A Time To Reap – Episode 01

A Time To Reap

“How many lambs did you lose, Mrs Duncan?” Rodney Shaw glared at the farm manager through his horn-rimmed glasses.

Elizabeth Duncan was used to the estate factor’s glare and his questions, and was no longer intimidated by them. She drew herself up to her full height and looked him in the eye.

“Ten. We’re luckier than most. We were able to get the sheep off the hill in time and our fields are sheltered. I wish we hadn’t lost any, but it was unavoidable.”

“If you say so.” Rodney’s tone implied that Elizabeth alone was responsible for the icy weather that had brought the country to a standstill for three months.

He gestured at the piece of paper she held.

“Is that the final costs for the feed?”

Elizabeth handed it to him. The factor glanced at it and shook his head.

“Feed merchant taking advantage of the situation. I don’t know what Lady Annabel’s going to say.”

He waved his hand again, indicating that he was finished with her.

Elizabeth marched back to her office, fuming, though she knew Lady Annabel Mannering would have the sense to realise there was no option but to buy extra feed when the hills were under feet of snow.

The snow had gone from the ground but the office was freezing. Elizabeth lit the paraffin heater, though she knew she wouldn’t be sitting down for long, and poured tea from the flask Tibbie had filled for her. She opened her sandwiches.

The farm diary for 1963 lay on the desk. Today was the first of April and she should be planning when to plant the potatoes, but the ground was still so hard!

To keep the farmhands busy today she’d set them to do some fencing repairs and tidy the barn.

Tam Morrison, the new dairyman, had started this morning. He was to present himself here in ten minutes and together they’d go out to look at the herd.

Elizabeth hoped he and his wife and their new baby would settle in at Rosland Home Farm. It was a small community and mostly harmonious, even if Tam’s wife would likely find her next-door neighbour less than congenial!

Tam seemed a good person, respectful but not afraid to say what he thought, his honest eyes twinkling with humour.

Elizabeth had taken his personality into account almost as much as his dairy experience when she offered him the job.

Mr Shaw had wanted someone else but she hadn’t taken to the hard, unsmiling man who was his choice.

He’d snapped questions at her, finding it hard to believe that a mere woman was the farm manager. Fortunately, Lady Annabel had said the final decision was Elizabeth’s.

Tam’s wife hadn’t come to the interview, but Tam assured Elizabeth that she’d be delighted with the semi-detached cottage that would be their new home.

Elizabeth finished her sandwich, folded up the bag and put it in the drawer, hoping she’d remember to take it home.

Tibbie put on a martyred air if she forgot, and much of Elizabeth’s energy went into trying to keep on her mother-in-law’s good side.

Inside the drawer was a photo of Matthew, taken on their wedding day. He never looked comfortable in a suit – a checked shirt with the sleeves rolled up and his old corduroys were more his style.

She used to look at the picture and ask Matthew’s advice. When she took over his job after the accident she’d take the picture from the drawer and tell him whatever problem she was grappling with. More often than not the solution would come to her.

Two years had passed, and Elizabeth more confident in her abilities. But knowing the picture was there gave her strength.

A sound came from next door. She rose and looked along the corridor to his room.

Jimmie Bruce, one of the farmhands, was standing in the doorway to the factor’s office, looking upset. He was a sweet-natured man who had never quite grown up, but he was strong as a horse and a hard worker.

“Jimmie?” She hurried to him. “What’s wrong?”

Before Jimmie could reply, Rodney Shaw spoke.

“Just an April Fool, Mrs Duncan. I sent Bruce to the shop for tartan paint but they didn’t have any!”

He came round his desk.

“You get back to work, Bruce.” He closed his door.

“Never mind Mr Shaw, Jimmie.” Elizabeth gripped the man’s arm. “He has a strange sense of humour.”

She held out her watch to show him the time.

“It’s after midday. April Fool jokes don’t count now. Go have your sandwiches. I’ll come to see you later.”

The new dairyman appeared. She took a deep breath to compose herself.

“Tam! You’ve enjoyed your first morning at Rosland?” She put on her jacket. “I hope your wife is getting settled in. Moving house so soon after having a baby is hard. If she needs any help, do ask. I’ll go down and see her later.”

“Thanks, Mrs Duncan,” Tam Morrison said cheerfully. “Sadie had us up before the birds this morning so we cracked on with getting unpacked.”

“Good. Right, let’s show you round.”

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.