Living By The Land – Episode 32

BETSY shifted against her and lifted her head.

“You’re not Mother,” she said, but her voice was stronger and Louisa’s heart soared hopefully.

“No,” she agreed, “but I’m your bossy big sister. Will that do?”

Betsy giggled.

“That will do fine,” she agreed. “I’m thirsty, Louisa.”

Louisa shifted the little girl in her arms and reached out to pour some water from the jug Aunt Helena had set on the side. She held the cup to Betsy’s lips and her sister gulped thirstily until Louisa had to urge her to take it slowly, for fear of her making herself sick.

Betsy took a final swallow, then pulled away a little.

“You didn’t have to come.”

Louisa jumped. She must have misheard.

“Sorry, Betsy?”

“You didn’t have to come back.”

“Of course I did.”


“Why? Because you’re my sister, of course, and because I love you.”


“You know that, don’t you?” Louisa asked anxiously.

“Yes. I do know that, but you’re needed at work, aren’t you? You’re needed at Lower Meadow Farm. David says it’s very big and very fancy, and they can’t do without you.”

Louisa had thought her heart had been wrung dry already this night, but she’d been wrong.

“Oh, Betsy!” She pulled the eight-year-old into her arms. “I am needed, but you’re my family and that’s –” Amelia’s words echoed in her head. “That’s the most important thing in the world. In fact, right now you’re the most important thing in the world!”

“I am?”

“Oh, Betsy, of course you are.”

The little girl turned her head away and Louisa had to strain to catch her mumbled words.

“It’s just that everyone seems to leave me.”

“Does it feel that way?” Louisa poured a little more of the water on to a muslin cloth and held it tenderly to Betsy’s warm forehead. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart. Mother . . . well, God needed Mother more than we do.”

“Not more than I do,” the little girl replied fiercely.

“That’s why he sent Aunt Helena to look after you.”

Betsy nodded reluctantly.

“Aunt Helena is lovely,” she conceded, “but it’s not the same. What about you, Louisa? Does Lower Meadow need you more than we do?”

Louisa sighed. How could she explain the pressures of the working world to an eight-year-old who had not long lost her mother? She would just have to try for the truth. She glanced up at the silvery moon and sought her words with care.

“It’s more that I need them, Betsy, to make money and learn how to run a farm for myself. Do you see that?”

Betsy nodded solemnly.

“Dad says we need money very badly,” she agreed in her piping little voice. “But he says it’s going to be better this year. Will you come back, Louisa, if it’s better this year?”

Louisa swallowed. How much truth could Betsy take in her weakened state? And yet, protecting her from it had clearly not been doing her any good.

“I will come back to visit, always, but Dad runs this farm, Betsy, and David will run it after him.”

“And Xander, too?”


Louisa’s thoughts flew once more to Callum, also a second child, though by all accounts their farm was vast in comparison to Home Farm and would need at least two men to run it. Where was Northumberland, anyway? Louisa wasn’t sure exactly, except that it was several days’ ride. If, for some reason, she were to move there she would scarcely see Betsy or the others at all.

The thought gnawed at her. She’d been blinded by Callum’s sweet smile, soft voice and attentive manner. She hadn’t been thinking about what a life with him might mean for her and her family and now that she did, it seemed an impossibili“Where will you go?” Betsy was asking, though her little eyes were closing again.

“That will depend,” Louisa said carefully, but Betsy wasn’t as innocent of the world as she assumed.

“On whom you marry?”

“On whom I marry,” Louisa agreed heavily.

“I hope he’s nice,” the little girl said sleepily, “then I can come and stay with you.”

“That you can,” Louisa agreed fiercely. “That you certainly can, whenever you want.”

Betsy smiled and curled herself into Louisa’s lap once more.

“I’m glad you came,” she whispered and fell into a deep and blissfully easy sleep.

Louisa clutched her sister tight and felt tears, held at bay until now by a hard wall of fear, leap to her eyes and spill out on to her cheeks. She couldn’t wipe them away for fear of disturbing Betsy so she let them flow unchecked until they soaked into her crumpled Sunday blouse.

Betsy would be well, she was sure of it, but her own thoughts were in turmoil. She loved it at Lower Meadow. She was excited about making cheeses with Martha and happy with all the friends she’d made there, not the least of them being Callum.

Yesterday morning in the churchyard her future had looked so bright – so simple, even – but now it seemed a murky and uncertain path. Stroking Betsy’s hair, she turned her face to the moon and wept herself to sleep.

Alison Cook