Living By The Land – Episode 13

THE smith laughed, a booming sound that echoed around the big barn walls.

“Call me Ambrose, everyone else does. What can I do for you?”

Louisa lifted up the broken pail.

“Martha said you might be able to help with this.”

He took it with a snort.

“Wooden handle! Useless. They rot, you see, in a way that metal . . .”

He stopped mid sentence, peering at the offending handle, then took it to the door to inspect it in more light. Louisa saw him shake his head.

“What’s wrong?”

He turned.

“This wood isn’t rotten,”
he said. “Far from it. It’s been sawn through.”

“Sawn? But . . .”


Ambrose thrust it at her, his big fingers indicating the rough edges along the break. Louisa swallowed.

“Why?” she managed, her voice little more than a whisper as she pictured her milk rushing across the yard, eager to advertise her incompetence.

“Who knows? A prank?”

Louisa felt tears well and fought to hold them back but the smith, noticing, placed a kindly arm around her slim shoulders.

“Hey! There, there, girl, no use crying over spilled milk!”

“It’s not the milk!” Louisa took the surprisingly clean handkerchief Ambrose held out. “It’s that someone meant me harm.”

“Not harm, my dear, surely?”

“Shame, then. It’s like the mouse all over again.”

The tears were coming thick and fast now and there was nothing she could do to stop them. Ambrose, however, didn’t seem to mind. He held her against his broad chest as her father would, and let her cry.

“It’s a funny old thing, a farm this size,” he said as she calmed a little. “So many people in one place, and most of them ambitious. It’s bound to stir up a few tensions.”

Louisa looked up at him.

“Why me? I’ve barely been here three weeks and I’ve done nothing to anyone, not that I know of. Why would they dislike me so much?”

Ambrose sighed.

“It’s probably not you, my dear. You’re not the only one who uses the pails, after all.”

Louisa considered.

“Well, no. Amelia does, and Martha sometimes.”

“There you are, then.”

“But why would someone want to upset them?”

Ambrose shrugged.

“Amelia can be a little . . . over-friendly with the boys,” he suggested lightly. “Someone could be offended?”

Louisa’s eyes widened. It was a possibility. Amelia had her sights very much set on Tiernan now, but by all accounts he wasn’t the first on the farm she had courted. Maybe her friend needed to be more careful than either of them had thought!

“Try not to let it worry you,” Ambrose was saying. “I’ll fit a nice new handle to this pail – a metal one this time, good and strong – and you can forget all about it. Can you wait?”

“Will it take long?” Louisa didn’t want to upset Martha further.

“Five minutes. Take a seat.”

He patted a barrel and Louisa hopped up on to it, watching as he took a long strip of metal from one wall.

“You’re Sam Harris’s daughter, are you not?” he said conversationally as he began to work. “I remember Sam. Same age as me, he was. We used to drink together on occasion, afore he married that nice Grace Johnson. She your mother, is she?”

“Was.” The word was lost in a hammer blow.


Louisa took a deep breath.

“She was my mother. She died last year.”

“Oh. I’m sorry, my dear. Poor Sam.”

Louisa nodded, not trusting herself to speak further.



Alison Cook