Gwyneth had lived all her life on the North York Moors with her parents, Wilfred and Eleanora Brickell.
Gwyneth had two sisters and a brother, her brother Miles was the eldest, he was 23 and he worked the farm with his father. Mary and Susana were her 19 year old twin sisters. Gwyneth was 21 and spent her days helping her mother with her dressmaking.
The twins worked in the local town of Brunswick Bay, Mary in the dressmakers shop owned by her mother, and Susana in the bakery.
The family lived a simple life and were happy folk. In Gwyneth’s spare time she loved to write poetry and short sonnets. On occasions her parents would get her to play the harpsichord and sing when they had friends around for dinner.
Quite often the Campbell’s would come over accompanied by their son James and their daughter Sophie.
Wilfred and Eleanora always hoped that James might marry one of their daughters.
As Gwyneth was the eldest her mother kept pushing her to take an interest in James but Gwyneth always insisted they were just friends.
James was a good-looking, hardworking young man who ran the local pub in town. Sophie also worked there with James, helping with the cooking and looking after the occasional guest who stayed over.
James was aware that both sets of parents would like to see him take an interest in the girls, but he thought of them more as cousins rather than as a potential wife.
After dinner the young ones would usually play charades, laugh, sing and Gwyneth would read some of her poetry. They had fun teasing each other and generally had a good time. Life was good for the two families.
Winter was fast approaching, and one night the rain was so heavy and the winds were blowing very hard. James was aware how rough the weather was and he went over to the dressmakers hoping to tell Gwyneth he felt it too dangerous for the girls to ride in the buggy home.
“You can stay in the pub tonight, all three of you. It will be much safer and you will be warm and dry,” James said, looking at Gwyneth in such a way he had to convince her it was not safe to travel.
“If you are sure James, we do not want to be an imposition,” replied Gwyneth.
“That’s fine, and it’s what our parents would want me to do,” James said with a reassuring smile.
Gwyneth smiled as she agreed and told James she would go and fetch her sisters, and then they would make their way to the pub.
On arrival James told his sister Sophie to go and get the girls some warm soup then show them to their rooms upstairs.
Gwyneth thanked James and Sophie for their kindness. The bedrooms were very comfortable. Gwyneth slept in one bed while to twins slept together, tucking themselves up under the big warm duvet to sleep through the storm.
When they woke in the morning the storm had passed and outside there broken branches all around. The streets were full of mud and slush.
Sophie prepared breakfast for the guests before they headed out to work.
Gwyneth went into the kitchen to find James to thank him for being so kind.
“It was so nice of you and Sophie to go to all this trouble for us, thank you,” said Gwyneth giving James a hug. James was a bit taken aback but admitted to himself he kind of liked being hugged. “Anytime,” he called out as the girls left, “see you all soon,” he added.
A few days later as Gwyneth was walking by the pub on her way to the dressmaker’s shop James called out to her.
“Gwyneth, why don’t you come in and have a bite of lunch with me today, on the house of course,” he said with a big grin.
Gwyneth had already packed a small lunch but decided it would be nice to have some company and agreed.
“I will see you at one if that suits you?” Gwyneth called back.
James just gave a wave of approval.
Gwyneth felt quite excited and wondered why this was, she had known James for years and had always thought of him like a cousin. Suddenly it dawned on her that her interest in him felt a little more than just a friend.
Lunch was pleasant and Gwyneth shared some homemade butterscotch cake with James.
“Did you make this lovely cake Gwyneth?” he asked.
“Sadly no, Mother made it she is a great baker. I am not much of a cook,” she replied with a sheepish giggle.
“Oh but you can sing, write poetry and play the piano. I think that is an accomplishment all in itself,” James said reaching for her hand.
Gwyneth blushed, she felt like a silly young girl. Why was James having this effect on her she wondered? After lunch James suggested they ride home together as it was Friday and he was returning to stay the weekend with his parents. Sophie was going to stay on in town and look after the Pub with John, the helper who looked after the place when James was not there.
Gwyneth agreed as her sisters were not going to be going home until the Saturday as they were attending a recital with a friend.
During the ride home James and Gwyneth chatted freely and seemed comfortable in each other’s company.
“Maybe we can go for a walk tomorrow, I could pop over early afternoon if you have no plans?” James enquired.
Gwyneth hardly had time to reply when suddenly there was a rush of horses behind their carriage. In a flash a masked man opened the door and pulled James out.
“What do you want? Leave the lady alone,” he yelled before having a hand shoved over his mouth.
Gwyneth felt panic, she did not know what to do, she was so afraid for James.
Abruptly the carriage door was flown open and a dirty-looking man got in.
“We are not going to hurt you lady,” he announced, “Just you do as you are told and you and your friend will come to no harm.”
Gwyneth was trying her best to hold back tears, James had his hands tied behind his back and was made to walk alongside the coach.
“Where are you taking us? What do you want from us?” he asked to one of the men who pushed him along.
“You will know all in good time young fella. Just do as you are told and you and the lady will not get hurt”, called back the scruffy man.
“How do I know that?” James replied.
“Well you will just have to wait and see like a good fella won’t you?” snarled the man.
Gwyneth felt ill to the stomach, she knew her parents would be worried that she had not arrived home by now. James’ parents would also be concerned.
In the distance she could see a rundown old house and the coach headed towards the front door. It looked ancient and unused; she had never seen it before.
Gwyneth was dragged out of the coach and pushed inside along with James.
Inside, the house smelt musty. It was dirty and the curtains were full of dust. The atmosphere made her immediately unhappy.
From out of one of the rooms came another old man. He looked about eighty, he was smelly, unkempt and his teeth were black.
Gwyneth was frightened; she edged her way closer to James for comfort.
“Sit yourselves down at the table and have some of my wine”, said the old man.
“No thank you”, said James,” why have we been brought here?” he asked.
“Suit yourselves then” replied the old man, “Well you might ask…… well there is a little thing of money and I think your parents would pay handsomely for your safe return, don’t you?”, sneered the man, grinning with his dreadful teeth.
“You are being ridiculous sir, our parents will not pay a ransom for our safe return, you sir are deluded if you think they will”, said James angrily.
“Well you better hope they will young sir or otherwise…”, and his voice trailed off, “You can sleep in the bed in the next room. Mind you we will be watching you, so don’t think of trying to make a run for it or the dogs will eat you alive”. The man cackled in James’ face.
Gwyneth started to whimper, and James tried to comfort her as best he could with his hands still tied up.
Both Gwyneth and James lay on the bed only sleeping a little on and off. Outside the door was one of the men who kidnapped them. He had a dreadful cough which made Gwyneth feel ill. Silent tears streamed down her face as she nodded off.
Morning came and it was dark and grey. Gwyneth could hear men talking. Unexpectedly the door burst open. One of the men was carrying a tray with some bread on it, two mugs and a pitcher of water.
Gwyneth was thirsty and hungry and decided she needed to have little, James did the same.
After the door was closed, Gwyneth started to weep.
“My parents are not rich, they cannot pay a large ransom for me James”, she said looking up into his face with her tear stained eyes.
“My parents have a little money and they will do their best, I can expect nothing more from them. Try not fret Gwyneth, it will be alright”, James said quietly as he brushed her hair away from her eyes.
A few minutes later the scruffy old man came into the room and he walked over to Gwyneth with a pair of scissors.
Gwyneth became frightened but the old man swiftly cut a lock of her hair and a lock of James hair before walking out without a word. James whispered, “That will be to provide our parent’s with proof they have us”. Gwyneth looked at him but said nothing.
Soon the sound of horse hooves were heard heading off into the distance.
The old man came back into the room and told the young couple to come out and go and sit in the big dark lounge, “This used to be a wonderful house, it was majestic and grand, and now look at it”, he grumbled as he gestured Gwyneth and James to sit, “I used to have money but it was all taken from me by people like your parents. I fell on hard times and no one came to my aid, my wife left me and all I have is my two sons”.
The man sat silently for a moment and then continued, “My land is useless and my house is falling down around me, and someone has to pay for my misfortune.”
After another silence James replied, “Sir it is not the fault of my parents or my friend’s parents. What happened to you happened to many people, it was unfortunate but it is certainly not our families fault.”
“Well someone has to pay, and make our lives better so my sons will have a chance after I am gone,” the old man growled.
He stalked off, leaving James and Gwyneth alone in the room.
During the day James and Gwyneth sat quietly in the big room, nervous to talk or make a wrong move. They whispered softly as not to wake the old man sitting in his chair.
“I feel sorry for him in a way,” James said to Gwyneth.
“Me too…”, replied Gwyneth,
“I wonder what happened to him for him to end up like this,” James mused aloud.
For hours they sat in the musty room, the old man waking occasionally to check on them and make sure they had not tried to escape.
Finally the old man opened one eye and said, “Don’t you even get the smallest idea of escaping because you will be caught, and it will be all the worse for you both”, before falling back to sleep.
Gwyneth and James were starting to get hungry and wondered what they might get to eat.
Around eight o’clock the big front door opened and in walked the two sons. They were carrying a bag of food and as they walked by Gwyneth and James they threw them each an apple.
Gwyneth was so hungry she almost chocked on the apple.
“Slow down Gwyneth you will make yourself sick,” said James as he moved closer to Gwyneth to try and help her.
One of the sons went over to his father and said, “We have food father, enough for a month.”
“Never mind that Jacob, where is the ransom money? That what we need more than food!” the old man growled.
With that comment the other son looked up from the fire.
“Henry get your fat arse over here and help me tell father what’s going on,” Jacob yelled.
Gwyneth and James tried to listen to the conversation; they could see the old man was at first annoyed but then seemed to calm down. The old man then walked over to them.
“Right you will be our guest for longer apparently; your parents are coming up with money so you may as well go to bed. It could be a day or two. Here, take this bread and some dried fruit with you,” snarled the old man, throwing a small sack at James.
Gwyneth started to cry. James put his arm around her, “Everything will be alright, I promise”, he reassured her.
The next morning the young couple were invited by the old man to join him for some breakfast.
“Thank you sir,” said Gwyneth.
“Don’t need to thank me lass, thank your parents, it’s their food you are eating. You certainly live well”, he added.
Gwyneth frowned, “Sir, both of our parents are hardworking and do an honest day’s work, in fact we all work so you are wrong to assume we are privileged.”
James tried to hush her up with a nudge.
The old man’s eyes narrowed on her, “Well an honest day’s work got me and my sons nowhere. We lost everything years ago and have never been able to recover,” spat the old man.
“I am sorry for your misfortune, but it is not my families’ fault and it is wrong of you to hold us for ransom,” Gwyneth replied no longer feeling fearful.
“Shhhh Gwyneth, don’t rile the old guy up or it could go badly for us”, James whispered feeling worried for their safety.
The old man simply stood and left the room. James breathed a sigh of relief.
After breakfast Gwyneth and James followed the old man into the large dark lounge. You could see the dust in the air where the sun peeped through the curtains. It was not a healthy atmosphere.
James walked over to the old man’s chair, “Sir is there something I can do to help while I am here? I do not like to be idle.”
Gwyneth looked totally taken aback.
“Now why would you want to do that? Up to tricks are you?” growled the old man.
“I am merely happy to lend a hand, Gwyneth might also like to help tidy up for you, and we might as well keep busy while we are your guest,” James replied innocently.
“Guest!” laughed the old man, “Ha, I have not had guests in years. Once upon a time this house was full of guests, we had wonderful parties and it was one of the best houses in the county…”
“I am sure it can be again”, said James, “If you give up this notion of trying to get a ransom for us, then we might be able to talk some of the locals into coming here and lending a hand to get this house back to its former glory.”
“You are just trying to trick me young sir”, the old man sneered back at him.
“That I am not, I assure you, what would be the point of that?” replied James.
“Hmmm, I will discuss it with my boys later after lunch…maybe…”, he said, studying James’ face for signs of trickery.
Gwyneth asked if she could help make lunch and went to the kitchen to clean some plates.
Bread, cheese, cold cuts were served. Jacob and Henry scoffed it down; it was the best food they had seen in years. The old man burped his way through his meal, barely stopping for air.
After lunch the man’s sons went to their rooms to sleep it off.
James asked if he could start repairing a few things and advised that Gwyneth wanted to do some cleaning. The old man was too tired to argue and agreed, “I will be keeping my eye on you both so don’t do anything stupid”.
Both James and Gwyneth took down curtains, washed them and hung them on the old clothes line. Gwyneth dusted, cleaned and opened some windows.
There was much to be done and it would take days but they had made a start. They could soon tell what a grand house it had been for themselves. The freshly washed curtains looked charming. The cobwebs and dust were all removed.
Both James and Gwyneth were exhausted by bed time. They could tell that the family was secretly pleased at how the house was looking, though they wouldn’t say as much.
Before heading to bed James told Jacob and Henry he needed them to help him outside. There was much work to be done and he was not prepared to do it on his own.
“I will need to wash your clothes as well, so have them ready”, called out Gwyneth.
Neither Gwyneth nor James talked in their room; they were both exhausted and fell straight to sleep.
The next morning James had to go and find Henry and Jacob so they could help with the outside chores. At first they were hesitant but soon agreed it was in their best interests to do so.
Gwyneth did more washing and cleaning, and then tidied the bedrooms.
The old man seemed to be in a total state of shock, he had not seen his house looking so nice and clean for years.
Gwyneth said nothing but she could see he was starting to relax more and his demeanour was softening.
“I have to say you two have turned this house around. I am grateful, very grateful”, he said, with a lump in his throat.
Gwyneth just smiled.
“May I cook dinner this evening?” Gwyneth said, looking at the old man earnestly.
“You cook young missy,” the old man called back as he wandered off.
After eating a hearty dinner made from the food her parents had sent, Gwyneth and James made their way to bed.
Both were tired after a long day trying to help the old man and his sons.
Before falling asleep Gwyneth said to James, “I wonder how long this is going to go on, I wonder what our parents are doing about the situation…” she asked.
“They will be working on something; don’t worry Gwyneth, it will all be alright,” he sleepily replied, “I don’t want my parents to worry about us though.”
“I am sure they are James,” Gwyneth said as she hopped into bed exhausted.
Next morning they woke early with the sound of horse hooves arriving at the house. Suddenly there was a thunderous bang on the old door.
James went over to the window to see what was going on. There he could see the figure of his father and Gwyneth’s father, her brother Miles and some other men.
The two fathers were invited into the lounge by the old man. The door could be heard being shut behind them.
James hurriedly threw on his clothes and told Gwyneth to get dressed.
As James reached the door he could hear the sound of raised voices. He was not sure if he should enter but he knew his father and Gwyneth’s father were in there. Gently James opened the door, his father looked over at him and gestured him to sit down.
The old man said in a gruff voice, “They are not going to pay a ransom for you and the girlie”.
“And they should not, this is wrong,” James replied.
James father stood up and looked directly at his son.
“Though we cannot condone his actions, what we have offered is for some of the local folk to come and help Sir John and his sons to get back on their feet. We are also prepared to offer him a short term loan.” James father announced.
“Well, I think that is a grand offer and you would be wise to accept it. My father could have had your sons arrested for kidnapping Gwyneth and I, so I would say you should think yourself very lucky”, James said sternly, adding “I didn’t realise you were a Knight of the Realm…”.
The old man looked at him with a half-smile, “I will discuss this with my sons but I suppose I should accept the offer. It would be good to see Rosehill Manor back to its former glory, like it was when my wife was still here”.
As it was getting late Sir John invited everyone to stay the night while he talked over the offer.
Early next morning Gwyneth made her way into the kitchen and started preparing porridge and making tea.
As soon as it was ready she summoned everyone in to sit around the big table in the parlour. Sir John came in with a smile and sat down, “Thank you lass for making this food for us.”
“Well Sir, have you made a decision regarding my fathers’ very generous offer?” said James with a hopeful smile as he entered the kitchen.
“As a matter of fact my boys and I have discussed this at length,” he smiled, “We will accept the offer of help, plus the loan but we need to sort out terms satisfactory to us all.”
“I am very pleased and very happy you have seen all this in the right light”, remarked James’ father.
Wilfred Brickell was a decent man and was prepared not to take the matter further regarding his daughters’ kidnapping,
“It is time for new beginnings for all of us”, said Sir John, “time for us to be good neighbours and form a decent community for our children”.
Both James, his father and Wilfred agreed it was indeed a time to make Sir John’s family home the lovely home it once was.
Gwyneth rode home in the carriage with her father and James rode with his father.
Everyone was grateful the ordeal for the young couple was over. The future looked better and once home; Gwyneth and James decided they would start courting.
Several months later they would marry and Sir John and his sons were invited. The reception was going to be held in Rosehill Manor, which now looked stunning after being repainted and smartened up.
At the reception Sir John said he would always be indebted to the young couple who came into his life. They had given him fresh hope for the future and life would now be better for everyone.
By Kay Rayner. Read more here.