- 29. At Bowerly Hall-29
- 30. At Bowerly Hall-30
- 31. At Bowerly Hall-31
- 32. At Bowerly Hall-32
- 33. At Bowerly Hall-33
- 34. At Bowerly Hall-34
- 35. At Bowerly Hall-35
I STOOD there for a moment, a rush of anger flooding me. How dare he? He had taken me with him so far and then abandoned me, never mind that he believed it to be in my best interests and for my safety! It wasn’t good enough. I let a few minutes go past and then I entered the cave.
I went as silently as possible. I could see the faint light of a candle some distance in front. Of course Charles needed it, otherwise there was a danger of stumbling into the walls. I hoped fervently that Francis would not see it.
When I reached the wide chamber, Charles was gone. I cannot describe the depth of darkness that surrounded me.
I held up my hand in front of my face and was unable to see it. I tried to visualise the chamber. I had seen it before in candlelight when I found Francis’s hoard.
Then, I had gone straight to the centre to see what was there. My best plan of action now was to touch the rough stone beside me and circle the edge until I found the other exit.
Carefully, keeping my hand firmly on the stone, I began to step to the left. It had to be done slowly. If there was a rut or pothole in the ground I did not want to be flung into it. I was ever conscious that Charles was already ahead by minutes. I didn’t want to lose him.
I continued on my circle until, a little after halfway, my hand fell into nothing. A cold draught blew at me. Here was the other way in and out of the cave. Charles was right! We had been foolish not to think of this.
The passage curved up almost immediately. There was an odour of wet earth. I moved faster now, desperate to get up to the surface. Where was Charles?
A blast of cold night air hit me. I was there. The way out was fringed with roots and crumbling soil. I pushed past them.
As my senses adjusted, I saw the scene unfolding beyond. Two figures struggling. Three horses, restless, tied to the trunk of a tree. All around was woodland.
As I watched helplessly, one figure broke free, ran for the horses and mounted. The second figure, who I guessed was Charles by his height, ran after him and leaped on to a second horse to gallop after the first. Two bulky bags had dropped from the horse as he went.
What was I to do? The sensible action was to go that instant for help,but Charles didn’t want interference until he’d caught his cousin.
What if Francis overpowered him? I shook my head. Charles was taller, stronger and more athletic than Francis by far.
I approached the last horse. He was twitching with nerves. There were bags slung over his back.
Murmuring gently, I stroked his nose until he calmed. Then I managed to undo the bags. They slid to the ground.
I got on to the horse. There was nothing for it but to ride with my skirts hitched. Thank goodness it was night and no-one there to see.
I turned my mount and pressed my heels to his flanks, urging him to follow his companions. We rushed through the trees. Branches snatched at my bonnet. I loosened the ribbons and threw it off. Rather that, than I should be strangled by it.
Now the branches grabbed my hair. No matter. Soon we were out of the woods and on to the fields.
The others had made headway. As I watched, the figures merged and collided. They parted around scrub. Once more one rider brought his mount alongside the other.
It was strange. There was no shouting. Nothing but the whistling wind, the galloping hooves and the screech of a night owl.
I kept pace. The landscape became familiar. We had come in an enormous loop. We were galloping towards the cliffs. Not those near the beach with the caves, but further on past the vicarage and the village houses, towards the beach that Peggy had described to me.
Here, the cliffs were not so high. I made out pale silhouettes of dunes and marram.
A sharp cry made my heart squeeze. With horror I saw a horse and rider veer too close the edge. In a second the other followed. Both figures disappeared from sight. “Charles!” I screamed. “Charles!”
I slid from my horse and ran to the edge. Sick to the stomach, I peered over. It wasn’t far to the shingle below but there what I saw made me cry out again. The horses had cantered off along the beach, leaving the two figures prone and still.
At that very moment I realised I had fallen in love with Charles. He was a viscount, a powerful and wealthy man so far above me but I didn’t care. I loved him. And I had to get to him. Was he alive?
I scrambled down the rocks. Thorny brambles snagged at me. My breath was coming shallow and fast.
As I got to them, one of the men sat up and groaned.
“What the devil are you doing here?” came the annoyed response.
My chest eased.
“I told you distinctly to go home. Why aren’t you safely back at Bowerly?”
“Never mind that, are you hurt?” I said briskly, to hide the joy I felt.
“A few bruises, but apart from that I’m fine. I’m more concerned about Francis.”
So it was Francis Williams! Although we had been certain he was the thief, it was still disappointing to have it confirmed. How awful for Charles and Lady Anne. What shame this would bring to a proud family.