The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 12

Characters from the serial, Belle on a horse and Jean guiding it.
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Lil was so wet that when Charley Biggs lobbed a clod of sand at her, she didn’t even try to dodge.

What did one more bit of muck matter?

Refusing even to glance in his direction, she trudged down towards a knot of people gathered at the water’s edge, realising too late that Elias was one of them.

Since Ellen’s insinuations, she’d avoided him, but there was no way she was going back to endure Charley’s taunts, so she kept her head down and joined the women, hoping Elias hadn’t seen her.

“Come to help, my duck?” a rosy-cheeked woman asked.

Lil nodded, though she had no idea what the woman, who gave her a pair of soiled leather gloves, was talking about.

“Take these. The rope’s rough and you’ll get blisters if you don’t protect your hands,” she said.

Lil put them on and gripped the rope the woman passed to her, flushing red as she passed it to the person behind her who turned out to be Elias.

It was too late to change places, for the line had begun to move, and to Lil’s astonishment, the man at the front plunged into the sea.

“What on earth is he doing?” she asked Elias, completely forgetting her resolve not to court gossip by talking to him. “Is he mad?”

“Not mad, Lil, just brave,” Elias replied. His calm, friendly manner annoyed her.

How could he behave just as he normally did? Had he even noticed her absence from his life?

If Elias was aware of her bad mood, it didn’t show.

“He’s one of the volunteers trying to reach the ship,” he explained.

“It’s the only chance the survivors have of getting back to shore.”

Lil looked at the fierce waves, hating them. Why would anyone risk that?

“Of course it’s dangerous,” Elias continued, as if he’d read her mind. “One of those big waves could sweep you off your feet or even knock you senseless, but the rope, God willing, acts like an anchor.

“That’s why we have to keep tight hold of it, Lil.”

He turned away and started talking to the man behind him and Lil felt a sudden stab of sadness.

What are you belly-aching about, girl, she asked herself fiercely. Haven’t you got what you wanted?

It seemed she had, but had it made her happy? Lil had the uneasy feeling that she might have made a very big mistake.

Unpleasant though it was, she faced the truth. She’d never felt more miserable in her life.

From her vantage point, Belle saw the other end of the ropes around the volunteers’ waists being passed back into the eager hands of the human chains and smiled to see Lil among them, hanging on with all her might.

How Belle longed to join them and do something that made her feel connected to Jean, wading ever further out.

But that was not her task and, for now, all Belle could do was wait, hoping and praying that Jean would return safely, not caring that the hem of her gown was bedraggled and seawater was ruining her elegant boots.

The force of the wind tugging her hair shook it from its pins and it was hard to see through the blinding salt spray, but Belle refused to give in.

She saw the blur of Jean’s white face as he looked back at her one last time. Belle could not breathe for she was faint with horror.

Behind him towered a wave as high as a mountain.

Belle dug her nails into the palms of her hands.

No sound came from her, but inside her head the scream went on and on as the mighty wave crashed over Jean, dragging him under.

To be continued…

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