The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 18

Characters from the serial in front of a stormy sea.

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She was hurrying towards the staircase, riding crop in hand, when Josephine rounded the corner, carrying Aunt Flora’s breakfast tray.

Belle stopped and waited for her.

“Josephine, how good to see you,” she said, smiling.

“What time did you get back last night? You must have been exhausted.”

Belle faltered to a stop. Why wasn’t Josephine smiling, too?

“Did you want something, Miss Belle?” Josephine asked, her tone cold and formal.

Belle recoiled as if she’d been struck.

It was as if the closeness they’d experienced on the shore had never existed.

Inwardly, she wanted to cry, but the Fortescue pride she’d inherited from her father came to her rescue.

If Josephine wanted to be like that, let her.

Her glance fell on the tray, the dainty floral china empty apart from a scattering of crumbs.

“I’m glad to see Aunt Flora’s appetite is improving.

“Perhaps she is feeling better now the weather is warmer.”

To Belle’s surprise, her throwaway remark seemed to unsettle Josephine.

Indeed, if Josephine had been anyone else, her expression would have been downright shifty.

“You are mistaken,” she said. “Mistress Flora eats almost nothing. Her appetite is bird-like.

“I finished her breakfast this morning as I was hungrier than usual after the events of last night.”

Her words were totally believable, but she couldn’t look Belle in the eye.

Belle was suddenly seized by the conviction that Josephine, always so strict and particular, was not telling the truth. But why?

Who cared about the contents of a breakfast tray?

Maybe Josephine was not so perfect as she seemed.

Some imp of mischief prompted Belle to try another tactic to provoke a response.

“I thought Doctor Long was rather nice,” she said, keeping her tone light.

“A man of keen intelligence and one who is obviously skilled in his profession, but someone who is capable of strong feeling, too.

“Wouldn’t you say so, Miss Manners?”

Belle quaked inwardly, knowing she’d gone too far.

She flinched, waiting for Josephine’s anger to fall on her, but what actually happened was far worse.

Josephine stood as if turned to stone, a terrible expression on her face.

Seeing Josephine’s pain, Belle forgot her anger, chastising herself for giving in to the desire to hurt Josephine back.

It was mean-spirited and Belle felt ashamed.

With a huge effort, Josephine regained her composure, though her knuckles gripping the tray were white.

“You are right,” she said flatly.

“He is a fine man, as everyone who encounters him must acknowledge.

“But you have yet to meet his wife – witty, well-bred and cultured.

“I am sure you will have much in common.”

She swept past, leaving Belle open-mouthed with shock.

To be continued…

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