About The Hollow Ground – Episode 31

The rain had eased off. A watery sunset painted the sky with streaks of orange and grey. Midges jigged in merciless swarms and swallows swooped to feast their fill.

“It might be more clear if I showed you what I have in mind,” Piers said as Nan studied the routed design in puzzlement.

“I’ll get my shawl,” Nan replied.

She accompanied Piers to the stackyard and listened carefully as he outlined his strategy.

“I see. Yes, that would be the answer to the problem. Dear me, how sodden the ground is here. And how fast the brook runs. Didn’t we speak of this before?”

“Aye,” Piers said non-committally.

Nan sighed.

“I should have trusted your judgement.” She looked at the drawing in her hand. “It’s quite an undertaking, and the men are busy. Could it wait?”

“Not for long,” Piers said. “I’ll put it to the others. See what they think.”

* * * *

Nan was about to head for the churchyard, a posy of garden flowers in her hand, when Charlotte came clattering up on Firedance.

“Charlotte. You’ve just caught me. I want to put these on Papa’s grave.”

“I’ll come, too. Is Merriman here? He can stable Firedance for me.”

“Merriman’s in the stackyard with the men. He has an idea for a culvert to talk over with them.”

“Is there no end to the man’s talents? Come with me, then. I shall attend to Firedance myself.”

Charlotte put her mare in a stall next to Minstrel, the solidly built liver-chestnut hunter that had belonged to Henry Vessey.

Charlotte paused to offer the horse a titbit.

“Darling Minstrel. He’s such a poppet,” she said as the animal chomped up the treat. “Do you ride him?”

“Not as often as I would like. Merriman uses him for farm business.”

“With no problems? ”

“None. Minstrel has perfect manners – Papa saw to that. Shall we go, Charlotte? I don’t like the look of those clouds.”

They had entered the churchyard when Nan pulled to a frowning stop.

“Oh! See who’s there.”

Standing at the foot of Henry Vessey’s grave was the woman mourner.

“It’s that woman again,” Nan said quietly. “It’s been a while since she came. We must speak to her.”

“Nan, I don’t think that would be wise,” Charlotte replied.

“Why ever not, Charlotte? Why so hesitant? I’m going to see what she wants.”

Nan continued on her way and Charlotte followed, her feet crunching reluctantly along the path.

On reaching the grave, the woman spoke.

“Charlotte, you’ve caught me out. I wasn’t expecting anyone so early in the day. Pray do not look so troubled. It was inevitable that I could not keep up the charade indefinitely.”

Nan looked from the stranger to her cousin.

“Charlotte, I don’t understand. You are acquainted?”

“We are,” Charlotte said in a low voice. “Nan, there is something you should know. Shall we all go back to the house? This may take some time.”

* * * *

Nan stared at the black-clad woman with the strained face, stunned into silence.

Raindrops now splattered noisily against the parlour casement, and the fire, lit earlier by Mercy to ward off the damp of another inclement August day, leaped and crackled in the grate.

Nan neither saw nor heard any of it, so great was her shock at the information she had just received.

“You’re my mother?” she managed at last, her voice choked and disbelieving.

Some crawling instinct had warned her of pending trauma, but never could she have envisaged this.

“I am,” the woman replied. “I was Candice Vessey, now Lowe. I took on my mother’s maiden name when I left. It seemed best, you understand.”

Nan was aware of Charlotte sitting upright and unspeaking on the worn, tapestry-upholstered sofa beside the woman.

“Pray continue,” Nan said stiffly.

Candice heaved a sigh that carried an agonising weight of emotion in its depths.

“It’s a long story. I shall be as brief as possible.”

There was an interruption as the door opened to admit Mercy with a tray of tea. The maid glanced curiously at the stranger, then made to busy herself with the refreshments.

“That will be all, Mercy,” Nan said. “I shall attend to it myself.”

She waited until the door had closed on the girl before reaching for the teapot, conscious that her hands were shaking.

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”.