Living By The Land – Episode 06

“DIABLO,” Callum whispered as he recognised Robert’s prize bull. “We didn’t think of him. Oh, no, Louisa, what on earth are we going to do?”

At the top of the driveway they could just make out Tiernan effusively welcoming a party of five grand-looking men on high-stepping horses. Down in the yard, Diablo lowered his head a little and pawed at the cobbles. Diablo didn’t like noise or fuss. Diablo didn’t really like people, especially not ones in gaudy royal colours on frisky horses.

Callum and Louisa exchanged worried glances.

“We have to get him into the field,” Louisa said.

Callum nodded. Up the drive Robert was emerging theatrically from his best-irrigated field to greet his honoured guests. His jacket was red – a gift from a grateful Russian cattle-dealer – and Louisa could swear Diablo had noted it. He looked like a bull in the mood for fun.

She swallowed.

“Perhaps I should fetch Joshua,” Callum murmured to Louisa, but they both knew that any shouts or sudden movements would only make the situation worse. Everyone else seemed to be round the back checking the gates to ensure no further escapees. They were on their own.

“Only one way to go,” Louisa said and took a step forward.

“Louisa, no!” Callum gasped behind her, but she wasn’t listening.

Her father had owned a similar bull when she was a child and one day, daydreaming her way through the field, she’d found herself face to face with it, much as she was with Diablo now. She’d frozen, fear pumping through her little veins, knowing instinctively that she mustn’t turn and run.

Now, as she stepped steadily forward, making the soft noises in the back of her throat that her father had always used on his more difficult cattle, she wasn’t a nineteen-year-old dairymaid but an eight-year-old girl stuck in the middle of a field, with her father’s dear voice calling from the edge.

“Show him who’s boss, Louisa, my love. Show him you’re in charge!”

She took a few more steps and Diablo’s head swung round from Robert on the horizon to consider this fresh challenge. Louisa caught his gaze and held it. She couldn’t break eye contact now, she knew, or he would sense victory and charge.

Steadily she moved on across the yard, no longer hearing the chatter of the approaching visitors over her own blood beating in her veins and the soft, nervous breaths from the bull. Her eight-year-old self moved with her like a sturdy little ghost urging her on, and then, suddenly, as had happened back then, she was at the bull’s side and she could grasp the ring in his nose. A slight tug – enough to exert her authority without annoying him – and Diablo, with a resigned snort, began to move docilely forward.

Her heart still pounding, Louisa led him past an open-mouthed Callum and into the bottom field to rejoin his ladies. She shut the big gate with a click and Callum double-checked the chain that held it tight, then they both leaned back, weak with relief as the King’s men clattered noisily into the yard.

“Now, this is very smart,” Louisa heard one of them exclaim.

She glanced at Callum and they giggled nervously.

“You were amazing,” he said but Louisa shrugged the compliment away, embarrassed.

“Come on,” she replied, “we’ve got jobs to do yet.”

Alison Cook