Living By The Land – Episode 07

THE King’s men stayed for over four hours, visiting every field, barn and breeding shed, asking endless questions and making copious notes. They took tea in Robert’s parlour and Martha came back to the dairy beaming with pride at their compliments on her butter and cream, and saying they had seemed most impressed with Lower Meadow. Still everyone held their breath but, at last, once Robert had waved the visitors off late that afternoon he turned and smiled and they knew all was well.

“A toast!” Robert proposed as they gathered around the kitchen table for a huge tea of fresh ham, soft cheese, new-baked bread and piles of cakes left over from feeding the King’s men. “To Lower Meadow Farm and to all my loyal workers. You did very well today and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Everyone raised their cups, filled in honour of the occasion not with their usual tea but with Robert’s barley wine, and cheered. Louisa felt a clunk against her own cup and turned to smile at Callum, seated on her left side. She felt warm and content and very much part of the dedicated team at Lower Meadow at last. She leaned over to speak to him, made brave by the wine and by their shared encounter earlier that day.

But Robert hadn’t finished yet.

“There was a time this morning,” he said solemnly, “when it looked as if all our hard preparations over these last weeks were going to go in vain.” An uncomfortable silence fell over the table. “We have very rigorous procedures about closing gates, procedures you all know well, and I can’t believe this was an accident.” He paused.

No-one dared to meet his eye and eventually he continued.

“I won’t forget this, but for now it is enough that everyone worked hard to recover the situation. And no-one, so I’m told, more than our new dairymaid.”

All eyes turned to Louisa, who flushed scarlet and fumbled with her bread.

Callum, however, had no such inhibitions.

“It’s true,” he said eagerly, leaping up at her side. “Faced down old Diablo, she did. He was loose in the yard and with the King’s men on the doorstep, too, but she just walked right up to him and led him away like a newborn lamb!”

Murmurs of appreciation went up round the table.

“She never did?”

“A slip of a thing like that?”

“That bull’s not named Diablo for nothing!”

Cups were raised again in her honour. Louisa was touched, but still wished she could slip under the floorboards and escape all this attention. Everyone else would have done the same, she was sure, and she was thankful when Farmer Robert picked up the carving knife to distribute the ham and the conversation splintered into fragments around her.

“Don’t be shy,” Callum whispered and, as the happy evening wore on, Louisa found she wasn’t. She could chat and laugh and discuss the day with the rest, and when Farmer Robert knocked out his pipe at 10.30 she could hardly believe it was so late. She said goodnight to Callum, still at her side, and joined the other maids to cross the yard to their cosy dormitory over one of the haysheds feeling very content.

Alison Cook