The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 23

Characters from the serial dancing

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Lil went back to the sewing room, shut the door and leaned against it, her thoughts in turmoil.

He’s kind – he would never hurt you like the other one, she argued to herself.

Maybe not, she argued back, but I’m not ready to let Elias in yet.

Lil had been burned once and sworn that never again would any man control her.

I’ll keep Elias at arm’s length, she decided, but when the servants trooped down the lane in high spirits, she struggled to hold on to her resolve.

When Elias looked at her, she was almost frightened by the way he made her feel, like her insides were beginning to melt.

She was out of her depth.

The Black Bull was completely different from a soot-stained London inn.

The long low building had a thatched roof, small windows that made it rather dark inside and an unfamiliar smell; the fumes of stale ale and sawdust mingled with the perfume of honeysuckle drifting in through the open door.

Over in the corner a pair of Irish fiddlers warmed up, the cascading notes making Lil’s toes itch to dance.

The caller climbed on to a box in readiness to shout out the moves, and Elias, laughing at Lil’s eagerness, took her hand and led her on to the scuffed boards.

Lil had forgotten what fun it was, first circling right round the room, then dancing from partner to partner until she was back with Elias again, stretching on tiptoe to form an arch as other couples ducked underneath, holding hands.

Halfway through, the landlord brought out refreshments – a hogshead of cider to toast his baby together with crusty loaves of bread and sour cheese.

Then the victuals were cleared and the dancing began again in earnest.

As the evening wore on, more and more couples slipped outside.

Lil danced on until her feet were sore and her ribs ached and she was forced to stop.

Laughing, she pressed her hands against her flushed cheeks, nodding when Elias gestured towards the door.

She took in deep lungfuls of the cool evening air, so refreshing after the heat of the room, and leaned back against the inn wall, only realising how much her legs ached now she’d stopped.

Elias leaned beside her and neither of them spoke, but when she turned her head, she found he was looking at her again.

Her stomach fluttered – although she wasn’t sure if that was partly due to the rough cider.

She didn’t resist when he bent down and kissed her gently on the lips.

At first, she couldn’t deny she liked it, but as his kisses became urgent, she started to panic.

Suddenly it didn’t feel like Elias kissing her, but that other man, the one she’d thought loved her.

As all the horror came raging back, Lil started to weep, at first softly, but then more and more loudly, not caring that people were staring at her.

As if from a long way away, she heard Elias apologising, but it was impossible to respond. She shoved him roughly away.

“Leave me alone,” she hissed. “Don’t touch me!”

“Had a lover’s quarrel, Lil?” Charley’s mocking voice floated after her as she started to run, but she barely heard him in her desperation to get away.

Tears streamed down her face, blinding her. Would the pain never go away?

Was she always going to be like this?

Left alone in her room, Belle missed Lil’s chatter.

How she wished she could have gone to the servants’ dance, a desire that no doubt her uncle would have found shocking.

She crossed to the window and stared out, bored and restless.

It was strangely silent with everybody out of the house and Belle thought the courtyard was empty until she heard the soft patter of feet on cobbles.

Belle drew back out of sight. Whoever was in the courtyard below was
acting very oddly.

Clearly, they didn’t want to be seen, moving from one patch of shadow to another and keeping close to the house wall.

Belle felt a shiver of fear run down her spine as she looked at the lopsided figure with its oversized head and a huge swelling distorting its left side.

It looked like a grotesque troll or a twisted hunchback from a fairy tale.

But as the figure crossed the open courtyard to the gate leading into the avenue, Belle got a clearer view and what she saw made her laugh with relief.

The gigantic head was a wide hood shielding the wearer’s face, while the lump on the left-hand side was a large bundle tucked under the figure’s arm.

With the hood hiding the face, it was impossible to distinguish any features, but as the figure continued walking, Belle was hit by two certainties.

The way the figure moved and its slim build told her straight away that the figure was female.

There was also nobody else at Wychwood who held her head so upright and moved with such grace.

It was Josephine.

But what was she doing leaving at such a late hour?

Belle shrugged. No doubt she was off to meet her doctor, but that was no concern of Belle’s.

Josephine could look after herself. She had made that abundantly clear.

To be continued…

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