About The Hollow Ground – Episode 09

“What do you make of him?” Brassey asked Shepherd Skelland, choosing his moment when Piers had returned to the cottage to collect his ditching tools.

“I dunno. He surely knows what’s what on a farm. Not local, is he?”

“Sounds more down country to me. Bit evasive on that score, I’d say. Not anxious to talk about his past. Comes across as being used to taking charge.”

Shepherd Skelland nodded.

“Aye. The same thought occurred to me. I reckon he’s had a prime job somewhere – so what’s he doing leaving it for a lesser position? There’s summat not quite straight here. What’s the missus thinking of, taking on a stranger she knows little about?”

Measured footsteps alerted them to the return of the new man.

Piers carried a bulky bag of tools over his shoulder.

“Right, then, men. Best we make a start on the bottom fields and work upwards to the top hedge, if that’s agreeable to you.”

“What about the hillside?” Brassey asked.

Piers looked at him, one eyebrow raised in question.

“What about it?”

“Tes like this. The late gaffer aimed to open up all the fields into one girt area of crops – and that included the hill slopes.”

“Aye, Miss Vessey said as much. It’s not a practical move to me. Hill ground is good for sheep and not much else.”

“You told the missus that?” Shepherd Skelland said in plain disbelief.

“I did. Perhaps give her time to mull it over. Meanwhile, there’s plenty can be done about reducing the water lying on these lower levels.”

Piers shifted the bag of tools to a more secure position on his back and set off.

The two men, exchanging a glance, collected some ditching equipment from the depths of the barn and grudgingly went after him.

*  *  *  *

Over the next weeks a great deal of work was done on the poorly drained ground. Piers set the three of them to clear out the choked ditches and dig out and repair the broken sluices, a necessary procedure before the water could run freely again.

One morning Brassey, raking out a sluggish watercourse, paused to wipe the sweat from his face and gave a grunt of astonishment.

“Seems we’ve got company.”

The mistress was approaching along the path, spade in hand, clearly intending to help.Piers looked downright disapproving, while Brassey gave a dry smile.

“Seen it all now, and no mistake!”

“It’ll not last,” Shepherd Skelland remarked dourly.

But it did last. Nan dug and raked alongside them, and a resounding cheer went up when Piers opened the restored sluices and the water gurgled rowdily through the outlets once more.

The straggling hedges came next. While Piers attended to the cutting back and layering, a skilled job which he tackled with obvious expertise, Brassey forked the clippings on to the cart which Nan then drove to the orchard, where Shepherd Skelland had a bonfire going.

“Should be able to plough afore long,” Shepherd Skelland said as he and Brassey put the finishing touches to the bonfire.

Brassey directed a nod towards the heights.

“I’d say that’s already in hand.”

On the slopes, Piers was occupied with horses and plough, churning the reluctant crop of winter wheat back into the ground in preparation for

Nan, crossing the yard, looked up, smiling. For the first time in weeks there was hope in her heart for the future.

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”.