Living By The Land – Episode 65

LOUISA scuttled across the yard to the dairy, her head down. It was a murky, damp day, but it wasn’t only the rain she was dodging. It had been three days since poor Diablo had been killed, but Robert appeared to be no further on in his enquiries. He was striding about the farm, furious, at all hours, as if he might find answers hidden in the barns or trodden beneath a sheep’s hoof. Anyone getting in his way was liable to be cross-questioned.

She made it to the safety of the dairy and dived gratefully inside. She had forgone breakfast – it was too unhappy in the kitchen at the moment – and was looking forward to a glass of warm milk. Amelia was still in bed and Louisa, who had heard her crying into her pillow in the night, had left her friend to rest for a little longer.

Martha was up, however, and she had a guest with her.

“Good day, Frances,” Louisa said, moving towards the blacksmith’s fiancée. “What brings you here so early?”

“Cheese,” Frances told her with a smile.

“To be more specific, Louisa,” Martha added, “your cheese.”

“Mine?” Louisa was puzzled.

Martha nodded.

“Apparently Robert was boasting about your sage and onion cheddar in the tavern the other night. Frances wonders if she might buy some to serve at her wedding breakfast.”

Louisa flushed with pleasure. She had been working hard on her cheeses, but new flavours had seemed a very low priority for Lower Meadow recently.

“That was my mother’s favourite recipe,” she told the two older women now. “I wasn’t sure I’d got it right.”

“Oh, you did,” Frances said, holding up a small slice Martha had carved off the block. “It’s delicious, Louisa, so delicate and creamy. You’re a clever girl, and you’ll make someone a grand wife one day.”

Louisa flushed deeper, something on which the two older women pounced immediately.

“There is a young man, then!” Frances said, delighted. “Has he asked for your hand, Louisa?”


Martha gave Louisa a squeeze.

“You sorted out your problems?” she asked gently.

“We did, but now he has gone away.”

Martha raised an eyebrow.

“It is young Callum, then. Silas told me you two looked rather close the night you rescued him from the tavern. You don’t waste time, do you, lass?”

“Time is far too precious to waste,” Frances interjected briskly. “You have to seize happiness wherever you can get it. Has this boy gone to speak with your father?”

Louisa blinked.

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. He said he was off on an errand for Farmer Robert.”

“Let us hope it’s something that gets to the bottom of all this nastiness, then,” Martha said earnestly. “Twenty years I’ve been at Lower Meadow, and I’ve never known anything like this.”

“Nor me,” Frances agreed. Clearly the news had not been kept from the village for long. “It’s awful, and the worst of it is that it’s my wedding next week. I did want it to be a happy event for everyone!”

“It will be,” Louisa reassured her. “We’re all looking forward to it.”

That much was true, but she had to admit that, right now, it was hard to see how the farm folk would be in a mood to celebrate anything.

“Louisa’s cheese will put a smile on their faces,” Martha said, winking at Louisa.

“That it will,” Frances agreed. She moved towards the door and then turned back. “You should talk to Mrs Breedon at the shop, you know. She has been trying for some time to offer more unusual provisions to her customers – I am sure she would love to stock your speciality cheeses.”

“Speciality?” Louisa gasped, but Martha was delighted.

“Lower Meadow cheese, Louisa! We designed the label, remember? So why not? We can offer the sage and onion, that lovely chive one and something else, perhaps. What other recipes can we try?”

“Well,” Louisa said, excited now, “there is a sweet onion and garlic. It’s strong but very tasty, and I’ve also been wanting to try something with tomato. You can dry them in the sun, you know, and . . .”

She tailed off, realising that, if she were to marry Callum, she might not be here at the farm long enough to mature new flavours.

Martha seemed to understand.

“They make cheese in Northumbria, lass,” she said kindly.

Louisa smiled at her with watery eyes.

“It’s a long way away.”

“Not so far. The roads get better every day, and the stagecoaches go faster and faster. Besides, once you’re a famous cheese-maker you’ll be able to afford your own coach! For now, though, miss, I’m afraid there are cows to be milked!”

She picked up a pail and handed it to Louisa, who took it with a grin.
“You can’t make cheese out of thin air, can you?”

“No. And push that Amelia into work – the girl is slacking.”

“She’s sad just now.”

Martha pursed her lips.

“We’re all sad, but work is work. Now, off with you.”

Alison Cook