Living By The Land – Episode 60

NO-ONE had much appetite for breakfast the next day. Martha ushered Louisa into the dairy where David was already sampling the cheese, though even he was quiet, his charm hidden as a mark of respect for the farm’s sorrow. Xander and Betsy sat together, both pale – Betsy from lack of sleep and Xander, although undisturbed in the night, from disappointment at the cancelled tour of the sluice gates.

“We’ll be getting away, Louisa,” Samuel said, placing a warm arm around his daughter’s shoulders. “We’ll only be in the way here today.”

“Before church?” Louisa protested.

“I think it’s best. We can attend Evensong back home. Poor Robert won’t want to be bothered by visitors with all this to sort out.”

“But who would want to kill a bull?” Xander demanded. “And such a bull!”

The adults shushed him, but it was a valid question, and one to which Louisa truly feared the answer. There were so few people at Lower Meadow, and she had grown close to every one of them – even feather-brained Esther and Rose, and grumpy farmhand Edgar. She hated to think any one of them capable of ending poor Diablo’s life so cold-bloodedly.

“Someone must really want Farmer Robert to suffer,” David said quietly.

“But why?” Louisa asked.

“I don’t know. He’s been very successful, after all, and success breeds enemies. People are swift to envy, Louisa.”

“But it doesn’t make sense. The people here rely on Robert for employment.”

“All of them?”

Louisa shifted awkwardly. Callum and Tiernan did not. They were just staying here, and would soon be going back to their own farm in Northumberland. What if one of them had come here intending not to learn, but to sabotage? What if – God forbid – both of them had?

It couldn’t have been Callum, she reminded herself fiercely. He had been with her the night before. And yet she had no idea where he had been before he’d come to her. He might still have had the opportunity to kill Diablo.

She shook her head, furious at herself for thinking such things of him.

“Louisa, are you all right?” Betsy clung to her hand.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, it’s just so awful, isn’t it? It makes you question people, and that’s not nice.”

“Not nice, no,” Samuel agreed, “but necessary. I wish we could stay and see you through this, lass.”

Louisa pulled herself out of her misery.

“No, you must go back. There’s the farm and school and everything. I’ll be fine, Dad, really. I have good friends here.”

“And a young man, if I’m not mistaken?”

Louisa flushed, but it did not feel like the time to talk of romance. Besides, she had seen no sign of Callum yet this morning, and the whole proposal still felt a little unreal.

“I’ll come home soon,” she said. “When all of this is done with. We can talk then.”

“Do.” Samuel pulled her close. “We’ll look forward to it.”

“I will, especially,” Betsy said, creeping in between them.

Louisa pulled away and bent down  to clasp her little sister’s slim shoulders.

“You keep on doing all that good living, Betsy,” she said fondly.

“I will, Louisa.”

“And you, Xander.” Louisa rose and turned to her younger brother.
“Work hard! Farmer Robert doesn’t make promises he doesn’t mean to keep, and if you keep progressing that apprenticeship will happen.”

“If there’s a farm for it to happen on.” The boy’s lip quivered.

“Ah, now, don’t talk that way. Farmer Robert will sort it out. Will you leave me your drawings to show him when the time is right?”

Blushing, her brother pulled out his notebook, carefully selected two pages and detached them. Louisa folded them with care and tucked them into her apron pocket.

She turned to David. The older (and greedier) of her brothers, she noticed, was cradling a large package of Martha’s finest fare, so at least she needn’t worry about her family starving on the
journey home!

“Take care, David.”

“I will, and you, too, sister. It’s a fine place you’ve got yourself here, and I’m sure this nasty business will soon be forgotten.”

Louisa kissed him. She appreciated the sentiment, but she knew that this time it wasn’t going to be forgotten that easily . . .

Alison Cook