Living By The Land – Episode 66

LOUISA went reluctantly out into the yard. The rain was slow but determined and the clouds seemed to hang so low they touched the farmhouse chimneys and sucked all the light out of the day. There was no-one about. Frances was already halfway up the drive and, although Louisa could hear a few of the farmhands calling to each other up on the higher fields, the yard was deserted. She shivered in the dairy doorway, strangely uneasy.

She glanced up at the dorm, but there was no light in the little window to show Amelia had roused herself, nor in any of the outbuildings. A tiny pool of orange spilled out from the dairy behind her, but its false cheer served only to emphasise the gloom beyond. At the far side of the yard the cows mooed impatiently, straining against the gate.

“Coming, girls,” Louisa called. Her voice sounded ridiculously reedy and bounced pathetically off the walls of the barn.

“Get on with it,” she scolded herself and set out across the yard.

Her patten shoes clattered over the cobbles as if rapping out her presence to anyone watching. Not that anyone could be watching her. Why would they?

Still uneasy, she picked up pace, the pail banging against her legs, and rattled into the gate around the far side of the milking barn. The cows looked at her, curious.

“I know,” she told them, feeling a little better at their cheery presence. “Silly of me, wasn’t it?”

But at that same moment a hand closed on her arm and yanked her back against the barn wall. Louisa opened her mouth to scream but a second hand clamped tight over her mouth, pinning her back against the wooden wall like a butterfly on a board.

“Louisa,” her assailant said softly. “I’ve been after you for a very long time.”

“Don’t scream,” the voice whispered in her ear.
She nodded, terror making her obedient, and slowly and carefully the hand was removed from her mouth. She sucked in a deep breath.

“Edgar!” She choked. “Edgar, what are you doing?”

“I don’t know.” The young farmhand stepped back, looking at the hands that had grabbed her as if they belonged to someone else. “I really don’t know. I’m sorry. It’s just . . . you drive me to distraction, Louisa.”

“Do I?” Louisa cast a nervous glance sideways. The yard was still bare. “In what way?”

“In every way.”

Edgar pushed his hands miserably through his hair, then he seemed to crumple to the ground before her. Afraid that he was ill, Louisa bent to help him, but then suddenly he was grabbing her hand and pulling himself up on to one knee.

“Louisa,” he said, his voice rough and hoarse, “I’m mad about you. I adore you! I can’t bear to see you with anyone else. I want you as my own, for always. Will you marry me?”

Louisa stared.

The cows stared.

“Well?” Edgar prompted hopefully. Rain was streaming down his thin face, making him look even more gaunt than usual.

Louisa’s heart was still hammering from fear that he meant her harm, but it seemed she couldn’t have been more mistaken.

“Oh, Edgar,” she said. “I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because . . .”

“Because I’m engaged already,” she wanted to say. But that was far from official and besides, Callum wasn’t even here.

“Oh, what’s that?”

Horses’ hooves were clattering into the yard, and Louisa longed to go and see who had arrived, but Edgar was still on his knees before her and it seemed rude just to walk away. She tugged awkwardly on his hand and he allowed her to pull him to his feet and lead him round the barn into the open. What she saw there almost made her heart stop.

Alison Cook