The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 16

Characters from the serial in front of a stormy sea.

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Lil could not stand the way Charley Biggs, the arrogant young footman, swaggered about Wychwood as if he owned the place.

And it seemed their dislike was mutual.

Since Lil had made it clear that she’d rather die than give in to his amorous advances, he’d taken every opportunity to make her life a misery.

It amused him to shake extra salt over Lil’s food so she had to push half of it away uneaten or to “accidentally” press sooty fingers against her freshly laundered gown.

He would jump out unexpectedly, scaring her half to death so she dropped things, and barge against her in the narrow scullery passage with such force that she seldom escaped bruising.

He tugged her hair, stuck out his tongue and called her La-di-da Lil, making the other servants snigger.

Lil’s fingers itched to box his ears.

Only one thing stopped her.

When her temper flared, she’d hear Elias’s voice in her head: “Don’t let Charley get under your skin.”

More worryingly, she not only heard his voice, but saw him – smiling at her with that slow smile that lit up his whole face, his eyes warm and friendly.

No man had ever had that effect on her, and it worried her. Was she growing soft?

Maybe that was the reason she’d behaved so foolishly on the beach for she couldn’t remember the last time she’d let her guard down like that.

Hadn’t she sworn that no man would ever have power over her again? She frowned.

She must make sure Elias understood she was her own woman and would go her own way.

But the morning after the shipwreck Lil was troubled by another thought.

Had Ellen told the other servants what she’d seen?

Any hope that she hadn’t vanished the minute she opened the door to the servants’ hall.

From the way they all stared at her, you’d have thought she’d grown horns and a tail overnight.

Holding her head high, Lil made her way to her usual seat, but stopped short when she saw a folded note on her plate with her name written on it.

She glanced hastily around the hall, but there was no sign of Elias.

Could he have sent it? She had no idea what his handwriting looked like, or, indeed, if he could write.

She picked it up and opened it. Her face flushed red as fire. She should have known better.

There was only one word scrawled on the paper in crudely formed capitals, but it bit deep into her soul. SHE-DEVIL.

She swung round quickly, knowing in her bones who the culprit was, and caught Charley smirking.

“So, what does it say, Lil? Is it a message from lover boy? Come on, Lil, read it out!”

Lil crushed the paper into a ball and thrust it into her pocket, ignoring the sniggers and sly glances.

“It’s none of your business, Charley,” she said fiercely.

She glared around the table with withering scorn.

“Nor yours, neither.”

She pulled the bowl towards her and reached for the milk jug, pouring with a hand that she fought to keep steady.

She ate mechanically, tasting nothing. It seemed hours, not minutes, before she could push the bowl away and leave.

As she climbed the stairs, all she could see was Charley Bigg’s triumphant smirk.

All right, Charley, she thought, fuming.

You caught me out fair and proper, but you’re too sharp for your own good.

If you think you’ve won, think again.

You’re still wet behind the ears or you’d know it never pays to underestimate a woman, Charley boy.

Especially this woman.

To be continued…

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