Living By The Land – Episode 19

AMELIA, however, didn’t seem to hear them, and she remained unusually quiet as they headed across the yard to meet the others and walk down to the village together. Louisa was worried she had offended her somehow and tentatively linked arms.

“Amelia? Is something amiss?”

Amelia looked at her, her usually bright eyes shaded. Then she attempted a smile.

“My father might be there tonight,” she admitted, in such a low voice that Louisa barely heard her.

“Your father? At the dance?”

Amelia nodded and Louisa saw her throat constrict.

“He rarely misses cheap ale,” she muttered bitterly.

“And your brother?” Louisa suggested, wanting to console her friend.

She was rewarded by a smile.

“Yes, hopefully Matthew will come.” Amelia drew herself up a little again. “He’s thirteen now, you know, and turning into a young man.”

Louisa looked at her in surprise.

“You see him?”

Amelia didn’t answer.

“I thought you never went home?”

Amelia shrugged.

“I meet him in the village occasionally. I’m not always off chasing husbands, you know.”

“No, of course not. I didn’t mean . . .”

“I know. Don’t be so sensitive.” Amelia chucked Louisa’s pink cheeks. “Come on – tonight’s going to be fun!”

Louisa looked uncertainly at her friend. Amelia was brash and vibrant in company but vulnerable underneath. Louisa sent up a brief prayer of thanks for her own stable, loving upbringing. Her family may not have had much in the way of wealth, but they had given her confidence, security and opportunity. She thought suddenly of her sister, Betsy, still frail and with much less than Louisa had had at her age, and felt saddened.

Her brother David had ridden over on Wednesday, appearing at the gates of Lower Meadow mid afternoon. Louisa had been watching out for him all day, and had met him halfway down the drive, searching his face for the sorrow she’d been dreading. David, however, had been all smiles.

“Betsy’s much better,” he had assured her. “She’s been eating the soup and sleeping well, and she even rose for a little while this morning. Her fever is still high but Aunt Helena says it’s not so bad. A few more days and she’ll be good as new, we’re sure of it.”

Louisa had been so relieved, she’d burst into tears. Edgar, who had been trimming the hedges, had hurried forward with a handkerchief, and David had raised his eyebrows at his sister.

“I see you’re not too lonely here, Louisa,” he’d teased as she’d hustled him off to the dairy.

“Edgar is just a friend,” she’d said stiffly, though even that was stretching her relationship with the shadowy farmhand.

“So there’s someone else, then?”

“David, no!”

But Louisa had blushed ridiculously, which only made David whoop further, and she had been grateful when Martha had descended on them, clucking like a mother hen at the sight of the skinny lad. Within minutes David had been sat down at the table with a plate laden with Lower Meadow’s finest bread and cheese. This he’d eaten with exuberant expressions of approval that had made Martha beam broadly and had, thankfully, spared Louisa more teasing.

He’d been sent home with a huge food package which Louisa fervently hoped would help Betsy regain her strength. She’d already asked Robert for permission to ride home again next weekend, but for now her family was in God’s hands.

She shook herself out of her reverie as Esther opened the big kitchen door to reveal the rest of Lower Meadow’s occupants standing around in their best clothes, laughing and joking in anticipation of the night ahead. Louisa told herself to set any worries aside and let herself be carried on the tide of goodwill.

Alison Cook