About The Hollow Ground – Episode 45

Candice’s thoughts had strayed along similar lines.

She loves this Piers Merriman. What’s to be done about it, Puss?” she said to the tortoiseshell cat on her lap.

Candice recalled a chance encounter with Merriman by Henry’s grave. Mannerly and direct, he had seemed a genuine person.

Goff, on the other hand, was not of the same ilk.

She had not disclosed her contact with the man to her daughter. He had stayed at the same inn as herself when she had regularly visited the churchyard.

Having noted Goff’s forwarding address in the inn’s visitor’s book, she had committed it to memory. Why, she had no idea. It had just seemed significant at the time.

Elmtree Farm, Sarn Lane, Shropshire.

“What if I pen a line to Master Merriman, requesting his return?” she murmured.

Rising, she went to sit at a mahogany escritoire in the window.

After a moment’s thought, she selected a pen, dipped it into the ink, and drawing up a sheet of notepaper, began to write.

It was a slim chance but worth the effort.

*  *  *  *

“Missus! Oh, missus!”

Mercy, barrelling in from Hampton market, thrust her basket on the table and faced her mistress.

“What is it, Mercy?” Nan said.

“Shocking news, ma’am. The police have hauled Vinewood’s ostler Seb Wilkes in for questioning. Tom Dewes, your old bailiff, is implicated an’ all.”

“Dewes is in the hands of the law? On what charge?”

Here Mercy faltered.

“Brace yourself, missus. Tes murder. And missus, that inna all. Tes in connection wi’ the late gaffer – your own da!”

The room swirled about Nan. She clutched at her chest, finding it hard to breathe.

Her legs buckled and she felt herself falling into a void of utter blackness.

All over the area, word spread that evidence had come to light with regard to the demise of the late master of Cross Lanes Farm.

“Tes said as Vinewood’s ostler has been taken by the Broxton Police,” Logan Brassey’s wife told her neighbour over the garden wall.

Arms folded over her chest, the neighbour nodded.

“Aye, an’ my man says as Tom Dewes, who left Cross Lanes to go and work for Harrison, is implicated an’ all. Tom, of all people! Who would have thought it?”

“Takes some believing,” Brassey’s wife agreed.

In tavern taproom, farmyard and lane, menfolk acknowledged that Vinewood’s Seb Wilkes always had been a law unto himself, but Tom Dewes was a different kettle of fish.

*  *  *  *

At Cross Lanes, sympathy went to Nan Vessey, whose pinched cheeks and shadowed brow displayed how greatly the proceedings affected her.

The harvest home was imminent, and with it her promised response to Daniel’s betrothal request.

So broken was she by the implications that had suddenly surrounded her loss, that she sent Daniel a letter, requesting more time and begging his forgiveness for the delay.

The response came by return. Nan received a missive in which Daniel outlined his understanding and willingness to wait until she felt better able to give him an answer.

It seemed significant that he did not appear at the feast, which Charlotte declared no bad thing.

Somehow, Nan endured.

As the autumn days shortened and grew colder, the staff taken on to help with the harvest were routinely laid off, leaving Nan with the regular outside staff of four, plus Annie and May, the two dairy-maids.

Every day she braced herself for news of the investigation into her father’s death.

As time passed and no reprieve came for the two suspects involved, it seemed more than ever to have taken on the horrific consequences of being far from natural.

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”.