Living By The Land – Episode 55

ONCE Betsy was asleep, Louisa crept from the room and looked in on Xander. The boy had got himself into bed at least, but rather than lying down to sleep, he was sketching furiously in a little notebook.

“What’s that you’re doing?” Louisa moved closer.

Xander looked up and blinked. His hand went automatically to hide the page but reluctantly he let Louisa peel it back.

“Xander, that’s amazing!”

The boy shrugged.

“I just wanted to capture all I’d seen today before I forgot.”

“May I?”

Louisa took the little pad and flipped back through page after page of exquisitely detailed drawings – diagrams of machines and systems, all in perfect perspective and with neat little notes all around.

“They’re just sketches,” Xander said, fiddling with his sheets.

“They’re wonderful. We should show Robert these in the morning.”


“Yes, Xander. He’ll love them.”

“Do you really think so? He’s so amazing, Louisa, so clever and so modern. Do you know what he said?” He lowered his voice and glanced around as if it was a great secret. “He said that one day, if I keep working hard at school, I might be able to come here as his apprentice!” The last word came out in a squeak of excitement.

Louisa couldn’t resist hugging her awkward little brother.

“That’s wonderful, Xander.”

“Isn’t it? I’d get to help with his machines and learn about breeding, and study irrigation and . . .”

“And see me?”

“Oh, yes, of course. See you. That would be good, too.”

“But not as good as the machines? No, don’t fret, I’m teasing. I’m glad you’ve had a good day but now you must sleep.”

“I must. Farmer Robert said he’ll show me the sluice gates tomorrow. Do you know, he’s invented a special lever
that . . .”

“Sleep, Xander!”

Reluctantly he stopped talking and lay down, though as Louisa backed out of the room she suspected his dreams would be filled with gates and cranks and whatever other fancy innovations were crowding into his busy brain.

Louisa was still smiling at her brother’s enthusiasm as she headed downstairs, but the sudden quiet of the farmhouse kitchen unnerved her and her mood dipped instantly. If she was to keep her promise to Betsy she had to try to find Callum, but even the thought of it made her heart batter against her chest like a bird caught in a chimney.

“You promised!” she told herself sternly and forced her steps towards the door.

As she reached for the handle, however, she heard a strange noise in the far corner of the kitchen – a distressed little snuffle, as if some creature was hurt or trapped. Alarmed, she turned back and made her way cautiously round the great table.


Her friend was sitting on the floor, both arms wrapped around Robert’s hound and her face buried in his soft neck. The dog looked mournfully at Louisa and she went forward to rescue him from Amelia’s embrace.

“Amelia, it’s me, Louisa. What’s wrong?”

Amelia looked up and Louisa was shocked to see her usually clear features blotched and lined with pain.

“Please, what’s happened? Are you hurt?”

“Only my heart.”

“Oh.” Louisa sank down next to her friend who detached herself from the dog and ran her hands over her mussed-up hair.

“Don’t worry, Louisa, it’ll pass. It always does.”

She sounded so resigned it made Louisa want to cry herself.

“Always?” she asked tentatively.

Amelia shrugged.

“I’ve had my share of troubles, but I’m tough, Lou. I’ll fight my way out somehow.”


“Afraid so. Boring, isn’t it? I won’t talk about it any more after tonight, I promise. He still wants to marry me, even if his father disinherits him, so I’ve told him it has to end. I’ve told him he has to go back to Northumbria, to her. I think he will, too.”

“I’m so sorry, Amelia.”

“Yes, well, someone else will come along. Not as good, maybe, but I’m used to second best.”

“There must be a way.”

“No. Callum doesn’t want to marry Sally.”

“He might now.”

“Why?” A faint spark lit in Amelia’s eyes. “Have you quarrelled with him?”

“Not exactly.”

“But you liked him?”

There seemed little point in pretending.

“I liked him,” Louisa admitted, more to the floor than to her friend.

Amelia’s hand grabbed her own.

“It’s rotten being poor, isn’t it?”

Alison Cook