About The Hollow Ground – Episode 06

Piers Merriman bent his back to the gradient and headed for the crest of the hill. It had been a long haul from the farm outside Nantwich where he had been clearing the ditches these past weeks, and he was tired.

Over the course of the day he had stopped at farms and holdings to enquire about work, but it was not the best time of year and the answer was always no.

So he tramped on, scanning the bleak landscape for the next likely place of employment.

He reached the top of the hill and stopped. By, that land was in a bad way! It would be a challenge for someone, putting it to rights.

He pressed on until he came to where another lane crossed, the continuation of the one he travelled no more than a muddy track into a wood.

The entrance to the farm was here, marked by a pair of wooden gates that sagged on rusted hinges.

As Piers strode up the rutted drive, he noted the evidence of neglect.

Ranks of weed-choked winter corn struggled to grow in a field to his left. Hedgerows were straggling and overgrown with ivy and bramble.

Ahead, the farmhouse stood sentinel over all, and Piers caught his breath.

Built of a sturdy timber framework, it had to be centuries old. The lower half was constructed of old brick.

Diamond-paned casements peeped out between masses of rambler rose and honeysuckle not yet in leaf.

The sloping roof lacked a few slates, but the chimneys rose staunchly, huffing fragrant blue woodsmoke.

It was the loveliest house Piers had ever seen – or would be with the roof mended, the timbers tarred and the casements sorted. A picture it would be then.

Two smock-clad men in the process of mending a fence in a home field had lowered their tools to gaze at him in open curiousity.

Piers sent them a nod and continued round the corner, passing under a clock-arch into a spacious yard where hens pecked for food among cobblestones.

Other than this and a pair of cows in an open-fronted byre, there did not appear to be any more stock.

Piers went to the back door and pulled the bell.

His summons was answered by a round-faced girl in an ill-fitting uniform, her cap askew.

“Can I help you?”

She seemed breathless and uncertain. Piers mustered a smile.

“Aye, lass. Is the master about? I’d like a word.”

“Nay, mister. Master Vessey’s been in his grave these three weeks or so.”

“Ah. His lady wife, then?”

“Tes Miss Nan you want. Her’s inside. I’ll fetch her.”

While he waited, Piers surveyed the farmyard and stout stone outbuildings.

His gaze fell on some abandoned machinery in a far corner and a low whistle escaped his lips. Someone had thought to try mechanisation, and none too successfully it seemed.

“Good afternoon,” a pleasant female voice said.

Piers turned abruptly. The woman before him was tall and slender, the drab garb of mourning marginally relieved by a plain white collar and cuffs.

Smudged and shadowed brown eyes flecked with gold regarded him levelly from an oval face. She was one of those women who just missed being beautiful, but was arresting nonetheless.

“I am Nan Vessey, the owner of Cross Lanes Farm. You wished to speak with me?”

Piers realised he was staring. He removed his cap.

“Good afternoon, ma’am. I’ve called to ask if you’re taking on staff. The name’s Piers Merriman. I noticed some men in a field on my way in. Seems to me they’ve got their work cut out here.”

Her look was wry, but she held her dignity.

“As you can see, we are a house in mourning. With the bereavement being recent, this takes precedence for the moment.”

“I’m sorry to hear it, ma’am. My condolences on your loss.”

“Most kind. My thanks, sir. Excuse me.”

She took a step back into the house, indicating an end to the interview.

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”.