Living By The Land – Episode 38

AMELIA nodded slowly and then grinned with a hint of her usual spark.

“Last night I met him up at the top field, just to send him on his way with my kisses in his memory.”

She returned to her milking with a giggle and Louisa retreated, biting back her misgivings. It wasn’t her business how Amelia chose to run her life, but she just hoped Tiernan came good on his promise. For all her friend’s naughty ways she had a tender heart, and losing him would upset her terribly.

“When do you expect him back?” she asked once she trusted herself to speak again.

“Could be at least a week. He said he’d have to talk about all sorts of business with his father once he was back up there. It’s tedious but then, at least – if all is well – Lower Meadow could be looking for a new dairy maid. I’d better hurry up.”

“Hurry up with what?”

“Oh!” Amelia laughed. “With training you, of course. You may be a whizz with fancy recipes, but you can’t milk cows as fast as I can!”

As if to prove it, she slapped her cow on the rump to send it away and let another take its place.

Louisa shook her head and turned to her own task. For all Amelia’s teasing, she’d miss her if she did go, but for her sake Louisa hoped it would work out. Louisa applied herself to her task and was all but finished when shouting in the yard interrupted her.

“See this? See this? Inside my drainage, it was.”“What’s going on?” Amelia asked.

The two of them went to the shed door in time to see Silas striding towards the dairy with a dense bundle of straw and rags dangling from his hands. Seeing them watching, he waved it furiously in their direction.

Martha had stepped out to meet him but she cowered back as mud and straw flew across the yard.

“Well, that explains why the fields are flooding,” she said.

“It does that,” Silas agreed, eyes blazing, “but it doesn’t explain how it got there in the first place.”

Martha glanced over at Louisa and Amelia, who could only shrug.

“Rags!” Silas bellowed at them, pulling out a torn strip of once-cream linen – the sort they all used for cleaning around the farm – and waving it like a distress signal. “Rags can’t exactly burrow into a sluice of their own accord, can they, now?”

“Perhaps something was making a nest?” Martha suggested, a little desperately.

Silas laughed bitterly.

“Like what? A giant magpie?” He took a deep breath. “Sorry, Martha, my love. But no animal did this, nor no force of nature neither. Only one sort of creature stuffed this lot up my drainage system, and that’s a human one!”

A gasp rippled around the yard.

“It’s sabotage,” Silas confirmed grimly. “Deliberate, mean-minded sabotage!”

No-one knew what to say. They all stared at the bundle as if it might somehow unravel and show them who had woven it. Even Farmer Robert, who had followed his head cropsman into the yard, seemed stunned.

“When do you think it happened?” someone asked.

Robert stepped forward.

“It must have been last night. Silas and I checked the drainage before tea yesterday and the rains came about midnight. My wife was awake and she heard them start. We were all in at tea until six, so it must have been sometime yesterday evening.”

“Not all.”

It was Edgar. The farmhand stepped forward and pointed at Louisa, who flinched.

“Louisa wasn’t at tea.”

“Louisa wasn’t here at all,” his employer said sharply.

“So she says. She wasn’t here when the ram was let loose amongst the sheep, either. Coincidence?”

Louisa couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“Of course it’s coincidence!” she said hotly, pushing her way out of the shed door to face the other farmhands. “I was at home with my sister, two hours’ ride away. I came back this morning.”

“She did,” a voice came and Louisa was warmed and relieved to see Callum step forward. “I saw her arriving.”

“Yes, but from where?”

“For heaven’s sake, Edgar!” Callum retorted impatiently. “You’re suggesting Louisa slept beneath the stars, or should I say, beneath the rainclouds? She’d be soaking wet!”

“Unless she changed. Funny how all this trouble started when she arrived at Lower Meadow.”

Alison Cook