The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 32

Allison Hay © Characters from the serial standing in front of the sea.

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Belle’s apparent elopement had caused uproar at Wychwood.

Mrs Burrows summoned Lil to her parlour.

“You can’t stay here, Lil. It’s far too upsetting for Mistress Flora. I’ve found you a temporary post until Miss Belle sends for you.

“Fortunately, Lady Fairweather’s mother is far too addled to realise your qualifications as a lady’s maid are lacking.”

Lil fumed as she shut the door behind her, almost tripping over Bet, the scullery maid, lurking there, her peaky face haggard.

“I gotta tell you something, Lil. Miss Belle hasn’t eloped. She was took.”

“Hush.” Lil seized Bet’s hand and hurried her downstairs and into the scullery yard. “Now tell me,” she said.

Bet twisted her hands nervously in her apron.

“I had terrible toothache last night so I went looking for Missus Burrows. That’s when I saw Jocasta going into Miss Belle’s room.” Bet’s eyes were scared.

“Oh, Lil, what if Jocasta’s murdered her?”

Later, as Lil worked to clean Belle’s room, she couldn’t get Bet’s story out of her head.

Pushing a broom beneath the bed, she was so distracted that she almost missed the glistening chain trapped in the bristles. She untangled it carefully, her mouth dropping open.

How had Miss Belle’s favourite opal necklace got there? She would never have left Wychwood without it.

A shiver ran down Lil’s spine.

They’d all been thinking Belle had gone off with Jean Foucault, but what if Bet’s account was true?

In the darkness, Belle heard Josephine sigh.

“Are you awake, Belle?” she said softly.

Belle was tempted to ignore her, still wounded by Josephine’s treachery, but she relented.

After all, Josephine had defied Aunt Flora and tried to save Belle.

“Yes. It’s hard to sleep, knowing this could be my last night on earth.”

“I never thought Flora would harm you,” Josephine said earnestly. “Her obsession with Wychwood has driven her mad.”

“Wasn’t plotting to kill me to steal my inheritance bad enough? Why must she also turn Jean against me?” Belle said bitterly.

“Oh, Belle, you’re such an innocent. If you marry, your money passes to your husband. Flora had to prevent that.”

“But what did my aunt mean when she accused you of betraying Jean?”

Josephine groaned.

“It was I who told the Customs officer where Foucault’s boat would land. Your aunt made me wear your red cloak and its hood hid my face.

“Everyone believed I was nursing Jeremiah Catchpole’s little girl all night so the blame fell on you. I protected my own love, but wrecked yours, wretch that I am.”

Belle sighed.

“If Jean was threatened, who knows how I’d behave? But was my aunt ever really ill?”

“I believe she suffered a rheumatic fever when she was younger,” Josephine replied. “But when she recovered, it suited her to live a double life.

“For years, she’s run a successful smuggling ring, but her taste for luxuries eats up the profits and now the wolves are baying at her door.”

“I don’t want to die,” Belle said. “If only we could escape.”

“Maybe we can,” Josephine said. “Do you see that pointed rock? It would cut our bonds if we could but reach it.”

Their first attempt at standing was a disaster as they overbalanced, hitting the cavern floor with a jarring thud.

Luckily, the second try was more successful.

Once upright, it was just a case of shuffling until they reached their goal.

“Let me try first,” Josephine said.

Belle had to face away to let Josephine get close enough, but her frustration was soon plain as she twisted this way and that.

“It’s no good,” she said.

To be continued…

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