The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 29

Characters from the serial playing a game.

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Belle had no idea how long she’d been unconscious. Every time she moved a sharp pain shot through her skull.

Her whole body ached and her soft, feather-stuffed mattress seemed to have been replaced by a hard, knobbly surface.

Belle tried to move her hands so she could roll on to her other side, but they were restricted in some way, and when she uncurled her cramped fingers and stretched them as far as they could go, she found herself touching a damp powdery substance.

A pungent scent, familiar, filled her nostrils, but she could not place it.

The only thing she knew with absolute certainty was that she was no longer in her bedroom at Wychwood.

Seeking answers, Belle forced her heavy eyelids open, but what she saw made no sense at all.

She was lying in a place of shadows with a dark arching roof above and rock walls glistening with moisture. She shivered.

Was she in some kind of dungeon?

But surely a dungeon would be musty and dank, whereas the air here was fresh and – Belle licked her dry lips – salty.

The answer came to her in a flash. She was in a cave somewhere along the coastline.

Now she listened more carefully, she could hear the sound of breaking waves nearby.

It was a sound she normally loved and found soothing, but just now, it frightened her.

Belle’s first impulse was to call for help, but she stopped herself.

In this unfamiliar place, the last thing she wanted to do was draw attention to herself.

Who knew what might be lurking in the shadows?

It proved a wise decision for just a few moments later she heard raised voices.

“I tell you I will take no part in it. When you asked me to help, I only agreed on the understanding that no harm would come to the girl.”

Belle groaned inwardly. So, Josephine was mixed up in this . . .

“I said I would not personally harm her if you recall. Nor will I.

“It’s just a matter of letting nature take its course. You must see there’s no alternative.

“Jean Foucault has been dealt with for now, but alerting the Customs Office to his operations has made it too risky to continue our own for at least a month, and meanwhile our debts are mounting.

“I will not lose Wychwood. And that, I’m afraid, is why Belle must go.

“She’ll inherit money from her father when she’s twenty-one, but if she fails to marry and dies first, the money goes to Gerard.

“Wychwood needs that legacy and Gerard will never suspect foul play. The man’s as stupid as one of his sheep.

“Wychwood means far more to me than him. What has he ever done towards making it great again?

“I’ve tried to get Gerard to see we’d be free of debt if he got rid of the tenants who are too old to work, but he just rattles on about family duty.

“You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but the man’s as tender-hearted as a woman.

“If it wasn’t for my smuggling ring, we’d be paupers!”

Belle struggled to believe her ears – the voice was Aunt Flora’s.

How mistaken Jean had been. It was not her uncle who was in charge of the smuggling ring, but Aunt Flora.

Belle was so shocked by what she’d heard that she couldn’t resist opening her eyes just a crack.

To her astonishment, Aunt Flora was not in her wheeled chair or leaning on a cane. She was not even holding Josephine’s arm for support.

The sickly woman who needed two servants to move her from the bed to her sofa and sometimes spent whole weeks confined to her room was walking freely.

Aunt Flora was no more an invalid than Belle was. She had duped them all.

“But she’s your niece,” Josephine said heatedly. “Your own family.”

“Not my niece. Gerard’s. Before Piers met Arabella Grandcourt, he was promised to me, but Arabella stole him.

“If I had my way, her daughter would have been dead long before now.”

Josephine gasped.

To be continued…

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