Living By The Land – Episode 08

ALL four of the girls currently working at Lower Meadow were pleased with the day and with the convivial evening.

Esther was stepping out with Gilbert, the junior stockman who’d raised the alarm over the cows, and gigglingly confided that he’d asked permission to ride out and see her father next Sunday. Rose, a dark, pretty little thing, said she couldn’t decide between Edgar and Benedict for her favours.

“Benedict is better looking,” she told them as she sat on the end of her bed to remove her stockings, “but I hear Edgar inherited a nice sum from his uncle last year. Martha says he’s looking to buy somewhere soon so if I married him I’d be mistress of my own farm.”

“If he wants to marry you,” Esther teased. “I reckon he was eyeing up young Louisa myself.”

Louisa glanced at Esther, shocked, but Rose tossed her head confidently.

“Of course he’d want to marry me. It’s not like he’s going, to be inundated with offers, is it?”

Now Louisa looked at Rose, amazed to hear such cynical words from the fragile-looking young woman.

“But could you love him, Rose?” she asked.

The others stared at her, then Amelia laughed.

“Oh, bless her, she’s so green.” Louisa shuffled uncomfortably but her friend leaned forward and kissed her cheek. “Love is a luxury, Louisa, like white bread – delightful if you can find it but not as important as getting fed.”

The other two nodded and Louisa swallowed. Her thoughts flew to her own parents and how happy they’d always seemed together. They’d been a team, a unit, bound not only by the practicalities of life but by a deep and obvious affection that Louisa had always taken as a blueprint for the way marriage should be.

“But you like Tiernan, don’t you, Amelia? I mean really like him, not just for his farm.”

Amelia smiled.

“I do really like him, yes – but I have to admit his farm is nearly as attractive as his smile. Oh, and he was so attentive tonight! Did you see? He barely talked to anyone
else . . .”

And with that she was off. Louisa kept quiet as the other girls chattered on about the men, not wanting to sound “green” again, but as she got ready for bed, she hugged her own easy conversations with Callum to her chest. She was no fool. She knew a grand farmer’s son wouldn’t be interested in the likes of her, but it had been nice to get to know him anyway.

She washed her face and hands in the china bowl with the others, plaited up her hair and said her goodnights, sleepy now after her hectic day. She pulled back her covers and moved to step in but then recoiled in horror, unable to keep a scream from escaping her lips.

The other girls were at her side in an instant and, huddled together, they stared down at Louisa’s bed. Just below the pillow, in a dark red stain that crept along the fibres of the sheet, was a mouse, its paws drawn up tight to its curled-over chest and its head removed and lying, almost casually, further across the bed.

“Cat?” Esther whispered hopefully but not even the chunky farm tom would be capable of tucking its prey up in Louisa’s bed, even supposing it wished to.

“That’s been no cat,” Rose said.

Her dark eyes darted around the room, but a shaky search beneath the four beds and behind the big curtains soon proved that there was no-one else up there. The fact still remained, however, that someone had crept into their room to commit this atrocity and none of them liked the feeling that left behind.

Alison Cook