Living By The Land – Episode 04

“CAN I be of assistance?” he asked Amelia with an exaggerated little bow.

“Oh, Tiernan!” She gasped. “That would be so kind.”

With eyes wide and long lashes fluttering ever so slightly, Amelia fell into eager step beside the young farmer as he shouldered her burden. Louisa watched them move away, wondering how her friend dared to be so bold.

But now the younger brother, Callum, was at her side.

“Shall I –?” He indicated the pails.

Louisa shook her head.

“No, it’s fine, thank you. It’s my job, after all.” She lifted the pails quickly and hurried after Amelia.

Callum kept step with her.

“Is the dairy ready for the King’s men?” he asked companionably.

Louisa glanced across and allowed herself a little smile.

“It’s been ready for days but Martha’s still fretting.”

He nodded.

“Isaac and Joshua are just as bad,” he said, referring to the head shepherd and herdsman, “but I can see why. This is an important day for Lower Meadow. If the King gets good reports of the farm it could mean royal patronage, grants, foreign visitors. It could catapult Robert into the hub of agricultural innovations in England!”

He spoke with infectious enthusiasm and for once Louisa forgot to be shy.

“Is Robert really that good?”

“I think so. So does Father. He says, with the population rising so fast and folks moving to the towns in droves, we farmers have got a job on to feed everyone. We need men like Robert, Father says, to show us how to do it. That’s why he paid for Tiernan and me to come and learn from him.”

“Oh.” Louisa felt suddenly rather awed. She’d only really been thinking of whether she liked it at Lower Meadow until today, not of any grander design.

“And, of course,” her companion went on, his attractive face relaxing into a smile, “Robert makes a great barley wine, too!” He smiled at her. “Louisa, isn’t it?”

She nodded.

“I’m Callum.”

“I know,” she blurted out, colouring at the thought of how much the girls gossiped in their dorm at night. “Pleased to meet you,” she managed to add, grateful that she’d reached the door of the dairy and could escape Callum’s disturbingly enjoyable company.

“And you. Let’s hope we can raise a glass together this evening when we’ve all impressed the King’s . . .” But his sentence was cut short by a bellow from behind the farm.

The two of them spun round as Gilbert, one of the farmhands, came skidding into the yard from round the back of the dairy.

“The cows!” he shouted, running up to them, his eyes wild. “Someone’s let the cows out.”


People were flooding into the yard now, attracted by the noise in Robert’s usually calm farm. Louisa looked around and saw Isaac and Joshua come hastening in, unaccustomed neckties already coming loose in the panic. Martha emerged from the dairy, hairbrush in hand and taking out her rollers as she came. Benedict and Edgar, the other farmhands, looked up from putting the finishing touches to the driveway and started towards the rest, Benedict, a long-legged young man, striding out ahead of the shorter, older Edgar.

Finally Ambrose, the big, portly blacksmith, ambled in, not exactly at top speed but faster than Louisa had seen him move to date. He was a softly spoken, kindly man with a permanently red face from his fire and big, callused hands. He was based in the nearby village of Desford but was often up working at the farm as Robert, with his constant experiments and innovations, needed his skills more than most. He’d been eager to meet the King’s men and she saw now that he had slicked back his thick black hair in their honour and had found himself an apron with only minimal stains. As a widower Ambrose rarely looked well cared for, but today he, like the rest, had made a big effort.

Was it all, now, going to be for nothing?

Alison Cook