About The Hollow Ground – Episode 07

“About the work, mistress,” Piers said hastily,

“I’ve already made it clear. We are in mourning. Besides, there is little work to be had on a farm this time of year.”

“There is on this farm,” Piers argued. “Your hedges want laying and your drainage sorted, and that’s only scratching the surface. If the rest is the same, it’ll take a fleet of men to put the place to rights.”

“I’m not in a position to take on staff,” Nan Vessey burst out helplessly.

“You wouldn’t have to,” Piers told her. “With the fellows you already have and myself making a third, quite a bit could be done.

“I’d not expect much in the way of wages,” he continued. “A hot meal and somewhere to lay my head at night would suffice.”

She seemed to hesitate.

“You have references?”

“No, ma’am.” He had left his place of employment in too much haste for that.

“I see. In that case –”

“Give me a month and you’ll see a difference here. Three months, and things will be looking a great deal more shipshape.”

“Indeed, you are very convincing, sir.”

Piers smiled.

“A man has to earn a crust, Miss Vessey.”

There was a pause, indecision flitting across the fine gold-brown eyes.

“I think we can do better than a crust,” she said.

Hope leaped in Piers’s chest.

“I’m inclined to give you a try. We have two tied cottages. Shepherd Skelland has one and the other is in need of repair.”

“That can be done,” Piers said gently. “This must once have been a thriving farm and it’s a crying shame to let it slip further into the mire. What acreage do you have here?”

“Two hundred and fifty, not counting the woodland. Much of it is hill country. We ran a flock of Swaledales here once, as well as cattle and swine.”

“And will again,” Piers said.

Nan Vessey gave a shrug.

“Perhaps. Meals will be provided, along with a basic wage. That is all I can offer.”

“It’ll do,” Piers said.

He had a bit put by for necessities – not that he needed much. And there was the bequest, though he had plans for that, once his problem was sorted.

He retrieved his saddle-roll from the step where he had left it.

“Lead the way, mistress.”

*  *  *  *

Nan sat at the desk in the farm office, the curtains closed against the cold night, firelight leaping on wall and ceiling.

In the light from the lamp and the single candle, her journal lay open.

Nan rubbed her fingers wearily over her forehead. It had been another long day, if an eventful one.

Two extra staff taken on and each an unknown quantity. Mercy was a local girl and less of a concern, but Piers Merriman was something of an enigma.

As they had looked at the cottage, she had questioned him. It seemed strange that one of his knowledge and experience should have no references, and the fact weighed against him.

But she liked his direct manner and his gaze was honest and steady. There had been nothing to mistrust in his personable, square-jawed face.

Nan’s papa had maintained she was a good judge of character. Please God she was right in this case, since she had given him a three-month trial.

Lines of a poem her papa used to quote drifted into her mind.

Ah, how the echoes still resound

About the hollow ground.

When asked its meaning, Henry had said it spoke of past events coming to roost in the present, adding a caution that things were not always what they seemed.

Well, for good or bad, she had employed help for Cross Lanes. Skilled help, if the man was to be believed.

Dear goodness, she was tired. She needed her bed.

Rising, she closed the journal and went to bank down the fire for the night.

Then, candle in hand, Nan left the room, closing the door softly behind her.

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”.