About The Hollow Ground – Episode 42

Piers’s foresight in taking an alternative route was opportune.

As he was occupied with the hand of authority, the person he had taken pains to avoid was tackling the gradient to Cross Lanes in the sweltering heat of the midday sun.

Nan was standing at the window, her mind a confusion of thought.

Had Merriman been deliberately lax with the truth yesterday? The evidence pointed to it. Why hide away all this time?

Why, if he truly was doing what he said and returning to the scene of the crime to clear his name, could he not have done so sooner?

Nan wanted to believe in his innocence, but a drenching disappointment in the man she had trusted was clouding her judgement. She did not know what to think any more.

She was suddenly aware of a stranger entering the farmyard on a sturdy cob.

Collecting herself, she waited for Mercy to answer his summons at the door.

Within minutes the caller was being shown into the parlour.

“Good morrow, ma’am. Would I be addressing Miss Nanette Vessey?”

“That is so.”

Privately flinching at the use of her much disliked name, Nan inclined her head.

“And you are, sir?”

“Frank Goff at your service. Bailiff at Elmtree Farm, Shropshire. You’ll not know of it. Tes a holding some miles south of Ludlow.

“You will, however, be familiar with the rascal I’ve come about. Is there a man by the name of Piers Merriman on the premises?”

Nan did not immediately respond. Something in the man’s attitude did not ring true and she chose her words with care.

“May I ask the reason for this visit, sir?” she said with the granite-like quality that had made stauncher men hesitate.

Goff, hot and thirsty from his ride in the heat of the day, would have welcomed the offer of refreshment. Glowering, he launched into a spiel that was glib to excess, smacking of painstaking rehearsal.

“The man’s a rogue. He left me for dead and made off with the farm’s cash. I’d best start from the beginning.”

Nan listened, perfectly still and without interruption, to what the man had to say.

There was an element in that calm poise and steady gaze that was disconcerting, and Goff, dropping his own gaze, came eventually to a thankful finish.

Nan surveyed the man for a few more agonising moments.

“You are saying that Merriman, who has been in my employ for some months and has more than proved his worth, is accused of theft and assault?”

“That’s about the gist of it, lady.”

“I am not convinced. The manner in which this information has been imparted is not acceptable. If there was any credibility to your accusations I would have thought the matter would have come to my notice through more official channels.”

Nan saw with satisfaction the flicker of unease that crossed the man’s face, and leaving him scowling in disbelief at her response, she crossed the faded carpet to pull the bell-rope and summon the maid.

Mercy was there so promptly that Nan suspected she’d had an ear to the door. She would have words to say about that presently.

“Show Mr Goff out, Mercy.”

“Yes, ma’am. This way, if you please, sir.”

Not for one moment had the man’s words tied in with what Merriman had told her, and though there remained a painful smidgen of doubt as to her recent employee’s credibility, Nan knew which of the two men she was inclined to put her trust in.

The matter still required contemplation, however. First, there was that other issue to attend to.

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”.