About The Hollow Ground – Episode 11

The rain had stopped by the time Piers returned with his supplies. Counting on still having a couple of hours of daylight left, he made a start on the roof with the loan of a ladder and tools from the farm.

While he was sorting out the new laths, Shepherd Skelland came tramping along with his dogs.

“Hello, there, Merriman. You’re a glutton for work.”

“It’s a case of needs must, Shepherd. A fellow has enough of waking up in a lake of water of a morning.”

“You’re staying on, then?”

“Looks that way. I’ve leave to do what I think fit with the cottage.”

Shepherd Skelland’s eyes narrowed.

“And meet the expense yourself?”

“That’s as maybe.”

Piers bent to fuss the dogs who had come to him, plumed tails waving.

Nan Vessey had given him reason to think that the position of bailiff could be in the offing once the farm’s finances improved. No promises had been made, but it was food for thought nonetheless.

An increase in wage was not to be sniffed at. He had some thinking to do, and Cross Lanes, tucked away in the hills, was sufficiently remote for the purpose.

No-one would find him here. No-one would come accusing him of a deed he had not done.

The fact that another, more thought-provoking and complex reason entered the equation – that of his deepening and somewhat perturbing emotions towards Nan Vessey – he chose to overlook for now.

His head throbbed. Last night the dream had returned: graphic; the voices harsh with censure.

Piers felt again the savage blow and saw the burst of stars that faded to numbing blackness, and awoke on his makeshift bed on the floor in a drenching sweat, shaking, and at a loss to reason what could be done to resolve his plight.

He never had been one to run. One day he would go back and clear his name.

Piers was aware of the shepherd having spoken.

“Beg pardon, Shepherd. You were saying?”

“’Twere how Tom Dewes, the bailiff that was, kept this cottage up to scratch when he lived here. After he’d gone, sudden like, the place was left to go to pot.

“We never did learn why Tom scarpered. Last we heard he were working for Harrison, down Egerton way. I puzzle to think what the gaffer would’ve made of that.”

Piers hesitated.

“Was he a good sort, Henry Vessey?”

“Oh, aye, good enough. He were no farmer, mind. Had a head full of schemes that wunna viable. Met a sorry end an’ all.”

“The fall from the saddle?”

“That were no fall. He could stick to an ’oss like glue. ’Twere Logan brought the matter up – it were him and me found the gaffer, you understand, ower yonder in Stack Wood, his neck broke. Then I got to thinking. Happen Logan did have a point.”

“You suspect foul play?” Piers asked. “Did Vessey have enemies?”

“None that I could name. He were well liked. ’Tweren’t robbery, either. His pockets hadn’t been turned out and his silver-tipped riding crop were there on the ground.”

Shepherd Skelland shrugged.

“Ah, well, we shall never know the truth of it. Best I let you get on while there’s light enough to see.”

He called to the dogs and went trudging off up the track to his home in the heights.

Piers watched him go, thoughtful. Was there a softening in attitude towards him from the shepherd? It seemed so.

It was a strange business over Henry Vessey. No smoke without fire, his mother would have said.

Piers was slowly piecing together a picture of the late master of Cross Lanes Farm.

Henry Vessey seemed a man out of his true environment, an academic, perhaps, principled, struggling to uphold an inheritance without success.

Piers put the matter aside for now and returned to dealing with his roof.

The next morning, Piers was stripping the gable end of damaged slates when the crunch of hooves and wheels alerted him to an approaching vehicle.

Up here, he had a clear view of the farmyard and saw a handsome bay and gig drawing up at the house, two passengers on board.

It looked like Nan Vessey had callers.

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”.