About The Hollow Ground – Episode 25

It was the small hours when Nan arrived home.

She stood a moment in the moonlight of the damp summer night, listening to the hooting of a hunting owl and the throaty warbling of nightingales from the wood.

She started when a figure emerged from the shadows.

“Never fear, mistress, it is only I,” Merriman’s calm voice reassured her.

Following the hours of clipped speech and practised artifice, his solid presence was like balm.

“Why, Merriman! Here so late?”

“Aye. There’s a new calf. I thought you’d like to know.”

“A calf?” Delight surged through Nan. “Is all well? I must see.”

“Now? Mistress, you are hardly dressed for the byre. Would you rather not wait until morning?”

“And not welcome the first of our home-bred Red Polls? Lead the way, Merriman.”

Regardless of her finery, she followed him to the calving shed where, on a bed of straw, the new mother was proudly suckling her offspring.

The calf was sturdy, the red-brown coat still damp from birth. A healthy heifer, and exactly what was needed for the establishment of a herd.

“Oh!” Nan’s throat felt choked. “She’s a beauty.”

“Aye, she is that,” Merriman said simply.

After a while Nan went into the house, where Mercy, too, was waiting up, wanting news of the ball.

“What was it like? How was the gown? Did you dance?”

Swaying now with tiredness, Nan found her legs could no longer support her and she sank down on the kitchen settle.

Mercy heated some milk which she laced with cinnamon, and between sips of the soothing beverage Nan related what she thought her maid might want to hear.

The long-cased clock was striking four when she finally climbed the stairs to bed.

It had been a bewildering evening, crowned by the joy of coming home to cheering news.

Daniel had been an attentive escort, but it was the square-jawed face of Piers Merriman that coloured her thoughts as she fell asleep, his eyes full of gladness at the news he was about to impart.

*  *  *  *

A week or so later Noah Brassey and Shepherd Skelland were taking their customary Friday night jar in the Royal Oak when publican Joe Wainwright came over to them.

“Summat you should know,” he said quietly. “A man came in today. Not from these parts, by his speech.”

Wainwright paused significantly.

“What of it?” Brassey asked, keen to get back to discussing the calves at the farm, the first Red Poll having started the others off.

“He were enquiring about Merriman,” Wainwright told them.

Skelland and Brassey exchanged a look.

“Did he get any response?” Brassey asked.

“Nay. It were early on, not many here, and your workmate not being what you’d call a regular, he inna well known. I asked the fella why he wanted to know.”

“What did he say?” Shepherd Skelland said.

“Nowt. Downed his drink and left. That’s about it.”

The publican gave them a nod and returned to his place behind the bar.

“What do you make of that?” Brassey said to Shepherd Skelland.

“I dunna like it, though it does qualify what we’ve thought all along. There’s more to Merriman than meets the eye.”

“You reckon we should tell him?”

Shepherd Skelland shook his head.

“’Twill all come out in the wash, wunna it?” he said.

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”.