The prologue hints that the story will be a flashback. Peggy is nearly eighty years old in 1860. She reflects back to 1800 and how she met and fell in love with Ralph Duggan. Of her memories, she narrates, “There are two nights that I recall especially. On both of them, the moonlight was so bright that the Bristol Channel could have been made of molten silver. On one of those nights, a child was conceived. On the other, a man died.”
Her flashback begins when Peggy Shawe, her mother, and their neighbors were walking behind the cart carrying her father’s coffin. Josiah Duggan and his two sons, Ralph and Philip, were among the mourners, as her father had business dealings with them. When Peggy met Ralph, they seemed to have instant rapport. But, he wasn’t the man everyone assumed she would marry. James Bright, a close neighbor and farmer, was her presumed husband to be. When James actually asked her to marry him, she put him off. Instead she accepted a marriage proposal from Ralph. Ralph’s family were ‘free traders’ (smugglers) and Peggy’s mother was against her daughter marrying him. However, Peggy would soon be eighteen. Her mother reluctantly agreed, Ralph bought the ring, and life seemed cheery. But, Ralph had to leave suddenly, taking his brother away after Philip is accused of murder. Their futures are no longer certain and cherished plans have a way of refusing to cooperate.
Many of these characters made bad decisions, and that’s realistic and part of life. No matter how many times we as readers stand on the sidelines and try to shake some sense into them, they’re still going to break each other’s heart, and quite possibly break our hearts for them along the way. The story started out so strongly, I thought it was going to be one of those ‘I don’t want it to end’ books. However, several chapters prior to the end, it fell into a summary type of writing, presenting many additional characters that had not been given sufficient character depth to make me care about them. Overall, it was a fascinating look at life in that time period, their way of life, and their hardships. Rating: 3 out of 5.