About The Hollow Ground – Episode 39

“Frank Goff was bailiff there,” Piers had begun. “He had it in for me from the start. Happen I’d worked my way up too fast and he resented it.

“One day I called in at the office to speak to the master about something. He wasn’t there but Goff was, with his hand in the farm cash-box and a guilty look on him at being seen.

“It wouldn’t have been the first time money had gone missing and I challenged him about it.

“He came at me like a raging bull. We fought, and somehow I missed my footing and fell.

“I must have caught my temple on the desk and got knocked out. When I came round I was alone, with a pouch of sovereigns in my pocket and the door locked.”

“This man had planted the money on you?” Nan was shocked.

Piers nodded.

“I had a bruise on my head the size of an egg and one humdinger of a headache. I certainly wasn’t reasoning straight. My one thought was to be gone before Goff came back with the master.”

“But surely if you had stayed and explained –”

“It would have been his word against mine – and Goff was bailiff there, trusted for his position. I wanted out.”

Piers shrugged.

“I left the cash on the desk and beat a retreat, stopping off at the staff quarters for some possessions on the way.”

“Did nobody see you?” Nan asked.

“Shouldn’t think so. It was mid-afternoon; everyone was at work. I ran until my legs buckled under me and I passed out. When I woke up it was dark and my head was clearer.

“That was when I realised my mistake. It was too late to turn back. My course was set and I had to follow it.”

Nan’s face was deathly pale; her eyes were hard and accusing.

“I wouldn’t have taken you for an absconder, Merriman.”

“Me, neither, mistress. I wonder at my own action – in truth it’s rankled ever since. I was wrong, but I did not take that money.”

“What of the spending on repairs to the cottage? Where did the cash come from for that?”

“Savings. I’d worked hard with a view to getting a few acres of my own,” Piers explained. “I’d just had news of a legacy. An elderly relative had passed on and bequeathed everything to me.”

There was a short silence while Nan digested all she had been told.

“Why didn’t you tell me before now? There was opportunity enough,” she said tersely.

“Aye, I know. Truth is, I wasn’t proud of my actions. It would have shown me in a bad light.”

“Most certainly it would have. Has done, in fact. It also clarifies the dallying over my job offer.”

That said, Nan withdrew a wooden cash box from the drawer of the desk, counted out a sum of money and slid it towards him across the desk.

“Your wages to date, Merriman. Take it and go.”

Piers had done so. Never would he forget the expression in Nan’s eyes as he left the room: bitter disappointment, laced with reproof at her own folly for having taken him on in the first place.

One thing was sure – his presence would not be welcome at Cross Lanes Farm ever again.

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”.