The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 33

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

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They switched places and, by pulling her wrists apart, it was possible for Belle to stretch the rope taut against the rock’s point.

At first, the rope kept catching, but Belle soon settled into a steady rhythm, though it was hard work and she had to keep blinking away the sweat that ran into her eyes.

“Brace yourself,” she said, yanking hard to pull the last remaining threads apart. She was free!

She managed to untie the rope binding their ankles, but the cord around Josephine’s wrists defeated her.

They searched among the rock fragments, Josephine pouncing on a wickedly sharp sliver of stone.

“Use this.”

Belle began to saw, wincing as the sharp point nicked Josephine’s skin.

“Don’t worry about hurting me,” Josephine ordered through gritted teeth. “It’s got to be done.”

Desperate to finish the task, Belle sawed savagely. Finally, the cord parted, but a soft cry escaped Belle when she saw Josephine’s bleeding wrists.

“Let me bind those up,” she said. “I can tear a strip off my nightgown.”

“Not now. We need to get out of here.” Josephine dragged out a basket from behind some rocks.

“Your aunt said she was sending you abroad so I packed up some of your clothes.

“If we change into our shifts, we can keep everything else dry.”

Changing quickly, Belle froze as, from the corner of her eye, she saw the menacing figure of Jocasta shrouded in black, her ghastly white face staring straight at them.

“We’re too late. Jocasta’s here . . .”

Josephine gave a laugh.

“Don’t be afraid, Belle,” she said. “Look closer.”

Belle looked again and gasped. The eyes weren’t human, but crudely painted.

It was just a wooden figure mounted on wheels with ropes attached.

“The figure appears to fall off the cliff, but it’s actually hauled down into the cave,” Josephine said.

“It’s a trick your aunt devised to scare people away.”

Staring at the garishly painted face, Belle had a sudden flashback to the moment when Jocasta had leaned over her bed.

The shock of it still made Belle want to weep, but she knew she had to be strong for the task ahead.

Face the truth, she told herself firmly. The Aunt Flora you loved never actually existed. She was no more real than this wooden Jocasta.

Bending down, Belle picked up a discarded rope and knotted it around her waist, passing the other end to Josephine.

“If we rope ourselves together, we won’t get swept away by the waves.”

“Let’s hope not,” Josephine said. “Regrettably, I never learned to swim.”

Belle looked with distaste at the dark ribbon of fast-moving water blocking their way to the cave mouth, but there was no way round it.

She plunged into the channel with Josephine, carefully carrying the basket, close behind.

Belle’s whole body went into shock and the sharp tug of a hidden undertow threatened to pull her legs out from under her.

She tried to follow the curve of the cave wall, but she could not make any progress as her grip on the slimy rock kept slipping.

“I can’t do this!” she screamed.

“Do you want Jean to believe the lies he’s been told? You can’t give up!” Josephine screamed back.

Josephine was right.

Belle reached blindly for the rock wall and cried out again as something sharp pierced her wrist.

She held her arm up and saw a long red gash, but what had caused it?

Reaching down, her fingers touched a large metal hook, invisible below the water, with a stout rope wound tightly around it in a figure of eight.

At the same time, her foot struck something hard, making her yelp. She traced its outline with her toes, discovering another, slightly higher.

“Steps,” she said with excitement. “Josephine, I think we’ve found our way out.”

It was still hard work, but eventually they emerged, shivering but triumphant, into the tiny cove.

“Get dressed quickly,” Josephine said. “I know a place we can hide.”

To be continued…

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