About The Hollow Ground – Episode 10

“Heard the latest?” Shepherd Skelland asked.

Brassey put down the brush with which he was tarring a newly mended five-barred gate.

“What would that be?”

The shepherd gestured towards the heights.

“Turns out we’re going ahead with those sheep. Merriman’s talked the missus into parting with that new-fangled machinery the late gaffer went in for. Tes to be auctioned off come Saturday.”

“Well, I dunno. Sheep, eh? Things is looking up, Noah.”

“Let’s wait and see.” Shepherd Skelland never was one to presume. Action spoke louder than words, to his mind. “If that load of ironmongery sells and makes a fair price, me and Merriman are to attend the market and make the purchase. If there’s owt worth bidding for, mind.”

“Aye, there is that. Still, you may be lucky.” Brassey rubbed his bearded chin musingly. “You’ll have reason to think more kindly towards Merriman, in
that case.”

Shepherd Skelland did not immediately answer. Piers had now been at Cross Lanes for the best part of six weeks, and though they all pulled together workwise, the same mistrust existed.

“I dunno about that,” the shepherd said. “Granted, the missus dunna seem to mind knuckling down and getting her hands mucky, but to my mind it inna proper to see one of her position skivvying like a lackey.”

“The missus is striving for her farm,” Brassey pointed out surprisingly. “There’s sense in that. But Merriman.” He gave his shaggy head a shake. “He’s too much of an unknown quantity.”

“Aye, I’m with you there, Logan,” the shepherd agreed.

Mercy, appearing with a basket containing the men’s midday snap of wedges of meat and potato pie and a bottle of cold tea, overheard the men and dumped the basket down at their feet.

“You two should be ashamed of yourselves! Piers has worked his hardest here. Long after you’ve left for home of a night he’s carried on, slogging away by lantern light.

“I’m not saying you didna pull your weight before, but it weren’t getting the place anywhere. Direction, that’s what was needed, and Piers provided it.”

The men, taking in Mercy’s indignant face, exchanged a twinkly look.

“Oh, Piers, now, is it? What d’you reckon to that, Noah?” Brassey asked.

“I’d say someone were smitten.”

Mercy blushed.

“Smitten? Fie! I were merely voicing a few home truths and it wunna do you two grizzle-grouchers any harm to heed it.”

She gave the basket of food a flashing glance.

“There’s your snap. When you’ve done, return the basket to the kitchen. I’m blessed if I’m waiting hand and foot on two such ungrateful miseries as I see before me!”

“That’s telling us,” Brassey said, and the pair sat down on the bank and set about eating their meal.

*  *  *  *

An abrupt change in the weather prompted Piers to do something about his cottage, starting with the roof, which was letting in a quantity of rain.

On close inspection, most of the laths were sound, but two at the gable end, which took the brunt of the easterlies, were beyond repair.

He replaced the pails strategically positioned to catch the drips and went on to measure the rotted and broken window for a new frame. Roofing slates came next, then tar, brushes and whitewash. The list grew.

He went down to the farm to borrow the horse and cart for a trip to the suppliers at nearby Tattenhall.

“Materials for repairs? What of the expense?” Nan cried in some dismay.

“Don’t you worry about that. I’ll stand the cost myself,” Piers told her as he backed the horse into the shafts. “And while I think on it, I shall see to the stables of a morning and night.”

“Why so? I am quite capable.”

“I don’t doubt it, mistress, but it isn’t seemly. No more is it right for a lady in your position to be working alongside the men.”

Nan’s chin came up a notch.

“It helps get the job done. The more hands, the better.”

“It’s just not the done thing,” Piers said steadily. “I take it I am free to do whatever needs doing with the cottage?”

“Oh, do as you will,” Nan replied.

Without another word he boarded the cart, shook the reins and went rumbling from the yard, leaving Nan standing there, frowning.

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”.