Living By The Land – Episode 15

THE sun was already rising high and hot on her back by the time she finally took the familiar track to Home Farm. She craned eagerly forward, keen for a first glimpse of the small but well-cared-for buildings that made up the smallholding she’d always called home, and her heart swelled as she saw it.

At first glance it looked deserted but then, with a loud “Boo!” her two brothers dropped from an oak tree right in front of her. She jumped and they laughed uproariously.

“Got you, Louisa!”

“You did, horrors!” Louisa was already off the horse, her arms wide, and David and Alexander tumbled into them, clutching her tightly.

“Oh, it’s so good to see you,” Louisa said. “I swear you’ve grown already, both of you.”

David pulled away.

“I’ll be taller than you soon!”

“That you will, and I’ll wager Dad will be glad of it. Where is he?”

David’s look of pride deflated suddenly.

“He’s inside,” he said, his voice thin.

Louisa’s heart jolted with alarm.

“Why? What’s wrong? Is he ill?”

“No,” Alexander said. “Dad’s fine. It’s . . .”

“It’s Betsy,” David supplied.


Louisa ran for the farmhouse, leaving David and Alexander to bring Blackie into the stables. Her aunt Helena was in the kitchen, but saw from her face that she’d heard about her sister and, with only the briefest of hugs, ushered her up the little wooden stairs.


Sam turned from his place at Betsy’s bedside and for a moment his face flooded with delight.

“Louisa, lass. Oh, it’s good to see you.”

He half rose, but he still had Betsy’s hand in his own and Louisa rushed across to hug him where he was. She looked down at her little sister in dismay. Betsy’s young face was white and her usually bouncy curls lay flat against it. She was asleep, her breathing so shallow that it could barely be seen at all, and it brought back such stark images of her mother’s deathbed that Louisa staggered.


“I’m fine, Dad. It’s just . . .”

“I know, lass. I’ve had the doctor in, but all he says is that it’s a fever and a bad one. Might be something she caught playing in the river with her brothers, though they both seem fine.”

“Thank God.”

“Thank God indeed, but Betsy, she’s so little. I fear she’s too weak to fight it off.”

Louisa bent over the eight-year-old.

“Betsy?” she said softly. “It’s me. It’s Louisa.”

The girl’s eyelashes fluttered but she didn’t wake.


The eyes opened and a ghost of a smile flitted across them.

“You’re really here,” Betsy whispered.

Louisa leaned in closer.

“I really am, and I’ve brought you cheese – lovely rich cheese I made myself. I’ll make you better, Bets.”

The girl nodded but her eyes closed again.

“Is there nothing the doctor can give her?” Louisa asked her father.

“Nothing, though he suggests a good chicken broth with plenty of garlic.”

“Do you have that?”

Sam swallowed.

“Things are tight until the harvest comes in, Louisa. We lost a lot of time over the winter with . . .” He tailed off, but they both knew it had been grief that had cost them valuable work time. Were they to pay for it so harshly now?

“The doctor’s bill took the last of our funds, but I’m going to appeal to Farmer Martin to let me have one of his old boilers. If you can stay with Betsy, then perhaps I could go now?”

He half rose again but Louisa shook her head and fumbled for the satchel she still had over her shoulder.

“We can do better than that. I’ve brought money, Dad. Not a lot, but enough for a chicken, and a good, plump one at that.”

She pulled out her purse and handed it to Sam but he dropped it on the bed.

“No, Louisa, I can’t. You should be saving that for your future life.”

“What about Betsy’s life? That’s what’s important now and you have to let me help, Dad. You have to.”

She saw Sam nod.

“You’re a good girl, Louisa. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Or without Betsy,” Louisa retorted, her arms around him, “so let’s make sure you don’t have to. There’s been enough loss in this family already.”

Again he nodded.

“I’ll send one of the boys up to Martin’s straight away.”

“Good,” Louisa said. “Now, how about trying some of my cheese whilst we wait? It’s not quite up to Mum’s standards but I’m working on it.”

She was rewarded with a smile.

“I’ve no doubt of that, Louisa, lass, no doubt at all.”

Alison Cook