About The Hollow Ground – Episode 28

Thunder muttered on the horizon on the evening of the Haysel Feast. The wind rose and dark clouds gathered, blotting out the blue.

“I do hope the rain keeps off,” Charlotte said with a rueful glance at her silk gown. “I may have to slip out to the stable to make sure Firedance is all right. The poor darling does so hate a thunderstorm.”

“I shall ask Merriman to keep an eye on her,” Nan said. “The storm will pass over, so Firedance won’t have any qualms when you ride home tomorrow.”

“You’ve put my mind at rest admirably, Nan.”

Charlotte reached for her evening cape. She had arrived with an abundance of luggage that Nan felt warranted a stay of a week, rather than a single night.

Mercy had been called upon to leave her preparations for the feast to deal with the travel stains on the visitor’s riding habit, as well as run the smoothing iron over her nightgown, tomorrow’s day dress and numerous petticoats.

Then there was the primrose silk – in which admittedly Charlotte looked charming – to be lightly pressed.

Nan’s sympathies lay with her housemaid, whose face had been a study of grimness as she carted the armfuls of clothing away.

“Ready?” Charlotte asked brightly, raking Nan with an assessing look. “Not that shawl, Nan. I have my mauve gossamer with me that will tone beautifully with your gown. I’ll ring for Mercy to fetch it.”

“Mercy will be in the barn, dealing with the food,” Nan said briskly.

“Then bide a moment while I get it myself.”

Presentable at last, they hastened towards the tithe barn, wincing as a crack of lightning illuminated a sky that was now rolling with menacing purplish clouds.

In the barn all was jollity and light. Everyone was here, all keen to celebrate the first Haysel that Cross Lanes had seen for quite some time.

Lanterns were lit against the darkening evening, and the workers’ wives had decorated the rafters with garlands of hedgerow flowers and fronds of ivy.

Dressed in their best, the company was seated at trestle tables groaning with food. There were baked meats galore, a huge Cheshire cheese, golden-crusted loaves of bread and butter from the dairy.

To wash it all down were six kegs of cider, courtesy of the Royal Oak, along with pitchers of cordial for the children, whose eyes grew rounder by the second in anticipation of the treats in store.

On a makeshift stage, the Broxton Players were tuning up. This petered to a close at Nan’s appearance on the scene.

Taking her place at the head of the table, she gave a short address, after which the feasting began.

“See who’s here!” Charlotte exclaimed.

Nan looked up to find Daniel approaching, looking somewhat out of place among the homespun-clad assembly in formal dinner suit and cravat.

“Daniel, how good of you to come,” Nan said.

“It does to show an interest,” Daniel replied.

Feasters shunted along the bench to make room for him. A platter and cutlery were produced.

Charlotte, opposite, acknowledged the incomer’s presence with a nod of her head and turned back to continue a debate on horse breeding with Piers on her left, while tucking in to her meal.

“Shall you be staying for the entertainments?” Nan asked Daniel.

“I had thought to, my dear. Mustn’t miss the opportunity to dance with the fairest lady here.”

To make clear who the next master of Cross Lanes was to be. The unspoken words seemed to hover between them.

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”.