The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 14

Characters from the serial in front of a stormy sea.

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Jean was one of the last to return to shore, staggering beneath the weight of an unconscious man with a blood-stained scrap of material tied clumsily around his head.

Belle forgot the need to be discreet and would have run to him, but Josephine looked up from the injured man she was tending and caught Belle’s arm.

“You must not,” she said fiercely. “Do you want your uncle to know?

“You must learn to hide your feelings better, Belle.”

Belle knew Josephine was right, but it was agony to stay where she was.

Rebelliously, she decided she would heed the advice but that no power on earth would stop her looking at Jean.

Belle drank in every detail – he was soaked to the skin, his hair plastered across his forehead like strands of seaweed.

Jean’s face was grey with exhaustion and he had an ugly gash on his temple.

Belle contented herself with one long sweet look when Jean’s eyes met hers for a few stolen seconds, a look so intimate it felt as if there was no distance between them at all.

An old seadog trudged his way among the rescuers, offering words of encouragement accompanied by good French brandy, but Jean took only a few gulps before he waded back into the water with Uncle Gerard close on his heels.

Belle felt a pang of guilt. She hadn’t given Gerard’s safety a single thought.

She vowed to try to be better friends with him henceforth. Surely a man willing to risk his life for others couldn’t be all bad?

But there was no time to waste on making new resolutions, however worthy.

Josephine and Dr Long kept Belle busy, administering sal volatile to a young mother who had fallen into hysterics, and passing bandages, ointments and surgical instruments.

A broken leg had to be set and the head wound of the man Jean had carried out of the waves properly cleaned and rebandaged, but eventually everyone had been attended to.

Dr Long told Belle to take some rest before the next survivors arrived.

Belle stared at him, her mood at odds with his advice. Rest? How could anyone rest at such a time?

Fretting, she returned to the water’s edge and her anxious task of watching and waiting.

Two more trips were made and all the passengers were now safely ashore, but the captain, first mate and four other crew members were still on board.

Dr Long’s shrewd eyes took stock of the rescue team.

They were tired and could barely stand upright, swaying on their feet.

“You can’t go back out again,” he said bluntly. “It’s folly even to try.”

“How can we stop when the ship threatens to break up at any moment?” Jean said, his voice hoarse.

“We can’t give up while there’s any chance of rescue for those poor souls.”

The decision was taken out of their hands.

The rescuers had only waded a short distance from the shore when there was a sharp crack like a pistol shot that made Belle jump, followed by the screech of timbers giving way.

“The ship’s foundering,” the old seaman said, his wrinkled face full of dismay.

“Water will be rushing in through the damaged hull. That’s the end of it.

“Poor souls,” the seaman said.

Pounding waves forced the ship on to its side, tilting it at an angle.

Screwing up her eyes, Belle could just make out tiny figures, clinging desperately to what remained of the rigging.

To be continued…

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