Living By The Land – Episode 34

“YOU’RE right, lass, you’re right. I haven’t dared to speak of her for fear of letting the grief take hold, but I would love to.”

Louisa grabbed his hand again.

“It’s all right to be sad, Dad. It’s all right to cry, and it might show Betsy that she’s not the only one feeling that way.”

Samuel smiled.

“When did you get so wise, Louisa? I’m meant to be the adult around here, you know.”

Louisa laughed, too.

“We’re all growing up. Look at David, nearly a man, and Xander shooting up apace.”

She moved to the doorway to watch Xander encouraging the cows into the yard, and Samuel came with her.

“They’re good lads,” he said softly. “David is working wonders on the farm and I imagine Xander will join him once the school term is over.”

He shifted and Louisa glanced over.

“Is something wrong, Dad?”

“No. No, nothing’s wrong. It’s just, well, Xander’s teacher wants him to stay on and study more next year. Something about a gift with the sciences. ‘What use are sciences on a farm?’ I asked, but he just went all mysterious and asked me to think about it.”

Louisa watched Xander carry on obliviously through to the milking shed as she sought for the right words to reply.

“Farmer Robert says science is the door to all our futures,” she said eventually.

Samuel stared at her.

“Does he?” He turned away. “Well, let him pay for it, then! Xander will do well enough here.”

Louisa knew better than to push the point, but it had given her food for thought and later on that day, with Betsy safely tucked up for a nap, she took the chance to go and meet her younger brother out of school.

“Dad tells me you’re good at science, Xander,” she ventured casually once they were out of the village and following the path across the open fields to home.

His eyes lit up and he turned to her, almost bouncing along as he replied.

“I love it, Louisa. We have this new teacher and he’s telling us all about grafting plants and cross-breeding animals. It’s like a miracle, an everyday miracle, and it’s useful, too! Why, do you know, if you take a tough little mountain sheep and cross it with a . . .”

And he was off, filling the spring afternoon with his jumbled but excited thoughts. Louisa listened, only partly understanding but recognising his passion and loving him for it.

“You must meet Farmer Robert,” she told him as they turned back into Home Farm. “This is exactly the sort of work he’s doing.”

“Is it a very big farm, Louisa?”

Louisa nodded. In truth, ashamed though she was to admit it, she found the farm of her childhood almost claustrophobically small after the vast space of Lower Meadow. She knew her family had been lucky – nay, had worked hard – to keep it when the enclosure acts a few years back had swallowed up so many small farms, but it still seemed very domestic after Farmer Robert’s concern.

“Come on,” she said hastily. “Smells like tea’s ready.”

Alison Cook