At Bowerly Hall-31

I WAS wrapped up well in several layers of petticoats under my thickest skirt and my legs felt no cold. My upper body was equally warm with my woollen shawl snug over my coat. My bonnet kept the worst of the weather from my head.

It was not raining but there was a heaviness to the air as if the damp might turn to water droplets at any moment. There was only the sound of my skirt swishing through the grasses and the pounding of my heart as I went to meet Charles.

“Good timekeeping,” he remarked in a low tone as I approached, and I heard approval in his voice.

He need have no fear that I was not capable of the task ahead, whatever it was.

I was resolved to do my best to help him. Francis did not seem like a violent man but if a man was desperate to escape justice, what might he do?

I tried not to think about that.

“Are you ready?” Charles asked.

I nodded and then realised he couldn’t see me.

“Yes, quite ready.”

“Then let us proceed. We will walk to the caves as quietly as possible and then wait in the darkness until Francis arrives.”

“You’re certain, then, that it is he?”

“I have come to that conclusion, but as I told you, I will not make any charges or decisions until I have seen him with my own eyes. Mrs Bell may not be telling the truth. She has her own skin to save.”

“Are you sure he will come tonight?”

“Yes. Once he heard my story about the geological society, he was quick to leave. I told him the group would be exploring the caves tomorrow afternoon. That only leaves tonight, under cover of darkness, for him to remove the stolen goods.

“Believe me, Amelia, I will be only too relieved if we find no-one tonight. If that is the case, then it can’t be Francis who is to blame.”

I barely made out his outline in the darkness of the walled garden, just sufficiently to know that he had turned and was making his way to the meadows. The moon cast a feeble silver light and I was able to follow.

The crash and boom of the sea was audible. In the moonlight the water was simply a black band against the streaky sky and scattered stars.

“The sea is close,” Charles warned as we descended the now familiar stone steps, “but it is on the turn so there should be no danger of being trapped at the cliffs.”

“Thank goodness!”

“Are you afraid? Do you wish to go home? I should not have asked you to accompany me. What on earth was I thinking?”

“No, no, I am quite all right,” I said quickly. I did not want to miss out on this adventure. “I’m not scared at all.”

This was a small exaggeration of the truth but no matter. How could I let Charles go alone into possible danger? If something befell him and I had walked away, I couldn’t live with my conscience.

“Very well then, Miss Thorne, let us go forward!”

There was his warm humour now and I felt close to him.

“Where shall we hide?” I whispered as we grew close to the cave mouths.

“The moon is casting large shadows so we may wait in them,” he said, “over by the bluff. It’s far enough away that he won’t see us and near enough that we will hear him coming.”

We stood with our backs to the rocks and waited. After a while my back began to ache. I rubbed the small of it with my fingers.

It was getting colder, too. Beside me, Charles was an immobile shape. He seemed able to wait without movement, like a panther awaiting its prey.

“What if he is already in the cave when we arrive?” I said as this thought popped up.

“Then we will catch him coming out,” came the calm reply.

I wriggled. Standing still for so long was painful. The tide had sucked and rasped its way fairly far out again as we’d waited.

Suddenly, Charles swore softly under his breath.

“What is it?” I said.

“We’ve been here for hours,” he whispered back. “Francis should either have arrived or have come back out of the cave by now. I’m a fool! Don’t you see? There must be another way into the caves. Think about it, Amelia. How did Francis get all the stolen goods, the heavy candlesticks, the large and unwieldy pictures down here? He’d never manage them on the cliff steps.”

“We’ve had a wasted journey,” I said in dismay. “We’ve lost our chance to surprise him.”

Charles walked swiftly to the caves. I ran after him.

“I want you to go home now,” he said.

“No, I’m coming with you.”

“You’re not. It’s too dangerous. I’m going into the cave and I’ll either find Francis at the end chamber or I’ll find another way out and follow it to him.

“Either way, I don’t want you to get in the middle of what might be a struggle. It’s one thing to watch for him out here in the open and quite another to confront him in an enclosed space within the cave system.”

I made some small sound of protest and he put up both palms to stop me.

“Please, Amelia. I must go, I’m losing time. You’ll be perfectly safe walking back to the house.”

And with that, he went into the cave, leaving me behind.

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!