happen soon.
But he should not have kissed her. Brief and unplanned and one-sided as it had been, it had aroused needs in him that he normally kept well under control. Only two long-term mistresses in the almost six years since his wife’s death, and none at all since his engagement to Lorraine a year ago—an engagement they had broken off only the month before.
Strange! He had kissed Lorraine several times, usually at greater length than he had kissed the unknown Welshwoman. But never once had he become as aroused physically as he had now.
It was just as well, he thought ruefully, striding with unwise speed across the hill in the direction of Glanrhyd Castle, that he had some distance to walk and that the air was now distinctly cool.
Robert Mitchell. Chartists. There is power in numbers, my friends. Everyone will sign the Charter. Hell! What had he walked into? He had come to Wales for some peace and quiet after a broken engagement. Had he walked unwittingly into a nest of hornets?
* * *
Siân Jones held the corners of her shawl tightly in each hand and tried not to run as she hurried down the slope to the town. It took every ounce of willpower not to do so and not to look over her shoulder. Her back crawled with panic. Every moment she expected to feel his hand again, clamping down on her shoulder or over her mouth.
Who was he? Whoever was he?
At first, foolishly, she had thought he was the devil. There had been the large, strong hand over her mouth, the swirl of a dark cloak, the largeness of his body, which he had placed between her and freedom. But a strange devil who had looked like an angel when she had finally seen his face. Even in the shadows his hair had shone very blond. And his eyes were light—blue or gray. She guessed they were blue. And he spoke with a very refined English accent.
Who on earth was he? Some spy? The country was full of them. And full of soldiers too. He might be a soldier, though he had not been wearing a uniform. He had been sent to spy on the meeting. And he had seen it. He had seen them all there—Owen, Emrys, Huw, Iestyn, Grandad—oh, dear Lord, Grandad. And the Reverend Llewellyn. He did not know their names. She had told him nothing. But it would not take him long to find out. Owen most of all. Owen was the first one he had asked about. Oh, dear Lord, Owen had led the meeting. The spy would have had a good look at him even in the darkness.
She was almost running despite herself by the time she reached the valley and turned to hurry along one of the streets and to let herself quietly into one of the darkened houses. No one would catch her. Gran slept upstairs and would not come down even if she was awake. Grandad and Emrys would not be home for a while. Siân undressed hastily in the kitchen and drew on her nightdress before diving into the cupboard bed that had been hers when she first came to Grandad’s at the age of seventeen and that had been hers again since Gwyn’s death and the death of their son.
She lay shaking beneath the covers, waiting for her grandfather and her uncle to come safely home. Though there was nothing safe now about home. Tomorrow perhaps they would all be rounded up. What would happen to them? They could not all be taken off to jail, surely. And they could not all be dismissed from their jobs. There would be no one left to work except the women. All the men had gone up the mountain to the meeting, even those who disapproved of the Charter. They had all gone up to hear the famous Mr. Mitchell.
And she had gone up out of fear and curiosity—she always seemed to have more of the latter than any other women she knew. She had wanted to know what it was all about and if there was any basis to the hostility the owners and the government felt toward what was apparently a peaceful and lawful movement. But she remembered the blond Englishman repeating something Mr. Mitchell had said—there is power in numbers, my friends. Of course, when he repeated that to whoever had sent him, it would sound seditious enough, as he had said.
And Owen. Siân remembered what Owen had said and shivered. Everyone will sign the Charter. Those who do not sign tonight or pay their pennies tonight will be asked why tomorrow.
Oh, Owen, Owen. He surely would be thrown out of work tomorrow. He surely would be arrested and clapped in jail. He would be hauled off to Newport or to Monmouth for trial—trial by those who would interpret his words and Mr. Mitchell’s as constituting treason.
The English spy had seen Owen’s face clearly. Perhaps he would be unable to identify Grandad or the others who had been in the crowd, but Owen he had both seen and heard. And the Reverend Llewellyn, who did not even approve of the Charter.
The door latch lifted quietly and two dark figures tiptoed inside.
“Grandad?” Siân whispered. “You have come safely home?”
“Safe, fach, me and Emrys both,” he whispered back. “No danger at all. Just an old meeting it was.”
“Go to sleep, Siân,” her uncle Emrys said, not bothering to whisper. “Stayed awake worrying about us, did you? There is silly you are, girl. The morning shift comes early. To sleep with you now.”
“Good night,” she whispered.
She could not tell them about the very real danger there was. The danger that would surely break over their heads in the morning. Or over Owen’s anyway. She listened to their footsteps on the stairs as they tiptoed up to bed so as not to disturb Gran, and felt physically sick.
And then she remembered that he had kissed her. She could remember the blind terror she had felt at the largeness of his body—he was very tall and had appeared dauntingly strong and well muscled. He might well be a soldier. And the terror and fright she had felt when his mouth had covered hers. His lips had been parted. She had thought—she had fully expected—that he was going to rape her.
He would be able to identify her too. He had said so.
Siân pulled the blanket over her head and burrowed underneath it, her knees drawn up, as if by doing so she could hide from the menacing Englishman, half devil, half angel, who had stolen a kiss from her and had it in his power to have Owen thrown into jail. Perhaps even hanged for treason.
Dear Lord. Oh, dear Lord, she prayed fervently.
JOSIAH Barnes was a short, balding man with a large stomach that proclaimed he drank too much beer. He was an unmarried Englishman who lived in the stone lodge cottage inside the gates of Glanrhyd Park. He kept very much to himself, associating with the owners of the other ironworks and mines at the heads of the valleys on terms of a type of junior partnership. They respected him as an excellent agent who in a dozen years had made Cwmbran as efficient and prosperous as any of their own works.
Alex was a little in awe of his knowledge. He felt his own terrible ignorance of both business and industry during his first full day at Cwmbran, when Barnes showed him around the ironworks. It all looked bewilderingly strange to the eyes of an English aristocrat, who had spent almost all of his twenty-nine years on a large country estate or in London. He was listening carefully to what Barnes said, trying to absorb at least some of what he was saying.
Alex was unable to converse with any of the workers, though he nodded affably to them. They spoke to each other in Welsh—though of course he knew for a fact that they understood English.
Alex found himself distracted somewhat from what his agent was telling him by his curiosity about the workers. He looked keenly at each of them, trying to recognize faces. It was hopeless, of course. He was almost convinced, though, that one of the puddlers—they were the most highly skilled and prized of the ironworkers, according to Barnes—was last night’s chairman. The man was bared to the waist now, his upper body and arms glistening with sweat. He looked rather like a prize-fighter. But Alex was not sure he would be able to swear in a court of law that he had been the man.
Look as he would, he could not see his maiden of Cwmbran among the women workers. He would certainly have recognized her. He would have enjoyed seeing her too—and he would have enjoyed watching her reaction to seeing him.
“That was all extremely interesting,” he said to his agent at the end of the afternoon. It was a rather lame remark, he realized, and one that might well invite contempt from the man who had made his works so prosperous. “The coal mine tomorrow, then? I shall want to know too about the human factor—numbers employed, hours worked, wage levels, extra benefits, and anything else there is to know.”
“I shall have the books in your office by tomorrow morning, my lord,” Barnes said.
“And about workers’ organizations,” Alex said carefully. “Are there any?”
“Some Friendly Societies,” his agent said. “Some workers pay into them and then have benefits in times of sickness or such. But no unions if that is what you mean, my lord. Any known members of unions are immediately dismissed. All the other works do likewise. Unions are disruptive. The running of the works is best left in the hands of men who understand all that is involved. We do not need to be told what to do by ignorant workers and held to ransom by united action.”
It was as Alex had thought, then. “Is there any interest in Chartism in this part of the world?” he asked. “It is quite strong in the industrial cities of the Midlands and the North, I have heard.”
“They are prowling around here,” Barnes said, “trying to work the men up into a fever against the government and against law and order. The men know that anyone who attends their meetings will be sacked instantly. We don’t need that nonsense here, my lord.”
Alex dismissed him for the day and hurried homeward so that he could take tea with his daughter. He hated to leave her alone all day in a strange place, with only an elderly nurse for company. Poor Verity. He should have forced himself to remarry long ago. He should have married Lorraine soon after their betrothal instead of hesitating and procrastinating until she suggested breaking it off.
So mass meetings were strictly forbidden—or any united action that might spell trouble to those in authority. The men of Cwmbran had risked a great deal in gathering on the mountain last night. And they had somehow kept it a secret from Barnes. There must be a great deal of trust and self-discipline among them—and no informers.
He did not know why he had not told Barnes about last night’s Chartist meeting. He was rather amused by the thought that if Barnes’s rule was to be enforced there would be almost no one to run the works or hew the coal from the mine today. And yet he ought not to be feeling amusement. Those men had definitely been doing what they knew was strictly forbidden at Cwmbran, or anywhere in the Welsh valleys. And the Welsh leader—one of his puddlers if he was not very much mistaken—had actually told the men that unanimity was essential, that those who did not sign or join the Chartist organization would be asked why today.
Alex wondered how exactly the men were to be asked. Politely and verbally? Or in some other way?
And yet he had said nothing to Barnes. Perhaps it was that he was new to Cwmbran, he thought, and had no desire to stir up trouble yet. Not until he had got his bearings and knew what was what, anyway. Or perhaps it was that he was sympathetic to the aims of Chartism. The six demands of the Charter seemed quite reasonable to him. They should at least be negotiable. And there was nothing seditious about presenting a petition to Parliament. There was nothing in it to make all law-abiding men fear a repetition in England of the revolution that had destroyed France just fifty years before.
Whatever the reason, he was keeping mute about something that might well lead to trouble.
He took the stairs up to the nursery two at a time when he was inside the house, pushed open the door, and swept up his shrieking daughter into his arms to twirl her about.
“How is my favorite girl?” he asked her. “Have you missed Papa?”
* * *
Siân was drying dishes after the evening meal although her grandmother had protested. Siân had been working a long shift underground all day and was weary from the backbreaking task of dragging coal carts from the seams where the miners cut the coal to the shaft, up which it would be hauled. All day she wore a harness around her waist so that she could more easily drag the load. Sometimes, in the lower tunnels, she had to go down on all fours. The darkness and the heat and dust did not help.
But she was drying dishes anyway. Her grandmother had not exactly been idle all day long. The house was clean and tidy, as it always was, the dirty work clothes from the day before had all been washed and dried and folded and put away—washed with water that had had to be hauled a pail at a time from a distant pump and heated over the kitchen fire. And warm bathwater had been waiting for her when she came home—and had been waiting for Grandad and Emrys when they came home before her from the iron furnaces. And of course Gran had cooked the meal for them.
Perhaps, Siân thought, she would have been more tempted to sit down to rest her feet, as Gran urged, if she did not feel it necessary to occupy her hands. They were talking about the Marquess of Craille, absentee owner of Cwmbran, who had come on an unexpected visit of inspection. He had spent much of the day at the ironworks.
“A proper Englishman,” Emrys said, seated at one side of the dying fire, his legs stretched out, almost touching those of his father, who was seated at the other side. “Wasn’t he, Dada? You should have seen him, Mam. Strutting about the works like a prize turkey, nodding about at all of us just as if he was really interested in us instead of just in the money he makes off our sweat. I almost spit at his back, but Barnes was watching like a hawk.”
Does he have blond hair? Siân wanted to ask. But she just rubbed hard at a plate that was already dry. She would bet a week’s wages that he was blond. And tall. The man who had been up on the mountain. The man who had kissed her.
“Now, now, Emrys,” Gwynneth Rhys said to her son. “We have not heard any bad of him have we, now? And the fact that he is English is not his fault, poor man. We will have a little respect for your employer in this house, if you please.”
“We do not know any bad of him?” Emrys looked at his mother incredulously. “When he and his uncle before him have been bleeding us dry all our lives, Mam, and hiding behind the coattails of Barnes? When we work like dogs just to feed ourselves and keep a roof over our heads and are threatened with the sack if we try to get together to improve our lot? I’ll give him bloody marquess and English airs.”
“Emrys!” His father’s frown was thunderous. “You will apologize to Mam and to Siân for using such language in this house. You may be thirty-five years old, but I am not too old and feeble to take you out the back and blacken both your eyes.”
“Sorry, Mam, Siân,” Emrys said sheepishly.
“Perhaps he is not a bad man,” Hywel Rhys said. “Perhaps there will be some changes around here once he has seen for himself and assessed the situation.”
Emrys snorted. “There is stupid you are sometimes, Dada,” he said. “Nothing will ever change. We exist to make the rich richer, more is the pity. That is why the Charter is our only hope.”
“I think,” Gwynneth said, squeezing out the cloth over the bowl of water as if to wring every last drop out of it, “Dada had better blacken those eyes for you after all, Emrys. There is disrespectful you are, calling your own father stupid.”
“It is what comes of stopping going to chapel,” Hywel said. “Emrys has become godless.”
Emrys had given up on God, Siân thought sadly, when his wife and infant son had died in a cholera outbreak ten years ago—and two years before Siân came to Cwmbran to live. Apparently he had taken exception to the Reverend Llewellyn’s preaching at the funeral that such was the will of God and that the bereaved husband must give praise that the two of them were in heaven where they were needed more.
Emrys had stood up in chapel in front of most of the people of Cwmbran and sworn profanely before pushing his way out of the front pew and past the coffins of his wife and son out of the chapel, never to return.
There were those in Cwmbran who still looked at him as if they expected to see horns sprouting from his head.
“I get tired of listening to fools,” Emrys said now. “Though the Reverend Llewellyn did go up the mountain last night, to give him his due. And prayed long enough that I expected to see dawn in the sky before he had finished.”
His mother clucked her tongue but said nothing.
They were going to talk about the meeting, Siân thought. And blank terror gripped her again. She could not understand why the whole day had gone by and nothing had happened. But something surely would happen. It was the Marquess of Craille himself who had witnessed the meeting and who had had a good look at least at Owen and at the Reverend Llewellyn. And he would recognize her. He would perhaps think himself able to squeeze more names out of her.
Perhaps he was waiting for some special constables to arrive, she thought. Or a company of soldiers. Perhaps the arrests would not be made until tomorrow. Or perhaps they would come tonight. She was sorry suddenly that she was on her feet. There was a buzzing in her head.
“Four hundred and fifty-seven signatures,” Emrys was saying. “It was a good night. Of course there were at least five hundred there. Some men came up from the other valleys, Mam.”
“I do not want to hear it,” Gwynneth said, tight-lipped. “I do not want to have to visit my men in jail. And I won’t do it, either. There is shameful it would be for chapel people, Hywel.”
“Silly, Mam,” Emrys said, getting to his feet to set an arm about her shoulders. She shrugged them but did not push him away. “How can they put us all in jail? There would be no one left to work. And no one to guard us.” He grinned at Siân and winked.
“They will put who they can in jail,” his mother said. “Beginning with those with the biggest mouths, Emrys Rhys.”
He chuckled and kissed her cheek. “No one knew about the meeting except those who were meant to, Mam,” he said. “You are very quiet, Siân.”
She folded the towel deliberately and hung it up to dry. “I am afraid too,” she said. But she could not say more. How could she warn them that the meeting had been watched last night—by someone who was not meant to. Doing so would be to reveal that she too had watched it. Besides, what was the use of a warning? It was too late. “I am afraid for Owen.”
“Owen can look after himself, fach,” Emrys said. “You don’t have to be afraid for him.”
“I walked home from work with Iestyn,” she said. “He signed the Charter but would not join the Association, he told me. He believes in the six points but is not willing to organize to enforce them. But he told me that those who will not join are going to have pressure put on them. Is that right?”
“Iestyn Jones should have been a girl,” Emrys said scornfully. “How old is he, Siân? Seventeen? Eighteen?”
“Seventeen,” she said. “He works as hard as everyone else, Emrys. The fact that he is sweet-natured and that he would love nothing more than to study and be a preacher does not make him into a—girl, as you put it.”
“You are partial,” he said, “because he is Gwyn’s brother, Siân. Your brother-in-law. But he is too cowardly to pay his penny and stand up for what he believes in.”
“That is not being a coward,” she said indignantly. “Perhaps it is the opposite, Uncle Emrys. It would be a lot easier for him to do what almost everyone else is doing. Including Huw, his own brother. But Iestyn believes in law and order.”
“Well,” he said, “it is only by acting together that we are going to get anywhere in this life. Perhaps he will be persuaded to see things differently, fach.”
“Persuaded?” She looked at him warily and remembered what Owen had said the night before.
“Enough,” Gwynneth said firmly. “You may throw the dishwater out the back if you will, Hywel. Enough talk of Charters, is it? There are better things to talk about in one’s own home when work is done and evening is here. We can be thankful for home and family and nice summer weather.”
“Yes, Mam,” Emrys said affectionately. “Sit down and take the weight off your feet, Siân. I do hate to think of you down in that mine every day, girl, doing the hardest job there is. I could still plant a fist in Barnes’s nose for sending you there.”
“He gave me a job at least,” she said, sinking gratefully into the chair he had recently vacated. “That was more than I could get at Penybont.”
“He gave you a job all right,” Emrys said. “He did it to humiliate you, Siân.”
“Well,” she said quietly, “he will not succeed in doing that. Many other women do the same job. There is no reason why I should not be one of them. I am not afraid of hard work.”
“You should not be working at all,” her grandfather said gruffly. “I take it as a shame that any woman of my family is forced to work outside the home. Especially in the mine. Emrys and I earn enough to keep your gran and you in the house.”
“But, Grandad—” she began.
“But Siân has her pride,” Emrys said, cutting her off. “When she came to live with us after my sister died, she was too proud to make it seem that she was asking for charity. And again after Gwyn died.”
“Oh, there is wicked,” Gwynneth said indignantly as she sat at the kitchen table, a pile of darning on the table before her. “As if our own granddaughter would be accepting charity by coming to live with her own gran and grandad. Don’t talk nonsense, Emrys.”
And yet it would have seemed like charity, Siân thought, looking into the last embers of the fire and setting her head back against the chair. Emrys understood that. She had grown up alone with her mother, who had been driven out first from the chapel and then from the community of Cwmbran when her womb had begun to swell. She had been housed close to Penybont farther up the valley by the man who had disgraced her—Sir John Fowler, owner of the Penybont works. Siân had never been invited to call him Dada or even Papa. She could not quite think of him as her father, though he had sent her to an expensive girls’ school in England when she was old enough to go. And he had tried to provide for her at the age of seventeen when her mother died by offering her in marriage to Josiah Barnes. It would be an excellent match, he had told her. Barnes was an important and powerful man.
But Siân had refused to marry him. Lonely and caught between two worlds, she had wanted to join the one to which perhaps she could belong. She could never belong in Sir John Fowler’s world. No one there, including Josiah Barnes, would ever let her forget her origins or her illegitimacy. And so she left her mother’s cottage, where she had no wish to live any longer. But she had been refused a job in any capacity at her father’s works.
She had come to her grandparents’ house in Cwmbran. She had come begging. But not to live on their charity. Two days after they had taken her in Josiah Barnes gave her a job—grinning at her as he offered it and undressing her with his eyes. It was the lowliest, hardest, and dirtiest job for women. She had accepted and worked in the mine for three years, until she married Gwyn Jones, a miner, and moved into the small miners’ house he shared with his parents and brothers. Such had been her determination to fit in.
After Gwyn’s death from a cave-in underground that had killed two other men too, Siân had gone back to work though she was pregnant. Gwyn’s family was large and it had been a time of low wages. But after her son had been stillborn a month early, she had moved back to her grandparents’ and returned to the mine though her grandfather had tried to use his influence to get her a better job in the ironworks.
Siân started suddenly as there was a knock on the door and the latch lifted after her grandfather’s call.
“Good evening, Mrs. Rhys, Hywel, Emrys, Siân,” Owen Parry said, cap in hand. “Lovely day it has been, hasn’t it, now?”
The only time Owen ever looked uncomfortable or sheepish, Siân thought, was when he came calling on her, though he had been coming several evenings a week for months. He was courting her.
“Good evening, Owen,” Gwynneth said. “Yes, a lovely day indeed. All my washing dried in no time at all.”
“Hello, Owen,” Siân said.
“Well, Owen,” Emrys said, “a good number of signatures there were on the Charter last night. And almost no one missing from the meeting.”
“Yes,” Owen said, “but a few did not sign. And more would not pay their pennies to join the Association. It was a disappointment.”
“There will always be some who will not follow others,” Hywel said. “And I myself am a little uneasy, Owen. I could not countenance any violence, mind.”
“There will be no—” Owen said.
Gwynneth coughed significantly. “And to what do we owe the pleasure of your visit, Owen?” she asked, smiling sweetly at him.
Owen flushed and turned his cap in his hands. “Siân,” he said, looking at her, “will you step out with me for some air, then? A lovely evening it is. I won’t keep her out late, Mrs. Rhys.”
Siân got to her feet and reached for her shawl behind the door. She was twenty-five years old and a widow, but Owen always gave the same assurance to Gran, who was now nodding her approval.
“Let me see now,” Emrys said. “It is half past eight, Owen. Have her home on the dot of nine, is it?”
“And not half a minute later, mind,” Hywel added.
“And no going up the mountain,” Emrys said as Owen opened the door and stood to one side to let Siân pass him.
“My watch stopped,” he said. “I left it home in the dresser drawer. And what are you going to do about it, Emrys Rhys?”
Grandad and Emrys were laughing merrily when the closing door cut off the sound. Siân smiled at Owen.
“Imbeciles,” he said, drawing her arm through his. “A couple of comedians. It is time they thought of something new to say, though.”
Siân laughed outright.
“Did you have a hard day?” he asked her as they walked along the street and turned at the end of it to stroll up into the lower hills above the valley and the river and works and rows of terraced houses. “I didn’t know if you would be too tired to come out.”
“But the air is lovely,” she said. She drew a deep breath of it. “It feels so good and smells so good after the dust of coal underground all day.”
“Your hair is what always smells good to me,” he said, moving his head closer to hers for a moment. “You wash it every day. I like that about you.”
Although she bound it every time she went underground, it was always gray with coal dust by the time her shift was at an end.
“Did you see the Marquess of Craille today?” she asked. “He was touring the ironworks with Mr. Barnes, Grandad and Uncle Emrys said. He looks really English, they said.”
“As blond as they come and dressed up like a toff,” he said. “And Barnes was all puffed up like a peacock, showing him around.”
Any doubt that Siân might still have had about the identity of the man on the mountain the night before finally fled. The Marquess of Craille was blond.
“I wonder why he has come,” she said. “He has never been here before.”
Owen shrugged. “For a pleasant holiday,” he said. “To watch all his slaves sweating for him.”
They were up on the lower hills and turned to look down, hand-in-hand, at the valley below them. The river still looked clean from up here, Siân thought. And peaceful. The sun was setting over the hills on the other side. She tried to put out of her mind the marquess and her terrible dread of what must surely be about to happen. Perhaps this would be the last evening. The last time she would walk in the hills with Owen. Despite herself she felt a welling of panic. She breathed deeply again.
“I don’t think there can be a lovelier place on earth, can there?” she said. The hills had never yet failed to bring her some measure of peace. She had missed them during her years at school with a terrible emptiness that had seemed to lodge in the pit of her stomach.
Owen laughed scornfully. “It is hell down there,” he said, gesturing with his head first at the ironworks and then at the coal mine. “We work like slaves, Siân, and the likes of Craille rake in the profits. The English. Robbing the riches of our valley. Our country. Though we are much to blame. We stand for the poor treatment we get and console ourselves by saying it is all God’s will—the Reverend Llewellyn’s favorite phrase. He is as much our enemy as Barnes and Craille, if we but knew it.”
“Don’t,” she said. “Soon you will be talking about unions and strikes and the Charter. Don’t spoil the evening. I have been hearing too much about last night’s meeting.” And she knew too much. More than any of the unsuspecting men. She felt sick suddenly with worry for Owen.
“Such things have to be talked about,” he said. “Especially the Charter, which is to be presented to Parliament any day now and will bring equality and freedom to the common man. To us, Siân. Once we can vote, we can have some say in the condition of our own lives. We will no longer be slaves. All the men of the valley have to be persuaded to sign it and to force its passage through Parliament. This is no time for fear of how our masters will punish us.”
Siân felt coldness in her nostrils and the beginnings of dizziness in her head. This was worse than last night.
Owen stopped talking to wrap an arm about her waist and turn her against him. He kissed her hard and long. She set her arms about his neck. Life would be good with Owen. He had a skilled, secure job and the rarity of a house of his own since his mother’s death the year before. He was respected by the other workers. He was handsome. She would be able to give him sturdy children and would be able to get out of the mine. Except that it all seemed a little calculated. She had been determined to be one of her people. Was she now trying to force her way to the top just so that she could be more comfortable than most of the others? If she was honest with herself, she would have to admit that she did not love Owen as she had always dreamed of loving a man. But then she had not loved Gwyn that way either. Perhaps there was no such thing.
And perhaps there was no such thing as a comfortably secure future with Owen. Perhaps they had no future together. How long would it be before the Marquess of Craille made his move? Should she warn Owen to run away? But he would not go. She knew he would not. She tightened her arms about his neck.
“Mmm.” He nuzzled her neck. “We will go up the mountain, then, will we, Siân?”
It was a question he had asked twice before. All the town courtships were conducted on the hillside. It was tradition. There was nowhere else to find any privacy in the crowded houses and narrow streets of the valley. Advanced courtships proceeded on the mountainside, higher up, where there was more assurance of being quite alone. She had been up on the mountain once with Gwyn a week before their wedding. It was where she had lost her virginity, as she had known she would when she had said yes. That was what going up on the mountain meant. The ground had been hard and cold. She had been almost unable to breathe beneath Gwyn’s weight.
“Not tonight, Owen,” she said, wanting to go, wanting to settle her future once and for all, wanting to forget her sick fears. Owen was a chapelgoer despite his frequent criticisms of the minister. If he took her up the mountain, he would marry her afterward. Asking her to go was just one way of proposing to her. She wanted to go with him—part of her wanted to go. “Not yet.”
“A tease are you, then?” he said. “Your kisses say yes, Siân. Very gentle I will be if you come with me. You think I cannot be gentle because I am big?”
She kissed his lips. “Give me time,” she said. “I am sure you can be wonderfully gentle, Owen.”
“Summer will be over soon, mind,” he said. “It will be cold on the mountain when autumn comes.”
“I don’t mean to tease.” She turned her head to rest her cheek against his shoulder. “I just don’t want to go yet, Owen.” But part of her did want it. She wanted the reassurance of a man’s loving. She had liked that part of marriage with Gwyn—except for that one time on the mountain. There was comfort in being that close to another human being.
“Next week I’ll be asking again, mind,” he said. “You are the prettiest woman in Cwmbran, Siân Jones, married or single.”
She smiled at him. “And you are the handsomest man, Owen Parry,” she said.
He kissed her again, briefly. “Home now, then, is it?” he said. “And early rising for the morning shift?”
She nodded and smiled ruefully.
“Ah, Siân,” he said, bending his head close to hers once more, “you were not made to be down the mine, girl.”
“No man or woman was,” she said, “but we all need to eat.” She linked her arm through his and raised her face to the sunset. She breathed in fresh air once more before they descended the hill to the town. She hoped she would be able to sleep. She hoped that by some miracle her terrors were unfounded.
ALEX took his daughter for a walk during the evening. She should have been going to bed, according to her nurse, but she was fretful and he felt guilty for having left her alone all day. She had had nothing to do beyond exploring as much of the house and the park as her nurse had allowed. Apparently her nurse was rather fearful of Wales and the Welsh and had not given her a great deal of freedom.
Alex took her to walk on the hills. They looked very different in the light of evening, he found, the heather brightened on their side of the valley by the rays of the evening sun. Last night seemed now rather like a dream.
It was definitely picturesque, he thought, stopping to gaze down into the valley and across the river to the hills opposite. Verity clung quietly to his hand. Picturesque and peaceful. A different world. It seemed that he must be separated by oceans and continents from his own world. But it felt strangely good to be here. Perhaps in time he would come to understand the industry on which the wealth of the property depended. Perhaps he would come to know the people who lived and worked here. Perhaps he would be content to stay for a while.
“What are they doing, Papa?” Verity was pointing downward.
He smiled. He had noticed them too, the couple below, though he had kept his eyes off them until now. They obviously thought themselves unobserved.
“They are kissing,” he said. “Men and women do that when they are considering marrying each other. And when they are married. It is to show that they care for each other.”
“Like you kiss me at bedtime,” she said. “But you do not take so long about it, Papa.”
“It is a little different with men and women,” he said. “But we must not stare and intrude on their privacy, even if they cannot see us. What do you think?” With a sweep of one arm he indicated the slope about them, the valley below, and the hills and sunset opposite.
“I think it is very lovely, Papa,” she said, “though I do not like all that smoke coming from those chimneys down there.” She wrinkled her nose and pointed to the ironworks, where the furnaces were kept lit day and night. “I think Grandmama was wrong, though. She said we were coming to the back of beyond, and she made it sound like somewhere no one would wish to be.”
He smiled. The setting sun was turning the sky orange behind the hills opposite and was making a gold ribbon of the river. He glanced down involuntarily at the lovers again. They were no longer embracing, but were still standing close together. A tall, slim woman with long dark hair, and a broad-chested, dark-haired man only a little taller than she. He had seen them both before, if the distance did not deceive his eyes. He was last night’s leader and today’s half-naked puddler. She was the maiden of Cwmbran. Though perhaps not a maiden after all.
Alex felt a sudden and quite unexpected stabbing of envy and loneliness. They seemed somehow a part of their surroundings. A part of this picturesque and remote Welsh valley whose steep hillsides closed it in away from the world.
Except that the world had come looking for it last night.
The sun was dropping behind the hills opposite, deepening the orange to red. Already it was dusk in the valley. Soon it would be dark. He felt something—some longing, some yearning that he could not quite grasp or name. Some sense, perhaps, of being an outsider in something that was beautiful. Some sense of being in a place where he did not belong but wanted to belong. Some sense of—home. But no, that could not be it. He could not put words to the feeling. The valley was lovely despite the signs of industry, and he was seeing it at its loveliest, at sunset on a summer evening. Was it surprising that he was affected by its beauty and a little dissatisfied that there was no one with whom to share it except his young daughter?
The two lovers, he saw, looking downward again, were making their way down toward the terraced houses, arm in arm.
“Well,” he said, looking at his daughter, who was unusually quiet, “shall we go home before it gets dark and we get lost?”
“But I am with you, Papa,” she said, still holding tightly to his hand. “Are we going to live here forever?”
“Perhaps not forever,” he said. “But for a while. Will you mind?”
“No,” she said. And she added with the candor of a child, “It annoys me to be with Grandmama sometimes. She thinks that if I am enjoying myself I must be doing something wrong. That is silly, is it not, Papa?”
Yes, very. But one had to be loyal to one’s mother-in-law. “Grandmama wants you to grow up to be a proper lady,” he said.
“If a proper lady frowns all the time, I do not want to be one, Papa,” she said firmly.
He wisely dropped the topic. But she was not quite finished.
“Nurse is just as bad,” she said. “She would not let me go downstairs today to talk with the servants, as I do at home. And she would allow me to walk only just outside the house, with her close by. You know how fast and how far Nurse walks. She will never allow me out here on the hills. She thinks I might get lost or eaten by wolves. There are no wolves, are there, Papa? People have funny ideas about Wales, don’t they? I think Nurse is just lazy.”
And rather elderly. He had kept her as Verity’s nurse because she was the one woman who had been with his daughter since birth—and because it was his mother-in-law who had originally selected her. But Verity needed more than a nurse. She needed companionship, but he could not spend a great deal of his own time with her.
“Perhaps it is time for a governess,” he said. “You are six years old, after all. I shall have to see what I can do.” He should have thought of it before they came. He should have seen about hiring someone and bringing her with them.
“Grandmama taught me how to read and do sums,” she said, tripping along at his side. “I don’t need a governess, Papa. Just someone to take me out. Someone who is willing to do things with me.”
A governess. Yes. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said.
He wondered foolishly and uncharacteristically what he would do for companionship. And he thought again about the strongly muscled puddler and the dark-haired woman whom he himself had kissed the night before.
She had aroused an unwelcome yearning in him. He could still feel it.
* * *
Alex slept, as always, with his window wide open. He woke during the night with the feeling that something had woken him, though he did not know what. It must be the moonlight, he thought, opening his eyes to find it in a bright band across his bed. In a short while it would be right on his face.
If he turned over onto his side, could he ignore it? He felt too cozy and too lazy to get out to close the curtains. But he did so with a sigh. Moonlight on his head would definitely keep him awake.
He stood at the window for a few moments before pulling the curtains. He rested his hands on the sill and drew in a deep breath of fresh air as he looked out over treetops to the hills. It was as bright a night as last night. Though a little chillier, he thought, shivering slightly. He reached up a hand to one of the curtains.
But his hand froze there. There it was again. The sound that had woken him. He remembered it now that it was being repeated. A mournful and prolonged howling. Wolves? He frowned. Were there wolves? There was more than one of them. But more than one animal too. There were howls, but there were also bellows, as if there were cattle out there.
Alex shivered again. The sounds seemed somehow out of place in the peace of the valley. And almost human in their plaintiveness. He must remember to mention them to Miss Haines, his housekeeper, in the morning. And to Barnes. He did not want Verity wandering outside the park, governess or no governess, if there really were wild animals out there.
He pulled the curtains together and went back to the warmth of his bed. He heard the sounds three times more before falling back to sleep.
* * *
Siân came surging awake and up to a sitting position in her cupboard bed. Oh, no. Oh, Lord. Dear Lord. Pray no. Pray she had only been dreaming. She stared wide-eyed into the darkness, listening intently. But there was nothing. She had been just dreaming after all.
After a minute or two she lay down again, but she still stared upward, alert for the sounds she dreaded to hear. It was just that she had been worrying about Iestyn. Dear, sweet-tempered Iestyn, always her favorite brother-in-law. He had been only twelve when she had married Gwyn. She had tried to fill his thirst for knowledge by sharing her own remembered store of knowledge from schooldays, though he had learned to read and write at Sunday School. She had listened to his dreams and her heart had ached for the boy who was destined for the mines regardless of dreams. She had been worrying about him all day and when she had fallen asleep. That was what had made her dream the sounds.
And then she was sitting bolt upright again, in a cold sweat. Howls, wails, bellows. Scotch Cattle. Oh, Lord. Oh, dear Lord. She prayed frantically and incoherently.
She had not heard them many times in her life, but the sound of them had always had the power to turn her legs to jelly and her stomach to a churning mass. She had always burrowed far beneath the bedclothes and pressed her fingers into her ears. But this time she could not so dissociate herself from what was going on outside. This time Iestyn might be involved. It might be Iestyn they were after.
But he was just a boy. And he had signed the Charter. Surely they would not hold it against him that he had refused to pay his penny to join the Chartist Association? They must have bigger prey than Iestyn.
But even that thought was not consoling.
The Scotch Cattle were a secret organization of men who appointed themselves enforcers of group action in the valleys. They always worked at night and always wore disguise. No one knew who they were. It was said that Cattle worked in valleys other than their own so that they would not be recognized and so that sentiment would not soften their hearts. But who could know for sure?
If ever there was an attempt to form a union or to get unanimous action on a strike, the Scotch Cattle became active. For always there would be some dissenting voices, some men who for one reason or other refused to act with the majority. There was usually a warning first, a frightening nocturnal visit from the Cattle or perhaps merely the leaving of a note if the recipient was known to be able to read. Then punishment—the destruction of possessions, sometimes total. And very often a whipping up on the mountain.
Siân had always considered it a scandal and a disgrace. Life was so very hard. Surely the only way it could be made bearable was for the people to cling together in love and mutual support. And they did much of the time. Life was lived richly in Cwmbran despite the long hours of work and the hard and dirty conditions and the danger and low wages. But always times like this came along to spoil everything. And to terrify them all in their beds.
But there were men—and women too—who would say that the Cattle were necessary. She remembered Owen saying the night before that unanimity was essential. Perhaps it was. But did it have to be enforced by terror and violence? She would never believe so.
And then the howling came again, and Siân pressed a clenched fist against her mouth to stop herself from screaming and giving in to panic. Who were the recipients of their visits? Was it just the warnings tonight? Or were there men even at this moment being dragged up the mountain? She heard a creaking on the stairs and moaned.
“Siân?” It was Emrys’s voice.
She pushed back the blankets and stepped out barefoot onto the kitchen floor. “Uncle Emrys?” Her voice shook. “Scotch Cattle?”
“Yes, fach,” he said. “Scared, are you?”
She crossed the room toward his darkened form and pushed her hand into his reassuringly warm one. “I hate it,” she said. “It is not necessary, surely?”
“There were those who would not sign the Charter,” he said, crossing to the window and holding the curtain back with his free hand so that he could peer out. “It is important that everyone sign. The government in London must be made to see that it is not just a few cranks who are demanding the changes.”
What People are Saying About This
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“One of the best!” – New York Times bestselling author Julia Quinn
"Balogh is today’s superstar heir to the marvelous legacy of Georgette Heyer, (except a lot steamier!)”— New York Times bestselling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips
"With her brilliant, beautiful and emotionally intense writing Mary Balogh sets the gold standard in historical romance." – New York Times bestselling author Jayne Ann Krentz
"When it comes to historical romance, Mary Balogh is one of my favorites!" – New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James