The Great War has made Ella Sawyer, 27, a destitute widow and home for her and her children is now an old scout tent in a meadow on the Worthesley estate, a secret place from childhood.
The family’s new life soon begins to fall apart and as starvation threatens, someone begins bringing them food in the night.
As Ella closes in on the identity of their mystery benefactor, a broken-down man hiding out nearby, grief turns to love as she uncovers a tragedy at the heart of the Worthesley dynasty.
Strange movements rouse the slumbering meadow. The ground feels the urgent press of feet picking their way through the thicket hedge which guards its abandoned fields. Small creatures sense the intruder too as they seek refuge from the noon heat and they stop their featherweight pattering to listen.
The meadow's clod-thick earth has felt this tread before, but that was long ago.
The woman reaches the far side of the dense planting of rowan, wild pear and blackthorn and she breaks through. A haze simmers over the expanse of sunlit green but she does not look. Then she turns back.
She comes again with a child. They struggle through the hedge and a wren calls teck‑teck in alarm and flits away into the undergrowth. They reach open space and the ground takes the weight of the loads they have carried through. Then they retrace their steps.
They journey to and fro and by the time the sun is barrelling down to the western edge of the world, a little one has joined them. And there is something else: a scraping. They are dragging possessions through the hedge, scouring the leaf mould, dislodging it into warm, brown furrows.
When the travellers reach the meadow, it is prepared. It has laid out its finery of sweet flowers, ready to be admired. But the three don't even pause. They press on towards the flat land left behind where the curve of the river has eaten its way north, a fertile sward where deer and rabbits eat at dawn.
The trio halts and the scraping ceases. The meadow holds its breath, a lull in the lush hiss of the crickets.
Belongings are set down and the little ones begin to scamper about, while the woman who has moved with such purpose sinks down. Relief and fear soak into the earth, and the meadow frets as it struggles to understand.
It must speak. Must tell them.
It sets the grasses rustling and whispers: Now you are safe. I will harbour you. This is sanctuary.