From award-winning British novelist Cook (Walter, Winter Doves, etc.), a rich, engrossing tale of a young girl's wanderings through early-19th-century England. Sixteen-year-old Cath Rainstone and her lover John are impoverished but happy-go-lucky peasants roaming rural England right around the time of a groundswelling protest movement against greedy landlords and agrarian theft. When Cath accidentally sets fire to a hayfield, it's John who takes the blame and is hanged by cynical magistrates as an ""agitator."" Pregnant and in a guilty daze, Cath begins wandering the countryside and is saved from exposure and starvation by two roaming boys, irrepressible James and handsome Boy William. They take her to Bevil Blizard, an organizer of the protest movement who knows she's the (pregnant) girlfriend of James (whom he's trying to turn into a martyr) and who hopes to use her as a symbol. But she escapes during a riot that Blizard has staged and meets up with James and William again; they go to their home village, where Cath is taken in by a group of evangelical Christians (they see her coming ""Christmas child"" as a sign), but she gives birth to a stillborn son at New Year's. On the road again, this time to London, where the threesome stay in a murderously sleazy slum establishment while walking like alien visitors through the monstrous city. They think they've found a haven with a certain Mrs. Crabtree, who promises them employment as domestics with rich families, but the nefarious woman steals William away to sell him to a wealthy pederast, puts Cath to work as a prostitute, and attempts to throw James to the tender mercies of a local Marquis de Sade. But all ends well, in fine picaresque tradition, as James escapes and begins a search that eventually reunites the three. All in all: descriptive, lovingly detailed, many-layered historical writing--like a slender slice of Dickens.