Living By The Land – Episode 39

LOUISA glanced around the people she’d grown to call her friends in the last few weeks, and was horrified to see suspicion in some eyes. For a moment or two, tired out after an exhausting few days, she felt tears threaten, but then they were replaced with anger. How dared they?

“I was at home until six this morning,” she asserted, “and my family will confirm it. Lower Meadow Farm has offered me nothing but kindness and respect until now, and I have no reason to wish Farmer Robert, nor any of you, any harm.”

“Quite right.” Martha stepped across and took her arm. “This is a ridiculous assertion, Edgar, and you should be ashamed of yourself.”

Silas agreed.

“Besides, it would take some strength to shove this lot that far up the drainage tunnel, and she’s a slip of a thing.”

“Don’t fret, Louisa.” It was the master. “Nobody is accusing you. Are they, Edgar?”

Edgar shook his head.

“Sorry, sir. no. Louisa’s the last person I’d want to accuse of anything. It’s just all very disturbing, and . . . well, sorry, Louisa.”

“Let’s all get some breakfast,” the farmer suggested, “then perhaps we can look at this more calmly. Louisa?”

He offered her his arm, and she was touched by this.

“Thank you, sir,” she said, “but I’d better finish off the milking first.”

Farmer Robert looked down at her and smiled, more broadly this time.

“Quite right. Quite right, Louisa. Everyone finish up what you’re doing and we’ll meet in the kitchen shortly. Silas, dispose of that mess. At least the water is going down now, so let’s pray no lasting damage has been done. I shall order extra bacon for us all.”

With that he disappeared into the farmhouse and the workers dispersed, muttering amongst themselves. Suspicion had, for now at least, been diverted from Louisa, for which she was grateful. But it remained still, ready to settle on the next victim, and this created an unsettling feeling of distrust around the farm.

Louisa returned to her last three cows and, head down, tried not to think as she emptied their udders, but it was useless. She was as infected with distrust as the rest of them. One thought kept going through her mind – someone had been in the field last night, someone everyone else thought long gone from Lower Meadow.

What had Tiernan been doing as he waited for his tryst with Amelia, and why was he now headed for Northumberland? Was it really to ask for permission to marry a Lower Meadow dairy maid, or was it to plot further trouble for Farmer Robert whose success, after all, had spread far and wide?

Tiernan might really not be here to learn from Farmer Robert, but to put a stop to his good work! But, then, if Tiernan was plotting against Lower Meadow, was Callum in on the plot, too? Louisa pressed her head against the side of her cow and prayed she was wrong. Sadly, it was the only explanation that made any sense!

“More bacon,” Louisa?”

Martha was presiding over the stove, dishing out deliberate good cheer with the mounds of breakfast that Farmer Robert had generously set cooking after the morning’s upsets. Louisa nodded eagerly, ravenous after her early start from home, and took her laden plate to the table.

“That’s hearty fare for a slip of a thing.”

She looked up, dismayed to see Edgar ease himself on to the free chair she’d been hoping to save for Callum.

“I rode a long way this morning,” she said stiffly.

The farmhand flushed and picked nervously at his food.

“I’m sorry I accused you of coming back early, Louisa. I’m just a bit on edge.”

“We all are.”

“I know. I shouldn’t have spoken ill of you.”

He was as pink as his bacon now, and Louisa felt suddenly sorry for him.

Alison Cook