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Authors: Jane Gardam

The Hollow Land

BOOK: The Hollow Land
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Europa Editions
214 West 29th St., Suite 1003
New York NY 10001
[email protected]
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 1982 by Jane Gardam
First publication 2014 by Europa Editions
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Cover Art by Emanuele Ragnisco
ISBN 9781609452568

Jane Gardam


Christ keep the Hollow Land
Through the sweet spring-tide
When the apple blossoms bless
The lowly bent hill side.
Christ keep the Hollow Land
All the summer-tide
Still we cannot understand
Where the waters glide.
Only dimly seeing them
Coldly slipping through
Many green-lipp'd cavern mouths,
Where the hills are blue.


m Bell Teesdale. I'm a lad. I'm eight.

All down this dale where I live there's dozens of little houses with grass growing between the stones and for years there's been none of them wanted. They're too old or too far out or that bit too high for farmers now. There was miners once—it's what's called the hollow land—but they're here no more. So the little houses is all forsook.

They have big garths round them, and pasture for grass-letting—sheep and that—and grand hayfields. Maybe just too many buttercups blowing silver in June, but grand hay for all that, given a fair week or two after dipping time.

All these little farmhouses for years stood empty, all the old farming families gone and the roofs falling in and the swallows and swifts swooping into bedrooms and muck trailing down inside the stone walls.

So incomers come. They buy these little houses when they can, or they rent or lease them. Manchester folks or even London folks, with big estate cars full of packet food you don't see round here, and great soft dogs that's never seen another animal.

All down Mallerstang there's becks running down off the fell. It's bonny. Down off the sharp scales, dry in summer till one single drop of rain sends them running and rushing and tumbling down the fell-side like threads of silk. Like cobwebs. And when the wind blows across the dale these becks gasp, and they rise up on theirselves like the wild horses in Wateryat Bottom. They rise up on their hind legs. Or like smoke blowing, like ever so many bonfires, not water at all, all smoking in the wind between Castledale and the Moorcock toward Wensleydale. It's bonny.

And townsfolk come looking at all this now where once they only went to the Lake District over the west. Renting and leasing they come. Talking south. “Why'd they come?” I ask our grandad, who's leased the farmhouse he used to live in (my gran died). “There's not owt for 'em here. What's use of a farm to them? Just for sitting in. Never a thing going on.”

“Resting,” says my grandad. “They take 'em for resting in after London.”

Well, this family that come to my grandad's old house, Light Trees, wasn't resting. Not resting at all. There's a mother and a father and four or five great lads, some of them friends only, and there's a little lad, Harry, and the racket they make can be heard as far as Garsdale likely.

They has the house—our gran and grandad's old house, see—but we still keep all the farm buildings and work them and we've right to the hay off the Home Field. There's good cow byres, dipping pens, bull's hull and clipping shed. So we're clipping and dipping and drenching and putting the cows to the bull regardless. Sometimes there's a hundred sheep solid across our yard so they can't get their car over to the yard gate. But it was in the arrangement, mind. My dad always says, “We're about to bring in sheep, Mr. Bateman”—it's what they're called, Bateman—“We're bringing in sheep. Would you like to get your car out first? We'll hold things back.” There's maybe four, five and six of our sheepdogs lying watching, and their soft dog lying watching our dogs, but never going near. Then from out the house comes their music playing, and lads yelling and laughing and a radio or two going and the London mother cooking these Italian-style suppers and their telephone ringing (they've got in the telephone like they've got in a fridge) and they're all saying, this London lot, “
evening Mr. Teesdale”—my dad—“and what are you doing with the sheep tonight? You're giving us quite an edu

And there's this little lad, Harry, just stands there not saying owt.

Now there's one night, the first night of hay-time, and we're all slathered out, even my dad. It's perfect. A right hot summer and a right hot night and a bright moon. Yesterday my dad said, “Tomorrow we'll mow hay. We'll mow all day and if need be through the night. There may be rain by Sunday.”

He's never wrong, my dad, so we—my mum and our Eileen and our Eileen's boyfriend and Grandad and all of us—we set up till we'd mowed and we finish the High Field and Miner's Acre by teatime. And then we sets to with the Home Field—that's the great big good field round Light Trees. Light Trees stands right in it.

It makes a rare clatter our tractor and cutter, louder than their transistors—clatter, clatter, clatter, round and round and round—and after a bit, well maybe two hours, there's heads beginning to bob from windows. Then round ten-eleven o'clock and the summer light starts fading and it's still clatter, clatter, there's electric lights flashing on and off inside Light Trees and this London father comes out.

First he just stands there. Then he strolls and watches. Clatter, clatter, clatter. Round and round and round. He starts waving a bit. Then he's calling. Finally, round midnight he's yelling and shouting at us, but we can't stop. When you open up a field of hay you have to see it mowed out.

And then the tractor breaks down and there's silence. Silence like the beginning of the world or the end of it, and the London father and some of the big lads comes over (the mother's inside with ear-plugs in likely, the cutter coming up to the house wall, see, every two-three minutes, though not
near—farther off as we get nearer the middle) and he says, “Will this row be going on much longer then, Teesdale?”

“Not if I can get this feller mended,” says my dad, fratcheting with spanners.

“Causing something of a row,” says the London father.

“No row here,” says my dad, “
having no row.”

“No, no,” says the London father, “
a row. You're making one devil of a row.”

“None of my making,” says my dad, pushing his jaw forward and getting aloft the tractor again and the racket starts up even louder than ever, blue smoke rising from the tractor chimney in the moonlight.

They'd got at cross purposes, see. First meaning of row with us seems to be quarrel. First meaning of row with them seems to mean noise, or at any rate it does tonight. I could see this, but my dad was busy, and tired, and working ahead of rain, so he took no heed. My dad might have been talking Chinese for all the London man tried to understand him and the London man might have been talking Eskimo. The big lads looked soft about it too, and started muttering and kicking their feet about in the new short grass left by the cutter. “Country peace and quiet,” says one. “Country peace and
. Worse than Piccadilly Circus.”

I stood back like. I'd been sent to the clipping shed for more John Robert before I went to check the fell gate was shut for the night, and as I crosses the field back I sees this little lad, Harry, looking out of his bedroom window and I catches his eye. And somehow I know he's all right, this one, London boy or not. I know he understands how we have to make all this racket to see hay cut ahead of rain. Maybe all night long we have to go on. With lights fixed up, even. I give him a bit wave, and he disappears his head out of sight. Dips it down shy-like. You'd not think of London folk being shy.

So, well, by morning we're finished. And next day we strow and turn. And very next day after—it being such a wonderful hot summer—we begin to bale and elevate into barns, doing the Light Trees Home Field first for their convenience, to get it over for them. A rare noisy job of course it is and the London folks all walked away out of it—the whole band of them! Going off across the yard in boots, and packs on their backs for an all-day hike. But by the Saturday night we're off the fell. We're back down in our own farm kitchen, down the village, all fields finished and very satisfied. We're all over aching. We're slow speaking. We've done with moving for a week. With hay-time for another year. My dad says, “I'm away. Bed for me,” and then as he gets his hand on the knob at the end of our old staircase he says, “You shut yon fell gate now, Bell?”

I said I had.

“You're sure now?”

“Aye, I'm sure.”

“Well, I'm away.”

And I starts to wonder. Every single night since my gran died and grandad moved down here with us and my dad began to farm the Light Trees land he's checked this fell gate. It's a long old gate in the last stone wall before the open fell. It's on a path that walkers use. They walk in clumps—great fat orange folk with long red noses and maps in plastic cases flapping across their stomachs. Transistors going sometimes too, and looking at nowt before them but their own two feet. Sometimes the walkers up front leave the gates open for the straggling ones coming behind. Then the stragglers think that's how the gate's meant to be, and leave it. Then the cows come out of the pasture and onto the fell and the sheep come off the fell and into the pasture and on and away till they're mixed in with other folks's sheep and cows where maybe there's a ram and certainly a bull. And then there's merry hell. “Better to check that gate every night of our lives,” says my dad, “than rue it.”

Lately—since I grew to be eight—checking the gate's been my job. Well, up I goes to bed—and I wonder.

Did I shut it?

I gets out of my clothes and I rolls into my bed and it's grand and soft. I wriggle about into the shape of me in the middle of the springs—if you filled it up with candle grease and let it cool and lifted the grease out you'd have a statue of me sleeping. The moon's shining in at the window and I'm dead beat and I'm all over scratched with hay. My eyes is dropping and every muscle of me is like stones.

Did I then?

Shut that fell gate?

He'd be in a fair taking if—

So out I gets and into my clothes again and down the stairs. Great roaring snores. My mum and dad sleep that sound after hay-time they often sleep right through the alarm clock stood by the bedside in a bucket. Away I went, off up the road the two miles up to Light Trees and the half mile beyond it to the fell gate.

He were wrong, Dad, for once. It's midnight so it's Sunday. “There'll be rain by Sunday,” he said—and there's no rain. The moon's as huge and bright as the past three nights and the fells laid out all colours beneath it. There's rabbits here and rabbits there and cows lumbering up onto their knees as they hear you coming, rolling their eyes and crashing off into the shadows of the little black may trees. And there's my own three Leicester ewes glaring at me out of green lamp eyes, faces like camels, right snooty. And there's curlews that calls out to each other all night long, just like in the day, and never seems to sleep. And there's no sound else up here but the becks running.

There's no sign of life as I pass Light Trees. Tired out with walking, they've been keeping to theirselves, the London folk, nobody speaking. They crossed the yard twice today while we were there, not speaking. It's tight lips and heads turned sideways.

“Likely they're going to tek off,” my grandad said this afternoon.

BOOK: The Hollow Land
7.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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