Even as a child, Barbara was beautiful. But as her beauty grew so did the affliction which shadowed it: she was becoming totally deaf. Yet living in an almost silent world protected her from a worse affliction -- to know the truth of her own origins. Among the surrounding hills and valleys of Northumberland, it was a long-relished scandal. People spoke of her as "the Mallen girl", seeing in her proud nature -- and the determination with which she already pursued her handsome cousin Michael Radlet -- the heritage of High Banks Hall, where old Thomas Mallen had ruled until he came to ruin and disgrace.