The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 26

Characters from the serial playing a game.

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Belle had promised to play spillikins with Aunt Flora, but after her fight with Josephine, she almost cancelled her visit.

To her relief, it was Ellen who opened the door.

“Miss Manners had a bad headache, so I told her to lie down,” Aunt Flora explained, pushing the ivory spillikins into a neat pyramid.

“She does seem particularly prone to them, poor woman.

“It makes me wonder if she has something weighing on her mind that causes them, though she always denies it.

“Perhaps you can hazard a guess as to what might be troubling her?”

I certainly can, Belle thought grimly.

“If she won’t confide in you when you’ve been so kind to her, I hardly think she’d tell me,” Belle replied carefully.

Her aunt sighed.

“I suppose you’re right. Would you mind if I ask you something?

“I’m probably just a foolish old woman, but have you ever noticed anything odd about Miss Manners’s behaviour?”

She lowered her voice.

“It’s just there are times when she seems like quite a different person, times I feel almost afraid of her.

“And yet there is no doubt of her proficiency as a nurse. I cannot fault her care of me.”

She patted Belle’s hand.

“But how I have run on, worrying you with my foolish fancies. Forgive me, my dear. Will you take the first turn?

“Dexterity, my dear Belle, is paramount, but I’m sure your father will have taught you that.”

It was a close contest, but when they counted up the pieces at the end, Belle had won. Her aunt clapped her soft white hands.

“Bravo! A worthy opponent! Thank you for entertaining an old woman, Belle.” She looked at Belle fondly, her luminous green eyes suddenly serious.

“I know I can never replace your mother, my dear, but I hope you know you can come to me if you’re ever in trouble.”

For a moment, Belle was tempted to tell Aunt Flora everything – about her love for Jean, Josephine’s efforts to separate them and her suspicion that Josephine had been involved when Belle’s horse bolted, but something held her back.

Belle still found it hard to believe Josephine wasn’t a good person, but certainly she was behaving strangely.

Belle’s mind flashed back to how fierce Josephine had looked when she told Belle to break with Jean and leave Wychwood, and her chilling remark that Belle might not be so lucky next time.

If that wasn’t a threat, what was?

And if Josephine had planted the thorn in Captain’s saddle, surely it was Belle’s duty to speak up, for whoever had done that intended real harm.

She opened her mouth to voice her suspicions, but just at that moment Josephine entered, carrying a silver tray with Aunt Flora’s tea.

“Are you feeling better, Miss Manners?” Aunt Flora asked.

“Much better, thank you,” Josephine said. She offered a dainty gold-rimmed cup to Belle. “You’ll stay for tea?”

Belle shook her head, unable to stomach Josephine’s hypocrisy.

“No, thank you. I must be going. I have letters to write.”

“Love-letters, maybe?” Aunt Flora said with a smile. “Ah, I see from your blushes that my shot has hit home.”

Aunt Flora’s guess was uncomfortably close to the truth, and Belle’s blushes deepened as she wondered how her aunt would react if she knew about Jean Foucault.

Would she, too, counsel Belle to break off the relationship and leave?

To be continued…

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