About The Hollow Ground – Episode 04

Shepherd Skelland thought of the tied cottage in the hills in which he had lived for most of his life. Would he leave and try his luck at the hiring fair? Not as yet, though what the future held was anybody’s guess.

They both looked up as hoofbeats sounded on Moss Lane. A few moments later Nan’s cousin, Charlotte Vessey, rode into the yard.

“Good day, Brassey. Shepherd Skelland,” she called out cheerfully.

The men rose and went to help her dismount.

“Good day to you, miss.”

Shepherd Skelland took the mare’s bridle.

“The missus is inside. I’ll put this’n in the stable,” the shepherd said.

Giving him her thanks, Charlotte kicked her elegantly booted foot from the stirrup, lifted her knee over the pommel of the side saddle and slid gracefully to the ground, aided by Brassey.

She was flushed from the ride in the brisk air, her eyes bright and her hair artfully arranged under the plumed tricorne hat, the colour of which matched the plum velvet of her tailored habit with the Russian frogging.

Miss Vessey’s one deference to the family’s recent loss was a band of black silk worn on her arm.

She went jauntily towards the house, bringing a smile to the lips of the men.

Not many had the gift of introducing sunshine into lives severely lacking in that direction, and this young miss was respected accordingly.

*  *  *  *

“Hello, Nan. Are you well?”

Her cousin looked up with a smile as Charlotte entered the farmhouse kitchen.

“Well enough, thank you. Would you care for tea?”

“Lovely.” Charlotte removed her gloves and tossed them, along with her riding crop, on to the table, then subsided on to the settle in front of the fire.

“That’s better. My heart, it’s blustery out there! Firedance hates the wind. It makes her jink something dreadful. She nearly had me off more than once, I confess.”

Charlotte clapped her hand over her mouth, visibly contrite. In the light of Nan’s recent loss, the remark was unfortunate.

“That was tactless of me. I am very sorry.”

“Apology accepted. Mind you take care. That mare of yours is a frisky creature.”

“But a darling all the same. The girl from the smithy, Mercy Dale. Have you engaged her?”

Nan looked up from spooning tea into the teapot.

“Oh, yes. Well, I had to have someone here to see to things.”

“Of course you do,” Charlotte replied. “I’m sure Mercy will turn out a godsend. Just don’t allow liberties. Start as you mean to go on.”

“I shall do as you advise,” Nan said succinctly.

She mashed the tea and went to the larder, coming back with the remains of a plum cake on a platter.

“It is to be hoped Mercy is as able a cook as she says. We’re nearly out of cake and the men expect some in the afternoon with their tea. Ah me, what a state of affairs!”

“Let’s not be despondent. I have everything in hand. Expect a hamper today. I told Cook to do extra this morning and she’s made a gingerbread loaf that should last Shepherd Skelland and Brassey the week.”

“Charlotte, you shouldn’t!” Nan exclaimed.

“Why not?”

“But my aunt and uncle! What will happen when they learn you are visiting, let alone supplying me with baking from their kitchen, I dread to think.”

“Papa has other things to occupy him at Manchester and Mama’s happy to leave me to my own devices,” Charlotte assured her cousin. “As for Cook – she won’t breathe a word.

“You’ve lost weight, Nan. I worry about you being so wan and peaky. That black crepe doesn’t help matters. I shan’t be sorry when the months of mourning are over and you can get into something more flattering.”

“All in good time,” Nan replied.

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”.