This is the first of a projected trilogy from the queen of the Tyneside scullery tales, and a predictably peppery 'un 'tis, too--the 18th-century mine-country story of teenage orphan Tilly, who holds her own, just barely, against vicious village rumor, a villain out for revenge on her family, and upper-class spoilers. When widowed Grandmother dies after their place is set afire, homeless Tilly cannot stay for long with nice farmer Simon: his hateful wife Mary (Cookson's bad women are always gawdawful) is out to make her life miserable. So Tilly is delighted to be hired by mine owner Mark Sopwith to nursemaid his four rambunctious children, whom she handily brings into line. But Tilly can't do much about the thieving servants who call her 'a witch or about Mark's horrid wife, and overall she has a dreadful time throughout: she's put in stocks by Hal McGrath and his gang (the McGraths have a grudge against Tilly's family); she works in the mines when the household collapses after Mark's affair with randy Lady Myton; she's almost killed by McGrath; and she's caught in a mine cave-in, with Mark (happily), who loses both feet (unhappily). Thanks to luck and some dear poor friends, however, Tilly survives to become Mark's housekeeper, and affection grows into something else (""Aw. . . w!"" exclaims Tilly in bed with Mark). To be continued--which is fine by us and, no doubt, by Cookson's sizable cadres.