The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 31

Characters from the serial playing a game.

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Lil tapped on the door of Belle’s room, but there was no answer.

“Wake up, miss,” she said brightly. “It’s a beautiful day. You don’t want to waste it.”

She stepped across the room and opened the curtains, letting sunshine stream into the room, but the figure in the bed didn’t move.

Was her mistress ill?

Lil approached the bed and gently turned back the coverlet, only to let out a gasp.

An artfully arranged pile of pillows and a bolster lay where her mistress should have been.

Her gaze roved around the room and she saw the open journal on the dressing table.

Belle had taught Lil to read, but it didn’t come naturally.

Lil moved her finger slowly along the words, reading what Belle had written twice to make sure she’d made no mistake.

She closed the book and sat down heavily on the bed.

Jean Foucault? She sniffed in contempt. That was the man who’d made Miss Belle so upset yesterday.

Lil had heard her mistress sobbing her heart out and it was lucky Jean was nowhere near for she’d have given him a piece of her mind for making her poor mistress suffer so.

But the journal gave no hint of that, so had it just been a lovers’ tiff?

Had Jean come to Wychwood later that night to tell Miss Belle he was sorry?

Maybe that was the way of it and they’d gone off secretly to get married.

To test that theory, Lil hurried across to the oak press in the corner of the room.

Her practised eye swept over the contents.

Miss Belle’s cloak and Brunswick bonnet, her favourite cherry-striped muslin and emerald-green morning dress, her and slippers, chemisettes, petticoats and good silk stockings – all gone, as was her portmanteau.

It was as clear as the nose on Lil’s face.

Miss Belle and her Jean had run away together.

Lil read Miss Belle’s words again and suddenly their full impact hit her. Miss Belle had gone, and left Lil behind.

Miss Belle probably decided the safest way was not to say anything, for if her uncle got wind of it, he’d keep his niece under lock and key.

And maybe, Lil thought, Miss Belle had no idea she was going to do it herself.

It wasn’t as if she’d written much.

There was no letter to her uncle or aunt, no word of farewell to Lil.

She must have thought it safer to slip away, just the two of them.

But what would Lil do now? She looked round the empty room and her spirits sank.

She was on her own at Wychwood, the last place on earth she would ever choose to be.

She would have felt completely depressed if she hadn’t known with utter certainty that Miss Belle would send for her soon. Surely she would.

In the sea cave, head splitting, Belle shifted position to try and ease the coarse rope cutting into her wrists, her thoughts whirling uncontrollably.

If Aunt Flora got her way, this would be where Belle’s life would end, but Belle refused to admit defeat yet.

But how could she escape? Nobody knew where she was.

Belle held her head high. She was her father’s daughter.

Papa would never give up and nor would she.

“There must be a way,” she said aloud. “There has to be.”

To be continued…

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