The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 28

Characters from the serial playing a game.

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“Jean?” her voice broke. “Why do you look at me so coldly?”

“You know why,” he said.

Anger came to her.

“No, I don’t,” she said. “I have no idea why you’re behaving so harshly.”

Jean groaned and, even in Belle’s anger, his pain struck deep into her heart.

She would have put her arms round him if she hadn’t been so confused by his strange behaviour.

He spoke slowly as if the words were being dragged out of him.

“Don’t do this, Belle. Don’t lie to me.

“People I trust with my life swore they saw you coming away from the Custom Officer’s house on Friday night.”

“Well, they’re wrong. What possible reason could I have for going there?”

“Oh, come on, Belle. Stop playing games with me.

“My grandfather told me he’d slipped up and told you I’d gone to France and when I’d be back.

“He kept saying you’d promised him you’d forget what he said.

“Poor trusting soul. He’d never believe you would go to Forbes.”

“Whatever are you accusing me of?”

Jean’s expression was grim.

“How innocent you sound, but you don’t fool me, Belle. You can’t stand there and tell me you don’t know France has connections with the smuggling trade.

“Once you heard I was in France, you put two and two together. You’re a Fortescue, after all.”

“Of course I know there’s smuggling between France and England,” Belle said.

“But I never dreamed you’d be mixed up in anything that broke the law.

“And what do you mean when you say I must know, being a Fortescue?

“Unless you mean that my uncle as a magistrate heartily condemns it.”

Jean snorted.

“I hate to disillusion you, Belle, but your uncle is a hypocrite.

“Everyone knows he runs one of the biggest operations in the county.

“I’m involved because I can’t bear to see ragged children go half-starved, but he just wants to feather his own nest.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Jean gave a bitter laugh.

“Of course you defend him. More fool me, for believing you were different.

“Luckily, we were tipped off and pulled into a different cove, but not poor Mark with the wagons. With his leg still not fully mended, he didn’t stand a chance.

“Remember Mark, Belle? Remember me telling you how his mother and sisters rely on him?

“How on earth will the poor devils manage with him in jail? He’ll be lucky if he gets off alive.”

He looked at her, his face etched with sadness.

“It’s over, Belle.” His words seemed to come from a long way off.

Too shocked and confused by his accusations to defend herself, Belle watched numbly as Jean mounted his horse and galloped away.

It was only when he disappeared over the headland that Belle finally let herself break down, crying till she had no tears lefts.

That evening, Lil hovered around Belle like an anxious mother hen, but Belle dismissed her early. She needed to be alone.

How could everything have gone so wrong?

Her gaze fell on her journal, the record of her girlish hopes and dreams, and, with a bursting heart, she scrawled two short lines:

I have given my heart to Jean Foucault. I cannot live without him.

She got into bed and curled up beneath the coverlet, feeling empty inside. Nothing will ever matter again, she thought.

She was still awake at the stroke of three when the bedroom door opened, although Belle was sure she had locked it, and two shadowy figures entered.

A floorboard creaked. Fear clutched at her heart.

Belle’s brain started to work furiously.

The way to the door was blocked and the window too high to jump from, but she had to do something.

Her fingers closed around her opal necklace lying on top of the bedside chest.

It had been Papa’s wedding gift to her mother and Papa had given it to Belle when she turned sixteen. She’d worn it every day since.

With a pang, she let the slender chain fall beneath the bed-frame, praying Lil with her sharp eyes would find it.

And now, she told herself, scream as loud as you can. But before she could yell, a linen pad was pressed firmly over her nose and mouth.

Belle clawed at the hand holding it, trying not to breathe in the sickly fumes, but it was no good.

The second figure, a woman shrouded in black from head to toe, bent over her with a malevolent grin. Belle shrank back against the carved oak headboard, half mad with fear.

It’s Jocasta, she thought. She’s here in my room.

Somehow, she managed to break free for a moment, but the room started to spin and her arms and legs refused to obey.

Belle swayed and pitched forwards as black waves swept her into oblivion.

To be continued…

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