Living By The Land – Episode 12

“OH, dear!” a low voice came behind her, and she jumped and turned to see Edgar, one of the farmhands. “What’s happened here? Farmer Robert won’t be pleased with all this waste.”

Louisa burst into tears. The farmhand’s face changed instantly.

“Ah, there, now! It wasn’t your fault.” He came closer, putting out a long, thin hand to pat at her arm.

Louisa instinctively shied away and he stiffened.

“I’m sorry,” she said, not wanting to offend. “It was a bit of a shock. The handle broke.”

She proffered the pail and he glanced at it.

“Strange. Did you not feel it weakening?”

Louisa shook her head, feeling useless, and batted the stupid tears away.

“Well, why should you?” Edgar said hastily. “Look, you go and tell Martha and I’ll get some water on this lot. Can’t leave it here in this heat or we’ll all smell rotten by sundown, eh?”

It was kindly, if gruffly, said, and Louisa nodded.

“Thank you, Edgar. I’m sorry to make such a mess.”

“Could have happened to any of us, lass.”

Louisa swallowed.

“But it didn’t, did it?” she muttered as she turned to the dairy to report to Martha.

Needless to say, Martha was not best pleased.

“What will you make your precious cheese with now?” she demanded, shaking her head.

“I don’t know. I’m sorry, Martha, I . . .”

“Hush, now. It was an accident. I daresay the pail was getting old. Run along to Ambrose and get it mended, then I’ll see if we can get you some of Amelia’s milk. Go on, quickly. No time to waste.”

“Yes, Martha.” Louisa escaped gratefully.

In the yard Edgar was sloshing the milk away, chased by a horde of over-excited farm cats, and Louisa waved gratefully as she took the path up to the old stone barn where Ambrose the blacksmith could usually be found. He’d had a forge down in the village before but Farmer Robert had given him so much work that he now based himself on the farm.

Robert liked to have him on hand for any emergency repairs or to talk through ideas for new machinery, and the villagers didn’t mind coming out to get their horses shod or their tools mended. They were fascinated by Robert’s forward-thinking approach to farming and always welcomed the chance to sneak a peek at his next innovation – or “piece of madness”, depending on who you spoke to!

The insistent ping of hammer on metal told Louisa that Ambrose was at his anvil long before she got close enough to see. She paused in the big doorway, unwilling to interrupt, but he looked up immediately.

“You’re blocking my light.”

“I’m sorry.” Louisa stepped hastily aside. It seemed she was being a nuisance to everyone this morning!

“No matter.” The big smith turned a warm smile on her. “Just come round here a minute whilst I finish off.”

Louisa moved to the point he’d indicated and watched, spellbound, as he hammered at the glowing end of a long, dark piece of iron, turning it round the tip of his anvil to twist the unwieldy strip into an intricate knot.

“That’s amazing!” she blurted out as he lifted it to the light to check the symmetry.

“Thank you. It’s a railing for Robert’s new fencing. He wanted an original shape, so that’s what I’m giving him. One moment.”

He had plunged the metal back into the red-hot fire, and now he fixed it into a vice and, gripping it with heavy tongs, twisted it twice round, the flex of his big muscles belying how easy he made it look. When he had finished he released it and held it up to show Louisa the elegant corkscrew effect.

“There. Do you like it?”

“I do, very much. It’s beautiful.”

“I think so, but I find young ladies tend to prefer somewhat finer metal work.”

Louisa’s hand went automatically to her neck, around which hung her mother’s silver locket. It was something she treasured, though more for its emotional value than its looks.

Ambrose plunged the railing into cold water. There was a loud hiss and he disappeared momentarily in a cloud of steam. When he re-emerged he looked more closely at her.

“Louisa, isn’t it? The new girl?”

“That’s right. Louisa Harris, sir.”

Alison Cook