Living By The Land – Episode 42

MARTHA came back some time later to report unhappily that she’d been unable to find Silas. Louisa and Amelia comforted her, insisting he’d just be walking off his temper, but when neither the lunchtime broth nor the teatime cheeses and hams lured the head cropsman back to the Lower Meadow kitchen they, too, began to worry.

“I’m so sorry, sir,” Martha said to the farmer, her voice shaking. “It’s not like him to miss work.”

“Hush, now,” Robert said kindly. “I know that. Perhaps he’s sought comfort in a tavern?”

“He’s not a drinking man,” Martha said stoutly before adding, “though I’ve rarely seen him so het up before, so I suppose it’s possible.”

Her employer smiled.

“Don’t fret, Martha, I don’t blame him for it. Let’s all eat our tea and then perhaps some of you will go out and search?”

Eager faces nodded agreement, keen to promote peace after a troubling day. As soon as the meal was over Robert organised them into pairs to seek out the six taverns within walking distance of the farm.

“No staying to keep him company,” he warned, though none too sternly, and the search parties set off in optimistic mood.

Louisa was content for, thanks to an astute bit of manoeuvring by Callum, she now found herself setting off up the hill with him on the very route they should have trod the day poor Betsy took ill. It was a soft, warm evening with the sun still topping the trees, and despite their mission Louisa felt ridiculously happy.

As they clambered over the stile at the side of the drive, Callum took her hand to help her down, then kept her fingers lightly in his own so that, thus joined, they climbed the gentle slope up to the far reaches of the Lower Meadow lands. For a while neither of them spoke, content to keep pace together, but as the coppice where Amelia had met Tiernan came into view, Louisa felt unease prickle the edges of her happiness.

She turned to Callum.

“Your brother has ridden home?”

“Yes. He wanted to talk to Father about a few things before we end our time at Lower Meadow.”

“Farm business?”

“I believe so. Why?”

Louisa bit her lip.

“He didn’t say anything
about . . . marriage?”

“Marriage?” Callum spluttered. “No! Should he have?”

Louisa’s stomach churned. She had no idea how to reply but Callum was looking at her so openly, and his hand was so warm and safe around her own, that she was sure that if there was a plot – and Lord knew, she hoped there wasn’t – he couldn’t be part of it.

She took a deep breath.

“Amelia believes Tiernan has ridden north to ask your father’s permission to marry her.”

“Amelia?” Callum blew out a long breath. “Ah. Tiernan does seem sweet on her, but it can be no more than that, Louisa. He’s been promised to our neighbour’s daughter these many years!”

Louisa nodded.

“He told her that.”

“He did? Good heavens, maybe he’s serious, then.”

“Do you really think so?”

Louisa pictured Amelia’s bright face as she talked of her beau and prayed that he was.

“He could well be. But, Louisa, Father will not release him. Sally – our neighbour’s daughter – is an only child. She will inherit great lands, ripe lands. While Amelia . . .”

“Is just a dairymaid with a drunk for a father?”

Louisa jerked away from Callum, enraged suddenly on her friend’s behalf, but he caught her shoulders and pulled her back.

“I’m not saying I agree, Louisa, I’m just telling you how things stand.”

She nodded, her anger fading at his proximity to be replaced with something no less disturbing.

“And you?” she dared to ask. “Are you similarly betrothed?”

He shook his head and took a step closer.

“I have no ties. Save, perhaps, those my heart is knotting for itself.”

His hand found her chin and he tipped it up so that she was looking straight into his face. Louisa felt as if her blood were galloping around her body as his lips dipped slowly towards her own, but barely had they touched when a shout from the hilltop sent them springing apart.

“Hoi, Callum – over here! We’ve found Silas.”

Benedict, one of the farmhands, was waving keenly and embarrassment flooded through Louisa before just as swiftly being replaced by fear for Silas’s welfare.

Both she and Callum began to run up the field but Benedict was calling again.

“It’s all right. He’s perfectly safe, fast asleep on a bench in the back of the King’s Head. Gilbert has run to let the master know, and I just need help to get him home.”

Callum eased his pace and, under the thin pretext of escorting Louisa across the rough field, took her hand once more. He said nothing but his eyes spoke volumes, and she found herself longing to be alone with him again.

For now, though, Martha was at home fretting herself to pieces, and they must restore her husband to her as swiftly as possible.


Alison Cook