AGNES AND REGINALD - THE WINGLESS BIRD
Lowly sweetshop assistant Agnes would never have imagined she'd find herself in a love triangle with two exceedingly upper-class brothers. But that's exactly what unfolds when she catches the eye of puppy-like posh boy Charles Farrier and his soldier sibling Reginald, who yearns from afar as Agnes and Charles got closer.
Then, heartbreakingly, Reginald is disfigured and traumatised in World War One. Charles then dies from an illness, leaving Agnes a widow. Even after time passes, Reginald is too respectful to make a move, suggesting instead that they remain friends, because "Friendship is love without his wings." It's only when Agnes confesses that her friendship HAS grown wings, and that she loves Reginald despite his injuries, that the noble soldier melts into her arms. Sigh.
CISSIE AND MATTHEW - THE DWELLING PLACE
What's more poignant than a relationship which overcomes the odds and ends well? A relationship which doesn't overcome the odds, and ends with the gallant hero in the lurch. That's what becomes of poor Matthew, the handsome, hard-working carpenter who has the misfortune to fall madly in love with Cissie, a plucky young lass who ends up living in a cave with her siblings when their parents pass away.
Matthew is basically Cissie's guardian angel throughout the whole saga. Even when he's forced into a loveless marriage to keep himself out of poverty, he can't get over his deep adoration of Cissie. It's a hopeless situation. And when Cissie eventually casts Matthew aside in favour of a wealthy artistocrat, saying she loves Matthew but not in a romantic way, it's a heartbreaking confirmation of the old saying: nice guys finish last.
ROSE ANGELA AND MICHAEL - COLOUR BLIND
Colour Blind begins as the story of Bridget, a Tyneside girl who shocks her family by marrying an African sailor called Jimmy. This being 1915, the locals don't take kindly to a black man moving in, and a whole host of hardships ensue. Yet, it's not Bridget and Jimmy who truly tug at our heartstrings in this saga. While we do root for them, it's the tender love story between their daughter Rose Angela and a painter called Michael that really hits us emotionally.
Rose Angela's endured years of prejudice because of her mixed heritage, while the marvellous, modern-minded Michael never sees her as anything other than a beautiful woman. This makes it all the more painful when Rose Angela's wicked uncle threatens to tear them apart, first by stirring up jealousy, then by physically barging in on their happiness. Michael is almost killed in the ensuing scuffle. Thankfully things turn out just fine, and they go on to live happily ever after.
MILLIE AND BEN - THE RAG NYMPH
Taken in by the same woman when they're both young, Millie and Ben start off more as siblings than anything else. Of course, that's no barrier to love in Cookson-land, and as the years go by, Ben becomes increasingly besotted by the lovely Millie. The trouble is, despite being a sweet and handsome lad, he has a slight hunchback which does his self-esteem no favours.
Millie is meanwhile wooed by a rich, charming aristocrat. Given that she's a humble lass, it's all very much too good to be true, and it turns out the posh chap just wants to keep her as his mistress. As time goes on, and Ben's selfless heroism and devotion to Millie becomes clear, she finally comes to her senses. Even when the aristocrat offers to actually marry her, she shocks him by choosing the poor, hunchbacked boy instead. And all is well with the world.
BELLE AND FREDDIE - THE SECRET
Strong, noble and successful in business, Freddie Musgrave looks like quite a catch. But beautiful Belle doesn't see him that way - after all, while they aren't blood relatives they did grow up together under the same guardian (a bit of a Cookson hallmark, that). She regards him as a brother, while he regards her as the greatest love of his life, ever.
This is why he spends most of his time poignantly pining for Belle, and is left feeling utterly helpless when she decides to marry a no-good, emotionally unstable brute who has violent mood swings and literally locks Belle away from the world. It's agony to watch the sweet, innocent, angelic Belle subjected to such treatment, and you almost want to break into applause when Freddie comes to the rescue, slaying the monster and whisking her to safety. A fairy tale ending as only Cookson could write it...