Living By The Land – Episode 71

LOUISA laughed and applied herself to her work. But his words bothered her. If they were to move they might as well get on with it. She didn’t want to have a drawn-out leave-taking – it would hurt too much.

Soon the last cows were milked and despatched to the field. Together they carried the big pails across the yard to the dairy, where Martha welcomed them with fresh-baked bread and cheese and a stream of chatter about Amelia.

“A slip of a girl like that, can you believe it? Really. I always knew she was a little wild, but not bad. I never thought of her as bad.”

“I still don’t,” Louisa said, nibbling at her bread. “Not bad, Martha, just confused.”

“Very confused, biting the hand that fed her!”

“Don’t. Please.”

It suddenly all felt too much for Louisa. Outside she could hear the rattle of a carriage and knew that the magistrate must be here to arrest Amelia and carry her away to jail. She felt she should say goodbye, but she could not face seeing her friend in chains and suspected Amelia would not want that, either. Tears welled up in her throat and she stared at her cheese – her own chive cheese – willing herself to stay strong.

She felt Callum’s hand rest protectively in the small of her back, but he did not force her to speak and she was grateful for it. As the carriage rattled away up the drive, however, the door opened and Robert appeared.

“Callum, Louisa. Excellent. I would like to see you both in my study, if you have a moment?”

“Of course, sir,” Callum agreed, but it was all Louisa could do just to nod and follow the two men back out into the gloom and across to the farmhouse.

Robert, noting her lowered head, fetched her a chair and then poured out a brandy from his sideboard and pressed it into her hands.

“Oh, no, sir, I . . .”

“Only a little, Louisa. It will warm you and relieve the shock. It has been a hard morning for us all, but for you especially. Please.”

He poured measures for himself and Callum, and Louisa took a tentative sip. The fiery spirit burned her throat but she was grateful, at least, for the distraction of the strange sensation. She found the strength to look up at the farmer.

“I have a proposition for you both,” Robert said, settling himself.

Louisa sat up straighter and looked to Callum, who was shifting at her side.

“Callum knows about it already,” Robert told her gently, “but I believe he will need your consent if you are to lead your lives together.”

“My consent?”

Louisa stared from one man to the other, confused. Callum looked at Robert who nodded softly, then suddenly he was at Louisa’s side, bending down and clasping her hands.

“Robert has asked me to stay on at Lower Meadow as his farm manager.”


“My farm manager,” Robert agreed, “and my heir. These last few days have taught me a number of lessons, Louisa. One is how much this farm means to me. Another is how important trust is in maintaining a community like ours. And a third is just how very old I am getting.

“No, don’t protest, it’s true. I’m far from past it yet, but I can’t do it all on my own, and in the absence of a son I need a successor to shoulder some of the burden. I have asked Callum if he would do me the honour of assuming that role, and he has agreed – pending, as I say, your consent.”

Alison Cook