Living By The Land – Episode 35

TEA was, indeed, laid out on the kitchen table, with Samuel presiding over a ham Martha had sneaked into the basket. Betsy was seated near the other end, beaming with delight at being with everyone again.

Louisa glanced at her with concern.

“She’s fine, Louisa,” Samuel said, “just for a little while. She’s had a sleep and she needs company, don’t you, lass?”

He winked at Betsy, who giggled, making Louisa relax. Her father had been lost in thought all day and she feared she’d burdened him with her earlier words, but he seemed cheerful now. Indeed, he was gesturing to his sister to take a rare bottle of barley wine from the sideboard. Aunt Helena poured a glass for all except Betsy, who had a cup of milk.

“A toast,” Samuel declared. “To my four fine children, who make me prouder than they can ever know, and to their mother, my lovely Grace. May she rest in peace.”

Louisa sensed shock ripple round the table and quickly raised her own glass.

“To Mother! She loved your barley wine.”

David raised his glass.

“Goodness, she did. I remember . . .”

He stopped and glanced nervously at his father but Samuel nodded him on, his eyes shining though not, this time, with tears, as the family began to share memories of Grace. They were a little halting at first, nervous of their own emotions, but within minutes stories were tumbling out about the woman who still held them all together as a loving little unit.

Louisa glanced at Betsy and was glad to see that, although her little sister looked tired, she had lost that flush with which fever and fear had tainted her sweet face for too long. Louisa felt a cold shiver down her spine as she thought of how things could have been, but she mentally scolded herself for her gloomy ideas. All would be well here now, she was sure.

Looking round the others she felt a sudden pang of regret, for in truth she did not really fit in around this table any more.

Her mother’s elegant chair, a beautiful oak piece with a delicate acorn pattern carved into the back and arms, had been removed from the kitchen when she died. It had been passed down to her by her own mother, and her mother before that, and would come to Louisa in time. Just now, though, no-one had been able to bear to see it empty and it had been relegated to the back of one of the cowsheds, hidden beneath an oiled tarpaulin to keep it safe.

That had left just five kitchen chairs, so Louisa was now perched on a dairy stool, placing her awkwardly above the others as if to make it clear that she no longer belonged here. She knew she would always be welcome but, as Betsy had so clearly understood, she had to find a kitchen of her own now, one in which she could place her mother’s chair with honour.

Louisa looked from David to Xander to Betsy as they shared thoughts of their mother, words tripping over each other as if drunk on the memories.

They were leaning in across the table, joking and jostling each other, turning naturally to Aunt Helena for second helpings and clearing up in a well established routine of which Louisa had no part. She’d only been away from here for a month but it felt longer, and she knew she had to return to Lower Meadow. She was aware that she had Blackie with her, that the dairy would be short-handed and that her own cheeses would need attention.

She rose suddenly as Xander and David tussled with each other over the last of the washing up, and moved to the window.

“You’ll be heading back, then,” her father said quietly, coming up behind her.

She turned.

“It’s not that I want to.”

“I know, lass. It’s just the way the world turns.”

She nodded.

“I’ll ride out first thing tomorrow if Betsy is well enough. If you can manage?”

“We can manage, lass. We’re doing fine.”

“You are, Dad. Home Farm looks wonderful.”

“Go, Louisa. Lower Meadow is doing you good. You seem surer of yourself. Have you, maybe, met a beau?”

“No, Dad. Nothing like that.”

“Really?” He smiled but let it go. “Time yet.”


“What? You’ll always be welcome here, lass, you know that, but you’d be better with a home of your own to run.”

“Do you plan to marry again?”

“No.” He swallowed hard. “Grace was enough for me. But David will be sixteen soon. It’ll not be long before he’s out a-courting himself, and then . . .”

“And then there’ll be no room for me.”

“You know it’s not like that, lass.”

“I know,” she lied.

She thought of Callum. He was a man she could love – maybe already did, just a little – but his farmlands were so far away. She wasn’t sure she could bear that.

“I’d best be off to bed,” she said. “I’ll need to be up early tomorrow.”

Samuel nodded, then he opened his arms and Louisa stepped easily into them.

“You’ll do whatever is best, I know that. You’re a good girl.”

She prayed her father was right, but how, she couldn’t help wondering, did one know what was best? Her father might think her smart, but she wasn’t so certain.

Alison Cook