About The Hollow Ground – Episode 03

“Seems the missus is taking on Patti Dale’s byblow in the house, if I’m not mistaken,” Logan Brassey said to his fellow worker, shepherd Noah Skelland.

The two men sat on a rough-hewn bench outside the barn, consuming a midday snap of bread, cheese and onion, washed down by cold tea from a stoneware bottle.

Here they were sheltered from the buffeting of the chilly easterlies and grateful for the feeble sunshine that peeped now and again through the grey clouds.

“Aye, looks that way,” Shepherd Skelland replied, brushing crumbs from his beard.

He was a thin-faced man, small and given to bouts of dourness.

“’Twill cause a stir hereabout,” the shepherd continued. “The gentry’s particular about household staff.

“A girl from the workhouse has a degree of anonymity about her, where Mercy’s background is known to folks.

“Them fancy Barnhill relatives of the missus wunna take kindly to seeing that one installed at the house.”

Brassey bit into a raw onion with a crunch that made the eyes water.

“I dunna see them caring one way or another. Tes common knowledge the two families rarely speak due to that falling out between the brothers way back.”

“Aye. Funny business, that. Folks were laying bets on whether Charles Vessey would bother to turn up at his brother’s funeral, him being absent for the best part, seeing to that woollen mill of his Manchester way.

“No-one expected the wife to be there, her being semi-invalid and all. It were just him and the daughter as it turned out.” The shepherd paused. “Made in a different mould, the daughter.”

“You’re right there,” Brassey agreed. “Miss Charlotte’s a caring lass, regardless of the family rift. Dunno what her folks make of it.”

“Happen they’ll not know.”

“Happen you’re right.” Brassey chewed on a crust of bread. “Do you ever wonder how the gaffer met his end?”

Shepherd Skelland stared, his cup halfway to his lips.

“He came off his horse and broke his neck. You were here when Minstrel came charging up riderless. ’Twere we two found the gaffer.”

“I shan’t ever forget it,” Brassey replied. “It seems out of character to me, the master coming off his horse like that. He were a grand horseman.”

“Accidents happen all the while, Logan. And now look how we’re left.”

The shepherd indicated the ramshackle yard with a sweep of his hand.

“Gone to ruin,” he stated. “The late gaffer had a lot to answer for. A baker’s dozen of full-time staff we had here at one time. All gone. Because Henry Vessey indulged a crackpot scheme to put down every last field to arable.”

“Tes true enough. He wunna to know about the bad summers we’ve had, nowt but cold and wet throughout. I thought I were getting rising damp with it all.”

“Not to mention webbed feet,” the shepherd added with grim humour. “’Twere no wonder the corn were rotting in the ground. Please God this year will be better.”

“Amen to that. Them grains from the Americas hasn’t helped matters. All them steam boats the shipyards are turning out, speeding up the imports, and them bigwigs in London encouraging it.

“Book learning, that’s what’s at the root of it all,” Brassey continued. “I’m telling you, Noah, education and mechanisation’ll be the death of rural life as we know it.”

“Exactly so. I never felt the need of schooling in all my life. Things at Cross Lanes should’ve been left as they were,” the shepherd said. “Now we’re reduced to a couple of milch cows and no sheep at all. Dunno what things is coming to and that’s a fact.”

Brassey nodded, taking a bite of cheese. It was a familiar gripe and a crying shame that Noah should be reduced to general yard work, but at least it was a job.

“Tes come to summat an’ all, us two working for a petticoat,” Shepherd Skelland continued. “Shame the missus never found herself a farmer’s lad to wed, one what’d take the farm over. Her’s fetching enough.”

“Aye.” A glimmer of amusement appeared in Brassey’s eyes. “The same could be said of you, Noah. A good woman like my Annie to go home to of a night wunna come amiss.”

Shepherd Skelland looked as if he had swallowed vinegar.

“Me, tied to a pair of apron strings? Never!”

“Aye, well, so be it. For two pins I’d be looking for other work, but there’s the family to consider.

“They’re settled at the cottage by the smithy and my Annie dunna want to leave. I’m staying put in the hope of better things to come.”

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.