The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 25

Characters from the serial dancing

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Where was Jean?

Belle had been sure he’d waste no time coming to see her after the shipwreck, but it had been two weeks since the night when they’d shared that passionate kiss on the beach.

Unless – her blood ran cold – he thought her too forward?

Or, worse still, he was just trifling with her, an even more mortifying thought when she recalled how eagerly she’d responded to his advances.

In the end, she buried her pride. Not knowing where she stood was driving her mad.

Desperate to hear news of Jean, good or bad, she cornered his grandfather after church on Sunday.

The old vicar looked at her in surprise.

“But my dear, didn’t you get the letter Jean sent you? He’s had to go unexpectedly to France.” He looked anxious.

“Miss Belle, one of the trials of increasing age is a tendency for my tongue to run away with me.

“I would be most grateful if you could forget what I just told you.”

Belle hastened to promise him that she would take pains to forget what he’d said, although she was puzzled by his distress as what he’d just told her seemed harmless enough.

“Thank you, my dear,” he said with a smile. “Jean should be back from his undertaking on Tuesday.

“But I must confess I’m a little surprised as I thought you would know all this already.

“Jean wrote you a note which I gave to Elias and I’m sure Elias told me last Sunday that he’d handed it to Miss Manners.

“But then the poor woman’s kept so busy looking after your aunt, she may have forgotten.

“Mary tells me I’m always forgetting things.” His eyes twinkled.

“You’ll just have to ask her for it, my dear.”

“I will,” Belle said with a sweetness she did not feel.

She found Josephine sat on the south terrace, an unopened book on her lap.

“Elias gave you a letter for me. Can I have it, please?”

“What letter?” Josephine said, but Belle caught a flicker of unease in her eyes.

She looked boldly at Belle.

“I don’t know anything about a letter. The stable-boy must have lost it and is too embarrassed to tell you.”

Belle was staggered by Josephine’s impudence. How dare she blame Elias?

Josephine stood up, outwardly calm, but Belle sensed she was undergoing an inward struggle.

For a moment, her expression softened as if she sympathised with how wretched Belle felt, but almost immediately her icy demeanour returned.

“You silly little fool, can’t you see he’s playing with you?

“Jean Foucault is your uncle’s enemy. He’s only pretending to be in love with you to harm Gerard.

“Give him up now, Belle, before something terrible happens. Give him up before it’s too late.”

Belle stared at Josephine, unable to believe her ears.

“Why are you so anxious to keep me away from Jean? It’s really none of your business!” She looked at Josephine sadly.

“I used to hope we might be friends, but I can see I was mistaken about you. Do you even have a heart?”

Josephine flinched.

“I am more of a friend to you than you realise. I do not want to see you come to harm, Belle.”

“Are you threatening me?” Belle said.

The frightening moment when Captain bolted loomed in her mind.

“It was you, wasn’t it?”

“What are you talking about?” Josephine said.

“The thorn in Captain’s saddle. You put it there.” Belle’s voice shook with anger. “Didn’t you realise I could have been killed?”

“Killed?” Josephine said. “Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. I would never do something like that.”

She took a step towards Belle, but Belle retreated. Josephine’s face crumpled, making her look old.

“I know how it must look, Belle, but I’m thinking only of your well-being. You must see that you can’t stay here any longer.

“If you think you can find any happiness living at Wychwood, you are completely wrong.

“The place is cursed and casts a dark shadow over all who live under its roof.

“Get away while you still can. Forget Jean Foucault. You’re young, you’ll find someone else.”

“And you?” Belle said, not bothering to hide her bitterness. “Will you find someone younger, someone more suitable?”

Josephine looked at Belle as if she’d like to slap her.

“How dare you! Very well, have it your own way. But if I were you, I’d be very, very careful.”

Belle shuddered. How could she ever have thought Josephine was her friend? She knew better now.

Josephine stood motionless, watching Belle intently like a cat watching a mousehole.

It was unnerving and Belle fought the urge to run back to the safety of her own room.

She dug her nails into her palms.

Josephine’s eyes glittered as her voice dropped to a whisper.

“You’ve had one narrow escape, Belle. Next time, you may not be so lucky.”

To be continued…

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