**This post contains SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS.**
The final book in Patricia Gaffney’s Victorian-set Wyckerley trilogy, Forever and Ever, brings together a radical from a poor Cornish mining family with a woman who owns a copper mine. When they first meet, Connor is pretending to be an uneducated miner in order to investigate the working conditions at Sophie’s mine. Though they are attracted to each other, she is wary of becoming involved with someone of a much lower social status, and aside from that, he is her employee.
Connor persists, and gradually Sophie allows her true desire for him to push aside most of her worries. They spend idyllic time together in her rose garden, growing steadily more intimate. Despite his misgivings, Connor maintains his charade all through their budding romance, even after they spend the night together. Soon after, a draft of Connor’s report is published. The report is worse than he intended because others have exaggerated the details, to more clearly condemn the mine and its owner. Sophie feels utterly betrayed, and Connor’s own feelings of guilt and anger about his actions help lead to a vicious argument.
“…You're a coward and a liar. I'll hate you for that as long as I live.“
She meant it, and everything she said was true. He hadn't told her the truth about himself because he'd been afraid he would lose her. He had been a coward. His shame was so bitter and complete, it made him belligerent. ”What difference does a name make? I meant everything I said to you. You said things to me, too. If they were true, you wouldn't recoil from me like this. It's your pride that's been broken, not your heart.“
”You're right,“ she flared, ”but you're still a liar….”
Though that argument leads to their separation, it’s not the couple’s moment of greatest despair. In fact, there is a series of “dark moments” that follow. Even though Sophie gradually begins to recover from Connor’s betrayal—partly through implementing improvements to the mine—she soon discovers that their one night together led to her becoming pregnant. She fears rejection if she tells Connor, but does reveal her secret to another suitor, who rejects her in horrified disgust. She finally realizes that she must tell Connor about her condition, and after some initial conflict, they decide to marry.
The marriage helps to remind them of what they felt for each other in the beginning, and all is going splendidly, until another argument resulting from Connor’s prickly pride and Sophie’s status-consciousness is followed by Sophie’s miscarriage. Both are devastated by this event. Connor’s pain is complicated by the fact that he’s already lost all but one of his family, and he feels as if the miscarriage might be partly his fault. In turn, Sophie blames herself. Connor tries desperately to bring Sophie out of her depression, but nothing seems to work, not even the news that his sole remaining brother is near death. It’s a moment of despair that seems impossible to overcome.
…she lay down, head on the pillow, gazing through half-closed eyes at the coverlet. His news had increased her sadness—nothing more. “He's dying. Do you hear me? He's the last one, the last one, and he's leaving me, Sophie. Jack's dying.” She crossed her arms over her chest, eyes dull. She was locked inside herself, too full of despair even to see him. …
…He made her sit down, and he sat beside her. She tried to pull her hand away—it felt strange, alien, in his—but he held on. He said, “Listen to me, Sophie. Are you listening?” She nodded. “Darling, I can't live like this anymore. It hurts too much. If I thought I could help you by staying, I would. But I'm only making it worse for you.” He bowed his head over her hand, and she noticed how glossy black his hair was. It reminded her of something, but she couldn't think what.
“Are you going away?” she asked, trying to feel a connection with the sound of her own voice. “Are you leaving me?” That helped; those words made her feel something. Loneliness. He looked up, and the bottomless sorrow in his eyes finally wounded her. She touched his face, heartsick when she saw a tear spill down his cheek.
“I thought we could make it,” he said. “So much was against us, and I still believed we'd stay together. But it doesn't work anymore.”
“No,” she agreed, sighing, resting her cheek against his. “I don't blame you for hating me. You've never said it, but I know the baby's dying was my fault.”
“Oh, no. Oh, no, Con. I don't hate you. It wasn't your fault, I never thought that.”
He didn't answer.
She found the energy to say, "It's just that I can't feel anything. I'm empty inside….”
This moment of utter, empty despair, however, finally has the power to move Sophie beyond her frozen state of shock. It isn’t until Connor leaves her that she’s pushed over the edge and able to weep, and let go of some of the pain that has been paralyzing her. Thus she recovers some emotional stability just in time to save Connor’s political future as well as their marriage.
Sophie and Connor’s rollercoaster of a relationship keeps the tension going throughout the entire novel, and their constant work to overcome their often-painful differences results in the most satisfyingly equal relationship of Gaffney’s Wyckerley trilogy.