Highcragg House

It is 1838. Young, unworldly Molly Dade is sent by her father as companion to an invalid lady, the mistress of Highcragg House. Her new home is a wild and dramatic region of high, rocky moorland and numerous lead mines. Moses Dade is himself a prosperous mine-owner and his innocent daughter adores him. But closer acquaintance with her new mistress’s husband and owner of the local mines, Jared Digby, leads to growing awareness of her imminent danger. Through sorrow, tragedy and personal betrayal Molly ultimately finds deep love and acceptance among the simple people of the hills whose harsh lives she will henceforth joyfully share as mistress of Highcragg House.

A few moments from Highcragg House:

The events of the following day, however, drove such idle speculation abruptly from my brain. I have spoken of the ease which pervaded Highcragg when Mr Digby was away. It was not merely Brench’s manner to Joseph which changed so markedly when master returned but that of the female servants when they, too, kept their distance. Otherwise they both made Joseph a great pet, delighting in allowing him to ‘help’ in simple domestic tasks and chattering to him as he trotted behind them around the house. On this particular Wednesday morning the usual great baking was going forward in the kitchen and Joseph, as he loved to do, was standing on a chair with his little velvet frock covered in a large tea-cloth, pinned behind at the neck and waist. He had been given his own small mixing bowl and was up to his elbows in flour ─ for Keziah had rolled back his sleeves ─ and chattered nineteen to the dozen with Mrs Pritchard and Keziah while the latter took loaves from the bread oven. Bringing in Mrs Digby’s breakfast tray I thought I had seldom witnessed such a pleasant scene of innocent harmony and laying it down as I came in I was in the middle of telling them so when I saw Keziah freeze as she stooped to rake the ash, straightening slowly as she stared at a point behind me. Mrs Pritchard too had stopped dead, gazing at the same spot while Joseph, instantly silenced, suddenly looked frightened. I turned to see Mr Digby in the doorway behind me, returned home many hours before he was due tonight, a thunderous expression on his face.

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A fearful commotion had begun in the hall with the sound of running footsteps, doors slamming and the urgent clamour of voices. In a brief moment of silence an even more disturbing sound could just be made out, wild shrieks and screams of women and the cries of men, borne from a distance on the breeze of early evening, quite dark at this time of year. Before any of us could move Brench burst into the room, his face white and desperate.

“The Black Vein, Mr Digby ─ a terrible accident! Men killed, sir, men killed!”

He got slowly to his feet, staring at Brench while trying to clear the fumes of so much wine from his brain, striving to gain control. Then he lurched heavily from the room as my mistress and I sat motionless in our chairs, staring at each other in dread.

“Go, Molly,” she urged. “Go, I beg you and see what has happened. If it is in our power to offer help, do it, I implore you, with no heed of the consequences!”

I nodded, mute, and forced my numb limbs to obey me. Running from the room I seized a cloak from the hallway and raced after the group of men down the lane towards the scene of death.

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He saw it, and with a quick smile added, “Remember me, if ever you need a friend.”

“I will, sir.” We stood for a moment as we shook hands, both, I think, wanting to say or ask something more but unable to think what, then with another conscious smile, we parted. I ran down the path with an unfamiliar lightness in my head and breast feeling more comforted than I could ever remember, strange though it was. Something impelled me to glance back when I reached the bottom and he was still standing there, and raised an arm in acknowledgement. I waved back then turned to enter the house, just catching sight of Brench hurrying into the stable. If I did not know otherwise I would imagine he was deliberately avoiding me, I remember thinking as I ran indoors. The day was beautiful, I was filled with an unaccountable happiness and, most important of all, Mr Digby had left. Loosening the ribbons of my bonnet I thought I would just glance into the kitchen to announce my return before going upstairs. We would all enjoy our dinner in peace and then I would take Joseph out into the sunshine while his mama rested. But a strange sight met me. Keziah was standing over the range, stirring something and wiping her eyes while Mrs Pritchard was sitting at the table with her head on her hand ─ something I had never seen before. As she looked up at me I could see that she, too, had been weeping.

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“Oh, do not tease! Mr Dade, you did not tell me what a great tease your daughter was! I can see it in that fine dark eye of hers that she has guessed exactly what I mean.” I could only look stupidly at her. “I have not had to change our initials painted on the coachwork and I cannot describe the comfort! ‘Elvira,’ my dear late husband used to say to me, ‘Elvira, it is not given to everybody to attain the distinction in society that we have. Always remember who you are.’ There is no danger of that now, is there?” Her small, beady eyes, as black as two currants fixed themselves intently upon me, awaiting my response. I shook my head faintly. “Quite! For now I only have to look over the side of the phaeton when we are driving to remember exactly who I am! Is not that a good joke? And I have had to incur no extra expense, do you not see, Miss Dade? But to be serious for a moment, for I would never wish to be disrespectful, I feel I am doing as he would wish while at the same time setting out bravely under my own colours.  Not that I am in any way poor, naturally ─ I would not have you think that for a moment ─ but thriftiness is next to godliness or some such thing ─ I am not sure I have got that quite right, but I am in hopes that your dear father will agree.” She cast a winning look in his direction and I was astonished to see that he was smiling indulgently. It was enough to set her off again. “But I see by that grave little expression, Miss Dade, exactly what you are thinking, and I hasten to correct the impression at once.”

I had a moment of alarm when I wondered whether she could, indeed, read my thoughts. “Ma’am?”

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