The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 15

Characters from the serial in front of a stormy sea.

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“Poor devils,” Dr Long said, forgetting discretion as his hand stole out to hold Josephine’s.

Belle felt a lump in her throat.

Her Jean had been bruised and battered by the rough sea, but at least he was alive.

For the wives and sweethearts of those still on board, it was another story.

She turned her back on Dr Long and Josephine, shivering not just from the biting wind but also the trauma unfolding before her eyes.

The waves continued to tug and tear at the ship like dogs quarrelling over a bone.

For a moment that seemed endless, the men continued to hang there, but the next forceful blow broke the back of the ship, catapulting the remaining crew into the boiling sea.

A cry of horror went up from the beach.

Men groaned and women wept and Belle wept with them.

The rescue team stood for a long moment, looking at where the ship had been and then turned shorewards.

Tired and defeated, their progress was slow, with a few so exhausted that they would never have made it back if others hadn’t half-dragged, half-carried them.

The anchor crews abandoned the ropes and waded out to help, while women ran up to the nursing station to grab blankets to wrap around the bedraggled rescuers.

Belle started towards the pile, too, then hesitated and glanced in Josephine’s direction.

Josephine said nothing, but gave a barely perceptible nod.

The blankets were coarse but warm.

Belle wrapped a large grey one around Jean’s shoulders and stroked the damp hair back from his forehead, thanking God that he was safe.

Jean was too exhausted to open his eyes, but Belle thought he knew it was her, for the touch of her hand brought a smile to his lips.

His head sagged on to his chest and Belle heard his breathing, deep and rhythmic.

She knelt beside him, watching him sleep, his face smooth and relaxed like a child’s, until Josephine touched her arm, making her jump.

“It’s time to go, Belle. Your uncle’s waiting in the carriage.”

“Can’t I stay?” Belle pleaded.

“No,” Josephine said firmly. “There’s nothing more you can do here.”

Belle was tempted to argue, but every bone in her body ached and, once again, she was forced to admit the wisdom of Josephine’s words.

The coachman tutted as he opened the carriage door.

“Make haste. Master is soaked through and he’ll catch a chill if we don’t hurry.”

Belle felt remorseful when she saw her uncle’s pallor and the dark shadows like bruises beneath his sunken eyes.

“I’m sorry I kept you waiting, Uncle,” she said.

She thought of the way he’d been on the beach, laughing with the other volunteers.

She was wrong to think there was nothing of her father in him.

Today she’d caught flashes of a man she could admire, even like. She leaned forward.

“Uncle Gerard, I just want to say how proud I am of the way you risked your life for those poor people.”

Gerard looked directly at her for the first time since she’d arrived.

“The last time anyone said anything like that to me was a very long time ago.

“I was just a small boy and she was my mother, so she had to be partial, of course.

“I never thought to hear such words again.”

He rested his head on the coach cushions and closed his eyes, signifying any further conversation was at an end, but Belle was sure she saw a faint smile.

To be continued…

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