The wood was darker than she imagined and the noises of the scurrying animals frightened her more than she would admit.
It had seemed such a good idea to run away from home and escape the inevitable punishment that must surely have followed after spilling the contents of the milk churn. Her father would be very angry at losing so much of his day’s milking and the thought of that belt across her back had been enough to make her run.
Her mind drifted back through the few hurtful years of her young life. She remembered only too well the beatings, the hard work - too hard for such a small child - and the ever present anger in her father’s eyes.
She had tried so hard to be a ‘mother’ in the family, to bring up her young brother and still do all the chores her father insisted she did. But at last she could stand no more, the spilt milk had been the signal to her little mind.
The need to run away was not a sudden thought but one which had grown daily, from one beating to the next. Her departure had every sign of being carefully planned but she hadn’t known just when she would finally go.
A clearing in the wood was the ideal place to rest so she carefully laid the blanket on the cold ground and told her little brother to try and get some sleep. His sleep came almost immediately she could neither sleep nor rest. Her mind was in turmoil going over everything that had led up to them being here alone and tired, hungry and unloved.
Her mother had died when Francis was born and she, Annabella, was just four years old. Her father had a small dairy farm which demanded his attention from dawn to dusk and he was unable (or unwilling) to cope with the death of his wife or the two young children left in his care. He had tried, but he was a man of the land only able to do things concerning his farm.
He was born into an age where the man worked and the women looked after the children. He had no skills in cooking, washing or sewing and no energy at the end of a hard day to try and learn.
Annabella remembered how her aunt had come to stay for a short time “ till you are able to cope “ she had said to her father. But she left sooner than expected when she realised the sort of man her father had become.
Left on his own again her father became more violent and less loving day by day. His temper and beatings had brought her to this dark wood and this cold damp earthen bed. She clung to her little brother to keep him warm and to calm his restless sleep, just as she had done for the four years of his troubled little life. As she drifted into sleep the snow began to fall, slowly at first but stronger by the minute, until the ground was covered by the glistening white carpet of winter.
Two days later they found them there, still cuddling each other, frozen together in a loving embrace.