About The Hollow Ground – Episode 26

There was relief at Cross Lanes when, after an inclement start to the summer, the rainclouds dispersed, the sun appeared and the drowned hay meadows responded to the warmth with a good head of mixed herbage.

Almost overnight, it seemed, the crop was ready for cutting.

“Us’ll be hard put to get this lot in ourselves. Could do with some of the men as got laid off when things fell apart here,” Shepherd Skelland said to Piers.

“There’s Bob Trimelow trying to keep body an’ soul together doing odd jobs for folks. Same goes for Geoffrey Penk, and them with families to support.”

“We could certainly do with the extra help,” Piers said. “Local men, are they?”

“Oh, aye. Geoffrey’s a competent all-rounder and Bob’s an experienced dairyman.”

“I’ll see what can be done,” Piers said.

He put the proposition to Nan, and after some serious contemplation of the farm’s accounts it was decided that they were in a position to take on the two men again, on a full-term basis, much to their joy.

News of this upturn of events travelled, and other past Cross Lanes workers came seeking their former jobs back. Nan could not promise this; the farm did not warrant it as yet.

However, she did offer seasonal work to cope with the hay harvest, which was gladly accepted.

“By, there’s a sight for sore eyes,” Logan Brassey said, observing the men advancing towards the hay meadows, scythes flashing in the sunshine.

Shepherd Skelland nodded.

“Getting to be more like old times, inna it?”

“Aye. Here come the wimmin with the cider. Lor’, look at Miss Nan, skirts kilted up like a common village lass. What the late gaffer would’ve said to that dunna bear thinking about.”

They watched as Nan and Mercy entered a thicket of shady willows to place the stoneware jars of cider in the shallows of the brook, where the water ran coolest.

“Tes to be hoped there’s enough to go round,” the shepherd commented. “There’ll be some thirsty throats come elevenses, an’ even thirstier ones by fourses.”

“You’re right there,” Brassey agreed. “Ready?”

They collected their newly honed scythes and went to join their old comrades to cut the hay.

*  *  *  *

Piers worked like a man possessed. He wanted the job completed before the summer’s fickle weather turned foul again.

He wanted this for Nan. He had promised to put the farm back on its feet and so far he had not let her down.

Hard physical labour also helped keep his mind off the growing closeness between Nan and Daniel Harrison – a dandy in Piers’s view, and an unreliable one at that.

He was coming to terms with the fact that he wanted Nan for himself. He loved her. There was no getting away from it.

The men were cutting in a long line. Sunlight glinted off metal as the blades rose and fell in time-honoured rhythm, as hay had been cut here for generations.

The bitter prospect of Nan being wed to another – any other, let alone Daniel Harrison – caused Piers to swing his scythe with such ferocity that the men on either side of him glanced his way with apprehension.

There was a mid-morning break to slake their thirst, another at noon to consume the food the women brought from the house, and a third brief stop to down more thirsty gulps of strong cider.

By this time the hay meadows were taking on a very different aspect indeed.

By late evening, the sun sinking in a blaze of crimson and gold behind the ragged line of woodland, the open ground was decked in neat rills of new-mown hay crop.

Wearily, the band of men made their way home, scythes over their shoulders and singing as they went in a bid to keep their aching limbs on the move.

There was satisfaction there, too, of a job well done.

All Piers wanted was a dip in the pond to wash away the sweat of the day and cool his sun-scorched flesh, a bite of supper and sleep.

Tomorrow was market day. He had a couple of promising bull calves to sell.

He hoped they would fetch a reasonable price, which would go towards paying the harvesters and hopefully get the farm another working horse.

Old Ginger and Violet were getting a mite long in the tooth for hauling laden hay-wains from the meadows.

Alan Spink

I am a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. I enjoy working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, I also write fiction and enjoy watching football and movies in my spare time. My one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.