The Legend Of Wychwood Manor – Episode 34

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

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Lil was halfway down the passage when she heard Charley Biggs’s cocky whistle. She scowled.

He’d been unbearable since he heard she was leaving, taking every opportunity to gloat.

How she itched to land a punch on his freckled nose!

To avoid temptation, she slipped into a guest bedroom and watched as Charley rang the silver bell outside Mistress Flora’s room.

When Ethel appeared, Charley gave her a wink.

“Missus Burrows wants to see you now,” he said, waiting till Ethel was out of sight before sneaking inside Mistress Flora’s suite with a hangdog expression.

What are you up to, Charley boy, Lil thought, frowning.

On impulse, she tiptoed through the door he’d left ajar and ducked beneath a table covered with a floor-length embroidered cloth just outside Mistress Flora’s sitting-room.

Charley sounded uncharacteristically subdued.

“They’ve been searching the cliffs since dawn, Mistress Flora. But there’s still no trace of Miss Manners and Miss Belle.”

Mistress Flora’s voice rose in anger.

“Can’t I trust you blockheads to do anything? Their escape will ruin everything. It’s high time Jocasta made another appearance.”

Lil frowned. Mistress Flora was talking about Jocasta as if she knew that evil woman personally.

What was going on?

“You’ve got sharp wits, Charley,” Mistress Flora continued. “Use them to find Belle and Miss Manners and I’ll pay you well.”

“What shall I do if I find them, mistress?” he asked.

“Jocasta will appear at Castle Rock at sunset tomorrow. Bring them to me. What are you waiting for? Go!”

Charley obeyed, but Lil stayed where she was, puzzled by the sound of footsteps. Did Mistress Flora have an accomplice?

If so, they must have been sitting quiet as a mouse all this time.

Lil lifted the tablecloth and peeped into the next room, clapping a hand over her mouth.

Mistress Flora had just walked into her bedroom and shut the door!

Mistress Flora wasn’t an invalid, and she was somehow involved in Miss Belle’s disappearance.

Time had never passed so slowly, and one of Lil’s legs had cramp by the time the bedroom door opened again, only for Lil to receive an even bigger shock.

Mistress Flora was now dressed from head to toe in black. Her face was painted a ghastly white, criss-crossed with harsh black scars, while a long flowing black wig concealed her scanty grey locks.

Her lips, also painted black, were parted in a cruel smile that chilled Lil’s blood.

So this was Jocasta. No wonder poor little Bet had been terrified.

The grotesque figure disappeared back into the room and Lil heard a faint click followed by a heavy silence.

A shiver ran down her spine.

What to do next? Miss Belle had clearly escaped, but Jocasta was determined to find her. Lil clenched her fists.

“You won’t harm my mistress, you she-devil,” she vowed. “Not while I’ve got breath in my body.”

But to save Miss Belle she needed help, and Lil knew immediately who she’d ask. She hurried downstairs.

“What are you doing here, Lil?” Elias asked roughly.

Lil flinched. Had Elias’s feelings towards her changed? Did he want her gone, too?

Suddenly, she couldn’t bear it. She turned away, her thin shoulders shaking.

“Don’t cry, Lil,” Elias said, immediately remorseful. “I didn’t mean to be angry, but it’s been hard when you keep avoiding me.”

Lil looked at him.

“But I’m doing that to protect you so . . . so you don’t end up with someone damaged.”

“But what if that’s what I want?”

Lil wiped her wet eyes on the back of her hand.

“I’d say be patient with me, Elias, and don’t give up.”

“I’ll never do that, Lil.” He looked at her more closely. “But what’s wrong? Are you upset by Miss Belle eloping?”

“That’s a lie,” Lil said hotly. “It’s been made to look like she ran away with Jean Foucault, but it was Jocasta who took her.”

“But Jocasta’s just a story, Lil.”

“She’s not. She’s Mistress Flora and she’s up to mischief.

“I don’t think Miss Belle eloped at all, but the only person who knows for sure is Jean Foucault.

“I’m planning to visit the vicarage and ask Jean’s grandfather if he knows anything. Will you come?”

“I can’t just leave my work, Lil.”

“Not if it’s a matter of life and death? I thought you’d jump at the chance to help Miss Belle.”

Elias looked thoughtful.

To be continued…

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