Living By The Land – Episode 40

“THERE’S been no harm done, Edgar, forget about it.”

“I cannot. I’d hate you to think I thought ill of you, Louisa, for I don’t, not at all.” He was looking at her very strangely, his dark eyes popping. “In fact . . .”

“Make room, Louisa!”

Louisa turned with great relief as Amelia landed on the chair to her other side and plonked a stacked plate down on the table.

“You have even more food than me!”

“Got to take it when it’s offered. You never know what sort of hardship could be round the corner.” For a moment Amelia’s pretty face clouded, then she shook it off.

Louisa flushed, recalling her suspicions of Amelia’s beau. She had to talk to her friend, but not until they were somewhere more private. For now, she contented herself with devouring her breakfast before it cooled.

“Fields are draining,” Silas reported curtly as he and Martha took the last seats.

“No long-term harm done, then,” Farmer Robert said easily from his high-backed chair at the top of the table.

“Is that true, though?” It was Isaac, the head shepherd, a man normally reticent in company even on the farm he’d served for many years.

Everyone stared at him and he coughed awkwardly but ploughed on.

“I’m just saying that this feels like one too many incidents to take so lightly. It seems to me someone’s a spite against Lower Meadow and we should be taking steps to find out who – and to stop them.”

The atmosphere in the cosy kitchen changed instantly. Several people nodded. Someone’s knife scraped across their plate and everyone jumped.

“Isaac’s right,” Joshua, the head herdsman, said. “It can’t be that hard to get to the bottom of this – there are not many people here.”

His eyes roved around the table and one of the maids, Rose, gave a little sob. Everyone stared at her.

“It’s not me,” she gasped out, a fat tear dropping on to her cheek. “Honest it’s not! It’s just that it’s all so . . . so awful.”

With that she leaped up and fled for the door, Esther hot on her heels.

Farmer Robert rose.

“Enough of this! I won’t have my people upset. Isaac, I agree, we do need to investigate, but I will do so in my own way. Casting the eye of suspicion around our table is not helpful. Silas has sorted the drainage and the best we can all do is stay alert.”

“How did Silas know where the blockage was?” Edgar asked. “How did he find it so quickly?”

“I said enough!” Farmer Robert snapped, but Edgar had leaped to his feet.

“Of course it wasn’t you, Louisa,” he said urgently to her, making a clammy grasp for her hand and lifting it aloft like a trophy. “How could I think that? The answer is far more obvious.” He turned back to the others. “Ask Silas how he first came to Lower Meadow!”


“I’m sorry, sir, but ask him. He was courting your wife, that’s how. He was courting Miss Dorothea!”

A stunned silence met this announcement and Edgar used it to press his advantage, his hand still clasping Louisa’s in a hot, damp grip.

“Not that she was your wife, then, sir. Oh, no. You weren’t even around, nor I, neither. But my old dad told me Miss Dorothea stepped out with Silas for the whole of one summer. I thought nothing of it ’til now, but think on. If the mistress had married Silas he’d have been in charge, wouldn’t he? He’d have been a gentleman farmer, not just a cropsman. What if he’s borne a grudge all this time?”

“How dare you?” Silas scrambled to his feet and faced down Edgar. “I did step out with Dorothea once or twice, yes, but we were just children. Her father never would have considered the likes of me, and I’d not have had her for my wife, neither, not in a thousand years. Beg pardon, sir, no offence. But Martha’s the one for me, always has been, always will. I don’t take kindly to some whippersnapper suggesting I’ve wasted my precious life hankering after grandness, when I’ve had so much to cherish. And I certainly don’t take kindly to being accused of . . . of treason against my own master, who’s treated me fair these last twenty-odd years. Nor of ruining my own fields as I’ve tended and cared for to the best of my ability all that time!”

He leaned over the table towards a now terrified Edgar.

“I’d sooner drown you, you miserable guttersnipe, than my own corn! Ach, I’m sorry, sir, but I’ve had enough of this!”

Alison Cook