About The Hollow Ground – Episode 47

“I dunno,” Shepherd Skelland said, raising his voice above the harsh grating of the sickle his workmate was sharpening against the whetstone. “This business over the late gaffer is fair getting to me.

“Us had our doubts over him coming a cropper from the hoss. Why dinna us not air them, instead of keeping it to ourselves?”

Brassey put the tool aside, straightening.

“Because it wunna our place to.”

“Happen. Merriman had no such scruples, mark you.”

“You’re right there. He wunna backward in coming forwards like some of us. Added to which, he were more on a par with the missus. Could talk to her person to person, like.”

Shepherd Skelland nodded.

“Tes so. How do you reckon the farm will fare without him?”

“Your guess is as good as mine, Noah. Tes to be hoped the missus has learned enough from Merriman’s guidance to keep Cross Lanes on its present track. Otherwise us could slip back into how things were before.”

The shepherd chewed musingly on a pinch of strong black tobacco.

“I never thought l’d say this, but I reckon us would have been better off if Merriman had stayed on as bailiff. With him in charge things would have stood a better chance.

“Tes to be hoped he does come back,” the shepherd continued. “And soon, before Cross Lanes falls into the wrong hands and the land gets notched on to the Vinewood estate,” he added, astonished at his own strength of feelings on the matter.

“Amen to that. Canna see him showing up here again, not after the way us treated him. Still, stranger things happen at sea!”

Shrugging resignedly, Brassey retrieved the sickle and resumed his attack of honing a keen edge to the tool.

*  *  *  *

December came in with battering winds and frosts that bit into the marrow of the bones.
One fiercely cold afternoon, Daniel called at Cross Lanes on the off-chance that Nan would be available to receive him.

Nan, not pleased at having her office work interrupted, was obliged to leave her desk and ring for refreshments.

Replete from tea and the sweetmeats to which he was partial, Daniel stretched his legs towards the parlour fire and made fresh inroads on his appeal for a betrothal.

“Nan, I beg of you to give the matter more thought. There are no lengths I would not go to in order to make you happy.”

At this moment Nan felt she would be better served to be left alone to continue her long-delayed perusal of the farm accounts.

She bit back a sharp response and composed herself with effort.

“Think on it, Nan,” Daniel continued. “We could get away from this infernal cold and spend the winter months in warmer climes.

“Summer, too, if you so wish. No inclement weather to have to endure. Nothing but blue sky and sunshine, and precious little to do but enjoy it. Does that not tempt?”

Nan shrugged.

“I have no quibble with the northern climate. Winter might bring discomfort, but it has its advantages. Snow and frost cleans the ground of disease.

“And I have a fondness for the changing seasons,” she admitted. “A life of sun-filled idleness would bore me witless!”

“How hard you are to please,” Daniel commented, a look of what may have been panic crossing his face. “You must see how dearly I want you as my wife. Think of the advantages wedlock will bring you.”

Nan put aside her teacup and saucer.

“Daniel, I don’t wish to offend, but I am deeply troubled by the likelihood of a connection between the two members of Vinewood staff and the death of my papa. You surely understand that.

“Until the investigation has been dealt with, there can be no question of venturing further into the prospects of a betrothal,” she finished forcefully.

“Dewes and Wilkes, you mean? Vinewood’s best men, guilty of dark deeds? Poppycock! ’Tis all fuss and blunder.” Daniel snorted.

“Granted, given the nature of your involvement, the matter is distressing for you,” he allowed. “But others, too, are affected. My sire stalks around like a bear with a sore head, and who can blame him?

“His men are languishing in the county jail on the grounds of . . . what? Nothing whatsoever. Some interfering upstart has made a wild accusation and the police have taken it into their heads to follow it up.” Daniel sighed.

“And so it should be,” Nan cut in. “There’s often no smoke without fire. I’m sorry, but my mind is set. Once the names of those men are cleared – if they are cleared – then I shall give you my decision.

“Until then, any suggestion of a union between you and me must remain in abeyance.”

“So be it,” Daniel said with a note of resignation.

He studied the platter on the tea tray, on which only crumbs remained.

“That marchpane was devilish good. Would there be more, by any chance?”

Nan repressed a sigh.

“I shall ring and see.”

She rose and went to pull the bell-rope, thinking to her chagrin that a lack of the requested sweetmeat might hasten the visitor’s departure, and thus give her leeway to return to her books.

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”.