The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 17

Characters from the serial in front of a stormy sea.

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Belle woke late the next day feeling something was missing. It took a moment to realise it was the absence of the storm.

This morning could not have been a greater contrast.

The sky was blue and rays of sunlight striped her bedspread with gold.

Belle pushed the bedclothes back and padded to the window.

A giant chestnut tree had fallen across the terrace, damaging the stone wall, and from her vantage point she saw with anxiety that the stable-block door hung lopsidedly from one hinge.

How had the horses fared through such a night?

She was less worried about Bess, who had a placid temperament, but Captain was nervy at the best of times.

Belle was the only one at breakfast.

“There’s been a deal of trouble from the storm and your uncle’s been up since dawn, fretting over it,” Mrs Burrows said, shaking her head.

“Reports are coming in from all over the estate of fences down, dead livestock and buildings damaged.

“It’ll cost a pretty penny to put everything right.”

Belle felt tired and out of sorts as she wandered across to the stables.

Two stable lads sat outside in the sunshine, so intent on rubbing neatsfoot oil into saddles and harness that they didn’t see her come into the yard.

“Do you think Jocasta will be satisfied with those poor souls from the wreck?” the younger one said.

“Not her,” his companion replied. “Don’t you know the story?

“It’s the family she comes for and she’ll walk now till she can take one of them back with her.”

“Maybe it’ll be the mistress. Nobody’s seen sight or sound of her for many a long day.”

The older boy gave him a pitying look.

“Jocasta’s not interested in natural deaths. She’s a ghoul.

“It’ll take a drowning or a burning, something cruel and horrible, to make her happy.”

He looked up and saw Belle standing there.

“Beg pardon, miss,” he stammered, turning red. “I didn’t hear you come up.”

“Evidently,” Belle said, moving quickly past into the hay-scented stable.

Was it really possible that a woman who’d died over a hundred years ago could still exert a malign influence?

Belle’s father had always encouraged her to use logic and reasoning.

But as much as she wanted to dismiss the village tales of Jocasta’s vengefulness, a shiver ran down her spine at the stable boy’s conviction that Jocasta would not rest until one of the Fortescues joined her in the mossy churchyard.

It can’t be true, she told herself. Jocasta is dead and the dead can’t harm you.

To distract herself, she got some oats and fed them to Captain and Bess.

Captain was agitated, jerking his head when Belle tried to gentle him, but Bess whickered in welcome.

As Belle stroked her mare’s satiny nose, she decided she would go for a ride. That would get rid of these silly thoughts.

She needed to get away from Wychwood for a while.

However, her journey back to the house to change into her riding habit was interrupted when she saw Gerard striding up and down the terrace.

Even from a distance, it was obvious he was in a very bad mood so Belle ducked into a nearby doorway to avoid him.

Uncle Gerard had a stranger with him, a portly gentleman smartly dressed in a high cravat and close-fitting blue tailcoat.

The man’s plummy voice was so loud that it was impossible not to hear what he was saying.

“I’m sorry, Fortescue, but you’ve already used up all your available credit.

“The financial crash of the South Sea Bubble has been a disaster and, frankly, everyone is feeling the pinch, even the banks. I’m sure you understand.”

The stranger held out his hand. Gerard ignored it.

The man sighed and poked a large stone urn with his ebony cane.

“Fine piece of work. Flora’s doing, I presume? She always did have an artistic eye.

“Do pass my regards on, Fortescue. So sorry to hear she remains an invalid.”

“I’ll pass your regards on to the devil,” Gerard muttered, turning on his heel and marching into the house without a goodbye.

The stranger shook his head.

“Manners!” Belle heard him say.

Soon afterwards Belle saw his fashionable curricle bowling down the long drive at a smart pace.

Belle slipped into the house where Lil helped her get changed.

To be continued…

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