The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 3

Characters from the serial, standing in front of Wychwood Manor.
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Papa’s words echoed in Belle’s head as Gerard’s piercing black eyes raked her from head to toe.

He was a commanding figure and handsome, too, but the bow he gave her was so slight it verged on rudeness.

“Welcome to Wychwood, your home in accordance with your father’s wishes.”

But not yours, Belle thought, dropping a formal curtsey.

An elderly man in a black suit appeared at her uncle’s side.

“This is Godfrey, Wychwood’s steward,” Gerard said.

“He will take you to Mrs Burrows, the housekeeper, and she’ll show you to your room.

“The gong strikes ten minutes before dinner is served.

“You’ll eat with me in the dining-room, your maid in the servants’ hall.”

When Mrs Burrows finally left them alone to rest after the rigours of the journey Belle was able to take stock of her new surroundings, noting with pleasure that her room was a good size and comfortably furnished.

She watched Lil unpack, shaking out garments and hanging them up, humming a saucy ditty only just this side of decent.

Belle grinned, remembering how shocked her best friend Eleanor had been at Belle’s choice of maid.

“Belle, I know you have a big heart, but don’t you think this time you’ve gone too far? Where on earth did you find her?”

“Outside the baker’s, begging for bread. You should have seen her, Eleanor – her clothes were unsuited to the cold and she looked half-starved.

“I couldn’t leave her there, could I?”

“Well, no, but why make her your personal maid? She’s not like any lady’s maid I’ve ever seen.

“She doesn’t show the proper deference appropriate to her station.”

“Perhaps not,” Belle said. “But I find it rather refreshing. I hate all that toadying when really they don’t care a fig about you, whereas I know Lil would die for me.”

Eleanor gave a snort.

“Well, mine wouldn’t die for me, but then I wouldn’t want her to.

“All I ask is that she does my hair nicely and looks after my clothes.”

An orphan, Lil had spent her early years in the workhouse, till she escaped its confines and hardships.

Even after a year, Eleanor had to admit that Lil was a find.

She seemed to have a genius for being able to concoct the latest modes, both in hair and dress, and that went a long way towards excusing behaviour that was sometimes – as even Belle was forced to admit – a little unconventional.

Her tasks finished, Lil hovered outside the door to the servants’ hall, furious at herself for feeling too scared to go in.

She scolded herself. She was just as good as any of them.

The trouble was, Lil knew it wasn’t true.

What did those plump-cheeked pigeons know of real hunger?

Hunger that twisted your guts up so fierce you’d pounce on a mouldy crust or a brown apple peppered with maggot holes.

The grandeur of Wychwood overwhelmed her with its gloomy oil portraits looking down their long aristocratic noses at the grubby little upstart from the London gutters.

What are you doing here, they seemed to sneer.

Lil would have turned tail and fled, but the clatter of pots and the tantalising smell of cooking food was irresistible.

Swallowing hard, she turned the handle and went in.

It was a big room with a floor of scrubbed stone flags and wall racks hung with gleaming copper pans, but Lil was far more interested in the huge black stew-pots bubbling over the kitchen fire.

A long wooden table ran right down the centre of the room surrounded by a sea of white faces, all turned in her direction.

Lil stumbled as she stepped forwards.

To be continued…

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