- Author: Malcolm Ballard
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Chapter One (1978)
The bedroom was dappled with early morning sunlight and a gentle breeze wafted in through the half-open window. It ruffled the curtains with their pattern of cornflowers and brought with it a pot-pourri of fragrances from the garden and the fields beyond. A blackbird perched in the lower branches of the old oak tree by the garden gate paid homage to the golden summer and the warmth of the sun with its vibrant, joyful song, glad to be alive. In contrast, Gina Allsop sat at her old oak dressing table, by the bedroom window, too absorbed by misery and despair to care about her surroundings. Wracked with guilt and shame and dazed by the wrath of her father, she stared into the large, oval mirror at her pale tear-stained face, the picture of abject misery. Never, in her young life, had she felt so totally alone and uncertain of her future. The curtains fluttered, caught by the breeze as if shaken by an unseen hand, and she heard the sound of Muffin, her pony, whinnying from the paddock out the back, beyond the cottage. He had sensed she was leaving, of that Gina was certain, and the thought was churning her stomach, causing her even greater distress. Within hours she would be gone from the cottage, maybe never to return, and all she wanted to do was die. With a loud, agonised cry, like that of a wounded animal, she let her head slump forward onto her crossed arms and the sound of her sobbing drifted out into the sun-drenched garden.
The solid, stone cottage on the Tanglewood Estate, where Gina lived with her parents, commanded spectacular views across a gently undulating Dorset landscape of fields and woodland that had changed little in two centuries. It was situated not far from the village of Kenton Magna, a community born of the same families for generations and it had been her home for the sixteen years of her young life. Although her parents were not well off, she had never been deprived of any of the basic essentials of living, in fact she had enjoyed the rural existence, defined by the activities on the farm and such social events as might be organised by the community. The only blight on her upbringing, which affected her more as she grew older, was the sad situation with her father, Frank Allsop, who endured on-going acute trauma due to an accident he had had on the farm. While replacing tiles on the roof of the cottage he had missed his footing and slipped, tumbling down the slope and falling over the edge. As he landed in the garden below his head struck the brick path resulting in Frank suffering a serious concussion. Initially it was feared he might have incurred a brain injury but as the weeks passed after the accident he appeared to be coming back to his old self. It wasn't until some months later that depression set in and the once good-natured, outgoing Frank was randomly, and at the time inexplicably, beset by dark moods, flashes of temper and brooding silences
Doris Lightfoot had liked the look of the tall, broad-shouldered young Frank the moment she had set eyes on him. He had an open, honest face and there always seemed to be a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips. Besides, it made a change to have someone new around to put the local lads on their mettle. They were never keen on competition from newcomers which made Doris all the more determined to set her cap at Frank. She’d heard that he’d been transferred from Lord Easterbrook’s estate in Scotland, where he had been employed in a reserved occupation, to his farm in Dorset, some scandal or other no doubt, she suspected, but that only added spice to his attraction. Anyway, she knew what she wanted and was determined to get it. They had become engaged in 1956 and were married a year later. Their first child, Mary, had been born in the summer of 1959 when they had been living with Doris's parents on their Dorset farm. The arrival of a new family member meant the Lightfoot home was not big enough to accommodate them all but, fortunately, Tanglewood Cottage, one of several properties on Lord Easterbrook’s Dorset estate, had become available almost immediately. They had been living there in domestic bliss for two years, with Frank working as an underkeeper on the estate, when he had the accident which changed his life and the lives of those closest to him for ever.
Given the nature of depression Frank was not the only one to suffer. Those around him were snared by the same net, victims of a man struggling with an illness that struck at the heart of his being and made him prone to personality changes and mood swings. His Scottish stubborness meant he refused to see a doctor 'Why? What could he do f'me?' was his answer to Doris's pleading. She knew, her intuition told her unequivocally, that his condition was somehow connected to his accident even though it was some time ago but what to do? When they had become engaged and later talked about a family, Frank had expressed a wish to have a boy to give the child the childhood he had never had. Could this be a way to help him, if they tried for another child? All she wanted was to have her old Frank back and she would do whatever it took.
Gina had been conceived six months later and slipped easily into the world at the end of the summer in 1952, a sister for Mary who was now three years old. It seemed to be a turning point for Frank but for the wrong reason. The failure of Doris to give him the son he had once spoken of had the opposite effect of what she had been hoping for. Far