About The Hollow Ground – Episode 21

Despite the worsening rain, she seemed inclined to talk, and Piers, thinking he might get some answers at last, did not discourage her.

“The man has accosted you before?”

“No, not that. This is the first time he’s approached me in the street. He comes to the house, demanding a word with my Tom.

“I tell him Tom’s at work, but he takes no notice. I’ve a good mind to report him to Mester Harrison. Serve him right if he loses his job.”

“Quite,” Piers said. “Have you any idea why he’s acting in this way?”

“None. My Tom would have no truck with the likes of him.”

Recalling the man’s reception at the tavern, Piers could believe it. Tom Dewes had not welcomed the encounter one bit.

Piers wondered if this talkative matron could provide any information about the former owner of Cross Lanes.

“Mistress Dewes, I understand your husband was once bailiff at Cross Lanes Farm. You lived in the cottage I now reside in.”

“Isolated place it was an’ all. Poky. Nothing like the house we’re in now.”

“Was Tom happy to work for Henry Vessey?”

“Happy enough. Then it all went wrong. Mester Vessey had his own views on farming matters and nothing Tom could say would change that.

“Mester Harrison had already approached Tom about working for him. Tom kept refusing. Not one for upheaval, otherwise he might have been tempted to take up the offer sooner.”

“This went on for some time?”

“Six months or more. I’d have gone in a trice. Then Tom and the gaffer had a humpty-dinker of a row.”

Aggie Dewes’s eyes deepened at the memory.

“It were over that fancy machinery the gaffer kept buying. Tom said if farming went down that route it would put good men out of work.

“The gaffer told Tom if he didn’t like it, he could pack up and go. Which is what Tom did.”

“He accepted Edwin Harrison’s offer of employment?”

Aggie Dewes nodded.

“Moved within the week, we did, and Tom has never looked back. Mind you, he was sorry to hear about Mester Vessey’s accident. No-one deserved that.”

“True enough. So the accident occurred six months after you had left the farm?”

“Oh, aye, easily. Perhaps longer.”

The trap pony had stood quietly with his head low, and now gave his rain-soaked mane a shake, showering them liberally.

“Enough of that, Smoky!” Aggie Dewes told the pony. She turned back to Piers. “We’ll catch our death, standing here. Happen it’s time we went. Nice knowing you, Mester Merriman.”

“You, too,” Piers replied.

He saw the woman into the trap and stood back as she took up the wet, slippery reins and clicked her tongue to the pony.

He broke into a lazy jog, heading off in the direction of Edwin Harrison’s sprawling estate.

Piers made for his own conveyance. It had been an unexpectedly productive morning.

*  *  *  *

Logan Brassey and Shepherd Skelland stood in the doorway of the tithe barn where they had run to escape the downpour.

“Not good, eh?” Logan said, surveying the rain gloomily.

“Much more and the brook wunna cope with the run-off from the fields. So much for sorting out the drainage. Cure one problem and face another. Canna win, can you?”

Logan shook his head.

“Merriman’s taking his time at the feed merchant’s. He should be back by now.”

“Happen he’s met someone and stopped for a natter. Whatever, we’ll not hear of it. Close, is Merriman,” the shepherd replied. “Like the other night in the Oak, chin-wagging wi’ Tom Dewes, and not a word to us afterwards.”

The shepherd scowled. He harboured a grudge against Dewes for getting rid of the flock when he was bailiff.

Never mind that the sale had been on Henry Vessey’s authority; Dewes had set the process in motion, and Dewes, therefore, carried the blame.

“Dinna you say he were asking after the Vinewood stableman?” Brassey asked, knowing better than to bring up this particular gripe.

“Aye. No explanation, either. I allow he’s not feared of hard work and is likeable enough, but to my mind there’s summat wrong when a man dunna talk about his past employment. Would that be him now?”

The distant rattle and squelching thud of the horse and cart could be heard on the rain-sodden farm track, and soon Piers arrived in the yard.

He sent them a wave before jumping down and leading the horse away.

“Looks mighty chipper about summat,” Logan commented.

“Aye,” Shepherd Skelland replied, pausing.

Another vehicle was evident and into the farmyard swung the Harrisons’ covered carriage.

A coachman in Vinewood livery was in the driving seat and Daniel Harrison’s face could be seen at the window.

Brassey snorted.

“Him again! Tes getting too frequent for comfort, this. Here comes the missus, all dolled up an’ all. Where do you reckon they’re off to, Noah?”

“Cunna begin to guess, Logan. What I do know is there’s another I wunna trust as far as I could throw him.”


“Edwin. Daniel’s nobbut a pawn in the game,” the shepherd said as he scrutinised the clouds. “Looks like the rain’s easing. Us had best get back to fixing the railings.”

The men retrieved their tools and headed for the fields, clods of mud splattering from their booted feet.

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”.