Living By The Land – Episode 31

IT was a long, tiring and frustrating trip but they finally made it to Home Farm as the sun was tickling at the tops of the trees. Her younger brother, Alexander, hearing them approach, came running out and took Blackie’s reins as Louisa leaped down.

“How is she, Xander?”

“She’s sick, Louisa,” he said, his usually bright face ashen. “So sick, but she’s
still . . .”

He didn’t complete the sentence, perhaps for fear of cursing his little sister.

Louisa flew indoors and took the wooden steps two at a time. As she reached the bedroom door, however, it opened and her father stepped out. Samuel put his finger to his lips.

“She’s sleeping,” he whispered and then pulled Louisa close. She felt his slim body shaking and knew then that he, too, was seeing another terrible sick bed.

“How does she?” she whispered against his chest.

“She’s hot, Louisa, and she raves. She wants . . .” His voice choked and he tried again. “She wants . . .”

“Mother,” Louisa finished, her heart twisting against her ribs. “Let me try.”

Samuel stood aside and Louisa entered the sick room. Betsy seemed to have shrunk since Louisa was last at home and her little chest heaved beneath the sheets with the effort of every breath.

Louisa glanced down at Martha’s basket in sorrow. Even the finest, softest cheese wouldn’t help a girl too weak to swallow.

“Betsy,” she urged.

The girl’s eyelids flickered.


It was a plaintive little cry. Louisa dropped the basket and rushed forward, gathering her sister into her arms without hesitation and kissing her hot little forehead over and over.


The word was as soft as a sigh, and for a terrible moment Louisa thought Betsy was leaving her. Instead, the girl simply curled up into her lap and slept, and it seemed to Louisa as if, already, her breathing came with less effort.

“Oh, Betsy,” she whispered, “why did I leave you?”

In answer her little sister seemed to clutch tighter at her waist in her sleep as the sun slid down beneath the window ledge.

Louisa woke, cramped and stiff, in the middle of the night to find the moon winking at her in the sun’s place. Her father, aunt and brothers had joined her earlier that evening, the boys sitting gingerly at the bottom of Betsy’s bed as their Aunt Helena fed the encumbered Louisa morsels of food. Louisa’s father had paced quietly around them all, as if trying to encircle them with his love.

Betsy had slept on, rousing only to take a little milk and a spoonful of Martha’s tonic – which smelled deliciously of her herb garden at dawn – before curling in around Louisa again. Louisa had felt shy – awed, even – over her sister’s trust in her, but the rest of her family had seemed content and it had felt right to remain here when they finally went off for some rest.

Now, cold in the night air despite the blanket her father had draped around her, and feeling her sister’s hot body like a firestone in contrast, Louisa looked up at the dark sky and finished the prayer that Amelia had interrupted in church yesterday morning.

Had it really only been yesterday?  Her thoughts turned to Callum and the sweetness of their brief walk together. She hoped Amelia had explained her absence. She wondered how her friend’s own afternoon had gone and if she had, indeed, become betrothed to Tiernan. Perhaps Lower Meadow had been celebrating without her? The farm was but two hours’ trot away, but it felt to Louisa right now as if it could be in the Americas for the difference between the two dwellings.

Alison Cook