About The Hollow Ground – Episode 38

Brassey had called Shepherd Skelland from the sheepfold where he had been dealing with a case of hoof-rot, and Geoffrey Penk from feeding the calves.

Bob Trimelow, hearing the commotion, came running from the milking shed where he was cleaning out the stalls for the evening milking session.

Mercy came speeding from the house to help, kilting up her skirts against the water with disregard to a display of stockinged legs as far as the knee.

The two dairymaids, game for anything, abandoned the pristine dairy and came to join her.

Piers plunged into the water and waded to the barn where he stored the recently acquired heavy-duty spades, thanking heaven he had gone ahead and purchased them.

He doubled back through the water that was now halfway up his thighs. He all but tossed the tools at the line of helpers.

“Ta,” Mercy said. “Will I get Chubby Denver to lend a hand? He were at the harvesting. He called wi’ some greens for the kitchen. I’d just brewed him a sup o’ tea for his pains.”

“Tell him to come and be sharp about it.” Piers raised his voice against the rushing roar of the brook. “The rest of you, follow those markers and get digging! Leave a few feet at the start to be opened up afterwards.”

It was every hand to the decks, and a couple of hard hours later a narrow trench had been dug from close to the point of trouble, skirting the orchard and house, to a point where the brook was wider and more able to take the overflow.

Piers, soaked to the skin and plastered with mud, went to dig out the final few feet of ground to release the water from the trouble spot, floundering in the flood and labouring mainly by guesswork.

A cheer went up from the band of half-drowned men and bedraggled women as the torrent swirled back on itself and went gurgling along the makeshift trench.

But there was no respite for any of them yet.

“The outbuildings will have copped it,” Piers hollered. “We’d best get on with the sweeping out.”

A little later, he was in the big barn alongside the stout, round-faced Chubby Denver, vigorously wielding a broom to shift the mud and other debris from the flagstones, when the man paused in his labours.

“Mester, I reckon there’s summat you should know,” he said hesitantly.

“What’s that? Spit it out, man,” Piers said, his voice hoarse from shouting.

“Last night I were having a jar at the Red Lion – at Peckforton, you know? There were a fellow there enquiring after you. Unpleasant character, him seemed to me. Mean-faced. Thinning dark hair.”

Piers’s stomach churned. From the description it could only be one. Goff.

That settled it. First thing tomorrow he was heading for Elmtree to sort things out with the master, before Goff had the law on him.

It would be done through well-thought-out lies and subterfuge, and convincing as the day – but then Goff was a practiced trickster.

“Thought you oughta know,” Chubby Denver mumbled, and went back to his sweeping.

Piers followed the man’s example. If he set off first thing he could pick up the carrier at the Broxton Turnpike and get a lift south. But first, he must tell Nan of his intentions.

It was not an easy thought.

Piers shut the door of the cottage that had been his refuge for the past months and set off down the track, his goods and his gear strapped in a bulky bundle on his back.

The grey and rosy fingers of dawn were giving way to a greenish mid-August light, and smells of damp earth lay thickly on the air.

From the heights came the low bleating calls of the flock, and somewhere a dog barked.

Piers trudged on, passing the old farmhouse, looking neither right nor left, his mind still smarting from the previous day’s audience with Nan Vessey in her study.

He had been straight with her, telling her the circumstances behind his hurried departure of Elmtree Farm earlier in the year. He was head cowman there, settled in his job, respected by all but one.

Nan had listened, tight-lipped, as the story unfolded.

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”.