by R. F. Delderfield


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From the New York Times –bestselling author of God is an Englishman comes the timeless story of a love that could not be denied, set in the countryside of early twentieth-century England.

Fifteen-year-old John Leigh is living with his aunt and uncle in a small Devon village when he meets the girl fated to change his life. From the moment he first sees Diana Gayelorde-Sutton astride a horse, looking as poised and regal as a queen, he falls irrevocably in love. But they are worlds apart: He is a poor Cockney orphan and she is the pampered only daughter of a powerful businessman.
They become inseparable, though, and friendship deepens into love. As the 1920s segue into the 1930s, John becomes a small-town newspaperman while Diana travels the world. Yet they always return to each other, until one earth-shattering day. And soon World War II will cast its long shadow over the world, testing their relationship in ways they never imagined. Diana is a stunning story of war and remembrance, love and redemption.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504049313
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 01/09/2018
Pages: 750
Sales rank: 806,041
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

R. F. Delderfield (1912–1972) was born in South London. On leaving school he joined the Exmouth Chronicle newspaper as a junior reporter and went on to become editor. He began to write stage plays and then became a highly successful novelist, renowned for brilliantly portraying slices of English life. With the publication of his first saga, A Horseman Riding By, he became one of Britain’s most popular authors, and his novels have been bestsellers ever since. Many of his works, including the Horseman Riding By series, To Serve Them All My Days , the Avenue novels, and Diana , were adapted for television.

Read an Excerpt


By R. F. Delderfield


Copyright © 1960 R. F. Delderfield
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-9048-2


Two miracles occurred that October, the October of my fifteenth birthday. This story begins with those miracles, so I must record them in the order in which they took place; first the miracle of landscape, which was purely personal, secondly the encounter in the larch wood, involving Diana and myself.

I had been living with Uncle Luke and Aunt Thirza for a fortnight or so, and the change of scene, from a second-floor apartment in the Brixton Road to a quayside cottage in a small Devon holiday resort, had done little to cure the wretchedness caused by watching my mother die, or seeing her buried in the hideously crowded cemetery where they laid her.

People were kind. Uncle Luke came up from Devon the day she died and I had no uncertainty about the future, for he assured me of a home the moment he arrived. My mother and I, however, had been very close, for my father, a second cousin of my mother's who shared the same name, had died years before and I barely remembered him. We had shared the genteel squalor of the Brixton boardinghouse and when she wasn't at work and I wasn't at school, we were seldom apart.

On Saturday afternoons, and on fine Sundays, we explored London together. We went to all the usual places—the Tower, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court. We also went to the Tate Gallery and it was here, only a short time before her death, that she revealed to me the fact that she carried in her mind the remembered scents of West Country gorse and purple heather. This puzzled me at the time, for I knew that she had left Devon as a small child and had never once returned. I knew also that since that time she had lived all her life in cities.

We had been looking at a big landscape by an artist whose name I have forgotten, and the background of the picture was a rich blaze of golden gorse and purple heath, the kind of heath that most people mistake for heather. My mother said, "There John, that's how it is! That's how it looks and that's how it smells!"

The predominant smell at that moment was London fog, seeping through the dome of the gallery, and I made a feeble joke about this but she didn't laugh, just shook her head and said, very quietly, "Ah, but I can smell it! It's a kind of frosty freshness. You've got to see it first, though, then when you see it, a picture like that can easily conjure it up."

I forgot this conversation almost at once and I didn't remember it again until that Saturday afternoon, the first Saturday of October, when Uncle Luke, who was paying forfeit of his weekend ramble because he had watched herring gulls all morning instead of delivering furniture, handed me twopence for the bus ride to Heronslea Cross and advised me to explore the country behind Shepherdshey and see if I could identify the holding that we Leighs were said to have farmed for eight generations.

I went off eagerly enough, glad of an opportunity to be alone with my grief and put myself out of reach of Aunt Thirza's well-meant but irritating endeavors to distract me. Uncle Luke had given me directions and I left the bus at the fork, walking down the unsurfaced road to Shepherdshey.

It was a fine, keen afternoon and the road that I later came to know so well was firm underfoot. In summer the Shepherdshey road was thick with dust, so thick that it whirled up when disturbed and settled on the stalks of cow parsley, bending them forward until they were almost horizontal to the road. In winter the track was a slough, without a dry spot anywhere. Only after fine autumn weather was the surface firm as far as the village.

In those days Shepherdshey was a hamlet that had strayed out of an eighteenth-century sporting print. Each side of the single street was lined with humpbacked cob cottages and the only two breaks in the frontages were the general shop on the left and the half-timbered pub on the right. I looked at the pub with interest. It was called The Jolly Rifleman, and I knew it, for it was the place where Grandfather Leigh had drunk himself to death.

Heronslea House, the only sizable home in the area, lay on my left, on slightly rising ground. I couldn't see much of it because it was approached by a winding, beech-lined drive, and further concealed by a clump of tall elms that grew beside the Teasel Brook. At Shepherdshey the brook ran out of its gully, or "goyle" as they called it in these parts, and the path up to the common followed the stream as far as its sharpest curve, a mile north of the village. On the left of this path were the huge rhododendron clumps of Heronslea House and on the right a broad slope that climbed to Teasel Wood, a vast tangle of fir, spruce, beech, chestnut and dwarf oak.

I was not especially interested in the landscape, not at least until I had left the village behind and climbed the first ridge behind the big house. Then, as I approached the plank bridge that crossed the rushing brook, something stirred under my heart and I began to run without knowing why.

When I reached the first trees of Teasel Wood I stopped and turned around, looking down over the half-moon of timber screening the rear of the big house and beyond it across five miles of pasture to the sea. It was on this spot that the personal miracle occurred. It was here that I first looked upon the area that Diana and I, but no one else on earth, were to know as "Sennacharib."

The sensation was as much physical as spiritual. It was as though something had struck me a sudden blow in the pit of the stomach, a fierce, winding blow that made me reel and reach out to steady myself against the smooth bole of the nearest beech. I saw on the instant the whole sweep of the country, the woods, dove-gray and russet, the white ribbon of road, the smoky, purple woods beyond, the patchwork green of the pasture, the red brown of the plowed land and finally, as a frame to the picture, the pale blue of the Channel on the skyline.

I saw all this but it was the flaming gorse and purple heath that made me cry out, for it lay along each side of the valley like a hoard of guineas flung slantwise across a shallow bowl and at each point where the gold was thinly scattered the purple of the heath showed through, like an imperial mantle spread to catch the money.

It was then that the tag of verse came into my head, the first two lines of "Sennacharib" that I had chanted in the tiled prison house of Brixton Road School:

The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold And his cohorts were gleaming with purple and gold ...

The entire valley—gorse, heath, beechwood, larchwood, elms, brook and all that lay between sea and the moor became mine and because it was mine I named it Sennacharib. Even the white mansion, glimpsed through the wood far below, was included and on entering into possession I experienced a moment of pure joy that has never been mine since. Grief, and a boy's luxury in grief, fell away from me at the memory of my mother's odd remark in the Tate Gallery and I sniffed a long, long, satisfying sniff that brought with it not only a calm acceptance of death but also a consciousness of ancestral heritage, the realization of the presence here, on this very spot, of all the long-dead Leighs who had stood and looked down on Sennacharib in the past. Dead they were and yet they were not, not while I lived; and I was gloriously, exultantly alive.

This was the measure of my discovery on that October afternoon; this was the first of the two October miracles.

I went over into Sennacharib the following Saturday and the Saturday after that. I wanted to know every bridle path, every bush, every fold in the valley between Shepherdshey and the frontier of the London Road, where it bordered the common seven miles inland.

It was very quiet down here in the autumn. During those early expeditions I did not meet a soul and when I stood quite still on the edge of Teasel Wood the only sounds that I could hear were the gossip of the larches in Heronslea Wood, or the sudden crackle of bursting gorse pods shooting seeds into the thickets. The oaks and beeches of Teasel Wood never talked unless there was a stiffish breeze, and the air was very still that October, so still that sometimes it seemed to me that everything had stopped growing in Sennacharib and that I was its sole inhabitant.

I came to understand this curious isolation of the area. Geography, and the pace of Edwardian development, had conspired to isolate the area. Our part of the West was a broad triangle, jutting into the Bristol Channel, and the estuary of the Whin and the town of Whinmouth on its left bank had been bypassed when the main railway line drove due west to the county town, fifteen miles inland. Whinmouth had a modest holiday industry and an even smaller fishing and coastal trade, but for the most part Whinmouth folk lived by taking in one another's washing. Such visitors as found their way to the town came down the river road, or via the branch line that ran beside the river. Few of them turned east into the scrub, common and pasture of the Shepherdshey district. This fact delighted me; the fewer people who challenged my right the better I was pleased. But here I ought to speak briefly of my family, the Leighs, although none of them play more than a casual part in my story.

I soon found Foxhayes Farm, where my mother had been born, and shortly afterward I crossed Teasel Wood and introduced myself to my Uncle Mark at his ramshackle riding stable on the edge of my domain. Uncle Mark was the second of my three Devon uncles, Uncle Reuben being the eldest and Uncle Luke the youngest. Between them, during that first month in the West, I began to make sense out of our family history and learned how, although all were the sons and grandsons of farmers, not one of them had held a scythe or turned a sod since they were small boys.

They were an odd, contrasting trio, with nothing in common but the big, loose-limbed bones and the drifting gait of the Leighs. My mother had spoken to me about this gait when she recognized it in myself. "You can always tell a Leigh by his walk," she said. "A Leigh never puts one foot in front of the other, he drifts like a leaf on a pavement."

As I said, Grandfather Leigh had drunk himself to death, and he accomplished this before he was forty. Up to the moment that his wife died during her fourth childbirth he had been a strict Methodist and was looked upon as being an exceptionally pious man. Like many religious men, however, he challenged the wisdom of his God to interfere with the continuity of a well-ordered life, and when his wife died he was not so much despondent as furiously angry. He marched straight into The Jolly Rifleman on the day after the funeral and ordered rum. Having once tasted it he decided that he liked the flavor and continued to drink it in prodigious quantities until the day came when the landlord refused to serve him.

After that he took to riding his cob farther afield, down into Whinmouth, or over to the Pilot, at Nun's Bay. He was often drunk for days at a stretch but no matter how much liquor he swallowed he never reached the stage where he was unable to sit his saddle and ride off in search of more.

When I got to know the Shepherdshey folk I met people who could talk of his antics during the last two years of his life. They were in the best traditions of the Victorian drunkard and included scenes of the wildest improbability. He must have behaved something like Masefield's hero in "The Everlasting Mercy," smashing up bar parlors and whirling his fists at rash friends who tried to remonstrate with him. One night he stripped himself stark naked and carried a torch up the main drive to Heronslea House. On another he set fire to some of his own ricks and then drove a blue farm wagon at a breakneck speed down the Teasel track and through Shepherdshey as far as the crossroads.

He went to jail several times but the moment he came out he started all over again, and was soon regarded as an intolerable nuisance in the district. Everybody was relieved when they found his cob crushed to death under Nun's Head one morning. His battered body turned up on the estuary cockle sands a week or so later and it was assumed that he had missed the cliff path after leaving the Pilot at closing time.

At the time of his death his eldest son, Reuben, was eight, and the two younger boys, Mark and Luke, were respectively a year and three years younger. My mother was not much more than a baby, and former Methodist friends came forward to give the children homes after the tenancy of the farm had gone to a nominee of the Gilroy Estate, for at that time a cousin of Lord Gilroy was occupying Heronslea House.

Uncle Reuben was adopted by the Methodist minister, who subsequently apprenticed him to Mr. Handford, the founder-proprietor of the little weekly newspaper in Whinmouth. The boy showed an aptitude for printing and was soon a steady journeyman and later the foreman printer in Handford's works behind the newspaper office, in High Street.

Reuben was a solemn, humorless man, a very kind and thoughtful soul, animated by an almost fanatical sense of duty toward his neighbors and employer. In due course he became a town councilor and was much respected, though never very popular in the Whinmouth area. He was a local preacher and a confirmed radical, so that he could deliver an impressive address on salvation or free trade, whichever his audience demanded. I was glad I had been taken in by Uncle Luke and Aunt Thirza. Life with Uncle Reuben would have been more comfortable but very dull.

It wasn't at all dull at Uncle Luke's. Luke had been given a home by a general dealer, who occupied ramshackle premises near the dock. He had never learned a trade but when he grew up he inherited the business, such as it was, and earned his living buying and selling secondhand household goods.

He was not very interested in this means of livelihood and had no business acumen whatever. He was a countryman pure and simple, with eyes and ears for nothing but things that grew in the hedges and fields, or the wild life of the cliffs and the banks of the estuary. His knowledge of birds in particular, and of wild life generally, was prodigious. Everywhere he went he carried a pair of binoculars and everything he saw that interested him he wrote down in fat exercise books that he stuffed into his roll-top desk at the Mart and never referred to once they were full.

He could tell you the smallest details about the habits of unusual birds—what they lived on, when they appeared in Britain, where they nested, how many eggs they laid and anything else about them. He would sit in a hedge for hours with his binoculars glued to his eyes watching lapwings patrol their nests against the descent of hawks. He loved wild flowers, all wild flowers, and could tell you just where to find yellow rattle or round-headed rampion. With colored chalks he could sketch the hue and structure of every significant plant that grew in hedge, field or copse.

He was a spare, shambling man, with iron-gray hair and mild, myopic eyes, but despite his gentle nature he could be madly exasperating if one was obliged to work with him. It was often difficult to get through to Uncle Luke, for his brain was hedged around with trefoil, butterbur and bristly ox-tongue, or patrolled by protective flights of screaming jays and wailing herring gulls. His wife, Aunt Thirza, treated him like an idiot child. She was a shrewish, bustling, efficient little body, with restless eyes that gleamed from behind gold-rimmed spectacles. She took a fancy to me, however, and almost from the moment I arrived she seemed to expect me to make up for her husband's deficiencies as a provider.

I was expected to work hard but as a reward I was given plenty of pocket money. At sixteen I was virtual master of the house.

Uncle Luke showed a lively interest in my rambles about Sennacharib during the weekends.

"There's a pair of buzzards up there," he said, ignoring the disgusted grunt of his wife. "Buzzards disappeared from these parts when I was a boy and these are the first I've seen in twenty years. Birds are slaves to fashion just like us, and they tire of districts every now and again. I don't know what brought 'em back here but I know what made 'em go. Lord Gilroy's kin had a keeper who was deadly with a rook rifle. He must have shot a dozen and draped 'em on his vermin pole before they up and left. That keeper shot himself in the end, climbing through a hedge into Teasel Wood, and it was about the best thing that ever happened on that estate!"

Uncle Luke never killed anything, not even a fly or a cockroach, and the only thing that could summon him from his endless contemplation of nature was the witnessing, or even a description, of a wanton act of killing. The mere memory of the marksman with the rook rifle, dead more than twenty years, was sufficient to spoil his midday meal.

Uncle Mark, the middle son, was the one reputed to be most like his father. He was over six feet in height and broad as a barrel. His skin was as rough as a last year's apple and his eyes, when they weren't challenging, gleamed with sardonic humor. He was the only member of the family who used the broad Devon bur of his forefathers and his speech was so thick, and so full of archaic idiom, that it was months before I was able to understand more than half the words he uttered.


Excerpted from Diana by R. F. Delderfield. Copyright © 1960 R. F. Delderfield. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Diana 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A book to get lost in. You'll hate to see it end.
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