Living By The Land – Episode 51

LOUISA watched her employer lead Xander inside, the shy boy already chattering nineteen to the dozen, and remembered the farmer talking the other night of his sadness at having no son. She could see clearly the father he would have been, and felt his loss for him.

“Why are you looking all weepy-eyed?” someone said in her ear. “Farmer Robert found a new favourite, has he?”

Louisa whipped round.

“Hush, Amelia! I warned you, none of that ridiculous talk.”

Amelia put her hands up.

“All right, all right. I just don’t want you being made head milkmaid over me, do I? After all, it’s not as if I’m going anywhere now.”

Her lip quivered and Louisa softened instantly.

“No luck with Tiernan, then?” she asked gently.

“No. He says he’ll defy his father and we can elope, but what’s the use of that? I can be poor on my own.”

Louisa shook her head.

“Either you love him or you don’t.”

Sadness flickered across her friend’s face.

“I know, and I do love him, but I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t live on thin air. I’m not putting myself through that again, and I’m not putting Tiernan through it, either. I’m not worth such a sacrifice.”

“Oh, Amelia!”

“Don’t you worry. I’ll keep working on Callum, stubborn thing that he is.”

Louisa jolted at the name.

“Must you?”

“Why not?” Amelia stared at her. “Oh, Louisa, no! Callum loves you?”

“He doesn’t,” Louisa replied.

“But you want him to.”

“No, I . . . Amelia, leave Callum out of it, please. It’s not fair on him.”

“Well, life’s not fair, is it? Not for those of us without fancy farms, anyway.”

There was a strange look on Amelia’s face, and Louisa sought for the right words to get through to her friend. But now Robert was calling her name and she was forced to turn and head indoors.

She glanced back over her shoulder as she was ushered inside and saw Amelia standing small and lost in the middle of the yard, staring after her

Despite Louisa’s unease, it was a happy day. Betsy doted on all the lambs in the breeding sheds and fell in love with the new cross-breed foal Robert was nurturing. David finally emerged from sampling Martha’s fare and proceeded to make quite a favourite of himself with Louisa’s fluttering dorm companions, though he also took time to talk in some detail with both Robert and a tightly bandaged Silas about crop rotations and irrigation. It was Xander, however, who held most of Robert’s attention, asking endless questions about all he saw.

They finished their long tour in the blacksmith’s hut where Ambrose was welding a new design of seed drill for the plough.

“How does it work?” Xander asked, falling on the drawings.

Robert was keen to explain and, as the two pored over the design, Ambrose was free to greet his old friend.

“Samuel, good to see you! You look well, man. A little thin, but then life’s not been kind to you recently. I’m sorry, Sam, Grace was a lovely girl.”

Samuel smiled.

“Thank you, Ambrose. It’s not been easy without her, but we’re getting there.” He turned to Louisa. “The scrapes I used to get into with this chap! Grace said he was a bad influence on me.”

“I was, and you on me besides!”

Samuel laughed.

“She said that, too,” he admitted. “Did Ambrose tell you about the time we were caught . . .”

“Climbing Farmer Dixon’s apple trees?” Louisa supplied.

“I was going to say bathing in the brook at midnight, actually. I’d forgotten about the apple trees! Ah, happy times.”

Despite the words, Louisa’s father looked sad, no doubt at the memory of Grace, and she stepped forward to take his arm.

“Ambrose is to be wed again,” she told him, “next Sunday.”

Alison Cook