Living By The Land – Episode 03

HER beast emptied of milk at last, Louisa patted its rump to move it along with the others to join their big, brooding bull, Diablo, in the bottom field. Swiftly she swept up the milking area whilst Amelia secured the gate on the beasts and 10 minutes later the girls, staggering a little under their load of two milk pails apiece, emerged from the gloom of the sheds into the crisp sunlight of a beautiful March morning.

Louisa blinked and looked around her. Lower Meadow Farm was a fine place any day of the week and, with everyone working hard to prepare for the royal representatives’ visit, it was currently at its finest. The warm red brick of the farmhouse glowed in the sun, as did the low outbuildings down two further sides of the big yard. The long driveway to the road had been swept and the hawthorn hedges trimmed to geometric perfection. Robert’s fields were spread out on either side, some fresh with green grass, some the rich brown of newly turned earth and others speckled with the early shoots of the new year’s crop.

These were the arable side of the farm and the fields were neatly bordered by an innovative new irrigation system, the pride and joy of Silas Chilcott, Robert’s head crop man and Martha’s long-suffering but apparently devoted husband. Out the back of the farm were the grazing lands and further carefully maintained sheds where Robert pursued the revolutionary interbreeding programme for which he was becoming so renowned that now King George – Farmer George, as he was affectionately known – was sending his men to see it for themselves.

Louisa drew in a deep, sharp breath of air and felt a rush of pleasure at being a part of such an exciting place. Swift on the back of that came the usual stab of guilt at the thought of her own family’s little farm, but there was no time for that now.

“Come on, Louisa,” Amelia urged. “We’ve got to get dressed up for the King’s men!”

Louisa smiled and nodded, picking up pace. The hot water had run out on the farm this morning, with everyone keen for an unaccustomed bathe in the visitors’ honour. Irons had been sizzling by the fire to straighten their smartest clothing, and mirrors, usually neglected by all but the girls, had been fought over.

The maids had primped and combed with the rest and now all Louisa thought they had to do was find fresh pinnies. Amelia, however, was a little more elaborate in her grooming, and Louisa knew she’d want time. She hurried obligingly after her friend, but halfway across the yard Amelia suddenly stopped dead.

“Goodness, these pails are heavy. Aren’t they heavy, Louisa?”

Louisa looked at her friend in astonishment. Amelia, for all her slight build, was as strong as a plough ox and never usually had trouble with the milk.

“What do you . . .” she began and then dried up as she saw her friend’s intentions.

Coming into the far end of the yard were two young men – two tall, athletic, well-dressed young men. Tiernan and Callum were brothers from a prosperous farm up in Northumberland, who were here with Robert to learn all about interbreeding to help improve their own stock. They were smart, enthusiastic young men, more than willing to get their hands dirty, but they carried themselves with the assurance of gentry farmers.

Amelia had had her eye on the eldest (“He’ll be the one who inherits, you know”) for some time now and seemed to be making progress. Certainly, as he spotted them, Tiernan hurried forward.

Alison Cook