Living By The Land – Episode 43

THAT, as it turned out, was not going to be a straightforward matter. Silas was asleep in one side of the bar of the King’s Head, a shabby little tavern just off the main road into town. He was curled up on a thin wooden bench, and another man sat at his side, nursing two flagons of ale.

As Louisa approached, keeping close to Callum in such dubious company, the other man looked up and Louisa saw, with a start, that it was Amelia’s father, George. What was he doing sitting over Silas like this?

“Silas?” She stepped as far round Amelia’s father as she could and touched the herdsman’s arm. He didn’t stir.

“You won’t wake him all gentle like that, lass!” George laughed. “Been asleep ages, he has. He came limping in a while back and had a mug of ale, then just sat muttering into it. Ordered a second and one for myself, good man that he is, but barely touched it before he went off to sleep. Don’t worry, though, I’m looking after it for him.”

He waved an all-but empty flagon.

“Limping?” she asked in concern.

“That’s right. Worried about him, are ya? He’s a lucky man.”

Suddenly George reached out a grubby hand to grab Louisa. She flinched back but Callum was already there, putting a protective arm around her and drawing her away. With a grunt, George turned back to his ale as Benedict stepped forward and shook the sleeping cropsman.

“Silas. Silas, wake up!”

Silas stirred, then suddenly his eyes shot open and he looked blurrily at Louisa.


“No, Silas,” Louisa said quickly. “It’s me, Louisa. I’m here to take you home to Martha.”

“Martha? Oh, my beautiful Martha!” Silas sat up, rubbing his eyes. He glanced around the tavern. “I want to go home.”

“Of course you do,” Callum agreed, “and that’s why we’re here. Come on.”

“No!” Silas shook his head violently. “She won’t want me. She’ll hate me.”

“She won’t,” Louisa said but Silas waved her away.

“She will, and I don’t blame her, neither, though Dorothea’s nothing to me. Farmer Robert’s welcome to her, skinny, sickly little thing as she was – still is, as far as I can see.”

Callum glanced around in alarm and tried to shush the cropsman but luckily he was back on to the subject of his wife.

“Not like my Martha. Gorgeous woman, gorgeous! And now she hates me.”

“She’ll hate you if you don’t get home soon,” Benedict said tartly. “Come on, let’s be off.”

For a moment Silas didn’t move and Louisa began to wonder if they were going to have to run back for Martha, but then he leaped to his feet. As he did so, however, one of his legs buckled underneath him and he cried out in pain.

Louisa darted forward as Callum caught the falling man. He’d gone as white as new snow and his forehead was creased against evident pain.

“Caught my ankle in a badger hole,” he spat out through gritted teeth. “My own fault, striding around like a fool not looking where I was going. You’d think I’d know better.”

Callum kneeled down and gently lowered Silas’s woollen stocking.

“It’s swollen,” he said to the others. “He’ll never walk back like this.”

“I could run for the horse and wagon,” Benedict suggested.

They looked again at Silas, who had his head in his hands.

“That might be best,” Callum agreed. “I just hope the others haven’t taken it.”

“Taken what?” It was George, his bloodshot eyes suddenly sharp.

“The wagon,” Callum said uncertainly.

“Someone’s taken my wagon?” The drunk staggered crossly to his feet.

“No, no,” Callum hastily assured him. “Not yours. Wait, you have a wagon?”

“I do. Horse ’n’ all. ’Bout all I have got these days, but if my friend here needs it . . .” He nodded sagely. “Good man. Bought me an ale. Works at Lower Meadow farm, you know. Lucky beggar.”

Louisa nodded.

“So do we.”

“Do you now? My girl, my Amelia, she works there. Traitor!”

“I’m sorry?”

“Traitor!” he repeated. “Leaving her old man to fend for himself and going sauntering off after them as has money. After all we’ve been through! Ungrateful thing.”

Louisa shivered and Callum put a protective arm around her shoulders once more.

“Amelia is a lovely girl and a hard worker,” he said stoutly to George, “and you should be proud of her. Now, where’s your wagon?”

“Out yonder, with the boy.”

Louisa darted for the door with Callum behind her, and there, in the poor excuse for a yard, she found Amelia’s younger brother half asleep in a battered old wagon, whilst a stringy horse cropped hopefully at the stubbly grass.

“Matthew!” Louisa shook the lad tentatively and he sprang up, instantly alert.

“Who? What?”

“I’m Louisa, Amelia’s friend at Lower Meadow. We met at Mrs Clarke’s dance?”

Matthew nodded cautiously.

“We need to borrow your wagon to carry an injured friend of ours.”

“We’ll see you rewarded,” Callum added, sending Matthew scrabbling eagerly for the horse’s harness to bring him round, and before long Callum and Benedict had a pale-faced Silas in the back and safely on his way home.


Alison Cook