The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 11

Characters from the serial, Belle on a horse and Jean guiding it.
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Lying in bed later that night, Belle was wakeful, wondering what the line was that Miss Manners felt she couldn’t cross.

Eventually she fell asleep, only to be woken by a light tap at her door just after midnight.

Mrs Burrows bustled in, fully dressed.

“Oh, Miss Belle,” she said. “A ship’s run aground on the rocks in the bay and everyone’s needed.

“Lil and the other servants have gone down already and the master wants you to help Miss Manners and Doctor Long take care of survivors.

“Put on your warmest things, for God save us, it’s a wild night out there. I pity those poor shipwrecked souls with all my heart.”

When Belle reached the little cove, the gale was blowing so strong that she and Miss Manners had to link arms to make any progress.

Belle had never seen the sea in such an angry mood, the foaming waves hitting the pebbled beach with a resounding boom.

When the moon peeped through the black scudding clouds, its cold white light revealed an even more terrifying sight – a ship being flung repeatedly against the sharp rocks at the mouth of the bay.

One mast had already snapped, leaving a jagged stump, while the tattered sails of the other flapped crazily in the gale.

The wind shrieked and mingled with the shouts and screams of people trapped on board.

The ship was being pounded to pieces, its timber frame crushed as easily as a nut by the relentless pressure.

The doctor came hurrying to meet them, an ungainly stick of a man with a pointed beard and shrewd brown eyes.

He scrutinised Belle sharply as he handed her a small leather satchel stuffed with glass vials.

“Sal volatile in case of fainting. Can’t have women going off into the vapours when there are urgent matters needing attention.

“You can loosen clothing to aid breathing if people start to panic, but your main job is to keep them warm – you’ll find a pile of blankets in my carriage. Anything serious, fetch me or Josephine.”

Who was Josephine, Belle thought. She turned round to ask and quickly turned away again, embarrassed, as she’d intercepted a look of open longing between Miss Manners and Dr Long so fierce she could almost feel the heat of it.

It lasted only seconds, but Belle couldn’t help feeling uneasy.

She’d witnessed something she wasn’t supposed to.

“We’re as prepared as we can be,” Dr Long said at last, after they’d counted and sorted all the medicines. “The question now is whether we’ll get any patients . . .”

With nothing to do but wait, Belle was drawn back down to the sea where the terrifying clamour of shrieking winds, splintering timber and doomed passengers’ cries was joined by a more baffling sound – the faint hoorahs drifting from a small group of men near the shoreline.

Curious to see what it meant, Belle walked towards them and to her surprise saw Uncle Gerard, dressed in rough fisherman’s clothing just like everybody else, laughing and joking with the other men.

Belle could scarcely believe the change in her uncle, and when she glanced at his companions she got an even bigger shock.

The man right next to him was none other than Jean Foucault.

Their expressions turned to determination as each man received a thick coil of rope from a weathered old mariner, and she realised that perhaps the two men were not so different after all.

But what was the rope for? Fear clutched her heart.

It was at that moment that Jean saw her. Belle forgot her uncle’s presence, and that she was surrounded by people.

Her eyes met Jean’s and nothing else mattered.

Jean slung the rope over his shoulder and began to clamber up the slope towards her. It was cold and yet he wore no coat and his breeches were rolled above his knee.

A terrible suspicion hit her.

“Jean, you’re not . . .”

She looked at the head-high waves crashing on the pebbles and felt suddenly dizzy.

How could mere men overcome such turbulent seas when every seaworthy boat in the village had failed to reach the foundering ship?

Belle swayed and would have fallen, but Jean’s strong arms were round her and suddenly she felt his warm lips on hers, tasting of salt from the sea-spray.

“Not really the time or place, but I might not get another chance. I’ve been wanting to do that ever since I first saw you,” he said.

Belle’s mind was racing. If she held Jean long enough, could she keep him safe?

Could they block out the cries of those poor people and create their own safe bubble where nothing could touch them?

She had to let him go.

She leaned against him, savouring the last precious seconds, and then slipped out of his arms.

“God speed, Jean,” she said, trying to smile through her tears.

To be continued…

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