Living By The Land – Episode 37

AT that moment Farmer Robert arrived, no doubt drawn by the commotion.

“What’s going on here?”

Silas turned to him in relief.

“It’s the bottom fields, sir. Drainage is all stuffed up. Something’s in t’top sluice. I’m darned if I can reach it, but it can’t have got there natural, like. The fields are knee-deep and the channels are so high there’s nowhere for t’water to run to!”

Panic thickened his accent so that Louisa could scarce make out what he was saying, but Farmer Robert seem to grasp it immediately and the two men strode out, heads together in deep discussion.

Martha shook herself down.

“Thank heavens for that! All that fuss over a bit of water.”

“Exactly,” Amelia agreed. “What harm can it do? Corn can’t drown!”

“It can,” Louisa corrected her. “At least, it can rot, which comes to the same thing. It nearly happened to us one year. Dad and the men were up all night digging trenches to drain it off! Not just them, neither.” Her head filled suddenly with an image of her dear mother, skirts hooked up into her waistband, digging with the rest.

She smiled. She would share the memory with the others next time she saw them. She’d been as guilty as the rest of hoarding up thoughts of their mother, as if they might wear out. The truth was quite the reverse – memories needed to be shared and treasured to stay alive.

“What did Silas mean, ‘not got there natural’?” Martha’s voice interrupted her thoughts.

Amelia shrugged.

“I don’t think he meant anything at all. He wasn’t making much sense, was he? Now, are we going to milk these cows today?”

“Yes, yes.”

Martha waved them away, but she looked worried still and Louisa was glad to escape, especially as Amelia seemed bouncy and excitable.

“Well?” she asked, nudging her friend as they crossed the yard to the milking sheds where they could hear the cows stamping impatiently.

“Well what?” Amelia returned with a coy grin.

Louisa groaned.

“How was your walk with Tiernan on Sunday?”

Amelia fluffed herself a little.

“Most satisfactory.”

“He asked you . . .?”

“Not as such.”

“Not as such? Come on, Amelia, stop teasing. What happened?”

Amelia giggled, let them both into the shed and closed the door behind them. Once they were alone she grabbed Louisa’s hand.

“He said he loves me.”


“He did. He said he loves me and he wants to make me his wife!”

“That’s wonderful, Amelia!”

“Yes, but there’s just a tiny bit of a problem. He’s sort of, well, engaged already.”


“Not properly. Not with a ring, or a wedding date or anything. He doesn’t even like the girl, really! It’s just one of those family things – an unspoken arrangement between his father and some other family up in Northumbria. Their lands border each other so it’s just a practical arrangement.”

“Amelia, that could be a powerful alliance. It could make their farm . . .”

“Thank you, Louisa. I don’t need to hear that. You’re meant to be my friend.”

Louisa bit her lip, chastened.

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I just don’t want to see you hurt, Amelia.”

“Yes, well, I won’t be.”

Amelia sat herself firmly down on the milking stool.

“Tiernan’s gone to see his father,” she said as Louisa sat at her own stool and guided the first cow into position.

Louisa stopped milking and leaned down to peer at her friend beneath the cow’s big belly.

“He’s gone home to Northumbria? But that’s two days’ ride away.”

“At least, but he says I’m worth it. He’s going to secure his release from the ‘arrangement’, and then he’ll be free to propose to me. Isn’t that wonderful?”

Louisa was pretty sure this release wouldn’t be as easy to secure as Amelia was making out, but she also knew, from the high pitch of her friend’s voice, that Amelia was aware of that. She returned to her milking, killing time as she thought of something encouraging to say, and for a while the shed was silent save for the soft squirts of the milk in the pails and the occasional sigh from the relieved cows. Eventually Amelia spoke again, her voice small behind the big, soft side of her cow.

“He will come back, won’t he, Louisa?”

Louisa leaped up instantly and went round to her friend.

“I’m sure he will. He loves you.”

Alison Cook