About The Hollow Ground – Episode 43

The moment the front door had closed on the visitor, Nan went in search of her maid.

Mercy was in the kitchen, mixing pastry crumbs for all she was worth.

She looked up balefully as Nan appeared, her tear-blotched face and quivering lower lip bleak testament to her anxiety about what was to come.

“Leave that for the moment, Mercy,” Nan said and plunged into her interrogation. “There are aspects of behaviour that are not to be tolerated in a servant, and this includes listening in to what does not concern you.

“Tell me, what precisely is behind the activity here today, not forgetting your own part in it?”

Mercy’s already distraught face crumpled.

She confessed to all she knew, starting with overhearing what was possible of the interview between her mistress and employee through the thick pinewood door of the study, and making her own assumptions on the rest before conveying the news to the two farmhands.

Then being coerced into bringing Merriman back to the farm to face whatever was in store for him.

“You put a potentially innocent man’s life in jeopardy? A man you have admitted to liking and trusting? What came over you?”

Tears were running freely down Mercy’s hot cheeks.

“Oh, please, missus, dunna turn me off! My mam’ll skelp me if I’m sent home wi’ no character an’ no chance of another position.”

“Enough! I shall have to think the matter over.”

Nan ordered the girl back to her work and marched outside to speak to Brassey and Shepherd Skelland.

“I have just had a visitor,” she began, having taken them to one side. “You will know to whom I refer.

“Tell me exactly what has been plotted behind my back with relation to Merriman. I make no concessions for long-standing staff. Any suggestion of foul play will not be tolerated.”

Stony-faced, Nan heard the two men out. She then subjected them to the most thorough castigating either man had ever received in all his working days.

Brassey later admitted to Shepherd Skelland that it beat the dressing down he’d had from his wife when they were on short time at the farm, and he’d spent his last farthing on a twist of tobacco for his pipe.

*  *  *  *

Nan, in need of a reviving sip of wine from her papa’s wine cellar, entered the parlour to find Charlotte relinquishing gloves and riding whip on the table.

“Hey-ho, Nan. I’ve tethered Firedance by the gates.”

Nan headed for a selection of pitchers on a small oak cabinet.

“I was about to partake of a glass. Will you join me?”

“Rhenish, no less. Indeed, yes.”

Nan poured the wine into two tall goblets, handing Charlotte hers.

“My thanks . . .” Charlotte broke off. “Nan, you are distinctly ruffled. Has something upset you?”

“Yes, I fear it has. Take a seat.”

Between sips of wine, Nan explained what had occurred, from Merriman’s revelation yesterday to the visit today from Frank Goff.

“Not a man I took to, I have to say.”

“And Merriman? He’s gone?”

“It appears so, and at my bidding. Charlotte,” Nan replied, “I’m so battered by all this I hardly know what to believe any more.”

Charlotte surveyed her wryly over the rim of her goblet.

“Oh, I think you do. Piers Merriman attacking the bailiff and making off with the farm funds? Never! I’m shocked you should even consider it a possibility.

“Your problem is your reaction to his information,” Charlotte continued. “He’ll be missed, you know. Had you thought of that when you ordered him off the premises? How will you manage without him?”

Put like that, the full force of the situation hit Nan like a hammer blow.

Yes, she would miss him. Not only for his input on the farm, but the man himself. With his support and guidance, he had been her rock in times of need.

The slow smile, the way his eyes warmed as they met hers . . . And she had sent him away.

It was too late now for making amends. Piers had gone for good, and she herself was responsible for 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”.