Living By The Land – Episode 29

“THAT’S wonderful, Amelia!”

Martha didn’t seem so sure.

“You watch yourself, young lady. Tiernan is not from around here and you’ve no idea what expectations his family have of him. He’s a wealthy man.”

“I know,” Amelia agreed gaily.

“Wealthy men have responsibilities.”

Amelia pouted.

“You are a spoilsport, Martha. Tiernan loves me, I know he does – and I love him.”

She stuck up her chin proudly and Martha’s face softened.

“Ah, there now, love, I hope it works out for you, I really do. I’m just saying . . .”

“Be careful. I know, Martha, and I will be. Besides, from what I hear I am not the only one stepping out this afternoon.”

She raised an eyebrow at Louisa who flushed instantly.

Martha turned to her.

“Not Callum? My, you two are a pair, aren’t you! Still, you are pretty girls, and not bad workers at that. I would say you deserve nice husbands.”

“Not bad workers?” Amelia snatched up a milk paddle and advanced on Martha, still giggling. “Not bad?”

“Don’t kill her,” Louisa begged, playing up to her friend. “I can’t make cheeses on my own!”

“Oh, all right,” Amelia conceded. “I won’t actually kill her, but . . .”

Whatever she was about to say was drowned out by the sudden clatter of horse hooves in the yard.

“What is that racket?” Martha demanded, hastening to the door and seizing the opportunity to reclaim her paddle as she went. She leaned out into the yard, shading her eyes from the sun, and then she gasped.

“Why, Louisa, it’s that brother of yours. Must be missing my fine food and . . . Louisa!”

She sprang aside as Louisa bundled past her, sudden ice in her soul despite the warmth of the day.


He was down from the pony now and was bent over, his hands on his knees as he caught his breath. His chest heaved, his lowered face was pink with exertion and his hair was slicked back with sweat.

“David, what is it?” Louisa ran to him, grasping his hands so he had to look up at her, and what she saw in his young eyes confirmed all her worst fears. “It’s Betsy!”

“It is,” he agreed raggedly. “I’m so sorry to come like this, Louisa, on a Sunday and all, but she has taken a terrible turn for the worse and we don’t know what it is.

“Yesterday she was up and sitting in the garden just fine, but her fever rose overnight, as if some devil had stoked a fire in her poor little body. She’s burning up, Louisa. Dad says you must come. He sends his apologies to Farmer Robert, but you should come. Now.”

“Of course.”

Louisa caught the bridle of David’s pony as if she would mount the steed there and then, but Martha caught her back.

“There, now, lass,
steady on.”

Louisa turned on her.

“Steady on? It’s Betsy, Martha! It’s my little sister. I can’t lose her as well . . .”

An image of her poor dear mother lying in her bed, cold and still, blazed itself across the soft air before Louisa as if it was painted on the red walls of the farmhouse. She pressed her fists against her lashes to try to pound out the image but it wouldn’t leave. She couldn’t see Betsy that way; she just couldn’t.

“I have to go,” she insisted, pulling free of her boss and turning again to the horse.

Martha’s reply was quiet but firm.

“You do,” she agreed, “but the horse needs resting, feeding and watering if it’s to make it back, and your poor brother, too.”

“Don’t worry about me,” David said, but Martha placed a maternal hand on his shoulder.

“Ten minutes here will gain you twenty on the road, young man, and you know it. Louisa, run upstairs and pack a bag quickly. David, sit yourself down and I’ll get you a nice glass of milk and put together some food for the pair of you. Amelia, could you see to the animal?”

She indicated the pony and Amelia leaped forward and led it towards the stable with unusual meekness.

Alison Cook