Living By The Land – Episode 44

IT was a jolting, jarring ride in the old wagon. Silas cradled his poor ankle and tried not to groan as they approached Lower Meadow. Benedict had excused himself to find the others and call off the search, so it was just Callum and Louisa who saw Silas home.

Not that either of them was complaining as they sat together in the moonlight, more closely than was perhaps strictly necessary, until Matthew reined the horse in at the edge of the farmyard.

“Best if I drop you here,” he said, suddenly awkward though he’d chatted away the whole journey.

“But Farmer Robert will want to see you,” Callum objected. “To reward you.”

The lad shifted in his seat.

“Still best,” he said miserably.

“Let me fetch him out, then. If you could just wait a
minute . . .”

“No. I have to get back – for Dad.”

Callum stared at the boy, puzzled, but Matthew was looking increasingly flustered so he nodded and dug into his own pockets.

“As you wish. Here, for now.”

He handed Matthew a shilling and the boy’s eyes lit up.

“Thank you, sir, thank you kindly!” He pocketed it with care then leaped down to help them lift Silas from the wagon.

“Made a bit of a fool of meself, haven’t I?” Silas muttered to Louisa as she took his arm.

She smiled.

“We all do it sometimes, Silas. Ask Ambrose. He’s still mortified about hitting Edgar at the dance, but he marries in a few weeks, so that turned out well enough, did it not? So will this, you’ll see. As long as you’re safe, that’s all that matters.”

“Try telling that to Martha,” he muttered, but now they were entering the blissfully warm farm kitchen and Farmer Robert was coming striding towards them, hands outstretched to clasp Silas’s shoulders.

“I’m sorry, sir. I’ll make it up to you. I’ll . . .”

“Nonsense, Silas. You’ve given me years of service. I think I can spare you a day! Are you hurt?”

Callum explained about Silas’s ankle and Robert looked at his cropsman in concern.

“You’ll not get across to the cottage like that,” he said firmly. “Come into my study and let’s get it bandaged up before we restore you to your loving wife, eh?”

He grinned and Silas’s shoulders relaxed, though he didn’t move.

“Thank you, sir, but I’d better get back. She’ll be worried, I know she will.”

“No, I sent word to tell her you were on your way when Gilbert brought me the news. You can afford ten minutes to sort your poor leg and maybe swallow a cup of tea as well. Everything looks better with something warm in your stomach.”

Silas nodded sheepishly.

“Very kind of you, sir, thank you.”

“You two as well,” Robert said to Callum and Louisa. “I owe you a debt of gratitude for bringing Silas home safe. You’ll be chilly, too, I’m sure.”

Louisa hadn’t even noticed the cold with Callum so close to her, but Farmer Robert seemed determined so she let herself be shepherded into his study. It was the first time she’d been inside the farmer’s private rooms and she was awed by their elegance. Unlike the rustic kitchen in which Farmer Robert always seemed so at home, his study was a rich, oak-panelled room with dark green walls and two beautiful leather armchairs either side of a limestone fireplace. She realised for the first time how much she didn’t know about her hard-working employer.

He pushed Silas gently into one of the armchairs and fetched a first-aid box from a side room. He bent to administer to Silas himself but, mortified at this, Louisa hastened forward to take over as one of the maids appeared with tea.

She sorted through the box and pounced on a poultice containing arnica montana, something her mother had told her helped to reduce swelling. She rubbed some very gently into Silas’s ankle before binding a long strip of linen bandage round the area, acutely aware of the men’s eyes on her.

“Expertly done, Louisa,” Farmer Robert commented when she’d finished. “Where did you learn bandaging like that?”

Louisa flushed.

“From my mother, sir.”

“Grace was a clever lady.”

“She was, sir, at many things.”

“Things she seems to have passed on to her daughter. You’ll make some lucky man an excellent wife one day.”

Louisa froze and Callum choked on his tea. The master looked amused but, luckily for the young people, Silas chose that moment to heave himself to his feet. There was more colour in his cheeks now but he walked very gingerly on his bandaged foot.

Callum stood up to ease his passage between the fancy chairs.

“Thank you for your care, sir,” the old cropsman said, “but I’d best be seeking my wife now.”

“You best had, Silas,” Robert agreed. “Perhaps Callum will be good enough to help you safely to your cottage? We don’t want you getting caught in any more badger holes.”

“Never again, sir,” Silas said, his cheeks flaming.

Callum, with just a brief, regretful glance at Louisa, took the cropsman’s arm and moved to the door. Louisa rose, too, and tidied up the first-aid box whilst Robert saw the two men off, then she handed it to him.

“I’ll be off, sir, thank you.”

“It’s Robert, Louisa, and there’s no rush. You haven’t even touched your tea yet and I would appreciate the company.”

Alison Cook