Living By The Land – Episode 52

“NO!” Samuel roused himself. “You’ve found a second woman prepared to take you on, Ambrose?”

Ambrose nodded.

“Hard to credit, isn’t it? I’m a lucky man.” He stared intently at Samuel before adding, “Seems it’s possible to love again.”

Samuel shook his head.

“Not for me, Ambrose, old friend. But I am glad for you, truly I am. Will I get to meet the lucky lady?”

The blacksmith nodded.

“I believe there’s been talk of a jar or two in the Green Man tonight. I’ll bring her along.”

“That would be wonderful,” Samuel agreed. “But the little ones . . .”

“I’ll take care of them, Dad,” Louisa said quickly. “You go.”

“Don’t you want to come, too? Is there not some lad you’re stepping out with? It’s Saturday night, after all.”

Louisa blushed furiously.

“No, really. I can go out any Saturday. Please.”

She picked up a metal rod to hide her confusion and Xander pounced on her.

“Careful, Lou, that’s a key part of the seed drill! Look, it goes in here.”

Grateful for the change of subject, Louisa tried to follow her brother’s explanation but was relieved when the big gong rang out from the farmhouse.

“Tea,” Robert proclaimed. “We’d better get back.”

“Right,” David agreed keenly and led the way down the hill to the farmhouse kitchen and the tantalising smell of meat.

Farmhands were coming from all directions. The light was dipping behind the hills, work was done for the day, and tomorrow was Sunday so everyone was on minimum duties. The workers were in a festive mood and the farm rang with chatter and laughter.

Robert fell into step with Louisa as they entered the yard.

“You must come out tonight, Louisa. Martha will watch the young ones, I’m sure, and your father would like to see more of you.”

Out of the corner of her eye Louisa saw Callum entering the yard from the dairy shed.

“You’re very kind, Robert,” she murmured, “but I think you men have much to catch up on.”

There was someone with Callum, she noticed. Straining her eyes against the dusk, she saw that it was Amelia. Hadn’t she asked her to leave Callum alone?

“Nay, Louisa, it’s not the Dark Ages,” the farmer was saying at her side. “Women are welcome. Ambrose is bringing Frances, so why not come along?”

He was looking at her, clearly waiting for an answer, but the others were close now, and as they all crowded in at the kitchen door Louisa could focus on nothing but Callum’s body just inches behind her own. She shifted round to try to speak to him, but his face was resolutely turned to the darkening skies and he did not acknowledge her.

She consoled herself with plans to secure a seat next to him for dinner, but once inside, Robert insisted on leading her to the top of the table to sit with the rest of her family. He called for both Callum and Tiernan to join them, but whilst Tiernan slid obediently into a seat at David’s side, Callum seemed deaf to his name. Robert let it go and rose to say grace and Louisa, head dipped, looked down from under her lashes to see him take a seat as far towards the other end as possible.

“For the food the Lord has laid before us, may we be truly thankful.”

The “Amen” rang out heartily over the enormous rib of beef and Robert took up his carving knife with a flourish.

“Who would like beef? You, young lady?” He smiled at Betsy.

“Yes, please,” she agreed eagerly. “I’m hungry! Your farm is so big and there are so many people on it. I’m tired with meeting everyone.”

“Maybe one day you will work somewhere like Lower Meadow, too,” Robert suggested.

“Or marry a wealthy farmer!” Esther giggled.

Amelia snorted.

“Unlikely,” she spat and the whole table froze. “Marriages in big farms are mapped out years in advance, Betsy, and there’s little you can do about it. Would you not agree, Louisa?”

Louisa’s cheeks flared and she swallowed. She could feel Betsy’s wide-eyed stare on her but it was to the other end of the table that she looked as she drew on all her courage.

“Surely there is still room for love?”

Callum leaped to his feet and flung down his napkin. He sent a furious glare all around the table.

“Love?” he spat out. “Love is very much over-rated.”

Then, with the barest of apologies, he left the room.

Alison Cook