Living By The Land – Episode 69

LOUISA frowned. She could remember incidents of rioting over the enclosure acts back in her home county. Their own farm had gained a little land, and her father had sat her, David and Xander down and tried to explain it to them.

“It feels hard on the little farms at the moment, but bigger businesses can compete better as the market grows even larger. Yes, big farmers gain, but with that gain comes responsibility for all the people on their land.”

Louisa wondered how she could put that to Amelia, but her friend was already talking again.

“Those enclosure acts that made dear Farmer Robert so very rich ruined my family. Ruined them, Louisa! They filled my father with such helpless fury that, deprived of work, he could find solace only in drink. He was already weak from the loss of my mother, but that didn’t bother Farmer Robert, did it? Oh, no. Land is land. It’s all about efficiency at Lower Meadow. Emotion, pride, happiness – as long as the land is efficient, what else matters?”

Louisa stared at her, amazed.

“You really think of Robert as greedy and uncaring? He has never seemed so to me. He looks after his workers so well.”

Amelia shifted.

“His workers, yes,” she conceded, “but only here. Lower Meadow is his world, and the people beyond it can starve as far as he’s concerned.”

“That’s not true, Amelia.” Louisa hated disputing with Amelia, but she could not have her talking this way of the man who had given them both such generous and warm employment at Lower Meadow. “Robert supports the church, you know he does. He stands on the parish council and he does much for charity, both here and further abroad. He has done nothing to deserve your contempt, still less your vicious acts.”

“He has!” Amelia insisted, though Louisa could hear her wavering. “Dad told me. Dad said Farmer Robert is destroying this neighbourhood.”

Louisa thought of George Cooper, staggering about at the barn dance, and leering over poor Silas the night he turned his ankle. Was this a man to be trusted or believed?

“Did you ever consider, Amelia,” she ventured softly, “that he might be wrong?”

“Big farms are evil,” Amelia said fiercely, but her voice seemed to come from somewhere outside of herself.

Louisa looked at her friend, eaten up with someone else’s anger, and felt desperately sorry for her. It was not her fault her father had poisoned her thoughts. Yet she was an adult, a person with decisions of her own to make. Louisa felt sorrow welling up inside her at what might happen to Amelia, but she could not forgive her.

She shook her head.

“No, Amelia,” she said firmly, “killing an innocent animal is evil.”

“It is,” a low voice behind them agreed and Louisa swung round to see Robert standing in the doorway, Callum at his shoulder.

Amelia saw them, too, and jerked her arm out of Louisa’s grasp. Shoving her roughly aside, she bolted once more for the door. Louisa gave a gasp of pain and tried to scramble after her, but before she could even find her feet someone else stepped across the back doorway and halted the escapee.

“You’re going nowhere, Amelia Cooper.” Tiernan’s voice was hard. “Nowhere save the county jail. The magistrate is on his way.”

“No!” Amelia struggled to get away but she was powerless in his strong arms.

She turned her face up to him.

“Let me go,” she begged. “For all we have been through, Tiernan, for anything I have ever been to you, let me go!”

“Tiernan, no.”

Callum had scrambled to Louisa’s side to help her up, and he held out a hand to his brother, who seemed lost in Amelia’s big eyes. For a moment his grip loosened and Amelia wriggled to release herself. But the motion brought him back to his senses and he clutched her tighter, dragging her over to the farmer.

“You are nothing to me, Amelia,” Tiernan said, avoiding her eyes. “I thought, God help me, that I loved you. But I could never love a woman who would sabotage the very farm that nurtures her, and I feel sick at myself for ever having been taken in by your tricks.”

Alison Cook