“If that doesn’t smell fit for the King himself, I’ll be blown!” Joseph smacked a kiss on Sarah’s smiling mouth and sat down at the table. “Well, we’ve got the upland fields ploughed, and the weather’s holding.”
He looked tired but there was a glow in his face. Turning over the soil, rich with promise and steaming in the autumn sun, gave Joseph a feeling of wellbeing that nothing else seemed to match, not even the harvest.
“That’s good!” Sarah smiled. “The mists are starting to roll in, though, and soon we’ll be off mushrooming.”
“I’ll be pleased if you do some of that ketchup, love.” His eyes were on the plate of stew that Sarah ladled from the simmering pot.
“That I will, Joe.”
Joseph rubbed his chafed hands together. They were thick and rough from years of holding the plough handles, and each year they felt a little stiffer after a day’s work. The marquess’s fields were hilly, and it was a hard job on the way down, holding the lines taut and keeping up a constant backward pull. But getting the horses to haul the plough back up the slopes was harder still.
Joseph stretched his arms, wincing a little.
“Silver’s feeling the work worse than she used to. She falters at the end of the furrows. I have to stop and wind her for longer.”
Sarah said nothing as she ladled stew on to Davey’s plate. For all that Joseph loved working the land, she knew that the horse wasn’t the only one who was beginning to feel it for the worse.
“The marquess should cough up the money for a steam plough,” Davey said. “One of these days it’ll all be done with traction engines, Dad. They have them in America, powered with petrol. That’s what somebody told me.”
“At that cycle shop? Don’t be daft, lad. Before a machine can plough a straight furrow, that dilling over there’ll grow wings and fly away.”
Sarah couldn’t stop her mouth turning up at the corners at the thought. But Davey frowned.
“I’ll bet people said the same before we had the reaper!”
Joseph poked at his stew.
“They wouldn’t have been far off. Nothing cuts as well as a properly sharpened scythe in the hands of the right man.”
“I wonder what’s happened to those children,” Sarah cut in. “Davey, could you go and see, please?”
Davey dutifully rose from the table and went out across the yard.
Sarah sat down, looking across at Joseph.
“Shall we leave it be for now, love? You’re tired, and so is Davey.”
“He’s got no respect. And he doesn’t care about the land, not like I do.”
“Joe, he’s a young lad. He wants a change, not unlike the King!”
“All this talk of change. What use is it? I don’t like the way things are headed these days. Nothing’s got better since our good Queen passed on.”
“But do you think you’re really giving the boy a fair chance? You want him to work the land, to feel the way you do about it. But you never let him take the lead! You want things done the way you do them. He’s bound to feel frustrated.”
“I want things done right. That boy’s as useful as a toad with side pockets!”
“He wants to get on in the world. He may not be cut out to be a farmer.”
“You know he’s itching to go off and work in that cycle shop? Motorcycles, too! Those contraptions are dangerous. And you think he should leave me here, with no help at all?”
“But you said you want things done your way. Perhaps you need a younger lad to help out until Johnny’s old enough.”
“And where am I to find this boy?”
Sarah was quiet as thoughts turned over in her mind. Then, as she heard the others returning, she reached out and touched Joseph’s callused hand.
“Let’s talk later, shall we?”
Sarah went back to the range, but her mind was racing. There was also the problem of Jenny. It was clear that the girl needed a change as well, but what could be done about that, Sarah couldn’t imagine.
Never mind, she told herself. For now, she would concentrate her efforts on a change of scene for two members of the household – Davey, and that blessed piglet.