Living By The Land – Episode 14

“I’M a widower myself,” Ambrose said, filling the silence. “Lost my Jeanie fifteen years ago last February. Still miss her, though recently I’ve been, er, stepping out again.” He blushed, if that was possible with his fire-reddened face.

“Who is she?” Louisa asked with a smile.

“A Mrs Clarke. Frances. A fine lady. Lost her husband a few years back and runs his farm herself now, till her little ’uns get old enough to take it on. It’s the other side of the village and doing very well, too. Expanded in the enclosure acts, much like this place. That was about the time her husband died, matter of fact, but she didn’t let it faze her. Oh, no! She’s a wonderful woman.”

Louisa smiled again.

“I’m sure she is, and she’d be lucky to have you as a husband.”

“I hope so.” He looked over, every bit as eager as Tiernan had been with Amelia this morning, but then he straightened his face. “We’ll have to see if God wills it.”
“But you’re courting?”

“In a fashion. Still, bit silly, isn’t it, at my age?”

“Not at all! I hope my
father . . .”

She couldn’t say it out loud. The thought of her mother being replaced in their lives hurt too much, but she also knew she didn’t want her dad to be alone for the rest of his life, especially once her brothers and sister grew up and left home. She must go and see them, and soon.

“You miss him,” Ambrose suggested gently.

“I do, yes, and my brothers – scamps though they are – and my little sister. Everyone’s been very nice here, but . . .”

“It’s not the same as family. That’s true enough. Here you go!”

He held out the bucket, now with a curly new metal handle. Louisa took it.

“Thank you so much. Do I owe you?”

She felt awkward again. She’d been saving her money to take home. How much did metalwork cost?

Ambrose, however, shook his head.

“Don’t you worry about that. I’ll sort it with Robert at month’s end. It’s all part of farm maintenance. Very big on that, Robert is, and he’s right. A well-equipped farm is an efficient farm.”

Louisa nodded, thinking of the hours her own father spent cleaning and polishing tools that looked fine to her.

“He’s a good man, Farmer Robert, isn’t he?” she said as she made for the door.

“The best,” Ambrose confirmed. “There’s plenty out there as criticise him, but they’re just jealous. Not that he doesn’t make mistakes – you can’t try new things without – but he has more successes as a result. And he’s a fair employer, too. You’ve done well to get to Lower Meadow, young Louisa.”

“Even when someone saws through my handle?”

“Even then. It’ll all turn out to be some sort of silly misunderstanding, my dear. You’ll see.”

Louisa hoped he was right, but as she turned away from the warmth and comfort of the forge and its kindly occupant, she felt a shiver of fear.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she told herself sternly.

As Ambrose said, she was very lucky to be a part of such a welcoming and innovative farm, and surely she was old enough to cope with a few petty squabbles! As she headed back to the dairy, however, she couldn’t help feeling that she’d cope better if only she knew whose these squabbles were and why they were directed at her.

The sun was only just peeking over the treetops on the upper pastures when Louisa saddled Farmer Robert’s pack pony and rode out of Lower Meadow farm. It was Sunday, her day off, and she’d been granted permission to ride the 20 miles home for the day.

“’Course you can go, lass,” her employer had agreed easily when she’d approached him after tea on Friday. “I’ll wager your dad’s missing you.”

Louisa had just bobbed her head, but Farmer Robert had surprised her by laying his big rough hand on hers and adding gently, “And you him, no doubt?”

She’d lifted her head, surprised, and met the full beam of the farmer’s blue-grey gaze.

“I may not have children of my own, Louisa, but I’m not without understanding.”

“No, sir, of course not.” Tears welled in her eyes.

Amelia had told her about how many years Robert and his wife, Dorothea, had tried for a baby. Dorothea was sickly, her attractions as a bride more, Amelia had hinted, in her father’s farm than her own skinny body. These days she tended to keep to her own rooms in the upstairs of the beautiful farmhouse, and she certainly never joined the workers for the boisterous high teas that Louisa was learning to love.

No doubt seeing her stricken expression, Farmer Robert had squeezed her hand.

“Hush, child, don’t fret. Take old Blackie; he’ll get you there safe. And give my good wishes to your father.”

Louisa had been so grateful she’d almost wanted to cry again, but she’d done enough of that for one week so she had retreated to join Amelia.

“I can’t wait to see them all again,” she’d confided excitedly to her friend.

Amelia, however, had just grunted.

“Lucky you.”


“If I never saw my old man again it would be too soon,” she’d muttered darkly, “though I worry about my brother. I want him brought here next year – that’s if I’ve nowhere better to take him by then, eh?”

She’d winked, her usual bounce firmly back in place, and Louisa left the subject alone.

Now, however, as she turned for home she felt sorry for Amelia. Her family’s little farm was barely a mile away from Lower Meadow but she seemed to avoid it like the plague. In contrast, Louisa felt her own excitement mount and Blackie seemed to go far too slowly for her impatient heart.

Alison Cook