About The Hollow Ground – Episode 05

Nan brought the tea tray to the fireside and poured them each a cup, shaking her head in mock despair as Charlotte pounced on hers and swigged it down with relish.

“Ah, that’s good. Strong, sweet and hot!” Charlotte was suddenly serious. “Nan, have you reached a decision on what you are going to do?”

“About what, pray?”

“The farm. Everything.”

Nan shrugged.

“I’m not selling, if that is what you are implying,” she replied firmly. “Cross Lanes has been in the family for generations. I shall get the farm back on its feet if it is the last thing I do.”

Charlotte made a wry face.

“There’s no need to be so fierce. I simply thought a sale would bring in sufficient capital to set you up in a little house somewhere, with a maid to see after you.”

“Charlotte, you know as well as I do I would be bored out of my mind. So let us have no more of such talk.”

“Very well. Dear Uncle Henry. It was a sorry day when he sold the livestock and ploughed up the grazing for all that wheat and corn.”

“As things turned out, it was,” Nan said quietly.

Charlotte pursed her lips. Henry Vessey had been no farmer. His mind had flitted from one scheme to another like a moth round a flame, venturing into areas he should have avoided.

He had been a dreamer, given to flights of fancy, such as obtaining the mechanised binder and other inventions that had cost every last penny and now lay rusting in a corner of the farmyard.

He had been a learned person, a lover of poetry and a gifted storyteller, not a true man of the soil.

He had made a disaster of things and now here was Nan, left to pick up the pieces. Nan, a woman in an undeniably male domain!

Charlotte checked herself. She was here to cheer, not depress.

“Something will turn up, you’ll see. Nothing stays the same. Take today, for instance, engaging Mercy for the house, when yesterday you were in a gloom about getting anyone at all. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?”

“Someone to take command and direct my two workers into some semblance of constructive labour wouldn’t go amiss!” Nan replied without any conviction.

“This morning I sensed reluctance when I instructed them to repair a broken fence.”

“You need to charm them, Nan. Use your feminine wiles. It cannot fail with the likes of Shepherd Skelland, providing you go about it the right way.”

At that moment the long-cased clock in the hall wheezed and struck two.

“My, is that the time?” Charlotte stood up. “I must be away. I’ve a fitting for a new ballgown at three and Madame Le Blanc will pout disgracefully if I am not there to receive her.”

“I understand. Will I see you tomorrow?” Nan asked and Charlotte nodded. “I shall look forward to it. Oh, how does my aunt fare?”

“Mama?” Charlotte gave a smile. “Oh, same as ever. Barely eating enough to keep body and soul together. I tell her a little fresh air would not go amiss, but she shudders at the very idea.”

Charlotte retrieved her gloves and picked up her riding crop. Then, with a cheery smile, she left.

It was only a matter of a 20-minute canter from Harthill to her home, and she had just set Firedance to a lively pace when she saw a figure approaching and reined in sharply.

The lane was narrow and she edged past, the mare snorting and jinking.

The man doffed his cap and trudged on, a bulging saddle-roll over his shoulder, and Charlotte continued on her way.

Her mind was whirling. The stranger was undeniably interesting. She had liked the shock of dark hair, and his eyes had been pleasingly appraising as they had met hers.

Who was he and where was he bound?

In the next breath she recalled her appointment with her mantua-maker. The stranger forgotten, she urged Firedance to a gallop and headed home.


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”.