About The Hollow Ground – Episode 17

Presently Nan appeared again, changed into a gown of rustling lavender silk, the colour of which Daniel thought became her better than the deep black of early mourning.

A light shawl about her shoulders and a bonnet over her hair completed the picture, and Daniel felt pleasure as he handed her into the phaeton, its dark-green bodywork and chamfered wheels shining in the sunlight.

The horses, a sparky pair, threw up their heads and pawed the ground impatiently, eager to be off, and Daniel checked them with a word before clambering up beside Nan.

A flick of the reins and they were crunching over the gravel and travelling on down the rutted drive.

In a nearby field the men were fixing a new gate and looked up at the sound of hooves. Skelland and Brassey gave Nan a wave, which she acknowledged with an inclination of her head.

The third of the trio, Daniel noted, made no such gesture, but stood still and scowling, and Daniel was conscious of the brooding gaze still on them when they reached the end of the track.

Once on the lane he whipped up the horses and they were away. The bell tower, blue-slated roof and sandstone walls of All Saints came into view.

A female figure was weaving a path between the gravestones, and at his side Nan gave a swift intake of breath. She clutched at his arm.

“Daniel, could we stop a moment, if you please?”

He gave her a puzzled glance.

“Are you unwell?”

“No. There is someone there I need to see.”

Daniel had no desire to stop and allowed the trap to travel on, the church with its company of guarding yews streaming by in a haze of dull reds and greens.

He caught a flashing glance of an upturned white face behind a veil, and then they were past and heading downhill for Salter’s Lane, the main highway to Nantwich.

“Sir, I asked you to halt the trap,” Nan cried.

“So you did,” Daniel replied. “The woman was plainly up to no good, skulking in the churchyard. It may be wise to keep your distance.”

Nan made no reply, but sat silent and reproachful.

Aware of having struck a raw spot, Daniel thought it best to make amends.

He summoned his most engaging smile.

“You are out of sorts with me? Do I deserve a thrashing for my ill-gotten manner?”

He was gratified to see Nan’s expression change.

“No, I would not go as far as that,” Nan replied.

“Ah, then we are friends again,” Daniel replied, relaxing.

He had come to woo, not to annoy. Who would have thought that the lady had such an edge to her?

“Shall we take the road through Brown Knowl village? ’Tis a pretty route.”

The way was steep and he slowed the horses to a walk for the gradient.

As they went he turned the conversation to the farm and Nan’s plans for it, suspecting this to be a topic close to her heart.

She answered readily.

“I was in such a quandary when I was left in charge. Papa had tried arable with no success, I fear. The men are loyal, but lack the vision required to right the wrong. If it hadn’t been for Merriman, I don’t know what I would have done.”


“He came along at precisely the right moment, requesting work. He was in the fields with Brassey and Skelland when we passed. You may have noticed him.”

“Tall fellow, speaks with a south Shropshire drawl? He was in the feed merchant’s at Tattenhall when I called to settle Papa’s bill of payment. Surly character, I thought.”

“I wouldn’t say that. Serious, perhaps, and knowledgeable on farming matters. He’s also good with the men.”

“He had references?” Daniel asked.

“Not as such. I took him at his word and have never regretted it.

“Cross Lanes has improved dramatically in the time he has been with us. We hope to take on more staff before long, which necessitates having someone in charge.”

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”.