There, Mr. Rathbone, sir, are yer right?" the old man asked
Henry Rathbone tucked the blanket around his legs where he
sat in the pony trap, his luggage beside him. "Yes, thank
you, Wiggins," he replied gratefully. The wind had a knife-
edge to it, even here at the railway station in Penrith.
Out on the six-mile road through the snow-crusted mountains
down to Ullswater, it would get far worse. It was roughly
the middle of December, and exactly the middle of the
Wiggins climbed up into the driver's seat and urged the
horse forward. It must know its own way by now. It had come
here most days when Judah Dreghorn was alive.
But Judah was dead now—and that was Henry's miserable
reason for coming back to this wild and marvelous land he
loved. Even the place names woke memories of days tramping
up long hills, wiry grass under his feet, sweet wind in his
face and views that stretched forever. He could see in his
mind's eye the pale blue waters of Stickle Tarn looking
over toward the summit of Pavey Ark; or the snow-streaked
hills of Honister Pass. How many times had he and Judah
climbed Scafell Pike to the roof of the world, and sat with
their backs to the warm stone, eating bread and cheese and
drinking rough red wine as if it had been the food of gods?
Then three days ago he had received a letter from Antonia,
her words almost illegible on the paper, to say that Judah
had died in a stupid accident. It had not even happened on
the lake, or in one of the winter storms that raged down
the valley with wind and snow, but on the stepping stones
of the stream.
He stared around him now as the pony trap left the town and
headed along thewinding road westward. The raw, passionate
beauty of the land suited his mood. It was steep against an
unclouded sky, snow glittering so brilliantly it hurt his
eyes, blazing white on the crests, shadowed in the valleys,
gullied dark where the rocks and trees broke through.
It was ten years since the four Dreghorn brothers had last
been at home together. The family's good fortune in gaining
the estate had meant they could all follow their dreams
wherever they led. Benjamin had left his church ministry
and gone to Palestine to join in the biblical archaeology
there. Ephraim had followed his love of botany to South
Africa. His letters were full of sketches of marvelous,
unique plants, many of them so useful to man.
Nathaniel, the only other one to marry, had gone to America
to study the extraordinary geology of that land, exploring
features that Europe did not possess. He had even trekked
as far west as the rock formations of the desert
territories, and the great San Andreas fault in California.
It was there that he had died of fever, leaving his widow,
Naomi, to return now in his place.
Antonia had written in her letter that they were all coming
home for Christmas, but what a bitter and different arrival
that would be. Little wonder Antonia had wanted her
godfather to be there. She had terrible news to tell, and
no other family to help her. Her parents had died young,
she had no siblings; she had only her nine-year-old son,
Joshua, who was as bereaved as she.
Henry had known her all her life, first as a grave and
happy child, eager to learn, forever reading. She had never
tired of asking him questions. They had been friends in
Then as a young woman a slight self-consciousness in her
had put a distance between them. She had shared more
reluctantly, but he had still been the first to learn of
her love for Judah, and with her parents dead, it was he
who had given her away at her wedding.
But what could he possibly do for her now?
Henry tucked the blanket closer around himself and stared
ahead. Soon he would see the bright shield of Ullswater
ahead, and on a day as clear as this, the mountains beyond:
Helvellyn to the south, and the Blencathra range to the
north. The high tarns would be iced over, blue in the
shadows. Some of the wild animals would have their white
winter coats; the red deer would have come down to the
valleys. Shepherds would be searching for their lost sheep.
He smiled. Sheep survived very well under the snow; their
warm breath created a hole to breathe through, and the odor
of their sweat made them easy enough to find for any dog
worth his keep.
The Dreghorn estate was on the sloping land above the lake
edge, a couple of miles from the village. It was the
largest for miles, containing rich pasture, woods, streams,
and tenant farmhouses, and went right down to the lake
shore for more than a mile. The manor house was built of
Lakeland stone, three stories high with a south-facing
They went through the gates and pulled up in the driveway.
Antonia came out of the front door so soon that she must
have been waiting for them, watching at the window. She was
tall, with smooth, dark hair, and he remembered her having
a unique kind of calm beauty that showed the inner peace
that day-to-day irritations could not disturb.
Now as she walked swiftly toward him, her wide, black
skirts almost touching the gravel, her grief was clearly
troubled by anger and fear as well. Her skin was pale,
tight-stretched across her bones, and her dark eyes were
hollowed around with shadows.
He alighted quickly, going toward her.
"Henry! I'm so glad you've come," she said urgently. "I
don't know what to do, or how I can face this alone."
He put his arms around her, feeling the stiffness of her
shoulders, and kissing her gently on the cheek. "I hope you
didn't doubt I would come, my dear," he answered. "And do
everything that I can for as long as it may help."
She pulled away and suddenly her eyes filled with tears.
She controlled her voice only with the greatest
difficulty. "It is so much worse than I wrote. I'm sorry. I
don't know what to do to fight it. And I dread telling
Benjamin and Ephraim when they arrive. I believe
Nathaniel's widow will come, too. You didn't know Naomi,
"No, I did not meet her." He searched her face, wondering
what worse news she could have than Judah's death. What was
it she must fight, but had not told him?
She turned away. "Come inside." She gulped on the
words. "It's cold out here. Wiggins will bring your things
in and put them in your room. Would you like tea, crumpets?
It's a little early, but you've come a long way." She was
talking too quickly as she led the way up the steps and in
through the high, carved front doors. "The fire's hot in
the drawing room, and Joshua is still in class. He's
brilliant, you know. He's changed a lot since you were last
Inside, the hall was warmer, but it was not until they were
in the withdrawing room with its red-ochre colored walls
and the log fire roaring in the grate that the heat relaxed
him a little. He was glad to sit in one of the huge chairs
and wait for the maid to bring their tea and toasted
crumpets with hot butter.
They were halfway through them before he broke the mood. "I
think you had better tell me what else it is that troubles
you," he said gently.
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then lifted
her eyes to meet his. "Ashton Gower is saying that Judah
cheated him." Her voice shook. "He says that this whole
estate should rightfully have been his, and Judah had him
falsely imprisoned, then stole it from him."
Henry felt as if he had been struck physically, so stunned
was he by her words. Judah Dreghorn had been a judge in the
local court in Penrith, and the most honest man Henry had
ever known. The idea of his having cheated anyone was
"That's ridiculous!" he said quickly. "No one would believe
him. You must have your man of affairs warn him that if he
repeats such an idiotic and completely false charge, you
will sue him."
The shadow of a smile touched her mouth. "I have already
done that. Gower took no notice. He insists that Judah took
the estate after charging him falsely and imprisoning him,
when he knew he was innocent, all in order to buy the
estate cheaply. And of course that was before the Viking
site was found."
He was confused.
"I think you had better tell me the whole story from the
beginning. I don't remember Ashton Gower, and I know
nothing about a Viking site. What happened, Antonia?"
She drank the last of her tea, as if giving herself time to
compose her thoughts. She did not look at him but into the
dancing flames of the fire. Outside it was already growing
dark and the winter sunset lit the sky and burned orange
and gold through the south windows onto the wall.
"Years ago Ashton Gower's family owned this estate," she
began. "It belonged originally to the Colgrave family, and
the widow who inherited it married Geoffrey Gower, and was
Ashton's mother. It all seemed very straightforward to
begin with, until Peter Colgrave, a relative from the other
side of the family, raised the question as to whether the
deeds were genuine."
"The deeds to the estate?" Henry asked. "How could they not
be? Presumably Gower's father was the legal owner, on his
marriage to the Colgrave widow?"
"It was a question of dates," she replied. She looked
tired, drained of all strength. The story was miserably
familiar, even if it was also inexplicable. "To do with
Mariah Colgrave's marriage and the death of her brother-in-
law, and the birth of Peter Colgrave."
"And this Colgrave contested Gower's right to it?" he asked.
She smiled bleakly. "Actually he said the deeds were
forged, and that Ashton Gower had done it in order to
inherit it himself. He insisted it went to court, so
naturally in time it came before Judah, up in Penrith. The
first time he examined the deeds he said they looked
perfectly good, but he kept them and looked again more
closely. He became suspicious and took them to a very good
expert on documents in Kendal. He said they were definitely
not genuine. He would testify to that."
Henry leaned forward. "And did he?" he asked earnestly.
"Oh, yes. Ashton Gower stood trial for forgery, and was
found guilty. Judah sentenced him to eleven years'
imprisonment. He has just been released."
"And the estate?" Although he could guess the answer.
Perhaps he should have known, but when he had been here
before, there had always been better, happier things to
talk of—laughter, good food, and good conversation to share.
She shifted a little in her seat.
"Colgrave inherited it," she said ruefully. "But he did not
wish to live here. He put the estate on the market at a
very reasonable price. I think actually he had debts to
pay. He lived extravagantly. Judah and his brothers all put
in what they could, Judah by far the most, and they bought
it. He and I lived here. Joshua was born here." Her voice
choked with emotion and she needed a few moments to regain
He waited without speaking.
"I've never loved a place as I do this!" she said with
sudden fierce passion. "For the first time I feel
absolutely at home." She gave an impatient little gesture
of her hand. "Not the house. It's beautiful, of course, a
marvelous house. But I mean the land, the trees, the way
the light falls on the water." She searched his face. "Do
you remember the long twilight over the lake in the summer,
the evening sky? Or the valleys, grassland so green it
rolls like deep velvet into the distance, trees full and
lush, billowing like fallen clouds? The woods in spring, or
the day we followed Striding Edge up toward Helvellyn?"
He did not interrupt her. To remember the beauty that hurt
was part of grief.
She was silent for a moment, and then resumed the
story. "Of course it's worth a great deal financially as
well, even before we found the Viking site. There are the
farms, and the houses on the shore. It's easily sufficient
to provide for Benjamin, Ephraim, and Nathaniel to follow
their own passions." Her face tightened. "And now that
Nathaniel's dead, for Naomi, of course."
"What is this Viking site you keep referring to?" he asked.
She smiled. "A shepherd from one of the farms found a
silver coin and he brought it to Judah. Judah was always
interested in coins, and he knew what it was." She
smiled. "I remember how pleased he was, because it was
rather romantic, it was Anglo-Saxon, Alfred the Great, who
defeated the Danes, or at least held them at bay, in the
late 800s. The coin we found might have been part of the
Danelaw tribute, since the rest of it was Viking silver,
ornaments, jewelry, and harness. When we found the whole
treasure there were Norse Irish brooches, and arm rings,
Scandinavian neck rings, Carolingian buckles from France,
and coins from all over, even Islamic ones from Spain,
North Africa, the Middle East, and as far as Afghanistan."
Her wonder stayed for a moment or two longer, then faded as
the present intruded again.
"Judah invited professional archaeologists in, of course,"
she resumed. "And they dug very carefully. It took them all
of one summer, but they uncovered the ruins of a building,
and in it the whole hoard of coins and artifacts. Most of
the things are in a museum, but lots of people come to see
the ones we kept, and naturally they stay in the village.
Our lakeside cottages are let nearly all the time."