About The Hollow Ground – Episode 29

When only crumbs remained, the merrymaking began.

Bob Trimelow began the proceedings with a lively song that had everyone joining in with the chorus.

Geoffrey Penk recited a ballad of true love lost and found again, and Piers gave a rendition of “The Barley Mow” in his fine baritone voice.

The floor was then cleared for the dancing.

At some point Piers had gone to check on Charlotte’s mare.

“All fine and hearty,” he reported, his hair glistening with raindrops. “I’ve given her another armful of hay to keep her happy.”

“Thank you, Merriman. What of the storm?”

“It’s pretty lively out there. Only to be expected after the heatwave.”

“What a good thing we got in the hay in time,” Nan said.

“Amen to that,” Piers replied.

Daniel made no comment. Nan turned to him.

“Daniel, would you excuse me for a moment? I would speak with Merriman. See, the musicians are striking up. I’m sure Charlotte would like to dance.”

With the two of them darting her less than agreeable glances, she asked Piers to step aside where it was more private.

“Merriman, this is a matter of importance. You will be aware of the need for a bailiff now we are taking on staff. Would you be interested? I greatly appreciate all you have done here.”

“Nay, mistress. It was only a matter of putting things on the right track.”

Nan gave him a knowing look, her dark eyes shining.

“I’m not blind to how diligently you have striven for Cross Lanes. Will you take the position? There will be a substantial increase in wage.”

He hesitated, and the guarded look Nan had seen before entered his eyes.

“Don’t feel you must give me your answer now. Take a little time to think it over,” she suggested.

“I’ll do that,” Piers told her.

The musicians began the opening bars of a familiar piece guaranteed to bring the company surging to the floor.

Piers smiled that slow smile that lit the strong lines of his face and was seen all too rarely.

“Now, mistress, may I have the honour of this dance?”

Nan, entering into the spirit of things, swept him a curtsey.

“Why, thank you, kind sir. Charmed, I’m sure.”

He took her hand and led her on to the floor, while in the wings Daniel looked on, his displeasure at the sight all too evident.

The moment the jig was over, he claimed Nan for himself.

“A word, madam, if you please.”

Nan, flushed and smiling with enjoyment, felt an unwanted qualm of unease.

Daniel led her away from the noise and laughter.

“What meant you by dancing with a peasant of a farm hand?” he said abruptly.

“I beg your pardon?” Nan, shocked at the outburst, drew a calming breath. “You refer to Merriman? He happens to be my right-hand man. I’ve offered him the position of bailiff.”

“You’ve what?” Colour touched Daniel’s cheeks. “You’ve continued with this reckless nonsense after all I’ve said?

“Nan, you know nothing of this individual. Have you no sense of propriety or intuition?”

“I have an abundance of both,” Nan said tersely. “I would like to know what right you have to speak to me in this way?”

Daniel’s face reddened all the more.

“You ask me that?” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “I speak thus because I care about you. Because I want you as my wife!”

The untimely proposition was out before Daniel realised it and Nan stiffened.

Overhead, a tremendous drum-roll of thunder all but shook the rafters, setting the candles flaring and spuming trails of smoke.

On the floor the spirited dancing continued. No-one in that foot-stamping, hand-slapping, whirling throng paid any heed to the violence of the storm outside, but Nan did.

Coming directly after Daniel’s bungled words, it seemed an omen.

“Forgive me,” Daniel said brokenly. “It was not my intention to approach the matter so baldly. I had planned a ball at Vinewood and a request for your hand in wedlock in the rose garden.”

Nan stared at him.

“You think that would have made a difference to me? This is where I belong, Daniel. My roots are here, among those you glibly dub peasants.”

“I’m sorry.” He looked it, his face troubled and repentant. “Please say I am forgiven. I was jealous at seeing you so obviously at ease with . . . Merridene, was it?”

“Merriman. So?”

“Nan, I think a great deal of you. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see you mistress of Vinewood, as my wife.”

It was apparently the best he could manage in the circumstances and it only served to make matters worse.

Nan’s lips pursed in a thin line. This was not her idea of a marriage proposal and no amount of justification would alter that.

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”.