Living By The Land – Episode 72

LOUISA’S brain scrambled to catch up. She stared at Callum’s dear face.

“You’re saying you – we – will stay at Lower Meadow? Always?”

“If that suits you?”

“If it suits? Callum, it sounds wonderful!”

Louisa flung herself into his arms and buried her head against his broad chest before remembering she was in Robert’s study and pulling hastily away to bob a curtsey.

“That would be wonderful, sir,” she said.

“Robert,” he corrected her with a smile. “You must call me Robert, Louisa, and you and Callum must have an apartment in the farmhouse once you are wed. I hope and pray we will not have long to wait for that happy day.”

“I have yet to ask Louisa’s father for her hand,” Callum said cautiously, but Robert just laughed.

“I can’t see Samuel objecting. I shall look forward to making him my relative of sorts, and to addressing myself to the education of your siblings, my dear. Young Xander must come and be my apprentice. Beware, Callum, he will give you a run for your money, I am certain!”

“I will welcome it. The farm must continue to progress and hopefully, now that all its workers are pulling together, that is exactly what it will do. Eh, Louisa?”

Louisa, however, could not speak. The tears that had been threatening all morning had come at last and she could only smile her agreement like a rainbow through their mist.

“Where are they?” Louisa asked, scanning the horizon.

The bells were ringing joyously from the steeple of the village church and many people were milling around in their best finery. Louisa was waiting for four very particular guests. Robert had sent his own carriage to bring her family back to Desford for Ambrose’s wedding, but any minute now the bells would stop and the service would begin, yet still they had not arrived.

“Perhaps the horse went lame,” she fretted, “or a wheel has broken.”

“Or perhaps they are just round the corner,” Callum soothed. “They’ll be here.”“Perhaps the horse went lame,” she fretted, “or a wheel has broken.”

“But Betsy will be longing to see the service,” Louisa protested, “and I wanted . . .”

“You want me to talk to your father so we can see the vicar and book a date?”

“No.” Louisa flushed but Callum leaned down and kissed her full on the lips.

“I want that, too,” he said softly. “But it will happen, sweetheart. We have the rest of our lives together – we can wait a few more minutes, surely?”

“Of course we can,” Louisa agreed, but still she could not tear her eyes away from the road.

Almost everyone was in the churchyard now, standing along the path in twos and threes, waiting for the arrival of the bride. Ambrose was on the church steps, all scrubbed up and wearing a very smart jacket. He looked most unlike himself but very handsome – and very nervous. He had his hands clasped behind his back in an attempt to seem composed but Louisa could see his eyes flicking as eagerly as hers to the road.

He caught her looking at him and winked and Louisa had to laugh, but then the soft clomp of a horse’s hooves drew her eyes instantly back to the road. A whisper went round the expectant crowd, followed by a disappointed intake of breath from all but Louisa as not Frances’s but Robert’s carriage appeared around the corner.

“I haven’t got to marry you, have I, Sam?” Ambrose called as his old friend jumped down.

The assembled congregation laughed.

“Nay, Ambrose,” Samuel called back, “I think you can do better than me. There’s another carriage just down the road with a far prettier alternative.”

“That’s a relief,” Ambrose joked back but Louisa saw him visibly relax all the same.

She rushed forward.

“Dad, I’m so glad you made it. David, Xander! Heavens, boys, you look smart, and Betsy, you’re so pretty.”

Betsy beamed.

“I borrowed the dress from Eliza. She said I could have it for today if I brought her back some cake.”

“I’m sure we can manage that.”

Louisa drew them up the path to where Callum was waiting to one side. Her heart started to beat like a drum on parade.

Alison Cook