Living By The Land – Episode 45

LOUISA looked longingly at the door but, like Callum, she recognised the order in her master’s quiet request, so she dutifully took a seat. She felt awkward and out of place in the elegant chair, but Farmer Robert sat quietly and after a few moments she relaxed and gazed into the dancing flames. Her thoughts strayed to Callum’s lips meeting her own for that all-too-brief moment, and to the farmer’s words.

“You’ll make someone an excellent wife.”

Was that someone Callum? Dared she hope for so much?

“It’s a bad business, this.”

Robert’s voice jolted her out of her reverie. For one terrible moment she thought he was talking about Callum but then she came to her senses.

“Yes, sir.”

“Call me Robert, Louisa, please.” He smiled kindly, then carried on. “Twenty-five years I’ve run this farm, and I’ve never known anything like it. I’m at a loss, if I’m honest, and that’s not something I’m used to. I need a son.”

He gazed into the fire and Louisa saw his eyes swim with sorrow.

“Or a daughter,” he added. “A daughter would have sufficed, but it wasn’t to be. We tried, but poor Dorothea . . . Four times she lost one. The doctors said she wasn’t strong enough to carry a babe to term. She wanted to keep trying, but I wouldn’t force that on a sheep, God help me, so I could hardly expect it of my wife!”

His fingers jerked into tight, hard fists on the arm of his elegant chair and Louisa squirmed in her own, feeling for his pain but at a loss as to how to ease it.

“My father says you are the best farmer he knows,” she offered tentatively. “I’m sure if anyone can get on top of this it is you – Robert.”

He blinked at her, as if waking from sleep, then he smiled.

“You’re a good girl, Louisa. I’m sure Samuel is very proud of you.”

“Dad is proud that I’m here. He often speaks fondly of his time at Lower Meadow. It’s a wonderful farm, truly it is, and it will continue to be so, I know it. It’s late now. Everything seems worse at night, but I’m sure whatever is going on here can be sorted out with the blessing of daylight.”

Her employer nodded slowly.

“I feel you’re right, young Louisa. You know, I’d like to see your father again.”

“And he you. In fact, he was talking of making a visit, if that would be agreeable to you?”

“Agreeable? Why, certainly.”

“My brothers also are keen to see the farm,” she said hesitantly. “Xander, the younger, has a keen interest in science.”

“Does he? Excellent, excellent. Youngsters, that’s what we need around here. Bright young folk with new ideas like you and Callum, and Tiernan.”

Louisa’s skin prickled at the mention of Callum’s older brother and she rose.

“I had better get to bed. You will need to be fresh in the morning.”

“I will.” Robert nodded decisively. “I will. Thank you, Louisa. You’ve been a great help tonight. Your family is welcome to visit Lower Meadow any time . . . providing Lower Meadow is still here.”

He shook off the dark remark instantly and bowed Louisa to the door.

She bade him goodnight and fled into the yard, glad to escape his melancholy.

Barely had she pulled the farmhouse door shut, however, than she was accosted by Amelia and Esther, coming down the drive with the other farmhands.

“Been chatting to Farmer Robert, Louisa?” Amelia demanded as the boys peeled off to their dorm.

Louisa felt herself flush at her friend’s tone.

“No,” she shot back. “Callum and I have brought Silas home.”

“Callum? Silas?” Amelia looked exaggeratedly around the empty yard.

“They’ve gone back to Silas’s cottage.”

“I see. You just stayed to, what? Tidy up?”

“Not really. We were just talking.”

“Clever, Louisa, clever. After a promotion, are you?”


“Got your eye on my job, maybe. Under-milkmaid not enough for you.”

“Or Martha’s,” Esther put in, smirking. “She likes all that fancy cheese-making, don’t you, Louisa?”

“No. I mean, yes. That is . . .”

But the girls had linked arms and were sashaying across the yard towards the dormitories. Esther grinned back at her.

“It’s all right, Louisa, your secret’s safe with us. Souls of discretion, we are, aren’t we, Amelia?”

“Absolutely. Won’t breathe a word of your cunning little plan.”

“I have no plan!”

But the girls weren’t listening and Louisa felt misery curl round the ball of contentment that had sat cosily inside her ever since Callum’s kiss. Amelia and Esther wouldn’t listen to her, nor would they keep quiet. They’d soon be telling everyone she had ideas above herself, and what if it reached the farmer? Or Callum?

It had been a long day. She thought back to Callum, helping her down off Blackie when she’d ridden into Lower Meadow at dawn. He’d been so tender, telling her he’d missed her, and then this afternoon . . . As the memory of their too-brief kiss surfaced again Louisa had to choke back a sob.

Robert had seemed so sad in his study; she’d only stayed to make him feel better. Now, though, rumours would start. If she wasn’t careful, then as surely as the bundle of rags had blocked Silas’s drainage, they would block her budding hopes of happiness once and for all.



Alison Cook